Monday, May 29, 2006

eyeCandy: X-Men 3: the Last Stand (2006) 4/5

X-Men 3: the Last Stand is the latest in the X-Men franchise and, for the most part, it is a decent film that should satisfy most viewers. I've put it at 4/5 b/c I believe the first two movies are awfully close to 5/5 for this genre, though I thought long and hard about giving this one a 3/5 b/c of issues I had with the directing.

In this film, we have a storyline taken from the X-Men comics which is massaged to construct the plot of the Last Stand. Jean Grey's character returns from her apparent demise in the previous film but with some disturbing differences. The power she evidenced at the close of X-Men 2 has, in the absence of Professor X's psychic assistance, blossomed to the point where her own control of this incredible power, indeed even whether or not this can even be thought of as Jean Grey (as opposed to the Phoenix, from the comic storyline), is doubtful. This discovery arises in the context of the government having developed a weaponized "anti-mutant" serum that would permanently remove mutants' powers and revert them back to homo-sapiens.

The characters of Beast (another blue furry guy, to replace Nightcrawler I guess :-) , and played by Kelsey Grammar), Kitty Pryde (formerly the little girl who walked through walls, and played by Halifax's own Ellen Page), and Angel (who is barely in the film, played by Ben Foster) are introduced for the "good guys". They join Professor X (again, perfectly acted by Patrick Stewart) and returning X-Men Colossus (Daniel Cudmore - who we saw briefly turning to metal in the previous film), Storm, Iceman, and, everybody's fav, Wolverine (fanboy note: this movie introduces the "fastball special" combo move by which Colossus takes Wolverine and launches him at the enemy).

Magneto (Ian McKellen - superb as always) has also done some recruiting, giving flamer Pyro (Aaron Stanford) a bigger role, and introducing the inspired choice of Vinnie Jones as Juggernaut (whose powers actually come from a mystical gem and so who is not a mutant at all despite being a member of Magneto's Brotherhood of Mutants - more fanboy trivia). A variety of other members have roles of varying significance.

So what's the problem with this movie? The story is decent (decent enough to make a movie on par with the earlier two) but the realization of the story is where this movie falls flat. Some of the dialog seems a little dumbed down and awkward, and frankly (although not surprisingly) Bret Ratner, whose most known movies are probably the Rush Hour series, just can't direct as well as Bryan Singer who, along with crafting two of the best superhero movies ever with the first two X-Men (and hopefully a third in the works with the new Superman), can claim the Usual Suspects and other successful and challenging films on his resume.

Indeed, Bryan Singer was supposed to direct X-Men 3 but instead jumped at the opportunity to take over a flailing production of the new Superman Returns from... who? Brett Ratner. With typical studio wisdom, 20th Century Fox declined Singer's offer to simply start on X-Men 3 after his work on Superman Returns was over (an opportunity he understandably did not want to miss), and instead gave the job to Ratner who, coincidently, was also one of the potential directors for the original X-Men in 2000 (we see from X-Men 3 that it is a blessing that Singer was chosen instead). A strange turn of events and ultimately the decision that I think made this movie not stand up to the previous two.

In short, if you think you'd like this movie then I think you will. If you're a bit worried that it won't stack up to earlier X-Men b/c of the loss of Singer's direction then you're right. However, it's still a decent movie, and where else can you so many live action superheros and villains in one place? :-)
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5/29/2006 10:03:00 a.m.  

Friday, May 26, 2006

newsFlash: Best and Worst Tech Products

I don't usually like to just point people to other articles in my blog posts, but PC World has recently followed up its list of "50 Greatest Gadgets of the Past 50 Years" with a "25 Worst Tech Products of All Time" list, both of which are fun reads.

Topping out the list of best products are the Sony Walkman TPS-L2 (1979) and the Apple iPod (2001) - interesting that the two best tech products are both music-oriented. A look further down the list brings back fond memories of #7 - Atari Video Computer System (1977), #27 - Commodore 64 (1982), and some other hits from my childhood.

For worst products, we start out with America Online (1989-2006) and RealNetworks RealPlayer (1999) in the top two positions (no argument there). A couple of entries from Microsoft, Microsoft Windows Millennium (2000) and Microsoft Internet Explorer 6 (2001) appear at #4 and #8 respectively. And just to show you that I am not just a rabid Apple fanboy, I have to point out that Apple does have a couple of entries here too: Apple's 16-pound Macintosh "Portable" (1989) at #17 and- did you know that before Xbox, PlayStation, or DreamCast, Apple had an internet-capable game console that connected to your TV? It did and it was crappy - #22, the Apple Pippin @World (1996).

What do you think the best and worst tech products are? Write a comment to let me and other readers know your picks (especially if they aren't already on PC World's list)!
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5/26/2006 11:19:00 p.m.  

Monday, May 22, 2006

eyeCandy: the Da Vinci Code (2006) 4/5

The Da Vinci Code, the movie, is based on the best-selling novel by Dan Brown. The story begins with the murder of the curator of the Louvre museum in Paris, a man who was supposed to meet with the film's main protagonist, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon (well-played by Tom Hanks), that evening. What results is an intriguing chase through riddles and historical legend to unravel an ongoing battle between the secret Priory of Sion society, whose duty it has been to protect the secret of Holy Grail over the years, and the Opus Dei, "a clandestine, Vatican-sanctioned Catholic organization" (or at least they are in the book - many of the more direct organizational connections have been "softened" in the film in an attempt to avoid provoking the church and its followers - with varying degrees of success), who wish to destroy the secret the Priory has been guarding.

The movie is directed by Ron Howard who, although a little out of his usual element in this thriller, does a capable job of the storytelling (the pacing could be a little tighter) but a laudable job of the film's gorgeous visuals (which include historical recreations of some of the myths examined, as well as some beautiful on-site location shots - I desperately wanted to travel to Europe again after seeing this). Rounding out the main characters in the story are the beautiful French actress Audrey Tautou as Sophie Neveu, a cryptologist who has a very personal involvement in the case, and the fantastic Ian McKellen, always an absolute pleasure to watch, as the crippled Holy Grail expert, Sir Leigh Teabing. Jean Reno, Paul Bettany, and a few other familiar faces round out the cast.

This film has been largely panned by critics, and I'm just not sure why. Let me say that I have not read the book (though my wife has, and she said the movie played quite close to the book in most instances), so I am not victim to the inevitable "but it's not as good as the book" syndrome. I expect that at least some of this has to be the result of misguided religious sentiment, as the movie (although to a lesser degree than the book, it would seem) certainly presents some ideas that would make any "true believers" more than a little uncomfortable. To this end it must be said that the author, director, and others have taken great pains to explain that this is a work of fiction that, although based on some vague historical evidence, does not profess to be taken as gospel, or so to speak >:-) . Others might want to take a bit of the shine off of golden boys Howard and Hanks, both of who I think perform at least satisfactorily here. I don't know, maybe it's just that I LIKE all the riddles and puzzles, I LIKE the historical interconnectedness - sure, there are some weak points in the movie, but I would expect that anyone who enjoys thrillers and some thought-provoking elements to their films would certainly enjoy the Da Vinci Code.

If someone questioning the mythology of Christian religion bothers you then do us all a favour - go see another movie and leave us to enjoy this one - I, for one, like movies that question established beliefs, and I believe it's this very questioning that should strengthen any belief that is worth believing in.

PS: I don't want to focus on this too much, as I have no problem with anyone believing what they wish (as long as they don't expect me to necessarily share their beliefs), but check out some of the comments for the book Beyond the Da Vinci Code, which examines in further depth some of the topics explored in Dan Brown's novel, for an example of why I find the reaction to these "explorations" frustrating. NOTE: I have NOT read this book either, I just thought it was a useful demonstration of people who take simple questioning as an attack on their values.
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5/22/2006 10:52:00 a.m.  

Monday, May 15, 2006

I'm back...

After an over-two-month hiatus, I am finally back (I hope you missed me! :-) ). I've been so insanely busy during that time that something just had to give. Unfortunately for you guys (and me, b/c I miss it), my blog was what got put on the back burner (seeing as how I still needed to put a roof over my head, and this thing doesn't exactly pay the bills). Please accept my sincere apologies and I promise to get back on track with postings each and every week, and hopefully even more often (the daily posts took a little too much out of me for me to commit to that right away). :-)

A brief rundown of what I've been up to:
  • journeying to Sri Lanka for a couple of weeks to shoot a Tsunami Reconstruction video (soon to be released online - I'll be sure to provide some more details here ASAP);
  • writing the music for, and directing the graphics production of, a new tech TV show;
  • finding out a lot of interesting Mac tips and tricks in all this work, while becoming more familiar with Final Cut Pro and some other apps (and also keeping up on the Apple rumour mill, of course);
  • traveling to Miami and Daytona Beach in Florida, and Vancouver, BC, and doing some shooting in each place;
  • developing some websites and other media projects;
  • and, of course, shooting commandN each week.
I'll be posting more info on each and every one of these things and more, but since I'm just easing back into blogging I think I'll keep you in suspense until my next post ;-) .

Thanks for hanging in there while my life got crazy-fied. I can't wait to get back into the blogging community, reading your great comments, and providing you with some useful reading material. Let the blogging begin...
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5/15/2006 04:01:00 p.m.