Monday, August 30, 2010

Way Too Late Movie Review: “The Wolfman”

This is one of those rare occasions where I actually watched a Netflix movie the same day I got it and sent it back promptly the next day. Only because my wife wanted to see it too, otherwise I’m sure it would have sat half forgotten on a shelf for at least a month until I got around to it.

“The Wolfman” is the story of Lawrence Talbot, played by Benicio Del Toro, an American actor returning to his ancestral home in England when he learns that his brother is missing. When he arrives he finds his brother dead and tensions between him and his estranged father, played by Anthony Hopkins, to be high. His brother’s widow Gwen, played by Emily Blunt, is distraught and vulnerable and he begins to fall in love with her. But while investigating his brother’s death, he’s attacked by a creature, which he soon comes to realize was a werewolf. The authorities and townspeople are suspicious, and Talbot begins to suspect that his father knows more about what his happening then he is letting on.

I’ll start with the positives. Visually the movie is beautiful. The settings are dark and gothic, striking the perfect mood. And the special effects are quite good, particularly the transformation sequences, which is inevitably the heart of a good werewolf movie. And Hugo Weaving’s portrayal of the investigator trying to solve the case is excellent, sort of a ye olde Agent Smith. But the biggest drawback in the movie in my opinion is Del Toro, who just seems miscast in the lead role. Don’t get me wrong, I think he’s a great actor, but this part just doesn’t seem to fit him. Maybe there’s a parallel in showing him portraying Hamlet early in the movie, because he seems to carry a melancholy with him throughout the film. But his fury seems more sullen then angry. Maybe that’s intentional, but to me it just doesn’t feel like a lead performance. Anthony Hopkins is excellent in the role of the father, but the character is too subtle to say that he stole the movie. All in all, the pacing (especially in the first half) is slow, and the ending is unfulfilling.

My wife said that it was just ‘meh’, and that she’s glad that we didn’t pay to see it in the theater when it came out. However I think that this is a movie that benefits from the theater experience. The gothic settings and action sequences would probably work better on the big screen. But on one point we agree, and that’s on the ‘meh’ factor.

Three out of Five Stars

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Fairly Topical Movie Review: “Inception”

These days, I’m actually relieved when there’s a movie out that I want to see and my wife doesn’t. It’s much easier to find time to go to the movies by myself then it is to find a babysitter and plan a night out to see something together. So I lucked out with “Inception”, a movie that I’ve been excited to see since the first preview. In a weird coincidence, it has a lot of similarities with Leonardo Dicaprio’s film from earlier this year, “Shutter Island”. Both are reality bending journeys through the main character’s psyche, both characters lost their wives, and both movies challenge the viewer to figure out what’s real and what isn’t.

Leonardo Dicaprio plays Cobb, a thief who uses military technology to enter people’s dreams and steal their secrets. He’s on the run from the law, estranged from his children and accused of his wife’s murder. When he’s offered a dangerous job to plant an idea into a subject’s head rather than retrieve information, he puts a team together to do it. But he’s keeping a secret from the rest of his team, a representation of his dead wife is plaguing his subconscious and endangering the mission. He needs to face his demons in order to complete the mission and return to his children.

The dream world is obviously the most original and striking part of this movie, and the visuals are stunning. But the story more than carries its weight, it’s intricately woven as they cut back and forth between three different levels of the dream world. It all fits together like a beautiful puzzle. The performances are great, with emotional highs and lows that carry the viewer through the movie and make us care about the characters and their journey. One of if not the best movie that I’ve seen this year.

Four out of Five Stars

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

An open letter to *ahem* Fuck you. Seriously, take a large black dildo and pound it up your brown eye with a rubber mallet. Now I’m not a paying member of the site, if I were you can bet that this letter would be sent to someone there directly. As it is, this is a free service that I’m using as a simple amusement to help pass the time in my boring day, but I have a serious bone to pick with the way things are run over there. I am sick and tired of posting legitimate mistakes, only to have some pedantic asshole post a nonsense correction for it. Making up a possible set of circumstances that could explain away a mistake is not a correction! You could do that for every mistake if you really tried. The point of the correction system on the site is to catch non-mistakes that somehow make it through the rigorous submission process and are posted to the site. Honestly, if I were a paying member of the site, I think I would take umbrage with the fact that I’m paying for a service that is partially being outsourced to the Internet public for free, namely quality control. There is a two page list of rules that you have to read before you can submit a mistake, but as far as I know there are no guidelines for submitting a correction. There’s no appeal option, there’s no open dialogue, there’s no place to post a rebuttal and assert your opinion that the mistake you posted is legitimate. Let me show you what I’m talking about here. Here is the mistake that I posted for “Kick-Ass”, followed in brackets by the correction.

When Kick-Ass called Big Daddy and Hit Girl for help, they leave behind their hot cocoa. After Hit Girl rescues Kick-Ass and they return to their house, Hit Girl looks at the two mugs of hot cocoa and we can see the marshmallows floating in both cups. Considering the amount of time elapsed, those marshmallows should have been melted. [Not so. We don't know how hot the drinks were in the first place, and by virtue of the fact the drinks would be cooling down means the marshmallows never get to melt.]

Fuck. You. We don’t know how hot the drinks were? Are you fucking kidding me? It’s called hot chocolate, something tells me that it’s probably hot. Have you ever had a cup of hot chocolate with marshmallows? They melt ridiculously fast. Yes, the drinks are cooling off, but the marshmallows would have melted way before that even started to happen. And this is just one example, I’ve had other mistakes posted that have gotten equally ridiculous corrections. The point is, in a movie, there are certain simple assumptions that can be made. For example, hot chocolate is hot. And saying ‘Well, maybe it wasn’t hot’ is not a correction, it’s a possible explanation that has no facts in the movie to support it.

There, I just needed to get that off my chest. Thank you.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Fairly Topical Movie Review: "Toy Story 3"

So as those of you who know me already know, I’m leaving my current job at the end of the month and I’m going to be spending the summer with my daughter. As such, my blog entries are likely to be even more infrequent (if that’s even possible), but thanks to a lot of movie theaters doing a free summer movie program for kids, you can expect a few ‘Way Too Late’ reviews of kids movies. And maybe a couple of newer ones as well, including the subject of today’s post of course. Father’s Day weekend was pretty hectic in the Cyberbeast house, what with my daughter being sick, but we did manage to make a trip to the theater and it was well worth it.

Toy Story 3 is all about what happens to toys when their owners grow up. Andy is 17 now and off to college, and the gang are worried about what will become of them. Will they be stored in the attic, or thrown away. At its heart, it’s a story about loyalty and friendship, and it delivers on an emotional level in a way that most live action dramas only wish they could. We all remember what it was like to be a kid and have an emotional attachment to your favorite toys, and the feeling of growing up and having to let go of that, even if in our hearts it’s not something that we really want to do.

Even after three turns, the basic premise of a world where all of our childhood toys could walk and talk whenever we weren’t looking still hasn’t gotten old. This time out the toys end up in a daycare center that at first seems like a paradise, but they soon discover is really a prison. They’re locked in the toddler room, to be battered and abused by kids that aren’t age-appropriate to play with them properly. Woody, ever loyal to Andy is trying to find his way back to his owner when he’s picked up by a little girl named Bonnie and taken home with her, where she plays with him along with her other toys. He eventually learns of his friends’ predicament and returns to the daycare center to break them out. The prison break sequence has some of the best, funniest parts of the movie, along with Bonnie’s play time. There’s something about those playing scenes with Bonnie, and the opening sequence with Andy, that just rings true of what a child’s imagination is really like.

The film is filled with so many great scenes, including the opening action scene which shows Andy playing with them from the perspective of his imagination. There are a lot of funny moments, a lot of great character stuff, and a lot of great performances from the cast of the first two movies, as well as newcomers to the cast Ned Beatty, Michael Keaton and Jeff Garlin. I know that a lot of people love making lists of their favorite Pixar movies, and arguing over which ones are better than others, but I think that Toy Story 3 is going to be at the top of those lists pretty consistently with very little argument. It’s not just a great kids movie, it’s a great movie.

My Netflix Rating: Five out of Five Stars

Friday, May 28, 2010

YouTube Theater: Star Trek Dubs

I can't stop laughing at these. Enjoy, courtesy of the Dayjob Orchestra.

Find more here -

Monday, May 24, 2010

10 Secretly Great Episodes from TNG

Some episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation are well remembered because they are so great (“The Best of Both Worlds”, “Yesterday’s Enterprise”, “The Inner Light”). Some are remembered for being so bad (“Angel One”, “Shades of Gray”). Some are famous as defining character moments (“The Measure of a Man”, “Hollow Pursuits”, “Sins of the Father”) and still others are famous for their inventive storytelling (“Cause and Effect”, “Darmok”). But there are other great episodes that aren’t always remembered, they’ve fallen through the cracks of our collective consciousness as Trekk(ies/ers). Rewatching the series as I have been lately thanks to SyFy and BBC America, I’ve found quite a few episodes that I had forgotten how much I loved. Here is a list of some of those forgotten gems (in chronological order).

“Clues” (4x14)

The ship encounters a wormhole, and everyone aboard except for Data is knocked out for thirty seconds. They send a probe back to the planet they thought they had detected before the wormhole, and then they continue on their way. But before long, strange things start happening. A plant sample that Dr. Crusher is cultivating shows 24 hours of growth. Data begins acting strangely. Computer logs have been tampered with, transporter logs show 24 hours of extra cell growth, Worf has a broken wrist that’s been mended and no memory of breaking it, and boy is Data ever acting strangely. All the clues point to a missing day, and Data seems to know what’s happening, but he’s not talking.

This episode is a prime example of my favorite type of TNG show, the mystery. In fact, this episode is all about how much humans love a good mystery, and how they can’t resist trying to solve it, even when they know that they probably won’t like the answer. As the titular clues begin piling up, the viewer becomes just as invested in this mystery as the characters, longing to solve it, to find out what happened.

“Identity Crisis” (4x18)

Five years ago, on an away mission as part of the crew of the USS Victory, Geordi LaForge took part in an investigation into 49 missing Federation colonists. Now, all but two members of that away team are also missing, and the Enterprise is on its way back to that same planet to find out what happened to them. When they get there they find abandoned shuttle craft and torn Starfleet uniforms. Somehow, the missing crewmen and being transformed into aliens, and the same thing is happening to Geordi and his lady friend. Geordi now has to review the logs from the original away mission to find the answers to this mystery before he himself is transformed.

Remember that scene in Blade Runner where Deckard is using his computer to examine a photograph, moving through it and zooming in to find the clues that it contains. There’s something very compelling about that scene that I’ve never been able to fully explain to myself. You’re watching the wheels turn in someone’s head, extrapolating information, piecing together clues, trying to figure out what it all means. Geordi’s scenes recreating the away mission logs on the holodeck have that same indefinable element, as he locates a shadow that doesn’t seem to belong to anyone and extrapolates where it’s coming from. A mysterious humanoid figure, previously invisible appears, and there’s moment where we instinctively know that something bad is about to happen. It’s that tension that keeps the viewer riveted and makes me love this episode.

“Conundrum” (5x14)

The Enterprise is struck by a mysterious energy wave from an alien ship, and the entire crew gets amnesia. They retain enough knowledge to run the ship, but they have no idea who they are. They’re finally able to get some data from the computer, including their names and their immediate mission. The audience is immediately aware that something is wrong, because the personnel files list a Commander MacDuff as the First Officer and the mission files say that they are at war with a race called the Lysians, and they’re supposed to destroy their command center. But when they discover that the Lysians are about 100 years behind them technologically, they realize that things aren’t adding up. Turns out Commander MacDuff (pictured above with his human shell burned away, revealing his chewy nougat center) is a big fat liar, and a member of a race that really are at war with the Lysians and they just wanted the Enterprise to do their dirty work.

“Sorry about all those ships we destroyed. Our bad.”

This is an unusual episode, but it’s a lot of fun to watch the crew interacting with each other in strange ways, making incorrect assumptions about their relationships with each other. Worf thinks he’s in command, Ro and Riker think that they’re an item, and Data thinks that he’s a bartender. The same idea will be done again years later on Buffy the Vampire slayer in “Tabula Rasa”, only played for a lot more laughs. In any case, a very creative episode that was very well done.

“Power Play” (5x15)

Following a distress call to an uninhabited moon, the Enterprise discovers the remains of a 200 year old starship, the USS Essex. When Troi senses life on the moon, Picard sends an away team down to the planet via shuttle craft. The shuttle crashes, Riker breaks his arm, and O’Brien beams down with pattern enhancers to rescue the away team (why they don’t include pattern enhancers as part of the shuttle’s standard equipment, we’ll never know). Lightning strikes the enhancers, knocking everyone down (a stunt that Marina Sirtis did herself, breaking her tailbone in the process) and the unconscious crewmembers (except Riker) are entered by a trio of little floaty balls of light. Back aboard the Enterprise, the three alien possessed crewmembers take hostages in Ten-Forward, where they claim to be the ghosts of the crew of the Essex and demand that their remains be beamed aboard and given a proper burial so that they can rest.

I think it’s a rule now that every show, no matter what genre, has to have an episode with a hostage situation. This is definitely one of the more creative methods that I’ve seen, but still all the normal tropes are here. Picard trades himself as a hostage to get the injured hostages released. There’s a covert attempt to disable the hostage takers, which goes wrong. There’s a mother with a baby among the hostages, Keiko and Molly O’Brien. Considering that this is shortly after Molly’s difficult birth in “Disaster”, also in Ten-Forward, Keiko might want to consider avoiding the room from now on, bad things seem to keep happening to her there. And of course, there’s the heroic sacrifice in the end and the dramatic revelation that the captors aren’t who they say they are. But cliché’s aside, the reason this episode is so much fun is that the bad guys are wearing familiar faces. And any excuse to let Brent Spiner ham it up is okay by me.

“The Next Phase” (5x24)
While offering aid to a damaged Romulan science ship, Geordi and Ro are presumed lost in a transporter accident. However when they wake up back aboard the Enterprise, no one can see or hear them and they have the ability to pass through solid objects. Ro thinks that they’re dead and their ghosts, but Geordi isn’t so sure. And so the two have to solve the myster (there’s that word again) of what happened to them, all while watching their shipmates deal with their deaths and plan their memorial service.

There’s a lot of great character stuff here for Ro, as she explores her relationship with Picard (seen walking through her, above) along with her mixed feelings toward Riker, and his possible feelings toward her. Ro didn’t get that much character development that didn’t directly refer to her being Bajoran or her people’s plight with the Cardassians, so it’s nice to see her on her own here with her guard down. There’s also some great character stuff with Data and Geordi, as Data considers his friendship with him and what it means. But the best part I think is the stuff with Geordi and Ro. These are two characters that haven’t had much interaction with each other in the past, thrust together in a situation, clinging to each other as comrades and friends. The scene with the two of them at the end laughing together is really touching. I wish they would have developed their friendship more in future episodes.

“Frame of Mind” (6x21)

Riker is rehearsing a play aboard the Enterprise where he is playing a mental patient, when weird things start happening to him. People staring at him strangely in the halls, an alien crewmember that he’s never seen before keeps appearing, and a cut on his head that keeps reopening. Then he wakes up to find himself in a mental hospital for real, the mysterious alien is his doctor, and he’s told that he’s insane and his life aboard Enterprise is just a delusion. Then he wakes up on the Enterprise again and is told that the alien mental hospital was just a dream. What’s real and what isn’t? Is he crazy or is he being held prisoner?

I love these kinds of episodes that fuck with your head. We see all of the events from Riker’s perspective, so by the end we are just as unsure as he is as to what is actually happening. It’s a great character episode for Riker, something he didn’t get very many of, a great mystery, and it had a lot of dark and scary imagery that really worked well. It’s a fear that plays to all of us, being thought of as crazy and having no way to prove otherwise. Watching “Shutter Island” earlier this year, it reminded me a lot of this episode.

“Timescape” (6x25)

Picard, Troi, Data and LaForge are returning from a conference on Earth, traveling via runabout, when strange things begin occurring. Troi notices that the others all seem to freeze for a few seconds, as if being put on pause. One of the runabouts engines fails, drained of fuel, and the logs say that it’s been running continuously for 47 days. Some rotten fruit and some long fingernails later, they figure out that they are encountering pockets of space where time is either speeding up or slowing down. And when they return to Enterprise, they find it trapped in one of these pockets, seemingly during an attack by a Romulan Warbird.

Again, this episode breaks down into essentially a great mystery story, with a lot of really fun sci-fi tropes along the way. As the four of them move around aboard the frozen Enterprise, each new scene they encounter is another clue as to what is happening. The Enterprise is supplying power to the Romulan ship, but why? They’re beaming aboard injured Romulans, but why?

Dr. Crusher seems to have been shot while doing the robot, but why?

“Parallels” (7x11)

After returning from a bat’leth tournament, Worf starts noticing small changes on the Enterprise. People suddenly appear or disappear during conversations, Data’s eye color changes. As the Enterprise begins to investigate a sensor array close to the Cardassian border that is no longer transmitting data to the Federation, the changes that Worf observes become more pronounced. Suddenly he finds himself married to Counselor Troi, then he’s first officer and Riker is the captain. Cardassian ensigns, Wesley as tactical officer, cats and dogs living together, it’s crazy! They eventually trace the problem to a space anomaly that Worf encountered on the way back to Enterprise, turns out that Worf isn’t crazy, he’s just hopping between alternate universes. They make their way to the anomaly and after an attack from a Bajoran warship, it starts spitting out Enterprises like crazy, all of them from alternate universes. Worf flies his shuttle back into the anomaly, clicks his heels together three times, and before you know it everything is back to normal again?

Alternate universes are another one of my favorite sci-fi tropes. It’s all about ‘what if’, which is the question that you’ll find at the core of most great science fiction. The idea that every decision we make results in an alternate reality where the opposite decision was made, and that those decisions can butterfly effect in fantastic ways that we can only imagine, is tremendously interesting. This is also a good character episode for Worf, and set up the whole Worf/Troi relationship that persisted throughout the rest of the series. Now, I’ve never been a fan of Worf/Troi. To me, adding a relationship to a show that late in the game smacks of the old add-a-kid strategy. Things are getting stale? Shake them up a bit, add a cute kid or a talking animal with magic powers, start pairing people off for no reason. The whole thing is just a little to soap opera for me, and Star Trek is better than that. It doesn’t have to resort to cheap character gimmicks to tell interesting stories.

“Masks” (7x17)

The Enterprise is investigating a rogue comet, when strange alien artifacts start appearing throughout the ship. Turns out that the comet is actually some kind of alien archive, and it’s been traveling through space for 87 million years. It’s transforming the Enterprise into an alien city, and it’s transforming Data into its queen. Data begins to exhibit several personalities, all of them warning of the arrival of Masaka. When she wakes up, shit is going to go down. So they activate the transformation sequence to create Masaka’s temple, to try to get some dirt on her and summon her so they can convince her to stop turning the Enterprise into an Aztec yard sale. Everyone of Data’s personalities says that Korgano is the only one who can stop Masaka, but that he has stopped chasing her. Picard uses his archeology experience to figure out that Masaka and Korgano are like the sun and the moon, and uses that information to impersonate Korgano and convince Masaka to go back to sleep, which turns everything on the Enterprise back to normal.

This is probably my favorite episode on this list. It’s just so strange and yet so fascinating. When Data first starts exhibiting these other personalities, he looks up at the camera and says in a really creepy voice “Masaka is waking” right before a commercial break. It’s such a great WTF moment, and it really sets the tone for a lot of the strange stuff that happens later. It isn’t a very well received episode among the fans. Oddly enough, the thing I like the most about this episode, Brent Spiner’s performance, is the thing that most people point to when they shit on it, including Spiner himself. He apparently didn’t get as much prep time as he wanted for this performance and wasn’t happy with the end product, but I think that he does a wonderful job. A lot of the other criticism seems to be on the general weirdness of the story, which again I loved. Star Trek has always done such a great job of taking Science Fiction and making the elements relatable by drawing parallels to our modern day lives, but I don’t think that means that it can’t be weird too. Some of the best science fiction is the stuff that is just plain weird, and you can’t be afraid of that.

“Genesis” (7x19)

In Sickbay, Barclay has diagnosed himself with a fatal illness. Dr. Crusher assures him that he only has some alien flu, and gives him a treatment for it that involves activating dormant t-cells. Meanwhile on the bridge, the crew is testing a new weapons guidance system. One of the torpedoes they fire goes off course, so Picard and Data take a shuttlecraft to retrieve it. Aboard the Enterprise, the crew begins to behave strangely. Barclay is hyper, Troi starts complaining that it’s too cold and dry, Riker can’t concentrate, and Worf is acting extra aggressive and primitive. Worf attacks Troi, biting her on the cheek, and he attacks Dr. Crusher, spitting venom in her face. Three days later when Picard and Data return, they find the Enterprise in shambles, and the crew devolved into various primitive life forms. Riker is a caveman, Barclay is a spider, Troi is some kind of amphibian. Worf (pictured above) is some kind of proto-Klingon, and he’s marked Troi as his mate (hence the biting). Picard and Data figure out what’s going on thanks to Data’s cat, who has devolved into an iguana. Picard, who is devolving into a lemur at this point, has to distract Worf from trying to break into Sickbay to get to Troi so that Data can finish the cure and disperse it to the ship, which he does. In the end, Dr. Crusher names the new disease after Barclay and Troi clears her calendar for the next few days.

This is just a fun episode all around. It has humor, it has action, it has mystery, great special effects, and great character moments. It marks the directorial debut of Gates McFadden, as well as Barclay’s fifth and final appearance on the series. Worf and Troi’s relationship has developed to the biting stage, which is good for them. A lot of fans complain whenever any humor is injected into the show, and while I’ll agree that a lot of early episodes that tried it fell flat, this episode is a good example where it works. It isn’t forced, they aren’t trying to do gags, it’s just an unusual situation where characters are acting out of character in a way that’s funny. Riker trying to eat Picard’s fish, Data telling Picard that’s he’s transforming into a lemur or a pygmy marmoset. In the immortal words of Larry the Cable Guy, I don’t care who you are, that’s funny.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

YouTube Theater: Drew Carey's Green Screen Show

To celebrate YouTube's 5th birthday, I bring you another installment of YouTube Theater, where I share some of my favorite videos from the site. This time, I offer clips of the short-lived but brilliant follow up to Whose Line is it Anyway, Drew Carey's Green Screen Show. Enjoy.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Comics Review: “Green Arrow: Quiver”

In my effort to continue my comics education, I’ve decided to take a break from The Question and take a look at one of my other favorite characters from JLU, Green Arrow. And so what better place to start, I thought, then Kevin Smith’s run from 2001. Well, it isn’t the most insular of runs, with its many cameos and references to DC continuity, but it has a good reputation and I like Kevin Smith so it seems like a logical place for me to start.

Let me start off by saying that while I do like Kevin Smith, I’m not a super fan. In fact, I’ve only seen two of his movies (Mallrats and Dogma) along with all three “An Evening with Kevin Smith” DVDs. Actually, I’m probably more of a fan of those DVDs than I am of the movies. I think he’s a great storyteller on stage and he has such an everyman approach to the film making process that makes the behind-the-scenes stories that he tells very interesting. Plus, he’s funny. So while I’m a fan, I’m not going to bow down to the alter of the cult of Kevin Smith and immediately gush over anything that has his name on it. On the other hand, he has a bit of a negative reputation in comics for a variety of reasons, but since I’m not a regular comics reader I’m not going to be influenced by that either. These ten issues may have taken eight months to come out back in 2001, but I read them all over the course of a few days, so my experience with them is probably significantly different from someone who read them when they first came out. Take from that what you will.

Quiver tells the story of Oliver Queen’s mysterious return from the dead, and his return as Star City’s favorite emerald archer, the Green Arrow. With a ten year gap in his memory, and no idea why everyone keeps insisting that he’s dead, Ollie tries to go back to business as usual. But a few run-ins with the Justice League convince him to get to the bottom of the mystery of his return. One of the things I liked most about this book was all of the appearances by the other Justice Leaguers. Rather than detract from the main story, I felt like it was an organic way to establish setting and back story, not to mention a lot of great character moments. Batman especially has a great role in this, guiding Ollie along on his quest for answers. Ollie does eventually get the answers he’s seeking, and reunites with his son along the way.

The book reads more like a graphic novel than a trade paperback, because the issues flow together so seamlessly. The art by Phil Hester is very well done, with great splash pages and intricate character work that manages to convey real emotion. It’s a story about second chances, about reclaiming what’s been lost. It was a great read and it’s inspired me to pick up more Arrow books in the future.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Way Too Late Movie Review: “The Day the Earth Stood Still”

This is one of those movies that seem like such a big deal when it first comes out, but then a few months later no one even remembers it. In fact, I think that if I hadn’t put it on my Netflix queue back when it was still in theaters, I would have forgotten all about it as well. I remember being interested in it back then. The special effects looked good and it was a remake of a classic science fiction movie, which can be good or bad. But I have never seen the original so I didn’t carry any baggage with me into this experience, I kept an open mind. However, now that I’ve seen it, I’m beginning to understand why it disappeared from the public consciousness so quickly.

Keanu Reeves plays Klaatu, and alien who arrives on Earth in a giant glowing sphere that lands in the middle of Central Park. Jennifer Connelly plays Dr. Helen Benson, a scientist who is called in as part of a team, at first to deal with the aftermath of what they believe to be the inevitable impact by an object that will obliterate Manhattan, and then later to examine the alien. They determine that the alien has to be born into human form on Earth in order to survive on our planet. On the surface, Keanu Reeves seems perfect for this part. His stiff and stilted acting style seems tailor made for an alien in an unfamiliar human form. And I have to say that Reeves does a passable job. But where the movie starts to fall apart is in the decisions that the characters make. Dr. Benson decides to help Klaatu escape, but why? It seems like a nice thing to do but there’s no logic behind it, at the time she knows nothing about why he’s on Earth or what his intentions are. When Klaatu needs help, he calls Dr. Benson, but why? The two seem to instantly trust each other for no apparent reason.

Meanwhile in Central Park, a large creature stands guard over the sphere that Klaatu arrived in. Not quite organic and not quite fully mechanical, they call him GORT, which is an acronym for something that I couldn’t be bothered to remember. They shoot him with missiles, which do nothing. And then eventually they capture him by sealing him in a giant triangular container that they just happened to have on hand and that just happens to fit him perfectly.

Elsewhere, Dr. Benson is chauffeuring Klaatu around along with her young stepson, played by the next Karate Kid, Jaden Smith. We learn that she’s a widow, and that the boy’s father was in the Army. He’s angry, and he thinks that the Army should just kill the aliens, even if they don’t mean any harm, just in case. But off course, Klaatu does mean us harm. He’s come to save the Earth, not for humans, but from them. Smaller spheres begin appearing all over the planet, collecting animal specimens. And Dr. Benson decides that the only way to save humanity is to convince Klaatu to stop it all. She brings him to John Cleese, a professor who tries to convince Klaatu that humanity is worth saving, that we can change or ways, but only at the precipice of destruction. Klaatu seems to consider it, but then the Army shows up, thanks to the kid who called them. And again, more bad decisions. Klaatu, Benson and the kid take off into the woods. Why does she keep putting this kid in danger? Why did she bring him in the first place when she went to pick up Klaatu? Why not leave him at the professor’s house here, where he’ll be safe instead of running out into the open where Army helicopters are trying to capture them? Benson gets captured but Klaatu and the kid escape. Klaatu saves the kid from falling of a bridge, and instantly the kid starts helping him. The same kid who tried to turn him in not a minute earlier.

Meanwhile GORT is getting tired of being poked and prodded and starts wrecking shit. He turns into a swarm of tiny machines that start moving through the Eastern seaboard like a cloud, eating up everything along the way. Benson convinces the Secretary of Defense to let her try and talk to Klaatu to convince him to stop. The kid takes Klaatu to his father’s grave and asks him to resurrect him. When Klaatu says he can’t, the kid gets pissy again. Benson shows up and has a heart to heart with the kid and everyone has a good cry. In the end, Klaatu sacrifices himself to save the Earth.

The special effects were good and the acting wasn’t bad, but the plot is full of so many holes that I found it hard to really get into the movie. So while I wouldn’t say it was a total waste of time, I wouldn’t recommend it either.

My Netflix Rating: Three out of Five Stars

Monday, April 26, 2010

Fairly Topical Movie Review: “Kick-Ass”

I have a sort of love/hate relationship with film critics. On one hand, I think they take themselves way too seriously most of the time and judge movies by unfair criteria. They love to look down their noses at action movies, or comic-book movies or lowbrow comedies. But on the other hand, I know that these guys are forced to watch a lot of bad movies as part of their jobs, and for someone who has made their whole life about movies, a bad one can feel like a personal insult to them. They’re frustrated by a system that cares about nothing but the bottom line, and so almost every movie that comes out is a remake or a sequel or an adaptation of some kind, things that are low risk for the studio but that are also low on originality and creativity. So I understand why they’re such hateful, spiteful stuck-up movie snob. But understanding their motivations doesn’t make them any less assholes, so like I said, love/hate.

Like most people I’m sure, when a movie comes out that I want to see, I read a lot of reviews first before I go see it. And when the reviews are bad, it’s frustrating. Not because I think the movie might really be bad, but because I feel like the critic is talking down to me because I wanted to see it in the first place. You’re not smarter than me or better than me just because I like a movie that you don’t, and that goes for everybody. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion of course, I’m not calling anyone an asshole just because they disagree with me, it’s the elitist attitude that I find annoying.

That being said, when I read negative reviews of “Kick-Ass”, I was frustrated but I wasn’t surprised. A comic book, action movie with lowbrow humor, based on a comic by the often hated on Mark Millar. It already had several strikes against it. But I’ve never read the comic and I don’t really have any strong opinions about Mark Millar. I love comic book movies and I like action movies, so I thought it looked great. And I wasn’t disappointed.

“Kick-Ass” asks the question, what would happen if people put on costumes and tried to become superheroes in the real world? Maybe it isn’t the first movie or comic to ask and answer that question, but it definitely puts a new spin on the idea. Dave Lizewski is an average high school student, and a comic book nerd. He decides that the motivation for a masked crime fighter doesn’t have to be a tragedy or a thirst for justice, it just has to be someone who is naïve enough to give it a try. And so he puts on a costume and takes to the streets, and during his first encounter with a pair of criminals, he’s promptly stabbed and hit by a car. The movie’s approach to violence is one of the things that I think makes it feel real, there are consequences. The other heroes that Kick-Ass meets aren’t shy about using guns, and they don’t hesitate to kill. The violence is excessive, at least compared to your average superhero movie, but it never feels gratuitous, because it has a sense of realism with it.

After he recovers, Kick-Ass eventually sets out again, setting his sights a little smaller this time by looking for a lost cat, but he happens upon a fight that he can’t walk away from. Pretty soon, thanks to a video of him that ends up on YouTube, he’s a celebrity. One of the other interesting aspects of the movie regarding how costumed heroes would be received by the real world is the way the media is used. One of the first things that Kick-Ass does is create a FaceBook page, and he uses that to find people who need his help. He’s treated by the media like any other celebrity, complete with late night talk show hosts taking shots at him. It’s an interesting thing to think about, how costumed crime fighters would operate in the real world.

Kick-Ass eventually meets Big Daddy and Hit Girl, two heroes that are far more prepared than he is and far more violent. Even though the movie is mostly told through the perspective of the title character, these two are the real stars. Big Daddy is played by a scenery chewing Nicholas Cage as a psychotic Adam West-esque vigilante, complete with a tragic event in his past, an exaggerated sense of right and wrong, and a personal vendetta against the local mob boss. Hit Girl is his foul mouthed, tough-as-nails daughter/sidekick, and she’s responsible for ninety percent of the ass kicking in the movie. Fans of Cage’s more recent over-the-top character work often debate whether or not he’s aware of his own image and embraced it. His turn as Big Daddy definitely seems to show that he’s in on the joke. It’s melodramatic, but he plays it straight. If he hadn’t, it wouldn’t have worked nearly as well. As for Hit Girl, her character arc is probably the most dramatic and the most interesting, even more so than Kick-Ass. In the end, she shows Kick-Ass what it really takes to be a hero.

“Kick-Ass” is a movie with a mix of styles: Action, drama, comedy. It makes you laugh at things that aren’t funny, and it makes you feel for characters that are largely caricatures of classic comic archetypes. But ultimately in the end, it’s just a fun ride.

My Netflix Rating: Four out of Five Stars

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Stand-up Comedy Review: “Joe Rogan: Talking Monkeys in Space”

Joe Rogan once described himself on the Opie and Anthony show as the bridge between the meatheads and the potheads, and I can’t think of a more perfect description. Like most people I think I first became aware of Joe Rogan on NewsRadio, where he spent four years playing the eccentric electrician Joe Garrelli. After that he spent five years as the host of Fear Factor, where he shouted encouragement to large breasted women eating animal genitalia. And now, if you happen to see Rogan on TV, he’s likely to be offering color commentary for the UFC or interviewing a fighter at ringside. That’s quite an eclectic resume, and the reason I think he’s enjoyed success with such a wide variety of careers is that he doesn’t take any of it too seriously.

But despite all of his other jobs, Joe is a comedian first and foremost. And the aspect of this career that I enjoy the most has to be his appearances on the Opie and Anthony show, where he functions as half pied piper for hallucinogenic drugs and half mad scientist, turning the boys onto all sorts of weird and interesting information about the world around us. Just imagine watching the Science Channel while high, and you’ll understand what I’m talking about.

“Talking Monkeys in Space” is Joe’s most recent stand-up special, and in it he talks about evolution, and how it doesn’t mean that there’s no God. “All I’m saying is that God created a monkey, that doesn’t like to think it’s a monkey, and lies a lot.” He talks about how a lot of human behavior is just ‘leftover monkey shit’. Whether it’s climbing to the highest branch or following the alpha male with the shiniest fur. He takes on bullshit artists like Ted Haggerty and Dr. Phil, people who succeed in life based on nothing more than telling people what they want to hear. But no matter the topic, Joe always manages to put an interesting spin on it and make you think about it in a way that you never have before, and of course, make you laugh. So check it out, you won’t be disappointed.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Monday, April 19, 2010

Marvel vs. DC: Animated Movies

Marvel and DC have both been releasing a lot of direct-to-DVD animated movies over the last few years, and most of them have been really good. But the ultimate question of course is which are better; Marvel or DC? So I’ve put together a little breakdown with some mini-reviews so I can decide for myself. Since I haven’t read any of the comics that these movies are based on (apart from a few issues of The Ultimates), I’ll be judging these movies on their own merits and not based on their source material.


Ultimate Avengers:

Based on the comic “The Ultimates”, a gritty reboot of the Avengers, this feature may not be as gritty as the comic but it gets the job done. We get the conflict between the team members, reluctant to work together but forced to because of a threat too big for any of them to face alone. The action is good. I wasn’t that impressed with the animation but that could just be because I’m so used to the Timm-verse style of the DC movies and television series. But all in all I thought it was well done, four stars.

The Invincible Iron Man:

During an excavation to unearth an ancient Chinese city, Tony Stark digs up far more than he bargained for. The animation gets a real upgrade for this feature, as a lot of elements are done in 3D, specifically the elemental spirits that Iron Man has to fight. The story is fun, the voice work is good, and the action is great. All in all, the perfect appetizer for the first live action movie and probably the best of the Marvel efforts thus far. Four stars.

Doctor Strange:

Doctor Strange is one of those characters that I always thought was cool even though I didn’t know much about him. The thing that struck me most about this movie was its similarity to The Matrix. Our protagonist, gifted in his field, feels like there is something missing in his life, stumbles upon a secret war, joins a group of warriors, learns that he has a special destiny, is betrayed by one of his fellow warriors, and in the end he defeats the evil that is threatening them. The animation and voice work was good, the story and the action was great. Four stars.

Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow:

Of all of the movies listed here, this is the only one that felt to me like it was geared toward a younger audience. It was essentially “Jim Henson’s Avengers’ Babies”. The premise is interesting, that the Avengers are all killed by Ultron and that their children are raised and protected by Iron Man until they finally have to stand up and fight for themselves. The whole thing just felt a little too Saturday morning for me. Three stars.

Hulk Vs.:

This one is a double feature, “Hulk vs. Thor” and “Hulk vs. Wolverine”. Ultimately I think the goal with these was to let the Hulk let loose. He’s the most powerful creature in he Marvel universe, but rarely do we really get to see the violence that he’s capable of. The action is pretty good, but I think the story lacked in a few placed. The Wolverine one had better action and the Thor feature had a better story, but together they average out to be…well, average. Three stars.

Planet Hulk:

Every Hulk story that I’ve ever read or seen before, the character focus was always on Banner. The Hulk represented something that was happening to Banner, or at most a side of Banner, but as a character in and of himself, not so much. The Hulk was a force, a creature of pure rage and little else. But Planet Hulk turned all that on its ear. For the first time (to my knowledge) the Hulk has a character arc. He has wants and needs, lessons to learn, decisions to make. And in the end, he even gets the girl. I thought this was a great story, with good action and genuine character drama. Four stars.


Superman: Doomsday:

Based of course on the famous Superman run in which the man of steel is killed by the titular Doomsday, this movie was the first direct-to-DVD title that DC put out after Justice League Unlimited ended in 2006. DC set the bar here with what they wanted these features to be; more mature, more violent, closer related to the comics. And Doomsday doesn’t pull any punches, from the violence of Superman’s death, to the menacing evil of Lex Luthor and the creepiness of Toyman. I have to say that when I first saw the voice cast, I was dubious. I was used to the way the characters were drawn and voiced on JLU, and change can be scary. I’m not too fond of Superman’s character design in this, his jaw line and chin dimple are bordering on ridiculous. But the voice cast does an excellent job here, especially James Marsters. His portrayal of Luthor is quieter and colder then Clancy Brown’s, but it’s no less powerful. Four stars.

Justice League: The New Frontier:

Based on the graphic novel by Darwyn Cooke, New Frontier takes place in the 1950’s, in between the Golden and Silver Ages of comics. It’s an interesting time in the DC universe that isn’t often explored. The government doesn’t trust these heroes, but they’re forced to work together against a common threat. We get origin stories for Green Lantern and Martian Manhunter, we get to see some cool retro costumes, and we get a great voice cast ranging from David Boreanaz as Hal Jordan to Neil Patrick Harris as The Flash. One of my favorites of the DC movies. Four Stars.

Batman: Gotham Knight:

Much in the same style as The Animatrix, Gotham Knight is an anthology of six short anime-style stories loosely woven together, taking place in the new movie universe after the events in “Batman Begins”. Each story is done by a different director with a different animation style. Kevin Conroy reprises his role as the Dark Knight in each of the six features. In my opinion, Conroy is the quintessential Batman, and he lends a lot of credibility to the movie. It’s a style that fans may not be used to, but Conroy reminds the viewers that this is still our Batman. I’d have to say that this one is my favorite of the modern DC movies. The animation is beautiful to look at, the stories good, and the voice cast does a great job. Four stars.

Green Lantern: First Flight:

Along with Gotham Knight, this was the only other DC movie not directly based on a specific comic. The animation and the action was good, I’ve always liked the Green Lanterns. As an origin story though, it felt rushed. They stuffed so many story elements into such a small space, I think it all came out a little jumbled. But ultimately, it was still a fun movie and I liked it. The voice cast was good, though I have to say that I liked David Boreanaz in New Frontier better as Hal Jordan. But Michael Madsen as Kilowog was good casting. Three stars.

Superman / Batman: Public Enemies:

“Lex Luthor's attempt to win the presidency the old-fashioned way... by buying it, seems to be picking up steam. New poles show that 22% of Americans now support his third party bid. In a completely unrelated story, 22% of Americans now indicate a preference for getting [beep]-ed in the [beep] with a red hot poker!”

One of the things that I liked most about this movie was the more mature humor that was sprinkled without, complete with PG-13 style cursing. And of course, the fact that they got the original voice cast back again. Tim Daly, Kevin Conroy and Clancy Brown all reprise their roles from the DCAU, making this feature feel like an old friend. The story is fun, the cameos are plentiful, and the action is great, but what really makes this movie for me is the friendship between Batman and Superman. Two characters who by all accounts shouldn’t like each other as much as they do. Daly and Conroy make it feel real, and it lends real weight to the climax of the film. Plus Clancy Brown as Lex Luthor going batshit crazy at the end, what’s not to love about that. Four stars.

Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths:

Again, when I saw the voice cast for this I was dubious. This time I’d say they’re batting around .500. William Baldwin, James Woods and Gina Torres were all great. Mark Harmon and Chris Noth, not so much. It’s hard to be overly harsh on Chris Noth as Lex Luthor, since he’s an alternate universe Luthor, and therefore who’s to judge what could be out of character. But still I found the performance kind of flat. And Mark Harmon just didn’t feel right as Superman to me. As for the story, I loved it. Ask anyone, I’m a sucker for alternate realities. There were some out-of-characters moments for Batman I thought, lying to Johnny Quick to get him to sacrifice himself, but ultimately I liked the climax with him and Owlman. And the Owlman character was extremely interesting I thought, and well voiced by James Woods. The Martian Manhunter/President’s daughter storyline I could have done without, but all in all I liked the movie a lot. Four stars.

The winner: DC! The animation and voice work is consistently better, and the stories are generally better as well. Maybe I’m being influenced by the DCAU, which I believe has also been consistently better then most of the animated series that Marvel has put out over the years. But still, I have to call this one for the Distinguished Competition. So what do you, the viewers at home, think?

Saturday, April 10, 2010

YouTube Theater: Literal Videos

These are a lot of fun, here are a few of my favorites.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Fairly Topical Movie Review: “Shutter Island”

Going to the movies is more and more becoming a rare experience for me. So much so that every time I go, I’m still shocked by the ticket price. I actually overheard the couple in front of me in line say ‘Are we really going to pay $21 to see Hot Tub Time Machine?’ The answer is yes, they did. And though I feel a little better about my movie choice than theirs, it still stings a little. But, such is life.

I’ve been excited to see this movie since it first came out, for two reasons. The first is that it looked really good, scary in a weird kind of way that I like my scary movies to be. And second, because it’s actually a good movie. So many of the movies that I love to go see are action movies, summer blockbuster superhero movies or science fiction, nothing that’s really setting the critical world on fire. But here was a Martin Scorsese movie, getting good reviews, and I actually wanted to see it. For once my taste in movies wasn’t being belittled by the movie watching elite. And then I made the mistake of reading a review for the movie on the Onion A.V. Club (which was positive), and reading the comments section that went along with it (not so much). It seemed that the hipster douche community was determined to rain on my parade and piss all over this movie. But what irritated me even more was the fact that they spoiled the end of it for me. Undeterred, I set out to see the movie anyway.

Leonardo Dicaprio is Teddy Daniels, a US Marshall traveling to an asylum for the criminally insane on the titular Shutter Island in Boston harbor. He has a new partner and a dark past, and he’s been assigned to investigate the escape of one of the asylum’s most dangerous patients. Almost from the moment they arrive, the staff and the patients of Shutter Island start acting strangely. The escaped patient disappeared from a locked room, and nobody saw anything. Soon, Teddy reveals to his partner that he’s on the trail of something much bigger then just an escaped patient, and that the goings on at Shutter Island are much more sinister than then appear. A violent storm traps the Marshalls on the island, and Teddy begins to have strange dreams about his deceased wife and his experiences in the army during the war, liberating a Nazi concentration camp.

The most striking thing about the movie is the cinematography. It’s shot in such a way that you feel much like the protagonist, you can’t tell what’s real and what isn’t? Who’s sane and who’s insane? Who can you trust? You become almost as paranoid as Teddy, expecting trouble around every dark corner.

Amazing visuals with an intriguing story that keeps you guessing, even when you think you have it figured out you’re never quite sure. Ultimately, the experience is worth it, even if you do have an idea on how it’s going to end.

My Netflix Rating: Four out of Five Stars

Thursday, March 18, 2010

YouTube Theater: Fan Trailers

Know what I learned the other day? The theme song for the Thunder Cats was written by James Lipton, from "Inside the Actor's Studio". Isn't that weird? It reminded me of one of my favorite fan-made trailers.

And one more, just for shiggles. This one is for a Green Lantern movie starring Nathan Fillion. Try to pick our where all the clips are from, it's fun!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Comics Review: “The Question, Vol. 2: Poisoned Ground”

“Poisoned Ground” is the second trade paperback to collect the adventures of the Question from the critically acclaimed 80’s run. It starts off with a couple of stand alone issues. The first involves a crime boss who bears a resemblance to a certain mutant from a certain other comics company, with a certain healing factor and certain adamantium claws (subtle, right?). And the second involves a serial killer who takes inspiration from Gilbert and Sullivan. Both are good stories, but they end in cliff-hangers that aren’t resolved in the next issues. The art seems to be getting better, they’ve even managed to change Question’s hair color when he uses the bonding gas on his mask.

The middle three issues focus on the kidnapping of The Question’s friend and mentor, Dr. Aristotle “Tot” Rodor. Question mounts a rescue plan to find his friend. And along the way, his interactions with Myra, his old flame and the mayor’s wife, are becoming strained. They both still have feelings for each other, but Myra feels bound to her marriage vows, even though the marriage is a sham, and duty bound to Hub City as its defacto mayor.

Somewhere around issue 9, Question’s hair starts getting longer, until he’s sporting a mullet. There’s something vaguely disconcerting about this image change. It’s like my gritty pulp hero/detective/Eastern philosopher was suddenly replaced with Patrick Swayze from Roadhouse. Also, it seems like somewhere along the way, Question’s Zen philosophy became an excuse for lazy writing. The Question no longer chases down clues and makes connections, he just sort of goes with the flow and ends up where he needs to be purely by accident. In the end, he doesn’t rescue Tot so much as gets captured right before Tot was getting ready to escape himself. The two then end up on a plane back home without knowing much about how they got there.

In the last issue, The Question gets a haircut, while Tot looks like Robinson Crusoe after 30 years on his island. Question tracks down one of the men who ‘killed’ him from the first issue, uncovering a environmental disaster and a murder for hire plot along the way. The last issue does seem to get back on track for me, but still, it’s clear that this is a very different character then the one I knew from JLU. Some of the elements that first attracted me to the character are here, but a lot of them aren’t. I’m sticking with it though, I’m not giving up on my favorite faceless vigilante just yet.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Book Review: “Star Trek: Destiny” Trilogy by David Mack

When I was younger I used to read Star Trek novels religiously. This was back when the shows were still on the air, the books were all numbered, they were all stand-alone stories, and none of them were canon. The books were pretty good, and some authors, like Peter David, even made them great. I stepped away from the books for a while when I discovered fan fiction, but when I rediscovered them again a couple years ago I found out that something wondrous had happened during my absence. With none of the series on the air anymore, the books became free to continue the story. No longer were they hindered by the giant reset button that had to set everything back the way it was by the end of the book. New characters were introduced, loose ends left hanging from the series were tied up, and new situations were introduced. There was continuity, all the books released took place in the same universe, even across the different series. Oddly enough, the books were numbered when they weren’t contiguous, and now that they are the numbers are gone. And while still not technically canon with the TV series or the movies, the novels became better because of their new freedom. The downside of this is that without any of the shows on the air, the public interest in the books is less. So even though the books are better now, the selection at your local bookstore is likely to be pretty sparse. And without numbering, it can be hard to figure out which books come before others. But if you take the time to do a little research and get the books through Amazon or some other online source, the reward is well worth it.

“Star Trek: Destiny” represents a major event in this new bookverse (yes, that’s what I’m calling it). It crosses between almost all of the series, primarily focusing on four Captains and their ships. Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the USS Enterprise, Captain William Riker of the USS Titan, Captain Ezri Dax of the USS Aventine, and Captain Erika Hernandez of the USS Columbia. (And for you DS9 fans who haven’t been reading the books, yes, you read that correctly. Ezri is a Captain now. In the DS9 books she’s still a lieutenant, but it’s still the same continuity, the DS9 books just take place earlier). The greatest threat that the galaxy has ever seen, the Borg, have returned. And this time, the outcome can be nothing short of total annihilation. Previous TNG novels had been building up the Borg threat for a while; “Resistance”, “Before Dishonor” and “Greater than the Sum” to name a few. The Borg once thought of humans and nothing more than a nuisance, but now that they’ve turned their full resources to destroying the Federation, not assimilating it, nothing can stop them.

Meanwhile, across the galaxy in the Gamma Quadrant, the USS Aventine is investigating the discovery of the centuries lost USS Columbia, crashed on a planet that it would seem impossible for them to ever have reached. And when an Aventine crewmember is mysteriously killed on Columbia, Captain Dax has a tough decision to make. Stay and investigate, or follow her orders to return to Federation space to join in the fight against the Borg. Ezri feels like she has a personal stake in the mystery of Columbia, something that started with her previous host, Jadzia. She’s a young Captain (sort of), but she’s determined to do right by her crew. I have to say that when I first came across these books and saw that Ezri was the Captain of a starship, I was skeptical. It didn’t seem like a logical fit to me. The Ezri that I remember from the series was a sweet woman, caring, dedicated, but nothing about her really said ‘command officer’. But reading the DS9 books, there is a natural progression there as Ezri gets more in touch with what it means to be a joined Trill. She no longer the flighty young woman we first met who was unprepared to be joined. For lack of a better term, she’s grown into her symbiont. And in these books, she shows that she has what it takes.

Flashbacks to the events of Columbia’s disappearance start filling in the back story, as they meet an enigmatic, isolationist race of aliens called the Caeliar. Erika Hernandez only made one or two appearances on Star Trek: Enterprise as an old friend of Jonathan Archer’s and Captain of the NX-02. The character is fleshed out here and given a story arc that provides the through line for the trilogy. One of the things that I liked about Enterprise (there’s a sentence I bet you never thought you’d read) was the feeling that these ships really were out there on their own. They didn’t have the Federation to support them, or a vast fleet of ships to back them up if needed. Here we see that first hand as Columbia faces an ordeal that will ultimately leave them lost to history. And Captain Hernandez is left to make some pretty hard decisions.

On Earth, Federation President Nanietta Bacco (with the help of her staff and advisors, including Seven of Nine) is gathering allies, trying to create a unified defense against the Borg. These scenes work very well I think, sort like The West Wing meets Star Trek. With most Trek, the focus is so much on life in Starfleet aboard a starship, it’s always nice I think to learn more about other aspects of the universe, like government and politics. I know on paper it looks like science fiction and political thrillers shouldn’t mix (just ask George Lucas), I think it works here to better give us the scope of these events.

Meanwhile halfway across the galaxy on the USS Titan, Riker and Troi are faced with tragedy of their own. Deanna is having a difficult pregnancy, and she’s informed that the baby will not survive. One of the things that I like most about the Titan books is the character drama. Titan is a ship crewed by many different alien species, some of them not even humanoid, and as they try to live and work together they face many personal difficulties. Captain Riker is faced with a distraught wife who is also a member of his senior staff, he has to be there for her while dealing with this tragedy himself, but he has to put his ship and his crew first. It’s a balancing act, and he isn’t always successful at it. Titan is investigating the transwarp conduits that the Borg use to travel to the Alpha Quadrant. What they discover are the Caeliar. And with them, looking as though she has not aged a day in 200 hundred years, is Erika Hernandez.

In the third book, the Borg come, laying waste to everything in their path. These three Captains have a chance to stop them, but the plan is risky. Everything is at stake. Along the way we learn the origins of the Borg, and we learn what happened to the Caeliar and the crew of the Columbia.

This trilogy is a must read for anyone who is interested in the modern Star Trek bookverse. When it’s over, nothing will ever be the same again. It’s a fast paced, energetic read filled with personal drama, political intrigue, and everything in between. But of course, you don’t have to take my word for it.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Stand-Up Comedy Review: “Bill Maher: The Decider”

Fewer things polarize people as much as politics and comedy. Put them together and every time you open your mouth you’re probably pissing off more people than you’re pleasing, whether you’re funny or not. Bill Maher has made a career out of pulling no punches with his political material, calling it like he sees it regardless of how unpopular his opinion may be, and of course, pissing people off. Apart from a few early stand-up specials, my introduction to Bill Maher was “Politically Incorrect” on Comedy Central. One of my fondest childhood memories in fact is having breakfast with my dad and watching the show on the weekends when they would replay the week’s episodes. It’s become almost cliché now for my generation to get our news and political commentary from comedic sources like “The Daily Show”, but for me without comedians like Bill Maher and Dennis Miller, I never would have become interested in politics. It’s a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down.

From Comedy Central to ABC, and then finally to HBO with “Real Time”, Maher continues to mix serious political discussion with his own biting satire, closing each show with a segment that he calls “New Rules”.

“The Decider” (2007) is Maher’s parting salvo at the Bush administration. He comments in the opening minutes how with all the scandals, blunders and missteps, the country has “fuck-up fatigue”, wherein the citizenry has so come to accept the incompetence of the presidency that they’ve lost their outrage. Well Bill is here to stoke that fire and make sure that we never forget what a nightmare the last eight years have been. He takes us through the highlights, applying his ever-sharp wit to all of the usual suspects.

But it isn’t just the Republicans that draw Bill’s ire. He takes shots at lobbyists, the pharmaceutical industry, organized religion, and the pussification of the American male. But no matter the topic, his perspective and his frank delivery does well to point out the ridiculousness of it and make it funny. Thanks to YouTube, the entire special is up for viewing. So as Levar Burton once said, you don’t have to take my word for it.

Monday, March 8, 2010

YouTube Theater: Batman Sings!

Here's a new feature that I've come up with to share some of my favorite YouTube videos.

My daughter Nikki loves superheroes, especially Batman and Spider-Man, and lately she's been obsessed with a certain episode of "Batman: Brave and the Bold", Mayhem of the Music Meister! Starring the voice talents of Neil Patrick Harris. Enjoy.

And on a related note (hehe, note), here's one of my favorite moments from JLU.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Comics Review: “The Question, Vol. 1: Zen and Violence”

A while ago on this blog I listed my favorite characters from Justice League Unlimited, and at the top of that list was The Question. Jeffrey Combs’ portrayal of the faceless vigilante captured my attention from his first appearance on the show. The depiction of the character on JLU was that of a detail-oriented, conspiracy obsessed, seeker of truth. Dismissed by his colleagues as crazy or paranoid, The Question’s observations were almost always proven correct in the end. And when it came down to it, he was willing to put everything on the line for what he believed in. Visually speaking, the idea of a man without a face intrigued me. You couldn’t read his facial expressions, so you couldn’t tell what he was thinking. He was an enigma. I promised myself that I would go back to the comics to read about this character and learn more about him, and I’ve finally done exactly that.

The Question was created in 1967 by Steve Ditko for Charlton Comics. In 1983 Charlton was acquired by DC, The Question was then revamped by Dennis O’Neil (writer) and Denys Cowan (artist). “Zen and Violence” collects the first six issues of the acclaimed DC series that ran from 1986 to 1990.

The Question is Vic Sage, investigative reporter for KBEL in Hub City. When we’re first introduced to our hero, he’s taking apart a room full of thugs, looking for a video tape. He gets what he’s after and leaves, while the mysterious Lady Shiva stands by and watches, doing nothing. The tape contains evidence of corruption in the city government, leading all the way up to the mayor himself. He plays it on the evening news that night, where it catches the attention of Reverend Jeremiah Hatch, the mayor’s ‘pet sky pilot’ as Vic calls him. Hatch is the one who is really running the show, and his agenda is far more twisted then anyone knows.

Vic is a bulldog, fighting the tide of crime and corruption that has taken over Hub City with no regard for his own personal safety. As both Vic Sage and The Question, he’s searching for the same thing, the truth. He’s fearless and dogged in his pursuit of it. But his determination has made him over-confident, reckless. He shows up at a meeting that he knows is a trap, and he pays the ultimate price. He’s severely beaten by Lady Shiva, then shot in the head Hatch’s goons and dumped in the river, left for dead.

When Vic wakes up, he doesn’t remember much, but he knows that he should be dead. He learns that Lady Shiva pulled him out of the water and saved his life, but why? He receives a visit from Batman, who admonishes him for risking his life so foolishly. He tells him “You can’t half do what you were doing. It has to be full time. It has to be who you are.” Shiva leaves instructions for Vic, which lead him to the doorstep of Richard Dragon, who agrees to train him. Vic spends a year with Dragon, training his mind and body both. At the end of his training, Shiva shows up again. She tells Vic that he has a warrior’s passion, but her motives for saving his life are still a mystery.

Vic returns to Hub City as The Question and goes after Hatch. But things have become more complicated in his absence, and he finds an old flame involved with the mayor. Her and her daughter’s lives are at risk. Hub City is descending into chaos, and The Question is the only one who can stem the tide.

It’s hard to read The Question and not think about Rorschach from Watchmen. Alan Moore originally wanted to use the Charlton Comics characters for his book but was unable to, so he patterned the characters after them. Rorschach was based on Question, and subsequent portrayals of Question have been influenced by Rorschach, so the two characters have been intertwined. The Question even makes mention of his Watchmen equivalent in a later issue of this very series, and even attempts to emulate him. There’s a determination and a moral absolutism in the character, which Rorschach of course takes to the extreme, but it’s in this book as well. The Question comes to embrace a Zen philosophy from his training with Richard Dragon, and he seems to take Batman’s advice to heart. In the beginning of this book, The Question was just a mask that Vic Sage wore to further his own agenda. But by the end, The Question becomes who he is, and Vic Sage becomes the mask.

There is one small nit that I’d like to pick however. The gas that the Question uses to bond his mask to his face is also supposed to change the color of his clothes (and in some versions of the character, his hair as well) to further his disguise. The idea being that Vic Sage is a public figure and would be easily recognized on the street. But early in this book, his clothes don’t change at all. In the beginning of the story he goes right from beating up thugs to on the air wearing the exact same suit, with the exact same hair, and yet no one ever figures out that he’s The Question. Later in the book his clothes do change color slightly, so maybe this was just a coloring mistake in the early issues.

Most of the elements that first attracted me to the character on JLU are here as well, this visual look of the character of course as well as his tenacity and determination. So I think I’ll be picking up volume two soon enough to see where this goes, so look for more reviews in the future. Same Question time, same Question channel!