Saturday, October 31, 2009


Unlike Aliens, Alien 3 doesn't do much of anything that the first movie didn't. It answers the question of how to make a single one of the creatures scary again after Ripley fought off hordes the last time: replace the marines with bald, British criminals and take away their weapons. This time, the alien bursts out of an animal instead of a person, resulting in slightly different physiology. In some ways, it's the best looking of the first three films, with superior gore effects and a good looking alien. But whenever the shot is wide enough to see the entire thing visible, it ends up being horribly composited with the rest of the picture and actually looking worse than if they just cheated more with the camera work.

This was actually David Fincher's first feature film, though unfortunately not a very good one, and thanks to disputes with the studio he's basically disowned it. It's hard to say how much of the movie's badness is the result of outside tampering and how much is it just being a bad movie. It seems more hateful than the first two. The series is known for the vast majority of its characters dying, but this one kills off three survivors from the last movie in the beginning for no real reason. The setting is weird, and the surrounding cast this time is kind of dull, with every person sort of being the same dude. Aliens expanded on the series' scope, and Alien 3 draws it back, just trying to make some money without doing much that'll make it seem worth the time. Honestly, I can't think of many reasons I shouldn't just call it awful. The ending is unexpected and pointed, thought it didn't stop them from making yet another sequel five years later. I'm gonna go think about something else now.

Friday, October 30, 2009


It's a damn shame it took James Cameron fifteen years to finally get back to directing action films. In just a decade spanning the 80s and 90s, he made four of the best and most original such movies in that period, plus The Abyss which was okay I guess. Alien still holds up and is worth watching, but this is the movie I regret not seeing until now. I've heard of its influence on the aesthetic of many modern video games over and over, and that rang pretty true while I was watching. Aliens takes the setting and style of the first movie, and amps up the intensity and excitement tenfold. It begins with Ripley finally being discovered and awoken from her frozen state fifty seven years after the first movie, not long after her previously unmentioned daughter, that she remembers as being ten, dying an old woman. It's kind of a convenient way to add emotion to the revelation, but Cameron does a good job of carrying the motherhood thread through the rest of the story. A colony has been established on the planet where the first alien was discovered, and she goes on a mission with a unit of soldiers to try to prevent things from going to hell. You can guess whether they succeed.

The movie maintains some of the horror elements of the first film, but mostly establishes its own personality with the various wisecracking marines and the added danger of a species that is now mostly fighting on its own turf. They expand on the question of the creatures' biology, and where they all come from. The action doesn't have the specific complexity of more modern movies, but there's a real sense of chaos and danger as they basically wage war on each other. A few of the characters are somewhat annoying, but you come to regret each of their deaths and root for their triumphs. The aliens are generally pulled off better than in the first movie, with some clever filming to hide the fact that they're, you know, not real, and the final obstacle is a particularly impressive bit of practical effects work. The climactic moments are as strong as in any movie, and in the end Aliens is a great, satisfying action movie, dark but not as depressingly bleak as the rest of the series. Just watching it made me more optimistic for Avatar.

Thursday, October 29, 2009


So uh... yeah. This movie. It was good, especially for its time. Around then, Star Wars was all the rage, but Alien ignores it for a view of space travel that is much more gritty and uninviting. The crew has to go into a frozen sleep because of the length of the journey, and the ship looks like it was made out of pieces of a refinery somewhere. It's kind of silly now that all of the computers lack anything close to modern interfaces (and even sillier that the sequels don't change it, I understand wanting to be consistent, but with the time passing between the movies there's plenty of justification for an upgrade), but it does contribute to the atmosphere. The movie is a slow burn, as plenty of time passes just establishing the crew and mission before anything goes wrong, and even when it does, it takes its time getting really bad.

There aren't many people left who don't know how the alien gets on the ship, although the entire sequence of events remain interesting and disturbing to watch. I can't say I got the same thrill when I knew exactly what was going to happen at certain points, but I still appreciated the craft at work. As I've said before, Ridley Scott is a man who knows how to shoot a scene. Once the alien gets loose in the ship it becomes more of a standard horror movie, with fake-out jump scares, bad decisions (Hey I know there's a monster on the ship trying to pick us off one by one but we just decided to go make you find the cat by yourself), and brief glimpses of the killer as it makes quick work of the people on board. The only disappointment was the alien itself. They went through great pains to make it not appear to be a man in a suit, but it's totally a man in a suit, and most of the kills are too quick and confusing to totally appreciate what's happening. By the end it's just Sigourney Weaver who remains, and she has a chance to creep around in her underwear for a bit before destroying the creature and the ship, and going back to sleep intact for a sequel. Scott originally wanted to kill her off in the end I think, but her character of Ripley is the one common thread through the series (besides the aliens obviously), and at least for a while it seems to have been a good decision.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Television Update 4: Straight-to-DVD Finales

A few shows that have recently ended or been in danger of ending have seen episodes or even feature length movies be put out on home video instead of the airwaves, at least in the USA. Here's what I think of them.

Battlestar Galactica: The Plan

Edward James Olmos, who directed this movie, claims it won't be the end of the Galactica saga, and he's not talking about Caprica. In any case, it felt less like a real film and more like a very long, somewhat informative filler episode, giving a lot of background on what was happening with the Cylons in secret in the beginning of the war, within the context of what we know from the end of the series. Cavill and Simon have the biggest roles, with the former orchestrating nearly every move made within the walls of Galactica in the first couple seasons, and the latter having a genuinely intriguing character arc, adding some purpose to a model which was hardly used at all during the regular run of the show. The new footage is heavily interspersed with clips from earlier episodes, although the new perspective was enough to prevent it from feeling like a recap show to me. Not great really, but had some interesting nuggets.

Dollhouse - "Epitaph One"

Because of filming two pilots, the season order got a little screwy for Dollhouse's first season. Only the first twelve regular episodes ending up airing in America, with an extra thirteenth filmed cheaply and shoved onto the DVD. Epitaph One could have been the last episode of the series until it was somehow picked up for a second season, and it jumps into the show's future, showing an apocalyptic world torn apart by the organization's apparent poor business practices. It's pretty fascinating, though it will probably end up becoming frustrating when the show eventually does get canned before the plot can really get this far along. Despite some real clunker episodes, it's brilliant, original science fiction like this that makes the show worth watching every week, although unfortunately there won't be another new episode until December.

Prison Break: The Final Break

I believe this was originally intended to be the show's final two episodes, but they ended up packaging them together into a separate movie, which honestly feels like the right decision. It just doesn't really jive with a series ending, feeling more like a little bonus adventure that's not really relevant to the story arc. I guess it really is the ending anyway, but oh well. It features one last jail break, this time from a women's penitentiary. It fills in some details missing from the ending montage in the series' final episode, and provides an adequately tense and interesting story, although it seems weird that they are able to get in so quickly after the series' other two breaks both took at least a dozen hours of television to pull off. Prison Break was always a second tier series to me, and this does little to change that, but has a nice send-off for the characters.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


One of my friends has been trying to get me to see this for maybe a decade now. I'm not sure why it took so long. David Fincher's Fight Club is one of my favorite movies. Maybe being repeatedly told to see it was subconsciously pushing me away. Whatever it was, it's definitely a good film. It's part crime movie, part suspense. Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman are a couple detectives in a strange city where everything looks run-down and it always rains. Pitt just moved to town to replace Freeman, who's set to retire at the end of the week, but a string of related murders start showing up, pointing to a serial killer obsessed with his own sense of justice and the seven deadly sins. It's a slow burn as they examine the aftermath of his painstaking, disturbing work and try to find connections that will lead to him before he finishes the job. It's clear that he's toying with them, almost challenging them to catch him while he goes about his business. As a look at the possible endpoint of what a human mind might be capable of putting together, it's intriguing and chilling at the same time.

In between checking crime scenes, the movie takes some time to develop the detectives when they're off the job. Pitt comes home to his wife played by Gwyneth Paltrow and their three dogs, while Freeman goes to the library, rarely able to stop thinking about work. There are a couple scenes where Paltrow confides in Freeman, the only man besides her husband she knows to turn to in a new city that she hates. It's unclear at first what the point of this stuff is besides preventing the entire movie from being a creepy detective story, but as the depths of the killer's horrifying plan are unraveled the truth becomes clear. Kevin Spacey has a good role, one of the more interesting in his career (which was nice to see, because it's been a while since I've seen him do a whole lot). It all builds to a huge downer of an ending, one that the studio fought against but ultimately had to happen for the movie to totally work. I should be more diligent about seeing Fincher's films, because he's certainly one of the most interesting directors of the last couple decades.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

I'm not going to pretend I didn't like the first two Mummy movies. They were dumb in places, but had some all right humor and undead-destroying action, with the first being a pretty competent tribute to those old movie serials as far as I know. The third film is just too little too late, though. The writer/director of the first two is gone, moved on to the uh... greener pastures of G.I. Joe. Rachel Weisz is gone, replaced by Maria Bello, who's not bad, but not as good. The classic Egyptian theme is gone, replaced with a Chinese setting instead, which isn't a terrible idea but doesn't get executed perfectly. It's cool that Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh are in it, but in the end they don't do much. They have a couple brief scenes showing of their talents, but Yeoh is gone for most of the film and Li is replaced by an incomplete, Computer-enhanced version with magic elemental powers. Because he's Asian, you see.

There's some not-that-funny jokes and not-that-exciting effect-laden action sequences as both sides race to Shangri-La, where a magic artifact will blah blah blah. There's some crappy looking yetis, some clumsy romance developed between the O'Connell's annoying son who hasn't improved with age and a change in actor and a 2,000 year old teenage ninja, and a big final epic battle where two mummified armies clash to little consequence. I feel like I'm being harsh on the movie, because it wasn't actively boring or hate-worthy. It just rarely if ever succeeds at what the first two films did right, and I just don't like the shift in setting. If the second movie was somewhere else, maybe Arabian or something, then it would be fine for each one to have a different villain and be a globe-hopping Mummy-killing franchise. But it was a direct sequel, with the exact same bad guy, and the new setting and villain along with it coming out seven years later just makes it feel like the black sheep of the series, which it ultimately is.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay

The first Harold & Kumar movie looked like another idiotic stoner comedy to me, but for some reason I ended up liking it quite a bit. I'm not sure what it is. It has a lot of the same dumb poop humor and pointless nudity. There's just something about the innocent honesty of the main characters, both intelligent but put upon by those around them because of their race, both high as hell and just wanting some delicious burgers and fries. The sequel continues at pretty much the instant the original left off, and starts with them having the goal of reaching Amsterdam so Harold can pursue the hot girl in his building he knows from the elevator. Obviously from the title though, they get diverted from their quest. Thanks to an incompetent government investigation run by a funny but completely hateable Rob Corddry, Harold and Kumar are believed to be terrorists and journey through the south to get their names cleared by Kumar's ex-girlfriend's fiancé. I'm sure that little detail won't come into the story too much! Woahhh!

Anyway, like the first film, the main characters do what it takes to get to their destination, running into all sorts of people, some who wish them harm, and some who just want to share a joint with them. There's a fair amount of insensitive humor, poking fun at both the south and a lot of racial issues. As with the first movie, some of the better moments come when the pair encounter a highly fictionalized, womanizing, drugged-out version of Neil Patrick Harris played by Neil Patrick Harris, and oh what adventures they have. There's also a scene where the two encounter a certain now-former US President, which I couldn't decide if I actually liked or not. Anyway, the movie eventually ends in a fairly contrived yet enjoyable way. There's apparently a third film on the way, though I'm not sure how that's going to work out with Kal Penn's current job in the Obama administration. In any case, Escape, was a dumb movie that like the original still managed to be endearing.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

MC Chris - Part Six Part Two

The second part of this slightly absurd project wasn't quite as enjoyable as the first, but still a solid, funny release. While I didn't like the songs quite as much, the album does flow a bit better, as actual music is only interrupted by skits once instead of three times. The first two tracks are incredibly nerdy. "Zuckuss' Prius" is another in the series of Star Wars bounty hunters and their rides, though not as catchy as the one on the last album. "Neville" is about Neville Longbottom from the Harry Potter series, and has a nice ska groove as Chris spits about one of fantasy's most important total dorks. The last two songs change focus a bit. They feature some auto-tuned singing in the choruses, and focus on the fairer sex. Though "Japanese Maid" has its own geeky flair, putting Chris in the shoes of the protagonist of some trite anime. The skits continue the story of Chris' tour through hell, and while they're not as gut-busting as Part One's bits, you have to like something that features references to Guts and six minutes of wacky names for bad guys. I'm not sure when the third part is supposed to come out, but I'm looking forward to it.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Star Trek - Season 1

The recent Trek film increasing my interest in the franchise finally paid dividends about a month ago when I started watching the original series. It's kind of slow and boring on occasion; the fact that it was made in the 60s leads to some painfully dated scenarios, especially any attempt by a character to fight another; and it sure seems like a lot of plot ideas get reused repeatedly. Almost every episode can be shoehorned into one of maybe half a dozen archetypes. Still, the show did enough to keep me watching through these struggles, and it's hard to deny its importance to science fiction. It succeeds for the most part because the cast is good. Scotty, Sulu, and Uhura are fine I guess, but the show is carried by Kirk, Spock, and Bones. All three are great in their own way, but also similar. They have a combination of intelligence and fearlessness that makes watching them tackle a highly sensitive and difficult situation at least interesting, and usually a lot of fun.

The show is highly episodic and was aired out of production order, and you could pretty much watch the episodes in any order and not miss anything. Cast members pop in and out and characters change their assignment between episodes without anyone noticing. Obviously this results in a situation where some episodes are really good, and some definitely aren't. Unlike the more serialized shows I tend to gravitate towards, the reason to keep watching isn't to find out what happens next, but the hope that the next episode is one of those good ones. Some of the better ones include "The Corbomite Maneuver", where Kirk protects his ship through the sheer power of his huge brass balls, and "Space Seed", which introduces Khan, one of the series' most infamous characters. The version I watched was the remastered one, which primarily features improved visual effects in the outer space scenes. Normally I'd prefer to see the unmolested original, but in this case I didn't mind because it never affected the story and was undoubtedly a vast improvement over whatever they might have mustered in 1966. The most interesting thing was how it didn't play to my expectations, of Kirk commanding a ship against a bunch of alien vessels and romancing alien women. The former was only an occasional situation, and the latter never happened at all. Either that stuff happened a lot more in subsequent seasons, or I've been highly duped by popular culture. In any case, I'll keep watching to find out.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

MC Chris - Part Six Part One

So, I think this is Chris' last music project for a while, as he's getting back into animation soon. Not content to just release an album, he's starting it off with a string of three EPs, before eventually putting out the final full length called MC Chris Goes to Hell, which may or may not include different skits and remixed versions of all the songs. In any case, I'll probably end up gladly supporting whatever it ends up being. The first EP, Part Six Part One, is only a brief seven tracks long, with four songs and three skits. What it lacks in length it makes up for in persistent humor and quality. The skits are as funny as they've ever been, maybe narrower in scope than before thanks to the episodic nature of the release, but still hilarious. The songs are solid, and pretty darn sexual in nature, the most since he put out Eating's Not Cheating. The opening track is as explicit as you could ever ask for, and has some cool vocal effects and an asynchronous beat backing it up. "006" is another catchy song with a good chorus, and a funny little story going on about Chris being some sort of secret agent. "Gauges" is the requisite softer, more sentimental track, and "IG-88's '57 Chevy" is a humorous, auto-tuned reaction to his fake manager's suggestion from two albums ago that he follow up "Fett's Vette" with more songs about the cars of bounty hunters from The Empire Strikes Back. As a callback to the style and length of his earliest releases, I liked it quite a bit.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Day of the Dead

Despite the shorter span of time between this film and its prequel, significantly more time seems to have passed within this world since Dawn of the Dead than between that film and Night of the Living Dead. The undead have overrun the entire country at least, and a group of humans struggles to survive in an underground bunker. Despite having to rely on each other to live, nobody seems to be able to get along as the scientists researching the zombies butt heads with the military men who are supposed to protect them, and the strains of living in such conditions have started to weigh heavily on some. One guy's trying to domesticate the dead and is actually making progress with a particularly clever fellow named Bub, another wants to figure out what actually causes the transformation, and the new commander of the army presence just seems to want to be a dick all day. Day of the Dead is certainly less focused on a message than previously in the series, with the only thing you can gleam from it is again how men are their own downfall as much as the zombies are.

The gore is much improved this time, with guts falling all over the place, humans being ripped and torn apart, and a lot of heads being opened by bullets. It's harder for me to be disgusted by that sort of thing when the situation is so ludicrous, and people getting violently eaten was honestly a welcome respite from my boredom with the rest of the movie. It's shorter than Dawn of the Dead, but it still spends too much time on unimportant conversations and periods of nothing much happening. Bub and the scientist teaching him were an entertaining diversion for a while, but there's just not enough action to keep the movie going. Dawn had a pretty crazy scene in the beginning to set up the sense of carnage as society breaks down, but the opening here doesn't do a lot to get you excited. It succeeds better as a horror movie than Dawn did, as the zombies felt more like a real threat to their lives, and the last scenes where things go to hell are generally pretty effective. Overall Romero's quintessential zombie series hasn't done a tone to really impress me, but it hasn't felt like a waste of time either.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Dawn of the Dead

I'm fairly familiar with George Romero's Living Dead series, having seen the original, Land of the Dead, and Zack Snyder's remake of this very film. In general, they've been watchable if unexceptional, and this one is no different. In many ways, it's more of a social statement than a true horror movie. The first one had a message about race to go along with its low-budget black and white scares. Dawn seems to be more concerned with the increase in consumer culture, as it takes place mostly within a shopping mall. Most people back then had seen the rise of such fully-enclosed shopping centers within their lifetimes, and they're still a symbol today of our commercialism. And it's a pretty obvious statement the movie is trying to make when a character asks why so many of the undead are wandering around the mall and another speculates that it may be an instinct from when they were still alive.

Political stances aside, the movie is decent if a bit boring at times. Famous make-up artist Tom Savini came onto the series here and his gore effects are better, though because of the color end up looking a bit worse than the original. Whenever someone gets bitten into it looks like their flesh is made of foam rubber. Zombies are made a mockery of as often as they're treated as a genuine threat, easily pushed aside and ran past, and by the end they're literally getting pied in the face. One of the early survivors ends up getting bitten because of his rashness, but the rest of the main cast manages to set up a sustainable living that only gets threatened once another group of humans shows up, which may be another statement of some sort. In the end, it's generally stupidity that gets people killed, not the living dead. Sure, they do the finishing off, but they're just there for the meal. I generally prefer shambling zombies over sprinting ones, but they've gotta be more imposing than this to make an effective horror movie. A big factor might be how you treat them mentally. Zombies can either seem mindless or just unintelligent. The difference is slight, but it exists and makes a world of difference. See if you can figure out which one is better.

Monday, October 19, 2009

A Clash of Kings

George R. R. Martin's follow-up to A Game of Thrones does nothing but expand upon the scope of the series, as things seem to have gotten bigger in every conceivable way. The cast of point of view characters and people in general only grows to compensate for the many who lose their lives (and believe me, that's a lot); the number of different factions all clawing for a foothold in the increasingly chaotic world, the amount of land actually covered, and heck, just the page count all increase as the originally planned trilogy exploded into what is now supposed to be seven novels. It is truly an epic among epics, one that I am relishing the opportunity to dive into, and I only wish Martin were a bit quicker about finishing it.

The most notable increase to me though was the increase in magic. In the beginning of the story, the last dragons had died out long ago, and anyone who claimed to know the ways of sorcery was scarcely able to prove it. But as the chaos of war has erupted, so to has the presence of arts that most believe no longer existed, or maybe never did. There are tastes of it here and there in the first part, and those glimpses start coming more frequently in Clash of Kings, although it's still only just getting going. These brief moments are much more exciting and dramatic than if it were a common thing to the setting, and you can tell that when the floodgates are finally unleashed they'll make what appeared to be a land boiling over look like it had barely begun to simmer.

I'm not sure if what I've built up in my head can possibly match what a writer can actually accomplish, but through two books he's never failed to impress me with how he can take one little thing and twist it until it breaks your heart. I could talk about how good the characterization is, how he can make you like or dislike anyone at any time without destroying that character's identity, but I sort of already just did and I should probably leave myself the scrap of something to talk about later. When I enjoy something this much, it's sometimes difficult to write about at length because all I can think to do is constantly mention how great it is.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


Zombieland is a good Dawn of the Dead to Shaun of the Dead's Night of the Living Dead. It's not about the outbreak and early rise of the zombie hordes, it's about a few people scraping to survive in a world already torn apart by their menace. I wasn't sure about the movie before I saw it, because it almost seemed like it was trying too hard to get me specifically to like it. But it ended up being a pretty enjoyable film with plenty of likable characters to keep you interested in what was happening. It lack's Shaun's British subtlety and completely spot-on satire, but makes up for it with a real sense of fun and extremely over the top violence. I've rarely seen zombies die as well as they do in this movie, and the gore isn't even the goal. Since the movie is based on what was initially planned to be a televised series, the purpose of the characters is to grow and connect with each other, not die horribly every once in a while.

And the cast is strong. Jesse Eisenberg has drawn comparisons to Michael Cera, but it's clear he's more than just a copy. He's done a lot more legitimate acting, and does a solid job here as Columbus of explaining the world to the audience through narration while taking the lead as a lovable loser. Woody Harrelson is enjoyable in whatever sort of movie you care to stick him in, and plays one of cinema's greatest ever pure zombie killers in Tallahassee. Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin are recognizable from Superbad and Little Miss Sunshine respectively, and play a couple of con artist sisters who you like despite their actions for a lot of the film. Emma's good because she can consistently pull off the part of the stone cold fox that you can still somehow buy being possibly attracted to a dork like Columbus, and Abigail is surprisingly good for her age. And the secret celebrity cameo is one for the ages. It's hard to mind the slight halt in forward momentum when they get so much humor out of just a few minutes. The climax at an amusement park is probably the most purely enjoyable sequence I've seen in a horror-related context, and I would love to see the creators continue the story of four strangers with towns for names.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Army of Darkness

The third film in the Evil Dead series is so far from the first that it would be hard to tell they're even related except for the presence of Bruce Campbell, who carries the movie the whole way. Any horror elements have been limited to the grotesque appearance of the bad guys, as it's a mix of a slapstick comedy and a fantasy epic for the most part. Ash has been transported back in time, and must recover the Book of the Dead in order to save a small kingdom from the Deadites as well as return himself to his own time. It's a lot shorter and lower in budget than most films of its attempted scope, but succeeds because of its limitations as much as the quality of the humor and action. It's kind of funny to see how Sam Raimi squeezed every single drop of potential out of what he had to work with less than a decade before he took on one of the highest budgeted film series ever.

The film might have been built up a bit too much for me over the years, because I enjoyed it, but not as much as the first two movies. It's fun, but doesn't quite have the same edge. The gore is mostly gone, and the detour in the windmill where he gets terrorized by his own doppelgangers seemed to hurt the momentum, even if it was fairly entertaining. I did like the crazy contraptions Ash helped come up with to fight off the evil hordes near the end though, and while it's relatively tame, any time he uses his "boomstick" with authority is a good one. They've gone over the edge this time, as the gun only takes two shells but he can fire it like eight times in a row without reloading. He has enough one-liners and moments of badassness that you can never go too long without remembering that he's awesome. There's been talk for a while about possibly doing a fourth film sometime, and that's something I wouldn't mind seeing.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Evil Dead II

Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell got back together to make this sequel six years after the original, and it's obvious that their confidence in their own craft had increased greatly. Campbell has bloomed into a highly charismatic, drawing presence on the screen, and the character of Ash has transformed from a mostly normal guy to a more hardened person who may or may not be totally insane. Raimi matches his enthusiasm with a much more chaotic style of filming for most of the picture. It feels less homemade and much more stylized, although I hesitate to call it higher budget. It definitely is, but not in a way that comes close to what that concept usually means for sequels. The money shot is probably where whatever's behind the camera chases Ash again, but instead of stopping at the door it pursues him through the entire house as he scampers through every nook and cranny just running for his life. These movies are just filled with little touches that put you inside the mind of a disturbed individual.

Evil Dead II is part sequel to the first movie, part remake. The first seven minutes are a simplified recapping of the first part of the story, done because they didn't have the rights to show footage from the first film, and it's pretty clear that the subsequent events all take place afterward. Still, several elements of the plot aren't reestablished until after the recap, and the plot of several people trapped in a cabin overnight is pretty much exactly the same, so it's a somewhat unusual situation. The movie easily avoids feeling like a retreat though by the huge increase in Stuff Happening that is Totally Nuts. Ash's hand goes evil and he has to remove it. Gallons of blood pour from the walls. Objects in the house start talking to him. It's never quite clear if it's all in his head (besides the hand which is totally real), and the movie is more maniacal than scary at every turn. Eventually Ash and a fellow survivor find a way to possibly send the source of the evil away so they can get back to civilization, and the preparation scene where he gets his famous look is one of the most brilliant things I've ever seen. Things don't go quite as planned, and another sequel is set up. Except this time, it's in the Middle Ages! Wowee wow wow! So... yeah. Good movie.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Evil Dead

This early work by a young Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell was filmed inventively on a shoe-string budget and put both of them on the map for cult horror fans. I generally don't consider myself a fan of the genre outside the occasional zombie or science fiction-themed movie, but I liked some of the more mainstream work by both enough to check it out. The film suffers a bit from things like the poor acting by the cast of unknowns, but it's genuinely spooky in places and the inventiveness of the effects combined with the increasingly manic tone made it a very entertaining use of 80 minutes.

If you don't know, Ash Williams is a college student I guess who goes into the woods to stay in a cabin with his his friend, their girlfriends, and his sister. In the cabin they find a strange book and a tape recorder of a man speaking about his findings on it, which unfortunately awakens some dark spirits that are able to animate the woods themselves, possess people, and chase them around in POV shots that never let us know what they're actually running from. The actual logic of what causes the book to take over people is a little vague, since they seem to be able to affect anyone who's been injured by them, but are content to merely horrify a beaten-up Ash the entire time.

As the movie goes on, all of Ash's friends turn into these monsters who torment and attack him, and you can see his sanity slowly drip away as he has to fight off his former loved ones and hack them to pieces to prevent them from continually returning. As soon as things go bad they get pretty gruesome, and that rarely lets up as he is continually drenched in blood and supernatural gore by the monsters. There's a scene near the end where Ash is pacing around with a shotgun they found, and the camera is used pretty inventively to convey how his world has been completely torn apart by an unbelievable, nightmarish evening. It's one of the more brilliant scenes ever done with just a camera and one guy, and it leads to the final splatter-fest, which would have been more effective without the choppy stop-motion animation but still ended up working. The sequels ended up skewing more towards humor than horror, but The Evil Dead is the beginning of a unique and entertaining series to be sure.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Casino Royale

Finally, the last one of these. And hey, it's the best one in the series. We go back to the beginning of Bond's career, to his very first kills which earn him his 00 status. From there it's the opening credits, which depict Bond fighting a lot of dudes instead of ladies made out of strange substances dancing, helping clue the audience in that this is a bit of a different Bond than we're used to. I've been told that Craig's take on the character is closer to the one found in the original novels by Ian Fleming; cold-hearted and ruthless instead of a playful scoundrel. In some ways he's actually a better person than the one we're used to, though. The old guy would do anything and everything to get with almost any girl he met, while this one stops romancing a married woman after getting the information he needs, and only has sex after he's fallen in love. He's pretty brutal when it comes to his job, but he still has some sort of moral compass, or so it seems. And you can't give him total credit for leaving the first encounter early, since it was necessary to stop an airport bombing. But you get my point, right?

Elsewhere, the movie still holds up for the most part. All the poker scenes in the second act could have been a big momentum killer, but they're exciting enough on their own, and when interspersed with all the stuff like angry Ugandan militants with machetes and self-applying a defibrillator, it's a pretty darn good segment. The reintroduction of Felix Leiter was welcome (Wright is the first guy to have the role in consecutive appearances), and the development of the relationship between Bond and Vesper is the best in... well, probably ever. After a torture scene that is brutal without being explicit yet still entertaining, the third act has some slightly clumsy dialogue before the final betrayal and large action scene in a collapsing building. The whole sequence is pretty effective, and completely sets up the mindset and character arc for Bond in the next movie. It's nice to see the character be used like a person instead of just a vehicle to some snappy jokes and outlandish action, and there really isn't much about the film that doesn't succeed. And with that, this stupid project finally comes to a close.

James Bond stats
Theme song: "You Know My Name" by Chris Cornell
Foreign locations: Prague, Madagascar, Bahamas, Miami, Montenegro, Italy
Bond, James Bond: 2:20:00
Martini shaken, not stirred: 1:14:15 (full recipe), 1:31:15 (unspecified), 1:33:40 (poisoned), 1:43:30 (named the Vesper)
Ladies seduced: 1
Chases: 3
Kills: 11, plus explosion victims
Non-lethal takedowns: 4

Quantum of Solace James Bond stats
Theme song: "Another Way to Die" by Jack White and Alicia Keys
Foreign locations: Italy, Haiti, Austria, Bolivia, Russia
Bond, James Bond: Not uttered
Martini shaken, not stirred: 51:15 (six)
Ladies seduced: 1
Chases: 4
Kills: 13, plus explosion victims
Non-lethal takedowns: 14

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Liveblog 24: ALDS Game 3

I'm surprised this is the first Yankees game I've done started by Andy Pettitte. I'm not surprised it's the first to be started by Carl Pavano. Anyway, we're in the middle of the playoffs. The Red Sox and Cardinals got swept out of the first round by the Angels and Dodgers respectively, partially thanks to both teams blowing a lead in the ninth inning with their closer on the mound at some point. If the Yankees do their job tonight, the Rockies and Phillies are our only shot left at a really interesting series in the first round. The Yankees won the first two at home against the Twins, thanks in part to a rally of their own off closer Joe Nathan on Friday, and now stand in a good position to close things out in Minneapolis, possibly the final game ever in the Metrodome. I'd love to see that tonight, especially against Pavano, but even if they don't they have two more chances, a position they haven't seen in the postseason in years. So no more screwing around, let's watch a baseball game. Also, this will be posted two days later WHAT omgsghsfgbfnkjbnlfgj

Top 1 - Derek Jeter leads off with a ground ball out to shortstop Orland Cabrera. Jeter's had a good ALDS, helping set the tone for his team. Johnny Damon is next, and takes the first pitch for a strike. He really hasn't been much of a presence this series, and swings at a ball that bounces in the dirt for strike three. Mark Teixeira got his first walk-off hit as a Yankee in game 2, a home run to left field. This time though he pops out to second base, to end a very quick first shot at their old teammate.

Bottom 1 - Denard Span grounds out to Robinson Cano at second on two pitches. Cabrera watches five pitches go by before flying out to short right as Nick Swisher makes a nice running catch. After a conspicuous ball 1, Joe Mauer hits another grounder to second, and we move quickly to the second.

Top 2 - Alex Rodriguez and Hideki Matsui struck out, then Jorge Posada grounded out. What, I was eating dinner.

Bottom 2 - Michael Cuddyer pops out to first. Jason Kubel, who has done precisely Jack and Shit this series, strikes out yet again. Delmon Young pops up to Jeter in short left, and this game is cruising.

Top 3 - Cano breaks his bat and grounds out to third. Both pitchers look pretty good so far. Swisher works the second longish at bat of the game against Carl, and tosses his bat after ball three, not realizing it wasn't a full count already. He then strikes out on an inviting changeup that would have been a real ball four. Melky Cabrera hits a ball that Nick Punto dives for and snags, but he's unable to get nearly enough on the throw to make the out. First hit for the Yankees. Jeter swings at the first pitch because he's kinda dumb sometimes and bounces it to Cabrera at short who makes the play.

Bottom 3 - Strike one to Brendan Harris, who nearly killed the Yankees in game 2. He works a full count, but strikes out on a fastball well above the strike zone. Jose Morales strikes out as well. Punto hits a chopper to Jeter, who makes the play at first. You know, I've noticed announcer and all-around dipshit Chip Caray complement Pavano's pitching a lot more than Andy's tonight, despite slightly worse overall results. He... he just sucks, man.

Top 4 - Damon swings through another third strike. That's five for Pavano in 11 batters. Come on, guys. Teixeira watches a slightly high strike for yet another K. A-Rod up. He's finally a monster again this postseason. All it took was seeing the Twins again. He grounds out to short here, though. Game is just blazing by.

Bottom 4 - Second time through the order for Pettitte. Span strikes out. Yay. Cabrera hits a liner up the middle on the sixth pitch, but Cano catches it. Mauer takes two breaking balls for called strikes before swinging at one out of the zone. Both pitchers looking real good.

Top 5 - Matsui starts off with a bloopy single up the middle. Delmon Young makes a sliding catch on a liner by Posada that he almost has to trap. Cano rockets one to Cuddyer who's closer to second than Matsui, which freezes him. He tags him out and steps on second for the irritating double play. This is about the quickest I've seen the Yankees play.

Bottom 5 - Cuddyer singles sharply to left to break up the perfect game. Kubel scoots one under Cano's glove, but Cuddyer held up and Swisher is able to quickly get the force at second anyway. Delmon hits another first pitch pop up, this time it's a tough play for Cano who gets it. Another sharp grounder in the vicinity of third base, but this time it goes in A-Rod's glove and he gets the out at second.

Top 6 - Swisher swings at a third strike changeup in the dirt as Mauer throws to first to complete the out. Cabrera hits a grounder to Cabrera who throws out Cabrera at first. Jeter will hopefully take a pitch in his third at bat. I'll set up this by say that in game 2, Mauer should have gotten a double on a ball down the left field line that would have been fair by a foot if it didn't hit Cabrera's glove, but the umpire called it foul. Just now, Jeter hit one down the right field line that literally hit the foul line, and a different umpire got the call right, and Jeter got his double. Twins fans didn't react well. Unfortunately, Damon watches an obvious third strike for his third K on the night. He really hasn't looked very good lately.

Bottom 6 - Morales hits a fairly simple ground ball to Jeter for out number one. Punto does basically the same thing. Span hits a hopper through the middle of the quick infield for the Twins' second hit. Cabrera walks on five pitches with quite a bit of help from the home plate ump. Mauer singles the other way and Span scores the game's first run as Caray screams like the Twins just cured cancer. Cuddyer strikes out in a foolish looking at bat. He needed just 75 pitches to go six but Pavano needed one less, and has the lead.

Top 7 - Teixeira grounds out to short, one out. A-rod works a long at bat, reaching a full count and fouling off several pitches, before hitting a bomb of a home run over the stupid baggy in right. Awesome. Matsui swings at yet another strike three change in the dirt. Cut it out, guys. Posada makes up for it with another home run, this one just over the left field wall. Yankees take the 2-1 lead. Cano works a nice little at bat, but fouls out to the catcher. Nice start by Carl, but he couldn't keep it up.

Bottom 7 - Pettitte's still in. He might be on a short leash with Joba Chamberlain getting ready. Kubel strikes out for what must be the millionth time, and Andy's night is done. Each Yankee starter this series so far went at least six innings and only gave up one earned run. Joba is in against Young, who fouls a ball off his junk. You hate to see that. He stays in the game and rips a double to right field, still favoring his crotch a bit. Harris grounds to A-Rod, who fumbles the ball a bit but still has time to throw him out. Game's slowed down in this later third. After a long at bat, Morales strikes out on a slider buried in the dirt. Here we go to the eighth.

Top 8 - Matt Guerrier pitches against the Yankees. Swisher grounds out harmlessly. Cabrera does the same. Some insurance would be nice, but I'm fairly confident in Phil Hughes and Mariano Rivera. As does Jeter. Whee.

Bottom 8 - Nick Punto against Hughes, who vexed him in game 2. He unfortunately does it again, with a dobule off the sixth heater from Phil. Wow, weird play. Span grounds one up the middle that Jeter gets to easily, but Punto thought it was through and goes way too far around third. Jeter throws it to Posada, who throws to A-Rod who nails Punto at third. Cabrera up. He flies out to Cabrera. And now it's time for Mariano Rivera to get four outs. And this time he can get away with a single before shutting the door. He instead breaks Mauer's bat, who grounds out to Teixeira. On to the ninth.

Top 9 - Ron Mahay pitching. Damon earns his golden sombrero with a fourth strikeout. Meh. Full count for Tex, who draws a walk. Let's see if A-Rod can rub it in their faces against heavily neck-tattooed Jon Rauch. He settles for another full count walk. Jose Mijares in to face a lefty who mashes lefties. Matsui walks on a full count. This is getting funny. Joe Nathan is in. The game has slowed to a crawl. Posada lines a single to right, one run scores. I can live with that. Cano bloops another one run single just in front of Kubel. Swisher strikes out, two down finally. Cabrera does the same, and we're on to the Twins' last gasp in the Metrodome.

Bottom 9 - Man, Cuddyer looks down. A little happier after a bloop single to right field. Twins are still alive! Kubel strikes out for the final time. I hope. Crazy fan runs on the field. Good job, crazy fan! He almost made it over the outfield wall before they nabbed him. Young's getting some good swings here. He goes down swinging in the end, though. Brendan Harris is the Twins' last chance. He grounds out to Jeter. Yankees sweep the Twins, end the Metrodome's use for baseball-like activities, and wil fly back to New York to face the Angels in the ALCS on Friday. Feels nice to finally be back there after five years.

Wrap-Up - I think this is the first full game I've done all year. In any case: Yay.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Die Another Day

So, this is where the filmmakers went too far and turned James Bond from an outlandish action hero into the star of something monumentally stupid. Die Another Day has a few decent moments, but in general it's just insane. Even more of an unbelievable science fiction movie than Moonraker, practically every ten minutes it tops its own ridiculousness. It actually starts out not too bad. I'm not sure why Bond and his bodies had to surf to their mission start point instead of a more simple method, but they steal a helicopter and a briefcase of diamonds, hoping to interrupt an arms deal by a corrupt North Korean Colonel. After a betrayal and an action sequence featuring a bunch of hovercrafts (probably the film at its most reasonable), Bond gets captured and tortured for over a year before being traded for one of the Colonel's henchmen. Later in a hospital on a boat in Hong Kong, things take a turn for the worse. Bond has been restricted by MI-6, but he decides to escape his enclosed room by willing himself into cardiac arrest. That's right. He just thinks about his time in Korea and his heart stops. He then wakes up, takes out the doctors, and swims to shore.

What follows is a parade of overly double entendre-heavy one-liners and technologies each more ridiculous than the last. People changing their identities with gene therapy, because plastic surgery is too old fashioned! Cars that turn invisible! Virtual reality training simulations that also apparently support erotic fantasies! A satellite that can channel the sun's energy and cut a swath of destruction across the earth! Also, why is Iceland an icy wonderland in this movie? I mean yeah, there are glacial areas there. But they couldn't sustain a frozen palace. When you include the sequence where Bond appears to kitesurf off the edge of the world, you get the feeling the screenwriters meant to place that act in the North Pole and got confused. When you add the general low level of acting (do people actually like Halle Berry?) and how nobody can seem to have a fucking conversation without throwing eight dick jokes out there, and it's a disappointing way to celebrate forty years of Bond. The scenes with John Cleese as the new Q are generally entertaining, but the film can hardly go five minutes without something dumb happening. The best thing you can say about the movie is that it's at least not boring.

James Bond stats
Theme song: "Die Another Day" by Madonna
Foreign locations: Korea, Hong Kong, Havana, Iceland
Bond, James Bond: 53:55
Martini shaken, not stirred: 50:05, 1:11:00
Ladies seduced: 2
Chases: 2
Kills: 16 real, plus explosion victims, 7 virtual
Non-lethal takedowns: 11

Original continuity James Bond stat totals
Bond, James Bond: 22
Martini shaken, not stirred: 16
Ladies seduced: 53
Chases: 46
Kills: More than 219
Non-lethal takedowns: 176

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Game Update 12: PSN Demos 5

Demos demos demos.

Afro Samurai - Quickly wore out its welcome. Adequate sword fighting but little else.

Age of Booty - Cute, simple, entertaining strategy game. Didn't get to see much of it at a high level.

Batman: Arkham Asylum - Demo showed a cool mix of stealth and combat while everyone in the world's gone apeshit over it. I'm generally averse to licensed games, but I might try this one.

Battlefield 1943 - I forgot to play this before the servers for the demo were shut down or abandoned, so I could only screw around in the tutorial. Still, pretty cool recreation of a good older game with newer game conventions.

The Bigs 2 - Goofy take on baseball, was perplexing at first but I think I got a handle on it by the end of the demo. Still, I don't see the point of a game that's so counter to what's good about the sport.

Brutal Legend - Let's mosh it up. Like Tim Schafer's last game, seems like a competent if unexceptional entry in its genre elevated by the humor and presentation. I wonder how all the different elements will fit together in the final product.

The Chronicles of Riddick: Dark Athena - Interesting but difficult first person game, less about shooting in the demo area than sneaking around. Somewhat intriguing.

F.E.A.R. 2: Project Origin - Like the original, seems fun and a little spooky in alternation, but maybe less essential.

F.E.A.R. 2: Reborn - I don't think I've ever seen a demo for DLC for a disc game before. More FEAR, though the change in perspective to the other side is interesting.

Ghostbusters: The Video Game - Seemed like a unique third person shooter with a cool take on the conventions and the added bonus of the enjoyable characters and world of the series.

inFAMOUS - Much more of a shooter than I expected, just with a different sort of weapon. Lightning powers are cool, difficulty seems uneven though.

Killzone 2 - Pretty incredible looking game, and like the original it's fun to play but won't light a fire under your pants.

Lost Planet 2 - After failing to connect to a game after several tries for no discernible reason, I played on my own, which made it a bit of a chore. So many little things about it and the original just make the overall experience a lot worse than the sum of its parts.

MLB 09: The Show - Didn't convince me I needed to spend money on the series two years in a row, but still a high quality baseball sim.

Motorstorm: Pacific Rift - The second demo for the game. Still seemed like a frantic, interesting racing game.

Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 - I had some fun playing this, but somehow it did the opposite of convince me to go back and finish the first Sigma. Will I ever? Analysts are skeptical.

Overlord II - I don't know if it's the demo or me, but I didn't really get much out of this. I'm not convinced the light strategy elements ever amount to anything truly interesting.

Red Faction: Guerrilla - Could be a ton of fun just running around destroying crap in this world. Demo is more directed, but gives you a taste of the meh shooting and awesome destruction.

Resident Evil 5 - Basically Resident Evil 4 with a partner, no pausing in the inventory, and better graphics. Tough but enjoyable.

Wanted: Weapons of Fate - Take the annoying snark of the movie and replace the dumb action sequences with standard third person cover-based shooting with a couple new tricks. Not bad.

Watchmen: The End Is Nigh - Stupid comic-style cut scenes, boring gameplay. Some of the combos and finishers look pretty brutal but that's about it.

Watchmen: The End Is Nigh Part 2 - Stupid comic-style cut scenes, boring gameplay. Some of the combos and finishers look pretty brutal but that's about it.

WET - Eliza Dushku stars in a game that is all style, no substance. Some of the tricks to the shooting weren't terrible but every aspect of the design is boring and contrived.

Wheelman - Over the top, somewhat like the Grand Theft Auto style of gaming but more focused on its lackluster driving. Vin Diesel is starring in video games now.

Wipeout HD - For some reason this seems to have vanished from the store, but it's a nice-looking, fun racer.

Wolfenstein - What is it it about first person shooters this generation that makes wet rocks look so weird? Game seemed non-terrible otherwise, special powers might elevate it past totally mediocre.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine - Hilariously violent, game is a pretty heavy rip-off of a certain other deadly action series. Not sure how well it would hold up, though.

Zuma - Simple puzzle games yay!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The World Is Not Enough

You getting tired of these yet? I sorta am. But we're in the home stretch. TWINE is another solid if unspectacular film in Brosnan's repertoire, entertaining without changing the world or really asking you to think much. It's notable for being Desmond Llewelyn's final film as Q, with John Cleese already there ready to replace him. He was apparently planning to return once more, but was killed in a car accident. Can you believe that? The guy was old for 35 years and that's what it takes to get him. The movie brings back Robbie Coltrane's Russian character, and makes him into a bit of a buffoon. Sophie Marceau plays one of the very few major female villains in the series, and does an okay job of it. Denise Richards meanwhile plays the least convincing nuclear physicist ever. I'll give her credit for looking awesome in a tight t-shirt and daisy dukes, but it's seriously one of the poorer major performances in the series.

You can sort of see a transitional arc over Brosnan's four Bond films in terms of the style of the action. Goldeneye was a bit over the top but still sort of gritty and somewhat believable. Tomorrow Never Dies was still not what I'd call silly, but more unbelievable and movie-like. This film is even more outlandish, with crap like being chased by flying snowmobiles on parachutes down a mountain and helicopters with hanging buzz saws destroying a dock around him, but still not too moronic. As for the next movie, well... we'll talk about that later. The plot starts out decently although degrades by the end with one of the harder to justify villainous goals, and serves to present some action sequences that are rarely better than decent. Honestly, I can't think of much the movie truly does well, but it's hard to dislike also. It's dangling on the edge of the cliff leading to irritating stupidity, but its fingertips are strong enough to never fall in. And with a follow-up like it has, it's hard not to come out looking all right.

James Bond stats
Theme song: "The World Is Not Enough" by Garbage
Foreign locations: Spain, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Istanbul
Bond, James Bond: 31:25, 1:07:50
Martini shaken, not stirred: 43:25
Ladies seduced: 3
Chases: 2
Kills: 20
Non-lethal takedowns: 7

Friday, October 9, 2009

Entourage - Season 6

So, the show continues. I've seen a lot of backlash more recently about how the show constantly repeats itself and how nothing really happens. I don't know if the writers took that to heart or what, but this season felt somewhat different from the last couple. For one thing, Vince's career is not an issue this time. There's no worrying about his next payday or getting another project off the ground. They've jumped forward to the premiere of the Scorsese movie, and yay it's a hit. And he already has another film lined up. The story this time is about E's renewed passion for Sloan and attempt at legitimizing his managing, Turtle's relationship with Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Drama continuing to assassinate his own career, and Lloyd getting Tired of Ari as he goes possibly more power-mad than ever.

While it does thankfully cover new ground, some of the other issues are still there. Episodes will often begin and end with nothing really changing. There's a stalker plot that goes nowhere, E wasting time with an insane, not very attractive girl (which probably suits him realistically but oh well), and an episode where they go golfing with Tom Brady and Mark Wahlberg and that's about it. Occasional celebrity cameos as themselves are still funny, like Jeffrey Tambor being a dishonest prick and Matt Damon strong-arming Vince into helping his charity for kids. The season ends on a pretty happy note for most of the characters, though I still have some trouble seeing what's the long-term goal for the show. There's been 78 episodes now, and they haven't done much with them besides basically say "Yo, check it out, Hollywood!" I still enjoy watching it usually, I'm just curious about why I am bothering.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Tomorrow Never Dies

Much like Live and Let Die was the Bond blaxploitation movie, Tomorrow Never Dies could easily be called James Bond: Hong Kong Action Edition. It takes place largely in Vietnam, was actually filmed in Taiwan, features Hong Kong's biggest female action star as the first Asian Bond girl since You Only Live Twice (I think), and takes a lot of cues from that style of film. Thankfully there's no scenes with Bond doing kung fu, but Michelle Yeoh has a full-on fight with a bunch of dudes in an old, dusty shack that she afterward transforms into a high-tech command outpost with the push of a button. The last sequence where they raid a stealth boat trying to incite war between Great Britain and China so Johnathan Pryce can control the media there (cool plan, bro) is filled with lots of machine gun fire, explosions, people bloodlessly collapsing to the ground and a couple more gruesome ends.

But before that, there's a lot of traditional Bond movie stuff. I like how the early throwaway girl is already in his bed when we first see him, it's just like the filmmakers are saying "This series is 35 years old, you know what's up." It's a brief film for the Brosnan era, not reaching two hours, and some segments feel rushed, like when the entire briefing from M and Moneypenny takes place while in a car headed to the airport. Bond does some stuff at a party Pryce is hosting, including romancing a married woman for the first time in the series (though they have a previous history) and beating up some thugs who try to question him. After a sequence featuring an unusual hit man in one of the franchise's only instances of being funny for an extended period without being silly, followed by a remote controlled car chase that is totally silly, Bond moves on to 'Nam where we finally get to the stuff I was talking about earlier. Did I mention the tag-team moves using handcuffs, the stunt going down the side of a skyscraper, or the motorcycle chase through crowded streets involving jumps and helicopters? Because they happen. Tomorrow Never Dies is far from the most intelligent Bond movie, but it mostly makes up for it with generally competent action.

James Bond stats
Theme song: "Tomorrow Never Dies" by Sheryl Crow
Foreign locations: Russia, Hamburg, Vietnam
Bond, James Bond: 31:25
Martini shaken, not stirred: 33:00
Ladies seduced: 3
Chases: 2
Kills: 25, plus explosion victims
Non-lethal takedowns: 19

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A Game of Thrones

Here's yet another awesome thing that I heard about because of that one forum I go to. I might have been introduced to it pretty soon anyway because they're going to start shooting a pilot for a possible HBO adaptation next month, which I hope gets picked up for a series because it seems like a perfect fit. A Game of Thrones is the first novel in a saga called A Song of Ice and Fire, with four volumes released and three more planned. It's a fantasy series for adults, hinging not so much on a magical quest for goodness but a huge cast of complex characters, who meet and argue and screw and fight. It's very slow going, taking its time to develop the world and main players instead of diving into the action. The paperback version is over 800 pages, and this is the shortest entry yet, so you can already guess at how epic the story will end up being.

Despite the immense length and lack of immediate action, I was engrossed in the story right from the prologue to the final chapter, both of which contain the most "fantasy" of the story's fantasy elements. The story is told from the perspective of several different characters, with each chapter focusing on one. It's an effective way to tell the story, covering all the different locations of importance while capturing different aspects of the plot from different points of view. The setting is pretty interesting; the main action takes place on one continent, where seven kingdoms are united under the banner of a single king in the south. To the north is a great ice wall beyond which lies the remnants of many creatures of legend, and to the east over the sea is another land where the children of the last king to be deposed are exiled.

The weather is unique, with seasons being of indeterminate length, oftentimes lasting for years. When the story begins, a summer that has lasted nearly a decade is showing signs of ending, and by the end the winter is inevitable. It adds a nice sense of dread as things go from bad to worse for the protagonists. Despite the slowly developing plot, things are in full gear by the end, as the inevitable clashing of armies begins, and you can see it all building towards something amazing and terrible at once. You really don't know what's going to happen, as it becomes clear relatively early that no one is safe and things can become disastrous very quickly and without reason. I was growing depressed by the end at some of the events, but some of the final words gave cause for hope, and George R. R. Martin has really established one of the best, if not the best beginnings to a fantasy story I've ever read. I have the next two parts sitting on the shelf, and I know I'm going to be ripping into them as soon as I can.

Note: I wrote this last week while sitting next to my dog, who wasn't feeling well. Yesterday, she got worse suddenly and we had to put her to sleep. This post is dedicated to her.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


We're finally into the Bond movies I've definitely seen all the way through. The gap between the last film and this one was the longest in the series' history, and they even talked about rebooting it like they would end up doing 11 years later. They probably should have, because there's no reason it had to be tied to the existing continuity. Desmond Llewelyn as Q is the only returning actor, and the hiatus between films did him absolutely no good. He's always been an old guy, but he never looked like this. Pierce Brosnan is a solid Bond, but it's weird how the opening sequence supposes something that happened nine years earlier, when the character was in transition between Moore and Dalton. Judi Dench takes up the role of M, with them needing to explain she's a successor to the old one thanks to the switch in gender, and it's weird how she refers to an actor 18 years her junior as a "dinosaur of the Cold War". Despite these little things, it's a good film, the best in the series in a while.

It's in a slightly weird position, stuck right before CGI really took off in films, and it's a little strange to see so much slightly obvious work with miniatures for the first time in the series, right before the shift into computer effects. As they enter the 90s, the sex scenes become more explicit, especially a scene where Famke Janssen (the only significant female villain in Brosnan's films that he doesn't bone) kills a guy in coitus. There's also an increase in violence; Bond's kill total jumps into the twenties as he is seen firing a machine gun wildly into a crowd as several go down at once for the first time. Robbie Coltrane is a cool Russian guy, and Sean Bean's character is interesting. I mean... yeah, he's the villain. He betrays 007. Sorry, the movie's 14 years old. It's cool to see him "die" in the beginning only to come back as an adequate, fairly rape-y antagonist. If you've ever noticed, Bean gets a lot of roles where he either dies or disappears early or gets fucked over in some way, to see it subverted before it ever became a thing is neat. Anyway, Brosnan's first Bond film was his best, and still pretty good.

James Bond stats
Theme song: "GoldenEye" by Tina Turner
Foreign locations: Russia, Monte Carlo, Cuba
Bond, James Bond: 20:25
Martini shaken, not stirred: 20:05
Ladies seduced: 2
Chases: 2
Kills: 26, plus explosion victims
Non-lethal takedowns: 7

Monday, October 5, 2009

Brand New - Daisy

Daisy didn't quite live up to Brand New's previous two albums to me, which is pretty understandable since they're one of my favorite bands and those are two of my favorite releases of the decade. Honestly, it didn't grab me much at all at first, though I found myself warming up to it through multiple listens. It's another step forward in their journey from poppy emo band to... something else, and by this point they're hardly the same act anymore. A lot of groups change their sound over time, few seemingly reinvent themselves every couple years. The jump from their last album might actually be the smallest in the history, but it still feels significant.

After the first track begins with an excerpt from an old recording of "On Life's Highway", it slaps you in the face with an explosion of noise in the most aggressive song the band has ever recorded, pretty much straight out of the hardcore genre. What follows is a lot of loud guitars and shouting, punctuated by the rare moment of calm before yet another storm. I'm not sure what's making them angrier than ever these days, although once you get more familiar with the songs you can see how it hasn't really affected their writing ability. The lyrics aren't up to the standards of the extremely clever Deja Entendu, but they're still noticeably better than The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me. And despite the frequent raging loudness, they still do a lot of interesting things here and there to spice it up. You have to respect a band that can do an entire track as unique as "Be Gone", even if it is brief.

It's hard to say too much about any individual track, they all come together pretty cohesively into a pretty easy album to listen to repeatedly. The single "At the Bottom" is a good choice, accessible enough for most people but still hinting at exactly what the album sounds like. My favorite track might be the push and pull of "You Stole", which is also the longest if you don't include the reprise of "On Life's Highway" at the end of "Noro", another good song. "Gasoline" and "Bought a Bride" are both notable for their infectious nature despite the overt hardness, and the title track is quite good as well. I don't love Daisy as much as their previous work, but there's not very much I don't like to it.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Licence to Kill

Licence (British spelling) to Kill was an attempt to cash in on Timothy Dalton's more serious take on the James Bond character, and it ended up flopping a bit. At first I thought people just might not have been ready in the 80s for such a style for the series, but in truth the film's execution just isn't as good as it could have been. First off, much like Quantum of Solace, the story is about Bond going rogue to finish a mission. Here he's mostly driven by revenge, but since they didn't actually have the balls to kill off the Felix Leiter character even though they don't use him again anyway until after the reboot, his quest is a little more flimsily built on another who we never even met until this movie. He does some swimming and some infiltrating and some backstabbing and some romancing, but it's never quite as interesting as it could be with such a good concept as turning Bond back into a hard ass.

Instead of some grand, world changing scheme, Dalton is again facing off against a villain with a more personal plan of just making a buck. I gotta say, while eccentric personalities with secret bases in unlikely locations with plots to completely change the planet and set off nuclear weapons get old after a while, a drug dealer like Sanchez selling drugs and killing people who try to stop him is kind of boring. And really, the cop who let him go for a couple million bucks is the one he should have been pissed at, what do you expect Sanchez to do once he's free and has his captor at his mercy? He didn't even kill him! Still, drugs are bad, and of course Sanchez is dead and his entire operation is destroyed by the end of the film. The girls are okay despite one being best known for starring in the Mortal Kombat movies and the other getting her hair cut too short after her "look, I'm super hot now" makeover. As the last film for the second M, second Moneypenny, and fourth different Bond, it's not bad, but not as good as it could have been or should have been with the idea.

James Bond stats
Theme song: "Licence to Kill" by Gladys Knight
Foreign locations: Bahamas, Florida, Latin America
Bond, James Bond: 1:08:40
Martini shaken, not stirred: 1:06:15
Ladies seduced: 2
Chases: 3
Kills: 10
Non-lethal takedowns: 10

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Beatles

The famed "White Album". It seems somewhat divisive among Beatles fans, some see it as an overlong, bloated piece of work, others as an amazing, eclectic collection of songs. I fall in with the latter. It is at times self-indulgent and several of the tracks are just silly wastes of time, and the eight minute "Revolution 9" is seen as the greatest offender. It's just a long mishmash of different sounds, voice samples and snippets of things that don't amount to anything approaching actual music. I might have been bothered by it if half of modern bands didn't do something similar at some point or another, but I just see it as one of many experiments on the album. There are some genuinely ingenious songs to be found here, and even the less than great ones mesh together with them to create 93 minutes of something pretty brilliant.

It was recorded at a tumultuous time for the band, when they were starting to break apart and begin the transition from a cohesive group into four solo artists. Ringo quit for a couple weeks, there were disagreements, and entire songs were recorded by a single individual alone in the room. "Why Don't We Do It in the Road?" and "Julia" are both pretty much solo efforts by Paul and John respectively, and I enjoy both quite a bit (though for very different reasons). There are so many good tracks to be found, I find myself strongly disagreeing with the notion that it should have been pared down to a single album, with the small caveat that I find the the first disc is a fraction more enjoyable than the second, although that might just be because it has four more opportunities to do something different.

With songs like "While My Guitar Gently Weeps", I become more convinced that George should have had a larger presence with the band, and even Ringo writes something competent, as well as singing the schmaltzy but fun final track. Some other favorites include the highly referential "Glass Onion", "Happiness Is a Warm Gun", the folksy "Rocky Raccoon", the classic riff of "Birthday", and surprisingly hectic and dirty "Helter Skelter". This still only just begins to scratch the surface of the treasure trove of great music that the White Album is. I rarely find myself enjoying sitting through double albums, but there's a hardly a dull moment to be found here.

Friday, October 2, 2009

The Living Daylights

Here we arrive at the fourth Bond, who brings with him only the second Moneypenny in the series. The movie is a bit of a mixed bag, because it was still originally written for Moore's joke-heavy style while Timothy Dalton plays the role pretty straight and gritty, which a lot of people didn't like at the time but got Daniel Craig accolades almost two decades later. The humor is still intact here and there with things like a chase down a snowy mountain in a cello case. The tone shifts really seemed to come fast and furious. After the opening, the story begins with Bond overseeing a Russian officer's defection to the west with the sniper rifle, and he's all business and super serious. Then he send him across the border in an oil pipeline. Wacky! Later, he helps sneak the female assassin out of town, who turns out to be the officer's lover. Serious. Then they escape some authorities in the most gadget-heavy chase sequence I've seen in the series. Wacky!

This back and forth continues throughout the film. It's not jarring or anything, it just felt a little unusual. The plot involves the fake reinstatement of a Russian initiative to kill spies, betrayals, drug trades, arms dealers, Afghan terrorists played as good guys, and fake assassinations. Despite all the bad crap going on around him, Dalton is surprisingly non-lethal in this film, racking up one of the smallest kill totals in the series. While others nearby are fighting his battles, he's doing his part to stop the villains without murdering all of them, although he does do a bit of that. The main Bond girl is a bit dim and doesn't wear the standard issue very-little, but for some reason I liked her. The chemistry between the two was good and believable for the first time in a while for the series, and her character just worked. John Rhys-Davies is likable as a Russian general Bond ends up working with, and this movie also marks the final appearance of General Gogol, who's been alternately an ally and an antagonist since the third Moore film. This was Dalton's only perceived success in the role, and a pretty solid Bond movie.

James Bond stats
Theme song: "The Living Daylights" by A-ha
Foreign locations: Gibraltar, Czechoslovakia, Vienna, Morocco, Afghanistan
Bond, James Bond: 7:25
Martini shaken, not stirred: 56:30, 1:18:25 (unspoken)
Ladies seduced: 2
Chases: 2
Kills: 2, plus explosion victims
Non-lethal takedowns: 10

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Robot Chicken - Season 4

It's hard to differentiate seasons of Robot Chicken mentally because each episode is such a grab-bag of random jokes and references. I enjoy watching the show, but its various bits rarely stick out significantly. I wouldn't even be sure they've actually shown all twenty episodes (besides this year's biannual Christmas special) if the Internet didn't tell me so. Just skimming a list of sketches from this season, here are the ones that jump out at me. The premiere where the show gets canceled and the two creators go to various famous producers for help was funny, though while Seth Green has direct connections to both Joss Whedon and Seth MacFarlane, I couldn't find any such link between either of them and Ron Moore. An episode of Hannah Montana that turns into Weekend at Bernie's was pretty good. Billy Dee Williams getting fed up with people trash-talking Lando was good. Uh... you know, man. It's a show where action figures and clay sculptures make fun of old cartoons and assault each other violently. You know if you like it.