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Monthly Archives: May 2008

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Lost 4×13 – 4×14 There’s No Place Like Home parts 2-3 episode review

In part due to the shortened season brought about by the WGA strike and in greater part because of the chosen focus of the writers, the entire 4th season felt more like an extended two parter season finale left over from season 3 than anything else. That makes Lost 4×13 – 4×14 There’s No Place Like Home somewhat of an extended two parter of an extended two parter. And that means it’s stretched very thin indeed. By the time the extended 3 part There’s No Place Like Home season finale gets around to closing the circle with the season 3 finale, you can’t help but feel like you just sat through a 14 hour season finale over an entire year that barely advances the plot beyond where it was at the end of season 3, as after sitting through the last two hours, we finally get to discover the one interesting thing, who’s in Jeremy Bentham’s coffin.

Lost Season 4 didn’t really run out of steam until halfway through but once the steam was gone, it was really gone, because few stories feel as thin and empty as the ones you know the ending to already. And aside from the details, once we knew who got off the island, the only question that remained was How and except to Victorian detectives, How isn’t nearly as interesting as What. At least not when it comes to storytelling. And so There’s No Place Like Home offers few surprises, except the pleasant surprise of Desmond’s reunion with Penny and the not too surprising surprise of the body in Bentham’s coffin. In between we get mounds of exposition and the characters in crisis mode, something that can’t hold very much suspense.

After all why fret over whether Jin makes it to the chopper or not as he runs in slow motion through the Kahana’s corridors. After all we know he doesn’t. Why worry over whether the six will get rescued and whether they’ll survive. We know they do and will. Without the story, all we’ve got left is fussing over the bits and pieces of clues, marveling when Ben opens the exotic matter hatch and the island vanishes, even if we saw it coming for at least two to three weeks now.

Surprisingly by now the classic Losties have all but worn out their welcome. It’s the moments involving the newer characters, Miles eating peanuts, Lapidus chucking the driftwood overboard, Desmond and Penny hugging, that hold your attention more than the usual antics from Jack, Sawyer and Kate. Too much of it has been done and it feels like we’ve been watching this episode for a year now. It’s a relief for it to be over for a year and let’s hope that we can be done with flashforwards and get back to anticipating the future instead of living it.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull movie review

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull movie posterTwenty-seven years ago Indiana Jones first arrived on the screen in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Since then he’s made three sequels and been subject to endless novelizations, games and parodies. We’ve gotten to know Indy pretty well over this last generation, well enough to recognize Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull for what it is, a pastiche of the first three movies mixed together with heaps of nostalgia and George Lucas’ own derivative brand of mythology and alternative archeology.

When Indiana Jones makes his appearance after 19 years in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, it’s clear that he’s gotten a lot older and softer, but it’s also clear that George Lucas and Steven Spielberg have gotten a lot older and softer too. Like its lead, its director and its visionary, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull still has some energy, but it’s bloated, slow and guilty of repeating itself.

The adventurous hero is gone replaced by a tired old man, a former government agent who worries about his job, defends his war record and clings nervously to the back of Shia LeBeouf’s motorcycle. A silly character who flails panicked in the swamp at the thought of grabbing onto a snake until Shia LeBeouf calms his fears by telling him it’s a rope. Lucas and Spielberg leave in just enough heroics for us to recognize the old Indiana Jones, but it’s a disappointed recognition like meeting a favorite uncle only to realize that he’s grown senile and can barely go to the bathroom on his own.

Much of the blame goes to George Lucas, the man behind the rewrite of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, who doesn’t spare Indiana Jones from the same ravages he inflicted on Star Wars. Not only is the old Indiana Jones gone but he’s virtually a supporting character in his own movie which teams him up with Shia LeBeouf as his bratty long lost son, Mutt Williams, Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood, Ray Winstone as Mac and finally John Hurt as a mentally challenged Professor Oxley who speaks in riddles. Indiana Jones always had his sidekicks but in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, it’s more like he’s another member of the Indy gang, which is exactly what Lucas likely intended.

Where Raiders of the Lost Ark and Temple of Doom began in foreign locales, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull begins in exotic Nevada and then heads off to an even more exotic Ivy League college campus. Over a third of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull goes by before Indiana Jones even leaves American soil. Once he does there’s a single plane trip and then it’s a generic South American locale, complete with generic tribesmen with painted faces. Indiana Jones movies were always journey movies, but even that is lost as Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull focuses its attention on two sprawling complexes, the Area 51 complex and the lost city and the area around it. There’s no real adventure because there’s hardly any room for adventure.

So what’s left? Steven Spielberg seemed terribly worried that spoilers would leak out to the audience, but every single plot twist and revelation in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull can be easily seen coming. Is there anyone in the audience who really doesn’t know well beforehand that Mutt Williams will turn out to be Indiana Jones’ son. Or that Mac is really working for the Russians even when he pretends not to be. Or that the crystal skulls belong to aliens or even that the pyramid will likely be a spaceship or that in the tradition of Indiana Jones villains, Irina Spalko will get exactly what she wants and it will destroy her. But Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’s script is too determined to spoil it for you in case you can’t figure it out for yourself by actually having Indiana Jones come right out and tell her that early on in the movie.

Where the classic Indiana Jones films had the edge of the politically incorrect serials combined with the best scares, twists and action scenes that Spielberg could pull off, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is safely toned down and kid friendly. The creatures that pop up in the movie, from monkeys to red ants to a giant snake are safely CGI and look as unreal as anything in the Mummy films. To make Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull fully family friendly, Lucas and Spielberg even make sure that there’s a family on screen having actual adventures. It’s as if Terminator got remade by the director of Lassie.

By the time Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull ends with an on screen wedding and Indiana Jones and Mutt Williams tussling for his signature hat, a not too subtle symbolic suggestion that Shia LeBeouf will be the star of the Indiana Jones movies pretty soon, it’s clear that while Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull isn’t quite another Phantom Menace, it’s so watered down and weak that it barely connects not only as an action movie or an adventure, but as anything beyond a diffuse nostalgia trip and a merchandising opportunity. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is Indiana Jones on life support, not so much because Harrison Ford got old, but because George Lucas and Steven Spielberg did, and seeing it reminds us that while Indiana Jones is still capable of cracking the whip, the men who made the gutsy movies and created the modern blockbuster are the ones who have lost their edge.

War Inc, Postal and Zombie Strippers – When Satire Stops Being Satire

Generally it’s pretty safe to say that when Uwe Boll is directing it and Jenna Jamieson is starring in it, it isn’t satire anymore, just exploitation. The problem with calling a project satire is that satire is supposed to be edgy or at the very least it’s supposed to cut against some sort of common consensus and by the time Uwe Boll is making it, it’s safe to say that it’s no longer edgy and that the only consensus it’s cutting against is the one that says Uwe Boll should really stop making movies for good.

Right now John Cusack is going around marketing War Inc, which like most of the anti-war satires released has all the appeal of a dead fish. Worse yet War Inc has a more than passing resemblance to American Dreamz or maybe a version of American Dreamz overlaid across Syriana. American Dreamz was the most high profile attempt to sell anti-war satire to the American public and it flopped. Unsurprisingly. Did it fail because the public disagreed or because no one cared or because no one goes to movies to be lectured at, except people who want that lecturing to be from more high toned sources than the guy who made The Golden Compass.

The latter is probably closest to the mark. But really it’s simply that the consensus is there that Bush is a bad President and that the war is a disaster. There isn’t a whole lot of interest in revisiting the idea at eight fifty a pop plus ethanol overpriced medium popcorn. Besides the idea by now is way past cutting edge, it’s passe. So passe that War Inc is not fundamentally superior to Postal or Zombie Strippers, it’s simply blander than they are.

New York State’s June 1 Deadline for the Amazon.com Tax

For those New Yorkers who prefer to order online instead of shopping at slimy local retailers or big box chains, the price of buying online is about to get higher, thanks to hooker patronizing ex-governor Elliot Spitzer and current blind junkie governor David Patterson. The responses to Spitzer’s phony Amazon.com tax have run the gamut from resistance to outright surrender. Newegg.com certainly broke the record for giving in as soon as possible and passing the cost on to their customers. Which way the pebble rolls will be clear on June 1st when you either will be paying more taxes to the corrupt politicians in Albany via your favorite e-commerce site or you won’t.

Overstock.com and Byrd, who I’m not a fan of by any means, are actually doing the right thing by jettisoning their New York State affiliates rather than raise prices for their customers. Patrick Byrd actually had a surprisingly rational response to the whole thing, which might stem from his libertarian contrarian politics.

Amazon.com, which basically inspired the tax, is taking a two pronged approach, fighting it in court while charging its customers sales tax. Obviously it would be a lot harder for Amazon.com, which has built up an extensive network of affiliates to jettison its New York affiliates the way Overstock.com has. Newegg.com though has really given a disappointing response in a form letter which repeatedly mentions how great their customer service is.

Joss Whedon Fans Officially Jump the Shark

Dollhouse

To wit, this campaign to Save Dollhouse or promote it before the show even aired a single episode. The problem is no one involved has seen a single episode, all we have is a trailer with its odd La Femme Nikita meets Alias vibe. Trying to save a show before it’s endangered is bad enough, trying to save a show before you even know if it’s any good or not, is the real problem and suggests the people doing it are in need of a seriously major reality check.

Hey I’ll be the first to admit that Joss Whedon is a talented guy, that said Dollhouse is not exactly getting me all excited, kudos to those who can feel the buzz, but promoting a show purely based on its creator is the kind of ridiculous fanboy silliness that insures you won’t get taken seriously. If you become a fan of something just because of its creator, rather than on its own merits, you lose all your credibility. And that’s exactly what’s happening here.

No one can seriously deny that Joss Whedon has had his hits and misses. Dollhouse may be another miss, though hopefully it will be a hit. The time to get behind the show will be after the first episode airs and you see it and fall in love with it. Not based on a brief trailer and the mere word that Joss Whedon is bringing another series to air. That would be as silly as jumping on board the now canceled Moonlight because David Greenwalt of Angel was briefly involved or the new 90210 because Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas was behind it. A wait and see attitude is the only sane, credible and intelligent response to a new series. Any new series, no matter its pedigree.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’s Blatant CGI

For anyone who has already seen Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, the glaring CGI was one of the movie’s negatives and one of the things that seriously diminished the suspense level and the excitement of the movie. Which is why it’s bizarre that Cnet is running a piece boasting about how innocuous and unnoticeable the CGI is. I mean the only thing that ILM didn’t do here was include the dramatic look gopher from College Humor but they came as close to it as they could.

The biggest Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull CGI problems involved the CGI creatures. From groundhogs to red army ants to the snake and most glaringly to the monkeys that Shia swings with in the trees, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull’s creatures look very out of step with the photography. What that means for the audience is the scenes that would freaked you out in Temple of Doom really don’t register here. The ants devouring the Russian colonel produce a shrug, because it all looks fake.

The cliff and waterfall scenes don’t register nearly as well as they did back in Temple of Doom either. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull uses few models and a lot of CGI and no matter how good it gets, CGI still feels unreal to the eye.

From a technological standpoint, that meant some challenges in seamlessly matching the computer-generated images (CGIs) to the older film style–lens scratches and all. In that vein, the computer animation couldn’t be “in your face,” and if ILM did its job, viewers will hardly notice the 45 minutes of CGI in the film, Landis said. Interestingly, about 300 people worked in-house on CGI for Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, the same number of people who worked on the film’s set, Landis said.

Except it is very much in your face and that 300 number is exactly the problem. As movies turn more CGI, the suspense is replaced by a mental shrug as you look at some more elaborate effects.

ILM also created a new software tool for the film called Fracture, which allows the special effects team to “destroy” (i.e. blow up) huge “set pieces,” (i.e. buildings), Landis said. These are things that were never possible before CGI, he added, because of health risks or other constraints.

Except none of it really counted for much. We saw the blasts at the warehouse and inside the temple and they’re big yes, they’re also overwhelming and confusing and really don’t achieve the kind of connection that a single bullet shot in Indy’s direction does.

May 24th Box Office Roundup

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull made its strong expected debut with 106 million dollars. Not bad and certainly record breaking, but it likely could have done better, especially since it barely exceeded Iron Man’s debut, despite being a franchise with a major star and opening on a major weekend. Next week will more clearly show if Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull has legs or if audience dissatisfaction will kick in soon. Expect a review of the movie soon.

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian falls to 2nd with a fairly weak 23 million for a 91 million total, demonstrating that Prince Caspian will be underperforming compared to The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe which scored 31 million for its second weekend.

In its 4th week, Iron Man is still doing decent business with 20 million passing 250 million at the box office. In an unaccountable bit of counterprogramming, What Happens in Vegas is still around with 9 million in 4th place for a 54 million dollar total.

Speed Racer continues flaming out in 5th place with 5 million for a 36 million dollar total. With only 24 million in foreign box office, Speed Racer is really set to hurt the big WB as so far only Mexico and South Korea seem to have gotten into the movie, not that the last is a huge surprise.

Battlestar Galactica 4×09 Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner episode review

The racial metaphor that underlies the title of Guess What’s Coming to Dinner? would seem as if it might have some kind of meaning beyond the obvious joke, but like a lot of things in Battlestar Galactica 4×09 Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, it never quite does. We begin with more unnecessary suspense as the Demetrius is separated from the rebel Cylon base ship leading to a few nervous moments as Galactica prepares to fire on the Battlestar until it’s aborted by Tigh who apparently has a connection with Anders and the other Final Five.

Battlestar Galactica s4e09 Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner is the first BSG episode this season that seemingly gets back to the original premise of Cylons and humans in space and a large scale alliance to take on the resurrection hub that is the source of the Cylon ability to regenerate. Battlestar Galactica 4×09 Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner though is more about the visions which have now spread to Kara, Athena, Six, President Roslyn and include Baltar in them too. Meanwhile the ridiculous waste of time that is the Fleet’s government undergoes another crisis, led by Apollo, who’s currently being more annoying than ever. Roslyn’s vision quest takes her to the Battlestar while the visions, Hera’s drawings and fear of losing Hera drive Athena to shoot the Six. By the end of the episode as the Hybrid is brought online and the Base ship jumps, things are appropriately all Frakked up and another episode has been wasted.

And so another episode is expended on vague visions, on psychotic dysfunctional behavior by the regular cast, on a mixed bag of plotting and scheming and of course we can’t fail to mention Felix Geada singing after his leg has been amputated for a not insignificant portion of the episode. All in all this is a pretty good demonstration of why the post-Season 3 BSG has been losing audience quite badly. This sort of storytelling may shore up the soap opera demographic for BSG but it really makes you regret the waste of it all and wonder what a relaunched Battlestar Galactica that was genuinely focused on the story, instead of on having different characters lose their mind every week might be like.

You Are Going to Hell for a 1000 Years

According to the Spiritual Science Research Foundation anyway.

Joining in this campaign is the Spiritual Science Research Foundation, whose editor Sean Clarke has outlined the spiritual consequence for being associated in the movie. Based on an afterlife demerit point system, those involved with making the movie can anticipate residence in the second region of hell for 1,000 years. Watching it for entertainment would carry its share of consequences, too.

I’m not sure a thousand years of hell is a good description of The Love Guru. Despite Mike Myers relying on Mini Me again for his best gags, it’s probably not quite that bad. That doesn’t mean it’s much good either but Mike Myers makes few movies and they generally don’t suck the way say Dane Cook or Chris Klein or Judd Apatow produced movies do.

The bigger issue though seems to be that we’re reaching the absurd stage where Hollywood simply won’t be able to make a movie about anyone except white people. And even though the Love Guru is very clearly about a white guy who grew up in India rather than a native, it’s producing insane protests and demands that it be changed because it’s offensive. As opposed to say the Bollywood depictions of Americans.

On the bright side the Love Guru people are only being threatened with a 1000 years in the second region of hell, not with being blown up and that is one of those things you don’t have to take too seriously unless you believe some guy named Sean Clarke is an expert on the afterlife.

Gigi Sohn Gets it Wrong on Orphan Works

As Cory Doctorow at BoingBoing continues promoting Howard Berman’s Orphan Works Act (note that he never actually mentions the Berman, after all making common cause with the guy who pretty much thinks the government should be able to Gitmo filesharers doesn’t look so good) despite the fact that the comments section is running 10 to 1 against him. So of course he drags out Gigi Sohn again, trying to respond to Lawrence Lessig’s New York Times piece. Lessig takes the middle ground on Orphan Works but Gigi Sohn continues to hug the far right of promoting Howard Berman’s Orphan Works Act of 2008.

To summarize her position, Gigi Sohn tries to argue is to pass legislation in which the rights of artists depend on vague language like Diligent and Reasonable, which she’s opposed to actually defining but wants the courts to define. And by courts I mean the lawyers for the corporations and businesses that will be sued by artists and will do their best to ensure the artists get squat.

If the normally big-content friendly Copyright Office (or even worse, Congress) were to define precisely what is a diligent effort, it is likely to be one which would require the type of resources only the big companies have (they want to use orphan works, though few of their works are orphaned). Libraries, museums and small filmmakers are comfortable leaving the ultimate judgment to a court in the very unlikely event the owner of a work reappears and rather than negotiate a license fee, chooses to sue the user.

Yes let’s move it on from the Copyright Office which is big content friendly to the court system which is the friend of the little guy. How does this work in practice? Companies get to define Diligent for themselves. Basically they can dispense with the search altogether. In the unlikely event an artist notices he’s been ripped off, THEY CAN PAY HIM THE EXACT AMOUNT THEY SHOULD HAVE PAID HIM IN THE FIRST PLACE. It’s a win win situation with no penalty. Companies can rip off artists and pay out only if they get caught. Steal 250 pieces. If 10 artists comes forward, you still got 240 pieces for free.

If the artist tries to sue you, good luck, because you’ve got the lawyers and they can define Diligent any way they want. And it gets even “better” for artists.

Second, nothing in the legislation is unfair to copyright holders. The purpose of the legislation is to match users with copyright holders and get the latter paid.

No Gigi, if that was the case it would be called the Match Artists with Buyers Act of 2008.

If a copyright holder reappears after a user has done a diligent search, then the copyright holder is entitled to reasonable compensation.

Great, reasonable compensation. Now what exactly is reasonable? Let me guess, it’s what the company that stole the work thinks is reasonable. Fantastic.

To show just how fair this is, let me break into your house, steal your TV and then do a “diligent” search to find out whose TV it is. When my 5 second diligent search fails, I keep the TV. Then if you find me, I offer you a “reasonable” compensation for a used TV and if you like you can sue me in court. Oh did I mention I have an entire law firm on retainer?

Fair to artists, my ass.

This is compensation that the copyright holder would likely never have obtained without orphan works relief, because the user would not have risked paying the huge damages provided by copyright law.

This is compensation for a stolen TV you would have never received because otherwise I would have never stolen it. Isn’t that nice?

No it doesn’t work that way. If you want to use someone’s work, you contract with them and pay them first. You do not use someone’s work and then when they show up, pawn them off with “reasonable” compensation and expect them to be grateful because since their work got stolen, they got a few dollars in compensation out of it. That is legalizing and legitimizing theft.

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