13 Reviews
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Lucid, human, a pleasure to watch
3 March 2007
Jonathan Miller is my new idol. He is knowledgeable enough to have real conversations with the philosophers and historians he talks to, and he is empathic enough and cares enough, about the subject matter and about the human condition in general, to make you want to pay attention to what he is saying.

The program may not convince anyone, but it's not propaganda, it's a documentary on the much neglected history of an idea: that there is no God. Or maybe the history of the absence of the notion that there is one? In either case, it's educational and entertaining.

If there should be any complaints, it's that there isn't enough of it. So make sure to not miss The Atheism Tapes, the 6-part follow-up to this series, which includes the full interviews with some of the prominent thinkers that appear here.

The program is of usual BBC quality, so expect a first-class TV production.
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Sin City (2005)
"What a sweet kid."
29 April 2005
The movie is running right now in a little window right next to this one. I knew the comic quite well and I've followed Miller's work since the 80's, and I've been reading this board, so I pretty much knew what to expect. However, one thing I didn't expect was all the goddamned, never-ending babbling. Some of it is _extremely_ expeditionary... "And then I blah blah, and I thought blah blah blah, and therefore I will now blah blah blah, and I bet you never thought of this, blah blah blah blah frigging blah BLAH!" They make Blofeld look tongue-tied! It never ends! My eeeeaaaaaaarsssss!!!!! You know, hard men don't talk incessantly. Sort of a rule of thumb that you might pick up if you watch a Sergio Leone movie. (Bet Rodriguez has never watched a spaghetti western...) Oh well, anyway. Some of it looks cool, although I can't quite figure out if it actually looks cool, or if it's just me going, "hey! that's looks exactly like the comic!" It's not really the same thing. I'm glad they had the "-Haven't seen you around in a while. -I had to kill some cops"-frame, although they softened up the dialog. Go figure.

Mickey Rourke's talk over is the only one that works, mostly because his voice is so messed up you can't really tell if he's wincing or not. Owen's is a close second, and that's just because parts of his... part, works really good as comedy. I think it was even meant as comedy. Bruce Willis is so not pulling this off. You can tell he's got nothing but grapes on his mind when he reads the first part of the voice-over. I guess he's been in enough movies to recognize cheese when he sees it, even if he's no big thinker (and never claimed to be, hey, I like the guy).

Every now and then I get an "art movie" vibe. Then I quickly realize that it's because periodically, it's boring like an art movie. I really have liked the Owen part best so far, it had some funny bits and pieces.

All in all, I don't hate the movie. I can sort of chuckle along with Miller and Rodriguez frequently enough to make it worth the watch, and that's more than I can say for most films I see. But you know something? I watched the Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes Chain of Command I and II yesterday, and in that episode of a weekly TV series for young adults, during a few scenes where Picard is tortured by the "Cardassians," there is better acting, more plot, more substance, and more actual characters, than this movie has produced in toto. And that, at the end of the day, gotta mean something.
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Good stupid
31 August 2004
The difference between this movie and truly bad ones is that the actors are obviously having fun. As have been suggested below, they probably came up with most of their characters and lines themselves. This is where I first noticed Michael Richards, and we used to imitate his antiques all the time when I was a teenager. All the characters except Goldblum's are, well... totally insane. Goldblum's character is the anchor of the movie, providing a center for all the madness to spin around. It also has a big heart, and a ridiculously (and ridiculous) happy ending.

The movie reminds me of Weird Al's UHF, another no-budget comedic masterpiece, also featuring Michael Richards.
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Understanding Starship Troopers
24 July 2004
This movie has been a puzzle to many viewers. Washington Post claimed that it promoted fascism, many have agreed, while others insist that it's satire and an anti-war movie. I couldn't understand it either. While there are a few scenes involving news broadcasts that are clearly exaggerated, the rest of the movie portraits the protagonists--whether members of a quasi-SS or just Wehrmacht grunts with ideologically fanatical commanders--in a generally positive light, and you do root for them. These are not usually signs of satire.

I had an epiphany after reading the transcripted DVD commentary by Paul Verhoeven and the script writer, Ed Neumeier--but especially after checking what work Neumeier had done before Starship Troopers. (Props to vanveen on the IMDb board for posting the commentary transcript.)

Something was obviously wrong with Starship Troopers. A well-made satire doesn't leave half the audience suspecting that the movie makers are Nazis. (And I might as well mention that I'm European, so no silly "only Europeans understand satire" nonsense, please.)

The solution to the Starship Troopers mystery lies in a UK comic magazine that had its heyday in the late 70's and throughout the 80's. It was, and still is, called 2000AD, and its most famous character is a futuristic cop named Judge Dredd.

Judge Dredd (created by John Wagner) is satire, of a particular British, independent comics, kind. The stories about the icy judge-jury-and-executioner-in-one are an odd mix of action thrills and humorous over-the-top political commentary. It never intellectualizes its points, relying on hyperbole and comic effect to deliver its message. Whenever we are lulled into believing that Dredd is a role model, something outrageous happens to prove, again, that he is not one of the good guys. Here's a typical episode:

Dredd is patrolling Mega-City One on his gigantic Lawmaker motorcycle. He spots a man dropping some chewing gum wrapping on the sidewalk. Dredd: Littering is an offense, citizen! That's two years in the iso-cube! Citizen: Two years! Come on, that's too harsh! Dredd: The Law makes no exceptions! Citizen: Sure... I bet you make an exception when it suits you! Dredd: Betting is illegal, six years!

Before last year, the only thing--according to IMDb at least--that Ed Neumeier had written for moving pictures, apart from Starship Troopers, was RoboCop and various RoboCop-related things. This is not generally known, but RoboCop started its life as the first Judge Dredd movie. The script circulated in the business for years, until, because the script and the movie rights for the Judge Dredd character had somehow parted ways down the road, it evolved into RoboCop.

When RoboCop says, "Come quietly, or there'll be trouble," that's Dredd talking, and RoboCop remains a much better Judge Dredd movie than Judge Dredd eventually became.

Now, keeping the Dredd character and Mega-City One in memory, let's look at Starship Troopers again. There is the combination of unabashed action thrills with equally unabashed fascist references, that made so little sense to me. It's like a page out of 2000AD. The superficial ambiguity was a trademark of the British comic. Neumeier, consciously or not, is trying to tell a story in Judge Dredd style, where the heroes can be fascists, upholding fascist ideals, without us ever doubting the actual opinions of the writer. But for some reason it's not working.

The reason is humor. Or rather, the lack of it. Whenever Dredd started to look too good, Wagner (and his co-writer Alan Grant) made us laugh at his ludicrous pomposity. He became a true parody, like The Dictator or Dr. Strangelove. Starship Troopers has no such moments, it keeps a straight face. When Col. Carl Jenkins of the quasi-SS delivers his SS lines, there is a hint of criticism on Rico's face, but he is ultimately convinced. Jenkins never looks like a parody of anything. The same is true for Michael Ironside's agitator-turned-teacher-turned-lieutenant.

From the DVD commentary there is no question that Verhoeven and Neumeier intended Starship Troopers to be critical of war and violence, and not promotional of it. But they didn't manage to pull it off, because they chose, more or less consciously, an obscure format that works well in underground comics but not so well in Hollywood productions--and they lacked the sense of absurd humor that it absolutely requires. The result was not a powerful statement against fascism, but a confused, huh?

It's probably also worth noting that Heinlein, who wrote the original novel, would probably not have supported Verhoeven and Neumeier's version of his story. He was no fascist, to be sure, but he wasn't exactly a liberal either, having Ayn Rand, with her extreme libertarianism, as one of his idols. Where the book seems ambiguous, it's more likely because it reflects the author's ideas quite well.
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Spider-Man 2 (2004)
Peter-Parker 2 *SPOILERS*
8 July 2004
Warning: Spoilers
I don't understand why this movie has a 94% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. X-Men 2, while not being a cinematic masterpiece, held my attention throughout, and even made me smile repeatedly. I loved the ending. I should say that I am a long-time Spider-Man fan (subscribed for over ten years) and enjoy comic book movies, so it's not the subject matter that is the problem for me. It's just the crappy movie making. Really.

Peter-Parker 2--sorry--Spider-Man 2 has several obvious problems.

1) Say it with me: Exposition!

The intro credits are beautiful, and cleverly establishes the back story from the first movie. But for some reason we still get to hear the whole story told again in the movie, in one of the most annoyingly slow scenes.

I don't know how many scenes there are where characters have long monologues explaining to the audience what their motivations are, how they are thinking, what will happen next, and so on. Sometimes they have another character standing in front of them, but they aren't really speaking to them, they're speaking to us. This is evidenced by the fact that sometimes they don't have anyone in front of them, or even in the same room. They are just speaking out loud, talking to themselves.

There is a saying that anyone who has taken a writing class will have heard many times: show don't tell. But in Peter-Parker 2, nothing is shown. Everything important comes out of the mouths of the characters instead of being played out for us on the screen. Every motivation, every conflict, every idea.

Peter Parker says loudly to himself: "I can't tell M.J. that I'm Spider-Man. My enemies would never leave her alone!" (Or something like that.) What enemies?? Spidey has enemies? The Goblin is dead, Doc Ock isn't around yet, and we have seen no other enemies. He's imagining things. Out loud. It would have been a good idea to show us some of these enemies.

One of the funniest sequences, that actually had me laughing out loud, was when Aunt May tells Peter about the young boy from next door who idolizes Spider-Man. Somewhere in the monologue the line turns from a story about the boy next door to a motivational speech for disillusioned superheroes. It's so blam in-our-faces it cracked me up. And it wasn't a nice chuckle.

There isn't a plot point in the story that couldn't have benefited from more scenes where stuff happens, and less talk.

2) Spider-Man should be about Spider-Man

I know, I know. The Spidey comic was so great because Peter Parker is a realistic character with ordinary problems and, like, dimensions and stuff. But we didn't buy the comic because we wanted to read about Peter Parker. We bought it because it was about Spider-Man. Peter Parker is an attribute of Spider-Man. He is Spider-Man's secret identity, not the other way around. What made us nerds really like Spidey was that during the day he was this feeble nobody with few friends who Flash could pick on--but we knew that he wasn't really like that at all. He could lift a van over his head and had the wittiest lines in Comic-Verse. That was how he really was.

Sam Raimi seems to think that he is honoring the comic by making it about Peter Parker's love stories firstly, and about Spider-Man's struggles against super-evil secondly, but he isn't. He just misunderstands the concept. Peter Parker's life is seasoning. Spidey's battles with villains is the real subject matter.

This shines through in the casting as well. As much as I like Toby in most movies, he's not a good Spider-Man. (In the very few scenes when he and not a CGI effect is Spider-Man, I mean.) Parker/Spidey are two radically different characters, as is so often the case. (I mean Kent/Superman? Banner/Hulk?) But Maquire is Peter Parker ALL the time. In the movie, Spidey is just Peter Parker with a Spandex mask over his head, and that is simply wrong.

3) Lousy crook

I bet you thought Doc Ock was real cool, huh? Yeah, he looked pretty mean and was decently acted. But think about it. What is his motivation? He MUST finish the project at any cost! He MUST make a mini sun on Manhattan, whatever the consequences! Why? Who knows? Whatever, he's just a subplot in the movie about Peter Parker's somewhat predictable love story anyway, right? Compare Doc Ock with Magneto in X-Men. Magneto used to be in a Jewish concentration camp in Germany. Non-mutants are trying to force all mutants to register with the authorities. He's starting to recognize the old pattern. Add some pathological megalomania to the mix and the result is inevitable. He overreacts, and goes on the war path against humanity. Meanwhile, Doc Ock MUST make his little sun, and nothing will stop him! Jeez, Magneto is a Shakespearian character in comparison. (And that has nothing to do with that McKellen has played Richard III on the big screen.) The script writers didn't care very much about the Doctor Octopus plot because Spider-Man is a sensitive story about a young man with relationship problems, doubts about his future, and such uncertainties as young men are wont to have. Ptooey to that! Bring in the doomsday machines!

What about the good stuff?

There is some. J.K Simmons as J. Jona Jameson is absolutely wonderful. Every scene he is in is pure pleasure. His lines are okay but his delivery is perfect. Jameson is an important character in Spidey's life. The movie also has its moments when the drama works. Most of the time it drowns in exposition or never lifts off because of poorly established motivations, but there are exceptions. When M.J sees Peter as Spidey near the end is one such exception. The earlier train scene also works action-wise, and is more or less the only one that really does. Dunst is good, although under-utilized throughout.

And the intro credits are some of the coolest I have ever seen. I wonder who the artist is?
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Lantana (2001)
Beautiful, intelligent, and deeply relevant
6 July 2004
This easily goes down as one of the best movies I have seen over the last several years. The acting is flawless (as is so often the case in Australian and New Zealand movies), the suspense and dynamics are extremely well executed, and the script remains one step ahead of you at all times. In addition to this, the subject matter is poignant and moving. Such a combination is rare, and pure enjoyment for those who find it.

There is one seen in particular, near the very end, that seriously blurred my vision. As with most everything else in the movie, I didn't see it coming.

Geoffrey Rush is one of my favorite actors, but here the whole cast delivers equally well. A must see. A must own!
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Carrie (1976)
Unique horror
24 June 2004
I watch horror movies like I watch a fantasy or science fiction flick. What I want is usually the paranormal mystery that needs resolving, and the revelation at the end. I live for the twist. Very few horror movies have actually scared me. I can think of two. Trouble Every Day, with Vincent Gallo and Béatrice Dalle, made me feel genuinely sick in a way that no other movie has and like I thought none could. The other is Carrie, which made my hair stand on end several times. I mean, I was seriously creeped out.

I think that for me it was a combination of DePalma's imagery--Spacek is a truly haunting figure, pure nightmare stuff--and the script. And here's what makes Carrie unique. It is actually a character-driven horror story. It just doesn't not follow the mandatory horror movie formula, but it takes its motivation and narrative momentum from the very realistically depicted inner torment of the protagonist. This had the effect of emotionally grounding the story for me, so that when all hell breaks loose, and the blood-drenched Spacek stares at us with empty eyes, it was the proverbial fist squeezing my guts.

Recommended viewing, especially if you are wary of the boring standard-compliant stuff.
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Buffy: Return To License Game Hell
20 April 2004
I have only played 1½ level of this game, but already have enough points for a brief review. Since it's pretty far from sure I'll finish it, may as well submit my opinion now. This game is in many ways very 1997. I'll simply bullet the reasons for not buying it below.

* Severe camera problems. I'm really not a camera wuss. I had no problems with the camera in Silent Hill, nor in GTA3. This however, is ridiculous. You will not see the monster you're fighting 30% of the time, but simply lunge forward in the hope there something there. The maps are too small for the camera to turn around most of the time, and there is no 1st person view mode.

* Control problems. The controls are unresponsive. This game tries to be a beat'em up, but has the controls of an adventure game. Turning towards your monster is difficult even when you see them. Since you keep dropping your weapon, you need to pick it up, but this is for some reason a hard task for the girl that can backflip over a pickup truck. You'll also find yourself pressing the push or kick button like a madman at times, and Buffy's just standing there. Not good when you're facing 3 foes at once.

* Old Skool story engine. What can I say? The series (which I worship) was known for its strong story telling. But Chaos Bleeds uses a very archaic story engine. So far the game is: fetch random object; fit object in random place; open door; fight a group of baddies, rinse and repeat. The random objects are a piece of a broken sun dial, a fuse, and so on. There is just not a trace of a story behind these acts and objects, they're just there without explanation. Even if there are bigger plot objectives in the game (and I don't know if there are), the gameplay suffers from the rudimentary and nonsensical in-level objectives. The series is also known for its humor and witty repartee. Someone should explain to the game developers that witty comments are not funny the 15th time you hear them. The game engine gives you a random Buffy comment when you open a door, pick up an object, etc. They get old REAL quick.

* Can't save in levels. This is insane, and makes me think of games from the mid-90's. It's actually not possible to save in a level, although they are quite big. You play 75% of a level but need a break from the "beat baddies while finding nonsensical item #3 to open next door" action. Since there are "continuation points" throughout the levels, you assume that the next time you play you will start at the last continuation point you passed. Well... FOOLED YOU! You will restart at the beginning of the level.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer has a background made for an adventure game, a lá the Silent Hill series. (God, those games were good!) But Chaos Bleeds is a beat'em up with poor controls. The graphics though are perfectly adequate, as are sound effects and music.

It's fun to hear some of the original cast, although Buffy is poorly casted by a woman sounding like she's 30+. Hearing talented Nicholas Brendon deliver the lame, "witty" comments in the game does break my heart at times. Tony Head is of course perfect as the in-game tutorial voice.

This game is a hack job and lacks the soul of the TV series and of games such as Silent Hill and Spider-Man. Maybe there's a gypsy witch somewhere around here who can help with that.

I guess I'll give it another shot, but if Buffy says "You're dead. No, really" one more time after I kill a vamp, I'm going to watch Angel.
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Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1996–2003)
Incredible show, given some requirements
19 April 2004
Given some prerequisites, this is some of the best TV ever made.

Here are the requirements for understanding and appreciating the show:

1. Don't get turned off by the theme. If you're like, "God, vampires! *slaps forehead*" then just walk away. And come back when you've read some decent speculative fiction and realized that theme is just theme and not story content, characterization, story moral, or anything else. It's superficial. That said, vampire hunting can be a lot of fun to watch.

2. Follow the series. You can't see one episode here and one there. You actually need to see it at least from the start of the season, preferably from the start of the series. Buffy is more heavy in continuity than any other show I've seen. Every character has a story (they're quite often not actually human at all) and you just don't get their lines without knowing their backgrounds. An excellent example is Once More With Feeling. How many have seen that episode but not the ones preceding it? That's pretty much a waste of time. The tunes are so-so catchy, but in the context of the series, each one is a revelation and a dramatic peak in season six. It's all happening there.

3. Be a liberal. Joss is not a member of Moral Majority. His (and my) list of things that should be in a good show for young people look something like this:

* Powerful female role models. Doh.

* Homosexuality. It's about falling in love, not "lifestyle choices." Love is beatiful, full stop.

* Interracial relationships. This barrier needs to go away.

* I say it again, powerful female role models.

* Question what evil is. Real life is not black and white. Is it really as easy as all vampires are evil? Apparently not.

* Different, non-judgmental depictions of sex, from the Making Love to the good old, no-holds-barred f**k. Some end well, some don't. But it's about respect for peoples' feelings, not Original Sin.

* And, I give you, the powerful female role models.

If you don't agree with these things, then avoid the show like a dirty thought.

However, if you have no problems with any of the above, you will love the show, and it's people. The characters grow on you and when the last episode is over, there is a real sense of loss.

Buffy is exciting, unconventional storytelling with a positive message and more substance than you can shake a stake at.
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Not quite Buffy
13 March 2004
Such crisp colors, unusual and creative camera angles, and modern-sounding music. And the killing and maiming and high-pressure blood showers sure pass the time (sorta). But if you're looking for depth and/or substance, I recommend The Simpsons or Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The story is like a comic book hater's idea of comic booky. (The protagonist knows her former coworkers and nemeses so well she has to note their silly nicknames under their names in her "kill list"?)

A hint: In ten years, when the color schemes and the music and the quirky imagery of this movie don't feel quite so modern anymore, don't rent it. It'll age like a fine bottle of Seven-Up.
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Identity (2003)
Non-linear storytelling (SPOILERS!)
29 January 2004
Warning: Spoilers
** Spoilers ** Spoilers ** Spoilers ** Spoilers **

(First, since some seem to have problems with this part: Ginny and the boy disappears at the moment when all the bodies are disappearing. They are assumed to have been killed and the bodies vaporized, just as all the other corpses have been.)

This movie is very much in the same school as Usual Suspects, in that it has a "waking up in the shower" (expression born with the "twist" in the Dallas soap) twist. But just as in Usual Suspects, it works!

If you expect a regular monster movie, you'll either be happily surprised or disappointed. In my own opinion, this was something far more interesting and sophisticated than I had expected. Like Usual Suspects, the story breaks the rules of conventional storytelling, but does it successfully. However, it _demands_ of you as a viewer that you go along with it.

It helps to have read some "surreal" writers, such as Philip K. Dick or William Burroughs. To have a mind that's conditioned to go with the flow and accept that a story can be relevant on a purely associative level, even if what it describes isn't consistent or "real" even in its own story universe. Even if it's not real, it can still be relevant. The story in Usual Suspects--which is a lie--is relevant because it's Keyser Soze's way of escaping the law and demonstrating his superiority over the smart police officer. In Identity the story--which is a figment of the protagonist's imagination--is relevant because he's fighting a battle with his multiple personalities and his life is at stake.

(I should add that the story is psychologically whole unbelievable, but that's not important. It's also hard to understand why we should root for the killer. If you're an opponent of the death penalty, it may be interesting to see that he's not executed.)

Anyone who's tried their hand at writing fiction knows how hard it is to follow the rules. Breaking them successfully is a whole different ballgame. Identity is skillfully written and adequately (and then some) executed. Personally I'm delighted that Hollywood has the guts to give us something more advanced than the usual formulaic thrills at times. I'd even go so far as to claim that it's these types of movies that advance the medium in the mainstream, even if Usual Suspects and, for example Terry Gilliam's Twelve Monkeys, are superior movies and have been more important in that respect.
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Scarface (1983)
You kiss me if I have hat?
29 December 2003
Spoken like a true hard-boiled u'an gangsta. The story is no worse than any number of gangster flicks, but never ever confuse this movie with The Godfather I or II, or Goodfellas. It is not in the same league.

But what makes the film periodically painful to watch is all these Italian Americans swaggering around dropping bad gangsta lines in an even worse fake u'an accent. Pacino would have been great if they could just have dubbed him. I was looking forward to see Abrahams and Loggia, but their steenky accents spoiled the fun.

Ah well, the script ain't too hot either. Don Corleone would have made this disappear five minutes after meeting him, smiling and patting him on the back all the while.
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Another Judge Dredd
31 August 2003
This movie is currenlty showing on my computer. A little more than half has run, but I stopped caring long ago. The actors seem embarrassed to deliver the incredibly stupid dialogue, and I feel sorry for them. Sean Connery is back in familiar Highlander II territory.

The movie sets the standard early when it assumes that the viewer has never heard of Dracula. Contrary to the comic book, none of these gentlemen are at all extraordinary. One can shoot a gun... *yawn* One has a submarine... One is invisible... One is... Tom Sawyer? One is... Oh, shut up already. What an incredible bunch of bores.

The script is the worst in a high profile production since Akiva Goldsman's Batman and Robin. The movie proves again that high concept is nothing, execution is everything. It's blasphemy to have Alan Moore's name first in the credit list. He had nothing to do with this abomination.
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