Drag Me to Hell (*)

Posted on May 31st, 2009 in Entertainment,Movie Reviews by mynagirl
Gimme my $3.50 matinee ticket price back!!

Gimme my $3.50 matinee ticket price back!!

What a terrible waste of an afternoon out of the house!  At least we ate sushi.

When the ad campaign for Drag Me to Hell came out a few weeks ago, I was cautiously optimistic.  Over the years, Engineerboy has educated me in the way of Sam and Ivan Raimi: Evil DeadEvil Dead II, and even Army of Darkness.  Hilarious, silly, fun, campy, sly horror.  Classics.  I’ll watch them any time they come on cable.  Who can resist … uh… deciduous molestation, anyway?  And Raimi’s a big-time director now, and the three Spidey films to his credit have given him the stick in Hollywood to go back to his old schtick.   

If only he had. 

Drag Me To Hell isn’t a fun, campy Raimi flick.  It isn’t even a straight-up good fright of a horror movie.  There elements of each are there, but you can’t just toss frozen beef and an uncut carrot into a pan and call it stew.  Nor can you splash some wine and lob a cupcake in the pot and hope it makes a whole meal.  A movie’s only campy if you commit to it and have some humor.  If you play it straight, even a little bit, the campy parts become lame.  At the same time, you lose your ability to do effective horror if you kowtow to the current market and, pardon the vulgarity, pussy out with a PG-13 rating, unless you’re really really creative.  

And this movie wasn’t.  Give me some exploding intestines, give me chopped up brains, if it’s straight up horror I’m okay with it.  (Although the best horror movies show some of the least, à la Jaws and Aliens).  But seriously?  This stuff?

Spoilers, blah blah blah…

A gypsy curse, really?  A fortune teller?  A girl who’s thin now but used to be fat as a kid?  Animal sacrifice?  The “I’m a Mac” guy?  (Actually he wasn’t bad with what they gave him to work with). 

I won’t even bother to detail the plot to great length, it’s so pedestrian.  Aspiring-career-girl-not-good-enough-for-rich-boyfriend’s-family, bank, gypsy, foreclosure,  tough moral decision, curse.  It’s exactly what you expect of throwaway PG-13 marketed-to-teens crappy-ass pseudo-horror dreck.  The soundtrack is obviously ominous to a fault, with omnipresent screeching Eastern European violins.  The girl hears weird sounds but oh it’s just a rusty gate.  On the path to her $2 million dollar rusticly completely furnished adorable house above the LA hills.  Oh but wait it’s the wind.  Oh wait it’s really the ghost of what must be the devil, because it’s a shadow with horns.   Oh, it breaks windows.  Yawn.

Then here comes the stuff that I couldn’t watch, the only way you can make PG-13 horror: the gross-out crap.  Ok, maggots,  fly in the sinuses, kinda creepy, we’ll allow it.  But the old lady’s body spewing embalming fluid all down the girl’s mouth?  (From which girl stands up shocked and marvelously

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (***)

Posted on May 25th, 2009 in Commentary,Movie Reviews by EngineerBoy
Honest(ly huge) Abe

Honest(ly huge) Abe

We had never seen the first movie in this series, Night at the Museum, but ended up watching it a couple of days before going to see the new installment, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian.  We found the first movie to be enjoyable and forgettable, but funny enough that we decided to go out and see the sequel this weekend.

Battle of the Smithsonian is, quite enjoyably, more of the same, but on a larger scale.  Many of the familiar characters from the first film are back again, and a host of new characters are added.  Also, this film takes place across the campus of the Smithsonian museum buildings, and makes sure to pull some of the personality of the museum itself into the mix.  Smithsonian isn’t trying to hide a history lesson inside a Ben Stiller action-comedy, far from it.  There are historical references, many of which will fly over the heads of the young target audience, like Sputnik.

For example, at one point in the film a couple of the characters step into the life-size print of the famous Life magazine photo of a returning sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square.  The characters wander around Times Square chased by Egyptian spearmen, and eventually step back into the Smithsonian.  Unfortunately, one of the characters has dropped his cell phone in the crowds, and a young serviceman picks it up and shouts after him that, hey, mister, you dropped your…whatever this thing is.  Later, over the end credits, we see that same young serviceman working at an electronics bench in the 40’s, and his mother calling him to dinner from the other room.  He tells her just a minute, he thinks he’s onto something, and she shouts back with the unbending will of mom’s everywhere and says, “You put down whatever that is and you get in here right this minute, Joey Motorola!”  There was a row of about a dozen 8-10 year old boys sitting in front of us, and they all spun around and stared at us when we cracked up at that line.

There are also Tuskegee airmen, simian astronauts, gangsters, Tsars, emporers, huns, painting subjects, and even NASA mission control techs (played by Clint Howard, who has recognizably played such techs in many other films) that will resonate much more deeply with older audience members, but which also provide an extra layer of humor apart from yet another predictable round of slapping the monkey.

The story of the current installment is that Kahmunrah, the evil older brother Ahkmenrah, has come to steal the magic plate from his younger brother.  The plate is what brings all the museum characters to life between sunset and sunrise each night.  Kahmunrah knows that the plate can be used to summon the army of the dead and allow him to take over both the day and night-time worlds.  It’s up to Larry Daley (Ben Stiller)

An Open Letter to the Producers of American Idol

Posted on May 21st, 2009 in American Idol,Commentary,Television by EngineerBoy

Dear American Idol Producers,

American Idol...Reborn?

American Idol...Reborn?

Sigh.  Another season has ended, albeit with a surprise ending (Kris Allen defeating Adam Lambert), but the finale wasn’t watched in my household.  Again.  We didn’t watch last year, either.  And although we watched most of the episodes this season, we still watched many fewer than last season.

Over the years there have been several consistent issues we have with the show which continue to drain our enthusiasm.  If you care to know them, here they are:

Issue #1: Obvious no-talents singing before the judges during tryouts
I can see you all huddled in your planning meetings, hoping to strike some more William Hung-like ratings gold by putting through idiots, freaks, sad losers, and people whose singing talent is measured in the negative range.  However, that schtick is old and played out and should be retired.  As the judges are so fond of saying, and what keeps me watching, is that this is a singing competition.  Having your screeners put through some croaking clown to sing before the judges is a ludicrous and transparent ploy, please stop it.

Issue #2: The endless, manufactured backstories
During tryouts, you pick supposedly interesting/appealing contestants and provide us with behind-the-scenes looks at their lives, toils, challenges, and troubles.  However, at this early stage these are anonymous singers, so the program would be much more interesting and lively, in our opinion, if you would simply stage the singing competition.  Now, when you get to Hollywood and start paring down the contestants to an identifiable bunch, we might like to learn a *little* something about them…but just a little.  The endless biographing and attempts to manufacture pathos and drama are irksome.

Issue #3: Kara DioGuardi
Who?  Why?  The best way to describe her is to paraphrase Shakespeare thusly:  “Kara is but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets her hour upon the stage and then is heard no more.  Her’s is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”  Kara did not have one moment that we saw this season that wasn’t useless, irritating, or both, or somewhere in between.  And don’t get us started on her “song”, which is addressed further down in this article.

Issue #4: Country week
Do you have to kowtow to that demographic?  Have you even stopped to consider how many viewers it drives away (like us) compared to how many it attracts for that one, single episode?  Country music is not what American Idol is about, period, so don’t try to put a pig behind the lipstick – it insults the fans of both kinds of music.

Issue #5: Golden Idol awards
Really?  Just shorten the damn show by 15 minutes.  Please?  Even 15 minutes of dead air would be preferable.

Issue #6: An even number of judges
This puts too much power in the hands of Lord Cowell.  Have three judges…or five

The Moon, the Sun, and Cosmic Coincidence

Posted on May 10th, 2009 in Commentary,Engineerboy by EngineerBoy
Astronomical Coincidence

Astronomical Coincidence

The Sun is 400 times larger than the Moon, but it is also 400 times further away.  What this means is that, when viewed from the Earth, the Moon is *exactly* the correct size to perfectly obscure the Sun when they are aligned during a total eclipse.  As you can see in the picture to the right, the Moon covers the sun perfectly, leaving only the corona visible around the edges.

I have a compulsion, for lack of a better term, to understand things.  How they work.  Why they happen.  What they mean.  It took a few years for Marie to get used to me going into EngineerBoy-mode when she did something I didn’t understand, and so would begin quizzing her about it.  For example, if she drove a different route to a familiar destination I would ask her why she chose that route.  In the beginning, she interepreted it as me questioning her route choice – in the sense of doubting that it was the most correct/efficient route.

But what I was doing was actually paying her the compliment of knowing that she wouldn’t just absent-mindedly pick some unexpected route, and that there must be a logical reason for it, and I wanted to know her reasoning.  In retrospect it’s easy to see why it was annoying, because I did a poor job of couching the questions in any sort of way other than, “Why did you turn left there?  Aren’t we going to Place X?  We usually go *that* way, why would you choose to go *this* way??”.  That sounds like skepticism and doubt, and what it really is is the quest for information and knowledge, and the answer of “I just felt like taking a different route today” makes perfect sense, I just hungered to know “why?”.

Eventually she realized that I do that about anything and everything that I don’t understand.  If we pass by an interesting door and I can’t figure out how the hinges work, I’ll stop and assess it (within reason, given other pressing matters).  It’s not that I think the door is “wrong”, it’s that I don’t understand it, but it obviously works, and I want to *get* it.  I know that me understanding how a particular door works doesn’t really do anything other than satisfy my curiosity, and as long as it works that should be good enough for a random door.

And it’s not every door that I have to figure out, just those that seem to me to not fit what i already know about doors.  I’m the same way with people – when they behave in ways that I don’t understand, I have to try and figure them out.  For the most part it’s not about agreeing or disagreeing with the way a person behaves, it’s about being able to understand a person’s motivations to act in a way that doesn’t make sense to me, when it obviously makes sense to

Star Trek (***½)

Posted on May 8th, 2009 in Commentary,Engineerboy,Movie Reviews by EngineerBoy

Boldly Going Again

We saw the new Star Trek movie today (opening night), and it was fantastic.  To give some context, I’m an old geezer and religiously watched the original Star Trek series during its initial run, and many more times in syndication.  I’ve seen the Star Trek movies that included the original cast.  I never really got into any of the subsequent Trek series, films, fanfic, spin-offs, books, conventions, etc, so I’m not a slavish Trek nerd, but I’m an old guard, indigenous Trek fan.

And coming from that perspective, my take is that J.J. Abrams did a great job of refreshing and updating the original Star Trek series with this prequel, and he was both faithful to the original and also daring enough to make changes in what felt to be a near-perfect proportion.  The new cast, playing younger versions of the original characters, do a pitch-perfect job of capturing the essence of their characters without seeming like they are doing imitations. 

The Original Star Trek (TOST) has been around for so long that I was skeptical that it could be refreshed in any meaningful way.  However, this new episode should jump-start a whole new incarnation of the franchise.  I can tell you that I’m excitedly awaiting the next film in this series, after having seen this version once a few hours ago. 

WARNING: Spoiler ahead, don’t read any further if you don’t want to know anything about the plot.
The film starts with a sequence that includes the birth of James T. Kirk, and I have to say that it was so well done that I got a bit misty-eyed.  As the film progresses we see early scenes of many of the main characters, prior to their meeting each other.  Eventually, fate plays a hand and puts *most* of them aboard the Enterprise, albeit not in their familiar roles/ranks, at least not initially.  However, by the end of the film, all of the key characters from TOST are present and accounted for (and in their correct roles).

In between there is a reasonably engaging story that involves time travel, the destruction of one character’s home planet, a meetup between a character’s new incarnation and their older self played by the original actor, dealing with a vengeful enemy, and unexpected love blooming.  The action and effects sequences are superbly well-done, and don’t jolt you out of your enjoyment like so many other of Hollywood’s expensive-yet-clumsy digital effects behemoths.  This film is more along the lines of Iron Man, where the effects serve only to enhance the story, never to *be* the story or distract you from the storytelling.

All of the new cast members inhabit their characters fully, and capture the essence of the original characters beautifully.  I didn’t quite buy Chris Pine as Kirk for the first few scenes, but by the end, in my mind, he *was* Kirk – and it’s hard to consider anyone but Shatner as Kirk.  But Pine