Wednesday, September 10, 2014


Though few this side of the pond joined Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon for their first vacation, 2011’s very funny and perceptive The Trip, there’s a damn good chance many stumbled across the Michael Caine impression segment it spawned on YouTube. This hilarious, brief sequence - a delirious spoofing of classic lines from The Italian Job, Get Carter and The Dark Knight – proved something of a mini viral sensation and perfectly encapsulated the film’s drolly improvisational, breezy tone and the well-oiled chemistry between its two leads. What wasn’t sold, however, was the project’s shaggy, skillfully-achieved mission statement; to capture the quietly terrifying existential panic of middle age, and the confused human flaws it magnifies.

That theme continues in the duo’s winning second venture, The Trip to Italy, which sees them roaming the gorgeous sun-soaked coast, from Liguria to Capri, over the course of another six days of sight-seeing, obsessing over pop-culture, literature and their personal lives and savoring ornately prepared meals. However, despite the intoxicating idyllic atmosphere and local charm, reality frequently threatens to creep in. While the dry, cynical Coogan struggles with doubts surrounding his angsty teenage son, career dissatisfaction and waning attractiveness to the opposite sex, Brydon – an “affable” and eccentric motor-mouthed family man – awkwardly flirts with the lure of forbidden holiday promiscuity. Amusing until the last, the men cope with these crises through rapid fire good-natured barbs, dizzying displays of spontaneous comedic one-upmanship, and *ahem* reveling in the self-empowerment anthems of Alanis Morissette’s “Jagged Little Pill,” learning just a tiny bit more about themselves along the way.

Playing loosely fictionalized versions of themselves, the two stars again prove ideal tour guides, endlessly engaging, authentically raw, and unafraid to expose the weaknesses, fears and foibles concealed beneath their established personas. It’s these vanity-free revelations that make The Trip to Italy both a great sequel and a curiously poignant and relatable jaunt (which is saying something, given Coogan and Brydon’s professional stature and bank accounts). But, of course, this is also a movie almost totally dominated by humor, and it boasts an impressive abundance of comic highlights, including a restaurant table riffing session poking fun at the incomprehensible dialects of the cast of The Dark Knight Rises, and a hammy impromptu mobster film audition tape featuring a beautiful hotel concierge. And, as expected, the verbally dexterous stars throw down a battery of dead-on show biz icon imitations, cheekily channeling Clint Eastwood, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Marlon Brando, Hugh Grant, Woody Allen, Humphrey Bogart and almost every single James Bond at a whim.

Unobtrusive returning director Michael Winterbottom (The Killer Inside Me, A Mighty Heart) creates a bright, relaxed atmosphere for Coogan and Brydon – wisely stepping back whenever the two get going – and, with cinematographer James Clarke, masterfully delivers the all-important travelogue splendor and saliva-quickening gourmet food porn. Editing down his own six-part BBC television series to motion picture length – just as he did with The Trip – the helmer once more accomplishes an unenviable task without forsaking coherence, character or narrative flow. Considering these dubious origins, it’s a minor miracle that not only does The Trip to Italy feel complete and satisfying on its own, you’d be forgiven for never suspecting it wasn’t conceived this way to begin with.

True to its predecessor, The Trip to Italy is another pleasant, charming and witty treat; a diverting light comedy for grown-ups made with intelligence and just the right hint of cheerful madness. It would be wonderful if this became a regular event, and we could reunite with Coogan, Brydon and Winterbottom every few years simply to visit new locales, laugh, reflect and track the characters’ messy evolution. Finding good travel companions isn’t easy, after all, and when they’re this much fun it’s hard not to want to keep planning future outings. 

3.5 out of 5

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Film Review - BLUE RUIN

Upon first glance, Dwight would hardly seem a particular capable agent of revenge. Paunchy, pale and scraggly, wide melancholy eyes staring off towards some unknown horizon, he’s a shambling wreck of a man devoid of home or comfort, scrounging for food in carnival dumpsters and sleeping in his beat up blue Pontiac. He looks more like an aimless, broken drifter destined to die alone under his favorite pier, forgotten, than to cut a bloody swath across Virginia on a single-minded quest for brutal retribution. But, then, appearances can be deceiving.

Dwight, played with haunted fragility by Macon Blair, is our guide through Blue Ruin, Jeremy Saulnier’s gripping and refreshing neo-noir character drama that presents one of the most unlikely eye-for-an-eye thriller yarns in quite some time. Originally pitched as “No Country for Old Men with an idiot at the helm,” this is actually a far more complicated and emotionally moving vision; an absorbing portrait of what happens when a very normal, unexceptional human being (no Anton Chigurh-like supernatural efficiency here) is driven by trauma into an inescapable violent existence. The results are messy, tragic, laced with pitch black humor and sadly poetic.

When we first encounter our lead, he’s stuck in a morose, solitary holding pattern, waiting for… something. That something, we soon learn, is the impending release of the criminal who murdered his parents. Following the ex-con and his family to a roadside dive, Dwight sneaks into the joint’s bathroom and, trembling with anxiety, knife firmly in hand, prepares to strike.

And thus kicks off Saulnier’s sad, stark, gore-spattered odyssey; a stunning work of tone and atmosphere, that stares directly into the heart of vengeance and discovers only emptiness, loneliness and despair. Visibly inspired by the Coen brothers, the writer-director, who previously helmed the 2007 festival hit Murder Party, has crafted a deceptively simple, stripped down meditation of a film that encourages us to dive headlong into the scarred psyche of its protagonist. This is an observant, personal story of unfortunate self-destruction, which nevertheless also manages the difficult task of driving the viewer uncomfortably close to the edge of their seat during several brilliantly-constructed sequences of unbearable suspense.

Because Dwight is a beginner at this sort of thing, Saulnier skillfully milks endless tension from each and every deadly encounter he wanders into. After all, lacking any professional training or hands on experience, he’s prone to clumsy mistakes and misjudgments, such a sensational moment where a late night stake-out in an enemy’s house is thrown totally out of whack by a light getting turned on. Or, even more impressive, the slowly unfolding disaster that occurs during an interrogation at gunpoint wherein a dangerous captive (Kevin Kolack), newly freed from our hero’s trunk, quickly proves just how much cannier he is than his nervous rifle-wielding abductor. Tossing aside his handbook of standard tropes, the director shows a bold willingness to mine invention from every one of his standard genre set-ups, packing this lean, 90-minute exercise with countless small surprises that are exponentially magnified by the intimacy of the scope.

It’s also crucial to emphasize just how beautiful Blue Ruin is to look at. The helmer, who has spent over a decade working as a cinematographer, shows a sharp eye for gorgeously-framed, evocative shots. Working with resources far more modest than several of this year’s most visually exciting low-budget films – Under the Skin, Only Lovers Left Alive and Enemy, to name a few – Saulnier works wonders with precious little, imbuing his Virginia locations with shabby mythic grandeur, and fills the screen with cool and arresting blue imagery. You could freeze frame at almost any time during this picture and be blown away by the compositions.

As wonderfully constructed as Blue Ruin is, however, all would be for naught without the right talent in the central role. This is largely a one-man show, and Blair is a true discovery; a shlumpy, self-conscious everyman (think Michael Shannon’s sad-sack little brother) whose innocent puppy dog eyes mask a soul darkened by unspeakable horror. Speaking in short bursts – if at all – Blair holds our attention throughout, drawing our unreserved sympathies and inspiring silent screams of warning when Dwight stumbles into a bad situation. He’s a heartbreaking, pitiful creature hiding behind a wall of mournful isolation so impenetrable even his sister Sam (Amy Hargreaves) and old friend Teddy (Devin Ratray) can no longer connect with him on a human level. And, thanks to the actor’s immense efforts, he’s also a true, unforgettable original.

Given the profound strength of this material, it’s kind of shocking we haven’t seen a similar crime thriller tale told in this fashion before. Perhaps, though, that’s the genius of the picture; its clever premise is communicated so plainly and expertly it all just feels natural, obscuring the brilliance of the masterminds pulling the strings. Poignant and intense, Blue Ruin heralds the arrival of two bold new creative voices and, unlike Dwight, hits the mark with every ringing pull of the trigger.

4 out of 5

*Blue Ruin is available on VOD and DVD/Blu-ray now!

Tuesday, September 02, 2014


Sin City: The Dame to Kill For doubtlessly seemed like a good idea on paper. Given the pedigree of its cast, source material and the favorable reputation of its predecessor, which was such an eye-popping blast when it bowed in 2005, how could it not? What a difference nine years makes. Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s return to the grimy, sweaty, gore-streaked streets now feels flat, predictable and kinda sad. The results never approach Immortals or The Spirit levels of unwatchable wretchedness, to be fair, but the picture lacks sizzle and shock, and never strives to raise the bar for this brand of stylized green screen filmmaking. It’s trying to replicate the past, rather than aspiring to surpass it. 

Continuing the established structure, A Dame to Kill For likewise consists of three major stories that dance around each other, connecting only superficially (often through the presence of Mickey Rourke’s invaluable brute Marv), yet all representative of the hopelessly blackened soul of the titular city. We see the return of Dwight (Josh Brolin – replacing Clive Owen), a scummy private eye with a penchant for getting his clock cleaned, this time embroiled in a high stakes game of murder, lust and betrayal with Eva Green’s ice-cold, frequently au naturel Ava. There’s also Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Johnny, a deceptively clean-cut gambler planning to topple the sinister Senator Roarke (Powers Boothe) in a dangerous poker match, to hell with the consequences. Rounding out the triptych is Nancy the stripper (Jessica Alba – a lightweight weak link, once again), now on a self-destructive path following the killing of Bruce Willis’s savior cop Hartigan, with her sights firmly set on the powerful father of her infamous deceased nemesis, the Yellow Bastard.

One of Sin City’s greatest joys was watching each of its unique and compelling tales flirt with one another while nevertheless working individually as complete visions of urban decay-tinged chaos. By contrast, A Dame to Kill For really drops the ball on the storytelling front, depending too much on knowledge of the previous entry and playing confusingly fast and loose with the timeline. Like 2014’s other questionable too-late green screen sequel, 300: Rise of an Empire (a much more successful endeavor on an entertainment level, despite being fairly disposable), this film acts as a prequel, sequel and side-quel; a choice that totally prevents the movie from standing alone and creates a barrier of disorientation that prevents the viewer from being able to be absorbed into the hard-boiled narrative. This screenwriting messiness is detrimental to the strength of the parts and plays havoc with the flow of the whole, making the 102-minute run-time (20 minutes less that the original) feel waaaay longer than it actually is. A palpable sense of dread kicks in when Alba’s character takes center stage and you realize there’s still more weary ground to cover.

Perhaps the biggest problem with Sin City is the guy who created it in the first place, Frank Miller. A man of nearly unparalleled genius in his comic-book heyday (there’s a damn good reason “The Dark Knight Returns” and his run on “Daredevil” are so staggeringly influential), he’s become a genuinely problematic artistic voice in our current era due to his near self-parodic over-tendency to rely on sadism, tough guy posturing and uncomfortably masturbatory depictions of women. The sadism and posturing is still ever-present, albeit now pretty much hollow and devoid of impact. The misogyny, however, has grown infinitely more troubling, creepy and difficult to see beyond. Sure, back in 2005, we noticed it. Yet it managed to blend into this world’s larger web of gaudy extravagance and ruthless nihilism, creating a grander portrait of winking exploitative seediness run amok. It was undeniably unsavory, but not overly offensive. Such is not the case with A Dame to Kill For, which descends so deeply into the muck that the results operate solely as a grotesque checklist of Miller’s erotic fixations. Women are either “whores” or victims, all dressed like porn stars, and subjected to being endlessly fetishized by the dehumanizing and detached male-gaze of Rodriguez’s camera. In a film climate where there’s a genuine frustrated demand for strong female characters, this sort of leering, pervy B-movie nonsense no longer plays like a cheeky homage to simpler cinematic times; it feels tired, antiquated and pretty gross.

Additionally, it’s more than a little apparent here that Miller, who has sole screenwriting credit, may love the sensibilities of film noir, though doesn’t quite grasp the intricacies offered by it. When the form emerged in American cinema in the thirties, it was usually typified by its dense shades of moral ambiguity, and troubled characters who all too often occupied grey territory, not quite villains and not quite heroes. Sin City doesn't explore these complexities, and makes it all too clear which side of the line its characters are standing. Heck, even ol’ homicidal Marv has a very specific, unbreakable code he lives by, usually serving as defender of the innocent. By ignoring this crucial element of noir, the writer delivers a shallow, over-simplified imitation, rather than a satisfying slice of the real deal.

Despite the fallacies of the material, credit where credit is due, many of the actors show up to play and almost succeed in carrying the picture back from the abyss. Eva Green, fast-turning into a female version of the Rock, redeeming unnecessary franchise sequels through sheer charisma, brings plenty of seething fierceness and manipulative black widow charm to her scheming title character (someone please give this fantastic actress a movie project worthy of her talents). She finds a strong sparring partner in Brolin who, despite lacking Owen’s suaveness, was born to spit out surly noir dialogue. Also stellar, unsurprisingly, is Rourke, who again infuses his iconic role with sad nobility and tragic horror. Gordon-Levitt brings a nice touch of cool period-era rakishness, while Dennis Haysbert, taking over for Michael Clarke Duncan as towering thug Manute, and Boothe make amusingly menacing villains.

Honestly, the failure of Rodriguez and Miller to fashion anything exciting or new from all of their resources really calls into question whether there’s even a place for these types of movies anymore, where actors are placed into synthetic screensaver environments, edited into scenes with one another and surrounded by cartoonish happenings. It’s impossible to be wowed by the technique and with nothing else tangible to hold onto we’re left bored and uninvolved. Like watching a magic trick that has had its secret revealed, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is all routine, zero astonishment.

1.5 out of 5

Sunday, August 10, 2014


Following an exhausting, exhilarating and thoroughly enjoyable away mission at Creation's 2014 Las Vegas Star Trek Convention hosts Cam Smith and Tyler Orton, along with special guests Scott Hardy and James Chesser, regroup in their hotel room and celebrate the most memorable moments of their four-day adventure. Over the course of this giddy hour and change of observations, criticisms and geek bliss, tales of lost con love and unexpected celebrity encounters are recounted, and a tribute is held to the event's most unexpectedly awesome guest. So enjoy and start your countdown clocks to summer 2015!

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In this energetically nerdy hour of speculative discussion hosts Cam Smith, Benjamin Yong and Tyler Orton gaze into their crystal ball and attempt to predict what the future holds for the franchise we all hold so dear. Will Trek convert to a 13-episode per season format? What's the likelihood of the show picking up where the Berman era ended? These tantalizing questions, among many others, are obsessively picked apart in order to determine the best possible course for artistic and commercial success. In addition, the crew offer up their own ideas as to what they'd like to see on the next itineration, as well as explain why the prospect of a Captain Worf spin-off isn't necessarily a good thing... So join us as we take a  brave step into the strange, alien world of the Hollywood TV industry and strive to make sense of it all for the betterment of Trek-kind.

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Sunday, July 27, 2014


Returning with another Film Flashback bonus episode hosts Cam Smith and Tyler Orton finally take on a giant of the franchise; 1982's awesomely entertaining STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN. Does the picture still hold up all after all these years? Does it have any nagging flaws? Over the course of a lengthy informal chat these topics are tackled, as well as the themes, action sequences and character beats that make the film so insanely popular. So buckle yourself in for a fun, free-wheeling supplemental show that delves boldly into this series-reenergizing tale of vengeance in the heavens.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Pizza Power & Nunchaku Nostalgia: Revisiting The TMNT Part 2 - TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES II: THE SECRET OF THE OOZE (1991)

Following the spectacular success of the inaugural Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie the only thing that could have prevented a follow-up was the apocalypse. There was much more money to be mined from Turtlemania, by golly, and New Line Cinema and Golden Harvest were understandably eager to milk Eastman and Laird’s fantastical creations for all they were worth. Fast-tracked to open slightly less than a year after the first, the $25-million-budgeted second picture saw a major overhaul of the cast and behind-the-scenes crew – notably actors Elias Koteas, Judith Hoag and Corey Feldman, director Steve Barron, co-writer Bobby Herbeck and editor Sally Menke – and, in response to backlash over the violence and edginess of the original, was envisioned as a lighter, goofier adventure more reminiscent of the animated syndicated series. The censors and parents groups may not have won the battle of 1990, but they were certainly going to win the war. 

The resulting effort, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, was a respectable hit when it opened March 22, 1991, eventually bringing in $78-mill at the domestic box-office. While a noticeable decrease in ticket sales from the characters’ cinematic debut, it’s crucial to remember that these were still the days when the law of diminishing returns was a common reality for franchises, as audiences, and frequently creative ambition, dropped off with each successive instalment (that said, James Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day would arrive just four months later and lay waste to summer movie competition; an omen of the blockbuster business model of future days to come). So, even if the telltale warning signs that Turtle Fever was beginning to break were obvious, the sheer volume of cash generated by tie-in merchandise and ancillary profits no doubt had the studio’s money men as giddy as the series’ enthusiastic young fans.

Picking up mere hours after the radical reptiles victoriously celebrated to the pulsing beat of Spunkadelic’s insanely infectious “9.95,” Secret of the Ooze sees Leonardo (Mark Caso, voice by Brian Tochi), Michelangelo (Michelan Sisti, voice by Robbie Rist), Donatello (Leif Tilden, voice by Adam Carl), Raphael (Kenn Scott, voice by Laurie Faso) and Splinter (Kevin Clash) without a home, seeking refuge in the comfortable domicile of their trusted TV news reporter friend, April O’Neil (Paige Turco). Tranquility doesn’t last long, however, as the Shredder (Francois Chau, voice by David McCharen) climbs out of the city garbage dump and sets about seeking vengeance. Reassembling the deadly Foot Clan, the vicious villain and his grunting sidekick Tatsu (Toshishiro Obata, voice by Michael McConnohie) fix their sights on TGRI, a local scientific corporation in the midst of a massive environmental clean-up effort, stealing a glowing canister of the same neon green goo that created our heroes 15 year prior. Soon, two more mutants - snapping turtle Tokka (Kurt Bryant, voice by Frank Welker) and wolf Rahzar (Mark Ginther, voice also by Frank Welker) - are tearing up the city and it’s up to the squabbling bro’s, alongside new friends Professor Jordan Perry (David Warner) and pizza delivery boy Keno (Ernie Reyes Jr., promoted up from Donatello stunt double) to win the day. Again.

Compared to the Turtles’ genuinely engaging introductory chapter, which thrived on its basic comic-book storytelling, tight character dynamics, catchy best-selling soundtrack and bouncy energy, Secret of the Ooze is a pretty significant disappointment and, beyond the still effective Jim Henson Creature Shop work, doesn’t really hold up at all anymore. Exhibiting a crippling case of Sequelitis, shamelessly rehashing story beats (Raph storms off and is captured again!) and jokes (“I made another funny!”) to minimized effect, and slackly directed by Michael Pressman (the auteur behind The Bad News Bears In Breaking Training, making his return to the (sorta) big leagues after a near decade-long stint in TV), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II is a mostly empty experience, long on slapstick action and cornball jokes, yet short on thrills, visual oomph, imagination or narrative coherence. It’s the kind of opportunistic, poorly constructed “product” that the 1990 picture fought not to be, talking down to its kid target market – there are literally two scenes where the Turtles’ origin is recited – and offering absolutely nothing for their parents to engage with. Remember Casey Jones and April’s playful romantic back-and-forth sessions? Nothing like that here. The adult characters are pretty much MIA this time around, with the exception of Professor Perry, who isn’t so much a character as an exposition robot. Too bad the flirted-with-but-abandoned plot-twist that he had a Krang-like Utrom alien living in his abdomen never came to fruition. That would have at least made him interesting.

There’s no shortage of evidence proving that entertainment intended for children can be smart, innovative, dazzling and bold. Secret of the Ooze is none of those things. The comedic, weapon-free fight scenes – modelled on the Three Stooges, who are paid homage – slingshot between harmlessly watchable to awkwardly shoddy. It’s impossible to watch the woefully flat sequence in which the Turtles and the Foot play Keep-Away with a chemical canister in Perry’s office (a really cheap-looking set), surfing on chairs and engaging in acrobatic combat, and not feel a little sad for all involved. And what about that climactic mêlée in the oh-so-square sounding Dockshore Club? In any other movie, a scene where your main baddie gets blown out the window by a keytar would be jarring. Here, it seems like a logical progression.

A big part of the problem with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II is the utter lack of danger. Competent filmmakers can communicate stakes and the severity of an antagonist’s threat no matter the tone, genre or intended audience. Pressman ain’t the guy to try. Tokkah and Rahzar (who looks like the towering Muppet Sweetums) needn’t necessarily be made terrifying or hyper-aggressive to appear as formidable adversaries. Perhaps a touch of weird Universal Monsters otherness, or a display of destructive powers more impressive than a couple toppled telephone poles would have helped. Frankly, the creative team needed to justify the exclusion of beloved troublemakers Rocksteady and Bebop - who Eastman and Laird allegedly vetoed despite studio wishes – for these new heavies, and they sure don’t try very hard to do so. Yes, the well-known “Mama!” moment is cute and playfully undercuts the tension of the scene. Problem is, once that tension is dispelled it doesn’t ever return. Hence, their defeat in act three becomes a campy afterthought, not a true test of courage and ingenuity.

And the less said about Shredder 2.0, the better, as he’s become a neutered buffoon, weighed down by comically huge Dark Helmet-like headgear, totally robbed of menace and brutality. Even his ominous arrival in the first act is merely a blatant rip-off of the shot from Tim Burton’s Batman where Joker’s bleached hand emerges from the Gotham harbor. To be fair, though, it must be admitted that his eventual hulking Super Shredder form is suitably deadly. Now, if only something remotely cool had been done with it…

Most of the problems plaguing Secret of the Ooze can be traced to the screenplay, by returning scribe Todd W. Langen, which often makes no sense. We’re told it’s been 24 hours since the Shredder swan-dived into that fateful garbage truck, yet the Turtles behave like they’ve been going stir-crazy at April’s place for quite a while, and there are huge stacks of pizza boxes everywhere. Did they rescue Keno from thieves mere hours after barely surviving a grueling run-in with their arch-nemesis and his army of thugs?

Over on the bad guy side, Shredder, upon reemergence, shoots down the idea of rebuilding the Foot in favor of revenge (okay…), only to hold tryouts for new recruits a short while later (maybe Tatsu is really the brains behind this operation). He also determines April is the key and has embedded a particularly problematic character named Freddy (Mark Doerr) in her news crew. When did he do this exactly? During the first flick? How long has he been there?! April appears to know him fairly well, after all. Whatever becomes of this mysterious figure? He just disappears after giving April a stern message. Should we assume he was beaten up with the rest of his gang in the climax? Forget the secret of the ooze, tell us the secret of Freddy instead!

This shambling script-level incompetence carries over to the characters, as well. Previously, Raphael had an emotional journey, with a recognizable start and end. In Part II there are no character arcs to speak of! Ostensibly this is Donatello’s time to shine – he’s the one eager to explore their origin and plays a key role in the science stuff – though no attempt is made to develop his personality. Around the mid-point he expresses to Splinter his frustration that their birth was an accident. The wise rat sensei offers up a brief, tired fortune cookie saying and the scene ends, never to be referenced again. As for the other three, they now act out their single traits to occasionally annoying extremes (Leonardo is noticeably much whinier). As for Keno, he serves little function, outside of a sadly wasted subplot where he sneaks into the Foot’s base with Raphael, and then runs away. Reyes Jr. is a gifted martial artist and a lousy actor, popping in and out of the story to little fanfare when convenient, with minimal dialogue. Casey Jones, he is not. Even his exit is halfhearted, marked by Michelangelo quickly yelling “later, Keno dude!” over his shoulder while walking out the door to take on Shredder. Which, come to think of it, is still a more impressive send off than anything ol’ Professor Perry receives.

Movies like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Secret of the Ooze serve as a sobering reminder of how nostalgia can cloud the mind with delusion; blinding us to the obvious flaws of our personal childhood cinematic favorites. There’s some amusement to be had in once more seeing the Turtles being brought to life (and doing backflips!), or Splinter acting as a bow-and-arrow-wielding sniper, but these brief moments of amusement can’t mask what a rushed, hackneyed nothing Pressman and company churned out. Let’s remember: this is a picture that is remembered predominantly for a stilted performance of the terrible “Ninja Rap” by Vanilla Ice. It would have been far more appropriate, however, if the lyrics had instead just endlessly droned “No ninja, no ninja, no…!”

Turtle-tastic Tidbits:

Bad-guys Beaten: 80

Most Tubular Takedown: Leonardo’s swords-in-the-ceiling kick is pretty great, but Donatello wins the movie with his sweet multi-kick/sommersault/head-kick combo during the Dockshore Club scuffle.

Pizzas Consumed: By the Turtles: 3. However, 19 slices are eaten by various New Yorkers during the opening credits.

Best duderific comic dialogue:

Donatello: “The perimeter's quiet.”

Leonardo: “Yeah, a little too quiet.”

*Donatello knocks out two Foot soldier guards*

Donatello: “Well, that was easy!”

Leonardo: “Yeah, a little too easy.”

Donatello: “Look! It's Raph!”

Michelangelo: “Yeah, a little too Raph.”

Direst duderific comic dialogue:

Donatello: “Hey, is this gonna work?”

Michelangelo: “Is, like, Schwarzenegger hard to spell?”

Sagest Splinter Wisdom: “Remember: the true ninja is a master of all things. A master of his environment. A master of himself.”

Most Menacing Villain Line: Shredder (to Tokkah and Rahzar): “Go ahead. Attack me if you will. When it is over, you will call me Master!”

Uncomfortable Adult Humor: Keno, shot down by a girl who tells him to “dream on, dweeb,” snarks back “Okay, and when I do I'll dream of someone a little thinner.” Keep it classy, kid.

Grade: 1.5 Cowabungas out of 5

Sunday, July 20, 2014


Riker trombone jokes were only the beginning! In this latest ambitious blast of sci-fi geek silliness hosts Cam Smith, Benjamin Yong and Tyler Orton sing the praises of Trek's most wonderful moments of impromptu musicianship, as well as play a solemn dirge for some truly wretched off-key caterwauling. When not reveling in the powerful dulcet tones of some of the franchise's biggest stars, they find time to discuss how one terrible light-hearted moment nearly sinks Insurrection, as well as engage in a passionate, fiery debate over a certain notoriously polarizing series theme song. We have faith... that everyone will really enjoy this one!

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Monday, July 14, 2014

Pizza Power & Nunchaku Nostalgia: Revisiting The TMNT Part 1 - TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES (1990)

When it high-kicked its way onto silver screens on May 30, 1990 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was less a movie than a momentous event, the inevitable apex of a global craze that had been gathering steam for six years. Originally created by indie comic creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird in 1984 as an adult-oriented spoof of popular titles such as “New Mutants,” “Daredevil,” “Cerebrus” and Frank Miller’s “Ronin,” the colorful characters became an instant crossover phenomenon after fledgling Honk Kong toy company Playmates snagged toy rights and CBS began airing the syndicated animated TV series. In no time turtle fever was a very real condition infecting a generation of children, fuelled by an endless supply of action figures, video games, breakfast cereals, Mirage and Archie-produced comic books, etc., and the demand for a live action motion picture adaptation was positively frothing. The ensuing effort, a modest 13.5-million-budgeted venture between then-independent studio New Line Cinema (aka “The House that Freddy Krueger Built”) and Golden Harvest – the HK production company behind martial arts classics featuring Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee, among others – was an instantly adored success story, grossing a tubular $135 million dollars at the domestic office and just over 200-mill worldwide. No matter which way you slice it, that was a lot of green in those days.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the movie proved less popular with critics and parents groups, who dismissed it as unimaginative crass commercialism, and railed against its dark tone and surprisingly edgy action. And they were not alone. Playmates, concerned by the public outcry and fearing controversy aimed in their direction, refused to manufacture toys based on these new cinematic versions of their top-selling moneymakers. Meanwhile, over in the UK, the censors (longtime adversaries of the TMNT cartoon) took scissors to the film, removing all signs of nunchuks and toning down the half-shelled combat. But, as so often proves the case, the negative press had very little effect (in the short term, that is…), and the target audience was free to revel in the flick’s 93 carefree minutes of wisecracking, sewer-surfing, Foot soldier-stomping fun over and over and over again.

The story of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, ingrained within the DNA of most children of the 1980s, is simplicity personified; New York has become plagued by a mysterious band of ninja thieves called the Foot Clan, who operate under the iron-clad rule of the fearsome Shredder (physical performance by James Saito, voice by David McCharen). After relentless reporter April O’Neil (Judith Hoag) exposes the group she becomes subject to intimidation and attacks, bringing a quartet of unlikely reptilian defenders into her life. Alas, these unlikely squabbling heroes, consisting of group leader Leonardo (David Forman, voice by Brian Tochi), party animal Michelangelo (Michelan Sisto, voice by Robbie Rist), science wiz Donatello (Leif Tilden, voice by Corey Feldman(!)) and surly loner Raphael (Josh Pais), are quickly targeted for elimination and run out of town by the vicious criminal empire, which kidnaps their dear rat sensei, Splinter (voiced by Kevin Clash). However, with the aid of hockey mask-wearing vigilante Casey Jones (Elias Koteas), and a troubled youth named Danny (Michael Turney), our weapon-wielding protagonists find the strength within themselves to win the day, save their master and celebrate in style with plenty of (Domino’s©) pizza.

Viewed 24 years after the hype has quieted, with a new Michael Bay-headed itineration waiting in the wings, it’s amusing how strangely innocent and harmless director Steve Barron’s original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles now seems. Contrasted against current kid-oriented action films, both good (Marvel’s output) and bad (Transformers, G.I. Joe), that bombard the senses with sequences of dizzying, wall-to-wall effects and cacophonic sound, the sight of Donatello acrobatically skateboarding down a darkly lit sewer pipe to a bouncy synth score, smacking attackers in the skull with his staff, seems positively quaint and old fashioned. We’ve come a long way, baby!

Although Tim Burton’s bank-breaking hit Batman, which arrived just one year earlier, was an obvious influence aesthetically, the film doesn’t strive to adopt that flawed milestone’s hyper-convoluted and occasionally muddled story structure – a sadly common trait in modern blockbuster scripts. Instead, it tells a remarkably economical, breezily energetic (the tight, punchy pace can be attributed to the invaluable cutting skills of Sally Menke, Tarantino’s late, great editor, making her Hollywood debut) and disarmingly sweet story of brotherly love, the bond between fathers and sons and the need for family, dressed up with roundhouse kicks and katana blades. It may not be high art, or stellar family entertainment exactly, nonetheless it remains undeniably charming, funny and often kinda exciting.

Coincidentally, it has also become something of a time capsule. Alongside the same year’s The Witches, this film was one of the final productions to be graced by the legendary Jim Henson, who succumbed to a bacterial infection just two weeks prior to release. His Creature Shop was responsible for bringing the titular anthropomorphized amphibians and Splinter to life, and it’s remarkable how life-like, endearing and expressive their efforts prove. Blending puppetry, bulky animatronics and actors in suits, the team managed the impossible by crafting fantastical creations that are convincingly credible both still and in motion, as evidenced throughout the clever fight sequences. There’s a tactile authenticity to them; they look and feel like (bizarre) denizens of our world, and, miracle of miracles, are never unpleasing to the eye or jarring. They are genuine works of movie magic, that – through no shortage of care, sweat and thought – are capable of impressive range (watch the sensitive reunion scene between Leonardo and a reawakened Raphael in a bathtub and try to disagree), and serve as a memorable final note for Henson’s astonishing career to go out on, just three short years before Jurassic Park would stomp into theatres and officially usher in the digital age.

The movie also marks the beginning of the end for cinema’s two-decade-long love/hate affair with New York City as a dangerous hub of urban decay. At the time of release, the metropolis was experiencing its highest violent crime rate – over two and half times the 2012 stats - in recorded history, largely due to a catastrophic crack epidemic, and that fear, griminess and pessimism colors much of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (never mind that it was mostly shot in North Carolina). Nowadays the film’s depictions of gloomy, foreboding subway stations, ugly crumbling buildings coated with graffiti and empty night streets dominated by roving youth gangs are wildly at odds with our impressions of the Big Apple. And though there are certainly plenty of artistic liberties being taken with this 1990 representation, it ultimately serves as an entertaining, evocative reminder of just how negatively the media and outside observers once perceived the pre-Giuliani cityscape.

While Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, thus far, seems mostly significant for signaling the end of noteworthy eras, it did help play a valuable role in setting a certain standard for future cinematic superhero tales. Despite Richard Donner’s sensational Superman in 1978 and Burton’s aforementioned Batman, the infant genre would take time to find its legs – until 1998’s Blade or 2000’s X-Men, depending on who you ask – and the picture deserves props for its low-key efficiency. Skillfully weaving its silly mythology and multiple outlandish personalities into a basic, easily accessible narrative, Barron and writers Todd W. Langen and Bobby Herbeck accomplish something of a wonder with minimal fuss. Well aware they were making a children’s flick, they admirably refuse to pander or water down the material’s overt weirdness; cleverly nailing all of the necessary details (compare the goofy, engaging exposition found in the April-narrated opening or Splinter’s old kung fu movie-toned stories to the countless frantic info-dump scenes found in current summer tentpoles) without forsaking their irreverent tone or stalling out. This is very silly stuff, and it’s nice to see it being respected, not condescended to like, say, 1987’s Masters of the Universe, which was “reimagined” as a derivative Star Wars riff. Sure, the film is naïve and a bit archaic when placed against today’s bumper crop of costumed crimefighter epics but it continues to be one of the few genre forebears still worthy of remembrance.

Of course, it’s also just a good, lively time at the movies. Nicely blending the gritty, pop-culture-skewering toughness of Eastman and Laird’s Mirage Comics adventures and the wackier Saturday morning cartoon into a consistent, unified whole, Barron and crew’s endeavor succeeds significantly on the strength of its personalities. Few would credit our butt-kicking brothers with having multi-dimensional personalities, however damned if the writers don’t milk their single notes, and intentionally dorky verbal sparring sessions, for everything they’re worth (with the possible exception of Donatello, who feels a little lost function-wise), never breaching into the realm of insufferableness. Raphael, all pent up discontent, attitude and frustration, remains the most compelling – who couldn’t, at some point in their younger years, relate to his impotent anger – and is the only turtle with a recognizable character arc, yet doesn’t stand in the way of everyone getting their own big moments to shine (gotta love Michelangelo’s show-stopping pre-clash nunchuk demonstration, or Leonardo leading a meditative fireside séance with Splinter’s Jedi force ghost).

The amiably vanilla Hoag, saddled with the thankless, albeit crucial, role of remaining a neutral presence and selling the illusion of her foam and latex costars, brings enough pep and warmth – sort of a Margot Kidder lite - to ground everything in (magical) reality. It’s too bad she didn’t stick around for the sequels, honestly. She’s especially engaging opposite Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ secret Han Solo-ish weapon; rascally, rough-around-the-edges Elias Koteas as the cricket bat-swinging Casey. Fashioning an attention-grabbing performance from B-movie material, the character actor slyly runs away with every single one of his scenes (note his silently comedic shrug upon encountering a chained up Splinter) and leaves you wanting more. Though he wound up going the less conventional career route, with intense turns in pictures such as Cronenberg’s Crash, Malick’s The Thin Red Line and Egoyan’s Exotica, his star-quality charisma is impossible to deny here.

So what doesn’t work quite as well anymore? For starters, the threat of the Foot Clan now seems oddly inconsistent. Given their seemingly tightly-honed operation, and the ease with which they track down and nab Splinter, it’s a little dubious that it takes them so long to confront the turtles. And why doesn’t anyone try to pursue them once they escape to April’s cottage in the woods (do none of these delinquent kids drive? What about Tatsu? No Shreddermobile?!)? For all of the script’s strengths, occasionally the logic falters. Because he’s such a magnetic presence, it’s easy to forgive the lack of motivation behind Casey Jones joining the cause, although we probably shouldn’t. And, as enjoyable as the pop-culture references can be, there are some serious groaners on display. Arguably the worst offender is Raphael’s rooftop A Streetcar Named Desire Stanley Kowalski impression, which transpires during a key emotional point in the story, and just couldn’t fall flatter.

That said, quibbles aside, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles hasn’t lost its ability to trigger small bursts of adrenaline straight to the brain once the killer soundtrack kicks into gear and the fists start flying. Sincere in its cheerfully shallow aim to wow legions of kids with cornball humor, hyperactive hijinx and martial arts mayhem, director Barron and his team deliver enthusiastically and single-mindedly, injecting enough adult-friendly humor along the way to bridge the demographic gap. Almost two-and-a-half decades since making the leap to celluloid, these dudes continue to abide. Righteously.

Turtle-tastic Tidbits:

Bad-guys Beaten: 118

Most Tubular Takedown: Mikey and Donatello’s crowd-pleasing nunchuk demo/flying bo staff double hit combo.

Pizzas Consumed: 2. One delivered to their sewer home by a bewildered Domino’s © delivery man, and a second in the form of leftovers at April’s pad. A potential third is deemed inedible due to its liberal topping of “penicillin.”

Best duderific comic dialogue:

Donatello: "Good thing these guys aren't lumberjacks."

Michelangelo: "No joke. The only thing safe in the woods... would be the trees!"

Direst duderific comic dialogue:

Donatello: "Bossa Nova!"

Michaelangelo: "Dude, 'Bossa Nova?'"

Donatello: "Chevy Nova?"

Sagest Splinter Wisdom: “Possess the right thinking. Only then can one receive the gifts of strength, knowledge and peace.”

Most Menacing Villain Line: Shredder: “You fight well... in the old style. But you've caused me enough trouble. Now you face: the Shredder.”

Uncomfortable Adult Humor: Casey Jones reacting to being called claustrophobic by threatening “You want a fist in the mouth?! I’ve never even looked at another guy before!”

Grade: 4 Cowabungas Out of 5  

Sunday, July 13, 2014


You wanna get nuts?! Let's get nuts! Join Cam Smith, Benjamin Yong and Tyler Orton in this brand new madcap, daffy installment in which they attempt to comprehend some of the craziest WTF creative decisions in the history of Star Trek. Wanna hear about puppet-wielding man-babies, or sinister circus clowns played by members of Spinal Tap? We gotcha covered! And, just to add to the fun, the trio analyze the bizarre love life of everyone's favorite Klingon security chief, as well as finally deal seriously with the ramifications of Ferengi cross-dressing. Pull up your space-bootstraps, cuz you're in for one mighty kooky ride!

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Monday, July 07, 2014


Even hosts as tough as Cam Smith, Benjamin Yong and Tyler Orton get scared every now and again. In this chilling and spooktacular episode the trio recount their most unsettling Trek experiences, and revel in the horror of some of sci-fi's most revolting and disquieting television hours. Along the way, counselor-based desserts are discussed, as well as the awesome deadliness of DS9's most beloved Cardassian. And, as an added bonus, the discussion culminates in an extended discussion on the potential format of the franchise's next journey back to the small screen. Enjoy! If you dare...

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Sunday, June 29, 2014


In this very special Film Flashback bonus episode hosts Cam Smith and Tyler Orton, regrettably down one Benjamin Yong, take a long, in-depth look at 1979's polarizing Star Trek: The Motion Picture. What still works and what doesn't? Where does the film rank in the franchise's movie canon? And what scene does one host call out as being among his favorite love scenes of all time? All these questions are answered and so, so much more, in the first entry of this ongoing series of grade-A supplemental shows focusing on cinematic Trek.

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Thursday, June 26, 2014


When you're a hard-working member of Starfleet sometimes you just gotta get away from it all. Fortunately, ever tireless hosts Cam Smith, Benjamin Yong and Tyler Orton don't believe in downtime and are ready at your service, this time calling out the finest and direst episodes involving leisure activities in the 23rd and 24th century. Wanna know how the trio feel about pleasure planets? This is the ticket, baby! They also chime in on the dubious appeal of Ten Forward and contemplate the alcohol level of synthale. Let the good times roll! 

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The continued global success of Michael Bay’s Transformers franchise says many damning things about our culture, and its ever-lowering bar for what passes as adequate entertainment. However, what it really highlights is the lack of moral outrage in this generation of mothers and fathers. Back in 1990, when Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles stormed the silver screen, parents groups were up in arms over that hit movie’s realistic depictions of half-shelled ass-kicking. So effective were their ensuing protests and vocal disapproval that each consecutive sequel increasingly toned down the violence and brightened up the color palette in order to not scar the impressionable little ones. 

By comparison, the Transformers pictures are beginning to feel like an elaborate in-joke designed to test just how much sadism, cruelty and antisocial anger can be injected into one bloated toy commercial. Take Age of Extinction, the latest gasping junker to roll off the Hasbro/Paramount assembly line; the film opens with the fiery genocide of countless terrified dinosaurs before seguing into a sequence in which proud Autobot Ratchet is viciously torn limb from limb and impaled while pleading for his life, repeatedly wailing “I am your friend! I am you friend!” Sure, this sort of casually mean-spirited stuff is par for the course in this soul-blackening series – remember in 2009’s Revenge of the Fallen when heroic Optimus Prime screamed “Give me your face!” while savagely disfiguring his critically weakened foe? – but shouldn’t there at least be some serious debate about projecting this trash in front of the impressionable eyes of millions of kids? I know, I know, they’re just robots and it’s “fun.” Sigh. Okay, moving on…

Look, at this point, if you’ve seen one Transformers movie, you’ve seen ‘em all, and Age of Extinction isn’t much different from the rest of the bunch. Despite losing the entire previous cast, and adding a trio of mechanical dinos to the team, this latest addition pretty much mirrors the experience of sitting through the previous three. The action is still overwrought, numbing and relentless, the plot dumb and seemingly made up on the spot and the characters obnoxious and paper-thin. This won’t be the film to convert new fans or offend diehards. It does test endurance levels the most, though; at 165 minutes it’s by far the lengthiest pilgrimage into the distorted, product placement-obsessed (and possibly sociopathic) mind of director Michael Bay. Depending on your view, this will come as a dire warning or a hearty recommendation.

Following the aforementioned mass dino-butchering - which establishes that it was actually aliens that caused the famed mass extinction event and not asteroids or comets - this fourth chapter in the Transformers saga picks up with a rogue CIA death squad, overseen by Kelsey Grammer’s Harold Attinger, wiping out Autobots as penance for the destruction of Chicago in Dark of the Moon. Employing the gun-faced Decepticon Lockdown, the group are harvesting tech, weapons and precious “transformium” (an intentional one-upping of Avatar’s unobtainium?) from the bodies of deceased ‘bots, most notably the villainous Megatron, in order to strengthen American defenses against extraterrestrial attacks. Of course, it goes without saying that Lockdown has ulterior motives for enlisting in the cause, and they predominantly swirl around the vanished Autobot leader Optimus Prime.

Dormant and gathering dust for years in a dilapidated movie theater (never mind how he got in there), the gravel-voiced alpha-bot is discovered by financially-strapped Texas inventor Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), and transported back to his homey farmhouse for tinkering. Unfortunately for Cade and his scantily-dressed teenage daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz), trouble comes-a-calling when the reactivation of Optimus draws swarms of murderous CIA goons out of the woodwork, forcing them to go on the run, accompanied by Tessa’s secret boyfriend Shane (Jack Reynor) and a small handful of surviving Autobots. Relentlessly pursued, our squabbling heroes soon come into contact with Stanley Tucci’s flamboyant Joshua Joyce, a Steve Jobs-ian blowhard genius who is creating an army of man-made Transformers and winds up possessing an alien device that threatens to transform our precious planet into a big 'ol smoking crater.

As has traditionally been the case, the script, by indefensible returning writer Ehren Kruger, is merely a shambles crudely tying together pre-visualized action sequences. There’s little logic connecting each plot point – it’s not very clear, for example, what Wahlberg hopes to accomplish by crashing Tucci’s tech company – and more of a casual attitude of indifference towards pesky things like character arcs, motivation and consistency of personalities. Every so often, blatantly obvious storytelling patches (a bizarre cell phone discussion between Cade and Joyce reeks of desperate last minute tinkering) rear their heads, but most of the time Kruger and Bay are content to let the never-ending explosions and chaos further the narrative. Which, as far as this property goes, is just fine. The sound of concussive pyrotechnics is infinitely more pleasing to the ear than the wretched dialogue.

Curse his hacky sensibilities all you want, it’s impossible to ignore Michael Bay’s proficiency for setting up cool effects shots. Alas, he seems to be pretty checked out here – there’s nothing to top the climactic city-toppling battle in Dark of the Moon – and doesn’t imbue the movie with his usual level of memorable weirdness (no sulky Megatron wearing a cape or Robot Heaven this time around). While it’s impossible to argue that he fails to create plenty of cataclysmic eye-candy, exhilaration or energy are noticeably absent, leaving only serviceable dutifulness. Let’s put it this way; there’s more excitement and innovation in Captain America: Winter Soldier’s hostage-freeing opener than in the entirety of Age of Extinction. And that film didn’t have (much ballyhooed, yet lamely wasted) Dinobots!

Although the helmer can do action in his sleep, he can’t pull off self-aware meta humor on his best day. A scene where an elderly character scorns modern-day Hollywood for only cranking out remakes and sequels, before fawning nostalgically over a poster of Howard Hawks’ El Dorado – a loose redo of that cinematic master’s own 1959 classic western Rio Bravo – is pretty embarrassing. Is he trying to argue that things haven’t really changed at all? His intention isn’t quite clear, and only succeeds in emphasizing the gaping gulf in quality between Hawks’ retold tales and his own. Equally head-scratching is an icky scene wherein he acknowledges his own (boringly) repulsive misogyny by having Cade sternly criticize his daughter’s ultra-short cutoffs for being inappropriate while the camera performs a long, leering cinematic proctology exam. Admitting the problem is only step one, Mr. Bay. 

It must be a bit of a blessing and a curse to star in one of these vehicles. On one hand, you’ve got a guaranteed box office smash on your resume, while on the other there’s a darn good chance you’ll be delivering your very worst work. Such is the case with this cast, who often have to spit out their unspeakable lines at a staccato beat in order for it to complement the editing. Credit where it’s due, Shia LaBeouf had this dubious technique down cold. Wahlberg does not, and his inventor – an apparent graduate from the “Dr. Christmas Jones Institute of teh Science and Technologies” – is pretty much a blank, enlivened only by being flanked by pretty deadweights Reynor and Peltz. Not surprisingly, Tucci and Grammer are the only two who seem to be enjoying themselves, well aware that they might as well embrace the opportunity to go whole-hog camp. As the voice of Optimus, Peter Cullen adds a touch of class, despite spending most of his screentime threatening to kill everyone before delivering another patented film-closing nonsensical monologue (always my favorite part).

Predictably, the picture closes on an ominous cliffhanger ending paving the way for a fifth and (*gulp*) likely sixth Transformers adventure. It’s too late to pray for change; the worst blockbuster franchise going will continue to cough out new content so long as the bucks keep rolling in. Age of Extinction isn’t the nadir of the franchise, nor does it cast a single ray of hope that Bay and crew will course-correct and produce an installment that develops the intellectual property in an interesting or novel way. The robots may be in disguise, however the filmmakers' intentions couldn’t be any more naked. See you again in Summer 2016. Bring the kids.

1.5 out of 5

Sunday, June 08, 2014

SUBSPACE TRANSMISSIONS Gets Promoted... And Demoted!

In this "What If..."-tastic installment hosts Cam Smith, Benjamin Yong and Tyler Orton dive headlong into every single series in the franchise in order to determine which guest stars deserved to be promoted to full time duty, and who among the main casts deserved demotion to the Jeffries tubes. Expect plenty of odd and controversial choices, as well as lofty praise for the DS9 character least likely to receive lofty praise.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

SUBSPACE TRANSMISSIONS Journeys To The Undiscovered Country!

Hosts Cam Smith, Benjamin Yong and Tyler Orton return in their most morbid episode ever, honoring beloved Trek figures who shuffled off the mortal coil with dignify and style, while also mourning those who left on a sour, unsatisfying note. In between these solemn reflections, the trio also express their appreciation for a pair of unforgettable Cardassians and ponder the mystery of the franchise's inevitable next TV incarnation.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

SUBSPACE TRANSMISSIONS Only Lives Twice (Or So It Seems)!

In this sixth fantastic entry Cam Smith, Benjamin Yong and Tyler Orton finally drop the tough guy routine and get in touch with their sensitive sides, earnestly reminiscing about Trek's most profoundly moving episodes involving alternate lives. Plus, in addition to celebrating some of the best television hours the franchise has ever produced, you'll discover which host wept multiple times during a fan favorite episode of Deep Space Nine, as well as who recently attempted to channel their inner-Picard on a recorder. This one's a doozy, true believers!

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Monday, May 12, 2014


In our latest, greatest episode hosts Cam Smith, Benjamin Yong and Tyler Orton gaze into the Trek mirror and decide which doppelgangers are worth celebrating and, alternately, ridiculing. Over the course of the lively conversation they also find time to pinpoint the most uncomfortable moment in the franchise's history and continue Vedek Bareil's reign as the podcast's most oft-mentioned supporting player.

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Tuesday, May 06, 2014


Where has the heart gone? When Sam Raimi delivered his original trio of Spider-Man epics it was impossible not to be won over by the boundless joy and earnest respect beaming brightly from behind every colorful, bubbly frame. No surprise really, given the widely reported biographical detail that the gleefully wacky helmer grew up with a mural of the Wall-Crawler painted over his childhood bed. And that enthusiasm, that adoring youthful hero worship, poured organically into the work, fuelling a wonderful series that produced two defining genre classics and a problematic, polarizing third chapter that at least screamed ambition. There was always a tangible sense that those films were motivated by a deep-rooted passion for the beloved Marvel Comics mascot.

Flash-forward a few years and now we’re in the midst of Marc Webb’s reboot franchise, a series seemingly inspired less by appreciation for the Web-slinger than for the box-office grosses he’s capable of roping in. The first entry, 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man, while not totally charmless, was nonetheless crippled by a terribly messy screenplay filled with dangling plot threads and visible studio meddling. One would have hoped lessons would have been learned from that clunky – albeit profitable – initial swing and steps taken to redeem Sony Pictures’ high-flying golden goose.

Sadly, the ol’ Parker bad luck streak continues with The Amazing Spider-Man 2, a confused, tone-deaf and cheerless jumble of motivation-deficient characters, hacky writing and blatant, uninspired sequel bait. The result plays simultaneously like a cartoony tribute to the campy 90s Schumacher Batman efforts, as well as a hyper-convoluted, tedious homage to the cynical and clueless superhero debacles - such as X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Fantastic Four - 20th Century Fox coughed out in the mid-00s. The genre has evolved too far, thanks to The Dark Knight, Spider-Man 2 and the best Marvel Studios productions, for slovenly storytelling and naked cash-grab opportunism like this to skate by. Frankly, this film should be utterly mortified to be booked next door to the thrilling Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Following a busy pair of re-introductory opening action sequences of varying quality – a silly brawl involving Peter Parker’s parents (!) and an Oscorp hitman on a pilotless aircraft, and a decently shot Spidey scuffle with a screaming big rig-driving Russian mobster (Paul Giamatti) - The Amazing Spider-Man 2 quickly scatters in roughly a half dozen different directions. First and foremost, I guess, is the troublesome romantic relationship between Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) and Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). Still heavily burdened by the death of Captain Stacy (Denis Leary) at the hands of the Lizard in the previous film, he’s now haunted by his ghost and scared to closely involve the man’s brainy blonde daughter in his crime-fighter life. She, on the other hand, is about fed up with Peter’s indecisiveness and ready to leave New York behind in order to continue her scientific studies at Oxford.

Of course, complicating Peter’s life further are his search to uncover the secret behind his parents’ (Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidz) tragic vanishing act and the reappearance of old friend Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan), a sniveling rich creep with a terminal disease who requires Spider-blood to ward off the grim fate that befell his genius father, Norman (a lamely underutilized Chris Cooper). Meanwhile, off in an isolated Oscorp lab, nerdy scientist and Spidey fanboy Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx) falls into a vat of electric eels and is reborn as Electro, a high voltage villain determined to destroy his former idol and be noticed by the society that ignores him.

Scripted by producers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (along with Fringe’s Jeff Pinkner), the successful duo who previously penned the first two Transformers pictures, both J.J. Abrams Star Trek films and Cowboys and Aliens, Amazing Spider-Man 2 is an often shocking display of amateur hour screenwriting. Ineptly handled exposition hides around every corner - the pay-off to Papa Parker’s mystery file is groan-inducingly creaky, for example - and there is no clear narrative throughline or recognizable thematic arc, only a crude assembly of scenes that too often bash up against one another awkwardly. None of these stories have any flow; they spastically unfold at a clumsy staccato rhythm that does the bloated, yet weirdly rushed, 142 minute runtime no favors. The central romance, one of The Amazing Spider-Man's few strengths, has been downgraded to a handful of bullet point clichés strewn about willy nilly. Instead of a sweeping love story, we get two charismatic performers forced to conjure magic from dusty artifice.

Inexplicably, the other characters fare even worse. Say what you will about James Franco’s turn as Harry in the Raimi movies, his transformation into the second Green Goblin felt natural and properly developed. DeHaan gets a couple scenes before going all squirrelly, and his descent into full-blown evil is hurried, unconvincing and entirely unearned. It doesn’t help matters that, once he hops on the Goblin Glider, he has little to do beyond making gargling sounds and putting on his Plot Device hat. However, he does have a purpose, which is something that can’t be said for Electro. It’s unclear why this antagonist is even in the film – he serves next to no function – and his early pre-accident scenes, highly reminiscent of Jim Carrey’s Batman Forever Edward Nygma performance, are jarringly goofy and undercooked (and accompanied by a cheesy comic score). As well, similar to the last entry, Sally Field’s Aunt May is almost totally wasted, although she does get her obligatory couple minutes to shine.

When Marc Webb was brought onto the series many hoped he’d bring some the energy and vibrancy evident in his winning breakthrough, (500) Days of Summer. Certainly, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 every now and again gets things right - a montage of Spidey’s daily rounds is picture-perfect - and the director shows an improved eye for web-slinging visuals (his action chops remain unremarkable, sadly), but aside from these sporadic bright spots he has crafted a leaden, schizophrenic mess that bungles one of the Arachnid Avenger’s most compelling comic-book tales as badly as Fox botched “The Dark Phoenix Saga” in X-Men: The Last Stand and “The Coming of Galactus” in Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. Two sloppy films in, it’s become clear his primary duty is to bend over backwards to accommodate all of Sony’s dopey demands (future unpromising follow-ups are witlessly established at this movie’s expense). Whereas Raimi had vision, Webb has corporate-issued directions.

The cast, astonishing on paper, is a mixed bag. Garfield continues to be a spectacular Spider-Man and an agreeable enough Peter Parker (his cocky hipster take bears little resemblance to the classic comic-book version), while Stone makes for a radiant Gwen. Though she doesn’t have a whole lot to work with – even her big “Save the day!” moment is an obvious recycling of Gwyneth Paltrow’s climactic Iron Man beat – her presence is welcome and, occasionally, fun. None of the antagonist actors seem to have a handle on their vaguely sketched roles. Foxx, who would have been perfect as the flashy Electro of the page, is instead totally sunk by this silly, ill-conceived take on the beloved lightning bolt-tossing thug. The always dependable Giamatti’s much publicized Rhino ultimately amounts to an unexceptional cameo with barely a single line of decipherable dialogue (the foes here often devolve into hollering nonsensical jibberish). As for DeHaan, it’s tough to know who to blame. He’s uniformly bad, sure, and yet was so fantastic giving a similar performance in 2012’s entertaining found footage superhero adventure Chronicle. We may just need to give him the benefit of the doubt on this one.

It’s frankly criminal how devoid of imagination and wonder this travesty is. No expense was spared on this project, with many of Hollywood’s highest paid talents churning out lazy, unimaginative work for the sole focus of expanding the brand in order to compete with Marvel’s shared universe. Considering the rich fifty year legacy they had to mine from, this film is an embarrassing insult to Spider-Man and his sincere enduring message. At this point, the prospect of any further sequels and spinoffs from this creative team is infinitely more threatening than anything Green Goblin and his malicious minions are capable of dreaming up.

1.5 out of 5