29 February 2012

Movies: Bellflower

Bellflower (2011) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1242599/

Indie Drama

After watching "The Road Warrior" as kids a couple of dudes make it their life mission to prepare for the apocalypse by building flame throwers, shooting guns, starting a gang (of just the two of them) called "Mother Medusa", then building a car tricked out with flame-throwing pipes, a smokescreen and other james-bondish devices.  There's more to the film than that, though. It is also about how one of them meets a girl, falls in love, then deals with love lost, and its impact on those around them.

Surprisingly not a chick-flick despite the romance stuff. There's enough muscle-car, fire, fights, beatings and stabbings to sate blood lust.  I have to say that this is one of the few films where two people meet and it genuinely looks like they develop and experience a relationship over time. Most flicks just end up "they meet and jump in the sack in 5 minutes or less" with the audience expected to fill in the blanks so they can make sense out of why that chick would date down like that in the first place. Not so here.

But, keep in mind, this is an independent film, starring the writer and director of the film and made on a shoestring budget with a bunch of folks I've never heard of. The shots are gritty. There's gunk on the camera lens from time to time. Lots of hand-held guerrilla-style filming. But it works - it works really well for this film.
They did build the Medusa car and all its gadgets really do work, same thing with the flame thrower. Heck the writer/director built the camera used to film the movie. They did a good job on this film, story-wise, acting-wise and production-wise. A labor of love that transcends its budget. I thought the first half of the film seemed a bit more coherent than the remainder of the film, but in retrospect I think that was intentional to parallel how things are falling apart for the protagonist.

I realize that seeing Sundance Film Festival logos on a film isn't a guarantee for film enjoyment. The same goes for Cannes films. But at least they're a start. I've seen films that had lots of Sundance or Cannes buzz about 'em and they did nothing for me. Happily for me this was not the case here.
I was rather surprised at how much I enjoyed the film by the end. Definitely a whole exceeding the sum of its parts.

28 February 2012

Movies: Winnie the Pooh

Winnie the Pooh (2011) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1449283/

Disney animated film

It's Winnie the Pooh and most of the Hundred Acre Wood characters. Eeyore lost his tail, so Pooh and the others have a contest to find him a new one. Little side adventures occur too.

While growing up I loved the first three Disney animated Pooh featurettes. I'm talking about the 1966, 1968 and 1974 ones. Then I read the A. A. Milne books. I didn't mind the differences too much, for by the time I read the books I understood that Disney rarely sticks to the letter of the stories and re-imagines them as they wish. I've not watched any additional Pooh material Disney released after those first three, so I can't make any comparisons to those.

This film evoked many warm childhood memories of those early featurettes. The opening and closing 'real world' trips through Christopher Robin's room were spot-on with how I remember Disney bookending the featurettes, including the warmth of the lighting. The animation was great. It looked a lot like the early featurette style of animation, including the bits where pages of the 'book' become part of the story and scenery. 
A few times whole scenes from the previous featurettes got reworked into the Eeyore tail story. To me a lot of the voices sounded off compared to my memories, but I also realize it isn't realistic to expect the original featurette voice actors. Some voices were more similar, some were less. Plus I think the majority of the voice actors worked on the later Disney Pooh stuff, so the voices are probably fine for those who have seen the later releases and re-voiced clips, and it won't make any difference to those who haven't seen Pooh before.

This film is fully in the G rated wheelhouse, very child friendly and perfect for the kiddos. I liked it, but it did feel a bit too derivative of the early featurettes to me. That won't matter to new Pooh viewers, though. It is Pooh. And that makes it worth watching at least once.
At about an hour long it's just the right length.


PS for some reason I thought they'd already done the Eeyore's tail story, but I don't remember the original 3 featurettes to that detail. Is it possible I remember it from the books?

25 February 2012

Movies: The Fall

The Fall (2006) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0460791/

Drama Fantasy Adventure

Set in a 1920s Los Angeles hospital. Roy is a stuntman who suffered an injury on the job that left him paralyzed. Also in the hospital is Alexandria, a 5 year old Romanian immigrant, recovering from a fall from an orange tree. Bored as any child would be in a half-body immobilization cast she makes her way all over the hospital during the day. The nurses have been teaching her to speak and write English. She writes a note to her favorite nurse and throws it out the window, but the wind carries the note through an open window on the ground floor. Alexandria finds the note with Roy, it had landed on his lap. They get to talking and Roy begins telling her a story about 5 bandits on a quest.  However we soon find out that Roy's storytelling is a means of manipulating the child into stealing morphine for him.

Most of the cast I've never heard of, however it starred Lee Pace as Roy. I recognized his name from the short-lived quirky series "Pushing Daisies", a show I enjoyed immensely and mourned when cancelled. Known actors or not, casting did an amazing job.

I had never heard anything about this film before coming across it accidentally while surfing through channels. Once I saw the description I thought I'd record the next showing and watch it. However the whim that spurred me to record the film faded almost just as quickly and it sat on my DVR for about two months before I got around to watching it.
I am glad I finally did watch it, though, because it really would have been a shame to miss it.

In some ways this film reminded me of "The Princess Bride". Normally any comparison of a film to "The Princess Bride" sets a bar very hard to meet and spells death.  What I mean is the similarity lies mostly in 'an adult telling a story to a child' category of film, with the child's imagination showing us the tale on screen. This film does the same, but what was a neat addition to that type of film was as the child's imagination falls short or changes what we see reflects those changes.
Just don't expect it to be the same sort of film as "Princess Bride", or to even like it in the same way, for that's where the similarity ends. The film also reminded me a little of  "Labyrinth" and "MirrorMask", both Henson productions films, because they and "The Princess Bride" are all of similar fantasy adventure story stock.  This film also has a dark side, sometimes a crushing dark side, along the lines of "Pan's Labyrinth" dark. Probably too dark for younger children, hence the "R" rating. Mature teens shouldn't have much of a problem. The story goes where it needs to go.

Chances are most readers have seen "The Princess Bride" and possibly "Labyrinth", so trying to conjure up a mix with the other films I mentioned is probably tough.  Regardless, I would recommend seeing those other films if you haven't yet seen them.

Directed by Indian director Tarsem Singh, who also directed "The Cell" back in 2000. His cultural influences bring sequences to the film that aren't often seen from most western film directors. Overall an outstanding production. The fantasy settings are stunning. Apparently all were shot in real places at 26 locations in 18 different countries. I can't emphasize enough how incredible some of the visuals are, a feast for the eyes. Amazing editing of the scenes too, including fades and wipes. It has a good story, good side plots, the acting is great. Especially in how believable the young actress plays Alexandria.  As you watch the 'real' vs. 'imagined' worlds you'll begin to spot the overlaps, the re-use of the 'real' folks at the hospital environment as they reappear in the 'imagined' scenes, just like Dorothy's overlap of 'real' and 'imagined' as shown in "The Wizard of Oz". Sure there could have been influences on the director's vision by those films that came before, but it is a really good film and does invoke nods to the great films that preceded it without copying or referencing them.

I realize at this point I've set a high bar for this film to meet in description and by the film cross-references I've made. I can't help it, I really liked this film. I just would hate to set a new viewer's expectations high then hear they were disappointed in the end because the film didn't meet them.
Apologies. I'm still kinda jazzed after watching the film because I haven't seen anything quite like it before, not on this film's scale.

Definitely worth finding and watching at some point, especially if you liked "The Princess Bride" and/or "Pan's Labyrinth".  I am surprised this film hasn't had more buzz.

Parting thought - the title of the film is just as multilayered as the story.

24 February 2012

Movies: Winter in Wartime

Winter in Wartime (2008) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0795441/

World War II Period Drama, subtitled foreign language film (Dutch, German, English)

Set in Nazi-occupied Holland, 1945, and yes it is winter time. 14-year old Michiel is the son of the mayor and resents his father's acquiescent dealings with the Nazi occupiers. Michiel instead admires his Uncle Ben, who Michiel suspects is in the Dutch Resistance. Although Uncle Ben warns Michiel to just be a boy and not to get involved in the resistance, circumstances lead Michiel to Jack, an injured downed RAF pilot who is hiding in the woods a short ways outside of town. Michiel befriends him, brings him food, medical aid, and tries to smuggle him out of the area so that Jack can return to England.

I didn't recognize most of the cast, but young Jamie Campbell Bower plays RAF pilot Jack. I recognize Bower from the Starz Camelot series, the final two Harry Potter films, and Sweeny Todd. Apparently he was in a Twilight film or three as well, but I never watched any of 'em and don't intend to.  Bower did quite well in this film, as did the rest of the cast. They all seemed believable in their roles.

The production was excellent. Camera work, editing, settings, pacing, all excellent.
Good story too.  We follow Michiel throughout the film. We get to see his opinions and interpretations of the people around him and his realization while events unfold that they may not have been accurate or severely misplaced. He struggles with the conflict of hating the Nazis, yet sometimes they do helpful things that make them seem not so bad.  Basically we watch as doses of wartime reality crumble his naivete. Although the story is rather straightforward there are plenty of nuances involved in the storytelling to keep this film a compelling experience.

In some ways this film reminded me of the film "Empire of the Sun". They aren't similar stories, but they are similar in portraying a coming of age experience during wartime for their corresponding young protagonists.  "Empire" also happens to be the first Christian Bale film I saw, although he was but 12 or 13 years old at the time. So yeah, I was kinda shocked when I next saw him as Patrick Bateman in "American Psycho" and realized it was that same kid.

If you like period dramas or World War II period dramas, check this one out. And if you haven't yet seen "Empire of the Sun", give that one a shot too. Both are good films and worth seeing at least once.

22 February 2012

Movies: Your Highness

Your Highness (2011) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1240982/

Comedy Fantasy Action Adventure

Swords and sorcery fare. A tale of two princes, Prince Fabious (the eldest) and Prince Thadeous. Fabious, as his name implies, goes on quests, vanquishes beasts, is loved by the king will himself be king some day. Knowing his place is to never sit on the throne Thadeous is a pudgy man-child that does nothing of note but laze about, drink booze and smoke weed and whine about his brother.
During one of his quests Fabious rescues a maiden from the evil wizard Leezar. On their wedding day Leezar steals her away because he needs her to complete a ritual that can only be attempted once every 100 years or so, when the world's two moons meet.  Fabious sets out to rescue her and drags the very reluctant Thadeous along.

After seeing many of the negative reviews by real film critics (and imagined ones like me) I considered not watching the film and dropped it from my Netflix queue. But when I saw it was scheduled on a premium movie channel I figured what the heck, why not. I did like most of the cast members from other films.

The recognizable (to me) stars were Danny McBride as Thadeous, James Franco as Fabious, Natalie Portman, Toby Jones, Zooey Deschanel, Charles Dance, Damian Lewis (awesome in "Homeland"). Quite a cast, actually, especially considering the film script and plot. Though most of the cast plays their roles seriously you can see they understand the film they are in. Just enough mugging without going over the top.

Basically a lampoon of your standard fight evil save the princess quest sword and sorcery fantasy film that borrows heavily from every fight evil save the princess quest sword and sorcery fantasy film that precedes it. It is very vulgar in multiple ways through direct statements, implications, double entendres, visually. Plenty of times it just goes too far. Definitely not for children.

The movie has plenty of dumb moments and dialog. I didn't notice any stand-out laugh-out-loud moments either. But it did get some chuckles out of me. Mostly at how wrong any given thing was going on at the time. Spot-on production-wise. Great visual effects, settings, CGI, makeup. They obviously had a good budget and spent it wisely.

But. And there is a but. The film is still better than a lot of the crap lampoon films released in recent years. I'm looking at you, "Epic Movie" and films of similar caliber.  There's a certain smartness brought to this film that sets it above those.  There is a coherence of story, a mocking sort of character development and almost redemption.

So yes, a lot of the negative criticisms were spot-on. However I was entertained. And, in the end, that is the most important thing an entertainment film can do is actually be entertaining. Surprisingly a bit better than anticipated.

21 February 2012

Movies: The Green Hornet

The Green Hornet (2011) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0990407/

Comedy Action Adventure

Based on the Green Hornet character from the old radio plays, movie serials and 1966 TV series. Supposedly.
Britt Reid grows up into an irresponsible man-child under his father's disapproving eye. Upon his father's untimely death by bee sting Britt inherits his father's news paper business. Britt discovers Kato, his father's vehicle maintenance man (and barista), is a martial-arts expert and engineering genius. Together they decide to fight crime by pretending to be criminals.  Perhaps it goes without saying that Britt is practically useless and Kato does everything.

I've been putting off watching this film for a long time, however curiosity got the better of me.

Stupid curiosity.

I should have procrastinated indefinitely.

I was shocked to see it was a two hour film. 45 minutes in to the picture I wanted it over. But I stuck it out to write this up for the two or three people that read my writeups.  $10 sez my wife won't even read this.  Lucky for her (and me) she didn't watch the film with me.

Comedy? Barely. I see it attempts to be comedy, but mostly falls flat. I cracked a smile during the Britt vs. Kato fight, it had funny moments. Then again that scene reminded me of the Clouseau vs. Kato fights in the Pink Panther films, although those scenes were funnier. Just a passing resemblance.
And I cracked a smile when Chudnofsky said, "Heh. I'm ungassable". Weak, I know, but that's it. I didn't even have to use up all the fingers on one hand to count that up.
Action? plenty. Mindless and over the top mostly, but not unexpected for this film. Kato's personal 'bullet time' methods were laughable. Not in a funny "ha ha" way. Yes I realize it ties in directly to a Green Hornet pratfall later in the film, but the payoff wasn't worth it.
Adventure? I guess if stuff happens from point A to X to L to B one could call that an adventure. Generally predictable, shallow, silly. And yes - I was implying the story wandered all over the place despite happening sequentially.

Surprisingly this is the first film I've watched with Cameron Diaz in the cast where Diaz is not the most annoying thing about the film. And that's saying quite a bit. I've rarely appreciated her presence in any film. I do have to admit my favorite Diaz role was in the film "Vanilla Sky", but that's because Tom Cruise asphyxiates her character.

Seth Rogan delivers pretty much what I anticipated in the role of Britt/Green Hornet. What I mean is from a distance he probably isn't the right guy for the role, but in context of this script and film what does it matter.
Tom Wilkinson as Britt's dad? Wilkinson is an amazing actor and eats roles like this one for breakfast. Christoph Waltz really sells Chudnofsky in the film with the right balance of deadpan humor. The Wilkinson and Waltz roles could easily have been cardboard caricatures but but they were able to bring some depth to them. Edward James Olmos did fine with what little he had to work with.

The film doesn't put me off on the concept of the Green Hornet, I would like to see the 1966 series at some point. But watching this film was not the best use of my time.

19 February 2012

Movies: Green Lantern

Green Lantern (2011) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1133985/

Fantasy Comic book adaptation

Yep - another comic book adapted to live action film. Basically his origin story and first major battle. Hal Jordan is a rebellious risk-taking test pilot for a defense contractor, has father issues. A dying alien crash-lands on Earth. Not just any alien, the alien that is the guardian of this sector of space. Needing a replacement for his job he sends his ring to find a worthy candidate. It's Hal. Then there's an internal struggle, an external struggle, then the big fight against the big bad that took out the guardian. Earth is at stake.

Just as many comic books borrow heavily from other comic books, this film adaptation borrows heavily from its predecessors. Most notable were how early in the film had some serious Iron Man scene borrowings going on. I didn't mind, I'm used to the heavy borrowing by now.
Of the most recent adaptations this looked and felt more comic-book-ish than the rest. And, as I've never really read, nor paid attention to, Green Lantern I actually got a sense of what the character was about. His superpowers are rather silly, but the film was entertaining.  I think Green Arrow would probably have been sillier, and of course Aquaman would've been silliest.

Ryan Reynolds plays Hal Jordan / Green Lantern doing his Ryan Reynolds thing. If I recall correctly this is his third comic-book adaptation film. The first being Blade: Trinity, the second as Deadpool in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. And he's coming back in 2014 as Deadpool again. Peter Sarsgaard, Tim Robbins and Angela Basset are a few of the other bigger names in the cast. I suppose Blake Lively would be known to Gossip Girl watchers, though I've only seen her once before in The Town and don't particularly recall her.

It's entertaining, chock-full of CGI, a rather predictable storyline, wraps up with an easy open door to a sequel. Escapist fare, as pretty much any comic adaptation will be. Has at least one seriously groan-worthy moment when he 'saves' a party from a crashing helicopter. I realize it is a call-back to an earlier shot from his nephew's birthday party, but geeze. There's quite a few characters shown and ignored minutes later. Specifically the chick in his bed in the opening shot, his family and his nephew. One could argue they're necessary to telegraph Hal's character and background, but they're so easily forgotten I dunno how effective they even were.
Not outstanding, not bad, no more a waste of time than any other comic adaptation. Rates higher than Fantastic Four in my book. FF was a much bigger waste of time and less entertaining, so GL has that going for it.

18 February 2012

Movies: Cowboys & Aliens

Cowboys & Aliens (2011) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0409847/

Sci-Fi Western

The title tells you exactly what this film is about.

It starts out much like any other standard Western film. A stranger shows up in town, goes to the saloon, orders a drink. A fight breaks out. There's a spoiled punk kid whose daddy pretty much owns the whole town that gets in trouble with the law. Daddy shows up to bust him outta jail.
Then aliens show up.

There's actually a lot more to the story than that. What I liked was it felt like a Western film, despite some odd things here and there. Then after the aliens show up, it still feels like a Western but also feels like a sci-fi alien invasion story.

Great cast in this, some real powerhouses like Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Sam Rockwell, Paul Dano, Keith Carradine, Clancy Brown, Walton Goggins, Olivia Wilde. Yowza. Has a decent script, much better than one would assume from the title and subject matter. The film could have gone very wrong but didn't.  It has aliens, spaceships, explosions, six-shooters, fistfights, you name it - everything you expect from both genres bunched up in one entertaining film.

Directed by Jon Favreau of Iron Man & Iron Man 2, plus he's been an actor in a few flicks you may have seen as well. Writing credits go to Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (and others). Orci and Kurtzman have been stomping around films and TV series with J.J. Abrams, so you know those guys have been doing some doings from Xena:Warrior Princess through Alias, Star Trek reboot, Fringe, Hawaii Five-0. At this point if I see Abrams, Orci and Kurtzman attached to a project I'm going to watch it. They're on that list.

Great choice for the Friday night action movie or Saturday night sci-fi film.  Entertainment for entertainment's sake done right.

15 February 2012

TV Series: Spartacus: Vengeance

Spartacus: Vengeance (2012) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1442449/

Starz is at it again, the third installment of the Spartacus series. I figured as I'd already written about "Spartacus: Blood and Sand" (S:BaS) and the prequel season "Spartacus: Gods of the Arena" (S:GotA) I should continue the trend as Spartacus rages on.

For a quick recap, season 1 of the series S:BaS shows the capture, enslavement, training and rise of Spartacus in the gladiatorial area. Unfortunately the star of the show, Andy Whitfield, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin Lymphoma and began treatment. While giving Andy time to get better Starz made a prequel half-season, S:GoA, which gives us some background story to the House of Batiatus and some of the supporting characters. Unfortunately Andy Whitfield's first medical treatment didn't beat the cancer, so as he returned for another treatment round Starz had to re-cast the role of Spartacus to continue the show.  From what I recall Whitfield said they made a good choice for recasting the role. Sadly, Andy Whitfield succumbed to the cancer and died.
If you are new to the series and want to see all that happens before "Spartacus: Vengeance" (S:V) you can either watch S:GotA first followed by S:BaS to see everything unfold in chronological order, or you can watch them in broadcast order by watching S:BaS then S:GotA. Either order is fine, although it might make more sense to see S:GotA first. Just don't worry about the tail-end recap of S:BaS shown at the start. You can go from S:BaS directly into S:V without watching S:GotA and not miss any continuity, except for not knowing who a couple folks are that return from that prequel season. S:GotA is worth watching, just not critical. So if you do choose to watch the series from the start don't feel bad if you can't get a hold of S:GotA.

When S:V started broadcasting, the wife and I realized it had been a couple years since we'd seen S:BaS and our memories weren't as fresh as we thought. Well that and we had the S:GotA in-between to contribute to fading memory. So we decided to re-watch S:BaS before beginning S:V just to get back up to speed.  That's why this post is a little late out of the gate instead of immediately after S:V began its broadcast season.

This season brings a couple of cast changes. The most obvious is the casting of  Liam McIntyre as Spartacus. There is some resemblance to Whitfield, enough to be able to accept the recasting, a closer resemblance than, say, the Dick York/Dick Sargent recast of Darrin on "Bewitched". However McIntyre is also 10 years younger than Whitfield and that's almost more noticeable, moreso in his lacking the raw center of gravity Whitfield's Spartacus developed for the role by the end of S:BaS. I'm waiting to see if, as the season unfolds and McIntyre has more time to inhabit and mature in the role that the difference will be less noticeable. The poor guy has some sandals and subligaria to fill.
The second recasting was of the slave Naevia, Crixus' love interest. She was around for S:BaS and S:GotA, but apparently tried negotiating for a bigger slice. The negotiations fell through and Cynthia Addai-Robinson was cast as the new Naevia.  This casting causes more of the Darrin Effect than the Spartacus recast. This one is more jarring, along the lines of the two Beckys on "Roseanne".
Of the returning cast, Manu Bennett as Crixus is doing well to smooth over the changes. Thus far he has been able to portray much of the original Crixus / Spartacus relationship chemistry from his end. I think of all the players the greatest potential to expose any recasting weakness would occur in those interactions. And now with the arrival of the new Naevia casting poor Bennett as Crixus has to do double-duty to smooth over that transition as well. A lot rests on Crixus's shoulders to keep the show going smoothly as he is such a critical companion to both recast roles.

Three episodes in and I can see that the show was knocked on its heels at the loss of Whitfield, but it is hanging on and rebuilding. The returning cast is doing well to keep the momentum of those characters going. I can see that McIntyre will need time to really grow in to the role, but he is doing acceptably well.  So far the plans, machinations, treachery, backstabbing in all the sub-plots and arcs seem to be building nicely.  The incidentals that add seasoning to the stories - the bloodbath fights, copious nudity, creative euphemisms and cursing continues in the tradition established in the first two seasons.

I can't help but lament the loss of John Hannah's Batiatus. Yes, there was no way he was going to be returning for this season after the slaughter of everyone in House Batiatus at the end of season one. But still, Hannah did an awesome job as Batiatus and provided such a strong driving force for both season one and the prequel season. I have no idea if any other character is going to be able to match what Batiatus contributed in the first two seasons. Batiatus was an evil bastard through and through, shocking even to those who thought they were evil bastards. He will be missed.

Will this season end up as strong as season one? Only time will tell, but it seems to be on strong footing despite the changes and thus far seems to be heading in the right direction. The returning cast is doing well and their experience in their roles makes a great solid foundation. Hopefully as the season continues the new characters, and actors that portray them, mature.

Yes, way back at the beginning I was skeptical about how good this series would be, but after sticking it out past the first three episodes of season one I was hooked. The show won me over. If you haven't yet watched it, it is definitely worth watching from the start. And it is a great show to tide one over until "Game of Thrones" returns on HBO.

 ---- Update: 5 episodes in
The series is more mature in the best ways because of lessons learned by the preceding two seasons.  The storytelling is a bit tighter, the buildup and progression of dirty deeds done (lying, backstabbing, plotting, betrayals) are owned by the characters and fall in line with their personal character arcs as established through the series up to this point.
The new Spartacus, well, I'm still getting used to him. He's doing acceptably fine, but each time I see him I can't help but see he isn't Whitfield's Spartacus. I'm going to be kind and keep giving him time to take the role and own it for himself. As I mentioned before, the change in actors isn't near as jarring as it could have been, and nowhere near as jarring as the new Naevia.
Some of the scenes this season have felt a little off. Not any one actor's fault, more like scripting weaknesses, or reaching to recapture great things from the first two seasons and reuse them. There aren't many, but when they do happen and make me roll my eyes, ugh.

Generalities aside, this particular episode rocked in comparison to the first four. Part of that came from the return of Gannicus, which gives us some continuation of story from when we saw him last, in the prequel season.  It felt a bit more like the older near-season-end Sparacus episodes. I think the series is still in the right track.
I have to keep in mind that the first season of Spartacus really got going strong starting around episodes 4 and 5, I should grant at least as much leeway for season 2. And in all fairness they have been building steam up to this point, they've just had a few leaks along the way. I'm hoping it continues to gain speed and race headlong like season 1 did.

 ---- Update: Episode 7
Just had to stop in and say they showed one of the coolest kills yet in this episode. Spartacus cut a dude's face off, and as the body fell the brain fell out. I had to back up and rewatch that scene a couple times because it was so awesome. Even the "holy shit" faces on the witnesses are perfect.  It reminded me there was a face-cutting-off scene in "Equilibrium", except this one was much cooler looking.
If this show is doing anything right it is the special effects. But they are doing more right than that. The story the season is weaving is developing nicely. I think the show is doing quite well so far despite the sad setbacks.  As I mentioned before, production learned a lot in seasons 1 and 0 and it definitely shows. The maturity of production is outweighing the occasional weaknesses that show up from time to time.

---- Update: Season Finale
Wow. Just wow.
Appropriate bowing of head for lives lost in season finale. Love 'em or hate 'em they will be missed.

I wait in anticipation for the next season. It can't come soon enough.

---- Afterthoughts
Ok. I accept McIntyre as the new Spartacus.  It didn't exactly take all season to happen, but it did take a while. I'm sure that was partly due to re-watching S:BaS (season 1) immediately prior to S:V. Thus I suspect that anyone new to the series and watching the seasons in order will probably experience the same readjustment to new faces.
Readjustment pains aside, McIntyre did great. Production chose well. The series survives.
As for Naevia, well, I still haven't adjusted, but I can put up with it.

Sure each season of the series can test one's patience at times, but the payoffs are worth the wait.  Starz is doing good with this series. I hope they don't "HBO" it to death by cutting budget and driving off the talented folks or just killing the series outright with no warning.

13 February 2012

Movies: Apollo 18

Apollo 18 (2011) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1772240/

Sci-fi thriller

Although Apollo 17 was the official final moon landing, one more secret mission to the moon took place after.  The astronauts discover something they weren't quite prepared for. And no, it was not the Transformers crash site on the moon - that was a different film.  Not only do they discover the Soviets had a manned lander make it to the moon, they discover what took out the Cosmonaut aboard...
This film is one of those "found footage restored and cut into a coherent story" types of films, just like "The Blair Witch Project".

Okay -- I really liked the premise of the film. Unfortunately the execution of that story fell a little short of the expectations. And, honestly, I started to drift off into sleep near the end, which is not a good sign.  I suspect they had more time to fill than story. Pared down this might have made a decent one-hour TV movie special, or perhaps stretched to one and a half hours with thirty minutes of commercials. If Twilight Zone was still around it would've been a good fit, which, I suppose, would have made "Stephen Hawking's Sci-Fi Masters/Masters of Science Fiction" a good enough venue.

Yeah, that's about all I have to say about it.

11 February 2012

Movies: Conan the Barbarian 2011

Conan the Barbarian (2011) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0816462/

Fantasy Action Adventure

Not a remake of the 1982 classic starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Earl Jones, but more a retelling, still inspired by the Robert E. Howard books.  I can't see doing an in-depth 2011 vs. 1982 sort of thing here, the two stories are that dissimilar. I'll just mention that the two Conan origin stories are barely similar. In consideration I think I rather prefer the original film's take.  It carried more weight and served as a much more powerful driving force through the original film's story.  And the original film had a more raw gritty epic fantasy feel to it as opposed to the smoothly polished modern look of the new film. There's something positive to be said for old-school effects and creative location casting.

Jason Momoa plays the new Conan. I remember him best as Khal Drogo from the awesome first season of HBO's "Game of Thrones" (which is a must see if you haven't yet and love a good fantasy series). Others might remember him from "Stargate: Atlantis" or "The Game" or "Baywatch" - none of which I've watched so I had no clue who the dude was before Game of Thrones.
His arch-nemesis Khalar Zym is played by Stephen Lang, most recently recognizable from "Terra Nova" and as Colonel Quaritch in "Avatar".  Zym's daughter is played by a nearly unrecognizable Rose McGowan. I mean that in a good way.

The new film isn't terrible. It is action-y and adventure-y, has a coherent story, the new Conan has a bit more dialog. Story-wise there are some parallels in that Conan sees his village destroyed, his parents are dead, he grows up seeking out the man responsible. The dude responsible has continued to gain more power in the intervening years, there are some magic elements involved.  But the core story also differs in characters involved and the journey taken by Conan.  However Conan's motivations just don't feel life-encompassing, they feel more like things that just happened to happen at some point in his life. Regardless, it stands steady on its own as a capable modern fantasy film with CGI sets.

I do have to say there are some parts in this film I liked, such as spending a little more time in Conan's childhood village and using that time to show a foundation of Conan's bad-assness. The early part of the film is almost better than the latter parts of the film.

It is an entertaining enough film, not necessarily a must-see but not a disappointment either. I still prefer the 1982 film for its deeper story telling and heavier sense of intertwining fate. The new film just didn't have quite the urgency of revenge and retribution that drove the older film. I doubt it will carry the cultural impact of the 1982 film.