Monthly Archives: June 2006

The Sentinel (2006)

Ah, Thursday evenings in the summer, when a young man’s fancy turns to the dollar theater to catch stuff that came out during the April lull. Because, you know, $1.50 for tickets and then $1 hot dogs are the perfect way to round out an evening. And these hot dogs, I thought I had remembered accurately that they were worth approximately a dollar, after a fair markup caused by people wanting to make profit off of using their labor instead of my own and all. My memory was faulty, though; I’m pretty sure $.50 would be a more fair price. ‘Cause, wow, these were bad hot dogs. And with packets of mustard from a manufacturer I’d never heard of, instead of a giant tub of squeezable. That’s just weird to me, that packet mustard could possibly be cheaper in bulk. And yet, you know it must have been, because why buy it otherwise?

Naturally, though, all of this mediocrity was counteracted by the film in question, right? The Sentinel, starring probably Michael Douglas as the titular President’s guardian (though maybe Kiefer Sutherland instead; I doubt it, but maybe) who has lasted through 25 long years of presidential details after taking a bullet for Reagan without ever once getting a real promotion, but that’s okay because he does his job for the love of his country. Unless, that is, he in fact is at the center of a diabolical plot (here, I exaggerate; it was actually a fairly generic plot, and I can’t even tell you now what the reason behind it was, other than the usual infidel pigdog claptrap you’d expect) to assassinate the current President, as everyone seems to believe. But is it he? Or the First Lady? Or Kiefer? Or one of the many other Secret Service agents around?

So, plot, editing, action sequences: all pretty pedestrian. Exactly the kind of thing that you’d expect to see in April, which makes sense. But the whodunnit portion was on the whole satisfying. I mean, rarely is the actual reveal all that satisfying, and when it is, that’s usually a great movie. But they kept the questions running through my head far longer than I’m used to, kept the possibilities open far longer than they should have been able to, and any movie where I don’t already know the entire layout by the end of minute thirty? I’m prepared to call that a pretty good movie, as long as the acting is serviceable too. And this was, so at a buck-fiddy, I’ll take what I can get. It easily topped the hot dog, value-wise.

Lego Star Wars

A thing that I like about my Xbox 360 is the backwards compatibility. A thing that I do not like is how very, very slowly said compatibility creeps along. Honestly, if there’s one thing that might be able to save the PS3, it will be if there’s a fanbase of the PS2 games so huge that they want to maintain the thing that way. This assumes that Sony is going to be as slavishly devoted to backwards compatibility as they (rightly) were for PS1 games on the PS2, of course. I’m not sure that would be a wise move, as the differences in visual playability will be much greater this time, and even if it were a good idea, Sony has been making enough bad choices lately that I’m inclined to assume that whatever way is correct, they’ll go in the opposite.

The upshot of all this is that a week or two ago, it came to my attention that Lego Star Wars was now available for 360 play. As one thing I was not going to do was have both consoles hooked up at once, I have not been able to play this game despite having gotten it nearly half a year ago. So, at long last, sweet lego victory was to be mine. I hooked it up, downloaded the patch, and… started playing. What, you thought it would break or fail in some way? Nah, this system has continued to treat me well from the start. So, yay them.

It’s not in HD, or even widescreen. (I’m sure this tends to hold true of previous backward products as well, though I haven’t had the chance to use this feature often enough yet.) It doesn’t use nearly as much of the controller as you might think, since they are so ergonomically similar. And it’s thoroughly a kid game. But? Really fun and worthwhile, for all of that. As long as you still like Star Wars a little and as long as you ever played with legos since they started having people legos, this thing should really do the trick. The story mode is frequently funny, the freeplay mode provides hours of replay value (without it being so many that you go into a coma and don’t start playing again; see Oblivion, to my ongoing shame), and there’s even a teaser for the sequel that I understand from my game magazines is forthcoming. But, all of that is rote description of benefits. It fails to capture the sheer awesomeness of putting together and taking apart legos using only the power of the Force or chopping up legos using only the power of a lightsaber. If you can envision that in your head and know you’d like it? This is a good game. If not? Well, it’s alright if you have someone who is very bad at video games and needs a confidence booster, but otherwise it would probably be kind of a waste.

For my money, though: definitely of the good. Even if all else fails, there’s enjoyment to be had in flying R2-D2 around on his little rocket boosters. I maintain that if that doesn’t sound a little fun, it is only because you have no soul.

Superman Returns

Is there anything cooler than going out to do something, and when you get there, there are your friends randomly present without having to do any of that pesky coordinating or what have you? Well, perhaps, but that is cool. Off I went to see Superman Returns, because of how he’s Superman and had planned to return, and all, and as I drive into the parking lot: friends! (Some of them refused to believe it was coincidence, which amused me to no end. But it was.) So there were people holding seats when we finished dinner, plus the awesomeness of the hangout itself. And I got a handful or so of free Reese’s Pieces, which is basically my favorite candy. Maybe Heath instead, but they’re both way up on the scale. On the whole, I have to come out in favor of the idea of friends, as they make life better in lots of different ways.

Which makes it kind of sad if you’re a strange visitor from another planet and feel like you’ve never really belonged or fit in in all your life, and then when you’re possibly making some headway in that arena, suddenly you decide that you need to go see what’s been going on with your destroyed homeworld, and you end up being gone for five long years, and the world moves on without you. Not just in the literal ‘hey, guess what, we can continue to more or less survive just like we always did before CapeBoy came along and started leaping over tall, speding bullets in order to save us from falling birds and/or planes’ sense, but in the personal ‘hey, guess what, I started dating a new guy and I have a small child and I never, ever talk about you, because guess what, I barely knew you existed, and also I’m really pissed at your alter-ego that I don’t know is also you for leaving me, and by the way isn’t it pleasant I haven’t been in mortal danger all this time until the week you got back?’ sense as well. And then you start hanging around outside windows looking for a glance of the domestic bliss that maybe you could have had for yourself, and it’s a little bit stalkerish, and nevermind that your arch-nemesis is just about to unleash a really cool and diabolical plot that, on the whole, you have no reasonable expectations of being able to prevent.

If it sounds like I’m having trouble classifying the film and my feelings about it in my head, well, that’s true. There’s some element of remake, some element of sequel, and both worked pretty well. Themes flying around in every which direction: whether and why heroes matter, messianic imagery, the importance of family and who actually comprises that family, the difficulty of maintaining quality evil henchmen, etc.

So, the good: Kevin Spacey owned the first half of the movie as Lex Luthor. I know he’s a bad guy and all, but I end up sympathizing with him a little bit more with every shred of nuance that writers throw at his character. It helps that he views himself as the savior of mankind so very often, I’m sure. Plus, the acting was every bit a match of the character, so yay there. Even more to my surprise, this Brandon Routh guy pretty well owned the second half of the movie as Superman. I like the guy in an abstract ‘isn’t that cool?’ kind of way, but Clark Kent isn’t as sympathetic as Bruce Wayne, and Superman tends to be too All-American all-star guy to have an actual personality. This Superman, though? I felt for him, both on behalf of himself and on behalf of me as the neutral everycitizen of the world who was thrilled to have the guy back, looking out for me. I would never have expected that; really either one of those, in fact, and yet there it is. And did I mention the awesomely diabolical plan? Good stuff.

The bad: Not a whole lot. The end of the movie got just a little bit overly mystical for my personal taste, and in ways that I would both have trouble explaining and furthermore am unequipped to, as they involve plot-shattering spoilers. Other than that, the single biggest, most glaring bad was the handling of Clark Kent. He was given short shrift both by the script (particularly the longer that the movie went on) and especially by the characters, any of whom should have had deep and searing questions for him from almost the first moments that they ran into him and all of whose questions should have grown ever more incisive and frequent as the show progressed. It was really a very flat point in an otherwise…. tremendous? well, certainly quite excellent movie. I think without that aspect, it might have been able to be my favorite film of the summer. As it is, I shall continue to rely upon Snakes on a Plane, despite having still not seen even one theatrical trailer.

Bloody Mallory

A couple weeks ago, I saw a movie for rent in Hastings that reminded me why I used to go there all the time, when I lived somewhere unlike Dallas that had the chain in reasonably accessible places and back before I immorally kept one of their rentals because it was impossible to buy anywhere anymore and then never really got my membership restored to good standing, and then Netflix started to exist more and I went with that instead and stopped worrying about it as much. But my point is, good place and I was there not long ago. And I saw this great-looking movie, Bloody Mallory. And then ended up renting a different, really better movie, so that was okay. But I maintained my interest in the meantime.

Then, today, it was purchased and watched. And it has entered the realm of such legendary films as A Nymphoid Barbarian in Dinosaur Hell, Teenage Catgirls in Heat and Troll 2 in my personal lexicon of the best terrible movies of all time. There is nothing not to like here. In a familiar Europe nevertheless set nearly a thousand years into the future, Mallory and her team of anti-paranormal soldiers wander the land attacking demonic influences in revenge for long-ago, fairly inexplicable slights. (Mallory, for instance, reminded me loosely of the Bride, but if Bill had been the, um, Groom and also secretly a demon planning to sacrifice her in pursuit of some nefarious underworld sceheme instead of the leader of a group of reptilian-themed assassins.) A typical job might involve rescuing virginal nuns from breeder ghouls or restoring an unpopular pope to the Vatican after he’s been kidnapped right out from under his bodyguard-priests by soldiers of evil and transported to an alternate demonic dimension.

There really is too much awesome terribleness to include it all, but here’s a few bits and pieces: Two choices of bad dialogue, in that the subtitles hardly ever match the soundtrack. (I’m including both wooden and obvious yet somehow still incomprehensible exposition and attempts at snark successful and failed alike when I call the dialogue bad.) Good guys that include a child telepath ironically named Talking Tina and a wise-cracking transsexual with no apparent contributions to the fight besides her worldly ways and inappropriate personal history. Bad guys that decide who’s in charge of their diabolical plans by way of that old standard, pulling apart a wishbone. (Freshly removed from a human captive, though, clearly.) I am getting sad now, though, and will stop. It’s bad enough that such a sweeping segment of my readership will fail to acknowledge the awesomeness of all of this, but even worse, I can feel myself failing to capture the exquisite terribleness for those people who might otherwise agree with me. The important thing to take home is this: your life is not actually complete until you’ve seen this movie. Seriously.


51PDA40MJGLSo, yeah, the new Goodkind? (Okay, thoroughly not new; in fact, there’s going to be an actual new one in a matter of weeks, but it’s still currently “the” new one for now, so there’s that minimal claim to factuality, plus it was new to me, of course.) To absolutely nobody’s surprise, it really wasn’t all that good. I mean, look at the last one.

But here’s the thing. As bad as that was, at least it was competently constructed. Chainfire is a little bit better in some ways, but so much worse in others that I don’t even know how I got through it, though I do know why it took so long. See, on the good hand, the plot is more interesting than it has been in a few books and a substantial bit more relevant to the progression of the series. So, yay. Things are finally coming to a head between Richard’s empire and the evils of enforced liberalism from the previously hidden continent, which include the complete collapse of capitalism, rampant unhappiness, extensive rapine and murder, and all the kinds of things that you would expect if anyone believes that compassion is ever more important than self-interest. (Gosh, I have a hard time praising this thing.) But, whatever, when you stop looking at the thinly veiled metaphor sideways, my point is that things are coming to a head. The problem is, Richard’s wife has disappeared. And not by half-measures; instead, nobody in the world but Richard seems to recall that she was ever a part of his life or even existed. What’s more, an amorphous unstoppable killing machine of a demon has been unleashed onto his trail, and prophecies say that if he isn’t in the right place at the right time, the world as they all know it is doomed. So, yeah, not the best time for your wife to be missing from the timeline and all of your energy bent onto solving her problems instead of the other stuff going on. (It does kind of remind me of the Perrin/Faile thing more than a little bit, and I am impressed that the Wheel of Time plagiarism charges could possibly resurface. But that’s for my own horrified amusement, and not really otherwise relevant to this review.)

So, yeah, the plot elements and progression left me on the whole interested in the book, as I said. The real problem with the thing, far more dire than anything I’ve mentioned above, is that it was a 250 page story crammed into a poorly edited (copy- or otherwise) 600 page book. The first half is almost nothing but repetitions of arguments on the nature of reality, duty, right and wrong, between people that could not possibly be willing to talk to each other like this in anyone’s real life. Sure, to crowds of faceless nobodies like in the last book, okay, but these are almost all between friends and relatives. Such a beating. By the time the plot finally picked up the pace, started having more events than lectures and reminding me why I have occasionally enjoyed this series, it was only through sheer discipline (and my anticipatory enjoyment of a then-upcoming Jewel concert) that I had not already sporked my eyes free of their sockets to stop the pain.

Just… wow. If you correctly guessed that I’ll be reading the next book once I spot it used somewhere and wish to save me from myself between now and then using lethal force, I will both understand and almost certainly thank you with my dying breath. Bring breasts, though. They seem like they’d make that kind of thing easier on me, is all.

Dead and Breakfast

Imagine, if you will, that David Carradine owned a tidy little small town inn and further that he had a little magic box that turned people into zombies. Add in six young people driving across Texas who need a place to sleep for the night, musical narration, an authentic hootenanny, and a hall of records keeperwho takes her job seriously indeed (okay, that part doesn’t make a lick of sense, but trust me, it works), and you have Dead and Breakfast. Predictable and sometimes given to taking the easiest plot path possible (but both in a good way), very funny and with better music than you’d think, plus a really hot yet cool chick with a chainsaw, I have to call it the best zombie flick I’ve seen all month. This despite a completely inexplicably murdered French chef in the first act, which should have derailed the plot entirely, but instead serves as one of the movie’s little charms.

Lord of War

Although (regrettably) not in 3-D, I did catch a couple more movies on the same weekend as the last couple. (A week ago, or two? Already, my memory fails me. I suppose it’s an argument for creating these reviews on a stricter timetable, but I’m more concerned over the fact of it than its effect on the accuracy of these pages. Selfish bugger, me. Well, at times.) In any case, the first of these was something I was interested in from last year but never got around to, Lord of War.

So, it was pretty good. Nicolas Cage was serviceable as ever, and for that matter not quite as soulful and world-weary as usual; it’s nice to see people break out of their shells a little. But the previews were very misleading. It is made to look like a black comedy about the international arms black market, when in fact nearly all of the comedy is right there in the preview. Instead, it’s a pretty straight-up fictional biopic about an arms dealer, exactly the kind of thing I’d tend to avoid if left to my own devices. What it had going for it that matched my tastes was the topic being enough outside my experience to not seem like watching a movie about something I could just do instead, much like mob movies in that regard. So, hooray for lucky finds. That said, outside of the arms thing, it was frightfully generic, so if you do know a lot about that segment of society, a) that’s really kind of cool, and why would you be reading this review, but b) it really won’t have much to offer you, I am thinking.

Creature from the Black Lagoon

And herein lies the beauty of the double feature. Two movies in a row. The thing is, I really, really enjoy the cinematic experience. It’s like a double-header to baseball fanatics. (Although I’m not one, I certainly like those too.) Unless baseball people think that double-headers are somehow impure? Well, if they do: whatev. It’s just, there I’ll be, watching the credits go by, when suddenly I don’t have to leave and go home, because, another movie! It’s possible I’ve explained this sufficiently, though.

Creature from the Black Lagoon is about this, well, this creature, right? It lives along the Amazon, at a place that the natives call the Black Lagoon, for reasons that are not entirely clear to me. Black and white film makes some things non-obvious, water color among them. But I don’t remember any of the characters discussing anything being all that black. Anyhow, this so-called creature is kind of an amphibious fishman, who is among other things a perfect segue for the whole evolution discussion. It is amusing to me that the film so casually asserts that God created everything via evolution, yet it is so hard fifty years later to find people willing to take a look at that compromise position.

Besides evolution, though, this movie was about a lot of things. Underwater photography, for one. If you removed the underwater shots that served no other purpose than as a tech demo? Movie over in under an hour. It’s like Star Trek: the Motion Picture without the 45 minutes of “look at the cool new Enterprise model”. For another… well, it wasn’t about this, but it was certainly a permeating undercurrent to the whole thing. Natives? Completely irrelevant. The important thing is to work that paleontology and retrieve the creature-skeleton (and later, of course, the live specimen instead) in order to prove that it existed and make us all rich and/or famous. I mean, until the white people are in danger. Then it’s time to stop this tomfoolery and save ourselves. I know it was a different time, but I really am amazed/amused that nobody on the writing staff seemed to notice how blatantly dismissive of the natives they were being. Oh, and the paleontology? Maybe they were this careless back then, but I doubt it. The techniques were completely laughable, and I am very much an amateur on this topic.

But what it was really about was the relationship between the creature and the girl. The completely hot, thank you for going swimming and I wish you weren’t in your 80s right now girl, I’d like to add. She was thoroughly yum, and even moreso in her explorer shorts than in the bathing suit, if you can believe it. Which would be beside the point, really, except for the part where the creature is a stand-in for every teenage boy in America. Two goals: 1) get the girl, and then take her back to your aquatic underground lair where you’ll, well, okay, you don’t exactly know what it is you want to do, but boy do you ever want to do it, and 2) kill anyone that gets in the way of goal one, because that testosterone is on the upsurge just now, if you know what I mean.

I guess my point is, once the underwater scenes got old, it was the inferior of the two films due to being not quite as deep of theme. But then again, a good slice of cheesecake goes a long way. Also: multiple gratuitous spear gun shots, off the screen and right into your face! Yay, 3-D.

It Came from Outer Space

Just nearly a week ago, I made a run down to Austin to catch a, well, a science fiction double feature. No, really. And in 3-D! It had been a while since I’d watched red-blue 3-D, as opposed to the stuff they have at IMAX these days with the cross-stitched goggle lenses. It reminds me of nothing so much as those dioramas that you’ll get at some natural history museums, with all kinds of animals and rocks in the foreground, and a painted background. But mostly, it was eye-poppingly 3-D, which was pretty cool. I speculate that it works a lot better in black and white than it does in color, although I’d need something recent to compare with know for sure.

My point is, good or bad, I’ve already gotten my money’s worth out of these movies. I bet this is how it was in the early days of 3-D at the real-life cinema, too. Conveniently, It Came from Outer Space is a pretty good film in its own right. Everyone will talk about Cold War paranoia, and maybe there’s something to it, but I think that’s entirely too narrow of a reading. The fact is, the outsider has always terrified us as a species, and it probably always will. Sure, we’re thinking of Muslim extremists these days instead of Russian commies, but it’s all the same thing, and it will be in another fifty years too. Although, perhaps with literal aliens.

So, there’s this meteor, right? Well, no, it’s really a spaceship, but try convincing anyone else in town of that when you’re just an amateur astronomer that hasn’t a lick of credibility. Then, before you know it, some Vorlon-looking aliens have started kidnapping people and then posing as them and buying up all kinds of metals and electronic parts. And now that you finally have enough evidence to convince the sheriff, oops, they’ve got your girlfriend. Now that otherwise highly useful posse he is itching to use, it’ll just get your girlfriend killed. (And quite possibly the Professor, for that matter, whose name turns out to be George.) But it’s okay, because they only want to go home and don’t mean us any harm, it’s just they’re scared that we’ll lash out and kill them for the crime of being different. …or is it all a trick, and they mean to wipe us off the face of the galaxy?

On the one hand, I get a little bit annoyed at sci-fi film after film in the ’50s and ’60s telling me that humans are paranoid freaks who’ll destroy anything they don’t understand or fear that they can’t control. Even though they’ve developed space travel, surely there must be some aliens out there who are paranoid freaks in their own rights rather than benevolent overlords who just want to teach us a lesson and then be on their way. But on the other hand, the scene where the sheriff crushes the (obviously fake, not even minimally frightening) spider under his foot in demonstration of what he’d do to those aliens just for the sin of alienness? It touches me, man, deep in my soul. So, y’know, maybe no aliens for me.


Via the cleverly cunning plan of suggesting it, I have finally managed to catch up on the last of my summer blockbuster list; well, I mean the ones that have been released yet. I’m still short one or two current films, mind you (*cough* See No Evil), but certainly no blockbusters. Heck, I’m not sure if there even are anymore until Superman. So, yay for that.

Also yay for Poseidon. Okay, sure, it’s a remake. But at least there was a book behind both films, so I can pretend like it’s not a remake, a little bit. On top of that, it really was quite a bit better than the original. Obviously, 30 plus years of special effects advances were put to good use. But also, lots more adrenaline-pumping action. Now, is that automatically a good thing, replacing a character study film set in a disaster with a disaster film? Normally not, but the character study portion of the original fell flat due to subpar acting. In this case, the substantially reduced character study portion worked, because of a more skilled cast. (Or maybe direction? How should I know?)

Plot: Boat flips over due to technobabble (really? A rogue wave? Even if those exist: really?), ten mostly random people band together to escape, come hell or high water. Lots of character translated across, and some didn’t. Any place that I could see a translated character, the new version did a better job (or at least as good), so that was a nice change of pace. Except for Ernest Borgnine, who was still great, but as there was no adversarial character to compare with his original in this new cast, I can just leave him being awesome in the original by himself. And except for the kid, because one child actor is pretty well interchangeable with another.

In fact, the only unfortunate part of the movie was the obligatory child in danger, and will he somehow be rescued in time? It served a purpose in the plot beyond the lameness of its existence, I acknowledge that. But it was lazy writing to serve said purpose with this tired old saw. Sure, right, an eight year old is going to wander away from his mother after about 53 minutes’ worth of terror-laden escapes from certain dooooom, and for no apparent reason whatsoever. Really, if the rest of the movie hadn’t been quite so good, this would not bother me nearly as much.