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Square peg meets round hole
Let me start by saying that I was pleasantly surprised when I finally watched The Hobbit on DVD last week. Having read a ton of reviews and rants online and shaking my head in disbelief at the weird decision to turn a 320-page children's-book into three 180-minute movies, I really wanted to hate this flick.
Turns out it's not that bad after all, but that may have something to do with the fact that I'm a huge sucker for everything Tolkien. Consequently, I didn't mind the slow start of the film. In fact, the prologue (narrated by the wonderful Ian Holm) does a good job of getting you re-acquainted with the world of Middle Earth and giving you the necessary background on the history of Durin's Folk (Dwarfs). I also didn't mind the extended party sequence at Bag End.. those scene are pretty much straight out of the book.
But let me get straight to my two main criticisms: Tone and unnecessary changes.
The filmmakers are pretty obviously trying to make The Hobbit fit in with LOTR, and that's like trying to fit the proverbial square peg into a round hole. One is a lighthearted fairytale written for kids, the other is a hugely complex and much darker epic. But instead of settling for one tone (lighthearted or serious/epic) and sticking with it, the filmmakers try to have it both ways. And they actually make things worse by not just incorporating the more childish stuff from the novel, but by adding in *more* childish stuff that wasn't even in the book. Belching Dwarfs, a Troll-snot-covered Bilbo or a guano-loving wizard driving a bunny-sleigh are nowhere to be found in Tolkien writings. Perhaps most importantly, the film can't seem to hold its tone for more than ten minutes.
There would be nothing wrong with a lighthearted tone in the first half hour and a subsequent shift towards darker material. Which is what the book does: Opening with a comedic sequence in Bag End and moving to scarier scenes like the spider-sequence, Smaug destroying Lake-town or the Battle of the Five Armies. Instead we're constantly shifting between serious and silly. Like in the Radagst scene which starts out like a piece from a Disney-movie and then turns into a pretty intense affair depicting the terrors of Dol Guldur.
At the same time, the writers are desperately looking for conflict where there was none in the source material. Thorin's attitude towards the Elves wasn't exactly friendly in the book, but here he is borderline hostile towards them. And I don't think I'm misreading a single scene here, since he fiercely objects to going to Rivendell, he doesn't want Elrond to view the map (for some reason) and he has to sneak off during the completely superfluous White Council meeting. None of which happened in the book. The Dwarfs didn't get along well with the Elves, but they weren't openly hostile. And neither did the Elves nor anyone else at this point try to stop the company from continuing the quest. It's a bit like the changes done to Faramir in the LOTR-films: Just like him, Rivendell/Elrond become an obstacle for the heroes instead of just an episode in the story.
The funny thing is that the whole hostility-deal does come in later in the narrative of the book as well, but for a much better reason than the one presented in the film. Basically, the writers took this whole element from a later point in the story (the company's imprisonment by Thranduil) and shifted it to an earlier point to give their film a bit more conflict. The problem is that it just doesn't ring true and it makes the Dwarfs look like aggressive imbeciles.
Then there's the White Council: While it is great to see these characters together on screen, the whole sequence was rather pointless. Here are four people talking about stuff foreshadowing the events in LOTR, but none of it has anything to do with Bilbo's/Thorin's story. You could easily leave the whole thing out (and put it into an extended cut) and the movie wouldn't suffer at all. Plus: Let's not forget that the information we get about the Witch King contradicts what Tolkien wrote. Check out the LOTR-wiki for more info on this breach of canon.
Don't get me wrong: I do understand why the writers made these changes. They're obviously trying to give the first 100 pages of the book (because that's what this film covers) the structure of a stand-alone film. But the result isn't exactly successful: We get some stapled on character-development like Thorin's "boy, was I wrong about you"-scene, we get some exaggerated Elves vs. Dwarfs-conflict and we get a main antagonist in the form of Azog where there was none in the book. We also get scenes fleshing out the world of Middle Earth more - which Tolkien-fans will probably love. But if we're honest these are nothing more than glorified filler and stuff meant to link this trilogy to the original one.
All that said, it is rather surprising that I liked the movie as much as I did. It's no "Fellowship" (my personal favourite of the LOTR-films), but it certainly isn't "Phantom Menace"-material, either. Yes, there is a ton of CGI in here which sometimes doesn't *really* work, but overall the world of Middle Earth (according to Jackson) looks as breathtaking as ever. The acting is mostly very good. I especially liked Martin Freeman as Bilbo, who did a much, much better job than Elijah Wood in the original trilogy. He was so good in fact, that I couldn't help but wonder how LOTR would've turned out had he played Frodo.
Bottom line: A must-see if you're a (tolerant) Tolkien-fan who can live with all the changes. But if you're not into Tolkien or even fantasy in general, this probably won't be your cup of tea.
BioShock Infinite (2013)
A great roller-coaster-ride: Pretty, short and not very interactive
MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD
Having just finished my first (and probably only) play-through I tend to agree with some of the more "negative" reviews out there:
- The main characters are very interesting and well written.
- The story is intriguing and is told brilliantly.
- At first glance, the game's universe is absolutely stunning. Well, universe may be too generous a word, since we're not talking about a whole world to explore but rather "just" a city. But I'm sure I'm not the only one to have wandered around Columbia during the first 30 minutes, just to do some "sightseeing". And I'm probably also not the only one whose jaw dropped when the city showed its true, errr, colors.
But (and this is a big "but")...
a masterpiece it is not.
Just like in the first Bioshock, we get great looking levels, art direction, design, story and characters. But that's not enough to make it a masterpiece. After all: This is a *game* we're talking about, not a movie. It sorta reminds me of the better "interactive movies" from the early days of CD-ROM drives .. like "Rebel Assault". Yes: They looked and sounded incredible (for their time) ... but the gameplay and interaction were nothing to write home about. Rebel Assault was not much more than a glorified shooting gallery and interaction in Bioshock is limited to a lot of presses of the "use"-button to rummage through trashcans and to advance the plot. Thus, when the novelty factor of the pretty visuals wears off, game like these lose a lot of appeal.
Plus: Why did they decide to punish us with that *stupid* save-point-system? I want to save whenever *I* choose in a shooter. Oh, and where's the auto-map? Those two are standard since the very first 1st person shooters (even Doom had an auto-map, IIRC). Bioshock 1 also had both, while "Infinite" has neither. Instead we get a "go this way to your current goal, stupid"-kind of arrow, which makes the game feel even more like an interactive movie/story book with limited player involvement. Like much of the levels, the game's story feels like it's running on rails.
And then there's the big one: The fact that the world doesn't really hold up to closer inspection. Like I said before: It all looks great at first, but when you really think about it, the city of Columbia doesn't make sense and it doesn't feel alive. Citizens will speak to you and each other, yes, but they mostly just give a quick sentence or two and after that remain silent and usually immobile. Compare that to the cities of the old "GTA San Andreas", where people were walking around, living their daily lives. Stopping at a corner for a chat with each other and actually reacting to the player character and his actions (or inaction) or even to things happening in the world that had nothing to do with the player. None of this happens in Columbia. In fact, once the shooting starts, civilians simply vanish from the area, never to return. Or what about the weird rules of what is and isn't theft? In some areas, you can simply pick up any item you can get your hands on, in others this will be judged as theft and everyone will become hostile - even if you only use the possession-vigor on a vending machine.
And speaking of Vigors: The game hints at why and how they came to Columbia.. but their presence doesn't make a lot of sense. Who would want to buy them in this city? Why would the authorities even allow such dangerous stuff to be sold freely? And why would a society that's obsessed with "racial purity" even want a substance that alters your DNA? Wouldn't the very narrow-mindedness and religiousness of Columbia's society mean that people who use Vigors would be regarded as freaks and abominations? Plus we don't actually see any citizens using them, the only NPCs who do are high ranking enemies. So why are these things even here? I guess because this is a Bioshock-game and we have to have superpowers in it - as a consequence, the Vigors and everything relating to them (like advertisements) felt stapled on and like a half-assed attempt to inject more Bioshock-DNA into the game (pardon the pun).
Don't get me wrong: I enjoyed both Bioshock and Infinite immensely. But both are by no means perfect shooters. For the next installment, maybe they should concentrate a bit more on producing memorable gameplay and a more interactive environment instead of "just" making the characters, design and story memorable. The settings of both games (Rapture and Columbia) literally scream for an open-world type of game in which we can explore those two fascinating cities with more liberty.
88/100 from me.
Don't believe the hype
Re-viewing ENT, especially in direct comparison to TNG, the failure of this show still baffles me.
The ingredients of success are pretty much all here.. you get:
A solid captain. Scott Bakula in no Patrick Stewart, but neither was Bill Shatner. Bakula has the screen presence and acting abilities to carry the show on his shoulders. Also: The character of Archer is unique enough to set him apart from all those captains before him.
Great eye-candy. One could argue that "no body" could ever steal the babe-honors from Jeri Ryan's Seven of Nine, but I'd much rather have T'Pol, thank you very much. And they even tried to please female viewers by throwing in the first male babe in Trek-history. Seriously: Does anyone think Mayweather would've made it onto the ship without that chiseled upper body?
Good production design and best FX work in Trek TV-history. The NX-01 looks great inside and out. The CGI doesn't look cheap and the interior design with its "21st century nuclear sub"-look is spot on. To me, it's a lot more believable than the Enterprise D's "carribean cruise ship" interior.
So what went wrong? A lot of criticism involved the writing and some deviations from established Trek-lore. Granted: The first two seasons do have some less than stellar plots, but when the stories work, they're as strong as anything in Star Trek. Some of my favorite ENT-shows come from the early period, like "A Night in Sickbay", "Dead Stop" or "Minefield".
But I guess the strongest objections all involve ENT being a prequel and the conflicts with established lore that result from this. The Vulcans have been singled out in particular.
I for one really enjoy those new Vulcans. Their portrayal is different from what we've seen before, yes. But what *have* we actually seen before? If we're honest, the Vulcans as a race never played that big a part in earlier shows - mostly, it was just Spock. So you could boil all the anti-Vulcan sentiments down to "ENT's Vulcans aren't like Spock, so the show sucks".
Making the Vulcans semi-antagonists was actually quite clever. It gets your attention, it makes you wonder why they were behaving like this and what would happen to eventually transform them into the Vulcans we've seen in earlier shows. Also: Having them all behave like Spock-clones would've made the Vulcans pretty boring in my book. ENT actually manages to give them an arc, culminating in the brilliant Vulcan multi-parter in season four.
To balance things out, here are some of my criticisms with this show:
- Writing sometimes uninspired.
- Main characters are a mixed bag (Mayweather and Hoshi are mostly just forgettable).
- 3rd season story-arc. It was a nice idea, but it ran out of steam half-way through the season.
- Absence of established technology not used to its full potential. You'd think that the absence of, say, the universal translator would be a bigger deal for a ship like NX-01. But they simply throw in another magical linguistic device in the shape of Hoshi.
- Overuse of time-travel, especially in seasons 01&02
- Theme song.
If you like TNG and haven't watched ENT yet, give it a shot. The slow shows of seasons one and two are actually pretty good and by season four, the show really hits its stride. Overall, I'd say ENT's hit-miss-ratio is better than TNG's.
Overall rating: 08/10
No science, bad fiction
Two hipster "scientists" persuade a dying ultra-rich guy to fund a trillion-dollar expedition to a star system 40 light years from Earth. They don't do this based on evidence but based on what they "choose to believe" - because beliefs and convictions have always been more important to scientists and rich guys than facts and evidence. The rich guy's motivation for all this? He's older than Mr. Burns, dying and wants to tag along to meet his maker to obtain more life from him. Obviously never watched Blade Runner, this one ..
Prometheus was without a doubt one of the most eagerly awaited films of 2012. And with Peter Jackson's adaptation of The Hobbit also coming out that year, that's saying a lot. Expectations were sky-high and it was pretty clear that the filmmakers would have to pull off a small miracle to meet them.
On paper, everything looked pretty good: Ridley Scott was back in the director's chair. Not only was this his first science-fiction film in decades, but also his first film ever that's based on one of his previous efforts. The cast looked good and early stills and trailers made it pretty clear that this wouldn't be a soulless greenscreen-fest with second rate effects and cheap sets (AvP anyone?). Then, shortly before release, the fans got the icing on the cake with the confirmation of the R-rating. How could this thing possibly suck? Well, my first paragraph should give you an idea.
It's certainly not the look and feel of the film. Those aspects are spot on. If you like the look of Ridley Scott's excellent Alien and Blade Runner, you'll be in for a (visual) treat. And during the first hour of the film, the whole thing is really gripping - despite the idiotic characters and highly illogical plot. But a gripping first hour does not a good movie make.
The story, starting with the basic premise, is just plain idiotic. There really isn't anything that makes sense. The characters fit right into this however, because they too act like morons and none of them seem to have any motivation for their actions. Breathing the air on an alien planet? "Don't be such a skeptic!" Trying to pet a clearly hostile vagina-penis that's hissing at you? "It's OK, baby ..." One exception is David (the android) whose actions are all pretty sinister, but at least we understand why he takes them.
And while I'm talking characters .. It's pretty clear that the writers wanted to give us a mix of the kind of characters we got in Alien and Aliens. We get the strong female lead (Shaw/Ripley). We get the level-headed black dude who is in command (à la Sgt. Apone), the corporate suit who only thinks in profits and dividends (Vickers/Burke), the evil android (Ash/David), etc. The problem is that in Prometheus, we don't get to know any of those people, there are too many of them plus none of them are likable. So when they start dying, we either don't know who just bought it or we don't care. In contrast, Alien almost had the feel of a stage production. There weren't that many characters, we got to meet and know all of them before anything sinister happened and consequently we did care when they were bumped off later in the film.
The biggest problem however remains the writing. I'm not even sure that Scott and his writers knew what type of story they were trying to tell. The whole thing is visually stunning and some of the acting is really good, but there's no clear focus to the film: Alien was conceived as "Jaws in space".. and that's what it is. Well, maybe "Friday the 13th in space" would be more accurate.
But Prometheus aims to be something grander, something more important. It's about life, it's about creation, it's about who we are, who made us and why. It wants to be less like "Friday the 13th" and more like "2001 - A Space Odyssey". But here's the problem: When you're trying to tell a story with some deeper meaning, you better have *some* ideas or concepts to impress your audience with. Prometheus takes the cheap route: It simply raises more and more questions - some of which are interesting or even intriguing. But it never gives us any satisfying answers. Or in other words: It's all build-up and no payoff.
Watch it for some stunning visuals, great production design and an excellent Michael Fassbender in the role of David. Beyond that, there isn't much here to get excited about.
Lessons? What lessons?
Summary: Picard learns the hard way that business and romance don't mix.
Jean-Luc Picard is "a very private man". We don't see him connect to other people on a personal level very often. So it's a welcome change to have the captain meet and fall for a woman for once.
As an added bonus, his love-interest (Cmd. Daren) is written pretty well and we can buy him falling in love with her: She's brilliant, cultured, witty, outspoken and physically attractive enough. Plus Picard and her actually have common interests besides working on a starship - something Hollywood frequently ignores when matching up characters. The actual "falling in love"-moment is done very well, with Picard talking about his experience during "The Inner Light". Both the writing and acting are good and help to sell that scene.
When they get together, it's TNG's format which instantly raises alarm-bells with the audience: We know that the laws of a weekly TV-show won't allow Picard to fall for a guest-star character and stay with her. So right from their first kiss, we wonder how the writers will break up the newly formed relationship. And it's here where the plot falls apart.
After a false lead involving Picard's awkward treatment of her in public, the story goes for the obvious choice: Placing Picard in a position where he has to put his love-interest in a dangerous situation. It's done in such a rushed way that you can almost feel the writer's desperation to have everything "back to normal" by the end of the episode.
And it just doesn't ring true. Picard has put his senior officers into countless life-threatening situations before. Including Dr. Crusher who he clearly has feelings for. He never asked her or anyone else to apply for a transfer. Plus: How realistic is it for the head of stellar cartography to be part of a dangerous away mission like the one in the show (or in fact any dangerous away mission)? She struck me more as the brainy type, someone who'd run experiments in a laboratory. Not someone who'd routinely run around on dangerous planets or who'd get sent into a firefight.
To me, it would've been much more interesting if the writers had actually dared to keep Daren on the show for a couple of episodes. It would've broken the "reset everything for the next show"-routine and would have been a nice opportunity to explore the Picard-character as a private man.
As it is, the title of the show doesn't have any real meaning: What lesson did Picard learn? It's pretty standard knowledge that mixing business and romance can be tricky (although other characters like Riker don't seem to have a problem with it at all). And the way they both agree to end their relationship isn't earth-shattering either: Nobody really gets hurt and come next episode, the Daren-character is completely forgotten. So there are no real lessons or consequences here.
Great acting, interesting story - based on a pretty weak premise
Since everyone seems to have loved this two-parter, I'll play devil's advocate here and point out some of the things that didn't make sense.
Summary: With tensions brewing on the Cardassian border, Picard, Crusher and Worf are sent into enemy territory to conduct a top secret mission. While they do their thing, the remaining Enterprise command-crew (under their new CO Cpt. Jellico) enter into negotiations with the Cardassians.
Things I liked:
The basic idea for the episode is top notch. Replacing Picard with an officer who is pretty much his polar opposite is very interesting. Ronny Cox does a great job of portraying the hard-ass Jellico. His questionable style of command and "diplomacy" put a great deal of stress on the crew (mostly on Riker) and this leads to some pretty tense confrontations - both in the negotiating-scenes and in his general interactions with the crew.
Great performances: The scenes between Picard and his torturer (the excellent David Warner) are among the most realistic and disturbing in the entire series. Seeing a Picard who is (literally) stripped of everything and still (barely) stands his ground is enough to give you chills.
Things I didn't like: The entire premise of the show, the things that set the story in motion and keep it going, all don't make sense. So they needed a small team of experts to infiltrate and investigate a hostile planet behind enemy lines, basically a Special-Ops type of mission ... and they turned to a middle-aged starship captain, a middle-aged doctor and a Klingon security chief? I can buy Worf going on the mission, but surely Starfleet must have some specialized group trained for these kinds of missions? Something along the lines of present day Navy SEALs/Delta Force/GSG9?
Naturally, the reasons Picard gives for them having been chosen are laughable: He was picked because he's had experience with a certain type of carrier wave years and years ago. Worf is the muscle (fair enough) and Crusher is there because she knows how to use a tricorder, I guess.
More importantly, Starfleet's handling of the entire situation make them seem rather incompetent.
- They decide to strip the Federation flagship of its CO - not a good idea if you send that ship into a tense situation that might very well lead to a battle or war. They then replace said CO with a guy whose style of leadership is sure to create a number of problems with the crew. This can't be a new personality trait of Jellico's so any higher ranking officer worth his salt should've foreseen the friction he creates on the Enterprise. And all this for no real reason - other than Jellico clearly wanting to establish himself as a hard-ass. There's no payoff to the changes Jellico makes, so they don't seem to have improved the Enterprise's effectiveness. Quite the opposite really, when Jellico first relieves Riker of duty and then has to basically beg the guy to fly a crucial mission.
- Jellico is there because he has extensive experience with the Cardassians - but all he really does in his negotiating scenes is insult the guys. Maybe that's the way to handle Cardassians, but then Troi confirms that Jellico isn't really as sure of himself as he's trying to appear. So he's clearly not the best man for the job - he basically comes across as pretty weak and incompetent. Again: Picard is a highly respected diplomat and someone who knows how to de-escalate a situation. He's not a special-forces operative.. so why use him in this capacity when he would be much more valuable at his usual post? Instead of using him, Starfleet sends in a "diplomat" who is sure to alienate the Cardassians every chance he gets. And these guys want to prevent war? Hmmm..
Finally: The Cardassians' motivation doesn't make sense. They want Picard because they hope to gain information from him regarding the defense strategy for a system they want to invade/annex. They come up with this elaborate plan to lure Picard into a trap. A plan which requires extensive knowledge of Picard. But they didn't know he wouldn't be able to provide them with this information? And said information doesn't seem too important anyway. When they realize they can't get it from Picard, they still seem determined to attack anyway.. so why even go through this elaborate ruse to capture him? And I haven't even mentioned the fact that their entire plan hinges on Starfleet cooperating and sending in Picard to infiltrate the planet.
All that said: I still like Chain of Command a lot. The acting is great, the basic ideas are good and the unusual situations the writers create are interesting to watch and give some new insights into the characters. I just wish they could've come up with a better reason for Picard getting replaced by Jellico and then getting captured and tortured.
All in all: 7/10
Enterprise: Stigma (2003)
Clumsy at times, but still enjoyable
So this is it: Star Trek's gay-episode. While I'm not a huge Trek-nerd, I've come to appreciate the franchise (minus most of the TNG-films) over the past few years. I'm also aware that they always wanted to do a "gay" episode but "never got around to it" until Enterprise. That in itself is fine by me, since making comments on current issues in a sci-fi-setting is one thing Trek has been known to do since TOS.
However: Making a statement about gay people/AIDS in 2003 is hardly what I'd call "being topical". It would've been a lot more appropriate or even daring in the 80s or 90s. Still: I didn't mind the subject matter.
What I did mind were some minor points with the plot.
Phlox setting the plot in motion almost makes him look stupid. Using the age-old "a *friend* of mine (who is totally not me) has this problem" request is bad enough. But he also doesn't address the fact that he's asking for data on a Vulcan disease while he has a Vulcan science officer on his ship. He should've just told the doctors beforehand "I have discussed this with T'Pol but her medical expertise is extremely limited ... that's why I'm asking you guys for help.". Also: His decision to not inform Archer before making his request is also kinda odd. Yes, there's doctor/patient confidentiality, but he should know by now that he can trust Archer *and* that this guy has a right to know about T'Pol's condition. Seems odd to me that he didn't try harder to convince T'Pol that Archer knowing would be in her best interest.
Anyhow: The whole analogy of "Stigma" couldn't be more obvious if the writers had called the disease "T'aids". Still: They make some valid points. The tone of the episode can be rather preachy at times, but when you're dealing with the discrimination of minorities and stigmatized diseases, it's kinda hard to not get preachy. Plus: The B-story of Phlox' horny wife trying to access Trip's matter-injector works pretty well as counter-balance.
Now, since a lot of people seem to hate ENT's Vulcans, and this is a very Vulcan-centric episode, here are my thoughts on them: I don't mind the Vulcans being different from the ones in earlier ST-series. I think it's actually pretty cool that the creators of ENT decided to make the Vulcans intolerant and somewhat hypocritical pricks. After all: This is 100 years prior to Spock et all, so why *shouldn't* those earlier Vulcans be different? It gives them a pretty cool arc, albeit a retrofitted one. It would've been a lot more boring to have them behave exactly like Spock and it would've made the Vulcans less versatile as characters. In fact: The characters themselves would've been a lot more boring. How interesting can you make people who'll always do what's logical, don't lie and never seem to have any egotistical motivations?
Vulcan behavior in this episode is a lot more varied than what we're used to seeing from the older shows: You have the intolerant doctors, the one doctor who secretly isn't so intolerant (and whose behavior foreshadows what the Vulcans of TOS will be like) and, of course T'Pol. Her decision to do what she thinks is right, even if it means losing her job, not only makes for the drama in the story, but advances the character and gains her respect from both the audience and her colleagues. I also enjoyed watching Archer standing up for T'Pol - probably marking his final acceptance of her as both his first officer and a person. Also good: Trip's uneasiness and Phlox' "tolerance" regarding Mrs. Phlox' not-so-subtle advances provided some much needed levity.
Overall, Stigma is a pretty solid effort in my book.
They had it coming
***Warning: Major Spoilers Ahead!!***
After years of looking for this movie (it never came out on DVD over here in Germany), I finally watched it on pay-TV last night. It was the theatrical version and, thank God, it was even uncut. The picture quality was very good ... almost looked like a restored version.
I haven't seen the DC yet, just checked out an illustrated comparison of the two versions on the web. BUT: I can definitely see why Scott wanted to re-cut the film after all these years. For a movie titled "Revenge", it sure drags quite a bit - not just in the beginning but in the second and third acts as well. Worrying news for an action-/revenge-flick. Sadly, no matter how much you'll cut out of this film (or cut back in), it still lacks good characters, a believable plot or compelling action-scenes.
Cochran (Costner) has got to be the worst character in the entire movie: A selfish, cocky and immature, well, a$$hole, who somehow has a powerful Mexican mafia-don (Quinn) as his best friend. And despite said Don's obvious power and ruthlessness, Cochran thinks that starting an affair with his hot, young and neglected wife (Stowe) would be a good idea. Some scenes involving Costner are pain-inducingly awful. Like the one where he gets showered with gifts by his fellow navy pilots. It's probably meant to show us what a cool dude he is. What it actually does is make him look like an arrogant prick. Or later, when Quinn comes to his house and all but *tells* him that he knows something is going on between Costner and Stowe - and even leaves him a way out by asking Cochran to fly him down to Caracas (instead of taking off to the country with his new lover). After Costner refused Quinn for the third time in this scene, his character lost all credibility along with my sympathy.
And that's bad news in a story like "Revenge": If the audience can't identify with the hero, why should they care about his fate? I for one didn't feel sorry for Cochrane or the wife during their ordeal at the hand's of Quinn's thugs. The way they acted, they were practically *asking* for Quinn's revenge.
Which brings me neatly to the movie's title. It's not quite clear who is exacting revenge in the story: The cheated husband (Quinn) or the beaten-and left-for-dead lover (Costner). If it's the former, it seems pretty exaggerated, since brutally beating his friend and slicing his wife's face and then selling her into prostitution feels rather harsh for a weekend of sex. If it's the latter, the titular revenge seems rather half-assed. Cochrane does kill a couple of thugs, but when he finally gets to Quinn, instead of killing him in a cruel and creative way, he apologizes for his wrong-doings and lets him go.
The sad thing about this movie is that behind all the awkward characterization you can see glimpses of how this could've been a good, dark, gritty revenge-pic. Sadly however, it never really delivers.
Enterprise: Cogenitor (2003)
About as subtle as a Ferengi in a clown-suit
Unlike some people, I do like Enterprise and I do like its first two seasons for their often slow pace and their attempt to show a Starfleet-crew doing actual exploring. With gems like "Minefield" or "A Night in Sickbay" a lot of my personal favorites come from season 2. However: "Cogenitor" isn't one of them ... far from it, actually.
The whole point of the story is pretty obvious: It's another one of those Enterprise-episodes that are meant to explore the path(s) that lead to the creation of established Trek-lore - in this case, the Prime Directive. That's all well and good - after all: Enterprise is a prequel-show and should explore those aspects of early Starfleet-missions and how they shaped the world of TOS and TNG.
The execution is clunky at best though. While exploring a star, Enterprise meets another ship on a similar mission, populated by a friendly, helpful and more advanced people. Archer and the alien captain immediately like each other and decide to go on a three-day-mission together. They *really* must like each other a lot BTW, since the small capsule they use doesn't seem to have a bathroom or even a sink on board ... yikes! Anyway: Meanwhile, Malcolm gets to establish a very close relationship with the aliens' hot (and female) security-chief (good for him) and Trip gets a free lesson in advanced warp-engine-design.
It's here that the whole thing veers off course. Even though the aliens are more than willing to explain their technology to Trip (an engineer's wet dream, I suppose), he somehow seems more interested in their reproductive-process, which involves a third gender. This third gender, the titular "Cogenitor", is treated more like an object than a living being by the aliens: They don't have names, aren't allowed education and are simply assigned to couples who wish to have a baby. Trip switches to the mindset of a 15-year-old, declares the aliens' treatment of the Cogenitors "inhumane" and sets off on a personal mission to undermine their culture. Despite repeated warnings from T'Pol he keeps pursuing his mission, teaches the Cogenitor how to read (in one day!) and ends up alienating the aliens and eventually even killing the Cogenitor.
Now, the message of the episode couldn't be more obvious. "Don't judge other cultures, don't interfere with them and, for God's sake, don't show them 'The Day the Earth stood still' or they might end up killing themselves". That's all well and good, but the way the authors hammer this message home just seems way too constructed and unnatural. At the same time, it makes one of the main characters look like a thick-headed imbecile. Trip is a Commander in Starfleet and it's not like he's out on his first First-Contact-mission. Finding the treatment of the third gender "wrong" is one thing, but repeatedly breaking every rule (lying, sneaking behind the aliens' backs) to act on these feelings doesn't seem right for him - even if he is a pre-Prime-Directive-character. It's more like a thing that, in TNG, Wuss-ley Crusher would've done. The only redeeming factors are T'Pol's warnings, Archer's chewing-out of his friend for his stupid actions and, of course, the ending, which actually dares to follow Trip's weird behavior to its logical conclusion.
The Expendables (2010)
Sadly, an expendable movie
Let me start with two caveats: 1. I watched the German-dubbed-version of the movie 2. My seat wasn't that great (fourth row from the front), which probably exaggerated the annoying quick cuts and shaky camera-work.
I wasn't expecting great story-telling or even a great action-flick like "Die Hard". What I did expect from "The Expendables" was a celebration of dumb-but-cool 80s action flicks. Say "Commando" with better production values. Sadly, the movie doesn't deliver that. It's more like the dumb-but-bad 80s flicks à la "Stone Cold". Read: Too self-conscious and too concerned with creating a set of oh-so-cool characters. I mean, come on: A bunch of guys in their 40s/50s and 60s living/working in an "MTV meets Ed Hardy"-style garage, riding around on custom-bikes when they're not off in some foreign country to kill terrorists? Even back in the 80s that would've been a stupid setup. What's wrong with the classic premise of having a bunch of retired pros who are driven out of retirement by a strong incentive (tons of money, unspeakable injustice, challenge by a former ally turned traitor, loved one(s) in despair, etc.) and reluctantly go on one last mission?
But my main gripe with the movie is its lack of good writing. There's not one memorable line that stuck with me, and I just watched the movie two hours ago. If an action-flick is highly quotable, it's usually a good film. You know, stuff like "Yippi-ky-yay-motherf**ker!" or "Let off some steam" or "Consider this a divorce". No one-liners of this caliber are uttered in this show, but then again, see my caveat number 1.
The "serious" dialogue (Mickey Rourke's terrible close-up-speech) seems forced and stapled on, none of the characters are even vaguely fleshed out. Yes, I know they're all tough bad-asses in a no-brains-all-testosterone movie, but even these kind of characters need *some* background to make me care enough about them - and to explain their motivation to go out and mow down baddies by the dozen. Even the mercenaries in "Predator" were less cartoony than the Expendables - and that says a lot. Two or three of the team aren't really introduced at all and are missing for the entire second act. Plus there's no real arc in the story. At no point do our heroes seem really threatened or likely to fail, and none of the good guys die (or even get tortured). And what's their mission again? Not that I cared much after a while, but in a straightforward action-movie, the goal of the heroes should be equally straightforward and plausible.
The villains were underused, not properly introduced and didn't get their deserved showdowns. Plus they weren't nearly evil enough. They're action-movie-villains for cryin' out loud. As such they *should* torture innocent farmers, mutilate little kids and/or their dogs for breakfast and rape nuns/missionaries/ophaned teenagers by the dozen. Rambo 4's gruesome showdown only worked so well because the movie showed the incredible atrocities of the Burmese military in such gory detail.
One of the villains in "The Expendables" even survives his "death" and is welcomed back to the team by the end of the film, even though he betrayed them. Now that, according to 80s-action-flick-rules, is a strict "no-no". A traitor has to die a horrible death at the hands of the hero. Anyhow: I'd rather hire Bennet from "Commando" as my evil henchman than any of the thugs in Expendables.
Which leads me to the action-scenes. Yes, there's plenty of them and the gore-factor is rather high (sadly not as high as in the excellent Rambo 4). Problem is that when the action starts there's almost too much of it and it's filmed and cut in a way that you can't really follow what's going on most of the time. Plus the big showdown takes place at night and on a location that isn't really shown to us beforehand. So we never really know where everyone is in relation to everyone else. If you hated the car chase in "A Quantum of Solace", you probably won't like much of the action in "The Expendables".
So, if you're looking for a film about a bunch of aging warriors doing what they do best, a movie with cool dialogue, good action scenes and a healthy amount of blood, go and rent "The Wild Geese" - just fast forward all scenes with that annoying kid. That old flick is a lot more entertaining, better written and a lot more believable than "The Expendables".