Category Archives: Reviews

Reviews of books, movies, music, and maybe even games.

The New Doctor’s New Clothes

So, the emperor is basically naked.

It took me two seasons of on-again, off-again viewing to figure it out, and it pains me greatly to say it because he’s been such a fun emperor in times past (and times future!) but, oh my, that’s pretty naked.

Further stretching the metaphor, his outfits have ranged from simple-yet-serviceable to extravagant-and-exhilarating, I have adored many of them, and envied not a few! Lately, however they seem to run somewhere between threadbare and last-year’s-fashion. Very recently I began to worry that the Emperor’s Clothier might  have a supply-side problem.

Nope. Or rather, yes, the clothier has a problem. He’s not supplying any clothing at all. The Emperor is, in point of fact, stark naked. And in case you haven’t closed the loop already, what I’m saying is that the season 8 premiere episode of Doctor Who, “Draw Breath,” starring the brilliant and versatile Peter Capaldi as the latest incarnation of the nigh-immortal, eponymous time lord, was awful.

I don’t mean to imply that those who loved it are somehow blind to the emperor’s nakedness, but let’s crank up the A/C a bit and see whether this supposedly well-appointed fellow shivers, and okay, maybe I AM implying something.

Also, I’m declaring this metaphor broken. I don’t have an A/C knob to turn up, and I don’t know what Doctor Who would look like with the metaphorical shivers.

I can, however, list some of my complaints:

SPOILER ALERT

(and with that out of the way…)

The conceit of “Deep Breath,” (Season 8 Episode 1) was that the Doctor experiences emotional distress when he regenerates, because all of his friends can no longer see him, the real him, through the new skin. This is a GREAT IDEA. And then it got told in the most ham-handed way possible, so that this truly touching bit of human truth gets lost as it knocks about in re-hashed robots, other people’s trademarks, and the requisite eye-candy dinosaur.

In short, the episode squandered a brilliant character insight that can ONLY be executed on when  a new Doctor arrives.

I knew I was in trouble when the Doctor was ranting about the bedroom, and I thought to myself “sleeping in a bed would be more enjoyable than this.” Sure, I was tired, but I’ve stayed up late watching recorded programming on many a night.  That, by the way, was about the time that Sandra stopped sitting up straight, and opted to lie down on the rest of the couch. Wise woman.

There was clever dialog scattered here and there throughout the episode, but it felt like shiny bits of pretty wrapping paper taped haphazardly to an anvil–the anvil being the cluttered, confused plot and its numerous call-backs to episodes I have enjoyed. Being reminded of a fun thing is not the same as delivering a new fun thing.

Back to the new metaphor: with enough of the shiny bits you can convince folks to admire the wrapping, but when this bundle gets launched from the satellite on its way to my TV screen it is supposed to glide in, not lithobrake into the Yucatan and kill off the dinosaurs.

(It was a big anvil. Made of old stuff. And there WAS a dinosaur. And another metaphor snaps from over-extension.)

The dinosaur! It featured prominently in the adverts and teasers, but it was too big to be believable. Sure, it HAD to be too big because Moffat needed it to cough up a Tardis, but if you’re going to blow the CG budget on something that shiny, you should at least use it to good effect. The dinosaur coughs up the Tardis, bemoans its lonely fate (as translated by The Doctor, who speaks the language of grossly oversized tyrannosaurs), and then burns to death. End of dino.

Another squandered opportunity. The dinosaur could have been used to point up the “see beneath the skin” conceit, but only if it did more for the plot than deliver the Tardis and then turn into a greasy, burned clue.

On to the trio of Madame Vastra, Jenny Flint, and Strax (aka lizard lady, the maidservant, and the Sontaran): I like these characters. Strax delivered some of the best comic relief in the episode, even if doing so did ding his character a bit. Using the relationship between Vastra and Jenny to discuss non-traditional familial relationships was clever, but felt really forced. Maybe that’s the sort of thing that they’ll do better in future episodes, but I don’t think I have any future episodes in me.

Why not?

One word: Daleks.

The teaser for the next episode showed Daleks. Honestly, I don’t care about Daleks. I understand that it might be too expensive for them to just discard a bunch of props because the writers have moved on to new things, but every time they come back to Daleks I feel like I’m supposed to be surprised and terrified and thrilled, but all I really am is bored. Very bored. And disappointed.

So I’m done. At least until someone who is NOT a hard-core fan comes to me and says “hey, you know what? This one episode from the middle of Season 8 is huge fun. Capaldi chews scenery like an Eeetabrox, and oh, the Eeetabrox are these really cool, brand new aliens….” and then I’ll tune the person out while making a note to myself of the episode number.

 

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

I can’t really say that I enjoyed Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, but I paid attention all the way through. This was one of those films which proved objectionable pretty quickly, but which was chock full of visual and structural storytelling techniques I wanted to absorb.

SinCityDameToDieForI guess my experience was a little bit like stepping up really close to a painting in order to see the paint rather than the picture.

Regarding the picture: the movie earns its R rating with violence, nudity, language, and drug use. The final line of narration tells us that Sin City leaves its stain on everyone, and that pretty much summed up my experience.

Regarding the paint: Structurally, it’s a neat sort of palindrome. Story A begins, Story B begins, Story C begins and ends, then Story B ends and finally Story A ends. Visually, it is brilliantly composed. We move freely from hyper-realistic black-and-white scenes to heavily stylized silhouette animations, and we cover lots of middle ground as well. Each shot works in very strong support of the story. And as stories go it’s horribly dark, and it’s never actually happy, but it’s powerful and well told.

I saw the 3D version, and I think the 3D added a lot. Looking way up as naked Josh Brolin gets blown through a window, and then tracking him down… well, the 3D really sold that for me.

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For was not really that much fun for me, not in the usual sense, but I reveled in the art. It clears the Threshold of Disappointment, but only barely. I may study stills or scenes from it at some point in the future, but I never actually want to watch it again.

The Expendables 3

Per my Twitter feed, The Expendables 3 is better than either of the first two installments in the series. The first was goofy and ridiculous, and not in great ways. The second took itself too seriously, and ended up being goofy, ridiculous, overblown, and clumsy. This one, though, struck just the right balance for an action movie. I had fun.

Expendables3

The film does not clear my Threshold of Awesome, however. The predictable dialog really wore on me, especially when a character was pausing for dramatic effect, and I knew what he was going to say next. Also, the final act’s conceit was one of those ridiculous supervillain tropes — in this case it’s the one where our bad guy has lured the heroes into a trap, and instead of just pouring overwhelming force into the kill box, he starts the timer on an explosive.

What follows that countdown is purely predictable, but it also shapes up to be a nice fulfillment of all the movie’s earlier promises. They shoot all of the things and do all of the stunts and we have our huge cast of readily-recognized hitters finally working together.

The stand-outs for me in this film were Ronda Rousey, who made a much better transition from MMA champion to actress than Gina Carano did, and Antonio Banderas, who was hilariously awesome. The Expendables 3 comes in at #15 for me for the year thus far.

What’s That Music in the Background?

I listen to a lot of music, and sometimes I listen to the same music a lot.

I studied music at BYU (Bachelor’s degree in Music Composition with an emphasis in Sound Recording Technology) and for a long time I thought my career path was a musical one. Turns out I was wrong.

Shattered dreams aside, I love listening to music while I work. This post is a quick run-down of my top five albums for “getting work done.” With just one exception, these are film scores, which seem particularly well-suited for evoking emotion without having a singer tell me what I’m supposed to be feeling.

Counting down to #1, then:

Pacific Rim Soundtrack from Warner Bros. Pictures and Legen5) Pacific Rim Soundtrack from Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures, by Ramin Djawadi

The movie did not work its magic on me, not the way it did for many of my friends. I guess I had physics on the brain, or something. Fortunately, the album doesn’t require any suspension of disbelief. It’s lively, and does a good job generating a contemporary/futuristic feel using a pretty standard suite of orchestral and electronic instruments.

My first and last track playcounts: 89 and 79.

Hansel & Gretel Witch Hunters - Music from the Motion Pic 24) Hansel & Gretel Witch Hunters – Music from the Motion Picture by Atli Örvarsson

When I first heard this score I thought that Hans Zimmer was channeling Danny Elfman. As it happens, Atli Örvarsson was under Zimmer’s direction, and they were shooting for “dark and quirky,” so I don’t think I was that far off.

My first and last track playcounts: 101 and 82. This isn’t in the #1 slot because as of this writing it’s feeling just a little played-out. For now, anyway.

Godzilla_ Original Motion Picture Soundtrack3) Godzilla: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, by Alexandre Desplat

I had a physics problem with Pacific Rim, but I let Godzilla get by me? DON’T YOU JUDGE ME.
This score had a long history of Godzilla scores to live up to, and I think it works wonderfully. Like a lot of modern scores it is reminiscent of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring (especially Dance of the Adolescents,) and while that heavily dissonant, crunching arrythmia isn’t for everybody, I think it’s great for the big guy. Also, great for writing to.

This is the newest addition to the list, but it’s been a real go-to album for me lately. My first and last track playcounts: 25 and 25.

Pirates of the Caribbean_ On Stranger Tides (Soundtrack fro2) Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (Soundtrack from the Motion Picture), by Hans Zimmer, featuring Rodrigo y Gabriela

I’m a sucker for Zimmer’s work. Say what you want about his stuff all sounding the same,  I think he’s incredibly versatile, and the way he worked Rodrigo y Gabriela’s virtuousity into the score is brilliant and delightful. The remixed tracks at the end of the album are huge fun and very punchy.

My first and last track playcounts: 38 and 25. I use this one “sparingly,” but have been coming back to it a lot in recent weeks.

Random Friday1) Random Fridayby Solar Fields

It’s not a soundtrack. It’s a through-composed electronic-atmospheric dance album, and there’s a super-cool feature to it: The 86-minute collection of 10 tracks has been concatenated into a “Continuous Mix” track that is 78 minutes long.

This album is perfect for a long work session, especially penciling or inking. It starts nice and easy, then picks up the pace, and then tapers off right at the end… and then does it again, with 8 minutes of padding shaved off. It is a two-hour-and-forty-four minute workbeat to which a lot of Schlock has been written and illustrated.

The continuous track has 82 playcounts. First and last of the other tracks are 49 and 56, because I will sometimes start in the middle of the “regular” track list in order to build a playlist that is exactly as long as I have time for.

These are just my current top five, mind you. Of course, while I was writing the list I was listening to Jablonsky’s score for Ender’s Game, which is far, far better than that film was.

Also note that while I’ve linked all of these to their Amazon pages (which is where I’m buying most of my music lately) they’re available on iTunes, and probably lots of other places.