Monthly Archives: December 2004

Ocean’s Twelve

Holidays are an excellent time for watching movies. And for gathering with families and friends, and for gifts and for snow and fireplaces (sadly, not so much for me personally, but I hear tell), and some people claim for football, and for celebrating your winter faith of choice (I prefer the one where the hot Wiccan chicks dance naked in the moonlight, could I but only find them). And, of course, for lots of empty calories.

Ocean’s Twelve
marks a good confluence of the first and last items on my list. Fun movie, devoid of any real content at all. Despite that, Soderbergh still managed to put a new spin on the heist caper, above and beyond the work of beauty that was the pure heist of his 2001 remake.

I say spin, but he basically turned it on his head. Danny Ocean’s merry band of thieves who steal from the rich and give to themselves are at it again, planning a heist that never seems to occur to stave off a vengeance that never quite materializes, and somehow it still works. It’s a little more jokey and a little less nuts and bolts, and every bit the cure for the end of the year Oscar-ridden wasteland.

A good time will be had by all who don’t think that Julia Roberts looks like a horse, and this time they also added in Catherine Zeta-Jones for those who (like my father) do. He stayed at home and slept through it, sure, but that’s not the point. Just the fact that he would have had an alternative proves my point.

Meet the Fockers

So, it’s the whole big Christmas Day thing, with the presents, and the cooking of the meal, and all that. My first Christmas to host, or to cook. I’m on downtime right now, the potatoes are baking, to be followed by the turkey roast. Also, Star Wars is on, maintaining a Christmas tradition begun by the USA network but today continued by my DVD player. Finally.

Wherein lies my problem. I have time to discuss Meet the Fockers, but it’s hard to put together the inclination. It was funny, sure. Lots of genuine humor, and lots of feel bad about yourself for laughing humor. It’s just that it was very generic. I liked the first one quite a bit, but despite the extended starry cast list, this felt like Meet the Parents-lite. Twice as many expensive actors, half as much edginess and black humor.

Even De Niro was phoning it in. I mean, name a movie of his where he doesn’t stab someone in the neck with a syringe. And too many of the scenes were there to be one-note jokes that were completely separate from the plot of the movie. Funny is good, but it should either be less disposable or a lot more funny to make it justifiable. If you really need a comedy, sure, go, but it was PG-13, so if you can stand commercials, I’d wait for it to show up on Comedy Central. Also: Why Christmas? A very non-sensical release weekend, if you ask me.

Anyway, back to the cooking. Which will be more filling and fulfilling, both.

Half-Life 2

I know it looks like I’ve been neglecting my duties here. Instead, I just randomly finished three different things in the same 18 hour stretch. I’m not really clear on how that kind of thing happens, and yet here I am.

This time out, Half-Life 2, the story of Gordon Freeman, the rogue physicist who can’t seem to catch a break. After going through the rift accidentally opened by his fellow scientists at the Black Mesa research facility to put a stop to the creatures coming through, Gordon wakes up years later to find that his efforts didn’t result in as safe a world as he’d expected.

Then, crowbar at his side, he finds himself swept along by events once again, this time not just in an attempt to survive but due to the efforts of a resistance movement that has long viewed him as the savior of humanity. As many dark turns as were taken in the original Half-Life, this story nevertheless has a more somber feel to it. The stakes are higher, the betrayals are more deeply felt (if less surprising), and the character interactions are more fully realized. All this despite the main character never uttering a word of dialogue.

As for the gameplay: Lots of loading screens. It breaks up the game, which didn’t bother me. I can easily imagining it bothering other people, but I typically enjoyed the pause to relax and reflect. Spectacular gameplay. Well, fine, anyhow. I think that the FPS control and interaction scheme has been finalized for quite a while. No real improvements, but it’s worked very well, and continues to here.

The graphics are breathtaking. I’m on record as having said that they were a solid increment above the Final Fantasy movie, and here I mean the in-game play, not the cutscenes (of which there are none). I’ve since considered that I may have overstated that. The character movements in Final Fantasy were more realistically human, but still images and especially facial expressions don’t really hold a candle to the ones in this game. The rest of the world is essentially photorealistic. If FPSes weren’t quite to twitchy, it would be very easy to entirely forget you were playing a game.

I look forward to Half-Life 3, although not to the years-long wait for it. I expect I look forward to whatever expansions that get thrown out too. However, I do wish the game wasn’t so tightly copy-controlled that you have to be online to play the game. I didn’t pay money for it, as it came free with my video card. That smokescreen aside, I feel very uncomfortable not owning a physical copy of a game I’ve paid for. Not even the CD so much (although that too), but the idea that if I unplug my ethernet cable, I suddenly no longer have the game. For one thing, companies do go out of business from time to time. Mostly, I mistrust the precedent. Today, I can’t control my own purchases, tomorrow, eyeless crabs are latching onto people’s heads while an unelected military organization enforces the whims of our unseen alien overlords.

The Burning

Over the past week, I’ve been putting in some low-rent reading time with the first book of Unseen, a Buffy/Angel crossover trilogy set during the summer between the fourth and fifth seasons of Buffy (and therefore the first and second seasons of Angel). As such, I’ll be basically unable to talk about the book without spoilers up to those points. If you care, you have been warned.

The Burning, like the trilogy itself, delivers on the title. There’s a really big oil field fire. And maybe another fire as well, if I remember right, but not in an oil field. And basically every character, at some point, muses about how they are unseen, literally, metaphorically, or both. The theme is floating right there on the surface, like oil on poisoned well water.

What it doesn’t deliver on is a crossover. There are three distinct plots, more than one subplot, and nothing tying any of them together. Cordelia wants to save a group of Lost Girls, Angel wants to save a kid and his falsely accused murderer father after one of the trademark PTB visions, Willow wants to save a college pal’s brother from his bad choices, Spike wants his vampire girlfriend du jour to introduce him to her (still-living) thesis advisor, who might have an angle on removing the chip from his head, and Buffy wants to save lots of people from a mysterious shadow monster that is wandering Sunnydale rending people into bits. As of the end of the first book, none of these storylines appear to be in any way related to any of the others.

As badly written as that part of the book is, I might be able to forgive it as belonging to later books in the trilogy, if not for the fact that the characters also fail to cross over in any meaningful sense. We’re treated to Angel and Buffy each privately angsting about the other’s lack of consideration after a short phone call near the end, plus a “surprise” meeting just as the curtain falls, complete with Riley posturing manfully about what a dick his girlfriend’s ex- can be.

The sad part is, without the terrible advertising done by the book cover, the actual plotlines themselves are easily interesting enough to hold the attention. (I mean, I knew what I was getting into in that regard from the start, and as low-rent goes, it’s fine. Even though I spent a paragraph above mocking the [lack of] depth.) But the dissonance is too much to overcome, and so I complain. I’ll still read the other two books eventually and hope that the next one delivers what this failed to do.

Piñata: Survival Island

One of the draws of horror movies, I think, is the predictability. You know that when the group of college greeks heads to the mysterious island to have a contest to see who can find the most pairs of underwear that have been scattered about the place while handcuffed to each other in boy-girl pairs, certain things are assured to result.

One: There will be a deranged madman / terrifying alien creature / evil spirit trapped inside a cabin / thousands of years old spacecraft / clay statue.

Two: Someone will find a way to set loose said terror upon the unsuspecting teenage wasteland. Usually in the completely unrealistic expectation that they are actually finding alcohol, drugs, or possibly a place to have pre-marital sex.

Three: The remaining teenagers will be hunted down, often for crimes similar to the ones perpetrated by whoever did the releasing. Except for the hero and/or heroine, who has what it takes to save the day. Well, for themselves.

The point is, you go in with those expectations, and you deserve to have them met. Are Nicky Brendon and Jaime Pressly adding nuance to their tropes by *not* liking each other? Fine, variety is the spice of life. Does the piñata creature have randomly different forms that don’t seem to have any reasoning behind them? As long as he isn’t faster than the teens running away, who cares? Is Ensign Harry Kim going to make an appearance? The more the merrier, I say.

The problem with Piñata: Survival Island is that, after a promising opening act full of marijuana, Playboy Playmates pretending to be actresses and lengthy exposition about the history of Cinco de Mayo, the film just plain failed to deliver the goods. Sufficiently menacing evil? When his trademark weapon is a shovel, um, no. Believable ending? I quote myself here, while watching: “That is their big plan?” Naked chicks to distract from the lack in other areas? You know how I mentioned Playmates in the cast earlier? Yeah, well, still no. Inexcusable!

So, to anyone who nearly watched it with me last Halloween? You were right, I was wrong. My bad.

Still, it was pretty funny, for a while.

National Treasure

I drive. A lot. Also, I hate driving. This makes for hours per month of unpleasantness, and leads me to spend too much money on pleasant cars that improve the experience, and it leads me on fruitless searches for good radio stations, books on CD, and such. At least it used to, but now I’ve found enough good talk radio to keep me in business. Music is lame about 75% of the time, and I love a good discussion, so it was a perfect match for me, and now I find the majority of my driving accompanied by someone to argue with, even if they can’t hear my side. Hey, it’s enough to keep me awake and lively, so I’ll take it.

Which is how I found myself winning a contest on my way home after Thanksgiving, picking up the prize on Monday morning, and strolling into the theater to see National Treasure on Monday afternoon. (The other alternatives were Ocean’s Twelve, which I very much want to see, and Blade: Trinity, which I’m sure I will see at some point, if only to determine if it was a bigger techno nightmare than its sequel predecessor, but this was basically free, so a-Cage-in’ I did go.)

I haven’t seen a lot of CSI, but I’ve seen enough to know that Jerry Bruckheimer is enamored of it. I can say this with great certainty because the first third of the film was chock full of the trademark CSI speculative flashes back and forward, while l’il Nicky Cage learns to be a treasure hunter and follow those clues all over the northeastern US. Unfortunately, he’s being hounded by one-time partner Sean Bean, who wants the treasure for himself. Presumedly because he heard it contains the Ring of Power.

Luckily, our plucky everyman-with-sad-eyes hero is accompanied by WiseCracking Cowardly Sidekick and Blonde Love Interest Who Is A Strong Woman, Really, But Sometimes Just Wants/Needs To Be Rescued. All the guns and money in the world can’t stand up to a trio like that, now can they? I assume they had names, but I honestly can’t remember what they are, especially since my head is full of the lead treasure hunter being named Benjamin Franklin.

So, typical Bruckheimer flick, with the paper-thin characters, vaguely unplausible premise, and lots of cool visual scenes. If that kind of thing makes you hate Hollywood for being so carbon-copied-crappy, then this is exactly what you’re talking about. If you enjoy watching people run around being shot at, blown up, or actioned in other various ways, well, it’s Bruckheimer, and I think we all know he delivers. If you wonder why it came out in November instead of late June, then you’re just like me.

To the movie’s credit, there even is a bit of a mystery. Sure, it’s impossible to doubt that Cage will solve all the clues and elude the bad guys, but is there really a treasure at all? And is it being guarded by horrifying Egyptian (or possibly Bavarian) jackals, golems, spirits, and pit traps? For that, you’ll have to actually watch it.

Tigana

Wow. Good book.

It’s got the standard high fantasy tropes. Sorcery, swords, a desperate band of friends trying to save the day, multiple lands to travel to, love and betrayal. It also has things that are rare, though. For one, a southern hemisphere setting, which makes it, so far as I can remember, only the second genre book I’ve read that did so. And the most terrible vengeance visited upon a perceived wrong that I’ve ever heard of, or can really imagine. The beauty part is that this vengeance is the driving force behind the book’s action.

It also has Guy Gavriel Kay as an author. I read his Fionavar Tapestry in high school or so. I remember liking it, but also finding it annoying. I can’t really remember why right now, and I think it would benefit from an adult reread. In any case, Tigana is the second thing of his I’ve ever read. I’ve heard many times what a good prose writer he is, stylistically, lyrically, or however you might put it. His words flow beautifully from the page. And for about the first two thirds of the book, I was figuring that either it was all hype, or it was something that just wasn’t clicking for me.

But there at the end, as all the plot elements came together, so did Kay’s voice. I’m not sure how to describe it, but the hype is true. That man knows how to string words together just so, to yank you forcibly into whatever moment he has put together just then.

Another true thing that I’ve heard about this book: Well, I hesitate to put this in here, because I thought I was remembering right about this book, and I kept glancing at the back despite my best efforts, but I never took in the whole thing at once and the ending of it seemed innocuous, so I never spoiled myself or was even sure I had the right book until I got there in truth. But, I will anyway, as this is already one of the longer paragraphs just with me debating internally, and it would be lame to leave it void of content after all that. Anyhow. You’ll be a much happier reader if you avoid the final sentence of the book. Seriously. Excellent writer, pretty good author, but make no mistake. He’s also a right bastard.

My ultimate point: Read this, now. It’s on my list of recommendations, if I was sending out the email that got this site started.

Team America: World Police

It’s always feast or famine, they say. Don’t get me wrong, they say a lot of things, and frankly I wish they’d get off their goddamned high horses and stop saying things, because we’re all pretty much sick of them. ‘Look at me, I’m saying something!’ Pricks.

Um. Right. Feast or famine. That was proven true this week, when after a lifetime of never having seen anatomically correct doll breasts, I’ve now seen four over the course of my last two movies. I’m fairly sure this won’t happen again, but it was a strange confluence of events, without doubt.

In this case, they came in the sex scene from Team America: World Police, a scene that I’m told was edited heavily to get an R rating for the film. After having seen it, I fear for the director’s cut. Everything they left in would have bypassed late night Cinemax rules. So, the movie had that gimmick going for it.

It also had the puppets themselves, a gag that I bought into for the first hour of the film (what I thought was the first 90 minutes of the film, and that’s never a good sign). After that, it had to stand on its own merits. Which existed, but not for movie length.

Basically, you have the South Park crew saying the same thing they say in every global episode of the show. That Americans suck ass, but everyone else in the world sucks more ass, except for all those people who say the things they keep insisting on saying long past the point where we’ve stopped listening (And you thought I wasn’t going anywhere with that they thing at the start, admit it. Well, ha!), who suck the most ass of all. I must say, it’s an argument that I often find compelling. But it is not an argument that can sustain 100 minutes of film. On the bright side, they brought along some of the music they’re so good at. On the less bright side, the argument still isn’t enough to sustain the other 75 minutes of film.

In short, I liked it and found it often funny, but I wish they’d made a two-part South Park episode instead. The puppets were cool and all, but not that cool. Kim Jong Il’s panthers were brilliant, though, and will be worth the price of a netflix rental.