Sunday, November 22, 2015

Jupiter Ascending (2015)

Note:  This review contains spoilers.  If you’re not into that, you might want to skip the review until after you’ve seen the movie.

I remember seeing the coming attraction s for Jupiter Ascending.  It looked like something that was epic.  A woman finds out that she’s an important figure and is thrust into a position of power.  It turns out that I was sort of right.  I was mostly wrong, but I was sort of right.  The movie was visually epic, but wasn’t much on the story.

Jupiter Jones is the woman in question.  Her father was born before she was born.  She was born in the middle of the ocean and finds herself without a nation.  Fast forward a few decades.  Jupiter is cleaning houses with her aunt.  She hates her life, and rightfully so.  She’s always wanting money for something that she doesn’t want.  She wants and advance, but can’t get it.  Her solution?  She lets her cousin talk her in to selling her eggs.  At the last minute, she’s attacked and subsequently rescued by Caine.

Caine explains that Jupiter is genetically identical to the deceased matriarch of the Abrasax family.  Said matriarch left her title and certain possessions to any human that matches her genetic code or something, meaning that Jupiter now owns Earth and that she’s some sort of queen.  One of the kids wants to marry Jupiter, which she agrees to.  It sounds kind of incestuous, since she’s an exact genetic match to his dead mother.  But, it’s ok since he plans to kill her and claim Earth as his own.  Yes, the kids each got planets of their own, but Earth is the mother lode.  It will make its owner rich beyond their wildest dreams.

It turns out that instead of this grand epic I was expecting, it was mostly Caine fighting to save Jupiter.  Yes, we got some nice visuals and stuff, but it wasn’t as strong on the story as I expected.  Jupiter Jones ends up being more of a McGuffin than a hero.  At first, I though that might be a bit harsh, bit it’s not.  She’s only there to move the story along.  She’s something pretty for the antagonists to fight over.

On that note, why would you leave something to someone who happens to end up with your genetic makeup?  Even though there are a lot of planets with humans, it seems hard to believe that we’d end up with that kind of convergence, and that quickly to boot.  Stuff like that always gets my attention.  It seems very improbable.  This isn’t even getting in to the fact that Jupiter has no idea what’s going on.  (Jupiter was supposed to be the reincarnation of the Matriarch.)

This is one of those movies that I ended up finding major flaws with.  As I said, Jupiter is a genetic match to the matriarch.  Ok.  I’ll admit that long shots come through.  It’s not impossible.  Still, why is she not freaked out at marrying her doppelganger’s son?  She seems taken in by the whole thing rather easily?

For that matter, she seems rather at ease selling her eggs during the beginning of the movie.  Yes, it’s a really nice telescope she wants, but this is her chance at having kids.  She’ll be getting $15,000.  Her cousin will be keeping $10,000, which is even more offensive.  When she calls him on it, he offers up a lame excuse, which she accepts.

If you like action films and don’t like thinking much about the plot, this might be your movie.  If you’re expecting something with a story or a reason to think about it afterwards, keep moving.  There’s nothing for you to see here.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Mindwarp (1992)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

Most of the movies I watch, I find through advertisements or coming attractions.  Some, I find while wandering through a store looking at multi-movie packs.  Occasionally, I’ll look through Netflix for movies to watch and review.  I think I found Mindwarp while looking for Bruce Campbell movies.  I had never heard of the movie before and for good reason.

The movie takes place in 2037.  As you might expect from a post-apocalyptic movie, the ozone has been depleted, the Earth’s surface is uninhabitable and humanity is split up into two groups:  Those that live in a biodome hooked up to a virtual reality and those that live outside the biodome, either as a mutant or trying to avoid the mutants.  Judy lives in a biodome, sharing a room with her mother.  She spends most of her time in the VR system, disconnecting to eat and (presumably) perform other necessary biological functions.  She can experience anything she wants, which gets old.  She realizes it’s all fake and longs for something real.

When she accidentally kills her mother, she’s kicked out of paradise and sent to live outside.  She’s nearly attacked by some mutants, but is saved by Stover.  (Stover is played by Bruce Campbell.)  Mutants are unintelligent.  They can’t speak and spend most of their time mining what used to be landfills.  Stover is one of a handful of people left that are still what we would think of as human.  Eventually, both are captured by mutants.  Stover is put to work in the mines while Judy is taken to be sacrificed, but is saved by the Seer.

The Seer’s girlfriend, Cornelia, doesn’t like Judy, mostly because The Seer seems to have a special affection for Judy.  Cornelia tries to infect Judy with these mutant parasite leeches, which the Seer stops.  (If you’re at all squeamish, you don’t want to know what The Seer does as punishment.)  Meanwhile, Stover attempts to escape with Judy, which fails.  The seer puts Stover in a semi-submerged cage, causing him to become infected with several leeches, which is not good for Stover.

It’s also revealed that The Seer is Judy’s father, which isn’t so bad until he reveals that he wants them to have lots of normal little children to lead the mutants.  Another escape attempt is made with similar results.  This time, Judy manages to take find a more permanent solution to her problem.  (Again, those that are squeamish probably won’t want to know the details.)

I’m not going to give away the ending in case your stomach has the fortitude to make it through the entire movie.  However, I think it should be obvious by now that this is not a movie for children.  I think anyone younger than 10 will get nightmares.  Imagine if you took elements from The Matrix and the original Total Recall and tried to make it in the style of Mad Max.  You would end up with something roughly like this.

It’s the kind of movie that you can enjoy if you don’t expect too much.  I had wanted to watch it mostly to see Bruce Campbell in something other than Burn Notice.  Had I not been able to get this streaming, I probably would have held off, though.  There’s a low-budget look to the movie, partly in film quality and partly in the set design.  It was made in 1992, but it looks like something out of the ‘80s.  Also, the biodome sets look kind of generic and basic, which may be the point.  I don’t think that they quite pulled it off, though.  It’s kind of hard to do in this movie without looking like they couldn’t afford anything better.

If you have Netflix and are able to stream movies or you can get this on demand, I’d say give it a try.  It is different and isn’t the worst movie I’ve seen.  However, I wouldn’t recommend getting it on DVD or paying for it on demand.  At least I got a review out of it. 

Stargate (1994)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

I was just out of high school when this movie first came out. I don’t remember hearing much about it, but I hadn’t really been to the theaters for a while. Years later, I would catch parts of it (usually the end) on Encore or The Sci-Fi Channel. It wasn’t really until the fifth season of the TV show, Stargate: SG-1, that I really got into it. I knew the basic premise of the movie, so the show wasn’t that hard to follow.

Stargate starts out in Giza, Egypt, in 1928. An archaeologist arrives on a dig site to see this amazing discovery. There’s a big ring with all of these symbols and no one has ever seen anything like it. As far as anyone knows, it’s the only one in existence. 60+ years later, Dr. Daniel Jackson is giving a lecture about ancient Egypt. He has all of these wacky ideas about alien influence. What few people there are walk out and Jackson has no idea why. As he’s leaving the building, he’s approached by a woman who wants him to work on a secret government project. He accepts, seeing as how he has little else to do. He’s being asked in to help decode the Stargate, which is now sitting under a mountain.

Then there’s Colonel Jack O’Neill, played by Kurt Russell. He’s getting over the loss of his son, who accidentally shot himself with the Colonel’s gun. He’s called in to oversee the military aspect of the Stargate program. O’Neill and Jackson don’t hit it off at first. O’Neill is a military officer having to deal with the loss of his son; Jackson is a brainy researcher who isn’t really even accepted in his own field.

Dr. Jackson finally gets the gate working and a probe is sent through. They discover a similar Stargate on the other side, along with a device for controlling it. The Stargate is a means of transporting people across space. The connection doesn’t stay open for very long, so there isn’t much information to go on insofar as the other planet is concerned. The deciding factor is Dr. Jackson’s belief that he could get a team back. He, Colonel O’Neill, and several others go through the gate to the other planet and are told to assess the situation and report back. The trouble is that Dr. Jackson can’t get the team back. He had made the assumption that there would be instructions waiting for him on the other side.

To Dr. Jackson’s amazement, they find pyramids similar to the ones on Earth, which supports Dr. Jackson’s theories. The downside is that if they can’t get back, he won’t be able to tell anyone about it. Things start to look good when they find people living on the planet. Things take a serious turn for the worse, though, when Ra shows up. (For those that don’t know much about Egyptian mythology, Ra is the Egyptian sun god.) Ra is played by Jaye Davidson, who you may remember from The Crying Game. Dr. Jackson discovers that Ra is actually ‘possessing’ a host. Ra has simply taken on the persona of a god and has everyone on the planet worshiping him. Things get much worse when Ra discovers that O’Neill brought a bomb with him; Ra decides to modify the bomb and send it back to Earth. The race is on.

Of Jackson and O’Neill, I felt that Jackson was better developed in the movie. O’Neill came across as a military zombie. He’s made a career in the military and doesn’t seem to plan on making it back. Jackson, on the other hand, tends to be more optimistic. He thinks that there’s a chance of getting home and wants to work towards that end. There is a great deal of naivete in Dr. Jackson, which he’s able to overcome to an extent.

The special effects are going to seem dated . There were times when the effects looked patchy or inconsistent. Some of the lower-budget effects came across pretty well. The movie is driven more by trying to make a coherent story than a vehicle for the special effects. The thing that the story had going for it was its overall simplicity. Get the gate working, go through it, and then get back in one piece. The technical explanations of the gate and what Ra is didn’t really appear until the series began on Showtime.

I got the Ultimate Edition, which has both the director’s cut and the theatrical cut. The difference is that the director’s cut has a few additional minutes of footage. I don’t know that you’d even notice most of it. The real benefit is the other special features. You get the theatrical trailer, audio commentary and some behind-the-scenes stuff, which I found interesting.

Those that have seen the series are going to find some discrepancies. The gate program is housed in Creek Mountain in the movie, but in Cheyenne Mountain in the series. In the movie, Abydos (the planet that the team goes to) is in another galaxy whereas the series has it in our own galaxy.

Despite the inconsistencies and special effects, I’m going to recommend this movie. If you’re looking for a great movie, this is it.

IMDb page


Saturday, November 07, 2015

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

April O'Neil: So, you're…Ninja Mutant Turtle Teenagers?
Donatello: When you put it like that, it sounds ridiculous!

It seems like everything I grew up with is being made (or remade) as a movie.  There’s supposed to be a new live-action He-Man movie.  Pee-Wee Herman is getting a new movie courtesy Netflix.  Star Trek has a reboot of the movie franchise and will apparently be getting a new TV series.  Even Battleship was made into a movie, and a somewhat decent one at that.  I guess it should come as no surprise that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was rebooted.  You get to use a proven idea on a whole new audience.

I don’t recall the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as a kid.  I remember watching the show, but not regularly.  I wasn’t even sure I wanted to watch the new movie.  However, like a lot of movies I’ve seen recently, the fact that Netflix had it streaming played a big part in my decision.  I didn’t have to wait for the DVD to come by mail and I didn’t have to pay for it at Redbox.  I could watch it the first chance I had a few hours to spare.

The basic story is the same.  Four turtles are mutated and subsequently trained by a mutated rat.  The turtles are named for Renaissance artists:  Raphael, Michelangelo, Leonardo and Donatello.  (For some reason, the rat is called Splinter.)  A reporter named April O’Neil discovers their secret and helps them in fighting Shredder and his Foot Clan.

A good chunk of the movie is buildup.  We get to see how the Turtles (and Splinter) came from their humble beginnings in a lab experiment.  At a young age, they were dumped in the sewer and left to fend for themselves, which they did.  Splinter has always been protective of them, but the Turtles feel that they’re ready to go out and fight crime, being that they’re teenagers and all.  Enter Shredder and his Foot Clan.  Shredder is very evil and very powerful while the Turtles have very little practical experience of their own.  Ready or not, the Turtles have to step up.  Will they save the day and live to see a sequel?

Like the prior media, this movie is geared towards a younger audience.  I don’t recall much that would have been geared towards adults, but I don’t think most adults would be watching the clock.  I understand having to introduce the universe to a new audience and have April find the Turtles and all.   At least it was handled well.  If this is your first TMNT movie, I don‘t think anything will drag.

The second half does have some nice action sequences.  Being that they’re Ninja Turtles, this is to be expected.  My only complaint would be that they saved the one big battle for the end.  You’d think we’d get to see more fighting than we did.

There were a few scenes that I think were meant for 3-D.  I wonder how hard it would be to make a set of durable 3-D glasses that could be used for DVD rentals.  I’m thinking that the big obstacle is that 3-D movies are far enough between that people would lose them before using them a second time.  There’s also the issue of possibly needing to have a separate disc for the 3-D version.

It’s kind of hard for me to pan the movie.  For what it is, it was pretty good.  I doubt many people my age will be renting it for themselves, except out of curiosity like I did.  I wasn’t really sure what to expect.  (When you can get the movie streaming, it’s a lot easier to give it a try.)

I wondered if this was another case of someone trying to cash in on the name.  I don’t know that I’m far off.  There are a few throwaway references to the TV shows.   (Vernon Fenwick: So, they're heroes in a half shell?)  For the most part, though, it seems like the movie is trying to stand on its own ad set up a new franchise.  I’m not sure I’ll be sticking around for the sequels, though.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985)

They say in art, context matters.  It refers to the fact that the artist imparts a certain amount of meaning to the art piece.  Take two different artists.  Even if they create the same work, it’s not the same.  Then again, no two artists will generally create the same piece.  This tends to be more evident with certain actors and directors.  Take Paul Reubens.  Anyone that grew up in the 80s (or raised a kid in the 80s) knows him primarily as Pee-Wee Herman.

From what I gather, Rubens was given an HBO special way back in 1981 called The Pee-Wee Herman Show.  This was supposed to have had more of an adult spin to it.  (It’s available on Netflix, but not streaming at the moment.  I’ll have to check it out some other time.)  In 1985, Tim Burton directed the more kid-friendly Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, which apparently led to the TV show that I remember watching as a kid.  (For some reason, I remember thinking it was the other way around as a kid.)

Anyway, the story goes that Pee-Wee is a really big kid.  He lives in a house that Rube Goldberg would be proud of.  We get to see an overly complicated breakfast routine before Pee-Wee goes to see his beloved bicycle.  He takes the bicycle into town to pick up a few things, most notably a bike horn modified to be really loud.  When Pee-Wee goes back to his bicycle, he finds that it’s been stolen.  He files a police report, but is told that there’s not much they can do, due to lack of evidence.

There’s only one person that could have stolen it, though:  Francis Buxton.  Francis is a similarly adult-sized child who seems to have a thing for Pee-Wee’s bicycle and it’s Francis’s birthday.  Francis oh so desperately wants the bicycle.  In fact, it turns out that Francis paid someone to steal it.  Now that it’s hot, though, Francis has to get rid of it.  With the help of a psychic, Pee-Wee believes that his bicycle is in the basement of the Alamo.

This is one of those movies that people will either love or hate.  I can deal with surreal humor.  I can even deal with a movie that takes a while to get going, assuming the buildup is good.  However, I’ll admit that part of watching the movie was the nostalgia.  I didn’t remember much of the film’s beginning except for Francis‘s pool/bathtub.  I remember the dinosaurs, which apparently still exists in Cabzon, CA.  I remember the scene at the drive-in, which apparently doesn’t still exist.  (It’s also safe to say that I remember the Alamo.)

I think part of the problem is that it’s geared towards kids, almost to the point of excluding parents.  Like Masters of the Universe, I can also see a lot of parents sitting through this, begging for a quick end.  The childishness of Pee-Wee is over the top throughout the entire movie.  In fact, it wasn’t the 1991 incident in Florida that did the character in.  Rubens had decided to retire the character due to exhaustion.  (I remember seeing once that all public appearances during that period were in character.)

The movie is goofy and will probably appeal to anyone willing to give it a chance.  Not everyone can take that kind of intensity, though.  There are a few scenes that make it worth it.  The bar scene alone is memorable.  (Just shout “Tequila” to anyone who’s seen the movie.)  I’d recommend getting it streaming.  You’ll probably know in the first five minutes whether or not you can take the rest of the movie.

Interestingly, there appears to be a new movie scheduled for 2016 called Pee-Wee’s Big Holiday, set to be released through Netflix.  I’m hoping it will be streaming, as I’d like to check it out.  It will be interesting to see how the character does, considering that he hasn’t been on air much over the past 20+ years.  Paul Rubens will be reprising his role.  To be honest, I doubt any other actor could portray Pee-Wee Herman.  Except maybe James Brolin.

Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014)

I remember seeing the coming attractions for Kingsman: The Secret Service.  I have a vague recollection thinking it looked interesting, but I never got around to watching it.  When my parents got it from Netflix, they managed to watch a whole five minutes before turning it off.  I was intrigued.

The story starts in 1997.  A team is trying to extract information from someone.  It’s a dangerous situation.  One member of the team sacrifices himself to save the rest of the team.  The leader of said team, codenamed Galahad, visits the family to inform them of the death, but can’t go into detail.  He does give them a medal with a phone number, should they wish to call in a favor at some later point in time.  The widow refuses it, so Galahad gives it to her son, nicknamed Eggsy.

Almost two decades pass.  Eggsy’s mother has remarried a total loser.  He now has a half sister that he has to worry about.  Eggsy finds himself in trouble with the law and uses the favor to get himself out of jail.  That’s where Eggsy’s adventure begins.  Galahad has recently lost another member of his team named Lancelot.  He sees potential in Eggsy to fill the spot.  Eggsy and several other candidates are tested by Merlin, all competing to become the next Lancelot.

Meanwhile, several important people go missing.  Galahad meets with one abductee who has been mysteriously returned but that turns out to be of little help.  One Richmond Valentine is behind it, but to why?  Much of the plot alternates between finding out what Valentine’s end game is and seeing Eggsy train to hopefully become the next Kingsman.  It’s not easy.  He has to go through several trials, like the water-filled room you may have seen in the coming attractions.

There is a Bond-like element.  Colin Firth is able to pull off the gentlemanly thing as Galahad.  I didn’t quite see it in Taron Egerton as Eggsy, but that may have been intentional.  His transformation may not be complete, as there is apparently going to be a sequel.  Also, this isn’t meant to be Bond.  The movie makes several reference to it not being that kind of movie.  Yes, Valentine is a billionaire in charge of a company that can do great harm, but he’s not over the top.

The movie’s not quite a spoof, but it’s not exactly taking itself too seriously, either.  I think this may be where I like the movie the most.  I’ve never been a huge fan of the spy movie.  Sure, I’ll watch a Bond film if it’s on.  However, I won’t always go out of my way to rent it.  In fact, I had watched The Kingsman when my parents rented it, but realized early on that it wasn’t for them.  Rather than return the movie and let the rental go to waste, I decided to watch it.  (I had seen the coming attractions, so I knew what to expect.)  I may see the sequel, depending on the sequel's coming attractions.)

Identity Matrix -- Jack L. Chalker

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

Victor Gosner was your average social outcast. He never had many friends and had no real connection to society. He was just some guy camping in the back woods of the Yukon when some government agents and a Native American girl stumbled upon him. Before he knew it, Victor Gosner was that girl, trapped inside of her body. His former body had been taken over by an alien that was residing in the girl’s body. Gosner didn’t know how lucky he was to be alive. Usually, when one of the aliens switched bodies, the old body was killed along with the personality that used to inhabit the new body.

He found out rather quickly, though. He was on the run as a new person, without much money and any sense of a legal identity. He made it to a ferry where he met up with Dorian Tomlinson, a 19-year-old college student. Unfortunately, another encounter with one of those aliens put Victor in Dorian’s body and Dorian in that of the girl. That’s where things start to get complicated.

One of the agents that were initially with the girl, Harry Parch, takes the alien in for questioning. He also takes Victor and Dorian with him. After what happened, he couldn’t really just leave them. He explains that Earth is at war with the Urulu, which is what the alien race calls itself. There’s apparently also another alien race, but Parch has as of yet been unable to actually meet one. (It also has the ability to switch bodies at will.) Dorian and Victor are recruited to help Parch fight against the aliens, whatever they may call themselves.

Parch is in charge of a government project called the IMC. Its their job to find a way to do what the aliens do, which would give Earth an advantage. After a while, Victor and Dorian realize that Parch can’t be trusted. It’s up to Dorian, Victor, one of the aliens, and an old friend of Victor's to stop Parch before we become the enemy.

The book seems to alternate between science fiction and erotica. Victor had always wondered what it would be like to be a woman, and he got his chance to find out. There was also a part of the book where he and Dorian had to be “disposed of” for knowing too much. Since he is now a very attractive woman, he’s reprogrammed to be a stripper. Dorian is sent to a reservation.

Aside from that, it’s a very exciting book. No one can trust anyone, really. Harry Parch is the only character that has immunity, yet there are other reasons not to trust him. He really is the perfect character given his role. He is the lead government agent in charge of the facility; he needs a certain amount of detachment. Many of the characters worked out well. Even the erotic elements can be thought of as a necessary part of the book.

It turns out that there really are two alien races. The other race is called, simply, The Association. The Urulu are thought of as good guys and the Association is thought of as the bad guys. The Association essentially creates hordes of mindless zombies, which take the form of a huge cult on Earth. (It’s actually the result of a few smaller cults coming together.) It’s a little cliche, but it gets the point across.

The trouble is that it’s hard to think of a victory against The Association as a victory. We now have the ability to do what they can. It’s really a matter of what we’ll do with that ability. We’ll either become like the Association or like the Urulu. In the end, will we become a species that we can live with?

Butterfinger Candy Bar

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

I don’t like crunchy things. When I eat cookies, I like them soft. If I have to choose between potato chips and French fries, I usually tend towards fries. If you’ve seen my other candy bar reviews, it might come as a surprise that I’d even take a second look at a Butterfinger. It’s a layer of chocolate around a hard peanut butter-like inside. Imagine that you were able to make a crunchy version of a Reece’s Peanut Butter Cup, only it’s heavier on the peanut butter and lighter on the chocolate.

I don’t really think of the flavor as being like peanut butter, though. I think mostly it’s the texture. Peanut butter is normally soft and tastes something like peanuts. This is crunchy. The bar has used this in advertising. It doesn’t even really taste much like a peanut, even. I’m sure someone will tell me that I’m missing something or that I must be reviewing a different candy bar or something, but I just don’t get the connection.

That’s not to say I don’t like Butterfingers. These used to be a favorite of mine. I think a big part of it was the size. I remember these being somewhat longer than regular candy bars. This may be memory playing tricks on me, as I haven’t actually had one in a while. I do remember Butterfingers being different. I can’t think of another bar that is crunchy. Some have some degree of crunch, mostly because of peanuts, rice or some other hard substance. Nothing I can think of is crisp all the way through.

This makes it difficult to explain to someone who’s never had it before. Imagine if you took a Twix bar or a Kit Kat and were able to make the wafer much denser. Not so dense that it would break your teeth, but dense enough that you had to work at biting the bar. Now, imagine that it had an off-peanut flavor. Keep the chocolate, but get rid of the other stuff like caramel. Make this into one long bar and you’ve got a Butterfinger.

It’s tempting, I know. But the trouble is that I can see a lot of people loving it or leaving it. My fascination with the bar lasted only a year or two. I’ve since moved on to other bars. I think I’d take one if it were offered to me, but I’m in no real rush to try one again. I’d give it three stars.

Gary Larson - The Far Side Gallery

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

I was going through my collection of books and found The Far Side Gallery.  I grew up reading the single-panel comic, which ran from 1980 until 1995.  (Gary Larson, who penned The Far Side, decided to retire all those long years ago.)  That means that there are a lot of kids in high school now that have never seen it as a first-run panel.

How do you explain the comic to someone who has never seen it before?  The humor is definitely a little strange.  I don't think there's anything that someone wouldn't be able to get.  I can't recall any political humor or humor at the expense of any group.  Even though it was made a while ago, most of it could still be understood today.

For some reason, Gary Larson used a lot of ducks and cows.  (In one case, a professor at a lecture realizes that he's forgotten his duck.)  Most involved people, though.  One panel depicts a couple showing slides of their trip to Hell.  (Even though the phrase ‘to Hell and back' isn't as popular as it once was, most people would understand the impossibility of such a trip.)  In another Panel, a group of ‘primitive' people are hiding modern conveniences upon seeing that some anthropologists arriving.

There's no commentary in this book; it's just the panels.  Sometimes, it's nice to have some comments about the stuff, but it's also nice sometimes just to have a collection of the work.  In some of the other Far Side books, Larson explains what he liked about some panels or what didn't work about others.  Some of those panels appear in this book, so you may be a little confused about some of them.  Don't worry; you're in good company.

Because of the lack of commentary or any other new material, it's kind of hard to review the book.  I don't want to recount every single panel.  Then again, it's hard to talk in generalities because that takes up all of two sentences.  It's especially hard since the comic isn't running any more.  There's really nothing modern that I can really compare it to.

There was no continuing story like many modern comics have.  Each panel was its own story, so you could very easily pick up the book, look at one panel and get everything that was intended for the reader in one glance.  Some modern comics, like Bizarro, are like this, but it's still hard to compare.

I grew up on The Far Side, which probably explains why I look at the world a little differently.  The Far Side will be missed and I don't think will ever truly be replaced.  I'd definitely recommend this book to anyone.  As I said, anyone can enjoy it.  It would definitely make a great gift for someone.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Blood: The Last Vampire (2000)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

Vampires are usually portrayed as the antagonists and with good reason.  They have a tendency to go around biting people and draining them of their blood.  Most non-vampires don’t really go for that sort of stuff.  Sometimes, you have no choice other than to work with a vampire.

Take Saya.  In Blood: The Last Vampire, she’s the last of the original generation of bloodsuckers.  She’s sent to a school on an American Air Force base in Japan to find and destroy some demons.  (Apparently, she’s the only one with the skill set and ability to do so.)  She’s old, but looks young enough that she can pose as a student that just transferred in.

There’s really not much more than that to the plot.  Part of the problem is that it’s very short, clocking in at under 50 minutes.  According to the Internet Movie Database, this was supposed to be the middle part of a trilogy.  Due to budgetary constraints, only this episode made it to production.  This is why there’s little back story or character development and the movie doesn’t seem to really resolve at the end.  It definitely comes across as part of a bigger storyline.

Apparently, there’s a TV series called Blood+ which may resolve some of this.  There are also other versions which may not have had the limitations in the first place.  I’m going to have to check these out at some point.

It’s very short and intense.  The main focus seems to be action.  I should also mention that it’s very bloody and violent, making it something that children probably wouldn’t enjoy so much.  Of course, what do you expect with vampires?  Regardless of how a production treats the mythology, vampires have fangs and usually like to use them.

The movie takes place on Halloween, which seems to have to do with the fact that the demons don’t have to worry as much about disguising themselves.  Regardless, I’ve always found this to be a little cliché.  I that it goes back to this being part of a trilogy.  The other two parts may not have taken place on the same day.  It’s just luck that the one that made it out takes place on October 31.

For those that like action movies, I’d say that this is worth renting or even buying.  Since it’s so short, you don’t have to give up as much of your time.  I was able to rent it from NetFlix, but you should be able to find it at your local video store.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Masters of the Universe (1987)

I didn’t watch a lot of Saturday-morning cartoons as a kid, mostly because I liked to sleep late.  I do remember two:  Thundercats and He-Man.  I was able to rent one of the Thundercats DVDs from Netflix, but returned it after the first episode.  It didn’t really hold up that well.  Perhaps some memories are better left as memories.

A few months ago, I saw a cover for Men’s Fitness with Dolph Lundgren.  The only thing I knew him from was the live-action Masters of the Universe (He-Man) movie.  I knew that I probably wouldn’t want to bother with the series, but the movie might be worth it.  It would only be a matter of time before Netflix had it streaming.  Lo and behold, Netflix started streaming Masters of the Universe recently.  Despite a few complaints, I remembered liking the movie as a kid.  What could go wrong?

The story starts with He-Man, Duncan and Teela talking about how Castle Grayskull has been taken over by Skeletor.  His plan is to take its power and rule the universe as evil overlord.  How is this possible?  Simple:  He’s tricked Gwildor into making a Cosmic Key that can transport the user and/or friends to any point in space and time.  Skeletor can send his troops to any planet and take it over.  In the process of stopping Skeletor, He-Man, Gwildor, Duncan and Teela are transported to Earth, promptly losing the Cosmic Key.  They don’t have much time to stop Skeletor, who has sent several mercenaries to find and capture He-Man.  Yeah, that’s pretty much the plot in a nutshell.

You know how movies meant for kids now have something for adults?  (How nice that the writers thought of the people who are paying for the tickets.)  Masters of the Universe wasn’t made with that consideration in mind.  The movie was designed to sell the toy line.  This is really where my perspective has changed over the years.  The movie was great for a kid that enjoyed the cartoon and would probably sit through anything that stayed moderately true to the cartoon.

That’s really where my complaints were.  They didn’t have He-Man change from his alter ego, Adam.  They also totally left out Battle Cat and Orko.  In fact, I thought Gwindor was supposed to be a version Orko.  That much I understood.  I could see not wanting to have a floating, vaguely ghost-like character due to budget concerns.  It could also be difficult to have a talking cat in the movie or to have Adam transform into He-Man, as per the TV series.  The $17 million budget was huge for them.  The director had to fight to get a decent ending.

This is one of those movies that I would totally understand if modern audiences skipped.  My watching it was pure nostalgia.  I knew Courteney Cox and Robert Duncan McNeill were in it.  There was also Billy Barty (Noodles MacIntosh from UHF) playing Gwildor.  I also recognized James Tolkan and Frank Langella.  Still, the main draw was having watched both this and the cartoon as a child.  I honestly feel bad for any parent that was dragged to see this.

I think the big drawback was the plot.  It was very underdeveloped to the point where I think the studio was using the characters as a draw.  this came across more as a bad in joke.  There were a few lines that were delivered like you were supposed to know the back story or were a reference to the TV show.  (Think “I have the power!”)     Instead of a standalone movie, like many of today’s movies based on TV shows, it seemed like the finale to a TV show that was cancelled.  (Speaking of which, a planned sequel was scrapped due to the studio losing the movie rights.  Legend has it that the proposed script became Cyborg with Jean-Claude Van Damme.)

The story seems to rely too heavily on cliché.  How is it that as soon as Skeletor locks in on the Cosmic Key, it moves?  Why is it that when anyone finds something of great importance, they instantly assume it’s something else and immediately start playing with it?  It’s amazing that Kevin didn’t send the entire planet into an alternate dimension or something.  I’ve also noticed that the main evil guy always gets really crappy henchmen.  Here’s a guy that took over a planet no problem, but he can’t find someone to do a simple search and retrieval.

The acting was somewhat decent.  Langella was best as Skeletor.  For those that have seen the Back to the Future movies and Top Gun, Tolkan was pretty much what you’d expect as Detective Lubic.  (Is it too much to ask that he call someone a slacker?)  Most of the rest of the acting is about what you’d expect of an 80s movie based on a toy line.  I’m not saying it’s bad, but a lot of it wasn’t memorable.

One of the advantages of Netflix streaming is that I didn’t have to wait for a disc.  The downside is that I couldn’t get any features.  I might rent the disc just to be able to see some of the commentary.  (Much of the information I get is through IMDb.)  I guess nostalgia is a funny thing.

There’s supposed to be another live-action movie coming out.  I don’t know if it’s supposed to be a sequel, a remake or a reboot, but I’m not sure how I’d feel about it.  I imagine it would be similar to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot, which is also currently available streaming.  Perhaps some memories are better left as memories.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Predestination (2014)

It can be difficult to alter the sequence of events in a story.  In the case of Memento, it makes sense.  Telling the story backwards mimics the main character’s amnesia.  We get insight into the character by not knowing what came before.  I don’t always like stories told in flashback, but it works in Forest Gump.  Lost also used it to give background on the characters.  Sometimes, a linear format doesn’t really make sense.  You have to pick somewhere to start and tell the story from there.

Predestination starts with a temporal agent (played by Ethan Hawke) trying to stop a fugitive called The Fizzle Bomber.  The agent fails to apprehend the bomber, but at least mitigates the effects of one of his bombs.  He has surgery to repair his face and is reassigned.  He now works as a barkeeper.  This is how he meets The Unmarried Mother, who’s played by Sarah Snook.  Barkeep and The Unmarried Mother start talking.  She writes confession stories for a magazine.

She’s got a heck of a story of her own, which Barkeep is perfectly willing to listen to.  Not only was she put up for adoption at an early age, but she has a child of her own that was taken from her a few days after the child’s birth.  The latter ordeal really affects her, as she can’t mother a child any more and the father of the child hurt her.  It’s not all bad news, though.  Barkeep may be able to help her in more ways than one.

I don’t want to go into a lot of detail.  Explaining the plot is a slippery slope.  The more I explain, the more I have to tell to explain that.  It’s one of those mysteries that unravels itself as the story goes along. Everyone has a secret and everyone has their own perspective and context.  When you figure all of that out, the story becomes clear.  (In that regard, you have to pay attention.  It’s a lot to take in.)

The movie is based on the story All You Zombies by Robert A. Heinlein.  The movie seems to stay pretty close to the source material.  If you’ve read the story, there shouldn‘t be any surprises.   This isn’t to say it’s not worth watching.  I’ve always liked stories with a twisted plot.  I enjoy waiting for the next piece to fall into place.

I’m not sure if it’s that I knew the story coming in, but the movie seemed well paced.  It wasn’t rushed and I wasn’t overly eager to find out what happened next.  There were a few aspects that seemed odd, but not to the point of being confusing or contradictory.  For instance, the Unmarried Mother had applied to be in a space program.  I don‘t recall such a program existing, but it wasn‘t distracting.  Overall, it was a great movie. 

Official Site

IMDb page