Monday, April 1, 2013

Matt’s Week in Dork! (3/24/13-3/30/13)

    On Monday night I went to see a school play directed by the Bride of Dork, Lisa.  Cute stuff.  School plays are a fascinating thing.  I remember doing a couple performances as a kid.  It was super stressful and extremely difficult.  But I look back and think how easy everything was and how little it mattered.  I wish I’d been able to simply enjoy it.  But I couldn’t when I was that age.

Olympus Has Fallen:  OK, I know this is a broken record here, but seriously, they’ve got to stop using CGI blood in action movies.  It NEEDS to stop.  This had the potential to be a really fun 80s style crazy action movie.  There are hundreds of acts of violence, but the CG robs them of their power.  It’s still fun, but not nearly as much as it should be.  And frankly, the final act doesn’t live up to the jingoistic silliness of the first half.  If only the villain could have been stabbed with an American flag, or at least be killed in front of a painting of Washington or something.  But the finale ends up being more generic shooting and punching.  It’s an extremely dumb movie, but it was mildly enjoyable.  With bloody squibs going off, it could have been much better.

Doctor Who: Season 7 Part 1:  “1938.  We just bounced off it.”  I’m still having fun watching this show.  But, it has some flaws, and those flaws are becoming more profound.  Part of the problem is a lack of grounding; a melodramatic streak that gets wider by the episode keeps shooting over the top so many times it has become like the proverbial boy who called wolf.  At some point, the cry ceases to be scary or impressive.  The rousing speeches and sudden resets after the story has been written into a corner steal the impact of any later dangers.  It all becomes too easy to fix.  A third of the population dies in an instant?  Wave a magic wand (sonic screwdriver) and suddenly, all is well.  Really?  Any drama is eroded by that kind of thing.  Again, the show is fun, but I’d like to see some changes; maybe writing staff, companions, tone.  I’m not sure.  While I don’t want a return to ‘the way things were,’ I’d like a return of some of the things that made the show successful.  I want crazy ideas, yes.  That’s Who.  But I also want interesting characters and plots, where danger feels real and the potential for failure (no matter how slight) feels like a possibility.  The Weeping Angels episode from this season was better than the previous.  I didn’t like the one (season 6?) where you actually saw them move.  They’re much creepier when you see them from the perspective of their victims, always frozen when you look at ‘em.  But otherwise, there weren’t any particular standout episodes.  Not really.  The dinosaur episode was amusing, but I wanted more Silurians and less friends from history.   I found the exit of Amy and Rory a bit of a letdown.  It’s OK.  There have been much worse.  But it left me cold.  Probably just an echo of my general feelings on recent seasons.  And when are they going to have a really interesting companion?  Enough with the pretty, 20 somethings who spend their time pining after the Doctor, subbing for the squeeing ladies who have (admittedly) helped propel the show into its newfound popularity.  (By the way, ladies, there are plenty of guys just as dorky around you every day, but they’re emotionally available, so you may want to keep clear).  Where is the new generation’s Jamie, or Leela, or Romana (I or II), or Vicki?  Martha and Rory are probably the best new companions, and they’re good.  But why do we have to keep meeting their family, and how about someone who isn’t from today’s UK?  After tantalizing us with Jack and River, even a few crazy possibilities like that girl stuck in a Dalek body, they’ve never lived up by giving the Doctor someone really wild to partner with.  In the classic run, he’s had two future dwelling super-geniuses, a savage girl from a failed human colony, a math wiz from another dimension, a Highlander, and a Time Lord (two regenerations worth), among others.  The new show could use something like that.  And a bit of restraint on the melodrama.  And an end of magic wand waving/reset button finales.

Onmyoji:  “I hear you have quite impressive skills.”  Demon haunted ancient Japan is in trouble.  It’s up to the Onmyoji, a bunch of astrologer/wizard/priests who like to smile at each other to save the world from all those danged monsters.  They smoke a lot of scrolls in the combating of evil.  There’s some weirdass crap for sure.  An interesting look into the more fantastic, magical side of the Samurai myths and stories.  This is some Twin Peaks Red Lodge kind of crazy stuff.

Magnum P.I. Season 2:  “Higgie Baby!”  Oh, man.  I just love this show.  The cast is so much fun to watch.  The wink & a smile stories and infrequent but well used Fourth Wall breaks, along with healthy helpings of early 80s cheese, make it intoxicatingly watchable.  I especially love episodes when Higgins gets in on the action.  The typical exasperated interplay between him and Magnum is great.  But when they work together the adventures are that much more fun.  Whenever the Magnum theme starts playing, I can’t help but have a giant smile on my face.

2010:  “Something is going to happen…Something wonderful.”  Destined to be a letdown, thanks to the all consuming love of the first film held by most cinefiles, 2010 is actually a very good, fairly realistic science fiction film.  It’s well made, well acted, and well written.  A great companion to movies like Alien, Outland, etc.  It obviously did not deliver what fans of 2001 wanted, but I think it delivered the goods, none the less.  Go in with an open mind and I think you’ll enjoy it just fine.  The last act is a bit iffy, but not bad.  Also, is Max gonna be a new Star Child?  And I do like that Time cover that shows the US and Russian leaders.

Ronan Gai:  “Samurai noodles!”  This homage to classic Samurai films does an excellent job of capturing the look and feel those venerable, violent epics of the 60s and 70s.  You would never guess it was made in the last 80s.  Four former samurai have fallen on hard times, their honor tarnished, their purses empty, their souls broken.  The film is a sad look at people who have lost their way, lost their purpose in life.  The four leads are some of the saddest sadsacks to ever sad up a movie.  The weird murder-gang story that slowly builds over the course of the film feels random, in spite of being integral to the, uh, plot(?).  I’m not sure if it’s cultural, something about the script, or what.  But I really didn’t get half of this movie, what was going on, who was doing what, or why for a large chunk of time.  Everyone seemed to be truly awful and vile, and whatever they did seemed bad.  But that is one nutty, drunken Johnny Depp samurai fight at the end.  He’s so tired and drunk and sweaty and half naked.  Whatever the problems with the film, the ending is pretty cool.  According to the trailer, “the last 17 minutes are the biggest massacre in history!”  I think if I was a) Japanese or b) more versed in Samurai culture or film, I’d have probably understood it more.  But even so, the overall feel of the passing of an era, the collapse of a societal system, is hard to miss.  These old warriors’ time has passed, and they have nowhere to go in the new world.  Very sad.

The Scorpion King 3: Battle for Redemption:  “I smell delicious.”  The Mummy 2 hinted at some crazy fantasy adventures in the spin-off movie The Scorpion King.  Instead, we got a boring Xena episode, with pretty much no fantasy adventure at all.  Just guys with mullets and a lot of slow-mo.  The Scorpion King 2, which went straight to video, at least featured some weird elements, but they cast off the Egyptian mythology for over-used Greek stuff.  Combined with the prequel storyline, it seemed more like a Young Hercules movie than Scorpion King.  This movie tries to bring things back to the Mummy movies, if only in a few details.  There’s still precious little Egyptian mythology or weirder fantasy elements; no monsters, no gods, just a bit of magic and some resurrected warriors.  Once again, more Hercules & Xena, blending random bits of history and art from unrelated places and times.  The script is really bad, and the acting steps up to the plate, matching it swing for swing.  Like Abelar: Tales of an Ancient Empire (see my Week in Dork for March 3-9), this feels like somebody’s D&D group wrote a movie.  There’s way too much dialog.  A lot of scenes would have been better served by characters shutting up instead of saying especially stupid things.  Temuera Morrison and Ron Perlman show up to cash some checks.  But Billy Zane is there for other reasons.  Billy Zane is there for Art.  Sadly, the movie is really stupid.  Another chance to do a fun fantasy film squandered with bad writing and poor planning.  Also, it’s rated PG-13, so it can’t even attempt to make up for shortcomings in script with violence or T&A.  And that’s just lame.  But, when Billy Zane takes center stage as the villain, he elevates the movie to Nicolas Cage levels of class and subtlety (how much stuff does he have stashed in his crotch?).  For some reason, he seems to be playing the role as a slapstick comedian.  It’s so jarringly wrong for the movie, it somehow becomes right (could this be his On the Waterfront?).  Somehow, as stupid as the movie is, and as bad as the script is, Zane grabs it, breaks it like a wild horse, and rides it into the sunset of B-movie glory.  After this, I can see Zane dressing up in a bear suit and punching women or ranting about blood in his urine (see Nic Cage’s magnificent performances in the Wicker Man remake or Port of Call: New Orleans).  This is the Billy Zane who hangs with Derik Zoolander.  His performance alone almost makes up for how blah the rest of the film is.

    “You have no concept of the depth of my ire.”  With all this excitement, you might think I didn’t have time to start watching season 3 of Magnum P.I.  How wrong you’d be.  Shot shorts, mustache, baseball cap, sunglasses and all the cool millions of years of evolution could pack into one man’s body.  The first episode features an odd, extended sequence of TC doing his job (flying).  It’s actually pretty cool.  The scenery is amazing and it’s kind of fun to see TC just enjoying himself without Magnum messing with him.  The flashbacks get pretty intense in this one, with a bunch of racist lingo thrown around.  I’m not a fan of the flashback episodes.  But this one is so danged brutal.  And the ending.  Hardcore.  Then episode 2...Simon & Simon crossover!

Star Trek:  I’ve been a Trek fan since I was a wee lad.  My favorite of all is the original series.  So, keep that in mind when I sing this film’s praises.  While I love the original show, I’d hardly hold it up as ‘intellectual’ science fiction.  It was as much an action show as TV had in the 60s, with much more attention paid to fast moving stories and often heavy-handed morality than to well thought out scientific concepts and their ethical relationships with humanity in the future.  This film, like Wrath of Khan and First Contact, keeps the action rolling fast enough that you don’t worry about occasional logic leaps (have you watched Star Trek?  Logic leaps are not new).  It sets up an alternate timeline where Kirk’s life is drastically altered by a time event.  Ripples of that event  effect the universe in various ways, but fate seems to be determined to bring some people together.  I’m not a big fan of Kirk’s character arc in the film.  I don’t like the reluctant hero archetype, and I don’t like that they shoehorned Kirk into it.  Other than that and that the film’s plot follows the basic Wrath of Khan mold that most of the films have, I don’t have any major complaints about the movie.  It has a distinct look and feel, a solid cast who manage to avoid imitation while capturing the essence of their characters.  I would like to see filmmakers get back into space exploration and problem solving, as opposed to space battles and fist fights.  Still, if they’re gonna do action, they could do worse.

Quicksilver:  Kevin Bacon and his amazing mustache blows it hard at the stock exchange.  But through his fall he learns a life lesson, that being a bike messenger is the key to freedom.  As a warrior-poet once said, ‘breaks are death.’  Like everyone who was anyone in the 80s, he lives in a crazy unique apartment, occasionally lives via montage, and has great hair.  This has that feel, that magic feel that 80s movies had.  Some combination of the fashion, the movie making technology, I don’t know.  But it’s there.  Am I nuts or do they suddenly end up in San Francisco during a street race?  That doesn’t look like New York, and I think Alcatraz is in the background of one shot.  When I watched Premium Rush a few months back, I kept thinking how 80s it was, and kept remembering Quicksilver.  I’d never seen it, but the poster was up for years at every video rental shop around.  Premium Rush was clearly inspired by this film.  They both come from the same headspace.  I found myself enjoying this movie quite a bit.

G.I. Joe Retaliation:  After the travesty that was the first film, the powers that be must have listened to the backlash and said, ‘how about we make a movie where we actually use the property it’s based on for inspiration?’  This, unlike the first, is actually a G.I. Joe movie.  It’s like the cartoon made live-action.  The plot is ridiculous, the action silly, the resolution completely stupid.  Just like the show.  Cobra takes over the White House, old guys lend a hand, lots of stuff blows up, and Jonathan Price is clearly having the time of his life.  We finally get a real Cobra Commander doing his usual silly crap.  I could have dealt without all the ninja crap, but I never liked that in the cartoon, either.  However, I know a lot of the fans like Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes.  Me?  Meh.  The movie is stupid and silly.  And it’s exactly what I wanted.  Now there has been a G.I. Joe movie.  And about time.

Godzilla VS. Megalon:  Deep under the ocean, the white robed people of Seatopia watch interpretive dance and bow before Easter Island heads while they stew in their hatred of surface dwellers.  A couple of swell chums (and their awful voiced ward) have invented a silly looking robot with a name that really fits him (just ask them), Jet Jaguar.  When the Seatopians unleash their skyscraper handed, star headed bug monster Megalon, it’s up to size expanding Jet Jaguar to save the day.

    I finally popped Rome on.  I watched a few episodes a long time back, but never got around to watching the whole thing.  Figure I’d better get started.  HBO, man.  They make some fine shows.  If only they would get hold of something like Conan, and give it a serious take.  I feel like, in large part due to movies, we have this vision of Romans as these supremely civilized folk, where in fact, they seem to have been bloody barbarians.  Just successful ones.  Watching this series helps make real the descriptions of Rome seen from the recent Cleopatra biography.  Close, dirty, stinking, and brutal.  Its façade of civilization all surface, with a beast’s heard beneath.

Quantum of Solace:  “I don’t have any friends.”  I’ve talked a lot about my love of Daniel Craig’s take on Bond, and these new movies.  They’ve gotten back to the best things about Bond, dropping the bad.  And how cool it was that this movie didn’t try to redo Casino Royale, serving instead as a continuation of its story.  So I’m not going to go into any of that again.  Instead, I’ll just talk about a) how hot Olga Kurylenko is and b) how much I like Mathieu Amalric’s sleazy villain.  Olga Kurylenko is so hot.  I really like Mathieu Amalric as the sleazy villain.  There.  Check the movie out.

The Quiet American:  “I’m English.  I have habits.”  I know I should so something about it, but I have never read any Graham Greene.  Put him on the list.  I enjoy Brendan Fraser, in spite of all his crappy roles.  And obviously, Michael Caine is awesome.  The exceptionally awkward friendship/rivalry between the two is gut wrenching, and such an odd counterpoint to the sweep of history going on around them.  The conflict that will eventually explode into the Vietnam War grinds away while two men vie for the love of a woman.  Caine is kind of a monster, but a monster one can sympathies with.  While Fraser is aw gee shucks swell, but kind of a bastard at heart.  And Phuong…well, she might just be the most monstrous of all, beautiful on the outside, but a soulless tormentor.

Earth VS. The Spider:  “There’s a rubber glove; put it on.”  A surprisingly bloody opening sets the stage for this Atomic Age monster movie.  Cut to cute bobbysoxer Carol and her doofy boyfriend wander the downtown of Middle America.  Mike can’t help but put his foot in it, because he’s a dimwit.  Cut to Mr. Wizard’s class, full of 30 year old high school kids for a lesson in Electricity! that I’m sure will not come back to be important later.  Mike is such a dolt, you keep hoping Carol will pitch him in a bottomless grotto.  In the spider’s defense, if it hadn’t been for his web in that cave, those two dumb kids would have plunged to their death.  So, in a sense, the spider is kind of a hero.  And you can put ‘waking up a dead giant spider’ on the list of things that can be accomplished if you rock hard enough.  I’m not a fan of movies that use real animals and trick photography, so this had a pretty big strike against it on the creature front.  But there are a few effective moments.

War of the Colossal Beast:  “Get the picture?”  I hardly remember The Amazing Colossal Man, but this sequel is about on par with the silliness.  Our giant mutant is now seriously injured and seemingly mentally challenged.  I guess getting half his face blown off effected him quite a bit.  More Bert I. Gorgon MST3K fodder.

    I got in a bit more Fraggle Rock.  That’s another show that just makes me feel happy.  It’s extremely charming and good natured, without being dull or stupid.  One of the best kids shows I’ve seen in part because it doesn’t dumb things down.  If I ever had kids, this would be on the list of things I would feel good about letting them watch, as it teaches good lessons in creative ways, and is entertaining as well.

Speed Racer:  Whenever I’m down, I can just pop Speed Racer in and things feel better.  I love that this movie about racing, something I couldn’t give two shakes about, ends up being this amazing martial arts film at its heart.  This movie is about kung fu, and one young man’s quest for enlightenment.  The sweet family dynamic, Christina Ricci being as adorable as she has ever been, Matthew Fox and his suave cool Racer X.  That’s all great.  And the insane, colorful explosion of visual effects blasting at your eyes makes for a fun watch.  But at its heart is Speed learning to reach the essence of excellence, transcend skill, and become an artist.

    On Friday I tried a nearby bike path again, hoping maybe it had improved in the four years since the last time I rode it.  Sadly, no.  It’s randomly paved, often covered not in gravel but rocks, and difficult to get to.  And so far as I’ve found, it doesn’t connect with anything, so when I reach the end, I have to turn around and follow the whole thing back, instead of making a circuit, as I would prefer.  I don’t like retracing my steps on recreational bike trips.  Annoyingly, it’s also the closest one to me.  My place is in this horrible dead zone, some of the only territory in Northern Virginia that doesn’t have good biking.  I don’t like the idea that I need a car to go to a bike path.  I think the problem is that this city is old, and while there have been a few scattered attempts to modernize, it’s still basically a car town, like my hometown of Bangor.  It’s not as pedestrian/cyclist hostile as Bangor.  But it’s not friendly, either.  To the best of my knowledge, there isn’t a foot path that would allow me to walk to DC, for example.  At least, not without traveling miles and miles in a different direction first.  Even though I’m close to at least one main road that goes right into the city.


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