Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Homefront

I will freely admit that I am a Jason Statham fan. I’ve seen nearly all his films (even the direct to video ones) regardless of the quality. Yeah, most are poop. Some are decent. Rarely do I find one that is absolutely rad (Death Race, Safe, Transporter 2, Snatch). His newest endeavor, Homefront, falls into the middle category.

Retired DEA agent Phil Broker (Jason Statham) moves to a rural Louisiana town with his young daughter (Izabela Vidovic) for some peace and quiet. Due to a series of misunderstandings he becomes the target of a deranged meth cook (James Franco) who has alerted a few of the criminals Broker put away to his current location.
Let me get this out of the way first, Statham can actually act. He proved it with his outstanding performances in The Bank Job and Safe and he continues to show off that he has what it takes to play serous roles instead of just generic action oriented ones. I really liked him in Homefront despite the fact that at the twenty minute mark he seemed to give up on his American accent and reverted back to his usual British brogue. And of course when it comes time to whoop some ass he always delivers. His chemistry with Izabela Vidovic, who plays his daughter Maddy, is tops and I totally believed that they were father and daughter. If he can continue to hone his dramatic skills I can someday see him moving away from action films and into some more dramatic fare.

I also liked James Franco’s very low key performance as meth cook Gator. I usually cannot stand the guy (except in 127 Hours, Pineapple Express and This is the End), and I was expecting him to go completely bat shit crazy over the top with this part. Surprisingly he did the exact opposite in giving Gator a sort of slow burn intensity that really came off as creepy and frightening since you never knew what angle he was going to come from. You could see the gears turning in his head, and I thought that was pretty cool and made him out to be a very scary and unpredictable villain.
The rest of the cast is so-so. I have never liked Kate Bosworth (IMO she is the absolute worst Lois Lane EVER in Superman Returns) and apparently neither do casting agents. I haven’t seen her in anything of note for years (ever see The Warrior’s Way?), and for her to turn up in as a redneck meth addict in a Statham movie pretty much shows how desperate for a part she really was. She looks like a meth head, but didn’t convince me she was one. Winona Ryder pretty much slums it here and collects a paycheck as Gator’s on/off girlfriend. Her eyes looked like they were going to pop out of her head most of the time, so maybe she went method for this part. All I know is that she stunk. Clancy Brown looks bored as the town sheriff and the rest of the townsfolk do as well. I did enjoy Omar Benson Miller as Teedo. He’s naturalistic and I actually gave a shit about his character when the shit went down in the end.

The script by none other than Sylvester Stallone (based on a book by Chuck Logan) is decent. It has all the right ingredients for a good action drama and delivers on all the promises it makes early on. My problem is that I don’t like films where it’s about stupid and ignorant people doing stupid and ignorant things for its entire length. The redneck characters are annoying and completely unlikable even after they sort of change their attitudes toward the main character. Sure Gator remains a douchehammer for the whole film, but most of the others are supposed to come off as bound by some immature and outdated sense of family pride that really rode my nerves. If I was supposed to come to like these asshats by the end of the movie I have to say that it was a failed mission. Completely.
Director Gary Fleder (Kiss the Girls, Impostor, Don’t Say a Word, Runaway Jury) keeps things on the DL for the most part. It’s a low key film without any flash or crazy camera tricks. It’s as straightforward as they come and I assume he didn’t want this to turn into a parody as he made it. If it even remotely went into cheese territory it would lose the audience completely and I was happy that he went in that direction. He also keeps the action (when there is any) in wide shots so we can see what’s going on. He isn’t completely successful with his actors, but at least they didn’t suck. They were just underwhelming.

One aspect I really enjoyed was that we are shown the effect the actions the parents have on their children. We get a good sense that the inciting incident, Maddy being bullied in the schoolyard and fighting back, was taken a bit too seriously and leads to some horrible events of retaliation that not only effects Maddy when people come to kill her and her father, but the boy who initially bullied her as well when his family shows their complete disdain for any form of human decency. The shot of the bully listening to his meth head mother arguing with Gator on their front porch and realizing that all of this drama and violence was caused by his one moment of acting like an asshole on the playground makes for my favorite moment of the film.
In the end Homefront is a decent flick. It has what you expect from a Statham film (martial arts/action) and what you expect from something Stallone has written (‘Murica!). It doesn’t’ mix all that well in some cases, but you could definitely do a lot worse than this entertaining waste of 90 minutes. I recommend it, but only if you have a very high tolerance for f-bombs. I swear, there were at least three dropped every minute.

2.5 out of 5

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

As I’ve started many, many times before in past reviews – I do not bring baggage with me when I see a film based on a novel, comic book or video game that I like. If I want the book, I’ll read the damned book. I want the movie to work on its own without needing to have prior knowledge of the property as well as being the best movie that it can possibly be. Anyone that feels the need to constantly compare the original property to the film version should just stay home and shut up. But that’s just me.

So here we are with the sequel to The Hunger Games, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Yes, I have read the book and enjoyed it to an extent. I did feel it was the weakest book in the series because, to be completely honest, it’s simply a rehash of the first novel with some minor tweaks to the formula. Not surprisingly I feel the movie follows suit.
Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), victors of the 74th Hunger Games, are under the impression that they are out of harm’s way. That turns out to not be the case when tributes for the 75th Hunger Games, known as the Quarter Quell, will be drawn from past winners. As talk of a rebellion begins to spread throughout the Districts Katniss and Peeta must once again fight for their lives.

I will admit, new series director Francis Lawrence (Constantine, I Am Legend) does a much better job of bringing the world described by Susanne Collins to life than previous director Gary Ross. Gone is the annoying shaky/floaty cam nonsense and the shots now linger a little longer to allow the audience to soak in all the details. His sense of style is also a better fit, especially during the action scenes which are much more logically shot and edited so that they make sense.
Acting is quite stellar across the board. Of course Jennifer Lawrence is phenomenal as Katniss. She is turning into one of the premiere actors of her generation and she makes this character insanely likable even though she isn’t written that way. Josh Hutcherson is also great as Peeta, giving his character a slow burn romance angle that you can always see bubbling beneath the surface. As always Liam Hemsworth gets the short end of the stick yet again as Gale. His character is barely in the film, but he definitely makes his presence known. The same goes for Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks and especially Lenny Kravitz as Cinna. His big scene at the halfway point broke my heart as much as it did when I read it over a year ago.

The newcomers to the thespian fold are all extremely well cast. I especially liked Jenna Malone as the fiery Johanna and Philip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch Havensbee. Sam Clafin’s Finnick Odair didn’t quite work for me since I never bought into his shtick. It was nice to see some familiar faces in the tributes, such as Daniel Bernhardt (The Matrix Reloaded, Mortal Kombat: Conquest) and Alan Ritchson (Blue Mountain State).
The story is also paced more evenly thanks to screenwriters Simon Beaufoy and Michael Arndt. It never gets too boring during the dramatic moments and never goes over the top during the action beats. The problem isn’t with anything they did. They actually managed to stay extremely close to the book which will make the eyes of the fans roll back as they blow their collective loads. The problem is with the source material.

Like I said earlier, this flick (and the book before it) is a simple retread of the original and nothing more. Another movie, another Hunger Games and regardless of who is involved in it this time and the circumstances surrounding it the fact remains that it’s yet another Hunger Games. Been there, done that. Nothing new could have been thought up by Collins for her follow-up? I would have preferred to see the beginnings of the rebellion from the point of view of Katniss living her life of pseudo-luxury in District 12 while dealing with the repercussions of her big lie than another Hunger Games. But no, the story goes the easy route and repeats itself.
And to make matters worse the film is set up in a similar style to The Matrix Reloaded in that it’s set up as the middle film in a trilogy in the same way. Even the final shot is exactly the same. And the film just ends. We get a big revelation and BAM! End credits. Lame. I want some fucking closure, not another cliffhanger! It’s a practice that Hollywood has been employing for a number of years now to set up franchises, but we all know there is yet another book to be adapted so the need for a cliffhanger is completely unnecessary.

In the end I was as let down by this movie as I was the book. I’m not comparing, I’m just stating a fact. I’m not saying the movie is a disaster or anything. I’m just saying that it could have been much more than a rehash of itself, and that is more disappointing to me than any other aspect of the film. Not that any of those other aspects are actually complaint worthy. In fact this is a better made movie than the first by leaps and bounds. The story is just missing something...

Creativity.

3 out of 5

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Lexx 4.0: Giga Shadow

So here we are at the final film in the Lexx series before it was picked up for a full series. Giga Shadow is just as strange as its predecessors (!) and yet introduces some new ideas that would eventually carry over into the show.

With Kai’s (Michael McManus) protoblood running out and Zev’s (Eva Habermann) libido going into overdrive, the crew of the Lexx make the decision to return to The Cluster in order to get the supplies they need to survive. What they find is the Giga Shadow, a gigantic insect with the essence of His Divine Shadow, ready to devour the universe.
Okay, so this supposedly epic finale just so happens to be the weirdest film of the bunch. It’s also slightly disappointing with how silly it ends up getting with the introduction of Squish, Kai’s pet cluster lizard that is obviously a hand puppet and the goofy way the Giga Shadow is taken out by it at the end. This one also ditches the crew of the Lexx a few times to focus on the turncoat cleric Yottskry, played by special guest Malcolm McDowell, and his quest to stop the Giga Shadow from being born and his accidental participation in its rebirth. Whenever the film moves over to Yottskry it screeches to halt and becomes so damned boring that I wanted to turn it off and make myself a sandwich. There are a lot of awkward tonal shifts as well with the plot going from a dark horror thriller to a full out slapstick comedy at the drop of a hat.

The acting this time around is a mixed bag. The major cast members all do their best to sell the craziness going on around them, but unfortunately a lot of the time they fail miserably. Habermann is especially awful here. She looks like she is through with this series and would rather be anywhere else, which turned out to be true since she left the show two episodes into the second season. Michael McManus’s Kai is made out to be the comic relief this time due to his relationship with Squish. It’s sad since he’s the most interesting character of the bunch and has been reduced to kissing a worm puppet as if he were its mother. Brian Downey is good as usual regardless of the strange places his character is taken over the course of this flick.
I did and still do find it immensely amusing to watch Malcolm McDowell in this film. He alternately looks dead serious and completely confused for the entire runtime. I’ve seen in interviews that he said he was baffled by the script and thought it was the strangest thing he’d ever read up to that point. It shows in his performance, which I think is very unintentionally funny in a good way. At least it looks like he’s trying to make sense of what’s going on and sell his character, but making that happen is just out of arm’s reach.

The biggest mistake made by the filmmakers is the inclusion of the characters of Smoor and Feppo, played by Andy Jones and Michael Habeck. They are so annoying and were obviously added into the mix to pad the runtime and give Stan something to do other than look constipated on the bridge of the Lexx. The whole molestation sub-plot is lame and unnecessary; serving as yet another overtly sexual idea the writers thought would be interesting but ends up being nothing more than an unnecessary distraction.
Director Robert Sigl attempts to keep the flick moving at a brisk pace, but more often than not it collapses under its own weight. Writers Jeffrey Hirschfield, Paul Donovan and Lex Gigeroff pile too many sub-plots into their script to the point that things become muddled and mildly confusing. They rush to the epic conclusion with little regard for the audience’s ability to keep up. While I like the visual panache on display at times and the quirky sense of humor, this one just goes for broke and tries to be too many things at once.

While I don’t find this final film in the series to be nearly as enjoyable as the first two (I Worship His Shadow, Super Nova), it’s definitely head and shoulders above the nearly unwatchable third film (Eating Pattern). It’s the middle ground one that serves to basically set up the ideas behind the full season of episodes that followed and attempt to wrap up the His Divine Shadow plot from the first film.

Giga Shadow is watchable, but it’s a mixed bag that doesn’t always work. But hey, it’s still Lexx.

2.5 out of 5

Friday, November 22, 2013

Lexx 3.0: Eating Pattern

When Super Nova ended Giggerota the Wicked had died, Kai’s homeworld of Brunnis was destroyed by a supernova and he was no closer to finding a way to re-animate himself.

In the third film of the Lexx saga, Eating Pattern, Lexx informs the crew that he is hungry and needs to eat in order to continue on their journey. Running out of food themselves, the crew lands on a nearby garbage planet so everyone can get when they need. Instead they find the indigenous inhabitants, led by the oddball Bog (Rutger Hauer), who are addicted to a substance called “Pattern” that feeds a parasitic organism they all are host to. The crew of the Lexx discovers that the drug is made from human body parts and that they are next in line as donors.
After two interesting and fun films in this miniseries I have to say that Eating Pattern is one of the most boring and directionless movies I’ve ever seen. There is no point to any of the events at all, it’s confusing and straight up dumb. Plot points are repeated ad nauseum and the story is so drawn out that it’s basically a joke. Whenever I attempt to watch this flick it takes me multiple tries to get through it because it’s so slow and dull that I keep falling asleep. The last time I played it it took me three days to do so. That’s pretty sad.

Have you ever seen an episode of a television show that is uncharacteristically simple and streamlined compared to all the others? The episode of Star Trek: Enterprise called “Shuttlepod One” comes to mind. I read that the budget for the first season was being burned up too quickly, so the writers came up with an episode that wouldn’t require much money to produce. It took place mainly in a small shuttlepod set with two actors and that’s all. That’s what Eating Pattern reminds me of. The filmmakers were attempting to save money for the big finale in the next film and had to compromise. This shit sandwich is the end result.
The worst part is that there is absolutely no further development of the characters. The last two features excelled in that aspect, but here it is stopped dead in its tracks. Basically all the main players are reduced to idiots in order to allow the stupid developments of the plot to play out. Stanley is inhabited by a parasite early on and goes “full retard”, Kai runs out of protoblood and dies in the opening so he is missing for the majority of the run time and Zev is turned into a damsel in distress. Only when Kai is reanimated near the 2/3 mark do things slightly pick up, but not by much.

The main issue that plagues this film is that the focus switches from the main characters to Rutger Hauer’s Bog once he’s introduced. I normally wouldn’t have a problem with that, but because Bog is such an idiotic, bumbling and useless character he drags everything down to the deepest depths of ineptitude. He shares a lot of screentime with Doreen Jacobi’s Wist, who ends up being the cause of the parasitic invasion. She is bland and unengaging, thus compounding the problems exponentially.
Visually this chapter is ugly and unappealing in the extreme. I know that’s intentional since the setting is a garbage planet, but it’s overwhelmingly cliché. It looks like every other garbage planet featured in numerous other sci-fi flicks (Soldier in particular). When the big finale goes down the special effects take a turn for the worse as well with a supersized Wist attacking the Lexx. It’s reminiscent of a Godzilla movie for a few fleeting seconds, but then things get dumb again.

The acting is pretty bad all around. Even the main players seem to be on autopilot due to the horrid script. Watching Rutger Hauer with an odd ponytail and wearing lipstick making a complete fool of himself is amusing at first, but he eventually begins to grate on the nerves and becomes annoying beyond belief.
I really can’t say anything overly positive about Eating Pattern. There are glimpses of what made the previous two films unique and entertaining, but on the whole this is nothing more but a filler episode stretched to bursting point. It’s nearly unwatchable.

0.5 out of 5

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Lexx 2.0: Super Nova

At the end of I Worship His Shadow the crew of the Lexx, Stanley (Brian Downey), Zev (Eva Habermann), Kai (Michael McManus) and 790 (Jeffrey Hirschfield), had defeated His Divine Shadow and escaped into The Dark Zone to look for a new home.

In the second of the four made-for-cable Lexx features, titled Super Nova, Kai informs the others that he is running out of protoblood, the substance that keeps him reanimated, and he will die (again) without it. The crew seeks out Kai’s home world, Brunnis, hoping to find a way to bring him back to life permanently. They find the planet abandoned and on the brink of being destroyed by a nearby sun that threatens to go supernova if not kept in check by technology left behind by the Brunnen-G. The only remaining entity is the hologram Poet Man (Tim Curry) and he has sinister plans for his unexpected visitors.
This follow-up is not as psychotically paced as its predecessor, nor is it chock full of non-stop exposition. This one settles back and takes its time to further develop the central characters, especially Kai. We learn more about his people, the Brunnen-G, who we only saw briefly in the opening scene of I Worship His Shadow. We find out they were a race of warrior poets who loved to fight as much as sing and dance. They're like Klingons, but with beehive hairdos instead of forehead ridges. His Divine Shadow wiped them out to prevent the prophecy about a lone Brunnen-G ending his reign which came to pass in the last film.

We also get to spend more time with my favorite character from these films – Giggerota the Wicked, played with so much devilish glee by Ellen Dubin. She strikes a deal with His Divine Predecessors to steal the Lexx for them, and in return they will lead her to, and I quote, “The Planet of the Milk-Fed Boys”. Due to her insatiable hunger she takes a bite of everything she sees, going so far as to attempt to eat 790 (“Pail head will tell Giggerota, or Giggerota will eat CANNED food!”), one of the Moth shuttles (“Shut up, flying meat!”) and one of His Divine Predecessors, which are disembodied brains (“Ugh! Too salty!”). Her character cracks me up and is a hell of a lot of fun due to some great writing and Dubin’s awesome performance. It saddened me that this was the last time we would see Giggerota, at least in this incarnation anyway.
The regular cast are great as always for the most part, Downey and McManus being the best of the bunch. Everyone has a wonderful chemistry together, but I have to say that Eva Habermann stands out as looking a little lost for the entire film. I have a sneaking suspicion that she was hired for her looks more than her acting abilities because she doesn’t seem to be able to say her lines without an odd grin on her face, almost like she’s embarrassed to be reciting them aloud. I really like the character, but as I watched these films again I kind of wished they cast someone else in the part. Once again 790 steals the show when he insults Stanley or recites a dirty limerick to Zev (“Oh, universe of heartbreak!”).

Guest star Tim Curry looks like he’s having a blast playing the enigma-like Poet Man. At first he acts like a Brunnis tour guide, but as the story moves forward his intentions become clear. He’s is pissed he was left behind due to him being passed out drunk during the evacuation. He died hundreds of years ago leaving behind a holographic representation of himself just in case anyone ever came back. His hologram went a little batty over the years and now he wants to repopulate the planet with his own seed; at one point he tries to inseminate poor Stanley. He also tricks the others into taking part in the “Burst of Light”, which requires them to be sawed in half vertically and their memories stored on disc in a library. His character is funny and kind of creepy at the same time, his agenda not making a whole lot of sense since he’s a hologram. I will admit it was amusing seeing the look on Stan’s face when he realizes Poet Man wants to jam a sperm filed hypodermic needle into his taint. Curry is one of those actors who can make even the most ridiculous line sound like Shakespeare, and he shows off that talent for pretty much the entire runtime (“Mystery?! Ha! Life is the sweetest misery!”).
The design of Brunnis is interesting as they were a technologically advanced race that used insects as flying vessels. Sure some of the interiors are simple and cheap looking, but the exteriors where the CGI runs rampant look quite cool. On the flip side, the more we see of Lexx’s inner working the more perverted they get. Case in point: the penis shaped shower nozzle that spews all over a naked Zev. Some of these designs amuse me and others baffle me. This one made me chuckle like a little kid watching his first porno.

Unfortunately the pacing is once again a big problem. There doesn’t appear to be enough story to fill out the runtime of the film so we are constantly treated to overlong scenes that drag on and on, sometimes with repetitive visuals. Case in point is when Kai is to be sawed in half for the “Burst of Light”. It takes FOREVER for that damned saw to even make it to him, let alone when he’s actually being cut open. That whole sequence feels like its five minutes long when it should have been a minute tops. There are whole scenes like that just to pad the runtime.
On the whole Super Nova is a fun follow up to I Worship His Shadow that advances the characters and gives further insight into the universe they live in. It’s a bizarre place, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t find it interesting in the extreme. The writers really came up with some cool ideas and situations regardless if they were pulled off well or not. This one is another winner.

4 out of 5

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Lexx 1.0: I Worship His Shadow

“In the light universe, I have been darkness. Perhaps in the dark zone I will be light.” - Kai

I am a science fiction nut. Hard core. Geektastic even (hence the name of this blog)! I am willing to watch anything in this genre no matter how shitty it may look due to my intense love for it. I truly adore “science fiction” over “sci-fi”, but I don’t discriminate all that much since we usually get more of the latter than the former nowadays (Looper and Prometheus being the recent formers). But what I really look for in my science fiction is when a completely new approach is taken and something unique is the result. This is why I cannot express how much I hold a treasure like Lexx so dear to my heart.

Lexx started out as a series of four 2-hour made-for-cable movies by a joint Canadian/German filmmaking venture. It was also very ambitious due to the fact that over 60% of all the visuals were to be computer generated images. This was in 1997 mind you, a full two years before Star Wars- Episode I: The Phantom Menace would revolutionize the way films were made in this manner, so that alone was pretty impressive at the time. I never had the chance to see these movies when they first aired, but when they were released on DVD I checked them out and have cherished (most of) them ever since. These four movies now serve as the first season of the show’s four season run once The Sci-Fi Channel picked up the rights to produce a weekly series. Since I recently revisited the original films I will be reviewing each feature individually.
The first film, titled I Worship His Shadow, introduces the main players and the odd universe they inhabit. Stanley H. Tweedle (Brian Downey) is a security guard on The Cluster, the central planet in the League of 20,000 Planets, where His Divine Shadow, a nearly immortal tyrant, rules all with an iron fist. When the trial of the revolutionary leader Thoden (Barry Bostwick) goes horribly awry Stanley inadvertently becomes the commander of the Lexx, His Divine Shadow’s most powerful starship, during a jailbreak. He teams up with a love slave, Zev Bellringer (Eva Habermann), the undead assassin Kai (Michael McManus) and the disembodied robot head 790 (Jeffrey Hirschfield) to escape The Cluster into The Dark Zone, an alternate universe of chaos, and away from His Divine Shadow’s influence forever.

Yeah, it’s a lot to take in and this premiere film is chock full of non-stop exposition and backstory of all the central characters and the setting. The people behind the series, Paul Donovan, (the late) Lex Gigeroff and Jeffrey Hirschfield, really put a lot of effort into fully realizing this surreal universe and the series benefits greatly from it. Everything feels lived in, thought out and practical in the strangest way possible. Everything is also extremely oversexualized. There’s a lot of nudity from both genders, everything is designed with either a phallic or vaginal look and some characters are always horny without a care for what gender they bang, one being a necropheliac. For some it’s overwhelming (I know a few people who I’ve tried to show this series to that couldn’t get into it for these reasons) and for others it’s just the kick in the pants the genre needed to move into fresh new territory.
The story is just batshit insane. It takes a little while to get used to all the craziness being thrown at you, but once you get into the groove of things it becomes a total blast. There are some of the most creative and atypical ideas on display here that I have ever seen. From the insect ship designs to the dark and inhumane governing of the general populace, it’s all different and a welcome change-up.

Sure the idea of a living spaceship isn’t new (Farscape and Star Trek did it numerous times), but the fact that it’s a giant spacefaring insect that needs to stay fed to work properly is a masterstroke. The Lexx is even a character itself and talks to the crew on occasion (voiced by Tom Gallant).

The protein bank idea is gruesome, but inventive as well. This universe’s version of small claims court finds the defendant strapped to a slab and tried by a virtual judge. When found guilty, and everyone always is, the defendant is cut to pieces in order to feed the Lexx.
A staple of popular entertainment is the villain, and we all know that a cool villain is always key to this genre. His Divine Shadow unfortunately is not very threatening, deity or not. It’s a dude (Lex Gigeroff) in a hooded robe and a deep voice (provided by Walter Borden) who talks a lot of shit, is obsessed with insects and not much else. If he didn’t have a giant world ending armada and a stable of undead assassins he would not be much of a menace. The one interesting thing about the character is that he is able to transfer his consciousness into a new body once his current one becomes too worn down, and the brain of the previous host is removed and kept alive for reference purposes. These brains are called His Divine Predecessors and are stored on the Lexx.

The characters are interesting and are severely emotionally damaged. Each has issues of their own to deal with, and while they are all tragic stories they are also extremely entertaining once they combine forces and become a bizarre family unit. Each actor brings something unique to their part and breathes life into their off-the-wall character. Brian Downey goes for a sort of sleazy sad-sack angle for Stanley, and given that he’s the main character this was a bold choice. There are times where he is completely unlikable and others where you can’t help but root for the poor guy who just can’t seem to catch a break. Eva Habermann, while not being a native English speaker (she’s German), manages to make Zev sexy as hell even though she seems overly preoccupied with getting it on with a corpse. She’s not the greatest actress in the world, but she’s easy on the eyes and her character is fun. Michael McManus plays the undead Kai with a Vulcan-like stoicism and a dry wit. He’s the voice of reason within the crew, who are all very impulsive and reckless. Once he realizes he is the one prophesized to eliminate His Divine Shadow and regains all his erased memories he begins to develop a caring personality which is mildly fascinating. We only get to see Jeffrey Hirschfield’s mouth on 790’s faceplate screen, but his voice is one made for comedy. He is the comic relief character who constantly spouts dirty limericks to profess his undying love for Zev and he gets all the best lines (Zev – “What kind of robot are you?”, 790 – “I’m a robot who wants to live in your underpants.”). There’s also the secondary character of Giggerota the Wicked played brilliantly by Ellen Dubin. She is probably my favorite character in this first feature (she returns in the second as well) due to her completely over-the-top performance as the lusty busty cannibal stowaway aboard the Lexx. Her costume is pretty rad too. Barry Bostwick hams it up something fierce as Thoden. His screen time is severely limited and thankfully so; the less time I had to watch him running around in golden plum smugglers the better.
I must also commend Marty Simon’s score. It’s some weird electronic techno orchestral fusion that has a unique sound that perfectly compliments the on-screen action. I actually own the soundtrack for these films and the following series. Good stuff!

Not all is super awesome in Lexx land however. The visuals are severely dated by today’s standards. Virtually all the CGI looks like a first generation Playstation game and the greenscreen work is atrocious. It does grow on you and gives the film a certain low budget charm. Don’t forget, at the time this was made this was groundbreaking stuff. All the sets are pretty sparse and cheap, especially the bridge of the Lexx which looks like a lot of cloth stretched over rebar frames.
The pacing is erratic in the extreme. There are sections where the plot is racing along and the next it is as slow as a snail with nothing of note happening at all and is just series of useless repetitive visuals that do nothing to advance the story. Some better editing would have been welcome.

The direction is also all over the place. I’m sure that the project was overwhelming for Paul Donovan, I know I would have been, but it’s as if he only has two ways of directing his actors: chew the scenery until there is nothing left or to pretend they’re sleepwalking. I will admit that it does eventually mix into a nice balance, but for this premiere feature it can be a little overwhelming.
And lastly… there is some moldy ass cheese floating through the script. I am talking cornball city. Some of the dialogue is wretched (“My life means nothing in the great equation. Beauty such as yours must live on.”), events are dumb beyond belief (Thoden has a robotic dragonfly bomb hidden up his nose) and villains are eliminated so easily it made me wonder why it took centuries for anyone to attempt it sooner.

Sure these things are some major issues, but the creativity and brass balls on display here override the negatives in my book. This is a daring and altogether brave new venture for the world of science fiction. It is filled with interesting ideas, perverse pleasures and everything in between. In 1997 and even today there was and still is nothing quite like it. I am a lifelong fan and I recommend that everyone watch this premiere telefilm at least once.

4 out of 5

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

"The Bone Triangle (Unspeakable Things: Book Two)" by B.V. Larson

When we last saw Quentin Draith he had temporarily saved the world from an impending alien invasion from another dimension, he had a great girl at his side and was newly rich. Things were looking up for the amnesiac rogue. That is until he receives a cryptic warning from an old acquaintance and becomes involved in a mystery involving multiple deaths in a neighborhood in Vegas known as The Bone Triangle.

Picking up a couple of months after the first book in this series ended, we are quickly thrown back into the dangerous and interesting world that Draith inhabits. With all the set-up already out of the way, author B.V. Larson jumps right into the story and throws a number of obstacles his way to keep audiences guessing and on the edge of their seats.

I’m not going to go into a whole lot of detail about “The Bone Triangle” so that those of you that have not read the first book in the “Unspeakable Things” series, “Technomancer”, aren’t punched in the face by multiple spoilers, so this will be a relatively short review.

While Larson dives into the mystery surrounding Draith’s memory loss in full as well as expands the world and the overall story arc for the series, he does take a minor step backwards in terms of the plot in the title of the novel. I do enjoy the world in which this series takes place, the standalone story in “The Bone Triangle” is quite lame and not all that gripping when compared to “Technomancer”. Essentially this is a big gooey monster story, and not a very good one at that. The creature that can rip through to our dimension to periodically to eat people isn’t all that fun when compared to the Gray Men from the first novel, and some of the new characters introduced here aren’t even remotely likable.

While I do like the power of the artifact the new love interest, Jacqueline Swanson, holds (a candy cane that makes you invisible and can blind you if you use it for too long), she is as boring and one dimensional as sidekicks come. I mean seriously, her motivation for using the candy cane – stealing shoes. Lots and lots of shoes. Wow. Just wow. And she just wants to fuck. A lot.

New Domain Lord, Gutter Jim, lives in the sewers and can teleport in and out of them at will. Basically he’s just there to help move the story along and provide exposition whenever needed. I‘m not as fond of him as I am of the Rostok character who makes a return appearance here. He’s more interesting this time around since his pet lava slug Ezzie has left him and he’s desperate to have her found. We see his vulnerable side, well, as vulnerable as one can get when he’s always covered in darkness.

I do like the twists the story takes in the final third, which I will not ruin here for those interested in reading the eBook. It came out of nowhere and gave some already established characters added depth and a new angle. There are also more clues dropped in regards to the impending alien invasion and how it all ties into Draith’s lost past.

But the main issue I had with “Technomancer” rears its ugly head here as well, and that’s Larson’s horrible dialogue and the way his characters talk. No one speaks in this ultra-formal style he seems to think they do, and it grates on the nerves something fierce. I can understand a couple of the more uptight characters doing so, but not everyone, including a dude that lives in a sewer. It’s an annoying writing style Larson has chosen and I hope he can move past it in future novels.

Like I said, Larson excels when he’s world building and expanding the mythology of the series. His problems lie in finding a decent story for the main characters to participate in to link it all up properly and the way they interact with one another. While I did enjoy this book I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as the previous one. Still, “The Bone Triangle” is definitely worth a read.

3 out of 5

Monday, November 11, 2013

Thor: The Dark World

Out of all the first wave of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films, the one I expected to like the least was Thor. As a comic book character he always seemed kind of one note and boring to me, don’t ask me why. How interesting can a god be? Not enough to convince me to buy any of the graphic novels that’s for damned sure.

Well, when I saw the flick I changed my tune completely. Not only was Thor a great character, his world was unique, fun and very Shakespearean. And holy crap was the movie hilarious to boot! It definitely made instant stars of Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston as Thor and Loki respectfully, and helped to solidify the direction of the films as they led up to The Avengers. I was sold (and I picked up a few trade paperbacks too!)

And now we have the sequel I’ve been waiting patiently for for the past two years – Thor: The Dark World.
An ancient villain, the dark elf Malekith (Christopher Eccleston), has returned to Asgard to reclaim a deadly weapon that will allow him to cover all the realms in a never-ending darkness, the Aether. When Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is infected by the Aether, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) must find a way to cure her before Malekith tracks her down. To do this he enlists the help of his traitorous brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston).

With all the character and world building out of the way, Thor: The Dark World gets to the point almost immediately. We are quickly brought up to speed on the history of Malekith and the Aether, and we see Thor beating the everloving crap out of a bunch of villains attempting to conquer one of the realms due to the Bifröst being destroyed in the first film, thus limiting the travel of the Asgardians. It’s fun and fast paced. Some of the humor has been toned down a bit in the process, but I didn’t mind.
Once the story really gets rolling with Jane being infested by the Aether we see all the major players from the previous film return in grand fashion. Not only does Frigga, played by Rene Russo, get more screentime and a chance to whoop some ass, but we also see more of Heimdall (Idris Elba) and Darcy (Kat Dennings). Each person serves a purpose in the story and there are very few wasted moments.

The acting is top notch here, but I did feel that Thor seemed a little less interesting here than in the previous film. Now that we know he is a do-gooder and not some arrogant asshat he seems to have lost a bit of the edge he had in the previous film, but Hemsworth still plays him with a certain amount of bravado and earnestness that keeps him appealing. Natalie Portman still seems slightly out of place in these films (as she did in the Star Wars prequels), but she comes out unscathed. Everyone turns in a fantastic performance, especially Tom Hiddleston as the untrustworthy Loki. His enthusiasm and love of the character shines through every time he’s on screen. He was perfectly cast back in the day and without him these films wouldn’t be half as entertaining as they are.
I do think that Christopher Eccleston as Malekith was a bit of a letdown. He isn’t all that interesting and his motives basically boil down to “I’m evil, that’s why”. Sure it’s cool that he learned a new language for his part, and the make-up he wears is kind of rad. He just comes off as a generic villain, but I blame that on the writing.

You can definitely tell that there were a lot of cooks in the kitchen when it comes to the script. There were no less than 5 writers - Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely, Don Payne (who died back in March), Robert Rodat and some uncredited tweaking by Joss Whedon, and it shows at times with some murky motivations of the characters and a lot of missed opportunities, most notably the implicated love triangle of Thor, Jane and Sif. But the script feels as if it’s a natural extension of the original film, and that’s a very good thing. And they managed to sneak in a few surprises along the way that I definitely didn’t see coming. They definitely amped up the comedy during the last half and I was thankful because the humor in the original was one of the aspects I liked the most.
The direction by Alan Taylor (Game of Thrones) isn’t especially flashy like Kenneth Branagh’s in the original, but he knows exactly what to capture on film to tell the story visually and have it make sense. He certainly knows his way around action and vast battle scenes. He tends to trip up during the dramatic moments, especially Thor’s entrance when he returns to Earth for the first time. But damn if he doesn’t keep things moving at a brisk pace so that I never was bored once.

I have to give special props to the designers of the dark elf technology. I loved the look of their ships, especially those sword shaped shuttles that would zip in and out of tight spaces and constantly change their orientation depending on the situation. They not lonely looked cool, but did a lot of rad shit during the Asgard invasion at the midpoint of the film.
When the movie ended I had a big smile on my face. I had a blast with Thor: The Dark World and hope that we will get a third film during Phase 3. These characters deserves at least 3 or 4 more sequels of their own. And it looks like we may just get that with the way this film ended. So cool. Thankfully these flicks are very self-contained while dropping in a few nods toward the overall universe they take place in. If they were just big commercials for the next Avengers flick I don’t think I’d enjoy them as much as I do.

Bring on Captain America: The Winter Soldier!

3.5 out of 5

P.S. I shouldn't have to tell you to stay through the end credits. There are not one, but TWO extra scenes. One sets up Guardians of the Galaxy!!!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

iSteve

I may own an iMac, but I’m definitely not on the Apple bandwagon. Overpriced, overcomplicated and sometimes infuriating business practices keep me from buying an iPhone or an iPad. The only reason I have an iMac is because I am a filmmaker and I needed something to edit my projects on since PCs usually suck ass in that regard. But whatever, they have a cult-like following and there’s nothing I can say that will stop that from being so. However, they aren’t immune from being satirized.

That’s where Funny or Die comes in. This past April they released their first feature length film online, iSteve, which is a very fictionalized unauthorized biography of the late Steve Jobs.
iSteve follows the adventures of young visionary programmer Steve Jobs (Justin Long) and his protégé Steve Wozniak (Jorge Garcia), founders of the Apple computer company.

The story is told with the tried and true cliché of flashbacks, with Justin Long playing an older Steve Jobs telling the audience his life story as if it were a keynote presentation. I really enjoyed that part of the storytelling, as it played up to the public image of the man as we all remember him. Unfortunately most everything else is a hackneyed mess.
Just like the company this is making fun of, I was not completely sold on this film from the start. It looks extremely cheap and as if it was produced in the space of a week. Actually it resembles a feature length sketch that would be feature on the Funny or Die website; a sketch that was stretched well beyond what would constitute something watchable. If it were a 45 minute short film I think it would have worked better. Instead it’s a marginally funny comedy that outstays its welcome long before the end credits roll.

I do think that Justin Long (Galaxy Quest, Drag Me To Hell, Jeepers Creepers) is fantastic as Steve Jobs. This guy is a natural comedic actor and proves it whenever the material he’s working with here goes off the rails or becomes mundane. The fact that he was in all those Mac vs. PC commercials makes his involvement all the funnier. Jorge Garcia (Lost) is funny as well as the clingy Wozniak. He doesn’t have much to do other than stand in the corner and look longingly at the lead, but he makes the most of the screentime he’s given. Michaela Watkins (Trophy Wife) gets a few moments of pure comedy gold as well.
The acting isn’t the problem with iSteve. It’s the stinker script and boring direction by Ryan Perez, a vet of many Funny or Die videos. He seems to think the material he came up with is absolutely hilarious when in reality it’s only kinda sorta funny. Sure there is some good stuff here, like an awesome meta moment when Jobs sees Jeepers Creepers on TV and proclaims that he must have Justin Long be the face of the company. Outside of that there are nothing but odd montages, painfully unfunny stretches of nothing and awkward internet style humor (the kind of stuff that’s funny for about 10 seconds). He has no real style and didn’t attempt to broaden his visuals for the bigger budget. Like I said earlier, this looks extremely cheap and thrown together, and the script feels the same.

What was the point of that scene where Jobs turns out to be a robot? I didn’t find it funny, only a distraction because it felt like padding to make the movie a minute or so longer. The whole movie is like that. It’s sad because this could have been a wildly entertaining film if someone else were behind it.
The script does touch on all the major moments of Jobs’ life, from making the first Apple computer in his garage to being ousted from the company by greedy shareholders to his mammoth comeback as the visionary we all know him as today. Some of it works, some doesn’t. Some parts are played for laughs and some are treated too seriously for a movie being advertised as a straight up comedy.

I have to bring up the fact that the make-up used on Justin Long to portray the older Steve Jobs is a disaster. He looks like a drag king.

I’m told that this is a better movie than the Ashton Kutcher starring Jobs, which came out earlier this year. Once I saw that Kutcher was in that one I steered clear. This is good as an alternative choice to that, but even then it’s not all that good itself. It’s worth a watch on Netflix streaming, which is how I watched it. But I’ll never watch it again.

2 out of 5

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Star Trek: Attack Wing

I’m a big time gamer. Video games aside I am a board/card game fan. I’ve tried out and realized, after spending way too much money on Magic: The Gathering and the recently abandoned World of Warcraft CCR, that I’m not that big into that type of card game. However, put a copy of Epic Spell Wars of the Battle Wizards: Duel at Mt. Skullzfyre or Munchkin in front of me and I’m good to go.

One genre I’m definitely not into is the miniatures tabletop game. You know, like Warhammer 40K, Space Hulk or Malifaux. I don’t mind Hero Clix, but the aforementioned examples are way too expensive to be a feasible source of entertainment. I mean, seriously. You have to spend hundreds of dollars to put an army together to even begin playing the game, and I’m not made of money (I also don’t have the patience to paint them).
So when Fantasy Flight Games, makers of such card based gems as Elder Sign, Call of Cthulhu, A Game of Thrones and Netrunner, released a miniatures game based on Star Wars, the collective gamer community went apeshit for it. I recall the Fantasy Flight booth selling out of their stock of core sets and certain expansion packs each day at GenCon 2012 where it debuted. The miniatures were pre-painted in detail, the rules seemed simple enough and the expansions weren’t super expensive (although the Millennium Falcon is upwards of $50 in some outlets). Still, I wasn’t interested. Not only do I have a middling interest in Star Wars to begin with, but I wasn’t going to start a new habit when I own so many games already (I have yet to play Last Night on Earth… and I purchased it in 2007!).

And then WizKids Games decided to release a similar miniatures game that appealed to my own geeky sensibilities – Star Trek: Attack Wing. I resisted at first, but after watching a few demonstrations on YouTube and playing a demo at a friend’s house I was hooked. Sold ‘Murican as it were! What applied to the Star Wars game does here as well and it was extremely entertaining. So needless to say I ended up purchasing the entire first wave of expansions (including the Deep Space Nine scenario package given to retailers for competition events).
Here are my thoughts on the game:

Star Trek: Attack Wing is a lot of fun. The rules, while taking about 30 minutes to get used to, aren’t overly complicated and aren’t bogged down in needless details. There are four factions (currently): The Federation, the Klingons, the Romulans and the Dominion. Basically you have 100 points allotted to each player to form their fleet. Each ship has a point value and every crew member, weapon and special ability does as well. You have to combine these to fill out a ship’s compliment, hopefully being thrifty enough with the points to be able to squeeze two or three ships into your fleet that are stocked to the gills with what you need to make it a formidable battleship. Once that’s done each player sets up their miniatures on the playing field, usually a 3x3 foot area of table. Each player takes turns moving their ships according to the maneuvers each is able to perform. Once in range of an opponent’s ship the battle begins through dice rolling. Ships can attack, dodge, cloak, absorb damage with their shields, return fire and more depending on the abilities of each ship and the assigned crew.

I’ve played the Star Wars: X-Wing version of this game, and that is basically all Pew! Pew! shoot first and ask questions later type of game. Attack Wing is virtually the same, but the addition of crew members and abilities give the battles more strategy and a naval battle type of feel. This approach makes sense since Star Trek has always been about the Navy in outer space. Games are paced well and aren’t over too soon, and since some ships have the ability to fire from their aft you need to constantly be on your toes as to where you're being attacked from. This is a nice touch because the opposite was the issue I had with X-Wing; ships are always flying in circles just trying to face an opponent because their firing arcs are always at the fore.
If Star Trek : Attack Wing has one issue it’s the variety of ships currently available. There’s three Federation ships (Enterprise-D, TOS Enterprise and the Reliant), three Romulans (Warbird, Valdore and a scout), three Klingons (Vor'Cha Class, I.K.S. Gr'oth and I.K.S. Negh'var) and only two Dominion (a Cardassian and a Breen ship). The third Dominion ship is a Ferengi cruiser, but you have to win an official competition to get that one (or buy it online at an exorbitant price). I was hoping for a more varied selection of vessels to start off with to pique the interest of not only the Trekkers, but casual gamers as well. I mean, how can you not have a Klingon Bird of Prey as one of the first wave of expansions?! Or a Borg Cube?! Seriously!

Another goof is that some of the ships have the exact same abilities as the others in their faction. For instance, the Romulan Warbird has an ability card that allows for a massive photon torpedo spread (you get to roll more attack dice than normal), and the Valdore has the exact same card. WizKids couldn’t come up with something different and exclusive for the Valdore? Basically it makes the Romulan fleet overly powerful since they can always inflict more damage than the other factions.
Plus, from what I've seen of the upcoming expansion waves I am disappointed by WizKids' reusing of the same molds with a different paint job. For example, the first expansion wave featured a classic style Klingon ship (just like the ones seen at the beginning of Star Trek: The Motion Picture). The second wave has the exact same ship, just colored differently, has a new name and a couple of new cards. WTF?! And from what I've seen of future waves the same problem applies to them as well. When you have nearly 40+ years of starship designs to choose from you decide to just reuse the same molds over and over again? Get with it WizKids. This is lunacy and an embarrassing cost cutting move on your part.

Anyway, I digress. This is a phenomenally fun game that I can’t recommend enough. Even people who aren’t big gamers can find some enjoyment in this pleasant little diversion. Sure there are some balance issues and standard problems that plague an expansion heavy game like this, but outside of that it’s a winner. Check it out!

4 out of 5

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Sexy Evil Genius

Lately I’ve been watching a lot of two types of movies – found footage horror flicks and ones that are set up like stage plays. I don’t have a preference to either all that much, both have their high and low points as well as their merits and detractors.

Based on the current crop I’ve viewed I’m going to give the advantage to the stage play variety. Character oriented, all plot and no flash. Simple is better.

Unless you’re Sexy Evil Genius.
A group of three strangers (Seth Green, Harold Perrineau and Michelle Trachtenberg) converge at a bar to reunite with an ex-lover (Katee Sackhoff) they all have in common that has just been released from prison for murdering her last boyfriend.

This movie wishes that it was Albino Alligator or even Reservoir Dogs and it fails miserably. It all takes place in one location (a blues bar) and features a small cast that do nothing but argue amongst themselves for ninety minutes. It certainly fits the profile of a stage play style film, but the writing is weak and the performances are uneven, sometimes going into high cheese territory.
I normally like all the actors that were cast here. Seth Green (It, the Austin Powers trilogy, Robot Chicken) is a smart and extremely funny actor. The filmmakers try to tap into that occasionally and most of the time it doesn’t work. He also isn’t the best dramatic actor out there. Michelle Trachtenberg (Harriet the Spy, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) can be a little grating on the nerves depending on what project she’s in, but here she’s pretty subdued and not all that interesting. The only angle her character was given to set her apart from the others is that she’s bi-sexual. Harold Perrineau (The Matrix Reloaded/Revolutions, Lost, Romeo + Juliet) is the most capable of the bunch, but here he’s bland and looks uninterested, a first from him as far as I can remember. Katee Sackhoff (Battlestar Galactica, Riddick, Halloween: Resurrection) is always a toss-up. Everyone knows in Battlestar Galactica she was more than a little amazing, and proved to fans of the original show that she was the best Starbuck ever. But when she sucks, she sucks hard, just check out Halloween: Resurrection. Her performance here is more of the latter. She seems manic and as if she’s trying way too hard to light up the room with her faux aloofness. It doesn’t work and I felt bad for her. The less said about William Baldwin the better.

Although I will admit that it is hardly their fault...
Writer Scott Lew (The Dead Zone) comes from television scripting and it shows. Everything has a sitcom type of feel to it regardless of the fact that this is supposed to be a drama/thriller. His characters are written a little too broadly with not enough depth to separate each from the other and the twists and turns the story takes are predictable and kind of dumb.

Even though the script was weak, a decent director could have interpreted it in such a way to make it at least halfway interesting and entertaining. Unfortunately that person is not Shawn Piller. He comes from The Dead Zone as well, which explains Anthony Michael Hall’s brief appearance as Sackhoff’s murdered boyfriend. The problem is that this is treated as if it were a television movie. I don’t mean an HBO one, I’m talking Lifetime. It looks generic and is filmed about as flatly as you can possibly get. It is also so damned darkly lit that I had a hard time seeing what was going on at times. Twists that should have been shocking come off as silly and the performances he coaxes out of his thespians are pretty bad as I mentioned before. He needs to go back to television with his pal Lew.
One thing I did appreciate is the inclusion of the band My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult. They were always a favorite of mine from the 90s and it was nice to see them get some love after all these years.

If you are looking for a smart, classy and fun indie film featuring some recognizable faces… look elsewhere. Sexy Evil Genius is as vapid as the characters that inhabit it and is a waste of your time. If the only positive thing I can say about a movie is that they play a song by a band that I like you know you’re in for troubled waters.

Sexy Evil Genius? More like Butterfaced Indifferent Dumbass.

1 out of 5