Friday, July 31, 2009

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

Day 212 - 7/31/09 - Movie #208

BEFORE: I've been meaning to get to this one for a while - it's another of those alternate-universe films (I think). It's set in the 1930's or 40's, but with futuristic spaceships. Another film that got a really bad rap - did it deserve it?

THE PLOT: After New York City is attacked by giant flying robots, a reporter teams up with a pilot in search of their origin, as well as the reason for the disappearances of famous scientists around the world.

AFTER: It's definitely a visually stunning film, with giant robots, metallic winged flying machines, and jet-packs, which are all anachronistic. The color palette and stark lighting make it all look like an old 1930's movie serial or comic book, combined with Soviet propaganda posters. Unfortunately, the plot is extremely simplistic - "Machines attack NYC!" and rather short on details.

This is a movie that wants to be an "Indiana Jones" movie (or at least has the same inspiration), but comes up short. I did like the interesting way that they worked in a cameo by the late Laurence Olivier though. The other actors are either very flat (Jude Law) or cartoonish (Gwyneth Paltrow), there doesn't seem to be a happy medium.

RATING: 6 out of 10 laser beams

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Golden Compass

Day 211 - 7/30/09 - Movie #207

BEFORE: Another fantasy movie based on a children's book, this one got really bad reviews and seems really complicated. Let's see if it lives up (down?) to its rep...

THE PLOT: In a parallel universe, young Lyra Belacqua journeys to the far North to save her best friend and other kidnapped children from terrible experiments by a mysterious organization.

AFTER: Man, and I thought "Dungeons & Dragons" was confusing - I had to look up the plot of this film on the web, right after watching it, to even START to understand it. As best as I can tell, in this parallel universe people's souls are housed in animal companions called "daemons", if a person's daemon gets hurt they feel it, and if they die, their daemon dies also. Somewhere up North, someone is drawing power in the form of "dust" from another universe (dust being a substance that exists between universes...or something) Also, poor kids are being kidnapped or killed, and one little girl has the power to tell the truth by reading the symbols on a magical compass. That's it, as far as I get before getting confused...

I can't recall if this movie was criticized for being overly Christian (like the "Narnia" series) or somewhat Satanic - but if they didn't want parents to freak out, they should have called the animals "familiars", instead of a word that sounds like "demons" - it's not like you can see the name's spelling in a movie! The daemons of children are constantly shifting, they can look like almost any animal before they "settle" into one form - but in a movie, this makes it incredibly difficult to follow, with characters that are always changing shape!

The best character is a giant polar bear, voiced by Ian McKellen - if you think polar bears are kinda neat, and want to see them talk, fight and drink booze, this is the movie for you! Sam Elliott manages to (once again) make a movie better, and Nicole Kidman plays a stone-cold bitch! Unfortunately, this all feels like a set-up for a more exciting sequel that may never get made - it raises a lot of questions that don't get answered.

RATING: 4 out of 10 parkas.

Bridge to Terabithia

Day 210 - 7/29/09 - Movie #206

BEFORE: It's something of a kid's story, yes, but I'm in a fantasy-film vibe, and I'm trying to make up for lost time.

THE PLOT: A preteen's life is changed after befriending the new girl at school. Together, they create Terabithia, a land of monsters, trolls, ogres, and giants and rule as king and queen.

AFTER: I guess I was expecting something a little more like the Narnia books, or "Alice in Wonderland", where the kids actually go (or seem to go) into a fantasy realm. For this one you have to sort of do what kids do, and imagine the fantasy realm overlaid over the real one. There are special-effects trolls and other creatures, but you're always aware that you're seeing them through the imagination of the young boy and girl.

And just like in "Wizard of Oz", other people they know in the real world manifest themselves as some of the fantasy creatures, and their experiences in imagination-land help them overcome obstacles in the real world. But sometimes, even for kids, tragedy strikes, and no amount of imagination can overcome a real-world death. I'm not sure that this film sends exactly the right message - using the fantasy realm to sort of escape from a real-world tragedy isn't always the best answer.

Still, it's a workable little film that doesn't overdo the special effects (which sometimes makes them less...special) and might encourage kids to face up to bullies (again, well-intentioned but not always the best advice) and dare to dream.

RATING: 5 out of 10 Twinkies

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Dungeons & Dragons

Day 209 - 7/28/09 - Movie #205

BEFORE: Just back from Comic-Con, and straight into a beer dinner, which doesn't exactly help me fall back into a regular routine. So it's going to be tough to catch up...

THE PLOT: Emperess Savina Rules over the magical empire Izmer. The young thieves Ridley and Snails get involved with her quest to find the legendary Scepter of Savrille. With this most desirable magical wand she could have the power to rule over the Red Dragons and she would then be able to provide freedom and equality amongst all people.

AFTER: This plot was extremely confusing - I couldn't tell what was happening most of the time. Was this a quest for a gem, or a map, or a scepter, or what? And there's this council arguing over - oh, I give up! Look, I've played Dungeons & Dragons, and this movie has NONE of its excitement. Jeremy Irons (again?) is the villain this time, but other than fighting the Empress, I couldn't tell what his evil plan was either. Nothing gets explained - not the rules of the conflict, or how magic works, or how thieves detect traps - all that is sort of skipped over. Some of the traps are kind of cool, but for the most part this is just a pile of junk thrown together.

What's the point of assembling a ragtag team of a thief, a mage, an elf and a dwarf, if only one of them is able to enter the dungeon? D&D is all about characters working TOGETHER to go on quests and find treasure. All the other characters just seem very useless! And are dragons good, or evil? And if the Empress can control them, why does she need the control rod? It just makes no sense.

RATING: 3 out of 10 hit points.

Monday, July 27, 2009


Day 204-208 - 7/23-7/27/09 - Movie #204

BEFORE: Day 2 of Comic-Con, or the end of the first full day, last night was the Preview Night, during which time I sold exactly 1 book, taking in $5. I could have gone to the SDCC 40th Anniversary party, but it probably would have been packed - so I ate dinner with my booth-mates at the Tin Fish, then schlepped back up the hill to my hotel, with a quick stop at the CVS to load up on snacks and supplies for tomorrow.


And, actually I was UN-successful in finishing this movie while in San Diego. There was no DVD player in my room this year, and the volume was so low on the laptop computer (and I was so tired from working at the booth) that I was lulled to sleep after about 10 minutes of the film. There was just no way for me to watch films while at the Con - I could have gone to the late-night film screenings at the convention center, but that would have made it difficult to stay on NYC time and get up in time to set up the booth for the next morning's business. Plus I wanted to spend my evenings at my usual haunts - brewpubs, mostly. I'm back in NYC now, and I can give this movie a proper viewing - but now I'm four days behind schedule. My penance will be to watch a chain of fantasy films, then some comic-book films, in honor of the Con.

So how was the Con? The usual blend of work + fun, celebrities and nobodies, tedium and excitement. Our booth-neighbors were the same as last year on all sides, so it mostly felt like being in a recurring dream (or perhaps waking up from one...). For more commentary and photos, please visit my Flickr site at:

THE PLOT: In his homeland of Alagaesia, a farm boy happens upon a dragon's egg -- a discovery that leads him on a predestined journey where he's the one person who can defend his home against an evil king.

AFTER: This is the story of a lowly blond farmboy, who finds out he has a mystical ability, and then his uncle gets murdered by the villain's men as he sets out to rescue a princess. Seems like I've seen that storyline before somewhere else... Instead of the Force, however, his ability is dragon-riding, and telepathy with a blue dragon. Interesting how mental communication with the dragon probably cut the film's animation budget significantly - is that too cynical of me?

Jeremy Irons takes the Kenobi-like mentor role, and John Malkovich and Robert Carlyle play the villains. It's still essentially "Star Wars" recast in the medieval fantasy world of "Lord of the Rings", with bits of "Harry Potter" thrown in - so why wasn't it a bigger hit? Admittedly, there are some story problems - like how can one dragon signal the return of the dragon riders (plural). Don't you need, like a male and a female dragon to make more baby dragons?

I know this movie was adapted from a book, maybe they left a lot of little details out? The film clearly sets up a sequel, but who knows if it will ever get made...

RATING: 6 out of 10 orcs - oops, I mean Urgals.