Thu, May 31, 2012

: Men in Black III

I’m a fan of the original (not so much the sequel) and this one sounded awesome, with Agent J having to stop the murder of his partner K in 1969. It wasn’t quite as good as I’d hoped, but it is fun. The time travel plot is too linear and the resolution too simple, but the journey to get there is a lot of fun. There’s a decent amount of J and K interaction, though I would have enjoyed more. Meeting K in the past as a young agent is the real draw, and that was awesomely handled. My favorite thing was definitely the whole MIB organization in 1969 — just hilarious (like how the handheld Neurolyzer is a room-sized device). The villain’s too over the top for my liking, but it’s still fun to watch, and I had a great time. Definitely worth seeing if you’re a fan of the series.

Topic: [/movie]


Wed, May 23, 2012

: The Fairy Tale Detectives

Author: Michael Buckley

I’m a big fan of the TV shows Grimm and Once Upon a Time, which are reinventing fairly tales for a modern audience, and the premise of this series — two little girls who are descendants of the original Grimms and who solve fairy-oriented mysteries — interested me.

We begin with the girls moving in with the grandmother they thought was dead, after a year of wandering in the foster care system after their parents mysteriously vanished. It’s their grandmother who reveals that the Grimm fairly tales are all true and fairy creatures live all over the town. When their grandmother is kidnapped by a 200-foot tall giant, it’s up the girls — ages and seven and twelve — to get her back.

The book is a lot of fun and surprisingly well-written at times, though occasionally it’s clear its target audience is the elementary school kid. It’s not quite as much fun or as well-done as the Harry Potter series, but it is an intriguing idea. My biggest disappointment is that there isn’t much detecting going on. The girls stumble through adventures and while I liked the way they stopped the bad guy and got themselves out of jams, the ending felt anti-climactic. Still, the mix of ancient fairly tale creatures set in modern times is delightful, and I like how the author has created actual characters instead of caricatures of various famous fairy tale people.

Topic: [/book]


Fri, May 18, 2012

: Battleship

I had little hope for this movie to be any good — it’s based on a lame board game — and though it’s ultimately trite and nothing more than visual eye-candy, it’s actually surprisingly entertaining.

There’s little depth of character, but I liked that they started off slow with setting up the characters instead of diving right into the action. Once the action starts, it goes on non-stop until the very end. The action is mostly giant ships exploding, but it turns out that’s a lot of fun to watch. Each explosion is unique and interesting.

There is drama in exactly how the humans will stop the alien invasion. There’s a bit of humor, and our hero has to learn how to be a hero. The aliens aren’t anything special, but I did like the battleships and battles.

Overall, it’s simply a popcorn movie like you’d expect. It’s not quite as heroic as Independence Day, but then it doesn’t have that movie’s horrible logic flaws.

Topic: [/movie]


Sun, May 06, 2012

: Treasure Island

(Scifi Channel mini-series)

I had expected this to be another silly B-movie by the Scifi Channel (I refuse to spell it with a Y as that is insulting to a great form of literature), but to my shock this is a terrific movie. It’s authentic to the novel (as best I can remember), well-acted (with a great cast), extremely well written (wonderful dialog), and a surprising amount of fun.

It’s been ages since I read the book (I’m putting it on my list to reread now) but I don’t think I understood the story very well until this film (I was eleven or twelve). Here we get to see the wonderful plotting by Long John, who’s been cut out of his pirate treasure by his back-stabbing captain, as he gets himself and his men hired on as crew for a ship that’s off to seek the treasure. That ship is run by a wealthy man who’s financing the expedition, based on the map discovered by young Jim Hawkins, who found in the belongings of a dead man who stayed at his parents’ inn. Jim goes along and we see the story through his eyes, as his romantic idea of the pirate life is brought to a gory end.

Even the action parts, which usually I find tedious and predictable, are fun here, in part because it’s pirate action, but also because it’s done in such a way that you actually understand what is going on. (Too many battle scenes are nothing but a blur of chaos and I have no idea what’s happening.)

Amazing, impressive, and surprising production. Definitely worth your time.

Topic: [/television]


Sat, May 05, 2012

: Dexter in the Dark

Author: Jeff Lindsay

This is a very bizarre Dexter book. I did not like it very much at all. It is very long and tedious, mostly dealing with Dexter’s impending nuptials, which isn’t very interesting. Normally what makes the whole Dexter thing work is the fascinating blend of serial killer and normal life. But here the plot is about how Dexter loses his ability to be a serial killer so all we have is the normal life part which is boring.

How does Dexter lose his serial killing ability? Now that’s the real flaw of this book. I hope I’m not spoiling anything by revealing this, but it’s impossible to comment on this book without explaining this aspect of the story. We’ve known about Dexter’s “dark passenger” for a long time. Like most, I just assumed that was a metaphor, and if Dexter actually had an inner person directing him, it was a manifestation of his warped mind.

But this book supposes that the dark passenger is really some sort of immortal demon. We follow this demon throughout the ages as he, apparently, is responsible for human wars and other mass killings, including strange religions such as the ancient worship of Moloch, which practiced human sacrifice. When a head demon comes to town and notices Dexter, his dark passenger disappears for the bulk of the novel. Great. A Dexter story effectively without Dexter.

What I really didn’t like about this aspect of the plot is that it takes away all morality. If Dexter isn’t doing the killing but an inner demon is, then he’s not responsible for his actions. Since the whole key to the Dexter character is the conflict behind the possibility of a “moral serial killer,” that ruins the entire concept.

Another flaw (and perhaps spoiler) is that this novel has Rita’s kids also becoming serial killers with Dexter acting as their mentor and trying to pass on Harry’s code. While that’s an interesting idea, it stretches credulity — if every abused child became a serial killer the world would filled with them. A key trauma in the past makes sense, and Dexter’s history is particularly horrific, but I couldn’t believe that Rita’s sweet kids would go that route.

Perhaps these flaws could be overlooked if the story itself was interesting, but there really isn’t much of a plot, per se. Ritualized murders are happening but Dexter is clueless without his dark passenger to give him insight, so we plod along for hundreds of pages with no progress at all. In the end — and this is a spoiler — the bad guy simply reveals himself with no detective work by Dexter required. How lame is that?

Though I can definitely say I vastly prefer the TV series to the novels (I’m rewatching season one now and it’s fantastic), this novel here pretty much ruins the series for me. I had considered getting a few more of the novels, but I’ve lost that motivation now. If an author can get his core character so wrong, it makes me lose faith in him as a writer. I’ll stick with the TV show where the writers know what they are doing.

Topic: [/book]


Fri, May 04, 2012

: The Avengers

Director: Joss Whedon

I’m not sure I get the fanaticism about this franchise. Of course, I haven’t followed the comic books, but the whole idea of having a group of superheros doesn’t seem very interesting or unique to me (though I did love the Superfriends cartoon Saturday mornings when I was a kid). This particular collection of heros — Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow, Captain America — seems like a real oddball assortment.

I went into this with some real apprehension. I figured there’d be good action and special effects, but I didn’t expect much beyond flash. The story, centering around bad guy Loki opening a portal to invaders from another world, was also troubling. Though I liked Captain America and Thor overall, the aspects I didn’t — the hokey plots — are present here.

But after a rough beginning, the going gets good. The individual stories of the various characters are extremely well done. What’s especially good is that these heroes don’t get along, as fits their personalities — and the film does an amazing job of showing this in a believable fashion that’s true to their characters and in a way that isn’t too grating or annoying. It’s not quite a “we’re going to fight each other” animosity but more of an underlying friction behind the scenes that adds electricity to things. Getting that resolved is key to their success, of course, since they must work together to defeat the bad guy.

Putting together a group drama like this is incredibly difficult without giving one or more of the characters short shrift, but all of the main people here — and even a few of the key supporting characters — are each given their time in the limelight. I have no idea of the exact screen time given to each hero, but it felt amazingly balanced. I never felt that one dominated more than others: each had their heroic moments and each had moments where they battled personal demons and learned to overcome them in their quest for unification.

Another thing: though no doubt each of us viewers has a favorite character or two and a hero we don’t like as much, I never felt resentment when one of those lesser (for me) people was on screen. That’s impressive (and it bodes well for people, who, for instance, might not like Thor and bother with that movie, but love Iron Man — there’s something for everyone here).

The next thing I really liked is that the action is both small enough and big enough to work. By that I mean that the scale of the action is huge, ideal for a giant movie like this, but the grand war is broken down into smaller individual battles for each of the characters that we can relate to and actually comprehend (it’s not always a battle, either; sometimes it’s just a critical task).

The overall result is a treat. The special effects are excellent (though don’t bother with the 3D version, where the 3D is barely noticeable), there’s a perfect blend of action, wisecracks, and drama, and the ultimate story is pretty good. I’m still not wild about the plot, but it works well enough. Surprisingly, I really did like the way the previous films set up the world and the plot for this one. In some of those movies the fit was awkward — the presence of the Shield organization coming out of left field, for instance — but here everything comes together brilliantly.

In the end, though I wasn’t sure I’d like this, I left delighted. I was thoroughly entertained, and many of scenes are outright classics (my favorite was the Hulk punch on a certain someone). There’s great fun to be had and the seemingly awkward mishmash of disparate characters actually works wonderfully. Two thumbs up.

Topic: [/movie]


Tue, May 01, 2012

: Cold Weather

This was filmed here in Portland, Oregon, and the plot sounded a little bit like my own novel, Protecting Claudia, in the sense that it’s about a missing person in Portland, so I was really curious about it. It turned out to be nothing at all like my book, in tone or the mystery. The story is very simple: a young man who’s been going to school studying criminal forensics in Chicago drops out and returns home to Portland and moves in with his sister and gets a job loading bags of ice at an ice factory. When his ex-girlfriend disappears, he tries to find out what happened to her.

That sounds interesting, but there are two problems with the story. One is that very little happens and the pace of this movie makes glacial seem like the speed of light. It’s incredibly slow moving, with some scenes where people just sit and stare at the sunset for several minutes (it feels like hours). Watching seeds sprout would be more interesting. There are also many realistic but very dull conversations that seem to serve no purpose in moving the story forward. The girl doesn’t even disappear until halfway through the film — I’m not even sure why we needed any of the stuff that happened before that.

The other problem with the story is that there isn’t one. There are one or two clever bits of detective work, but the ultimate mystery isn’t really anything and the resolution is quick with an abrupt ending that’s practically in the middle of a sentence. It left me baffled about the entire point of the film.

Another thing that annoyed me was the main character, supposedly a Sherlock Holmes fan and forensic scientist, was strangely slow to investigate anything. He argues with his friend against searching for the missing girl, and he never seemed very proactive about anything. He eventually came up with one or two things that showed some intelligence, but like the whole film, he was slow about it, and that seemed odd if that’s his interest and potential career. (I love mysteries and if someone came and told me someone I knew was missing, I’d rush to look at their room for clues, and I’m not even studying criminology or anything.)

In this end this is a low-key, low-budget, quirky little story that has a few good moments. It’s well-shot and acted, and it’s interesting if you’re a local and recognize some of the places, but most people are going to be put off by the dull pace and slow story.

Topic: [/movie]