Sunday, January 31, 2010

A Road Trip With Zombies - Zombieland

Zombieland (2009)

Midnight Run with zombies.” That’s how director Ruben Fleischer described his directorial debut. And since Midnight Run is one of those overlooked classics, and a favorite 'round these parts, I stuck my thumb out and hitched a ride.

I’m very glad I did.

There’s a virus on the loose (I sort of prefer it when they don’t explain the zombie phenomenon too much) and it makes people all pustular and dripping and hankering to take a bite outta the nearest warm-blooded person. Usually, that’s you.

Set not too long after the zombie apocalypse has started, we follow “Columbus” (Jesse Eisenberg) as he hooks up with “Tallahassee” (Woody Harrelson bringing some huge laughs). Everyone seems to go by where they grew up. Columbus is trying to get back home to Columbus, Ohio even though he wasn’t very close to his dysfunctional family. Tallahassee, having lost the only thing that mattered to him (a puppy he tells Columbus), is on a quest to find a certain Hostess snack food. He tells his young traveling companion that now more than ever it’s the little things in life that are precious.

Along the way they meet two sisters, Wichita and Little Rock (Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin, respectively). Well, “meet” isn’t the right word: “conned and swindled out of their guns and truck” is the right word.

The two parties meet up again and decide to stop pointing guns at each other and travel together. Wichita wants to take Little Rock to Pacific Playland amusement park. It was a happy memory from their childhood, and with the world gone to crap, Wichita wants to make her little sister happy, if only for a while. Besides, they’d heard the Playland is “zombie free.”

As they make like the Griswolds on their way to Wallyworld, our fantastic foursome stops at the Los Angeles mansion of someone near and dear to Tallahassee’s twisted, sugar-craving heart. I won’t reveal who it is, but it is a masterstroke of casting (how they nabbed him, I will never know) and a very, very funny sequence. It’s nice to see this actor sort of loosen up.

This is a heck of an entertaining movie, right up there with Shaun of the Dead and The Return of the Living Dead. Say, isn’t it funny how the funniest horror movies all feature zombies? They say vampires are sexy. Well, zombies are a hoot. Not only are the dialogue and situations funny, but they have fun with on-screen graphics as well, often posting one of Columbus’s “Rules for Surviving a Zombie Apocalypse,” such as "Rule No. 1 Cardio" as we see a fat guy running for his life but being overtaken and eaten by a zombie.

As in all good movies, the characters are the heart of the story. I’d forgotten how much fun Woody Harrelson can be, and in this movie he is awesome. I’d want him on my side in a zombie apocalypse. Jesse Eisenberg, who was terrific in the indie gem Rodger Dodger, is like an older Michael Cera; he’s smart and nerdy and funny. Emma Stone holds her own as big sister Wichita. I enjoyed her work in Superbad and The House Bunny. She’s sweet and sexy and can shoot a shotgun like a dude. Abigail Breslin’s Little Rock seems to be the least developed character, which is no reflection on her. She’s spunky without being obnoxious and there is a fun scene when the four of them have been traveling in the car for a while and she tries to explain Hannah Montana to Tallahassee. For a 12 year old, she also wields a shotgun with aplomb.

The original idea for Zombieland was as a television series, according to writers/Exec. Producers Paul Wernick and Rhett Reese. While that might have been fun, I’m glad they went the big screen route with this cast. I would love to see a couple more adventures with this group, provided they can keep the quality and the laughs intact.

A movie about the middle man - Surrogates

Surrogates (2009)

Surrogates is one of those movies where you spend the whole time YELLING AT THE GODDAMN SCREEN because the ideas at play are so GODDAMN STUPID. Did NO ONE read this crap out loud just once before shooting it?

It’s the near future, 2017 to be exact and pretty much everyone has a surrogate, an android avatar version of you that looks like you won one of those Ultimate Make Over contests. It’s a younger, prettier (or handsomer) and better built, but somewhat plastic-y, version of the real you. Of course there is a faction of humanity that shuns surrogate technology. They are called Dreads, which is the dumbest name for such a group.

What do you do with such an amazing piece of technology such as this? Well, you – the real you – veges out at home lying on a special couch that “plugs” you into the avatar-bot, while the surrogate goes about the day as you used to do in flesh and blood form. If you worked in an office, your surrogate works in the office. If you delivered mail, your surrogate delivers the mail. If you are a cop, your surrogate walks your beat. If you are a housewife who likes to go shopping all day, your surrogate goes out shopping. This “better version of you” just does all the same shit you used to do.

So what’s the point?

That’s what I was yelling at the screen the whole fucking time. This idea, from writers John Brancato and Michael Ferris adapted from the graphic novel by Robert Venditti and Brett Weldele, is really one of the stupidest ones ever floated for a science fiction film.

There are so many holes in the surrogate concept that it sinks the movie, which is just a standard who-dun-it, with Bruce Willis and Radha Mitchell as FBI agents – both surrogates of course – who investigate the death of the son of the inventor of surrogates, Lionel Cantor (James Cromwell). It’s Minority Report, A.I. and other similar fare, including and especially I, Robot, right down to having Cromwell as the inventor.

Cars are affordable, but everyone does not own one. Smart phones are nearly ubiquitous, but everyone does not own one. So I just can’t swallow the movie’s premise that ULTRA-SOPHISTICATED ROBOT TECHNOLOGY AND TELEPRESENSE would be so affordable in 10 years time that EVERYONE who wants a surrogate can afford one. I call bullshit on that.

I also call serious bullshit on the movie’s lazy depiction of the use of surrogates. Everyone’s life is EXACTLY the same as it was without the use of the tech. Sure there was the one fat guy whose surrogate was a hot chick, but that happens on the internet all the time. The surrogates for Willis and his wife (Rosamund Pike) are younger and prettier but as the flesh and blood husband and wife are estranged from one another after the death of their young son, their surrogates, which of course are controlled by them, walk that same walk. There's so much ice between them you could build and igloo skyscraper.

Surrogates are only a middle man, BUT YOU HAVE TO CONTROL THE SURROGATES, so what’s the point? WHY would you want this middle man getting in the way of things? It’s one thing if the surrogates were a true copy of you, so that you can send it to your crappy office job and that would free you up to do something else with your life. The movie doesn’t make a solid case – or any case, really - for that all important WHY, so the fact that it condemns the surrogate tech as evil rings hollow. (One character calls surrogate use an addiction, but that’s a lame reason.)

It's obvious the original story was influenced by people who play virtual games like The Sims, Second Life, or even old school Dungeons & Dragons, and become so immersed in the games that they prefer it to their real lives. But at least in those games they (usually) become someone else. An accountant (sorry, accountants) isn't going to play these games as an accountant character and live the exact same life he has in reality. The whole point about fantasizing is to be someone other than what you are: if you're weak, you want to be strong; if you're short, you want to be tall; if you fumble for words all the time, you want to be the one with the snappy comeback that everyone remembers.

In between the lame story we get mostly lame action scenes, including a very dull car chase. Note to directors doing car chases: WATCH SOME CLASSIC CAR CHASE MOVIES BEFOREHAND! Check out John Frankenheimer’s classic chases, William Friedkin’s work in The French Connection and Paul Greengrass’s gripping car chases in the last two Bourne movies. Director Jonathan Mostow, you have really disappointed me (I loved your Breakdown and U-571).

There is barely enough story here for a half-hour Twilight Zone episode. And that’s a half-hour that includes commercial breaks.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Howling at the moon - The Wolfman

The fine folks at have posted several new clips from director Joe Johnston's much anticipated, much delayed film The Wolfman, starring Benicio del Toro, Sir Anthony Hopkins and the beguiling Emily Blunt.

Let's hope the long wait will be worth it, plus let's also hope they didn't monkey with Rick Baker's special make up magic with too much CGI. After all, the man knows a thing about werewolves.

Take a dip in a tick and flea bath solution and give 'em a watch.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Circumstantial Evidence

The MTV reality show Jersey Shore is tearing up the airwaves right now. It's "Snooki this" and "Snooki that." But for our cubits no one beats super-Guido Mike "The Situation."

Never one to not cash in on a fad, we here at Bad News From Outer Space present our very own, very space-y version of The Situation:

The Circumstance is like The Situation, but with less hair grease and tanning bed use (The Circumstance likes warming himself on desert rocks).

The Circumstance loves Sun Chips (salsa flavor) and Dos Equis ("He is the Most Interesting The Circumstance in the World").

The Circumstance hates phonies and goombahs ("What'sss-a matterrr, you!").

Star Trek is Copyright 2010 and a Registered Trademark of CBS Studios, Inc. No infringement of those rights is intended with this parody. Screencap from

History Comes Alive Again - Night at the Museum 2

off the shelves of the L.A. Library....

Night at the Museum: Battle for the Smithsonian (2009)

Well, the first one made money so we knew they’d do another.

Ben Stiller returns as Larry Daley, the ex-night guard for the New York Museum of Natural History. Now he creates and pedals gadgets in late night infomercials, like the Glow-in-the-Dark Flashlight, alongside people like George Foreman (here’s an idea: a Glow-in-the-Dark George Foreman Grill – I’ll take a 10% commission for each unit sold). Larry is successful but not happy.

When his golem-like friends at the museum – who come to life at night due to a magical tablet - including tiny odd couple Jedediah the cowboy (Owen Wilson) and Octavius the Roman (Steve Coogan) are boxed up and sent into long-term storage at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. and run afoul of the uppity Egyptian pharaoh Kahmunrah, it’s up to Larry to save them. And perhaps learn a life lesson along the way.

From what I vaguely remember of the original film, this one comes across as a little better. Yes that’s damning the movie with faint praise, but what are ya gonna do?

Stiller plays straight man to all the crazy characters, from returnees Teddy Roosevelt (Robin Williams) and Dexter the slap-happy capuchin monkey to newbies including Col. George Custer (Bill Hader) and Napoleon (Alain Chabat) . He’s partnered this time with Amelia Earhart, played with heart and spunk by the wonderful Amy Adams (seriously, does she ever turn in a bad performance?).

And speaking of wonderful, Hank Azaria as the evil (he’d say, “e-VEAL”) pharaoh Kahmunrah steals the movie, and rightly so. Azaria, one of the stellar voice cast of The Simpsons, is a riot, ad-libbing much of the time in a somewhat-more-masculine Boris Karloff voice, complete with slight lisp. Kahmunrah doesn’t really seem evil in the true sense of the word. Yes, he wants to rule the world and threatens to kill Larry and his friends, but it just seems to be a bad career choice that he’s made. It’s a refreshing change from, say, performances like Jeremy Irons as the evil wizard in Dungeons & Dragons.

One scene stands out in particular when Larry and Kahmunrah are facing off against each other. Kah wants three things: for Larry to give him the tablet, reveal the tablet’s secret code, and to NOT try to grab the hour glass in which he’s trapped Larry’s buddy Jedediah. Larry of course keeps grabbing for the hour glass and with each attempt Kah just gets more irritated with him: "I can't believe you just did that!" It’s a great scene and very funny, all because of Azaria. I just wish there were more scenes like it. A DVD extra shows Azaria trying out several different voices for the pharoah, including a very funny good ol' boy from Alabama (he riffed that he was on display at an Alabama Community College and that's where he learned to speak English. Genius!).

However Christopher Guest, an ICON for creating/inhabiting Nigel Tufel in Spinal Tap, and for coming up with original characters in the films in which he directs is extremely flat here as Ivan the Terrible. He just stands behind a giant beard and glares. He has no character or personality. Same thing for the often terrific Craig Robinson from The Office, who has a blink and you miss it cameo as a Tuskeegee airman. Why cast an amazing comedian for a non-comic walk on role?

And that’s the problem with the film: it’s ALMOST a good movie. It’s harmless and has a handful of funny scenes, but with some better dialogue/situations it could have been memorable. Case in point, Amelia Earhart is constantly using 1930s slang that contemporary guy Larry doesn’t understand. It’s cute at first and Amy Adams puts a lot of spunk into each line. But they act like that’s never been done before, except we know IT’S BEEN DONE IN EVERY TIME TRAVEL MOVIE EVER MADE AND ALL PERIOD HOLODECK ADVENTURES IN STAR TREK. It’s not a new idea in the least. Imagine what a Pixar movie would do with that type of fish out of water character. See what I mean?

If there’s nothing else on TV give Night at the Museum 2 a look-see. But first try really hard to find something better on, okay?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

You should ask for directions - The Robinsons: Lost in Space

Remember that Lost in Space TV reboot in 2004, titled The Robinsons: Lost in Space? It was directed by John Woo and starred Brad Johnson and Jayne Brook as the heads of the Robinson family, John and Maureen?

Don't remember? Well, that's because the network got cold feet AND NEVER AIRED IT.

But thanks to the media archaeologists at io9, they've posted a clip where Big John goes to rescue Will (Ryan Malgarini) from some gas mask aliens (they look like Ovions mixed with gas mask-wearing Sleestak).

This pilot really doesn't look too good: Brad Johnson comes across as pretty stiff (he hasn't changed since his debut in Always), the white costumes look like generic "space costumes," the aliens look terrible, and the action comes across like it was directed by Woo - the master of the "bullet ballet" - while he was asleep.

The only good thing to come out of all this is that the major sets for the Robinson's ship, the Jupiter II were sold off to Battlestar Galactica and became the sets for their rival the Battlestar Pegasus, resulting in a huge cost savings for BSG.

I just wonder if the Robot was featured in this pilot. You can't have Lost in Space without Will AND the Robot. Guess I'll have to watch the complete pilot that is posted to YouTube and find out.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Simian Cinema

Being a fan of all things monkey, this interesting article was brought to our attention by Friend of the Blog, DC. It's from the BBC's Earth News section and it looks at an amazing experiment involving chimps and a very sturdy video camera.

Two words: CHIMP CAM! (We've always wanted to say that.)

That's right, they've created "simian cinema" with Cecil B. DeMonkey directing. From the looks of the sample clip, chimps aren't half bad cinematographers (that is, when they're not licking the camera lens). It's certainly better than a lot of crappy Blair Witch knock offs I've seen.

There are also links on the side to other chimpanzee-related hijinks, including chimps mentally mapping out fruit tree locations, a chimp who "planned out" a zoo attack using rocks, and our favorite, chimps exchange meat for sex (just like Uncle Cornelius). We're finding out our furry cousins are more like us every day.

Now give them some day-glo paint and they can make a mini-Avatar movie.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Day glo movie beats the one with the boat

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Avatar has surpassed Titanic as the highest grossing film worldwide.

Avatar's $1.858 billion dollars edges past Titanic's $1.843 billion. Avatar looks to wrest the domestic number one slot as well, with nearly $555 million and still counting closing in on Titantic's $600 million North American gross.

I just wish a better movie had toppled Titanic. Between these two James Cameron blockbusters, the story with the boat had more heart in it and feeling to it than the one with the treehuggers.

Cameron is good at sequels (Aliens and T2), so maybe A2: The Company Strikes Back (NO, that is not the official title) will be a better film.

Transported to Nowhere

Avatar (2009)

Writer/director James Cameron’s first film in 12 years is a visual effects-filled shrug.

The story is a very basic tale: Humans in the near future travel to a planet to mine a valuable mineral. They can’t get the primitive alien population, the Na’vi, to move with the futuristic equivalent of “wampum and brandy” so they use ugly brute force to get what they want, natives be damned.

Every movie-goer should be issued a checklist so they can note each cliché as they occur: Hero Jake Sully meets Grace, doctor in charge of avatar program; she immediately dislikes him. Check. Generic military colonel gives, “You aren’t in Kansas anymore” speech. Check. Jake’s first contact with the Na’vi is with the chief’s daughter Neyteri, who immediately dislikes him. Check. Neyteri brings Jake to tribe, who immediately dislike him. Check. Jake, cocky and stupid, slowly wins over Neyteri. Check. Best warrior in tribe wants to marry Neyteri. Check. Best warrior really dislikes Jake. Check. Jake learns tribe’s ways. Check. Tribe accepts Jake, but best warrior doesn’t. Check. Best warrior will fight Jake at some point nearly killing him. Check. Later best warrior will accept Jake as a brother and/or leader. Check. And it just goes on and on. Or should that be “yawn and yawn.”

Clichéd plots aren’t necessarily a bad thing if they can be tempered with interesting characters that can offset the aching familiarity, but that isn’t the case with Avatar which has been called Dances with Smurfs and Pocahontas in Space by some viewers.

In addition to the clichés, Cameron is recycling himself, with the mechanical Power-loader cousins, the drop-ship like helicopters and the tough Latina soldier (all done before in Aliens). Cameron is a bit like George Lucas in that he can't let go of an old idea.

None of the characters are memorable for the right reasons. The villain of the piece, Col. Quaritch (Stephen Lang) has all the depth of a cartoon character. Well, not all cartoon characters as Jonny Quest villains were better written, with more believable motivations. Quaritch just wants to kill and destroy (he must be a terminator or a robot: "Crush! Kill! Destroy!"). All he was missing was a cigar to chomp on. Giovanni Ribisi as the corporate shill in charge of mining the “unobtanium” mineral is too goddamn young to hold a position that literally has the fate of the Na’vi in his hands. Ribisi is in his mid-30s but he looks about 25 years old. I propose a better idea would have been to have Sigourney Weaver as the corporate head on Pandora. She’s the right age, projects intelligence and resourcefulness; plus, wouldn’t this be a great spin on things, having Ripley who famously fought against the company in the Alien series now BE the company (see my comment earlier about interesting characters offsetting the clichés)!

Hero Jake Sully (Sam Worthington) is as bland as bleached white bread. Worthington barely registered in Terminator Salvation where he was a secondary character, but here he gets the lead role and he’s terrible. He comes across as a bored high school football player going through the motions on the field.

Perhaps the best performance is by Zoe Saldana as Neyteri (she also scored last summer as Uhura in the Star Trek reboot). She voices her role with an exotic accent and convincingly speaks in the made up Na’vi language, which was created by a linguist (shades of Land of the Lost’s Pakuni). Saldana's movements are supple and graceful and replicated through the movie's motion-capture technology.

One idea I did enjoy immensely was the Na’vi’s connection to their world. It wasn’t just a spiritual but a LITERAL one, as they are able to "plug in" and connect with many of the animals and even the trees. But it was this idea that the movie mishandled the most. When Jake's avatar “plugs into” the alien flora and fauna it should have been a profound experience. Humans often talk about a spiritual connection, but Jake is the first person to actually connect with the world around him, and its an alien world to boot. So what does he do? He just smiles at little. Way to be overwhelmed by your experience, Jake. Oh, and he never shares what this was like with his human colleagues. Not once. Another thing that bothered me was Jake never showed any regret at having to unplug from his extremely agile avatar to go back to his true body with its crippled useless legs. That should have been a given but apparently NOTHING REGISTERS ON THIS GUY!

Also, I simply did not believe that the nameless “company” that sent the miners to Pandora and hired Quaritch and his private army would simply murder with such glee an intelligent alien species that had this unique connection to their world, not matter what “wars” are going on on Earth, no matter what we've done in the past. The scientific and spiritual curiosity alone would ensure that they are untouched. It wasn’t mumbo jumbo; they all knew this about the Na’vi. Perhaps if the characters were better drawn I would have accepted their motivations, but as it stands their motivation was “because the script says so.”

I did see the movie in 3D at L.A.’s famed Cinerama Dome on its big curved screen in the XpanD 3D process (with the big goggles). I have to say I was not impressed; this presentation did not make me a fan of 3D movies. Previously I had only experienced 3D in theme park attractions such as Captain Eo and T2 3D: Ride Across Time. I thought those were much better presentations than Avatar. My friend BW pointed out that Avatar’s 3D effects were mostly “innies” and not meant to “pop out” of the screen and into or up to your face. But to my mind THAT’S what 3D is about – without that popping out, it’s just a needless distraction. After a very noticeable start that reminded me of an old Viewmaster with Jake coming out of cryosleep in a huge cavernous spaceship interior, the 3D seems to “settle in,” only every once in a while making itself known (as with the glowing hanging vines of the Tree of Souls).

I thought the 3D projection dampened down the colors too much, especially the luminescent plant life (my friend DC’s wife B made the astute observation that “the planet looked like a teenager’s room full of those fuzzy posters that glow when you turn on a black light”); the colors simply weren’t as vivid as in 2D.

The actions scenes are pretty thrilling, and thank goodness you could follow them. We probably have the 3D process to thank for that; if Cameron shot the movie with the trendy Shaky-Cam and edited it with a Digi-Blender, the viewers heads would have exploded from the dimensional frenzy.

All in all, Avatar is much ado about nothing: A generic story, with dull characters, a pretty setting and an eco-message. It's like a glossy brochure. There was no true sense of wonder: it was all in the production design and visuals and not present in the story and characters. That's like going to a fancy restaurant and the best thing you could say about the food is that the plates and silverware were nice.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sentenced to the Dungeon

Dungeons & Dragons (2000)

Slay this foul time waster.

This “movie” should be used as a textbook case of how NOT to do a fantasy film, with its generic quest non-story, totally miscast group of actors, dull to non-existent characters and weak production values. It nearly sent me into a coma with its torpidity.

Ostensibly based on the popular role playing game created in the 1970s, this movie has all the thrills of going to the dentist for a root canal. Make that a double root canal with no anesthesia. The story, such as it is, concerns our heroes finding the "Barber of Seville" (at least that’s what it sounded like), a magical whatsits that controls the Red Dragons, before the evil mage Profion who will use it to over throw the Princess of Izmer. To do so, involves all manner of adventure and peril for our heroes. Just kidding. It really doesn’t.

I’ve never played D&D but I’ve a little familiarity with the game. Our heroes are supposed to represent the types of characters you can play in the game: thieves (here, Ridley and Snails), apprentice mage/magician (Marina), dwarf (Elwood) and elf (Norda). Apparently the writers thought that was all that was needed was a label to create a character. “You’re a mage and you’re a dwarf and you’re an elf. Now we have a cast of great characters, right?” Everyone had the same personality: annoying.

Director/co-writer Courtney Solomon is heavily influenced by Star Wars (the original) as he lifts its structure where one character leads you to the next character, who takes you to the next one. We meet Ridley and Snails (Justin Whalen and the irksome Marlon Wayans), who take us to Marina (Zoe McClellan), who takes us to Elwood, etc.

It’s hard to believe this movie was released by New Line Cinema, the same studio behind the magnificent Lord of the Rings trilogy, which was being shot at the same time as this super-turd. I want to know how New Line exec Mark Ordesky can look himself in the mirror after overseeing this offal. D&D is not even up to the level of fantasy as Willow, which is just a pale imitation of LOTR.

Jeremy Irons is flat out hilarious as the scenery chewing mad wizard Profion. He acts like he’s got Mad Cow Disease and only has a week to live; he snarls and growls and he GESTURES WILDLY as he races through his lines like he's got an aeroplane to catch and let's get this over with shall we. It’s funny, but also sad at the same time to see this Academy Award-winner (for Reversal of Fortune) act so bug-nuts insane.

Irons just tops the list of all the miscast actors in this stupid thing. NO ONE fits their role or feels believable in any way. Thora Birch looks embarrassed and more than a bit ashamed to be in this movie, especially in the green screen work where she sits atop a flying dragon and has to react to nothing. Justin Whalen (Jimmy Olson in the Teri Hatcher/Dean Cain Lois & Clark show) acts like he just came from the mall where he failed to pick up girls at the Chick-fil-A. Bruce Payne as Damodar the chief evil henchman runs around with a bald head and blue lipstick. Blue. Lipstick. (Yes, he looks like a total ass, and he chews the scenery nearly as well as Irons.) But the absolute worst, most aggravating casting choice is the human Jar Jar Binks, Marlon Wayans. He’s always shucking and jiving, and he’s NEVER funny – the cardinal sin of a “comic relief” character. It’s a great, great joy when his character dies.

Shot in Czech Republic for the cheap, the movie looks it. One big sword fight takes place in an average looking field with weeds. Way to location scout, people. The completely overshot hills of Los Angeles look better than anything here. The main characters' costumes look like generic fantasy garb at best and Renaissance Fair cast offs at worst. One set of baddies look like Power Ranger villain rejects. The sets look like cheap sets, accentuated by flat lighting, but they must have hired half the Czech population because they are always filled with what look like hundreds of costumed extras. The movie would have been better served with fewer extras and better, more authentic sets and props.

The visual effects are TV quality at best. The city of Izmer has what looks like skyscraper-sized buildings (with a dozen different architectural motifs, it seems) among all the regular brick and thatch-roof huts. Since they are done with CGI the director goes bananas and has the computer camera swoop up and around and into the things, which is a complete contrast to the pedestrian camera work in the live action scenes. Way to balance your film-making techniques, Herr Direktor.

The old Saturday morning kid’s show Land of the Lost was done for a mere fraction of the budget of this pimple of a movie, but they were creative, inventive and imaginative where these filmmakers were none of those things. The makers of LotL created an intriguing story and built a believable world and characters to inhabit that story, something this movie's Dungeon Masters failed to do at every turn.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Dr. Zaius to come out of retirement?

io9 has a piece up about how the latest Planet of the Apes reboot/remake/rejigger might NOT be dead after all.

This is great news, because if there's one thing American cinema needs more than blue-skinned aliens it's furry Apes!

The article doesn't mention it but I'll toss it out there: 3D. Every studio is either looking to lens (hey, an industry term!) a 3D movie or use their digi-sorcery to turn a 2D movie into 3D (like Uncle George is looking to do with the Star Wars Saga).

Just thing of all the great scenes of whack-ass chimps, orangutans and gorillas throwing poo at the glorious 3D! Bring. It. On.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

From out of the past

Fringe – “What Lies Below”


A deadly virus is loose in a high-rise building and Walter has extra incentive to find a cure fast.

Another tight stand alone episode, this one giving every member of the cast at least one moment to shine. Previous episodes tended to put Olivia (Anna Torv) in the background, but she’s brought out front this time to good effect. There are some good scenes between her and Peter (Joshua Jackson), one that serves to illuminate her character further: even when facing the prospect of death she is still more concerned with protecting those close to her.

This episode at the beginning had the flavor of The X-Files, which is a good thing. But they put their Fringe spin on it quickly enough: the virus, which came from a petroleum drilling sample dated at 75,000 years old, is intelligent (but not a Mensa candidate), much more so than H1N1, and it wants to live.

I liked that the CDC official in charge at the scene (Geoff Pierson) was not the stereotypical blowhard they usually show in such situations. He actually listened to Walter and to Agent Broyles. He was much more believable in his actions, even when he had to order the elimination of those infected in the building to prevent further contamination.

In a surprising move, Agent Broyles (Lance Reddick) makes an admission to the CDC official that the members of the Fringe team are like family to him. They are slowly showing other sides to Broyles (including his earlier kiss with Nina Sharp [Blair Brown]), which is a most welcome direction.

At one particularly tense moment, Walter “slips up” and tells Astrid (Jasika Nicole) that he “can’t let Peter die again.” At episode’s end, she asks him about this curious statement but Walter simply tells her there are “things in this world better left alone.” I cannot wait until this information surrounding Peter is finally out in the open, not because I want to see these characters hurt, but because this great group of actors and the writers will do something extraordinary with that revelation.

Well-told stories like this one make me look forward to Thursday nights.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

"Bones" McCoy, Frontier Doc

Writer/artist John Byrne has a new comic book coming in March from IDW Publishing: Star Trek - Leonard McCoy, Frontier Doctor. The story follows our "simple country" physician in the time just before the events of Star Trek: The Motion Picture (which accounts for the doc's scraggly Zach Galifianakis look).

Byrne's website, Byrne Robotics, has a couple pages of finished artwork, and has the cover for issue no. 1.

It's too bad DeForest Kelley isn't around to see a mini-series devoted to his beloved character.

The Justice Society of America: A Legend Comes to Life

I'm actually excited about an episode of Smallville. "Absolute Justice" is what the netlet the CW is calling their two-hour special where Clark Kent encounters the Justice Society of America, the world's first superhero team.

I used to watch Smallville back in the day and it was a great show for a while, but similar to Lost, one that definitely needed an end date. Clark Kent can only stumble and fumble for so long, before he gets his act together and becomes Superman (oh, no, was that a spoiler?). And the series is in it's, what, NINTH season. At this rate, star Tom Welling will hit 40 before he dons the blue tights and cape (if TPTB let him wear the costume, of course - corporate synergy, my ass).

Anyhoo, back to "Absolute Justice." The episode promises to show Hawkman, Dr. Fate (two of my faves) and Star Girl. DC Universe's The Source has a neat little clip filled with Easter Eggs on the Justice Society of America. How many can you name?

Saturday, January 16, 2010

What do I see before me?

Fringe – “Johari Window”

Some Spoilers

When a young boy, whose normal appearance suddenly changes to reveal grotesque deformities, is taken by force from authorities, Fringe Division is called in to investigate a small town with a big secret.

This episode really felt like The X-Files did in its prime. It’s a solid stand alone “monster story” with a heart.

Walter (John Noble) at first theorizes “therianthropy” for the normal to grotesque transformations, sort of the Greek shape-shifting cousin to lycanthropy, but you don’t turn into a werewolf (which Walter is afraid of, btw). But his analysis of a beautiful butterfly he captures in the small town for Astrid leads him to the real cause: an old Army base whose top secret testing on electronic camouflage went awry.

We see perhaps a new side to Agent Broyles (Lance Reddick) in what he does with/for the town’s inhabitants at the end of this story. Astrid (Jasika Nicole), in another rare occasion, gets out of the lab and behind the wheel of the Bishop boys’ station wagon. She also gets a nice scare at the lab when she unzips a body bag. Olivia (Anna Torv) has kept to the background so to speak, after recovering from her trip to the other universe. She's in each episode but doesn't seem to contribute much. They need to balance that out better.

John Noble once again shines as Walter. Whether he’s humming a nonsense tune “Hard artichokes rarely keep, Norwegian elephants Singapore sleep” that turns out not to be nonsense at all, or sharing a tender, revealing moment with his son Peter (Joshua Jackson) at episode’s end, you can’t take your eyes off him.

I’m exaggerating but it seems like it’s been a long while since we’ve had a story focused again on the parallel universe. After all, they’ve declared war on us, you know. As cool as these stand alones can be, they don’t really hold a candle to an inter-dimensional war.

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Book of Connery


Annalee Newitz at io9 has a great post up about today's big movie release, The Book of Eli. She compares it to none other than...(are you ready?)...Zardoz.

Yes, Zardoz, that ultra-goofy John Boorman-directed whack-fest starring the hirsute Sean Connery. With a 70s porn mustache. Wearing a red banana hammock. And co-starring a giant floating head, that spits out guns and ammo.

Newitz makes a compelling case - complete with screencaps and vid clips.

Now I'm dying to see both Eli AND Zardoz.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Pope as Movie Reviewer

According to this article brought to my attention by Friend of the Blog JW, the Vatican is weighing in on James Cameron’s billion dollar grossing film Avatar.

Due to its pro-nature stance the Holy See views it as “neo-paganism” and believes it dangerous in that it turns “nature into a ‘new divinity.’”

Now that the Pope is in the movie review business, I think he should go whole hog. With that in mind I present: “Ebert and Pope Benedict XVI and The Movies.”

Here are some fun factoids:

-They end their movie reviews with a Thumbs Up and a Papal Blessing, or a Thumbs Down and a Contemno ex Skeletorus (Condemn This Movie to Hell).

-The Pope, unlike Roger, claims to possess the ability of Filmitus Inerrantum, or Movie Infallibility (in other words, his movie reviews are NEVER wrong).

-Roger Ebert has his “Great Movies,” the Pope will have “Pontiff’s Picks.”

-When they review the occasional drive-in movie, Benedict insists they use the Popemobile as it has a bitchin' 7.1 sound system.

-The Pope's mitre doubles as a popcorn bucket.

-The Pope's staff can be used to yank noisy patrons from their seats.

-The Pope’s favorite movie snack is Holy Grail Gummis.

-The Pope sits squarely with Team Jacob.

-Roger Ebert is The Answer Man. Pope Benedict XVI is The Answer Man of the Almighty Eternal One Who is Most High (the Church loves its titles).

-When Pope Benedict gets up and walks across a row of seats to head to the restroom, his robes make absolutely no sound thanks to fine Italian silk from blessed worms.

-The Pope has been known to “heal” a broken film strip with a wave of his hand.

-The Pope hosts "Movies with a Mass" - a retrospective of films featuring the mass. (Not to be confused with "Movies and a Mass" on Sundays when you have a film following a mass.)

-In addition to the Popemobile, the “Pontiff of the Projector” has been known to dash to movie premieres in the Popecycle, the Popeboat, the Popecopter and, occasionally, the Liturgical Limo.

-The Pope closes each show with, “That’s it for this week’s edition. Until next week, the Basilica is closed.”

-Jealous rivals refer to the show as the "one with the Pulitzer Prize Winner and the Old Guy with the Big Pointy Hat."

-Every summer, St. Peter's Basilica projects a Led Zeppelin Lazer Show. (This last one has nothing to do with movie reviews, His Holiness simply likes to rock it to Zeppelin – Stairway to Heaven, of course.)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Picard versus the Swedish Bikini Team

Star Trek: The Next Generation - “Justice”

After dropping off some colonists, the Enterprise crew beams down to the planet of the Swedish Bikini Volleyball Team, and Wesley gets the death penalty for not keeping off the grass.

If you’re thinking this must be a first season "gem," you’re right. It's another goofy Gene Roddenberry idea (here written by Worley Thorne and Ralph Wills): The Planet of the Hot People Who Have Sex ALL The Time and Run Around in Pasties. One track mind that guy.

I admit I liked this episode as a young space cadet, but that was likely due to scantily clad guest star Brenda Bakke and all the other hot blond chicks featured throughout. For the female viewers there are dudes both muscle-bound and, well, otherwise running around in their banana hammocks. (Seriously, the costumes for the alien Edo people consist of nothing more than a couple of fancy cloth napkins.)

Why the Enterprise is visiting a planet that is OBVIOUSLY several hundred years behind them in tech is a head-scratcher. Yes, they whine about needing shore leave, so how about beaming the crew into the mountains or an island or some other remote area and leaving the Backwoods Bares alone. I think it’s because the Feds are incapable of roughing it in the slightest; they always take their shore leave at touristy places with hotels and full amenities. And hookers.

In the teaser they establish the sex thing right away (Yar even says they “make love at the drop of a hat – ANY hat”), so WHY they allow Wesley to go down, so to speak, is baffling. Upon meeting him, Brenda Bakke looks like she wants to jump him as is their custom but Wes fumbles the ball and gets a chaste hug instead.

They find out that the joint is so peaceful because no one dares to break even the slightest law, as there is only one punishment: you have to watch a Liza Minnelli/Barry Manilow concert. No, actually, they just kill you. Wes accidentally breaks a rule when he falls into some shrubbery and the Away Team has to protect his bacon.

One thing they screwed up is that Worf is against this type of law & order. You’d think as a Klingon Warrior (TM) he alone would appreciate the concept of one punishment for every crime. That, and he’d want to use an old rusty axe to do it. Missed opportunity there.

Anyway, as the Away Team was getting jiggy and jiggly, the Enterprise discovered a weird but cool looking space ship in orbit - this is the Edo’s “god.” In a hilarious bit, when the Edo god-ship first shows up it doesn’t read on ship’s sensors, so Picard tells Geordi to go look at it through a window! This is a Galaxy-class starship, the most advanced machine in the Federation and Geordi’s gotta stick his visored melon out the window to take a peek at something. (Of course they never ever do this again.) He/It doesn’t want the Feds mucking around with his kids and messing with the perfect harmony they’d had for hundreds of years. Naturally Picard fucks this all up by boning up on his L.A. LAW tapes and arguing for Wesley’s clemency.

In the end they let Wesley and the crew go home, and Wes walks around with a boner for six straight months.

Star Trek and Star Trek: TNG are Copyright 2010 and a Registered Trademark of CBS Studios, Inc. No infringement of those rights is implied. Screencaps from

Monday, January 11, 2010

From Russia With No Love

Fringe - "Unearthed"

A teenage girl, Lisa, - brain dead after an accident - is about to have her organs harvested for transplants when she suddenly wakes up and starts speaking Russian and reciting classified military information.

A solid episode, and apparently one leftover from season one as Agent Charlie Francis (Kirk Acevedo) is alive and well and NOT a parallel universe shapeshifter. (A post on Ain't It Cool News postulates that 22 episodes were ordered by the network for season one and only 20 were broadcast, so we may have one more "freebie" like this one to go.)

This is a fun sci-fi twist to the idea of possession, especially since the girl's mother (Amy Carlson) is a devout Catholic (although thankfully one who doesn't see her daughter as being possessed by demons). Walter Bishop (John Noble) however is a dedicated scientist and he believes that when an American sailor, one who spent time on a nuclear-powered ship and spoke Russian) was murdered his energy or spirit was transferred to Lisa. We even get to see some old movies with a young Walter experimenting on this "psychic possession/transference" with a Subject No. 6 (don't ask about subjects No. 1 through 5).

Lisa gets a bit of a crush on Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson) and she even tells Olivia (Anna Torv) that she turns 18 in a year, so Olivia better "hurry up" (if she and Peter are ever going to go out).

It was good to see Charlie, however briefly the appearance. Maybe there's a parallel universe Charlie Francis - and hopefully he's a good guy - and he and Olivia can have a reunion down the road.

Last but not least, Jean the Cow also makes an appearance and gives Walter some extremely fresh milk.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

When Doves Cry

Star Trek: TOS - "The Day of the Dove"

Yo ho, yo ho, a Klingon's life for me....

Yes, those nasty swarthy (and BOY are they swarthy in this episode - makeup by Hershey's) are back for the last time in this original series' third season episode (no, I'm not counting the illusory Klingon forefather "Kahless" created by the giant brownie Yarnek in "The Savage Curtain").

Michael Ansara, who was married to I Dream of Jeannie's Barbara Eden (you'll thank me later, Trivia Pursuit fans), lends his deep voice to Kang, captain of the Klingon ship that was shanghai-ed by a swirly, twirly light entity.

Kang and Kirk and their crews go toe-to-toe and sword-to-sword (no, not that way K/S fans), manipulated by Light Brite as it feeds on "strong emotions" (so you can imagine what its Netflix queue is filled with).

They keep on killing each other, reviving, then re-killing each other again, until they all laugh their asses off by watching The Hangover and the twirly light thing gets huffy and leaves as good feelings make it ill (most of this was a true statement).

Star Trek is Copyright 2010 and a Registered Trademark of CBS Studios, Inc. No infringement of those rights is implied. Screencaps from

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Salvation: This effer should be Terminated

From the shelves of the L.A. Library to my DVD player to your eyes.

Terminator Salvation


It’s a very telling thing when a movie about humans versus machines has little to no real human feeling in it.

Take away all the explosions and gunfire and the basic plot is the same as it’s always been for the Terminator movies: the machines attempt to kill John Connor (Christian Bale).

But why should we care?

Connor is as much of a machine as the Skynet chrome-bots that he battles. He is singular of purpose in his unending quest to destroy Skynet, and he never shows emotion. Sure he screams a lot, but then has to whisper in his Batman voice. He has a wife, Kate (introduced in T3, and now played by Bryce Dallas Howard) who is pregnant but no real time is spent with them. He never even talks about his unborn child. Arnold Schwarzengger’s Terminator character in T2 comes across as more human than Bale’s Connor.

Half the movie is focused on Marcus (Sam Worthington), a death row inmate who donated his body to science, via the creepy Dr. Kogan (Helena Bonham-Carter). When she succumbs to her cancer, her research into genetics is absorbed by Skynet. The stupid trailers for this movie gave away the fact that Marcus was a machine (he’s never called a Terminator, but an Infiltrator), so there was absolutely no surprise when that moment was revealed in the film. Way to go, assholes.

The movie does several Stupid Movie Things, the first of which is when Marcus meets Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin) and is totally surprised by Skynet and the machines and basically that the world has experienced a nuclear holocaust and KYLE NEVER THINKS THAT’S ODD. Marcus is older than Kyle so how can he NOT have experienced these things. Kyle never asks this simple question and Marcus never tells him. Marcus does his “stranger in a strange land” bit again when they stop at an old gas station and run into a pocket of survivors. NOBODY ASKS WHY MARCUS IS ACTING SO WEIRD. It is at this same location where Stupid Movie Thing No. 2 happens: as the humans are talking a GIANT four story tall Harvester robot punches its fist through the roof, scoops up a pair of folks, and drops them in a nearby Hunter Killer’s cattle car. These two huge machines make all the noise in the world when the scene cuts to the outside of the gas station and we see them in their glory, but BOY, THEY CAN SURE SNEAK UP ON SOME BITCHES!

Connor and Marcus scream alot but eventually put aside their differences and sort of work together to attack the Skynet facility in San Francisco where Connor's father to be Kyle has been taken.

I simply did not care one wit about anything that happened in this movie. Terminator 1 and 2 had simple storylines that were easy to follow. The action scenes moved the story forward. Terminator 3 threw a wrench into the works, but Salvation appears to blow the whole thing up. I have no idea what’s going on (how does this movie fit into the continuity of the previous films?), aside from the machines wanting to kill JC, and I don’t really care (they story has given me no reason to care).

Christian Bale is wrong for this role. He is SO tightly wound that its ridiculous. He really has no warm or humanity here and that's what's desperately needed. Yes, he makes a speech or two about humanity vs the unfeeling machines, but its lip service. In a better story his lack of humanity could be an interesting story arc: the man who hates the machines so much he essentially "becomes" one. He could shun Kate's overtures of love, and run his men down into the ground expecting them to perform as well as the machines. Perhaps in the parallel universe seen on the show Fringe this happened in THEIR version of Salvation.

The influence of Transformers is evident in the addition of the giant Harvester robots (is that really the best way to collect humans? I doubt it). The new grungy, grimey Terminators look like huge thugs (this is not a compliment). This movie cost in the neighborhood of $200 million dollars. The original Terminator cost just under $7 million, and its depiction of the machine-dominated future was much more interesting than the one on display here. It got little details right, like having the Resistence wear camoflague in grays and blacks, to make them blend in with the demolished concrete cities. In Salvation they sport the same black vests and black mercenary garb of any movie with thugs-n-guns. The flying Hunter Killers in the pre-digital T1 didn't zip around like they were in a cartoon. This is proof positive that more money does NOT automatically get you a better film.

This movie feels a lot like that one season of Lost just before the network announced that that show will have a definite ending date. Before that announcement Lost was just spinning its wheels; they couldn’t advance their story because they didn’t know if it was going to be told over five seasons, or ten (the network finally settled on six seasons, and their storytelling got TIGHT). Terminator Salvation, which was announced as the first of a new trilogy, feels very much like it’s just spinning its chrome wheels and going nowhere.

The other problem, besides spinning wheels, is that there really is NO MORE STORY TO TELL WITH THIS FRANCHISE. T1 and T2 tried to avert a nuclear war by the machines. T3 showed they failed. Now it’s the future, the holocaust has happened, we’ve seen the massive machine armies. What’s left? (They still have to defeat the machines at some point in this post-apocalyptic future, but is that a Terminator story anymore, or just another future shoot-em up?) I guess the time travel device that we’ve heard about from the first three movies but never seen has to rear its head. Oh, goody. Maybe this series can fold in on itself and make sure the new trilogy (and maybe T3 too) never happened.

The Grade Z-Team

Correct me if I'm wrong but a trailer or even a short teaser which is essentially what this is, is supposed to entice you to want to see the movie, in this case The A-Team. (courtesy of

Iron Man 2's first trailer NAILED it, with some humor up front, then some "meat and potatoes" with a bit of the plot and new characters, then leaving you with Iron Man and War Machine up to their metal necks in carnage and explosions. IT GETS YOU INTERESTED IN THE MOVIE.

Same thing with the new Kick-Ass trailer. It's put together in such as was as to build your interest - you can almost feel the audiences leaning toward their screens as this story of a kid who decides to become a real-life superhero unfolds. There's a ton of humor, we're introduced to the characters including the stand-out antics of Hit Girl and, yes, some seriously kick-ass action! IT GETS YOU INTERESTED IN THE MOVIE.

This A-Team teaser trailer makes you YAWN. Fans waited 20 years FOR THIS? Generic gun play and crap (aside from the falling tank in sky thing which has the WORST background compositing - it looks like a stage play!) There's no build up to Hannibal's Smith's catch phrase, there's no rhythm, there's no nothing! Any random season of 24 has as much action (and that's on a TV budget). I'm more interested in the next Steven Seagal direct-to-video cheapie than this bloated non-event. (They better make a second trailer - FAST - that is light years better than this one, to save their stupid film and to apologize to everyone who saw this flaccid first marketing effort.)

"If you can find them, maybe you can hire The A-Team?" After watching this trailer, you don't want see their stupid movie, let alone hire them.

One is the loneliest number

Star Trek: The Next Generation – “The Bonding”

Now THIS is how you write a fucking episode! You take a simple enough premise, a young boy’s mother is killed during a routine mission led by Worf, and you INVOLVE THE CHARACTERS in that story.

Not only do we have Worf all pissed that this happened under his watch, but as the boy Jeremy, who previously had lost his father, is now an orphan Worf wants to in essence “adopt” him by performing a Klingon ceremony. Troi thinks it can only be done after Jeremy has accepted his loss which he hasn't.

There has to be a B-story and this time it ties in with the main story: the planet the Enterprise was studying was home to a race called the Koinonians who like many humanoid species destroyed themselves through war after war. However, there was another race of beings on the same planet, one composed of energy. They watched the Koinonians kill themselves, and now a remnant of their long dead conflict, a mine, has claimed another life. This so outraged the energy beings that they have assumed the form of Jeremy’s dead mother and want to take him “home” to the planet surface where they will care for him.

Every regular character (except for Geordi, who is kept busy "remodulating" and "recalibrating" things in an attempt to stop the alien) has at least one scene that plays off on these two stories. In the beginning, Picard has to break the tragic news to Jeremy of his mother’s death. Picard’s unease around children has long been established, so this must be even more difficult for him. There’s a touching moment when Jeremy tells the captain that his father died a few years ago, and with his mother’s passing he is now all alone. Picard moves closer to Jeremy and puts his hand over the boy’s telling him, “on the Starship Enterprise, no one is alone.” Later of course, Picard has to reason with the alien as it tries to take Jeremy away to a life of illusion where he would never see another real human being again; he does so with his usual eloquence gravitas.

There is a well done short scene with Riker and Data as well. Riker, the ship’s ladies man, had “spent some time” with Jeremy’s mother, Marla. Shortly after the announcement of her death, Data finds Riker drinking alone in Ten Forward; he's obviously been touched by the news. Data tells him that since her death he has been asked several times “how well” he knew her, and they have a short discussion about familiarity and loss. The scene was shot in tight close-ups which gave it a very intimate feel (see "Ensigns of Command" for how poor camera work can hurt an episode).

Wesley, who is a few years older than Jeremy, recalls his own father’s death under Picard’s leadership. He has a nice mother/son scene with Dr. Crusher, where he admits that sometimes he can’t remember his dad’s face. She responds that sometimes she can’t get his image out of her mind. Wil Wheaton and Gates McFadden do some good work here. Later Wesley has a scene with Picard where he tells him that he hated the captain for a long time after Picard informed him of his father’s death (this was a one of the finer character moments in all of TNG).

Michael Dorn brings just the right amount of angst to Worf. At the episode’s end he does perform the ritual of R’uustai, the bonding, which honors both their mothers, and he tells Jeremy that “you are part of my family now and for all time.”

Just an amazing episode (more so when you realize it was a spec script written by Ronald D. Moore (head wrting honcho of the Battlestar Galactica reboot), his first professional teleplay).

Star Trek: TNG is Copyright 2010 and a Registered Trademark of CBS Studios, Inc. No infringement of those rights is implied. Thanks to for the screencaps.

It's like breaking into Superman's house!

It looks like the Fortress of Solitude after Superman has gone on a three day bender - it's the Crystal Cave of the Chihuahuan Desert in Mexico.

Neatorama has a, well, neat look at this natural wonder.

Laugh til it hurts

By now you’ve probably heard about the whole Jay Leno/Conan O’Brian scheduling fiasco that is going on over at NBC.

The plan appears to be to move the absolutely non-performing Jay Leno Show into the Tonight Show slot and move the Tonight Show to a midnight (ET) slot. (NBC apparently would have to pay a huge penalty to Conan O'Brian if they moved Tonight to any later time slot.)

In case you didn’t know Jay Leno’s show not only did NOT save NBC as they were gambling on, but they’ve pissed off tons of NBC affiliates who are none too happy about the weak lead in to their local late news programs and subsequently into The Tonight Show and Jimmy Fallon.

So instead of canceling The Jay Leno Show like any sane person would do – after all it was an experiment, a gamble, AND IT DID NOT PAY OFF – and keeping The Tonight Show and Conan in their current slot and just marketing them better, NBC appears to be bending over backwards to keep the great Leno.

Now, I think Leno is a nice guy and all, but his comedy is extremely bland to me; it’s predictable, and predictable comedy is boring. I’m more a Letterman fan, and especially lately a fan of Craig Ferguson’s catchy insanity. The Jimmys – Kimmel and Fallon – are both fun younger comedians.

But Leno has had his time in the sun. He took over the Tonight Show from Johnny Carson and sat in that chair for 16 years. If NBC really loves the guy, make the Jay Leno Show a once a week comedy/variety show. Instead of cranking out flaccid comedy five times a week, Leno can hone his bits and sharpen his humor. Make it a once a week event instead of a nightly snooze-fest. That way they can bring one hour dramas back to that time slot. (I was so looking forward to more Southland when NBC whacked it and changed their scheduling for The Great Comedy Experiment.) Besides, Fox says they would take Jay (can you see the matron-friendly Jay Leno on edgy the Fox network).

NBC, you’re already the last place network. By treating Conan O’Brian this way, you’re just going to dig a deeper hole for yourself. Do the right thing and let Jay Leno go (you cancel shows all the time, so what’s the big freaking deal?).

Armor, Hot Dog!

The folks over at Marvel Comics have re-re-re-designed Tony Stark's IRON MAN armor once again.

If you've ever read any Iron Man comics in the last 25 years, he's had more armor changes than Joan Collins has had face lifts. (That's more than three.)

And what do you know, but the new design has more than a few lines in common with the movie version. Big surprise there. One question: what's with ALL THE LIGHTS? There are little "spotlights" on the collar bone area, ribs, triceps, calves. Sheesh.

At least it's a tad more grounded in reality (like many of 60s & 70s incarnations, and the movie version). For a while there in the early 90s I think, they went buggo on the thing and it just looked stupid. The idea seemed to be "look how many lines we can draw on the armor." Must've made the artists nuts, which is why no one could stay on the title for very long.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Meet the men who are pulling the Dolls' strings

Dollhouse – “Getting Closer”


And we are indeed “getting closer” – two more episodes and this baby is over. But what a non-stop thrill ride it’s been getting there.

Tim Minear (Mutant Enemy vet who wrote/directed for Firefly and Angel, and also for the super-quirky Wonderfalls) wrote and directed this jam-packed episode. Through flashbacks, we see how Caroline (Eliza Dushku) and the D.C. Dollhouse’s resident genius Bennett Halverson (Summer Glau) met and what went down to make Bennett give the stabby eyes whenever she sees Caroline. Meanwhile the L.A. Dollhouse prepares for war as the Rossum Corporation tries to get them under control one way or another. All this and we get to meet the big-wigs behind Rossum (and you thought Wolfram and Hart were evil).

A very well done episode, with a lot of heart, the trademark Whedon funny, and a twist at the end I seriously did NOT see coming. As they get closer to the end each episode is packing so much into it it’s a bit hard to absorb (it’s like watching the Harry Potter movies without reading the books). I think they should call it “Whedon Whiplash.” But it’s the best kind of whiplash (and probably the only kind that makes you smile instead of wince).

We see more of Caroline before she became Echo and she's not just a goofy "save the animals" college student, but more like a guerilla terrorist (but in a good way as she's set her sights on the evil Rossum). She befriends Bennett to use her to get to Rossum. And in one of a hundred twists, Bennett doesn't mind! We get to see the accident where Bennett lost the use of her left arm and where and how her relationship with Caroline went sour.

There is a lot of great stuff between Bennett and Topher in this episode. Bennett is more focused and less "spacey" than the last time we saw her. Bennett and Topher even get to share a nice/funny moment before things get very, very bad.

Boyd (Harry Lennix) brings Dr. Saunders/Whiskey (Amy Acker) back to the Dollhouse and everyone is surprised that they have a "relationship." And Paul begins to live his new life knowing that he is now a "Doll" - he's the same, but he's different. Topher had to "sacrifice something" in remapping his neural architecture. All his memories are still there, but his feelings, his love for Echo is now gone. It's heartbreaking.

It’s a shame this series really only found its footing just as its being cancelled. But at least they are going out with their heads held high, telling the kinds of stories that challenge the actors and crew, and the viewers.

I have no idea how it will all end, but I can guarantee there will be tears (at least on my end).

In the spotlight

Since Quiet Earth's focus is "post apocalyptic" fare, it brought to mind this amazingly cool piece by comic book artist John Byrne.

For the four of you out there that don't recognize it, this is Byrne's homage to his own now-legendary cover to an issue of X-Men comics, the "Days of Future Past" story, set primarily in a wasteland of a future ruled by giant killing machines (this was BEFORE the original Terminator was made). The original cover had Wolverine protecting an adult Kitty Pryde and on the "wanted poster" was the faces (and fates) of their fellow X-Men (most of their fates were not good).

This image did not appear in the course of the story, of course, but is one of the best examples of a comic book cover conveying what the story is about. Imagine this as an X-Men movie poster with a ferocious Hugh Jackman protecting an older Ellen Page (yes, I know the movie series has mucked that up beyond a chance of it ever happening, but still, it's fun to dream).

It's Alive! (Yes, but WHEN will be see it?)

Remember waaaay back when they announced the filming of the movie Splice, starring Sarah (Dawn of the Dead remake) Polley and Adrien (The Pianist) Brody? It was Vincenzo Natali's newest sci-fi film concerning geneticists who push the envelope a little too far (into Frankenstein creating new life territory).

According to this post, Splice is STILL doing the festival thing (as it did last year), this time appearing at Sundance 2010.

You'd think a movie from the writer/director of the legendary cult film Cube and Cypher and with Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy 1 & 2, Pan's Labyrinth, the upcoming Hobbit films) as a producer would not have such a hard time getting a distributor.

I hope to blazes this is not a sign of a bad movie or troubled production.

Let's punch a bear into orbit...again!

Those bad movie lovin' e-folks at io9 have posted clips from Lou Ferrigno's SECOND outting as legendary/mythical gym bunny Hercules in Adventures of Hercules!

For a play by play on Big Lou's first Herc movie, check out my earlier post here.

Done? Good!

I sure hope they show Adventures of Hercules on TV soon. The clips show him fighting a buncha dudes who look like they each swallowed a crate of those glow in the dark sticks you keep in the car for night-time emergencies (or for raves) and grappling with perhaps the weirdest Bigfoot-thing ever (it looks like a cross between Sasquatch, the Salt Vampire and Dorse from The Lost Saucer). The article's author, Charlie Jane Anders, had this terrific observation about the Herc-'foot match: "He kills Bigfoot so hard, the Sasquatch turns into a lightning bolt."

This is the kind of crazy-ass, batshit-insane movie that companies like The Asylum (Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus) can only DREAM of making.

No new salad day for this Caesar

20th Century Fox Has (Ape)Shit for Brains.

And that's coming down from the Lawgiver himself (bows head). According to this write-up on io9, Fox has passed on a script called Caesar by acclaimed writer Scott Frank (Out of Sight, Minority Report, The Lookout). Reportedly it was to be a gritty, realistic remake/reboot of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes.

Now there's a fun idea! By the time they got to Conquest, number four in the original Planet of the Apes series, they had seriously gutted the budget but some very good ideas remained, especially with regard to the civil rights movement. A new, bigger budget film could explore those issues more thoroughly.

So, of course, the studio says it's "too dark" and they can't do it.

I say we send truckloads of rotten bananas to 20th Century Fox execs to let them know how we feel about this decision.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The One With The Colonists

Star Trek: The Next Generation – “The Ensigns of Command”

A corporation of aliens wants to remove squatters on one of their planets. Data is sent to tell the goofballs to pack it up and get ready to move. They protest. Hilarity ensues.

Picard struggles with the snooty Shelliaq Corporate who hate humans and use a 500,000 word treaty to regulate the few interactions they have with the Fed. Since the “radiation of the week” in this case Hyperonic Radiation, is fatal to humans and prevents the transporter from working, Data is sent down in a tiny shuttle which looks like a golf cart with engine pods to rally the squatters, who are survivors of a colony attempt who adapted to the fatal radiation and made a thriving Benetton community.

Everyone is pleased and excited to see Data, except for leader Gosheven, who acts like a huge tool toward our loveable android the moment he lays eyes on him. No reason is ever given for this, except for “my grandfather was buried on that mountain.” Whatever the hell that means.

A local girl, Ard’rian gets all googly-eyed over Data. For some strange reason she’s a roboticist of some kind, but that makes no sense as these people are all the survivors and descendants of the original colonists from 90 years ago. Colonies need farmers and mechanics not robot builders. Aside from Data and his Soong-built brethren, we have never seen any other androids or robots used in the Federation.

Both Picard and Data have to get creative to solve their respective problems. Picard uses legal gymnastics, while Data, with the help of a "recollimating phaser," gets medieval on the colonists’ asses.

A fairly weak third season episode that is primarily done in by extremely dull and uninspired blocking and camera work. 90% of this episode consists of mid shots (from the waist up) of the actors reciting their lines toward a locked down camera. There are a few over the shoulder shots, giving the actor someone on screen to react to. There are also some brief simple tracking shots, but these quickly lead to the boring mid shots.

A quick check of "The Star Trek: TNG Companion" shows that this episode took a nearly $200,000 cut just before going into production. At the time the shows cost approximately $1 million an episode, so this one had 20% of its budget cut off, and since most of that goes toward crew salaries, it’s my feeling that they cut out any fancy camera work and blocking, basically telling the actors to stand there and recite their lines so they could meet their budget constraints. Too bad.

The other factor that weakened this episode was the guest cast. Data’s ally and pseudo-crush Ard’rian (Eileen Seeley) was just a pretty face whose acting consisted of making her eyes GINORMOUS and then less so. She came across as more robotic than Data. Add to that Data’s main antagonist Gosheven (Grainger Hines) was RE-DUBBED by another actor whose booming voice sounded like he was acting in a GI JOE cartoon. "YO, DATA!"

There are a couple of winning moments in this episode: Picard briefly checks in with Laforge’s efforts to adapt the transporter. He walks in, asks how’s it going, Laforge answers, “About like you’d expect,” then Picard exits, leaving the trio to their frustrations. (This scene was even shot from a great angle through the BACK of the transporter platform, something that was never duplicated in any other episode.) Later after a couple of very infuriating communications with the officious Shelliaq aliens, Picard gets the upper hand using an obscure article of the lengthy treaty to his advantage then cuts off the Shelliaq as the alien starts to protest. The Shelliaq signals the Enterprise and Picard basically let’s the phone ring for a while, even walking across the bridge to check the plaque for dust before answering the hail.

In a first for any post-TOS Star Trek story, they encounter a problem they can’t immediately overcome by “re-modulating” something. We see Geordi’s failed efforts in adapting the transporter to the hyperonic radiation, and at the end of the story he tells Picard it will take “15 years and a team of 100” to finally be able to pull it off.

Star Trek: TOS and TNG is Copyright 2010 and a Registered Trademark of CBS Studios, Inc. Jimmie Walker image copyright its respective rights holder. No infringement of these rights is intended with this parody.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Big Trouble in Little Mecha

Star Trek: The Next Generation – “Evolution”

The episode Christian TV critics tore apart. Just kidding, it’s the one where Wesley effs up big time and puts the ship in danger, while Dr. Kelso from Scrubs goes off the deep end trying to realize a once in a lifetime dream.

This is a perfect example of an episode where the pieces are good, but they don’t add up to much in the end. A huge part is that Ken Jenkins is miscast as the obsessive Dr. Stubbs. I just didn’t buy any part of his performance, especially when he references his passion for baseball (which was a passion of the writer Michael Piller).

Stubbs wants his interests put ahead of everything going on aboard the Enterprise, even when the ship appears to be falling apart from the attacks of Wesley’s nanites (tiny machines built at the atomic level - the ultimate Micro Machines). All Picard had to do was slap Stubbs across the face just once and ask him if he really believes the lives of over 1,000 men, women and children on the ship are worth more than his goofy science experiment. Stubbs was acting like a selfish child and could have used a good spanking or at least a good shouting to, like Kirk would have done. This whole episode could, and should, have ended at the 20 minute mark.

A huge detriment in this episode is its lack of real drama. Yes, the ship is in danger, yet again, but we know it will make it out hale and hearty for next week’s tale. When Stubbs shoots one the Enterprise computer cores which the nanites have invaded he “kills” something that we only see as either a crude 1980s video game on a screen or when Data speaks for them. The nanites never seem like a real life form. Also they only retaliate by goosing Stubbs. Someone, even a nameless extra, should have died in the course of this story – the best place is when they attack Stubbs - to give it some weight.

In the end, everyone is happy: the ship is out of danger, Dr. Stubbs gets to perform his precious experiment, the nanites leave the ship to colonize a world of their own, and Wesley gets another A (and a hot blond cutie too).

This is the worst kind of Star Trek.

Star Trek: TOS and TNG is Copyright 2010 and a Registered Trademark of CBS Studios, Inc. Roomba is Copyright iRobot Corp. Original Roomba Cat image Copyright its respective rights holder. No infringement of these rights is intended with this parody.

Billion Dollar New Year

Well, James Cameron CERTAINLY has had just about the best New Year that a filmmaker, or perhaps anyone, could have.

This slash film article tells how Cameron's latest epic, Avatar, after a mere 3 weeks of release has grossed more than $1 billion worldwide. That's billion with a "b."

James Cameron is now the first director in history to have directed two movies (the first being Titanic, which is still tops at $1.8 billion) that have each grossed more than a billion dollars worldwide. He's the Two Billion (and counting) Dollar Man.

I guess this - plus the record U.S. box office of $10.6 billion for 2009 - shows that in a recession, people really DO seek escapist fare. But WHY does so much of it has to be of the level of GI Joe, Monsters vs. Aliens and X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

Oh, well, along with those turds at least we also had quality films like, The Hangover, Star Trek and Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

A Road Movie to Nowhere

Carriers (2009)

A post apocalyptic road movie that goes nowhere.

Star Trek’s Chris Pine as Brian gets second billing behind Lou Taylor Pucci as younger brother Danny. Along for this joyless ride are Piper Perabo as Brian’s gf Bobby and Emily VanCamp as Danny’s non-gf Kate.

Set some time after an unspecified virus has wiped out most of humankind, leaving infected-but-dying people and assholes behind, our story picks up our less-than-fab four as they are driving through Colorado to a Texas beach the brothers recall from childhood (guess they had good crab legs).

They live by Brian’s five rules, which include staying away from infected people and washing down everything with bleach. I don't recall the rest because they really weren't that memorable.

They run into some people along the way including Law & Order: SVU star Chris Meloni who plays a father trying to get his infected little girl to a treatment facility he’s hoping will have a cure for the virus.

Along the way a lot of people, usually one of our four heroes, do really, really stupid things.

I had hoped this movie would be a smart take on the “virus genre” as I’ve just now named this type of movie. There are no zombies or even zombie-like folks running or shuffling about, just your basic end of the world virus and a quest for survival. We see a few infected people and they’re all bloody and veiny and basically unpleasant looking.

But back to the stupid things. When you, against your better judgment, pick up someone who is infected and isolate them in the back of your Jeep Cherokee you never, never, never tear down the plastic barrier without your mask and gloves on (also everyone should have been wearing goggles since infected body fluids can easily transmit this crud, so another demerit for missing that obvious precaution). Of course the barrier is broken, so of course one of our dumbass quartet gets infected. And of course this idiot doesn’t tell the rest of their comrades in arms/masks about said exposure ("Say nothing. Act casual."). And of course when you wander around a place like an an abandoned home or golf resort without checking it out, other survivors, usually the asshole kind, will mosey back home and find you fucking around with their shit and will likely be pissed. And they'll want to rape your wimmens. Also, since you drive around with two beautiful girls, you might want to remember that last part and save your ammo for protecting them and yourselves and not waste in on shooting at law enforcement signs. Just stupid at every turn.

This movie played like 90210 AV:After the Virus. Good-looking young people do exceptionally stupid things. They never acted like they’d seen the world crumble around them. They never acted like they were affected by anything. Seeing parents and friends die (there was one brief scene concerning Brian and Danny’s parents but Pine had his stupid paper mask on the whole time - smart movie covering half your actor's face!). Watch neighbors kill each other over the last cans of food and water. Also Chris Pine is making a career playing the "Chris Pine character": the good-lookin', cocky jerk who gets the cute girl cuz he's good-lookin'. And cocky.

Apparently they shot a lot of this on the highways of New Mexico which are simply too pretty and picturesque for an end-of-the-world movie with their blue-blue skies, white fluffy clouds, green shrubs and beautiful red rocks. What a huge misstep it was to do that. Surely they could have found some abandoned or little used highways, preferably deserted or desert-looking, and shot there, similar to what The Road did by shooting on the Abandoned Pennsylvannia Turnpike.

Additionally, the movie would have been better served if they shot it in grainy 16mm and bleached most of the color out, like they did in Saving Private Ryan. Note to low budget filmmakers: THE END OF THE WORLD SHOULD NOT BE A PRETTY-LOOKING AFFAIR!

I think the point of the movie, as near as I could figure out, was that people in their early 20s are too stupid to survive an apocalypse. Don't you be stupid and watch this turkey.

Family wanted

Orphan (2009)

A troubled family adopts the perfect little girl and lives happily ever some other movie. This one ain't it.

Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air, The Departed) gives a strong performance as Kate Coleman, wife to John (Peter Sarsgaard, An Education, Flightplan) and mother to pre-teen Danny (Jimmy Bennett, young James T. Kirk in last summer's Star Trek, Evan Almighty) and the adorable Max (short for Maxine, played by Aryana Engineer making her film debut).

As the story begins Kate is struggling to come to terms with the baby she lost, a stillbirth. She's a recovering alcoholic who hasn't had a drink in a year. She regularly talks to a therapist. John, though, isn't perfect: he's had an extra-marital affair during their troubles.

Kate and John decide to adopt, and they go to an orphanage run by Sister Abigail (CCH Pounder, Avatar, The Shield) where they meet nine year old Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman, Hounddog). A raven-haired girl with impeccable maners, Esther is originally from Russia, and was made an orphan after her home burned down with her family inside. Her only quirk seems to be that she prefers to dress in "old country" little girl-style dresses complete with ribbons on her wrists and neck.

Esther and Max, who is deaf, immediately bond; Esther quickly learns sign language so she can communicate with her new little sister. Danny is put out by her because he gets teased at school for having a weirdo as a sister. Esther is bullied at school by her classmates. So what's an orphan to do?

Well, people who run afoul of Esther get hurt or worse. That's the fun of this movie, a solid thriller with terrific performances all around. We really get to know the Coleman family, especially Kate, who goes from the nightmare of losing a child to having your newly adopted child turn out to be a living nightmare. When Esther starts manipulating events, leaving Kate looking like the bad guy, you really feel for her. I like that Farmiga didn't just "phone in" a performance, like a lot of actors do when they do a genre movie like this; she gave it her all.

This isn't a movie for gore-hounds - thank goodness for that - although a scene with a hammer comes off as pretty gruesome, but that is more in the idea than any actual on-screen depiction of blood-n-guts. The story is set in winter and the snow and ice really add to the feel of dread. The movie does, or perhaps overdoes, the "fake scare" a bit, with the hand-held camera coming up on a person from behind only to reveal on the reverse shot...that there was no danger.

Fuhrman's Russian accent gives Esther that little extra edge of weirdness. Esther is a bit like those famous Russian "nesting dolls" where inside the doll is another doll and another, except what Esther is hiding inside is a pretty fun twist to the story, which I won't spoil here.

Special mention must be made for little Aryana Engineer's turn as the spunky Max. The actress, like her on-screen character, is partially deaf, so Aryana has no spoken lines of dialogue, instead communicating through sign language and a very expressive face. When she is happy, the screen literally lights up and when her movie mommy faces danger at the end of the story, the look of fear and terror on her young face is so real. Kudos to her acting coach, Brenda Campbell.

Truth be told, one thing that bogs the movie down a bit is its length. At 123 minutes, it's simply too long. I know that director Jaume Collett-Serra (the House of Wax remake) and writers David Johnson and Alex Mace went to great lengths for us to get to know Kate and her problems and emotional state, but the movie should have been trimmed by at least 10 minutes, if not 15 to 20 minutes, to make it much, much tighter. Still, it's a good old-fashioned creepy horror-thriller, and that's saying something.