Reviews

The Enemy of the World: A review

The following review is republished with permission from its author, Chrissy.
It can also be found here: cj’s notebook Librarian in the TARDIS: The Enemy of the World

Enemy-of-the-World_2698881bThe Enemy of My Enemy

Librarian in the TARDIS, Bonus Review #2

Title: The Enemy of the World
Written by: David Whitaker
Team TARDIS: Second Doctor, Jamie McCrimmon, Victoria Waterfield
Adversary: Ramon Salamander
Originally Aired: Dec 23, 1967-Jan 27, 1968
Number of Episodes: 6

Synopsis (from TARDIS Wikia) –
On Earth in 2018, the Doctor and his companions are enmeshed in a deadly web of intrigue thanks to his uncanny resemblance to the scientist/politician Salamander. He is hailed as the “shopkeeper of the world” for his efforts to relieve global famine, but why do his rivals keep disappearing? How can he predict so many natural disasters? The Doctor must expose Salamander’s schemes before he takes over the world.

My Review:
The idea to review this story came to me on my way into work today right after I finished watching “The Enemy of the World” on iTunes (let that statement sink in for a bit…) Because this was one that I thought I would enjoy watching and I am so very pleased to report that it lived up to my expectations. So, why not slot in a special Bonus Review to go along with the rest of my 50th Anniversary reviews? (it’s my blog, my project, I do what I want!)

Let me back up – last night, Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, and the various fansites were all aglow and abuzz with the joyous news of the return of “The Enemy of the World” and “The Web of Fear” to the BBC archives. The joy was even more palpable because both of these stories had been made available to the public immediately via iTunes, with the further announcement of DVD releases for both (“Enemy” next month, “Web” in January 2014). I hadn’t intended on getting either one of them quite yet, mostly because my personal finances are a little bit strapped at the moment (don’t worry – things are fine. It’s just that there are certain things in life that take precedence). However, upon doing a few further calculations, I reasoned that I could purchase one of these two stories. I settled on “The Enemy of the World” because I had watched Episode 3 on the “Lost in Time” box set some months ago and for whatever reason, that’s the one out of all the missing Troughton stories that really resonated with me at the time (I know people are the most excited about “The Web of Fear,” and I will be getting to that one eventually and I have no reason to say anything against it – if indeed there is anything negative to say about it at all. I just haven’t seen it yet, so I have no idea).

So, “The Enemy of the World” it was. And after a 3+ hour download (I’m on my internet provider’s “It’s Better Than Nothing” El Cheapo plan), I was ready to tuck in and enjoy a veritable feast of Who.

And what a feast it was! There are so many things to love about this story and I’ll probably only be able to go in-depth on a few, but it was so very worth the ten bucks (plus whatever the DVD ends up costing – because I’m likely going to drop dineros on that as well).

Here I am wishing they'd taken this approach with all of the DVD cover art! Oh well...

Here I am wishing they’d taken this approach
with all of the DVD cover art! Oh well…

One of the greatest things about this find of Classic Who is that these are two stories that restore the lovely Miss Victoria Waterfield (played by Deborah Watling) to our screens. I’ve said before that I found the dismissal of Victoria as “just a screamer” not very fair, but I didn’t have much evidence to support that. But I am tired of the surface impression of the early Who female companions just being screamers in short skirts (I could do an entire essay on the many ways in which those assertions are wrong – with specific examples – but the people who need to hear them wouldn’t bother to read it anyway). Granted, the Victoria I found in “The Enemy of the World” may be a bit timid, sure. But there’s nothing wrong with being shy and reserved. Remember – Victoria joined Team TARDIS as a result of the death of her father and she didn’t have anywhere else to go (not really). Imagine being thrown into a situation like that – you don’t know who you can trust or how you’re going to be taken care of. Some may not like the idea of Victoria being the poor, weak little girl who needs a big, tough man to protect her – and I wouldn’t even go as far as to say that she needs a man, per se. But what she does need (and what everybody needs at one point or another) is a friend. The Doctor and Jamie become Victoria’s friends because they care about what happens to her. That doesn’t make someone weak or insignificant or less-valued. That makes someone human. And, as often happens on Team TARDIS, those friendships evolve into a feeling of family. Sure, you’re hopping all around in space and time and running from frightening monsters and crazy psychopaths – but as long as you’ve got your adopted family with you, things are going to be just fine. And on that level, I love Victoria’s characterization. I love her bravery and her courage. I love her dependability. I love that she gets scared, but she still steps up when she is needed. That’s what makes a hero. It’s not necessarily the willingness to throw a punch that makes someone heroic

(Though I wouldn’t trade Jamie knocking out a hostile on the beach while shouting “Creig au Tuire!” for anything – that was awesome. But that’s in Jamie’s character and there are things that I love about Jamie that make him different from Victoria or Zoe or Ben or Polly – but I talked a lot about that in my review of “The Evil of the Daleks,” so I’ll let that analysis stand on its own).

But there are a fantastic couple of scenes in Episode 5 where Jamie and Victoria have been captured by Salamander’s men and they’re being interrogated by Benik. And Benik is quite the horrible little sadist. He threatens Victoria, which upsets Jamie but there’s nothing he can really do about it – not without getting Victoria hurt or killed. There were some moments where I actually thought “Holy… this is supposed to be a kids’ show!” (before amending my own thought – “family show.” Still, it was scary stuff! And I’m 28!)

I really liked the iTunes cover art for this story - nice and intense!

I really liked the iTunes cover art for this story – nice and intense!

But then the Doctor comes in, clearly impersonating Salamander and fooling everyone – including Jamie and Victoria – and says that he will continue the interrogations. Which he does – even with Benik and Benik’s little “puppy dog” (as the Doctor calls Random Guard #3) out of the room. And Victoria has had it! She finally tells off “Salamander” and yells what a horrible man he is and all the things she and Jamie found out about him while they were sneaking around his compound in Episodes 2 and 3 – which amounts to the proof the Doctor has been looking for when Astrid and Giles first asked him to help them bring down Salamander (plus, Benik comes back, still thinking the Doctor is Salamander, and hands him some documents to sign. Who knew the catering bills would be so damning?) Jamie gets in the fracas too, thus proving to Bruce that Salamander really is a creep.

And then – just when Victoria and Jamie are so angry that they’re probably going to beat the crap out of “Salamander” (yes, even sweet, innocent Victoria is pissed enough at this point to throw a punch or two), the Doctor reveals to his friends that it’s really him. But neither Jamie nor Victoria quite believe it (who can blame them?) and it’s only when the Doctor plays “air-recorder” (in one of the most heartwarming and delightful moments I’ve seen Patrick Troughton display) that both Jamie and Victoria recognize their friend and their reunion is something that should be ranked on one of those “Top Doctor Who Moments” lists that someone somewhere has probably compiled (we Whovians are fond of our lists).

I haven’t even gotten into any plot elements of this story! The storytelling in “The Enemy of the World” is just so tight and engaging. The only reason I realized that I had already watched four episodes when I suddenly felt very sleepy, on account of it being so late (I decided to go to bed at that point and save the rest for when I was fully alert). This story trucks. It moves and it’s interesting and it’s just so much fun to watch! Patrick Troughton is simply brilliant as both the Doctor and Salamander. The best part about his performance is the subtle differences when he’s the Doctor impersonating Salamander. You know that he’s playing the Doctor playing a different role, but even if you didn’t know that, you would probably be fooled right along with Jamie and Victoria and the rest. And the other characters are phenomenal too. I think my favorites were Astrid and Fariah – Astrid’s kind of the action-lady who saves Team TARDIS from the guys hunting Salamander on the beach at the beginning and Fariah is Salamander’s food taster who actually hates Salamander and she ends up helping the Doctor escape (and sacrificing herself in the process, but her death scene is really quite good).

I could go on and on about this story and how much I enjoyed it. But it’s also such a wonderful treat to FINALLY have it back. It was one of those that I pretty much had resigned myself to never being able to see, but I figured I could listen to the audios and read the novelization – but there’s so much that you miss with just having those little pieces of the story. You miss the facial expressions and the movements and the scenery (the wallpaper in Salamander’s compound – yeah, even that made me laugh) and you miss just what kind of people these characters are. Animation and recons help, but there really is nothing like seeing the story as it was originally broadcast.

Of course, rumors persist and there’s always hope – however dim – for more finds. This huge discovery has brought the number of missing episodes down to 97 (down to double-digits! HOORAY!) and there are expert archivists out there still searching for whatever else they can uncover. There’s still a long way to go to having a complete collection of every Doctor Who episode ever made – and who knows whether or not that’s actually possible…

But for now – we dance!

Movie Review – Oblivion

oblivion-movie-posterWhat to make of Oblivion, the new cinematic event from Joseph Kosinski, the director of TRON: Legacy and the producers of Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, starring Tom Cruise?  Well, funny enough, you get exactly what you’d expect mixing those together.  A visionary-looking piece of cinema couched in a strong concept starring Tom Cruise.

Unfortunately while the film strives for so much more, it stalls out there and never manages to get over the hump of how impressive it’s visual flair is or how smart the science fiction should be, which makes it all the more frustrating.

Tom Cruise stars as Jack Harper, a security repairman stationed on an evacuated Earth in 2077.  As we learn in the voice over, aliens attacked the moon and shattered it, causing mass earthquakes and tidal waves before they invaded.  Humanity struck back with nuclear weapons, and defeated them, but left the planet an irradiated wasteland.  Now we’re bugging out, and Jack’s mission is to secure the massive operation to extract vital resources from the planet before joining the rest of the survivors on Titan.  But as the movie unfolds, Jack finds himself drawn into a series of shocking revelations that connect him to Earth of the past.

I’m reminded of a saying of the late great Roger Ebert, who was firm of the belief that if you start a movie with a voice over telling us what happened off camera, you have failed as a filmmaker.  Rule one is show, don’t tell.  I didn’t put much stock in the theory when I first heard it, after all, Star Wars has a prologue and it’s pretty good.  But, the more I started to pay attention to movies that followed this model, the more I realized he was right.  All of the info at the beginning of Oblivion is regurgitated to us again later in the film.  Had it not appeared at the beginning, the beautiful vistas of a ruined planet that Jack flies over (including canyons of skyscrapers that sink from a wide empty plain due to the topography of the planet changing so much) would have been a deeper mystery and added to the atmosphere instead of so much eye candy.  And why tell us at all if you’re gonna repeat the speech almost verbatim later in the movie?  It’s an example of pandering, dumbing down the film so that more people can keep up with it, (at least, that’s the theory) but instead it’s insulting to the audience and damaging to the film.

As for the shocking revelations, well, some were and some weren’t, which oddly, I blame on the production design.  It’s fantastic, by the way, that super high gloss Star Trek/Minority Report look, and really helps sell the visual treat that this movie is, but, eagle eyed viewers will spot the problem that I did relatively quickly, and puncture a hole in the balloon that is that plot surprise.

Which is unfortunate, because Oblivion strives so hard to be smart science fiction.  I very much love smart sci-fi—which in Hollywood can be hard to come by between all the transforming giant robots and insipid end of the world extravaganzas we get treated too every year.  When I find smart sci-fi, I want to praise it highly.  Oblivion could have relied on gun battles and special effects to win us over, and it didn’t.  It took the high road, or tried too.  It even echoed my favorite Tom Cruise film, Vanilla Sky, but the plot just isn’t quite fleshed out enough and starts to rely on just about every science fiction trope in the book by the time it’s done.

In the end, Oblivion is an enjoyable film, and yes, it’s totally worth seeing.  But maybe wait for the cheap theaters or even better, the DVD/Blu-ray release in hopes of seeing a director’s cut.  There’s a phenomenal movie in here somewhere.  I hope it gets found.

Movie Review – Jurassic Park 3D

jurassic-park-3d-posterSteven Spielberg had a huge 1993, between the awesome spectacle and box office bonanza that was Jurassic Park, and the destined for Oscar gold, emotionally powerful Schindler’s List.  One of these films would make a great candidate for 3D conversion, and one has Nazis.

It was no surprise that Jurassic Park was given the go ahead.  Spielberg himself has admitted that he really has no desire to see any of his “classic” directed films get the treatment (so no rolling boulder from Raiders in 3D) but that he did feel JP was the one exception.  And while I breath a sigh of relief since I do NOT want to see Jaws, or Close Encounters or the Indiana Jones movies get 3D paint jobs, I was very curious about Jurassic Park, as I agree with Spielberg’s sentiment that this is definitely one film that felt right for it.

3D still holds an interesting stigma for me.  Part of me knows that it’s a gimmick.  A very lucrative (from the studio standpoint) gimmick, but still a gimmick none-the-less, on par with a flea circus.  It’s poke you in the eye fun, but not cinema.  Now I like to be poked in the eye every now and then, so I do partake, but I also usually try to reserve these forays into films that really warrant it.  Avatar and The Hobbit, having been shot in 3D were fantastic.  Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace was a disappointment, as the slapping on of 3D effects seemed very haphazard. (And REALLY?  I mean, 3D was practically INVENTED for Star Wars.  These are movies that absolutely should be phenomenal in the format! C’mon guys, get it right!) Yes, I went and saw Titanic up-converted, (which was done very well), Clash Of The Titans was NOT.

So Jurassic Park held both fascination and worry for me.

I am pleased to say that it holds up very well not only as a 3D convert, but also as a 20-year old (and now I feel ancient) movie.

The story based on Michael Crichton’s best selling novel (if you didn’t know) deals with an amusement park with genetically engineered dinosaurs getting loose and wreaking havoc on a remote island.  The film stars Sam Neil, Jeff Goldblum and Laura Dern as an intrepid group of scientists who arrive to put a stamp of approval on the park, and instead fight to survive it’s deadly wonders.

The 3D conversion was done with care.  I was amazed the opening pieces of the film look as good as they do, individual trees pop and stand out against the background and the whole film has a definite feel of depth to it, not so much poke you in the eye, but real immersion.  I admit to loosing that sensation later in the film, which could have been a result of getting lazy with all those complicated special FX, or just that I got wrapped up in the story all over again and forgot to be looking for things that popped.

It was amazing to see the film on the big screen again (yes, I’m old enough to remember seeing it in theaters upon first release) and a lot of fun to watch the audience react to laughs and surprises we knew were coming.  We all laughed at the “if the Pirates of the Caribbean breaks down, the pirates don’t eat the tourists” joke, and all jumped at the velociraptors in the kitchen.  Those moments are all here, all preserved.

Unless of course, you’re one of those unfortunates that has never seen Jurassic Park, in which case… what are you waiting for?

Movie Review – G.I.Joe: Retaliation

MV5BNzk5ODM0OTQ0N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwODg2ODE4OA@@._V1_SX214_“Yo Joe!”

That signature battle cry was a familiar one at my house, as my brother and I spent literally thousands of hours absorbed in G.I.JOE.  Reading the comics, watching the cartoon, and playing with the action figures.  So when Stephen Summers announced the movie a few years back I was giddy with anticipation… and worry.  Lets face it: childhood nostalgia is powerful mojo. Screw it up and you’re in big trouble.  G.I.JOE: The Rise Of Cobra was… well, big dumb fun.  I sat through it with a goofy grin plastered on my face as it unspooled, very reminded of the weekday cartoon.  But it wasn’t a good movie.  (Just like the cartoon wasn’t good, and you’re hearing that from a guy who owns all of it on DVD, but it was fun.)

So now comes G.I.JOE: Retaliation with a smaller budget, a different director and several major cast changes.

And I couldn’t be happier.

While the new film trades in the goofy camp that made the first film what it was for a more realistic take, it works so much better.  This isn’t high art or anything, we’re not going to be discussing Retaliation come Oscar time, but it was a good action flick.  And it stuck much closer to the spirit of G.I.JOE.  If Rise Of Cobra reminded me of the cartoon, Retaliation very much reminds me of the hours my brother and I spent playing with the toys and action figures.  We frequently went off the reservation, not rehashing cartoon or comic plots, but inventing our own outlandish story arcs that would inevitably feature a new Cobra super-weapon in their bid for world domination.  And then we’d throw the Joes in the deep end and hope they could swim.

And that’s what director Jon M. Chu has done here.  Chu, known for Step Up 2 and 3 has been a fan since his childhood, and not only treats the source material with respect, but directs the action scenes like a choreographed dance.  Nowhere is it more evident than the mountain top cliff scene featuring Snake Eyes (martial arts expert Ray Park—who will be in Kansas City at PLANET COMICON this weekend) and Jinx VS a pack of Ninjas. (I think the proper terminology is a clan, but pack works for me.) It’s jaw dropingly beautiful.

On a side note, Paramount delayed the release of this film over nine months to accommodate a 3D conversion (you know, so they can squeeze a few more bucks our of everyone who sees it that way).  Well I went to the standard 2D presentation, and with the exception of the mountain cliff scenes, can’t imagine the 3D up conversion really did all that much for it.

My advice, save a few bucks and go 2D.

The film gives a brief overview of the events of the first film, then leaves those waters behind.  The Joes are sent on a mission to retrieve nuclear devices from a war torn country, then betrayed by the commander in chief (a dual role played by Jonathan Pryce) who is actually Cobra henchman Zartan in disguise.  While most of the outfit is wiped out and killed and then blamed for going rogue, a few Joes survive the massacre and vow to get to the bottom of things.

Leading the survivors is Roadblock, very well portrayed by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.  For a wrestler, he’s becoming a competent action hero.  Fans will enjoy seeing Lady Jay and Flint (although the former is used as so much eye candy, and the later has no personality or story arc) but it when the team turns to original General Joe Colton (Bruce Willis) that things start to look up for them.

So many little things work in this film, but most of all I’m pleased that the vehicles look like the ones I used to play with, the action scenes are well done, Cobra Commander looks like Cobra Commander, and the Joes feel so much more like MY Joes, Real American Heroes.

Movie Review: Oz, The Great And Powerful

220px-Oz_-_The_Great_and_Powerful_PosterJames Franco heads an ensemble cast in the first volley fired in Hollywood’s battle over 2013 box office: Oz, The Great And Powerful.  I’ll admit to some early trepidation, as its brought to us by the same producers and studio as the most recent version of Alice In Wonderland, which Tim Burton directed, and in my opinion fell flat.  It looked cool, but didn’t move me beyond that.

Franco plays Oscar Diggs a traveling carnival magician who is more con man than magic man.  He has aspirations of being Thomas Edison and Harry Houdini rolled into one, but really is just a two bit thief.  After getting caught wooing the girl of the carnival strong man and making a hasty retreat via hot air balloon, Oscar gets swept up in a tornado and is magically transported to the land of Oz, where a prophecy has foretold of a great wizard that would fall from the sky and free the land from the evil and wicked witch.   And yes, there are some visual similarities to Wonderland in Oz, but the good news is here’s where the comparisons stop.

After traveling to the Emerald City, and meeting some new friends (Zach Braff as the land’s only friendly flying monkey Finley, and 13 year old Joey King as the most adorable creation this side of Puss N Boots, China Girl) Oscar sets off to fulfill the prophecy to save Oz from the Wicked Witch.  He also becomes embroiled in a love triangle of sorts with three witches, Theodora (Mila Kunis), Evanora (Rachel Weisz) and Glenda (Michelle Williams), none of whom are sure the wizard is all the prophecy made him out to be.

I know there are complaints about the acting being over the top and most of the characters around Oscar feel very vaudevillian as well, but I submit that with a theatrical background in carnival, Oscar should be played that way.  These are over the top characters and situations (we are talking about witches and wizards, after all.)

Oz is a magical place, full of spectacle and wonder.  On the surface, Sam Rami (Spider-man, Evil Dead) seems an odd choice to direct that spectacle.  But he does it with aplomb, filling the movie with many “Rami cam” moments that work, and creates something truly artful.  So many of the Oz “re-visitations” that have come lately have reinvented the story, or twisted it to better fit the needs of the new format (see Sci-Fi channel’s Tin Man, which started off great and slowly descended into something wonky).  But not here.  For a long while Oz, The Great and Powerful seemed to be walking the tightrope between being yet another empty, vapid, FX filled big budget film that was marketed to our heart strings, versus the warm glow of returning to the familiar and telling a new story.  Rami’s deft direction allows Oz to really feel like a voyage over the rainbow.

Despite my higher brain functions arguing and telling me I shouldn’t like this overblown, big budget Hollywoodized modernization/prequel of a classic, I kept slipping into nostalgia mode.  The movie made me remember and feel like I do when I watch MGM’s original The Wizard Of Oz, and if it can evoke those feelings, then I should just let go and let it wash over me and enjoy it.

And that may be the films most impressive achievement.

Much of that comes from the homage paid to the classic and iconic images of the original, things this one does in spades.  From the opening in black and white, to a few name drops that had me squee with excitement, the film did its homework.

The funny thing is, that moment seems to come once the film settles into the familiar trope of “will Oscar redeem himself or not”.  That’s when it really finds its footing.  Not that the preceding is bad by any stretch of the imagination.  But there have been so many “anti-heroes” of late that show up in films and are dragged unwillingly to the finale, it was refreshing to see one get there of his own volition.

The true magic of Oz is revealed in the final reel, which I wont ruin here, but it made me sit up and cheer.  By the end of the film, the groundwork has been laid for more, either a sequel to this film (and based on an impressive 80 million dollar opening weekend I’d say that’s assured) or a trip back down the yellow brick road with the original.

In either case, he really is a wiz of a wiz, if ever a wiz there was

Movie Review: A Good Day To Die Hard

220px-A_Good_Day_to_Die_HardSo, Valentines Day is coming up, and Mel looks at me and asks, “Did you wanna go to a movie?”

“Sure.” I say, already falling into “guy” mode and dreading the possible responses. “What do you wanna go see?”

“The new Die Hard is out this weekend.  Let’s go see it.”

THIS ladies and gentlemen, is why I love this woman.  She didn’t pick this for me, SHE wanted to go see it.  We were in Los Angeles that week, entertainment capitol of the world, and we’re going to see Die Hard on Valentines Day.  And while our original idea of seeing it at Grauman’s Chinese Theater on Hollywood Blvd fell through, (Really Grauman’s?  You’re not even SHOWING the film?) we did find an IMAX presentation—NOT in 3D if you can believe it—at an AMC in Downtown Disney.

John McClane, in IMAX.  Yippee Ki-Yay, right?

Unfortunately, that’s where the giddy fun part of this review stops, because once the lights dimmed, the movie began.

But first, back story:

Die Hard is of course, a classic.  A New York cop trapped in a office building full of terrorists on Christmas Eve.  Even if you don’t like action flicks, you need to see the first film, which is actually taught in film schools as an example of how to do it right.  It’s just an all around well-crafted movie, with real characters doing real things despite the extraordinary circumstances.

Die Hard 2: Die Harder stretches that formula, gives us a bigger play area by moving from a building to an airport, and I am not sure why it gets despised as much as it does.  Not as good as the first, granted, but still fun.

Die Hard With A Vengeance relocates us to all of New York, ties back into the first film and ups the ante in almost every way conceivable.  Great fun, but we are beginning to tire just a bit of John McClane and his uncanny ability to survive everything thrown at him.

But here’s the genius of the series.  He is too.  Somewhere over the course of these movies, McClaine gets funny.  He’s pissed off, aware of his own mortality and the fact that he keeps surviving strikes him as funny.  And the angrier he gets, the funnier he gets.  Kinda like the Hulk in reverse.

Live Free Or Die Hard tackles cyber terrorism on a grand scale, and while the movie involves whole cities under attack, it works because it starts small.  One shoot out in an apartment.  One car chase on a freeway.  They build the action and McClane’s anger (and humor).  Yes, this film features him blowing up a helicopter with a car, and culminates with a leap onto an exploding freeway from an attack jet, but they got there slowly over the course of the film.  It’s probably the most fun of the series.

A Good Day To Die Hard opens with a confusing montage of Russian politics culminating in an assassination.  The guilty party is Jack McClane, estranged son of our hero.  John flies to Russia to see his son, and immediately gets wrapped up in a series of over the top action pieces, which unfortunately, is the only lesson the film learned from its predecessors:  Ratchet up the action quotient.

Having been on the ground in Moscow for all of fifteen minutes McClane steals a truck and is involved in a high speed chase with an armored car that looks like it destroys as many vehicles as the end of The Blues Brothers.  Again, the chase itself was fun, but so unbelievable it took me right out of the film.  McClane is tossed into these as an unstoppable and nearly emotionless Terminator.  Don’t get me wrong, for an action film, it’s very impressive action, but he was the wrong character to use here.  Some of these are so outlandish you’d have trouble believing James Bond (or even the Terminator) would have walked away from them alive, let alone a cop from New York.

They try to rein it in with some character building moments between father and son, but instead it’s bickering with the hot head and the old guy.  All of the genuine emotion from the previous films was no where to be seen, and even Bruce Willis seemed bored at times.  Maybe it was the generic bland script.  Maybe it was the “let’s shoot this documentary style” camera work.

Where was the humor?  Where was my John McClane?

Perhaps most unforgivable, was the assault on the audience’s collective intelligence when the plot takes us to Chernobyl, and we’re expected to believe there’s a magic spray that eliminates radioactivity.  Seriously?  When did this become a science fiction movie?  By the end I couldn’t even appreciate the action anymore.  Like McClane, I was just pissed and had lost my sense of humor as well.

With the announcement of good box office, Die Hard 6 is an inevitability, (admittedly, potentially with the coolest sounding title ever: Old Habits Die Hard) and I’m sure I’d welcome John McClane back to the saddle, if only to wash the taste of this film—the weakest of the bunch—from my mouth.

Movie Review – Django Unchained

Django_Unchained_22

Quentin Tarantino is back, and back in a big way with the Academy Award nominated DJANGO UNCHAINED.  Set in the South just two years before the Civil War, the tale revolves around bounty hunter Dr. King (Christoph Waltz), who needs help from a slave named Django (Jamie Foxx) to ID a few prospective bounties.  They form a good partnership, and King agrees to help track down and rescue Django’s wife Broomhilda, who was sold to the brutal slave master Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio).

Tarantino is an acquired taste, and I certainly understand that his uber-violent, Sherman-like march through every film genre imaginable isn’t for everyone.  I’ve been a fan almost from the beginning, when a friend had me watch RESERVOIR DOGS on laserdisc one night as a primer about a month before PULP FICTION hit theaters. There’s something about Tarantino that is reassuring to me as a film goer.  My professors at school hate him, so of course I love him like any disobedient teenager would love something a parent disapproves of, but it goes deeper than that.  Quentin is one of us.  He is a film geek.  Oh, he didn’t go to USC to take classes or hone his craft in small shorts… his film school was the same as mine: years jockeying a counter in the local video store.  His curriculum wasn’t just the required classics like CHINATOWN and CITIZEN KANE, but every thing they had to offer, from every genre, the good.. and the bad.  And he took notes.

This time he sets his assault on the spaghetti western, that particular breed of film that made Clint Eastwood a star.  And he delivers a film that surprises by being a very good western as well as a reverent nod to the spaghetti flicks of old.

Jamie Foxx does a very good job as the lead character “The D is silent” Django.  He manages to transition from broken slave to milady comic fish out of water to brazen bad-ass and make it believable.  DiCaprio is still mining for Oscar gold, and was snubbed by the Academy again this year.  But he will get a nod someday, and I predict he’s shock many with an eventual win.  His Calvin Candie is as Country Fried Southern as they come, (with the possible exception of Don Johnson, in a surprise role that was hysterical) smarmy and slick and more than a little dangerous and deranged.  There’s some scenery chewing, but it’s done on purpose and effectively.  Samuel L. Jackson shows up again, this time playing a too-loyal house slave named Stephen, who in his own words is “the most hated negro in cinematic history”.

But my acting praise goes once again to Christoph Waltz.  He was mesmerizing as Nazi Col. Hans Landa in Tarantino’s INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, (deservedly winning the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for the performance) and once again wove a spell so powerful I could not take my eyes off him.  Maybe it’s the marriage of his acting with Tarantino’s dialogue, creating a rhythmic, hypnotic cadence, but I’ve resolved to start watching everything the man is in.  He’s that good, and I expect him to take home another statue.

The “N” word flies fast and furious–to the point where as a white man I questioned how uncomfortable I should be–but again I think that was Tarantino’s goal.  Slavery should be uncomfortable. And like he did with BASTERDS which had a slightly eschewed version of WWII history, DJANGO UNCHAINED also veers a bit from the established path in order to tell it’s story.  It may also be Tarantino’s most polished film thus far, managing to be technically proficient and yet still marked by his unmistakable style.  And yes, it IS violent, and over the top in many cases.  But a lot of the violence is surprise violence, which lends to a laugh and takes the edge off.  It’s not till late in the film that it gets truly bloody, but by that time Django’s path to revenge has you riled up and ready, nearly blood thirsty as you want to see these unsavory characters get whats coming to them.

Book Review: Girl Parts by John M. Cusick

girl_partsNever judge a book by it’s cover. That’s the lesson we’re taught early and often as children and it never fails to be an important one.  So when I was at my local library and saw a girl in a packing box full of styrofoam peanuts smiling suggestively at me from the cover of a book called Girl Parts, that adage ran through my head…  and I’m ashamed to admit that I checked it out anyway.

But what I found once I got into it’s pages was a wonderfully written, contemporary  coming-of-age story.  It’s reminiscent in tone to one of my all-time favorite books, Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, an achievement all the more impressive that this book features no war, no aliens and no Battle School.  It’s a book about relationships.

The book revolves around David and Charlie, two boys literally as opposite as can be, but the one thing they have in common is an inability to communicate and have meaningful relationships with girls.  When David’s parents present him with a Companion bot designed to encourage healthy bonds and treat “dissociative disorder”, he can’t get enough of the hot and luscious Rose.  But Companion bots have intimacy clocks that determine when affection can be shown. And when David moves too fast, he gets an electric shock.  Spurned by the one she’s programed to love, Rose turns to Charlie.  With his help she may grow beyond her programing into a real person, and her own best friend.

Shades of Pinocchio and AI abound, but Cusick takes a story that could be familiar and pedestrian and puts a new spin on it.  Not only does it work, but it works well.  The book is set just far enough in the future that the idea of an android is fine, but still feels contemporary.  The boys still drive cars and bicycles, the kids in class have to pass actual notes since texting is outlawed.  It’s these touches that flesh the story out and make the world feel real.

Reading about these kids who spend all their time on-line in class, then come home and spend all their time in virtual settings on their computers, it’s no wonder they’re “dissociative”.  But then I watched family members open Kindles and iPads and cell phones for Christmas, and I began wondering if there wasn’t more to Cusick’s tale, despite being published in 2010.

Movie Review – Lennon Naked

For Beatles buffs “Lennon Naked” may be a refreshing look at one of the members of the band. However if you aren’t very well versed in the lives of the Beatles, it can be a little tough to watch and follow along.

Lennon Naked is a televised bio-pic that aired on BBC-4 then PBS focusing on the life of John Lennon between 1967 and 1971. Christopher Eccleston plays the titular character and does a decent job. There are moments when I was watching that I was aware it was Eccleston, and others where it could have been Lennon himself. The biggest asset for Eccleston selling the role, is that he always has long hair covering his distinguishable ears. Overall he does a decent job encapsulating Lennon.

The real standout in this tele-movie is Naoko Mori (Who and Torchwood fans will know her as Toshiko Sato or Tosh) as Yoko Ono. At first I didn’t like her portrayal of Yoko, but then the more she was on screen the more I liked her in the role.

As for the rest of the cast, I was very disappointed by Andrew Scott (he played Jim Moriarty in Steven Moffat’s “Sherlock”) as Paul McCartney. He had the look down of Paul, but his voice didn’t have enough of the Liverpool accent that Paul has. Perhaps it’s because Scott’s voice is much lower than McCartney’s was at that time period. Everyone else did decent jobs, for as small of roles as they were given. The men who played Ringo and George looked like the actual men from a distance, but on close ups they didn’t match the look very well. Overall, seeing the 4 Beatles together in a far shot (which wasn’t very often) it looked like it could have been actual footage. Another unfortunate thing was that the other 3 members of the Beatles had only a couple of scenes in the whole movie. I would have liked to see more of the interaction of the band.

As for the plot of “Lennon Naked” there isn’t much of a coherent story line. There were many points during “Lennon Naked” that I was confused as to what they were talking about. It is an interesting character study of a very enigmatic man, who isn’t portrayed in a very good light, he comes across as brash, rude and unpleasant. There is a lot of focus on John reflecting on his childhood, and his abandonment from his dad. While a large part of the film focuses on his and Yoko’s relationship, something seemed lacking. I appreciated that they explored the couple’s struggle conceiving, and the impact that had on John.

One thing to consider on if you want to watch “Lennon Naked” is that as the title suggests, there is some nudity in the movie. There is a scene where John and Yoko take the “Two Virgins” album cover, and several afterwards where John remains naked. This isn’t partial nudity. Seeing Eccleston’s “Sonic Screwdriver” is something I didn’t necessarily need to see, and now something I can not un-see.

For major Beatles fans this could be a must watch. For a casual fan I wouldn’t suggest it without doing more research into John’s life first. And if you have any preconceived ideas that John was overall a nice fun loving guy, this film will shatter those images of Lennon for you.

Lennon Naked – B-

Movie Review – The Hunger Games

THE HUNGER GAMES, from the dystopian novel by Susanne Collins is a surprisingly faithful adaptation of the book.  Yes, there were things changed, but that’s the standard with ANY adaptation of the written word.  There simply isn’t enough room to get it all in.  In the land of Panem, a failed revolt by the 13 districts against the capitol 74 years ago resulted in the creation of The Hunger Games, an annual battle royal where each district is forced to hold a lottery and send one boy and girl to fight to the death in the arena.  Katniss Everdeen takes the place of her younger sister Prim who was chosen as the district 12 tribute and must fight her place.

The books are an amazing read, and deal with subject matter far beyond their “young adult” tag.  If you’re expecting Twilight, keep looking.  This is a far better written and entertaining series.  The movie follows suit, cramming a lot of information into it’s nearly 2 and a half hour running time, but entertains first and foremost.  If you’ve read the books (which I highly recommend on their value alone) I don’t believe you’ll be dissapointed.  If you’ve never read the books, You can certainly jump into the film without worry of missing anything, (though the ride is MUCH more enjoyable with that backstory).

An outstanding cast brings wonderful characters to life, including Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss, Elizabeth Banks, Woody Harrelson, and Lenny Kravitz.  Of particular stand out is Donald Sutherland as President Snow, who manages to govern Panem with fear and intimidation and keeps the nation in a stranglehold under the Capitol, and gives his portrayal of President Snow as almost frail, and yet utterly ruthless.  Also in fantastic if supporting roles are the Dream Lord himself, Toby Jones, and Stanley Tucci as Caesar.

Once the games begin, they unfold like a teenage version of Survivor as they battle the elements and each other.  And this part of the film is outstandingly well made, it looks like a documentary crew was turned loose in the middle of a war zone.  Unfortunately it matches the first half of the film.  Director Gary Ross uses a lot of shaky cam to drive home drama, and in the first half of the film, it’s totally not necessary.  In fact, it detracts from the rising climax of the end of the movie.  I also wish that Haymitch and Cinna had been given more to do, as they are two of my favorite characters in the novel.  It may not be the breakout film the media have built it into, but these are all small complaints in an overall well made film.  It’s entertaining and certainly lays the groundwork for the two sequels to follow.  May the odds be ever in your favor…

The Hunger Games – A

Movie Review – Puss In Boots

As the SHREK movies plodded on, they got more and more standardized and less and less funny.  One of the few character standouts was the Antonio Banderas voiced Puss in Boots.  Surely, someone would realize the genius of this paring, as Banderas was BORN to voice roles like this, and give him his own movie…

The adage “be careful what you wish for, you just might get it” has never been more apt than it is here.  The idea of giving Puss his own movie is genius, the actualization fails somewhat in execution.  A backstory dealing with his troubled youth and the poor influence of Humpty Dumpty (voiced by a surprisingly flat and low key Zach Galifianakas) and a quest for fabled magic beans should be a fun romp.

Unfortunately, it isn’t.  The jokes fall flat, the anthropomorphized animals are beyond anything we’ve seen so far in the Shrek universe, and the plot feels like a forced attempt to squeeze in a few storybook characters that have been left out of the adventures so far.  Admittedly, there was a fairly awesome joke that almost sailed over my head in regards to the identity of the final baddie.  When I got it, I couldn’t decide if I wanted to laugh or groan.  I won’t spoil it just incase someone wants to watch, but I can’t say I recommend it….

Puss In Boots – C

Movie Review – 50/50

Behind as usual, but here’s one I watched on Blu Ray recently…

It’s not everyone who can make a comedy about Cancer.  But that’s exactly what director Jonathan Levine and writer Will Reiser have done with 50/50, inspired by Reiser’s own dealings with the disease.  An original story about best friends (masterfully played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen) whose lives are changed by a cancer diagnosis.  Friendship, love, survival and above all, learning to laugh are the key moments and themes in the story of Adam’s transformation from normal 20 something to cancer patient.  Frequently funny, emotionally moving, a strong script and stand out performances make this one of the years best, if also over-looked films.

I cannot say enough good things about this film.  I was worried going into it. (How, after all, can you make Cancer funny?)  I myself have lost two grandparents to the disease.  But it’s not a laugh riot at the disease, it draws it’s humor from the situation–ultimately life itself–and lets face it, life IS a laugh riot.  I laughed out loud several times, and giggled many more.  And in doing so, saw that Reiser and Levine have managed to pull the teeth from the disease, and downgrade it from it’s capital letter “C”.  Gordon-Levitt is amazing (again) in this film.  I was impressed with him in his last several, (500 DAYS OF SUMMER and INCEPTION come to mind) but really, he’s ALWAYS good, with the ability to embody a role without making it his own.  He becomes the character, as opposed to bending the character to fit his personality, something most of the Hollywood big wigs could stand to learn.  Adam walks a tightrope of depression and despair, but winds up translating it into edgy comedy, and he becomes all the more sympathetic and inspiring because of it.  Rogen goes with his typical over-the-top in-you-face raunchy schtick, and while occasionally he can be annoying, here as the best friend and supporting role, it’s just the right amount of his hijinks to counterbalance the stoic Adam.

A great film that reminds us no matter what bizarre turns they take, friendship and love are the greatest healers.

50/50 – A

Movie Review – Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace 3D

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… George Lucas made millions of fans happy with the announcement that STAR WARS was coming back.  Then he made millions of fan boys angry by serving up 3 not-so-great films.

I will always come down in favor of the prequel trilogy.  No, they weren’t necessarily the films I wanted.  Yes, they are full of problems.  The story of Anakin Skywalker’s turn to the dark side of the force and eventual rebirth as Darth Vader should be epic and glorious, and mesmerizing.  Unfortunately, the journey is bogged down by far to much political maneuvering (which believe it or not, I actually enjoy those scenes, as Palpatine is my favorite character in the new trilogy), Scooby-Doo sub plots, annoying animated characters, clumsy dialogue and bewildering editing.  But there are moments of glory, and since I look at fandom through rose-colored lenses, I choose to focus on the glory.

But focusing became a bit tougher through those 3D glasses…

I know everyone is down on up converting movies into 3D, and I’m not a fan of the practice myself.  But I got giddy with anticipation when I heard Lucas was doing STAR WARS.  For all their flaws, these are the kind of movies that 3D was made for.  Big, fast, loud and in-your-face.  So I eagerly plopped down my cash, fit the glasses on and waited for the lights to dim.

The results were mixed.  The opening crawl pops with this real floating effect that was super cool.  Then the film started.  PHANTOM MENACE suffers from the nuts and bolts of that galaxy far, far way.  Two Jedi are dispatched to deal with a trade dispute.  Um… TRADE DISPUTE!?!?  This is STAR WARS, GEORGE!  Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor totally anchor this film as Qui-gon and Obi-wan, and they pop very much to the foreground of their shots on the Trade Federation ship, but the rest of the backgrounds look… well, like backgrounds.  Almost like a flat view screen behind them.  And not a high definition plasma view screen, but a I-just-pulled-the-string-and-un-rolled-this-on-the-wall-of-my-school-for-an-asssymbly kinda screen.  The fights with the battle droids on the streets of Naboo were cool.  Escaping the blockade was cool.

The movie drags when we arrive on Tatooine and get bogged down in the Anakin and the middiclorian plot.  The ship is broke, they meet Anakin, he can help them win the parts they need by racing.  Might as well have yelled “Move along, nothing to see here!”  The pod race however, may be worth the price of admission by itself.  And, this is the DVD / blue ray print of the film, so the race is there in all three laps of orgasmic speed rush.

The arrival on Courriscant was cool, but then we bog down again in the interesting to watch but not fun to look at in 3D political mechanics.  I absolutely love how slimy and manipulative Palpatine is.  I marvel at watching him and his plans and schemes unfold, knowing what is coming, and cant look away anytime he’s on screen.  Ian McDiarmid is an acting wonder.

We return to Naboo to put an end to the blockade and find 3D effects make the lightsaber battle to be cool, but not as good as I would have imagined, the battle with the droid army to be cool, but not as good as I would have imagined, and the space battle to be a downright disappointment.  I was so looking forward to that, but as it un-spooled, I realized that in space there is no frame of reference for the 3D to create a background to pop out of, and the ships fly by so fast that I couldn’t tell if it was 3D or not anyway.  Surprisingly, the best part was Padme and troops fighting their way up to the palace throne room.  Those shots looked fantastic.

All-in-all it wasn’t a waste of money.  ANY excuse to see STAR WARS on the big screen is a worthwhile one.  But watching it in 3D wasn’t the religious experience I thought it would be.  YET.  Because all PHANTOM MENACE did was wet my appetite for the good ones to show up.

STAR WARS: EPISODE I: THE PHANTOM MENACE – Film – C+ / 3D – B-

Movie Review – Source Code

I very much love and appreciate hard sic-fi, so when a friend made me sit down and watch the first film from Duncan Jones, (2009’s MOON) I was intrigued.  And while I actually didn’t love that film, I dug what Jones was doing.  This was an outstanding (if slightly telegraphed) idea, and had wonderful nuggets of science, something all too commonly lacking in a sci-fi story.

So when the same friend recommended SOURCE CODE I was curious but a bit hesitant.  When Keith pushed me to watch it I caved, knowing his love of time travel meant I was probably in good hands here.  WOW was I ever.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays Captain Stevens, a decorated soldier, who wakes up in the body of an unknown man and discovers he’s part of a mission to find the bomber of a Chicago commuter train.  It’s a government experiment called Source Code, a program that enables him to cross over into another man’s identity in the last 8 minutes of his life.  Captain Stevens must re-live the incident over and over again, hoping to find the key to the identity of the bomber so that he can prevent a second, larger threat that would kill millions. With each run through, he gathers another clue.

Shades of GROUNDHOG DAY and DEJA VU abound in this, along with a healthy dose of “Quantum Leap” thrown in for good measure (I commented to Mel over and over during the movie that it felt like Quantum Leap, and was rewarded with Scott Bakula as a voice on the phone late in the film. Rock On!)  But surprisingly, this ISNT a time travel story. Source Code doesn’t allow for time travel, simply revisiting an event that has already happened.  But in a nifty bit of hard science, they do bring up the possibility of alternate realities.  Intelligent science in a smart science fiction film.  What a concept!

Jake Gyllenhaal is always solid, and he’s becoming one of my favorite actors simply because of the range and versatility he’s shown.  Michelle Monaghan is more than just a damsel in distress, and Jeffry Wright plays the doctor behind the project very believably.  But the stand out performance is from Vera Farmiga as Goodwin.  She infuses a quantifiable Human quotient to the proceedings, (along the same lines as Reginald Vel Johnson’s Al Powell in DIE HARD.)

It’s a brilliant thriller, engaging, thought provoking and well made. And unlike MOON, SOURCE CODE allowed me to think I had it all figured out, then blew my mind in the last twenty minutes.  They don’t get much better.

SORUCE CODE  – A+