Thursday, December 30, 2010

Robot Stories

Spoiler Level: Fairly High

Robot Stories is an anthology film, featuring four different stories of four different types of robots...  but really they're stories about people.

The first story, "Robot Baby," is about a family who is interested in adopting a child... but first they have to spend a month practicing with a robot baby.  As a result, potential mother Marcia is forced to face her own lack of maternal instincts due to her poor relationship with her own mother.

The second story, "The Robot Fixer," is the story of a woman whose son is in the hospital lying comatose.  In an effort to reach him, she begins to re-assemble his collection of Microbots toys (played nostalgically by the Micronauts toys).

The third story, "Machine Love," is about the latest office androids of 2027, the iPerson.  The iPerson is designed to learn and expand based on its surroundings, but the people in Archie the iPerson's surroundings couldn't care less about him.  What lessons will he end up learning?

The fourth and final story, "Clay" is more of an artificial intelligence story.  In the year 2027, people can have their brains scanned so their minds live on after their bodies wear out.  But what happens if you don't want to be scanned?

Each tale is a wonderful character piece, not so much offering a commentary on humanity as a whole as it is a look into the individuality of each of us.  It's a wonderful movie and touching movie.

...And with this post, I now have successfully posted 31 reviews for December, the most posts I've ever done in one month, which also brings my biggest year of blogging reviews to a close.  (165 in 2010! Woo-hoo!) 

I'd also like to thank everyone who's been coming to read these reviews-- according to my stats, December 2010 has been my biggest month ever, with 3901 hits in the last 30 days!  I realize that according to the Traffic Sources links it's mostly been people being drawn to my blog for my images, but I'm cool with that.  Hopefully a percentage of you have stuck around to read the reviews that went with them and enjoyed what you saw.

So, I'm ringing in 2011 with a very special project that I've been working on over the last few months.  Tune in on January 1, 2011 for the start of It's Called Entertainment's "Top 100 Science Fiction TV Shows" Countdown!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

This Film Is Not Yet Rated

Well, this was certainly an eye-opener.  I knew that the MPAA rating system could be inconsistent and arbitrary, but I had no idea how arbitrary.  Or how secretive.  Or all-inclusive for the US movie industry.

What I also didn't know was that no one is allowed to know who is on the ratings board, or what guidelines they use to make the ratings, or know who's on the appeals board, or that during an appeal you're not allowed to compare your film to any other film in any way (such as pointing out the obvious "but you gave the same thing an R rating in these other 5 films, why am I getting an NC-17?"), or that the big studios get a point-by-point list of things that would need to be changed to get a different rating, where small studios get told nothing.

As a parent, I do find the rating system helpful.  But as Matt Stone points out in an interview, it's because it's the only game in town.  I have to wonder what would happen if a film was released unrated by the MPAA but with its own rating put on it?  I'm reminded of when Marvel dropped out of the Comics Code Authority years ago and instead implemented their own rating system.  People said that newsstands and stores would stop carrying Marvel comics without the CCA seal.  They didn't. Marvel did get off to a shaky start-- there were a lot of books not being rated that definitely needed to be-- but they seem to have got their act together and now I find their rating system more trustworthy than the CCA seal.  (I can't tell you how many times I would look at all the blood and gore in a mainstream comic and check the cover, and be shocked that it was Code Approved.)  Similarly, an unrated film won't get into many theaters, get the studio advertising push, or be allowed to be sold in Wal-Mart... but what if, say, Spielberg decided to do it?  Release a film unrated by the MPAA but with his own rating system?  Someone who's the movie equivalent of Marvel might be able to get it done.

After seeing this I think it's clear that we need true, honest transparency in the MPAA Rating System, and the appeals system needs a complete overhaul.

If you consider yourself a fan of movies in the slightest, you need to see this film.

Cashback

Spoiler Level: Medium to High

This is a nice British romance film with a slight twist.  The protagonist, Ben Willis, is an art student who has just had a nasty breakup with his girlfriend, Suzy.  Ever since the breakup, he can't get Suzy out of his mind and hasn't been able to sleep.  So he takes a night shift job at a local supermarket, to essentially sell his extra time (hence the title).  As anyone who's worked a job where they'd rather not be can tell you, the clock is the enemy, and you need to find ways to not look at it.  But Ben's approach is different from anyone else's; rather than avoid the slow pondering of time, he comes to look at each second as a still life painting.  Soon he's imagining he can stop time altogether. For the rest of the film, his ability to stop time is no longer treated as if it's in his imagination.

This can lead to a couple different interpretations, which is usually what makes films like this fun to talk about afterwards.  Has he really learned to stop time?  Is it just symbolism for finding his freedom?  Has he let his imagination take him over and lost his mind?  The film doesn't really lead you down any of these paths, but I found myself exploring each of them as I thought about the film afterwards.

Being an art student, Ben uses his opportunities to stop time to draw nudes of all the pretty girls at the supermarket.  It's something that could be interpreted as gratuitous (since he only does the pretty ones), but it just comes across as an appreciation of beauty.  By contrast, Ben has the obligatory sex-obsessed pig for a best friend and the usual bragging co-workers, which shows us how he's not like them, how his motivations are something more elegant and beautiful.  Which leads him to checkout girl Sharon, who starts out the film as just a plain, bored cashier, but who becomes more and more beautiful as Ben falls more and more in love with her.

It's not a movie about stopping time; it's a movie about people, romance, and finding the beauty in the moment.

One interesting side note:  when looking for a movie poster, I found three different versions.  The tamest version which I used here (and was also the version used on Netflix where I watched it), with the bar completely covering the woman's chest and her skirt down; the more common version, where she has just the title covering her chest without the white box (albeit with a bra added) and her skirt hiked up to show her underwear; and an international version, where she's topless with nothing obscuring the view and her skirt hiked up.  I find the differences for the different markets quite amusing.

Stargate Universe - "Incursion" (Part 2)

Spoiler Level: High

Ahh, the classic "throw everyone in the pool" ploy.  If there's one thing I do enjoy, it is a good "throw everyone in the pool" ploy.

And even though Season Two (or I guess I should say "2.0") has already aired, syfy.com is only posting episodes 2x05 through 2x10.  So it looks like I'll have to wait until the DVDs come out in March.  So hey, I get all the enjoyment of having to wait after the cliffhanger just like everyone else!  Lucky me.

And wow, I thought last episode's exterior of Destiny shot was good?  This one was even cooler.  Thanks again to kirssiecaps.

I think it's a good sign that I actually care enough now that I'm looking forward to seeing how this story is resolved.  Just about everyone except Rush and Eli are in a position to be killed off, although honestly I'll be surprised if anybody besides Telford is.  And the Lucian Alliance soldier that T.J. patched up was talking like they were stuck there now as well, which was pretty much what I figured.  So I'll be interested to see how that works out.

And lastly, this is exactly why I'm worried about how Season Two is going to end; odds are it'll be on a cliffhanger just as high as this one, with nothing new planned to resolve it now that the show's been canceled.

So all in all, for SGU Season 1, I have to say... it was a rough start, but it was worth coming back to.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Star Trek: The Next Generation - "The Neutral Zone"

Spoiler Level: High

This episode we get a two-for-one in the "replace the Ferengi as main badguys" depart- ment.  First and foremost, we have the return of the Romulans!  Now with bumpier eyebrows!  And secondly... we have the set up for the Borg!  According to The Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion by Larry Nemecek, this episode was intended to be the start of a multi-episode story arc that would ally the Federation and the Romulans against the Borg, but the Writers Guild strike of 1988 caused the plans to get shook up and the Borg were introduced next season by Q instead.

While this episode specifically states that no one has heard from the Romulans for 50 years, that doesn't really mix with "Angel One" where Picard keeps saying the Enterprise is needed in a standoff against three Romulan battlecruisers.  Perhaps they turned out to be old, retired Romulan battlecruisers being used by pirates?  Hmm, I wonder if TrekLit has addressed this anywhere...

But in many ways the Romulans are the B Plot; the main story is about three humans found frozen in a drifting pod.  They were frozen at their time of death, in the hopes that they could be revived in the future when a cure was found for what killed them, something Data amusingly refers to as a fad from the late 20th and early 21st centuries.  It gives them plenty of "bash the 20th century" fodder, which the first season of Next Gen was just chock full of.  And of course, the irony is the man who was sure he still had everything-- his money, wealth and power-- discovers he now has nothing, and the housewife who thought she had nothing because her family had all passed away discovers she still has family in the form of her descendants.  It gives the story a nice human touch, and makes for some good Star Trek.

And with that, I have finally-- finally!-- finished the first season of The Next Generation.  When I started rewatching Star Trek back when Enterprise went off the air in 2005, I figured I would watch an average of two seasons a year-- figuring that most seasons have 26 episodes in them, and watching at a rate of one episode per week.  What I didn't count on is having weeks where I was already watching five new shows and didn't have room for Star Trek, and that I would hit blocks where I just didn't feel like it.  Mid-second season of classic Trek was a big one; that's where some of the best episodes are, but they're also ones I've seen the most, so I wasn't as excited to actually make time to sit down and watch them.  Similarly, the first season of Next Gen aired before my social life exploded in May of 1988 and never slowed down, so I was rewatching those episodes much more frequently as they aired... and then on top of that we had the writers strike which delayed Season Two, so these same episodes aired even more.  As a result I feel like I already remember them pretty well, so I kept stalling out in my current drive to rewatch all of Star Trek.  So instead of getting Season One finished in six months like I expected to, it's taken me two years.  Still, I have completed 5 seasons' worth of Trek in 5 years (counting the Animated Series and the six TOS movies as one season's worth), so it's still a reasonable pace.  And from here on out, I've only seen most of the remaining episodes once, so I'm more inspired to see them again. Mr. Data, ahead Warp Factor Two... Engage!

Doctor Who - "A Christmas Carol"

Spoiler Level: High

First off, major major THANK YOUs to BBC America for running this on Christmas day.  That was truly awesome of them.  I hope it got good ratings and made it worth it for them.

When I first heard the concept for this episode I wasn't too impressed.  I kind of felt we had already done a story with Dickens and Christmas and ghosts with "The Unquiet Dead."  But really, now... I should know to trust the Moff.

Best. Christmas. Special. Ever!


Surprise hit me right out of the gate with the opening shots, when I realized that this wasn't taking place in the past but in the future on a different planet.  Yay different planets!!  And Amy and Rory are on their honeymoon on a spaceship!  Yay spaceships!!  Of course, it's a crashing spaceship, and from there comes our plot-- the only one who can save the spaceship is the Scrooge of the story, Kazran Sardick.  And of course he can't be bothered, writing off the 4003 people on the ship as "surplus population."  So it's up to the Doctor to change his mind.

I've said it before and I'll say it again:  No one, but no one has used time travel as a central story device in Doctor Who like Steven Moffat.  He always makes it a critical part of a story, and wow does he do it with style here.  I expected the Doctor to take on the role of the Ghost of Christmas Past, but I figured it would be a more conventional method of him taking Sardick in the TARDIS to view his own past; but no no no, that would be boring.  Instead the Doctor shows Sardick home movies of his past, then travels into Sardick's past and changes it, so Sardick gets to watch it unfold both onscreen and in his new memories at the same time!  Now that's using time travel to its full potential! And that's what I love about stories written by Steven Moffat.  A hologram of Amy becomes the Ghost of Christmas Present, and I won't even dare say here what he comes up with for the Ghost of Christmas Future.  It's clever, it's moving, it's emotional, it's time travel, it's Christmas, it's just perfect.

For 31 seasons, Doctor Who was a show that used time travel as a plot device to set stories anywhere in time and space.  When Steven Moffatt took over, he made it a show about time travel, and as such has done what Doctor Who does best-- reinvent itself every so often to keep it fresh. "A Christmas Carol" is the perfect example of the new, current Who all in one episode.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Green Lantern Larfleeze Christmas Special

Spoiler Level: High

For quite a few years I was getting both the Marvel & DC Christmas specials.  And although on the whole I enjoy the DCU more than the Marvel Universe, Marvel's Christmas specials pretty much always beat DC's hands down.  DC's were usually just too damn dark for Christmas, and I often felt I couldn't even read them to my daughter.  So for the last couple years I've just been skipping them all together. 

(And I don't know if I can ever forgive DC for wimping out and changing the name of their 2006 special from "Infinite Christmas" to "Infinite Holiday."  Let me explain this to the editorial staff who makes these PC decisions:  Y'see guys, "Christmas" and "Crisis" sound similar, so that makes for a good joke!  "Holiday" and "Crisis" don't sound anything alike, so that doesn't make for a good joke! And I'm not one of those militant "war on Christmas" types.  I'm about as liberal as they come, and I always thought "Happy Holidays" just meant Christmas and New Year's.  And really, why the hell not include people who don't celebrate Christmas?  We got Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, the Winter Solstice, New Year's, and my friend's mom's birthday.  I have absolutely NO beef with saying "Happy Holidays."  Except when you ruin your own joke just because you're scared of pissing someone off.  Go ahead, have stories about all the holidays, heck even call it the "Infinite Christmas Holiday Special," but don't sacrifice your own joke just for the sake of being PC.  But I digress.)

So being a Green Lantern fan I loved the idea of a Larfleeze Christmas Special.  Then I got it and saw the cover with Larfleeze shooting off his machine gun and thought "Oh dear, they're doing it again. Time for another no-fun holiday special."

Boy, was I wrong.

So get this:  Larfleeze sends the great and mighty guardian of Earth, Santa Claus, his 20-page Christmas list, builds a cottage so he'll have a chimney to come down and leaves out "the offering he damands" of milk and cookies.  (And not just any cookies; Larfleeze's Orange Lantern Cookies, complete with recipe!  My friend Steve at Joy's Japanimation often makes cookies for Free Comic Book Day and other big store events, and he's done cookies with the various Lantern Corps' symbols on them.  Now everyone will be asking poor Steve if he's using Larfleeze's recipe.  But I've digressed again.)  So Larfleeze decides to take it up with the big man himself and storms out to hunt down Santa Claus!  Which then leads into a hilarious game page where you're supposed to get Larfleeze through an Orange Lantern-shaped maze to help him find the North Pole.

This special has what all the other DCU Holiday Specials I had been reading lacked:  FUN.  Fun, fun, fun, fun, fun.  Larfleeze's refusal to believe there isn't a Santa Claus, the explanations he comes up with for why Santa hasn't come to him, Glomulus's hi-jinks in the background, the Art Baltazar & Franco short strip... and some good sentimentality about "the Christmas Spirit."  No, not Jesus Christ, we're not going to go that far, but the more secular Christmas Spirit of giving to those who need it.  And it doesn't feel forced or shoe-horned in, it feels like a natural part of the story and gives it a touching ending.

All in all, this is the best holiday special I've seen from DC since I was a little kid.

Stargate Universe - "Incursion" (Part 1)

Spoiler Level: High

Okay, I realize this image is probably the least represent- ative of the episode, but it's probably the best ship shot in Stargate history.  I mean, look at that.  Not only do we get a very nice view of Chloe and Eli in the window, but you see the entire length of the ship behind them.  Beautiful, just beautiful.  So many thanks (as always) to krissicaps for the screen capture, and if you don't like how it looks, that's my fault-- I was playing with the lighting in Photoshop to try and bring out the detail on the ship.

Storywise, I really enjoyed this episode.  Part of me says I should be upset over the fact that Col. Young was willing to let Talbot die by draining all the life support out of his room.  After all, that was one of the things that made me lose respect for Jonathan Archer on Star Trek: Enterprise.  But this feels very different to me; for starters, I don't hold Young to as high standards as I did Archer, because (1) this isn't Star Trek; Trek is supposed to show us the best humanity can be.   (2), Young has never been as strong in moral character, because this is Stargate with a nuBSG spin, so it's hardly shocking coming from this show.  And finally (3), Young new that killing Talbot and reviving him would be the final way to break the Lucian Alliance brainwashing.  So here it actually worked.  You know when I complain that I don't want my Star Trek characters doing this kind of thing, I have plenty of other shows for that?  Yeah, this is one of those other shows.  Here it's in character, it's in the style of the show, and it had a good reason in the script.

I also liked the consequences of his actions; when Scott says to Young "If I had known what you were doing, I could have backed you up," and Young replies "You're supposed to back me up, that's called the chain of command."  (Or something to that effect.)  It's something that probably would have been a given to Scott before spending so much time stuck with the tiny community of the Destiny.

And I hate to say it, but I'm glad we've got a storyline with good old fashioned SG-1 villains.  I'm enjoying seeing the Lucian Alliance again.

Lastly, I have to complain about O'Neill; this is another one of those episodes where he comes off as an insensitive jerk.  Yeah, I get his point about having to make the hard choices for the greater good; but y'know, the Jack O'Neill I remember used to frequently disobey orders to rescue Daniel or Teal'c or Sam.  He shouldn't be coming down on Young for having a conscience.  I think he's spent a little too long behind that desk in the Pentagon and needs to get back to going off-world.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Star Trek: Typhon Pact - Seize the Fire by Michael A. Martin

Spoiler Level: Medium

The Typhon Pact series continues, this time focusing on the USS Titan and the Gorn.  And unlike the previous Aventine book, this one is a full-out Titan book, picking up several months after the previous Titan book Synthesis and a year after the Destiny trilogy, so baby Natasha is now a year old.  (And as such, I'll be putting it with my Titan books on my shelf despite the Typhon Pact title.  Isn't your life complete now that you know that?)

The Gorn have suffered a disaster as the only planet that holds their warrior-caste creche is made uninhabitable.  Both the Titan and the Gorn discover an "ecosculptor," capable of instantly terraforming a planet from orbit.  The Gorn want it to build a new creche world; Riker wants it to help restore planets devastated by the Borg.  And Tuvok remembers how much death and disaster was caused by the previous instant terraforming deivce, Project Genesis.

(And just as an aside, I really like that term, "ecosculpting."  It makes much more sense than the Earth-centric term "terraforming" for a future with such a diverse range of different species.  But I digress.)

The story delves deeply into the Gorn culture, as it sets up that there are many many castes to the Gorn, and we've only ever seen one, the Warrior Caste.  It creates some great new characters, such as separated Gorn lovers S'syrixx and Z'shezhira (who in case you couldn't tell from the names, are lovers who are Gorn, not characters who love Gorn).  Through S'syrixx we get a fascinating view of the Federation through the eyes of the Gorn, who feel that there's no way that mammals could truly be capable of compassion and are repeatedly shocked to learn that they can.  It forces both sides to examine their own internal prejudices against such radically different looking species.

Since the book is dealing with the reptilian Gorn, we also get to see a lot with the more reptilian Titan crew members this time, such as Dr. Ree and Qur Qontallium.   The machine SecondGen White-Blue from Synthesis is still a regular character, which only helps to emphasize the ship's diversity.

Along those lines, pardon me while I digress for a bit here again.  With half of the crews on the Next Generation and Deep Space Nine novels being new, and more-or-less completely original crews for the New Frontier, Starfleet Corps of Engineers, Stargazer, Gorkon, Titan, Vanguard, and Aventine series, the Titan crew really, really stands out.  I'm sure part of it is because it has the most exotic crew with more alien races than any of the other books, but I think part of it is that this crew has really become like a family, and I don't feel like that's happened in any of the other series since New Frontier.  (Including Star Trek: Enterprise. Well okay, maybe except for the 15th Squad in the Gorkon books.)

While this book doesn't emphasize the Typhon Pact as the Federation's political rival quite as heavily as Zero Sum Game, it does delve into how the Gorn are now a part of that alliance, and how some of the Gorn aren't totally comfortable with it.  If a catastrophe like what the Gorn are facing where to happen in the Federation, the member worlds would be pulling together to try and help them find a solution; in the Typhon Pact, the Gorn feel they have to solve this on their own so as not to appear weak to the rest of the Typhon Pact and maintain their own strength.

Tuvok's given a lot to do as well; he seems to have pulled himself together much more since the previous books, where he's been grieving the loss of his son and daughter-in-law in the Destiny trilogy.  I really like Tuvok; he was my favorite Voyager character, woefully underused there, and at his best when he's struggling with his Vulcan discipline.  He's much more complex than the average Vulcan, and that makes him far more interesting than say T'Pol. 

All in all it's a great read and a very fun book.  Michael A. Martin has written a great story that held my interest from cover to cover.  And while this novel does wrap up its story, it leaves a very wide open element for its consequences in the next book.  Can't wait to see what happens to the Titan family next!

K9 - "The Jaws of Orthrus"

Spoiler Level: High

Another mediocre offering from K9.  This one is better than last episode ("The Fall of the House of Gryffen") which was better than the previous episode ("Fear Itself"), so the show is on an upward trend.  However it's still not as good as episodes 1 ("Regeneration") and 3 ("The Korven"), so there's still a lot of room for improvement.

At a protest rally, Drake is zapped by K9.  A portion of K9's memory has been deleted, so he can't prove his innocence. As his friends attempt to keep an eye on him, there is also an attack by K9 on Darius's car, where he even goes as far as to mark "K9 WOZ 'ERE" on the windshield.  So the big question becomes, has K9 gone rogue without his even knowing it?

It's a decent premise, and the show does attempt to have logical explanations for his inability to prove himself, but it suffers from the major flaw that no one ever thinks to suggest the obvious:  maybe the K9 doing all of these things is a fake.  Which of course, it is.  That was the first thing to cross my mind in the opening sequence as we're seeing K9 attack Drake, and it's 100% predictable.  And come on, no one thinks to question that K9 has suddenly forgotten how to spell, and is in fact spelling using the accent that the robocop CCCPCs use?  I realize this is intended for younger audiences, but I think even when I was 10 years old that would have been my first guess.

But there's a lot of nice character scenes with Professor Gryffen giving advice to Starkey and Jorjie, K9 is his usual charming self, and they even had a very good scene where they play on Darius's being unlikeable, as Drake tries to draw him over to his side.  Plus we get to see the two K9s fight it out.  So this episode has its redeeming moments.

Sarah Jane Adventures - "Lost in Time" (Parts 1 & 2)

Spoiler Level: High

Another fine outing from Sarah Jane Advent- ures.  This time our intrepid band of alien hunters are lured to a curiosity shop, run by a charming yet mysterious Shopkeeper who knows everything about them and has a parrot named "Captain."  The Shopkeeper sends Sarah Jane and her companions (I still get a kick out of saying that) into three separate time zones, with a mission for each of them to retrieve a piece of "Chronosteen," an item hiding there as something native to that time zone.  It's a premise used in Doctor Who in both the Key to Time story arc and "The Keys of Marinus" that always works well for me, and it works just as well here.

Rani is sent to 1553 and meets up with Lady Jane Grey, the "Nine Days' Queen."  Clyde is sent to 1941, during World War II.  And Sarah Jane is sent to 1889 where she meets up with a lady ghost hunter.  Rani and Clyde's stories are extremely enjoyable; I've always been a fan of the historical stories on Doctor Who.  Not so much the modern historical stories (with the wonderful exception of "Vincent and the Doctor,") becuase they've always felt the need to add an alien or a monster or some other science fiction element.  I'm more of a fan of the classic Hartnell historicals, because shows like "The Aztecs," "The Romans" and "The Reign of Terror" showed there was plenty of danger to be had in history itself.  And that's exactly what happens in Rani's arc here; the Chronosteen element is barely a part of the story, and it's more about Rani being caught up in the events of Queen Mary I retaking her thrown from Lady Jane Grey's perspective.  History tells us that Lady Jane Grey was executed, which gives us the tragedy of what's about befall this likeable young queen, as well as the threat that as her handmaiden, Rani will be executed as well.

Clyde's story is a little more of a modern historical, as it revolves completely around the Nazis using their piece of Chronosteen to knock out the British radar and stage an invasion, and with the Chronosteen giving them the ability to change history, it just might work.  And Sarah Jane's isn't an historical story at all but more of a time travel story, where she learns the "ghosts" that the ghost hunter Emily Morris is investigating are actually future echoes of a tragic event that hasn't happened yet.

All three stories are enjoyable in their own right, as each member secures their piece of Chronosteen before it's too late.  Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, if they don't gather them in time, the entire world will be sucked through The Eye of Harmony the Time Window.  So okay, a lot of the elements of the story have been used in Doctor Who before, but technically it's all new to Sarah Jane Adventures, and I'm willing to be more forgiving when it's done in an interesting manner.  Rani's friendship with Lady Jane Grey is great, Clyde standing up to the Nazis is downright inspiring, and Captain & the Shopkeeper were interesting characters that I'd love to see more of, so I can forgive any recycling going on here.

One last thing I have to give this story kudos for:  when Rani was sent to 1553 and Clyde to 1941, I was sure that it wasn't going to come up that neither one was white, which lets face it, for the times they were in is something that would have come up.  But I was completely and totally wrong; when she first arrives, Lady Mathilda asks how Lady Jane could put her trust "in this... foreigner," and one of the Nazis derisively calls Clyde a "negro."  And in both cases Clyde and Rani used it as an opportunity to put those people in their place.  It was really well done, making it both more historically accurate and giving show a great opportunity to fight against racism.  Major kudos to writer Rupert Laight!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Star Trek: The Next Generation - "Conspiracy"

Spoiler Level: High

My apologies for the gruesome photo, but I couldn't let my review of the episode with the goriest scene in Star Trek history go without it.  Credit also goes to Topless Robot's article The 15 Cruelest Deaths in Star Trek History, for saving me the trouble of doing the screen capture on my own this time.  And in case you're wondering, poor Remmick here came in at #8.

But "Conspiracy" is notable for two other reasons as well.  First off,  it was the first time we got some kind of story arc in Star Trek, with this episode being a direct follow-up to "Coming of Age."  And even though this particular story arc didn't go any farther than this episode, the concept of the arc as a story-telling device would become a regular staple on Start Trek from here on out, particularly with the Klingons on Next Gen and for much of Deep Space Nine.

And secondly, it showed that the producers were interested in coming up with new recurring villains, since the Ferengi just weren't fitting the bill.  The Romulans were also brought back in the next episode, and the following season would introduce the characters that did finally become the main bad guys of Next Gen, the Borg. 

I have no idea if the parasites were considered too dark or if once they came up with the Borg they just weren't interesting in following up on this story line.  Either way, they were never seen again.  Thank heavens for TrekLit-- the homing beacon mentioned at the end of this episode as well as the origins of the parasites are finally followed up on in the Deep Space Nine novels The Lives of Dax, Worlds of Deep Space Nine Volume Two, and Unity.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Spoiler Level: Mostly Highish

This was my absolute favorite of all the Narnia books.  Probably because it's got ships in it, and even if the Dawn Treader isn't a spaceship, she's still a very noble ship with a noble crew.  Plus Reepicheep is bumped up to a starring role in it.  When I was a child, I had just gotten a stuffed mouse in a sailor suit, which I had given the creative name of Mousey or something similar, and within a day or two of my mother reading this book to my sister and me I decided to change his name to Reepicheep.  Reepicheep is my favorite character in all the Narnia books, which is another reason why I loved this book so much.

And having seen all three Narnia films to date, I have to say this is my favorite Narnia film as well.

First and foremost, I felt the films for The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian felt way too long.  All the Narnia books are relatively short books, at least when compared to Lord of the Rings or the Harry Potter series, and after having seen the first two Narnia films I felt they were a little dragged out.  But not Voyage of the Dawn Treader; for the first time, I felt like a Narnia movie was perfectly paced.  It helps that Voyage of the Dawn Treader is structured differently; as the ship reaches each new island we're presented with a new smaller adventure, with each one contributing another piece to the overall arc.  It's probably another part of why this is my favorite story, as well; it's a story of exploration instead of battle.  Consequently, I think not needing to take time out to portray giant armies doing battle is one of the things that helps improve the pacing of this story as a movie.

Reepicheep looks and acts great, and reminds me why he became my favorite character to begin with.  But I have to admit, I feel Eddie Izzard was a more fitting voice for him than Simon Pegg.  Not that Pegg delivers a bad performance in any way; his delivery is fantastic.  For me, it's just that his voice is a little too deep.  Eddie Izzard manages to have a voice that's both masculine and yet, well... kind of squeeky.  He was perfect for a heroic talking mouse.  And while Simon Pegg is very good, he's just not as... well, perfect.  But that's just a nitpick; Reepicheep is handled wonderfully in this film, and it does justice to my imagination.

Eustace also works really well, which really surprised me.  In most media, the character who's the complainer is usually annoying, and of course that's the way Eustace is intended to be portrayed; however, he completely and utterly fails to dampen anyone's spirits in the slightest, which makes his whining become more comical than annoying.  And Eustace the dragon is portrayed wonderfully, as you can clearly see the emotions playing out on his dragon face as he learns his lessons to become a better person.

Rich told me that he's heard people feel this one is getting more heavy handed in the Christian allegory.  Personally I disagree; how can you get any more blatant about it than Aslan dying for Edmund's sins in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe?  I guess because Aslan breaks down the allegory by telling Edmund and Lucy "In your world, you know me by another name."  Either way, remember the source material here folks; C.S. Lewis was a Christian writer.  The themes are going to be in there, because that's why he wrote the stories in the first place.  Just as Aslan tells Edmund and Lucy "I brought you here so you could know me there," C.S. Lewis is taking the reader to Narnia so we can understand Christian beliefs and philosophies and get to know God here.  And as Rich said to me after the movie ended, look at the morals this story is conveying-- love yourself for who you are, because we are all made beautiful; and don't be greedy, or it will make you ugly.  And really, Christian or not, who can disagree with that?

Oh, I should probably comment on the 3D effects.  I barely noticed them.  Unlike Tron: Legacy, where the 3D was so amazing I literally flinched at least twice when something flew off the screen at me.  So if you want my opinion, you don't need to see this movie in 3D.  (But you definitely should see Tron: Legacy in 3D.)

But please, if you have any interest in the Narnia movies at all, please do go see it.  This movie isn't doing very well; from what I've heard, it's made half of what Prince Caspian made on its opening weekend, which is half of what The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe made on its opening weekend.  The Narnia films have already had to switch movie studios due to the low returns on Prince Caspian, so I don't have a lot of hope that they'll continue after this one if it continues to do poorly.  (Although there is a ray of hope-- Rich tells me this is doing very well over seas.)

And after this movie, I'd really like to see how they handle The Magician's Nephew, which is my second favorite Narnia book!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Tron: Legacy

Spoiler Level: High.  Very, very high.  So really, don't even skim over this blog unless you've seen it.  Especially you, Rich.  Also, I'm going to assume you've seen the movie and won't be doing any exposition at all.

Verrrrrry, very nice.  Not perfect, but very good.

I truly did love this movie, and I want to focus on the things I liked, but I can't just ignore the things that I didn't like.  So let me get my gripes out of the way first.  That way I can end this on a positive note. 

So, on with the gripes:

Tron himself is barely in it.  Tron's User alter-ego Alan is fairly prominent in the framing sequences in the Real World, but Tron himself is only seen in a flashback, and the big reveal when he becomes himself again at the end is done using only Bruce Boxleitner's voice.  Why?  After all the build-up that Tron had been turned into Rinzler, I wanted to see him fly up into the air in a glory shot, his mask open up and his lighting switch back to blue, brandish his discs and declare "I fight for the Users."  While it's great to see Rinzler turn on Clu and speak his one line with Tron's voice, it's almost anti-climactic.  I realize Tron (as a film) was always Flynn's story more than Tron's story anyway, but seeing as how the franchise is named after him, he should have had a stronger presence.

The Computer World is no longer a direct reflection of our computer world.  It's a computer world built by Flynn, Tron and Clu.  Programs are simply people called programs, and seem to have no connection to their real world Users.  The fact that the Programs all wore the faces of their writers was an element I really loved about the original, although I suppose if you wanted it to reflect our world, then Clu's army would have all had the face of Bill Gates.  Which would have been amusing, but probably would have just been percieved as an intentional dig.  But as I said at the end of my review of the original Tron, I was really curious to see how our computer-dependant world was reflected 30 years later, and this movie doesn't provide that answer.  It dodges the issue by giving us a completely isolated virtual reality.

Despite everything being lit up, it's still a darkly lit world.  I'm sure it's partly meant to be symbolic of Clu's dark reign, and the fact that there is no sun is an important theme of the movie, but as I commented in my recent review of Tron, it's more a sign of our modern perceptions that "dark is cool and bright and colorful is cheesy."  Part of what made the Computer World so amazing in the original was the world itself was so brightly colored.

And really, those are my only complaints.  Every thing else I absolutely loved.


So, on with the praises: 

Clu.  I am so glad I rewatched the original and caught that the original Program that Flynn sent in was named Clu.  "That was the best program I ever wrote!" Flynn exclaimed in frustration when it failed and was derezzed.  You don't need to know it; this is definitely a second Clu, a Clu 2.0, but knowing that Flynn was continuing on with his original Clu concept just makes it that much cooler.  The new Clu continues on with the theme of being the best program Flynn wrote; it's so good, it decides it can run things better.

Not only was I glad to see Clu used as a main character, I can't not mention how amazing Clu is as a visual effect.  Seeing Jeff Bridges as both a young and old Flynn was fantastic.  It's truly amazing how far computer effects have come in the last 30 years.

And while I griped above that we don't get to see our modern computer age reflected in the Computer World, I would be remiss if I didn't also say that the isolated virtual reality Computer World created here is an interesting one.  It starts out as simply a dark virtual reflection of our own streets and buildings, and gets more and more breathtaking as Sam Flynn discovers more of it.  The modern takes on The Grid are both visually impressive and totally immersive, sucking you into this new world and one hell of a thrill ride.

The hardware (if you can call it that, since technically even the hardware here is software) is fantastic.  The new Recognizers are incredible; they're portrayed with all the grandeur and menace they deserve.  The scene where we had three of them flying in to view just totally blew me away.  While I still prefer the original light-cycle design, the chase scenes with the new light cycles are great, and upping the ante with light planes is even better.  I actually like Clu's command carrier design better than Sark's from the original, and the Solar Sailer here is on a par with the original.

But the best effects in the world won't save a movie with weak characters, and the characters here work great.  Sam Flynn and Quorra make great new additions to the cast, but best of all is Kevin Flynn.  His attempts to fight Clu have only made Clu stronger, so he's adopted a Zen attitude of looking inside himself for a solution to the problem, which is a logical direction to go since Clu came from inside him in the first place.  And the whole dynamic of Kevin Flynn, Sam Flynn and Clu is great to see explored.  Kevin Flynn is both the bilogical and virtual father, with Sam Flynn and Clu being both his sons at war with each other.  Kevin knows that the only way to truly end the situation is to Reintegrate Clu back into himself, but has never done it; seeing his son again and getting closure with him gives him not only the strength he needs to do it, it also gives him closure with his son so he is able to do it, and something to sacrifice himself for so he wants to do it.

The religious overtones are still there, albeit in a much darker tone; in the original, the concept that we the Users were the creators (and therefore the gods of the Programs) didn't know what we were doing any more than the Programs did, left kind of an amusing tone that if you take that paradigm up another level, maybe all our beliefs about God are wrong, and He doesn't really have a plan and doesn't know what He's doing any more that we do.  Here in Tron: Legacy, Clu has been programmed to create the perfect world and thinks he can do it better than Flynn, who is literally the creator of Clu's world.  So Clu's goal is to destroy his gods.  Craig actually pointed out to me that while we have the Father in Kevin Flynn and the Son in Sam Flynn, we also have the Holy Ghost in Quorra.  And the Father (Kevin Flynn) sends his Son and the Holy Ghost (Sam and Quorra) to us in our world, so that Quorra can change our world.  Clu is obviously Lucifer, the fallen angel who has decided to rule, although in this case there's no Heaven per se, and he's simply remade the Computer World into his own Hell of Perfection.  So is the final battle between Flynn and Clu the Armageddon?  The re-integration of Flynn and Clu does wipe out everything we see in the Computer World, but also creates the Computer World's new sun, and by extension a new birth for that realm.

(And speaking of which, I am a little confused; is the entire realm called The Grid, or is The Grid just the city part, or just the gaming part?  Because Quorra did say she took Sam off The Grid.  That's why I've been calling it The Computer World.)

I have to give props to Daft Punk for a fantastic and incredibly fitting musical score.  Just as Wendy Carlos was the perfect pick for the original, Daft Punk was the perfect pick for the modern take.  I would have liked to have heard them do their own remix of Wendy Carlos's main theme (a theme that I always thought was way too beautiful to kill Grid Bugs to... and if there was a remix in there, I missed it) but the new themes they made were great in their own right.  I also liked that they were guest stars as DJ MP3 programs.

Lastly, there's lots of cute little in-jokes; the use of Journey music since they wrote two songs for the original movie, Dillinger having a son on Encom's Board of Directors, and Flynn's old hand-held 1980's football video game sitting with cobwebs on it in his office.  Lots of great tributes that I would have missed if I hadn't just rewatched the original.

All in all, Tron: Legacy is a worthy follow-up to the original, and one I intend to see more than once.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Stargate Universe - "Subversion"

Spoiler Level: High

This is the first time we've seen Lou Diamond Phillips in this half of the season.  I hadn't really minded, because I wasn't really in to the whole subplot of Young and his wife both cheating on each other, and that seemed to be pretty much all his character, Col. Telford, was really contributing to the show.  But like most things about the second half of SGU's first season, now he's started to get interesting.

While Young has to wonder whether Telford's actually been brainwashed by the Lucian Alliance or whether Rush is up to his old tricks, as the viewer my question was more of whether or not Rush had understood his dream correctly or if there was going to be some twist.  If the whole thing had turned out to be a stunt by Rush for an ulterior motive then I would have been severely disappointed, because it would have meant the character had taken a major step backwards.

I always enjoy getting to see SG-1 characters on SGU, so it's nice to have both Daniel and O'Neill guest star in the same episode.  I also like that O'Neill tries to be the same witty smart-alec he always ways, although with SGU's tone it tends to not quite come across right.  However I did get an extra laugh this time when he pulled one of his one-liners and both Young and Telford just stared at him.

One question, though;  let's just say that Rush succeeds in getting the 9th Chevron to work and the Lucian Alliance does get to try and invade the Destiny.  (Which, considering the next two episodes are called "Incursion," is extremely likely.)  The Lucian Alliance still can't get back any more than the Icarus Base team can.  So what do they gain out of it?

And lastly, I can't let this review go without acknowledging the announcement that SGU has been canceled.  I have to say, I'm surprised and even a bit disappointed.  Surprised because I kept seeing that the show was very high in DVR and online viewing, so I thought it had been considered a success;  Disappointed partially because I'm finally enjoying it, but mostly because the decision was made after they wrapped filming on Season 2, which means there may not be a wrap-up to this series.  I know that Stargate has been good about making direct-to-video movies, but that was for SG-1 and Atlantis, which both were considered successful-- would they be willing to do that for a canceled series?

This also means that for the first time since the Sci-Fi Channel came on the air, they're not running anything I'm interested in.

As always, a special thank you to krissiecaps for the screen capture!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Tron

Spoiler Level: High

With Tron: Legacy being released tonight at midnight (and Clone Wars being on its December break), I figured the time was right for me to rewatch the original classic.

I'm glad I did. While I remembered the generalities, I had forgotten a lot of the specifics, and I now know at least one of them will play a part in the new movie.

I also have a bigger appreciation for the actors involved.  I had no idea who Jeff Bridges, Bruce Boxleitner and David Warner were when I was 13.  Heck, this time around I didn't even recognize David Warner's face because he looked so young, I recognized him from his voice!  And what a thrill to find out Peter Jurasik was in it, too.  Two Babylon 5 lead actors in the same movie.

It's fairly well known that Tron doesn't have as much CGI in it as it appears to; the total amount of CGI material is about 20 minutes, which is only about 1/5 of the overall movie, and the rest of it is "back-lit" animation.  But that was still revolutionary for 1982, and unlike other early CGI movies it doesn't feel dated at all-- or rather, it feels appropriate for the time frame that the movie takes place in.  In 1982 computers hadn't invaded every facet of our life; if you didn't play video games, the only time you interacted with a computer was probably one of those crazy new ATM machines.  Arcade games were king, but the only thing you used a home computer for was for actually writing programs in BASIC.  (I remember wondering if there were all kinds of silly little VIC-20 Programs running around the Tron universe wearing my face!)  And the computer world was portrayed here as a breathtaking world of bright, flashing vibrant colors.  It makes for an interesting contrast to our modern world, where computers are in our phones, our cars, our TVs and very few people write programs at all, but we're all using programs other people wrote... and our movies are often visually dark.

And who would have known there was religion in Tron?!?  Well, anyone who's watched it since 1982, I suppose.  That was a significant detail I'd forgotten.  I loved it when Tron and Yori learned that Flynn was a User, so they looked to him to explain the grand plan to them.  And considering humans truly did create them, and that programs need to have everything exactly in place to work (ever have a website fail because you forgot to include one bracket in the right place?), it makes sense that they'd think we put it all together with a master plan.

I've heard that some people feel that Tron: Legacy should look exactly like the original; I disagree.  Just as Tron was a reflection of the computer world in 1982, Tron: Legacy needs to be a reflection of the computer world of 2010.  It's nearly 30 years later, and in those decades computers have totally changed our world.  So their world would have to radically change as well.  I can't wait to see what it's like!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Smallville - "Icarus"

Spoiler Level: Atomic


"I don't know if they'll have time to have him come back as Death- stroke before the season ends, but I hope they get to."  - Fer, two episodes ago.

Well, that didn't take long!

Michael Hogan plays an unlikeable military leader with an eyepatch!  Is he prefect for the part of Deathstroke, or what?!?  It's a shame he and Dr. Hamilton didn't get any scenes together.

Well granted they never called him Deathstroke the Terminator, but now he's got the sword, the enhanced strength and the healing abilities!!  That's Deathstroke, man.  I never expected that from Smallville.  Awesome.

Okay, starting at the beginning...

Clark and Lois are now officially engaged.  My first reaction when he pulled out the ring a few episodes back was "isn't it a bit early for that step?" but after having a while to think about it I've decided it isn't, considering this is the show's last season.  It shows that Lois & Clark being married has entered the social consciousness as one of the key elements about Superman.  And since it's one of my favorite aspects of the modern Superman, that makes me very, very happy.

I also love any time Hawkman is featured prominently or we have a lot of heroes in one place, so having Hawkman and Stargirl at their engagement party was awesome, not to mention Black Canary getting a few lines on a video monitor and the cameos of the hoodies of Aquaman, Impulse and Cyborg at the end.

Very nice super-hero line up, but I have two little fan nitpicks:

First and foremost-- Kara is actually listed as Supergirl.  And secondly, they have photos of everyone in their secret identities, but they had to use a drawing of  Olliver Queen, the only one who's out to the public?

And speaking of which, the crowd turning on Olliver was a very good scene.  It showed how when we get worked up, all it takes is the accusation to be treated as guilty.  The woman that Olliver rescued was nowhere to be found, probably because she was just as afraid of Ollie as the crook was.  And once the crook said he was the one being victimized, Ollie was automatically guilty in the eyes of the people, because he'd been branded a terrorist.

I would say that the anti-hero furor is getting unbelievable, but the characters are recognizing that fact for themselves-- going from heroes to vigilantes to terrorists in the eyes of the public over such a short time indicates that "the Darkness" is responsible.  I also appreciated that the episode was willing to show how the anti-terrorist attitude, while valid in some cases, can be taken to the extreme and abused by those who want to use that fear for their own ends.

The only thing I didn't like is the whole "the public has turned against us, so we need to all go into hiding" thing.  Huh?  The Justice League is just going to give up and hide their heads in the sand?  It would seem to me that now is the time that you need to stick together more than ever, with Watchtower being your safe haven.  That whole part just didn't make any sense to me.  And besides, it's not like any of them quit on their own anyway, so why not plan on still working together?

Which brings us to the biggie.  The smackdown between Deathstroke and Hawkman.  Wow, what a fight.  Hawkman breaking through the glass window was fantastic, and the no-holds-barred fight was just breathtaking.  Hawkman's mace going through the floor where Deathstroke's head had been a second earlier shows he's not holding back, and I'll be honest, I never thought for a second that Deathstroke was going to win... which made it all the more shocking when he did.  And wow, that scene of Hawkman chasing down after Lois with his wings ablaze was really amazing.

So Clark zaps Deathstoke into the Phantom Zone.  Didn't see that coming either.  I'm not sure how well that's going to play out for him either; General Slade Wilson was still a part of the US military, who seemed to be fully behind everything he was doing.  This is only going to increase his being viewed as a terrorist.

And lastly, the funeral.  Very well represented, considering they couldn't (or didn't) get all the actors back, but still wanted to have all the heroes represented.  And I'm sure the flash of light from the glowing pyramid at the end was meant to say that the reincarnation process has begun again.  Perhaps we haven't seen the last of Hawkman.


However, we have seen the last of Smallville until the end of January.  As of this writing, this episode is still available for viewing for free (with commercials) at http://www.cwtv.com/cw-video/smallville/.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Sarah Jane Adventures - "The Empty Planet" (Parts 1 & 2)

Spoiler Level: Fairly High

Another Sarah Jane-lite episode, which always strikes me as odd since there are no Sarah Jane Adventures Christmas Specials.

Story wise, Sarah Jane being missing works fine; Rani and Clyde wake up and discover they are the last two people on Earth.  Their search for anyone else leads them to a young boy named Gavin, the only other person on Earth who hasn't vanished.  Rani & Clyde then try to figure out what pattern there could possibly be between the three of them, since both Rani & Clyde have had all kinds of amazing things happen to them but Gavin has led a normal life.  Then a couple of robots show up and start chasing them around a lot.

The story itself is pretty good, although everyone spends way too much time wandering around yelling "What's going on?!?" in the first episode.  They do eventually start hunkering down and putting their minds to the problem to try and figure it out, which gets the plot moving, but with only three characters (and two robots) for the entire cast it takes a while.  On the plus side, it's also an opportunity to have Clyde and Rani spend a lot of time alone together and gives their blossoming romance a chance to unfold a little further.  The fact that they may be the new Adam & Eve is brought up more than once.

The resolution was completely different than what I had theorized it would be, which I was quite pleased about.   It tied the whole story together quite well and provided some very interesting answers to all the questions that were raised.  Another very good story, even if Sarah Jane herself was barely in it!

K9 - "The Fall of the House of Gryffen"

Even ghost kids can't resist booping a dog's nose.
Spoiler Level: High

It's a dark and stormy night.  Starkey manages to beat a robot dog with a computer brain at chess, but that's because the robot dog is partnered with Darius.  Suddenly, a loud noise rings out, and Professor Gryffen sends Starkey to investigate.  He's rather surprised when Starkey returns alive.  (Oh waitaminute, that last bit was us MST3K-ing.)

The storm has somehow triggered the Space/Time Manipulator, which has allowed ghosts to enter the house, which take on the forms of Professor Gryffen's family to try and sway him over so they can suck up everyone's life forces and stay in our world.  At least that seems to be what's going on.

On the plus side, I'm glad to see the show following up on Professor Gryffen's family.  It's the character's main motivation, after all, so I'm glad it's not being pushed to the side.  And K9 gets in a few witty lines when he feels he's being ignored.

On the negative side, the whole "I'm so glad to see my family again that my brain has been addled to the point where I can't tell and/or don't care that they're not normal" approach, and the clichéd resolution of Jorjie, Darius and Starkey pleading "But Professor Gryffen,we're your family too, snap out of it!" wasn't very interesting.

Overall, this episode is an improvement over the previous one ("Fear Itself"), but not by much.  Rich and I discussed it afterwards and pretty much agreed that if K9 wasn't in it, this show would have lost us by now.  But I like K9, and I like how he's portrayed in this show, so I'm sticking with it.

Star Trek: The Next Generation - "We'll Always Have Paris"

Spoiler Level: High

A nice character episode for Picard, where answering a distress signal brings an old flame back into his life.  It's nice to see Picard try to open up a little, as he faces The One That Got Away.  And while it may have been intended as something of a romance episode for Picard, I like that it fully isn't; Jenice loves and stands by her husband, and while Picard obviously has some regrets, he respects that.  It's very refreshing after nuBSG and SGU.

What I enjoyed most about the episode however is the time hiccups where time briefly loops in on itself, such as the scene where Riker, Data & Picard find themselves re-experiencing entering the turbolift.  Once the time loop ends they now haven't entered the turbolift, yet they still have the memory of having done so.  I love wibley-wobley timey-wimey stuff like that.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The IT Crowd Series 1 and the Return of the Golden Age of Imported British Television

Spoiler Level:  Low


This is a hilarious British sitcom about about an "Information Technology" department, and it's the best British sitcom I've seen since Coupling.  You've got Roy, the typical computer guy who has a chance in hell of being a cool guy but inevitably shoots himself in the foot; Moss, who's the typical nerd stereotype, and Jen, who really knows nothing about computers at all but has wound up being in charge.  Not to mention the boss of the company, Denholm, who comes across as more than a little bit insane.  The show gives great opportunities to make fun of corporate office life (in a way that I found much more amusing than the original British version of The Office), with a computer bent and some great character humor.  The geek humor is obviously more tech-oriented than SF oriented, but the two have always been closely intertwined. And there's enough little in-jokes, such as Roy wearing a t-shirt of the Pac-Man kill screen and people reading "Love and Rockets" comics, that it hits me just right.

It also makes me feel like I've come into a second Golden Age of British Programming.  For me, the first Golden Age was the late 80's and early 90's, when my local PBS stations, A&E and even MTV were airing Doctor Who, Blake's 7, Red Dwarf, Blackadder and The Young Ones, along with old staples Monty Python's Flying Circus and the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. (Yes, I realize that a bunch of those were made earlier, but they were all new to me.)  America had Next Gen, but everything else cool was coming from England.  (Oh sure, we briefly had Max Headroom too, but that started over there and moved over here, so we can't take full credit for that show either.) Then Doctor Who was canceled, Blackadder finished up, and even Red Dwarf eventually dried up and disappeared, and it felt like we had a real drought.  I would try out the occasional British show that looked interesting but nothing really grabbed me like those old days.  I remember being so excited to get BBC America and then being disappointed that I wasn't really enjoying anything on there.

Then Joy and I discovered a sitcom called Coupling on BBC America (written by some guy I'd never heard of called Steven Moffat), and we absolutely fell in love with it.  Then Doctor Who came back.  Then Doctor Who started making spin-offs, like Torchwood and Sarah Jane Adventures and now K9.  (Okay, K9 is made in Australia, but it takes place in England, has aired in England, and the lead character was created in a British show, so that's close enough.)   Not to mention shows like Primevil and Sherlock, which I haven't even seen yet but all my friends have said they really enjoyed.  And now I've just discovered The IT Crowd.  I haven't had this many new British TV shows in my life since those Golden Days. And having seen Series 1 my entire family is now completely hooked on this show!

I think the obvious link here is Doctor Who.  Doctor Who runs from 1963 to 1989, and we get all kinds of cool stuff out of Britain.  They cancel Doctor Who and things dry up.  They bring back Doctor Who and then we have lots of cool shows again.  Coincidence?  I think not!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Futureworld

Spoiler Level: High

So it's three years after the robot amusement park Delos went berserk, but thanks to a little PR spin, all the trouble is reported as having only happened in Westernworld.  So Westernworld is closed and replaced by Futureworld along with previous Delos parks Medievalworld, Romanworld, and a few other additional new parks.

Futureworld works as a good sequel to Westworld in that it takes the same concept, but instead of retreading the original it goes in a different direction with it.  Instead of the robots breaking down and killing all the guests, the robots have taken over the entire operation and are working on replacing key guests who will have influence in the outside world.  It's a good premise, and it's well served by the fact that it's not obvious at the outset.  I was expecting a retread and enjoyed the alternate take on the concept.

The downside is the actual execution of the concept.  The acting and the dialogue are rather stiff, but enjoyable in a B-movie kind of way.  The most enjoyable characters are supporting character Harry the mechanic and his faceless robot companion Clark.  Our heroes suddenly out of nowhere have guns, whose targets spark whenever they're hit, which was probably done to make it ambiguous if someone was a robot or a human (or a clone), but really just made me incorrectly assume that anyone who was shot had been a robot.  And Yul Brynner returns for one scene as the Gunslinger, which feels kind of shoehorned into the movie as a dream sequence.  And I'll totally cop to this being one of those stupid fanboy nitpicks, but it used way too many classic Star Trek sound effects for my liking.

I have to admit, after seeing both this movie and At the Earth's Core recently, which both came out in 1976, it's no wonder Star Wars blew the world's mind in 1977.

On the plus side, since the first movie ended on such a down note, I had no idea if the good guys were actually going to survive or not.  It's also got the first ever CGI sequences. And really, for all the faults I listed above, I still enjoyed it.  So like most sequels it's not as good as the original, but it was still a fun watch.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Stargate Universe - "Pain"

Spoiler Level: High

You know, with a title like "Pain," I wasn't expecting a fun episode of happy sing-a-longs, so I can't honestly say I'm surprised with what we got in this episode.  But I tend to not like it when the show gets raunchy and/or gory, and this episode had some big servings of both.

It is however a good character episode, as bugs infect several of the characters and cause them to hallucinate.  And we're let in on the fact they're hallucinations right off the bat when Lt. James kills Scott before the opening title card.

Each hallucination gives us some insight into the characters, but I can't say that we really learn anything new here; we know that Chloe misses her dad, Scott misses his son, and Rush is traumatized by being captured by aliens.  I wasn't aware that Lt. James had a thing for Scott, but I have to chalk that up to my having a bad memory-- her hallucination implied they had something already, and I do remember there being a sex scene in the pilot, so I'm guessing that was between the two of them.  And we learn that Volker is claustrophobic.  Which is kind of a surprise, because they'd already set up that Greer was claustrophobic a few episodes ago, but apparently he's more afraid of the civilians taking over the ship again.

I did like the way that Rush's and Greer's hallucinations were overlapping, that was pretty cool.

Thanks again to krissiecaps for the screen capture!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Smallville - "Luthor"

Spoiler Level: High

I was wondering why Clark was being "Dick Clark" again at the beginning of this episode.  I mean sure, it's been a given that the Luthors were evil, but it felt like he was being overly harsh to Tess just to drive home the point that she couldn't share her new-found secret that she's really Lena Luthor with him.  But once Clark got zapped to Earth-2 I realized it was all set up so Clark could learn that just because Tess was born a Luthor doesn't mean she's got evil in her DNA.

In this take on the Superman doppelganger Ultraman, the entire universe isn't necessarily an evil opposite, and there's no good Alexander Luthor.  Its main diverging point is that Lionel Luthor found baby Kal-El instead of John & Martha Kent, and raised him as Clark Luthor.  There's no Crime Syndicate versions of the other heroes; Ollie is still something of a hero, although a questionable one, as he's been buying up land in Smallville and kicking out the owners so he can harvest as much Kryptonite as possible to fight Ultraman.  (And really, if ever there was a time to show Ollie with his goatee, this was it.  Talk about a missed opportunity.)

The universe Ultraman comes from in the comics has at various times been the Antimatter Universe, Earth-2, Earth-3, and probably a bunch of other ones I don't remember, so I'm quite happy with Lois referring to the Smallville version as Earth-2.  I'm generally a fan of stories of alternate timelines and parallel universes in general, and while the Smallville Earth-2 may not be a complete "evil opposite" universe, it is definitely a darker, dirtier place, so it works great for me.

One thing, though...

Based on the ending, Earth-2 Lionel must have gotten the Mirror Box off of Ultraman once he returned to his own universe and Earth-2 Ollie zapped him with the Kryptonite window again.  But we've seen that the Mirror Box always switches you with the location of your doppelganger.  Which means that a three-year-old corpse showed up in the Earth-2 Watchtower... and Earth-2 Lionel arrived buried in Earth-1 Lionel's coffin, and would have had to dig his way out.  Icchhhkk. 


As of this writing, this episode is available to watch for free (with commercials) at http://www.cwtv.com/cw-video/smallville/.  I'd also like to give a long-overdue thanks to homeofthenutty.com, which is an excellent screencaps site and where I've been getting all of my Smallville screencaps for my reviews.  These guys capture every single facial expression of every single scene, and I've never ever had a problem finding the image I wanted!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Star Wars: The Clone Wars - "Pursuit of Peace"

Spoiler Level: High

Another politics- heavy episode, which I always enjoy.  It's great to get to see Bail Organa doing his thing.  There is some action as well, in the form of a very cool speeder chase scene through the streets of Coruscant.

This episode also does a wonderful job of building up Rodian senator Onacanda Farr, who's killed in the second season episode "Senate Murders."  Padmé had talked about how good a friend he was, but that friendship was off camera before; now we see it first hand, so his death has more impact.  (Or at least it will, when I rewatch these episodes in chronological order when this is all over...)

I also loved the look of Selkath bounty hunter Chata Hyoki.  Now that's a cool alien design.

The final scene with Chancellor Palpatine came very close to revealing his true intentions.  Which is of course obvious to the audience, since we all know that Emperor Palpatine is Darth Vader's master, but everything I've seen set in the Prequel Era, be it books, comics, this show and even the movies themselves never came straight out and admitted it until the climax of Episode III.   So when Palpatine says "For now, we must adhere to the principles of our democracy," it's coming very close to crossing that line.  Not that I would necessarily be against it; I find Palpatine's machinations fascinating, and the lesson that comes with him-- that under the right conditions, people can be willing to sacrifice their democracy-- is a crucial one.  I'm just surprised to see it come so close to happening here.

"Pursuit of Peace" is the 56th episode aired and #55 in the known chronology to date. This will be the last new episode until January 7, 2011, which hopefully means I'll be able to keep up with NextGen for the next month!

As of this writing, this episode is available to watch for free at http://www.starwars.com/video/view/001161.html.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Star Trek: The Next Generation - "Skin of Evil"

Farewell, Tasha.  We hardly knew ye.

The story goes that Denise Crosby was unhappy that Tasha pretty much only got to say "Hailing Frequencies open, Captain" and fire phasers, so she opted to leave.  When she got the script for her final episode, she said of the opening scene between Tasha and Worf, "if there had been scenes like this all along, I wouldn't have left."  If that's the case, it's a real shame, because Season Two was very heavy on character development, and all she would have had to do was hold out for a few more episodes.

So Tasha gets the typical red shirt death... right down to the "He's dead, Jim" scene.  Except in this case they really go all out to try and bring her back.  Which is understandable, because for them as characters and for us as the audience it's giving a major character a "proper send-off," but I'll tell ya', if I had been Lt. Shlbotnik's friend I'd be pissed.  "Hey!  You didn't do any of that for Joe! You just looked into the camera all upset!!"

The final scene where Data says to Picard "I know this gathering was to think of Tasha, but I find I am only  thinking of myself, and how empty my life will be without her.  Did I miss the point?" always chokes me up.

I know people always liked to pair up Tasha and Data because of their fling in "The Naked Now," but I always thought that she and Worf would have made a much better couple.  I like to think that had she stayed, that would have been looked into someday.  Anyone know if there's ever been an alternate reality story where she survived, and we see how the rest of the show would have gone if she was still there? If there isn't one, it would make for a great "Myriad Universes" story.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Transformers: Prime - "Darkness Rising" (Parts 1-5)

Spoiler Level: High

This is the best Trans- formers TV show I've seen since the Beast era.

Now to be fair, I haven't seen all the shows since the Beast era.  I am by no means a hardcore Transfan.  I generally couldn't stand the G1 cartoon (sorry, Mike) although I tried to get into it many times because I loved The Transformers: The Movie and the G1 comics.  I loved Beast Wars, enjoyed Beast Machines and some fansubs of Beast Wars II and Beast Wars Neo.  I suffered through all of Robots in Disguise.  I gave up on Armada fairly early so I didn't even bother with Energon, and tried out a fansub of Galaxy Force but found it boring so I didn't bother with Cybertron.  And Animated looked like a watered-down version of the movies with character designs that really put me off, so I never gave it a chance.

But when I saw the previews of Prime my interest got piqued.  Since my favorite has been Beast Wars, the return to CGI definitely made me willing to give it a chance.  Hey, CGI is perfect for robots, because they're supposed to be blocky and move mechanically!

The "watered-down version of the movies" description might still apply here, as this is obviously a TV version of the movie universe;  It's even produced by the movies' writers, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci.  The designs for Optimus Prime and Bumblebee are similar to the movie designs, and Bumblebee still doesn't talk.  However it's only watered down in the sense that the Transformers aren't smashing through cities, although there's still lots of combat.  In a lot of ways it feels stronger than the movies; the humans are a lot less annoying, the robots aren't all silver and/or black so I can actually tell them apart, and with it being a series they each get more screen time to be fleshed out as actual characters.

The voice acting is great; Peter Cullen is back as Optimus Prime. Frank Welker's Megatron never sounded better than here; his voice is lower, darker and more threatening.  Jeffrey Combs, who's played about a gazillion different aliens on Star Trek, plays Ratchet and does a great job infusing Ratchet with a sense of weary frustration with Earth yet fierce loyalty to Optimus.

The kids are more tolerable than in most TF stories.  I am not a big fan of humans being in Transformers. That's part of why I like the Beast era the most.  In my opinion, humans just get in the way and force the Autobots to stay on the defensive.  (The obvious exception being the army troops in the first Transformers film-- now those guys could hold their own.)  This series totally drives that point home in Parts 3 & 4, when the kids decide to follow Bulkhead (who is an awesome character, by the way) into battle.  Thankfully in the other parts they're mostly just helpers; the character Jack is even smart enough to try to stay out of the way.  They're much more tolerable than Sam Witwicky,who I generally found to be selfish and unlikeable.  Jack, Raf, and Miko may be intrusive at times, but they don't try to steal the show away from the robots.  And Special Agent Fowler is much less slapstick than Agent Simmons while still being humorous.  And he's got a big ol' gut hanging over his belt!  I loved that.

And of course one of the key, crucial questions to any Transformers cartoon is: Do they have live ammo?  These are robots, after all, so they should be able to blow the snot out of each other and repair minor damages, with major damage still being enough to kill them.  And yes, they do that in this show! It shocked the hell out of me when one of the lead Autobots was brutally killed in the first episode.  Then he's brought back to life in the next episode and I thought, "Oh, okay, they only killed him because it wouldn't be permanent."  But wow was I wrong; he's brought back as a mindless berzerker, only to be killed again even more brutally, and this time for good.  Yikes.

Now granted I'm not a big fan of zombies, and cyberzombies aren't much different, but even I have to be impressed with the hordes unleashed here.  Hopefully the show will find other angles in the future, though; it works well for this story arc, but I imagine it would get old quick.  Especially since I'm starting to get sick of seeing zombies in everything.

The musical score is bold and theatric, and sounded so familiar that I thought series composer Brian Tyler was using Steve Jablonsky's theme from the movies.  Which he might be, but I realized the reason it sounded familiar to me was it sounds like Michael Giacchino's theme from Star Trek ('09, the script for which was also written by Kurtzman and Orci).

So it's good story telling, good animation, good voice acting.  I'll be looking forward to the rest of the series in 2011.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Westworld

Spoiler Level: High

Is this movie a classic, or do I just think it's a classic because 2-XL included it in his "Science Fiction II" program and it was one of the few he asked about that I'd never seen?  It is by Michael Chricton, after all.

It's definitely a product of the 70's, with its rooms full of computer consoles with white blinking lights, its 70's clothes and hair, and the almost mythical trust put into computers that will of course eventually go wrong.  In fact, there's no technical explanation given for why the systems are breaking down beyond "it's getting sick."  No, this is a straight-forward morality story-- create a system designed to indulge your every decadence, and it will ultimately destroy you.

The interesting part is how long it takes for the system to go wrong.  The film takes its time showing you the marvel of the artificial worlds they've created;  in addition to Westworld (often referred to as Westernworld) there's Medievalworld and Romanworld, with Romanworld obviously intended to be the most decadent.  We're given long scenes showing how the system works and how fully the customers can indulge themselves, yet to 1973 PG standards so it's never as gratuitous as the premise would make it sound.  (Nowadays, the content here would probably be PG-13 for blood and sexual situations; this is back when PG actually meant something.)

For some crazy reason, I also spent the movie thinking that James Brolin was a young Michael Douglas, so I assumed he was going to be the hero and Richard Benjamin was going to be the one to die.  Imagine my surprise when it turned out to be the other way around.

Yul Brynner is the original Terminator, the unstoppable robot killing machine.  Every time you think he's finally been destroyed he gets up again and continues his murderous march.  Terminator does genuinely owe something to this movie.

The ending is particularly brutal, with Benjamin's character Peter Martin being the sole survivor, running through the different worlds strewn with dead bodies and Brynner's Gunslinger robot tracking him down, with no guarantee that Martin is going to make it.

My only complaint is that I'd like to know why the system actually broke down, but no one survives long enough to figure that part out.  But that's more a sign of the times.  My reaction that this was an essential part overlooked by the movie probably comes from us living in a more computer-oriented society.  Back in 1973, computers were still something other-worldly.  We didn't need to know why HAL went crazy in 2001; it's a flawed computer, and that's scary.  Nowadays a flawed computer just makes you grumble and complain and reboot, restore or reinstall.

 I'm interested to see how the fall-out from the events of this movie are handled in the sequel, Futureworld.  This was an amusement park after all, and it's safe to say that any amusement park where all the guests died would never reopen again.  But a successful film needs a sequel, so Futureworld, here we come!