Monday, March 31, 2008

Movie Review: Jet Li's Fearless

This is a typical Jet Li period piece with a fairly typical period plot. Li plays another legendary Chinese historical figure, Huo Yuanjia. His story: suffering a humiliation as a child, Huo vows to never be defeated again. He of course grows up to be the best fighter in town and gets cocky, leading to the loss of his family. He wanders into the countryside to learn humility and inner peace. I guess the humility part didn't really take, though, because when he returns to his home, he discovers that foreign powers are taking over culturally and economically, and he decides that he is the proper one to lead the Chinese people down the path of national pride. No points for guessing if he succeeds.

So, the story is no big surprise, certainly one that shows up constantly in martial arts films. What about the action scenes? Well, most of the fight scenes here are well-done, and showed a surprising amount of speed and viciousness. There were times where the action was slowed down to show off a bit of the wirework that seems to be present in every Jet Li film I see, but most of the time the action was allowed to run. This isn't the martial-arts-as-ballet (as in Hero, for example). The various sword fights were particularly nice, fast-moving and hard-hitting.

Yeah, I don't watch these films for the acting, but I did actually notice Li's performance here. During his early rise, Huo is portrayed as a kind of a party guy, generally enjoying being the biggest badass around. Li usually plays reserved, stoic or angry characters (and indeed, he reverts back to that persona by the end of this film), so seeing him laughing and passing around the drinks was kind of a nice change of pace (the kind of thing Jackie Chan did in many of his early films).

I'll give this one three stars, just because it didn't really go too far above the line, but this was a good, solid enjoyable film.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

TV Review: Futurama - "Bender's Big Score"

Wow. I'm a fan of Futurama, and this movie, the first new episodes in a couple of years, had gotten a lot of good reviews.

Which is why I'm amazed at how bad it was.

The time-travel plot had its moments, but a lot of the rest was just awful. And not funny.

Oh well...there's always the old DVDs and the reruns. Maybe the followup movies will pick things back up.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Movie Review: Flushed Away

Watching this reminded me how much I really like Aardman's designs. Yeah, they've all got that same wide-mouth, wide-eyed expressions from way back in the early Wallace and Gromit days, but it just works for me. And they do great, detailed work on the environment, too - here, forming an environment from all the bits of stuff that end up down the sewer. The construction of the boat alone here was enough to make me smile. I think I end up liking Aardman's production work even moreso than Pixar's.

But Pixar shines in the story-telling, as they usually go for themes and scopes that just aren't in the Aardman playbook. Not to say they're bad, just that Aardman seems to be interested in sticking to good stories, rather than the big, universal-type themes you get in the Pixar films. Flushed Away, unfortunately, is even more light on story than previous Aardman efforts (Chicken Run, The Wrong Trousers and A Close Shave, primarily). It's a standard pampered-boy-meets-girl-from-the-wrong-side-of-the-tracks tale, where the boy learns it's not all bad on the other side, mixed with just a bit of boy-saves-the-day. But it's a bit lightweight compared to, say, The Wrong Trousers; there's nothing at the end of this movie to compare really to Gromit's train-track adventures. And while the singing slugs were a cute touch the first time, they became a little tiresome the twentieth time they showed up to grace us with a tune.

But don't think I'm slamming this movie too much - even a lesser Aardman movie is better than most other animated fare. It just doesn't quite reach the heights I'd like to see. Three stars, and I've still got Curse of the Were-Rabbit sitting on my shelf for sometime in the future.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Movie Review: Zombie Honeymoon

Gonna keep this one really short: I just didn't like this one at all. The lead couple was annoying, so I didn't get anything emotionally out of their predicament, and the wife's sticking around with her newly murderous husband didn't make much sense. Also, the painted-on gore effect they used on the husband after each of his snacks were a little too neatly done (although some of the attack scenes were well-done effects-wise). This was tedious for me to get through. One star.

The Sign Of Spring

The sure sign that we've crossed over to spring is the appearance of bluebonnets along Mopac, and today I saw my first little clump of blue over at the corner of Duval and Mopac. It remains to be seen how this year's crop will turn out.

But it gives me an excuse to post this picture from last year.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

When Will I Learn

I've entered two NCAA pools this year, and in both of them...

I picked Texas to make the Final Four.

I also picked North Carolina to win both, although I may change one of them just to hedge my bets. But I really didn't see a team I liked better than Texas in their region.

But my HomerSenses are tingling that I may have made a mistake...

One Of These Things Is Not Like The Other

It's college basketball season right now, so I haven't really been tracking the Mavs much. But in taking a look at the current Southwest Division standings, I'm not sure I've seen a grouping quite like this before:

Houston4621.687--
New Orleans4521.6820.5
San Antonio4423.6572.0
Dallas4424.6472.5
Memphis1650.24229.5


Four teams within 2.5 games of the lead....and Memphis.

Looks like there's actually some excitement in the Western Conference for a change this year. Of course, I won't be watching it much until late April - there's Madness to be watched until then.

Movie Review: The Hot Rock

This was a movie version of the first of Donald Westlake's Dortmunder series, with Robert Redford in the lead. Having read several of the Dortmunder books (but not this one), I did come in with a mental image of the characters in my head, and these actors didn't really match up. Dortmunder is supposed to be this relatively pessimistic dour character (and is even described as such here), but Redford seems a bit too active and physical for my mind here. But even so, it's an easy, winning performance that I suspect he pulled off on a regular basis at this point in his career (I'm not a big fan, so I haven't seen a lot of his work). The other characters were OK, although the loss of the character Tiny from the novels was missed (although he might have been added later in the series).

The Dortmunder books typically involve the identification of a theft target and then a series of increasingly complicated plans to acquire the target in the face of new obsticles. This movie is no different, as the crew has to run four separate operations in order to get to the titular diamond. Again, I don't know if the plans here match up exactly with the novel's versions, but I wasn't particularly impressed with either the third plan (involving a novice helicopter pilot and an assault on a police station) or the fourth (using a hypnotist to get inside a safe deposit box) - neither of them sounded like typical Dortmunder plans. So, as a Dortmunder movie, I didn't find The Hot Rock very satisfying. But as a basic, no-frills comedic heist movie, it's OK. Three stars.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Movie Review: China Strike Force

Ugh. Strictly a bargain-bin Chinese action film (although with English dialog). It's all pretty standard stuff - the older crime lord being usurped by his son who wants to get into drug sales, the rap star (in this case, Coolio playing a gansta character named, umm, Coolio) as the American side of the drug deal, the occasional skimpily-dressed women, and the two generic cop buddies. Maybe they're famous guys in China, but in this film, they're zeroes. Otherwise, we have an uninteresting story, lousy comedy, and only a couple of mildly interesting action sequences - an open-wheel racer and a Lamborghini chase each other under some eighteen-wheelers, and a closing fight on a plate of glass suspended in the air. Most fights contain poorly disguised wirework and stuntwork,leading to some pretty unbelievable (and not in the good way) shots.

Pretty much every scene with Coolio in it is an embarassment (they all start with Coolio saying "I could get used to this shit" and end with his dropping some racial slurs) , and pretty much every scene with the cops is a bore. One star.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Movie Review: Crank

After the disaster that was Transporter 2, this movie was actually much better than I was expecting. Not to say that it was great, by any means, but a much better "mindless fun" movie than Transporter 2. For one thing, Crank doesn't even attempt to take place in the real world, so clearly impossible stunts and overtly stupid acts don't seem to matter as much. Crank is set in a bizarre video game world, where the opening credits are cribbed from Robotron, power-ups (in the form of ephedrine jolts) are located in various places around the game field, and Google Earth is used to visualize scene changes. It's one of those movies where the directors pull out every digital filter in the toolbox, but it's not quite as distracting here as in some other movies (like, say, Natural Born Killers or Domino).

So as long as things are kept moving along, we can just switch our minds off and grin at the inanity. And things do mostly move along here, with just a couple of short lags. Jason Statham seems to have settled into a basic character groove now, which should be good to carry him for a few more movies before he either comes up with something new or drops down into Straight-To-Video Land. I'm not sure the already planned sequel is a particularly good idea - unless they somehow can convince us that Chev got enough points to get an extra life. Three stars.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Movie Review: Star Trek: Insurrection

Just about the definition of Trek mediocrity. A plotline that would barely fill out an hour-long episode of the TV series, stretched out to an hour-and-a-half, with the main difference being a widescreen presentation and an increasingly bloated cast. I swear I though this movie was set on a planet with low atmospheric pressure or something, with Burton, Frakes, Dorn and (unfortunately, since he's playing an unaging android) Spiner all showing signs of Spandex Expansion Syndrome.

Apparently in an effort to counter somewhat more grim Star Trek: First Contact entry that preceded it, Insurrection is probably the jokiest movie in the Trek series. Too bad none of them are funny. Worf gets his share of puberty jokes, but Data ends up playing the Joke-a-Matic 3000 with such groaners as "In the event of a water landing, I have been designed to act as a floatation device." Not to mention his apparent misunderstanding of the term "boobs" - is this the same android that described himself as "fully-functional" back in Season One?

Let's review:

  • Scotty talking into a mouse in Trek IV = amusing
  • Scotty walking into a beam in Trek V = sad
  • Data's Mr. Tricorder act in Trek VII = mildly amusing
  • Data asking about his boobs in Trek IX = embarassing

The Next Generation never really hit their stride movie-wise the same way they did during the middle few seasons on TV. We'll have to see next year what J.J. Abrams and crew are able to bring to the table - hopefully they can pull off a Batman Begins-style rejuvenation of the series. As for Insurrection, two stars.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Movie Review: Saw III

Things overstay their welcome.

The first entry in this series came in as just "OK" in my book, with the second falling shorter. The third time is definitely not the charm. There's about four different parts to this one, and only one of the four was really remotely interesting. First, we have a long setup section where the fate of Dina Myers' detective comes about - and then is promptly ignored. Then we get two more threads - one where a father is forced to choose to save or sacrifice people involved in the hit-and-run death of his son, and one where a doctor is forced to keep Jigsaw alive long enough to see the result of the father's game. Only, the father didn't really have a choice, did he? He always had to try to save the victim, because otherwise he wouldn't be allowed to proceed himself - he could be completely greedy and still "win".

And frankly, Jigsaw's game made no sense. How could he possibly know how many people would survive until the end? If Jeff did save everyone, there could have been four people showing up. How would he know what would happen then?

The doctor's story was only marginally better, but that mostly concentrated on Jigsaw's assistant getting jealous at the attention paid to the doctor by Jigsaw. Also a fairly inane storyline, as a Jigsaw - Amanda love triangle is not really what I wanted to see.

The fourth thread was the shortest, but also the most interesting, as we saw flashbacks to how the first movie was set up from behind the scenes. That actually had some interest, but only in the context of the first film - it didn't really add anything for me to the current film.

As for the traps, they got more elaborate, but also less interesting. Not sure why drowning a man in pig carcasses would be a fitting death for a judge, but there you are.

So all in all, a pretty disappointing and tedious entry in the series. Two very middling stars.

Back To The Trash

From Slashdot comes word of the revival of BattleBots, this time around on ESPN. I never really got much into the whole BattleBots/Robot Wars thing. We even had a chance to see it live at the JavaOne conference one year, which made you appreciate editors more than anything - it was 15-20 minutes of setup for about 2-3 minutes of "fighting", often with little to no action.

If they want to get me interested, get together a revival of Scrapheap Challenge (aka Junkyard Wars). And make it the British version with Robert Llewellyn, not the American version with (shudder) Tyler Whatshisname.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

New Word-That-I-Wish-I-Hadn't-Learned Of The Day

"Crotchfruit" - meaning children, as used by the militantly anti-child.

Via Lileks, who seems to be as turned off by both the term and the idea behind it as I am.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

My Election Day Prediction

In one month, the candidate that will have the most campaign signs still littering the roads will be Ron Paul.