25 June 2012

TV Series: The Great Escape

The Great Escape on TNT http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1942995/

TV series

TNT brings us a new reality series from the folks that brought us "The Amazing Race" called "The Great Escape".
In a nutshell, three two-person teams compete to complete multiple tasks and avoid guards to "escape" their location. First team to complete all tasks and escape wins $100,000.

The first episode was escape from Alcatraz.  The next one is escape from USS Hornet.

Here's the thing. They advertised it as "from the producers of The Amazing Race". And the show is basically just like the final episode of an Amazing Race season, without the travel. Someone wins, they get money. Other teams don't. We see the teams try at the tasks, hear them complain about their teammates and the other teams, have the post-completion interviews (basically the "yay we won" speech and the "sucks that we lost" speeches).

Thing is, there is nothing about this series that makes it exciting, nothing that makes me want to watch the show. With Amazing Race the viewers get weeks to watch a bunch of teams compete. Viewers become emotionally invested, they develop a  a sense of which teams they like and which teams they hate, they cheer when teams they like succeed and gripe when disliked teams keep winning out. With "The Great Escape" the teams show up, compete and are done all within one episode. There is no time to develop favorites to root for. They're just as much strangers to the viewer at the end of the hour as they were at the start.

There's no chance to develop any emotional investment in the outcome of the show, and because of that I find this show completely boring. So, sorry TNT, nice try.


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The show isn't much different in spirit than ABC's "Take the Money & Run". Same problem with that show as this one, in a one hour format there is no time to develop any reason to root for the participants. Although "Take the Money & Run" actually was a neater concept for a show, IMO, I still found it to be as boring.

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The only reason I even bothered writing up this show is because it was so spectacularly disappointing.

17 June 2012

Movies: The Hangover Part II

The Hangover Part II (2011) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1411697/

Comedy

The groom-to-be, two of his friends and the bride's brother all pile into a car and head to Vegas go to the beach and drink one beer for the bachelor party. They get a suite at the hotel, have a toast on the roof to commemorate the evening, then they wake up in the hotel room the next morning after an apparent wild night, which leads to a weekend they'll never forget.

Yeah - I copied that straight out of my "The Hangover vs. Bachelor Party Vegas"review and edited it just a tiny bit. Because that's all they did with this film - took the script from The Hangover, used global replace to change "Vegas" to "Bangkok", changed "baby" to "monkey", changed "car trunk" to "ice machine" and altered a couple other minor details, slapped on "Part II" to the title and Viola! Brand spanking new moneymaker trading off it's predecessor's name.

That said, I still laughed at some scenes. I knew what I was in for. I had no expectations for the film to be anything more than just like "The Hangover". I saw it. I laughed. I deleted it from my DVR.

PS Mike Tyson can't sing worth a crap. We know. But did they have to ruin that song with him? Really?

16 June 2012

Movies: In My Sleep

In My Sleep (2010) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0326965/

Mystery Thriller

Marcus has had parasomnia his whole life, which is a fancy way of saying he's a sleepwalker. You know, stuff like he awakens naked in a cemetery, awakens post-coital with his best friend's wife, awakens covered in blood next to a bloody knife. The usual sleepwalking stuff people do.
Actually those incidents were quite terrifying for him. So he does the logical thing and begins attending sex-addicts anonymous meetings and asks his upstairs neighbor Becky to handcuff him to the bed at night.

Stars Philip Winchester as Marcus, Lacey Chabert as Becky, and quite a few other folks I don't really recognize. Chabert I recognize as being cast member Claudia of Party of Five - a show I never watched but am aware exists. And Winchester I recognize from "Camelot" and "Strike Back". And although I've not reviewed "Strike Back" I would recommend it as an entertaining enough action series involving super secret spy strike force mayhem guns explosions fighting. It's a series on Cinemax, so you know it also has lotsa butts and boobies.

Back to "In My Sleep". This is one of those films that's a production quality step above B-movie fare yet doesn't have the star power box office crushing might of A-list films. The cast did okay, the script wasn't groundbreaking, the music is a bit grand and intrusive, production and locations are effective. Which is fine. It is an entertaining enough film, throws enough misdirections your way to keep you guessing. 

Not a bad choice for something to watch when in the mood for a relaxing and non-taxing mystery thriller.

14 June 2012

Movies: A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas

A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas (2011) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1268799/

Comedy

Stoner comedy sequel to "Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle" and "Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay".
It doesn't make much sense to watch "Christmas" if you haven't yet watched "White Castle" and "Guantanamo". I suppose you could, but what's the point?

Nutshell: This film takes place a couple few years after "Guantanamo". Harold and Kumar have gone their separate ways and haven't talked in years. A package addressed to Harold is delivered to Kumar's apartment, so Kumar has a friend drive him over to deliver it to Harold's house.
Then we're left with what seems to be a mash-up of a Harold & Kumar style film with a Christmas hijinks/caper-style film, that is, Harold and Kumar mashed up with "Jingle All the Way".  Yes, a film that rips itself off while borrowing heavily from other similar Christmas-themed farces.

Again, if you've not ever watched a Harold and Kumar film you probably won't exactly understand what that means. The thing about the H&K films - you'll either hate them or like them. In ways they are bad films, but done in a terrific fashion. Even this film is a bad film done in a brilliant way, one that captures the gooey heart at the center of all the H&K films and still grosses us out and still goes for drug use and lowbrow humor.  Although it does seem this film hits the lowbrow bits even less than its predecessors. This film more hit certain notes just to make a point of making a callback to events in the previous films as opposed to relying on them to make the film. They almost seemed out of place more than anything. I know why they put them in there, but they really weren't necessary, but they were just to emphasize what makes a H&K film an H&K film.
Plus this was a 3D film, which they made a point of abusing the 3D process every chance they got. Another example of making a bad film in a brilliant way.

So yes, if you've enjoyed the previous films you'll probably not have any trouble with this one either. I liked it, a worthy successor to the franchise.

Highlight: Neil Patrick Harris returns! You thought he was dead after being shotgunned in the back by the madame at the whorehouse in "Guantanamo"? If you watched "Guantanamo" past the credits you'd know NPH got up off the ground and walked away.
Bonus: In this film NPH's fiancee David Burtka shows up playing David Burtka, just as NPH is playing NPH. NPH basically states his "coming out as gay" is all a ruse to nail more chicks, keeping one foot in "Harold and Kumar" NPH and the other in actual events in NPH's life. Burtka is basically playing the part of fiancee and NPH treats him like hired crap. Nice touch.

Additionally: There was another couple nods to what's been going on in Harold and Kumar's real lives. I mean, the actors behind Harold and Kumar.  There was a reference to John Cho (Harold) playing Sulu in the "Star Trek" reboot, and there was a reference to Kal Penn (Kumar) taking a bit of time off of acting to work in the White House Office of Public Engagement as an Associate Director.

12 June 2012

Movies: Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1318514/

Action Sci-Fi

Dr Will Rodman is working on a cure for Alzheimer's and testing it on chimpanzees. After a seemingly disastrous failure the program is shut down and all the chimps are destroyed. Except one, one they didn't know existed, a recent newborn of one of the test subjects. Dr Rodman smuggles the infant and ends up raising it himself. As the chimp grows it becomes apparent that the testing on the mother has passed to the child and is succeeding beyond Dr Rodman's expectations.
And, as it is titled "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" you probably can guess where this goes if you know anything about the Planet of the Apes series of films.

I was wary about watching this film,  especially after Tim Burton's 2001 film "Planet of the Apes". Just mentioning that film irritates me. The makeup effects, the acting, most of the sets, all superb. The script and dialog and events and rewrites that differ from both the book and the 1968 film were so disappointing that I almost completely lost faith in Tim Burton's ability to make films. Then TB released "Big Fish" and it almost made up for PotA. Almost. But I'm getting way off topic here, I didn't come here to gripe about the PotA remake or Tim Burton. I only mention it because it made me really hesitant about watching this film.

The "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" is probably most like 1972's "Conquest of the Planet of the Apes" in that it covers that moment when the apes get smart enough and band together enough to begin building their planet of the apes. However how this comes about is completely different between the two films. There really is no comparison between the two.

Anyone who has watched the original Planet of the Apes film series will probably catch some of the references this film makes back to them. As familiar as I am with the original series of films I didn't catch all the references. I caught the most obvious ones, but the more subtle ones escaped my attention.

I have to admit I did enjoy this film. I enjoyed the reworked story, I thought they did a great job  putting everything together. CG rendered characters still aren't always completely natural looking, but they are good enough. WETA does a great job, just as they did in Lord of the Rings and King Kong (and other films).

If you're a fan of the original films from the 60s and 70s you don't have to avoid watching this film. It is different enough to stand on its own. Sure it rewrites the origin of the apes taking over the planet, but overall it is a much better film and plot than "Conquest's".  And it eliminates the paradox introduced by "Escape from the Planet of the Apes" as continued in "Conquest".

Chances are if  more "Planet of the Apes" films revisit the series I won't be near as wary about watching them. Heck if the same team re-remade "Planet of the Apes" I would probably give it a watching.  And, if you were paying attention to news reports taking place in the background, there very well could be a sequel in the works that just might end up being an analogue of "Planet of the Apes".

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Yes, Roddy McDowall is missed, he always will be when it comes to Planet of the Apes films.

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Ah, young Tom Felton. We get it. You were a great and very hate-able Draco Malfoy. This role didn't help distance you from that image. Hopefully your future roles distance you from that box.

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Yes, some script and plot issues did not escape my attention. Things like how the heck did the lab not know one of their test subject chimps was pregnant. Even if she was pregnant before being captured and sent to the lab - she carried the thing to full term and delivered the baby under the shelf. I mean, come on. Seriously? There's others, but that's the biggest thing the whole film hinges on.

08 June 2012

Movies: Prince Valiant

Prince Valiant (1997) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0119947/

Straight out of the pages of the Sunday comics, in the age of King Arthur in Camelot, comes a story about young squire Prince Valiant as he

I can't do this. After 20 minutes I couldn't stand watching this film any more and stopped. I tried. I really tried to finish it. I just couldn't. It was terrible.

Stars Stephen Moyer (Vampire Bill in True Blood) as Valiant and Katherine Heigl as Princess Ilene - she's famous for Roswell or Grey's Anatomy or somesuch stuff now but I doubt she was back when she made this film.
Oh, and Joanna Lumley as Morgan Le Fey. I thought I recognized her but couldn't remember so I looked her up. She was Purdy in "The New Avengers" TV series. A series I thought I liked until I saw the original "The Avengers" and Emma Peel was so much more mmmmm than Purdy.
Also has Ron Perlman as Boltar the pirate or some shit - I dunno - that's about where I stopped watching it.

Prince Valiant. It sucked so bad I couldn't finish watching it. You're in luck, Netflix doesn't have it. I don't even know if it is available on DVD.

05 June 2012

Movies: We Need to Talk About Kevin

We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1242460/

Drama Thriller

Eva and Franklin meet and fall in love. Eva writes a very successful travel book. They start a family, but it is apparent Eva suffers postpartum depression. Over the years she struggles to connect with Kevin, their first-born. The harder she tries, the harder the kid seems to push back.

The story is told in a series of flashbacks. One has to sort things out to uncover what is the 'current' event timeline and piece together all the events that lead up to now. It might seem daunting at first but can be followed. And seeing how the story plays out the flashback method of storytelling seems to suit this film best. It gives you the best chance to contrast the effects of the burdens of life on the characters over time.

A giant pay-off for watching this film is the performances. Stars Tilda Swinton as Eva, John C. Reilly as Franklin, and a few different kids as Kevin as he grows up.  Reilly plays his part very capably, he has this sort of role down. Swinton, awesome as ever. She does an incredible job of going from a vibrant life-loving carefree spirit to a dessicated husk of a human being and making us feel every moment along the way. But another hats-off goes to the kids playing Kevin, notably the continuity of the Kevin performances across his ages.

The story is good and disturbing and terrible and sad all at the same time. It is a successful roller coaster ride on so many levels. Probably too heavy a film to watch if you're in a "generic entertainment film" mood, this one requires a bit more thinking and paying attention.  A good film for the folks who like to feel unsettled by what they watch, especially for those more unsettled by what people are capable of being and doing, as opposed to the more escapist-type gore fantasy horror fare.  I'm not saying this is a horror film, although it could be argued that it is and I wouldn't disagree. I'm more saying it's not what people generally consider to be a horror film.

02 June 2012

Movies: Gone

Gone (2012) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1838544/

Thriller

A year ago Jill was abducted from her home and dropped in a deep hole in the woods. She escaped and reported the incident to the police. As the cops couldn't find the hole she was talking about, nor could they find any evidence of a break-in at her house, they chalked it up to her imagination. She continued to press the police for action until they had her involuntarily committed for psychological study. She was eventually released under psychiatric care.
Eventually her ex-alcoholic sister moved in with her. After an all-night shift working at the diner Jill returns home to discover her sister is missing. Again - no evidence of any break-in at the house, but the sister is missing. Jill tells the cops, they don't believe her. Convinced that the dude Jill escaped from over a year ago is behind her sister's disappearance she gets a gun and tries to track him down herself while avoiding the cops trying to rein her in.

Stars big-eyed Amanda Seyfried as Jill. Jennifer Carpenter (from Dexter) makes an appearance as Jill's coworker, but her presence is sort of wasted. Ah well, a girl's gotta eat. Some other folks you may or may not recognize are in the film too.

As a thriller the film doesn't do too bad. It is entertaining and engaging through to the end. I thought the script and acting did a good job of keeping the audience wondering if there really is a kidnapper or is Jill bonkers and making shit up.  Especially 'cause Jill sure can straight-faced lie to folks. Heck she lies to practically everyone she encounters, which just makes the viewer wonder all the more what's real and what isn't.  Sure, there are a couple scenes that are a little off, but nothing terribly damning of the film.

Nutshell: not a bad choice for a thriller flick. Not a great groundbreaking film neither, but a relief in that it certainly could have been worse and wasn't.

Movies: Kung Fu Panda 2

Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1302011/

Animated

Panda Po Ping and the Furious Five take on a Peacock villain to stop him from taking over China with a new weapon. Po also begins to remember his past and how he came to live with Mr Ping.

As animated films go, this is a good one. I think I liked this installment is even better than the first one. It isn't often a sequel is as good or better than its predecessor, but they pulled it off with this film.

I was wary about the first film but it won me over and I had no qualms about watching the second. Plus the story leaves an opening for a possible third installment. DreamWorks animated films have been getting better and better as they seem to be focusing more on good story telling with a good cast as opposed to having a bunch of flashy colorful crap with songs thrown together.

Not much else to say - they're good, fun, entertaining films. Watch 'em. Especially if you have kiddos.