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Hey, Hey, It's the Monkees (1997 TV Movie)
I have grown to appreciate it more
2 September 2017
When the special first came out, I was disappointed. I thought it was dull and unfunny, as if the guys were so intent on proving themselves or making a point that they forgot the essence of The Monkees (essentially my reaction to Justus). But when I watch it now (it hasn't been released legally, but you can find it easily enough), I am very thankful that they made it. I'm thankful because it gave us one last glimpse of the four of them together, but I'm even more thankful for something else.

You see, the premise of the special is that the old TV show never ceased production -- it just went off the air. Episodes continued being made, but no one ever got a chance to see them. This is episode 781, and it just happened to be picked up for broadcast. According to this special, that's the case for MANY shows. And that, in terms of pure nostalgic fantasy, is awesome! Think about it: all your favorite TV shows -- The Monkees, Green Acres, Rocky and Bullwinkle, The A-Team, what have you -- they still exist! Your favorite characters are still together in some alternate universe, still experiencing new adventures. If you care enough to watch a reunion movie, how can you not love that?

The special itself has a few funny moments (particularly the references to KISS), but it isn't a laugh riot. The guys are much older now and can't bounce around like crazy. There are no romps. I still understand why I didn't like it 20 years ago, but I also understand why I didn't appreciate it. In the 1990s, the Monkees still had a future. They had reunited twice and produced 2 (and a half) new albums. There was certainly more to come. Now, Davy is gone and Mike is retired, and Micky and Peter are unlikely to do much more together. This special, the alternate universe it created, is the part that lives on. It's what we fans still have to dream about, to look forward to. 20 years ago, the guys gave us The Monkees of today and tomorrow. And for that, I am very truly thankful.

Now, if you'll excuse me, there's a new episode of The Monkees this week.
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Notorious (2016)
Girlie Soap Opera Masquerading as a Crime Drama
26 September 2016
This show wants to be a lot of things (behind-the-scenes drama, white- collar romance, mystery, legal procedural), and it might succeed at some of those if it weren't so dedicated to being a laughable soap -- and a girlie one at that. What do I mean by "girlie"? I mean that every woman on this show is self-empowered, while every guy on this show is either a wimp, a schemer, a liar, and/or is trying to figure out how to get the women to give him something. It's a feminist's dream, at the expense of any believability whatsoever. The only even remotely redeeming factor is that the mystery is actually pretty good. Unfortunately you have to wade through a lot of raw sewage to watch it. Not worth it for me.
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An Interesting Idea Stretched Thin
25 July 2016
Kirk, Spock and McCoy beam down to a planet to warn its inhabitants of an impending disaster, only to find themselves trapped in the planet's past.

"All Our Yesterdays" has echoes of "City on the Edge of Forever" but takes the concept in a completely different direction. Instead of traveling into the past and trying to figure out how not to alter it and never mind how they get back, here they have to figure out how to get back and never mind how much they alter it. The point is, it's a twist on one of the most popular episodes of the series, so the elements are there for a great episode.

Unfortunately, those elements never really come together. Kirk finds himself imprisoned in a Renaissance period and must find a way to escape; Spock and McCoy are trapped in an arctic wilderness and must find shelter. Neither story is particularly compelling, barely filling its time on screen. We also have a frame story set in a "library" where the time travel is managed. That part never feels like anything more than filler. It doesn't help that there's such a short time frame in which the story plays out. This is something that would have worked better over days, not hours.

The best part of the episode is Spock's narrative, as he finds himself losing control of his emotions and falling in love with a woman trapped in the past with him. But that part of the episode doesn't quite make sense. We're told that the effects of time travel will be deadly, but Spock is the only one who shows any adverse effects at all -- and McCoy's explanation of the effects he suffers are nothing like what are described by others. (Speaking of McCoy, his accusations against Zarabeth seem unfounded, as far as anyone actually knows.) And the crew has traveled into the past before; why is it so deadly this time? And why doesn't Spock's phaser work?

Ultimately what we are left with is a feeling of incompleteness. The away team members travel into the past, spend some time in an enclosed area talking to the locals, then return to their own time...and some scenes in a "library" fill out the time. For all that's at stake, nothing seems very urgent or grand. "All Our Yesterdays" is probably one of the better third-season episodes, but overall it's middle-of- the-road at best.
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So much better, yet not nearly as good
17 December 2015
It's the gang's second Christmas special, and everyone is in a rhythm this time around. The animation is much more polished, the direction is fluid, and the jokes come quickly and with such regularity it's surprising this wasn't sponsored by an oat bran product. Yes, this special is much more in line with the Saturday morning cartoons of the day than with the story-oriented specials of years past. And because of that, it's perfectly suited for a fun family holiday special.

But for all this outing does right, it has no soul -- none at all. In the original, Charlie Brown lamented the commercialization of Christmas; in this one he embraces it. In the original, the jokes flowed from the characters (e.g., Snoopy mimicking Lucy); in this one it's all interchangeable punchlines (Sally sounds remarkably like Lucy in this outing).

What it really boils down to is depth. There is none in this second outing. It's just jokes, just vignettes, just a contractual obligation to churn out another special. The original dared to explore what it would take to get a perpetual optimist to give up on Christmas; this one is about buying gifts and memorizing lines for a Christmas play. Again, it's Saturday morning cartoon fodder.

We watch this one every year, and the kids enjoy it well enough. But it doesn't have the underlying appeal that I look for these days. And now that I'm older, I long for stories rather than just jokes. So yes, we watch this one every year, but to me there is only one Peanuts Christmas "special".
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Unfaithful (2002)
A Mess of a Movie about a Mess of a Marriage
13 November 2015
There's a scene in "Unfaithful" in which the heroine, Connie Sumner, drives recklessly through the city streets, a bag of oranges spilling in the back seat of her vehicle. At first I thought one of the oranges would roll under her brake pedal and cause a wreck. When that didn't happen, I thought there might be some symbolism to the shot, as if we were meant to realize that Connie's life was running out of control like so much fresh produce rolling on the floorboard of an SUV. Maybe, or maybe it was pointless, like everything else in the film.

"Unfaithful" is the latest Adrian Lyne flick to hit the big screen (and now DVD), and it isn't any better than or even as good as any of his previous efforts. Unlike "Indecent Proposal", which explored basic consequences of an unusual situation, or "Fatal Attraction", which explored unusual consequences of a basic situation, "Unfaithful" is basic all the way around: woman has affair, husband begins to suspect. There's nothing here that hasn't been done a hundred times before and a hundred times better.

Part of the problem is that we never really have a reason to make an emotional investment in the characters. Connie loves her family, true, but we don't really get to know her, and as a result, we never understand why she would fall for the suave Frenchman she literally bumps into on the street. Nor do we see enough of her husband to really empathize with him. We pity him, but that's a much less interesting emotion. Once the affair begins, Connie's days are filled with sex and her nights are filled with the occasional fear that she will be discovered and the nagging sense that what she's doing is wrong. Again, though, we don't understand why she began the affair or why she keeps it going. The whole thing seems to be based on sex, hardly making her a sympathetic character.

Another problem is the direction. Adrian Lyne seems desperate to infuse the film with meaning, but he never succeeds. More than half the scenes feel completely pointless. The son, for example, has no significant role in the film whatsoever, yet his screen time rivals that of the lover. It may be important for us to see the innocent victims here, but in an art form in which every frame of film has to justify its existence, Lyne bogs the proceedings down with entire scenes that do nothing to expand the plot or the characters. Some may defend it by pointing to the realism of the scenes, but as Tom Clancy once said, real life is boring. If realism is indeed what Lyne was striving to achieve, I guess he succeeded.

What Lyne does well is sex, and this film is full of it. I didn't realize I was going to be seeing a porno movie when I sat down to watch this, but with the basic plot and extremely explicit sexuality, I would have to say "Unfaithful" qualifies as one. Various positions, various locations, it's all here, and it's surprisingly graphic for a major motion picture, so be warned if you find such things offensive.

The movie isn't all bad, though. Diane Lane's performance is excellent, especially in the train scene following her first illicit encounter. It's also nice to see Richard Gere playing a more insecure character than his gigolo persona. There's chemistry in all the scenes, and every relationship seems believable (even if we never fully understand the affair). Really, the only things that are truly awful about the film are the script and the direction, but those deficiencies are far too big for the cast to overcome. What we are left with is a well-acted movie that pushes the limits of what is permissible in an "R"-rated film but fails to expand any horizons.
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Star Trek: The Next Generation: Night Terrors (1991)
Season 4, Episode 17
Slick, Cool, and Loads of Fun
6 June 2013
Coming off the disappointing resolution of Clues, TNG bounces back with another mystery that has a much more satisfying conclusion. But I'll get to that (no spoilers in this review).

It starts off with the Enterprise arriving on the scene of a derelict ship: the Brattain. The Brattain's engines have no power, and all its crew are dead (save one, who only has a single vital purpose for the plot) -- it turns out they killed each other. The Brattain's logs indicate an increase in paranoia and erratic behavior in the weeks leading up to everyone's demise. What happened?

The lack of power to the engines is also a mystery. Geordi says everything should work, but nothing does. They decide to put the Brattain in tow, but then the Enterprise starts experiencing engine problems, as well.

The crew also starts to have issues with aggressive behavior, hallucinations, memory loss, and the like. Even when Crusher discovers the cause, there isn't anything they can do about it. Meanwhile, Troi is having nightmares about floating through space and hearing voices. And as Picard realizes that he, too, is not immune, he confides in Data that he may be the one crew member that can keep them from ending up like the Brattain.

All this sets up for a nice, tight resolution to the mystery, but there are also some neat little touches along the way. For example, as the days progress, Troi's hair looks more disheveled. Picard looks visibly older. Crusher fumbles in search of her communicator pin. They sell it. And we buy it.

This is an all-around enjoyable episode. It's everything that's good about Star Trek, rolled up into a suspenseful hour-long episode. Easily one of the best of the season, if not the series.
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Star Trek: The Next Generation: Clues (1991)
Season 4, Episode 14
An M&M mystery
23 May 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Who doesn't love a mystery? Picard loves them so much that he creates them in his spare time in the form of Dixon Hill stories on the holodeck. This time his recreation is cut short with a deep space mystery -- a class M planet where none should be. When the Enterprise investigates, a wormhole knocks everyone unconscious...all except Data, who tells the captain they were out for 30 seconds.

Strangely, though, circumstances start popping up that point to a much longer period of unaccounted activity -- a full day to be exact. Crusher's seed experiment shows unexplained growth. Troi is going insane. Worf is whining about his broken wrist (when did that happen?). The ship's chronometer has been reset. And so on. Data sends out a probe to prove that there is nothing amiss, but his tale is unraveling quickly.

As it becomes clear that Data is lying, Picard decides that he would rather risk the crew's safety than to let Data face a court martial. (Sure, it's the writers' fault, but it's decisions like this that make me realize I would much rather serve under Kirk than Picard, but I digress...) It's all a very fascinating mystery with higher stakes than one might have expected at the beginning. Then, like those lettered candies that are so colorful to look at, it completely dissolves when you actually try to savor it.

The Enterprise crew returns to the site of the wormhole and we discover that logic has departed this outing completely. You see, this all came about because there were energy aliens who live on or near that class M planet. And they like their privacy, so when their attempt to knock everyone unconscious failed, they decided to kill everyone on board the Enterprise. For some reason they possessed Troi to explain all this to Picard. And just to prove they are superior, they demonstrated that Troi's body is much stronger when possessed. But Picard talked them out of the "kill everybody" plan, and instead the crew agreed to get their memories erased, and then they hatched a plan to fool themselves into believing none of it ever happened. But Data remembered, so he had to promise to keep it all a secret.

Say what?!

Oh, but it gets better! Of course, it didn't work, so now the aliens again want to kill them. No, wait! Picard convinces (???) the aliens that they'll get it right this time. He promises. The first time was a rehearsal. The mistake the crew made was leaving clues behind. This time, they won't question a missing 2+ days' time (apparently wormholes just do that kind of thing). This time Troi won't go crazy (even though she just got possessed for a second time). This time they'll replant Crusher's seeds and somehow won't notice any are missing. I suppose they'll restock the probe, too. But it doesn't really matter because if they get it wrong Picard will just talk his way out of it again.

Don't get me wrong: I absolutely LOVED this episode -- until the end. The end was a cop-out. It was obvious the writers had put themselves in a position they couldn't get out of. I think they must have realized it, too, because they gloss over everything that's wrong at that point. Most telling is that Guinan, after appearing at the beginning, is not even mentioned in the main part of the episode, which is especially interesting since we know (from "Yesterday's Enterprise") that she can sense time disturbances that humans can't.

Oh well, it's only a problem if you want your puzzles to have a logical solution. If you can live with a fun mystery that only fails to add up in the end, you can have a pretty good time with this one.
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Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Loss (1990)
Season 4, Episode 10
Well, it's perhaps better than "Samaritan Snare"
19 March 2013
Warning: Spoilers
The idea of Troi losing her empathic abilities seems at first thought like a good plot device. After all, that's her defining characteristic. It's what makes her an "amazing" ship's counselor. To lose that is to lose everything, right?

And so when she loses it, she totally loses it. I mean, she turns into a complete whiny b-word. But we're to believe this is all understandable. She can't do her job, everyone around her seems suddenly different -- it must be incredibly scary!

But that's where we start to discover the inherent flaws in the concept. Troi describes herself as handicapped, and to drive the point home, she compares it to being blind. But how accurate is that statement? The reason most people don't want to go blind is that it would put them at a severe disadvantage. Living with blindness is inherently difficult. It is impossible for us to empathize with Troi's dilemma because we don't have her ability. Therefore we do not see her as living with a disadvantage; we see her as losing her advantage, as Riker points out. Now she's one of us, just like everyone else. So get over it!

Still, that would be scary, so it's understandable that she would have emotional difficulty. Unfortunately, the entire manifestation of this fear is that she will no longer be able to do her job. Most people who go blind, their first, second or even fiftieth thought is not that they won't be able to do their job. It would have been much more interesting if Troi had tried to reassess her identity as a person. But it's all about her work.

Which raises another issue: How "amazing" of a counselor can Troi be if she needs to be able to cheat to help people? We've seen her use basic cognitive therapy techniques before, so the idea of needing telepathy to do her job is a stretch to begin with. It seems like the worst that would happen is that she would no longer be on the bridge crew to tell Picard that she senses deception from the alien that just told an obvious lie. That might sting, losing such a prestigious position, but it certainly would not justify her actions in this episode.

And if she is so bad at her job that she needs to cheat to be effective at it, how are we supposed to empathize with that? It's like Lance Armstrong complaining that he can't race effectively now that he can't use drugs. Again, just like everyone else.

Even the reason for her "loss" is suspect. We aren't really given specifics, but apparently Troi's empathic receptors get overloaded when the Enterprise get's caught in a swarm of two-dimensional dot creatures. All those thoughts and emotions. Except the whole point of the solution to that dilemma is that the creatures are not intelligent and act purely on instinct. Isn't this about the same as landing on a planet full of vegetation and microbial life forms? Yet Troi has no problem with that.

Okay, I admit it -- that's a lot of thought put into this episode. Not everything has to stand up to scrutiny after the fact. If the episode works while you're watching it, then everything else is second. But this episode doesn't work, because Troi is so awful to everyone...and because we never really share Troi's feelings of loss. We never really see Troi deal with all this, either. Just when it seems like she's about to get a handle on it, she gets her abilities back. Essentially, the show ends at the moment it starts getting interesting!

As for the story about the dots, it's actually a nice sci-fi concept, dragged down only by the utter predictability of it all.

All in all, a very weak and barely watchable episode.
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Awake (2012)
How would you know if someone stole your mind?
6 April 2012
I always enjoy a good mind-screw, so I absolutely loved the premise of Awake. Michael, a police detective, wakes up after a car crash to find that his wife, Hannah, perished in the wreck. The next time he wakes up, it is his son, Rex, who died. And so his realities alternate, and he is unable (or perhaps unwilling) to determine which life is real.

The premise seems full of potential, but it was also full of pitfalls. The dual realities had different characters, but there were also the same characters in different roles. For example, he was seeing a psychologist in each reality, but they were two different characters. His partner in one reality was merely an officer in another. The criminal in one reality may be an informant in another. That's all well an good -- if we saw these characters together or they talked about which reality they were in. But as the episodes went on, it could get very confusing. Which partner goes with which shrink goes with which survivor goes with which crime? Which reality are we in now? Some might say that we're supposed to feel confused because Michael is confused. But after the first couple of trips through the Twilight Zone, he seems to know what's going on pretty well. And regardless, I don't want to have to keep notes when watching a show.

Another problem lies with the concept of empathy. For example, Hannah is understandably distraught over the loss of her son in that reality. But to us the son isn't dead, so she comes across as more annoying than anything else. Some viewers may disagree with that, but here's the thing: Michael feels the same way. He has a very difficult time relating to his wife because to him Rex isn't dead. So he comes across as cold and callous. Maybe his reaction is understandable, but are we really expected to empathize with him in such an outrageous predicament?

And then there was the conspiracy theory in the show, which seemed more tacked on than essential. It smacked of the post-LOST era, whereas fifteen years ago the producers of such a show would have been happy to save such a thing for the final episode.

Awake had tremendous production values, solid writing and great acting. In fact, in almost every way it was one of the best new shows of 2012. But it was overburdened by the weight of its premise. It was a conceit that could possibly work as a novel, where the omniscient narrator could soften actions by showing the thoughts behind them, and could constantly but subtly remind readers of which reality they were witnessing at the moment. On television, that's much more difficult to do. Even the attempt at color-coding each reality wasn't enough.

So Awake is gone, disappointingly but unsurprisingly. But it's always refreshing to see an ambitious and daringly different new show, so I'm glad they made the attempt.
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Date Night (2010)
Less than the sum of its parts
2 August 2011
There's a lot to like about Date Night. I have enjoyed Steve Carrell since I first saw him as Produce Pete on The Daily Show. And Tina Fey plays self-deprecation better than anyone. So what could possibly go wrong by putting them together?

To answer that, first let's look at Get Smart. I really enjoyed that film because not only did it retain the spirit of the original show, but Steve Carrell made a perfect imperfect hero. He isn't suave or cool or tough, but the villains aren't either, so the plot doesn't really call for that. As a result, the movie works.

Now let's look at The Hangover. It's a very different type of comedy -- much more akin to Beverly Hills Cop than anything else. I felt the action took over the plot a little too much at the expense of the comedy, but it mostly worked because both the comedy and the action had a serious, adult attitude to them.

That's where Date Night never really comes together. The comedy is funny enough and very family friendly. It's light, it's enjoyable. And the characters are normal people who just want to have some semblance of the lives they used to enjoy before everything started seeming a bit flat. But the action is more hard-edged than that. The criminals don't seem like the lovable oafs of Get Smart who would patiently wait around while Maxwell rattled off a "Would you believe..." set. No, these criminals seem like the kind that would leave bodies behind. And our heroes seem like the kind who would end up the featured victims on America's Most Wanted. Yet they succeed in bringing these guys down where trained field agents have failed? It's an uncomfortable mixture that never reaches the realm of believability.

Still, perhaps all those things could be forgiven if they were at least consistent in their inconsistency. But the finale takes the action story into ludicrous sitcom territory. The plot resolution would have been a stretch in the 1980s -- I was astounded that this kind of ending could possibly wind up in a modern-day movie. But there it is.

So I must reluctantly give Date Night a thumbs-down. As I said, there's a lot to like here, but the stars don't really play off each other as they might have, and they are completely overshadowed by the action plot. Ultimately, there's no reason to watch this film instead of, say, a marathon of The Office and 30 Rock.

And that's a shame.
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Undercovers (2010)
Hart to Hart
4 October 2010
I like action TV shows, I like throwback shows and I like Abrams, but Undercovers is dreadfully dull.

The show has very high production values, but the recycled plots do nothing to cash in on them. Locales and set pieces are interchangeable as the by-the-numbers plots unfold. There's nary an original idea to be found.

This might not be such a problem if we at least had good characters, but Undercovers is lacking there, too. We get only the most cursory back story for our leads. They seem to exist only in the moment. Even what we know about their past doesn't seem to jibe with what we see. First, they show no indication that they were ever highly trained operatives. They carry themselves like second-year agents, not the top spies who had to be reactivated because no one else could handle the job. Also, Samantha had a relationship with two characters on the show, but she has absolutely no chemistry with either of them.

And that is the nail in the coffin for the show. All the other weaknesses of the show could be said about a similar cheesy mystery show from the 70s/80s: Hart to Hart. But the two leads in that show had chemistry, and it carried the entire series. The only thing that carries Undercovers is Gerald McRaney...but his appearances are too brief to do anything more than remind us of what this show could have been.
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Fear Itself: In Sickness and in Health (2008)
Season 1, Episode 4
Is there a more appropriate word than "Sucks"?
13 August 2008
This episode falls apart in nearly every way possible. The characters overreact to everything. The final revelation is anything but surprising, and yet, once we know it, nothing we've seen before makes any sense. Some mysterious characters' motivations are never explained. In short, the entire script plays out like a poorly conceived "gotcha" that strains credulity at every turn. You persevere to the end hoping that at least the explanation will offer something of a payoff, but everything just crumbles like dry mud.

Nor does the direction help in the least. The characters are either annoying or unlikable. Humorous moments are thrown in with no rhyme or reason. We cut to commercial seemingly every three minutes. And worst of all, THERE'S NO FEAR! There have been some entertaining entries in the series, but this is not one of them. It feels like a student film based on a high-schooler's screenplay. Skip it.
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The X-Files: Død Kalm (1995)
Season 2, Episode 19
5 May 2008
Warning: Spoilers
The mediocrity and lack of forethought in this episode can be seen in a line spoken by Scully: "The Navy knows we're here." Really! Then why didn't the Navy escort them out there? After all, I would think the Navy would be extremely interested in what happened aboard that vessel.

But we couldn't have the Navy do that because they would never leave two FBI agents alone on a marooned vessel. Nor was there any possibility of a Navy vessel being hijacked. Nor would a single pirate (or even a handful of pirates) be able to stand up against the military, so we'd lose all the action and suspense from the episode.

There's also the fact that this isn't really an X-File, but I can live with that. At least they didn't try to turn it into one with an inane voice-over like at the end of Irresistible. But along those lines, what I did really enjoy about this episode is that Mulder is wrong. Most episodes have Mulder initially confounded or with a theory that is eventually proved correct. But here he is completely wrong. And it's a refreshing change.

Also, Duchovny (who is one of the worst actors I've ever seen) actually does a good job, as others have noted. These positive points keep the episode from being a total wash, but there's no compelling reason to watch it.
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Blood Diamond (2006)
Blood Brothers
11 December 2006
What does it take to turn someone into a killer? The answer is different for each character involved in this movie. For some it is survival. For others it is the hope of escape from a life of hell. For some it is family. For others it is greed. Caught in the middle of it all are the children who have such little desire to kill for any reason that they must be brainwashed into becoming the instruments of their masters who claim to offer freedom.

Every few years an action movie comes along that has amazing depth. Terminator 2 and The Matrix are such movies, and so is Blood Diamond. It is full of characterizations we've seen before, but it's the interaction that raises this film above the masses. Each character has an agenda that forces him or her to distrust everyone else. The paths that some relationships take to develop trust are believable, while others are equally believable in remaining eternally antagonistic. And through it all is the realization that while some characters may change their methodology and morals, none ever change their dreams. Each character fights for the goal to the bitter end. Such is human nature, and such is the conflict of Blood Diamond, the conflict of Africa. In the end, we are left to wonder if peace can ever be attained in such a world. And somehow we are left believing that maybe it can.
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A Weak Text-Based Adventure
15 April 2005
Warning: Spoilers
A twenty-year old computer game--what's the point of this review? Probably none, but with the new movie coming out, there's a chance some fans will be interested in tracking down a copy of this game. So here goes: The Zork games set the standard for text-based adventure games (I can't bring myself to call them "video" games), and there were plenty of other notable entries in the genre, such as "The Leather Goddesses of Phobos". Unfortunately "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" was notable for entirely the wrong reasons.

First, it followed too closely to the book, meaning that if you had read the book you weren't in for many surprises. You play Arthur Dent, who wakes up to see a bulldozer outside his bedroom window. Just like the book, you lie down in front of the bulldozer, join your friend Ford Prefect at the pub, catch a ride on a Vogon ship, grab a Babel fish, then hop on board the Heart of Gold. That sequence of events should sound strikingly familiar to anyone who has read the novel. At least this time they got to read it on a computer screen, I guess.

Secondly, some parts were insanely difficult. There is a point at the very beginning where you have to specifically type, "Ford, what about my home?" in order to advance. I can't help but wonder if ANYBODY figured that out without referring to the hints.

I'm sure fans will be interested--especially since Douglas Adams co-wrote it and it does contain healthy doses of his humor--but it just isn't much fun as a game. It's as if they expected only die-hard fans of the book to even play the game...and then failed to give them a reason to want to.
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American Gladiators (1989–1997)
I'd Love for the Show to Come Back
17 February 2005
After discovering the show sometime around '94, I watched every episode, including the reruns that were on at the time. The varied competitions made it something of an athletic game show, and it was always entertaining. My favorite was always the Eliminator.

Some people have expressed uncertainty as to why this show left the air. Well, watching the reruns you will never realize it, but the big problem with the show was that near the end new episodes became something of a rarity. The "International Gladiators" specials became more and more common, which eroded their mystique and made them somewhat dull. But in the end it seemed like every week (and I mean EVERY week) was a rerun--especially of the episode with Dean Cain, which must have shown at least twenty times. (An exaggeration perhaps, but not much of one.) So yes, the show was canceled without much fanfare, but that's because most viewers thought the show was already over. One new episode every couple of months isn't enough to hold viewers--I don't care how popular the show is.

I was just thinking about the show the other day and how neat it would be to have a traveling version of Gladiators that would work similarly to American Idol. Perhaps it's just nostalgia on my part, but I think it would be quite cool.
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It's just not that funny
25 October 2004
Maybe you have to be a fan of "South Park", I don't know. But I heard the ads saying this was "the funniest movie of the year," so I went to see it. And all I can say is, "No."

Now, don't get me wrong: it IS funny in some spots. I might even go so far as to say it's worth spending your money to see, but it isn't nearly as funny as it's been made out to be. And funniest movie of the year? Not by a long shot. I laughed, but not hard. It just wasn't that great.

I mean, I love satire. I watch "The Daily Show" all the time. "Reno 911" has made me laugh harder than I ever have in my life. And I'm politically moderate, so I really don't care who they bash. But "Team America" simply falls short in the comedy department. I don't think I wasted my money, but it's not something I'll buy or even rent on DVD.
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The Ring (2002)
This is how you make a horror movie!
25 October 2004
There's nothing scary about vampires. Or werewolves. (I've never seen one, so why be scared?) There's nothing scary about blood and gore. (I've seen plenty, so why be scared?) What's scary is the situation--when your TV turns itself on and you see something that makes you wet your pants. That's scary.

And that's "The Ring". You could call "The Ring" a ghost story, and that would be fair, but instead of starting out showing us the ghost, the movie builds up suspense by first showing us what the ghost is capable of, then why the ghost is so angry. After we understand this, then and only then do we see the ghost. This creates an understanding in our mind of what this thing is going to do. So when we see it, we scare ourselves.

You see, the scariest stories involve the mundane (like televisions and video tapes). They take the things we see everyday and ask, "What if..." This bypasses our rationality because we accept the plausibility of the scenario. And when a person can't think rationally, it doesn't take much to terrify them.

Psychology 101. It'd be nice if more filmmakers would take a refresher course.
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Pole Position (1984–1985)
Such a Cool Show
15 October 2004
I absolutely LOVED this show! It was one of my favorite Saturday morning shows and by far the best show based on a video game. It was very short-lived, and the reason is obvious: it was constantly pre-empted by sports. 12:00 p.m. (EST)--what were they thinking?! I can't tell you how many times I sat down to watch Pole Position only to find myself staring at an NBA pregame show. So not only was this show on for only one season, for half that time they never even showed an episode! It's a shame, too, because this was the most mature, thoughtful cartoon on Saturday morning at the time. Heaven forbid we encourage kids to think.

Well, at least we have the memories...
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Hero (2002)
Possibly the Year's Best Movie
18 September 2004
About halfway through the film, as Broken Sword considers the betrayal he just experienced, I was engulfed by the feeling of "this is why you go to a movie."

"Hero" is beautiful, heartbreaking, thrilling and thoughtful. The screen is constantly full of breath-taking images and perfectly balanced throughout. If you're going to watch a full-screen version of this, don't waste your time. The composition of each shot is so perfect that any hack job will only make you wonder what everyone is so hyped up about.

And the story--wow! I expected a straight-forward action movie, but "Hero" has more twists than all of M. Night Shyamalan's films combined. Is Jet Li's nameless character a hero, or does he have a secret agenda? Is the emperor a caring leader or a maniacal dictator? Just when you think you know the answer, another twist unfolds.

Some may dismiss this movie with words like "propaganda," but don't be fooled. No character in this movie makes a choice lightly. The cost of every decision is weighed heavily, and Nameless recognizes that his ultimate decision will lead to less than perfect results. Still, the ideal is there, and it is an ideal that transcends time and culture. The ultimate moral of the story is hardly a call to arms but a reminder that war doesn't lead to peace; peace comes from a vision in which war has no part. That's not propaganda. That's a message of hope in an imperfect world.
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Challenge of the GoBots (1984–1985)
Mediocre Cartoon
9 September 2004
I never loved the GoBots. I had the toys and I watched the show, but in a time when kids were obsessed with transforming robots, this cartoon never quite got it right. While the Transformers was never as dark as my all-time favorite cartoon, Voltron, it definitely had more edge than the GoBots. And while the Transformers looked like robots who transformed into vehicles, the GoBots never looked like robots at all but simply walking vehicles (as a child I didn't know how to express this, so I simply said that the GoBots "kept their stuff") and that was the main thing that always bugged me about the show.

That said, the GoBots will always have a place in my heart because I could afford the toys. Most GoBot toys sold for less than $5, while most Transformers went for about $8-$10 (big ones, like Optimus Prime, went for over $20!), and we didn't have that much money. So I had a lot more GoBots than Transformers. The cartoons, however, were free, and it is in that respect that the GoBots left me feeling shortchanged.
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Saved! (2004)
Wildly Uneven
17 August 2004
Saved is about as subtle as a Right to Life rally. The first third of the movie introduces us to teenage Christians who are nothing more than caricatures. Yes, teen Christians may SEEM like this, but very few are truly this shallow. This tells me that the filmmakers either didn't understand what they were depicting or they were going for a spoof.

The problem is, after about half an hour the movie no longer seems like a spoof. Suddenly the atheists and non-radical Christians develop personalities and become sympathetic characters. So the message of the movie, I guess, is that die-hard Christians are pathetic and shallow, capable of any sort of hypocrisy, while everyone else is likable, sensible, and would never do anything wrong. (One atheist character steals someone's credit cards--and uses them--and we're supposed to just laugh it off because he's one of the good guys!)

All this would be fine, though, if the movie were consistent in tone, but it isn't. At one point, I really started to feel empathy for a couple of characters when suddenly the film jerks back into satire mode complete with goofy music! It's as if we're watching two different approaches to the same film.

I honestly think Saved could have been a great movie if it had decided to be a satire or a straight-forward comedy/drama. But it is undermined by its inability to choose between the two.

Overall, some good performances (especially a surprisingly poignant one by Culkin), and you will probably recognize people in your own life, but this one isn't worth spending money on.
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That's More Like It, Charlie Brown
7 June 2004
After the disappointing "A Charlie Brown Valentine," the Peanuts gang bounces back with an enjoyable outing on the baseball diamond. We're not talking "Great Pumpkin" here, but "Lucy Must Be Traded" is at least a fun entry in the series, even if it is ultimately a forgettable one.

While it would be hard to call the storyline of "Traded" a bona-fide plot, at least there is a definite time frame and an identifiable conflict--two things "Valentine" lacked. Once again the special has been woven together using existing Peanuts strips, but this time, at least, they all work together to move us progressively through Charlie Brown's baseball season. And we get a few laughs along the way. (As much as I love Peanuts, it has never been as funny as such laugh riots as Garfield and Dilbert, but there is charm in its simple humor, which is what I enjoy most.)

The only real problem with "Traded" is the lack of transition between the segments. Some portions work well. The sections where Charlie Brown trades Snoopy to Peppermint Patty and the title conflict that culminates in Lucy being traded for Marcy flow nicely. But how many times do we have to see Charlie Brown wind up for a pitch only to be interrupted by someone? (It's a good thing this league doesn't call balks!) Yes, that happened a lot in the strip, but that's because Schulz only had a single frame to establish the fact that a baseball game was being played. An animated show has considerably more time. For instance, Sally's comment about the baseball magazine was totally out of place--no matter how it appeared in the strip. Why not have her talking to her brother at home? (Maybe she just wanted to publicly humiliate him, but we never get the impression anyone else heard the conversation.) And wouldn't it have been funny to see Lucy miss a fly ball because she was on her way to the mound to talk to Charlie Brown? But we never see any of that. It's: joke, reset, joke, reset. Even the weakest Peanuts features have had a flow to them.

I admire how true Melendez has been to Schulz's vision; it couldn't have been easy to carry on after his passing. ("Valentine" seems to confirm that.) We're almost back in the groove. "Lucy Must Be Traded" is a worthy entry in the Peanuts franchise. It's certainly better than the two outings that preceded it.

I originally wrote this review before "I Want a Dog for Christmas, Charlie Brown" premiered. So my thoughts on what "Traded" may indicate for the franchise are no longer applicable, but since "Dog" was possibly even better than "Traded", it is starting to look like the Peanuts specials may truly be returning to form.
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Envy (2004)
Enjoyable, but Not Much of a Movie
10 May 2004
Ben Stiller and Jack Black are best friends until Black gets rich off an invention that Stiller opts not to invest in. In a drunken stupor, Stiller kills Black's white stallion and then enlists the aid of Christopher Walken to dispose of it. Meanwhile, questions arise concerning the nature of the invention.

That's it. That's the whole story, and if you think that's not much to make a movie out of, you're exactly right. The problem with "Envy" isn't the acting (almost everyone is enjoyable here) or the direction (the movie flows smoothly) or a lack of humor (this is at least as funny as "Elf"). The problem is that the plot never builds beyond its initial premise, and after spending a hundred minutes watching the story, you may be hard-pressed to recount just where all the time went. As I write this review, I still can't figure out how the movie ran for more than an hour. There's just nothing to it. It's like cinematic cotton candy: nice, but so full of fluff it disintegrates almost immediately.

The movie has been butchered by reviewers, but I think part of that is the realization that it cost $6-$10 per person just to see the film. This movie belongs on HBO on a lazy Saturday afternoon while people are alternating between reading the paper and watching their kids. I think when it gets relegated to that position, it will get much more favorable reviews. After all, it isn't such a bad comedy; it just isn't much of a movie.
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First Monday (2002– )
Could have been great but definitely wasn't
4 March 2004
"First Monday" gave us something we don't see enough of on fictional television: honest debates on serious subjects. Sure the show was a rip-off of "West Wing" and just an excuse to make political statements, but at least the show recognized the legitimacy of the arguments on both sides of the issues instead of making one side the hero and one side the villain. Unfortunately, that seemed to be the whole point of the show. Court shows have to be about more than issues if they're going to be remotely interesting. Look at "Judging Amy". The political statements are only plot points. The court cases take up only about a quarter of the episode time. The whole purpose of the show is to see how legal issues affect the characters' personal lives and vice versa. But that's far more than anyone can expect from a series by Bellisario. He thinks in terms of plot, not characters. That fine for a series like "Quantum Leap" but not something intellectually deep like the Supreme Court.
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