Saturday, September 25, 2004

So I had actually been looking forward to seeing Sky Captain & the World of Tomorrow, and I ventured out into the wilds of Northwest Las Vegas to do so yesterday. And I thought it was... just okay.

Certainly, it was visually stunning. I'm glad I saw it on the big screen, and I'll almost certainly buy it on DVD, for the spectacle alone. It lovingly recreates the feel of the old serials it pays homage to, but with a grandeur that would have been impossible without modern technology. Jude Law makes a great classic hero, and Angelina Jolie is fantastic in her small role as a plucky one-eyed British pilot. And there are times Gwyneth Paltrow almost manages to make me believe that she read her script before they started shooting. Unfortunately, where the story let me down were in the areas of character and plot.

Ah, if someone had written this movie! Then it might have made more of an impression than it did, which was a bunch of spectacular set-pieces with very little holding them together. What I do remember from the film are great images, not things that Sky Captain actually did. I do remember that throughout most of the movie, he keeps repeating his two main goals, and those two goals end up pretty weakly resolved (one much more so than the other), only to be replaced by yet another one ten minutes before the end of the picture. There really isn't anything for me, as an audience member, to get emotionally invested in, so all that's left for me to do is go, "Giant cast-iron robots riveted together; cool. Flying aircraft carriers with giant propellors; cool." And that's what separates a decent movie from a great one.

A friend of mine excuses these twin flaws by saying that it's just an old movie serial, but I say that's crap. It's not an old movie serial; it's an adventure movie made and shown in 2004. It's not an old chapter play where you can skip from one episode to the next because there's a week in between to forget what happened, it's a single 100-minute story. An homage should celebrate what's best about its source material, not use it to excuse its flaws.

Having said that, rumor has it that "writer"/director Kerry Conran's next project may be the film adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs' A Princess of Mars. That, I'd love to see. Clearly the man has a keen visual sense; hook that up with a real story and you could have something that truly is great. Shame that Sky Captain isn't quite there yet.

Oh, and here's another thing that irritates me. Most of the reviews I've see of Sky Captain agree that it's visually beautiful, that the filmmaking technology is fascinating, shame about the story and characters, but that's almost forgivable. And that's exactly the same complaint people have about the recent Star Wars movies, but those get branded things like "Worst movie of the Millennium," (Film Threat magazine's comment about The Phantom Menace). So why is Kerry Conran granted forgiveness, but not George Lucas? Please.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Started my new job at the Green Valley branch on Wednesday, and getting used to the new situation and commute has thrown me off a bit, hence the uneven postings schedule this week. I've seen new TV shows, just haven't had a chance to write about them yet.

As far as the job, it's okay. The commute is about an hour long, which is a pain. However, that's taking the 215, which goes around the city. I could take the more direct route along the freeways, but those are always clogged up with traffic, and would probably take just as long. More importantly, for my well-being, while the drive may be longer, I'm moving constantly at a faster speed, and that just feels less frustrating. The drive doesn't feel like an hour at all. A new car is a definite must, however. I've shifted my interest from a hybrid Accord to a hybrid Civic, just for the size. Need to get out to a Honda dealer and actually check them out. Since that would involved getting out of the house, I'm a bit wary, but it'll have to be done.

The new-to-me branch is nice. It's a more upscale neighborhood than West Las Vegas, and kids seem more likely to come in with their families and less likely to spend the entire day. I think I'll like it, but I'm still in that weird place where I'm out of my usual routine, so I don't have that comfort zone to fall into. And I don't feel like a part of this team yet. It's this weird mix of feeling like the new guy who has to prove himself mixed with the knowledge that I've spent the last few years proving I can do this job, just somewhere else. Hopefully, that'll fade with time.

As for TV, Wednesday saw the premieres of two new series: Lost on ABC, and Veronica Mars on UPN. (Veronica Mars reruns tonight, for the curious.) Lost is the new series cocreated and produced by Alias creator JJ Abrams, so I was particularly looking forward to it. If nothing else, it isn't a new cop show, a new lawyer show, or a new family drama. I read an interview with the other creator (whose name escapes me, even though he's apparently the main showrunner while Abrams goes off to produce Alias, another new pilot, and direct the next Mission: Impossible movie) where he said the starting point was to create Survivor: The Drama, and that's as good a description as any: about 50 people stranded on an island after a plane crash. Only what helps make the show work, at least for me, is it gets right down to business, without any of the usual TV moments you'd expect, like scenes of everyone sitting around the campfire telling who they are and where they came from.

And there's some weird giant creature roaming around the jungles of the island they're trapped on. So it's sort of Land of the Lost for grownups.

Veronica Mars, on the other hand, isn't quite for grownups, at least not in the same way. It's about a high school girl who helps her private eye dad solve crimes. Sort of like Nancy Drew, only called Veronica Mars instead. It's stylishly shot, but I completely failed to connect with it on so many levels. First, I was pretty put off by the voice-over narration. That can be a tricky thing, and here, it just felt overdone. I mean, she was saying something else, but what I heard was, "I may be a high school girl, but don't dismiss my show as a kiddie show, because I'm really much more mature because I'm jaded and cynical and world-weary and use lots and lots of big words, almost as if my narration were being written by Dean Koontz." The high school scenes felt completely different in tone from the rest of the show, in a very 90210 kind of way. And, ultimately, there was nothing particularly special about the show for me to connect to. I didn't feel particularly drawn to the character, because the narration irritated me. There is a continuing mystery story that had my attention, but the trouble with that sort of thing is it'll end eventually, and my interest will go with it. Or the series will be cancelled first, and I'll be unsatisfied.

Oh, and Paris Hilton guest-stars on the second episode, which is another turn-off.

Clubhouse, a family drama, premieres Sunday night before moving into its regular Tuesday night time slot, same time as One Tree Hill and Veronica Mars. So the determining factor as to whether I follow Veronica Mars or not will be whether I like Clubhouse better or not.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Season premiere of ER aired tonight. Nothing particular I want to say about it; the show has been on for something like 50 years now, so there's not really any surprises. What is noteworthy is the next episode isn't on for another two weeks. What's up with that? I mean, if NBC can't get their shit together enough to show two new episodes in a row first thing in the season, it's no wonder people are drifting away from the networks.

BBC - Radio 4 - The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
First new episode of the new radio series is online for the next seven days. Go listen to it now. That is all.

Monday, September 20, 2004

After two episodes, I gotta wonder if I'm seeing the same episodes of Jack & Bobby as the critics. I mean, yes, it's done well enough, there's nothing wrong with it, but the way critics seemed to be talking about it, it was like it was of such transcendent quality, television could barely contain its like. Maybe that's the problem; it's just so good, the broadcast medium isn't able to convey it's true virtues, and the only way I'd really be able to see how truly brilliant it is would be if they came and performed it live in my living room every Sunday night. Because what I am seeing, for better or worse, is a well-written, well-acted family drama on the same level as the other WB shows I watch and enjoy, like Everwood, One Tree Hill, and Smallville. So far, the writing isn't particularly deeper or more clever or more insightful than the other shows, the acting isn't any better (or worse; they're all just fine), and they're all shot beautifully. And if the hook that sets it apart is that Bobby has this sense of destiny, because he's going to grow up to become president... well, that's Smallville, isn't it? Except that the Smallville one is even more interesting, because it's not just that we know that Clark Kent grows up to become Superman, it's that best-friends-in-the-show Clark and Lex Luthor will eventually become mortal enemies.

Not to knock Jack & Bobby; it's certainly worth my time watching it. But with all the hype, it's very Emperor's New Clothes. Just another example of something being hailed as brilliant just because it's not crap.

As for shows that don't get enough attention that do stand out... Last night also saw the season premiere of HBO's The Wire. Now, I've made no secret of the fact that I'm not a big fan of The Sopranos or Six Feet Under, that I think they're overrated soap operas that also win acclaim by simply not being stupid. I'm also not a big fan of the characterless, soulless network TV crime procedural as represented by the CSI and Law & Order families. The Wire, however, is a show I can sink my teeth into. I don't care how arty the photography is, overblown melodrama is overblown melodrama, and that's what keeps me at arms' length from The Sopranos. The Wire keeps the drama at a human level, often telling more by not showing or telling things than by showing them. The crime investigations last a whole season, so it's not rushed or packed in like a network cop show. Why this one doesn't get more attention escapes me.