Author Archive for

30
Jan
09

Not Dead Yet

Yeah, yeah, I know I haven’t posted here in forever. I’ve just been excrutiatingly busy with schoolwork. I’m planning on posting a quickie review of the film A Sound Of Thunder soon, though, so keep checking back.

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03
Aug
08

A Brilliant Way To Shoot Oneself In The Foot

Movie Review: The Dark Knight

Unless you’ve been living in an internet-less cave (i.e. using Qwest) for the last month, you’re sure to have heard the glowing reviews of The Dark Knight that permeate every newspaper, blog and review site across teh int3rw3bs. Particular praise is being heaped upon the late Heath Ledger’s performance as the Batman’s trademark villian, the Joker. All this hype can be a bit dizzying… but is it all true? For the most part, yes.

The Dark Knight is a great film. It has everything… top-notch action sequences, great special effects, good cinematography, and excellent acting (with the exception of Maggie Gyllenhaal playing Rachel Dawes, whose performance is middling). The movie takes the time to tell an intricate and complex story, holds the viewer’s interest and never loses its pacing. Although the story may seem confusing in places, a little thought should clear most of the confusion (or, if that fails, a second viewing is sure to do the trick.) Overall, it is a very complex and enjoyable movie.

But what about Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker, which has the critics rabidly dispensing accolades? Is it really the Oscar-worthy master performance that everyone says it is? I don’t think so. For the first half of the film, Ledger’s Joker was interesting and even a bit engaging… but it grew old quickly. After multiple scenes focusing on the Joker, Ledger’s performance becomes grating, as he basically retreads the same material over and over and over. Every time the Joker shows up, you can expect to hear some half-cocked speech about morality and chaos, plus another ‘how I got these scars’ origin story. Frankly, about three-quarders of the way through the movie, I found myself wishing they’d stop showing the Joker and go back to Batman or Two-Face.

That brings me to what I think was The Dark Knight’s most underrated performance: Aaron Eckhart as Two Face. Eckhard made a good Harvey Dent, but when he was transformed into Two-Face, the actor’s performance really began to shine… which is no great feat, considering half of his face was covered by prothetics and CGI. When Two-Face first appeared onscreen, I found myself mesmerized by the mutilated vigilante. His twisted fatalistic outlook on life, as well as his brutality, were perfectly captured by Eckhart’s performance. I found Two-Face far more interesting than the Joker, which is a pity considering that the former’s screen time is relativly short.  Out of all the Batman characters portrayed in Christopher Nolan’s film series so far, Two-Face’s portrayal is the closest to the original comics, and is in my opinion, the best character in the entire film series.

That ends my objective review. Despite the minor Joker flaw, the Dark Knight is a great film and definitely worth watching, possibly more than once. I give it 9 out of 10 Xore points. Now, it’s time for a rant.

As I said, The Dark Knight is a great film. So why the ‘shoot oneself in the foot’ quote? Well, the ending of The Dark Knight is clearly intended to set up a sequel… but what will that sequel be about? Christopher Nolan has taken great pains to make sure that his Batman universe is ultra-realistic; for example, he stripped Ra’s Al Ghul of his mystic powers, and made the Batman somewhat ineffectual at reducing crime (as depicted at the beginning of Knight). All this has made for two great movies… but where does he go from here? The Joker obviously can’t return because of Ledger’s death, and I doubt audiences would have a high tolerance for another movie full of the Joker’s nihilistic ramblings. A Two-Face movie? Perhaps, but I doubt there’s enough mileage in the villian for a whole film. A friend of mine suggested a ‘police chasing Batman’ movie, but both he and I agreed that would be pretty boring.

So, how about a new villian? The problem is, most of Batman’s villians don’t fit too well with the tone Nolan has set for his films. Any superpowered villian, such as Clayface or Bane, wouldn’t fit well with Nolan’s ultra-realism. Catwoman is too playful and sexy for Nolan’s dark, brooding tone. Perhaps the Riddler? His focus on elaborate and often ridiculous traps makes that unlikely. Two-bit villians like Mr. Freeze, the Clock King and Calendar Man are just too cheesy. In other words, Nolan lacks a good villian for the next film.

Of course, you can completely forget about bringing Robin or Batgirl into the fold. Both of those characters are too peppy and perky to exist in Nolan’s universe. After all, if Bats had a sidekick, that would seriously cut into his brooding time. The same goes for a World’s Finest (i.e. Superman/Batman) crossover. Watch Superman Returns and The Dark Knight back to back, and you’ll discover they have incompatible pacing and tones. In other words, Bats has to stay a loner if Nolan wants to make more films with the same tone as The Dark Knight.

I would love to see a Batman movie with the Riddler, Clayface or Catwoman. However, I don’t believe that such a movie can be made in the current film series. Nolan’s Batman universe is too dark, gritty and realistic to portray these villians. Sure, the first two movies were great… but do we really need another one? Wouldn’t we be better off with a reboot with a lighter tone, similar to Spider-man or Iron Man? I think so. Nolan has made two enjoyable movies, but I don’t think his franchise should continue. He should quit while he’s ahead, and hand the reins of the franchise to a new director before we’re forced to sit through a mediocre ‘police chasing Batman’ movie. I suggest starting off the new franchise with Clayface… a unique villian that could be portrayed as a tragic character (ala Doc Ock), as well as present the opportunity for some awesome action sequences and special effects. As for the future of Nolan’s franchise, that’s up to the studio.

My rant is finished. Please feel free to disagree with me in the comment thread. Coming up next: we’ll see what’s been hiding in that brown box. 😉

28
Jun
08

Trapped Between Evil and Darkness

Movie Review: Pitch Black

In normal times, evil would be fought by good; but in times like these… well, it should be fought by another kind of evil. –Aereon Oracle

The following review contains spoilers.

If you were to judge Pitch Black, the first movie in the Chronicles of Riddick series, solely by its posters and advertising, it would come across as just another science-fiction horror flick. However, Pitch Black is so much more than that. Instead of using its alien creatures only for thrills and chills, Pitch Black uses them as a backdrop for a more intimate story involving the best… and worst… aspects of humanity. Unlike your typical ‘monsters in space’ movie, the plot does not revolve around the alien menace, but instead around the human characters and their struggle to survive on an inhospitable world, The best way to classify Pitch Black is as a science-fiction/horror/action adventure that ends up as a morality play.  It is a great film with stunning visuals, frightening creatures and engaging action, and is well worth watching.

Pitch Black has no hero. Instead, the main character is the antihero Richard B. Riddick (Vin Diesel), a convict and murderer. Riddick, who is on his way to prison, is being transported along with 40 other passengers, along the ‘ghost lanes’ of space in a cargo craft. When a trip through the meteoroid-rich tail of a comet damages the ship, it winds up crash-landing on the surface of a forbidding desert world. The 11 survivors (besides Riddick) soon learn that the planet experiences constant daylight as a result of being lit by 3 suns.

Claudia Black wishes she had some sunglasses.

Because of a shortage of manual laborers, the survivors decide to enlist the help of Riddick. However, Riddick’s nature as a cold-blooded killer soon leads to unease and dissension. The survivors discover an abandoned human settlement, with the settlers mysteriously missing. They also find a swarm of flying, bat-like carnivores that cling to the darkness, as well as larger versions that inhabit a tunnel system under the surface. The existence of these creatures seems paradoxical, since light kills them. However, the survivors soon discover that, every 22 years, the planet undergoes a lengthy total solar eclipse, plunging it into darkness and allowing the flying monsters to roam freely. The next solar eclipse is (surprise!) about to begin.

Encroaching eclipse.

Riddick is soon forced to become the survivors’ unlikely defender as the nocturnal predators begin picking them off. As he fights, he begins to question his values, realizing that he is more than just a killer. I won’t spoil the ending, but I will say Riddick has an epiphany and ends up a changed man.

From the spectacular opening shot (see the first image above) to the ambiguous finale, Pitch Black is a thoroughly enjoyable movie. Although it initially appears to follow the typical monster movie clichés, this is only superficial as the story takes some unexpected turns. Pitch Black is undoubtedly an action movie, but is set against a horror backdrop, and mixes these two elements rather well. Even though the majority of the survivors (i.e. meat shields) don’t receive much character development, the five key players (Riddick, interstellar cop Johns, holy man Imam, pilot Fry and young Jack) are well-rounded out and developed. The main protagonist, Riddick, starts off as a textbook jackass, but soon becomes a likable (if rough around the edges) antihero. Plus, as any action movie fan will tell you, Vin Diesel is awesome.

The nocturnal predators (identified in promotional material as ‘bioraptors’) are well-designed and frightening. Like the Alien movies of old, director David Twohy takes a ‘less is more’ approach to his creatures. Instead of massive swarms of flying monstrosities, he opts to show us darkness, accented with thousands of shrieks. This, along with a few well-placed shots of the creatures themselves, gives the audience the impression that the survivors are surrounded by thousands of bioraptors… and the only thing keeping them safe is their lights. When the creatures are shown clearly, however, they don’t disappoint. In fact, after seeing a horrifying flying bony mass of teeth and claws, its all the more intimidating knowing that thousands of them are lurking just beyond the scope of the your vision, waiting to devour you. Darkness is scary enough without teeming swarms of bloodthirsty monsters in it.

As far as scientific accuracy is concerned, Pitch Black isn’t hard science fiction. It includes obvious fantastical elements (such as the bioraptors or Riddick’s superhuman abilities). In fact, the existence of predators on an otherwise lifeless planet who can only move freely only once every 22 years is highly illogical. However, this can be overlooked if you consider the movie to be fantasy set in an era of high technology. The sequel to Pitch Black, called The Chronicles of Riddick, makes this even more apparent as it introduces more fantasy-themed elements into Riddick’s world.

Overall, Pitch Black is a highly enjoyable and fun action movie with meaningful moral depth to it. Although it won’t win any awards, it is still worth watching, especially if you are a fan of Vin Diesel, action, or science fiction. It gets 8 out of 10 Xore points.

–Up next: I’ll review Unbreakable, an M. Night Shyamalan movie.

All Images Copyright © 2006 Universal Studios. Used without permission.

25
Jun
08

Japan’s Energy-Guzzling Toilets

Image Copyright © 2001 Hugo Haas, <hugo@larve.net>

Although Japan is one of the world’s most energy conscious nations, they seem to be having energy-use problems with electricity-guzzling luxury toilets. Apparently, luxury toilets are all the rage in Japan. Common features of these wondrous water-closets include heated seats, self-raising lids, built-in fans, automatic bottom-washing and music to drown out those nasty toilet noises. These toilets are enormous energy wasters, accounting for 4% of Japan’s total energy consumption. The average Japanese toilet uses more electricity than a dishwasher or clothes dryer.

This problem is so serious that the Japanese government formed an Electric Toilet Seats Evaluation Standard Subcommittee. Now there’s something for a politician to put on their resume! Anyway, for anyone who’s interested, the full report can be found (in English) in this PDF. Toilet manufacturers are acting fast to increase the energy-efficiency of their lavish lavatories, and the government is encouraging citizens to form energy-saving toilet habits, such as keeping toilet lids down to prevent the heated seats from becoming cold.

I guess the moral to all this is that we all have to make our sacrifices for the cause of global sustainability. We Americans have to give up our coal plants and gas-guzzling SUVs… and Japan has to give up its heated toilet seats. For Mother Earth!

23
Jun
08

Fuzzy Photo Time…

After months of procrastination, I finally uploaded a profile pic of myself to facebook. I figured I’d post it here as well, for the benefit of my thousands of faithful readers. HAH! Who am I kidding? Nobody reads this thing…

Anyhoo, here I am in all my digital photo glory.

You can stop screaming now. It’s not like I’m THAT ugly. >_>

I blame the crappiness of this photo entirely on Dusty’s digital camera. Forget my total lack of photographic experience, it’s ALL the camera’s fault. I swear, that thing has it in for me. Anyhoo, that’s it for now.

18
Jun
08

Best. Rant. Ever.

John Scalzi vs. Fox News

Man, that guy is brilliant. There is hope for the sci-fi genre yet!

18
Jun
08

Moeagare Gundamu!

First of all, concerning my review on Orphanage… when I sat down to write the review, I discovered my memory of the book wasn’t fresh enough to write anything meaningful. I’m going to have to reread it… so expect the review in about a week or so.

I recently learned that Nyoron Fansubs was subbing the original Mobile Suit Gundam, Yoshiyuki Tomino’s 1979 military sci-fi series that was responsible for establishing the Real Robot genre (which Macross/Robotech later expanded upon). Since I’m a huge fan of the original Gundam universe, I decided to watch it. I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw.

For such an old series, the animation in Gundam is surprisingly good. It does look a little dated, but it is far superior to the American animation being produced at that time, and is even better than some later Japanese series (1982’s Macross or the first season of Sailor Moon in 1992). Despite being dated, the giant robot designs are still just as impressive as they were thirty years ago… especially Zeon’s mainstay unit, the MS-05 Zaku II.

The Zaku is my favorite mobile suit from the original series. It’s design embodies the concept of the Real Robot genre… the idea that the giant robot should be treated as a realistic machine; something that runs out of ammo and breaks down. The Real Robot is manufactured and used by military forces, and is not unique or ultra-powerful like the Super Robots that came before Gundam (such as Gigantor or Mazinger Z). Gundam is the first series that brought realism to the Giant Robot genre.

Gundam is also known as being extraordinarily scientifically accurate… to the point of being the most scientifically accurate Gundam series to date. Of course, there is some degree of inherent scientific inaccuracy concerning giant robots fighting in space… but virtually everything in Gundam has a plausible (if somewhat technobabble-filled) explanations for everything from how giant robots maneuver in space to how energy weapons work. In order to explain much of its technology, Gundam uses a theoretical particle called the ‘Minosvsky particle’. Unlike other ‘magic technologies’ (i.e. Star Wars‘ hypermatter, Star Trek’s dilithium or Stargate’s naquadah), the Minovsky particle actually has a well-thought-out scientific explation behind it. I won’t go into details here, but you can read all about it on Wikipedia’s article on Minovsky Physics. The various Gundam series tend to accuratly follow the laws of Minovsky physics.

This reflects an interesting way of writing science fiction. Although it is neccesarry to include unrealistic and scientifically impossible elements in almost every science fiction story, an author should carefully define a set of physics that fits his narrative needs, then follow those physics precisely. This will help to reinforce the reader’s suspension of disbelief. To what degree the author explains his physics in the story is up to the individual author; athough providing a more detailed explanation leads to a greater sense of authenticity, it is inevitable that someone will spot a scientific flaw in your work if its too detailed. Overall, I think Gundam finds a good solution to this problem… Minovsky physics are explained in just enough detail to drive the narrative in the show itself, and more detailed information on it is available in enthusiast material such as the MS Encyclopedia.

Well, that more or less ends my thoughts on the original Mobile Suit Gundam. Nyoron is promising to release new episodes of it soon (they’re up to episode 10), and they’ll be releasing the new ones with a textless opening. If what I wrote about it intriques you, check it out!