Tag: Reviews

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.

The Two Lying Bastards Show, Season 14, Episode 2

All right, I missed the season premier and the All-Sidekick Special. But I caught this one.

On the whole I think Obama pulled this one out but they both did pretty well. Romney was at his best when he was criticizing Obama's record, his failures and broken promises -- and I think that speaks to the fundamental weakness of each campaign. Obama has failed to be the President he promised to be four years ago, but on the other hand, Romney is essentially running the same campaign John Kerry was eight years ago -- nobody's voting for him, they're voting against the incumbent.

Today's top story was Secretary Clinton's mea culpa on the attack in Benghazi. This was an opening for Romney; to my mind the Administration has bungled its narrative on the attack over the past few weeks, sticking to the "spontaneous attack over a YouTube video" story well after it became clear it was a coordinated terrorist strike.

Romney fucked that up.

The bit where he claimed Obama didn't refer to it as a "terrorist attack" on day one, and Crowley checked the transcript and confirmed that he had? That was the strongest audience reaction of the night, and we'll be seeing it in the highlight reel. Romney's best line of attack on foreign policy is effectively neutralized.

(The Republican talking point now appears to be that Crowley lied and Obama never used the phrase "terrorist attack". Per the transcript, the actual phrase he used was "acts of terror" -- claiming that the two phrases are not equivalent is absurd hairsplitting.)

Crowley was great, too; she gave the candidates rope when it was appropriate and reined them in when it was appropriate to do that. I only heard a bit of the first debate, but what I heard was consistent with what everyone said about Lehrer afterward: he was a moderator in name only and the debate was completely out of his control. Crowley owned it.

On the whole I'm still not happy with Obama. (And that he's got the balls to go up there and criticize Romney for supporting China in conducting surveillance on its own citizens, even as he's ramped up domestic surveillance beyond even Bush Administration levels...) I'm leaning Stein at this point. But I still prefer Obama to the alternative and hope he wins. If I were in a swing state, I might bite the bullet and vote for him -- but I'm not. There's a single poll showing Obama running within the margin of error in Arizona; the New York Times explains why it's best taken with a grain of salt (tl;dr the sample is too small and if Arizona were to go blue it would be part of a nationwide surge in Obama's favor).

All in all, a decent episode but I'm not sure it was good enough for me to stick around for the finale. Not nearly as good as the new episode of Walking Dead the other night.

ParaNorman

It was a busy weekend! I had a friend in from out of town, then had my cousins over for cartoons and games, then had more friends out of town and went drinkin' with them.

Caught a couple movies, too, including ParaNorman at the cheap theater. I liked it!

First of all: it's a kids' movie that does shit you're not supposed to do in a kids' movie. My favorite gag involved the rather gruesome image of the ghost of a dog who had been hit by a car. It's funnier than it sounds.

The flick does some fun things with genre conventions, has the usual kids' movie message that it's okay to be different, adds the rather more complex message that bullying is caused by fear and begets more bullying -- but mostly it's just a damn pretty, weird, creepy, funny, unconventional kids' horror movie, from a couple of directors whose resumés include Flushed Away, Coraline, and Corpse Bride.


Playing: Oh so very many things. This weekend we threw down on Scott Pilgrim, Gears of War, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 (purchased used -- my boycott remains unbroken), and most recently Batman: Arkham City, which my cousin loaned me. I was going to buy the PC version to use with my sweet PC graphics card, but on finding out it had SecuROM I decided not to pay for it and just borrow the Xbox version instead -- you listening, Square Enix? Of course you're not.

Elementary

It's funny, looking at what cycles into the zeitgeist -- the little bits of culture that come bubbling back up and then suddenly everyone has a different version. Vampires, zombies, fairy tales -- Sherlock Holmes.

I watched the first episode of Elementary. It lacked the fun of Guy Ritchie's Victorian Buddy Cop version, and the sheer genius of the Moffat/Gattiss/Cumberbatch/Freeman version.

Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu were perfectly good as Holmes and Watson. They really didn't have any chemistry to speak of, but that's not their fault, it's the writers'. Watson as drug addict Holmes's handler? Not a good setup, and definitely seems to owe a little too much to that recently-concluded other TV adaptation of Sherlock Holmes, House.

And as for Holmes being a genius, well, it comes across as more that he's the only character who isn't a complete moron. You need the world's greatest mind to tell you that a guy doesn't have the same size foot as the one that kicked in the door? That doesn't make him a genius, it makes you a really terrible forensic detective.

Indeed, there is one brilliant observation that solves the whole case -- and Holmes doesn't make it, Watson does.

All this to say: I don't think I'll be checking out the second episode. I guess if I want my Sherlock fix before next season, I'll just have to go see The Hobbit. Oh darn.

Doctor Who: Scream of the Shalka

Another old Who review. Originally posted Bronto, 2008-07-11. This is about Scream of the Shalka, starring Richard E Grant -- which is timely, as Grant's set to show up in this year's Christmas special.


Scream of the Shalka is an animated Webcast from '03 that was originally intended to serve as a pilot for a new series.

All in all, the biggest weakness is Richard E Grant's Doctor: bluntly, he's a prick. He's got all of Eccleston's sarcasm and condescension, with none of his whimsy or manic energy.

Now, there's a reason the Doctor is a prick, it's just not a very good or interesting one. The canonical #9 and #10 have done the "guilt and isolation" schtick too, but much better; the Doctor covering up his personal pain with constant wackiness is much more enjoyable than covering it up by simply insulting everyone and brooding all the time.

The most interesting element of the series is the robotic Master -- one of very few hints that Grant's Doctor has a sense of humor, and the only thread I would have liked to see developed had this made it to series. (The one brief nod on the current series: Derek Jacobi appearing as the Master in Utopia.) The serial's writer, Paul Cornell, would go on to use a similar idea years later in his Action Comics run, starring Lex Luthor and a robotic Lois Lane.

Aside from that, it's a generic alien invasion plot. The animation is serviceable -- and, since it's properly-done Flash, vector graphics and all, looks great on an HDTV -- but very low-budget; it would definitely look at home alongside any number of current cartoons on Nickelodeon or CN. Animations are simple, backgrounds are practically nonexistent (but lots of Kirby dots!). The animators' later attempts (the missing eps in The Invasion and The Infinite Quest) look a good deal better.

Anyway. It's worth checking out; the price is right. And I'd like to see more animated Who (either new stuff or more Invasion-style fill-ins of missing episodes). But ultimately, it's like the '96 movie: it's an interesting "What-If" for a series that never was, but the one we got instead is much better.

Doctor Who: Survival

Another old Who review; originally posted on Brontoforumus, 2008-04-11. This episode directly follows the last two I reviewed, Ghost Light and The Curse of Fenric.


The original 26-year run concludes with the ironically-titled Survival. (Gloria Gaynor can relate, I'm sure.)

It lacks the deeper themes and clever storytelling of the two preceding serials, and, due to the presence of Cheetah People, is far, far sillier. But it's a fun, if nonsensical, straight-up Doctor versus Master story, and is significant both for the last appearance of Ainley as the Master (a 1990's adventure game notwithstanding) and of course the series finale. Plus it explains what the Master's doing with yellow cat eyes in the 1996 TV movie.

$25 at Amazon; comes with a second disc that apparently has a lot of extra features dealing with the historical significance of the ep. It's not available streaming on Amazon Prime or Netflix; if you're still doing the disc version of Netflix I'd say get it that way, and the second disc is optional. The serial's worth checking out, but its predecessors are better.