Sunday, December 29, 2013

Movie review: Immortals

Since Netflix (I recently switched to Netflix after years of Blockbuster Online and boy, isn't that streaming shows neat) is removing Tarsem Singh's Immortals from their streaming roster on January 4th, I thought I'd give it a go last night.  I was an Ancient Greek major in college (super-useful, that) and have loved Greek mythology since about second grade, plus I loved Singh's earlier films, The Cell and The Fall, so I was really looking forward to Immortals.  To say I felt let down afterwards is an understatement: Immortals is like someone made a movie out of parts of 300 and The Fall, but not the best parts.

Immortals is an incoherent, pointless mess, with a "plot" culled hodgepodge from various Greek myths.  Back in the day, these immortal beings fought a mighty war against each other.  The victors were the Greek gods (Zeus, Mars, Poseidon, etc.) and the losers, imprisoned under Mt. Tartarus, were the Titans.  Henry Cavill is Theseus, a mortal peasant whom the gods want to rise up and lead an army against Hyperion (Mickey Rourke, who is actually fairly menacing in his outlandish, operatic costumes) who has decided to release the Kraken Titans since the gods didn't save his wife and children when he called upon them.  Freida Pinto is in the mix as Phaedra, the "Virgin Oracle" - who very quickly is convinced to give up her virginity - and accompanying oracular visions - to Theseus, who, it must be said, looks awfully good in just a skirt.  Stephen Dorff is in there too, also shirtless, but his character is completely superfluous.  There's a bunch of fighting amongst the humans; the Titans are released SPOILER; there's a bunch more fighting, human vs. human and god vs. Titan, until Hyperion's army gets conquered; then there's a bunch more fighting between the gods and the Titans, years later, in the heavens.

The mythology is askew: in Greek myth, Theseus was the son of the god Poseidon, who eventually became the king of Athens after many adventures, including being sent to Crete and defeating the Minotaur. Phaedra did marry Theseus but she was a princess, not a priestess.  Hyperion was a Titan who fathered the sun and the moon.  The Titans were earlier deities who did battle with the gods; they were defeated and thrown into Tartarus but were never freed.  That's fine: mythology is always open to interpretation.  But the movie is so incoherent - why did the gods want Theseus to lead the humans against Hyperion, especially when nothing came of it?  why was it "against the rules" for the gods to aid the humans and why did Zeus kill Ares for helping out?  if all the gods were killed in the battle, how were they resurrected for the battle in the end scene?  apparently it's no big deal to get killed? - and messy that I just didn't care about anyone in it.

In addition, Immortals was not nearly as gorgeous a film as The Cell or The Fall.  The costumes were striking but the sets and scenery were largely murky, not nearly as dramatic or fantastic as I had hoped, although they did do some funky stuff referencing the Minotaur.  I was disappointed by Immortals.  Unless you're really set on seeing Henry Cavill's abdominal muscles, you'd be much better served by watching The Fall.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Mini movie review: Ride the Divide

There is a mountain-bike ("MTB") race in the west that stretches from Banff, Canada, to Antelope Wells, New Mexico, on the U.S./Mexico border.  It's the Tour Divide: 2,745 miles along the Continental Divide.  It is self-supported, the MTBers fending for themselves with respect to food and shelter.  And it is a race, where long days and sleep-deprivation (and luck with all things mechanical) lead to winning.

The Tour Divide is not for the faint of heart and, after recently watching Ride the Divide with Mr. Mouse, it is clear that while the race is physically punishing, it is the mental game that is what's really tough.  The movie was filmed during the 2008 race where sixteen MTBers started and seven scratched, and a woman finished the race for the first time.  RtD follows three riders on their ride: two fall apart mentally from the long, long days of riding alone; the third, the eventual winner, has his head in the right place and just gets it done, while appreciating the solitude and bleak and beautiful landscape around him.

Mr. Mouse and I had both read Eat, Sleep, Ride, Paul Howard's account of the 2009 Tour Divide, so we knew a little of what to expect.  Because of the limitations of the filming crew, much of RtD's footage is on the pavement or well-maintained jeep roads, so viewers don't get to see most of the awful conditions and rough terrain the MTBers had to deal with.  There are plenty of shots of blistered heels, swollen legs and gnarly toes, however, and the riders happily share stories of bear sightings.

The Tour Divide is a brutal, crazy race, and one that kind of fascinates me.  I have no interest in riding that distance on a MTB, even at touring speed (the 2008 winner finished the damn thing in 19 days).  But I'd be interested in doing sections of it, just to see that scenery in person.  Mr. Mouse and I are now reading another account of the 2009 race - Be Brave, Be Strong, by Jill Homer who set a new women's course record that year - so our interest is obviously piqued.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Mini movie review: The Bay

Did you know that Barry Levinson (Diner, Sleepers, Wag the Dog, Rain Man, The Natural) directed a horror film?  (Did you know that "eco-horror" was even a genre?  I didn't.)  Did you know that it was pretty good?  Not very scary, but interesting, entertaining and well put-together.

The Bay is Chesapeake Bay, once one of the richest estuaries on the planet but now damaged by polluting runoff and overfishing.  A cute little bayside town prepares to celebrate the Independence Day holiday; parades, a crab-eating contest and fireworks are on the schedule.  But people start getting sick - rashes and nasty boils first, then severe gastro-intestinal distress and bleeding - and then people start dying.  Lots of people. Lots and lots of people.

Levinson directed The Bay as a "found footage" film, presenting it as a documentary cobbled together from a college reporter's video, cellphone and Skype footage, cop car dashboard camera recordings.  The college reporter is the film's narrator but the scenes skip around, focusing in on some poor person or horrible situation and then cutting to the next.  I'm doing a terrible job of describing this but the movie actually works pretty well, ratcheting up the tension as scientists and doctors try to figure out what the hell is killing these people.

The Bay could have been scarier - I jumped just once when something scurried - but I enjoyed it; sometimes it's nice to be scared just a little.  Also, note to self:  don't live downstream of a commercial chicken farm.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Mini comics review: Locke & Key: Welcome to Lovecraft

In support of my author-crush on Joe Hill (and also because my friend Spencer recommended it), I picked up the first trade paperback of Locke & Key, "Welcome to Lovecraft." The Locke siblings, Tyler, Kinsey and Bode, have had it tough recently: their dad was murdered by a psychotic student and their mom moved them across the country to the town of Lovecraft in New England.  Their new home is the strange Keyhouse, the mansion where their father grew up, which holds wonders and horrors and secrets.  Trouble follows the Locke family to Lovecraft, violent, relentless trouble.  Author Joe Hill and artist Gabriel Rodriguez draw the reader in and raise the stakes immediately; this story is unsparing.

I'm pretty limited in my exposure to comics.  I enjoy Y: The Last Man, Fables, The Umbrella Academy; I collected "Season 8" of Buffy the Vampire Slayer; I suffered through the first 100 issues of The Walking Dead.  Buffy just got too far out there for me and I gave up.  TWD I find just too grim and gruesome.  I like reading horror novels - Stephen King, Joe Hill, some Clive Barker, Justin Cronin - but the scary comics are just too much: I think I prefer the images in my head to the images on the page.  That's why I just didn't wholeheartedly embrace Locke & Key ... and yet I'm torn because I am interested in the story, just not the artwork.  I think I'll try the next TPB and see how it leaves me.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

No ranting necessary

I do pretty well picking out books to read.  I prefer fiction for the most part, with strong tendencies towards fantasy, historical fiction, horror and British mysteries, although I like it when folks recommend things to me outside my regular bailiwick (Bob Harris's Prisoner of Trebekistan was a successful foray into non-fiction, as well as Gerald Durrell's My Family and Other Animals).

I do end up with books that I like less well - Stephen King's Doctor Sleep was a recent disappointment - but I rarely end up with something I hate.  It does happen sometimes: I despised The Mermaid Chair (raging review here) and Twilight, ugh, don't even get me started on stupid fucking Twilight.

I bring all this up because despite its recent popularity (and resurgence with news of casting for the movie), I had never read Fifty Shades of Grey and thank god, now I never will.  Instead, I am greatly enjoying the "Summarized by a Smartass" posts over at Electronic Cerebrectomy, where SamuraiFrog is martyring himself by reading FSoG and recapping/analyzing each chapter in horrific, excruciating detail.  The man is truly taking one for the team and his posts are scathing, funny and insightful.  (He also did the same treatment for Twilight.)  Fifty Shades of Grey sounds absolutely terrible and I truly appreciate the suffering he is enduring so that I don't have to read it myself.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Walking Dead S4E8 "Too Far Gone" 12/1/13

Mid-season finale - since when is that a thing? - and I'm sorry, but this whole episode feels like it should have taken place during S3E16.

The Governor has captured Herschel and Michonne and brought them back to his camp.  He stands up in front of the people of the camp and orates a bit, talking them into helping him attack and take over the prison.  "They have walls, fences, plots of land for farmin' ... we could live there - if we're willin' to take it from them."  He has a plan to take the prison without bloodshed [HAHAHA YEAH RIGHT].  "We don't need to kill anyone ... but we need to be prepared to."  Most people seem dubious at first (except for Mitch who's gun-ho for some shooting) but the Governor has a golden tongue and soon the group is on board, desperate for a secure place to live. Lily is reluctant, however, not liking people killing people.  He promises that he will keep her safe, keep Megan safe.  He tells her that he loves her. Lily: "I don't know who you are."  But resistance is futile and she goes to pack their things.

The Governor goes to the RV where he's holding Herschel and Michonne.  He's pretty calm and claims that he doesn't want to hurt anyone: he has people he wants to keep safe and he needs the prison.  Herschel suggests that perhaps the two groups can learn to live together.  The Governor is all, Rick and I, Michonne and I, we'll never live together.  Michonne just glares at him and promises that she's going to kill him.  The Governor is all, if we can do this without bloodshed we will, but I am going to have that prison.

The Governor has Lily and the children stay in the RVs, parked alongside a river. The fast-flowing river should keep the walkers at bay.  Lily is not happy about this at all.  The Governor gives Megan a big hug and then heads out to attack the prison.

Rick and Daryl finally have their "WTF happened to Carol?" talk and it is markedly anticlimactic.  Daryl is very angry, of course, snarling that Rick could have waited until they got back [so Daryl could have said goodbye, I guess, or gone with her].  But he calms down quickly and doesn't make much of a fuss, instead wondering what will happen to the two little girls Carol had taken care of.  Rick mentions that he hasn't talked to Tyrese yet and Daryl steps up and says, let's go do it.  They find Tyrese down in the tunnels.  He's found a vivisected rabbit nailed to a board and he's connected it to the half-eaten rats they found at the fences.  "We got a pyschopath here ..." Rick breaks in to tell him that whoever did this is not who killed Karen and the other guy.  But before he can explain to Tyrese what he means, an explosion rocks the prison.  Everyone who is not still weak from the plague runs out to the prison yard where they are shocked to see the Governor with his tank, a bunch of gunmen and Herschel and Michonne out beyond the fences.  The Governor is all, hey, Rick, why don't you come down here so we can talk.

Rick does go down to the fence and they talk and talk and talk.  The Governor says that Rick's group has until sundown to clear out: if they pack up now, he'll let them go.  Rick pleads that there are sick people and children who may not survive out in the world.  But the Governor is resolute and means to have the prison.  Meanwhile, back up in the prison, Daryl starts surreptitiously handing out guns.  He spreads the word that if things start to go south, everyone should head for the escape bus, as planned.  Rick suggests that the two groups share the prison but the Governor refuses.  Rick then points out that if it comes to a fight, if the Governor attacks the prison and pulls down the fences, the prison is worthless: "We can all live in the prison or none of us can."  The Governor is all, dude, get your people out.

Back at the river, Lily watches an approaching zombie try to cross the river and get swept away.  What she doesn't see is her daughter playing on the muddy bank and a zombie rearing up out of the mud to batten onto Megan's neck.  Lily runs up and shoots the zombie but it is too late: Megan gets bitten badly.

Up in the prison, the non-fighters start loading onto the bus.  The little girls carry baby Judith out into the yard, heading to the bus, but then Lizzie says that they should get guns and help fight too.  Down at the fences, the Governor gets more and more annoyed with Rick's refusal to just roll over.  He grabs Michonne's sword and lays it against Herschel's neck.  Rick, panicking, pleads with the Governor's people, asking if this is what they really want, promising that they can live together without anyone getting killed.

The Governor has Had Enough, however, and hacks hard at Herschel's neck.  It isn't a clean kill, though, and poor Herschel just collapses.  Rick screams, Maggie screams, Beth screams.  And then the carnage begins.  Michonne drops to the ground and rolls out of the way as the bullets fly.  Herschel tries to crawl away and the Governor goes after him, hacking and hacking and hacking until Herschel's head comes off.  He looks up to see Lily walking towards him, the bloody Megan in her arms.  He walks up to her, takes the little girl and shoots her in the head.  Then he turns back to his people: Take your cars through the fences - kill them all.

And then it's just shooting and shooting and shooting.  Except for Rick and the Governor who start beating the crap out of each other.  It's difficult to tell who is who.  Beth goes to help load people onto the bus.  Maggie goes into the prison to get Glenn.  Tyrese gets pinned down and almost killed by a couple of the Governor's people but Lizzie comes up behind and shoot them, saving him.  Bob takes a bullet in the chest.  Rick takes a bullet in the leg.  Daryl is an effing machine, of course, except that zombies have started to swarm, attracted by all the noise, and one comes up close behind him.  [At which point I shout NO! at the television.  Of course, if they're going to kill Daryl - AND THEY BETTER NOT - it will be dramatic and not by a stealth zombie.]  He stuffs a grenade down the tank's gun barrel, destroying it, and then plants a crossbow bolt in Mitch's chest. The Governor is totally kicking Rick's ass and almost chokes him to death, until Michonne comes up from out of nowhere (where has she been during this fight?) and runs him through the chest with his sword.  The fight is all but over now and she helps him back up to the prison.  The Governor rolls on the ground, gasping, and Lily walks up to him and shoots him in the head.  Now he's done.  And he's caused her nothing but grief ever since he staggered into her life.

Rick lurches into the prison yard (where did Michonne go?), hollering for Carl.  Carl comes up, shoots a couple of walkers and hugs his dad.  Neither of them knows where baby Judith is.  They walk through the yard and, horror of horrors, find Judith's empty, bloodsoaked car seat.  They gasp and howl and sob.  This has been a very bad day for them.

This has been a bad day for everyone.  They're all scattered now: Glenn and the weaklings driven off on the bus; Maggie, Bob and Sasha on their own; Tyrese, Lizzie and Lizzie's little sister on their own; Daryl and Beth alone together; Michonne god knows where.  Rick and Carl stagger through the woods, Rick telling his son not to look back - there's nothing left for them there.

I don't recall the comics all that well but I'm pretty sure that how this episode ends is more in line with how the book's battle with the Governor ends, with the baby killed and everyone scattered to the winds.  Of course, in the comics there was only ONE battle at the prison against the Governor, not two.  Yes, this battle was tense and grim and horrible and we lost some people. Herschel's death was sad and awful and I'm glad that he got to be a hero during the plague. But Judith was a nonentity character-wise (leaving out the fact that killing off a baby, even a fictional one, is just horrific); losing Megan was bad too but we'd only known her for two episodes; and the rest of the cannon fodder we neither knew/recognized or cared about.  Those two Governor-centric episodes were just a waste of time because he ended up the exact same monster he was in Woodbury.  What was the point?  Ugh.  This show is just so frustrating what with the trite dialogue, repetitive plotting and thin characters.  Daryl and Michonne's badassery and the zombies - that's what keeps me coming back, I guess.

Previously on The Walking Dead / next time on The Walking Dead