Archive for Reviews

Beowulf

Last night, despite still being ill (more on that later), I went to a screening of the new movie Beowulf.

The story of Beowulf has been done so many times that I figure everyone knows it by now, so I’m not going to review that part. It is what it is, and its still pretty good.

This movie version is a computer animated tale. It uses the same motion capture system that brought us The Polar Express three years ago. I had the same problem with this film that I have had with every single computer animated movie in the past as they’ve approached realism: eyes and mouth. Two things that computer animation hasn’t gotten quite right yet, that eyes are not steady (people tend to flick their eyes around even if they don’t realize they are doing it) and that mouth movement actually affects the entire face (when a person yells, the jaw opens and it pulls the skin of the entire face, affecting the nose and eyes as well).

Now here comes the compliment… Beowulf is the first computer animated movie to make me forget that the eyes and mouth are wrong. Going in to the film, I did not know it was a digital 3D movie. The animation by itself would have been amazing, but rendered in 3D and popping off the screen it was breathtakingly phenomenal. Astounding.

Because of this, I highly recommend going to see this movie at the theater. The big screen and the digital 3D absolutely makes this film be exactly what Beowulf should be.

Resident Evil: Extinction

I actually saw Resident Evil: Extinction weekend before last, but I figured I’d dig out my thoughts on it for a Zombie Wednesday post. There are going to be spoilers. You have been warned.

I loved the first Resident Evil film. I’ve never played any of the games, so I went into it with just the expectation of a zombie movie, and it delivered. The only mild disappointment I might have had with it was the open ending and the not-quite-zombie monsters at the tail of the film. The second movie was more of the same, until they introduced the boss mob. That was silly. But hey, it didn’t totally suck.

The third movie, well, I was hoping for the end of a trilogy. It even seemed like it was going that direction. The world is infected by the T-Virus, dried up. If people stay in one place too long, the zombies will find them, so they stay on the move, driving around the desert in a caravan. Meanwhile, Umbrella is still around and is actually searching for a cure, sort of, and they happen to be in the desert too. Alice is still running around trying to save the people she can, and Umbrella needs Alice to manufacture the cure.

There are some really cool scenes of the caravan and of Alice as they move through this dead world. Stuff happens, people die, things go wrong… the usual. But then the movie takes a left turn. See, there is this scientist who has been using clones of Alice in place of Alice, and its not working out well. So he decides to go after Alice, but only after he creates some super zombies to fight her. The doctor ends up getting bit by a super zombie, and instead of turning into a zombie or even a super zombie he turns into a boss mob with tentacles and other weird shit (I’m told it is Tyrant from the game). Its lame. And then Alice wins, and she tells all the other hidden Umbrella labs that she’s coming to get them, her and her army… of Alice clones.

There are rumors and allegations going around that they are working on a Resident Evil 4, and as much as I now dread it, I hate movies with giant gaping open endings. Leave a couple loose ends untied? Sure. But the end of this movie was just too much. They need an RE4, if for no other reason than to put an ending stamp on it.

30 Days of Night

I went to the movies this weekend to catch 30 Days of Night. Overall, I liked the film. Great story idea. I wasn’t even disappointed in the cast. I’d recommend it to horror movie fans.

I did have problems with the movie though… The pacing felt wrong, a little forced in places, and there were some logic flaws in how things went down. And once again I’m forced to ask why people who make movies have a hatred of “fade to black” cuts. Almost every cut in this movie is from a well lit scene to another well lit scene with no transition and sometimes they put text on the screen to let you know that time has passed. This kind of quick scene cut tends to heighten urgency, like you are supposed to be cutting from action to action, but when used between scenes that are supposed to be emphasizing loss and desperation, it just ruins the mood.

Example of quick cut:

Scene shows people locking themselves into a building. People settle down into corners, some near windows to keep watch. One person sets down a bag we previously saw get filled with supplies. Guy at the door says, “Looks like we’re stuck here for a while.” Quick scene cut. Text on the bottom of the screen says “Day 27”. People now look a little more tired, someone is licking the inside of a twinkie wrapper and the guy at the door says, “We can’t wait anymore.” …

Example of fade to black:

Scene shows people locking themselves into a building. People settle down into corners, some near windows to keep watch. One person sets down a bag we previously saw get filled with supplies. Guy at the door says, “Looks like we’re stuck here for a while.” Scene fades to black. Text on the bottom of the screen says “Day 27”. Scene fades in and people now look a little more tired, someone is licking the inside of a twinkie wrapper and the guy at the door says, “We can’t wait anymore.” …

This being a text medium and all, I’m not sure I’m getting my point across. Maybe I’ll need to drag out the video camera and shoot some short scenes, put them up on YouTube or something. I’ve just seen so many movies over the past couple of years that just didn’t communicate the passage of time.

30 Days of Night was a good movie. Semi-feral vampires are always better that Elizabethan top coat wearing gay vampires any day of the week. But at the end, it really only felt like 3 Days of Night at most. Worth seeing, but don’t pay full price.

The Donnas

Over the weekend, I went to another concert. Its getting weird here, as this makes like the sixth or seventh concert I’ve been to this year, and I think there is at least one more before year’s end. I don’t think I’ve gone to this many concerts in a year before.

Anyhooble, this time around it was to go see The Donnas down at the Earl.

First off, I’d never been to the Earl before, but its a pretty cool place. The front is this little dive bar/restaurant, you can get a beer and some eats, and then in the back they’ve got a room with a bar and a stage, probably holds a max capacity of a couple hundred, maybe less. Definitely worth going there if a band you want to see is playing.

There were actually three bands that night… the first was American Bang, who I didn’t think I had heard of but it turns out one of their songs is currently being used in a commercial or something, somewhere that I didn’t recognize it right away but when the chorus hit I had one of those “I’ve heard this song before!” moments. But that wouldn’t have mattered. While I was apprehensive at first as they took to the stage looking like a band from the 70’s that fell through a time rift, their music rocked. And frankly, you know an opening band has something when the headlining band all comes out into the crowd to watch them play.

Next up was Donita Sparks and the Stellar Moments. Its Donita and Dee Plakas from the band L7 with a few guys. Not bad, not 100% to my music taste, but it did not suck.

Lastly, The Donnas took the stage. It is unfortunate that you don’t really see a lot of girl bands that play hard rock music. I’ve been a fan for a while, even before they hit it big with that Take It Off song from their Spend The Night album, so its a safe bet to say that I thought they rocked. Worth it at twice the price (tickets were only $13).

Fool Moon

Sometimes it must seem like I am a slow reader, and I am, but not as slow as it must appear if you keep an eye on my Currently Reading section. I read with purpose and with imagination. My mind paints full color images as I read, every detail being filled in from the prose, and my imagination filling in everything the author leaves out. I see books more than read them. I live and breathe them. And I also don’t get as much time as I’d like to enjoy them. A couple hours a week at best.

And the better the book, the slower I read. I envy Jim Butcher because Harry Dresden is the kind of character I’d love to dream up, and his world is a place my imagination loves to run free in. And here I am only in the second book of the series. I finally turned the last page of Fool Moon and extricated myself from Harry’s dangerous mystical Chicago, and all I’ve got to say is: Damn.

Seriously, its a good book. This time around Harry runs smack into a problem with werewolves, a few different kinds of them, and he’s in over his head from the beginning. Heart pounding and tense, I hated having to put this book down, craved it when I was away, and reveled in it when I could.

I can’t wait to dive in to the next book… I just have to buy it first.

The Best Things In Life Are Free

Have you ever felt the stars align?

I was checking my email on Tuesday while I was working and I got what at first glance I thought was spam email. It was Ticketmaster telling me about some concerts in my area that I might be interested in. At least, that’s what it looked like. I ignored it and did some other things, but about an hour later I was staring at it again.

It wasn’t spam. It was an invitation to get some complimentary concert tickets. Velvet Revolver with Alice In Chains and Sparta on October 3rd at the HiFi Buys Amphitheater. I suppose the reality is that the concert was not selling as well as they wanted, and rather than play to empty seats, they were giving away tickets. I “bought” 4.

Nobody went with the wife and I. It was too short notice and everyone had plans or something. Except one guy, but he had a bad day at work and decided not to go out. No loss though, they were free tickets, if no one went it didn’t matter.

We got to the show and it was worse than I thought. Ticket sales had been so bad that at the door they were allowing people with lawn seats to upgrade to reserved seats for no charge. The lawn was closed. Even with the free ticket offer they’d spammed out (likely to everyone who had purchased tickets to a “rock” show in the past 30, 60 or 90 days … I went to Def Leppard) they hadn’t given away enough tickets to fill the seats. The ones we got online were pretty good. Section 203, row QQ on the inside aisle.

We sat down and listened to Sparta. They did what a good opening act should do. They played, they played well, and even got me wanting to go find their CD and give it a listen.

When Sparta left the stage, we went back out to the Zune booth… oh wait, I left that out. On the way in, we got raffle tickets. After the first band, the Zune booth was having a drawing. We won a 30GB Zune. Been playing with it this morning, its pretty sweet.

Alice In Chains took to the stage next… I saw AIC for the first time back in 1991 when they opened for Van Halen on the For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge tour. I’ve been a fan since Facelift. When Layne Staley died, I figured the band was done. Well, they aren’t done. With new lead vocalist William DuVall, the band is tight. There were times during the night that I could swear the man had to be lip syncing. It was eerie, but also fantastic. They played through all the hits and fan favorites. I look forward to hearing more from Alice In Chains.

After another break, Velvet Revolver took the stage. I’m not a huge fan of VR, in fact the only song I really know is Fall to Pieces. Scott Weiland has decided, apparently, that he is a Mick Jagger impersonator, and his voice just doesn’t sound like it used to. Stone Temple Pilots was a great band that I loved. With VR, at least live, Scott sounds like he’s on helium or been kicked in the nuts, about an octave above what would sound good. They played a few songs I didn’t know and really at that point it wasn’t likely that their performance was going to surpass the previous band, it was a weeknight, and I hate traffic. We left.

All in all, a free concert, a free 30GB Zune… a good night.

Death at a Funeral

The wife and I decided to hit the theater this weekend, and after making her go see a bunch of action flicks she was overdue for picking the film. She narrowed it down to Death at a Funeral and I Now Pronounce You Chuck And Larry. Since I wasn’t in the mood for Adam Sandler, we went with Death at a Funeral.

I’d seen a trailer before and knew it was about funny things happening at a funeral, but to be honest I hadn’t really 100% paid attention to the trailer. If I’d known it was a) British and b) directed by Frank Oz, I’d have been more excited. Upon the movie starting and discovering both a and b, I settled in for a good comedy.

And it delivered… from the funeral home delivering the wrong body to the service to the… well, I don’t want to give away everything. It was great fun, completely worth the price of admission.

Carpe Demon

The wife convinced me to read Carpe Demon by Julie Kenner. The story is basically Buffy the Vampire Slayer, if she got married, had kids and grew up.

It is a fun book, not horribly complex, but enough that I’ll read the other books in the series at some point (but not now, I tend to avoid reading series books back to back).

Stardust

Last night I had the pleasure of going to see a screening of Stardust, the film adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s novel of the same name.

Really, I went into this not expecting much. I’d never read the book and only had a vague idea of the story as being in the fantasy genre. Something about stars being alive, one falling to earth, and a witch who wants to eat the star’s heart to stay young forever.

I would put this film on par with The Princess Bride. Adventure, romance, fighting, chases, and most of all… fun. From the get go Stardust is an enjoyably fun film full of action and unexpected laughs, love and villainy. It was just, simply put, a good movie.

Most absolutely I would recommend seeing this film. It was good enough that I might even go see it again at the theater. Two big huge thumbs up.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

No spoilers here, so don’t worry. All in all, a decent book and a fitting end. I was satisfied, and as long as Mrs. Rowling doesn’t write any more books in this world she has crafted, it is a very nice collection that feels complete.

However…

Since the Order of the Phoenix, I’ve seriously felt like she should just have been honest and titled one of her books Harry Potter and the Boring Chunks of Exposition. Up through Goblet of Fire, J.K. was pretty good about keeping the action, the story, moving, only stopping once in a while to fill in a gap here and there. It is something that tends to happen in any book that tries to keep secrets from the audience, since you have to omit certain things to retain the mystery, there will come a point where you have to show that it has been figured out. How uncomfortable or odd that telling is usually depends on the type of information hidden and how much. In the Potter books, entire characters are essentially hidden from the reader, and trying to get that much information back to the reader is hard. J.K. Rowling, by Order of the Phoenix, just started resorting to “the lecture”, which is to say you suddenly (or not so suddenly) get an entire chapter of one character explaining things to another character. In many other books this is usually avoided by having the unknown information spread out among a handful of characters who meet up and share, the back and forth of it and the fact that many characters are also finding out stuff too involves the reader much more deeply than when one character just dumps fifteen pages of backstory on another.

In that respect, Deathly Hallows was the worst book of the series. There probably nearly a dozen chapters of someone dumping information on Harry, only some of which he has figured out on his own and where he hardly participates in the conversation except to repeat back some of the information in the form of questions to prod the other person onward.

I also can honestly say that I wasn’t very surprised. The book consisted almost entirely of telegraphed punches, you can see every twist coming if you are paying attention. Of course, this is, after all, a children’s book, so don’t bring your CSI trained analytical mind with you and you’ll enjoy the book much more.

And just to make sure people don’t think I’m hating on the book, I really did enjoy it, and I gladly recommend this series to anyone. It is worth the read.