30 May 2011

MMAM - Vol. 36

Before I left Mankato, my roommate had a strong love for Linkin Park's recently released album, A Thousand Suns. Initially it was a bit humorous hearing the song six times a day, but then I began genuinely lovin' it, and now here I am, nearly a month out of school and I am frakkin' addicted to this song. Already have a CD-R burned and listening to it in the girlfriends car and blasting it on iTunes as I clean up the house (that and the Kevin Smith SMODcasts have become a huge addiction). So if you haven't already experienced some Linkin Park, I've taken the liberty. Also, this just might be one of the few instances where I include a generally well known band to this thinger. Hmmm. Enjoy!

27 May 2011

Andy's Friday Five: 2000

Two weeks ago I began this expanded version of "A Life in Movies", a blogathon dedicated to listing your favorite movie of each year you've been alive. With this new spiffy feature here at the Rambling Minnesota Geek, I figured I would combine the two, and here we are. Expectantly, the second volume of this series would detail 1991, as I started off with good ol' 1990, but as I surfed through the Wikipedia page of 1991 releases, I came to realize I haven't seen even ten films that year! So, I'm gonna be dedicating some time to be seeing those flicks. Meanwhile, let's talk about another splendid year of film!

Previous Entries:
1990 | 2000

Like 1999, this year holds so many memories for me. For example - I was and still am a huge Godzilla fan, and luckily enough, in August 2000 I had my very first theatrical Godzilla experience with Godzilla 2000. It was nothing short of amazing. There I was in the theater, seeing the gorgeous 55-meter tall kaiju terrorizing Japan in a darkened room with a giant screen. And, to make the experience even more surreal, Sony went the extra mile to dub the film with a quasi-rubbish/quasi-not-bad script, boasting loads of chuckles, faceplam-worthy lines, and the (occasional) decent dub job. It was an experience I will never forget. Likewise, Digimon: The Movie blew my mind. The TV series was a huge FOX Kids hit, and I ate up every second of the show and movie. It was epic and absolutely amazing. With Digimon and Godzilla getting stateside releases, what more could there be for a 10 year old kid to want?

So here we are, and ultimately, I'm forced to narrow my decision of 2000 releases down to five. Thus, I'm gonna do a small honorable mentions type thingy before the Final Five. Hot damn, this was a great year!

Films I Really Ought to See
Me, Myself & Irene
Little Nicky
Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang
Requiem for a Dream
American Psycho
Love & Basketball

Films Worth a Lovefest

Titan A.E. - As a 10 year old kid, I was awe-struck by the visuals and engulfed in the story. Matt Damon who? It was pure awesomeness, and unfortunately, since buying it on DVD a year ago, I haven't sat down to rewatch it. Consider it high on my To-Do list, now.

Final Destination - The first of a franchise that has recently begun to really, really suck. It's a clever idea and the kills are inventive and loads of fun.

Gladiator - One of the greatest and most epic revenge tragedies in a long, long time, the "I'm Maximus Decimus Meridius" exchange and amazing action scenes makes Gladiator definitely note-worthy. And all that stuff about Oscar awards, too.

Hollow Man - Scared the 'effing crap out of me. Haven't seen it in awhile, and probably should do so to face my fears, but hell if a invisible, sadistic Kevin Bacon didn't send chills up my spine when I first saw this.

Almost Famous - The most recent 2000 release I saw, Almost Famous was absolutely awesome. The writing, the story, the actors, the editing all came together to make a very entertaining film that I'm quite happy to have seen.

Andy's Favorite Five of 2000

5. Pitch Black
Vin Diesel is Riddick. I'm going to pretend those Fast & Furious movies simply don't exist, and Diesel is only Richard B. Riddick. Although my love fest with Pitch Black was a gradual process, my love for Riddick was instantaneous, and apparently, that holds true with many film bloggers. His humorous but direct one-liners, his appetite for ass kicking, his permanent night-time eyeballs, and his being a perfect antihero all make Riddick a awesome and interesting character. Add in the Creature Feature aspect of Pitch Black, and what you have here is a solid entertaining film. Unlike many film critics, however, I also really dig the sequel, but that's a love affair that will be written in full another year/day. For now, all I'm going to say is that if you haven't had the pleasure to experience some Pitch Black and wanna see some great action scenes and nifty creature designs, rent this flick pronto.

4. Dungeons & Dragons
I love this movie. It makes me happy. Jimmy Olsen from Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman is our protagonist Ridley, a thief with a heart of gold who ventures out with his bud Snails and hopeful booty-gal Marina to save all of Izmer from the sinister Profion, a deliciously insane Jeremy Irons. There is so much about this movie that is bad - Iron's over-the-top Adam West-y performance, the fake fest of CGI, the lousy and lazy script, and more (!) - but ironically, it's those elements that make this movie so damn fun. Dungeons & Dragons isn't on the list because it's one of those 'so bad it's good' films; nay, it's included here because I genuinely really do love it. I love the digital dragons and the battle royale in the climax; I love Jeremy Irons and his crackling evil voice; I love Justin Wahlin as Ridley, and I even love his bromate Snails. Basically, I love the whole damn movie from start to finish. It is (most likely) definitely not what fans of the game want by a long shot, but for a dude (aka me) who has no understanding of the RPG, this film is loads of fun and I quite enjoy watching it at least once a year. And yes, I didn't mind the sequel and am actually looking forward to movie three. But nothing can beat the awesomeness of the 2000 original! And I say that with a straight face...

3. Keeping the Faith
Yeah, this one is a bit of a odd choice, too, I confess. There's just something about this flick that *clicks* with me. The friendship between Stiller, Norton and Elfman feels genuine, and the onscreen chemistry really sells that. I love the script, which never seems to fall into the eye-rolling cliched dialogue of romantic dramedies, but instead is rather clever on how it presents the tight friendship of these three characters and the eventual romance that blossoms within it with Still and Elfman. Perhaps it deserves to be called a guilty pleasure, not entirely sure, but I just know that I love this damn movie, and if saying to my mum that I'll watch Keeping the Faith instead of actually going to church would save me from the hour and a half of boredom, the movie would reach a even higher level of awesomeness. It's a smart script with great actors, and it's one of the more appealing adult relationships I've seen in a while.

2. The Emperor's New Groove
Thank God for a free ticket. Zero interest. That was how much I wanted to see Emperor's New Groove. Looked stupid, and I was outgrowing Disney titles. Plus, Mom wasn't a fan of David Spade, and being around her a lot, that opinion sorta seeped its way into my brain and became my opinion of him. So we went to a special screening - beautifully free of charge for some reason - and the two of us hadn't laughed our asses off that hard in a long, loooonng time. This was and is just about as perfect representation of a 'me' movie as I can imagine. The animation is flawless, the jokes to this day continue to make me laugh outrageously (see: every scene with Kronk is utter perfection), Spade was fittingly cast, and above all, I enjoyed the hell out of every second. I laughed, I loved, and I watch it about once a year with the same amount of affection. Emperor's New Groove isn't a Disney film commonly loved, but for me, it works on every level.

1. Unbreakable
Shyamalan's best film, I initially hated it as a wee lad, but have grown to realize just how genius the whole enterprise is. From beginning to end, Unbreakable's hold on me is unbreakable (hehe, lame I know) as the writer/director is at his best on both fronts, delivering a visually gorgeous film to look at and giving us a superhero origin story masked under real, intense adult drama. There's the part of me that lusts for a sequel, to see how David's story continues, but simultaneously, this origin story is so magnificently done that I don't want Shyamalan to mess up a good thing. Bruce Willis owns the screen, and Sam Jackson beautifully works the mentor/nemesis approach as the comic book fan who seeks to steer David in the right direction. I love this movie, and I think it is absolutely perfect - Shyamalan's true triumph. Take a look at every shot, listen to every line of dialogue, and be consumed by Howard's beautiful score and Shyamalan's storytelling. A easy pick.

26 May 2011

The Watcher: 05/20/11 - 05/26/11

SUPERNATURAL S06E20 - "The Man Who Would Be King" (6 May 2011) - With the Mother of All subplot done and over with, it's time for the series to enter its final storybeat: the tragedy of Castiel. The Angel who represented the Word of God, who believed in everything God stood for and equally believed in the Winchesters just as much. Together, they were a family. Together, they changed destiny and created a free world outside of a orderly world. Together, they stopped the Apocalypse. The exact mechanics of the whole War in Heaven storybeat is interesting in some respects, and lacking in others since the season overall has been rather strong with so many engaging plotpoints, but by concentrating the action with Castiel's story - his plead to his Father - the whole season becomes one giant tragic, sad story. In Heaven, Raphael wants to re-jumpstart the Apocalypse and free Lucifer and Michael out of the cage, and Castiel is understandably opposed to this, saying that they have a blank slate: freedom. Lacking in the power to fight and defeat Raphael, Castiel makes a literally pact with the new Devil in charge which leads into the Purgatory arc of season 6. Good, if not great, material here. The writing and performances from Misha Collins and Mark Sheppard are superb, making "The Man Who Would Be King" entertaining and gripping from start to finish. The multiple diverse interpretations of Heaven, the moral quandary Castiel finds himself in, Crowley's new and improved operating system in Hell, and the notion of Castiel's downfall and subsequent inevitable fight against the Winchesters make this a solid hour of SUPERNATURAL, and thankfully sheds some light on what exactly is going on with our dear - corrupted! - Cas. Score: 9.4/10

SUPERNATURAL S06E21 - "Let It Bleed" (20 May 2011) - In continuing with tragedy, the Ben/Lisa storyline is wrapped up appropriately - but simultaneously with some loose ends - and the run towards the finale continues. Thanks to the SMALLVILLE series finale last week, "Let It Bleed" was bumped up for the following Friday, making a two-part finale evening. Totally down with 'dat! At the end of "Swan Sang", I was more than happy for Dean to find some peace, some happiness with Lisa and Ben, being a loving boyfriend and happy father figure. In "Exile on Main St.", I didn't entirely buy Dean's subconscious want and need to get back into Hunting. Far too often we heard in the earlier seasons his desire to leave the gig behind and have a real family. Well, he had it. And even with the knowledge his brother was alive and 'safe', his leaving them didn't entirely gel with me. Honestly, I want them together, I want that family unit to stick. Unfortunately, it's not meant to be. Their memory of Dean Wincehster is wiped, and they continue on with their lives like nothing ever happened. Indeed, it's a tragic conclusion to their arc - although I sincerely hope they appear again at some point in this series - but it doesn't guarantee those two freedom from monster or demon attacks. The beasties will still know them, will still recognize the stench of Winchester on 'em, so they are still quite in danger. But, I'll let this one slide - just barely. One of the final scenes, where Cas heals Lisa, I loved the exchange between Dean and Cas as Dean wishes the act changed something, and Cas acknowledges he wishes this, too. Solid writing - but truth be told, that has never been difficult for the SUPERNATURAL team. Also, random note: loved Dean yelling at Ben to shoot whatever comes out to attack them as he carries Lisa out of danger. Great emotion, there. "Let It Bleed" ties up one loose end, leaving one big giant one for the finale. Score: 9.0/10

SUPERNATURAL S06E22 - "The Man Who Knew Too Much" (20 May 2011) - A whole season about Soulless Sam, about all the evil things he did for a whole year back from the cage, about how mutilated and crispy his battered and bruised soul must be after being a punching bag for Lucifer. With such a outstanding, magnificent, utterly brilliant storyline, I wager the payoff couldn't be better than what I really wanted, but "The Man Who Knew Too Much" is a fine enough quasi-resolution to that story. I say quasi-resolution, because the two threads - Sam fighting to remember everything he's done and Castiel's power play - battle for screentime to the point that I hope the ramifications of remembering everything in the cage will still play out big time in season 7. After all, as Death said, having that part of Sam inside him will undoubtedly kill him. There better be consequences. Even with everything involving Purgatory and the Mother of All and Castiel's fall, something about this Soulless Sam business is utterly compelling.

Now, in regards to Castiel, his power play succeeds. The ritual is said, and the force and power of millions of souls now reside inside Castiel, making him, as Dean described, a walking nuclear bomb. Perhaps as the biggest shocker, "The Man Who Knew Too Much" concludes at a rather OMG note: Castiel proclaims himself the new God, and demands their love or will be destroyed. This is a far cry from his original goal - to stop Raphael (which he does in gorgeous fashion) and bring order to Heaven. Where did this sudden desire to be loved and worshiped as a new God come in? Regardless of feeling rather odd and out of character with what has been established thus far, this storyline opens up one hell of an amazing arc for next season: the Winchesters vs. Castiel. But, this being SUPERNATURAL, it's probably not going to be as simple as that. Perhaps next year will be about Castiel's complete fall and then rise. Most of all, I really, really hope God becomes a true flesh-and-blood character in season seven; however, I do understand the logical and creative benefits of not having God around - means the stories are resolved by the actions of the characters, shows that even in circumstances like these God still doesn't intervene, etc. At the end of the day, this new dynamic shift is very interesting, and kudos Sera Gamble and Eric Kripke for going there.

Overall, season six began rather shaky. The first three episodes aren't the series' best, but as the Soulless Sam plotline began picking up speed, so did the show. There's still the unforgivably bad "All Dogs Go to Heaven", but out of 22 episodes, one and a half "meh" episodes is a applaud-worthy achievement. With all these great story ideas, and simultaneously being the same brilliant show it always has been even after Kripke's five-year outline, season six is definitely one of my favorite. The good definitely outweigh the bad, and I am excited to see where these new developments take the Winchesters. From "Exile on Main St." to "The Man Who Knew Too Much", the SUPERNATURAL writing and producing team have made a stellar season with some bloody brilliant ideas and episodes (see: "The French Mistake"). They all deserve major props for this year. Awesome job, guys. Season six was a great ride - I never knew what direction they were gonna take, and Hell if I could tell you how this would all end up. Six seasons in, SUPERNATURAL feels just as fresh and original as it began. Score: 8.7/10 | Season Score: 8.9/10

The Watcher: Doctor Who Series 6, Episode 3

Transmission date: 07 May 2011 (BBC One/BBC America)

Starring Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, Arthur Darvill. Guest starring Hugh Bonneville, Lily Cole. Written by Steve Thompson. Directed by Jeremy Webb.

Plot: Team TARDIS is stranded on a pirate ship where a Siren marks and takes those battered or bruised, and The Doctor doesn't quite know how to fight her.

With "The Impossible Astronaut" and "Day of the Moon", I watched both episodes a good two or three times over. Out of pure love, or to gain perhaps full understanding of a scene, and not to mention rewatching specific sequences that just make me giddy (see: River killing a dozen or so Silents), I rewatched generally because I loved the episodes. In regards to "The Curse of the Black Spot", I watched it once with little interest all the way through, and then skimmed through the episode in preparation for this review. Basically, "Curse of the Black Spot" was just okay, a fine forty-three minutes spent on lightweight fun. Nothing was great, nothing was bad, the episode just was.

And that's a real shame, y'know? The Doctor - especially this Doctor - and pirates together, should be a match made in Heaven. Sure, there are moments of pirate jocularity, such as The Doctor's new (temporary) pirate hat (I would have loved to see him sport it the whole episode) and his introductory "Yo-ho-ho!", but not enough is made out of the story. Indeed, there are all the elements of a pirate story present and accounted for - treasure, stowaways, curses, walking the plank and storms - but it all just seems rather hollow. As if someone pitched 'The Doctor and pirates' and that was it. A quick reasoning for the going-ons onboard the pirate ship was devised and the script was seemingly written in no time.

Basically, it looks like the cast and crew had more fun filming than the audience did watching, which is a real shame.

Well, the good news is that Karen Gillan looks absolutely fabulous this time out as Amy Pond, and she has a really splendid ass-kicking character moment when she dons a pirate outfit and sword and fights some pirates intent on doing the Doctor some harm. So we get Karen looking hot, which is a plus, and Amy Pond sword fightin', which qualifies as double plus. That said, the special guest star of this episode, Lily Cole, doesn't fare as well, although a substantial portion of her blahness can be attributed to the script. Physically, the blue/greenish tones of the Siren and the cartoony firey red expression of Angry Siren just doesn't cut it. Looks too...fakey and, yeah, cartoony. Her sparkly glowyness is also not all that well done. And as for her overall presence in the episode, well, it's alright. Apparently her whole dealio is that she's a program that nurses injured beings, and in this case, dealing with humans, she takes the form of a human female who sweetly comforts her charges. Personally, I would have liked something a bit more...scary and epic, I guess, with this whole pirate thing, especially coming off a stellar two-parter that is both action-y and dark.

Basically, what we got is a story undeserving of The Doctor on a pirate ship. If it ain't gonna be a dark story, then damnit, it should be fun! But "The Curse of the Black Spot" is more ugh than fun.

Visually, Jeremy Webb doesn't achieve the gorgeous cinematography of Toby Haynes' two-part premiere. And I don't just mean all the material in Utah; even the talkie and warehouse scenes have a certain filmic quality to them. Considering "Black Spot" is a response of sorts to Disney's successful PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN franchise, I would have expected the cinematography to reflect that same cinematic flare. Or perhaps the execution of "Black Spot" was given the same gusto of filler the episode feels like. Anywhoozles, one major aspect that I would have liked see improvement would be the blatant obviousness that the pirate ship is safely docked and nowhere abouts in sea. Noticing the stillness of the ship and sea does snap the viewer out of the 'magic' of a episode.

Also, just to maybe please my curiosity, but when did Rory become a Real Boy? For all intents and purposes, Rory Williams is a Auton made by the Pandorica Alliance, and remains so to this day. So all this business about having to come back to life (again) just seems a bit...silly. If there is a spot in "The Big Bang" where it's explicitly understood Rory is a flesh and blood being, than by all means, I'll forgive this bit that's driving me crazy.

Perhaps I'm being a bit too harsh on "Curse of the Black Spot." For what it is, this episode is serviceable. It's much better than other filler-esque fare like Series 2's "Fear Her" or "The Idiot Lantern", but coming hot off the heals of two very spectacular and movie-like episodes, "Curse of the Black Spot" just feels like a disappointment. At the very least, Amy's vision of the Eye Patch woman continues (thankfully), showing that this is a subplot that is a major player in the series arc. So, that makes me happy. In the end, I can be glad that we got The Doctor wearing a pirate hat, and Amy Pond looking a bit sexier than usual (maybe it's the pink leggings).

Next episode promises mythology heavy funness as acclaimed fantasy writer Neil Gaiman tackles DOCTOR WHO with "The Doctor's Wife." And I really hope that title isn't literal...

Grade: C

25 May 2011

Dollhouse: Season 2

Dollhouse: Season Two

Starring Eliza Dushku, Harry Lennix, Fran Kranz, Tahmoh Penikett, Enver Gjoka, Dichen Lachman, Olivia Williams, Amy Acker, Miracle Laurie, Alan Tudyk, Summer Glau.
Created by Joss Whedon
Transmission season: 2010
FOX, 42 mins., 13 episodes

Plot: Echo (Dushku) plots to break out of the Dollhouse, and bring the Actives with her before the evil corporation Rossum take over the world with technology.

“This woman doesn’t exist. She literally doesn’t exist. And she builds herself from scratch. To me, that is the most powerful act that a person can do.” – Joss Whedon. "Defining Moments", Dollhouse Season 2 DVD

The Awesome Second Season

Biased. I love Joss Whedon. He's Godly. Brilliant writer. Brilliant creative brain. Brilliant all around. Dollhouse - wasn't so keen on calling it brilliant. Season One had its ups and downs like any show trying to gain its footing. Eliza Dushku was good, but overall, unless her particular personality was a kickass woman who took no prisoners, her characters were primarily sexual in nature and didn't amount to much otherwise. They simply were stories that needed to be told, but weren't high in entertainment value. As I write this, I'm thinking specifically of the blind woman episode in season one. Luckily, after the whole Alpha incident in the final two episodes of last season, the show began shifting in another direction, and that is why I used the above quote from the DVD special features.

Also, if none of what I just wrote doesn't make a lick of sense to you, I implore you to familiarize yourself with Dollhouse and, more importantly, Joss Whedon.

This show is about technology, yes, about the use and abuse of it. This show is about what makes a human being - what are the parameters that make up a person, a personality, etc. This show is about the moral and ethical boundaries of the Dollhouse. This show is about characters placed in insane situations. This show is about greed and corruption and control of major organizations. This show is about saying this is who I am, I created me out of my choices and experiences, and I am a full person.

Season two is all about Echo's journey. No longer is she simply an Active whose memory is erased after each engagement. She remembers. She can channel the 60+ persona's traveling around her head. Those personalities don't make her, she makes herself around them. This year is thirteen episodes focusing on the creation - the building - of a full-fledged person who technically doesn't belong in its body. That conundrum of ownership over mind and body, of becoming a person are strong ideas, and as only Joss Whedon & Co. could manage, lend itself to one hell of an amazing second season.

No, this year is not without its hurdles, but that's to be expected. The first four episodes re-introduce us to this world, to Echo's mission to free the Actives of the confines of the Dollhouse, to Topher's genius that will eventually result in Rossum's mastery over the globe (or at least Los Angeles), to Adelle's manipulative self, and Ballard's affection for Echo and his equal drive to destroy the Dollhouse from within. After the stand-aloney first few episodes, the season kicks into gear, and it's a relentless ride from there on out that will make you press "Next Episode" over and over (or at least do the "Play All" option uninterrupted and put in the Next Disc ASAP). Dollhouse gets good. Real freakin' good.

As if noticing Joss & Company were upping their writing game, the actors did likewise. Enver Gjokaj absolutely amazes with his many spot-on impersonations (his Topher is nothing short of genius), making him the absolute greatest, versatile actor of the whole series. Seriously, that man could easily steal a scene from Dushku. His character's growing relationship with Serena, played with subtle and powerful perfection by Dichen Lachman, is just another of the many strong relationships on the show, but is definitely the one that will leave the biggest impression. Fran Kranz is another acting force to be reckoned with as Topher, a character who experiences substantial growth throughout the season. In the beginning, he's a cocky, ego-maniac who doesn't really give a damn about the world and fails to see the Actives as people, but he slowly grows a sense of morality and acts against a greater, more powerful force in an attempt to stop the Dollhouse equivalent of Judgment Day. Olivia Williams sells the stone cold hearted bitch that is Adelle DeWitt, and then miraculously in some cases, make us warm to her. Another stellar performance.

These actors are on fire, and I can safely say with all honesty that Dollhouse is working watching just to see them in it.

If none of the ideas Dollhouse posits or explores interest you, then don't watch. But if they do, and the notion of seeing Buffy/Firefly/Angel alumna's Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Summer Glau, and Alan Tudyk is enough to make you salivate, I don't hesitate in recommending Dollhouse. The first season was good, the second season is great fun. Twists and turns and cliffhangers with each episode. Adelle DeWitt's bitchiness reaching new levels. The insanity of the Attic and the revelations that come after that. The season-worth of stories compacted in the last gripping four episodes. It's a fun ride, with some great concepts, and should not be missed.

Rest In Peace, Dollhouse

Dollhouse was not renewed for a third season. Doubt they expected to be. As a (sorta) happy result, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles was granted a sophomore season pickup, which also ended up being its last. Both shows are nothing short of brilliant. The love and affection for the stories being told is plain to see in every episode of both Dollhouse and T:TSCC. These are wonderful, magnificent shows that should not be missed under any circumstances. Although it is, of course, sad to know the story ended years prematurely, what the creators and producers achieved in those two seasons are extraordinary. Great science fiction, great television. Rest in peace, Dollhouse.

Rating: 8/10 = With a clear direction and confidence in creativity and storytelling, Dollhouse: Season 2 is must-see TV for fans as it brilliantly mixes action and grand themes in a science fiction-y backdrop.

24 May 2011

Tuesday Cap - Vol. 25

Title: The One

Notes: I LOVE this movie! I know, I know, not one of Li's best, according to many, but c'mon! Jet Li vs. Jet Li, a Multiverse, and some awesome fight scenes! And one of my earliest experiences with Jason Statham, before he became a household name synonymous with 'ass-kicking British guy'. So here we have YuLaw, a psychotic kung fu man (Jet Li) who has killed 100+ other versions of himself in different universes, and he only has one left: the good-hearted Gabe in our reality, who also happens to know kung fu (or has inherited/absorbed them from the 100+ previous hims). If YuLaw kills Gabe, who knows what will happen: will YuLaw become God? Will the universes bleed and destroy one another? There's some tight story ideas in THE ONE, and although they do get thrown to the back-burner in favor of Jet Li fighting himself, it does make the film feel like some stellar science fiction flick. Multiple universes and martial arts - a match made in heaven. There's some great dialogue bits, fun relationships, and some stellar action scenes (such as the climatic YuLaw vs. Gabe fight which is one of my top 10 fight scenes evah). If you haven't already, see THE ONE. It kicks the ass of every other American Li film.

Discuss: How does THE ONE rank in the line of American Jet Li movies? Favorite scenes? Logical fallacies? Dig the damn fine entertainment or roll-your-eyes-in-disgust when thinking about the film?

23 May 2011

MMAM - Vol. 35

With the release of PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES, I of course checked out the Hans Zimmer/Rodrigo Y Gabriela original soundtrack. Overall, not a disappointment. 75% of the themes established in the trilogy are present and accounted for in this fourth installment, and with the help of Rodrigo, this film definitely has a different feel. More Celtic-y? It keeps the fun, let's just say that. The soundtrack release is a nice blend of the dark, frightening themes (such as "Blackbeard" and "On Stranger Tides") and the more light, action-y fare (such as this).

So give it a listen. It's respectful to what has come before, yet looks onwards to new cthemes and hannels of music.

20 May 2011

Andy's Friday Five: Pirates of the Caribbean

Today, with the release of the fourth PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN film ON STRANGER TIDES, there has been a few disses on the franchise from plenty of bloggers I care quite a deal about. It would seem the universal agreement is that the sequels got worse, with DEAD MAN'S CHEST being "okay' to AT WORLD'S END being called an "abomination", and I can't exactly understand why. Yes, I will agree that sometimes the plot did get a bit bloated, and the running time was mirrored the frenzied script, and sometimes editing could have improved somewhat, but the PIRATES movies also should be commended for their many accomplishes. I don't look at the trilogy and see a series where each consecutive movie is worse than the one before that, or that the sequels share the inevitable 'they suck compared to the original' curse. Nah, each PIRATES movie is something special, something marvelously and meticulously realized through superb scriptwork, production, acting, music...basically the whole shebang.

So what today's Friday Five is going to be is not so much a argument against peoples opinions about the sequels, but merely five elements about the sequels alone that I think are worthy of praise and shouldn't be considered rubbish. Feel free to counter my points, a lively discussion on the manner would be great, and peoples feelings on the sequels are diverse enough that we just might get some super interesting comments below (hopefully). Anyway, onto today's Friday Five:

DEAD MAN'S CHEST and AT WORLD'S END: Worth Recognition

5. Writing - Too bloated! Too many things happening! Why is he/she doing that? Wait, when did that happen? Instead of noting confusion or the loads of plots and subplots thrown into the mix of a two-film story, perhaps we should applaud Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio for crafting two summer blockbusters that dared to be intelligent, to push their characters and to, what's the phrase, throw everything in but the kitchen sink (?). Looking at the script, I would give the writing duo frakkin' Oscars for their achievement with the two movies. Most significantly, the characters - by God, it's beautiful to think about what they did. Each one of 'em has their own specific motivation, and they act based on that motivation. Often, and I say this generally, but doesn't it seem that characters sometime act against who they are because it serves the writers plot direction? Here, the characters dictate the plot. If it wasn't for the choices of Will or Elizabeth or Jack's manipulation of events, AT WORLD'S END really wouldn't have ended that way. So I applaud Elliot and Rossio for giving each character their moments to shine and giving each and every one of them their own choices and motivations that propel that plot. Additionally, the plot itself is worthy of applause. They were faced with the seemingly impossible task of bringing these core characters back together again after drifting apart at the end of BLACK PEARL, and they found a way to connect them all into the narrative. Bloody fantastic work. It's almost as if they planned the whole thing from BLACK PEARL! And yes, I know they didn't, but still, what they accomplish with plot, characters, cliffhangers, twists, action scenes, etc. - it's amazing. These are smart movies, and they are fun movies, and that's a difficult thing to balance. Thanks to Elliot and Rossio for the brilliant script, and Verbinski's direction and the editing team, DEAD MAN'S CHEST and AT WORLD'S END are beautiful examples of what sequels should be, what the writers should strive to achieve, and how to keep a perfect balance of the comedy, action, drama, plot, etc.

4. Editing - Personally, DEAD MAN'S CHEST is superb. I finished a rewatch of the trilogy a little over a month ago, and looking at the first sequel, the editing is spot-on. It's flawless. No single shot outstays its welcome, and thanks to Verbinski's Nolan-esque visual style (seriously, I would call Verbinski and Nolan the best in the business - next to you, Spielberg), each shot smoothly cuts to the next - it's just beautiful. Let's take action scenes, just for a quick example. It takes a talented eye to film action gorgeously, and Verbinski accomplishes this. Regarding DEAD MAN'S CHEST, let's look at the bar fight in Tortuga and the last thirty minutes, with the three-way Jack/Will/Norrington fight mixed with Elizabeth vs. Davvy's gang: excellent cinematography and excellent editing. Now, I can't boast that I have the vocabulary to succinctly give the praise I wish to, but it all boils down to this: as mentioned, these scripts are loaded with material that needs to be covered in a two and a half hour film - action, characters, plot, etc. - and I look at these sequels and I am floored by how smoothly they play all the way through with multiple viewings.

DEAD MAN'S CHEST is a crowning achievement, with all these elements working together harmoniously - each character, even the smaller ones, are given appropriate screentime, the action scenes are filmed and cut at a relentless pace that pulls the viewer in and refuses to let go, and the hefty plot is brilliantly tied into the action thanks to writers Elliot & Rossio making plot scenes smooth sailing instead of being insufferable.

AT WORLD'S END has a few problems in the editing department, I admit. It does feel too long, it does feel like a lot is happening and we really should cut to the chase (which is more a script problem then editing, because about every scene in WORLD'S END is valuable to either character or plot, so exercising one or more would be detrimental to the narrative and figuring out who is doing what and why, etc), but that film also deserves its share of accolades. Sorry to bring up fight scenes again, but the last thirty minutes are a triumph. Verbinski was tasked with cobbling together about, what, a dozen (?) storylines in a twenty minute action piece? And hell, he does it with style. Perhaps the biggest accomplishment AT WORLD'S END can boast is geography. There are plenty of films where characters are going all over the place, and I ain't got the faintest idea where they are - be it just talkie scenes, where the talk is being held, or who is where and when during the big battle. No such problems here. The two ships locked in combat, with hundreds of digital characters battling and explosions going everywhere, the geography nevertheless wasn't muddled and everything flowed just perfectly.

Next time you're watching DEAD MAN'S CHEST in particular, just pay specific attention to the editing. When I watch it, I see the art of editing. When I see AT WORLD'S END, I see editing that could have been improved, but still works far better than it should with so many chess pieces on the board.

3. Digital Effects - Ladies and gentlemen, Davvy Jones was freakin' right there on the screen, I kid you not. That wasn't digital effects, that was the studios summoning whatever dark spirits they saw fit to bring Jones back from his undersea prison of the dead. The work on these creatures is nothing short of extraordinary. Thanks to the success of Gollum in the LOTR trilogy, work on completely digital characters have advanced to such a degree that Davvy Jones is quite possibly the most realistic looking - or at least most amazingly rendered - bucket of pixels I have ever seen. Screw AVATAR and their nine foot tall Blue Man, Davvy Jones is complete and utter gorgeousness personified! Y'know, from a digital standpoint, otherwise, not so pretty. And the Kraken - yikes, just as beautiful! The insanity that is the AT WORLD'S END battle royale - hundreds of digital characters fighting in a raining environment: a digital goldmine. Arguments for the bloatedness of characters or doing too much for too long aside, how can one not marvel at the accomplishments of digital effects here? Or is it one of those cases where the market has become over saturated with digital characters all over the place that the sequels just are sorta 'meh' in that regard?

2. Characters & Mythology - Like any franchise that hopes to grow, DEAD MAN'S CHEST and AT WORLD'S END expand the mythology to a greater extent than BLACK PEARL, and the characters are pushed in multiple directions. All this for the better. BLACK PEARL was a simple story with two characters in love and a manipulative pirate who wants revenge. With the sequels, these ain't the same characters we knew before. Will falls deeper into the world of piracy, Elizabeth gains her own inner strength and unfortunate love triangle (sorta), and Jack is faced with his own mortality...begrudgingly. And we also get Norrington as a ruined man trying to gain his own form of redemption. In addition to the characters, the writers give us a God bound in a human body, a sea creature, and a corrupt heartbroken manthing who runs away from death. The writers and producers could have easily repeated the formula that made BLACK PEARL such a success, without really expanding the characters of the world they live in, just doing another, 'Hey, Elizabeth's in trouble again!' type thing. The characters could have very well remained stagnate, with good ol' Jack being the only one providing us with a character we could latch onto. Luckily, we got a trilogy with very real, very clear growth, and I love them for it.

1. Fun - CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL is quintessential fun. I can throw that gorgeous thing in the DVD player anytime of the year and I'll be a happy camper. Same goes with DEAD MAN'S CHEST. Loads and loads of fun inherent in that flick. C'mon, how could you not love the Jack/Will/Norrington threeway battle on the island? It's brilliant fun! And the giant wheel! And Jack negotiating with Davvy! And the two goofy pirates being all goofy like again! And Jack with cannibals! Tasked with providing resolution to lingering plot threads, AT WORLD'S END still has plenty of fun, but less of it. The final film of the Will/Jack/Elizabeth trilogy is a more serious adventure, with lots at stake and not even the presence of a couple dozen hallucinatory Jack Sparrows could infuse the same amount of fun as the last two. But that's okay, it's still a highly enjoyable movie. All three are, and that's amazing. To boast that you've successfully written and directed a trilogy with the same cast, writers and director is one thing, but to have all three films maintain the same style, the same sass and sense of wonder and excitement - well, now that's just one of the most amazing accomplishments a franchise can have.

So there you have it. I dig the sequels, and my order of loving them corresponds with the order they were released. Yes, sometimes the sequels didn't jell as well as the original, specifically AT WORLD'S END I'm thinking, but simultaneously, there's plenty to love and applaud. Instead of looking at the negatives, though, let's take a small gander at the positives. Anywhoozles, I'll probably be seeing ON STRANGER TIDES at some point this birthday weekend, and I hope it is halfway decent. To be honest, I'm not really looking forward to the mermaids...

Next week, the '[year] in film' Friday Five will continue with either the year 2000 or 1991. Haven't decided yet. Cheers!

19 May 2011

The Watcher: 05/13/11 - 05/19/11

This is a special edition of The Watcher, cos I'm sad to say that this is the very last time I will be covering a new episode of SMALLVILLE. Last week marked the final episode of that series. Rest In Peace, SMALLVILLE, it's been a good ten years.

CHUCK S04E24 - "Chuck Vs. the Cliffhanger" (16 May 2011) - Not living up to its titlesake, "Chuck Vs. the Cliffhanger" nonetheless positions Team Bartowski towards a rather interesting and definitely game-changing fifth and final season. The Volkoff storyline is wrapped up very satisfyingly, with the Alexi Volkoff persona created by the Intersect wiped and he reverts back to his original state, Hartley, and Vivian renouncing the Volkoff Empire and living a new life with her father, thanks to Chuck. Consequently, and not too surprisingly, Sarah is saved with a super awesome antidote, and in the end, Chuck and Sarah tie the knot, and all is peaceful. Except, as it turns out, it would appear that every action they've taken the last four years were maneuvered by a outside force, insinuating that Team Bartowski has been used since Day One. Interesting development, and I hope this story pays off big time next season. Although I do find emphasis on weddings in TVland to be a bit too much, as is the case here, it is nevertheless nice to see Chuck and Sarah so darn tootin' happy. I would have liked to see, however, the whole situation with Chuck and the FBI/CIA/whatever resolved, instead of cutting to commercial and a fast forward to the wedding. Throughout the episode they were leading to the idea that season five would have Chuck and Sarah in hiding outside of the U.S who wants their heads, but nay, not the way they went. And in the final moments, a new plan is devised to seek out the Master Manipulator, and what more, bring 'em down with Chuck's new inheritance (from Volkoff Industries). Then the final twist: Morgan gets the Intersect downloaded into him! I super dig this development, and I'm excited to see the new dynamic next year, so major thumbs up from this fan. One minor quibble, though: I thought that whole becoming-a-Intersect thing was rather difficult and rare for someone to contain all that information, so with folks getting the Intersect programmed into them here and there, it seems a bit out there...even by CHUCK standards. Still, great finale to a overall 'meh' season. Looking forward to seeing CHUCK go out in style. Score: 9.2/10 | Season Score: 7.6/10

NIKITA S01E22 - "Pandora" (12 May 2011) - NIKITA finishes its freshman year in a fairly interesting place. Alex and Nikita have been solid buddies since episode one, and in the last two episodes, that friendship has deteriorated, and next year looks to be Alex chasing Nikita down after being enrolled by certain party members who want the black boxes destroyed. Meanwhile, Nikita and Michael are on the run from Division and a super-pissed off Percy, intent on exposing all the governments deep, dark secrets. Hell of a first season, and kudos to everyone involved. "Pandora" is aptly titled, as the finale concentrated heavily on the black boxes and the secrets/evil that will inevitably come out of exposing 'em. Similarly, the disillusion of the Nikita/Alex friendship because of harboring secrets. As expected from season finales, "Pandora" is full of action and twists and turns, making it quite satisfying. I'm glad the Nikita-Alex-bring-down-Division concept is out the window and a new dynamic is in place for next year. Overall, the writers and actors of NIKITA exceeded my expectations of the show, with some great story ideas and dimensional characters. Sure, there were some roadblocks here or there, but that's to be expected from a show just starting out. I'm glad NIKITA got a second chance and is coming back next year - thank you, CW - and can't wait to see another 43 mins. of gorgeous women, action, explosions, and awesome twists. Score: 9.3/10 | Season Score: 8.7/10

SMALLVILLE S10E21/S10E22 - "Finale" (13 May 2011) - Small complaint: I watched the very first episode of SMALLVILLE, "Pilot", live broadcast day, and through a series of unfortunate events, I wasn't able to see "Finale" live. No bookend pleasure. But then I just had to wait a few hours for the online world to catch up, so all in all, not a hugely sad story, but it's quasi-sucky nonetheless.

Ten seasons - ten years - of watching Tom Welling mature as an actor and Clark Kent discover his past, present, and future (quite literally). There were the first three seasons that obnoxiously adhered to the Freak of the Week conventions, where Clark spent loads of time lying to his friends about why he was late, where he went off to, or why he was acting like such a dick (use of Red Kryptonite, and all). Season four was the year they brought in elements of Superman mythology while keeping its own style - the creation of the Fortress of Solitude, the introduction of Lois Lane, and a clearer road of descent for dear ol' Lex Luthor. Season eight onwards, Clark had really matured, really came to accept his 'destiny' (always hated this plot device, of Clark being told constantly throughout the series he has a destiny, whereas I feel he should have had no outside influence whatsoever and come to his choice on his own) and going so far as to create his own wardrobe and gained some valuable DC hero friends. As season nine came to a close, the question became, why on earth isn't Clark Superman yet? During the May 2010 television upfronts, it was announced that season ten would be the shows last, as Clark Kent dons the cape, takes flight, and becomes the legendary Superman. For a national icon such as Superman, and millions of fans in love with SMALLVILLE from the beginning (myself included), "Finale" had a lot to live up to, and frankly, it didn't quite succeed.

"Finale" lived up to SMALLVILLE expectations, is a nice way to put it. I'm not outright saying I didn't like the episode, indeed I did and is worth multiple rewatches (if just for Michael Rosenbaum back as Lex Luthor, biotches!), but it pales in comparison to what it could have been. What we have here is something that boasts moments of greatness, but is also boggled down by redundancy that, this being a last episode, shouldn't be present, as well as corny dialogue and digital effects. And most grievously, a 'final battle' so pathetic it rivals Clark's fight with Doomsday in the season eight finale in regards to eye-rolling, WTF?-yelling ughness. To have clearer thoughts on the subject, I'm going to divide my review into like/didn't like:


- Michael Rosenbaum's return as Lex Luthor. Regrettably, Lex didn't have too many scenes, basically regulated to the second-half of "Finale", but he made enough of an impact. His big scene with Clark at the Luthor mansion was particularly memorable, with some great cinematography from director Greg Beeman and performances from both Rosenbaum and Welling. Lex's final speech is a lot less spectacular than I would have liked - greatly embellishing what they will become, as adversaries, and their roles in each others 'destinies' [see, that word pops up again!] - but Rosenbaum delivers it with such true Lexness, like he hadn't been gone for three years, that I'm willing to forgive the laziness of the writing. His scene with Tess was also magnificent on all accounts, and although I understand that in order to tie in with comic lore Lex needed to have all knowledge of Kal-El erased from memory, it does sorta super suck that basically everything that happened to him the last ten years was eviscerated. All that character development, all that plots and subplots and murder attempts and concussions...all gone. Not entirely thrilled with that part, but I get it. Still, it's all worth it to see Michael back in action!
- The epic scope of "Finale" is worth praise. Clark has a wedding to plan and go through with Lois Lane, his true love and all that jazz; he faces the return of Lex Luthor, thought dead for the last two years; the emergence of Darkseid around him and his friends; and the presence of a unscheduled planet, the aptly-named Apokolips. That's a lot to deal with in two TV hours whilst serving the characters...
- Jonathan giving Clark the suit in the Fortress of Solitude. Great moment, as is his line of always remembering Smallville. I'm still not 100% on Ghost Jonathan in the SMALLVILLE world, but I'll roll with it.
- Although it is sad to see Tess Mercer go, her death scene was absolutely fabulous. And, also noteworthy, imagine it - with her introduction in season eight, I wasn't particularly a fan of the character, didn't find her all that interesting. Season nine didn't exactly propel her arc forward a whole bunch, but season ten is definitely her shinning year. Cassidy Freeman did an excellent job episode after episode, and this is a perfectly suitable, satisfying - albeit sad - ending for her character.
- The Lois/Clark door scene. As I would imagine this will be a favorite amongst Clois shippers everywhere for years to come, I thought it was cleverly directed and expertly acted by Erica Durance and Tom Welling. Durance has been on fire all season, and in "Finale", she definitely shows her growth as an actress. Excellent, marvelous work.
- The second-to-last scene at the Daily Planet with Lois and Jimmy talking about Perry White and how many 'Great Caesar's Ghost!'s he got in by now. Great stuff. And I loved the writers establishing the parameters of the Lois/Clark relationship seven years in the future...
- Darkseid in Lionel's body. Perfect! It sucked having Lionel die in Season 7, and to have him back from another universe this year, it's been grand. Having Lionel as Darkseid in the end...oh, sends chills up my spine about how perfectly awesome this is. If Mark Pellegrino wasn't available for Lucifer back in season five of SUPERNATURAL, I woulda called up John Glover. He kicks ass with this type of dark character stuff. Definitely a finale highlight.
- The montage of Lex losing his memories.


- Ten years. Ten years we've been waiting to see Clark Kent in his Superman outfit. And what do we get? Motherfrakking ugly CGI. I was hoping - expecting - Welling to be in the Superman suit. After all, it was said multiple times the producers had possession of the SUPERMAN RETURNS suit for use, so why the frak not use it? If Welling was opposed to wearing it, oh fricken' well, man! We deserve to see Clark in his suit, live action, not some hideous, uber-fakey, far away-shot digital shit. More than anything else in "Finale", this CGI Superman is what pisses me off. Majorly huge drop of the ball, guys.
- The Omega Symbols from all the infected earthlings disappear with the goneness of Apokolips? What?!? Look, guys, it's your fault for jam-packing the final two episodes with so much shit that you were understandably running out of time, but that is one lame ass 'solution', and I shudder to call it that.
- Before Clark is given the legendary suit, Jor-El thinks now is the appropriate time to show off all Clark's 'trials' from season one up to nowish. I get that "Finale" concentrated on Clark's journey in understanding that with stepping forward into the world, he shouldn't leave everything he was behind [which, by the way, I thought we dealt with in season nine after his whole 'Clark Kent is dead!' announcement in the season eight finale...], but spending two and a half minutes in a montage of his many saves and heroic act seemed a bit self-indulgent and out-of-place in the running-out-of-time narrative "Finale" had. This wasn't the appropriate moment, is all.
- What was the resolution with the farm? Small detail, I know, but sorta importante.
- As a final image, oh boy, was that shirt-ripping, slow motion, suit reveal absolutely balking rubbish! I apologize for sounding like a huge critic here, and I completely acknowledge that this is a television show and not a film, but by all means, this is the last image we'll be seeing of SMALLVILLE, and it's rubbish! The horrible slo-mo strut to the camera is laughable, the camerawork is a bit dodgy immediately taking me out of the moment, and the final seconds remind me of a sucky shirt commercial, with the slo-mo shirt rip. I'm deeply sorry that I don't find it as epic and brilliant as it ought to be.
- Everything with Darkseid in season 10. May have sounded like a sure-fire brilliant idea back at the beginning, but when all is said and done, the whole stuff with Darkseid is just full of WTF? His whole plan was to crash Apokolips into earth? What was up with possessing humans with darkness? What's the point of any of this, huh?
- Yet another damn Jonathan/Martha lecture. So happy I won't have to hear another 'new' one of those...
- The Chloe scenes with her son. Sorry, felt far too 7TH HEAVENy for me. And although I dug the second-to-last scene at the Daily Planet in the flashforward, I think I would rather have liked it more without the flashforward.

"Finale" may not have been perfect, but it was still pretty damn good and quite enjoyable. There are certain scenes I rewatch often - specifically the Lex/Tess scene and Clark's anticlimactic saving of the world - and the final episode will always have a mix of love/dislike, hit/miss feelings. Still, I'm over the moon to have watched Clark's journey as an adolescent unable to control his powers and ignorant of his alien roots to becoming a self-assured, confidant man with powerful convictions and maintains complete control over his abilities. Season 10 is one of my all-time favorites, perfectly encompassing the character traits of who and what Superman is, and dealing with the self-doubts, darkness, and choices a person faces to become a hero. This was a perfect Superman season, and in the end, I was happy for Clark as much as everyone else.

Alfred Gough, Miles Miller, Kelly Souders, Brian Peterson, Al Septien, Turi Meyer, Tom Welling, Erica Durance, Allison Mack, Kristen Kruek, Aaron Ashmore, Michael Rosenbaum, John Schneider, Annette O'Tool, Justin Hartly, Cassidy Freeman, John Glover, and many more - a huge round of applause and loads of thank you for ten seasons of Superman entertainment. This is one hell of an accomplishment, and one hell of a outstanding series. Score: 8.5/10 | Season Score: 9.1/10

18 May 2011

No Strings Attached

No Strings Attached

Starring Natalie Portman, Ashton Kutcher, Lake Bell, Greta Gerwing, Mindy Kaling
Written by Elizabeth Meriwether
Directed by Ivan Reitman
Release: 21 January 2011
Paramount, 110 mins., Rated R

Plot: Emma and Adam try to engage in casual, non-committal sex without the relationship part tagged on; suuuureeee.

So What Are the Chances They're Gonna Develop Feelings For Each Other?

C'mon, we weren't born yesterday, and this ain't the first romantic comedy we've seen, so the film's endpoint isn't unexpected or original, nor should it be. I'll dish the ending right now: they end up together. Portman's reservations about heading into a relationship gets squashed cos Kutcher is damn charming, and the two become a couple. Duh. But see, the success or doom of any romantic comedy is first and foremost the script. You can have two of the 'best' actors working in the bizz right this second, and you hand 'em a mediocre script, you'll still get a mediocre flick. Secondly, you need good actors, two who have chemistry and you get why they are attracted to each other. The actors chemistry and the screenplay need to work together in harmony to sell this genre, and No Strings Attached - despite the harsh, ridiculing reviews scattered around the blogosphere - accomplishes just that.

There's This Dude, and There's This Girl

Portman is awesome as Emma, the girl who is obviously attracted to Kutcher's Adam but refuses to acknowledge that cos she doesn't believe in that whole relationships-can-work thing so engages in casual sex with him instead. She boasts just the right amount of spunk and initiative to make a strong character, and is restrained when necessary to show Emma's reluctance to give into her feelings for The Kutcher. No complaints here. It's a strong performance that sells the character, and instead of coming across as a cold-hearted bitch - which is entirely possible given the mandates of the story - the audience relates and most importantly digs her. Or, at least I did. Kutcher is notoriously not a film guru favorite [see: Killers], but he's likable here. I became a fan of Adam, honestly: his blunt attitude that mirrors Emma's, his charm and natural charisma, his choice of career (points to you, sir), and his resolution to get the girl. The role doesn't ask for much, granted, but we are expected to like this guy and hope he gets the girl: mission accomplished.

The two leads are joined by some funny co-stars, most notably Lake Bell (What Happens in Vegas, also starring Kutcher) who loves and loves to chitty chat to a obnoxious degree, making all her scenes hilarious to watch, and Emma's flatmates who are quite opinionated and equally frank. There's stuff with Adam's father and ex-girlfriend that's pretty funny, as well, and that subplot alone I would recommend a rental for the flick.

Meriwether's script is full of raunchy jokes and dialogue, with characters that feel genuine and not simply paper cutouts of what she feels is required from this type of movie. There were plenty of opportunities when I laughed and/or chuckled, or dug a particular plot point, etc. Hell, I loved the final line and shot of the movie, which accomplishes the hopeful/happy mandated tone but is simple and nontraditional...in a manner of speaking.

I hope I'm not making it out that No Strings Attached is a maverick romantic comedy by any account. Nay, if you want that I direct you to the quintessential film of that genre, Love Actually (complete and utter perfection, mates). The film is fun and enjoyable, with a nice script that has just enough cleverness and fine dialogue to make the scenario feel a tad fresh, and two actors that are clearly committed to that script. Later this year, we'll be greeted to Friends with Benefits with Mila Kunis (yay!!!) and Justin Timberlake starring. Both Friends with Benefits and No Strings Attached have the exact same storyline - can two friends sustain casual sex without turning into something more? - and I dug how the latter film did it, so Kunis and Timberlake have a bit of competition ahead of 'em.

Rating: 8/10 = Raunchy comedy with two funny leads and a great script that nicely balances the romance, jokes, and drama to make an entertaining two hours.

17 May 2011

Tuesday Cap - Vol. 24

Title: Thirst

Notes: For a while there, it was as if everywhere you turned there was a new vampire film either in the works or just hitting theaters or DVD. Cue Park Chan-wook, who directed three dearly beloved revenge driven movies (Oldboy, Lady Vengeance, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance), and decided to tackle the vamp genre. Turns out, not bad at all. It's been a while since I saw Thirst, but there are certain snippets that stick in my head - most significantly, the gorgeous and beautiful final minutes where our two protagonists/antagonists sit and watch as the sun rises. Brilliant material. I recall the girl going absolutely bonkers, and the priest not exactly having his wits about him. It was a intense movie with strong performances and a equally strong screenplay.

Discuss: How does Thirst hold up against his Vengeance Trilogy? Was the story here worth telling in a over-vamp-saturated market? And did the two vamps not have the weirdest 'love' story, eh?

16 May 2011

MMAM - Vol. 34

Having just had the pleasure of watching HANNA (review forthcoming), I was also party to the relatively good score by The Chemical Brothers. The tracks ranged from super obnoxious to rather awesome, and below I've included one of the tracks (if not the track) that I frakkin' love. iTunes says I've listened to this all the way through 14 times (closely followed by most of the newest Linkin Park CD). Don't know if the Chemical Brothers is for everyone [having their name mentioned in the HANNA trailer is the first time I ever heard of 'em, so don't know how widely loved/hated by everyone they are], but give "The Container Park" a listen. And see the flick, cos the scene where this music is used is bloody phenomenal. Sorta reminded me of BATMAN BEGINS, around the hour mark. Anyone else think so?

12 May 2011

The Watcher: 04/29/11 - 05/12/11

CHUCK S04E22 - "Chuck Vs. Agent X" (02 May 2011) - No words. Just thanks. And I say that on behalf of males everywhere. We need more scenes like this. Alright, moving on: the big revelation is that Alexi Volkoff is Agent X, and although I'm not a huge fan of this development, it admittedly does lend itself to some interesting character and story bits leading into the season finale. Next to the gorgeousness that is Yvonne Strahovski, we were treated to a hilarious scene of Casey falling in love with the old woman who was going full on Helen Mirren/RED on Ray Wise and his comical baddies. Bullets after bullets, it's easy to see how Casey dug the woman. Again, the revelation of Alexi ain't a huge love of mine, but it pits father against daughter for the finale, and I'm cool with that. Score: 8.9/10

CHUCK S04E23 - "Chuck Vs. the Last Details" (09 May 2011) - A fun episode that gets major points from me thanks to the multiple geek references. For one, and most obvious, are the two STAR WARS lines said by Morgan and Casey, in addition to the actual Imperial March theme being used! Blimey, that must've cost them a pretty penny or two. Another element of awesomeness: the visual homage to TERMINATOR 2, with Linda Hamilton working out in her cell. All these geek-favors made me happy. Morgan was the real star of this episode, infiltrating a little gang meet and acting like a big bad Italian boss and having to fake dying and all, but the 'cliffhanger' of Sarah being killed by Vivian - eh, coulda done better. Score: 8.5/10

FRINGE S03E21 - "The Last Sam Weiss" (29 April 2011) - The world is ripping itself apart, Peter is acting weird, apparently being momentarily confused about what Side he's on, Sam Weiss is just one of many Sam Weisses (the name comes down from generation to generation), and in the end, Peter steps into the Doomsday machine as the only way to stop this feud...and gets sent to the future. Not entirely in love with that last development - maybe because I watch too many shows with time and space being a typical story beat - but I'm excited to see where this leads. Score: 8.5/10

FRINGE S03E22 - "The Day We Died" (6 May 2011) - And thus this explosive season of FRINGE concludes with a new direction to head towards in season four. It was one hell of a great finale, full of great dialogue and absolutely stellar (award worthy, even) performances from Joshua Jackson and John Noble (playing dual roles, mind you!). Any negatives I have to say stem from my wish that time travel didn't have to factor into the narrative. In some instances, like in season two when time travel was used, in a way, I don't mind, but I would have preferred to have the events of the here and now be solved by people of the here and now. I don't wan to see what the future could be and have someone do their damnest to change it - I'll leave that to the TERMINATOR franchise. Still, that little preference aside, "The Day We Died" was phenomenal. The most extraordinary scene was Peter's one-on-one conversation with Walternate, and this lead us to the 'Holy shit!' moment of Walternate shooting Olivia in the head. Cruel, unforgiving, and absolutely shocking, it was a marvelously written, directed, acted, and edited scene. The final, mysterious scene with the Observers definitely lends itself to the shows greatest WTF? moment: the group discussing Peter's disappearance, as no one remembers him anymore after he has 'served his purpose'. A world of what? There absolutely needs to be more to this story, and I can't wait to see how it evolves. The look at the possible future here was great - Olivia being able to master her powers (hopefully a nod to a future storyline), Olivia and Peter being husband and wife, and Olivia's niece joining Fringe Division. The writers clearly have no limit of imagination. With the two universes supposedly working together to clean up the decaying spaces between them, season four promises to be something special. Score: 9.6/10 | Season Score: 9.3/10

JUSTIFIED S02E13 - "Bloody Harlan" (04 May 2011) - Seems like just the other day when this show began its second season, and lookie here, we've reached the end! Blimey. "Bloody Harlan" is brilliantly the opposite of "Bulletville" - it doesn't boast some stellar gunfights this time around, instead focusing more on consequences and the eruption of a boiling point. that's been building the last couple episodes In a way, the finale ended the only way it could have...although you wouldn't hear me complaining if Dickie was killed; hell, that would give me a good ol' smile. Despite the title, "Bloody Harlan" is actually quite subtle. Take the ending scene as the best example, with Loretta being talked out of taking Mags' life, and the concluding conversation between Mags and Raylan - it's the anticlimax, but most importantly, it's the brilliant end because it stays true to what makes JUSTIFIED so completely unique in the field of cop dramas: the scene is entirely, 100% character driven. It's not about the tying up loose plot ends, it's just about Raylan and Mags, and Mags' reaction to losing (nearly) everything. Everything with Loretta, Mags, Dickie, Raylan, Boyd, and Harlan are damn near perfect - although I'm still at a complete loss as to what we're supposed to get about Boyd's character progression this year - and I can't wait to see the story continue. Winona is pregnant (congrats, Raylan), and it looks like the whole getting-out-of-town thing that's been tossed around (at least) the last four episodes will see either a great leap forward or a giant step back. Either way, do I seriously have to wait another whole damn year for the next season? C'mon, guys! Score: 9.7/10 | Season Score: 8.6/10

NIKITA S01E20 - "Glass Houses" (28 April 2011) - Notice how everyone who figures out Alex's secret ends up dead? Interesting. Still don't get what Alex 'sees' in Nate - seems kinda like a douche, and very bland, one dimensionaly. Meh. Score: 8.1/10

NIKITA S01E21 - "Betrayals" (5 May 2011) - Alex is in trouble, Michael is in trouble, and Nikita is gonna be in some serious shit. As expected from a penultimate episode, lines are crossed, and everything is coming to a head. Most awesomely, Percy, for the first time in the series, displays his cunning, clever, and manipulative side to utter perfection; major kudos goes out to Xander Berkley for a spectacular performance. And then there's the final reveal that it was Nikita that pulled the trigger killing Alex's father. Ooooo! Score: 9.0/10

SMALLVILLE S10E19 - "Dominion" (29 April 2011) - Not entirely sure if this is a story that needed to be told before the 'epic' series finale, but "Dominion" was nonetheless a fun ride. You got Clark and Oliver trapped in the Phantom Zone, facing off 300-style with swords and armor, and a scruffy Zod all ready to see Clark be very much dead. Good times to be a farm boy from Kansas. "Dominion" is noteworthy mostly cos of being Justin Hartly's directorial debut, and aside from far too many slow motion shots that don't remotely invoke the same awesome style of the film its imitating, his direction is mostly competent and entirely within the realm of SMALLVILLE standards. The set design, costume, and added lens flares definitely assist in making the Phantom Zone look the best its ever been, and complimented by Callum Blue's stellar Zod, ya definitely get the sense it ain't a prime destination spot. In regards to the continuing romance of Lois and Clark, I'm getting a tad tired of the whole 'I just wanted to protect you' thing Clark has going on - something he really should let go, considering that's been his prime excuse the last ten seasons [see: nearly every scene with Lana Lang]. Overall, still a good, entertaining episode. Score: 8.9/10

SMALLVILLE S10E20 - "Prophecy" (06 May 2011) - Toy Man and his secret organization of baddies in a dark room; Oliver meeting up with Kara, bridging light and dark in a selfish attempt to rid himself of the Omega symbol; Lois gaining Clark's powers for a day, and not really doing much with the gift from Jor-El. "Prophecy" is the type of episode that held within itself a good premise, but ultimately, the delivery was just a bit too sloppy. Score: 8.6/10

STARGATE UNIVERSE S02E19 - "Blockade" (02 May 2011) - Of course, just when the show was really becoming good and I feel that those 41 minutes watching a episode weren't wasted, the series must be canceled. Too bad the writers couldn't get their game on earlier, because "Blockade" was another great installment to the sophomore season, although I still ain't no fan of the drones. Those pesky drones, that more or less feel like a lousy plot contrivance at this point - delaying the bigger storyline of finding proof of intelligent design - actually end up being rather threatening and well done here. A tense story that nicely serves has character beats and surprisingly a bit of tension. Score: 9.5/10

STARGATE UNIVERSE S02E20 - "Gauntlet" (09 May 2011) - I plan on saying a few words about this series in another post, so I won't go into too much detail here other than to say I thought this worked as a fitting series finale, although I know it wasn't planned as such. I can't say enough how happy I am the writers didn't leave the series off at a ridiculous life-in-jeopardy 'cliffhanger' like the season one finale was. Having all the characters, minus Eli, in stasis for two years to pass over the drones - great, sweet, fitting material. And the final five minutes, with the decision of who will stay behind is deliberated and Eli choosing to be the odd man out - that was great material. For anyone who have had the luxury of watching BUFFY, THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, Eli's face in the second to final shot, caped above, is eerily reminiscent to Xander in the season three episode "The Zeppo" - it has that really weird quality to it, the sorta 'I'm OK with dying' or to quote Xander, 'I like the quiet'. It's a perfect, ambiguous final shot of our main character. SG-U's second season has been a lot of hit-and-miss, with some genuinely good episodes making their way throughout the season, but also boggled down by some truly mind-numbingly, hair-tearing bad ones. I'm over the moon "Gauntlet" concludes the series at a good point, leaving the story unfinished enough for any fan fiction writer to fill in the blanks or to allow the viewer to make up their own mind what happens to them. Do they ever reach their destination? Does Eli die? Looking back at all 20 episodes of season two, my one big regret is that Destiny's mission wasn't the center point of the narrative. Its mission was revealed - to find a sign of intelligent design, so to speak - but there were no great clues to the over-arcing narrative. Still, it was a fun and frustrating ride, and it is admittedly unfortunate to see this journey end. Score: 9.6/10 | Season Score: 7.1/10

SUPERNATURAL S06E19 - "Mommy Dearest" (29 April 2011) - And like that, the Mother of All plot concludes. I kinda sorta was hoping that she would be a greater threat, and wouldn't go out so easily. I mean, for Christ's sake, she's the sodding Mother of All! And she...died? Overall, it was a decent episode, full of motive explanations, a reveal of another season-long Big Bad, the return of a plotline, and generally great performances and writing. The only downside is that this Mega Bitch, the Mother of All, was made to sound like she was going to cause some major havoc, but in the end, she didn't honestly do much at all. So, big build up, not quite successful in its climax. "Mommy Dearest" concludes one element of the multiple thread season six and propels us towards the three-partish season finale. Score: 8.9/10