Monday, May 31, 2010

Legend of the Seeker - Season 2

Unless something happens to save it, Legend of the Seeker is dead and buried. I'm not too broken up about it, although I can't say I won't miss it a little. The second season improved slightly on the first, with an additional main cast member that made the general episode-to-episode dynamic a bit more interesting and a better sense of continuity and purpose over the course of the year. It's a well produced show that's kind of hard to hate, and while I'm not dying to know what happens next, I'm a bit disappointed to see a capable fantasy show bite the dust.

Like I said, regular episodes are integrated into the plot a bit better, with events leading into each other more naturally and an obvious goal from the outset. Not everything's great such as the continued existence of last season's villain, Darken Rahl. There are few things more annoying to me in genre fiction these days than a bad guy who won't go away, and despite being killed in the first season's finale he seems to show up even more often in this go around. I still like Richard and Kahlan, although the magical forces keeping them separated were really starting to drag at a certain point, although luckily that was resolved just in time for it not to matter since the show's over. The new main character is Cara, a reformed villain. Not much about her is terribly original, but her addition to the show led to some new situations and she was nice enough to look at anyway. I might miss Zedd most of all - he wasn't always as smart as you might expect the wizened mentor to be, but he was really good at killing things with fire. Like the first season, the second ended with everything turning out just fine without even a hook for the future, which at least allows me to pretend that's the end of the story and close the book on a fun if less than amazing show.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Family Guy - Season 8

So Family Guy trundles on through middle age, now having aired double the number of episodes made before the cancellation since they came back. They're doing pretty much everything they can to stave off stagnation, getting increasingly dark and esoteric, seeming to go anywhere to avoid the accusation that they're running out of ideas. And I have to say, it's mostly working for me. I thought this was the best season in a few years as the focus has shifted away from the more spiteful and uncreative pop culture jokes and more towards pure weirdness. They've gone places I'd not have expected, even for a routinely controversial show like this, but haven't quite gone too far yet.

There were a number of notable episodes, including a couple that were double length. The 150th trapped Brian and Stewie in a bank vault, and mostly focused on their unique love/hate relationship. I didn't like all of it, but it was an interesting experiment. The musical stuff was mostly just filling time though, as there was only a single piece I hadn't seen before. They finally aired the sequel to their Star Wars episode from a couple years ago, this time based on The Empire Strikes Back, which was already put out on DVD last fall. While I often don't like it as much when the show just recreates a famous scene wholesale because there's not actually a lot of creative energy behind it, for some reason these remakes of the movies work for me. It's half nostalgia for when Star Wars was fun, and half enjoyment of all the ways they poke fun at the sillier or illogical moments in the series. The yearly road show episode was really good too, this time traveling through a bunch of parallel universes with increasingly wacky differences. I wonder how untouchable this show is at this point. In ten years are we going to be looking at season 18 of Family guy alongside season 31 of The Simpsons? I guess we'll find out in time.

Also, I blogged about American Dad! a while ago because Sons of Tucson took over its time slot, but that show was quickly canceled and Dad was brought back for five more episodes to finish season 5 with 18. I wouldn't have bothered to mention this if they weren't really good, especially "Bully for Steve", which is one of the best in the series. I won't forget Stelio Kontos for a long time.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Cleveland Show - Season 1

I'm still trying to figure out why this was made. Does it actually appeal to black people? I can't imagine it really does. I haven't seen any numbers on the show's demographic, but I would bet it's about the same as the other Seth MacFarlane-produced shows on Fox. The real problem with the show is that the actual character of Cleveland simply doesn't work well as a protagonist. He's a fun supporting character all the way. So they basically have to completely change his personality to make him having his own show work, in ways that make him overall quite a bit less likable, in addition to transforming his son who hasn't appeared in years from a hyperactive little kid into an incredibly doughy, passive, and irritating young teenager. Not only does taking Cleveland out of Quahog change his character for the worse, it also weakens Family Guy a bit by taking a working part of the formula out of the equation. Wacky hijinks are just less fun with three people than four, and guys like Mort Goldman are inadequate replacements.

And with all these discourtesies, The Cleveland Show doesn't have the decency to be particularly funny. There's usually a couple jokes per episode that will elicit a giggle, but when they're flinging them out at a rate of about one ever five to ten seconds, that's a pretty abysmal success rate. They try to play around with a lot of issues but don't handle any that well, and it's hard to like a show that leans on the "this man is a terrible husband and father constantly" trope so heavily. At least Peter Griffin has the excuse of being an idiot most of the time. And while his show is getting increasingly avant-garde, Cleveland's is hopelessly mired in cliché. There were a couple moments that stood out like a rap battle between Cleveland Jr. and a local rapper played by Kanye West, but not much else. The best thing I can say about the show is that it's not the complete train wreck it looked like in commercials before it started, but that's not enough to make me watch a second season.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Lost - Season 6

What you got out of Lost's final season depended on what you wanted. People have always been intrigued by all the mysteries and twists that have kept them wondering what's really going on, but the creators have insisted for a while that the series is really about the characters. I was just hoping for a good end to the story, and I ended up pretty pleased with what I got. Yeah, I would have liked the opportunity to know more about all the strange things on the island, and in a way it's lazy to introduce all these elements and then just forget about them. But what was more important than answering every question was making a show that was fun to watch, and Lost was very successful in that way. The writing, acting, and direction was top notch for a TV show, it was funny and touching, it had more standout moments than any series rightly deserves, and they found a way to end it that was both fitting and expected.

It's sort of the end of an era for television. It's hard to imagine a new show with its scope getting greenlit by a network these days, and while other shows have had bigger audiences, few if any have had one so dedicated and committed to it. It's like the biggest cult hit ever. It's hard to say how many people gave up along the line, but quite a few stuck it through all the way, and they were rewarded with something unique and memorable. There was quite a it of misinterpretation of the ending going around, but those who can actually pay attention and listen to words know what really happened. It could be a long time before anything like this comes along, but in the mean time it's worth appreciating what the show was, and what it meant. It wasn't just a show, it was a whole pastime for some people. I never spent as much time theorizing and examining past episodes as a lot of them, but when it was actually on it was always a highlight of my week. It's sort of weird to think that there's no more Lost coming, but I know it won't be too long before I'm watching it all again, seeing what actually makes sense now and what never will.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Fringe - Season 2

Fringe's first season got better as it went on, and luckily the second was more consistently like the end than the beginning. There's still a mix of random monster-of-the-week episodes along with the more plot-relevant ones, but they tend to do a better job of tying the former kind in with the overall story, and it's a bit more balanced. Fringe is still fun when it's just creating a mini-mystery with an unusual sci-fi twist, I just happen to think most of the important episodes are better. The continue to develop the alternate universe and establish it as a source of trouble, and the show is at its most fascinating when it's the focus.

What's interesting to me is how they treat some often quite-pulpy science fiction ideas with all the seriousness of a police procedural. I'm sure it's something that's been done before with shows I haven't seen, but it's that mix of influences that gives it a unique feel among what I watch. It doesn't matter if an episode is about people going murderously insane because someone's been removing pieces of their brain it works because it gets treated as seriously as any regular crime. There was a couple weird things though. Somehow an episode from the first season got lost in the shuffle and wasn't aired until the middle of the second, but it was totally out of place because a dead character just showed back up out of nowhere. At that point, it's better to avoid confusing the audience and just stick it on a DVD. And with all they're doing with Walter, it's taking away from the effectiveness of still portraying him as a wacky mad scientist. If you're going to turn him into a real tragic figure with a painful past, you're not going to get as many laughs having him do things like eat Twizzlers while performing an autopsy. You can't have it both ways.

Still though, most of that stuff was really great. They show how Walter's actions led to troubles with the other universe, and in a way he's kind of responsible for everything that happens in the show. He performed the experiments with strange drugs on Olivia and the other kids, he was the first to cross between worlds and cause the problems that make them want to come over here. A lot of it is hard to blame on him, but the whole show is sort of about him trying to atone for his past transgressions. He's by far the most interesting figure in the series, which is a good because a show that relied on Olivia all the time just wouldn't be very good. I'm not going to blame Anna Torv because she was a lot more fun as her alternate self, but compared to the other main characters she's pretty boring. The finale was interesting if not able to fully capitalize on what they built up, and leaves a few cliffhangers that should be a lot of fun to watch play out in the Fall.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

30 Rock - Season 4

Yes, that is a picture of Tina Fey and James Franco hugging an anime body pillow.

Of the four shows NBC has in its Thursday comedy lineup, 30 Rock is currently the weakest, although that's less of a knock on it than a testament to the quality of the others. Still, it's inaccurate to say it's as good as it's ever been, and it's really about time that it stops dominating all the nominations and awards for TV comedy. It's funny! But it's not that funny. Rather than building humor naturally into the plot they just sort of fire jokes out of a shotgun haphazardly the whole time. Sometimes it works out, and sometimes it doesn't. The show's famous for its casting of celebrities in bit roles, but it's clearly more of a stunt than a good creative decision. What's the point of having Buzz Aldrin on if the man clearly can't act? He says his lines with the stiffness of a board. And it's rough when they take a great actress like Julianne Moore and saddle her with an accent that just kills me every time I hear it. Matt Damon was funny in the finale though I can't see how he's going to have the time to make the character worthwhile.

The season was mostly about Alec Baldwin having to choose between two women, only one of whom is actually appealing on the show, and Fey wrestling with whether she should keep looking for the perfect man or settle for something less before she gets too old. They add a new cast member to TGS, although it seems like they forgot about him most of the time. Tracy and Jenna continue to provide aggravation for Liz while providing some of the better, if more obvious laughs. The show kind of seems like it has less of a purpose to its existence than the other NBC comedies, but that's okay as long as it's mostly funny. As long as it keeps getting awards and about six million viewers per episode, it will probably stick around a while.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Office - Season 6

I can't say I wasn't mostly pleased with The Office this season, although it's becoming clear that we're closer to the end than the beginning, creatively if nothing else. Steve Carell has said that the next season will probably be his last, and even if the show continues without him I might not. It's not that he's the only character that makes the show work, it's that your star leaving is simply not a good sign for a show's future. I gave a season of Scrubs without Zach Braff starring and got burned. The Office is still funnier than Scrubs was in its last couple years, but I'm not sure that's enough. The show is about Michael Scott and the company he runs. Without him it's just some people selling paper.

Again though, I liked it. There were a couple hour-long episodes devoted to Jim and Pam's wedding and the birth of their child, which not only laid on the sentiment but were among the funniest of the series. They actually found a way to make the relationship between Dwight and Angela entertaining again, and some of the work done by the supporting characters was as strong as ever. I spent most of the time laughing. Not everything was great, though. Andy and Erin are kind of cute together, but the dance around whether they'd start dating seemed like a feeble attempt to emulate the chemistry of Jim and Pam, Michael was possibly too ridiculous at times, and I honestly am not a fan of the whole plot with Dunder Mifflin getting bought out. Though seeing David unemployed was kind of funny. As it seems with all great comedies, half a decade later it's just not as fresh and energetic as in its prime. Still worth checking out every week, though.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Parks and Recreation - Season 2

I said last year that while Parks and Recreation wasn't that amazing out of the gate, its sister show The Office wasn't either, and with time it could become something special. I didn't imagine it would get this good this fast, though. Definitely the most improved show of the year, which just makes it all the worse that NBC made the bone-headed decision to use the third season as a midseason replacement for some other upstart comedy. I get that they have a lot of faith in their new stuff, but that doesn't mean they had to pull this.

One of the things that made this season so much better is that the cast seems more comfortable and works together a lot better. Everything just hums with electricity when they're all in their zones, riffing and joking at light speed. By the time Andy is working as a shoeshine, it's pretty much golden. I wasn't a huge fan of how Jerry became a punching bag on the level of Meg Griffin, but otherwise these characters and relationships were so funny and well written that it seemed like they'd all been doing this for years. I can't say I was interested in the various romantic entanglements as much as they wanted me to be, but it didn't interfere with the comedy so it was fine by me. Leslie's brief relationship with a cop might have been the most enjoyable, mostly because of Louis C.K.'s understated performance.

At this point, the show is better off than its counterpart in Scranton. It's definitely on the upswing rather than the decline, and assuming this whole midseason fiasco doesn't harpoon it, it could be good for a while. They get a lot of good guest stars that don't feel like stunt casting, they seem to have a whole lot of things they could do with it, and it often just crackles with energy. You might not expect that they could get that much out of something like an opossum on a golf course, but then laugh your ass off for half an hour. It's definitely gonna be a long wait for the next episode.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Community - Season 1

I only gave the pilot of Community a shot because it was in the middle of NBC's comedy night, though it didn't take long for it to become my favorite new show of the fall season. The problem with the advertisements is they weren't honest about what the show really was. They showed Joel McHale, a pretty funny guy but not really an actor, as a sort of jerk named Jeff who's forced back to school after his law license was revoked. There were a couple decent jokes, but not a lot to on. But the show isn't about Jeff, not really. He's the protagonist, sure, but the show is about the whole cast - a hodgepodge of misfit Spanish students who form a study group together. It may not sound like a lot, but believe me, when everyone on the show is working right it's pretty hard to beat the amount of laughter the show can produce. It might be easy to dismiss the great diversity of the group as a cloying attempt at diversity, but that's sort of the point, and they play around with it enough, and the actors are good enough, that you like them all anyway.

Not every episode of Community is a total winner, but enough of them were brilliant enough that it wasn't long before it was my most anticipated show every Thursday night. Ken Jeong as the Asian Spanish teacher and the bald dean who's overly obsessed with political correctness tend to be the ones who set the plot in motion, coming up with crazy assignments or school activities that the group have to navigate through. There's some other notable recurring characters, like John Oliver's psychology professor who Jeff pushes around at first but gets more ballsy (and drunk) later, and an antagonist fellow Spanish student played by Dino Stamatopoulos that they know only as "starburns". My two favorite characters though are Abed and Troy, two of the youngest members of the group who come from different backgrounds but turn into the best of friends. Troy is sort of the token idiot but the writing and his performance keep him more interesting than that, and Abed's obsession with pop culture usually provides what seems like the majority of the show's best jokes. The show tries to keep you invested in what girl Jeff will end up with, but I'd keep watching even if the whole thing was just the little bits of genius between Troy and Abed that close most of the episodes during the credits. I already can't wait for season two.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

V - Season 1

So ABC tried two new shows this season to fill the sci-fi drama gap in the schedule that Lost is going to leave tomorrow (holy shit), and unfortunately, they were both pretty bad. FlashForward stank itself into an early grave, but V managed to survive for another year despite actually being worse, in my opinion. I have a lot to say about why it's bad, so let's get the good stuff out of the way. Um... I think it's cool that there's a show about aliens on network television. And Elizabeth Mitchell as Erica is likable when she isn't making that smug smile of hers. That's about it.

So yeah, this show sucks. There's lots of things wrong with it, but it starts at the very top with the basic premise. In the first episode, a bunch of space ships settle over major human cities and Vs come out; human-looking, friendly aliens who only want to exchange their services for a few supplies. But it's not long before our heroes learn the truth - they've actually been infiltrating the planet for years, they're actually lizards under their human skin, and they want to take over the planet. Scary, right? Except... the show doesn't bother to justify any of its characters motivations. What do the Vs really want with Earth? You can make guesses based on the old standbys, but it's a question that's never actually answered. Neither is why they feel the need to play nice at first, when they clearly have the technological prowess to do whatever they want.

Neither does it make a lot of sense for the good guys to be trying to put out a fire with a hammer. That being, they're only concerned with fighting the Vs' war capability and not with the fact that they're winning the hearts and minds of many of Earth's people. All season long they make a single attempt to get a word out, and it's a word that only turncoat Vs that are already on their side would understand. When asked why they're fighting against the Vs, they don't even bother to come up with an answer. The rest of the time it's clumsy guerrilla tactics and a lot of getting labeled as terrorists. The show tries to do this whole morally-gray thing by having the heroes do things like torture a guy for information, but it's hard to be too concerned about it when they're fighting against alien invaders.

The show's plotting and characters are just inept, as things rarely seem to actually happen. People are easily fooled and ignore things right in their face. Something will occur that could easily lead to an interesting if unoriginal sidebar, but then just gets completely forgotten. It's honestly hard to like any of the characters. They're all idiots and hardly developed beyond generic archetypes. Erica's son is possibly the most annoying person I've ever seen on film. Both Erica and Ryan feel that the best way to protect their loved ones from the Vs is to just constantly hide them from the truth. Ryan is a V who got a human pregnant (preposterous), and he still doesn't tell her about him until she already knows something's up. Even the human media and governments can't avoid the stupidity. They take everything the Vs say at face value, this being the same Earth where we don't trust some of the other countries for anything. But the aliens seem so nice!

In one particularly insane example, the Vs go the the FBI after a warehouse bombing and tell them that their technology can recreate the explosive, right down to a fingerprint left on the bomb by an unwitting terrorist. And they just believe them like it's nothing! The writing is just constantly plagued by people doing things that make no sense and only continue the plot because they can't think of a way to actually justify it. And I haven't even gotten into the fact that the computer effects are completely awful. When a good third or so of your show takes place on board an alien ship, it would help if the green screen compositing wasn't blatantly obvious in every single scene. And when an alien chances to show off it's true screaming, toothy mouth, it's hilarious rather than scary. And with all of this, the worst part of the show might be that they managed to make Firefly's Morena Baccarin look ugly. How do you even do that? The season finale ends with what could be a shift in the show's focus, one that could potentially turn out to be fairly interesting. But honestly? With this writing team and cast, I highly fucking doubt it.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Castle - Season 2

Castle's second season picked up pretty much where the first left off, as Nathan Fillion and company make some pretty good jokes and solve some pretty interesting cases. Not every episode is a winner, and sometimes the real killer is just too obvious, but usually it's a solid, well paced mystery. The show gets heavy every now and then, like with the excellent two part story about a serial killer who's obsessed with the character Castle based on Beckett, though for the most part it's good, clean fun. I wish just once that a murder would be unsolvable or that the obvious culprit would be the actual perpetrator (this one would be easy to pull off; if you feel the need to have 40 minutes of hot cop action, just solve the first murder quickly and have it lead to another), but its goal is certainly to entertain and not to accurately portray homicide investigations, so it's just something my brain will have to deal with. The chemistry between Castle and Beckett remains strong, the rest of the cops continue to become some of the more likable characters, and Castle's subplots with his mom and daughter remain cute.

All that said, I do have to say something about the Unresolved Sexual Tension (UST or URST depending on who you ask) that supposedly drives the show. That thing being, it doesn't. The two leads have a good repartee and I'd like to see them together. But I don't watch the show because of the will they won't they dance, I watch it because the whole cast works well together and the cases are usually interesting. Let's be honest, the show's basic premise is flimsy as hell. After a murderer mimics a character from one of Castle's books, he is brought in to assist a homicide detective and then sticks around to tail her for a bit of inspiration on a new novel. Okay, I'll buy that... for a few weeks. But at this point the duo have investigated and solved 33 separate cases over the course of two years. It's obvious that it's only still going because they're attracted to each other, but because a couple shows have mishandled actually putting its two romantic leads together, it's now considered a bad idea and the gods of ratings conspire to keep them apart. The problem is not that people don't like to see a developing romance pay off, it's that writers often handle it badly by forgetting to make the actual relationship interesting or trying to make it interesting in ill-considered ways. So instead of letting the characters take their natural course in the season finale, a wedge gets driven between them out of left field with little justification, and the show's premise continues to weaken. It was just poorly done and disappointing from a pretty good writing team. I'll be there for season three, but it won't be because of their clumsy handling of that aspect.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Pacific

The Pacific is pretty similar to Band of Brothers, its spiritual predecessor, though if you expect it to be exactly the same you might be disappointed. Whereas Brothers told a single, continuous story about an entire company from their training until the end of the war, Pacific focuses on three individual soldiers who barely even cross paths, jumping to various important times in their serivce to show things from their perspectives. Also, the enemy is Japanese rather than German, but that goes without saying.

One of the things The Pacific impressed on me is how much more brutal that theater was. I mean, Europe was no picnic. The Nazis did some pretty horrific stuff, and no war is pleasant. But at least they weren't enduring constant rain, sleeping in the mud, and dealing with enemy soldiers that simply refused to ever surrender. There's a twinge of racism through the whole thing, as many of the American troops viewed the "Japs" as something less than human, and their sadistic glee when given a helpless victim is sometimes frightening. But there's a point to all of it. The war was terrible on everyone involved, and you can see how some less than flattering ideas would be attached to such an enemy. This is the most clear with Eugene Sledge, one of the three leads, who starts the war as an idealistic Christian, but finds himself saying he'll kill them with his bare hands if he has to before the end. It's a violent series, but some of the worst parts have nothing to do with the battles. Soldiers committing suicide during a morning shower, stumbling upon gutted civilians who still haven't managed to die yet; you can tell that the goal was conveying how bad war really is, and it's mostly effective. A few bits hit you over the head too much, but what they're saying is pretty important.

Although nobody really stands out that much, the acting is pretty good. The leads are all solid, investing you in their individual stories, whether they're stuck in the trenches or enjoying a bit of time away from the front. And the direction is extremely strong, especially on the battles. I don't mean to sound like I'm glorifying the violence after everything in the last paragraph, but like Brothers, one of the series' strongest elements is the sheer quality of the production during combat. A single extended take of Sledge's first real taste of war at Peleliu, crawling up the beach, watching people fall around him, is one of the most stunning images I've ever seen. There's a surprising amount of variety considering the pervasive tropical island backdrop, as the soldiers do everything from fend off ambushes in the dead of night with the blinding flash of machine gun fire keeping things barely comprehensible, to insane charges through fields of artillery fire in the middle of the day, to a rainy, unnervingly quiet skirmish where the characters' biggest concern is finding mortar rounds that aren't wet. There's a fair amount of drama and heartbreak and laughter to mix things up, and while it didn't touch me as much as Brothers, it's still a great accomplishment and probably the last miniseries of this scope we'll see, at least for a while. Worth watching for anyone who cares about what it sometimes takes in this world to get some peace.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The National - High Violet

The National is a band that I know critics love but I hadn't really heard much of before I decided to buy their new album. It turned out to be worth the risk, as I enjoyed almost everything about it. Since I'm godawful at describing music, it's hard to say what makes them different from a lot of other current bands, but there's just something so mature and well-formed about their sound that it seems like they could make any idea listenable. There's no guitar solos or freakouts or anything distracting from the quality of the song writing, yet it still seems like they're reaching all of their potential every time.

I think the band's strongest asset is their singer. Sometimes the guy saying all the words is someone I merely appreciate or even just tolerate, but Matt Berninger's almost impossibly pleasing baritone seems key to their sound and keeps the whole thing together. Not much about the instrumentation really sticks out, but both pairs of brothers play more than competently and work well together. The album kicks off with "Terrible Love", a surprisingly affecting song that sets the tone for the whole album, and is followed by a bunch of great songs. Some standouts are "Anyone's Ghost", "Afraid of Everyone", the single "Bloodbuzz Ohio", and the curious but memorable "Conversation 16". Actually, those aren't necessarily the best songs, just the ones with the most easily remembered hooks because I am shallow. Really, every song is good. I haven't gotten very much new music this year, but what I have has been well chosen.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Star Trek: Nemesis

There's at least one thing Nemesis has over Insurrection - a sense of danger and excitement that at least makes it seem more like a science fiction movie than two hours of nothing. A lot of what it does is pretty dumb on further reflection, but it's got that being-a-movie thing down pretty well. It's a pretty slick movie too, benefiting from the relatively modern technology a fair bit. Like the recent Trek film, it features Romulans heavily, although they aren't exactly the bad guys this time, though in a way they're responsible for the villain. For some reason they're the least capable slave drivers of all time, having forced an entire species called the Remans to work their mines for them, but when a clone of Picard that they abandon plans for manages to start an uprising, they're able to create one of the most advanced starships I've ever seen in the Trek universe, built to stand up to the Enterprise with ease. Not sure how they managed that in captivity, but they forcibly take over and pursue Picard, needing his DNA to save bad-Picard from a degenerative condition.

And I mean, that's the movie I guess. There's some stuff with Data, and he becomes pretty important to the movie's resolution, mostly because Brent Spiner and his buddy wrote the movie. There's some solid action, including big standoffs in space and a number of phaser battles, although they seemed to take a fair bit from the Star Wars films, especially the Remans' inability to hid the broad side of a barn. Ron Perlman plays the bad guy's second in command, recognizable only by his gruff voice under all that alien makeup, and I enjoyed his role despite the pointlessness of it in the last third of the film. There's a fair amount of ripping off of the second Trek movie, and it doesn't really do anything as well as that movie did. I'd love to say the ending affected me, but it honestly didn't for some reason. Maybe it's because the tiniest bit of planning would have prevented the tragedy of some of the events, maybe it's because nothing the movie does to set up its grand moments is actually justified by the story in any way. I don't know. It's a stupid movie, made at least a little watchable by its flashier elements.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Thunderbolts, Volume 2: Caged Angels

The second half of Warren Ellis' time on Thunderbolts is a more isolated story, but in my opinion a more interesting one. Further issues arise with the team thanks to injuries sustained and Penance's mental issues, and things start to get ugly once they capture a bunch of telepaths without restraining their abilities properly. Soon teammates are turning against each other and pretty much only working for themselves, their dark natures properly awakened by psychic prodding. Things really start to hit the fan once Norman starts to really lose it and unleash his inner Goblin. It's an interesting little story, dark and violent as expected while still lined with intelligence and a bit of humorous levity. As humorous as a story of a bunch of psychopaths turning on each other in a closed space can be, anyway. The really cool stuff Ellis has done with Bullseye continues to pay off as I realize how much Colin Farrell's lackluster portrayal of him as made me underestimate the character. The conclusion isn't terribly climactic, and being a comic it of course has to leave several loose threads for the next writer to deal with, but it was a solid, fun read, and pretty darn quick. I don't know if I'll be reading anyone else's Thunderbolts, but I'd definitely like to check out more of Ellis' work.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Star Trek: Insurrection

All of these movies based on The Next Generation's cast have their issues, but Insurrection's fatal flaw is the most egregious - it's totally boring. I'd say the only thing stopping it from being a mediocre two part episode of the show is the budget, but frankly, even that isn't apparent when you're watching it. There's almost no scope at all to the story, and in fact the plot is cribbed pretty directly from one of the episodes, with the difference being Picard completely flips his ethics because he wants to get some immortal alien strange. At least that was the only difference I saw. Starfleet has teamed up with some aliens on a mission to relocate some non-native people called Ba'ku who are living on a planet whose rings could be harvested for their healing and anti-aging effects, but which would leave the world uninhabitable. Picard believes this is against the prime directive of non-interference with cultures not advanced enough to have discovered warp drive yet, except that the Ba'ku already are capable of that technology and in fact used it to reach this planet, they've just chosen to live without it. So really he has no ground to stand on and starts a rebellion for no good reason. I mean yeah, the antagonist is a murderous jerk and should be stopped. But the movie just kind of glosses over the fact that he commits treason without cause.

Anyway, all this sounds like it could lead to something interesting at leach, but the actual "insurrection" of the movie doesn't have a lot going on. They basically run around some hills, hide in a cave, and shoot down some drones that chase after them with transporter dart things. Action! Adventure! Intrigue! Why was so much effort taken anyway to keep the mission a secret? Very unlike Starfleet. The movie's just poorly considered and not entertaining to watch. They try to have a bit of fun with the rejuvenating effects of the rings, fixing Geordi's eyes, putting Worf through puberty, having Deanna talk about how her boobs have gotten firmer, but none of it is as funny or interesting as the lighter character stuff on the show. Also Data learning how to play from some dumb kid was pretty excruciating. Some of the stuff with Riker fending off enemy ships with the Enterprise was okay, and I enjoyed a switcheroo pulled near the end, but that's about it for fun. Even the stunt work in this movie is garbage, not convincing at all. The best thing I can say about Insurrection is that it's better than the one Shatner directed, but that's the definition of faint praise.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Thunderbolts, Volume 1: Faith in Monsters

So this is about the darkest thing published by Marvel I've ever seen. The Thunderbolts are a sanctioned group of former (or not) super villains, and when Warren Ellis took over the book post-Civil War they were assigned to round up unregistered heroes and bring them in. Norman Osborn is the director, generally able to keep his composure but prone to a fanatical vendetta against Spider-Man. His team is a mix of villains both familiar and strange, although the book does a good job of giving you background on all of them. The manipulative Moonstone and psychotic Bullseye stand out in this volume, though they all have opportunities to be crazy and dangerous. Faith in Monsters covers a couple different attempted missions which generally don't go so well, as Moonstone is more concerned with making things look good for the camera than having solid team tactics and more damage gets done than good. I wasn't really familiar with any of the heroes they went after, but again, time is spent making sure everything's in context and makes sense. There's some pretty solid writing and dialogue throughout, and the art is nice and fits the book's dark tone. Ellis would only be on for one more volume, but he made good use of his time with the title.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Star Trek: First Contact

So this is the best of the four films by reputation, and I do have to say I'd agree. It's still not one of the best movies in the whole franchise, and really just a pretty competent action movie. It features Picard's greatest foes, the Borg, attempting to rewrite the history of humanity. After facing defeat in a large space battle, they propel themselves back in time to the week when Zefram Cochrane makes first contact with Vulcans and thus inserts humanity into the galactic picture. Their goal is to prevent this from happening and at the same time assimilate the planet before the people know how to defend themselves. Luckily for the Enterprise, they are able to follow them into the past and attempt to stop them. Apparently, the Borg lack the same grip on the logic of time travel that Picard did in the last movie, which is that it would be easier to prevent something from happening if you went back farther than a few minutes beforehand. Skynet figured it out, why couldn't they? Time travel has a tendency to mess up good storytelling, especially when the characters simply don't think it through.

Besides these and some other issues, it's a pretty entertaining movie. There's a good variety of solid action scenes. James Cromwell shows up as Cochrane, and the depiction of one of the most important humans in history as a grizzled drunk just trying to make some money is kinda funny. It is weird how they picked someone who looks nothing like the guy from the original series, but it can be forgiven I guess. And it's fun to see Picard act with vengeance and fury, even if it means he's wildly different from the person he was for seven years on television. One of the reasons I started this whole thing was to see him shoot up a nightclub with a machine gun, and it was pretty glorious. I'm not sure I liked the addition of a queen into the whole Borg ecosystem, but she's probably the most successfully menacing villain in any of these movies, so I'll give it a pass too. Not much to say about the rest of the cast - Data has a somewhat interesting subplot if one that I'm a bit tired of hearing about, and by this point Deanna seems like a completely different person, as if Marina Sirtis is the only one who didn't bother to remember what her character was like. Not a great movie, but not bad either.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Thor, Volume 3

These four issues continue the story and represent the end of J. Michael Straczynski's contributions to the title, although they don't actually wrap much up, I was disappointed to learn. The quality of the book is right where it should be, I just figured he would have stayed on until he finished what he started. A couple important things get done, but he leaves the main conflict for the next writer to worry about. The next trade comes out next month and should take care of things because the Siege event takes up precedence after that, so it won't be too long before I see the end. There's more setup in this one, as Loki starts enacting his plan with Doctor Doom in earnest to exploit the powers of Asgardians and Thor reunites with a number of his more loyal friends. I find the subplot with Kelda and the cook from a diner a bit hard to believe, but it proves to be very important by the end of the volume, causing a chain of events that will lead straight to the conclusion. I don't plan on reading beyond that, but I've enjoyed reading the book for a little while, and that along with the tease at the end of Iron Man 2's credits has my excited for the movie.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Star Trek: Generations

We're finally drawing to the end of my planned exploration of the Star Trek franchise. Before it's over though, I have to get through the last four films, which range in fan opinion from pretty good to downright awful. I've seen all of them, and while I didn't hate any, I didn't think any were particularly great either. We start things off in thoroughly mediocre fashion with Generations, the only film to feature both James Kirk (and the only original cast members willing to slum it with him) and Jean-Luc Picard. Unfortunately, they don't do a whole lot with the opportunity, with Kirk relegated to an ignominious death scene at the beginning and a shoehorned role in the plot's climactic (by default) moment. Most of the film is just an average TNG episode stretched out to feature length without a whole lot justifying it. It wasn't too bad really, as I spent most of the time mildly bored instead of really bothered by anything. "Not terrible" isn't really the best endorsement, though.

There were a few things I enjoyed. Data's experiment with an emotions chip was pretty funny for a while, until the plot really got going and it had shockingly little importance to any of the significant events. That was just sort of weird. Malcolm McDowell is a fun actor, and he does a solid job as the movie's villain at the same time that Picard and his crew fail miserably to counter him in a well reasoned way. To be honest, I'm struggling with finding good things about the movie... as I said, it's not egregiously poor, but there's so little about it that was memorable or interesting that it's hard to be even neutral on it after the fact. At least Picard acted like Picard the whole time, which becomes a huge issue in the sequels. They destroy the Enterprise to add some drama in an overly long crash scene and also to give an excuse for a rebuilt ship in future films that accommodates the wider aspect ratio, at the same time Picard is entering a strange alternate reality where the two captains finally meet. As I said though, it's not the most exciting result ever, as the big action finale is a few old dudes beating each other up. They pretty much dropped the ball, which honestly describes all these movies pretty well. Well, no matter. It's hard to be too disappointed by it when the last Trek film was so awesome.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Liveblog 26: Come On, Javy

I recently realized that the Yankees are 14-5 in the regular season when I liveblog their games, a .739 winning percentage. Their record when I don't blog during that time span is 293-205, a mere .588 clip. They also happen to have won the last five straight games I've blogged, including the playoffs. Javier Vazquez has struggled mightily in his return to the Yankees this season, the only blemish on an otherwise (mostly) sparkling run of success by the rotation so far. Let's see if some of my magic can rub off on him, and get that percentage up to an even .750. I'll be back later.

Top 1 -The game was postponed thanks to rain. How about that? It was pushed to tomorrow, so I may or may not end up blogging about it. In either case, there will be a new post about some dumb science fiction movie before noon.

And we're back! Same starting pitchers as last night, so the only difference is an 18 hour delay before the first pitch. Will anyone see this with the Star Trek: Generations post at the top of the page? Would anyone have seen it anyway? Who knows! Rick Porcello is pitching for the Tigers. He was this close to falling to the Yankees in the 2007 draft, but the Tigers snatched him and he pitched pretty well last year. Not so hot this year, though. Derek Jeter chops a ball into the ground and gets thrown out at first. Brett Gardner basically does the same thing. Mark Teixeira grounds out as well, and Porcello gets out of the inning in just ten pitches. Great job, guys.

Bottom 1 - Austin Jackson hits first for the Tigers. He was a Yankees prospect that they traded for Curtis Granderson. Since he's second in the league in hitting and Granderson is on the Disabled List, that deal doesn't look very good for the Yanks right now. But Jackson is striking out a ton and has been phenomenally lucky with the batting average so far, so I suspect that it will look pretty even by the end of the season. He flies out to left. After the Yanks decided to skip Andy Pettitte's start thanks to his sore elbow this week, they moved Vazquez' start from Monday to yesterday, with the reasoning that it would line him up to start the upcoming series against the Mets in Citi Field. They want to do this, according to Michael Kay, because he has experience hitting. Let's ignore that three of the Yankees other four starters have spent at least half a season pitching in the National League for a second, and just laugh at that. Right, you're starting Vazquez against the Mets because of his hitting, and not because it will be an NL lineup complete with a pitcher in the ninth spot. I totally believe that. Johnny Damon and Magglio Ordonez both struck out while I was typing.

Top 2 - Alex Rodriguez hits into a ground ball out on the first pitch. Seriously, guys. Robinson Cano hits one up the middle for the Yankees' first hit. That's good, but I'd like someone to put the ball in the air some time. Jorge Posada obliges, although it ends up as a harmless fly ball to Jackson. Nick Swisher up. He fouls off a good strike one and watches a questionable strike two. The next ball is fouled directly off catcher Gerald Laird's mask. A couple more fouls, and he hits a single to right field, moving Cano to third. Randy Winn, who's been useless so far besides a home run against Baltimore that decided the game, walks on four pitches. Bases loaded for Ramiro Pena. He hits a fly ball that Jackson gets too easily. It appears Pena's luck in that situation is coming to an end, but Porcello looked vulnerable there.

Bottom 2 - Miguel Cabrera hits a ground ball near Jeter, who makes the play seem more difficult than it should have been but gets the out. Brennan Boesch pops out to Posada, two down. Vazquez' fastball looks a bit better today. At least he's not consistently hitting 87. He started Brandon Inge 0-2 but the count has gone full. Strikes him out on a nice slider though, second inning over.

Top 3 - One pitch, one ground ball for Jeter. His numbers looked fine as recently as the last time I liveblogged, but not a great season so far. Not walking, tons of ground balls. Gardner walks on four pitches. He steals on a 2-0 strike to Teixeira. He's quite fast. Tex grounds out, moving Gardner to third with two down. A-Rod hits a fly ball pretty deep to right, but Boesch catches it. He really hasn't gone on a year yet, but the team is still doing great in general, which is nice.

Bottom 3 - Ramon Santiago pops out to Winn in left. Laird hits one that Jeter makes a valiant effort on, but Tex can't make the scoop and it's a base hit. Adam Everett mimics Santiago. Reliably good shortstop, reliably bad hitter. Jackson strikes out on some high heat as Laird takes off for second, inning over. Kay calls it a pitcher's duel, but I think Porcello looks close to cracking.

Top 4 - Another weak ground out by a Yankee hitter. Cano was unbelievable in April but not so much in May. Inge drops a foul ball by Posada. He tried to make a basket catch but it didn't go so hot. Posada makes them pay with a double to right field. Nice. Swisher looks overmatched as he strikes out on a fastball. Bit worse of an at bat by Winn, as he takes five pitches to draw a walk this time. Pena takes a high slider for a called strike and a foul ball puts him in the hole. Another high fastball and another strikeout. Kay is still complementing Porcello, but I fail to see how six base runners and a ball that was five feet from a home run in the last three innings is particularly impressive.

Bottom 4 - This is about when Vazquez has usually started sucking this year. We'll see if he can buck the trend. Damon hits a soft line drive right at Jeter. Two pitches later and Ordonez grounds out to Teixeira. Cabrera flies out to center, and Vazquez has only needed 47 pitches for four crisp innings.

Top 5 - They just played a new commercial that happens to feature the last song from Nick Drake's final album. It was about cell phones. Okay. Jeter again, and Damon makes a nice running catch on a long fly ball. Gardner quickly grounds out. Another chopper from Teixeira, but the throw beats him to the bag. Damn quick game.

Bottom 5 - Boesch battles Vazquez, but he strikes out on a changeup. Inge fails to atone for his error with a ground ball to Pena at third. Santiago walks, as Javier doesn't seem quite as sharp as he did earlier. Laird walks on four pitches. Uh oh. He comes back with a strikeout on Everett on three pitches though, disaster averted.

Top 6 - A-Rod sees a few pitches but grounds out to short. One pitch is all it takes for Cano to hit one to second. Posada rolls one over too. Woah Vazquez is already pitching again and he

Bottom 6 - allows a single to Jackson. Damon lines one to right, Jackson moves to third. Great. Two former Yankees starting a rally. Ordonez grounds into a fielder's choice, but the run scores. Tigers take a 1-0 lead. Cabrera singles to left. Hoo-boy. Boesch just misses a home run foul. Another single through the infield and another run in. Inge finally hits one that finds an infielder for an easy double play. But I'm afraid the damage is done.

Top 7 - Swisher knocks one off Porcello's shoulder, but it bounces right to a fielder and he's out anyway. Just the kind of luck I expect in this game. Winn reaches base for the third time with a single. Pena fairly promptly grounds into a double play. Is there anything this guy can't not hit?

Bottom 7 - And Vazquez reaches the seventh inning for the first time this season. Let's see if he can get through it. Santiago flies out to center. Gerald Laird works a full count, but lines out to left field. Automatic Everett's second strikeout of the day ends what may or may not be the last inning of Vazquez's best start this year, though unfortunately it will be another loss unless the Yankees can remember what a hit with runners in scoring position is.

Top 8 - Derek Jeter lines out to a diving Santiago. Fantastic. Gardner lines out to center. Oh, by the way, Ryan Perry's been pitching this inning. Teixeira watches strike three on the outside corner, three up, three down.

Bottom 8 - Boone Logan takes over, and gets Jackson to fly out. Damon Strikes out with nary a ball. Ordonez grounds out, nice job by Logan.

Top 9 - Jose Valverde on the mound, last shot for the Yankees. A-Rod grounds out and Cano flies out. Posada draws a gritty walk to give Swisher a chance. Kevin Russo pinch runs for him and takes second on ball one. Swisher strikes out on a slider though. Game over.

Wrap-Up - I think this is the first time the Yankees have been shut out all year. Damn. My magic worked on Vazquez, but not the team, and they drop their third straight game, another bad first this season I think. They'll have a chance to bounce back in game 2 tonight.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Top Gear - Season 14

It took forever for season 13 to get here, but 14 came right after. Maybe they just wait until they have a full year's worth of content before shipping it overseas? In any case, seven more episodes of Top Gear means seven more hours of enjoyable content. The Bolivia special might be the show's most harrowing episode yet, as the intrepid trio have to drive some pretty poor vehicles through jungles, along roads at the edges of cliffs, and up hills so high that both they and the engines become starved for oxygen. In another episode, they try to build a better electric car and fail spectacularly in the way only they can. In another, they build an art exhibition for car-based works in a museum, and seem to find every conceivable way to mess up the presentation. Jeremy finds new and exciting ways to review cars on the cheap, James attaches a car to a hot air balloon, and the Stig continues to impress with his driving, whoever he is. Not much I can say about the show's future that I didn't say a month and a half ago, so I guess I'll just keep waiting for the next season.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Thor, Volume 2

This volume continues pretty directly from the last, with art by Olivier Coipel and Marko Djurdjevic (whose work I think actually fits the tone of Thor a bit better) and still written by J. Michael Straczynski. The first couple issues delve into the history between Thor and his father Odin, and show a really interesting side of Asgard. The rest of the book is devoted to Loki's grand plan to usurp Thor and eventually take over the throne; conniving with Doctor Doom, sowing distrust, and even jumping through time to make sure certain events happen. It sort of makes his origins into a giant predestination paradox, but the way he flippantly ignores any problems with that is pretty funny. By the 600th issue, his plan is in full motion, as Thor is forced into battle against his grandfather who's been magically trapped for years. It's sort of silly sounding I know, but I really enjoyed this volume a lot. Interesting story, good characters, and nice comic book art.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Iron Man 2

So, here's the follow up to the best Marvel movie since 2004's Spider-Man 2. And conveniently, a comparison can be drawn between this and that movie's sequel. Iron Man 2 and Spider-Man 3 are both inferior to their predecessors, mainly because they add a few too many new elements to the mix when a less is more attitude probably would have been a good idea. Let's just look at the history of comic book movies, shall we? How many really benefited from having a handful of new villains instead of just a single, strong newcomer? I can't really think of any. All of the great sequels I can think of have one powerful antagonist and that's enough for any movie. I don't feel like Iron Man 2 came out as badly as the last Spider-Man, as I still enjoyed it quite a bit, but it is pretty muddled.

In the first movie, a lot of time was spent on the origin as usual, and after his initial escape from his captors, the only significant factor working against him is a bald, bearded Jeff Bridges. This time, he's dealing with Mickey Rourke's Ivan Vanko, who's a combination of a couple villains from the comics; Sam Rockwell's Jason Hammer, a rival businessman; the government coming down on him and trying to co-opt his technology; and the increasing toxicity of his own blood. Even his buddy James Rhodes is upset with him most of the time. I was skeptical about Don Cheadle taking over the part from Terrence Howard, mostly because I just don't like seeing roles get recast, but he does a pretty darn good job. Most of the cast does, and that along with the solid action is why the movie ended up being enjoyable despite all of the different factors at work. In addition to all of that stuff, he has to deal with S.H.I.E.L.D., who aren't exactly antagonistic but only seem to serve the purpose of helping to set up the Avengers movie down the road and making Scarlett Johansson look as hot as possible. They end up helping in the main plot but if they wanted the movie to be tighter it wouldn't have taken a great effort to take them out.

But yeah, I enjoyed the movie. Director Jon Favreau has a strong comedic background, and it shows in the movie's more humorous scenes that always end up funnier than pretty much any other action movie. I think he gave himself too large of a part in this one, but he knows what he's doing with that stuff at the least. The banter, the way Robert Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow are always talking over each other, Sam Rockwell's delicate balancing act between absurd and menacing, they're all played perfectly. I'd say Downey's performance carried the movie if he really didn't have to, although the whole thing does kind of ride on him remaining sympathetic despite his frequent dickish persona. Rourke's performance is sort of half campy with the accent and everything, but I think he did a good job of presenting an evil face to root against, and his surprising technical knowledge makes him a pretty good counterpart for Stark. There's a lot of cameos and in-jokes sprinkled around, like a funny moment with a certain recognizable piece of equipment, and it's really just a fun movie for most of its length. The action sprinkled around is pretty good, especially by super hero movie standards, and the climax makes up for its own surprising easiness by just being extremely cool. Nothing too shocking or profound going on, but it's the definition of a summer movie.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! - Season 5

This season took a long time coming, and it took a little while to get into full gear. But once it did, it was totally worth it. I annoyed one friend by repeatedly referring to the first few episodes as "by the numbers", and I stand by that assessment, as they feel as typical as this truly strange show can. Things started looking up when Casey's brother tried to resurrect him, and were fully corrected by the time the duo got their eyes pecked out by crows. They don't look back and it's pretty fantastic through the final scene of the extra long finale, an homage to The Godfather involving all of the show's beloved regulars and some rotten man milk.

I guess I'll run down some of the great guests this season - John C. Reilly's great as always, and Dr. Steve Brule is finally getting his own show in a couple weeks. Weird Al and Bob Odenkirk are back, Wendell Pierce from The Wire gives his all in a thankless role, and Will Ferrell portrays the patriarch of the Mahanahan family. Zach Galifianakis' Tairy Greene gets an episode devoted to his work, featuring some great guests like David Cross and the ghost of LeVar Burton, and the finale features Paul Rudd and Ben Stiller playing themselves. Even the slightly weaker episodes are bound to have at least one killer bit, and by the end of the run it's vintage greatness every time. I know these guys aren't going to do the show forever, but I'm definitely going to cherish each one of these episodes and any others they do for a long time.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Aqua Teen Hunger Force - Season 7

I'm pretty sure the season is over at this point, so I'm doing this, even though I got burned on the same thing when FOX decided American Dad! wasn't over when Sons of Tucson bombed a little while ago. But no big deal, right? Right. It's in this season that the now venerable Aqua Teens reach their 100th episode, and it's one of the better runs in a while for the show. The easiest way to describe this season is really weird. I mean, the show has always been odd, but they stepped up their game again this time, and I have to say it worked out for the most part. It began last year with a Christmas episode where a very disrespectful Shake decides to cut a rap album, and continued in February with a string of relative successes. The first of these continued off of the previous season finale and had a lot of homages to the first episode ever, really setting the strange tone that would define what followed. The teens visit an island of dangerous birds to use their eggs for a pinball machine, keep their hands on a giant hamburger until long after it is no longer edible, and in the finale, realize that thanks to the show's short running time they're only halfway to the hundred half-hour qualification for syndication and then get lost in a Scooby Doo parody. Can't really say at this point how much longer the show can last, but there's at least one more movie coming anyway, so I'll enjoy it while it's still around.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Thor, Volume 1

Nearly all of the Marvel comics I've talked about on this blog were borrowed from a friend who loves the universe, and I mostly stuck to events and crossovers. I started letting him pick though, and this time he loaned me something a little different - just some regular comics. Specifically, Warren Ellis' run on Thunderbolts and J. Michael Straczynski's stint at the beginning of the current, third volume of Thor (not to be confused with this trade paperback being the first volume to collect his work). It's basically a reboot of the story and characters after Ragnarok finally happened and the series took a break for a few years, except one that doesn't forget what already happened. I wasn't quite sure what to expect, and I still don't understand everything about how this works coming into the book pretty much blind, but I liked it.

These issues are mostly just dedicated to reestablishing Thor and the other Asgardians, as well as setting up plot threads for later. Not a ton really happens, though there are some interesting encounters, especially a scrape against Iron Man (who frankly deserves all the crap he gets for the Civil War fiasco) in the middle of a destroyed New Orleans. I'm not too clear on how the existence of Norse mythological figures and events fits with the overall Marvel universe but basically Thor's human alter ego (they are two distinct people who normally coexist in one place and basically trade off on who gets to do stuff) helps him wake up from some sort of eternal sleep/death. After that he recreates Asgard and starts waking up his friends who are stuck inside the minds of other mortals. There's some pretty funny stuff where the various gods are interacting with normal folks, and it's not long before it's clear Loki's up to his old tricks again (though I guess really they're pretty new tricks), so there's enough stuff going on in these six issues to keep it interesting despite not a lot of action. Sometimes Olivier Coipel's faces are a bit weird but he's still a solid artist and fits the book's tone, and Straczynski definitely knows how to spin a yarn. There are two more volumes to this story arc, and having already read one of them, I can hardly wait to finish.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Season 7

Well here we are, at the end of the road. I still have the movies to watch (people have told me not to, but that was half the point of doing this), but I have finished watching The Next Generation. The final season wasn't the greatest, but it had a few good episodes, including the finale, which was pretty fantastic. It ties back in to the very first episode and has Picard saving humanity across three different timelines. A suitable conclusion to a show that made some missteps but ultimately provided a heck of a lot of solid science fiction. There was some weird stuff going on in this go around, I have to say. Deanna and Worf? Really? Among all possible pairings, that one seems especially unlikely. And Wesley deciding Starfleet isn't for him after all, when he spent the entire series aspiring to do great there? Well if you insist. And really... there weren't too many good episodes beyond the finale. I liked the one where Worf keeps shifting between parallel universes. And the one with Data's nightmares was an interesting exploration of that topic. But yeah, the first time the show definitely stepped down in quality since it reached its plateau years earlier. I'd say something about the characters if there weren't four films to send them off with. I guess the question is whether seeing these 178 episodes was worth it, and I can't say I regret much of it.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Star Wars: The Clone Wars - Season 2

I have to admit this show's come a long way since the execrable movie that kicked it off. It's still not great, and rarely even better than decent, but at least it's not plain bad anymore. They've found some sort of groove and realized what sorts of stories will work for both kids who like shiny lightsabers and grown up dorks like me. There's less goofy crap and more simple yet respectable stories and homages to classic movies from all sorts of genres and periods in cinema. The main characters aren't as annoying, they've been introducing villains that pose an actual threat, and in some cases, like the stellar second half of the season finale, they actually pull off something pretty darn cool.

Not that I didn't have things to complain about. Because the show is kid friendly, not every plot handles some of the dumbed down elements as well as the others. Just things like the sort of logical holes in alien cultures that would never allow them to survive long enough for the Jedi to meet them, and isn't justified as well as other similar science fiction shows because the main audience doesn't care enough to think about it. And when some leaders make bad decisions and miss obvious information, it's easy to wonder how the republic lasted this long before Palpatine took it over. Not that he's immune from some terrible ideas of his own. Also, it's hard to root for the good guys when they spend so much time protecting him. Just screw up and let him die, idiots! You'll save the whole Jedi order! For now I'm going to keep watching though, to see if the upward trend in quality continues, especially since there's a very sad dearth of competent genre television right now.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Drunken Master

I saw this movie's sequel (which would actually be closer to a reboot if they used that term in the 90s) years ago, and liked it quite a bit. Definitely my favorite of Jackie Chan's movies, simply because it was packed with so many quality fights, and the drunken fighting styles are so entertaining. I was hopeful the original could be as entertaining, but unfortunately there were a number of factors that prevented that.

I will say that I didn't dislike the movie, I just had a lot of issues with it. There were a few good fights throughout, but there was almost too much action, and the movie is really too long. With as little story as there is, there's no need for a nearly two hour running time. You can't go five minutes without some sort of action, and while a lot of it is well choreographed, there are plenty of bland moments that are just padding the length. And the movie's greatest sin is the lack of actual drunken mastery happening. A large part of the movie is Jackie being trained, and the way he's taught the fundamentals of drunken boxing without even realizing it are pretty clever and entertaining. But the actual drunken aspect of it doesn't get introduced until the movie is more than two thirds over, in the last half hour or so. It's really disappointing when a movie is called Drunken Master and only has two real fights using those techniques. It would be like remaking The Karate Kid and having him learn kung fu instead. Oh wait.

Another problem with the movie is that it's just hard to like Jackie's character. There's a certain roguish charm to some of his boorish antics, but mostly he just comes off as a huge, arrogant jerk that I have a hard time sympathizing with. He only starts being respectful after the villain kicks his ass and rubs his nose in the dirt, which I can't deny getting a bit of enjoyment out of. Still, this was Jackie at the peak of his physical ability, and watching him fight at his best can be pretty exciting. Not a great film, but the production is surprisingly solid for a 70s martial arts movie, and it's certainly enjoyable enough for fans of the genre.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

MC Chris - MC Chris Goes to Hell

Your ability to enjoy MC Chris Goes to Hell depends on two things besides whether you like MC Chris. The first is whether you already heard the "Part Six" EPs that led up to this album's release, and if you have, the second is whether you appreciate remixes as a way of releasing music. The album comes with 15 tracks, two of which are skits, four of which are new songs, and the rest of which are remixed versions of tracks from the EPs. Chris did a good job of selecting the best songs to keep, and as far as keeping things fresh I can't say I was really displeased with the job they did. A few of the tracks are hardly distinguishable from their original versions, which makes you wonder what the point was, but of the ones that are noticeably different, I felt evenly split on ones that were improved with the new production and ones that definitely weren't. I will never like what they did to "Awesome Fucker", but the new twist on "Neville" is fun and fits the content better. It goes back and forth like this for a lot of the album, and for the most part it's hard to be disappointed. Some songs even have new lyrical content to go with the new version, although most of it didn't thrill me. The two skits aren't amazing but still pretty solidly hilarious, with the first being yet another meeting between Chris and his manager and the second a (real?) preview for his next album, making it sound like an action movie featuring every movie trailer cliché ever. It's all not quite what I've come to expect from a full album by Chris, but it's still pretty fun to listen to.