Saturday, June 24, 2006

Insomniac Movie Rundown

Last weekend the husband and I did a double feature: DaVinci Code, followed by Lake House. I'll keep it short, since I want to talk about other movies, too.

DaVinci Code: If it's still at the theater in your area, and you still haven't seen it but are thinking about it, allow me to save you some money by telling you to wait until it's available on DVD. Don't get me wrong, it's not horribly bad. It's don't gain anything by seeing it on a large screen versus a smaller screen. The acting is not superior, even though it IS Tom Hanks. And the car chase scene? Ugh. The camera work in that scene is simply terrible! Whoever directed that (and I'm guessing it was second unit, as most action scenes are) seemed to believe that shots of a tiny car driving backwards and crazy in the narrow streets of Paris is not enough to keep us on the edge of our seats. No, you need to shake up the camera to shake up the audience, or at least that's what these people think. Personally, I was glad I didn't have epilepsy like my best friend, because I surely would have had a seizure from the strobe-like effect of this scene.

Lake House: You know, I've defended this movie (clearly, critics hate it) and encouraged people to give it a chance. But the fact is, I was happy with it because I only wanted two things from it: to see a romance that might make me cry, and to ogle Keanu Reeves. If you want some sort of cultural experience from your films, then you need to skip this and head to the Anjelika. If you want to see nude/shirtless people, go see X-Men 3. If you're a girl, and you want to cry, or look at Keanu in all his hot-40-year-old-in-a-turtleneck glory, come right here. Truthfully, you should not expect more than that. There are some gaping plotholes, and while you might be able to overlook them for the hour and half while you watch, you won't be able to get over them once you get to the car and start thinking about it. I won't go into it, lest I spoil the movie for you. I will say, ladies, leave the men at home, because they will not enjoy it as much as you, and will feel as though they've paid $17 for idiocy. Go with some girlfriends so that you can weep freely.

Doogal: Available on DVD. It's premise, that a band of animals must travel the world in search of magic diamonds in order to imprison an evil ice wizard, is more or less a cartoon version of Lord of the Rings. In fact, there are numerous references to Lord of the Rings, as well as The Matrix, Bend it Like Beckham, and heaven knows what else. You know how Shrek and Shrek 2 do a few little bits to parody whatever new movies have come out recently? Doogal does the same thing, only it never ends, and the material doesn't have to be "recent" or even "from this decade." There's a Bone Thugs N Harmony joke in there that I found especially amusing, because I recall a time when that was all my brother listened to for a solid year. The memory of his stereo blasting all hours of the day and night still sends annoying signals to the rest of my body. This movie did scare my kids at first, but when they sat in my lap to watch it, there was no problem. We rented it, but most likely will not buy it. Note to the casting director: casting Jon Stewart of The Daily Show as the villain was genius. Casting Whoopi Goldberg as the cow was not. Y'all really need to pick a voice that fits the character, not the voice that everyone will recognize whether it serves the character or not. You're basically paying bookoos of money for someone to mess up your movie for you.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Insomniac Movie Review: Cars

Title: Cars
Starring: Luke Wilson, Paul Freakin' Newman!, Bonnie Hunt (her third Pixar movie), Richard Petty (as a car painted Petty Blue, no less), Cheech Marin, and Larry the Cable Guy (this is the first time I've ever heard his voice and not wanted to rip my own ears off)
MPAA Rating: G

Plot Summary: Your standard jerk-who-looks-down-on-everyone-finds-himself-a-fish-out-of-water-and-learns-the-true-meaning-of-friendship story, with a hint of finding-a-hidden-treasure-and-learning-its-value and a dash of helping-old-things-become-new-again. Oh, and a little pinch of romance, but not enough to make the kids groan.

Okay, so it's a kids movie, but one the parents can enjoy without getting bored (coughCuriousGeorgecough). A Pixar film, no less. Do you really need more of a reason to schlep the kiddies out to the box office? You do? Okay, I'll lay it out for you.
  1. The story is good. It's not The Incredibles, I'll grant you, but Pixar has always been in service of the story. Yes, it's predictable, but it's still good, it still entertains, and it still rings true. And really, it's only predictable to adults because we're old fogeys who've seen too many movies. To a child, it's all new.
  2. The jokes work for everyone. My husband has been going on and on about them. Non-stop. Since Tuesday. No kidding.
  3. Paul Newman! Seriously! You can't love movies and not see something with Paul Newman in it. It's against the law in 49 states and the District of Columbia.
  4. The animation is simply amazing. I'm not kidding. From the very beginning of the film, Pixar animators do things that trick the eyes. These people have gotten so good, I almost forgot I was looking at CG animation in some places. If for no other reason than to marvel at man's accomplishment in technology and artistry, you should see this movie. And I can tell you right now, watching the DVD on my 25" TV screen will not do justice the the sights in this movie. To be fully appreciated, this movie simply MUST be seen on a cinema screen. Or, possibly, on my sis-in-law's digital projector screen that takes up her whole living room wall.
  5. Larry the Cable Guy, for once in his life, makes things better and funnier with his presence. I know, I couldn't believe it either! But it's true! He really works in this movie. Granted it's not such a stretch for Larry to play a character who is, basically, a total goober. But he's not raunchy or disgusting here, which instantly makes him 20 times more likeable.
  6. Tractor tipping. Weirdest thing ever, but so funny.
  7. You know how when you get caught up in watching a NASCAR race, and you start getting bored and secretly hope for a car crash to break the monotony, but then you feel all bad about wishing that an innocent person would have a crash? You can totally wish for an accident in this movie and not feel guilty, because it's a cartoon.
  8. This movie will fill you with nostalgia. I sat there wishing I could go back to these old places, these small towns. I was ready to plan out a road trip to San Antonio by way of US90, just to see what kind of places I would spot along the way.
  9. Cars already have personality; you see a minivan, you assign an impression of the person who drives it, like "Soccer mom." This movie is just the natural progression of an accepted idea.
  10. The cartoon short "One Man Band" is hilarious. Make sure you get to the theater early!
  11. The ending credits cracked us all up. Watch them! Don't miss out!
  12. Did I mention Paul Newman?
Take your kids to see this movie. You'll get no peace in the house until you do, and you know it. Also, Pixar deserves the money. They put on a good show.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Big Brother at the Photo Lab

You'd have to be stupid to take pictures of your naked body, send the film to a 2-day or mail-away photo lab, and not expect someone other than yourself to see your glory (or shame, as the case may be).

But you'd be an absolute idiot to send that same film to a 1-hour photo lab.

The tech who takes your film? She's probably the one who will actually stick her hands into the black box and pull your film out of its nifty little plastic canister to dip it in developer fluid. She will probably be the one who sticks the film into the machine, where it uses those film negatives to produce pictures in just a few short minutes. She will look through every single photo, checking that each one has developed properly into whatever it's supposed to look like. Anything that is all grey, or excessively blurry, etc., will be thrown away. She will see these nude photos. She will see the face (if there is one) that goes with the body. So when you come back to pick up those pictures, she will instantly know the most intimate details of your anatomy.

Furthermore, she knows who you are, has your name and phone number written on that little envelope you handed her, and have the rest of your info if you pay with plastic. She can track you down and stalk you if she really wants to. And heaven help you if your tech is a big burly dude who doesn't understand "boundaries."

And finally, in case you think that tech will be the only one to see the pictures and probably won't make a big deal out of it, I can assure you that the opposite is true. That tech will either keep the original photos and not give them to you at all, or print extra copies unbeknownst to you. The pictures will be kept in a special little box that is filled with the nude photos from other customers who've been so foolish in the past. These pictures will occasionally be passed around the store for all to see. If you're lucky, most of the store clerks will be like me and not want to see that raunchy crap, and will not look in the box. Unfortunately, for every clerk like me, there are five clerks who are not like me, and will at least give a cursory glance if not a full inspection of all the nude pics. Furthermore, store management will most likely occasionally take the box and empty it of its contents, to either be shredded or kept in the manager's private collection.

Trust me on this. You really don't want to get stares every time you walk into your favorite photo lab.

Author's note: My experience in this matter is limited to my previous employment at a Wal-Mart in the 1990s, when I was told it was store policy to confiscate and keep on file all nude photos processed in the one-hour lab. This was not told to me directly by a member of management, nor was I told if this policy held for all stores or only our own. I do not know what current policy is in effect. So don't sue me. I don't have money anyway.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Insomniac Movie Review: X-Men 3: Last Stand

Title: X3: The Last Stand
MPAA Rating: PG-13

Plot Summary: A pharmaceutical company generates a "cure" for mutation. Some mutants embrace it, others protest it, and Magneto exploits the situation by forming an army, intent on destroying the source of the cure. Jean Grey, who "died" in the previous movie, is found alive, but unable to contain her power. The X-Men find themselves defending humans (not to mention the source of the very cure they despise) against Magneto's mutant militia. Ethical questions arise, but they are too numerous to detail.

Should your kids watch it? I do not recommend letting the little ones see this movie. Then you'd have to explain why that woman has her legs around that guy, and you don't want to go there with your six-year-old. I'd say 12 and up.

My opinion about this movie: Three words. IT. KICKS. ASS!

What, you want more yakking? Okay. This movie has the character relationships you like (although I think there could have been more exploration to this than was on the film). This movie has the fighting you action buffs want. This movie has some awesome special effects, and they don't even look fake (are you taking notes, George Lucas?) This movie has new, awesome mutations that freaked me right out. It has more famous mutants from Marvel Comics. Yeah, that's right, Juggernaut is there, along with ArchAngel, Colossus, Shadowcat (called Kitty here), and heaven knows who else. Forgive me, comic lovers, but it has been a good 12-15 years since I last read an X-Men comic, so I don't know the name of that dude who multiplies himself, and I can't remember it from watching the movie only once.

One more thing. When you see this movie, be sure to STAY to the END OF THE CREDITS. You will not be disappointed.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Game Review: DaVinci Code for PS2

Since Justin over at Part Time Gamer is so busy with his new house, and he's in the middle of a Tourist Trophy Tournament anyway, I thought I'd do my bit for gamer kind and give you my take on The DaVinci Code for PS2.

First of all, I should tell you that I've neither read the book nor seen the movie, so I don't have many preconceived ideals with which to compare the experience of playing the game. I will say that, in theory, the book is naturally better suited to become a game than a film, if you're the type who'd rather be involved in the mystery than watch someone else solve it.

Yes, in the tradition of Soul Reaver and Escape from Monkey Island, this is your basic puzzle game. Just the kind of thing I enjoy. There's a great deal of exposition, though, and it takes F-O-R-E-V-E-R. Fortunately, you can just press a button to skip conversations you feel are not important or have already heard. The Blockbuster box cover recommends reading the book to be more successful with the game. I say you can get by with just seeing the movie previews and reading a few film reviews online. You should know there's a lot of seek-and-find going on, collecting clues and bonus items. You cannot get past a level until you've found all the necessary clues. There's also some actual cryptography for you, but it's mostly just letter substitution. You can even press the circle button for hints. The most annoying part is the torch-lighting puzzle (underground grotto in the garden), in which you have to figure out the correct sequence for lighting all five fire pans without having them shut each other off. I was not able to solve this without consulting a walk-through. In fact, even the guy who wrote the walk-through couldn't solve it without spening 45 minutes running around lighting the fire pans. Fortunately, someone else solved it, and sent it in to him. I'll print it at the end of this post.

Apparently game designers feel a game is just not worth playing if you don't get to fight with somebody, and in accordance with that theory you will have to fight several cops, goons, and monks. I was afraid I'd be facing something reminscent of Street Fighter 2, and would be ill-equipped to get past the first stage. However, it turns out that combat is determined not by memorizing complicated combinations to obscure moves that would never happen in the real world. At the bottom of the screen you are given a series of buttons to push. You must push these in the order in which they appear in a timely manner. Simple hand-eye coordination. And if even the timely manner part is too much for you, you can easily pause the game (mid-fight, even), go to the options menu, and switch the combat setting to Easy.

Okay, problems. Since there's so much exposition, so many clues and historical information, you are provided with a sort of notebook (R2 button) that keeps track of all the info you've been given so far. The problem comes when this notebook begins to give you info that you've not yet come across: clues you haven't found yet, poems you aren't supposed to have read, whatever. This "jumping the gun" thing seems to be present in some of the dialogue as well. But, if you've already read the book or seen the movie, I suppose none of that matters anyway. One other notebook complaint: some mysterious glitch resulted in my notebook not storing info about the second cryptex, but skipping right to the third. And another thing: where were all these crypteces coming from, anyway? There weren't scenes explaining anything but the first one. Were they all inside each other, like some bizarre form of nesting dolls? A little explanation would have been nice.

The mystery wasn't such a big mystery after all. Even though, as I said, I'd never read the book or seen the film, I still figured out the twist before the ending actually got there. I tell you, it's all M. Night Shyamalan's fault, making you expect a twist at the end of everything. Now all the surprises are spoiled.

Overall impression: nice game and all, but not one that I could play over and over again. Honestly, if the point of a game is to solve a mystery, what's the point of solving it again? It took me two days to solve it, but I had lots of free time, being sick in bed. Someone working full time, I'd say you could reasonably expect to finish the whole thing by the time the game is due back at Blockbuster.

The Hint:
Imagine that as you walk into the grotto, with the door behind you, the fire pans/star points in front of you are clock points:
Find the torch, light it with fire from one of the smaller statues, and then light the fire pans in the following order:
This will ensure all five points are lit at the same time, providing you with your next clue and your exit.