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.