Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Avataaaaaaaaaaar

Hello again! Once again I am super late to the party! It seems the bandwagon’s pulled in to Sherlock Holmes station already. Oh good, another movie I really want to see, but haven’t yet. I know, what a surprise!

OK, ok. First off, I hope everyone had a good holiday. Second off, while I also hope you guys enjoy this review, I must admit that there’s not much I’m about to say that hasn’t been said a million times already, so I’m just gonna try and keep it brief this time. Regardless, I hope it’s at least somewhat insightful.

Most everyone knows the plot already, so I won’t waste time here. Written and directed by James Cameron, Avatar focuses on the special mission of ex-marine Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), who is sent to the moon of Pandora, a dangerous and exciting planet, by the US and by Colonel Miles Quaitrich (Stephen Lang) to figure out how Earth can obtain a special kind of mineral named “unobtainium” (ugh). In order to do this, he must participate in a project coordinated by scientist Dr. Grace Augustine (Sigourney Weaver) that involves making a clone of himself in the form of the species of the native cat-like aliens on this planet, the Na’vi. This way, he can connect with the natives, and figure out how to get the mineral from their planet in a way that makes the people who want it look good. After meeting the native princess Neytiri (Zoe Saldana) however, things get a little complicated, as Sully starts to struggle with going back home to his old life, or staying as a Na’vi and protecting the natives from the people looking to take advantage of the plentiful planet and its resources.

Here in this shot, Colonel Quaitrich briefs Sully about Pandora, unobtainium, and of course, those damned Na'vi that mauled half his face off.

I know this sounds like just about every other critic, but the visual effects are very much astounding. It seems that Cameron has the whole uncanny valley problem under lock and key, with very few scenes where anything looks awkward or out of place. I was a huge fan of all the bioluminescent fauna, and of course the Na’vi themselves. If this is done right in even more films, the way the CGI is done here will definitely go on to influence how it’s done in the future.

It comes so close to looking natural, it's insane. I can't even tell is this shot is CG, or Saldana in makeup.

Unfortunately, the movie seems to share the same problems with character development and story that all of Cameron’s other movies have. Yet again, the actors do as well as they can with the roles they are given, no matter how poorly they are written. Worthington and Saldana undoubtedly had the best performances, although Lang and Weaver’s roles were done well enough too, despite their dialogue seeming a bit, for lack of a better word, cartoonish. That seems strong, but really that’s the best word I can come up with to describe they way most of the other characters sound. It’s not even that their performances are done bad, it’s just that most of them are such stereotypes that it kind of drags their performances down. I would have liked to see more of the major players fleshed out, especially Michelle Rodriguez’s character. I was particularly confused about her motivations in all this.

That aside, I feel as if the hype leading up to this movie got a lot of people’s hopes up, myself included, and now most of us were left wanting something bigger. I guess that’s our fault, but still, while Avatar was visually breathtaking and entertaining, it could have been so much better. Nevertheless, it is very much a standard “Hero’s Journey” archetype done really, really well.

Well, that’s all folks! I got a couple of blu-ray reviews coming up sometime in the next month or so, but until then, Happy 2010!

All images taken straight from IGN Movies. You can see more stills by clicking that link there.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Christmas!


This clip is owned by the Walt Disney Company. Probably one of my most favorite adaptations of the story ever.

I just wanted to let you guys know that I'm taking a small break for now. Expect an Avatar review after Christmas, and maybe some Blu/Ray or DVD reviews in the new year.

In the meantime, for those who celebrate, have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The evening star, is shining bright...



A couple of concept art images, courtesy of Filmofilia.
All right, I got a little sidetracked with everything going on, but here it is, my review of Disney's Princess and the Frog.
As silly as I felt, being a 20 something going to the theater to see a Disney movie, I have to say that I really enjoyed watching it. While the movie is not quite perfect, it definitely succeeded in taking me back to the days where I looked forward to The Lion King and Aladdin.
Directed by John Musker and Ron Clements, who have worked on many other Disney movies before, the story is basically a fairy tale about a young girl named Tiana (Akina Noni Rose) living in 1920s New Orleans, who is working hard, maybe a bit too hard, to achieve her dreams of owning her own restaurant. While her mother (Oprah Winfrey) and her friends, especially spoiled but friendly southern belle Charlotte (Jennifer Cody), are proud of her, they feel that she is missing out on her youth for the most part.
At the same tame, a playboy prince from the country of "Maldonia" named Naveen (Bruno Campos) has been cut off by his parents due to his overly lavish lifestyle, and is in search for a rich young girl to be his ticket to the easy way out. Unfortunately, a run in with a crazed voodoo man known as Dr. Facilier (Keith David) has him transformed into a frog. When Prince Naveen finds Tiana in a princess-like dress at a masquerade party, he assumes the curse inflcted on him can be lifted by following the fairy tale hinted at in the title.
Unfortunately for him and Tiana, it doesn't quite go as expected, and what follows is a long trip through the magical bayou, along with a firefly named Ray (Jim Cummings) and a jazz-loving alligator named Louis (Michael Leon-Wooley), to meet voodoo maven Mama Odie (Jenifer Lewis), who may be able to help them with their predicament.
I'm gonna dive right in to the 2D animation, because I know that's what everyone wants to know about. The stills that I saw on the internet looked great enough, but they looked even better in motion than I initially expected. Some of the characters looked a little out of proportion in the earlier designs, but it's hard to notice in the movie, because one can't help but marvel at the backgrounds and incredible attention to detail. It's clear that this movie was Disney's way of saying that 2D definitely isn't dead, even if it is not as common in animated movies as it was a decade and a half ago.
The story and themes were very strong throughout the movie, and I thought they were quite refreshing for a story like this. One thing I had to work a little to get around was the ending, when despite all of Tiana's hard work it was ultimately her new husband and her friends that get the restaurant she was dreaming of. The more I thought about it, though, the more I came to realize how true to life it was. Hard work can get you pretty far, but connections, and a little help from your friends don't hurt either. It was cool, however, to see a Disney princess carry such good values. Personally I think Tiana is right up there with Mulan and Belle as one of the more memorable princesses in the Disney line.
Speaking of the characters in the movie, most of them were very interesting, supported by great performances all around and some even better songs that I wish were a bit longer. I can tell that some things, such as Facilier's development and Naveen and Tiana's romance, were a little rushed, priobably to allow for a shorter runtime. Nevertheless, they were still pretty good, especially any moment involving Tiana, Charlotte or Dr Facilier. Noni Rose has a beautiful singing voice and can use it well, and David's shady voice makes his supernatural con man sound even more intimidating.
To give you a final idea of how good this movie is, I'm going to try and compare it to other Disney movies of its caliber. I would say it's on par with Aladdin and the Little Mermaid, better than Hercules, but not as good as the Lion King or the Emperor's New Groove. That's a pretty good place to be.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Hey, uh, about that post I was gonna make...

...I think I'll be making it either Sunday or Monday, with the latter being the most likely. I need some time to think it through.

Sorry about that! In the meantime, enjoy some wolf-related shenanigans courtesy of College Humor.

I wonder if New Moon is out of the top ten at the box office yet...

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

RIP Campus Buzz on WUML 91.5: 2007 to 2009

Several semesters of student news, sports, weather and talk with a twist have come to a close, at least for now.

I'm talking about the news show on UMass Lowell's very own WUML 91.5 FM, known as Campus Buzz. The semester has come to an end, and my friend and fellow DJ Jess has let me know that she probably won't have time for the show next semester. Since I'm not a student anymore, I can't really squat for it either.

Nevertheless, it was a good experience for me and everyone involved, and a lot of fun to work on. Who knows, maybe it will come back someday too.

For now though, I'm kind of in the mood to post this feature article about the Buzz that I wrote for the Connector in the spring of 2009, but never had the time to publish due to all the work I had to do to graduate. I guess it shows everybody that I can write about more than just movies.

So, here you go guys, enjoy:

...

STUDENT NEWS AND TALK WITH A TWIST
WUML's Campus Buzz is still going after two years, but it's much smaller than when it started out. What is the program's future?
by Matt LoGrasso


The show starts in about sixty seconds.

In the studio, director Jessica Berry is managing the board, monitoring the transmitter, cueing up music on Spinitron, and getting ready to read her lines over the air. Brian Gullekson, Tom Robinson and I are taking out various sheets of paper, mine with news typed on it fresh off the AP wire. We crack a few jokes and talk about what we did over the weekend. Then, the station ID and the name of the show plays over the air, and Berry starts reading her opening lines after it plays out.

So begins yet another Monday at the WUML Radio Station, just underneath Sheehy Hall in the former fallout shelter. It is here that the Campus Buzz show, the weekly news, talk, and music show, is broadcast every Monday during the semester from 4 to 6 p.m.

Campus Buzz has been in operation for about three years now, having been started off by the former news director Kate Watt. Berry started off as a WUML intern on the show a year and a half ago, hoping to gain experience in the field of communications.

“I found out about the show a little over a year ago, through an advertisement on the UML Today newsletter, and I became interested,” she said. “I knew that the show would need a
new director soon, and Kate had built it up so much. I did not really want the show to die, so I took up the job.”

She now runs the show, with support from Mike Hughes, a former sports anchor for Campus Buzz, and help from student meteorologist Tom Robinson, the current sports anchor Brian Gullekson, and myself, news anchor Matt LoGrasso.

When Watt graduated last year, times were tough for the first semester without her. The staff for the show used to be much bigger, including a couple more student meteorologists, another sports anchor in addition to Gullekson, and another director dealing with public relations. Most of those people failed to show up to work on the show during the new semester, due to other obligations and time constraints. As a result of this, the show struggled to find content, more specifically interviews. It was at this point that Berry, the new director of the show, decided to take the show towards a more laid-back direction.

As a result, the show has become a little more oriented towards a format that encompasses news, talk, and music. In addition to news, weather, sports, and campus events, there are segments when the staff holds discussions about subjects that are relevant to students.

Hughes has been helping out since Berry took over the show, searching the shelves for CDs to play during the breaks and at one point even reading the sports news on the show. For him, it has been nothing short of an enjoyable experience.

“It’s great. I get to hang out with people who love what they’re doing, and I get to voice my opinion, for better or worse,” he said. “For the most part though, I get to take a step in to what I want to do for a career, you know, a little taste of working at a radio station.”

Gullekson, the current sports anchor, has been with the show since the beginning. He also has other responsibilities to tend to, such as his band Short Fuse Burning, and his duty as the folk music director at WUML. Despite his busy schedule, the show manages to be no trouble for him at all.

“It’s a great way to wind down, after a day’s worth of classes,” he said. “I like being on top of campus news & events, both for my own personal good and by the ability to spread it
through word of mouth. I also like to be able to tell people where they can find campus news, and I’m happy to be a part of that service.”

Although Berry is proud of the show’s success, she admits that it isn’t exactly perfect. She thinks the show could definitely use a wider audience, and perhaps some more interviews.

“I figure that maybe the show could use some more segments and a little more structure to it, but what we need more than anything is some more interviews,” she said.

...
I should have another post later tonight or tomorrow, so stick around.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Squeakuel? Really?

So, it's starting to get closer to Oscar bait season again, and as that time gets closer, some interesting news pops up about this year's nominees for Best Animated Picture, courtesy of Variety! and SlashFilm.com's writer Russ Fischer:

Variety has the list of submitted films, which goes as follows:

Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel
Astro Boy
Battle for Terra
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
Coraline
Disney’s A Christmas Carol
The Dolphin – Story of a Dreamer
Fantastic Mr. Fox
Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs
Mary and Max
The Missing Lynx
Monsters vs. Aliens
9
Planet 51
Ponyo
The Princess and the Frog
The Secret of Kells
Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure
A Town Called Panic
Up

You can read more about it right here at SlashFilm.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

David Fincher does it for teh lulz

Just popping in to share an awesome, funny nugget of info about the new Blu-Ray of Fight Club from CHUD writer Alex Riviello:
In possibly the best home video prank since the Elite Night of the
Living Dead
disc started up with a scratched-up print and out of sync music
before revealing the beautiful new restoration, the new Fight Club
Blu-Ray doesn't even start up with the movie at all. Pop the disc in your
blu-ray player and this is the menu that will pop up-


Terrifying, no? Especially for the guys who absolutely don't get the film
and somehow see it as machismo fantasy- it's going to ruin their day. Of course,
after a few seconds the menu disappears and the real one pops up. Kudos to David
Fincher for messing with his fans like that. Drew Barrymore apparently gave the
ok to her good pal Edward Norton for the joke, and Fox implored reviewers not to
reveal it before release this Tuesday.
I can't really think of a better prank for someone to pull. I think a know a few guys who would throw the Blu-Ray player out the window when they saw that. Nice one, Fincher.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Double Review: This Is It/Christmas Carol

OK, first let me just say Happy Belated Halloween! There wasn't much going on that evening with friends, but I did get to take my little cousins trick or treating, and I got to carve this sucker right here:


Those smaller pumpkins sure are hungry.

I thank Tom Nardone of Extreme Pumpkins.com for this idea. I bought the second book of his, and wow, those ideas are pretty elaborate. I might save that Godzilla pumpkin for next year. Whatever you guys did, I hope it was fun!

Unfortunately, Halloween's long over now, but at least it's almost time to step into the holiday season coming up. I'll be talking about Disney's latest Christmas box office offering soon, but first I want to talk about Kenny Ortega's MJ documentary This Is It, which as you all know was only out for two weeks.

To be honest, there's not much that I have to say about this movie. As a documentary, there really isn't a whole lot of behind the scenes stuff going on, or a lot of interview time. A lot of time seems to be spent on showing off the performances and musical numbers that would have made it into the concert. I gotta say I understand it though. I mean, there's not much about MJ's life that the public doesn't already know about.

Speaking of MJ, you could barely tell there was anything wrong with the guy. If anything, he looked better than he did throughout this entire decade so far, and his dancing was still pretty good. He seemed to leave a lot of it up to the backup dancers, but nevertheless, he still seemed to have a ton of energy. Even though I probably wouldn't have been able to afford tickets for it, the show certainly looked like it was going to be amazing. There was a lot of flashiness and excess that some might have deemed unnecessary, but for a guy that had as big a public persona as Jackson, you almost expect that kind of thing.

To sum it up, I would have liked to hear a few more thoughts from the other performers involved, but I did like the musical numbers. "The Way You Make Me Feel" looked especially cool.

Now to move on to Robert Zemeckis, Jim Carrey, and Disney's early gift to us, A Christmas Carol.

Again, there's not a whole lot to say. I'm not gonna lie, I found the film to be pretty unremarkable.

I couldn't really see Jim Carrey as Ebenezer Scrooge, at least not the way I saw Patrick Stewart or Alastair Sim in the role. Throughout the film, I still wasn't able to see him in it. He had the mannerisms down, to be sure, but the voice acting still sounded very much like Jim Carrey pretending to be an old Englishman. In other words, he was over acting yet again. What makes that worse is that none of the other voice actors in the film really stand out. I figured at least Gary Oldman as Bob Cratchit would be somewhat memorable, but it just seemed like such a standard, by-the-numbers performance, and the same can be said for all the other roles in the film as well.

The CGI also kind of bugged me. The textures weren't Pixar-level good, but I guess they were good enough, and I do like how they help to enhance the creepiness of the ghosts. Some parts though, especially the part with the Ghost of Christmas Past, just look like a video game cutscene. All the pointless pop scares and stuff also made it seem very gimmicky too, which doesn't help the reputation of 3D movies much, although maybe that's just a side effect of seeing it in IMAX. At least the uncanny valley isn't quite a huge factor in this film like it was in The Polar Express.

As an adaptation, this film is okay. It includes a lot of passages from the book that a lot of the other adaptations of this story don't but it didn't really do anything new with the story aside from all the gimmicky 3D stuff, which was kind of a letdown. Granted, the trailers for this film didn't give us much anyway, but the 3D aspect could have been utilized to give us so much more.

I wish they had not focused so much on making this a wacky family film, but I guess everyone saw that coming a mile away anyway, so I'm not sure anyone else will mind.

On one last note, I want to apologize for not getting to see Where The Wild Things Are or A Serious Man. I heard good things about both, but I just didn't have the time, and with me getting a job in retail and Black Friday on the horizon, it's probably going to be even more difficult to find time to get to the theater.

I am, however, curious about Roland Emmerich's 2012. I anticipate a trainwreck, but maybe that's why I want to see it so much. Maybe this video from Garrison Dean and io9.com will enlighten me:


Well, bye for now!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

You must be this tall to ride the BRAAAAAAINS

From left to right: Columbus, Wichita, Little Rock, and Tallahassee. All images courtesy of Ain't It Cool News and Sony/Columbia Pictures.
Some would argue that the appeal of zombies at the movies is dying down these days (no pun intended).

Since about 2002, there has been a bit of a zombie craze that took a hold of Hollywood for a while, which was mostly sparked by movies such as the brilliantly funny Shaun of the Dead and the well directed 28 Days Later. Since then, zombie movies have been flooding the box office with gory, gruesome spectacles for the past few years. Unfortunately, most of these films aren’t exactly held to the same standard as Shaun or 28 Days Later. George Romero started making movies again, but they turned out to be very lackluster compared to the original Dead movies. Everything else, including terrible Resident Evil sequels and even a movie about zombie nazis, has been largely forgettable.

While Zombieland has some flaws here and there, it is by no means as forgettable as any of those other newer zombie films. What started out as screenwriters Paul Wernick and Rhet Reese’s idea for a TV series eventually transmogrified into, with the help of director Ruben Fleischer, a somewhat disturbing but fun night at the movies.

The story concerns, and is narrated by, a young, geeky, pantophobic shut in we only know as Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg). He is able to survive the zombocalypse thanks to a personal list of rules he cooked up as he gained more experience dealing with the undead through his travels across the country. His odds of staying alive increase, and to an extent decrease a little bit when he meets a pop-culture junkie and gun-toting good ol’ boy named Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson) on a wrecked stretch of highway. The two join together in a temporary partnership. Columbus interested in finding his parents in Columbus, Ohio, and Tallahassee is searching for a delicious, spongy golden Twinkie to snack on, which is arguably his way of dealing with the loss of a very special someone in his life. Things get kind of complicated when the pair run into a couple of teenage grifters, the sweet but strong Wichita (Emma Stone) and her little sister Little Rock (Abigail Breslin). As the film shows us their adventures slaying zombies and just generally doing whatever they want, Jesse learns that it takes more than a set of rules to stay sane and happy in Zombieland, and all the characters slowly learn that living is just as important as surviving.

In this scene, Columbus uses his speed and smarts in an attempt to not become dinner for a couple of hungry zombies.

It is made clear really early on that this is a comedy first and a zombie film second, but these zombies are genuinely shocking and scary. They’re the fast types made popular by the 2004 Dawn remake and 28 Days Later, and what they lack in built-up suspense they make up for in gore and the element of surprise. The latter also helps a lot with the comedy too, as evidenced by most of the opening scenes showing numerous encounters with them.

Speaking of that, there are some great shots in this film. The poetic brutality of the opening title sequence almost rivals Watchmen’s in how great it is to see it roll out. It also helps set the mood for the movie, which seems to get more light-hearted as the film goes on. The way the rules are used visually throughout the movie is a nice, funny little touch, and I wish we saw a little more come out of the concept for “Zombie Kill of the Week.”

The film had a very huge “road trip” vibe to it, and that played in to getting to know the characters. Tallahassee, Columbus, Little Rock and Wichita are all flawed individuals, but judging from what is seen of their personalities they all seem to fit together well as a group that seems like fun to hang out with. The way that they spoke to and interacted with each other actually seemed very believable, even with how over the top the movie is. I’ll admit that the romance between Wichita and Columbus seemed a little extraneous, but it sort of added a little extra emotional punch to the end. Of course, the funniest scenes usually involve Tallahassee and Columbus and their clashing personalities.

One wants love, the other wants a Twinkie. Whether or not they get what they want, they kick ass in any scene they're both in.


While I realize that some of Tallahassee’s better lines come from a few other movies, in a way that kind of makes them funnier. Some of the jokes in this film are a bit oriented toward people who have a light knowledge of movies. This especially comes into play when they run into the huge cameo once they get to Beverly Hills (if you don’t want it spoiled for you, I would suggest not reading my last post concerning this movie). There isn’t much I can say about it without spoiling it, but I will say this: as somebody who grew up with and still loves Ghostbusters, that cameo was definitely a crown jewel among the funnier scenes in the movie. It helps that it was written very well into the script too.

As entertaining as this movie is, though, I felt kind of put off a little by the quick pacing. As Eisenberg narrates the events of the film, it almost feels like he is rushing things along. He tends to gloss over a lot of details when he talks about Tallahassee’s former life before the zombie apocalypse, and he doesn’t say too much about Wichita or Little Rock either. These seemed like really great and fun characters, and even if it increased the film’s runtime it would have been nice to get to know them a little better. Apparently, according to the internet movie database, there are also a sizable chunk of continuity errors too, making the overall production of the film seem a little less streamlined than I originally pictured.

Despite that, this film definitely works as a horror and comedy film. The splatters of blood and guts and consistent laugh-out-loud moments fit together like peanut butter and chocolate, all thanks to a well written script and great performances from the cast all around. If it ends up having a sequel, then I can’t wait to see it, because the movie definitely left me wanting some more of these characters.


On a side note, this movie came out at the perfect time too. The mixture of zombie gore and comedy this movie provides is great for getting into the mood for Halloween. Hell, I was munching on a huge Snickers bar as I typed this review.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

"DYNOMITE! DYNOMITE!"

Not much going on, just popping in to say that this movie right here looks pretty funny.

"I will stop anybody who sells drugs to the community."

"But Black Dynamite, I sell drugs to the community!"

I know, the whole parody of 1970s blaxploitation movies has been done many times before, but that trailer definitely sells it well enough.

Aside from that, there's a bunch of buzz-worthy stuff out there that I've seen recently, and I'll be talking about it soon once I have some time to breathe.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Some Interesting Developments

Hey everybody, it's time to kick off September with some updates on some previous posts.

First thing's first, remember when I was talking about Christopher Nolan's new project Inception?

I had heard that he put it on hold to work on the next Batman movie, but it turns out he was able to finish shooting after all because now we have a teaser! Courtesy of the WB (Sorry guys, I seem to be having a problem embedding Youtube vids right now, so just click here if you want to watch it).

I won't say that this teaser says much more about the movie than we already knew, but I will say that it is incredibly visually impressive. I was hoping for more details to be revealed at Comic Con, but hopefully we'll get some more information on the movie soon.

Also, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World has just wrapped up principal photography!


At this point it's time for the film to go into editing. Wright's photos and video blogs were definitely a lot of fun to follow, and I can't wait to see a teaser or something pop up soon. Click on either Michael, Mary or Ellen up there to see more photos.

Before I go again, allow me to get in a few words about the big Disney/Marvel deal that went down a couple days ago.

Like everyone else has said, I really don't think this will impact any of Marvel's pre-existing comics, movies, or IPs. Judging from everything that's been said, Disney seems pretty cool about honoring all of Marvel's previous contractual obligations, so stuff like Iron Man 2 and the Avengers movie ought to come out just fine. Everyone who is worried about this needs to remember one thing: Disney isn't so much interested in the comics and movies as it is the extremely huge licensing potential. I think some really awesome stuff, in terms of animation and merchandise, could come out of this deal, but I guess only time will tell.

Monday, July 27, 2009

"He's my new daaaad"

Welp, time once again to dust off the old blog to share some movie news.

Things have been rather slow on this blog the last couple of months, and I apologize for that. Between the job search and all the other crap going on this summer, updates have been rather scarce. It doesn't help that 500 Days Of Summer and The Hurt Locker got limited releases either.

Not to worry, though. I have a couple of ideas on how to keep weekly content up on this blog, and I think advertising it a little more and getting a bigger audience would give me some more incentive to update. If only I could find some free time...

But anyway, enough about me. Today I wanna talk about Star Wars, or more specifically Episode I, The Phantom Menace, which I just learned turned ten years old a little while ago. Why do I even want to discuss this movie? Well, Claudine Zap of Yahoo's Buzz Log had a little video interview with Jake Lloyd, who played Anakin Skywalker as a little kid, just last week as some kind of retrospective. You can read about it and see the video here.

I find it funny how Zap mentions that people blame Lloyd for ruining Star Wars. It's probably been a good seven years since I've seen The Phantom Menace from start to finish, but when I think back to it, I can think of a number of things that were ten times worse than Anakin as a little kid.

The stupid aliens (especially mildly racist Jar Jar and Watto) stick out in my mind, as well as Natalie Portman acting horribly not just in this film but in all three prequels, and let's not forget George Lucas' extreme disdain for plot, continutiy, dignity, character development, or scenes that do not involve shitty wacky aliens partaking in cah-raaaazy antics and throwing up CGI bullshit all over the goddamn place.

Also, "Can I be a Jedi, mom? Yippee!!" might be an annoying line, especially with how it was delivered in the movie, but "He's holding me baaaack!" is even more brain-melting, and was delivered by, in my opinion, an even worse actor. If you ask me, Anakin was way more creepy and nauseating when he grew up.

Well, I'm done nerd-raging for now. Hopefully I can have some kind of review or something up next time, but for now, here's a pretty impressive tv spot for District 9, courtesy of Film School Rejects, to keep everyone occupied.

Oh, and one last thing. I don't give a shit what anyone says, the podracing was badass.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

God Damn It Michael Bay, Part Two

Celebrity gossip isn't usually something I cover too often on this blog. If there's one thing in this world I will never understand, it's why us humans will gossip and talk shit about everyone behind everyone's back. Michael Bay, however, really seems to deserve it lately. After Megan Fox, lead actress of his new movie Transformers 2: Revenge Of The Fallen, pretty much said what everyone already thought about this movie, he made the decision to chime in with his own two cents, in an interview with Lauren E.K. Schuker of the Wall Street Journal:

It’s interesting that you want to focus on acting. Megan Fox, one of the leads in “Transformers” has criticized your films for being special-effects-driven and not offering so many acting opportunities. Do you agree?

Well, that’s Megan Fox for you. She says some very ridiculous things because she’s 23 years old and she still has a lot of growing to do. You roll your eyes when you see statements like that and think, “Okay Megan, you can do whatever you want. I got it.” But I 100% disagree with her. Nick Cage wasn’t a big actor when I cast him, nor was Ben Affleck before I put him in Armageddon. Shia LaBeouf wasn’t a big movie star before he did Transformers—and then he exploded. Not to mention Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, from Bad Boys. Nobody in the world knew about Megan Fox until I found her and put her in Transformers. I like to think that I’ve had some luck in building actors’ careers with my films.

Jesus, could this guy come off as any more arrogant with this statement? Fox isn't exactly being civil here either, but Bay is honestly trying to tell me that he made Ben Affleck, Nicholas Cage, Will Smith AND Martin Lawrence in to huge megastars? It's been pointed out before, but previous evidence would definitely suggest otherwise for all three of them, especially for Ben Affleck (I think Bay owes Kevin Smith an apology at this point). As for Nicholas Cage, I don't think Bay directed Face/Off, and I think Will Smith owes more to NBC and DJ Jazzy Jeff for helping with his career than he does Michael Bay. The second Bad Boys film wasn't exactly cinematic ambrosia or anything.

Also, boy do I feel sorry for Megan Fox right now. We've got Michael Bay forcing her to wash his car to audition for the first Transformers movie (well, according to British critic John Solomons anyway), then he goes and calls her immature for stating the facts. On top of that, I've seen a lot of reviews for Transformers 2 lately, and they hardly have anything good to say about her that doesn't concern her body. Shia the Beef doesn't even want to play Wii with her. She has got to be feeling pretty frustrated right now. Here's hoping she's getting a better chance to prove herself, and a little more respect working with Jimmy Hayward, Josh Brolin and John Malkovich over these next few months.

I know this seems petty, but I'm almost thinking about avoiding Transformers 2 even when it comes out on Blu-Ray, just out of fucking principle.

Anyway, I leave you guys with some hilarious Transformers 2 reviews, one from Charlie Jane Anders of io9.com, another from Rob of Topless Robot, and one last one from the ever-so-snarky Roger Ebert straight from his own blog at the Chicago Sun-Times.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Zombieland!

Well, it looks like Shaun of the Dead might not be the only notable zombie comedy movie we get this decade.

Trailer courtesy of Apple and Columbia Pictures.
Woody Harrelson playing a character named "Tallahassee" and kicking zombie ass, alongside a cowardly Jesse Eisenberg and Emma Stone? That's awesome enough by itself, but Bill Murray as a zombie!? That's like a cherry on top of a really good ice cream sundae. As usual, when a trailer hits for something like this, I'm not sure how it'll turn out, but Zombieland already sounds like a scary good time.
Here's a better guess of the story from William Goss of Cinematical:
The tone of at least the trailer (I could see the narration carrying over to
the film) strikes me as something like Shaun of the Dead crossed with The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and I for one don't think that
intersection's a bad place to be.
Not a bad place at all. I also just noticed that it's coming out in October. Maybe just in time for Halloween? I know I'd watch this over the next shock-driven Saw flick any day.
On one last note for the day, God bless Bill Murray. First he comes back to do Ghostbusters 3, and now he's doing this. I just want to give him a high five from the moon right now.

*Sigh* God damn it, Michael Bay.

Reviews have started rolling in for the new Transformers film this week.

Having very limited funds and almost no interest in Transformers in general, I'm very much on the fence about seeing this movie. The kind of stuff I've been hearing about it, though, has not been too promising so far.
What's especially off-putting about this sequel to the 2007 blockbuster special effects rodeo is the fact that, according to Devin Faraci of CHUD.com, Orci, Kurtzman and Bay seem to be taking lessons from the Jerry Bruckheimer School of Racial Sensitivity when creating new robots for the film. Needless to say, Faraci wasn't pleased with what he saw:

These new robots, who begin the film conjoined as a shitty old ice cream truck
but who soon get upgraded into Chevy concept cars, seem to be the most extreme
racial caricatures seen in a movie in decades. The Twins have a simian
appearance, with wide faces and huge ears. One of them (full disclosure: I am
not sure which is which, namewise. This isn't a problem limited to just these
robots in Transformers 2 as I couldn't tell most robots apart, except for Optimus Prime and Bumblebee) has a gold bucktooth. They have a
'playful' back and forth relationship, which includes them talking in some sort
of modern day rap-age jive, calling each other 'bitch-ass' or 'punk,' talking
with an exaggerated, crunked-up 'street' accent. They appear to be stoned all
the time. And they can't read; when asked to translate some ancient Cybertronian
language they sheepishly admit they 'don't do much readin'.' To be fair, only
Prime can read this language, but even the completely idiotic mini-bot (and
Italian stereotype) Wheelie can at least recognize what the writing is. The
Twins are completely illiterate, it seems. I was actually surprised that the
film didn't find a way to make them wear a Transformers version of baggy pants.


Gold teeth, wide eyes and big lips. Christ. I can practically smell the outrage bubbling up. Courtesy of Paramount Pictures and CHUD.com.


These two floating autobots, pictured above, are the alleged racist caricatures in question.

I suppose it's not really noticeable when they're on screen and in motion, but when you look at these two images for a while it becomes apparent that certain features are exaggerated in a certain way. That being said, I have doubts that Bay was legitimately thinking in stereotypes when he created them. Bay has made some bad movies, but that doesn't make him a bad person. Seeing him try to cover his ass by pinning it on the voice actors doing the characters, however, is a little unnerving:

Bay was eager to give all the credit for the Twins to Tom Kenny, the (white)
voice actor. 'When you work with voice actors, especially with the twins, they
did a lot of improv for their parts. We liked their improv and, from there, we
would animate to their stuff. When you're doing character animation and you're
building the character, it's not like an actor where you shoot the scene and
you've got it and you move on. With animation, you get the dialogue and then
some animation and then a bit more of the dialogue and you keep going back and
forth and it just builds until you have the shot you want.'

(For the
record, Bay mentions a second voice actor while IMDB lists Kenny as the voice of
both bots)


Later in the article, Bay mentions something about how he created the robots as a way to market the movie better to teenagers and college students. Faraci believes him, and I'm inclined to agree, but since this is the year 2009 and not 1964, I can't imagine why Bay would think this is a good idea. I'm aware that a lot of the humor in this and Bay's other works (especially The Island and Bad Boys II) caters to the lowest common denominator in a ham-fisted attempt to make as much money at release as possible, but I'd never thought he would go this far, even unknowingly.

What's even more worrisome about this, aside from the potential race-related backlash, is the fact that these characters seem very one-dimensional on the surface. When a story is poorly written or doesn't contain a whole lot of character development, a lot of minor or even secondary characters tend to be personified by either archetypes or stereotypes. If this is an indicator of the kind of stuff they are introducing in this new film to the Transformers franchise, that could be troublesome. I guess I shouldn't expect a whole lot of character development from a movie based around an 80s cartoon that was designed to sell toys, but still, it's pretty bad.

One thing Faraci may be overreacting about a little, though, is the "Italian stereotype" take that Kurtzman and Bay took with Wheeler. Here's a clip of what to expect, from Hollywood.com, Paramount Pictures, and Youtube:



Speaking as an Italian-American, I'm not so offended that Wheeler sounds like a bad Frank Sinatra impression but that this whole sequence, as a Youtube commenter put it, "Looks like a potty-mouth version of something you'd see on the Disney Channel."

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Monday, June 8, 2009

So I finally saw Up last weekend

Pixar’s grown up a bit since they did Toy Story back in 1995.

With their first few movies, especially Toy Story and A Bug’s Life, John Lasseter and crew seemed to be just making movies for kids, mostly preoccupied with the task of selling the potential of all-CGI animated movies to an industry that was skeptical at the time, including Disney. Now, since they obviously no longer have to prove themselves, Pixar not only makes movies that kids can enjoy, but movies that adults can relate to as well. Films such as The Incredibles, Ratatouille and WALL-E are definite proof of this, providing us with stories of characters that are well developed and likeable dealing with extraordinary situations amidst colorful, almost photo-realistic backgrounds and relatable, strong themes.

Up, Pixar’s newest creation, written and directed by Pixar veterans Pete Docter and Bob Peterson and produced by WALL-E director Andrew Stanton, is no exception.

The protagonist is a short, square-headed and largely subdued 78 year old man named Carl Fredericksen (Ed Asner). He spent most of his younger years married to his life-loving, adventure hungry childhood sweetheart Ellie (Elie Docter). Ellie and Carl had amazing dreams of traveling to the jungles of South America and having all kinds of adventures. Unfortunately, life and its pitfalls get in the way, and Ellie passes away before she gets the chance to leave the town they grew up in, leaving poor Carl alone in a world that is constantly changing.

Determined to carry on in her spirit, the now elderly Carl comes up with a plan to honor her memory. He attaches thousands of balloons to his house, transforming it into a makeshift airship of sorts, and sets a course for Paradise Falls, where he plans to live out the rest of his days. What he doesn’t count on, however, is a young wilderness explorer stowaway named Russell (newcomer Jordan Nagai), who inadvertently tags on for the adventure. Carl isn’t too keen on Russell at first, but after getting to know him they form a bond, one that transcends generations. From that point on, a series of unexpected distractions, including an endangered bird named Kevin and a crazed and disgraced adventurer named Charles Mintz (Christopher Plummer), provide Carl and Russell with plenty of adventure. Possibly more than they can handle, at least at first.


Here, Carl and Ellie share a lovely afternoon together. Still courtesy of the Swiss site OutNow.ch, and of Pixar/Disney. You can view more stills there.


As is the case with all of Pixar’s movies, the effort and development time put in to the animation and visual effects is astounding. It’s easy to see that their animation staff really has a thing for texture mapping. Carl’s suit looks and moves like fabric. The water looks and splashes like actual water. The pill bottles on Carl’s nightstand are translucent, and you can actually see all the pills inside them. The setting and backgrounds are also simply breathtaking. Modeled after the sights of actual South American waterfalls and rainforests, each scene is truly a testament to the great amount of attention that the animators at Pixar pay to detail.

Also worth noting is the terriffic musical score done by composer Michael Giacchino. This track here stands among the best in the whole film.


Visual style, however, isn’t all this movie has. Considering the subject matter, this can be seen as an especially brave movie for Pixar to make, especially since it’s marketed as a family movie. It is admirable how the movie deals with subjects ranging from growing old, dealing with personal loss, and not running away from your problems in an entirely true-to-life and responsible way without talking down to the kids in the audience, and letting these themes influence the story and plot without making them too obvious or bogging down other aspects of the film. Some could argue that themes like that are hard for kids to pick up on, but this story seems to make them understandable enough.

And man, what an incredible story it is. The first ten minutes are so painful to watch, only because of how somber and brutally honest they are, but it’s worth watching the rest of the film to get to the extremely uplifting conclusion.

Carl and Russell face down a stone sculpture in the heart of the South American jungle in this piece of concept art done by animator Lou Romano. You can see some more fun concept art at his blog here.


Of course, the characters help move things along nicely. One thing that’s really respectable about the way Pixar casts their movies is that they always choose people who really have their hearts invested in the roles they’re picked for. It almost never sounds like any of them are phoning it in, or providing star power as a crutch for the movie to lean on. It’s not my intention to bash Dreamworks, but in Pixar’s movies, it always seems like the voice actors are, well, acting more. For example, when Tim Allen voices Buzz Lightyear in the Toy Story movies, he really sounds like Buzz Lightyear. He really gets into the role. Meanwhile, Eddie Murphy voices Donkey in the Shrek movies, and he does a fairly entertaining performance, but for the most part he just sounds like Eddie Murphy the donkey.

The voice actors in this movie, despite not being extremely huge names, show a lot of dedication, which is something a lot of people have come to expect from the cast of a Pixar movie. Ed Asner takes the concept of a quiet and reserved fellow turned lovable curmudgeon and really runs with it. Nagai’s Russell makes the perfect, energetic and upbeat counterpoint to Carl’s grouchiness, and the bond they create later between them is made extra special because of this.

The most memorable characters, by far, have to be two supporting characters. The first one is Dug (Bob Petersen), a golden retriever who wears a collar that can convert his thoughts into words, and Kevin, the endangered bird. Dug has such great chemistry with the two main characters, and spouts lines that make great comic relief for everyone, especially dog owners in the audience (“I hid under your porch because I love you!” This line is even better in context). Kevin, on the other hand, has some very lively mannerisms. It’s easy to tell that the animators had fun with him.

Pictured here from left to right: Kevin, Russell, Dug, and Carl. Still courtesy of Pixar/Disney.


With the successful reputation that Pixar has, it seems almost shocking that Disney’s corporate execs and wall street aficionados alike were worried about the film’s marketability. While I’m not sure how many action figures and lunchboxes the film will sell, I can say with confidence that it is a film that adults will love, and kids will remember even when they become adults themselves. It’s a little too early to say where this one ranks among Disney/Pixar’s movies, but it is definitely in my top three.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

An all-star cast set for Christopher Nolan's "Inception"

Pictured here is Ken Watanabe, now a member of the cast of Christopher Nolan's upcoming project "Inception." He's got a glare going here that puts Jason Statham to shame. Photo courtesy of Getty Images and the Hollywood Reporter.

Anyone who's been reading this blog so far knows that I love a good sci-fi story, which is why I'm a little confused as to why this is the first I've heard of this news. From Borys Kit of the Hollywood Reporter:

Ken Watanabe and Tom Hardy are
boarding Christopher Nolan's "Inception" for Warner Bros.

The story, which Nolan wrote, is a contemporary sci-fi actioner set
within the architecture of the mind, with
Leonardo DiCaprio as
a CEO type. Watanabe will play the film's villain, a man who is blackmailing
DiCaprio.

Hardy is a member of DiCaprio's team. The duo join a cast that includes Joseph
Gordon-Levitt
, Cillian Murphy, Ellen Page and Marion
Cotillard
.

Watanabe's deal reunites him with Nolan, with whom he collaborated on
2005's "Batman Begins."Nolan and the studio are aiming for a summer shoot ahead
of a 2010 release. Nolan and Emma Thomas are producing through their
Warners-based Syncopy Films shingle.




A sci-fi action movie, directed by Christopher Nolan and starring Ellen Page, Leonardo DiCaprio, Cillian Murphy AND Joseph Gordon-Levitt?

Right now, I don't have a whole lot information on this. Until I get a glimpse of the trailer, however, I think this movie just might be worth the price of admission for the incredibly awesome cast alone. It's not often you get so much talent together like that. Wow.

So yeah, hopefully more on this as it develops.

"What I'm saying is, when the president does it, it's not illegal."

Well, I feel like a huge idiot tonight. At the same time, I also feel somewhat enriched.

All the way back in December, I had passed on checking out Frost/Nixon. Part of the reason was the fact that I didn’t have a huge amount of money on me (and still don’t), but another part of it was my dismissal of the film as blatant Oscar bait. I was ultimately right when I thought about The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Slumdog Millionaire in this way.

But I was so, so very wrong about this film.

As you can guess, I just saw this film on DVD today. I was treated to it by my professor, Dr. Jonathan Silverman, as a reward for getting all the way through his Feature Writing class. While it does have some moments that, at first glance, seem to say, “I’ll have 10 Oscars please,” there really aren’t enough to slap this film with that label. This is probably the best film I’ve seen about the 1970s American media grilling Nixon like a juicy tenderloin since All The President’s Men.

Expressive hand gestures can't save you this time, Nixon. Photo courtesy of Universal Studios.

Directed by Ron Howard and written by Peter Morgan, this film is a re-telling of the story behind the television interviews that British TV host David Frost (Michael Sheen) held with former president Richard Nixon (Frank Langella). As you can guess, these were the interviews where Nixon pretty much admitted what he did, after just about everyone in America at the time had called him out on it. It is kind of weird how the movie is shot. It’s sort of a faux-documentary, so instead of the actual people involved speaking on the subject, we get actors playing the people involved reading off what they wrote.

Things start to get heated between the interviewer and the interviewee. Still courtesy of Film School Rejects.

There was probably a lot of guess-work done by the writers, I can’t really comment on how accurate everything is. The pacing, however, was pitch-perfect. It seems that the movie gets tired of Nixon stonewalling Frost around the same time we do, and it immediately cuts to the good stuff. It’s great, it really is. This screenplay was patched together so well that it’s almost seamless. The fantastic cast just makes it even better. The banter between James Reston Jr. (Sam Rockwell) and Bob Zelnick (Oliver Platt) makes for some engaging comic relief, and Caroline Cushing (Rebecca Hall), while not really having too many lines, shines pretty brightly, at least for the first and second acts. Jack Brennan (Kevin Bacon) was played off as one of the scariest hard-asses I’ve ever seen in a film like this. I also love how Langella and Sheen played both their characters. They set it up like a debate club version of Rocky. Frost is just getting devastated for the first three rounds, but of course we all know he comes back around to win it in the last round, and he does it with a new-found sense of dignity. In a way, Nixon was really asking for it. Speaking of him, this has to be one of the most human visions of Nixon I’ve seen in recent years. When watching this film, one really gets a good idea of just how much he was robbed at last year’s Oscars.


Seen here is David Frost mackin-er, I mean, working on his interviewing skills with a Ms. Caroline Cushing. Photo courtesy of Universal Studios.

So thank you, Dr. J. This just may be the last time I dismiss a movie because of over-hyping alone.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Did you like No Country for Old Men?

I ask this, of course, because I just got the news that yet another Cormac McCarthy novel is being translated to film.

This time around, it's The Road, the story of a post apocalyptic world and the journey of a father and son across a barren landscape in search of, well, anything. Written back in 2006, the story apparently was a best seller with a ton of good reviews, which doesn't surprise me considering the influence this guy must have now.

The movie is apparently slated to come out in November. It's being directed by John Hillcoat, a relative unknown who so far has only done a bunch of music videos. It'll be interesting how this turns out.

Hey, at least the cinematography so far looks promisingly gritty. I apologize if that makes no sense, it's 3 AM and I can barely form coherent sentences right now.

Honestly, I've never read the book, but I'm a sucker for post-apocalyptic fiction, so this might be at least a rental for me. Also, it has Viggo Mortensen, and it's good to see he's still getting some big roles. What can I say, the guy doesn't get nearly enough credit.

In this update, Ellen Wong is adorable

Remember that Scott Pilgrim movie I talked about a while back?

Well now, not only do you get the privilege of seeing the production unfold on Edgar Wright's photoblog, but now that the movie is officially in production, he's set up a video blog as well. You can see it here.

While we're at it, here's his most recent entry:



This is Blog Five - From Comic Book Panel to Screen - Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World from Scott Pilgrim The Movie on Vimeo. Footage courtesy of Universal Studios.

I really, really adore Ellen Wong and her strong enthusiasm about the project. So far, all she's had to say about this movie is just how much she loves the fact that she's doing it, and unlike some big name feigning excitement about being in the latest superhero flick, it actually sounds honest. Cera's been rather tongue in cheek when addressing the movie in these videos, but come on, it doesn't take rocket science to see that he is just loving this right now.


For your viewing pleasure, here is a gratuitous production shot of Mary Elizabeth Winstead in character as Ramona Flowers. That is one big hammer. Photo courtesy of Edgar Wright and Universal Studios.

In any case, I'm happy to see that Wright is making a conscientious effort to stay true to the source material, but I understand the nature of adaptation. You cut out what doesn't work, shorten and streamline. That's the way it is, that's how you make an adaptation that sells tickets, and sicne I love the comics to death I'm still hoping that this is A. good and B. sells as many tickets as possible. Like I said before, O' Malley (the creator of Scott Pilgrim) only has one shot at this whole movie thing after all.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Disney's Return to 2D: The Princess and the Frog

This has been news for quite some time now, but in this case it is worth bringing up again because guess what?

Apple now has the trailer up on their website.

You can view it in HD here.

Here's the old teaser for it too, just in case you've forgotten about it.

This movie seems very, very promising, like it will get people really thinking about Disney again. The trailer in particular seems to be very good at rousing people's interest. It isn't really clear what exactly is going on. Is she a princess, or just wearing a costume for a party? Did she just turn into a frog herself? How much of the movie is going to be like that?

It looks as if it will be an interesting take on the original fairy tale, for sure. For Disney's sake, though, I hope it is as entertaining as all of the Pixar movies they've distributed in recent years.

Read more about this movie at Disney's official website, here.

Trekking from Star to Star

Capt. Kirk, Spock and Dr. McCoy show us just how this movie will make audiences feel. Cartoon courtesy of Kate Beaton.

People who generally shy away from overly convoluted science fiction might think this film is simply not for them. In addition, hardcore Trekkies seem all the more ready to dismiss this film as not being “real” Star Trek.

I’m going to say this as clearly as I can. You are both wrong, and both of you should see this movie as soon as possible.

Directed by rising sci-fi star J.J. Abrams, this movie is, in short, the chronicle of James T. Kirk’s (Christopher Pine) beginnings as the captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise. It also tells the story of how the rest of the crew came to be as well. On the side, we have the story of Nero, a Romulan miner who takes it upon himself to exact revenge against a race of aliens known as the Vulcans, whom Nero holds responsible for the destruction of his home planet Romulus, specifically a very intelligent Vulcan known as Spock (Zachary Quinto). It soon becomes the Enterprise’s mission to stop Nero from doing any further damage to the rest of their galaxy, especially Earth. It’s worth noting that this film is set in an alternate universe from the main one.

OK, first off, the special effects? Absolutely amazing. The fact that the cinematography is so good to begin with pretty much enhances this. That may sound a little redundant when discussing a movie written by the guys who handled Transformers, but still, they were incredible. Everything, from the space dive to the U.S.S. Kelvin charging towards Nero’s ship to Sulu using his “combat skills” to kick some Romulan ass, looks streamlined. Even the bridge of the Enterprise (and no, I don’t care that it has the “Apple Store” look. Actually, I think it kind of suits it). It helps a whole bunch that the special effects really shine during the action scenes, which are quite plentiful in this re-imagining.

Speaking of Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, honestly, the script isn’t the best it could be. To put it frankly, if it weren’t for Abrams’ skills as a director, this film probably wouldn’t be making as much money at the box office as it has been. The decisions they made while writing some scenes aren’t too bad though. Some of the time travel stuff opens up a plothole or two, but that’s forgivable since we’re dealing with Star Trek science here. Actually, most moviegoers should be thanking them for doing that, because it helped shed this franchise of the long, boring, low-budget continuity that had dragged down previous recent Trek movies. The relationship between Uhura and Spock doesn’t really go anywhere, although it does serve to develop their characters a bit more. My main issue, however, was with some of the lines. Hearing Uhura say “captain” in a stern tone every time Kirk gave an order grated on me a bit, and it wouldn’t have hurt for Sulu and Scotty to get a few more lines. Luckily, the few lines that they have make up for that by working so well in their given scenes.



Captain Kirk (Christopher Pine) and Spock (Zachary Quinto) get in a bit of a scrap here. Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures.

The performances in this film are great as well. What’s very admirable about all of them is that each of the main cast’s performances manages to stay true to their respective characters, without being imitations of their predecessors. For example, Quinto definitely channels Leonard Nimoy in his performance as Spock, but he puts a much more serious spin on the character. While it was probably tough for Pine to turn Kirk into a bad boy, he manages to do it while keeping the character so recognizably Kirk. Everyone else was pretty perfect as well. Zoe Saldana captures the spirit of Uhura, Simon Pegg adds a welcome comedic twist to the character of Scotty, and John Cho does a great job of re-inventing the character of Sulu entirely. The best performances are definitely Karl Urban, who captures the essence of Bones oh so perfectly, Bruce Greenwood, who made an excellent Pike, and Anton Yelchin, who plays a funny and lovable take on Chekov. Meanwhile, the weakest performance was certainly Eric Bana, for his performance of the Romulan miner and known whack-job Nero. His character just seemed so much like generic action movie bad guy, although the screenwriters might be more to blame for that than he is.

After all is said and done, this is the question of the day: does this movie appeal to people who have never seen anything Star Trek before, while keeping the older Trekkies about the hypothetical Enterprise?

I’d say, yes. I’m not sure about commercials calling it “this summer’s Iron Man” or “the next Star Wars.” It does, however, have all the makings of a great early summer blockbuster, and the events that separate it from previous Trek continuity ought to keep the old-fashioned fans satisfied that this film doesn’t mess with what they’ve known about the series for decades now.


It is logical to recommend this film for geeks and non-geeks alike, Captain (image courtesy of Paramount Pictures).

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Sights and Sounds of Spring Carnival

Up on this hill I get a bird's eve view of everything just before things start to really kick off.

The sun beamed down on everyone's heads on that warm, almost summer-like April afternoon at the South Campus Field, where students, faculty, and kids alike witnessed the fun unfolded around them.


Some students enjoy shooting some hoops at the carnival.

Tables crowded the landscape, filled with people in costume or summer wear, giving out pamphlets or setting up some crazy exhibits. The hickory smoke of barbeque existed as the predominant scent in the air, no matter where you were, and the sounds that echoed throughout the field were an uplifting mix of kids squealing with delight, students engaged in friendly chatter, and rock music. Off in the distance, several large, colorful inflatable structures towered over everyone, with kids bouncing around in and out of them, seemingly brimming with joy. It was a semi-surreal, yet entirely fun scene to bear witness to.

It was also an optimistic signal that the long, busy school year will soon be at an end yet again, at least for students.


Pictured here is Zander Judge, a member of CAPA, holding a delicious pixie stick.
Spring Carnival, the annual event held by CAPA and Student Activities, is a day full of opportunity for everyone. For students passing by, it is an opportunity to blow off some steam before the really hard work sets in, a chance to distract oneself with games and prizes for a few hours. Every year, the carnival has a theme to it, usually focusing on something like pirates, vikings, mermaids or something else along those lines. This year's theme took its inspiration from the polytheistic society of ancient Greece.
...
For the many student clubs on campus, it is an opportunity to raise some more money, and more support.


Some student engineers goof of for a bit, along with a gorilla in a toga.

Melissa Dorval, a member of the WiseGuys club here at UMass Lowell, is among many other booth runners taking advantage of this year's them. Today, she is dressed as the Greek god of death Hades and offering free photo ops in front of a picture of Mount Olympus at the Wise Guys booth.
Here is Dorval, pictured here summoning the demons of Hades using the very might of the Gods. Or, you know, not.

"We are here today trying to get donations for the club and recruit people too," she said. "Any donations will fund the operations for the club, including our spring break trip to New Orleans next year."
This fairy-tale style castle is kind of an odd fit for a festival with an ancient Greece theme, but the kids bouncing around inside don't seem to mind.
Wise Guys has been heading to New Orleans for a couple of years now, helping the city clean up the damage and rebuild after the mess caused by Hurricane Katrina back in 2005. Dorval thinks the theme CAPA picked for this year is fun and easy, although the experience is a little humbling for her.

"Eh, it's alright," she said. "I'm in public wearing a bedsheet, but hey, you know, you gotta make the most of it."
...
John and Alex, in business with a balloon popping dart board booth set up for both the Biology Club and Unite for Sight, use the spirit of Spring Carnival to strut about their macho-ness. At their twin booths, they don the traditional armor of Greek spartan soldiers, or at least something closely resembling it made with stuff you could buy at the craft store.

"This is nothing but fun," said John. "You get to dress up like a spartan. There aren't many times of year where you get to do that."

John and Alex are pictured here, shields up and spears ready, prepared to defend their booth from the oncoming Persian army. Hail Leonidas!
The balloon popping fun, just like many of the other booths here, also had a good cause driving it. In this case, they stressed that you don't need to be an oracle to have excellent eyesight.


In this picture, it looks like a lucky young woman is about to win a prize.
"We're raising awareness about eye health," said Alex. "In addition to the balloon popping dart board, we're also offering free eye test screenings and a coin-catch game at the board across from it."
...
Betty, Kristen, and Kate (who didn't disclose thier last names) are not normally keen on wearing crowns. On this day, though, each one of them donned a crown of fake olive branches, possibly symbolizing the extensive knowledge they have of computer science.
Here are, in no particular order: Betty, Kristen and Kate at their Women in Computer Science table, complete with olive branch crowns of felt.
Their table contains an interesting and thought-provoking theme, helping to raise money and membership for the Women in Computer Science club.

"Our theme for this year's carnival is puzzles," said Betty. "A lot of the ancient Greeks knew a lot about math, and many Greek thinkers used their knowledge to make puzzles to help figure out things, so we decided to let the carnival-goers solve some puzzles in an attempt to win some small prizes."

The student engineers are also hoping to stimulate people's minds as well as provide quality entertainment. Their table, surprisingly, does not take advantage of the carnival's theme, but the activity they provide today makes up for that by being fascinating.

"What we have here is a wading pool of a substance called 'non-neutronian fluid,'" said Amy Musgrave, one of the Student Engineering Council members running the table. "What you have to do here is keep it from sticking to you, so you have to keep running in it, or keep it solid enough so that it doesn't. It is really sensitive to pressure."
This sandbox was right next to the E-Council's table, but wasn't getting nearly as much love as the "non-neutronian fluid" was.
The messy yet harmless substance seems to provide endless amusement for a group of students and some small children, as they take pleasure in stomping around in the stuff. Kevin Beauregard, another student engineer on the field helping out today, can vouch for how enjoyable something so simple can be.

"It's good that people are hearing about the club, but mostly, we're just doing this for fun," said Beauregard. "If no one were here right now, we'd probably be playing in the stuff ourselves."
...

Among the many booths are an inflatable wrecking ball tetherball station, a bouncy castle, and a rock climbing wall. This provides hours of fun not just for the students and faculty, but for the little children who are fortunate enough to have parents who know about the carnival.


A mother and her child out and about at the carnival stop to pose for a picture.

"We really like the tye-dying booth, and who ever was doing the free caricatures," said Britney Melanson, a student who was enjoying the event with some friends.


One of the more popular set-ups there was the Wrecking Ball Tetherball inflatable game, seen here being enjoyed by some more students.
The whole field was alive with the sound of rock music as well. CAPA uses the carnival every year as an opportunity to host the annual Battle of the Bands.

This year's contest had some added significance, however, as it was being simulcast live by the campus radio station WUML 91.5. Bands not only had the opportunity to win prize money but to have their voices heard. Among the entrants were the harmonic post rock band Life on Hold, the punk pop indie band Beneath the Sheets, and many others. Their sounds provided just the right mood for this carnival.


Here's a shot of Ali, the PSA Director, and intern Tyler manning the booth on the morning of the carnival.

In what is possibly one of the only low points of the carnival, the broadcast didn't quite go as smoothly at first as one would hope.

Will Carey, WUML.org's webmaster and the person running the booth at Spring Carnival, had mentioned that the vector used to transmit the signal from the mobile broadcasting unit on the field to the main station had taken a while to start up during the night before, when WUML had set up its tent and held their all night broadcast, the event that they hold every year before the actual carnival takes place. Since then, it had been reportedly cutting out every so often.

"The broadcast had its bumps, mainly technological glitches," said Carey, "but we seemed to have that worked out now." Here is some video of the concert that was broadcast:

video

Here's some footage of the competing bands, which includes the Advocates, Boston punk band the Burning Streets, and UML darlings Bearstronaut and Life on Hold. Beneath the Sheets, unfortunately the only band not in this video, ended up walking away with the prize money, with Life on Hold coming in 3rd and the Burning Streets finishing in second. This video is kind of long, so you might want ot get a sandwich or something while it loads.

This does nothing to dampen his spirits, or the spirits of anyone else at the booth. DJs and interns alike continued to monitor the unit as well as give out CDs and t-shirts. Many students interested in the radio's programming stopped by to say hi, and collect free stuff. Despite this year's technical errors, Carey says that WUML will continue to be a presence here every year.

"As long as CAPA keeps doing this not only will we be here," he said, "But we will be here the night before, too."
Fortunately for them, students will never stop coming out either.