A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Megalodon

August 3, 2010

Megalodon

I like to know where I stand with a movie. When I sit down to spend ninety minutes of my life watching something I want to know what I’m setting myself up for. With yesterday’s movie I was expecting just what I got – pure low budget cheese. Within the first few minuted of today’s offering I quickly got a sense of how this film stacks up in comparison. Whereas Sharks in Venice had a sort of Ed Wood level of bad to it, and gave the impression of having been made for pocket change (I’d say less than $100,000) tonight’s movie is a giant step up. It has a wealth of digital special effects. It has a number of actors who can speak English. It has a whole lot of sci-fi inspired sets. Overall it gives the impression of a made for TV effort with the budget of, for example, an episode of the Stargate TV show. Say somewhere between one and two million dollars.

The plot involves an enormous prototypical oil rig called Colossus off the shores of Greenland. It’s the baby of industrialist and billionaire Peter Brazier. I think he’s inspired by Virgin Air CEO Richard Branson – sort of a pioneer and adventurer. Mr. Brazier invites television reporter Christen to visit Colossus so she can document his efforts to make oil drilling more environmentally sound and efficient. It’s a largely automated rig, so in spite of it’s vast size it only has twenty-two crew members. We meet about seven of them. There’s Renascence man, spear fisher, and dive chief Ross. His girlfriend Maz, who drives one of the rig’s submarines. There’s the chief engineer and the chief medic and a few red shirts besides. Brazier seems like a pretty hands on CEO in that he’s right there on the rig the whole time and doesn’t seem to have to do anything but run things there. I guess the rest of his company must pretty much run itself.

It takes a long time for the movie to really get going. There’s a lot of time spent introducing characters and showing us the rig and its workings. We get to see the underwater elevator that can be used to shuttle essential personnel to the sea bed (though for what purpose is never really explored. There doesn’t seem to be any way to get out of the elevator once you’re down there and it has no manipulating arms or anything. I suppose it’s a sort of mobile command center or observation deck or something, but mostly it’s just a plot device for putting characters in peril.)

Eventually, about halfway through the movie it seems, the rig’s drill penetrates a vast underwater cavern and disappears into the murky depths. This cavern is apparently some kind of deep underwater land that time forgot, and all sorts of prehistoric beasties get unleashed when the drill breaks in… including (finally!) the giant forty-foot long uber-shark: the Megalodon. From then on the crew are in a battle for their lives as the giant shark menaces submarines, traps a bunch of characters in the aforementioned elevator, and generally rams the rig a whole bunch because it just bugs him.

Overall I found the movie to be inoffensively entertaining. It’s not great cinema, but for the most part it’s competently made and it feels like it mostly accomplishes what it sets out to do, in a bland sort of made-for-TV way. Some might complain that the effects are not quite up to the vision of the film, but I found them perfectly serviceable. You’re never going to mistake any of the vast majority of the film for real, because it has a very computer-generated feel to the whole thing, but if you can suspend your disbelief you can mostly enjoy it. (This is the Dr. Who fan in me speaking I know.) Somebody put a lot of effort into modelling the Colossus rig and the elevator and the submarine (there are three subs, I think, but they’re all the same computer model) and the sci-fi feel of the whole thing is pretty cool. My one complaint about the effects would be that the Megalodon itself lacks mobility and generally comes across as a lumbering mechanical monster and not an agile and threatening beast. This leads into one of my general complaints about the whole movie, which is that there is very little tension to the whole thing.

Even when the shark finally came on the scene I never really felt that the characters were in any peril. I’m not sure why this is, but although I wasn’t really disappointed in the acting or the effects or anything neither was I ever really engaged. The few characters I didn’t particularly like met their untimely ends, but I didn’t really care what happened to the rest of the crew. Except perhaps for Maz, who seems like a kind of cool woman except when she’s greasy and meditating… that scene kind of threw me. I think that I’m supposed to care about Ross, who seems most of the time like the most intelligent person on the rig and is kind of the main hero, but the performance of Al Sapienza who plays him is kind of monotone and grating. I’m pretty sure it’s supposed to come across as brooding and intense, but it just didn’t work for me. As for Peter and Christen and Mitchell and all… meh. Nobody really stood out for me, they were all inoffensive and bland. Adequate. Like the effects.

The other problem I have with the movie is that it ends so abruptly. I know this might sound odd, that I’m saying “this movie was so bland, and there was too little of it,” but I felt in the end like there was a headlong rush to bring things to a quick conclusion. Perhaps they had budgetary problems or time restrictions or something. But after they spent so very much time introducing the setting and the characters it felt odd that once the actual story got going there was so little to it. There was little sense of danger, little action and little emotional investment, and then it was just over.

I should also mention a couple other small gripes. For one, the movie starts out with a wholly unnecessary news cast that sets up the plot. I can’t figure out why this bit was there at all, since just about everything in the newscast is later re-introduced more organically by characters in the film. Maybe they needed to pad it out to a full hour and a half or maybe the news anchor was a girlfriend of the producer? It mystifies me. My other complaint is that the version of the film we have (which is apparently the only version that was ever made) is clearly cropped from widescreen to the 3:4 aspect ratio of an old TV. I say this because some of the closing credits and bits in the unnecessary opening news broadcast are cropped off the sides of the picture. Why on earth would you make a direct-to-video production and have as its only release this defective version where you can’t even read all the actor’s names because they go off the edge of the screen. It made it feel as though perhaps the movie was not really intended to be released but was somehow leaked to DVD from a pirated copy or something. Very odd.

The movie was, for me, like a big bowl of luke-warm plain oatmeal. Filling but not satisfying. It wasn’t awful enough to be bad, but it wasn’t interesting enough to be good. It’s just kind of there.

August 3, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 116 – Futurama: Into the Wild Green Yonder

Futurama: Into the Wild Green Yonder – June 24th, 2010

I think maybe the Futurama movies are sort of like the Star Trek movies. Every other one is good. Not that this one is bad, but it doesn’t do it for me quite as well as the first and third did. Sure, it’s got fun jokes and it’s a hell of a lot less ooky than the second, but it falls flat in a few places and I’m not sure exactly why. Maybe it’s the whole environmentalism message that seems to fluctuate between serious and silly, like the writers knew they didn’t want to make it into a complete joke but still wanted to play it for laughs. Same for the feminism part of the plot. But I’ll get to the feminism plot and why it’s not as ooky as the Yivo thing.

Unlike the previous movies, this one doesn’t feel choppy really. Sure, it’s got defined parts to it, but the transitions feel smooth. It plays out nicely as a whole, I’ll give it that. We start out with a montage of Mars Vegas before it’s blown up by the Wongs to make room for a bigger and better casino city on Mars. During construction Leela saves a nasty little muck leech from being paved over and we meet the Eco-Feministas, a group of pink tie-dye wearing women who shout hackneyed slogans and wave signs in protest of Leo Wong’s destruction of the environment. And his gender. When Wong blasts them Fry ends up with a piece from their leader’s necklace embedded in his head and becomes able to read thoughts. Which is where the other half of the plot shows up.

A group of folks in tin foil hats inducts Fry into the Legion of Madfellows, all of whom can also read minds. But hearkening back to earlier episodes, Fry’s brain is shown to be unreadable, which makes him the perfect agent against the Dark Ones; a mysterious race who can read minds and want to destroy all life. The Madfellows and the Eco-Feministas have a shared goal: Stop Leo Wong from destroying a violet dwarf star and a burgeoning life-filled planetoid near it. Fry goes to work as a double agent, infiltrating the Wongs from within the company and Leela joins the Feministas, transforming them from a laughable group of ineffective slogan shouters to the eco-scourge of Leo Wong. They also kill headless Agnew. By accident. Oops.

Anyhow, Fry’s working in secret to keep the Dark Ones from finding out the Madfellows’ plans and can’t tell Leela he’s really on her side. Leela convinces pretty much every female on the show except Mom and Mrs. Wong to join her and so the plot is set with the two groups fighting the Wongs and the Wongs and Nixon working on blowing up that violet dwarf star to make way for a gigantic miniature golf course. And also because the Dark Ones are telling Leo Wong what to do. It all ends with a big confrontation and a giant space manta thing and a lecture about respecting life and the implication that humans are endangered.

But you see what I mean about the plot all being one thing? Sure it starts in Mars Vegas and then after a while we leave it and all, but it’s all part of the same whole. The Wongs and the Feministas stay as two of the main focal points for the entire plot. We don’t stay in Mars Vegas, but the giant mini golf course is part of it. Fry’s telepathy comes from an encounter with the Feministas and in the end the Feministas and the Madfellows are linked anyhow. Even the muck leech Leela saved is part of the main plot. There’s a hell of a lot going on around it all to make it a full length movie, but despite that it plays as a single whole.

So it’s really a shame that it falls flat for me. I don’t want it to. The Feministas thing could have pissed me off royally, except that when Leela shows up she actually makes them effective and strong. They rally behind her and she gets LaBarbara and Amy to join in. Linda, one of the two news anchors, puts a stiletto heel in Morbo’s head and leaves the news desk to join too (leading to some good bits with her introducing the action she’s part of as if it’s news). Yes, it’s definitely played for laughs. Frida, the original leader, is a complete stereotype of an angry-but-foolish Woman With A Cause. I know the type they’re spoofing on and it makes me shake my head. But what saves this from my wrath is that Frida is only one part of the group. Sure, the movement has people who are better at coming up with things to say than things to do, but it’s also got people who are better at doing than saying. So unlike the second movie, this one doesn’t leave me feeling slightly slimy for enjoying it.

The trouble is that like the environmentalism message, the writers took something serious and played it for laughs but also made it serious at the same time and maybe one plot like that could have worked. Pick one, the feminist stuff or the environmentalist stuff. But two is too many. There’s too much serious and too much awareness that there are Messages. The laughs are good, but they don’t happen nearly enough. Sure, I’m smiling by the ending (which reminds me a lot of the end of MST3K season 7 – we’ll see if they use that tonight), but I wish I was smiling wider.

June 24, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Futurama: Into the Wild Green Yonder

June 24, 2010

Futurama: Into the Wild Green Yonder

This movie, more than the other three Futurama movies, has the strong feel of an extra long episode. No time travel or D&D here – just a strange series of events that happen to the Planet Express crew. It’s got a fairly epic feel, with a clash of ancient races as old as the universe itself and Fry being the only hope of the universe, but we’ve seen that on the show too, twice! So it doesn’t really do anything new, but what it does do is done well, and although I didn’t enjoy it as much as Bender’s Game and Bender’s Big Score I did enjoy it.

The story goes thusly: in the year 3008 Leo Wong (Amy’s multi-gazillionaire father and owner of most of Mars) destroys Mars Vegas to erect an even more glitzy and ostentatious New Mars Vegas. In the process he eradicates all but one of the endangered martian muck leeches, arousing the ire of Leela and of a group of Feminista environmentalists. When the necklace of one of the feministas (Frida Waterfall – part of a running gag from the series with a vast Waterfall family all played by Phil Hendrie) gets lodged in Fry’s head he gains the power to read thoughts. He almost goes insane from the pressure of all the unprotected thoughts around him, but is rescued by a homeless man named Hutch who provides him with a tinfoil hat and eventually introduces him to the Legion of Madfellows – a secret society of people who can read thoughts and wear tinfoil hats.

The Madfellows spout a whole lot of plot exposition at Fry. It seems that there is an ancient and never-ending cosmic battle between two forces known as the Dark Ones and the Encyclopods. The Dark Ones are the ultimate evolutionary achievement and desire to destroy all other life in the universe, and the Encyclopods have incorporated into their very being the DNA of every extinct species. Fry must find a way to stop Leo Wong from destroying the egg of the last Encyclopod – which is actually a violet dwarf star. Only Fry can stop the Dark Ones because only his defective brain cannot be read (as established when he twice defeated the invading brain aliens in the show.)

That’s the basic plot right there. There’s a whole lot of padding, of course, because that’s not nearly enough to fill a movie. There’s a lengthy bit in New Mars Vegas where Fry and Bender enter a poker tournament. Bender has a fling with the Robot Don’s moll. Leela and Amy (and eventually just about every female character from the show) join with the feministas to attempt to stop Wong and protect the environment. A lot of stuff happens like chases through space and giant miniature golf. The headless corpse of Spiro Agnew gets needlessly and brutally killed.

And since this was the last movie planned for release, and since it wasn’t known if there would ever be any more Futurama after this, the writers also shoehorned in a plot that tries to bring Fry and Leela together at the end. Which doesn’t work nearly as well as the touching end to the original series in The Devil’s Hands Are Idle Playthings. Indeed, that’s the problem this movie has almost throughout. It does some things that are clever, like finally giving some lines to the number 9 man who was seen in background crowds throughout the series and bringing back the recurring Waterfall characters, but most of the best bits of the movie were done better in the series. Fry and Leela’s reconciliation was better in the show and in the first movie. Fry’s “special brain” was best used in The Why of Fry. The Wong family was more fun to watch in Where the Buggalow Roam. In many ways this movie is less a graceful swan song than a warmed over rehash of best bits from the show.

Furthermore the environmentalist and science nerd in me takes exception to the depiction of rabid environmentalists in this movie. And, really, if you think about it the notion of preserving the DNA of every extinct species ever is an odd device. Maybe it’s pedantic of me, but my brain immediately wonders if the Encyclopods preserve every evolutionary dead end as well. Evolution, as I understand it, involves the constant introduction of new ways to build life. Most of these new things don’t fill a need for whatever species or provide an environmental advantage and so they don’t result in new species – but they can sometimes be carried on for generations before they fade from existence. Do these abnormalities get preserved? What about freakish mutations that don’t even result in viable mating stock or die before maturing? Do they deserve preservation? I guess its an idea that gets me thinking, and I like those, but ultimately it doesn’t work for me.

Still – I will never say no to new Futurama. I’m really hoping that the new series, which premiers in about half an hour from when I’m writing this review, will offer David X Cohen and all his nerdy buddies a chance to add new life to the franchise. Hopefully there are new epic reveals to be had and new strangeness and wonder ahead. I just think that in general Futurama lends itself more to the shorter half-hour format. Time will tell if I am right.

June 24, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 115 – Futurama: Bender’s Game

Futurama: Bender’s Game – June 23rd, 2010

Thank goodness we’re back to a good Futurama movie tonight. This one doesn’t work quite as well as the first one did, but it’s still a lot of fun and the plotlines fit together pretty well, even if the fantasy quest section does make it do the episodic thing. But I forgive it that, because the plots really are well integrated and it has one of our favorite lines, from Igner: “We’re oooooowwwl exterminators!” Yeah, why do we love that so much? It’s all about delivery.

But the plots! I really hate to call them A and B or whatever, since they don’t stay separate. First there’s the introduction of rising fuel costs and Leela banging up the ship because she lets her temper get away from her. Then Bender comes across the kids playing Dungeons & Dragons and decides he wants to play too, but alas! He has no imagination! So he puts his mind to it and, of course, goes overboard and declares himself Sir Titanius Englesmith, Fancy Man of Cornwood and starts running around attacking imaginary dragons and belching out fireballs. And then back to the fuel plot: We find out that the fuel costs are going up because of a dark matter shortage that Mom (of Mom’s Friendly Robots) has manufactured in order to make more money. But dark matter wasn’t always valuable! It was the Professer who, in his youth, accidentally transformed all dark matter into a fuel source. But he also made a crystal that would reverse the process, making dark matter worthless.

Thus the two plotlines combine when we discover that the crystal they need to turn dark matter worthless is being used as a d12 by the D&D players and end up sucked into a fantasy world of Bender’s making, transformed into fantasy creatures and characters and going on a quest to find it and defeat Mom.

The humor in this is probably even funnier to people who were really into D&D, but even my limited experience in addition to the fact that D&D and high fantasy novels share a goodly amount of tropes and references means that the humor isn’t hard to get. I mean, sure, the d12 is a D&D thing, and they make reference to Gary Gygax and there’s plenty of D&D to go around. But there’s also a line about a hobo and a rabbit making a hobbit, and there’s an Ent, and the d12 becomes the one die and brings along a whole pile of One Ring references. Really, if you’ve read, seen or heard of Lord of the Rings, you’re good to go. It’s almost enough to make me say we should do the LotR trilogy this weekend, but they’re three hours a piece and we’re kind of saving them.

Anyhow, it’s got plenty of fun stuff even if you’re not super into D&D or Lord of the Rings. Hell, it’s even got a Star Wars reference (an extended reference, really). And then there’s the title, which is a reference both to the D&D game and to the book Ender’s Game, which does have a weird little fantasy game as a plot point but is really science fiction. It’s all great stuff for them to use for loving parody, and it is loving. It’s clear that they’re riffing on these well-used fantasy themes the same way they do math jokes: With the true fondness of geeks who’ve spent years knowing the ins and outs of what they’re joking about. Listening to the commentary just confirms it more. A word about the commentaries for Futurama, both the show and the movies: Watch them. It’s well worth it not just for explanations of some of the more obscure jokes and math and jokes about math, but also to hear the voice actors goofing off. But even without the commentary, it’s a truly funny geekfest.

June 23, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Futurama: Bender’s Game

June 23, 2010

Futurama: Bender’s Game

Okay! We’re back on track today with another great Futurama movie. Indeed as I watch this one for the fourth or fifth time it’s quite hard to say if I actually prefer this movie or the first one. Both have innumerable references to the old show, but whereas Bender’s Big Score deals primarily with time travel Bender’s Game deals with Dungeons and Dragons and Lord of the Rings.

Right from the very beginning with this movie you can tell that you’re in for a treat. The Futurama opening credits end with a fantastic Yellow Submarine tribute that sets the slightly fantastical mood for the movie to come. After that the movie starts out fairly tangentially, re-introducing dark matter (the rocket fuel used in the Futurama universe) and stressing how rare and expensive it is when the professor is more upset that the crew has used half a ball of dark matter than that they destroyed the Planet Express ship in a demolition derby. It’s pretty cool how they work a lot of the plot exposition so that it fits with established show history. They reprise Nibler’s origin from way back in season one as they explain how Mom (of Mom’s friendly robot factory) attained a monopoly on dark matter. And they go back to explore more about the torrid on-again and off-again romance between Mom and the professor, which has been the source of much amusement in the show. And there’s a dark and terrible secret revealed in this movie which, in retrospect, Matt and David must have planned years in advance.

But it isn’t until about halfway through the movie that things truly get strange. Through an unlikely series of events involving Bender going insane playing D&D and a quantum distortion from some dark matter he has hidden in his chest cavity the entire cast gets warped into a Lord of the Rings inspired alternate universe. Fry becomes Frydo, Leela becomes the centaur Leegola, Bender is Titanius Englebert (Fancy Man of Cornwood) and so on. And everybody is now suddenly on a quest to destroy the ultimate twelve sided die.

It’s fertile ground to be mined by the writers of Futurama, which has always been a show steeped in nerd lore. Perhaps it is a little strange that a show traditionally rooted in science fiction should take such a fantastical detour, but really it works perfectly with the whole Futurama sensibility and humor. It’s pretty clear that the writers had a fantastic time with things like Wipe Castle and Gynacaladrial. There’s epic battles with orks, Morks, and yes there are even Dungeons and Dragons.

This whole movie is a nerdgasm. Sort of like the fantastic Star Trek episode of Futurama this movie brings so much fun stuff to the table. If there’s one thing that Futurama does well it’s pandering to their nerdish fan base, and as part of that nerdish base I’d like to thank them for it.

June 23, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 114 – Futurama: The Beast With a Billion Backs

Futurama: The Beast With a Billion Backs – June 22nd, 2010

When we begin the second Futurama movie the rip in space is still there, being terrifying but not really doing anything. Life’s going on as normal, aside from people wondering just what the rip will do. Fry’s got a new girlfriend, Colleen, but it turns out she has four other boyfriends. Unable to handle a quintuplesome, he breaks up with her and goes on a mission to explore the space rip. And up until about there, I’m pretty on board with the movie. I’m even cool through the B plot with Bender joining the secret League of Robots and the minor plot point of Kif getting killed in an attempt to destroy whatever’s on the other side of the rip (he comes back). It’s when Fry comes back that the movie kind of loses me.

See, I don’t hate this movie, but bits of it squick me and even though it’s far more linear in nature than the first one it feels a lot more disjointed to me. I’m not sure what it is in particular that makes me feel like it’s broken up into more bits than last night’s. Maybe it’s that the plot is so linear but doesn’t flow smoothly. The transitions from bit to bit feel very defined. Maybe it makes it easier to break this one up into episodes, but that leads to it feeling odd as a movie. And then there’s the whole tentacle thing.

It’s like someone in the writing room said “Hey, you know how tentacle porn is an internet joke? Let’s totally make a parody of tentacle porn!” and then it wasn’t nearly as funny as it was meant to be. It’s kind of ooky, really. When Fry comes back from beyond the rip, he’s attached to a giant tentacle monster than wants to stick a tentacle in the necks of everyone in our universe. Or whatever neck equivalent is available. People with tentacles sound like a brainwashed cult, preaching love of the tentacle and trying to stick tentacles onto other people whether they want it or not. Leela resists enough to check out the tentacles and figures out that they’re actually “genticles” and are doing exactly what you’d expect. Um. Ew. Like I said. Ooky. Thankfully, the rest of the universe agrees and pulls the tentacles out. But then ooky again! Everyone goes on a mass date with the tentacles (which belong to a creature named Yivo who is the sole being in it’s universe). Eventually everyone decides to move to the other side of the rip and live on Yivo’s surface in perfect harmony, forever and ever. Until Bender ruins it all.

Now, part of my meh reaction to this one is the whole tentacle thing, I admit. It bothers me not because of the free love/polyamory theme, but because of the uninvited intimate alien contact theme. Sure, it’s done cartoonishly and it’s obviously disapproved of once it’s discovered what’s going on, but my gut cringes at it. And it’s a shame, because there are a lot of truly funny moments and lines in this one. Morbo’s got some good bits, and the whole thing with Bender and the League of Robots is great. Once everyone gets to Yivo’s surface and is all happy it’s got less ooky and more funny. But add the previous ooky to the choppy pacing and the convenient introduction of Colleen as the movie’s equivalent of Chekhov’s Gun, and it’s just not funny enough to make it worth putting in all that often. I was struck tonight by how annoyed I am that all of that makes me unlikely to watch this much, because it means I miss the funny stuff. Maybe I should just treat it like a series of episodes and only watch the ones that don’t bug me.

June 22, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Futurama: Bender’s Big Score

June 21, 2010

Futurama: Bender’s Big Score

I have something I must confess. I never watched Futurama during its original run on Fox. I didn’t start watching every episode until it was being re-broadcast on Cartoon Network. So in part I was one of those people who was responsible for the show being cancelled. Which is an awful thing to think, because we quickly became enormous fans of the show once we started watching it. But then again, the fact that I did watch every episode on Cartoon Network over and over (well except for Jurassic Bark – I can only ever watch that episode once in a lifetime) and bought all four seasons on DVD means that in some small part I was responsible for the show’s miraculous resuscitation.

This movie represents what was, sort of, the start of season five of Futurama. Indeed after the four direct to video movies were released they were sliced up into sixteen episodes of the show and broadcast on Comedy Central. As such it was highly anticipated in our household. Two years after the show was cancelled it finally returned, and you can tell, watching this movie, that they put a lot of effort into making the big return a memorable event.

From the very beginning this movie is a love note to the fans of Futurama. It’s an hour and forty minutes of pure fan service. There are references to just about every great episode from the old series from The Why of Fry, Luck of the Fryish, and yes, even, Jurassic Bark with all their info about Fry’s life in the past to A Head in the Poles and the two X-Mas episodes. Virtually every character from the series has a cameo of some kind (and those that do not appear are featured in the other three movies.) And the movie has a great sense of humor about itself. Take, for example, the opening scene, where the movie goes all meta as Dr. Farnsworth explains that everybody is fired because two years ago Planet Express was cancelled by the Box Network. Then they get renewed and Leela asks “What does this mean for us and our many fans?” (She’s standing in front of a wall of electric fans as she asks this.)

The plot involves the entire population of Earth being scammed out of every penny and eventually out of the planet itself by a trio of nudist aliens. (Yeah, more fan service. There’s a scene on the nude beach planet where the whole cast gets naked.) The primary tool the scammers use is the “universal time code” which they discover is tattooed on Fry’s ass. By repeatedly sending Bender into the past they steal every valuable piece of art ever created on Earth. Then things get confusing. They decide to eradicate Fry to destroy the time code and he flees into the past, followed by Bender, whom they have control over because he downloaded an obedience virus while trying to download porn.

There’s lot of confusing talk of time paradoxes and time travel, and one major central paradox involving Fry’s trip into the past. My one gripe with the movie is that the rampant time travel doesn’t quite work as well as it has on the show in the past. Everything appears to be wrapped up at the end of the movie, but it’s not as neat as Roswell that Ends Well. Indeed the central plot point of the film, involving Fry duplicating himself in the past via the time code, has never sat well with me. If you follow the looping time paths it just doesn’t make sense.

But I’ll forgive it that, because if you just let go and enjoy the movie for the fun thing that it is and don’t try to understand the time-line it’s a really great time. There’s so much to love about this movie. Like Mark Hamill as the Hanukkah Zombie. Like the whole sub-plot with Fry having to come to terms with Leela’s romance with new character Lars. Like the fantastic cameo by Al Gore as himself. (His third appearance on Futurama.) It’s just great joke after great joke, and all these familiar faces showing up and taking part in the action. It’s as though they distilled all the best things out of four seasons of the show into a single movie.

For the most part it works, and I enjoyed it enormously. I can’t wait to see what they do with the show’s sixth season on Thursday!

June 21, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Movie 32 – Buckaroo Banzai Against the World Crime League

Buckaroo Banzai Against the World Crime League – April 1, 2010

Since we had such a horrible direct-to-DVD sequel for The Lost Boys, perhaps it was karma that we have a not-horrible-at-all sequel today. I mean, it could have come off cheesy and dated and horrible, with its 1980s aesthetic and its cast of mostly-unknowns, but it didn’t. Instead it’s just nostalgic and fun.

One morning, while waiting for a table at IHOP (or maybe it was late one night – IHOP, after all), Andy and I discussed our dream cast for a Buckaroo Banzai sequel, except we decided on a prequel, because we could come up with a bunch of names for younger versions of the characters (Casey Affleck is still my go-to pick for young Buckaroo), but we couldn’t really think of anyone to play the characters at the ages they’d have to be for a sequel. Obviously the right people were out there, because the casting in this was spot on. My faith in the universe has been somewhat restored. Also going a ways towards the restoration? Big Fucking Norse. We’re going to run away together and kick ass (I can still be Emma Peel).

Sadly, the quotes aren’t quite as quotable, but with a few more viewings they probably will be. I mean, obviously there aren’t as many “Monkey Boy” quotes without the Lectroids as baddies (though listen close and you can hear that Reno has replaced his signature ‘dumkopf’ once with a ‘Monkey Boy’ in the background). But I’ll give it time. I’ll give it plenty of time.

I do think it was a fantastic idea to keep the movie rooted in the 1980s, given the budget limitations of a direct-to-DVD release. I mean, look at the original movie. It’s not like those effects are super special these days, and in comparison look at how they tried to jazz up the effects in The Tribe from its source material. It doesn’t matter if the effects are better if the mood doesn’t fit. So kudos to whomever made the decision to keep the whole thing looking like it was filmed just after they wrapped the first movie.

It’s because of the cast and the whole general atmosphere and a series of great nods to the original that I can forgive a somewhat muddy plot involving a villain who’s made evil clones of the Cavaliers and plans to… what? Take over the world with them? Take over Buckaroo’s fanbase? Hold a few concerts? Annoy everyone? He’s sort of a flat character, just there to be evil and send his ‘death dwarves’ in and provide a means for the movie to bring us things like Pecos (who, it turns out, looks nothing like either Perfect Tommy OR Reno, what with being female and Asian) and the return of Rawhide, and some strike teams and a few more Johns hanging around the Institute for kicks. I mean, not that I don’t appreciate it all, and the end credits are fantastic, with the cast playing their dual roles as good and evil, purposefully walking in different directions, but it’s not as good as the original.

Then again, it doesn’t have to be. It doesn’t come close to sucking, so that’s a win in my book.

April 1, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | 5 Comments

Buckaroo Banzai Against the World Crime League

April 1, 2010

Buckaroo Banzai Against the World Crime League

I really like the conceit of this direct-to-video sequel to the original Buckaroo Banzai movie.  Even though it came out fairly recently the film makers chose to set it in the eighties with all the same cool costumes and hairstyles.  They did manage to get D.W. Richter back to direct, and once again the characters and dialog are all from the fertile mind of Earl Mac Rauch.

For the most part the actors they have playing the crew do a good job living up to the characters brought to life by Jeff Goldbloom et. all from the first movie.  The only name I recognized was Lauren Tom (the voice of Amy Wong from Futurama) as Pecos – which is a joke held over from the first movie, when New Jersey mistakes both Perfect Tommy and Reno for Pecos… which is even funnier knowing that Pecos is actually a little asian woman.  And the uncredited cameo (the best cameos are uncredited) of Peter Weller as “Future Buckaroo” was brilliant – but I’m getting ahead of myself.

The action of this movie follows close on the heels of the first one.  It turns out that Penny Priddy is not a twin sister to Bukaroo’s dead wife Peggy – she’s actually a clone.  Buckroo’s evil nemesis Hanoi Xan (who was mentioned in the book the first movie was based on but was excised from the movie) has actually created clones of all the Hong Kong Cavaliers… and these are the titular World Crime League.

Of course it’s not perfect.  The movie takes a while to get going because it feels it necessary to introduce all the characters again (as if anybody besides dedicated fans of the first movie would be watching it anyhow.)  And there’s a lot of awkward finger pointing and suspicion regarding Penny – weather she can be trusted once everybody realizes her connection to Hanoi Xan.  But it does a great job capturing the chaotic spirit of the first movie, and it does the eighties thing just enough to acknowledge the time period without descending into camp.

There were several things I really loved.  Such as the new members of the Cavaliers, Pecos and Big Norse, who make it more of an all-inclusive thing than a boys club.  The whole side-plot of reviving Rawhide so they can defeat his evil clone.  The “deathdwarfs,” who could have been laughably awful but were actually kind of cool.

All in all I don’t see this becoming a favorite of mine or being watched all the time like the first movie, but I was relieved that it didn’t totally destroy the first movie.  It’s a light-hearted and light-weight add-on.

April 1, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Movie 28 – Resident Evil: Degeneration

Resident Evil: Degeneration – March 28, 2010

Well, nothing helps one unwind from a weekend of gaming convention like a direct-to-video, based-on-a-video-game animated zombie movie! Seriously, I’m in a post-con haze right now and the brain is not working at full capacity. I’m at maybe 3/4 power, max. But Resident Evil should wake me right up. I say this because I’ve had to stop watching Andy play the games because they started giving me nightmares where I’d hear that fucking chainsaw in the distance and run and run and run. Fun times. Maybe I’ll make him put in Katamari or something after the movie’s over.

My first impression: This looks exactly like the cut scenes in the games. I keep expecting to be instructed to hit a button to start the game or something.

Ah! And our floppy-haired hero has arrived. I am dead serious when I say this is like playing a game but you don’t get to control anything. The floppy-haired hero has just been given a mission: To go into the infected zone and rescue three civilians and a senator who have barricaded themselves in and given their location to a 911 operator. He’s got a little team with him and a map and a goal. And then later on, after the mission and another cut scene, there’s another goal and another mission. It’s a game without controls.

Now, here’s where I wax nostalgic about PAX East (yes, already): In his keynote address, Wil Wheaton talked about how when he had a 12 hour block of time alone at home with uncontested access to his home theater, he planned on watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy back to back to back. A noble goal! But instead, he pulled out Dragon Age: Origins and continued his game. The reason he gave was that he didn’t know how it would end. That’s the cool thing about a well-written video game. You get to make decisions that change how the story plays out. You get to change the ending. I swear, it was an amazing speech and I wish I could be half so eloquent. Hopefully he’ll post the entire text on his blog eventually and I can point to it.

Anyhow, the point I’m making is that the interactive stuff is a crucial difference between movies and video games. In a movie based on a video game, you’ve got to deal with that. This movie? Didn’t. I can’t say whether or not the game that could have been made from it would have been any good, but it would have been better than just sitting here and watching the plot play out without my input. It’s not made any better by the insertion of flashbacks from the actual videogames that the plot is based on.

Oh, yeah, there’s a plot. It’s pretty much every Resident Evil plot. There’s a virus that turns people into zombies and a big corporation that’s run by assholes and it might or might not be directly involved but it sure as hell has something to do with the mess. Our floppy-haired hero is a special agent who’s dealt with outbreaks of the zombie virus before and then there’s a woman who’s a civilian and also dealt with an outbreak. It’s complicated a tiny bit by a terrorist who lost his family in a prior outbreak who’s convinced the shady corporation has something to do with the virus, but really, it’s not that complicated. Terrorism’s bad, shady corporations that have illicit stores of zombie virus are bad, and zombies are bad. Oh, and never trust anyone with an accent that’s not American. What more do you need to know?

I really really wish there was game play in here. Because the story’s coherent, if predictable, and that would make for a decent plot if I didn’t always feel like the characters need a little help getting things done. I mean, the soldiers in the movie have to be told to shoot the zombies in the head! How the hell do they not know you’ve got to shoot zombies in the head? I expected this to be a lot worst than it was. I mean, it wasn’t good, but it wasn’t a slog like Advent Children. Still, hopefully tomorrow we’ll watch a real movie (instead of a prolonged cut scene) since PAX East is over now.

March 28, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment