Friday, March 30, 2007

TV Review: Lost: Expose

Well, damn.

If there was any doubt that the Lost writers know how to screw around with their audience, this episode was it. They've been teasing us withe periodic glimpses of these two new characters, giving them lines leading to goofy nicknames like "the toilet guy". And now it is revealed that (probably) the only reason we've been seeing these characters at all was to set up this bizarre little morality play, Lost-style. Even the only reason the male was named Paolo was to set up the pun on "Paolo lied" vs "paralyzed". These writers are devious and patient.

A dangerous combination.

Having said all that, this actually was an entertaining show even before the shocker at the end. I tend to enjoy these eps where the flashbacks are on the island - partly because it's interesting to see writers approaching the same events from multiple perspectives, partly because it gives me hope that the writers actually do have some kind of plan, and partly because it takes me back to when the show was good (just kidding - I mean consistently good). Yeah, it was filler, but for a change, it was good filler.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Movie Review: Die Another Day

Just caught this on Spike. I hadn't seen it since during its original theatrical release, and its awfulness has since become legendary, forcing a reboot of the long-running Bond franchise. Seeing it again - yep, it's still horrible.

The later Roger Moore films have a reputation for silliness, but Die Another Day goes out of its way to exceed even that standard. An invisible car? DNA-splicing to change a Korean into a Brit? A man with diamonds embedded in his face that can't be removed? The virtual reality training/erotic fantasy simulator? Madonna acting?

A good example: the main villain, Graves, has Bond trapped at his ice hotel (ice hotel?). Bond breaks out and escapes in Graves' rocket car (rocket car? OK - so I forgot a few more examples of silliness). Graves gives the order: "Kill him, quietly!". So what happens? His men immediately open up with the machine guns, because nothing is quieter than a machine gun. When that fails, Graves uses his superweapon to fire a giant beam of light from space down onto Bond, setting some woods on fire and melting a glacier which forms a tidal wave that almost kills Bond.

Yeah - probably nobody noticed that.

Amazingly enough, on a second viewing I found Halle Berry of all people ended up looking the best out of this mess. While Brosnan seemed to be trying to play it as straight as he could given the lousy double entendres (and not a single one worked), Berry was playing the thing with the right tone - just stand around looking hot in a bikini and toss off stupid one-liners. Yeah, it all falls apart by the end for everyone, but at least Halle had a few scenes that weren't a total embarrassment. Otherwise, everyone is about as bad as they can be (especially Michael Madsen - what in the world was he thinking?). One star.

Monday, March 26, 2007

No Way! ... Way!

"Cops: Killer burned body parts on grill"

What, neighbors at the Red Oak Place apartments wondered, was going on in the unit where 27-year-old Timothy Wayne Shepherd lived? What was he burning at all hours, for days at a time?

Really now, has anyone done a study to check the proportion of killers with the middle name "Wayne" relative to the general population?

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Movie Review: 300

Finally got around to seeing 300 this weekend - my first time seeing a movie out since Smokin' Aces. I am expecting a few more trips to an actual theater, with Grindhouse and Hot Fuzz coming up in the next few weeks.

I was expecting something a little different visually from 300, based on how the similar Sin City was done. But with few exceptions, the movie didn't really seem like a set of comic book (sorry, graphic novel) frames in the same way Sin City did. One exception was the scene where the Persian messenger is pushed down the pit - we see the figures tumbling down in a totally black frame - that seems like a Frank Miller-type panel. But most of the other scenes visually just seemed like reasonable combat-style scenes; the main stylistic touches being the extra splashes of red and the speed-ups/slow-downs (which wouldn't be present in a comic book anyway). There was one odd thing, though; many of the scenes looked as though they had extra grain added - I don't know if that was intentional and done digitally, or unintentional because of a bad print. It was noticable and distracting.

One thing that did really make the graphic novel origin apparent was the narration - they were short iconic phrases that I could easily imagine sitting in yellow rectangles at the top-left corner of the screen. And speaking of the narration, I liked the framing mechanism they set up for the main story - that is, the tale of the battle is being told by a general to his troops to prepare them for battle. This allows the story to be even more fantastic than it would have been, since the storyteller is going to exaggerate to motivate his army.

As to the people trying on both sides of the aisle to find analogies to the current War on Terror, I say the same thing I said for The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Both Rings and 300 were written and produced independently of the current struggles, and so any mapping of current events onto those movies says more about the viewer than it does about the movie.

Performance-wise, nobody really stood out for me as a wrong note - Butler managed to be blustery when required (often) and wry and humorous when required (occassionally). In particular, Rodrigo Santoro was extra-creepy as the "god-king" Xerxes, and pretty unrecognizable from his occasional appearance on Lost (which are due to get fleshed out a bit in the next couple of weeks, I believe).

I was a little worried during the first combat scene. The director had it framed very close, so the action was confusing to follow. However, later scenes opened up a bit without losing the overall notion of the Spartan battle tactics and were much better in my opinion. And of course, the extra eye candy in the form of Lena Headey's outfits were not unwelcome.

On the whole, a very enjoyable film - about what I was expecting plot-wise and acting-wise, and a little less stylistic visually than I was expecting (but that isn't a bad thing). Four stars for this one.

Friday, March 23, 2007

TV Review: Lost: The Man From Tallahassee

Oh right....that's why I was watching Lost.

The conversation between Locke and Ben in the kitchen was easily the best segment on the show this season - and the line "Well, you better hope it's big enough for you to wish for a new submarine" the best from that scene. Locke continually thinks he is in control on the Island, while his flashbacks show the truth - Locke is almost never in control and is almost always out-thought by those around him. And even here, I think Locke knows he is being manipulated by Ben, but he chooses to go along because there is alignment between their goals - only to have Ben one-up him again with the final reveal.

I don't see how they are going to explain it, though - if they had Locke's father for a while, they must have had him present to use against Locke, right? But they didn't ask for Locke to be included in the group to be captured at the end of Season 2. Of course, there is also the theory that Locke's father is also Sawyer's long-lost father, so maybe he was brought it as leverage against Sawyer, who was included in the group.

Sheesh - contorted myself into a pretzel there.

For once, the other various subplots were well-done and added to the overall story. We got several small, good bits - Dannelle catching a gllipse of Alex through the trees, Sayid sowing a seed of doubt in Alex, and so on. And of course, the shot we've all been waiting for - Locke's injury - was extremely well-done; we knew it was coming, we suspected from whom it was coming, and it was still a surprise to see it done.

One question, though (what, just one?): Assuming for the moment that Ben was telling Locke the truth (a big assumption), the Others capabilities have been severely compromised by the hatch's implosion at the end of Season 2. This occurred because the button was not pushed. The Others clearly knew about the hatch; they had a camera system to see into it. So - if not pushing the button caused them these problems, why would they leave it unguarded? Why would they leave the pushing of the button in the hands of strangers? This to me implies that Ben doesn't know as much as he thinks about the Island; otherwise, they would have dedicated more resources to the button. (By the way, the Others don't really seem too concerned about lack of resources - two of them got killed easily last week for apparently little gain.)

This was an episode that really needed to happen after several weeks of lackluster shows. Hopefully they can keep things rolling next week, although it looks like it might be a return somewhat to the Charlie-Desmond thread that has done little for me so far.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

DVD Spending Tab IV

I didn't win either of the Mystery Science Theater sets from Circuit City's eBay site that I was bidding on, but I did pick up something to go with the Rush: Replay set I got a couple of days ago:

Rush: R30 30th Anniversary Tour Deluxe Edition

Just $12.75 including shipping.

Yearly total: 9 movies, $58.79.

Bruce Dickinson, Environmentalist

Al Gore:

The planet has a fever.


And the only MORE COWBELL!

Finally, an Al Gore plan I can fully support!

DVD Spending Tab III

Purchased from Circuit City's eBay site for $19.98 (including tax and shipping):

Rush: Replay
The Legend of the Swordsman (Jet Li, 1992)
Black Dragon (Jackie Chan, 1989)

Yearly total: 8 movies, $46.04.

If You Can Read This...

Instapundit links to a post from Dr. Helen commenting on bumper stickers and what they say about a driver. I'm sure this partially comes about from living in the People's Republic of Austin, but whenever I see more than two stickers on a car, invariably it is a liberal's car, seeking to enlighten me. Especially the stickers with white text on a black background. "If you aren't completely appalled, you aren't paying attention." "Somewhere in Texas, a village is missing its idiot." "Yee-haw isn't a foreign policy."

Wow, you've completely changed my world view, there. Thanks!

I'm not sure why it is that liberals try to dispense their wisdom in 12 inch by 4 inch increments more than conservatives seem to. Again, I live in a liberal-rich environment, but even when I'm up visiting the folks in Frisco (about as "red" an area as there is this side of Utah), I don't see conservative stickers all over the cars. Of course, maybe that's because they can actually afford nice cars and don't want to mar them up with stickers.

Oh, and to the lady with the "What Would Ann Do?" sticker on her car that I saw yesterday? Right now...Ann would probably just decompose.

"Have A Nice Day."

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

TV Review: 24 - 7:00pm - 8:00pm

Another week, another so-so hour. Again, I can't really label this show as bad, but it clearly isn't up to last year's standards.

  • Watching Jack save the day by struggling with a foreign terrorist - good. Watching Jack save the day by struggling with a force-feedback joystick - not so good.
  • When I saw Powers Boothe was going to have a role as the VP, I knew he was going to be the contrarian, "evil" VP character. But frankly, they're writing and playing him far too broadly - Boothe has jumped way over the caricature line with his portrayal. It's just not believable that he and Wayne Palmer would work at all as a set of running mates. I'm about ready for that particular story arc to wind up - and I'm not especially pleased to see the First Sister waiting in the wings either.
  • I can only assume that Audrey's fate was brought up here to act as the setup for the much-rumored 24 movie - that plotline can possibly be brought into this season (can it?), and I don't see how they could build an entire season around Jack's revenge fantasy unless they decide to completely revamp the show. It would be perfect for a two-hour movie, though.
  • And what was the reason behind Jack's rib injury? Was it just to allow Doyle to handle the interrogation scene, such as it was? They aren't doing a good job of handling that character either - I think the show could use another action guy (particularly since Curtis is out), but they've handled Doyle's backstory poorly also.

Friday, March 16, 2007

TV Review: Lost: Par Avion

As mentioned a little while back, Lost has drifted from "must-watch-immediately" TV towards "I'll-watch-it-off-my-Tivo-sometime" TV. This week's show is a good reason why - as usual, two threads going on, one good and one bad. On the good side, I'm finding the explorations of Sayid, John and Kate to be more interesting than those of Jack, Sawyer and Kate during the first half of the season. It isn't clear they are learning much more (yet), but they've done more in their two episodes of wandering around than they accomplished in eight episodes on the other island. The efforts to bring John back to his more ambiguous personality that he showed during the first season have been a little obvious, but it's still good to see - and based on the previews, the "new old John" subplot may be coming to a head next week.

However, the other ongoing plot, the "when will the Hobbit get it" plot, continues to drag. Considering that this subplot has been the main focus of two episodes and a subplot of a couple of others, there really isn't that much to it. OK - Desmond is having premonitions of Charlie's death, and....that's about it. Presumably there will be some payoff at some point this season, but why expend so much energy on it? And this plot has also been responsible for several flashback sequences that have brought nothing to the table - in fact, the flashbacks have mostly been a wash for the entire season. Again, the Locke storyline may help shake this trend next week, but even episodes I've seen praised online (like the Desmond episode from a few weeks back) have had flashbacks that just seem to take up time.

At least we avoided any foolishness like Hurley's Big VW Van Adventure or the Ping-Pong Tournament this week. As you can see, I'm ready for this show to get moving - when it does, it is still very good, but when it doesn't, I'm looking for the 30-second skip.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Mirror Has 300 Sides

I didn't get out to see 300 this weekend as I had planned - it'll have to wait until next weekend. But it was interesting to see the politicos contort the movie to fit their various agendas (agendi???). The Left, predictably, seems to be a bit more confused on the issue. Is 300 a brutal love song for facism?

If 300, the new battle epic based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley, had been made in Germany in the mid-1930s, it would be studied today alongside The Eternal Jew as a textbook example of how race-baiting fantasy and nationalist myth can serve as an incitement to total war.

(From Slate's review by Dana Stevens.)

Or is it a stirring depiction of the little guy standing up against the foreign invaders?

On the geopolitical military tip (and ancient Greece was nothing if not geopolitical), it's notable that these 300 bearded die-hards, attempting to repel shockingly awesome numbers of foreign usurpers from the lands beyond beyond, resemble nothing so much as an intractable insurgency willing to sacrifice everything up to and including their own lives. The parallels between American foreign-outreach programs and those of 2,400 years ago are too obvious to miss but in the end have very little to do with Snyder's film.

(From the Austin Chronicle's review by Marc Savlov - who, to be fair, doesn't take his parallel nearly as seriously as does Stevens.) could just ask the director:

The important thing is that it’s a fun movie experience, you know. Whatever people want to say about it — it’s a sword and sandals epic, it’s a war movie — all that stuff. The truth is that in the end I really just wanted to make a movie that is a ride. And it's awesome when you walk out of it, and it’s satisfying and you saw something that you haven’t seen.

Of course, asking the Left to just enjoy something for what it is, without all the bizarre context they try to wrap around everything, may be a bit much to ask. Oh well, more enjoyment left for me.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Movie Review: New Police Story

This is the third of the recent Jackie Chan overseas productions I've gotten around to seeing (following The Myth and Rob-B-Hood). In New Police Story (no relation to Chan's classic Police Story movies of the late 80's), Chan plays a cop trying to take down a gang of X-Games wannabees that are staging daring bank robberies - not for the money, but rather to lure cops into deathtraps. When Chan's entire unit is taken down in front of his eyes, he retreats into a drunken haze, until a young inspector declares himself Chan's new partner and forces him back into action despite himself. No bonus points for guessing if Chan is successful or not at getting himself back together and taking down the gang.

I found this movie to be much stronger than either The Myth or Rob-B-Hood. Like the former, it's played mostly straight, and what humor there is comes primarily from Chan's new partner rather than Jackie himself. Jackie's dramatic turn as a drunk here come off OK at best - as usual, I'm more at home seeing him doing his apologetic clown bits, and I'd rather see drunk Jackie becoming Drunken Master instead of Vomiting Master. While he never comes completely out of his shell here, once he does shake off his lethargy, things pick up quite a bit. This movie is more of the guns-and-stunts genre, with only a couple of hand-to-hand fights (I seem to recall more martial arts in the earlier Police Story films). Fortunately, the stunt work here is great and original, at least for Chan - lots of repelling down the sides of buildings, sometimes on foot, sometimes on rollerblades or bikes. There's also an impressive scene set on a runaway double-decker bus that manages to destroy most of an outdoor shopping center for no apparent reason - I always appreciate mindless destruction. And extra kudos for whoever thought to load up the truck that gets dumped into the bay with loose rubber duckies - a nice touch.

(The appearance of the double-decker bus and another stunt where Chan falls off a building through an electric sign, with sparks flying off, make me wonder if they were trying to subliminally invoke the spirit of the original Police Story movie, which features variants of those specific stunts.)

There are a few downsides. While suitably devastating for Chan, the opening scene where his team is taken out is overly ambitious for this group of criminals - it's not quite at Jigsaw levels, but it's hard to see them designing, constructing and then executing flawlessly all of the various traps that are layed out. They basically end up being experts at firearms, explosives, demolition, martial arts, computer programming and, of course, riding bicycles down the sides of buildings. It's a little much to be rolled into one set of punks. The movie also seemed to have about one major plot twist too many, as things seemed to be a bit on the long side for me.

However, these are minor points in the overall picture - I enjoyed this movie quite a bit. Four stars.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Compromise, Liberal-Style

KLBJ Interview with Hope Morrison, Responsible Growth For Northcross (RG4N):

Sentence 1: RG4N wants to work with Wal-Mart and the City of Austin to come up with a solution all sides can agree with.

Sentence 2: When asked what store hours would be acceptable to RG4N, she replies that they feel a SuperCenter is incompatible with the neighborhood. Period.

So - how exactly are they planning on coming up with a compromise that involves not building a Wal-Mart? Brilliant.

Oh, and they're planning a lawsuit, but won't admit to actually having funding to do it. Good luck with that.

Guys - your lawsuit will get laughed out of court, Wal-Mart will make whatever minimal changes they feel like (they've already reduced the hours the store will be open), and the store will be built and will be successful. Wal-Mart didn't get to be the largest retailer in the world by not knowing exactly what kind of revenue they will be seeing at a given location.

The vast majority of people who will stand by any boycotts, protests, or whatever you people cook up would never enter a Wal-Mart anyway, and the vast majority of people who shop at Wal-Mart aren't interested at tilting at your personal windmills.

Finally, KLBJ has been running calls from people who let the mask slip - they don't want "that kind of people" in their neighborhoods, "kidnapping their children" (a caller actually said that), and so on. So much for the compassionate liberal, looking out for the little guy.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Movie Review: 13 Tzameti

Well, everyone seems to be raving about this film, but I can't agree. I went into this film blind - I had seen a mention about it somewhere, but I didn't know anything about the plot. And while the big reveal at the middle of the film is certainly effective, it seems to take a long time to get there, doesn't do much beyond reveal its setup, and then decides to end on an odd note. All of which adds up to a disappointment.

Without giving too much away, the start of the film follows a young man working on a roof repair job somewhere in Europe. He is able to eavesdrop a bit on the conversations in the house, which seem to involve a job for the husband which makes them very uneasy, to say the least. When the husband dies, leaving the worker without pay, he decides to take the husband's place on the mysterious job - he only knows to take a train ticket to Paris and show up at a hotel, nothing more. All of this is done at a fairly slow pace, with lots of obscure conversations as everyone pointedly fails to describe what the actual job is.

The job ends up being a participant in a horrific game set up to entertain some rich Europeans, and the worker is unable to escape until the game is played out - assuming he survives.

As I mentioned above, the reveal of what he is expected to do is horrifying, and the actual execution (so to speak) of the game's first round is suitably tense and draining. However, the same process is repeated a few more times in succession, and since we know the workman will survive (no other competitor is defined as anything more than another body in the game), the tension quickly drains away, leaving us waiting around for the thing to end. And then once it does, we don't really see much about how the worker is affected by what he went through - he starts up a few new plot threads which are not followed up, and then the movie suddenly ends when happenstance brings one of the other competitors back into the picture.

I know this will come across as another "ugly American" opinion, but I can't help but think that an American remake of the film would be an improvement. I don't mean adding more gore, although that would likely happen; I mean improving the pacing, making the thing have more movement about it. And I say this as someone who much prefers most of the original Japanese horror films over their recent American remakes.

I can't give this one star - the brief period where the film gets it right, gets it very right - but it certainly isn't three-star material. Two stars, and let me know when the remake shows up.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Newspeak or Dumbspeak

Apparently, a legislator in Florida would like to ban a term from being used in documents or even spoken by state employees - no word on whether thinking the term is still allowed. What is the term? Illegal Alien. What party does the legislator belong to? Need you ask?

Oh, and what is her problem with the term? Allegedly, not the word illegal:

"I personally find the word 'alien' offensive when applied to individuals, especially to children," said Sen. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami. "An alien to me is someone from out of space."

Well, I personally find people who claim to represent the public who don't know the basics of the English language to be offensive. The first definition of alien is "An unnaturalized foreign resident of a country. Also called noncitizen." More specifically, the word alien has a legal definition: "Foreign-born persons who have not been naturalized to become U.S. citizens under federal law and the Constitution." And while E.T. does fall under this definition, so do the millions of invaders (sorry, "undocumented immigrants") who pass in and out of the country at will.

So either the honorable senator is being disingenuous as to the reason for this bill, or she is admitting amazing ignorance as to her chosen field of work. It's fifty-fifty in my mind which is correct, but regardless of her rationale, one thing is clear - we definitely need to stamp out this kind of niggardly thinking.