Sunday, May 26, 2013

Happy Birthday Peter Cushing

Had Peter Cushing not died in 1994, today would have been his 100th birthday.

Peter Cushing, in case you're unaware, was one of the greatest movie stars of all time... or, at least, one of my all time favorites. I would imagine I first saw him as Grand Moff Tarkin in the original Star Wars, but I also loved him as Van Helsing in countless Hammer Dracular films, Frankenstein, Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Who, and hundreds of other roles spanning every genre.

Anyway, Peter Cushing was one of the all time greats, and I can't think of a better way to spend Memorial Day than by remembering his work.

Friday, May 24, 2013

The Man with the Iron Fists

I really wanted to love this movie, but it didn't quite work out that way. I liked it (for the most part) and respected it, but it was ultimately too much of a mess to stand up as anything more than a mildly entertaining curiosity, which is a shame because it was a good effort with some nice ideas and some decent moments.

The film was written and directed by RZA, who also played the titular character. RZA is a brilliantly talented hip hop performer and producer, and an admittedly kung fu film fanatic. He is now an icon of the music industry with enough clout to get a film financed, and he decided to make his feature debut an homage to the Hong Kong martial arts films he grew up watching. That's awesome. I wish more filmmakers made passion projects like this instead of, say, Transformers part 3 or another adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks novel. Unfortunately, the fact that you've watched a lot of kung fu movies doesn't mean you can direct one of your own. Then again, most of the movies he grew up watching were probably terrible, and I wouldn't call this terrible. It's just a mess.

The best thing I can say about this movie is that, for the most part, I was never bored.

The worst thing I can say about this movie is that I have no freaking idea what it was about.

Seriously, I don't know what the plot was. There were some guys who did stuff. Something about a gold shipment. Some guys father was murdered. Russell Crowe had a gun with a knife on it that spun around when he pulled the trigger.

So as a screenwriter, the RZA bit off more than he could chew. I wasn't looking for an epic story or Shakespearean levels of characterization, but I would have enjoyed a story that I could understand and follow. There were just too many characters and too many things going on, none of which made sense or seemed all that interesting.

The action was pretty off the hook, however, and almost -- almost -- makes the whole thing worth watching. The opening fight scene was ridiculously fun and well choreographed and set to a great hip hop music track. After that I thought the film was going to be amazing, but then it just kind of fell flat, until the next fight scene, anyway. Here's all I really need to say: There's a scene where Lucy Liu kicks some guy's head off. That's cool, right?

It's also a very pretty movie, with some stunning locations and great set design. Too bad the special effects were pretty terrible.

The cast was a lot of fun too, with a very strange performance by Russell Crowe, who clearly realized the script was nonsense so he decided to just go so far over the top nobody would notice that his character made no sense. Rick Yune (the diamond-faced guy from Die Another Day) was in there as somebody and he was very good, as was Lucy Liu as the owner of a brothel. I was never sure what role she played in the film, and even though kicking some guy's head off was awesome, I didn't know who the guy was so it ultimately didn't really mean much. Professional wrestler Batista plays a villain who can turn his body bronze, and he pretty much stole the entire film. He was great. And then there's RZA, who as an actor is a wonderful rapper. Anyway... he did his best. I enjoyed his performance, but I wouldn't call it good, or, really, even acting.

As a film debut by a man with no real film experience to speak of, this was very close to being a success. It had a great cast, noble intentions, and some really fun action set pieces, but it suffered from a lackluster screenplay, poor pacing, and no real narrative flow.

But... go ahead and check it out if only for some cool fights and an amazing soundtrack.

Adam Ant is the Blueblack Hussar in Marrying the Gunner's Daughter

Yeah, that's the title. I don't know what it means either. But if you've ever been the kind of person who wants stuff to make sense, you've probably never been an Adam Ant fan. The man and his music have always been unapologetically bat-shit insane. It's nice to see that some things haven't changed. This album, his latest after however many years in retirement, is classic Adam Ant insanity. And in case I'm being unclear, that's a good thing.

It's not all together a great album, however. At least, it's not one that I can recommend wholeheartedly to any but the most die-hard Adam Ant fans. We're a dying breed, and I'm sorry to say that this latest album might not change things much. It's classic Adam Ant with some excellent songs, but the production just sounds... off. The mixing doesn't sound great throughout, as though it was recorded in Adam Ant's basement. That's a shame, because the arrangements are layered and deep and really suffered from the lackluster production. However, Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska also sounds cheap and that's one of the best albums ever made, so maybe this was a stylistic decision.

Anyway, I'm not really reviewing this album because there would be no point. If you're the kind of person who'd buy a new album by Adam Ant, you've already picked it up. If you aren't, well... I say check it out. The man's getting on in years and his voice isn't quite the powerhouse it was in his youth, but he still sounds good, he can still write a catchy hook, and he's still out of his freakin' mind.

Nobody makes music like this any more, so I'm glad he's back and I hope he keeps them coming.

Anyway, here's the video for the opening track Cool Zombie. I really like this song and this video is either the most brilliant thing I've ever seen or the dumbest:

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Xbox One

So I watched yesterday's presentation where Microsoft unveiled the next iteration of the Xbox. In fact, I actually watched the presentation by streaming it on my Xbox, which was kind of surreal, because I was using technology that was so uptodate that I was able to stream a fully HD video onto my Xbox where people were talking about how obsolete my Xbox is.

Basically the entire focal point of the presentation was about how Xbox is going to completely revolutionize the way we interact with our TV... because we can now change the channel with vocal commands instead of a remote control. That's definitely neat, but I don't care. I'm perfectly fine using a remote control... and I live alone. If I had roommates, the idea of having to hear somebody in the next room go, "Xbox turn on HBO" would get old real quick. Also... hasn't vocal recognition software been around for years? And, for the most part, people don't care. You want to know how I know people don't care? Cause if they did, Sony would have done this first.

It's kind of like how whenever I pay my credit card bill over the phone, the automated voice on the other end gives me the option of typing in my credit card number or saying it aloud. Why would I say my credit card number out loud? Even though I'm alone in my apartment, I'm just not going to do that. It seems dumb and feels weird. So I'm guessing that even if I had an Xbox One, I'd probably just use the controller anyway.

And if I've spent three paragraphs already just talking about how the new Xbox has vocal recognition, well, that's because that's pretty much all they talked about.

They certainly didn't spend much time talking about games. They mentioned a few and showed maybe ten second clips of some of them that, frankly, didn't look that much more impressive than what's on the current Xbox. And come on... it's the year 2013. Gamers are too sophisticated to care about pre-rendered cut scenes. Either show real, in-game footage or don't show anything at all.

Here was the most telling part of the presentation, or at least the moment that left the biggest impression on me: While showing off how easy and fast it was to switch between the Xbox One and regular cable TV, the presenter said, "Xbox TV," and it instantly switched to CBS showing an episode of The Price is Right.

The Price is Right? Is that really what was on CBS at that moment or was that preselected? Either way... Huh? Why would I care about how instantly I can switch away from my games in order to watch something like The Price is Right? Are the games really going to be that bad that they need to hype up how quickly you can turn them off?

So I can't say I'm excited, but that's only because I wasn't really given much reason to be. I'm supposed to be excited for an Xbox that has a Kinect built-in? I never bought a regular Kinect because I had no interest. This new technology just looks like a slightly better version of the product I already didn't want. And, frankly, there's just something weird and creepy about being able to come home and say, "xbox on," and the machine turns on. I don't really want a microphone installed in my house that is never actually turned off.

All the games have to be installed onto the harddrive that isn't replaceable. That sounds like a bad idea.

No backwards-compatibility. That's not normally a deal-breaker, but considering how the current Xbox has been out for about a decade, that's a lot of games people are going to have to shelve. That's doubly annoying considering how the current genertion of systems has been so notorously faulty.

No used games. Apparently there's going to be some kind of registration process for each game, so if you ever want to use the same game on a different console, you have to pay a fee. That's just insane, and would effectively mean I won't be buying this system. I'm poor. I would say roughly 90% of the games in my collection were purchased used. I simply can't afford to buy games new, at least not when they launch for 60 bucks. So if this console has no market for used games, then they will have pushed me out of the market too.

But, again, being able to switch TV channels with my voice sounds neat.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Riddick Trailer

Here's the trailer for "Riddick," the third film in the Riddick series. It looks... ok. I'll see it, but... I dunno. It basically just looks like a remake of Pitch Black. I loved Pitch Black, but Chronicles of Riddick was one of my all time favorite movies (for real!), so I'm a little upset that this latest filming doesn't seem to be continuing the storyline laid out in that film.

But whatever. I'm not going to complain about a new Riddick movie:

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Jack Reacher

This was actually a pretty good movie, believe it or not.

I mean, if you don't hate Tom Cruise, that is. I don't hate Cruise nor do I really understand why so many people do, but I do understand that such hate exists, and that for many people it burns with such passion they can't even sit through the trailers for his movies, let alone the movies themselves. And, please, don't try to explain the hate because I've heard it all before. He's annoying. He's short. He's a closet homosexual. He's a Scientologist. He jumped on Oprah's couch. He was mean to Matt Lauer. Pffft. Who cares? He's still a pretty good actor who often makes interesting films.

But, anyway, I was talking about Jack Reacher.

The highest compliment I can pay this movie is that I actually watched the whole thing, from start to finish... in one sitting, even! Look, I'm an adult with a job, friends, family, hobbies, and commitments. I remember back when I was younger and I used to watch multiple movies in the same day. Now I'm lucky if I can find an hour here or there to even start a movie. Most days I come home from work and I'm just so tired I end up going to bed at 8:00 at night. Basically, being an adult sucks. I can't even imagine how impossible life would be if I had kids.

But I watched all of this one, even though it was about two hours and ten minutes, which was probably about thirty minutes longer than it needed to be. And I'll admit, I did check the clock a few times to see how much longer I had, and it always seemed to say there was two hours and ten minutes left. I must've been watching it in the center of a black hole or something. I also can't really tell you what happened in regards to the plot since I have no freakin' idea. It had something to do with some sniper who murdered some people for some reason that I never really caught, and he had to be brought to justice by Jack Reacher, who was some kind of something or other who worked for the government... unless he didn't. I dunno.

There's a scene -- and I'm pretty sure it was even in the trailer -- where two guys are talking about this mysterious ghost agent named Jack Reacher. One of them asks, "So how do we get in contact with Jack Reacher?" And then the other guy says, "You don't. Jack Reacher has to get in contact with you." And then at that exact second, the secretary pokes her head in the door and says, "There's a Jack Reacher here to see you." And then Tom Cruise walks in and said something I can't remember, but it was probably something like, "I'm Jack Reacher."

Now that was probably the dumbest scene in movie history, and that's basically how every scene plays out. Every scene is about some characters talking about Jack Reacher, and then Jack Reacher shows up, usually to punch somebody in the face. He's good at that... both Jack Reacher and Tom Cruise. This movie has some awesome fight scenes, especially the one where he beats up a group of guys in a bar, or when he headbutts those two guys faces together over and over again.

There's also one of the best car chases I've ever seen, and I'm not joking. It was awesome.

Anyway, that's Jack Reacher. If you don't mind Tom Cruise or really dumb movies, check it out. Cruise does a good job as Jack Reacher, whoever that is, and the rest of the cast is good too, including Robert Duvall, Richard Jenkins, that blonde gladiator from the first season of Spartacus, Werner Herzog, and Rosamund Pike. Rosamund Pike is a wonderful actress and a beautiful woman, but it was obvious that every scene she was in was lit by the cinematographer to perfectly show off her cleavage. Seriously, every scene she's in that's all you'll be able to look at. She plays a defense attorney or something, even though she never does anything, never procures any evidence, and never steps into a courtroom. And the direction by Christopher McQuarrie is pretty great. It's a fun, exciting movie, even though it was way too long, way too stupid, and made zero sense.

And, really? Jack Reacher? Am I the only one who hears that name and always thinks of that Fish and Chips place Arthur Treacher's?

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Spielberg-A-Thon Part 21: The Lost World: Jurassic Park

The Lost World: Jurassic Park, the not all together very good sequel to the very brilliant Jurassic Park. I got a cold midway through recording this video, so I apologize if my already nasally voice sounds that much worse.