Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A Galactic Empire State of Mind

This is pretty dumb and not nearly as funny as you're going to want it to be -- and it seems to have been created simply because the title is a clever play on Jay Z's Empire State of Mind. Still, they clearly put a lot of work into this thing and it does feature a really cute girl as Princess Leia (in her slave girl bikini no less!).

If the embedded video looks weird on your monitor, follow this link.

The Strain

This is a non-review of a book I didn't even finish. So feel free to skip this because there's absolutely no point to even post this at all.

I was actually really excited to read this book, being a big fan of horror novels and the films of Guillermo Del Toro. He is one of my all time favorite filmmakers, and has proved to be a master of the vampire genre. Blade 2 was awesome, and Chronos was one of the creepiest, most original interpretations of vampires I've ever seen. He's just a brilliant guy who writes and directs great movies.

So when I heard he was going to team up with noted horror writer Chuck Hogan to write a trilogy of novels that would take the now-watered down vampire genre and return them to the horror genre where they truly belong, I was ecstatic. I love vampires, but only when written by men. I don't mean that to sound sexist, but it's true. Women see vampires as some kind of odd analogy to sex and relationships. Men see vampires as monsters that just want to drink blood and kill people. That's just much more fun than sparkly skin wussies who go to highschool or spend all of their time in villas in the French Alps.

But boy was this book boring.

Well, maybe that's not a fair critique since, as I said above, I never actually finished it. Maybe it picked up after the first hundred pages, which is about where I put it down and just never picked it back up. But it certainly got off to an agonizingly slow start, after a really cool set up where a plane lands at JFK airport in NYC and then just goes dark on the runway. But then we get people calling the plane. And then people looking at the plane. And then people talking about the plane. And then people touching the plane and running away. Then people poke sticks at the plane. Then other people in other locations here about the plane. They don't even open the plane until about 70 pages in. By that point, what was a cool opening became ponderous and annoying. I'm all for building suspense, but get on with it already! And add into that the fact that this was plotted as the first part of a trilogy, and you've got a book that I figured would go nowhere and have no real ending.

And since Del Toro just flew to New Zealand to film The Hobbit, I doubt the next two books will get written or published anytime soon. So maybe in a few years (or more) after they are all published and in paperback, I'll revisit them. The writing was quite good, and the scenes I read were very creepy and well done. But I just stopped caring.

Saturday, March 20, 2010


All I knew about Justified, a new series that recently premiered on FX, is what I saw in that promo poster to the left. At first I thought maybe it was a series based on that Justin Timberlake album, but then I saw the cowboy hat and the gun... and then I really hoped it was based on that album.

"Cry me a river, asshole... from hell!!" BLAM BLAM BLAM!!!

Actually, I assumed it was some western, since it had a guy in a cowboy hat, starred the actor from Deadwood, and was based on characters created by Elmore Leonard. I've never been a huge fan of Leonard's crime novels, but his Westerns are brilliant and underrated. Anyway, the pilot episode is available for free on the iTunes store, so I checked it out.

And it wasn't a Western, but it wasn't exactly not a western either. It's about a modern day marshal... I dunno... plays be his own rules? It's sort of a twist on McCloud, which was about a small town sheriff who moved to the big city, where as this is about a big city marshal who gets into trouble in Miami and has to go back to the small town from where he was from. And, I guess, they both wear cowboy hats. This guy is a lot more bad ass than McCloud. And, yes, this does probably mark the first time that show McCloud was mentioned on a blog in the 21st century... and three times no less! More people need to give props to my boy Dennis Weaver.

Anyway, this was a really good pilot all things considered, though it took a long time to really get going and hook me in, and it was a bit hokey and contrived in places. But it's a pilot, so awkward exposition and forced character/plot contrivances are to be expected in order to move things along and introduce ideas and concepts quickly. The main concept here is that Timothy Olyphant is a tough marshal who... is tough. That's about it. But that's enough, so long as the action is good and there are a lot of fun stand offs against seedy badguys that end with him ramming some guy's face into a steering wheel.

However, even though I would call myself a Timothy Olyphant fan (the fact that he's the star is the main reason I checked it out), I'm still unconvinced that he can carry a series on his own. Sure, he was fantastic as the lead on Deadwood, but that show had an amazing ensemble of characters with whom he could interact. This show has no such ensemble. All of the actors in the supporting roles were competent and likable, but I can't remember anybody's names, nor did the actors leave much of an impression. This is Olyphant's show to carry, and so the pressure on his performance is that much greater. But he acquitted himself well in the scenes where he had to act all badass, so that's really all that matters.

The best part of the show was Walton Goggins as the main villain. He wasn't quite up there with Ian McShane from Deadwood, but he pretty much stole every scene he was in and gave a pretty mesmerizing, scary performance. I've never seen this actor before, but he was pretty awesome. I'm not sure if he was just around for the pilot, but I hope they bring him back. He was good.

Oh, and this was only an hour long. Thank you! Why can't more pilots be the length of a normal episode? I don't have time to invest in two hours unless I already know your show is going to be good. If you can't sell me on your show in only one hour, then you've already lost me.

So... Justified. Not much more to say that what has already been said. I enjoyed it,  and I would definitely come back for the next episode, but I'm not so hooked that I need to set my Tivo just yet. That's a good thing because I don't have a Tivo anyway. But check it out. You might like it, if you liked McCloud. Or just watch McCloud, which is available to watch for free on Netflix!

Thursday, March 18, 2010


Like most geeks on the internet, I recently watched the trailer for the upcoming Tron sequel and nearly shat my pants by how cool it looks. It looks to be both innovative and visually stunning, while still remaining utterly faithful to the original. After all, both Jeff Bridges and Bruce Boxleitner signed on, so it must have some promise, right? And this has to be oddest follow up any actor has ever made after winning a best Actor Oscar. But that's what makes Jeff Bridges so cool, man.

Anyway, if I was going to be excited about this new Tron, I figured it would behoove myself to rewatch the first one. I hadn't seen it since it first came out in 1982, though to be sure most of my memories are based on the videogame that followed. I remember the blue guys and I remember the discs or whatever, but my main memory is of the light cycle scene that was recreated in the game. That was awesome.

But that's what Netflix is for, right? For watching movies like Tron that no normal person would ever need to have any use for. What, I'm going to walk into my local Blockbuster and ask, "Do you have Tron on DVD? Because I want to spend St. Patrick's Day watching that!"

Long story short... this is one weird damn movie. I'm going to go ahead and say this is one of the strangest -- if not the strangest -- movies I've ever seen. Visually, it's completely surreal and unlike anything that had ever been made at the time or anything that has ever been made sense. The film takes place "inside the world of computers" and the incredible contrast between the "real" world and the fantasy world of the computers is, all things considered, incredibly well done, if a little dated. The computer effects still look really good in places, and some of the visual ideas are incredibly brilliant and beautiful. The action sequences in particular are stunning, though too few and far between to call this any kind of action movie. Most of the film is plodding and paced around characters standing around, looking off into the scenery.

And it's still all about the light cycle. This is still one of the coolest scenes from any movie:

But, for the most part, the film makes no sense. And I don't just mean because it's fantasy, but because it's so poorly written, badly directed, and oddly edited that it almost seems as if no two scenes go together or follow any real, logical order. I'm all for leaving things mysterious and having certain questions left without answers, but if I'm confused throughout the entire movie because the script reveals nothing right down to providing proper motivations for the characters, I'm just going to get annoyed. Worse, I'm going to get bored. There's just never any real sense of conflict in this film, nor is the quest ever explained to any real extent that would make anybody care about anything that's happening. Throw into that the fact that the film makes no sense visually as well and you've got a huge mess of a film... but at least it's got those light cycles.

And it has Jeff Bridges, who seemed to be just as confused while he was making the film as I was while watching it. He still gives it his all in every scene he's in, giving an awesomely fun performance even though the film around him was constantly letting him down and giving him little to do. Just watching him walk through the scenery at times with that goofy look on his face was entertaining. Jeff Bridges is awesome.

From a tech point of view, it'd be interesting to know how savvy with computers the filmmakers were. Other than the fact that this film had computers and a few terms like "ram" thrown in here and there, this film was way too fantastical for me to think the writer had anything more than a passing knowledge of anything tech related. I'm willing to bet this film was even written on a typewriter. Obviously computers were used to make the still stunning special effects, but you'd think one of those programmers would've spoken to the director about how the world they created to take place in the computers was completely and utterly childish and stupid.

But I'm still going to see the sequel... because Jeff Bridges is in it. I'm sure he's wonderful in that movie where he won the Oscar, but all in all I just want to watch him ride a light cyle.

Monday, March 15, 2010

In Memoriam: Peter Graves

Peter Graves: 1926 - 2010

Peter Graves, a Minneapolis native, has passed on at the age of 83.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Shutter Island

At this point in his career, Martin Scorsese could film a few pages from the Yellow Pages and it would still be worth watching. The man is simply one of the best directors working today -- or any day -- and he seems to have an instinctive, innate talent for keeping people entertained, in suspense, and enthralled. Even when his films don't have much of a story, which is most of the time.

Raging Bull is a film about a degenerate, loudmouthed thug whose only real character arc is that he gets fat at the end. But it's a brilliant movie because Scorsese's direction was flawless.

Goodfellas (one of my all time favorite movies) is little more than a series of vignettes chronicling the lives of a few mobsters. There's no real story structure, nor do any of the characters in this one change either. Some just get whacked. But still, brilliant.

Casino was just Goodfellas... in a Casino. 

The Aviator is a film that meticulously documented the life of Howard Hughes in the years before he actually turned interesting.

I never had any idea what was happening at any given moment of Gangs of New York, but I enjoyed every minute of it, all three hundred and fifty thousand of them. (It was kind of a long movie.)

And then we have Shutter Island, which is a taut, suspenseful, engaging thriller that is so well acted and directed than by the end you're willing to forgive the film for making little sense, for breaking its own rules, and for having most of the twists and turns be cheats and cop-outs. I won't say much more than that, since the unraveling of the plot is central to the suspense of the story, but I will say that I wasn't blown away by an ending I felt to be a cliched letdown. But, again, this film was so much fun to watch that it will stand the test of time as one of Scorsese's classics.

Go check it out. And don't be scared by the trailers if you think it's some big horror film. It's quite creepy in a few places, but it's more of a thriller than any kind of horror by any stretch of the imagination.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Happy Birthday Alexa

Death Troopers

Death Troopers is a zombie novel set in the Star Wars universe.

As a zombie fan and a Star Wars fan it was never a matter of if I'd read Death Troopers, but when. To my credit, I didn't buy it, but I did request to have it put on hold for me at my local library. I mean... it's a Star Wars zombie novel. Who wouldn't want to read that? And, as far as these things go, it's not a terrible book, though it certainly wasn't a very good one. But I enjoyed it, for the most part.

To begin with, Joe Schreiber is a wonderful writer. His prose is clean and eloquent, and his ability to build up tension is incredible. This is a tense, even scary book. The man knows how to write horror and how to keep a reader on the edge of his or her seat. The first half of this novel was all build up and suspense, and the only problem was that the story just never deliveredin the end. But I enjoyed his writing enough to be interested in checking out one of his non-Star Wars horror novels.

But... everything else about this novel was pretty terrible. It was just trite, cliche, and completely anticlimactic. It takes place on some intergalactic Imperial prison barge that comes across a derelict Imperial starship... that's infected with zombies. The entire "plague" sweeps through the ship in about five minutes, killing off everybody except for the five or so main characters, who are only said to have some kind of "immunity" that kept them from being killed off. And then, of course, the dead eventually start to rise.  The rising of the dead seems selective, however, since out of a thousand or so zombies, the only ones that seem to attack are either family members, friends, or loved ones. Seriously, every time a zombie attacked somebody in this novel, the prose would say something like, "and then the zombie lifted its head and it was Trig's father!"

And then, about halfway through the novel, there was a big reveal of two major Star Wars characters who just happened to be stuck in solitary confinement during the events of this book. I won't spoil it for anybody, but it is odd that Han Solo and Chewie never mentioned in any of the films about how they fought and beat an army of zombie storm troopers. You'd think that would've come up in conversation during the long space voyage to Alderan.

At the end of the day, there is little to recommend this book either for Star Wars fans or zombie fans. Strictly speaking, these weren't really zombies, and their level of ability and intelligence seemed to change from chapter to chapter, depending on the contrivances of the plot the author demanded. And after you take away Han Solo and a few casual mentions of Star Wars details ("that zombie moved as fast as a gundark!"), this was pretty far removed from the Star Wars universe as a whole. I mean, if you're going to have zombies in the Star Wars universe, you'd better have a Jedi slicing some up with his lightsaber. Otherwise, what's the point?