Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Matt’s Week in Dork! (3/4-3/10)

When the Moors Ruled in Europe:  There is a time in Spanish history that has been largely ignored, and indeed suppressed.  Far less simple and black & white than the high school text book version of history (as it always is), there feels like a near utopian experiment that almost succeeded beautifully and collapsed depressingly.  This is an interesting documentary, presented with Bettany Hughes’ usual lusty excitement for her subject.  It’s important to remember for anyone interested in history that you must not judge events by, or reshape them to fit, your modern perceptions and politics.  Like any good documentary, this makes you want to read more.  Having read a bunch on Spain during this time, I do find it a bit frustrating that there isn’t more to the film.  At only two episodes, I think it could easily have been expanded to four or six.  Major subjects and important aspects of the era are glossed over or ignored completely.  Again, a good starting point, but nowhere near as comprehensive as  I’d have liked.

Centurion:  If you’re looking for a complex study of the human condition, or a grand historical drama, keep moving.  If you’re looking for a bloody, gory, pulse pounding chase film featuring a band of Romans facing off against a hoard of Picts, check this out.  Beautiful scenery, a driving pace, and solid performances use the simple premise well.  It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it rolls.

The Sex Adventures of the Three Musketeers:  As hard as it might be to believe, this Euro-trash cinema is awful.  Just awful.  Not funny.  Ugly, ugly people.  Feels like it was edited as part of a William S. Burroughs ‘cut-ups’ project.  Skip it.

Why was did I ever put this on my queue?  I don't know.

Natural City:  Neon lights and holograms light the rainy streets of a depressing future city, while cop R’s life spirals out of control in writer/director Byung-chun Min’s reworking of Blade Runner, Natural City (2003).  Even with a chicken alarm clock to wake up with, R isn’t satisfied until he gets his drunk hands on despondent, nearly expired cyborg Ria. There’s also a young prostitute/fortune teller/gardener living in the slums who inexplicably loves R.  Oh, and there’s a cop who likes R for some reason, and keeps trying to save him.  And some killer cyborgs (who never miss a spinning class).  And a creepy little albino-Yoda guy who knows his brain-chips.  These characters very, very slowly start coming together, and I guess a plot begins to develop.  Skip this and watch Blade Runner instead.  (Read my complete review at cineAWESOME!)

Bored to Death Season 2:  Like the best of TV, this show always leaves me wanting more.  I love all the crazy characters and their bent but relatable lives.  Never going quite where you expect, but always taking you to good places, this is one of the best shows nobody talks about, or seems to have seen.  If you’re one of the countless who hasn’t checked it out, do so.  Especially if you’re a fan of Wes Anderson, or any modern surrealist/absurdist type storytellers.

John Carter:  So, this isn’t the amazing film adaptation I’ve been waiting for since I was a wee lad, transported to the mad worlds of Edgar Rice Burroughs in the attic of my old house.  And no, it doesn’t live up to a century of anticipation and preparation.  How could it?  But it doesn’t suck.  Part of the problem with this movie finally being done is that John Carter’s story has been looted for so many other popular films, books, video games, comics, cartoons, etc. that not much seems especially new.  But that was to be expected.  Superman, Star Wars, Avatar, and so many others are at least in part inspired by Burroughs’ books.  But what really frustrated me was that the film makers (or the studio) were simply not brave enough to ‘go for it.’  This is a movie about a Civil War vet who gets transported to a fantastic Mars, where giant four armed green men, red skinned, yellow skinned, and black skinned men, plant men, white apes, and lots of other strange things live in constant conflict.  It should be much larger than life; crazy!  Yet, the movie never takes many chances, doesn’t revel in its strangeness, and never quite embraces what makes the books classic (why is everyone wearing so much clothing?).  Even the title is bland.  Not “Under the Moons of Mars,” “A Princess of Mars,” or even “John Carter of Mars.”  It’s like Disney was scared of its own creation, which is sad, and ultimately self defeating.  If you’re going to make a movie like this, then do it, don’t beat around the bush.  Anyway, the movie itself is a solid space opera, if nothing amazing.  The effects are good for the most part, and the cast does a pretty good job.  I’d have preferred the leads be a bit more mature or charismatic.  In the books, Deja Thoris is depicted as a goddess made flesh, yet in the film she comes off too often as an unsure young woman.  Anyway, as Disney seems to have abandoned this film long before it was ever released, and completely dropped the ball on building interest, I don’t see there being any sequels, which is too bad.  I’d have liked to see more of Barsoom (Mars) explored.  It was an OK beginning, but not nearly enough.

Storm Hawks: Shadow In the Skies:  While the dialog on this show is often pretty goofy, the overall writing isn’t too bad, and there are a lot of cool ideas.  The visuals are usually creative and the action exciting.  If you want to sit down and watch some science fiction that’s fun for the kids and not insulting to the adults, this is a good choice.

National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets:  The goofy Tomb Raider fun of the first film still holds in this sequel.  Look, it’s goofy, and Nic Cage is crazy (though restrained for him), but it’s still quite enjoyable.  Here’s hoping kids watching this will be more inclined to look into history, like I was when I saw Raiders of the Lost Arc as a lad.

Kick-Ass:  OK, so Ebert’s insane rant aside, this is clearly not a kids film.  So leave them at home.  Seriously.  That said, this movie is a lot of fun.  Filled with comic and movie nerd in-jokes, as well as some straight-up clever dialog and excellent performances, there’s plenty to like.  Oh yeah, and it’s ultra-violent.  Not 2008’s Rambo violent, but closer to that than your average action film.  And yes, there is cursing.  *Gasp*  Certainly worth a watch for comic readers, but also good for people who just enjoy a rip-roaring shoot ‘em up, chop ‘em up action film.  And though I’d like to see him in non-villainous roles for once, Mark Strong was cool once again as the big bad guy.  Nic Cage’s Adam West impersonation is flippin’ hysterical, too.

    I got a few episodes of Charlie’s Angels in, which I’m continuing to love.  Silly?  Sure.  But dang, those girls look nice.  And an appearance from Fernando Lamas was totally awesome.  Also got in another episode of From the Earth to the Moon and some Star Trek.

    I read another masterwork in low-key madness from comic writer/artist Jason.  See my review.

    And I finished Andre Norton’s Key Out of Time this week.  When there were only ten pages left, I wondered to myself, ‘how can she possibly resolve this four book series in such a short time?’  Well, she couldn’t.  The book is ultimately very frustrating.  First, the story of a few time agents stuck in the pseudo-Bronze Age of an alien world is OK, but not especially interesting.  Second, there are few particularly interesting ideas and no interesting characters.  But third and most aggravating, it doesn’t do anything to expand our understanding of the greater universe she created.  Even though the ‘baldies’ are a major player in the book, pretty much nothing of their culture or plans comes to light.  Who were they?  What was their civilization doing?  Why did they fall?  What were those ape things left in the ruins of their planets?  No answers.  After the fantastic promise of The Galactic Derelict, it’s deeply frustrating that the series doesn’t go big like it kept hinting at.  It feels like every major issue, be it the space race/war with the Russians, the rediscovery of star maps, or understanding of the Forerunners are left open and unfinished, which would be fine if this weren’t a four book series.  If there were a fifth book to wrap things up, I’d be less annoyed.


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