Tag: Reviews

Django Unchained

Nobody makes a revenge flick like Quentin Tarantino.

And nobody makes a movie with racists as the villains, while simultaneously having just a little too much fun depicting racism, as Quentin Tarantino.

Frankly I think reviews are a little superfluous. Quentin Tarantino is a known quantity. If you've ever seen one of his movies, you have a pretty good idea whether or not you're going to like Django Unchained. And if you haven't seen one of his movies, go watch Pulp Fiction.

Doctor Who: Inferno

Originally posted brontoforum.us, 2008-12-28.


Inferno, it turns out, is another great Pertwee serial that is available through Netflix (disc only, no streaming).

Essentially, it's like Mirror, Mirror, except instead of Spock with a goatee, it has the Brigadier with an eyepatch.

It's a little long (could be one episode shorter -- he spends the entirety of the first episode in the parallel universe trying to explain to everyone that he's from a parallel universe), but really it runs at a great pace overall and has a whole lot more action than most Who from that period.

The parallel universe is used to good effect, emphasizing characters who are much different (the Brigade Leader is a coward hiding behind his gun and his rank) as well as characters who are more or less the same (the pompous Professor Stahlman, who would doom the world rather than take a blow to his ego, and the dashing Greg Sutton, who defies him), with companion Liz Shaw somewhere in-between.

The best device, IMO, is that in episode 4 or 5 the Doctor outright tells the parallel cast that they're screwed and past the point of no return and there's nothing he can do for their world, but that he can still save his own, leaving several episodes for the parallel cast to come to grips with their certain impending doom and react accordingly.

The "there are some things man wasn't meant to tamper with" premise is stale, but works well for an apocalyptic "Earth ends in fire" story -- the ending of the penultimate episode, with a wave of lava coming toward the cast, is cheesily green-screened but nonetheless makes a striking image.

The finale is another episode that could safely be chopped in half, but it mirrors the events of the parallel world, with slight changes, satisfyingly. The ending is vintage Third Doctor, with the Doctor and the Brigadier butting heads and then one of them forced to eat crow.

The transfer has all the usual flaws I've now come to associate with Pertwee-era serials, an often-grainy picture and occasional wavy lines. I watched one episode (3 or 4) on an SDTV and it was a lot less noticeable.

There's also a second disc with extras on it; I assume they're neat but I'm not going to bother.

All in all, classic Who; worth renting, worth buying. (It does help to have a cursory background knowledge of the Third Doctor's setup, that he's been exiled by the other Time Lords and trapped in 1970 London, and that at this point he's trying to fix his TARDIS so he can travel again. Probably good to check out Spearhead from Space first, and maybe The Silurians. The Ambassadors of Death, the serial immediately preceding this one, is out on DVD now too, but I haven't seen it yet.)

Dragon Quest 1&2 SFC

I've occasionally been poking through the Super Famicom remake of the original Dragon Quest on my cell phone -- you know, when I've had downtime and haven't had my PSP or DS or suchlike with me.

First of all: man, onscreen D-pads suck, even for games that require as little precision as DQ. I have to savestate-spam just to get around the outside wall of Rimuldar without accidentally walking out.

Second: there's so much that's wonky about the interface of this remake. The stupid little half-steps you take instead of moving a full tile at a time, the bizarre decision to stick the action button on X and leave the menu on A (something they stuck with on up through 7 on the PS1!)...frankly I'm almost inclined to tip the Game Boy remake as the superior version of the game despite its inferior graphics and sound, just on its smoother interface.

(Also I recall the GB version having a more charming translation. I probably snorted out loud in class when I took the Princess to an inn and the keeper remarked the next morning that we'd sure been up late last night.)

(Yeah, I played Dragon Quest in class for most of CSE122. If you'd ever tried to sit through a lecture with that instructor, you'd understand.)

Doctor Who: The Green Death

Originally posted brontoforum.us, 2008-12-03.


The Green Death is pretty good. By-the-numbers story, with too much wandering around in caves and futuristic businesses, but the Third Doctor and the Brigadier are in top form, and the villains are pretty awesome too.

The environmentalist bent to the story is obvious but still takes a backseat to rubber monsters and an evil computer. It does do a decently fair job of setting out the green-versus-labor dilemma and pit the down-to-Earth miners against eccentric hippie scientists, with the Brigadier somewhere in the middle, ever the pragmatist. It also strikes a chord in that the evil polluting corporation is so powerful that it has the full support of the PM, and in one scene the villain threatens to have the Doctor (I think it was the Doctor) arrested under the Emergency Powers Act.

There are some problems with the transfer in places -- I streamed it, so I'm going to chalk all the artifacting up to that, but there are bits where there's flickering light at the bottom of the picture and a couple of places where it looks like the master tape was crinkled. Nothing deal-breaking.

Anyway, it's become one of my two favorite Pertwee serials (the other is Inferno); must-see (streaming on Netflix!) and worth buying.

Doctor Who: The Pirate Planet

I am very tired, so here's another old Doctor Who review. Originally posted Brontoforumus, 2008-11-18.


The Pirate Planet is not what you expect either from the title or for the writer (Douglas Adams). The pirates are not of the traditional variety (though the leader has robot parts), are never referred to as pirates, and it is unclear until halfway through or more why the serial is called "The Pirate Planet".

But all that's part of a series of mysteries in the serial that are quite cleverly revealed. Some are obvious, others (why do gems fall from the sky right before the stars change?) are not.

Adams crafts a story with far fewer laughs than you would expect, but it's quite clever and plays out at a good pace, and features an interesting cast of characters (particularly the villains). As usual, he wears his environmentalist cred on his sleeve, but uses it in a way that makes the story interesting.

For $11, it's on the "worth owning" list.

That said, I have zero interest in watching the rest of the Key to Time Series. I've already watched 200 minutes of a collection quest; I don't really see following the remaining 450. Frankly, as much as I love Baker I think I'll take a break from him, maybe watch some more Pertwee or Davison.

Tron Lives

Tron: Uprising is like an amalgamation of all my favorite cartoons from the 1990's.

Like Batman Beyond, it's the story of a familiar character, a shadow of his former self but still formidable, training a brash young successor.

Like Sonic the Hedgehog, it's the story of a small group of rebels waging an asymmetric war against a ubiquitous technocratic dictatorship.

And like Beast Wars, it uses the fact that its characters aren't actually human as an end run around standards and practices in order to be the most violent children's cartoon on television.

Seriously, it turns out that if you change "kill" to "de-res" and change blood to little blue cubes, you can show a dude with half his face cut off and the outline of an eyelid still blinking over an empty eyesocket. Game of Thrones wasn't that graphic when Tyrion took an axe to the face.

Also: Fred Tatasciore's impression of Jeff Bridges is uncanny.

Anyway, in case you haven't caught the show yet, here's the first episode (which thetvdb classifies as a "special" instead of the first episode, thus offsetting the numbering of every single episode by one -- so thanks for that, thetvdb). It's hosted on the official Disney XD channel, so that means it's not liable to be taken down any time soon, but also means it's probably region-locked -- sorry 'bout that.

Heart of Frankenstein

Watched Young Frankenstein tonight -- it's that time of year.

Certainly one of Mel Brooks's all-time greats. And certainly there's plenty of pure spoof and slapstick, with corny jokes and wonderfully, gorgeously over-the-top performances from its impeccable cast.

But there's something in there that keeps it from being the straight-up trifle that, say, Spaceballs is (and I like Spaceballs). It doesn't have the social satire of Blazing Saddles, but it does have heart.

It's not just that it's a love letter to the original Frankenstein films (and the whole Universal Monsters line), though it's certainly that, too. It's that it's a story about family, about fathers and sons. For all that Frederick tut-tuts that it's Fronkensteen and his grandfather's work was doo-doo!, he's already followed in his footsteps to become a neurosurgeon and the very first thing he does in Castle Frankenstein is ask where his private library is. He's well on his way to taking over the family business before he ever chants "Destiny! Destiny! No escaping that for me!"

And of course, crucially, the difference between Frederick and Victor is that Frederick shows love to his creation -- even risking his own life, as the Monster points out in the climax. Because as anyone who's read Frankenstein can tell you, Frankenstein's crime isn't in creating the monster, it's in abandoning it. Mel Brooks carries that sentiment to its logical conclusion and gives us a Frankenstein who is a good father -- and so instead of the standard Tragic Ending where Everybody Dies, we get the standard Comic Ending where Everybody Gets Hitched.

Plus I doubt it's a coincidence that Wilder and Brooks wrote it around the time the former was raising a daughter and the latter fathered a son.

Such as Seals

Welp, another Halloween, another Rifftrax Live. This year: Birdemic.

It is increasingly clear to me that House on Haunted Hill is far and away the best movie Rifftrax Live has ever done.

I mean, House on Haunted Hill has Vincent Price and a handful of other colorful characters, is competently written and directed, and is unironically fun to watch all by itself.

Birdemic...Birdemic doesn't even have the homemade charm of Manos.

I mean, it is homemade. It's homemade as hell. But it's homemade in an era when any-damn-body can make a homemade movie.

Manos was shot on a shoestring budget with primitive equipment in 1966. Birdemic was shot on a shoestring budget with primitive equipment in 2010. Manos took effort to make; it's surprising the damn thing was finished at all.

Referring to Birdemic as "finished", on the other hand, makes for liberal damn use of the word "finished".

Not only does it feature CG that actually looks substantially worse than if they had just used stock footage or rubber birds (and presumably cost more, too, unless it actually came with the video software they used to make the movie -- which, to be fair, is a distinct possibility), it is the most amateurishly, sloppily edited film I have ever seen, and that's coming from a guy wearing a Crow T. Robot T-shirt who has namedropped three separate Rifftrax Live events so far in this post. I have seen some bad movies, is what I am getting at.

Manos -- well, the entire damn film is dubbed because it was shot without sound. And yet, the inevitable sync issues aside, the audio editing is solid. The audio of Birdemic cuts out, constantly -- just straight-the-fuck-up cuts out. No sound. And that's without getting into the multiple scenes where you can't hear what actors are saying because they're shooting on a windy beach, the multiple times actors clearly flub their lines and they don't reshoot, and the bits where going from one character to another comes with a very long pause in the dialog and a substantial difference in background noise.

Of all the bad movies I've ever seen, this may be the only one where I wasn't struck most by the quality of the acting, the writing, the shooting, or even the effects (and trust me, all of them are pretty terrible), but the editing. It is shoddy, shoddy work. This movie makes Sci-Fi Originals look like...well, at least as good as House on Haunted Hill.

Birdemic 2 is slated for a 2013 release.

Doctor Who: The Ribos Operation

All right, so I'm phoning it in with another Doctor Who review I already wrote. Just because I've got free time doesn't mean I've got ideas for things to write about -- hell, the opposite may even be true.

So here goes. Originally posted on Brontoforumus, 2008-09-03.


The Ribos Operation is a mediocre story saved by interesting characters. It's probably most remarkable as the first appearance of Romana, who isn't one of them. At this point she's just a know-it-all college girl and general ice queen (as made less subtle by her costume). While this is the only serial I've seen with Mary Tamm in the role, I can reasonably assume she and the Doctor warm up to each other over time -- but I can also reasonably assume she never achieves the same chemistry with Baker that Ward had, what with Baker and Ward sleeping together and all.

This is the first part of The Key to Time Series, AKA Collection Quest: The Movie, wherein a generic good-guy overlord tells the Doctor he has to collect a series of MacGuffins before a generic bad-guy overlord can get to them first. The plot from there is simultaneously simple and needlessly convoluted: as the Doctor and Romana seek the first piece of the Key, they find that a royal exile and a pair of small-time thieves want it too. The series shows the pacing problems faced by so many early Who serials in that nothing really happens until it's half-over.

That's saved, as I said, by a good cast of characters: the lovable con-men, the ambitious villain, an alien version of Galileo, an entertainingly over-the-top augurer, and a rubber-suit monster that doesn't get nearly enough screen time.

It ends with what I've so often complained that RTD simply can't seem to do: a short but satisfying goodbye scene.

All in all, it was probably worth the rental but leaves me fairly nonplussed about the whole Key to Time series. I assume I will find the next serial, The Pirate Planet, much more impressive, as it was written by Douglas Adams.


I expect I will get to reposting my Pirate Planet review at some point here; suffice to say it had its moments but I was largely disappointed and I didn't stick around for any of the rest of the season arc. I did watch the Black Guardian Trilogy from the Fifth Doctor Era, and wished I'd stopped after the first serial.

Argo

The other flick I caught last weekend was Argo. I hadn't seen the last two movies Affleck directed, but I hear they're good, and I enjoyed this one.

Nitpicky stuff out of the way first: I thought he piled too much on at the climax. I sincerely doubt that -- minor spoiler -- the real-life Houseguests had guards speeding after them with machine guns on the tarmac.

I was also a little disappointed that they filed the serial numbers off the fictitious Argo film. In the movie, it's just a generic sci-fi B-movie -- but in real life it was a failed adaptation of Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny, with production designs by Jack Kirby. I can see why these details were changed, and they're not essential to the story of a CIA exfiltration operation masquerading as a film crew, but I love that background and have been fascinated by it since I first read about it in a 2007 Wired article. Indeed, there's currently a Kickstarter going to make a documentary about the aborted Lord of Light movie.

But those quibbles aside, Argo succeeds on its own merits. It's well-acted and suspenseful, and brings attention to a largely-unknown sequence of events that happened as part of the better-known Iranian Hostage Crisis. And it's a truly crazy story -- the kind that would be unbelievable as the premise for a fictional spy movie. Truth, as they say...

And even if it's disappointing that the likes of Kirby and Zelazny don't get their due in the movie, legendary makeup artist John Chambers (played by John Goodman) sure gets plenty of props.

All in all, Argo is recommended. I caught it at a matinee; it's not going to lose much if you wait to see it at the cheap theater or on Netflix or what-have-you. In the meantime, check out that Wired story; it's fantastic.