Tag: Reviews

Tooms

Tooms is a great example of how an episode can be fucking brilliant even if it's riddled with plotholes.

First, there's Tooms himself. Last we saw him he was preparing himself a new nest. No reference to that, and indeed his psychologist doesn't even know about the nest thing and is legitimately curious when he sees him making strips of newspaper late in the episode.

Now look, I can totally see the shrink dismissing Mulder's accusations out of hand. I get that. But he should at least be aware of them. His reaction at the end of the episode shouldn't be "Oh, I didn't know you were interested in art"; it should be the slow and horrible realization that all that crazy shit Mulder was saying is actually true and this guy is about to eat his liver.

(Why Tooms is finally unable to resist the urge any longer at this moment? Plot convenience; no other reason.)

Plenty of other things like that throughout. Tooms travels through a sewer but then he hides in a closet and nobody notices the smell. The key to the mystery is a body he hid because it could prove his identity, which they ultimately do based on dental X-rays. So does he not ordinarily use his teeth when he rips people's livers out? Does he ordinarily use a knife or his fingernails or something and he just used his teeth on this guy for some unexplained reason? Was he in a hurry? If he was in a hurry, how did he manage to hide him in concrete? Were dental records even a typical crime investigation tool in the 1930's when this murder is said to have taken place? None of it makes a lick of sense.

And that he gets let out in the first place -- look, I don't care how fucking crazy Mulder's "he's 100 years old and can elongate his body" story sounds, the dude has a room full of serial killer trophies and tried to murder an FBI agent. Guys like that don't just get discharged after a few months.

I could go on -- his frameup of Mulder's pretty half-assed too, and there are any number of other false notes. But all of that? Fuck it. Because this is still a great episode. Tooms continues to be one of the greatest monsters in the entire run of X-Files. He, Mulder, Scully, and the supporting cast are all in truly fine form here. And the direction -- wonderful, creepy stuff, building toward a claustrophobic climax and brilliantly creative, satisfyingly violent resolution.

As far as mythology, this is the episode that introduces Assistant Director Walter Skinner -- essentially another government bureaucrat standing in Mulder and Scully's way and trying to shut down the X-Files, but played so ably by Mitch Pilleggi that he would later become a major character. Really, you can tell that by watching -- this guy is a one-off but Pilleggi is just so damn good that he turned into something else entirely.

And the Cigarette Smoking Man is back, hanging around Skinner's office, being sinister and not saying a word until he gets a single line at the end of the episode, Silent Bob-like. I think my favorite part is that Mulder and Scully never even acknowledge that he's there. There is no "Excuse me, but who the hell is that guy, anyway?" Hell, if you just saw this episode you could easily believe that he was a figment of Skinner's imagination.

So, in conclusion: Tooms is awesome, even if the script is really kind of a damn mess.

Doctor Who: The Curse of Fenric

Continuing from Ghost Light; originally posted on Brontoforumus 2008-04-06.


Curse of Fenric makes a fine followup to Ghost Light. It's got vampires, Ragnarok, game theory, cryptography, World War II, sea monsters, time paradoxes, causality loops, and ancient exiled evil.

Most interesting is the "Battle not with monsters lest you become one" theme. I can't recall an American children's show ever uttering the word "Dresden"; hell, I'm hard-pressed even to think of one that actually showed a swastika. Acknowledging that the Allies were far from innocent in the war is powerful stuff for -- what was the expression Sharkey used? -- goofball foreign children's television.

The plot twists are obvious, the characters are simplistic, and all in all it's a lot easier to follow than Ghost Light. But simplicity aside, the characterization is excellent, particularly from the Doctor and Ace during the climax.

All in all, a great mix of elements, well-written and well-acted. I think I'm going to have to agree with the fanboys: it's a pity the show was cancelled just when it was starting to turn around.

Available on Netflix and Amazon Prime; well worth watching.

Serenity

Watched Serenity again. Spoilers for a movie from 2005 follow.

I hadn't actually seen it the full way through since the theater in 2005 -- and that was before I'd watched the series.

It's a decent enough movie, but heavily compromised.

Because Firefly is not a show about big adventures or high stakes. It's a show about a family surviving together.

On that score, Serenity fails. Book and Inara are barely in the damn thing, and the rest of the crew not named Malcolm Reynolds don't fare much better. For a movie that revolves so heavily around River, we get precious little of her as a character -- we see her as sleeper agent, killing machine, and damaged person, but barely a shred of who she actually is. Right at the end of the movie, when Simon and Kaylee are going to bed and River's peeking down at them, not creepy but just a little curious -- that is the most fundamentally River Tam moment in the entire movie. And it's barely there. She's unrecognizable as the same River from the show -- indeed, when I started watching it, I spent most of the series wondering when she was going to start showing off her crazy ninja skills. The answer is "for about three seconds in one episode near the end."

And then there's the MacGuffin.

Speaking of things that are significant in the movie and barely even crop up in the series: the Reavers. They're in two episodes. And yet are fundamental to the plot of the movie.

And the movie revolves around a twist that, really, does not much qualify as a twist.

Was anyone in the audience even remotely surprised to learn that the Alliance created the Reavers? Because, having never watched one single episode of the series at the time, I can honestly say I wasn't.

Indeed, the single most implausible thing in this movie about space smugglers, assassins, and cartoons with subliminal messages activating sleeper agents to flip out and kill everybody is this: two Confederate soldiers are surprised by the existence of a government conspiracy.

Now, here's the thing.

Here on Earth-that-Was, there's a vocal contingent of people who believe that 9/11 was an inside job.

There's a vocal contingent of people who believe that our black President is a Secret Kenyan Muslim -- and yeah, those people are mostly from the region of the country that rebelled against the Federal Government. But they're not veterans themselves, they're people still holding a grudge a hundred and fifty years later.

Hell, the guy from Megadeth is convinced that Obama deliberately orchestrated the shootings in Colorado and Wisconsin as a conspiracy to ban guns.

So yeah, the idea that nobody in the 'verse has ever floated the idea that the Alliance created the Reavers? Never mind faster-than-light travel, artificial gravity on a ship that doesn't rotate, or the sheer number of other ships the Serenity constantly bumps into in deep space -- that's the most implausible thing about this entire mythology.

If anything, Mal and co should have been saying, "Holy shit, those crazy assholes on the Future Internet were right!"


I haven't read much of the followups, post-movie. I picked up the first issue of each of the comic miniseries and couldn't get engaged -- I find it incredibly off-putting when an artist slavishly reproduces the likenesses of actors instead of just drawing the characters.

That said, I thought Serenity: Float Out, by Patton Oswalt and Patric Reynolds, did not commit that sin and was an excellent read. And managed to give a good little send-off for Wash and a little hint of where the story goes next.

I never got around to reading Shepherd's Tale -- it's still on my to-do list; doesn't appear that it ever came out in paperback -- but I do quite like Chris Samnee. I'm told it still doesn't answer the fundamental questions about Book, which is probably for the best; one of the best bits in the movie is where Mal tells Book he'll have to tell his story someday and Book responds that no, he won't.

While Whedon's tendency to leave his biggest mysteries dangling instead of resolving them can be vexing, I think it's good storytelling instinct -- how many stories can you name where a big mystery gets resolved and it's just a disappointment? (For a recent example: that other River, on Doctor Who.)

Similarly, I picked up the first issue of the new Dollhouse miniseries because it was focused on Alpha, and -- spoiler for a TV show from 2010 follows -- the only question dangling at the end of the series that I was interested in finding out the answer to was what happened to him, what made him change. The comic, pointedly, picks up his story after he's already changed, with no explanation.

Joss Whedon, you sneaky bastard.

Maybe we really will get a reunion someday, see what happens next, with the (surviving) cast intact. Whedon's certainly got the money and cachet to do it, since Avengers. But obviously I'm not holding my breath.

Meantime, Nathan Fillion is Castle, and I'm perfectly okay with that.

(Still hoping for that Dr. Horrible sequel, though.)

Doctor Who: Ghost Light

Well, by now Who fans have presumably watched the first Pond Life minisode, and the show's coming back on Saturday. So here's another of my old reviews, originally posted on Brontoforumus on 2008-03-28.


The Seventh Doctor era gets a lot of (presumably well-deserved) flack, and some fans blame McCoy and Aldred for the waning quality and ultimate cancellation of the show. Others blame the writers, and Ghost Light seems to vindicate that view, as it shows McCoy and Aldred do a perfectly good job when they have a decent script to work from.

Ghost Light tends a bit toward the confusing and I found myself hitting up Wikipedia to explain what it was I'd just seen when it was over, but that's not necessarily a negative; some of my favorite sci-fi is inscrutable.

It's something of a mishmash of references to such works as The Shining, Pygmalion, and Heart of Darkness, with a dash of Douglas Adams thrown in. But the Victorian haunted-house ambience is suitably creepy, and most of the cast -- creepy housekeeper, insane hunter, lord of the manor who wears glasses indoors, caveman, crazy hooded figure, monstrous angel -- is interesting. The Seventh Doctor comes across as a mysteryman who manipulates Ace to force her to confront fears out of her past, and when he confronts Light in the final act, reminds the audience that he is indeed both ancient and alien. Ace is a far more complex character than most companions in the original series, and paves the way for Rose and Martha to have involved and (sometimes) interesting backstories 15 years later.

All in all, it's better than the Tom Baker/Terry Nation/Douglas Adams Dalek story I watched two weeks ago, and that has to count for something.

$12.99 on Amazon -- worth buying. Or you can stream it -- free if you've got Prime, $1.99 for each episode ($6 total) for a 7-day rental, or, inexplicably, the same price for a purchase.

Doctor Who: Destiny of the Daleks

Hey, here's another old Who review. Originally posted on Brontoforumus, 2008-03-14. (I guess my last Who review post was a Dalek serial too, but what the hell, that was like 6 weeks ago.)


Destiny of the Daleks is Tom Baker's second and final confrontation with the titular monsters (memo to Rusty: yes, they only did two Dalek stories in eight years), as well as Lalla Ward's first appearance as Romana (she'd played Princess Astra in the previous serial) and the second appearance of Davros.

It's a pretty run-of-the-mill story; by far the best sequences are the creepy, antediluvian ruins of the Dalek city, best used in the end of the second chapter when a cobweb-covered Davros begins to awaken.

It's sort of downhill after that. The creepy aliens of indeterminate race and sex turn out to be bad guys, Davros and the Doctor banter back and forth about their respective philosophies, and the whole thing sort of falls apart in the last chapter where it turns out the two alien races are in a stalemate because their battle computers are evenly matched.

The Daleks' blind obedience to Davros is a pretty radical change; not only have they, over the few hundred years since Genesis of the Daleks, gone from attempting to exterminate him for being inferior to reviving him because he's much smarter than they are, but within the span of two episodes they go from "Self-sacrifice is illogical and therefore impossible" to strapping bombs to themselves on his orders.

And on the subject of logic -- I've noticed more than one fan bellyache about the "Daleks trapped in a logical impasse" element, as that sort of story is much better suited to the Cybermen; Daleks aren't generally depicted as slaves to logic.

For a serial with both Terry Nation (writer) and Douglas Adams (editor) named in the credits, it disappoints. There are a few good Adams-y one-liners in there, but they're far between. As for the "comedy" in the opening segment, Romana's regeneration scene painfully fails to amuse, and of course reminds us that no two writers can agree on how regeneration works anyway.

It's not great, it's not terrible. Rent, don't buy.

It-Girl and the Atomics #1

Haven't picked up this week's comics; still going through the last two weeks' worth.

It-Girl and the Atomics is a mixed bag, but I think I'll be sticking around.

The trouble, I think, is that Allred fans are spoiled. Mike Allred's lines and Laura Allred's colors feel inseparable from their work -- to the point that I was actually disappointed when Darwyn Cooke would do a fill-in on X-Statix! Darwyn Cooke! And I don't even remember Paul Pope doing one! (I am older and wiser now and one of these days should really get all those old issues out, read through them, and give Cooke and Pope the respect they deserve.)

So this is a Madman spinoff that doesn't have Madman in it and -- the cover aside -- is not written, drawn, or inked by Doc, or colored by Laura. Instead, we've got Jamie Rich writing, Mike Norton on art, and Allen Passalaqua on colors. And, well, it's not Allred but it's not bad.

First, to the art. Norton does a pretty solid job -- I'm not familiar with his previous work, and his best bits make me feel like he's referencing Amanda Conner or Jaime Hernandez (and Dr. Flem bears a certain resemblance to Dr. Venture), but you know, if he's copying then he's picked damn fine people to copy, and if he isn't, then it's still a pretty favorable comparison. Plus he seems to know how to draw women with different body types, which is unfortunately a rarity in superhero comics.

And, in this age of muddy digital inking, it bears adding that Norton's inks look really good.

To the writing, well, some of it's really good and some of it's mediocre, but none of it's bad. The real highlight is the dilemma faced by the Skunk, the small-time supervillain who killed It-Girl's sister. This being a superhero comic, she got better -- so his conviction's been overturned and he's out of prison, but the experience scared him straight and he's doing his best to walk the straight and narrow.

So, a couple of great things about that setup: first of all, "criminal tries to reform but finds it's not so easy" is a classic premise for a story; it's an easy conflict to relate to and gives you an underdog to root for. And second, it's a pleasing bit of metacommentary on the nature of superhero comics -- and fits right in to the oddball world Allred has crafted in Snap City.

So that's the high point. The low point is probably a segment early on where It-Girl is playing an online game and, interrupted, complains that she has to save her settings or someone will steal the shoes she just got.

Jamie, that is not how online games work. That doesn't even make sense.

But, you know, that's my biggest gripe about this issue, and that's small potatoes. Really I think the comic is pretty good, and I expect I'll be back for the next one.


Special bonus comics thought: Godzilla: The Half-Century War: Oh, IDW, you had me at "James Stokoe". But you're telling me this is actually Marvels in the Godzilla universe?! This is the best "something I didn't even know I wanted" revelation since Charles Stross crossed James Bond with HP Lovecraft with Office Space.

Comics!

Here are some of the comics I picked up last week that I liked. (They may not all be last week's comics; I'm kind of on an every-two-weeks cycle right now.)

iZombie #28 -- a satisfying ending, on the whole; it's rushed and all gets a little Allred-y in the end, but it works.

I've liked how the book has gradually moved toward a world where Portland is just this kinda weird, offbeat place where all the monster-people are just one more minority group, and somewhere where they're just regular dudes and are accepted. It's like X-Men without the angst. I'd certainly be interested in seeing Roberson and Allred revisit this series some day -- wonder what it takes for the rights to revert.

Action Comics #12 -- So wait, did this issue just start out like that, or was there a lead-in last issue that I completely forgot?

This is Morrison in full-on sprint-to-the-finish mode, like his last arc on New X-Men. He's throwing out interesting ideas a mile a minute and then abandoning them just as quickly.

This issue resolves the "Clark Kent is dead and Superman has a new secret identity" arc, which was an interesting idea I think he could have spent a bit more time on. The resolution -- well, there is no resolution to a "Clark Kent is dead" plot that isn't some sort of copout; honestly I kinda like that Morrison just ran with it and went for the biggest copout he possibly could. (I have mixed feelings on the landlady -- I kinda wish she'd just stayed as some eccentric old lady.)

Best part of the issue, though: Superman reading every medical textbook in the library and then performing surgery. Always fun to see him use his powers in an unusual way.

Batman #12 -- I don't know if there's anything in this world I love more than a done-in-one man-on-the-street story. This just so happens to be a done-in-one woman-on-the-street story drawn by Becky Cloonan and Andy Clarke.

If I have a criticism, it's that there are two penciler credits at all -- Batman is currently a four-dollar, 28-page book; typically that's one 20-page story and an 8-page backup, but this issue it's one continuous story that just switches artists (and, apparently, writers, though that's less obvious) on page 22. Now, both artists are great! But the transition is jarring. It feels like someone failed to hit a deadline and they had to bring in a backup artist -- that's not what actually happened, but it's what it feels like.

So, points off for a kinda weird presentation decision, but aside from that, a damn fine book.

Rasl #15 -- Welp, it's an ending. I'm curious how the whole thing will read together as a complete work, but as it is it wound up being kinda like Planetary in that its publishing schedule was so far apart that I couldn't remember what was going on by the time a new issue rolled out. To that end, I guess the significant portion this issue spends on Rasl sitting in a car explaining the plot to Uma is helpful.

It looks damned good -- Smith remains possibly the best cartoonist of his generation --, and there are some satisfying developments and twists on the way to the end. But I still feel like this is a series that sorta went off the rails after the first few issues. Again, maybe reading it straight through will leave me feeling differently about it.

Not bad as an ending, though.

Dark Knight Rises Initial, Non-Spoiler Impressions

  • Dark Knight keeps its spot as the best of the three. But this one hung together a lot more consistently than Begins.
  • I think Hathaway wins as the best movie Catwoman. Nice that they remembered "cat" refers to being a cat burglar, not some goofy-ass feline mysticism.
  • For that matter, Hardy of course wins as best Bane, but he could do that just by default given that the previous one was a mute thug in Batman and Robin.
  • It's gotten progressively harder to ignore the right-wing fantasy element of these movies.
  • Not that there's anything wrong with that. I'm a liberal, but -- Superman's original New Deal leanings notwithstanding -- there's something inherently conservative about the superhero genre. (But that's an essay for another day.)
  • Bit too much of characters explaining their philosophies and the themes of the movie in dialogue.
  • Which you can't understand half the time. It turns out my experience watching Dark Knight a few months back with the bass up too high to hear what anyone was saying was an authentic theater experience!
  • And it's an ending. A real, honest-to-God ending. The exact thing that indefinitely-serialized comics lack. (And movies, for that matter -- superhero movie series are rife with finales that the filmmakers didn't know were finales and, thus, lack conclusive endings: Batman and Robin, Spider-Man 3, Superman 4, Superman Returns, even X-Men 3 and Blade 3.) This was a real-ass ending, and it was satisfying.

I expect I'll get into spoilers and specifics later on down the line. But that's it for now.

Tick and Jayne

Watched Jaynestown again last night, and gorrammed if'n it ain't still one of my all-time favorite hours of television.

There's something about the way it all comes together -- it takes the most two-dimensional character on the show, the comic relief, and gives him more depth and humanity than we ever see in any other episode. It asks Big Questions -- and manages to approach those same questions, of the relationship between symbol and reality, in two different subplots, without it ever feeling forced. And while the Inara/Fess subplot is pretty standard Inara Being Wise stuff, the Book/River one has some of my favorite lines from the series and does a great job pairing off two characters who don't usually interact with each other.

It's a great episode -- legitimately funny, with a downer of an ending. If that's not vintage Whedon I don't know what is.

But while it's a Whedon show, the writer credit on this episode is Ben Edlund -- perhaps best known as the creator of The Tick.

And I got to thinking -- you know, there are a lot of ways Jayne and the Tick are similar.

They're simple and childlike, we don't really know anything about them other than their basic personality traits, they provide comedy rather than depth of character, and they seek simple solutions to their problems, usually consisting of violent mayhem.

And then, of course, you get to temperament, and they're polar opposites.

The Tick is pure. He wants to do the right thing, the heroic thing, the thing that helps people. Jayne is pure id; he's not actually evil (I'd say more chaotic neutral, though people with more D&D experience can feel free to correct me on that) but he has no motivations beyond his own immediate and selfish gratification. Jayne's speech to the mudders at the end of Jaynestown is like the inverse of an inspirational Tick speech -- full of anger, despair, frustration, cynicism, nihilism, and self-loathing. It's a bitter pill: "Heroes don't exist and no one is going to help you."

Needless to say, this kind of thinking is anathema to everything the Tick stands for.

I think maybe it comes down to something like this: the Tick is an overgrown 8-year-old, and Jayne is an overgrown 14-year-old.

At any rate. Damn good television, and thought-provoking -- and it's not even my favorite episode. (That'd be the one immediately following, Out of Gas.)

The Cheap Theater

I don't go to as many movies as I used to.

Mostly it's because I used to go to a lot of movies with my dad, and he's in Maui now.

But price plays into it too. Ticket prices have fucking skyrocketed, outpaced pretty much only by comic books.

This week, I went to Tempe Cinemas a couple times. It used to be what we called the dollar theater, but now it's $3, or $2 on Tuesdays.

But on the plus side, the place has improved. They've fixed up the bathrooms, the theaters are in better shape, and they appear to have switched to digital projectors, because the picture is fucking clean. Digital projection gets rid of one of the major drawbacks to seeing a movie at the cheap theater: you no longer find yourself looking at a print that's been viewed a few hundred times and is covered in scratches.

Anyhow, I caught two very different movies this week: The Pirates: Band of Misfits and Cabin in the Woods.

Pirates is Aardman. And I love me some Aardman, and have since I first saw The Wrong Trousers close on 20 years ago.

It's got a great cast (and #2 even looks like Martin Freeman), a ton of sight gags and one-liners that fly by fast, and a swordfight with Queen Victoria. It is recommended viewing for all ages!

Cabin in the Woods is not recommended viewing for all ages, but it is recommended viewing! I went into it cold, knowing nothing about it beyond "cabin-in-the-woods horror movie co-written and produced by Joss Whedon", and I think that is the optimal way to see it, so I will say nothing about it except that I love that there is actually a plot explanation for all the clichés, all the archetypes, and why the teenagers keep doing stupid shit.

Now, there was something a little odd about it: I'm pretty confident it was another digital copy, because the print was crystal clear for the most part, but there were a couple of spots, lines, and pops over the course of the movie. I'm curious: were these artificial and intentional? Like, did anybody else see it and notice a big black spot on the print right after the girl takes off her top? Because I'm tempted to believe this was some kind of Grindhouse-style deliberate fuckery, but I can't say for sure.

(Failing that, is there any other possible explanation for a few analog artifacts on an otherwise pristine, seemingly digital print? Like, is there a digital-file-to-analog-projector thing going on and the projector occasionally hiccups, or what? Or did I just see a film print that was in really, really good shape despite being at the cheap theater?)

Now, despite my gushing about the picture quality, which is better than I've ever seen it at Tempe Cinemas previously, the projection left something to be desired. Pirates had a couple of edges cut off, and about the right 1/8 of the picture in Cabin was out of focus.

Still and all, the seats were nice, the picture and sound were great, the audiences were well-behaved -- I had a better experience at the cheap theater than I usually do at the regular theater, and I suspect I will be making this a more frequent habit. There are plenty of movies coming out that I'd like to see in the theater but not pay full price for.

And they had a promo going: a new restaurant called Pizza 'n Greens opened a few doors down from the theater, and they're offering a $1 pizza slice if you bring a ticket stub in (or 10% off your whole bill). We went in after Pirates, and each ordered a slice. Instead of a slice, they made us fresh little miniature pizzas, and the service was great. We decided to come back and spend more -- which we did, after seeing Cabin. This time I tried a calzone and my lady tried a fatoush (Mediterranean salad) -- because as it turns out the menu is a sort of interesting mix of pizza and middle-eastern food. (I was tempted to have a chicken shawerma but decided I was in the mood for a good calzone at the last minute.) Anyway, once again, good food, great service, look forward to going again, recommend them, and oh by the way they deliver until 5 AM so if you need delivery at all hours of the night they're a good option for that.

And then we went to Changing Hands and I found a used copy of The Art of Ditko for $15, so I had to pick that up. And I also found that Stross's Rule 34 is out in paperback, so I grabbed me one of those too.

All in all, good times. And man, there are a lot of links in this post! My post probably looks like I ran Intellitext over it, except the links actually useful and pertinent and (hopefully) not just fucking obnoxious.