Friday, December 12, 2008

Stallone: A Career Retrospective: Part III

The Specialist
This movie is terrible, and not in a good way. I mean, most of Stallone's movies are terrible, but they're still entertaining as hell. The Specialist marked the period in Stallone's career where, with a couple of exceptions, his movies become near unwatchable.

Welcome to third and final part of my Stallone career retrospective. This is where the shit is really going to start to stink.

Judge Dredd
Ugh. This one might be worse than the Specialist, and that's quite a distinction. Where to begin? This was a bad movie based on a bad comic book (that's right, Judge Dredd fans. Deal with it). It was a sci-fi cop buddy film starring Stallone and... Rob Schneider.

This movie was a huge flop, one of the worst of Stallone's career. It made The Specialist look like a smash hit by comparison.

Man, this is getting depressing.

This is a marginally better movie than the last two, but it still sucks. It's watchable, at least, and possibly even entertaining from a certain point of view and if you don't have anything better to do on a Sunday afternoon and if it comes on TNT.

The problem with this movie, and with most of Stallone's later films, is that it takes itself too seriously. For some reason, Stallone actually thought he was still making good movies. For some reason, Stallone thought that people kept going to his films all those years because they loved the scripts and plots. No, we just want to watch Stallone beat people up and make jokes.

Here's the deal: A serious acting performance by Stallone in a great movie is a thing of beauty. He's a brilliant, underrated actor. But a serious acting performance by Stallone in a piece of shit like Assassins? Come on, man. Lighten up!

This film marks the end of a personal era for me. This was the last Stallone film I saw in the theatre, until Rocky Balboa came out ten years later. That's a decade-long drought where I skipped films starring my former favorite actor. It makes me misty just thinking about it. I did see one or two of his films during that decade, but not really by choice, and usually years after they were released, often directly to video.

But we were walking about Daylight. Honestly, I'd rather not. It wasn't the worst movie I've ever seen, nor even the worst movie Stallone has ever made, but it just wasn't any good. It's basically a remake of Cliffhanger, only it takes place in a tunnel instead of on a mountain, and it was actually really terrible instead of being really good.

And that's all I have to say about Daylight, other than that things are actually going to get a lot worse before they get better.

The Good Life
I don't even know what this movie is. But it co-stars Dennis Hopper and Andrew Dice Clay, so I'm guessing it's awful. I checked the IMDB to read some reviews and user comments, but there are none. That means nobody on the internet thought this movie was worth talking about. Have you ever been on the internet? Us geeks will talk about anything. But this paragraph is probably the longest thing anybody has ever written about this movie. And that's already too much.

Cop Land
One my one regret (at least, in regards to watching Stallone films. Not about life in general. That would just be silly) is that I somehow missed this film when it was originally released. And that's a shame, because it's a pretty good one. The story was kind of dumb and the whole thing was overrated, but Stallone's performance was probably the best of his career.

Much has been written about how Stallone put on a lot of weight for this role, but the changes me made for this movie were even more profound than that. Everything from the way he walked to the sound of his voice were different in this movie. More so than in any other movie, Stallone actually attempted to create a wholly different, 3 dimensional character unlike anything he has ever played. Had he made more career, and acting, decisions like this one, nobody would be able to parody or make fun of Stallone, because he actually would have been considered an actor.

Anyway, great movie, and Stallone is great in it. He should've gotten a supporting Oscar nomination, in my opinion.

Stallone did voicework for this subpar computer animated film. I'm not a fan of these crummy Dreamworks Pixar knockoffs, even when they feature Stallone. And, really, when you think of Stallone, does the idea that he'd do stellar voicework really come to mind?

Get Carter
Another piece of garbage that Stallone thought was a good movie. It's based on a "classic" British gangster film starring Michael Caine, but that movie wasn't all that good either. But boy is this one worse. And boring. And, frankly, stupid. It made it to the theaters, though, which is something.

Skip it.

This film featured a reunion nobody demanded: Stallone back together with Renny Harlin, the man who directed Cliffhanger. Now, I kind of like Renny Harlin. I think he has made some good movies, but for every Cliffhanger or Die Hard 2, he's also made some huge piece of garbage like Cutthroat Island or Deep Blue Sea. Or Driven.

I guess this movie is sort of supposed to be the Rocky of CART racing (whatever that is), but it's more like the Rocky V of CART racing. What else is there to say about this movie other than that Days of Thunder did it first and did it better, and that movie sucked?

Yeah, I don't know what this movie is either.

Avenging Angelo
Avenging Angelo was Stallone's much demanded follow-up to the smash hit D-Tox. I didn't see this one either. I'm guessing the plot has something to do with Stallone avenging the death of some guy named Angelo. Let's check the IMDB plot listing and see...

"A woman who has recently discovered that she is the daughter of Angelo, a major mafia boss, decides to wreak vengeance when he is killed by a hitman. She's aided by his faithful bodyguard, with whom she soon falls in love."

Boy, that don't sound too good.

Ah ha! I actually saw this one! I even paid money to rent it and everything.

Remember a few years ago when the media were under some mistake idea that poker was suddenly popular? As though showing poker tournaments on ESPN 4 was a sign of some kind of new fad that was storming across America. Anyway, I like poker and I like Stallone, so I figured it would behoove myself to see this movie that was trying to cash in on the fading celebrity of that actor and the rising fad of that card game.

And boy did it suck.

It had horrible acting performances from a lot of people who should've known better, a boring, cliched plot, and a script that was so ignorant of the actual rules of poker that even a greenhorn like me was able to notice all of the times they got the game completely wrong.

But how was Stallone? Old and sad.

Spy Kids 3-D
I saw this on a plane, without 3-D glasses. Can anybody tell me why an airline would decide to show a 3-D film? First of all, you can't really see anything on those tiny screens they have anyway, and then without handing out the glasses it was completely pointless. Oh, and it was just a terrible movie. And I actually really liked the first two Spy Kids films.

This movie is notable for Stallone films, however, because it contains his absolute worst, most over the top, and pathetic acting performance of all time. It's just a thoroughly horrible performance in a completely unwatchable trainwreck of a film.

Rocky Balboa
And then there was Rocky Balboa, the movie that should have been -- and many people predicted it would be -- a huge joke. After all, it had been sixteen years since the last Rocky film, and much, much longer than that since the last great Rocky film. Nobody thought this film would be halfway watchable, let alone, you know, actually good.

Nobody except for me, of course.

I remember how excited I was when I first even heard the rumors about this film, but when I finally saw a trailer all those years later and finally knew it was actually going to happen, well, words can't express what I felt in my heart and in my soul. Rocky was coming back. But even more than that, Stallone was coming back. We had had a long, rocky (pardon the pun) relationship up to that point, but I was always ready to forgive him and welcome him back with open arms.

In a way, Rocky Balboa was something of a love letter -- and an apology -- to his long-time fans. Gone were the ridiculous villains from the ridiculous sequels. Gone was the glitz and glamor. This was a human story about human characters, with an incredibly powerful story about fighting to live out your dreams. You know, like the first Rocky. In a way, this was just a remake of that first film. But, that's ok, because that first film was awesome, and so was this.

But this film didn't just see the return of Rocky, but the return of Paulie as well. And Duke. And Spider Rico! They even brought back that little red-headed girl Rocky tried to help in the very first film. It's a different actress and it's really, really contrived, but it still worked because the story was sweet and the actress was really good. Most importantly, it brought back a sense of pride and integrity that all those other films, entertaining as they are, sorely lacked.

It also contains one of Stallone's best monologues ever:

Now, feel free to laugh at how gross Stallone looks these days, and feel free to snicker at his now cliched performance as Rocky... but I don't care. That's a great scene and Stallone delivered. And so did this movie. Go rent it right now.

And why not? This was another film that had been rumored about for years and most people considered to be a joke. But after Stallone made another Rocky film to much success and (I think) critical acclaim, why not make another Rambo?

And much like the latest Rocky film, this new Rambo film attempted to distance itself from the previous few sequels by being more mature, thoughtful, dark, and realistic. But while that works for a film like Rocky, it kind of doesn't for a film like Rambo. After all, at its heart, Rambo all of the Rambo films were just big, dumb action movies. Who does he really think he's going to kid by trying to make a big, smart action movie?

Luckily for us, Rambo was still really entertaining because, try as he might to make an intelligent action movie, at the end of the day, he still just wants to show Rambo shooting people until their heads explode and their intestines fall out of their bellies. And, no, I'm not making that up. This was without a doubt the goriest war film I've ever seen. This film made the opening scene from Private Ryan look like a scene from Private Benjamin.

Seriously. Check this scene out... if you think you can handle it:

I guess he wanted to show the real horrors of war or something? I dunno. All I know is it made me sick. But I loved it. I mean, that's why I go to the movies. To see heads explode and intestines slosh.

But the main problem with this movie? Richard Crenna died before he could reprise his role as Colonel Trautman. Crenna was a reliable actor who somehow managed to give these films a sense of reality and maybe even gravitas. I just always felt that something was missing. RIP, Richard Crenna.

The Expendables
This movie is in production at the moment with a planned release date for 2010, but it's going to be the best movie ever made. I don't know anything about it other than that it will star Stallone, Jason Statham, Jet Li, and Dolph Lundgren.

How could that be bad?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Michael Crichton

Michael Crichton died of cancer today. Who even knew he had cancer? Poor guy. Not only did he die of cancer, but he died on the day of one of the most historic presidential elections in US history. It's too bad his death, and his work, won't get the attention that's deserved.

Crichton will forever be one of my favorite writers for Jurassic Park, an absolute work of genius and one of my top ten books of all time. He's also written a small handful of other great works, like The Great Train Robbery, Eaters of the Dead, The Andromeda Strain, and Rising Sun.

He's also written his fair share of garbage, such as Congo, Sphere, Prey, and pretty much everything else. But Michael Crichton's garbage is better than the life's work of most other writers. Even when his work was bad, full of ridiculous ideas, and filled to the brim with bad science (like Timeline, for example!), his books were still compulsively readable and incredibly entertaining.

He was certainly no Shakespeare, though his prose was as impeccably written as any of his peers, and his ideas ranged from the mind-blowingly innovative to the insultingly puerile and naive, he was still one of my favorite writers.

Everytime a famous person dies, there are so many obituaries written by people who claim to be saddened by the loss of a person the writer has never met, and this one is no different. I've never met Crichton, but I'm honestly sad to hear of his death. I'm not sad because I cared about him or knew anything about him personally. I'm sad because I'll never get to read, and thoroughly enjoy, another one of his books. If that sounds callous, don't worry. It's actually the greatest compliment any writer could ever receive.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Stallone: A Career Retrospective: Part II

Over The Top
As much as I loathe Cobra, it's still possible to dismiss it alongside Rhinestone as a well intentioned failure. I forgive him for wanting to make a musical comedy, just as I forgive him for wanting to make his generation's Dirty Harry. After all, the main villain and Clint's sidekick from Harry were both in Cobra.

But Over The Top marks the turning point in Stallone's career where he literally goes over the top, into all-out film insanity. There's no going back from this point. After making Over the Top, his career as a laughing stock becomes complete, and the two Oscar nominations he received for Rocky are nothing more than distant memories.

In other words, this is just a stupid, stupid movie. It's just your typical coming of age movie about a widower who tries to reconcile with his son by taking him on a cross-country road trip in his tractor trailer truck so he can compete in an armwrestling championship in Las Vegas. You know, that old plot.

The coda of this movie is that the winner takes it all, loser takes the fall. That was either based on a line written by Shakespeare, or maybe Sammy Hagar. Anyway, this is a terrible movie, but it's one that's a definite must-see for Stallone fans.

But, you know, you won't like it.

Rambo III
In all seriousness, Stallone's greatest talent as a filmmaker has always been his ability to capture the cultural zeitgeist of his time. This has also been one of his greatest faults, because while his films perfectly appeal to a contemporary audience, they don't always hold up perfectly for posterity. And few of his films hold up worse than Rambo III.

Just watch this scene:

Those freedom fighters Trautman is talking about? Some of them grew into the Taliban. That's right, this movie is about how the Americans aided the Afghan freedom fighters against the evil Russian empire. We aided them by giving them guns, supplies, and that most dangerous weapon of all, John J. Rambo.

So you can see how that speech warning against getting into a land war with insurgents in the middle east has taken on a far different meaning these days. And that's a shame, because this is otherwise an awesome action film with some amazing set pieces. Sure, it's also stupid and impossible to believe, but it's also awesome. It's also far too cartoonish and turns the formerly laconic, brooding Rambo into a wisecracking jackass. But that's ok. Most of his jokes are pretty funny.

It may not hold up -- or, at least, it holds up in a vastly different way -- but it's still a pretty good, dumb action movie.

Lock Up
I love this movie.

Now, when discussing Sylvester Stallone, you have to remember you're referring to two men. There's the fantastically talented actor/writer/director who has made such films as Rocky, First Blood, and Nighthawks. Then there is the big, dumb jackass who coasted his way through films like this one. And, damn it all, I love both of those men, but I sure wish we had seen more movies made by the first one.

But I'll settle for watching Lock Up.

Here's the plot: Stallone plays Frank Leone, a convict a few months shy of his release, who is transferred to a maximum security prison because the evil warden wants revenge because he was the only man who ever escaped on his watch... or something. That plot was later ripped off by Frank Darabont when he made Shawshank Redemption. Just kidding.

It's hard to argue that any Stallone film could be stupider than Over the Top, but Lock Up sure tries to give it a run for its money.

I wish I was watching this movie right now.

Tango and Cash
Say what you will about Stallone's movies being dumb and violent and hard to believe, at least they're never boring. But this one kind of comes close. It's just not that good of a movie, but maybe because everybody expected so much more.

In the late 80s and early 90s, the buddy cop film was king. Buddy films have been around since the dawn of cinema (I'm pretty sure Alexander Graham Bell filmed the first buddy film about Sacco and Vanzetti), but this period was the golden age of the buddy cop film. So the idea of teaming Stallone up with Kurt Russell should've been the greatest buddy cop film of all time. But it didn't really work out that way.

Why did this film fail? Who's to say? Was it because both Stallone and Russell are such larger than life leading men that pairing them up only served to dilute each's star power? Maybe, but I think it was because the script sucked and because Andrei Konchalovsky was a terrible director. I've seen this movie. I've sat through this movie. But I hardly remember this movie. It was neither good enough to be worth watching nor dumb enough to stand out amongst Stallone's other films. But I'm sure somewhere, on aother blog, some fan of Kurt Russell is giving a respective of his care5er and loved this movie. And, if not, I guess I'll have to do that one too.

Oh, and just for the record, Stallone played Tango.

Rocky V
A lot of people hate Rocky V, but I don't get it. Sure, it's not a very good movie, but when was the last time Stallone made a good movie, let alone a very good movie? What, Rocky V doesn't live up to the high standard of quality left by Rocky IV? The reason Rocky V isn't as beloved as the other films in the series is because it isn't bad enough.

In fact, Rocky V is actually a pretty good movie, and that's why it leaves Stallone fans in such confusion. Stallone fans aren't familiar with movies that are pretty good. They are familiar with films that are great (Rocky, First Blood) and films that are terrible (well... every other film he's made), but not with films that are, you know, pretty good.

This film's main fault is that it's not as stupid and over the top as Rocky III and IV. That's probably because it was the first Rocky film since the first one that was directed by John Avildsen. John Avildsen is a different kind of director than Stallone in that he actually allows scenes to unfold with a certain amount of subtlety, and he champions story over spectacle.

But, more than that, this is a story that is about character instead of plot, which is a huge 360 after the last few Rocky films. So don't ask me if this is a good film or a bad film. All I know is that it's a Rocky film. So that means I watch it whenever it's on, no questions asked. But I'd rather watch any of the other ones, for whatever that's worth.

When I first started this post, I forgot I'd have to talk about movies like Oscar.

Now, Oscar is a bad movie. Let's just get that out of the way. It's a boring, unfunny, obnoxious film billed as a comedy. It's bad. It's not funny. But we don't need to rub that in.

Let's look at this film from Stallone's perspective. Let's say you were offered to star in a comedy film directed by John Landis, a true legend of the genre. Let's say the script was written by Michael Barrie, a former writer for Johnny Carson's Tonight Show. And let's say it was based on, well, some kind of stage play. You'd turn it down? What if you conveyed your fears about being to pull it off to John Landis and he assured you you'd be hilarious? You'd still say no?

So let's lay off Stallone, ok?

But it's still a horrible movie.

Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot!
Remember how I just went out of my way to defend Stallone's decision to star in Oscar? Well, I can't do that with this movie? After the disaster that was his last movie, his next movie should've been Rocky VI or Rambo IV. But no... he followed it up with another comedy.

I just don't know what to say. This is the beginning of the end for one of my all time favorite actors. Reviewing these movies now is like being a time traveler who is forced to go into the past even though he can't change anything for the better.

Finally another action movie! And it's a pretty good one! I still remember when this movie first came out in the theatre. Specifically, I remember finally not being embarrassed to see a new Stallone film in the theatre. And I wasn't disappointed. This is one of my favorite of Stallone's non Rocky/Rambo films.

It's a film about a cliff... guy who... has to fight John Lithgow in... some mountains. Or something. Wait a minute... what is the plot of this movie? I just remember a bunch of cool action sequences that take place in the mountains. And that's the sign of a great action movie, in my opinion. If you come away from a movie remembering the action and not the plot, you probably had a good time.

Demolition Man
Now that's what I'm talkin' about! Demolition Man is important for two reasons: First of all, it's one of Stallone's most entertaining movies. Second of all, it's his last great movie for a long, long time. Oh, and it's also his first foray into the sci-fi genre. Unless you're counting Over the Top. There's no way that movie took place on the planet Earth.

This movie is so much fun for so many reasons: The dopey future society they created, Wesley Snipes's over the top performance as the bad guy, Dan Cortese as a lounge singer who only performs jingles from TV commercials. This movie has it all. It's sci-fi, it's an action movie, it's a comedy, it's a cultural satire. But, bottom line, it's one of Stallone's best and one of the most entertaining movies of all time.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Stallone: A Career Retrospective: Part I

Stallone. Pathetic hack or misunderstood genius? Wait... can't he be both? Stallone has always held a special place in my heart. His was a talent that could've reached the heavens, but instead he chose to waste it on films like Rhinestone. But still, I think he's a wonderfully charming and talented filmmaker who's deserving of a closer examination. And since nobody else is going to do it, I guess I have to.

So here is my comprehensive look at the entire film oeuvre of one Sylvester Gardenzio Stallone. We're in for a long ride.

Oh, and I'm going to begin with Rocky, because that was Stallone's first breakout film. Everything he did before that he did because he was young and starving. I can't judge a man for what he did because he had to.

The first Rocky is a masterpiece. This is one of my top five favorite movies of all time. Maybe it's even my favorite movie of all time, I dunno. All I know is that it's brilliant and absolutely deserving of all of the fame and praise it has received since it was first released. It has also been unfairly maligned, but mostly because it has been parodied so many times that most people have forgotten which was the film and which was the parody. But it's still a wonderful, charming, funny, and dare I say inspiring film that holds up to this day.

Stallone's follow-up to Rocky was a period piece based loosely on the life story of... Jimmy Hoffa. It's an interesting and well done film, and definitely a product of the auteur-driven films of the 70s. And as great as Stallone was in Rocky, he was even better here, giving a far more interesting and nuanced performance. Had he kept making films like this, he could've become the next Robert DeNiro. And, yes, I actually believe that. But then, who would've starred in Demolition Man? But I'm getting ahead of myself...

Paradise Alley

In the interest of full disclosure, I decided to list this movie even though I actually haven't seen it. But it exists if you're interested, but good luck finding a copy. I sure haven't. This is also Stallone's directorial debut.

Rocky II
After Rocky became a world-shaking smash hit, it was inevitable that there would be a sequel. And the premise is simple: What if we completely remade the first film, but had Rocky win in the end?! It's a little strange. That'd be like if they made a sequel to Titanic where they made a newer, bigger ship that didn't sink this time. What would be the point? But, silly premises aside, this is a fantastically entertaining movie. It's funny while still being sweet and uplifting, and it was the last Rocky film that actually felt genuine, and not like a parody of itself.

Another lost Stallone film that nobody's heard of. Stallone and Billy Dee Williams are cops on the hunt for terrorist Rutger Hauer. And if that does't sound like an awesome film, I don't know what planet you're from. This is just a classic late 70s/early 80s style cop film. This is just a really good film and Stallone is really good in it. How come nobody ever remembers his good films?

Another film made back when Stallone was young and powerful and made interesting acting choices. Ok, get this... Stallone, Michael Caine, and Pele (!!) play Allied POWs in a Nazi prisoner of war camp, and they're only chance to excape is by agreeing to play a soccer game against the Nazis. It sounds dumb, but it's fantastic.

Rocky III
Remember that Titanic 2 analogy I made above? Ok, now imagine in Titanic 3 if they changed the ship to an Aircraft Carrier and shipped it off to the Persian Gulf to kill Saddam Hussein? That would be pretty dumb, right? Well, if you haven't seen Rocky III, you don't know what dumb is. This has to be one of the silliest, most over the top, dumbest movies ever made. In fact, this movie is more over the top than Over the Top, but we'll get to that one too. Oh, and this movie is also awesome. This is dumb and silly and a complete betrayal of everthing the original Rocky stood for, but it's also one of the most entertaining movies ever made. I love it.

First Blood
The history of the Rambo movies is very similar to the history of the Rocky movies. Both are world famous and widely ridiculed for being cartoonish pieces of fluff that glorify violence... and rightly so! But they are also notable for the fact that the first films in each series are actually brilliant pieces of filmmaking. If you can believe it, First Blood is actually anti-violence in a way. The violence is almost metaphorical for its story about a Vietnam vet's attempt to reaclimate himself to society. Yeah, that's right! This is a great movie and an absolute classic of the action genre.

Staying Alive
The less said about this film the better. This is notable for being the first film Stallone directed that wasn't meant to be a vehicle for his acting. In fact, he only really has a brief cameo. This was a sequel to Saturday Night Fever that is even more ridiculous and removed from its predecessor as Rocky II and III were from the first Rocky. But where those films were great fun, this is a huge piece of garbage. This is one of the worst films I've ever seen. This is probably the worst film of his career, in fact, and as you'll see as we go on, that's saying a lot.

Oh god.

I guess I can't blame him for making this movie. Afterall, if I was the biggest star in the world and somebody offered me a chance to make a romantic comedy where I get to act and sing opposite Dolly Parton, I wouldn't turn it down. But still, a musical comedy starring Sylvester Stallone and Dolly Parton? Who thought this was a good idea? They aren't exactly Dolly Parton and Burt Reynolds, or even Jim Nabors and Burt Reynolds.

This has gone down in history as a joke, but it's interesting to note that this was actually the first misstep of Stallone's career. This was his first truly bad film and his first flop. Everybody makes mistakes, but what makes this mistake so interesting, was how colossally huge it was. Anyway, I have said far too much about a film that really needs to speak for itself:

Rambo: First Blood Part II
Perhaps one good thing came out of Stallone's experience making Rhinestone: He ran back to playing one of his most lucrative characters of all time: John J. Rambo. Only the real fans remember First Blood, this is the film that cemented Rambo - maybe even Stallone himself - as a world-wide phenomenon. This is one of the biggest, most popular films of all time. This film may have helped Reagan become the most popular president of all time. This film may have ended the Cold War. This film... well.. now this is a film.

It's also really dumb and actually doesn't hold up all that well. It has a reputation as a mindless action film, but it's actually really talky and kind of boring in places. It's also really strange. Remember how Stallone remade Rocky so Rocky would win the second time around? Well, now Stallone is remaking the Vietnam War so America can finally win. It's just a strange concept, considering how the first Rambo film dealt with how war effects a man and makes it almost impossible for him to return to a civilized society.

But, whatever. This film is awesome.

Rocky IV
Oh wait... did I say Rambo ended the Cold War? I meant to say, the one-two-punch of Rambo and Rocky IV ended the Cold War. Think about it: Both of these films came out in 1985, which was the year Reagan and Gorbachev had their first summit in Geneva, then after that Perestroika came into effect, with the Berlin Wall finally coming down in 1989. All because of Sylvester Stallone.

But we were talking about Rocky IV. This is the most entertaining movie ever made. It's also really, really stupid. Sensing a pattern here? Rocky IV is almost an art movie in that it is told almost entirely in montages. Seriously, every major plot point or epiphany in this movie is conveyed by a long montage. And they're awesome. Just check this out:

No wait... this one is better:

Oh, but here's my favorite scene. It's not actually a montage, but the way the music carries the scene makes it seem like it's a music video. Forgive the Russian. It's the only clip of the scene I could find:

I don't even want to talk about this movie. It just makes me feel dirty. Stallone has made a lot of terrible films over the course of his career, but this is the only one that's actually reprehensible. This is a film for all of the people who didn't think Rambo was violent and gory enough. This movie actually used to give me nightmares. As an adult, I still wake up sometimes in the middle of the night, covered in sweat, with my heart beating in my chest, being paranoid about something that's wrong in the world. But then I remember that I sat through Cobra when I was a kid, and I try my best to calm down and fall back to sleep.

This is just a dirty, slimy, vile little film. It's Stallone's attempt at a Dirty Harry style, renegade cop who plays by his own rules, kind of film, but in the end, it's just about a cop who kills people and a criminal gang who are so evil they make Nazis look tame by comparison.

Ok, you need another reason to skip this movie? Stallone's character is nicknamed Cobra because his real name is Marion Cobretti. Ugh.

Please, for the love of all that's good and holy in this world, do not let your kids see Cobra.

I need to go take a shower and take a break. I'll post part 2 later on.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Ranking the James Bonds

Who was the best James Bond?

Well, now... that's a question for the ages. I'm just asking for trouble by even bringing up the subject in the first place. But, like James Bond himself... trouble is my middle name.

No, wait, it's Walter. Anyway, I actually think James Bond fans have been lucky in that all of our leading men who played the part have been fantastic. That isn't to say they've all been in fantastic films... and that's what I think it comes down to. The question of which Bond was "best" is a false one, in my opinion. I don't exclusively watch films by any one of the six actors, since all of them have been in some that were good and some that were terrible (except for Lazenby, who was only in one... and it was awesome!).

So while I'm admitting it's stupid to rank them at all, rank them I must. But I'm going to take into account several factors, including charm, acting ability, and the quality of the films on which they appeared. That might not seem fair, but let's face facts: Roger Moore in For Your Eyes Only is better than Sean Connery in Never Say Never Again. But you can rest assured that Roger Moore isn't going to win this competition.

And, also for the record, I'm only going to be discussing the EON Bond films, and not the original Casino Royale or the original Bond film starring Barry Nelson. Casino Royale was a parody and I never saw the Nelson film, and I don't really care to.

Sean Connery


Dr. No
From Russia With Love
You Only Live Twice
Diamonds Are Forever
Never Say Never Again

In the minds of most people, Sean Connery is James Bond, while all others are just trying to fill his shoes. And, for the most part, they're right. Connery is a wonderful actor and his charm can't be denied. The character Ian Fleming created was no doubt a stroke of brilliance on his part, but it's hard to believe the series would have taken hold of the world in such a way without casting the perfect actor in the leading role. And Sean Connery was the perfect actor. He was amazing, and when at his best, his films were some of the best in the series.

But, out of the seven films in which he appeared as James Bond, only three are actually all that good. But that's ok because they actually aren't just good, they're amazing.

Dr. No, From Russia With Love, and GoldFinger are brilliant films by any account, with perfect scripts, great direction, and wonderful, charming performances by Connery. When people think of the James Bond films, whether intentionally or not, they're thinking of these three (the three first).

But after that, the series went downhill. Thunderball wasn't bad, it was just boring. But what film wouldn't be boring after GoldFinger, arguably the very best Bond film of all. Then came You Only Live Twice, which was probably the first truly bad film in the series. Diamonds are Forever was a little bit better, but only because it was so bad it was campy fun. But, even at their worst, Connery's lesser films are worth watching because he's always so good. And that doesn't just for for his Bond films, but for all of his films in general.

And then, over ten years later, he returned for the non EON (and, thus, no cannon) Never Say Never Again. What a piece of crap. Let's NEVER SAY anything about this film (N)EVER AGAIN.

Bottomline, Sean Connery is handsome, athletic looking, charming, funny, and a great actor. He's the only Bond actor to have won an Oscar, though not for a Bond film.

Final Score: 6 out of 6

George Lazenby

On Her Majesty's Secret Service

How to judge poor George Lazenby, the long forgotten second James Bond? The Australian model-turned-actor only starred as Bond in one film, but it's one of the absolute best of the series, and one of my all-time favorites. But, as likable as Lazenby is, this is a great film because the script and story and direction and action are fantastic. Lazenby is ok, but this movie would've been amazing had Sean Connery agreed to star.

But how was Lazenby? To be honest, I like George Lazenby and think he deserved better. Had he not quit from the series (because he honestly thought it was holding back his career, if you can believe that), I think he would've improved and received a far better judgment from history. But as his only film indicates... he was ok. He was definitely the weakest actor who ever played Bond, but he's also pretty charming and likable in his own way. He's very good at the physical stuff, and his comic timing makes him well suited for the one liners, but he's pretty wooden when he's doing anything else.

The highlight of the film is the middle section when he's going undercover at Bloefeld's hideout. When I first saw this film, I was blown away by Lazenby's performance. His entire voice and inflection changed completely when he went undercover as a posh, British professor. But, years later, I learned that a different actor actually dubbed over his lines for that entire section of the film. So that pretty much explains why his performance in that section of the film was so great.

But, still, I like Lazenby. He wasn't a great actor, but he was a pretty good Bond. I wish he had made some more films so I could judge him better.

Final Score: 2 out of 6

Roger Moore

Live and Let Die
The Man With the Golden Gun
The Spy Who Loved Me
For Your Eyes Only
A View to a Kill

While Roger Moore and Sean Connery have both technically played James Bone seven times, Moore gets the career win because Never Say Never Again doesn't really count as a part of the EON series of films. And it sucked. But it was still better than Moonraker. Or maybe not. Once the series gets that bad, it's hard to decide which of the films are the absolutle worst of the worst. But to be sure, many of Moore's films are on that list.

But still, Moore was a great James Bond. It's a true testament to his talents, and his charm, that he was able to keep the series alive and financially successful over the course of seven fairly mediocre films. While some of Moore's films are my very favorites (like Golden Gun, Octopussy, and Eyes Only), they're all actually pretty bad.

And Moonraker, Live and Let Die, and (ugh) A View to a Kill are completely worthless pieces of crap.

Moore will always have a place in my heart, however, because was James Bond when I was born. In fact, while A View to a Kill wasn't the first Bond film I saw, it was the first I saw in the theatre. And I loved it! The opening ski chase was off the hook, and the rest was just incredibly silly and cool and fun. But, rewatching it again as an adult, it sucks. It's just a terrible, terrible movie. Tanya Roberts is so bad, the plot about an evil microchip salesman was laughable, and Chris Walken hammed it up in his of his all-time worst performances (long before he turned hamming it up in bad movies into an art form). Oh, and the scene where James Bond actually had sex with Grace Jones was the absolute low point in the series.

But he was still a really good actor, incredibly handsome, funny, and a convincing physical presence. He was also the first Bond who was actually English. He was classy. I also think he was the best at being genuinely funny. I liked the guy. Connery's performance helped to create the character in the public conscious , but Moore's kept it alive and relevant for over ten years.

Final Score: 5 out of 6

Timothy Dalton

The Living Daylights
License to Kill

Like George Lazenby before him, Dalton has the distinction of never appearing in a bad Bond film, though a lot of people will argue with that claim. But Lazenby got off lucky by being forgotten. Tim Dalton is almost universally hated.

But he's my personal favorite.

After Moore's almost cartoonish entries in the series, the powers that be decided to go darker with the character. That resulted in casting Tim Dalton, who brought an almost Shakespearan air to the character. In my opinion, he's probably the finest classically trained actor who's ever played the part. But most people found him a little too dark and maybe a little too dry. I will admit that he doesn't quite have the charm of, well, all of the other actors in the series, he was closer to the character in the books than we had yet seen. But people didn't want the character from the books. They wanted Sean Connery or Roger Moore.

Another thing a lot of people will tell you is that Dalton's films were bad, but I would disagree with that as well. The Living Daylights is one of the best spy thrillers of all time, even if it doesn't really feel entirely like a James Bond picture. And License to Kill is just an awesome action movie, with Robert Davi as one of the best Bond villians of all time.

Another reason why these two films failed to register all that much with the public is how the late 80s saw the appearance of a kinder, gentler James Bond. The character went darker, true, but he also became somewhat... monogamous. And where's the fun in that?

But if you want to watch a couple of well written, action-packed thrillers, you can't go wrong with Dalton's two entries in the series. But they maybe aren't as much "fun" as some of the others. But I love them.

Final Score: 3 out of 6

Pierce Brosnan

Tomorrow Never Dies
The World is Not Enough
Die Another Day

Who doesn't love Pierce Brosnan? He's a wonderful, talented, effortlessly charming actor. Riding high off of the success of the much loved detective series Remington Steele, Brosnan had more good will coming into the series than any other actor in history. It was generally accepted as fact that he was the perfect actor to play the part. And he would've been... if only his movies hadn't sucked so bad.

Well, maybe it's not fair to judge the Brosnan films against the earlier films, since by that time the Soviet Union had collapsed, long time producer Albert Broccoli had died, and cold war had come to an end. How then to make relevant a character that, at his very essence, was a product of the 1960s? Well, had I been in charge, I would've made all of the Bond films period pieces that took place in the late 50s/early 60s. But I wasn't asked so they just completely changed the character, making him a product of the 90s.

And therein lies the problem. They just weren't making James Bond movies anymore. With each new actor, the series was that much different than the character that came before. By this point, we were so removed from the original character that he may as well have been a completely different character with a completely different name.

Anyway, I hate these movies. They're unwatchable, in my opinion. They are perfectly competent action movies, but they aren't James Bond movies. And Pierce Brosnan's charm and undeniable action talent did nothing to save them. He was better as Remington Steele.

Final Score: 1 out of 6

Daniel Craig

Casino Royale
Quantum of Solace (Yet to be released)

After the era of Pierce Brosnan, Daniel Craig (and his film Casino Royale), appeared as something of a revelation. The first Bond film that was actually based on one of Fleming's original novels in over 25 years, Royale was a reboot for the franchise that attempted to bring the character back to his roots. Gone are Q, the silly gadgets, and outlandish plots and terrible one liners.

And it worked to smashing success. It's one of the best films in the entire series, but not quite my favorite. Afterall, I like Q and some of the silly gadgets. With the Craig films, they managed to finally find a tone (and acting performance) that combined the dark realism of the Dalton films and the over the top action sequences of the Brosnan films.

So it was a great film. But how was Daniel Craig?

He was amazing! In just one film, he somehow managed to combine all of the best traits of every actor who came before him. To be honest, I was actually a fan of him even before he was announced as Bond, so when I heard he got the part, I knew this latest chapter in the series would be good.

He's still somewhat young and new to the part, so he isn't quite as indelible in the public memory as Connery or Moore, but if I redo this list after he's made a few more films, he might someday surprise us all.

Final Score: 4 out of 6

Overall winner: Sean Connery

Friday, October 3, 2008

The Worst Episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation

Well, since I dedicated my last post to the ten best episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, I figured it was only fair to devote this one to the worst episodes. And as much as I love this series (it's my all-time favorite), buy did they have some stinkers.

It pains me to do this (especially since I had to go back and rewatch some of these in order to refresh my memory), here are the absolute worst episodes, ranked in order from "best" to worst:

#10. The Royale

This was back in the first season, when the series was still stealing ideas from the Original Series and hadn't yet found its own voice. Because of that, I can kind of forgive the first season for its truly terrible episodes. But this one is particularly stupid.

The crew beams down to a planet that... I dunno... based some room on an old, cliched crime novel they found in an old Earth spaceship. Yeah, it's a rip off of A Piece of the Action, that classic episode of the Original Series. So why did that episode work while this one is a piece of crap? To begin with, Action took place on an entire planet with a whole civilization based on mobsters from America's past. This episode pretty much only takes place in one room. And it's just not fun, it's not clever, and it's completely unoriginal.

#9. Emergence

Next Gen's 7th season is one of its most enigmatic and controversial. By the time most series reach a 7th season (if at all), they tend to run out of ideas. Next Gen's finale season actually suffered from having too many ideas. The show's writers decided to get cerebral, high concept, and metaphysical. This writing style gave us some of the best, most original, and brilliant episodes of all time (like Genesis, All Good Things, and Parallels), but mostly it just sucked. And no episode better captures the essence of season 7 than Emergence.

Honestly, I don't understand this episode. You won't understand this episode. I have a feeling the writers didn't understand this episode. It has something to do with the Enterprise's computer becoming self aware (yeah, that's right), which manifests itself by filling the Holodeck with various mobsters, hillbillys, and train conductors. Huh? Yeah, that's right... it's a Holodeck episode. Can anybody tell me why the Holodeck even has "safety parameters" if they are always accidentally being shut off?

Anyway, this episode makes no sense. But, even worse than that, it's just boring. And that's unforgivable.

#8. Force of Nature

This was Next Gen's attempt at an episode with an envirornmental theme. A couple of aliens mysteriously appear and tell the Enterprise crew that warp travel may be destroying the fabric of the universe! Seriously? You really want to take one of the most fundamental plot devices of the entire Star Trek universe and reveal that it has actually been hurting the universe all this time? It's an itriguing story idea to be sure, but come on. That's just too much. We didn't need that.

So from this episode on, just about every episode has some line about how "Starfleet has agreed to let us ignore the warp limitations for this mission." If this episode reveals that warp drive hurts the episode, and imposes standards on its use, why ignore that for the rest of the series? And every other series that came after?


#7. Dark Page

I like Majel Barrett. I think she's a charming, handsome woman and her contributions to Star Trek over the years (both behind the scenes and on camera) can't be denied. According to all sources, her input helped Roddenberry create and mold the series, she has appeared in almost every incarnation of the series, and I would NEVER want to watch any incarnation of Star Trek that didn't have her voice as the ship's computer. Her voice IS the voice of Starfleet and is every bit as iconic as the Enterprise, Spock's Ears, or the shape of the com badges.

But boy is she a horrible dramatic actress.

I can understand what they were thinking when they wrote this episod. The character of Lwaxana Troi has never been used as much more than comic interest and they wanted to show a different, darker side to her. Ok, nice idea in theory, but the script sucked and Barrett's performance just wasn't good enough. Barrett is wonderful in the funny episodes, and Lwaxana troi is a wonderfully fun character, but who needed to see her breakdown emotionally over the death of her first child? We just didn't need to go there, especially not when the episode was so hokey.

This episode is notable for the appearance of Kirsten Dunst in one of her first acting performances. But that's about it.

Also, why does that one alien guy look just like Kevin Nealon? We really need two actors in this world who look like Kevin Nealon? And why is Lwaxana's subconscious reality based on the corridors of the Enterprise? She doesn't live there. Because the producers were too ship to build another set, that's why. Stupid.

#6. Angel One.

Oh man. Now we're really getting into deep shit territory. This episode is terrible no matter how you look at it. The Enterprise has to beam down to a matriarchal society to save some Federation hostages, or something. Of course, Riker has to dress up like a cheap cheap gigolo and attempts to seduce every chick on the planet. It doesn't work.

#5. Sub Rosa

As much as I like and respect Majel Barrett, I like and respect Gates McFadden even more. She's a beautiful, talented actress and the one episode that she directed (Genesis) is one of my all time favorites. But still, Dr Crusher episodes are always the pits. It's not her fault, it's the fault of the writers and producers who never gave her anything to do. Her character just wasn't interesting or explored enough, so the few episodes that centered around her character always fell flat.

And this episode, some kind of weird gothic ghost story, was just terrible. It didn't feel like a Star Trek story, it wasn't engaging, and it's completely forgettable. In fact, I don't even rememeber it enough to hate it as much as I think I do.

Let's just move on.

#4. Code of Honor

This episode is so bad. Tasha Yar (remember her?) is kidnapped by Space Africans! The king of the Space Africans wants her to join his harem, or something, and she has to fight one of his wives to the death, or something. It's just terrible and borederline racist.

#3. The Chase

I hate, hate, hate, hate, hate this episode. This is one of those ridiculous "retconn" stories that attempts to solve a problem that was never actually a problem to begin with. Why do all of the alien races on Star Trek look humanoid? Well, according to this episode, it's because an original, progenitor race sprinkled their DNA across the galaxy, allowing the Humans, Romulans, Klingon, etc to evolve with similar traits.

Come on! Who really had a problem with the fact that the alien races looked humanoid because, you know, they were all played by human actors? And even forgetting the pointless premise, the episode itself is just hokey, bland, and boring.

#2. The Game

What the hell? The entire Enterprise crew (with the exception of Data, Wesley, and... Ashley Judd?!) become addicted to a ridiculous looking VR game that gives you an orgasm every time you put a disk into a funnel. Lord how I wish I was making that up. There are few scenes in Star Trek history more uncomfortable than when Wesley watches his mother orgasm over and over again and then attempts to force him to play along with her. And I'm not making that up either.

Sure, they don't actually say that the game makes you orgasm, but just watch the performances of the actors and you can figure out what they were going for. I've seen pornos where the actors gave more subtle orgasms than these. Also, the game is first introduced to Riker when he's in bed, making love to a woman with a giant butt on her forehead. Remember the Buttmans from In Living Color? Apparently that skit was ripped off by the writers for Next Generation.

I also love how the only person who doesn't give into the temptation of playing this videogame is the biggest nerd on the ship. Seriously? Wesley of all people won't play a videogame that gives you orgasms? Then again, who needs that when you get to mack on Ashley Judd. I bet John Frakes was pissed after he learned that Will Wheaton got Ashley Judd while he had to role around in bed with one of the Buttmans.

What a piece of crap.

And if that clip wasn't gross enough, check out the opening teaser where Riker got it on with the Buttman chick:

And here's a BONUS clip:

#1. Shades of Gray

Are you kidding me? Next Gen actually resorted to a clips episode? And for their second season finale of all things? The writers of the best sci-fi show of all time actually ripped off a money-saving idea from Family Ties?

Here's the plot in a nutshell: Riker is stabbed by some alien plant (or something) that kills him by bringing up bad memories (in other words, distressing clips from previous episodes), and the only way the doctor can cure it is be bring up good memories (happier clips from previous episodes). There's seriously about 15 minutes of new footage in this episode, the rest is all clips from earlier episodes.

According to what I've read, this episode was put together in just 3 days because of the impending writers strike of 1988, but that's still no excuse. This isn't just the worst episode in Next Gen history, it's the worst episode in Star Trek history. And, yes, that means it's worse than Spock's Brain, the last episode of Enterprise, and all of Voyager.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Ten Best Episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation

Or, at least, these are my ten favorite episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. And, since Next Gen is my favorite TV show of all time, that pretty much means they are ten of my favorite TV episodes of all time.

Side note: I'm counting two-parters as single episodes. It's just easier that way. And, remember, these are just my opinions. They could be wrong.

#10. Genesis

Nobody else seems to like this episode as much as I do. Nobody ever talks about it and it's never on any best of lists. Well, now it is. I love this episode. It's that rare episode that actually manages to be full of action, science, horror, and humor. And, come on, what can you say about an episode where Riker devolves into a caveman? That's just good characterization.

Interesting trivia: This was the only episode (and maybe the only thing ever) directed by Doctor Crusher herself, Gates McFadden. I'm not sure why since it's really well done. I think she could have a second career as a director.

#9. Relics

"I was driving Starships while your great-grandfather was still in di-ah-pers!!"

This episode is so stupid, but it's so much fun. This is exactly why I watch Star Trek. Next Gen tried many times to feature characters from the original series, but this was the only time it really worked, in my opinion. Kirk's appearance in Generations was a disaster because that movie had such a terrible script, Spock's appearance was way too overdone and pretentious, and Bones was only there for about five seconds, and completely unrecognizable... but this episode was just... funny.

Sure, there was some story about a Dyson's Sphere and something to do with a transporter accident (surprise surprise!), but at its core, this episode was just a comedy. And it also featured James Doohan in his finest ever Star Trek performance. I loved it, and so should you.

#8. I, Borg

You know, the one with Hugh, the world's most lovable Borg. And, no, I'm not forgetting 7 of 9. She was the world's most humpable Borg, but Hugh is far more lovable. This was another episode from Next Gen's prime, when it was just cranking out some of the best science fiction stories of all time. This episode was where they took their most evil, terrifying villains and allowed us to see another side of them. Star Trek rarely gets any better than this.

#7. The Most Toys

This is my favorite Data episode. This is the one where he gets kidnapped by an evil collector of rare memorabilia, and he gets pushed so far, he almost (and maybe even does) becomes willing to commit murder in cold blood. The nebulous, open-ended final act is one of the best in Trek history, and Saul Rubinek plays one of the best villains ever.

#6. Ship in a Bottle

I love Star Trek in all of its forms, but I am as much, if not more so, a fan of Sherlock Holmes. So I'm lucky to be a fan of both, since they have intersected so many times. Spock was an ancestor or Sherlock Holmes, by the way. Ship in a Bottle was the second Sherlock Holmes inspired episode of Next Generation, and it is far and away the best.

This episode is notable for having a brilliant, almost mind-bending plot that folds in on itself over and over again and keeps you guessing until the very end, and also for the brilliant return performance of Daniel Davis as the Napoleon of crime himself, Professor Moriarty. Davis gives the best interpretation of the character that I've ever seen, in any other film or TV episode. He's awesome, and makes my list as one of the best Trek villains ever. Or is he one of the best heroes?

#5. The Best of Both Worlds

I've watched a lot of TV in my time, and a lot of Star Trek in particular, and the scene where Jean Luc Picard comes on screen as a Borg and says, "I am Locutus of Borg. Resistance is futile," was the best cliffhanger in TV history. Rounding out the top three would be the Battlestar Galactica where the Cylons landed on New Caprica, and the Supernatural where Dean literally died and went to hell.

But we were talking about Next Generation. This episode is awesome. It was the first time we had scene the Borg since season 2, and the show was still new enough that, quite literally, anything could've happened. Picard might really be dead. We honestly didn't know. For the first time, a Star Trek series was going into a fourth season, where no one really had gone before.

Anyway, Picard didn't die (spoilers!!), but it was still an awesome, action-packed episode.

#4. Chain of Command

If for nothing else, Chain of Command has to be on the list for giving us the most quotable line in all of Star Trek:

"There... Are... Four... Lights!!!"

But, even more than that, it's a brilliant episode dealing with the realities of torture, something you don't really see on TV outside of CSPAN or 24. Oh, and we also get to see McLean Stephenson as Captain Jellico, and Patrick Stewart in the nude!

#3. All Good Things

All Good Things was the last episode of the series, so the pressure was on to end with a bang. To be honest, season 7 was, overall, one of the weakest storywise, so hopes weren't high. At least, my hopes weren't high. But then the episode finally aired and it was amazing. This was, without any doubt in my mind, the perfect way to end the series, bridging the story perfectly with the original pilot episode, and giving viewers the greatest series finale of all time.

And, no, I have no idea what really happened in this episode, since it had the mostly overly convoluted plot, had way too much technobabble, and ended with a huge deus ex machina... but, come on... that's Star Trek. Somehow, they make that stuff all work.

#2. Darmok

As pure science fiction goes, Darmok is one of the most brilliant and creative stories I've ever seen. Star Trek, as science fiction, has always been about character first, story second, but this episode managed to combine both equally. It's the story of two truly alien cultures coming together for the first time and trying to reach peace.

To non trekkies, it's the one where the aliens speak in a language based on metaphors, and not on any linguist vocabulary. Its sounds complicated -- and it is -- but that's what makes it such a rare, brave moment in episodic television. It's also one of the most wonderfully quotable episodes in Trek history.

#1. The Inner Light

If you ever want to see me cry, all you have to do is put on either E.T. or this episode of Next Gen. In fact, all I need to hear is Picard play that song on the flute and I immediately get misty. It's just heart-breaking. This may, in fact, be beat episode of any program in television history. And I'm not exaggerating. It's that good, it's that thought-provoking, it's that emotional, and it's that entertaining.

If you've never seen an episode of Star Trek, this is as perfect a jumping on point as any, but it is that much more poignant if you understand how living this double life, and finally having a family, actually means to the character of Picard.

I'm sorry. I can't write any more. I'm already getting misty...

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Paul Newman 1925 - 2008

I don't throw around compliments or praise, and I certainly hate when people use hyperbole in obituaries. But this isn't an obituary, and calling Paul Newman one of the greatest actors and one of the most amazing humanitarians wouldn't be hyperbole. It would just be true.

If I can think of any two characters I've tried to model myself on, it would be Luke from Cool Hand Luke and Sully from Nobody's Fool. Go watch those movies and you'll understand what I mean. And make sure you munch on some of Newman's salsa and drink some of Newman's lemonade iced tea. The money goes to charity.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Star Trek 20 Questions

This website is amazing:

20Q: Star Trek

Hours of fun. I mean... if you're a trekkie. Others might want to skip this one. And good luck beating it. I tried Tin Man, Harry Mudd, B-4, and a slew of others bust lost every time. I finally stumped it with Sherwood Forrest, but that was a bit of a cheat, though it did appear in episode Q-Pid.


I watched the pilot of this much hyped new show by the brains behind Alias, Cloverfield, Lost, the soon to be released Star Trek relaunch, and the George Foreman Knock Out the Fat Grilling Machine. I'm not completely sure about that last one, actually. JJ Abrams has become the Judd Apatow of thrillers. That is to say, he has credit as writer, director, producer, or key grip on everything released by Hollywood these days. And that's just fine because all of his stuff is pretty good, and Fringe is no exception. It's, you know, pretty good. I'm glad I watched it, and I'll probably watch the second episode, unless, you know, I have something else to do. Entertaining and well done, but must see TV it probably was not.

The concept is basically X-Files meets CSI, or something. It's too early to tell if the lead characters will be as likable and enduring as Moulder and Scully, or if the stories and tech will be as interesting as CSI, but, like I said, it's off to a pretty good start. And since I don't really like CSI or X-Files, that's saying something.

Anyway, here's what worked for me:

The opening scene was amazing. Seriously, this was one of the creepiest and most atmospheric scenes I've ever seen on TV. A virus was released on a plane in midflight, causing the entire compliment of passengers and crew to die agonizing deaths as their flesh slowly melted off their bodies. It was such a strong scene, in fact, that the show only seemed to get progressively weaker as the story wore on.

The cast was pretty good. It was nice seeing Denethor from the Lord of the Rings movies. Has that guy ever played somebody who wasn't bug-house nuts? I also really liked that super skinny black guy. He was cool. The lead actress was easy on the eyes and gave a nice performance as well, especially in the scene where we stripped down to her underwear.

And the story was, you know, ok. The government investigates paranormal occurrences. It's hardly original, but it's still fun.

Here's what didn't work for me:

As much as I like Josh Jackson... why was he in this show? His character was completely extraneous and served no real purpose. Either have him or the scientist. We don't need both. But, again, I liked him. I hope they give him something to do.

This is going to sound petty, but those obnoxious titles were completely obtrusive and unnecessary. Instead of just having things like "Washington D.C." in little letters to show the location, they had words written in giant letters that looked like they were 3D or something and actually floating in the scene. It's hard to explain, but it really didn't work. Don't try to be clever. Save that for the scripts.

So... I liked it. It was good. But we'll see how it goes.

Top 10 Deaths from the Indiana Jones Series

The Indiana Jones movies are classics not only for their action, directing, and story lines, but also because they are full of disgusting, horrible, gory deaths. The villains in these films are evil monsters, but they always get what's coming to them, in the most horrible ways possible.

Here's my list of the ten best death scenes from the Indiana Jones movies, in descending order from the merely mildly unpleasant, to the nightmarishly excruciating.

Oh yeah, and... SPOILER WARNING!!

10. Indy Shoots the Cairo Swordsman.
This classic scene is one of the best remembered and most beloved from the entire series. It's just funny, clever, realistic, and helped to cement Indiana Jones as the greatest film character of all time. He just shoots the guy. How awesome was that?

9. Shish Kabob to the Belly
Make that a flaming shish kabob to the belly. The opening to Temple of Doom is probably the coolest scene in the entire series. I can watch that scene over and over again. Not only because it opens in media res, with Indy in an awesome white suite doing some kind of dirty deal with Chinese gangsters, but also because, after he's learned he's just been poisoned, he grabs a flaming shish kabob and throws it into one guy's stomach... with the food still on it!

8. Vogel Dies in a Tank Crash
There are a lot of evil characters in the Indiana Jones films, but Vogel is probably the biggest dickhead. He's just a dick for the sake of being a dick. Toht and the other Nazis seem evil because they probably believe in the evil beliefs of the Nazi party. Vogel seems like he joined the party because he was already a huge dick. So when he goes over the cliff in the tank, and you see that little miniaturized version of him get his head smashed in, it's just such a rewarding moment.

I wish I could've found video footage of it, but alas.

7. Mola Ram Dies
Mola Ram falls off a collapsed bridge, bangs his head repeatedly on the cliffs on the way down, and then gets eaten by crocodiles on the bottom. That would be too much to fit on a tombstone.

6. Thuggee Gets Crushed to Death
This isn't a great fight scene. The choreography is weak, the pacing is off, and whole thing just feels fake. But that guy's death is so horrible. The fight takes place on a long conveyor belt leading to some kind of giant rock crusher. Or something. Guess who gets pulverized?

5. Propeller to the Face
Another classic scene. This is basically just five minutes of Indiana Jones getting his ass kicked by a German next to a spinning airplane. Indy finally gets lucky and the German accidentally walks face first into a spinning propeller. It's a great "punchline" for one of the best fight scenes ever.

Oh, and here's some trivia... the actor, Pat Roach, is also the actor who got crushed to death on they conveyor belt in that last death scene. He deserves some kind of lifetime achievement award.

4. Donovan Chooses... Poorly
The right grail gives you eternal life, the wrong one takes it from you. That's what that old knight said. What he should've said, to better prepare Walter Donovan before he took a sip, was that the wrong cup would actually turn you into a horrific skeleton before you disintigrate into dust.

3. Eaten by Fire Ants
Kingdom of the Crystal Skull only gets one mention on this list, but it's a pretty good one. Indy and a big Russian guy have a knock-down fight scene in the jungle, surrounded by man-eating fire ants. Indy finally manages to beat the russian, who falls into a pile of ants... who quickly climb over him, into his mouth, and then drag him along into their lair. It's a ridiculous, unbelievable, revolting scene. So it was a great Indiana Jones moment.

And since the film is still in theatres, I don't want to put up any clips on my website. Just go see it.

2. Toht's Face Melts
The power of god is some series shit. Sure, that other guy's face melts too, and Belloc's head explodes, but there's something about the slow motion shot of Toht's face melting off that's just fantastic. You couldn't ask for a worse death for such a delightfully horrible character.

1. That Guy Who Gets His Heart Ripped Out of His Chest
Seriously, is there a worse way to die than having your heart ripped out, shown to you, and then being dipped in lava... all while you're somehow still alive? I mean... damn.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Dark Knight

Heath Ledger was a fantastic, brilliant actor and his performance as the Joker was the best, most amazing moment of his all too short career. Let's just get that out of the way right now. Not only was his performance sublime, engrossing, and nuanced, it was one of the most dead-on portrayals of the character -- in or out of the comics -- and will no doubt go down in history as one of the most indelible, iconic villains ever seen on film. He was somehow funny, scary, and tragic all at once. It is sad that such a talented young actor was killed so early in his career, but at least he went out with a performance that will live forever.

I just wish the film that took place around Heath Ledger's performance hadn't, kinda, sucked.

I suppose I shouldn't say it sucked, since it is currently the highest rated film on the IMDB and has a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 95%. I suppose I should just say that this film wasn't for me, since I don't seem to agree with director Chris Nolan's view on Batman or comic books in general.

I know, I know... it's going to be me against the world on this one, but hear me out...

While I definitely agree that a more nuanced, intelligent, and dare I say "realistic" portrayal of the Batman universe should be a breath of fresh air after the campy nonsense seen in the previous two (or maybe three or four, depending on your opinion) Batman films, Nolan's films have just been pretentious, overplotted, overcooked messes. But, worse than that, they just weren't Batman films.

Here's the thing, just because you put a guy in a cowl with horns and call him Batman, that doesn't mean you made a film based on Batman. That just means you called it Batman.

Here, in my opinion, are some important rules that Chris Nolan broke when adapting his version of Batman to the big screen:

1. Don't Mess up the Costume
This one seems like it would be a no-brainer, and yet almost every incarnation outside of the comics has gotten it wrong. Granted, a drawing of a character probably isn't easy to translate into a real world costume intended to be worn by an actual human being, but some of these costume designs didn't even try.

Let's start with the colors: In May of 1939, Batman premiered in Detective Comics #27 wearing a gray costume with a black cape and cowl. As printing and color quality improved over the years, the black cape and cowl gained blue highlights to show better detail and shadowing. Eventually, the entire costume turned blue and gray, and then black and gray again, and so on, mostly depending on the ear in which the story took place, what book he was in, and the whims of the current artist and editorial team.

So, sure, it's always been changing so I don't have a problem with changes made from page to screen. But at least in the comics it always looked good (except for the unfortunate period where he dressed like this, but that was Jean-Paul Valley, not Bruce Wayne), which can't be said for the films, which more often than not, have usually looked bad, with Christian Bale's Dark Knight being the worst. Seriously, he doesn't even look like Batman. He looks like a guy in a Hefty garbage bag with two bumps on his dead. You almost never see him full on, he's usually just in shadow or in extreme close up. Worse, his costume's color scheme is black on black with a black bat logo, so it's impossible to see.

This was a Batman costume designed by people who are embarrassed to be making a film about a guy in a costume. So... why are they making this movie?

2. Batman is a Detective
Now, this is something most people who have never read the comics couldn't be expected to know. In the comics, Batman is a detective with skills on par with -- and perhaps even rival -- Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, and the like. He uses deductive reasoning, collects and analyzes forensic evidence, and just plain uses his brains as much, if not more, than he uses his brawn.

You wouldn't know this from the movies, of course. Just like you wouldn't know from the Tarzan films that the character in the novels is actually incredibly intelligent, well spoken, and fluent in at least three languages. Most people who think of Tarzan think of the dumb, lumbering oaf who mutters "Me Tarzan, you Jane" popularized from the movies. That's not Tarzan. And the guy who prowls the city beating up muggers isn't really Batman.

The most we ever really get from any of the movies is when he'll enter some data into his computers and it will tell him what to do. At least in this film he actually visited some crime scenes and exchanged words with the cops, but he didn't really learn anything or act on evidence collected or gleaned.

3. Batman is a Martial Arts Expert
I know, I know... I just complained about how the films emphasize Batman's fighting over his brain, but now I'm complaining that there isn't enough fighting?

Well... yeah. Because, you know... there isn't.

Don't get me wrong, action-wise, Dark Knight is a million times better than Batman Begins, but that's only because Batman Begins has some of the worst action scenes in any major Hollywood movie. Seriously, it's terrible. All of the fighting scenes were basically just close up shots of Christian Bale's face and fists, edited terribly while punching sounds play in the background. The scene with the tumbler was cool, but all of the fight scenes were terrible.

Dark Knight is a little bit better, especially with the big truck chase set piece in the middle of the film, but the handheld fighting scenes are still pathetic and horribly choreographed and edited. A lot of that has to do with the fact that Chris Nolan doesn't know how to direct action effectively, but it also has to do with the fact that their Batman is wearing so much padding and armor he can barely move!

4. Batman Doesn't Fly
Why is Batman always flying around in these movies? Because it looks cool? But it doesn't. It looks lame and doesn't make any sense. He's not a real Bat. He doesn't have to fly around in every scene.

5. It's Batman and Robin, dammit!
Robin gets no respect. Robin is something of a litmus test for finding real Batman fans. Here's the thing... I'm not going to say that "real" Batman fans love, or even like, Robin, but "real" Batman fans don't hate him. The idea that Robin is a dumb, annoying, Jar Jar Binks like character that drags Batman down was invented by movie-goers who think they're smarter than comic book fans.

Here's the deal: Robin is a cool, fun character who compliments Batman. They're the Dynamic Duo! I'm not saying that Batman always needs to have Robin in every story. In fact, I usually prefer the solo stories, even thought I like Robin and think he has his place in the Batman universe.

Do I think he should be in all the movies? Of course not. However, in most of the interviews and production articles I've heard from the cast and crew of Nolan's Batman films, they've talked smack about Robin, said he has no place in anything to do with Batman, and isn't a character that can be taken seriously. It's as thought these people think they understand Batman better than the people who have been writing and drawing his stories for the past 70 years.

Even Frank Miller used Robin as an integral part of his Dark Knight Returns.

Ok, Donald, so you thought Chris Nolan's past two Batman films haven't shown much faithfulness or fidelity to the source material. Get over it. How does it work on its own terms? Forgetting the comic, was the Dark Knight, when taken by itself and in a vacuum, a good film?

No! It sucked!

This over bloated mess of a movie wouldn't have worked as an episode of Law and Order, let alone a film based on one of the most beloved comic book characters of all time. I'm not a dumb person. I'm able to follow multiple plot lines and a diverse cast of characters, but sometimes too much is just too much.

-- Warning!! There May be Spoilers!! --

Why was Eric Roberts in this movie? What purpose did his character serve?

Why was that guy from Hong Kong in this movie? Did we really need to spend another twenty minutes on that pointless scene in Hong Kong?

What was the point of the copy-cat Batman vigilantes? That plot line when nowhere.

Why was Maggie what's her name in this movie? Here's a tip for Chris Nolan: If you can't get Katie Holmes to reprise her role, rewrite the script so it's a new character. Rachel Dawson isn't even from the comics, was there really such a huge fan demand to bring back that character? And, no, the love subplot didn't serve any actual purpose. Bruce Wayne was going to give up being Batman if she'd only agree to marry him? Huh? So the Batman from this movie isn't fighting crime because he feels obsessed with bringing justice to the streets of Gotham city, but because he's a bored bachelor with nothing better to do? That's just dumb. And so is the idea that he was grooming Harvey Dent to be his successor so he can retire as Batman. That's just too moronic to even get into.

And why was all of the dialogue in this movie so pretentious and unbelievable? You either die a hero or live to see yourself become the villain? Oh shut up. How about option 3, where you live a long and happy life as a good person? And don't get me started on Gary Oldman's ridiculously over the top, cheeseball speech at the end about how Batman is Gotham's noble Knight. If that had been in any other movie, the fan boys who ate up this film would've laughed it off the screen.

Oh, and why did Batman have to take the blame for those murders anyway? As long as they're going to lie to cover up Dent's image, why not blame those murders on the Joker? Wouldn't that have made more sense and been just as easy to get people to believe?

But, then again, the idea that they had to lie about what a monster Harvey Dent had become was moronic anyway. They did so because they knew that the people of Gotham would never have any hope had they known that the once beloved District Attorney had turned to a life of crime. Pffffft. That was the dumbest, most impossible to believe plotpoint from this entire, ridiculous, impossible to believe movie.

First of all, an entire city can't lose hope and turn to crap simply because a public authority figure is revealed to be corrupt. Look at the real world that we live in. We have no heroes and just about everybody believes that most of our cops, politicians, and district attorneys are evil. Obama seems like a really wonderful, admirable person, but you can't expect me to believe that the whole world would go crazy if it was revealed that he went mad and murdered a bunch of people.

So, no, that made no sense. And since that was the stunning denouement, the entire story pretty much fell flat and served no purpose.

But what did work? Well, the visuals were stunning. There's no doubt about that. This was a beautiful film. Some of the action scenes were also ok. The Hong Kong abduction scene in particular was really clever and cool, even though it served no purpose in the overall story and just bogged down the plot with more useless minutea. Also, the Bat-cycle thing was really cool. I hope they bring that back.

Oh, and the Joker was awesome. As I said, Heath Ledger was brilliant and their interpretation of the character was flawless. Then again, it's not really a hard character to mess up. He's every bit as one dimensional as he comes across. He just likes to kill people and piss off Batman. And he definitely did a lot of that in this movie, so he was great. Ledger and Nolan even managed to take the character to another level by making him far more terrifying that he has ever been before. Seriously, this was the scariest, most unnerving character since Hannibal Lecter. I honestly never knew what he was going to do and I shifted nervously in my seat uncomfortably everytime he was on screen.

Unfortunately, the filmmakers never seemed to know what he was going to do either, or at least they never seemed sure of his motivations or what purpose he actually served in the overall story. But that actually worked for the character in the long run. So it was fitting that the supreme agent of chaos would be the defining character from this chaotic, overblown mess. In fact, I think the Joker may actually have written the screenplay.