Review: Up

Ya know, I actually don't like Up that much. It's a big step down from Wall-E in my eyes. Everybody loves the first ten minutes, and the scenes of him trying to keep the house are good, and the flight through the thunderstorm is visually exciting, but after that... the film slowly starts to go off the rails.
It really starts when Kevin comes into the picture. Frankly, I didn't give a rat's ass about Kevin. He's just a big colorful bird. We care about the old man and the little kid, not this bird. I didn't see the big deal, but uh... yeah, kill that bird and mount its skeleton in a glass case. I don't care. It's just a big bird. There's nothing exciting or special about him. Now, maybe if they'd found the last living dinosaur or something, in this ancient tropical rain forest... maybe then I'd want them to rescue and save it. But a bird?

So the whole struggle over Kevin, which takes up the majority of the film, didn't work for me. I didn't care about what they were doing, because the bird was meaningless to me. Go ahead and kill that bird. Hell, cook and eat that bird. Fuck Kevin.

Then we come to the reveal that the famous adventurer Charles Muntz is still alive and still after that bird. Wait... what? You're gonna tell me that this guy, who seemed to be in his 30s or 40s when Carl was just a little boy, is still alive now that Carl is an old man? Muntz outlived Ellie? Did Muntz somehow come across the fountain of youth in Patagonia and I just missed it? How is this even possible? It sounds strange, but I'll go ahead and believe that a rat wants to cook french cuisine before I'll believe that Muntz is still alive and kicking.

And then you've got those action scenes of the dogs piloting airplanes and uhhhh... the movie just lost me. It started out really strong but by the end, it lost any emotional resonance. You're just watching dogs in planes flying around shooting (dogfighting, if you will) and it all just feels silly and stupid.


The idiocy of the Star Wars EU

What I really find odd and perplexing is how they'll take obscure and totally forgettable characters in the movies and then somehow turn them into superheroes in the EU. It's just mindbogglingly stupid. Like... in the first movie, Wedge Antilles is just some nobody pasty faced pilot who manages to survive the trench run. He didn't really seem to do anything extraordinary, it just seemed like dumb luck that he got hit in his engine and his fucking X-Wing didn't disintegrate like all the other ones did when hit. His engine dies, but he manages to survive and gets out of there when the Death Star blows up. That's it. When it happened in the movie, I didn't really make a mental note in my head that this guy survived so that meant he was hot shit or anything.
Okay, now fast forward to the books and video games. Suddenly Wedge Antilles is now the most amazing starfighter pilot in the galaxy and heads up Rogue Squadron, the most amazing and awesome squadron in the known galaxy. They're not just sorta good. They're the best fucking fighter pilots in the entire galaxy! Wedge Antilles is a god among men, and can fly better then anybody. He's a living legend. It don't matter none if you send TIE Defenders or giant super star destroyers up against them, because Wedge Antilles and Rogue Squadron are unbeatable and don't afraid of nothing.

Then we come to the worst and most ridiculous example of this: Boba Fett. Boba Fett is a nothing character that doesn't do jack shit in the movies. Boba Fett follows the Millenium Falcon through a trail of garbage in Slave One. That's not really all that exciting. Most anybody could do that. Sensors on a ship can probably tell the different between an active ship and piles of garbage. Then he gets to Cloud City and calls in Darth Vader. Darth Vader arrives with his legions of stormtroopers and takes them all captive. Darth Vader is the one who confronts Solo and deflects his blaster bolts. Then Vader has Solo frozen in the carbonide chamber thingy. Boba Fett has frozen Solo hauled into his ship, with the memorable line "Put Captain Solo in the cargo hold." Then he takes off and leaves. Wow, what a great character. He followed a ship through garbage and then had a slab put into his cargo hold. Truly, the stuff of legends.

Then in the next movie, he's just standing around in Jabba's castle. And then this happens:

A blind and clumsy Han Solo accidentally hits his jetpack and sends Boba Fett to his death.

Wow. This is uh, this is just pathetic. Who cares about this character? He has about three lines in the entirety of the movie trilogy, and then dies a rather ignominious death. And this is somehow the greatest bounty hunter in the universe? The EU somehow took this jackass and made him one of the deadliest and most feared men in the galaxy? Why? Why is Boba Fett so loved? He's so damn dumb. He doesn't do anything, and then dies when a blind guy flails around and strikes him in the back. This is hilarious, not legendary. The guy's a boob. I just, I just don't see why Boba Fett's such a big fucking deal. Why did the EU books makes him out to be such a badass? Where did any of that come from? They're pulling this stuff out of their ass, cause I sure don't see it in the movies. Fans... I guess fuck the fans, they'll just eat up anything. Cause why would you accept this? Boba Fett even screams like a little sissy girl when he's falling into the Sarlacc. This can't be the deadliest mercenary in the galaxy, can it? Again, that's not even in the movies. Nowhere in the movies is it stated that he's the deadliest merc in the galaxy. At least, not to my knowledge. But yet there's somehow this prestige and mythical quality to Boba Fett. A guy who has Han Solo carried into his cargo hold and then gets thrown into the Sarlacc pit and eaten. Except somehow in the EU, he survives because he's such a badass. Yeah, right. Sure. Sure he survived. Keep telling yourself that. Jesus Christ.

I guess somewhere there's a book that says Salacious Crumb is the galaxy's deadliest court jester.

Comic books for people who liked Chronicle

I have some comic book recommendations for you guys who really liked Chronicle but don't really read comics and would like some books that are along the lines of the film. Chronicle reminded me quite heavily of Unbreakable, but also of certain comics I've read. There's a lot of different influences that went in this film, other than just Akira.

First of all, check out Kurt Busiek's Secret Identity graphic novel. Busiek is best known for Astro City and Marvels (two books I'd recommend without reservation), but Secret Identity is another fantastic work that highlights his tremendous storytelling skills and love for the medium. SI is a Superman story, but not about Superman. Essentially, it's about a teenage boy in the real world who just so happens to be named Clark Kent by his parents as a joke. He's sick of his name and getting made fun of at school, until the day he actually does get superpowers identical to Superman's. It's never explained in the story how he gets them, he just does. The story isn't about that, but about what it would be like if a kid in real life actually got Superman's powers. You can obviously see the similarity to Chronicle, as they're both about teenagers in a realistic world getting powers. However, SI is quite different as Clark in the book takes the responsibility and uses his powers to help people, becoming a real Superman, while Chronicle goes off in the opposite direction. In the course of the story, he finds love in the big city, deals with an incredibly suspicious and hostile US government, and eventually even raises a family. I tend not to consider SI a "true" Superman story, as it does not take place in the DC universe or contain the actual character of Superman, but rather a kid named after Superman, but it's still a very good read.

The other comic I'd recommend is Brian Bendis's long-running series Powers. In a nutshell, Powers is about police detectives who investigate superhero, or "powers" crimes. They're just your average gritty cops, trying to do their job in a world filled with insanely powerful superheroes who demolish buildings and occasionally maim innocents. Of course, sometimes these superheroes turn insane, or end up getting murdered, and then they have to do their best to solve it. Unlike traditional comics where the superhero and supervillain are entangled in this intimate conflict to the exclusion of the outside world, Powers has a lot of collateral damage. People get their faces melted off, or just torn apart, because supervillains are sadistic fuckers. It's a comic that's alternately very funny, or very grim and dark.


Star Trek: The desk is key

Oh yeah, another thing I hate about Insurrection: They fucked up with the ready room desk. 

For seven seasons, we were treated to this ready room. It felt comfy and warm and inviting. But most importantly, it was sparse. There was the goldfish tank and the model of the Stargazer and not much else. The desk had one of those LCARS displays and sometimes a single rack of data cards. That was it, that was all it had. The desk was mostly empty. It wasn't cluttered up with junk. Star Trek was about the future, and how technology would make our lives so much easier. So even though as Captain, Picard would still have to fill out paperwork, he could at least do it from a single display that would efficiently and effortlessly take care of everything. Every once in a while, someone would walk in with a PADD for him to check out. But never a desk in disarray. This was not the future that Star Trek envisioned.

But then we got to the movies. 
What the Christ? What the hell happened here, Picard? What are you, a two year old? Hasn't anybody taught you how to clean up after yourself? Why in God's name do you have dozens of PADDs and all kinds of crap all piled up here? Why is your desk so damn cluttered and messy? Is this the same side of you that enjoys off-road racing? I just don't... I really uh, don't know what to make of this. Why would you need so many different PADDs? Couldn't you just navigate through various data with a single PADD? There's amazing things people are doing with iPhones and iPads today, surely they'll be even better and more efficient in the future. Again... Star Trek is about how great the future is going to be. This looks like a goddamn bureaucratic nightmare. 
Now, on a different subject... um, just rewatching some Voyager episodes lately... I've really gotta say that I hate some of the characters. Not because the actors are horrible people, but because they're just written so badly and boringly. Like.. Tuvok. What the hell is there to Tuvok? We had Spock, and he was a Vulcan, and that meant he didn't really have any emotions, but there was still so much to the character. Spock was still so interesting and captivating and could elicit a lot with just a raised eyebrow. He even turned out to be the most popular character during TOS's run.

Yet we've got Tuvok, and he's also a Vulcan, but... there's just nothing there. When he says something in this flat emotionless voice, that's it. It's just this flat dialogue and there's nothing to the character. He might as well be wallpaper, standing back there in that alcove. He fades from memory because he's just so darn boring and unmemorable. What went wrong here? Spock was great but Tuvok is awful. I haven't seen Tim Russ in anything else, so I dunno if he's terrible in other roles. But probably not? I hope it's just the material he was given.

Star Trek: Some problems with Insurrection and Nemesis

One of the problems I have with Insurrection is the whole idea that there's this beautiful native woman who just happens to be single and completely available for Picard to swoop in and sweep her off her feet. Like, isn't this an isolated society where people live to be 600 years old? So you're gonna tell me that this very attractive 600 year old woman is just single and has been waiting around all this time for an outsider to romance? Really? Nobody else in the Baku ever struck her fancy? Or is she just like the village slut and she's already been passed around so many times that nobody wants to have her as a girlfriend or wife? I dunno, it just seems silly to me that the big important female lead just happens to be single and waiting for the dashing strange outsider to hook up with. Even though I wouldn't really call a balding old guy "dashing."

You see it in lots of stories about strangers coming into alien cultures, of course. Avatar had it with Neytiri, the chief's daughter who just happened to be single, lucky for Jake.
And I never understood why in Nemesis the Romulans had the Remans enslaved and working in dilithium mines. Like, you'd think with an advanced civilization, they'd have way better and more efficient means of mining minerals, right?

Now, I know you're thinking back to Star Trek VI, when the Klingons had their dilithium mining prison on Rura Penthe. But see, in that case, it always just seemed like the Klingons had them mining because they deliberately wanted their condemned prisoners to suffer and endure backbreaking labor. It never occurred to me that the Klingons had them mining dilithium because that was the best way of doing it. Klingons were generally cruel dicks and it made sense that they'd punish their prisoners with hard and pointless work.

But with the Romulans, they had the entire race of Remans mining on their own planet. So the prison rationale doesn't work.


Review: Carriers

So I just watched a rather obscure film on Netflix instant streaming called Carriers. And no, it's not a documentary about aircraft carriers. It's actually a low budget indie horror film about a world where a plague has wiped out most of humanity and the survivors have to try and... well, survive. Sorta like a modern day version of Poe's The Red Death. What really intrigued me about this film was that it starred a then unknown Chris Pine, back before he was cast as Kirk in Abrams' Star Trek. I'd already seen him in Bottle Shock and this was apparently that other film he did before hitting it big.

The film's basically like a cross between The Road and 28 Days Later, though there aren't any zombie shenanigans. It's strictly about surviving in a desolate wasteland while under constant fear of contracting the deadly virus. Because of the very nature of this story, it's incredibly bleak and nihilistic, which suited me just fine. It also explains why this had a very low budget, because it is dark and depressing and you feel awful and disquieted. This is not the sort of movie that has any kind of mainstream appeal, so I'd guess that they had roughly about 2 or 3 million dollars to work with, with most scenes shot on empty and barren highways out in New Mexico. Another factor is that the characters are all basically assholes and fairly unlikeable, which at first bothered me. It's naturally hard to get into a movie if you don't find yourself liking any of the main characters, isn't it? Well, they don't really get any more likeable as the movie continues, I can tell you that. At the end, they're all just as despicable and unsympathetic as when the film started. But as I thought about it... I came to peace with it. In a realistic depiction of this sort of horrendous post-apocalyptic situation... would people really be likeable? Do survivors need to be good-hearted chums that always do the right thing? Or would the few people that survive actually be those who are cruel enough to make the hard choices? When viewed in this light, I had to come to the realization that this movie was going for realism and that there was something incredibly grounded and true about depicting these survivors as people that we may despise. It was okay to have a movie with unlikeable protagonists, as long as it felt true to the story.

Fans of Stephen King will naturally point to The Stand as a direct influence on Carriers. Actually, I'd say that Carriers is most similar to Night Surf, the short story that King later expanded out into The Stand. There's revelry and a fatalistic hedonism that the survivors have, because there's no telling when you might get infected and die. Chris Pine gives a great performance as the wild and uncouth leader of this ragtag group.

Ultimately, this is a movie that you should watch only if you're prepared for a very depressing time. It leaves a bad feeling in your stomach and it should, because it's dealing with a nightmare and effectively depicts it with a stark minimalism. It's not something to watch while you're in a warm and cuddly mood, but I was left powerfully moved and very happy to be alive. For those who choose to take the plunge, I do believe you'll find a captivating but grim portrait of the last days of man.


Miri Jedeikin

So I was browsing for some Chronicle reviews, just to see what other people thought about it, and I went to the Totally Rad Show. Their review of it was alright, though somewhat more lukewarm then my rather effusive praise. But what really caught my eye was the guest reviewer, Miri Jedeikin in place of regular Alex Albrecht. I have to say... Ms. Jedeikin is probably one of the most beautiful women I've ever seen in my life. I mean a 10 out of 10. Just perfection all around. Her facial features are incredibly striking and left an indelible impression. Here, you can see for yourself:

One of her best features are her eyes, because they're piercing and convey such intelligence and depth. Kinda reminds me of the eyes here:

Review: Chronicle

Wow, what a movie. Just outstanding. It is unbelievable to me that this film was made for 15 million dollars. Just swirl that around in your head for a while. 15 million dollars, and they created something that impressed me a hell of a lot more then Transformers 3, which ended up costing some 200 million dollars. As far as superhero movies go, we've got some big hitters arriving this year. The Dark Knight Rises, The Avengers, and The Amazing Spider-Man just to name a few. So I didn't give much thought to this one, arriving in February of all times. But now... I've really got to think about this. This will be legitimately challenging come the end of the year. Those other guys are gonna have to step up their game.
The film is transporting. I didn't want it to end. There's a certain point in the film where the three leads get together and breathlessly exclaim that this was probably the best day of their entire lives. I'm not sure I'd go that far, but this was certainly one of the best movies I've seen in recent years. And I'm generally not a big fan of found footage movies. They don't hold any particular sway over me. But the visuals that we get to see, from clouds zooming past, to the climactic showdown in the city... that all was enhanced by the perspective they used here and worked beautifully.

There are certain ideas that are universal to the human psyche that have been conveyed in films. One is that strange niggling doubt in the back of our minds, wondering if our world is real. And movies like The Matrix and Inception have captured that idea and done wonders with it. Another is that childish yet irresistible fantasy that we sometimes conjured up in our youth or in our dreams, of being endowed with superpowers, or simply given godlike abilities. It's the ultimate fantasy, like wishing for infinite wishes. And Chronicle delivers on that fantasy in the most tremendously satisfying way, which is by doing it realistically. Bringing that fantasy to life in a believable manner is exactly how it should be done, because it brings that fantasy out of our dreams where it's always resided. By bringing it into the real world, we're left with something so sublime and extraordinary that it feels like slipping closer to heaven and touching the very face of God.

It also just now occurred to me that if you think about it... this was just about the same sort of "fall towards the dark side" story that the Star Wars prequels were supposed to be, but they actually pulled it off here. Here, we actually understand Andrew and what has perverted him into this creature and why he does what he does. It all goes wrong, of course, but we don't lose sight of the fact that this is a human being and we can sympathize with his situation. Nobody gave a rat's ass about Anakin because he was always this whiny douchebag. It's amazing to see these two stories, ostensibly the same, but with such vastly different results. The prequels are an abomination, but this turned out to be just the opposite. What a splendid surprise.

Now, I've noticed that some people have spoken negatively of the blonde female character in here. I had absolutely no problem with her and I'll explain why:

I've also heard complaints about Steve and his role in the movie:

Now, Chronicle is not an entirely new concept. I've personally seen many of the ideas of Chronicle in Bendis's Powers comic, among others. The notion of ordinary fucked up people abusing superpowers and creating utter devastation, etc. That's nothing new. But it's never really been so fully realized and brought together as a cohesive whole before on film.

It's also nice to see some little winks to traditional superhero stories.

Please, go out and see Chronicle in the best theater you can find. It's an experience you won't soon forget, or want to.

Star Trek: The Most Toys

I just rewatched TNG's third season episode "The Most Toys."

Boy, what a great, great episode. This is one of those character pieces in Star Trek that I love so much. There's almost no action, but it doesn't matter, because this is basically a duel between the two characters of Data and Fajo. Of course, it's also an acting showcase for Brent Spiner and Saul Rubinek, who's probably best known for the role of the reporter in Eastwood's "Unforgiven." Rubinek pulls off the perfect balance between entertainingly whimsical and maliciously psychopathic. You can't pull your eyes away from him because you never know just what he'll do. There's an explosive spark beneath the surface that could go off at any moment.

They really started to get Data just right in the portrayal here in the third season, and The Most Toys is probably one of the episodes where Data is perfectly realized. Spiner does just enough to convey the turmoil and conflict of the situation, while retaining the fact that he is, after all, "just an android", as he says in the final shot. There's none of the stupid and inane buffoonery that we've had to endure in earlier episodes where he asks, "Burning the midnight oil? Gee whiz, better not do that!" Those sorts of dumb questions that make you wonder how such a retarded android ever rose to become second officer aboard the Federation flagship.

The last third of the episode really brings everything together and heightens the danger and intensity to a fever pitch. Fajo ends up murdering Varria and finally, we can see this series escape out from under the shadow of its predecessor to stake out its own legacy. Fajo has fully turned into this monstrous being and we can see that he's not just a Harry Mudd, a sort of huckster and thief. He's much darker then that. It inevitably takes the episode to a conclusion that can leave you profoundly disquieted or entirely satisfied, depending on your own views. Or, you can find yourself in deeper contemplation of Data's true self and whether your beliefs about him have changed. The episode really works on all cylinders and gives us a better understanding of the character, while not forgetting to tell an engaging and dramatic story in the process.

There's a few scenes of Wesley and his whining over Data's demise, and that's just annoying, but what can ya do?


Lego games miss the point entirely

Okay, I've really gotta get this off of my chest.

The appeal of Lego, and why it's probably the greatest toy ever invented, is that your imagination takes control. When kids play with Lego, they aren't trying to build what's on the box. They aren't trying to recreate the actual "intended" Lego set. Or, you shouldn't be. That's not what you do with Lego blocks. Lego is about giving you building blocks to build whatever is deep within your heart, yearning to break free and take form in physical space. When I was a kid, I just took my pile of Lego blocks and built World War II battleships, the RMS Titanic, BattleMechs with gantries, USS Enterprise starships, aircraft carriers... whatever I could think of. It was pure delight and the reason Lego is so popular worldwide. That gift of creation is universal and appeals to everyone.

So... I really just don't fucking understand what's going on with these Lego games with Traveller's Tales . What is going on here? I watch videos of the gameplay, and it just seems like arcadey action games where you shoot stuff and gold Lego chips fall on you. Well, who the hell wants that? Who wants to play a bland arcade game with a Lego block aesthetic? Who cares about shooting stuff for points? They've completely missed the point of Lego! Where is the act of putting blocks together to form whatever you want? Where is that joy of physical construction? That tiny tug of frustration when you realize there's a piece that's stuck on too tight and you have to wiggle it free in order to perfect your creation? If I wanted to play as Batman in a video game, I'd play Arkham City, not Lego Batman.

I dunno. I just don't get it.