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Monthly Archives: March 2011

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Captain America, Finally a Superhero Trailer that Looks Good

After the unintentionally funny Green Lantern trailer, the Transformers 2 vibe from the Thor trailer, I didn’t have high hopes for the Captain America trailer. But this… this is not bad. Maybe even good.

I wasn’t following reports, but surprisingly this is a classic Captain America set in WW2, not a modern up to date Captain America. The bullied weakling, and all that 40’s ambiance. Joe Johnston hasn’t had a great run, but he’s captured some of the feel of his own great classic, The Rocketeer. This is not the superhero movie you expect Hollywood to make, but it just might be good.

Does the finished product hold together? Who knows. Wolfman was a mess. Captain America’s script comes from the duo writing the Narnia films, which depending on your feelings about those movies may or may not be a good thing. But Johnston has a lock on that classic idealistic movie sincerity, which he’s shown in Rocketeer, October Sky and Jumanji. If he brings that to the table, this may just be a winner.

SyFy Now Just All Ghosts and DaVinci Code All the Time

It’s now a collection of crap indistinguishable from the rest of cable TV.

Let’s start with the most baffling thing here

Culture Shock with Tommy Lee — This one-hour investigative travel show follows Mötley Crüe’s Tommy Lee as he attempts to uncover the various rituals, symbols and other mysteries of secret societies around the world.

No you’re not crazy. This is an actual thing on which a lot of money was spent. Read more.

Tommy Lee will dig into the history behind the secret society, search out its meeting locations and members, and meet with former members to reveal the society’s rituals and deepest secrets.

I could make jokes, but this defies comedy. And sanity. Forget the DaVinci Code, when you have Tommy Lee investigating secret societies.

Legend Quest — Premiering in July — This fast-paced action-adventure series follows Ashley Cowie, a real-life symbologist, as he travels the world in search of some of history’s greatest relics and artifacts, all of which are believed to hold hidden powers and mystical significance for ancient and modern cultures. Each episode will include Indiana Jones-type adventure and Da Vinci Code-style connections as the hidden truths and alternative theories of these mythical objects are explored.

This is the same thing except without Tommy Lee. It’s almost as stupid, but it’s not stupid enough to be entertaining in a Charlie Sheen Assassins Warlocks way.

But isn’t this what the History Channel and Learning Channel used to do before they switched to shows about ice truckers, coal miners and lumberjacks? This is the SyFy channel following after third rate channels and feeding off their excreta.

But SyFy still has ghosts. You can’t take ghosts away from it. If you took the ghosts away, it would just be wrestling, syndicated reruns, monster movies and static.

Haunted Collector (working title) — Premiering in June — Ghosts and spirits inhabit more than just homes and buildings — they can also live in objects. John Zaffis and his family are renowned paranormal investigators, tracking down haunted items like paintings, guns, jewelry and dolls. Once identified, the items are collected and stored in their museum, helping John’s clients bring normalcy back to their lives.

No this isn’t a drama, it’s a reality series. So there’s going to be some idiot walking around and dragging back this crap while people tell stories about it. Ghost Hunters meets Antiques Roadshow. I bet that was even the pitch.

Paranormal Witness — Premiering in September — From Raw TV, the acclaimed creative team behind Locked Up Abroad and Gold Rush Alaska, this tense, filmic and high-octane drama-documentary series brings to life the stories of people who have lived through paranormal experiences that defy explanation

What defies explanation is why take over a Science Fiction channel and fill it with ghost reality shows, when you can just shortcut the process and make a Ghost TV channel. Go on and do it. Rename SyFy to Ghosty or GHST or SPUK or something stupid and we can get this over with.

But no wait, more ghosts

In the Dark — In the Dark follows a misfit group of third tier ghost hunters whose misguided efforts tend to highlight their incompetence rather than any paranormal activity.

This is actually scripted, probably a sitcom. But who needs to see this, when it’s going to be a version of Ghost Hunters that you’re supposed to laugh at. Kind of redundant. Anyone who isn’t mental laughs at Ghost Hunters already.

Monster Man – When Hollywood studios want a bizarre creature, monster prop or out-of-this world alien, they turn to Cleve Hall and his very unique, family business.

So it’s another Face Off. How many more clones can there be? Who cares.

Stunts Unlimited — Stunts Unlimited is an elite and exclusive fraternity of artists committed to a very imaginative, creative, unique and dangerous craft — movie stunts

Right my bad. Can’t wait for the Caterers of the Stars show that goes inside behind the scenes to the exclusive fraternity of movie caterers. Hell’s Kitchen meets Face Off. Also throw in some ghosts. Can’t miss.

Hi Tech Hoaxes — The series where the supernatural, the mythical and the astonishing leave the big screen and step into people’s everyday lives. Each week two teams will go head-to-head to provide a once-in-a-lifetime experience for an unsuspecting pair of people, who are about to have their world turned upside down for a brief, thrilling moment.

So Scare Tactics meets Punk’d. I bet that was the pitch too.

Dinner with Deepak — If you could invite three people to dinner, who would they be? Best selling author and spiritual teacher Dr. Deepak Chopra dines and joins in conversation with some of the greatest minds and creators in the world today.

We’ve reached bottom. That’s it. Nowhere to go now.

Tyler Shields — A docu-series featuring unconventional photographer Tyler Shields and his team as they create worlds that are always surprising, shocking, and totally surreal. This Los Angeles-based artist is one of the most creative and original photographers working today. His subjects are celebrities, actors, models, and everyday people captured in magical, beautiful, and often dangerous situations.

Wait, we’ve gone lower. This is a show about a celebrity photographer in LA. But that’s it. This has to be as bad as it gets.

Jersey Shore Shark Attack — 2012 — While everyone else runs scared, vacationing Jerseyites fend off shark attacks on the shore. A production of ARO Entertainment.

Ah #%*&

Will the last creature still watching the SyFy channel please turn out the lights.

Dragon Age 2 Review

Dragon Age 2 is not only poorer in characters, in story, in its world and its customizability than the original Dragon Age, but it’s even poorer than the expansion, Dragon Age Awakenings. Where Dragon Age Awakenings gave you more to do by taking responsibility for an entire region and making decisions with a real impact, Dragon Age 2 lets you hit buttons over and over again. And over and over again.

dragon ageDragon Age Origins: Ultimate EditionDragon Age Origins: Ultimate Edition [Download]Dragon Age: Origins AwakeningDragon Age: Origins AwakeningEverything that Dragon Age did before it, Dragon Age 2 does less of. Characters? Forget about it. You’re stuck with a generic Hawke and his generic sibling and the generic Aveline you meet along the way. Then you’re gifted with Varric, a bland version of DA’s Oghren, and slightly more interesting characters carried from Dragon Age and its expansion, like Merill, Isabella and Anders. Slightly because even the best characters in Dragon Age 2 still pale before even the weakest ones from Dragon Age.

The story? Don’t even bother. Bioware boasted of an epic tale about the forging of a legend spanning a decade. Don’t believe them. There’s no sense of the passage of time the way there was in Fable. Occasionally NPC’s will mention how many years have passed but there’s nothing to make that feel real.

Dragon Age 2 takes place in 3 chapters, the first where you run around doing ordinary tasks to raise money, and the next two where you get caught up in two inescapable conflicts in the city of Kirkwall, one with the Qunari and one between the Mages and Templars. These feature the usual Bioware stabs at social relevance, but all they do is drag you into interactive cut scenes and nothing you do changes anything. Want to side with the mages? You’ll end up fighting mages anyway. Rescue mages? You’ll have to kill them anyway. Want to side with the templars? You’ll still fight the templar leader at the end. Your choices don’t matter.

Where Dragon Age and Dragon Age Awakenings had endings that differed dramatically based on the choices you made, Dragon Age 2 has the same ending repeated twice. Not only doesn’t the Dragon Age 2 ending bother to tell you what happened to your companions, the two different endings are identical except for four words, with mages swapped out for templars in a few places. It’s pathetic and it’s hard to imagine for all the posturing that Bioware Edmonton writers and producers actually feel good about this.

The gameplay? Dragon Age 2 doesn’t completely wreck it, just dumbs it down. There’s less customizability and more button pushing. Except for the grand Gallows set piece, the game is just the same sets reused over and over again. And over and over again. The same three dungeons, the same grand buildings and the same tunnel interiors. And I mean exactly the same. The enemies all come out the same way, and whether you’re fighting skeletons, templars or qunari, they’re all going to bring out their assassins and their archers and the rest of the troupe. Only the tiles are different. You don’t need to think about strategy, do it once and do it a thousand times.

The lack of customizability means there’s no point in doing most of what you’re doing. Interacting with your companions only affects how they show up in the final battle. And even a half-assed player should be able to beat Orsino and Meredith with their help or over their opposition. You can pick up money, but there’s nothing worth buying with it. You can’t upgrade your companion’s armor. You can’t even drive them away. That would interfere with Bioware’s cutscenes. The only thing to do with Dragon Age 2 is rush through it as quickly as possible so you can see for yourself how little game there is.

Dragon Age 2 isn’t the worst game ever made, but probably the worst game Bioware has ever made. It’s a rush job, weak and phoned in. The graphics engine has been upgraded, but that just means a better looking version of the game that Bioware keeps making over and over again. And without the characters, the story or the RPGness, it’s not even worth playing through once. I finished Dragon Age feeling like I had gone on a journey, I ended Dragon Age 2 feeling like I had pushed a lot of buttons in the right order.

Paul movie review

I liked Paul better when it was called American Dad. Except I never liked American Dad much either, but it’s pretty sad when what the Pegg-Frost team comes up with is the premise of Roger on American Dad, except Paul isn’t gay. So what if Paul isn’t original? Well it’s also unfunny and that’s a bigger problem.

The first quarter, the whole idea of these two superfans driving around America and encountering an actual alien, is a good one. But where do you go from there? If you’re Pegg and Frost, you drive around encountering the brand of wacky Americans you usually encounter only on Family Guy or the BBC while making some hackneyed points about religion that are third rate Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett. What follows plays out like a Saturday Night Live skit written by a fan of Monty Python, it’s not funny or really anything.

In that way, Paul reminds me of Gervais’ The Invention of Lying. Comedy that aims for philosophical statements but isn’t as deep or as funny as it thinks it is. Paul is the first Pegg/Frost collaboration that’s somewhat aimed at an American audience, but also hostile to it. Pegg and Frost could have set this back in England, with a Paul explaining to them what happened to Stonehenge, and they would have been on safer ground.

Julie Taymor Steps Out

Julie Taymor got her reputation by taking the Lion King and adapting it into an unconnected show that was exotic enough that no one asked any inconvenient questions. Then she tried to do the same thing to Spider-Man, not set in Africa, but her own crazy version of Spider-Man, that was more about her, than about Spider-Man. If the production hadn’t been completely mismanaged, if performers weren’t getting hurt and Turn Off the Dark had original music for people to walk away with, she might have gotten away with it.

But it didn’t and she didn’t. Spider-Man is still one of the more popular comic book characters around. Tossing around symbolism and expecting people to feel humbled by the experience worked for The Lion King, but it was never going to work for Spider Man. People know who Spider Man is and they expect him to show up. Not Arachnia.

After all these years, Julie Taymor showed she never had a feel for the material. She wanted to make a show about the idea of Spider-Man, rather than about Spider-Man. Her idea of Spider-Man. And that’s where she went wrong.

Sword of the Lady by S.M. Stirling book review

Sword of the Lady by S.M. StirlingI realized what was bothering me about Sword of the Lady by the time the endless series (now on its third book in the second chapter of the sprawling Emberverse series) reached Maine, populated by Vikings. Stirling’s original idea for Dies for the Fire was a good one. Tolkien and many fantasy writers have tried to reach back to reconstruct a fantasy pre-history for Europe, Stirling reversed that by constructing a fantasy post-apocalyptic history based on the heritage of the different peoples who make up America. It’s interesting in theory, but it’s also impoverished in practice.

Stirling’s Viking Disneyland Maine is not only implausible, it’s less interesting than the actual Maine. Much less. And that follows true for most of his America or Montival. At every turn, Stirling gleefully tears down every element of the old America, replacing it with a dim feudal society where everyone can only belong to one culture. If you live in Maine, you better be Swedish or learn to pretend. If the Mackenzies were just trying to survive in the first chapter, by Sword of the Lady, Rudi and Mathilda are openly talking about how loyal a vassal Fred will be for their children’s inheritance. Is there anything admirable about that? Only if you contrast it with the sociopathic Cutters who just kill or rape everyone outright. A typical example of Stirling’s subtle touch.

There’s not much to say about Sword of the Lady. This series has gone on too long and it spills into still another book. Sword of the Lady should have been incorporated into Scourge of God. Instead it ends with yet another cliffhanger. Along the way Rudi and Mathilda turn Boise into another feudal kingdom, spend time eating and hanging out in a Swedish household in Wisconsin and then go on to Maine and do the same thing, battle corsairs and finally land on Nantucket, before receiving a vision that the extra-dimensional aliens they call gods, took away human technology to save us from ourselves.

Katie Couric as the New Oprah? Bad Idea

I don’t know why Katie Couric kept trying to reinvent herself, but if she’s serious about trying to replace Oprah, it’s a bad idea. Bad for her anyway. A salvation for CBS News which may be able to replace her with a less expensive personality who might bring some credibility back to the evening news. But Couric is as unqualified to be Oprah as she was to be Dan Rather.

The monster here is the Today Show, or that particular incarnation of it when it was such a dominant force boosting the careers of everyone associated with it and moving them up the Peter Principle career ladder. Its success made Bryant Gumbel think he was such a hot commodity that CBS thought buying him would let them beat Today. Didn’t work. Katie Couric’s Today presence made CBS think that audiences would follow her to the evening news. Didn’t happen either. Let’s not forget Jeff Zucker, the ultimate Today success story.

Katie Couric worked on Today because she was bland. Her voice went in one ear and out the other. That’s exactly why she doesn’t work on the news. And she’s just as qualified to be Oprah, who for all her obnoxious antics has a personality (even if it’s fake), Couric doesn’t. She’s a cheerleader who made a fine career of being pretty and reading things off a screen. She works in that narrow role of being someone it’s okay to listen to in the morning before you’re completely awake. She would be perfect doing commercial voiceovers. That’s it.

Another Underwhelming March

Even the success stories like Rango just teeter over the edge of failure. Rango has passed 100 million but is falling hard and its budget was 135 million. Sure the world take will more than make up for it, but it’s hard to call it a success story. Then take Just Go With It, the other winner which managed to pass 100 million, even though it’s out of the top 10 and its budget is 80 million. Big hit? Not exactly. And spells trouble for Adam Sandler, who hasn’t been setting the screen on fire lately.

And the rest? Battle of LA misfired in a big way. Its budget was low enough that it won’t lose money. But even its international gross is underwhelming. Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch couldn’t even take first place on its opening weekend. Its budget isn’t too high, and the internationals aren’t in. So it’s too early to call it. The heavily hyped Lincoln Lawyer fizzled, down in 4th already. Its budget was small but it will have to work to even reach it.

Red Riding Hood was supposed to be solid counterprogramming to Battle of LA, but it fizzled too along with Battle of LA. The Adjustment Bureau also fizzled. Mars Needs Moms had a high enough budget that it’s a bomb, instead of a disappointment.

Paul, Beastly, Hall Pass, movies targeting completely different demographics, all failures. It’s easy to blame the movies and there aren’t too many winners here. But the bigger story is that audiences of all stripes just stayed home. Movies aimed at kids, teens and adults, at men and women, younger and older audiences all performed below expectations and didn’t turn much of a profit.

Firefox Four Folderol

Yes Firefox 4 beat IE9’s record, which would be more of an achievement if anyone besides web developers actually waited to download a new version of IE. But while it looks faster, Firefox releases clog up with time, and I’m not so sure that Firefox 4 will be any different. For such a long delayed release, Firefox has its share of bugs and isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.

What’s new? Pandering to power users mainly. More tab management features, for obsessive tab managers. Do No Track. And a few features that were already implemented in Chrome, from HTML5 to flash crashes not shutting down the browser. (Chrome’s new talk search update and icon adjustment is even more useless.) It’s underwhelming. And not too stable.

The visuals are Opera, but badly implemented and ugly. More like a bad hybrid of Opera and IE9. It’s annoying enough that I had to switch from the default look. Firefox used to be the cool alternative browser, but FF4 is a long way from those roots. Sorry guys.

The Horse of Undeclared War has Left the Barn

No he actually said that. The Horse of Undeclared War has Left the Barn. He said it with a straight face, like he had no idea that he was delivering one of the worst visual metaphors even by cable news standards. If he had only said it with a straight face, then we might think that he was in on the joke. “I know I’m saying wacky stuff, but I’m being like Stephen Colbert. This is just a persona. It’s not me.”

But somehow, somehow he thinks this is a brilliant line. And that the 5 second rule is a meaningful intro to a speech about executive powers. He’s not wrong, most of his points are okay, but what kills it is the stiffness, the self-conscious air of self-importance and his entire dead on parody of an anchorman with no sense of humor.

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