Archive for August, 2008

Attn: Animation Geeks!

August 26, 2008

Last night I discovered that Ovation TV is doing a 5 day salute to animation (Aug 25 – 29).  Last night they showed Triplets of Belleville and Chuck Amuck: The Movie.

I had seen Triplets before but this was my first time seeing Chuck Amuck. It was from 1991 but looked much older. A great look into the world of animation legend, Chuck Jones it also gave a good look into the art of 2D animation as well. It was kinda sweet to see a gentle older woman clean up drawings of the Road Runner. 

Tonight Tokyo Godfathers is showing followed by Wallace and Gromit Go Hollywood.

Check your local listings.

The Doctor-Donna: Doctor Who Season Four

August 20, 2008

The post below contains spoilers for Doctor Who Season Four.

When the BBC announced that Catherine Tate was joining Doctor Who as the companion for the 4th season, I was a little leery. While I enjoyed The Runaway Bride episode that Tate had appeared in between the 2nd and 3rd seasons, I though her character, Donna Noble, was going to be a bit too intense for a full-time companion. She was a loud-mouthed, ill-informed and rather ribald low level secretary who spent half the episode screaming at the Doctor (although she did prove sympathetic in the end.) I was worried that 13 episodes of that would be too much. But having just seen the season finale for Season Four (or Series Four if you are British), I now must admit how wrong I was.

To see Part 2 click here.

I think I knew by the end of the season’s first episode Partners in Crime that Donna was going to be a good companion. First off, she and David Tennant have marvelous chemistry and you can tell they really enjoy working with each other. This was evident in the pantomime routine that occurs in Partners in Crime when Donna sees the Doctor again after many months of searching for him and the Doctor responds by being somewhat comically horrified. It showed some hilarious physical comedy between Tate and Tennant that boded well for their on-screen partnership.

Second, the fact that Donna in no way, shape or form had a crush on the Doctor was a well needed change of pace after what he went through with both Rose (whose feelings he did seem to reciprocate) and Martha’s (whose he didn’t). Having a third companion crushing on the Doctor would have been too much no matter how dreamy one finds David Tennant (and I’ll admit as a geek girl, he’s pretty dreamy). But Donna was having none of it, calling him a skinny beanpole and being rather insulted when anyone suggested they were a couple. Some fans didn’t like this, thinking it was disrespectful, but I thought it was hilarious.

The fact that Donna was older than Martha and Rose and had been around the block a few times, also gave her actions added weight. While being excited to travel the universe with the Doctor, she wasn’t awestruck and she was willing him to call him on it when she thought he was wrong. In The Fires of Pompeii and Planet of the Ood, Donna’s distinct sense of morality and innate human decency made a character that initially seemed overbearing become very sympathetic.

Throughout the rest of the season, I thought Donna made a wonderful companion. So much so that what happened to her character in the season finale was all the more heartbreaking. As Doctor Who season finales normally are, this one was jam packed and spread across three episodes. Not only did we see the return of Rose Tyler, but we saw former companions Martha Jones, Captain Jack Harkness and the crew from Torchwood, Sarah Jane Smith along with Jackie Tyler and Mickey Clarke. All of these past characters join the Doctor and Donna for another world ending battle against the Daleks (again!!! For a decimated race, there are an awful lot of them hanging about) and Davros.

Everyone has their little part to play in the finale but Donna winds up having the most important role. While she has spent many episodes saying she was nothing special and just a secretary, there have been hints that something huge and possibly tragic was going to happen to Donna and that she had a key role to play. It’s a little complicated to describe but in one scene, Donna gets what is basically a Time Lord brain boost and with the knowledge she gets access to she saves the entire universe from what would be certain destruction by the Daleks.

But unfortunately a human brain cannot handle having half a Time Lord brain and it starts to kill her (reminiscent of when Rose absorbed the Time Vortex in Season One’s finale and it started to kill her). In order to save her, the Doctor must erase all traces of himself and their travels together from her brain. And this reverts Donna back to the loud, ill-informed character that we met in The Runaway Bride, a woman who has no idea how special she really is and how she helped save the world. She meets the Doctor and has no idea who he is and barely bothers to say hello. For fans who came to love Donna (and I will admit that there are some that never warmed to her), this was absolutely crushing and almost crueler than if she had been killed. Not only did she not know how many brave and important things she did, all the progress her character made was destroyed in the process.

Doctor Who has long established that traveling with the Doctor can be devastating to his companions but I don’t think it was ever so evident as it was in this development. Although this plot twist made me sad, I also thought it was brutally effective. I knew that Catherine Tate was too big a star in Britain to stay on as a companion for more than one season so Donna’s presence was necessarily short-lived. But short as it was, it was definitely memorable.

Seeing Wii-sults

August 19, 2008

Back in my mid 20’s, something odd happened one day. Suddenly, and seemingly without warning my pants didn’t fit. I had just bought these pants and immediately assumed I had gotten the length/width sixes mixed up. But that theory was throw in the trash when I checked the tag. I guess I really was an adult since I was finally upsizing. I knew (and was told by several slightly older co-workers) that once I gave into upsizing, there was no going back. I was going to become one of those guys whose belt looks like it was swallowed by his gut. The battle was on.

My first course of action was joining a group of co-workers in an after hours Tae Bo group. Not being the most athletic person, I was nervous. After all there was kicking involved. But it was pretty fun and despite my lackluster kicking ability, I picked it up fairly well. The group atmosphere helped and the only drawback was having to stare at Billy Blanks sweaty crotch. Soon people were telling me that it looked like I lost weight. I didn’t see any “real” results. My pants were still weren’t going on any easier and eventually the group, much like my old pants, disbanded.

I was losing the battle. I began skateboarding and got a second job that required a lot of walking. I figured these combined efforts would stem the tide. Unfortunately they didn’t. Occasionally I would try to go back to Tae Bo or use my girlfriend’s treadmill but I never did either for very long. Eventually I got used to having to go up a size each year until I cut myself off and then got use to wearing small pants.

When I heard the Wii Fit I didn’t think a lot about it at first. The concept seemed a natural fit (no pun intended) for the Wii. The whole basis of the Wii seemed to be getting people off the couch and moving while still playing fun video games.

Even the game it is packaged with, Wii Sports, can make you break a sweat. As time went on though the idea Wii Fit seemed to grow on me. After watching an interview with Shigeru Miyamoto on the Nintendo Channel, I was convinced. According to him, the point of it wasn’t just to lose weight but to actually make you aware of your body and what you are putting in it and also to create discussions about it among families. Listening to Miyamoto made me a believer and on May 21st, I woke up early and got in line at the Nintendo Store at 8 a.m.

When I got home I immediately put in the disk and got on board. After the first workout I started to think that I might actually lose weight. Just a few minutes into Hula Hoop® and I was starting to break a serious sweat. The push-up/plank exercise made my arms sore and the yoga seemed to be stretching me. I prefer to believe that this was happening because it was a good workout and not because at that point walking from the couch to the kitchen was a considerable distance for me.

The other reason I thought this would work was that I liked doing it. Thanks to a friend my step aerobics class was filled with the cast of The Office, I felt ridiculous doing Hula Hoop®, and when things aren’t goofy fun (like Strength Training) I enjoyed trying to get the high score. Soon enough the scale started saying I was weighing less. Even more amazing, the number kept going down. Here it is 3 months later and I’ve lost 10 pounds. The last time that happened I had a stomach flu. So it seems to be working. And I’m not the only one. There are countless blogs ( like this one or this article) of people tracking their results.

But there’s something else going on here. Much like the Wii console itself, Wii Fit seems to becoming a sort of pop phenomenon. It’s already being used to aid in rehabilitation (or Wiihab). It’s been at the center of controversy. Plus this video has become such a hit on YouTube that Nintendo felt the need to deny it being a marketing scheme launched by them. Playboy has even posted similar videos on their website.

Is this the future or exercise? Are gyms obsolete? Is it just a way for fat ass gamers to become a normal shape? All I know is I have to go buy a new belt.

Apollo 13 Moves Toward My Top Ten

August 12, 2008

Recently AMC showed their DVD_TV version of Apollo 13. This is one of those movies that I watch pretty much whenever it’s on. It doesn’t matter what part of the movie I come in at, I will always watch it. I’ve found Ron Howard’s movies to be enjoyable for a while. They’re not usually critical smashes they are pretty solid “hollywood” style movies. there’s sort of a warm glow that surrounds them. But there’s something different about Apollo 13. The emotional core of it is stronger than any other Howard movie. Plus there is a palpable sense of the passion the people working on this movie had for the story. If what scrolled across the bottom of my screen while watching DVD_TV is true it must have been one hell of a shoot. Dozens of rides in the vomit comet so they could film weightless segments 23 seconds at a time, slowly bobbing up and down on set to appear weightless, trying to act in a cramped duplicate of a space capsule with a camera only a foot or two away. Movie sets in general aren’t all that fun but this goes beyond waking up at odd hours and having to act to a tennis ball in front of a green screen. Heck, they even used giant air conditioners to chill the set so the actors breath could be seen. I could only imagine what it would be like to be a grip or a PA on a set where you have to wear a parka indoors. Like the space program itself, they did it not because it was easy but because it was hard. And if there is any story worth going through all that for it’s the story of the early space mission and the Apollo 13 mission in particular.

Being born in the late 70’s I grew up not realizing the accomplishments or the enormity of the space program. I took for granted that we put a man on the moon (actually we put 12 there), bounced around, played some golf and came back. Other than that all I knew was Chairface Chippendale tried to write his name on it on The Tick. I don’t think I quite “got” it for a while. I was still waiting for things to be like they were in The Jetsons; high rises in the skies, jetpacks for everyone, flying cars,robot dogs (which we do have now…sort of) and of course Orbity. It wasn’t until a few years ago while working on a video shot where I met John Glenn, who was there to be interviewed, that it started to sink in. Listening to him talk about the beginning of the space program was when I started to think about what it would be like to be one of the first astronauts. To me they were the guys who drank Tang, I never realized that at the beginning they were test pilots. Just normal guys who volunteered to be strapped to rockets and attempt to ride off the planet. Think about that for a minute. That’s a little F-ed up. The fact that so few people have died in the quest to push the limits is a bit astounding.

The thing about Apollo 13 (the movie) is that it completely captures the energy of the space program in its glory. It makes you feel like you are there watching the missions live on tv. Between that and the recent Discovery mini-series, When We Left Earth, I have a new appreciation for the space program and what it was (and is) trying to accomplish. When a movie can make me feel that way I know it’s doing its job.

I Believe in Aaron Eckhart! A Review of The Dark Knight

August 5, 2008

Warning! This post contains spoilers for The Dark Knight.

Much has been written about The Dark Knight– its massive haul at the box office, Heath Ledger’s final performance as the Joker, Christian Bale’s strange growly voice as Batman but one topic has gotten lost in the shuffle in recent Batman discussions. And that is Aaron Eckhart’s performance as Harvey Dent.

I saw the movie a few weeks ago and while Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker is getting all the ink and the Oscar talk, I have to to say that Aaron Eckhart’s was the one that stayed with me. The Joker role, despite being the most colorful character in the Rogue’s Gallery,  really can be played by just opening mouth and inserting scenery. But the journey Harvey Dent has to take in The Dark Knight required an ability to dance on a very thin line and I thought Eckhart did that superbly.

We’ve seen Harvey Dent twice before in Batman movies and while Billy Dee Williams was never seen again after Batman, Tommy Lee Jones’s portrayal in Batman Forever was hardly what I would call subtle. Jones seemed to be infected by Jim Carrey’s antic mugging as the Riddler so he completely skimmed over the tragic aspect of Harvey Dent’s character that infuses Eckhart’s perfomance.

Dent is a good man, Gotham’s shining white knight who symbolizes that the city can save itself and does not need a winged vigilante to do so. As Eckhart plays him, Dent is a charismatic man who is strong in his convictions about right and wrong. In the wrong hands, Dent could seem like a cardboard character, all gleaming white teeth, fluffy blond hair and self-righteousness. But Eckhart shaded his portrayal so Dent seemed realistic and flawed. He also let hints of darkness peak through so his final transformation to Two Face was both believable and heart-breaking.

As for the rest of the film, I didn’t quite love it as much as I did Batman Begins. Being a Batman geek and Christian Bale fan since I was a teenager, when I heard that Bale was being cast as Batman for Batman Begins, I thought it must be my birthday. I couldn’t believe that Warner Brothers had cast the character in such a personally satisfying way.

And outside of the small flaw of Katie Holmes’s casting, I thought Batman Begins was magnificent. The cast was chock full of fantastic actors, all of whom were fully engaged and not slumming like you normally find in superhero movies. The story was compelling and instead of being punted aside in favor of colorful villians like in previous movies, Bruce Wayne was front and center. Bale was wonderful at showing how split Bruce was between his identities and how not only was Batman his alter ego but so was the public face of Bruce Wayne. He crafted the public Bruce to appear as an arrogant, spoiled playboy while the private Bruce toiled away in the dark, crafting Batman’s weapons and appearance.

But unfortunately in The Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne got punted to the side again in favor of the Joker’s theatrics and other character’s issues. Where Bruce was the emotional heart of Batman Begins, it felt like Gary Oldman’s Jim Gordon and Eckhart’s Dent split that load this time. While I can’t complain since both Oldman and Eckhart were excellent, I missed the focus on Bruce.

Add a leather mask and you have Catwoman.

And while Maggie Gyllenhaal was a vast improvement on Katie Holmes, her role as Rachel Dawes was so small and her scenes with Bale so minimal that I wish they had saved Gyllenhaal for the Selena Kyle/ Catwoman role that I’m sure will eventually need to be filled. Although Rachel and Bruce’s story was covered in Batman Begins, the switch of actresses left me feeling a lack of strong connection between Gyllenhaal and Bale despite the fact that they did have chemistry. It felt like a wasted opportunity.

Even though I liked Batman Begins better, The Dark Knight is still a really dynamic movie. Christopher Nolan could have gotten away with making a plotless, CGI-heavy film packed with explosions every five minutes and probably laughed all the way to the bank. But he didn’t. He actually tried to make a Batman movie about something. As a result, it’s a heavy movie but you leave the theater thinking about it. I am definitely interested to see where Nolan takes the story from here and what villains are picked for the 3rd film. Until then, I’ll just have to stare at my Batman bubble gum machine and wonder.

Shall We Play A Game?

August 1, 2008

This year WarGames turns 25. I can’t remember how old I was when I first saw it. I pretty sure it was on tv. Considering it was released in theaters when I was 6, I doubt my parents let my brother and I go to a techno-thriller where a kid nearly starts world war 3. Whenever the blessed event finally happened, it was love at first sight. Like a lot of classic 80’s movies it had the two great fears of the decade:

1. The threat of nuclear war

and

2. The machines are taking over.

The vague notion that the US and USSR may blow each other to pieces grabbed my interest. Plus it had all this techno stuff I had never heard of before.

Computers can talk to each other! Backdoor passwords? This stuff was all new to me (as it was to many people) and I loved it. I felt so smart knowing what a modem was. The first time I heard one work (while signing onto AOL) I immediately thought of David Lightman. (Right after which I thought, “Man I wish I had Falken’s remote controlled dinosaur.”)   Plus it had Matthew Broderick. I will readily admit that as a young lad I had a man crush on him. Let’s face it, the guy was (and possibly still is) the shit. By the time I saw WarGames I had already seen him in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Project X (which how I learned to say “apple” and “help” in sign language) . He had a synth that made sneezing noises and he trained chimps to fly planes. What 10 year wouldn’t think he’s awesome.

When I realized a while ago I could get it onDemand, I watched it several times. My girlfriend thought I was being goofy or watching it for cheese factor but I wasn’t. I still enjoy it. Now I found out that not only am I not in the minority in thinking that it’s good but it’s now being called a classic! I first found out when AMC started showing it in honor of this anniversary. (It is called Amercian Movie CLASSICS.) Then I found out (to late) that it was being shown in theaters for one day only.  Then an article Wired Magazine calls it a classic! So it isn’t just me! There’s even a 25th anniversary dvd release and a crappy direct to dvd sequel! Take that Tremors!

The Wired article  also made a point that had never occured to me. David Lightman is the first real geek hero. He was hacking into government computers while getting Ally Sheedy hot and bothered. So congratulations WarGames not only are you a classic but you are sort of the Rosa Parks of geeks.