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May. 26th, 2013

Bear Palm

Reviewing the Reviewers: STAR TREK: INTO DARKNESS (No spoilers)

Reviewing the Reviewers doesn't review a movie, but focuses on a review of said movie.

I should start this with a caveat: I know a lot about Star Trek because I have many friends that are fans. I have not even remotely seen all the episodes, and haven't even seen all the films. I am, however, a large fan of the science fiction genre. I am appreciative of the use of time travel, chaos physics, and quantum physics in my dramas. I'm actually jazzed that Abrams will be tackling Star Wars next. I consider myself well rounded in this field, and not a die-hard fan. Now....


Long ago I discovered that reading a Houston Press movie review can often lead to much face-palming...one can actually give oneself a fairly decent face massage just by wading through one of these gems of altered reality and almost consistently negative reviews. Of course, you have to read these reviews after you see the movie (which kinda misses the point) since they tend towards revealing most of the plot in the review. These are the type of reviews that would reveal that *censored* is Keyser Soze, or that very important twist in Fight Club.

Amy Nicholson's review of the latest Star Trek film suggests she has has fantastic career in politics ahead of her. The first clue is that the second sentence of the review gives away a central twist of character identity, being kept secret even by the ad agencies promoting the film,  followed by the third line " And that's not a spoiler — it's a selling point. "

Er, yes, yes it is a spoiler. Simply saying "it's not a spoiler" doesn't make it so. This isn't Hamlet discussing what makes something good or bad. Giving away a major twist...in the 2nd sentence of her review, no less...is a spoiler.

Ok, yes, it's not exactly a surprising reveal to Trekies(ers?) or even causal fans who began to suspect it given clues in the story, but it's nice going INTO the story without this knowledge. This is something Abrams and his writing team understand about film scripting that's different that TV writing...the reveal doesn't have to be shocking to keep your interest. In a film, a logical buildup to the reveal can result in a fun first viewing because you hope you're right, and then you are...which is ruined if you hear about the twist early on. Twists don't have to be M.Nightly to be effective.

"Abrams's mystery-box marketing gave a boost to weaker, cheaper films like Cloverfield and Super 8, but if Star Trek Into Darkness bombs, the trick is on him."

Well, it was released overseas before it was released in the US, and did much better than any other Star Trek film ever had internationally.  So when this review was released, it was already proven not to be a bomb, so this phrasing shows an interesting insight into the reviewer's bias.  That aside, there was absolutely no Mystery Box Marketing here...they just didn't reveal the spoiler she dropped at the beginning of her review. There was no mystery about the plot, no big wonderment about what kind of film this was. Mystery Box Marketing gets your attention by making you curious about what that ad was all about, what the movie may be about...what's in the "box" of the movie. Star Trek Into Darkness ads were all about tone and flash-bang and "look, they're back!" moments.

"Cumberbatch, a tweedy Brit with an M.A. in Classical Acting and a face like a monstrous Timothy Dalton, has beefed up to become a convincing killer."

Well, no...he went back to his normal self after gaunting himself down to play Sherlock on the BBC.  A small bit of research on the actor...one of the headliners of the film being reviewed... would have shown this. Nice wordsmithing, though.

Ms. Nicholson goes on to completely miss the source of  Uhura & Spock's lovers' spats (despite it being spelled out in several scenes), correctly quotes McCoy while missing the meaning of her changed delivery of his line, gets events out of order in the timeline,  and generally suggest she saw a different working print of the film than what was released to general public. (The link for this will be provided at the end if you've already seen the movie. If you haven't, don't spoil yourself.)

She does do all this, however, with some solid writing and turns of phrase, turning the review into a bit of a love-hate relationship with those of us reading the article around lunch at the local Red Robin.

"His only real love is for the Enterprise, that hermaphroditic ship shaped like three phalluses and a flattened boob."

Seriously? She has to go THAT far for a Freudian reference?  Three male parts and half of a set of female? I'm afraid to ask for her description of  the International Space Station.

"To validate his 2009 reboot, Abrams worked in a space-time splice so Leonard Nimoy could cameo as old Spock, or "Spock Prime," as though he specializes in overnight shipping."

It's about here the face-palm massage starts to really kick in. Carl Reiner, through Dick Van Dyke, once explained that comedy is the unexpected. In other words, it's the juxtaposition of things that shouldn't go together. There's so much of that in this one sentence, it's golden.

"William Shatner is sealed in his pop-culture terrarium chanting lounge covers of "Space Oddity,""

Sealed so far away that the 2 Emmys and the Golden Globe he's won since then must be from an alternate timeline (again, basic research).  The reason this line hits my ironic funny bone is, admittedly, personal...I never really liked Shatner until his more recent work, such as Denny Crane and his send-up of himself in Free Enterprise...while my mother in law loved him younger and can't watch him now.  I'm actually fascinated by various people's impression of which Shatner is THE Shatner, as if the man can't grow and change. People tend to freeze him in one stage of his life, not unlike Elvis.

"Darkness is a cheery combo of classic catchphrases and young Hollywood heat, like blond babe Alice Eve as a weapons expert who can examine torpedoes only in her underwear."

Er, no. Two completely different scenes. Granted, the changing into a suit scene was gratuitous and one of the writers kinda apologized for it, but only being in your underwear would kinda suck when you're examining a torpedo in the hostile environment on a moon surface. Several points for word usage,  minus a score or two for not actually paying attention to the movie you're supposed to be reviewing. I get Ms. Nicholson's point, and agree, but it's hard to take other things without a grain of salt when she gets several things wrong about the actual movie.

The best line of the review I can't share, because I promised no spoilers. But if or when you see the film, towards the bottom, there's a line that contains these words: "causing such a doubled-back crimp in the chronology that in our universe (snip) may now no longer exist."

This section has so many points of misunderstanding of what happened and what the writers were doing that my face-palm massage was now complete, and  I could walk away a happy man.

http://www.houstonpress.com/2013-05-16/film/star-trek/

Mar. 27th, 2011

You have GOT to Be Kidding

I've been SUCKER PUNCHed

 

I love Zach Snyder. Let me put that up there first...I love his films. 

I'm...not sure about this one. It looks great. Hell, it looks FABULOUS, with stunning visuals, great demonic designs in the fantasy sequences, and beautiful sets. But....

Snyder's first script lacks in the charm department. You don't really care about the characters, the film doesn't come together the way it should, and there's something in the underage* victim plot that runs through the whole movie that makes everything off-kilter and  Just Not Right.

There's a technique to the fantastique dream sequences that is, unfortunately, overused. It gets old the 4th time it's used, by the 5th & 6th time, it drags, despite being a flurry of sound and well-done action sequences.

It LOOKS like there's a fully fleshed film in here that was cut to ribbons, but I have a funny feeling that even the director's cut will be lacking...it needs about 30 more mins in the asylum and 15 more mins in Blue's  focusing on scenes to give the characters depth and make us care if they live or die. If this was a 3 hour long film with added depth that makes you care about the characters, like Watchmen**, it'd be an arguable classic. But it's really just BRAZIL as an anime or video game, with all the subtext gone.

Despite this, I am still looking forward to the next Snyder film, and I'm not even a Superman fan. But damn, this film could have been so much more than a 145 min video game trailer.

*They're grown women...it's stated the main character is 20... but they're made to look underage, from pigtails to school girl outfits. It's disturbing, and not in an artistic way.

**Ironically, Snyder gave Watchmen heart and depth, something the comic lacked in its characters.

Jan. 26th, 2011

Coyote

Fairly Legal: Best new show of 2011

 
Last week saw the premier of two law-based dramatic comedies...Harry's Law and Fairly Legal. If I had seen both of them without credits and asked which one was the new David Kelley series, I'd have been dead wrong...Harry's Law is horrible (despite excellent turns by Kathy Bates and Nathan Corddry) while  Fairly Legal is quirky, pretty damn solid and full of charm, thanks in a large part to the lead actress, Sarah Shahi, as Kate Reed.

Those of you lucky enough to catch Life a few years ago know that Shahi is a master at character-through-line-delivery/expressions/body-language.  She damn near came close to completely stealing the show from both uber-charismatic actors Damian Lewis and Adam Arkin...and as the lead in her own series, she positively shines.  She owns this character, through and through, and if everyone else in the show sucked, it would still be worth it to watch her barrel ahead. 

Luckily, everyone else is solid, from Kate's assistant Leonardo (Baron Vaughn) to her estranged husband (Michael Trucco of Castle and Battlestar Galactica)...in fact, this may be Trucco's best role yet, as he gets to cut loose more than in his previous roles.  There's also a side character judge played by the wonderful Gerald McRaney (Simon & Simon) who likes to torment Kate for her lack of respect towards the practice of law.

The premise is simple...Kate's father was a huge San Franciscan name in law before he died.  Kate, who was a member of the firm, drops lawyering and becomes a mediator (In fact,  original title of the series was Facing Kate). The woman can sort out anyone's problems but her own. Hilarity ensues. Like the best legal dramas, it's really a character show, where the law aspect is a hook.  And these characters are well designed and brilliantly cast; you tune in to watch them, not the cases they're working on.

If the show has one major flaw it's in the editing...in the pilot, much of the first half was spent with quick cuts trying to make the pacing seem 'hip.' Once it calmed down, everything flowed much better...let's hope they keep it that way for the rest of the run.

The show didn't do so well in the ratings for its premier, but USA is still quite happy with the numbers, since it's the first time it's premiered a show in January, and considered the show a guinea pig. Here's hoping more people get to see it and get hooked.



Episode 2 airs Thursday at 9Central on USA. 
http://www.usanetwork.com/series/fairlylegal/index.html


Goes well with: Boston Legal, LA Law, Ally McBeal, Sex in the City's 1st season, Life, Night Court

Sep. 29th, 2010

Danse Macabre

The FOX Shuffle: LONE STAR, LIE TO ME, and HUMAN TARGET

 Despite critical acclaim, no one watched Lone Star.  I know the online ads didn't help...I didn't even know it was a con artist show until shortly before it got the axe from Fox. I have a funny feeling heads are rolling at some ad agency somewhere.

Fox suddenly pulled the show, leaving a vacancy; so they had to shuffle shows around.

Lie to Me (which just recently wrapped up 2nd season in late summer) is replacing the show in the Monday time slot, moving its premier date up 5 weeks to this Monday, Oct 4. I'm always good with new Tim Roth. I love me some Cal Lightman. And maybe, just maybe, we'll get to see some decent Loker development for a change.

With that move, Wednesdays are suddenly free in Mid-Nov, so they're taking this Friday's premier of Human Target and pushing it back to where Lie to Me was supposed to go (likely the 10th) on Wednesdays, its old slot.

So...longer wait, but not in the Friday Night Death Slot. This bodes well, even if it was done in desperation.  It also means less screwing around with the "is this a new ep or a repeat?" dance Fox is so fond of.

While we're on the subject, Human Target has been slightly revamped. Here's a review by someone who has every reason to be critical about it (and it's mostly good news): http://www.tvovermind.com/fox/human-target/human-target-201-ilsa-pucci-advance-review/31553

Sep. 20th, 2010

Danse Macabre

US FALL SEASON: RELEASE THE HOUNDS (Returning Show Dates)

This week is HUGE. Of course, these aren't all returning shows, only shows I like with a smattering of shows I don't watch but appreciate you may watch, so may like to know the date. Note that The Big Bang Theory has changed nights and is no longer paired with How I Met Your Mother.  (Bill Prady claims that it's the first time a comedy has been in this time slot on CBS since Gilligan's Island; despite this, he will not bow to network pressure to have Leonard called "Lil' Buddy.")

Return dates of shows of note:

SEPTEMBER 20
House, MD (Fox)
Chuck (NBC)
How I Met Your Mother (CBS)
Castle (ABC)

SEPTEMBER 23
Bones (Fox)
The Big Bang Theory (CBS)
30 Rock (NBC)
The Office (NBC)
CSI (CBS)
Fringe (Fox)
The Mentalist (CBS)

SEPTEMBER 24
Smallville (CW)
Supernatural (CW)

OCTOBER 1
Human Target (Fox)

OCTOBER 31 
The Walking Dead (USA) (Not a returning show, but worth mentioning)

NOVEMBER 10
Lie to Me (Fox)

Aug. 13th, 2010

Hypno

Scott Pilgrim Vs The Review

 REJECTED TITLES:

Scott Pilgrim vs Yer Mom
Scott Pilgrim vs The BO
Scott Pilgrim vs Roger Ebert
Scott Pilgrim vs Your Bladder
Scott Pilgrim vs the Overwhelming Good Reviews


Honestly, there's nothing I can add here that hasn't already been gushed about in other reviews...how Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) has created a masterpiece (even if it's one that won't be to everyone's liking), how the editing is superb, how fun the characters are and the actors portraying them, how Chris Evans has been destroying his frat-boy rep lately with excellent against-type turns in this and The Losers...

This, folks, is just a damn good time that will likely become a staple in film schools, alongside its  tonal polar opposite Inception. I mean, honestly, how can you not love a movie that's not actually based on a video game where the bad guys turn into coins when defeated?* That has so many pop culture references that Whedonites are getting whiplash? That has a League of Evil Exes and an arcade game called Ninja Ninja Revolution?**


Go see. Have fun. And don't blink.

And if you have no idea what I'm babbling about: http://trailers.apple.com/trailers/universal/scottpilgrimvstheworld/


PS: We went to go see this at Rave Digital Theaters outside town. In a surreal opening day, they replaced every single movie poster...they have about 50 frames outside...with Scott Pilgrim posters, and had a live band playing.
PPS: There's no scene after the credits, but there is a cool little bonus animation.

PPPS: Alamo Drafthouse's special limited edition poster: http://popwatch.ew.com/2010/08/13/scott-pilgrim-vs-the-world-alamo-drafthouse/
 


*Unless you're Roger Ebert.
**See Above.

Jul. 17th, 2010

Coyote

GO SEE THIS NOW: INCEPTION

Direction: 10
Script: 9
Editing: 9
Performances: 9

Overall: 9.5 

Goes Well With: Primer, Neuromancer, Vanilla Sky, The Matrix (the original), Fight Club, Memento, The Usual Suspects, The Prestige, S3 of Ashes to Ashes
Anything after the credits: No.

When Nolan released a little indie film called Memento and took critics by storm, people voiced a concern that he was a one trick pony...especially when his follow up film, Insomnia, put people to sleep. And while the last two Batman films were fantastic Nolan pieces, nothing ever came close to insane mental gymnastics Nolan demanded of his audience in Memento...not even The Prestige, a film of his I absolutely adore.

Inception changes all that. It raises the bar on the Mental Floss style of movie...so much so, that I can't really talk about it without ruining something. Like Memento, it's a Schroedinger's Cat of a film...once observed, things changed. You really need to go into this film knowing nothing about it except that it's VERY well done, and you need to engage your brain. I'll include some review bites below that capture this tone...do not let anyone tell you about this film's plot before you see it.  Which means you likely need to see it very soon, or else you're going to be spoilered a bit. (Note: It's not a matter of a twist ending, like The Sixth Sense or The Usual Suspects...the whole movie twists and turns.) Also: Do not buy a large refreshing drink beforehand, as there is no point in its long run where it feels safe to go to the theater.

On top of all that, it is an impressive action flick with reality-bending fight scenes that have a reason for being so bizarre, and are filmed with a deft hand (making me have new hope for the next Batman's action sequences). The cinematography is gorgeous, and the dream fx is solidly photo-realistic...the effects houses really outdid themselves on this film.

Honestly, the only reason I didn't give this movie a straight up 10 is because even at 2.5 hrs, it felt like Nolan was forced to trim some dialog, as if he really wanted to explore some concepts and B-plots more and was forced to cut for time. (This is the first film Nolan truly wrote a script by himself since Memento.) I sense an extended edition coming on the DVD.

Jun. 11th, 2010

Celtic BW

The Hits Keep on Coming: Supernatural S3-5

 This show is Awesome. 

I have never seen another show successfully arc like this one.  I'm a huge fan of arcing shows...Babylon 5, Battlestar Galactica (the new one), Lost (for a while), Alias, Farscape, How I Met Your Mother...the list goes on.  As a writer, I really dig the character and story development that comes from something that builds the story and characters, rather than "the song remains the same" treatment most shows get.

This shows blows away all the other shows that came before it. The writers here know how to keep escalating and building, when to let off steam, when to mix humor in, and have a knack for wickedly twisted call-outs to mythology, both real-world and the show's own. They make the simple tale of two monster hunters morph into a raging battle between angels and demons, and ground it in reality like the best myths out there. They toss in an apocalypse for good measure, and they make it work on every level.

And the casting director knows where to find people. The number of guest spots is impressive, but the "no-names" showing up week to week are chocked full of people that make you go "I wanna see this guy/girl in other things!" 

And one of these was a little known actor named Misha Collins who becomes a regular cast member, and has now become one of my favorite cult actors.  This guy has a wonderful sense of straight man humor, knowing how to deliver a scowl and a funny line every bit as well as Jensen Ackles can switch between bad-ass and hilarious in half a heartbeat. Apparently he's all the rage on Twitter as well. (Look up MishaCollins.) He's one of those actors who has an odd life outside of acting, such as being a carpenter who built his house and all the furniture inside it, studied Social Theory in college and spent time in a Buddhist Monastery in Nepal.  I love quirky, so of course I like this guy.

The final ep of S5 neatly ties up a 5 year arc, and word has it that the next season will be a whole new direction...so let's hope they pull it off with the same grace they've used on the rest of the show. Sera Gamble is replacing show runner Eric Kripke (he'll still be around, just not running it). Gamble is an excellent writer who has been with the show for ages...it's in great hands. And the excellent Ben Edlund will be back, and is happy he'll be able to write comedy again. (Edlund, who got famous from The Tick, has also written some of the creepier eps from the last season of Supernatural, after writing some of the funnier ones from earlier seasons. Edlund also did the wacky but creepy "Smile Time" puppet episode of Angel.)

May. 23rd, 2010

Passed Out

Playing Catch-up: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

 Work continues to pound away at my available time, so I continue to be slow, here. Here are some spoiler-free tidbits:

THE GOOD: Back when it first aired, the Household really tried to get into SUPERNATURAL. After half a dozen episodes, we gave up...it wasn't bad, it just wasn't grabbing us.

We left before it got good. And it got good in spades.

We're currently on Season 3 of the DVDs. The show has serious, well done arcs, the writing is superb, and the actors really gel with each other (they didn't early on, but it appears this was due to character arcs...the brothers didn't just "not get along," they were completely estranged, but once they start to re-bond, they work...big time). The filming and effects are surprisingly great for a third tier network. 

And while I like Chris Evans, Jensen Ackles should be Captain America. He's fantastic in this show. Jared Padalecki, last seen as Dean in Gilmore Girls, looks like he left his acting ability behind with Rory & Lorelei until an episode in 2nd season where you find out how good of an actor the kid is...it's just his character can be annoying. (One of the great things about this series is they let characters grow. Too many shows keep their characters stagnant. That rarely works, The Simpsons aside.)

The show also does a great job of bringing in guest stars, everyone from the wonderful Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Watchmen, The Losers) as their father, to a host of "Oh, HIM/HER!" appearances (including an appearance by Tricia Helfer than proves that girl has some serious range).

And it constantly makes fun of itself, usually in situations rather than Whedon-esque self-depreciation dialog. For example, the panicked look on Jared's face when they're on a WB studio tour and the guide mentions they may see some folks from Gilmore Girls is, in-character, an indication of "gawd, not that chick-show" but has a real-life joke quality as well. The show does a great job of balancing humor and serious horror.

Once you get over the initial hump, this is one of the best shows of the decade. And I can't believe I just typed that.

THE BAD: Not even Joel (my favorite) and the bots at MST3K can make Monster A-Go-Go watchable.

THE UGLY: Tonight LOST ends. And I'm afraid it's not going to end well.

Up until a month or two ago, I had been a staunch supporter of this show. I believed that Lindelof & Cuse had a plan and were weaving a grand story....previous seasons had supported that, aside from a few "well, THAT was sloppy" moments (Michael's 2nd victim, anyone?)

Sadly, the name of the show may wind up being descriptive of the writers, an apt appellation.  The show suffers from too many loose ends and a penchant for badly killing off characters when they're not sure what to do with them. L&C seem to have this bad attitude of "Well, we're going to leave most things unanswered, because we're always going to answer things with more questions." Someone needs to hammer into their heads that it's not about answer, it's about resolution. Things you make a big deal of need to be tied up (well, not just knocking off the characters randomly and making the audience wonder why they were even in this season. They even had an episode called "Why They Died" and the answer basically translated to "Because." The characters learned a few things we already knew, that was it. The audience never really found out anything new).  These two are fantastic at world building but horrible at weaving a story. They're also addicted to adding elements for no real story purpose but because they had a cool idea. Most successful speculative fiction authors have a ton of world-building story elements they'd love to introduce that they hold back because it wouldn't serve the story. Not these guys.

I used to think J.J. Abrams distanced himself from the show out of respect for L&C's creativity. "It's THEIR show, not mine," he would say.

Now I'm thinking that he knew the show was heading for a train wreck because the heads couldn't get their act together.

I really hope tonight's episode proves me horribly wrong. I would love that.


PS: A bonus Good: This season's Fringe kicked all sorts of ass.

May. 7th, 2010

Coyote

IN THEATERS: Iron Man 2 (or, This Is How You Do A Sequel)

OVERALL: 9.5 Iron Dancing Girls out of 10.

 Short version: If you liked the first one, this one should be just as much fun.

Sure, the script isn't as tight, as some have "complained." Well, yeah. It's a sequel dealing with consequences, of course it's more muddled. But every bit  has its own arc, it all works, it all ties together. It's not like Spider-Man 3 or the Non-Burton 90's Batmans. It's solid, through and through...except they edited out the "You complete me" scene for some odd reason, probably to tighten up the first 10 mins. The cast, effects, and stories are all rock solid, aside from some sludge involving the discovery of Ubiquiunobtainimagicpowderium right before Act III starts. (Favreau's directing and Downey's acting make those scenes work anyways.)

You may also hear some critics saying the chemistry between the actors went away. This is nonsense...it's still there, it's just that ...gasp...people get mad at each other. Heaven forbid we have range of characterization.

Bottom line....this is a great sequel. The actors and writers invited to the premier last week and who have been twittering about how fun the movie was are the ones you should be listening to, not the naysayers who say it didn't live up to the original.

PS: Why is it that any 5 mins of an Iron Man film has more humor and snark than the entire run of Raimi's Spider-Man series?

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