Archive for August, 2009

Give My Regards to King Tut, Asshole!

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 30, 2009 by jamesdrax

Stargate | Dir: Roland Emmerich | 1994 | 8.5/10

Pay attention, Gateheads. This is where it all began.

In Giza, 1928, a huge ancient metal artifact shaped like a giant ring with strange symbols is uncovered, then fast-forwarding to the present day it’s figured out that the artifact is actually a teleportation device that can take you to another stargate on the “other side of the known universe”.

Before there was Richard Dean Anderson and Michael Shanks, there was Kurt Russell and James Spader playing the same characters as Col. Jack O’Neil (just one L!) and nerdy archaeologist Dr. Daniel Jackson, a bit of a wimpier version of Indiana Jones. Jackson has theories about the pyramids being built by aliens, but he’s laughed at by his collegues at a seminar where he’s finally facing an empty room. Lucky for him, the US Air Force is interested in his theories since they’ve been studying the artifact for years.

One of the funniest parts of the first segment of the film is where Jackson arrives at the military base and embarrasses the other linguists by re-translating the hieroglyphics in the correct way, proving how much of a super-well-learned genius he is. O’Neil is a bit surly in his role as the colonel who has to lead a reconnaissance team through the stargate, along with Jackson, because his son was involved with a fatal accident, and now he feels suicidal enough to proceed with the mission. Once they go through the stargate, they arrive on a desert planet that looks like Tatooine from Star Wars (1977) and run into some friendly locals, but find they were people originally from Earth who were enslaved by the ancient sun-god Ra (Jaye Davidson), who turns out to be an a parasitic alien who drops in from time-to-time to maintain his oppression of this small tribe of people who have been forced to be illiterate for the sake of hiding the truth of who he really is – Leonard Maltin describes him as a Ming the Mercilous type character, I couldn’t have put it better myself.

After some tense chit-chat with the snakey Ra who dresses more flamboyantly than RuPaul, it’s found out that O’Neil has brought a nuke through with him and intends to blow up the stargate if any signs of possible danger are found, hence his suicide mission, but Ra’s not going to have any of that as he rigs it with stargate-minerals to be sent through back to Earth to be blown to the afterlife – this is where the ticking-clock cliche begins. I can understand some of the criticism towards Stargate at this point of the film where it becomes rather standard action movie fare, but since I’m a sucker for action, I don’t think it really suffers because of it.

Stargate was what wormholed Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin into the A-list big leagues if only for a short period in the 1990’s, as a few years later, they struck it really huge with Independence Day (1996), and perhaps grew some big radioactive heads with Godzilla (1998), although I think Stargate has a slight edge over ID4 because of its narrower and more poetic focus on the characters and its overall feel of wondrous adventure that makes it perfect escapism. Even the characters themselves are trying to escape, Jackson isn’t taken seriously by his peers on Earth, so he takes a dive into the unknown to at least prove to himself that he was right, and falls in love with a pretty girl named Sha’uri (Mili Avital) for good measure; and O’Neil has lost his son, so he doesn’t feel like he has anything to live for, so it’s almost like a kamakazi mission to him, but the character Skaara (Alexis Cruz) acts like a surrogate son figure to him, so his will to live is restored.  All up, the characters gain something that drives them forward in the story.

The film is not without its plot holes, and a glaring one that sticks out to me at this moment is when the team has arrived on the planet through the stargate, and Jackson is told to re-open the stargate re-establish contact with Earth, but he says that he can’t because he assumed there’d be symbols engraved somewhere close-by that would have a dial-up address – well what idiot does that? Back on the base when they asked him if he was sure if he could do it, instead of saying he was “positive!” like a douchebag egghead, he should have said they will probably have to do some detective work in order to find the dial-up symbols if they weren’t near the gate. Isn’t that common sense to plan these things better?

Anyhow, Stargate wouldn’t have been half the enjoyable movie it is without the awesome production design by Holger Gross and the Ancient Egyptian-inspired costume and creature design by Patrick Tatopoulos, as well as the thundering score by newcomer David Arnold, which is so bold and thematic, it really takes the film up to the next level – his work on Emmerich’s next two films would be just as extraordinary.

I’d like to consider myself among the oldest and loyalist of Stargate fans because I saw this in the cinemas when it was released, and I remember being really excited about the new TV series Stargate SG-1 that was about to air in 1997, although I was a bit skeptical about the new actors replacing Russell and Spader. Even at the time, I knew those two guys were probably too big to commit to a made-for-cable science fiction series, but what was the deal with MacGyver playing O’Neill (this time with two L’s)? For my own consolation, I did think the blonde was cute. However, I was an open-minded kid, and I grew used to the new actors, and they eventually came to own the characters anyway, which sort of led to the 1994 film becoming a quasi-separate entity in the Stargate continuity.

If die-hard fans of the TV show who haven’t seen the film eventually do get to watch it, I implore you to ignore everything you know and love about the show, since it’s important to approach Stargate as a stand-alone action/sci-fi film that harkens back to the adventure films of old-time cinema, or otherwise, you’ll be picking holes where it’s not necessary, since the series made some strange changes here and there.

Stargate is a 1990’s jewel, but fans of the TV series may regard it as a dated relic, which isn’t fair, since it is the original and one of the best.

Piano Playing Pussy

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 25, 2009 by jamesdrax

Such a pretty pussy. How come my cats won’t play the piano?

If they give Nora a job (even cats add to unemployment!), I’m certain she’d make a fine film composer giving John Barry a run for his money. If she’s so pitch-perfect, she ought to take a few handy tips from Barry’s Octopussy (1983), or even Alan Silvestri’s Cat’s Eye (1985) if she wants to start modestly with synthesizers. Hell, why not Lalo Schifrin’s The Cat from Outer Space (1978)? She could be a new Disney mascot!

My two cats are probably a bit too dopey to even think of maintaining anything that resembles a steady rhythm at the piano like Nora does, but at least she’s better than Klaus Badelt!

Nora only has a short lifespan, so she better get cracking at being an expert pianist and prove to the world that she’s a true artiste, just like those elephants that can paint. I’m counting on her to play Chopin twice as well as me.  Then I’ll probably suspect that she actually is from outer space!

Meow.

Shrine to Atlantis – Fifth, Final and Fabulous

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 24, 2009 by jamesdrax

Wraith, Replicators, resonance cascades, unstable wormholes and all that techno-babble jazz. Who can’t get enough of fun sci-fi that doesn’t take itself too seriously?

Fans of the Stargate franchise would know the history, and the latest chapter has come to a close as the Stargate SG-1 spin-off series Stargate: Atlantis has finished its fifth and final season upon its unfortunate cancellation. I expected the show to last up to seven seasons at least, so it feels like it’s been cut short prematurely considering the plot lines that had to be rushed into resolution upon the show’s ultimate completion.

Picking up after the usual cliffhanger of Season 4’s “The Last Man”, the premiere episode “Search and Rescue” is a blast, but the not-so-shocking ending show’s Col. Samantha Carter (Amanda Tapping) being replaced by that annoying International Oversight Advisory bureaucrat you love to hate, Richard Woolsey (Robert Picardo). He was always such a meddling pencil-neck, but Season 5 reveals that he can be a man of leadership and integrity as it shows that being an assessor is one thing, but actually leading an expedition can really change a person; I even like the Boston Legal homage between Woolsey and Col. John Sheppard (Joe Flanigan) at end of “Inquisition”, nice touch with the cigars. We then, however, come to “Ghost in the Machine”, with Elizabeth Weir’s return as a Replicator, this time played by Michelle Morgan doing her best Torri Higginson impersonation – the moral ethics of the characters are put into question in this episode, and the fact that their solution for Weir was nothing short of callous, I wondered how these characters sleep at night.

My frustration was alleviated somewhat by the following episode “The Shrine”, which from what I read on the Gateworld synopsis was that Dr. Rodney McKay (David Hewlett) would somehow revert to a “childlike state”; I thought this would be portrayed as something funny because of the irony of some obnoxiously super-smart knob like McKay acting like an actual four-year-old, but watching the episode itself was a revelation. Hewlett played his character’s mental deterioration caused by an alien parasite in his brain with such poignancy and sadness which was surprisingly painful to watch, so it was a wonder that he didn’t receive industry recognition for it. The rest of the gang showed their acting chops as well, especially Ronon (Jason Momoa) and Rodney’s sister Jeannie (Kate Hewlett – David’s real life sister), and as a result, I don’t think I’ve found an episode of Stargate to be quite as touching since the SG-1 Season 5 episode “Meridian” where Daniel Jackson (Michael Shanks) supposedly “died”, so I think “The Shrine” will be a fan favourite for a long time.

I can understand any effort to mimic what happened to Spock in 1982, although McKay gets better because of his trusty lover/doctor Jennifer Keller (Jewel Staite). The relationship between these two characters was seeded in Season 4, and while I like them together, they certainly make a great team from their wonderful chemistry together, which can’t be said for McKay and some other women he’s fancied, but I can’t quite figure out what hooks them together as in what their relationship is actually based on. Perhaps it was just a way for the writers to have McKay fulfill his inner desire to have a super-intelligent hot blonde at his side since he could never have Carter – I like his taste!

Speaking of the good archaeologist Dr. Jackson, he makes a major appearance in the mid-season two-parter “First Contact” and “Lost Tribe”, showing him with a lot of nice free-flowing chemistry with Hewlett. Another character I also liked was Todd the Wraith (Christopher Heyerdahl), a more sympathetic and ambiguous Wraith character who is sometimes even more likable than the regular characters themselves, so I hope they never kill him off in the movies, he’s just too good! Unfortunately, that’s about where the excitement for Season 5 ends. The rest of the season meanders on with some boring filler episodes until we get to “Vegas”, which was just weird, although I think I’m one of very few who would find it amusing that composer Joel Goldsmith makes a cameo in the same show that Robert Picardo stars in – what’s going on here? The season is finalized by “Enemy at the Gate”, which rounds off the series with an almost satisfying bang, but it still leaves us wanting more.

All up, I wouldn’t consider Season 5 the best way to end this part of Stargate lore since it seemed like there was much more to the story the powers that be would have wanted to tell, and I was a tad disturbed that the cancellation of Atlantis was announced concurrently with the green-lighting for the next spin-off series titled Stargate: Universe, like they were trying to tell us that they’re ushering in a new era – “out with the old, in with the new”, that sort of thing.  Admittedly, I’m cautiously optimistic for Universe, and I hope it turns out well, but from what I’ve learned so far, it seems they’re taking that show in a direction that reeks of shamelessly ripping off the pseudo “dark” and “gritty” likes of Battlestar Galactica and Torchwood. It sounds like a waste of time if they’re sacrificing the fun and wit of Stargate that we’ve come to know and love for the sake of pandering to fans of the new wave of grim sci-fi that I just don’t care for.

But looking at the bright side, if Universe is a piece of crap, that’s money on DVD boxsets I don’t have to spend. In fact, I retract my previous statement in hoping the show is good, I actually hope it’s goddamned awful so I can save my money.

Anyhow, Season 5 of Stargate: Atlantis doesn’t weigh very well next Seasons 2 or 3 since it lacks the stand-out episodes of previous seasons, and the creative writing is often bland and almost motionless compared to before, which I would attribute to a mild case of writers’ complacency, but it’s been my Stargate-fix in the absence of SG-1, and when it comes down to it, I’ve grown to like the characters a lot, which at the end of the day is what matters most; I guess I’ll just have to catch up with them again in fan fiction (there I go again!). Nevertheless, I look forward to direct-to-DVD movie Stargate: Extinction (its working title for now) to give the series the thundering conclusion it deserves.

We’ll be waiting for that for a while actually, something about the economy slowing them down or whatever. Come on, Homeworld Security’s massive budget cuts shouldn’t stop us from killing some Wraith!

Twilighty Film That Bites

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on August 22, 2009 by jamesdrax

Twilight | Dir: Catherine Hardwicke | 2008 | 4/10

Neurotic surly teenage girl from Phoenix named Bella (Kristen Stewart), moves to Oregon with her old man and meets a creepy anemic male underwear model named Edward Cullen (zomg rpattz Robert Pattinson), only to figure out that he happens to be a vampire. Oh, shock horror, he’s a naturally built killer who looks like Ronn Moss, but she’s just so stubborn, she adores him! The scene after Eddie the Vampire shows her how he looks in the sunlight with his shirt off and his skin glistening with those psychedelic sparkles, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a girl look so agonizingly horny on screen in my entire life.

She meets the family of Cullen vampires, while all absurdly attractive, all appear to be from the same flour factory, in addition, acting like distant relatives of the Munsters and the Addams Family. The villains are notable for being hippie vampires, while pepper spray makes the boss baddie more powerful. Descends into a damsel-in-distress cliche in the second half, which was odd for a film directed by a woman.

Based on the cult phenomenon novel by Stephanie Meyer, I’m quite certain this story rips its cues off from Buffy, which gives the film a trashy fun factor, despite how it takes itself too seriously.  Derivative storylines aside, at least Meyer seems nicer than Anne Rice, that dotty old witch who hates fan fiction.

There were some attractive women in this slick production, but as I’m not the target audience, they’re never so keen to undress like Eddie does. As a result, I’d rather fall down a flight of stairs than have to sit through the upcoming New Moon (2009), although I’ll be armed with stakes and garlic if I’m bitten into submission.

HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 15, 2009 by jamesdrax

The Dark Knight | Dir: Christopher Nolan | 2008 | 7.5/10

A little late, aren’t I?  Well folks, that’s the gag, I waited for the bargain bin mark-down… and I thought my jokes were bad! HAHAHA.

Following the ultra-serious Batman Begins (2005), director Christopher Nolan bat-a-rangs his franchise re-boot with the unabashedly super-serious The Dark Knight – a film so serious, even the main villain can’t help but mind his surroundings and continuously ask us “Why so serious?”  It’s like the late Heath Ledger’s Joker character is so anarchistic, he not only wants to upset the order of Gotham City, he wants to challenge the pre-established order of film itself by showing us not only a great performance, but also giving us a little push to how we really see ourselves.

Let me explain. After all the nauseating hype surrounding this, it almost became a case of morbid curiosity for many members of the audience who just wanted to see how good Ledger was as a crazy clown – how good could this Aussie beach blond actually be? Well, Ledger would go on to win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor (in a comic book movie disguised as a gangster drama, no less) for his surprisingly chilling portrayal of Batman’s arch-nemesis, he’s really as freaky and psychologically piercing as Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs (1991), another Oscar winning performance with just as many nuances that keep your eyes hooked on the screen just to see what he’s about to do next.  I remember when I was very young and still learning big words, I once mispronounced the word “posthumous” as “post-humorous”.

A real killing joke if I ever heard one – evidently Heath got the last laugh.

Explaining the plot to The Dark Knight would be like lecturing a clinical psychology class, I’d be suffering headaches and dizziness from telling you that it’s more than the basic premise of a new villain coming to town causing trouble for Gotham’s cops, citizens and generic mobster meanies. This is really about not only the escalation of crime, but how authority follows suit, and how criminals won’t just sit there and take the beating into submission, but the process of law and order is countered by chaotic personalities, manifesting with the Joker as the self-professed “agent of chaos”. The Joker flails his way through the story like a force of nature, whose motivation is to show the heroes and villains alike what they really are, either through dilemma or a knife to their face, and this can only be achieved when they are at a moment before almost certain death. He wants to prove that good people at their core are just as cowardly as he thinks they are and as evil as he obviously is, but the social order prevents them from becoming his vision of a world burning, and he uses Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) as the prime example of how low a human being can sink; in other words, taking Gotham’s “white knight” and bringing him down to his level. It’s not hard, apparently.

Ultimately, his punchline is to test peoples’ morals, what a sick joke.

What’s the problem with The Dark Knight?  It’s so dark and so damn depressing, I felt a sense of blues not unlike what I had after watching Zeitgeist: The Movie, you’ll need a whole block of chocolate to cheer yourself up afterward (or perhaps a copy of Batman & Robin (1997) will help you unleash your inner-lighter side). Even Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard’s subtle, yet textured and atmospheric score puts you in a state of unsettled discomfort for its sheer psychotic unlistenability. For a film with the Joker in it, you’re really never given a reason to genuinely laugh at any subtle humour and feel good about it; the film purposely makes you sort of gently laugh uncomfortably with the Joker, but then you stop yourself because you feel guilty when you realize you’re laughing at an unpredictable psychopath who thinks a pencil-in-the-eye is really hilarious. Could Ledger have been a bit too good in this role?

Wait a tick, have I even mentioned Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne/Batman yet? There’s really not much to say other than his mega-fake-deep voice was really distracting and difficult to understand at times, if he simply spoke in his regular Bruce Wayne voice, it would have been alright, but also the fact that the character seems strangely played down this time round. This really has to be a scripting quirk because as the film progressed, I actually thought Batman was becoming redundant in his own movie. It could have all been about Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) and the film probably would have been just as good – he brings so much more heart and perspective because he’s such an Elliot Ness sort of character, a man of integrity and Gotham’s “last good cop”. It really is a thankless performance. I could have sworn Oldman’s screentime and amount of lines was much more than Bale’s, it feels as though Batman is just a selling gimmick for marque value who could have been deleted entirely, and no-one would have batted an eyelid! Yet again, that was probably all part of the plan.

The Dark Knight is problematic, it didn’t exactly live up to the euphoric fanboy hype, and perhaps it’s not the most enjoyable flick to spin on a rainy afternoon because of its stark and cynical presentation of a so-called “world without rules”, but it’s at least a thinking-man’s Summer blockbuster, a true rarity these days and I look forward to the next one, perhaps the ambiguous Catwoman could be the answer to Gotham’s calls for a new masked vigilante while Batman is on the run? Good film, but it would have been nicer if it had more Batman in it to play a role – bit of a joke, really.

And… here… we… go!

I’ve Been Soaped by Operatic TV

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on August 12, 2009 by jamesdrax

For three years, I have been watching The Bold and the Beautiful. It’s a top show, bro.

But why would a guy who wrote a 2000 word post on Die Hard have any interest in an American soapie whose target audience is little old ladies with not much else to do other than dwell on the drawn-out melodrama of an inbred elitist family that runs a high-end fashion empire in Los Angeles?  Either that’s one for the ages, or I have a legitimate explanation for this bizarre phenomenon.

Why the hell do I care if Ridge can’t decide between Brooke and Taylor? What does it matter to me if Eric prefers his little “hot tomali” Donna over his loyal, yet very butch wife, Stephanie? Does it make a difference to my life if Ridge can’t accept that his daughter Steffy is a complete idiot for constantly running back to that douchebag, Rick?  My friends, these questions are not easy to answer.

The soap opera hooks you in, it’s like a poker machine with the glitzy hypnotic lure and that catchy music, with all that blurry photography, which adds to the fantasy element of the American soap opera.  From watching Home and Away and Neighbours, I’ve noticed that Australian soapies aim to capture the realist setting much more, since all the exterior scenes are usually always shot outdoors, while on B&B, it’s always a phony set with Lost In Space style lighting (although they have been shooting dodgy outdoor scenes lately, complete with a visible boom mike behind Hunter Tylo on her right). However, I’ve never thought Australian actors can emote the melodrama like the Americans do, we just don’t have that larger-than-life persona to perform melodrama in an appealing manner, which is a great weakness in Aussie soaps.

The appeal of this show, and others like it, is probably because most of us don’t have any real melodrama in our lives to speak of (I don’t really have any in my life to speak of either, I lead a rather boring existence, and I cannot be anymore thankful for that, but soaps give me my fix), so we have to live through the box version that meanders on and on with the same unfolding relationship plots, where characters fall in and out of lust and love with each other like a merry-go-round that’s broken down like it’s consciously committed suicide from the torture it’s endured, to the point where the writers have to be careful which characters they pair up so they don’t end up with a couple who are too closely related.  Although these characters aren’t really inbred, looking at the family tree in the The Bold and the Beautiful 20th Anniversary Compendium, it’s a sight to behold, with a cast of characters linked together with more arrows and zig-zag lines than an econometrics chart.

In fact, I’m not even sure which is more confusing, this?

Or this?

With that in mind, the US government is like a bloody big soap opera to itself.  Could you imagine a soapie set in Congress? They wouldn’t be designing fashion, rather the main characters would be drafting legislation in their offices, their spouses would be in on the lawmaking, we’d see all the American elitist inbreeding that been rumoured to have been going on since well before the Articles of Confederation, and if you add Hugh Hefner in to the mix, it’s a soapie-writer’s wetdream for potential story ideas!

I’d call this show The Liars and the Manipulators. The overall story arc revolves around two elite political families with members in the House and the Senate, with a few cabinet members and interns in the White House for good measure because these families are appointed everywhere under the sun if they can sleep their way there – Bill Clinton even makes a cameo. One family is with the Democrats and the other family is with the Republicans.  Their rivalry is the basis of the show, with members of each family sleeping with members of the other like a fairy tale story of star-crossed lovers fit for a James Cameron movie. This political soapie will tell the story about how political royalty is all kept in the family like a line of pureblood Slytherin snobs. I’m not kidding, it’s a guaranteed daytime television hit!

Meanwhile, I’m just going to watch the episode of B&B my dad taped while I was away so I can steal some story ideas.

Godzilla’s Getting a Box Treatment in Region 4!

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on August 10, 2009 by jamesdrax

Don’t get Godzilla mad or he may wreck your DVD collection.

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Madman Entertainment will be releasing the Godzilla Heisei Series (the films from the 1990’s) in a brand new box set priced at $49.97, although these films have already been released in Region 4 and were sold separately.

While I applaud the fact that even some of these films have seen a DVD release in Australia, according to EzyDVD, this will be a 5-disc set, so it will be missing two films. I’m very disappointed that this boxset will not include the first two Heisei films, Gojira ’84 (Godzilla 1985 being the re-edited US version) and Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989).  The Heisei films had a linear continuity with a singular story arc and you’ll be pretty lost as to what’s going on without the first two.  I suppose it’s just a copyright issue because those first two have been tangled up in red tape for as long as they’ve existed. If that’s the case, then it isn’t really Madman’s fault, but Toho have already released decent DVDs of those two films in the Japanese market, so it’s only a matter of time. Perhaps in Blu-Ray?

If you want more craziness from these wonderful films, check out the Showa Series from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, although I think King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962) will not be included – perhaps another one with annoying legal wranglings.  It’s even getting two 6-disc boxsets!  I already started collecting them separately, I should have waited.

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Somebody stomp me!