Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A STAR WARS Retrospective

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...

These are the movies that brought a sense of wonder to a generation (although not mine). They inspired a generation to create, no matter what stood in their way, and dream BIG. The STAR WARS Saga is a testament to what makes going to the movies such an experience, Gungans and all.

Recently, a couple of other geeks and I (yes, I'm a geek, I've accepted it and am proud of it) banded together to do the rarely-attempted movie viewing trial of a lifetime. That's right, we watched all six of the movies, back to back, in chronological order. The way George Lucas envisioned them, and the way few really experience them.

And I've learned some things from it. First of all, if you're a new viewer, HEED THIS WARNING. You will enjoy the STAR WARS Saga immensely more if you begin with Episode IV-- A New Hope. There are great, classic moments which will only be ruined if watched in chronological order, or their significance will be lost, at least. And the original does the best job of introducing the viewer to the overarching story, in medias res.

So here's a little play-by-play of my thoughts while watching the Saga of a lifetime.

Episode I-- The Phantom Menace: Another reason to start with the 1977 movie. While it is fun, and the effects still hold up, the film is a lot more childish than the rest of the Saga. I enjoy little moments when Jar Jar is talking and the Jedi are looking at him, annoyed, as if silently pleading he shut up. It's also interesting to look at some of Anakin's lines and see how loaded they are as foreshadowing. I love Liam Neeson in a totally non-romantic way, so his appearance here is much appreciated. John Williams's score is epic in scope, especially the climactic piece, Duel of the Fates. And there's quite a bit of eye candy like only STAR WARS can deliver.

My rating: 7.5/10

Episode II-- Attack of the Clones: The Saga's weakest link. The acting is at its low point, partially because of George Lucas's diminishing ability to write dialogue, partially because of the poor casting choice of Hayden Christiansen as Anakin. He just has this... whiny quality to his voice that gets to be a bit grating over two hours. The special effects hold up the least in this Episode as well, with too much reliance upon computers that weren't completely up to the challenge. They came pretty darn close, though. Liam Neeson is gone, but Christopher Lee is present, so I can live with that. And there's a fanboyish delight in finally getting to see how the oft-referenced Clone Wars began. That sequence doesn't disappoint at all. Don't forget Yoda, either. You don't want to mess with that little green guy.

My rating: 7/10

Episode III-- Revenge of the Sith: Here we go, this is why the prequels were made. This is a dazzling tragedy of simply huge proportions, an action flick that doesn't let up, and a nice way to complete the circle began almost 30 years prior. Jar Jar is almost nonexistant (hallelujah). So is Christopher Lee's Count Dooku (aww). Ian McDiarmid as Chancellor Palpatine truly steals the spotlight in every scene he's in, being so deliciously creepy that you can't help but watch. Ewan MacGregor's Obi-Wan is so close to Alec Guinness's it's frightening, from both appearance to mannerisms and inflection. And the final duel between Obi-Wan and Anakin is stunning, complete with Battle of the Heroes, John Williams's finest hour. A random thing I noticed: In the opening shot, one of the pieces of shrapnel from where a ship has been blasted is actually a tiny kitchen sink. I guess the animators decided they'd already thrown everything else in, so what the hey.

My rating: 9/10

Episode IV-- A New Hope: This is one of my favorite movies, period. There's a timelessness to it that has captivated me since I saw it for the first time at age 4, and it the best way to enter the STAR WARS Saga. I don't know where to begin, but let's just say it draws you in, right from the very first shot and that imposing Star Destroyer. This film holds up remarkably well, and it's use of the Joseph Campbell archetypal "Hero with a Thousand Faces" makes it easily accessible. James Earl Jones has the perfect menacing voice for Darth Vader. Harrison Ford as Han Solo is always fun to watch. Simply put, a classic that defies time.

My rating: 10/10

Episode V-- The Empire Strikes Back: Another movie event from the mind of George Lucas, a cinematic achievement that enchants the mind and arrests the eyes. The characters are put through some really dark stuff here (not like Revenge of the Sith, but still dark), and it enthralls from start to finish. Standout moments include Frank Oz's masterful puppeteering of the eccentric Yoda, the carbonite freezing scene (did you know that Harrison Ford improvised his "I know" line?), and the game-changer of a lightsaber duel... which has one of the greatest reveals in movie history. All in all, a must-see.

My rating: 10/10

Episode VI-- Return of the Jedi: I can't give much away about the plot here, so I'll just say that everything comes to a head in this chapter. Yes there were some bizarre moments (here's looking at you, Ewoks-- and you want to click on that), but it still works marvelously well. Some randon thoughts now. I like this version of Jabba the best. The weird tentacle guy behind him will occasionally open his mouth as if he is silently screaming, which I find to be mildly hilarious. At the end of the DVD version, there's a shot of a celebration on Naboo. Atop one of the buildings, there are a bunch of Gungans, one of which is unmistakably shouting, "Weesa free!" So yes, Jar Jar lives, but only in an Easter Egg from the filmmakers. I love the musical cue with the low voices at the climax of the lightsaber duel between Vader and Luke. And seeing the whole thing end always makes me a little bit sad, since that's the last Episode there will more than likely ever be.

My rating: 9.5/10

So that's that, in a pretty overlong post. I don't know how many of you made it to the end, but congratulations if you did. This movie marathon of epic scope is not for the faint of heart, and I would only recommend it to the greatest of STAR WARS afficionados. You'll probably be delirious by the end, and you'll have uncovered a few new Easter Eggs. I will return again very soon with the second season of LOST, as well as a bunch of books in no particular order.

May the force be with you. Always.

The Writer

Thursday, March 25, 2010

LOST: Season 1

I'm not one to jump on the bandwagon. If something's big, chances are I'll get to it in the next few years. It's just not major for me. I planned on waiting until this monster of a show was completely finished with its sixth and final season (airing now) before watching the whole show, straight through. I planned on getting the story without ever having to wait. Well, LOST has such a good reputation, I just couldn't help myself when I found Season 1 for a great price. So I watched it. And yeah, the hype was right.

The plane crash is just the beginning. 48 survivors are stranded on a beautiful Pacific island after Oceanic Flight 815 crashed, and they must band together if they have any hope of returning home in one piece. Of course, this isn't just Cast Away on TV. There's no Wilson or any of that. The island itself is surrounded in mystery, and the survivors must investigate it if they have any hope of lasting until a hoped-for rescue arrives.

This show starts fast and weaves so many threads together. It's hard to describe, and the later seasons may be beyond description that doesn't veer into spoiler-tastic territory. Suffice it to say I really like the structure and just the writing overall. This show keeps its cards close to its chest, unveiling mystery after mystery until your head feels like it's going in circles. And the characters are three-dimensional and well fleshed-out. All in all, a success.

So here are my favorite episodes:

Pilot: This is what all pilots were meant to be. It's totally gripping, from the very first minute until the last, where the question is finally asked... "Where are we?"

Walkabout: The first episode centered around the enigmatic Locke, who believes the island to be miraculous. Truly a head-scratcher of a development.

Confidence Man: An episode centered around one of fans' favorite characters, Sawyer, begs the question of whether Sawyer should be feared...or pitied.

Numbers: 4, 8, 15,16, 23, 42. That's all I need to say. The numbers that have puzzled viewers for half a decade make their first appearance, through a character you don't expect.

Do No Harm: A Jack-centered episode where HUGE events happen. There is both a birth and a death, and things are being stretched pretty thin.

Exodus: The raft is ready, and things look like they could possibly wrap up here... until a plume of smoke is seen on the island, meaning the Others are coming. Season 1 ends with the island's harsh lesson that appearances can be deceiving.

In short, LOST: Season 1 is a tour-de-force of story, action, characters, and intrigue that is compulsively watchable and addictive as the heroin that a certain rockstar possesses. I recommend watching it yesterday, if you aren't already hooked.

My rating: 10/10

Coming Soon: A STAR WARS retrospective, From a Buick 8, and Empire in Black and Gold.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

A Gift of Ice

Well, I can't stay away from James Dashner's writing for too long, it seems, not when there are still books of his to be read. This time, it's the continuation of the Jimmy Fincher Saga. I enjoyed Dashner's debut novel and start to the series, A Door in the Woods, last year, a quick and easy read that still packed a lot of story in. So now I move onto the second volume: A Gift of Ice.

And what do you know? It's better.

After opening a door found in the forest near his house, Jimmy Fincher was given The Shield, the first of four Gifts needed to combat the fearsome Shadow Ka. With it, he's practically invincible... until the Bosu Zoku show up.

Jimmy, now in Japan, has the Sounding Rod thrust upon him, and it stops the effects of The Shield. Jimmy himself can and does activate it, but he doesn't know how. Now, he's powerless against the forces of evil, and he'll need all the help he can get.

That help will come in the form of the Alliance, a bizarre group dedicated to ensuring Jimmy receive all four Gifts and save the world. And they know where to find the second Gift... but beware, the Stompers are coming.

James Dashner shows real improvement in his writing from A Door in the Woods here. While the style is still not up to the heights of The 13th Reality or The Maze Runner, it's still definitely his, and it's definitely good. He has a way of keeping your eyes glued to the pages and your hands turning them, and his mix of wit, action, and heart is always compelling.

There are some great new developments this time around, with some huge, game-changing events occuring at the end. New characters are introduced, along with, once again, a wealth of story. I think A Gift of Ice could be twice as long and still work, though Dashner's minimal, fast-paced writing has its own unique draws. This book is about 50 pages longer than its predecessor, though, which was good. Dashner had noticeably more time to breathe, even at the book's breakneck speed.

His trademark creativity, which was what initially drew me into The 13th Reality, is present here, in spades. Jimmy's transformation from carefree fourteen-year-old to almost superhero status in less than 500 pages is well handled, and I can always get a clear visual picture of what is happening.

In other words, bring on The Tower of Air. At least, as soon as I can find it. I may have to order it off Amazon now...

My rating: 9/10

Coming Soon: A STAR WARS retrospective, LOST: Season 1, and Empire in Black and Gold.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Lord Sunday

This is a series I've been invested with since the beginning. The Keys to the Kingdom is perhaps the most ambitious project Garth Nix has attempted to date, and it's probably his most original and enjoyable, too. Mister Monday, published in 2003, gave readers a taste of what to expect, and a good intro. Grim Tuesday is probably my least favorite in the series, although it's still enjoyable. Drowned Wednesday, the longest, was solid and mixed up what looked like the formula for the books. FYI, there is no strict formula, really. There are some things that need to be done in all of them, but not done in any sort of formula.

Sir Thursday introduced a couple of the biggest conflicts in the series, and did so with a lot of good action and character development. Lady Friday was weirder than the others, but there were some really good ideas there, too. Superios Saturday, the shortest of the bunch, was great in setting up a lot of stuff, and its cliffhanger ending left me waiting with bated breath (for a year and a half) for Lord Sunday. Now it's here, the ending to a series I've been reading since 2003. So how was it? That's for me to know and you to find out.

On the seventh day, there was a choice...

Arthur Penhaligon has fought six of the seven Trustees in the House for their Keys, and he's in a tight spot. Saturday has successfully entered the Incomparable Gardens, domain of Lord Sunday, as she has been trying to do for millennia. The Piper's army is also making its way there, and the Nithling hordes are devouring everything in their path. Nothing is destroying the House.

Meanwhile, Leaf is taken from her home by the Reaper, a servant of Lord Sunday's, but is forced to serve another purpose entirely. Arthur, who has sacrificed his humanity to save the House and the Secondary Realms, has one final struggle ahead of him. One more Trustee. One more part of the Will to free. One more Key to obtain. But Lord Sunday's Key is paramount, the most powerful one of all, and it will take still another sacrifice before the Will of the Architect can be done.

And here's a biggie: What does the Architect even want, anyway?

I come to the last page of Lord Sunday with thoughts of how much I've changed since starting this series. Relatives have died and moved. I've written a couple of unpublished books. I've learned how to play a musical instrument and how to speak a different language (albeit with what is probably terrible grammar). I'm a different person than I was when I started The Keys to the Kingdom. So, with that said, I would not have liked the ending if I was the same person as I was when I started this series. I would have been furious.

But I've changed, and so has Arthur Penhaligon. And these changes have made the path that Arthur is on go an entirely different place than he imagined. Except, deep down, he had an idea that it would come to this. And looking at the ending with these different eyes, and seeing the risky move that Garth Nix took (no, it's probably not what you're thinking, calm down) I actually really like it. Arthur is a hero in that he will take the hard path if it's the right one, no matter what kind of trial he will face. He's a good person, and the ending of this series reflects it. So I can see that this was the right course of action for Garth Nix to take.

Don't worry, Lord Sunday still has all the action, humor, and eccentricities that make this series so enjoyable, and it has them in spades. So don't go into this expecting something horribly somber. The ending will be divisive in the greatest sense, but when you think about it, it's really the right way to end it. Bravo, Garth Nix, and job well done.

My rating: 10/10

Coming Soon: A Gift of Ice and Empire in Black and Gold. Maybe in that order.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


James Patterson's uber-bestselling series Maximum Ride is back for a sixth installment. I have to admit I've had a waning relationship with this series. The first three, now branded as The Fugitives, had a tightly wound narrative and a serialized feel. It was one long book divided into three, with action, suspense, and grit, with just a hint of romance. A well-balanced, addictive brew.

Then James Patterson decided to continue the story by continuing on with the loose ends from the trilogy, and we got The Final Warning, the most divisive book in the series. While it was nice to see the characters again, the sense of immediacy was absent, the tone was a lot lighter, and there was a real green streak running through it all. In fact, the climax involved Global Warming... which then proceeded to overshadow the characters. And it was only 250 pages long. So I was disappointed, naturally.

I still read Book Five, MAX, when it came out. While it was a serious step up from number four, it felt like a different series. The plot was episodic. There was only one significant bit of character development that carried over into the next book, and it was pretty much inevitable. So it's a love-hate relationship.

That said, I approached FANG, released just yesterday, with some degree of skepticism, expecting a book not unlike MAX, with a self-contained adventure with a few environmental themes. So I was surprised to find something more akin to the original three. In fact, it's darker than any book since probably The Angel Experiment, and there haven't been as many long-range devolpments to both the plot and the characters since Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports. Is that enough titles I've tossed around?

Max and Fang are a couple. If you didn't know that, you're a year late to the party. They seem to be about perfect for each other... so leave it to Angel, the creepiest girl since River Tam, to mess things up. And things get really messed up. You see, she says that Fang will be the first to die.

And soon.

Throw in perhaps the most evil villain this series has seen since the beginning, a better connection to the series as a whole, and Dylan, another bird kid created to be Max's perfect match (creepy), cnd you've got more than enought material to fill this slim volume. I wouldn't have minded a bigger page count, but at least it's bigger than Book Four. Actually, it's almost the exact same length as MAX.

This book and the last one form a nice complete set, with MAX building everything up and FANG proceeding to tear it all down, piece by piece. There's some serious character development here, and only a few scenes I found to be repetitive. The direction Patterson takes the story is shocking in the way it hasn't been in years, and it never gets that over-the-top environmental exposition that had come to mar the past couple of volumes.

The book ends on the biggest cliffhanger perhaps to date, with one of the characters doing something that will have repercussions for a long time coming. The mysteries are deepening, and it seems clear that Patterson is falling back in love with Maximum Ride, which he's said before is his favorite series. It's a fantastic return to form, and all he can do from here is make it longer.

Welcome back, James Patterson. We've missed you.

My rating: 9.5/10

Coming Soon: The Keys to the Kingdom: Lord Sunday.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Peter and the Sword of Mercy

And now, for your reading pleasure, the fourth and final volume in the Starcatchers Trilogy: Peter and the Sword of Mercy, by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson!

It's 1902, twenty-some-odd years after the tumultuous events of Peter and the Secret of Rundoon. Peter, along with the Lost Boys and everyone else on Mollusk Island/Never Land, hasn't aged a day, but outside, time has passed. Molly Aster has married George Darling, and they have three children-- John, Michael, and Wendy. The latter is the most troublesome, just like her mother.

One night a strange visitor from Molly's past visits her with grave news. It's James, one of Peter's original Lost Boys, and he is working with Scotland Yard. He is suspicious that Prince Albert Edward, under the influence of Baron Von Schatten, is being twisted. And who does he think Von Schatten is? Well, it's a blast from the past, and I'll give you a hint: his name starts with Lord and ends with Ombra.

But why is Ombra in London (again)? The Cache-- a secret store of starstuff that fell to Earth centuries ago and is hidden underground. Of course, it's near impossible to find, and can only be opened with a key that is impossible to use. What is this key? The Sword of Mercy, a legendary broken sword kept with the Crown Jewels.

Molly (and Wendy, who listened in on her talk with James) know they'll need help. Someone who knows all about starstuff from personal experience. Someone with a youthful vigor who can fight Ombra. I'll give you three guesses as to who, and the first two don't count.

(Yeah, it's Peter.)

This volume has a different feel from the first three, a mix between The Da Vinci Code and the most recent Indiana Jones movie. There's a nice treasure hunt vibe, mixed with a new generation of resourcefulness a la Wendy. The writing is solid, as always, and I like how this is really a direct "prequel" to Peter Pan. It was also good to give some more permanent closure to loose threads that the original three Starcatchers books created that weren't present in the classic.

But there is one distinct problem that this book's existence, however fun, brings about. The entire plot, to a small degree, feels pointless, because all the pieces need to be in the same place at the ending as they were at the beginning. It nagged at my mind throughout the reading, and detracted from the novel's sense of urgency, which was already not very high just because of its nature as a prequel.

Still, it's nice to see these characters one last time, and I'd still say that the Pseudo-Prequels are worth a read. And that's my two cents on this series, flying pretty furiously through all the reviews in the space of a week. And more reviews will be up soon.

My rating: 8.5/10

Coming Soon: FANG.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Peter and the Secret of Rundoon

And now, Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson present the final novel in the Starcatchers trilogy and the penultimate novel in the Peter Pan Pseudo-Prequel franchise: Peter and the Secret of Rundoon. A more compact and concise volume than Peter and the Shadow Thieves, it has a lot to do-- namely, getting everything into place for Peter Pan, sort of. Except the novel's events take place about 20 years before the actual classic begins. So not really into place, but getting into a lull that could last a couple decades.

But I digress.

Remember how, in Peter and the Starcatchers, Peter and Molly were on a ship headed for Rundoon? Well, they've finally ended up there, and guess what? It's not a very nice place. King Zarboff rules the land with an iron fist (and the help of his pet snake, Kundalini, who eats anyone he doesn't like).

But that's not all. Remember Lord Ombra, from Peter and the Shadow Thieves? Of course you do. He's evil, remember? He's none too pleased that things didn't go according to plan in Book 2, and now the scale of his schemes have increased. Here's a hint: first Peter, then the world!

To top it off, on Mollusk Island, aka Never Land, there's a tribal war going on, and the vicious Scorpions look like they'll conquer Peter's allies. Shining Pearl, the chief's daughter, thinks she has an idea of how to stop them, but it'll be risky...

I've noticed a parallel between the Disney-published Pseudo-Prequels and their Pirates of the Caribbean movie franchise. There was a stand-alone based off an already established Disney franchise (featuring pirates, no less), and the stand-alone did so well that other installments were planned, designed to be more interconnected and come out a year apart. The second installment, released in 2006, had about as much story as the first one, if not a little less, but was longer and felt more bloated. The third, released in 2007, was even more packed, convoluted, and outlandish than the previous two, but significantly better than the second one.

See what I mean?

And this volume will be more divisive than the others, simply because it's weirder. But it's still a lot of fun, and makes a great ride to the finish that can't be put down. It's a nice change of scenery from the previous one, expanding the number of locales even farther. The adventure runs as high as Peter can fly, and there's a particularly memorable sequence that involves both, as depicted on the cover.

Did I mention that I really like the illustrations? Both the cover and the illustrations are done by the talented Greg Call, which lend a nice atmosphere to the book. The covers all feature increasingly chaotic moments, with Peter and the Secret of Rundoon being the most so. They're a lot of fun to take in, and genuinely make you think, when you pick up the book: How the heck does this happen?

So, in summary: Good writing, weird plot, fun and memorable moments, and some great illustrations. Whatever your stance is on Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson deviating from James Barrie's notes, you should give this series a try.

My rating: 9/10

And you know how else it's like the Pirates of the Caribbean movies? A couple of years after the "end" of the "trilogy" was released, the decision was made for there to be one last installment. And that's how we get to Peter and the Sword of Mercy...

Coming Soon: Peter and the Sword of Mercy.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Peter and the Shadow Thieves

And we're back with the second and longest of Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson's Peter Pan Pseudo-Prequels. Why pseudo-prequels? Because they mess around with a number of backstory details, offering a different explanation for several things than James Barrie did in his notes. I have been informed of this after posting my review for Peter and the Starcatchers, so there's my disclaimer for the series. It's more faithful than the Dune prequels, though.

With that said, here's Peter and the Shadow Thieves. Keep a weather eye on the horizon, mateys, thar be some spoilers ahead.

The world of Peter Pan becomes more complex as Peter embarks upon his second adventure. While Mollusk Island, also known as Neverland, is far from safe, it's better than London-- which, of course, is where Peter must go. Molly Aster needs his help, because there are some new terrors afoot. First is the ruthless pirate captain Nerezza, who has a mean streak that more than makes up for his lack of a nose. Second is Lord Ombra. The Master of Shadows, he is after all the remaining starstuff he can get his hands on, and boy, is he evil...

And that's all I'm going to tell you, plotwise. Suffice it to say Peter and Molly get into a lot of new scrapes, but the sense of danger is not the highest because of the knowledge that they survive. The little tweaks suggest an alternate plotline that could lead to the major characters actually dying, but we all know that won't happen. So Peter and the Shadow Thieves must derive its suspense from the uncharted territory. Namely, Ombra and Nerazza. And they're quite the motley crew of villains, making Captain Hook look like a fool by comparison.

It's nice to see some other ties into the more traditional Peter Pan universe. These include some simple Darling characters, as well as the development of Peter's relationship with the Mollusk tribe. While the book is a bit bloated at times, it is the longest in the series, so we can say thay Barry and Pearson learn from their mistakes. It's still a fun read, one that goes by pretty quickly. Next stop, Rundoon.

My rating: 8/10

Coming Soon: Peter and the Secret of Rundoon.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Peter and the Starcatchers

Here's a book that made quite a splash when it came out. It's the first of a trilogy (more recently extended to four books) that provides a prequel story to James Barrie's timeless classic Peter Pan. And it's written by thriller writer Ridley Pearson and comedian Dave Barry. This is supposed to be good? I wonder.

And then I read the book.

How did Peter Pan get to Neverland? How did Captain Hook get there, and what all made him first start to hate Peter? How did Peter come to know the natives? And why did Peter seek out Wendy on that fateful night? Some of these questions will be answered here! The rest... well, that's what sequels are for.

Peter is an orphan on a ship, the Never Land en route to the land of Rundoon when he spies two things. First, there is a chest filled with something strange and extremely valuable. Second, there is Molly Aster, a girl about his age... who is almost as mischievous as him.

The ship is overtaken by the ruthless pirate Black Stache, and Peter and Molly, along with several of Peter's orphan friends, are stranded on an uncharted island. They have nothing with them but the clothes on their backs...

...And the mysterious chest.

I had no idea of how such different writers as Barry and Pearson could come together for any project, or how their writing styles could be in any way meshed. Well, it actually worked, and the writing flowed quite nicely. The style has some humor, some suspense, and a very nice sense of wonder. It's immensely enjoyable getting to see all the pieces fall into place, and to see characters begin to transform into the characters of Barrie's novel. Peter Pan flies off the page once again, ready to be enjoyed by an entirely new generation. It's a lot of fun, and a great, great read.

My rating: 9.5/10

Coming Soon: Young Frankenstein and Peter and the Shadow Thieves.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Alice in Wonderland (2010 Tim Burton Version)

OK, let me say these things first, so you'll get the rest of the review. They're the "DO NOT"s. First, DO NOT go to see the new Alice in Wonderland expecting the Disney animated classic. Just watch the classic if that's what you really want. Second, DO NOT treat this like it's going to be another Tim Burton movie. It's PG, and it's adapted from a classic children's book, sort of. So it's not going to be another Sweeney Todd. Third, DO NOT expect anything. If you do, you won't know what to make of the movie.

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, let's talk about the first "must-see" movie of 2010.

It's been thirteen years since Alice's (Mia Wasikowska) fateful fall down the rabbit hole and into a world that seems as if it could only be thought up while under the influence of drugs. In that time, she's convinced herself she's dreamed it all up. And who can blame her, really? It's a lot easier to believe it was just a figment of a mind that's gone 'round the bend. Now she's in a rather uncomfortable situation, as she's being proposed to by a downright undesirable fellow with some stomach unrest. She takes the initiative when she sees a white rabbit to follow it. Who can blame her, really?

Of course, she ends up in Wonderland.

Actually, it's called Underland, she just got it wrong the first time. No not that Underland. The Mad Hatter (the one and only Johnny Depp) has a prophecy that concerns Alice, and she's been brought back to fulfill it. What is this prophecy? Well, the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) doesn't like it at all, and neither does the Knave of Hearts (Crispin Glover). Why? you ask, because you're naturally getting curiouser and curiouser and haven't read all the reviews that have previously come out.
To slay the Jabberwocky (voiced breifly by Christopher Lee!).

I actually enjoyed this movie quite a bit, because I listened to my own "DO NOT"s. It makes no sense and perfect sense at the first time. There are a lot of nods to the books, even though this is a sequel to them. While I wouldn't suggest the youngest audiences watching this movie, it's suitable for a PG crowd. My favorite of Burton's little details in Wonder/Underland is the inclusion of rocking-horseflies. Which is pretty awesome.

The acting is all quite nice, with Depp's Scottish Hatter and Bonham Carter's Queen stealing the show in every scene they're in. Except when Alan Rickman is in there. Or perhaps the Cheshire Cat (Stephen Fry).

Also, the character of Alice has a nice arc in this movie. She starts from being more like the passiveAlice we know from the original, thinking it's all just a dream and such, but slowly becomes more active until she actually does some pretty heroic stuff. And it's all with the half-useless advice of Absalom the caterpillar (Alan Rickman).
There's a lot to enjoy, and if you listen to the "DO NOT"s you'll have a good time. Plus, you'll get to see perhaps the most outrageous Johnny Depp moment ever put on screen.

My rating: 8.5/10
Coming Soon: Young Frankenstein and Peter and the Starcatchers.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Mel Brooks, Part Three: Blazing Saddles

This is it. The moment we've all been waiting for. Just in time for the Oscars, a review of a true classic. Blazing Saddles is a torch to light the way for comedy.

The year is 1974, and Mel Brooks creates a movie about 1874. The place is the West. It's a movie that the studio wanted to censor, that TV stations wanted to make cuts to, and that a number of paraniod people wanted to call racist. It's a comedy legend, challenging all its viewers to push the limit and go for what's really the funniest. And it is funny.

The railroad has hit a patch of troublesome quicksand, and the line needs to be redirected. But where? Hedley Lamarr (with an L, thank you very much, and played by Harver Korman) has the notion to put it through the peaceful town of Rock Ridge. The rail supervisors (one of which is played by the larger-than-life Slim Pickens) ransack Rock Ridge, really raising a ruckus (say that five times fast) and driving away the town's sheriff.

Who to send in as a replacement? Lamarr has a notion about that too, tricking the governor (Mel Brooks) into making the new sheriff someone so offensive, he will be able to do nothing: a black rail worker named Bart (Cleavon Little). What will happen? I'll let you find out, but it involves a man named Jim (Gene Wilder). Most people, of course, call him... Jim.

This movie is simply a riot. Perhaps Mel Brooks's finest film is one of his first. It pokes fun at everything, and I've barely scratched the surface of what the film includes: an Oscar-nominated performance by Madeline Kahn, a cameo by Dom DeLuise, and an ending that is one of my favorite movie scenes...ever. I love this movie for everything that it does to parody as much as possible.

There's so much I could say about this film: what it means for freedom of expression, why it wouldn't be made today, what makes it so great. But that could make you almost forget that it's really funny. Even the American Film Institute puts it as #6 on their "Greatest Comedies of All Time" list, coming up behind only a few greats like Bringing Up Baby, Dr. Strangelove, and Some Like It Hot. Just sit back, relax, and enjoy the efforts of comedy's equivalent of a mad scientist.

My rating: 10/10

Coming Soon: Young Frankenstein.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Mel Brooks, Part Two: The Twelve Chairs

It's time for the second of my Mel Brooks reviews!
The year is 1927. The place is the recently formed Soviet Union (although it's much easier to just call it Russia). When a man (Ron Moody) discovers his dying mother placed all of the family jewels into one chair in a set of twelve, he sets off along with a con man (Frank Langella) to track down the fortune. Unfortunately, his mother's greedy priest (Dom DeLuise) hears of The Twelve Chairs, he goes a-hunting for them as well. And the great race begins.

This is a movie which is normally glossed over, as it is in between The Producers and Blazing Saddles. It's also not as outrageous (except in DeLuise's priest). But it's a different style from the "traditional" Mel Brooks. It's got more somewhat sober moments than most of his other work, and Brooks is only in the movie for a couple of short scenes. For many parts it barely feels like a Mel Brooks movie.

That's not to say it isn't enjoyable. It has history-based jokes (don't worry, it's all pretty well-known stuff), pure silly one-liners, and a fantastic parody of classic "chase movie" cinema, complete with sped-up characters and high-pitched voices. It's easy to see how this one gets lost in the crowd, but it's definitely worth a look.
My rating: 7.5/10
Coming Soon: Blazing Saddles... the legend rides on.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Way of Kings cover

I must say, I'm a huge fan of Michael Whelan's cover art, and I think this one is quite nice. An epic cover for an epic start to an epic series. Now I really want to read it. As if I didn't before.

Until next review (I've got two waiting),

The Writer