Thursday, May 30, 2013

A Review of "After Earth"

Last night, I watched Will Smith's new sci-fi extravaganza After Earth.  I wish I could say I enjoyed it, but if I said that, I'd be lying through my teeth; this is by no means the worst movie I've ever seen, and even calling it a bad movie might be unjust.  But it doesn't work, not as a whole, and not even in terms of its individual component.

The culprit?  Director and co-writer M. Night Shyamalan.

At one point in time, I was a massive Shyamalan fan.  And lest you think I broke with my fandom at the same time the rest of the world did, here's my bona fides: not only do I think The Village is his best movie, I think it's close to being a masterpiece.  I also love The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, and Signs, so that's four consecutive movies from the man that I'm very, very fond of.

Since then, it's been nothing but dreck: Lady in the Water has its moments, but is filled with terrible acting and weirdly self-aware subplots; The Happening also has good moments, but in other scenes is bad on an Ed Wood level of ineptitude; and The Last Airbender is a complete misfire on ever level.

Why make a poster where your stars look this grumpy?!?

The good news is that After Earth is an improvement on all of those films.  The bad news is that it still isn't very good, and most of the blame for that must be laid directly at the feet of Shyamalan.

Friday, May 17, 2013

A Review of "Star Trek Into Darkness," Part 1: No-spoilers-allowed edition

This is a difficult review to write, not because I have nothing to say, but because I have so much to say that I feel as if containing and structuring my thoughts is going to be difficult. As a result, I'm going to write at least two different reviews, and possibly more, each focusing on a different aspect of the movie.  This, the first, is going to be a simple thumbs-up-or-thumbs-down type review, completely free of spoilers; it is designed with people who have not seen the movie in mind.

The second will be chock full of spoilers; it will be a broader and all-encompassing contemplation of the question of whether the movie does or does not work; answering that question fully really can't be done without discussing certain aspects of the plot that the filmmakers obviously do not want viewers to know beforehand.  That review will be for people who have already seen the movie, or for people who don't mind knowing all of the plot points prior to actually seeing it.
I might or might not vomit up a third review that examines the movie's place in relation to the 48 or so years of Star Trek that have come before it.  If the first review is for those who haven't seen the movie and the second is for those who have, then that hypothetical third one will be for Trekkies.  But let's not get ahead of ourselves; those later reviews aren't even written yet, and technically, neither is this one; so let me stop the preamble and start the review!

To answer the most immediate question with no further delay: yes, the movie is good.  In fact, I think I'd go so far as to say it is great; I would say it with reservations, but I'd still say it.  This is a wildly entertaining sci-fi/adventure flick that deftly balances excellent character work with strong action setpieces.  This is grand, high-concept blockbuster-style filmmaking, and if you like that sort of thing, this movie delivers.  

Monday, May 13, 2013

A Review of "Virtuality"

This review originally appeared on Loaded Couch Potatoes in 2009.  For the record, I am still bitter that this series did not happen.

Fox, oh Fox, why do you taunt us so?
Seriously, guys … wasn’t it bad enough that you commissioned one of the best sci-fi shows in history, Firefly, only to pull the plug on it before the season had even ended?  Why did you then feel the need to, years later, when faced with another series that showed signs it could be as good or better (a series created by the main creative force behind the new Battlestar Galactica, a.k.a. big-time serious contender for the title of Best Sci-Fi Show Ever), cut it off at the knees by failing to even make a series at all?
I’ll give you guys a few points for sticking by Dollhouse, which, after all, is a Joss Whedon show; I know you figure the Whedonites will worship you for that.  Well, as much as I like that show, it looks to me like you guys bet on the wrong horse.  Again.
As you can probably tell, I kinda loved the pilot for Virtuality.  In fact, I kinda flipped out for it a little bit.  All that said, with due respect to Fox, I can understand why they might have taken a look at this and said, “Huh … well, now, there’s a Nielsen disaster waiting to happen.”  This is dense stuff, with a cast free of star power, an emphasis on talk in favor of action, and a concept that is not easily summarized so that it can be pitched at Bubba … or at the people who want to advertise to Bubba.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

A Review of "Star Trek: New Frontier" Books 1-3 [1997 tie-in novels]

This review originally appeared on Loaded Couch Potatoes in 2009. It has been substantially revised for its appearance here.

Today, I’ve got a look back at the first three books in Peter David’s Star Trek: New Frontier series, which began in 1997 and launched a new Trek series that, thus far, has appeared in only novels and comics.  In my opinion, that's a good thing, at least based on the three novels I've read.

The concept was apparently originated by John J. Ordover, who was at that point in time the overseer of Pocket Books' Star Trek line.  He took the concept to novelist Peter David, and the two of them fleshed the ideas out further.  The conceit was that the series of novels would focus on a completely new ship that would be captained by a new character and crewed by a mix of characters new and familiar ("familiar" in this instance meaning mostly that they appeared in one or two episodes of The Next Generation, or that they had previously been used by David in his Starfleet Academy books). It's a cool idea, and it's surprising it took until 1997 for something like that to happen at Pocket Books.
If you are curious about New Frontier and its crew and ship, then you should check out this Wikipedia page, because I’m not going to be providing much in the way of plot summary.  Instead, I’m going to just get my knives out and go to work.


Book One: House of Cards

House of Cards is sporadically engaging, but was apparently proofread and/or edited by meth addicts … and we’re not even talking meth addicts on Jesse Pinkman’s level; no, we’re talking more like Skinny Pete.  As such, this “pilot” novel gets the job of piquing the Trekkie’s interest done, but not by much.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

A Review of "The Starless World" [1978 tie-in novel]

So far, what I've posted at this blog has consisted almost entirely of reposting old reviews which I wrote for a different blog four years ago.  I've been in a Trek sort of mood lately, though, and decided to grab one of the old Bantam novels from the '70s off the shelf and give it a read.  And thus, a brand-spankin'-new review:


I'd never read Gordon Eklund's The Starless World, so I had no clue what to expect from it.  My take on this one once I'd finished it, was that it, like many tie-ins, was a mediocrity.  However, it's got some highly compelling elements, and while I cannot in good conscience say that it is a particular good novel in the grand scheme of literature, I can say that I enjoyed reading it.  There are elements that simply do not work, but there are also elements that gave me plenty to think about.  So, all in all, it wasn't a bad use of my time as a reader.