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Les mystérieuses cités d'or (2012)
Admirable (but not perfect) effort at continuing the legacy
The original "The Mysterious Cities Of Gold" was such a core element of my childhood. Well before I'd ever heard the name "Indiana Jones" it was that series alone that sparked my lifelong love affair with both the treasure hunt genre, as well as ancient mythology. With that in mind, I do not take the task of appraising this sequel to that amazing story lightly.
This long-coming sequel series did a great many things right. First and foremost among them was simply getting made. The first time I ever saw this show, as a boy of maybe 5 or 6, I wanted more. Buried deep within me throughout my teenage years and then adulthood was a forgotten yearning for more of that enthralling story. Now that it has finally arrived, the sense of satisfaction is undeniable. Even with all it's flaws and subtle stylistic incongruities that make it feel like it's skewed just a bit from the story I remember, this new chapter was clearly made with the purest of intentions, by people who respect the original stories and wanted to do it, and it's fans, justice. These diligent efforts have certainly paid off and given us a compelling new story.
But, I feel I would not be doing justice if I didn't also note some of it's more distracting flaws.
First of all, the voice acting was, for the most part very good. The 2 main exceptions being Mendoza and Tao. Tao, in particular, now sounds like a whiny Kath Soucie character. In the original, he always sounded the most mature of the children and this was reflected a lot in his character. He'd grown up alone for many years on an island and this self-sufficience hardened him a lot I think and made him a little wiser in the realities of the world then a typical boy his age. In this series he just seems more like a whiny brat and is a little too trusting for me to mentally associate with the mistrustful hermit boy from the original. This new Tao feels like he was played by an adult actress, whereas in the original, I'd guess he was played by a teenage boy. A similar casting choice in this series would've worked much better.
Mendoza, on the other hand it's not that he was portrayed poorly. It's just that in the original, Mendoza was all man. His voice had hutzpah. He was a strong "don't screw with me"-type leader, the kind of character you'd expect to be played by Brad Pitt or Russel Crowe in a live-action film. This was perfectly encapsulated in the original voice acting. The new voice actor makes a noble attempt, but he's just too vanilla. I have a sense that his voice may actually be deeper then the original Mendoza, but it lacks the fire that the original did; the sense of command and perhaps also the sense of his remarkably quick intelligence. As the principal adult character in the story, the series really needs a strong Mendoza.
Otherwise, the voice casting was marvelous. I especially thought that the recreations of Sancho and Pedro were marvelously loyal to the original characters. And I love Cocoapettal's new cutesy-poo voice! It mightn't sound very parroty, but it is much better then the old-lady-with-hemorrhoids voice he had in the original series.
Another mis-step with this series was that the sci-fi side was a bit overdone in this series. First of all, the Mu bases now have things like holographic control screens & projectors? That is way beyond what we saw of their technology in the original show! I'm not saying it's implausible that they could've been so advanced, but the technology we see in this series is out of step with what was established in the original series. Worst of all, it feels more like these stylistic choices were made with an agenda to impress modern day kids with technology that is way more advanced then what they are used to, rather then having an organic progression of the story.
Also, the sci-fi aspects of this story were far more grandiose, and came far more quickly and easily then they did in the original. How many comparatively primitive machines the kids encounter on their way to the first city of gold? With rare exceptions like the Solaris and the condor, their highlights of their quest comprised of mostly of stone booby-traps and secret doors. It was about halfway through the series before they encountered the "Jade Mask" booby-trap, which was really just an arrangement of many simple stone piston devices. By contrast, only a few episodes in to this series we encounter a gigantic gold room that spins cyclonically and somehow manages to spell out a message in a manner that defies our modern grasp of science.
It's just too much too soon. This series was overloaded with super sci-fi, whereas the original had a wonderfully suspenseful subtlety to it's sci-fi side. Only once we met the Olmecs did that show really show us the true lengths it was going to take us to. The new series burns that suspense out in just a couple hours.
Finally, the "big twist" (if one could call it that) of this show was ridiculously drawn out. From the beginning I had my suspicions. By about halfway through Peking I was in no further doubt. And the series gives you sooo many glaringly obvious hints that there is absolutely zero shock when it is finally revealed. I cannot believe that their carrying this "mystery" over in to the next series. One can only hope that they don't try to keep up the pretense for more then a couple of episodes. It's an appallingly poor "mystery". Admittedly, though, there's a secondary twist that is quite clever and well-managed.
But once again, I really liked this series and I can't wait until they release series 3!
Under the Dome (2013)
Nice concept and mystery, but...
(For future reference, I'm writing this review just after the episode with the "monarch will be crowned" prophecy)
... I have a feeling that this show will eventually fail for the exact same reason that Stargate Universe did: there's barely any likable characters. I was going to say that anyway, but having just read the exact same antimony on the random review I just saw on the show's main IMDb page only makes me more certain that this will be the case.
I like the two kids (the kindly farm boy and the lesbians' daughter), the new sheriff lady and poor "Junior", as well as the seldom seen radio crew, but the rest of the town seem to be conspiring scumbags, or people with no conviction. The priest and original sheriff, on that note, had potential as "repenting crook"-type characters, but they, like many others, got killed off early.
Having said that, the overall paranormal storyline of the series is quite interesting. I have a feeling that the producers have no idea where their going with it and their making it up as they go along, but so far it's intriguing. I hope they can keep that standard up without drawing out the same mystery until we're all sick of it. If we don't 90% understand why the dome is there by the end of the season, I don't think the show will be able to hold viewer interest. Don't believe me? One word: "Flashforward".
The special effects leave nothing to be desired and for the most part, the cast is quite good. The guy playing "Big Jim", who reminds me of Michael Chicklis, certainly gives a commanding performance and the lady playing the sheriff I think does an excellent job of portraying a good-natured woman stuck in a very stressful position. The problems this show has isn't on the heads of the actors, but rather the writers & directors who have decided that most of them should be portraying a-holes.
Doctor Who: The Rings of Akhaten (2013)
Matt Smith Has Grown His Beard
Fellow sci-fi fans might be familiar with that phrase - "Growing A Beard" It's a reference to Star Trek The Next Generation, and it refers to the moment when the series found it's strength and became something impressive, which was coincidentally around the same time clean-shaven Cmdr. Riker grew a beard, hence the phrase.
Well, it's taken him some time, but Matt Smith has without a doubt grown his beard with "The Rings Of Akhatan." There's no denying he had enormous shoes to fill. David Tennant is still, IMHO, the best Doctor there ever was. Smith, while a fine actor, a fine Doctor, was never quite as compelling as Tennant was in his most brilliant moments. Until now.
With a powerful monologue he speaks one simple, clear message in so many words: "I AM THE DOCTOR!" And he delivers it with all the passion, chaos and sorrow that is the essence of this legendary character. You actually see the tears streaming down his cheeks as he proudly asserts that this legend belongs to him. Choirs serenade him as he stands firm yet alone, in the face of one of the most daunting foes imaginable, and demonstrates that it takes a special man to be The Doctor. When he played the role, Chris Eccleston once admiringly referred to Britain's standing up to the evil and vastly stronger Nazi Germany as: "A mouse in front of a lion." That's the image I saw when I watched Matt Smith's silhouette giving this speech before this week's villain, and it was such a "Doctor" thing to see.
With this splendid performance Matt Smith has well and truly proved he belongs in this role. If there was still any doubt, there can be no more. This man is the rightful heir to David Tennant's sonic screwdriver. Long live The Doctor.
The Muppets (2011)
Wakka Wakka Wakka! Bork Bork.
If you, like me, were raised by these wonderful characters during your early years, then this movie will most certainly take you back to some happy memories that might well have been slumbering in the back of your mind for almost 30 years. I can't help but think that that's where the market for this movie came from: nostalgia and it makes me hope that this has spurred some interest in younger audiences to see more of The Muppets for themselves.
The movie has all the laughter and toe-tapping music that made The Muppet Show the great show it was. But far more noticeably, it has all the heart of "Rainbow Connection" and "Not Easy Being Green" in spades. While the heartfelt moments take up only a small portion of the actual screen time, they are the parts that resonate with you long after the show has ended. I read a statement from another person who saw this movie in a theater packed with a mostly-adult audience. When The Muppet family join together at one point to perform the old favorite, "Rainbow Connection", there apparently wasn't a dry eye in the house. Even the men were misty-eyed, and I can sympathize. Such is the effect this gem has on us lifelong fans.
But make no mistake, this isn't "Shawshank Redemption" dressed in a pointy green collar, there is a ton of fun in this movie, too. It's not afraid to break the forth wall for a good chuckle and there's plenty of good spoof.
I thought that the plot line was a brilliant choice for this film. The story of a rag-tag team of underdogs banding together to save a small- time building/institution from a heartless developer was a staple of The Muppets' own era. Dusting it off for a movie like this, a movie about reuniting old friends with old friends, old friends with old fans, works incredibly well. And somehow The Muppets manages to deliver this old storyline with the perfect balance of mirth and sincerity to make it a joy to watch.
The voices are all different, and yes, that is often a little jarring. But these are still all the same characters you remember them to be. Kermit's still the long-suffering, kindhearted dreamer who keeps everything together. Fozzie's still a wonderfully terrible comedian. Gonzo's still the master of disaster. And Miss Piggy will forever be the diva to end all divas. Henson isn't dead at all, his spirit is still alive and well in every one of his worldwide-beloved muppet creations, and in the hearts of this new generation of muppeteers whom so obviously cherish his life's work.
You would have to have a heart of stone to not love this movie. Call me a dork if you want, but I'm a grown man who isn't afraid to admit that I LOVE THE MUPPETS!!!!!
Adam is part of an unfortunate trend I'm starting to notice from Hollywood - the trend of the unhappy ending. It is one of those failed romance movies. A movie about a "romance" that ultimately leaves us all alone. It tries miserably to buy us off at the end with the ex-girlfriend sending the ex-boyfriend a book for a present, which he sits and reads all alone on a park bench, with all indications being that he will live and dies all alone, too, because some bad writing in a couple of crucial scenes all but destroyed what will probably be the single chance at companionship this "unattractively" quirky guy gets in his entire life.
The movie makes a passing remark about how many people with asperger's DO get married and have their happily ever after. Why in god's name didn't they make a movie about one of THOSE couples? I normally try to avoid rubbish like this, but due to some misleading advertising, I was under the impression it gave asperger's a chance to show off it's interesting characteristic and to receive a little love from the universe. I was under the impression that for once, a shy guy without that George Clooney-esque cockiness would get the girl of his dreams. I wound up watching it, and without researching it on Wikipedia first. Both these things were huge mistakes. The movie sets you up only to knock you down. It warms your heart only so you don't see the sucker punch waiting for it.
I'd like to make a plea not just to the makers of this movie, but to all of Hollywood. We don't need you to make us miserable, break our hearts and tear down our hopes. That's what real life is for. We come to you for happiness and comfort. We come to you to inspire us, to help us believe that good things can come true - that we can overcome our obstacles and find what it is we're looking for and have it to keep for the rest of our lives.
We don't need you to tell us that the universe severely punishes the weird, for being weird. We don't need you to tell us that the losers are gonna lose. Most of us know all that. And most of us want to be able to believe in a better world. Please, give us that much. You get our $15 for the tickets either way.
Thank you, Cast & Crew for such a wonderful finale to a wonderful series
I normally don't review things here on IMDb, but I could not watch this excellent wrap-up without saying something. Howard was brilliant. Levine was brilliant. Gray-Stanford was brilliant. And as for Shalhoub, well... could there be any doubt? Of course he has always given a superb performance as Monk. But this 2-part finale went through such a wide range of contexts, from happy flashbacks, to impending death, to endearing epilogue (the list goes on). Shalhoub tweaked the foibles of his extremely complicated character perfectly for every moment up till the very end.
As I mentioned earlier, the support cast was particularly excellent in this finale. They were called on to carry more of the story than usual, as Monk spent a lot of time being so ill he could barely walk or talk properly. Levine had some powerful moments that connected with the rage of the audience at the prospect of our favorite obsessive-compulsive detective being killed off. Howard, conversely reflected our sadness at the same notion, with a performance that really pulled on the ol' heartstrings. And Gray-Stanford, god bless him, chimed in at exactly the right moments to remind us that Monk, after all is a comedy, and kept our spirits up during some of the darkest moments.
I must admit that the mystery aspect of these last two episodes was somewhat weaker than in normal Monk episodes, but then this was never going to be a normal episode, was it? If a bit of plot intricacy had to be sacrificed to make room for so many great performances, so be it. I'm happy with the result.
Finally, I would like to thank the producers, director and writers for ending Monk in such a happy way. I can't express how uplifting it was to see the man who could never catch a break ending up with such satisfaction in his life. So many series finish by either shutting the story down or ripping the 'screen family' to shreds. But your ending leaves us knowing that the Monk we know and love is still doing what he does best, with his two best friends still by his side (albeit minus Randy). The only thing he's lost is his pain, and good riddance to it.
By the way, I loved the Randy Newman montage at the end. It was the perfect way to say goodbye to a friend we knew all too briefly.
Good News Week (1996)
The nation's best news/currant affairs program
Good News Week is easily the best news/currant affairs program on Australian television. Every Monday night, the main journalists, Mikey Robins, Paul McDermott and Claire Hooper, along with four weekly guests, report and discuss the week's news items from both home and abroad. But Good News Week has something that sets it apart from every other news/currant affairs show on Australian television; it isn't depressing or upsetting. Quite the opposite, in fact, this show will actually make you smile and laugh - sometimes to the point of being blind with tears.
The show reveals sides of news stories that other news shows won't disclose and also explains confusing financial/political situations in an uplifting and optimistic manner. They also often discuss several possible outcomes of issues-of-the-day, and contrary to what you will probably see on any other news show, the picture GNW paints of the future contains many enjoyable incidents and ironies. Vastly different to the forecasts that other news/currant affairs usually offer; which are usually bleak and disturbing.
The GNW managers have a good track record for selecting guest journalists. While guests are mostly Australian, often there will be one or more foreign correspondents in the studio, discussing currant issues. Occasionally then there will be a guest that seems unspectacular, but most guests offer valuable insight into the news headlines, and are well worth watching. While Paul is the anchorman, and usually gets final word on most discussions, GNW has a largely democratic feel to it, and most panelists, whether they are regulars or guests, are free to add input in to discussions whenever they wish to do so.
But what really speaks to you is the integrity of the regular panelists. Every week, they are there on the screens taking the news and presenting it to Australia in a way that will put a smile on their faces. In an industry filled with indifferent truth-mongers, who seem to take the attitude "Don't blame me if what I say makes you miserable; I just report the facts," the GNW crew put the effort in and make the news good to watch. Mikey, Claire and Paul (and in previous years, Julie) are a trio of saints who make this country a better show to watch.
All-in-all, GNW is a fine show and I whole-heartedly recommend it to anyone who is interested in currant affairs (and even if you aren't this show might change your mind!) I never used to watch any news/c.a. shows, but GNW has proved to me that the news can be worth watching, after all. A Currant Affairs, Today Tonight, 60 Minutes, 7.30 Report and all the news shows could learn a lot from Paul, Claire & Mikey's journalistic style. The law says that every TV channel must air a certain amount of news per day, but where does it say that it must be depressing? Take a lead from these pioneers and make your quest not to market the cold, indifferent truth, but to put a smile on Austalians' faces! It might take a little more effort and a lot more heart, but the rewards will be beneficial to all.
Tomb Raider: Underworld (2008)
An Excellent Game
Despite being shorter than Anniversary, I felt that Underworld was a far superior game. This chapter in the history of Lady Lara Croft corrected most of the frustrating mistakes of it's predecessor and made it an enjoyable gaming experience that was almost on par with Legend. Underworld steered away from using extreme difficulty and repeated death as a means to increase the playtime and therefore made the game far less frustrating, to the point of being extremely enjoyable. I have completed the main story, but I can assure you that I will be returning to each level to retrieve the collectibles I missed on the first run (which Anniversary didn't inspire me to do).
Don't get me wrong, though, there are minor technical glitches, such as enemies freezing in place, places where Lara can easily get 'stuck' and on one occasion she became permanently invisible, forcing me to reboot, but these are only minor annoyances. One other gripe I have about Underworld is that I don't think it lived up to the hype that Eidos tried to generate. The "What Could Lara Do?" tag-line built my hopes up to expect a world where anything was possible and where no place was off limits. Although the levels were deliciously grand, my expectations were quickly dashed when, in the first level, I found myself on a boat with dozens of doors and hatches, almost none of which could be explored. I'm not saying that Underworld is bad, just not what it was made out to be.
Although Underworld did see a return of Zip and Allister, they only appeared at the beginning and end of levels and in the second half of the game, they were absent entirely. I felt a little cheated by this as these two characters (and Winston) made Legend feel much brighter and more fun than any previous TR game. Their constant playful jibes and contributions to the level-at-hand gave the game a less lonely feeling and allowed us to see Lara's wit, warmth, charm and flaws, making her a much more interesting character. Though there are several moments where Lara's true emotions are shown, for the most part of the game, she feels much, much less three dimensional than she was in Legend. Ironic, considering the amount of work they put in to making her look more realistic, physically. To be quite honest, Lara's three friends simply felt 'tacked-on', rather than integrated in the story.
And then there is the story. It is very good, well thought out and involving. The personal twist Lara discovers at the end of the Thailand mission was wonderful. But, as the name of the game implies, Underworld's plot goes places much darker than that of Legend or even Anniversary. Some people may remember me starting a thread in the forum for this game about whether Lara's character would be tarnished by actions she takes in this game. I am pleased to say that that is not the case - Lady Croft in Underworld is a noble, if imperfect, heroin. But what she has to endure in this game is cruel. The resolution to one ongoing aspect of the plot was especially cruel, as if the writers sat around and asked themselves "What's the most punishing way (for Lara) that we can resolve this part of the story?" It's just one of many emotional blows the player is forced to endure during this game and, unfortunately, they are not countered by superior uplifting or hopeful moments. While well done, I would've preferred it if the story had been a lot kinder to Lara.If you need your entertainment to end happily, this probably isn't the game for you.
All-in-all, I believe that Legend remains the finest Tomb Raider game ever, although Underworld has just claimed second place. In spite of it's heart-wrenching moments, it was a well designed and involving game that was not bogged down with infuriating, repetitive difficulty.
Now I'd like to end with a plea to Eidos: PLEASE leave the game engine as is and devote your time (in the next TR volume) to making more levels! These wonderful games that you are making are over far too soon! I would have gladly settled for the Legend engine and graphics if it meant you would have spent the time you saved building three or four more levels! I am extremely grateful for the wonderful gaming experience I have just had, but I don't mind sounding like a greedy bastard when I say: "I WANT MORE!"
Original enough in design, story. Loyal enough in design, story. But too loyal in repetitive difficulty
Okay, first the bad stuff: When TR: Legend came out last year it turned out to be the finest game in the series released in years (perhaps ever). There had been a great many changes made since the previous titles (especially in the graphics quality). Well now with the release of TR: Anniversary we can finally see where Legend had it over it's predecessors. When I heard comments in the lead up to Anniversary about "improved combat systems to give players a bigger challenge" (or something like that), my heart sunk, and my fears were realized as I advanced through the game. Eidos, there is nothing more BORING than watching your character die 15 consecutive times during the same sequence of events. In the "10 years of Tomb Raider" promotional stuff, it was said that Tomb Raider was originally designed to be an "interactive movie". Guys, what do you think the viewing public would say about a section of a movie where you had to surf through umpteen parallel universes, watching Jack Sparrow or Harry Potter die in the exact same conflict fifteen consecutive times until we got to one universe where they didn't f*** up? And by the way, that doesn't just apply to the combat sections, it also applies to the ridiculously-hard-to-traverse sections, especially the ones that were timed. BTW, I don't think that there should be any such thing as a *required* combo move(was it even possible to do an adrenaline dodge in any mode other than "Advanced Toggle"? Thanks for telling us you needed to be in that mode, BTW!) Legend gave you room to think your way through a level, it turned away from the TR tradition of frustratingly-impossible monster combat and jump sequences so that the player could get totally absorbed in the great storyline. From what I hear, that game saved your franchise. Please don't turn your back on those wonderful improvements that made the world fall in love with Lara all over again.
Among my lesser gripes with Anniversary were the absence of Zip and Al (I can understand why you did this, though. They weren't in the original, and Lara wouldn't have met them yet). But their banter with Lara during Legend made the game more fun and I missed them. I felt that the game's big surprise was revealed way too early. When I first saw the relevant cut-scene in TR1, I said to myself "Holy S***! This is the coolest twist I have ever seen in a video game!" By then you were well into the Lost City Already knowing the twist, Anniversary wasn't really gonna surprise me, but I still think you guys gave it away too early, even if you count the end-of-Egypt cut-scene, but it was pretty obvious by the end of Greece. Finally, I really didn't like one of the choices Lara made in a certain (interactive) cut-scene. When you make the character you play less likable, you make the entire game experience less likable. Anniversary as a whole suffered for it
Having said all that, I am glad I purchased this game. It would've been a shame to miss out on having it in my collection. The graphics were superb, in terms of both scenery and creatures. Lara, as in Legend, looked stunning, and I thought that the final creature she faces in the game, in all of it's incarnations, was incredibly well done. The storyline, while loyal to the original, was different enough to make the game interesting to a TR1 victor. The new grapple wall-walk move was cool (although I hated the wall-walk jump at the top of a swing the controls were way too fussy to do this whenever you wanted to). The pole-hop wasn't bad, either. I enjoyed the larger levels, especially the earlier ones and I LOVED Croft Manor. The puzzles (particularly in Greece) were incredibly well done. I love Keeley Hawes as Lara. I would've loved to see her have more speaking lines (another reason to bring back Z&A). And I had misgivings before I played it, but I must say that the enhanced character development of Pierre was a great improvement on the original.
All in all, if a person didn't own either Legend or Anniversary, I'd advise them to spend their money on the former. But for someone who did own Legend, I would definitely say that Anniversary is a worthwhile purchase, especially if they didn't know anything about the original. You developers have obviously put a hell of a lot of work into this game. And while I know a lot of people might disagree with what I've said above, I'm sure I speak for all Tomb Raider fans when I say we can't wait to see what you come up with next.