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.