Television: Coming in March

The first item on my television radar for March is Robin Hood, a new series from BBC America, which premieres this Saturday, 03 March. As is the trend today, this Hood (played by Jonas Armstrong) is a bit younger than previous incarnations, as are many of his allies and nemeses. Maid Marian is played by Lucy Griffiths, who has only two other television apperances and not movie credits, but is still nice to look at. All in all, I’m thinking Dawson’s Creek runs through Sherwood Forest.

Hellboy Animated Production Diaries

Hellboy: Blood and Iron premieres Saturday, 17 March on Cartoon Network. I enjoyed the first Hellboy animated movie (Sword of Storms), but it wasn’t as good as I’d hoped. I thought the animation was excellent, but it seemed like Ron Perlman and company were sleepwalking through some of the dialog. Still, Sword of Storms was good enough that I’d like to pick up the DVD (which looks to have some good bonus features) and I’m looking forward to Blood and Iron.

Last but not least, IFC is showing This Film is Not Yet Rated — a documentary that delves into censorship and the convoluted, seemingly arbitrary MPAA film ratings system — on Saturday, 31 March. I’d say more about this, but the [CENSORED] at the [CENSORED] won’t let me [CENSORED] my [CENSORED].

Movie Review: Ghost Rider (2007)

Ghost Rider (DVD)Ghost Rider (2007)

Starring Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Donal Logue, Peter Fonda, Wes Bentley, Laurence Bruels, Daniel Frederiksen, Mathew Wilkinson, Brett Cullen, Matt Long, Raquel Alessi and General Thaddeus E. “Thunderbolt” Ross

Directed by Mark Steven Johnson

If you had asked me two years ago who I thought should be cast as Johnny Blaze, Ghost Rider’s stunt-cycling alter ego, Nicolas Cage would not have been high on the list of possibilities. For starters, Cage’s hair(piece) is the wrong color. True to his name, the comic book Blaze has fiery orange hair. Unfortunately, the only actor I know of whose hair even approaches orange is Carrot Top (and yes, I’m being generous with the word “actor” here). Apart from being uncommon, orange hair just isn’t going to look right outside the pages of a comic book.You might not think that hair color is all that important when it comes to casting a superhero (much less his alter ego), but ask yourself if you’d want to see Bruce Wayne as a redhead or a blond Clark Kent.

Denis Leary has what I consider to be a reasonable real-life approximation of Johnny Blaze’s hair, both in terms of color and style.When Blaze first appeared in 1972, he was definitely a product of the time, and his hair was a bit longer than Leary’s, but I still think the styles are reasonably similar. Alas, like Nicolas Cage, Denis Leary is at least fifteen years too old to play Johnny Blaze, regardless of how appropriate his coiffure might be.

Johnny Blaze, Ghost Rider
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Too old or not, right hair color and style or not, Nicolas Cage is Johnny Blaze on the big screen, though not right away. When Ghost Rider begins, Matt Long plays a much younger Blaze, a carnival stunt cyclist who sells his soul to Mephistopheles (Peter Fonda) in order to cure his father’s cancer. Barton Blaze (Brett Cullen) is cured, all right, but Mephistopheles arranges for the elder Blaze to die in an incredibly lame motorcycle crash the very next day. Yeah, Mephistopheles is a bit of a bastard, but that’s what you get for trucking with demons.

After his father’s death, Johnny runs away from everything, including his sweetheart, Roxann Simpson (Raquel Alessi). Blaze crashes his motorcycle at a crossroads where he meets Mephistopheles, who — apart from having a name that’s a pain in the ass to type — informs the young man that he will be called upon to serve the demon sometime in the future.

Years later, Johnny has become a world-renowned stunt cyclist and Roxann has become Eva Mendes. Roxann has also become a television reporter whose wardrobe consists almost entirely of low-cut, cleavage-revealing outfits that also happen to hug her shapely derrière. Roxann re-enters Johnny’s life as he is preparing to attempt a record-setting 300-foot motorcycle jump in a packed arena. Though Blaze does not normally give interviews, he makes an exception for his childhood sweetheart, possibly because she is enticingly back lit, wearing a very, very tight-fitting dress and just happens to pose like a runway model whenever the camera is on her.

Meanwhile, at a bar in the middle of the desert, Blackheart (Wes Bentley), the demonic son of Mephistopheles, kills a bunch of badass bikers and summons his entourage of fallen angels. Blackheart intends to retrieve a contract that the original Old West Ghost Rider stole from Mephistopheles a hundred and fifty years ago.

Mephistopheles learns of his wayward son’s plan and decides to intervene; he pays a visit to Johnny Blaze and calls forth Ghost Rider, transforming the stunt cyclist into a fiery-skulled Spirit of Vengeance and his motorcycle into a supernaturally-fast, flaming chopper.

While Ghost Rider battles Blackheart, Johnny Blaze struggles to gain control over the Spirit of Vengeance and turn his curse into a force for good. He is aided by the mysterious Caretaker (Sam Elliott), who has extensive knowledge of the Ghost Rider legend, not to mention some of the most manly facial hair ever seen in the history of motion pictures.I believe that Sam Elliott may be the only human being who could actually grow hair on his eyeballs if he wanted to. As the Caretaker, Elliott sports a beard that climbs so far up his cheekbones that it very nearly flows into his eyebrows. The Caretaker tells Johnny that if Blackheart successfully retrieves the contract of San Venganza, the demon could bring about Hell on Earth.

Ghost Rider is the rock and roll superhero movie. Nicolas Cage may not be the ideal Johnny Blaze and Eva Mendez may be little more than eye candy but when the sun sets and the Spirit of Vengeance awakens, the soundtrack cranks up to eleven and the visuals tear up the screen. The special effects are extravagant without being cheesy, the action is unapologetically over the top and there are flames everywhere.

On the incredibly arbitrary 27-point KJToo rating system, I give Ghost Rider a very respectable 22.

Rocking Out: 9
Ghost Rider (Score) @ Amazon.comAustralian rock band Spiderbait provides an excellent cover of “Ghost Riders in the Sky” that plays in one scene when the Old West Ghost Rider gallops across the desert alongside the motorcycling modern-day Ghost Rider. The song — which plays again over the ending credits — is an obvious choice for the movie, but the Spiderbait cover keeps with the hard rocking mood. At present, only the score for the movie is available on CD, but I would imagine that Spiderbait’s “Ghost Riders in the Sky” will soon be available on either a soundtrack disc for the movie or on one of the band’s future releases.

Hell’s Angels: 7
At the bar in the desert, Blackheart summons the Nephilim, three fallen angels who take the form three of the four elements: Gressil (Laurence Breuls), earth; Abigor (Mathew Wilkenson), air; and Wallow (Daniel Frederiksen), water. Each of the Nephilim is realized very nicely, and one of my favorite special effects in the movie is the ever-dripping Wallow wiping his left eye away with one finger, only to have it reappear a second later. Ghost Rider (who represents fire, the fourth element) faces the Nephilim in combat one at a time through the course of the movie. They would have scored higher if they hadn’t been so easy to defeat.

Fuego del Corazón: 6
Perhaps love makes the world go ’round, but it has an opposite effect on Ghost Rider; thanks to some painfully bad acting and a lack of chemistry between Nicolas Cage and Eva Mendes, the love story sucks energy out of the movie. Any time the two strike up a conversation, it is stiff, awkward and artificial. Roxann lacks depth and consistently comes across as a pretty, pretty twit, which doesn’t do anything help build a believable love story with real impact to the plot as a whole.

Moviestuff: Next (Preview)

NextNext is a movie loosely based on “The Golden Man”, a short story by Philip K. Dick. The movie — which stars Nicholas Cage, Julianne Moore and Jessica Biel — is about a Las Vegas magician who can see into his own future and may be the only person who can stop a terrorist plot. The fact that Next is based on a Philip K. Dick story (as were Bladerunner, Total Recall, Minority Report, and Paycheck) is enough to make me want to see it, but the real reason is this snippet of audio I pulled from the trailer.

Gamestuff: Jedi Outcast (Complete)

Jedi Outcast @ Amazon.comI derive an inordinate amount of satisfaction from the completion of video games, and Jedi Outcast is no exception. In fact, this particular triumph is especially sweet because it fulfills half of my gentleman’s wager with Miscellaneous G™. Now all that remains is finish Vampire the Masquerade: Redemption before mid-August and the victory will be mine!

The following is an account of the last four chapters in the saga of Kyle Katarn’s journey in Jedi Outcast. If you’ve not played the game, you should be aware that the landscape ahead is riddled with spoilers, lying in wait like so many laser trip mines.

Continue reading Gamestuff: Jedi Outcast (Complete)

Gamestuff: Witch Trial

There was no Game Night scheduled for yesterday, but Miscellaneous G™ has an open invitation to crash at the International House of Johnson in the event of inclement weather. Northeast Ohio has gotten a fair amount of snow in the past twenty-four hoursBy “fair amount” I mean that I’ve shoveled and/or snowblown (is that a word?) my driveway three times since 7:00 last night. There was easily ten inches of snow in the unplowed cul-de-sac when I maneuvered the MVoD out of the driveway this morning, and the drift on the west side of Laura’s car was easily two and a half feet deep. and local meteorologists, law-enforcement officials and omphaloskeptics have been advising that we drive as little as possible, so we determined an impromptu Game Night was in order.

We played Witch Trial from Cheapass Games, a game in which each player is an attorney prosecuting or defending suspects charged with crimes ranging from Showing Ankle in Public to Frowning to The Ol’ Hokus-Pokus. The game was a lot of fun and Miscellaneous G™ proved to be quite the bombastic (if not entirely competent or especially ethical) litigator, collecting $635 in legal fees thanks to his showboating in front of the jury. Despite bribing the judge on multiple occasions, I was only able to collect $550. Laura wasn’t quite able to channel the spirit of Jack McCoy and ended the game with a meager $350; I believe that a Law & Order marathon will help prepare her for a rematch.

Continue reading Gamestuff: Witch Trial

Non Sequitur: The phone! The phone is ringing!

I received two phone calls on my work cell phone yesterday morning. Normally, talking on the phone isn’t something I write about, but my work cell phone and I have something of a storied past. Yesterday morning, a woman called looking for Roger.

ME: Hello.

WOMAN: Roger, this is [name], I need to…

ME: Hold on, I’m afraid you’ve got the wrong number.

WOMAN (sounding irate): But this is the number my aunt gave me.

ME: Well, this is [phone number, including area code] and there is no Roger here.

A moment later, the phone rang again.

ME: Hello.

SAME WOMAN (of course): Is this Roger?

Now, I understand that wrong numbers are going to happen. People make mistakes when they dial or they don’t recall a number correctly or they’re given a number that someone else failed to remember correctly. I don’t have a problem with being on the receiving end of someone else’s error, so long as the wrong number dialer does not act like it is somehow my fault that the number they dialed is for my phone. As if irately informing me that their aunt gave them the number is going to make me say, “Oh, your aunt gave you the number! Well, let me go get Roger, then!”

As wrong numbers go, though, woman whose aunt gave her my number instead of Roger’s was actually pretty mild. A couple of years ago, I got a series of calls that resulted in me getting a new cell phone number.

I was at work when my cell phone rang. I answered, and a woman asked me whether I was selling a house. I assured her I was not, and she confessed that she was a real estate agent and could not understand why she had my number. I told her I had no idea, as the number was my work cell phone, I’d only had the phone for a short time, and I wasn’t in the market for a new house nor was I trying to sell one. Then she asked if perhaps I was planning to throw a party; she was also a party planner and perhaps I was one of her clients. She apologized and ended the call.

Five minutes later, my cell phone rang again. The caller ID showed that it was a restricted caller, which should have made me suspicious, but I answered anyway. After saying “hello” several time and receiving only silence in response, I hung up.

Shortly thereafter, the phone rang again. It was the real estate agent/party planner, and she was crying. Her husband, it seems, had found my cell phone number written on a piece of paper in her car. As she had no explanation for who I was or why she had my number, the obvious conclusion her husband reached was that I was having an affair with his wife. I assured her that I had no idea how my number could have gotten in her car and that I had no idea who (if anyone) might have been using the number prior to it being assigned to me. The woman was very upset, but there was really nothing I could do.

I’m guessing the second phone call was from the husband, verifying that I was a wife-stealing bastard. Given the fact that a suspicious (and very likely quite angry) husband had my cell phone number, one of my co-workers suggested that I should change the number, which I did. I have no idea what happened to the real estate agent/party planner, but she did sound kind of hot I thought it was sad that her husband clearly didn’t trust her.

Last but not least in the saga of my work cell phone is Lawrence’s uncle. In October of 2004, I began to receive messages from a man with a very thick accent that I took to be Jamaican. Unfortunately, I was unable to make heads or tails from them. I only spoke to Lawrence’s uncle once (he had the uncanny ability to call me when I was away from my cell phone, however briefly) and assured him that there was no Lawrence at the number he was calling. Undeterred, Lawrence’s uncle continued to leave messages.

The final message from Lawrence’s uncle was, simply put, hilarious. So much so that I went to some lengths to preserve it for posterity. Here is my best attempt at transcribing the last message from Lawrence’s uncle:

Hi, Lawrence. What’s up? You no longer callin’ all ya? I’ll die callin’ all ya, and you’ll never answer me. Bye.

I wonder if Lawrence’s uncle is married to the aunt of the woman who called me yesterday. That might explain a lot.

Gamestuff: Arkham Horror, Jedi Outcast and Marvel Ultimate Alliance

Here are a few game-related tidbits from the past week or so:

  1. The recording of our Arkham Horror game is available at The House of the Harping Monkey. The recording is about two and half hours long and went out on the Side Dish feed earlier this week. If you’re not subscribed to the feed, here’s a direct link to the Arkham Horror play session from 30 January 2007.
  2. Speaking of Arkham Horror, I now have my own instance of the game.I use “instance” because I agree that “copy” is probably not the right word but can’t bring myself to use “set”. Chris Miller traveled far and wide on Saturday in search of the game, finally locating two instances at I’m Game, the excellent gaming store at Great Northern Mall.
  3. Miscellaneous G™ and I don’t normally do Game Night two weeks in a row, but we had to reschedule due to some work conflicts. We fired up the Xbox and played Marvel Ultimate Alliance. It had come to my intention that we inadvertently skipped a portion of the game in our earlier play, so we started over from the beginning with Captain America, Spider-Man, Thor and Wolverine coming to the aid of a S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarrier under attack by Doctor Doom’sClive Revill, who provided the original voice for Emperor Palpatine in The Empire Strikes Back voices Dr. Doom, which is pretty cool. You know, if you’re me. new criminal conglomerate, the Masters of Evil. My preferred hero is Captain America, but I also like playing Earth’s Sorceror Supreme, Dr. StrangeSorceror Supreme toppings include mozzarella cheese, pepperoni, sausage, ham, black olives, onion and green pepper., who kicks a supernatural amount of ass.
  4. Last but not least, an update on Kyle Katarn’s progress in Jedi Outcast. I’ve been trying to complete one mission each evening over the past few days, and have been pretty successful. Kyle was able to run the gauntlet of snipers and other unpleasant aliens on the streets of Nar Shaddaa then infiltrated the garbage disposal facility, where he found none other than Lando Calrissian locked up in a holding cell (admittedly not part of the normal garbage disposal facility floorplan). Kyle and Lando escaped to a nearby starpad where Lando’s ship, the Lady Luck was docked. After opening the hangar’s overhead doors, refueling the ship and defeating the mob boss, the two men jumped to the planet Bespin and Cloud City, which had been seized by Remnant forces. There, Kyle encountered the Reborn, twisted force users created at the Valley of the Jedi by Desann. Kyle also battled dominatrix-cum-swashbuckler, Tavion, and after defeating her learned that Jan Ors is not actually dead. Next up for Kyle: Finding Jan Ors and Desann.

Moviestuff: Shatner DVD Club Mini-reviews (Part the First)

To commemorate the closing of the William Shatner DVD club, I watched four WSDVDC movies over the weekend: Thomas in Love, The Lathe of Heaven, Black Cadillac and Soulkeeper. I enjoyed them all, for different reasons:

  1. Thomas in Love is something of an experimental film, as the story unfolds entirely on the monitor of the title character, who has not left his apartment (or had visitors) for eight years and communicates entirely by videophone. It may sound gimmicky, but the premise works well and leads up to a satisfying (if somewhat predictable) climax. I use “climax” with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek, as much of Thomas in Love involves the difficulties inherent in a sexual relationship with an agoraphobic who is deathly afraid of coming into contact with other human beings.
  2. The Lathe of Heaven, based on the novel by Ursula K. Le Guin, tells the story of George Orr, a man whose dreams become reality, and Doctor Haber, a psychiatrist whose attempts to use George’s “effective dreaming” to solve all of mankind’s problems turn result in one calamity after another. This version was originally broadcast by PBS in 1980 and was not available for purchase until 2000. While the movie itself (particularly in terms of special effects) is definitely dated, the story still stands up very well. One of the extras on the DVD is Bill Moyers interview with Ursula K. Le Guin, which is definitely worth watching. The movie made me want to read the book, and I consider that a compliment.
  3. I didn’t have high expectations of Black Cadillac, especially since Randy Quaid receives top billing. It’s not that I don’t like Randy Quaid — he was hilarious in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation — he’s just not an actor I associate with the suspense and/or thriller genres. Despite my initial trepidation, Black Cadillac is actually pretty good. Based on an actual incident from writer director John Murlowski’s mis-spent youth, the story follows three friends as they are menaced by a black 1957 Cadillac El Dorado. I think “inspired by actual events” would probably have been a more accurate description, as Murlowski admits that the movie veers sharply away from reality when the reasons behind this apparent case of road rage are revealed. The movie is suprisingly dialog-heavy, which leads to some good character development and results in some flawed-yet-sympathetic protagonists. Murlowski uses the El Dorado very effectively, without descending into rampant cheesiness. Sympathetic protagonists + effective antagonist – cheese = good movie.
  4. Soulkeeper was positively wretched. It had an interesting premise — the amulet worn by Lazarus absorbed some of Jesus’ power when Lazarus was resurrected — that was all but obliterated by some truly awful acting (Brad Dourif’s accent was especially ridiculous) and some of the worst outdoor sets I’ve seen since Plan 9 From Outer Space). The trick to enjoying Soulkeeper is pretending that you are Tom Servo or Crow T. Robot while you watch it.

Moviestuff: Shatner’s Last Gasp

My final shipment from the William Shatner DVD Club arrived in the mail today. Included were five movies, bringing the total number of DVDs I received since joining the club to fourteen. And so, as I bid the William Shatner DVD Club a fond farewell, here’s a list of all the movies I received. The five that came in the mail today are listed first, the rest are in random order.

  1. Soulkeeper (2001). There just aren’t enough movies with both demons and Robert Davi; at least I’ve got this one.
  2. Dragon Storm (2004). I know Gimli wasn’t as popular as Legolas, but could John Rhys-Davies have possibly parlayed his Lord of the Rings experience into something worse than Dragon Storm? Yes; it’s called Chupacabra: Dark Seas.
  3. King of the Ants (2003). There were two movies released in 2003 with the title King of the Ants. This is the other one. Featuring George Wendt (Cheers) as Duke Wayne, the cowboy electrician. Oh, and there’s a Baldwin. Which Baldwin? One of the non-Alec Baldwins. Nuff said.
  4. Black Cadillac (2003). The disc art on this one screams “Christine“, but will it be the tale of a demon-possessed Escalade or road rage taken to the extreme a la Spielberg’s The Duel?
  5. Epoch (2000). I know I saw this movie on SciFi a couple of years ago. All I remember is a big, floating alien rock. And not the good kind, either.
  6. The Attic Expeditions (2001). Seth Green is sentenced to a mental hospital where he is experimented on by Jeffrey Combs. Life can start imitating art any time now.
  7. Ginger Snaps (2000). Lycanthropy as metaphor for puberty. Your body is going to start to change in ways that you may not understand. On the other hand, you’ll be able to lick your own crotch.
  8. Close Your Eyes (2002) A decent supernatural thriller about a hypnotherapist on the trail of a serial killer. I’m going to count backwards from ten; when I reach one, you will no longer be lying on a table with half of your guts torn out.
  9. Thomas in Love (2000). A French film about an agoraphobic who hasn’t left his apartment in eight years and communicates with the outside world via videophone. Please don’t tilt the camera down any further, Thomas.
  10. Immortel (2004) Odd story about Horus, the hawk-headed Egyptian god parking his floating pyramid over New York City in 2095. Odd story, odd visuals, odd everything.
  11. it2i2 (2006). Written, directed by and starring Robert Llewellyn (Red Dwarf), it2i2 was described by the London Times as “The DaVinci Code meets The Matrix, only with a lower budget.” They certainly got the part about the low budget right.
  12. Falcon Down (2000). The only William Shatner DVD Club title in which the man himself makes an appearance. It’s Firefox meets Behind Enemy Lines, only with a lower budget.
  13. The Lathe of Heaven (1980) By most accounts this version is superior to the 2002 made-for-TV remake. It’s The Woodwright’s Shop meets The Matrix, only with… okay, no, it’s not.
  14. Wolves of Wall Street (2002). Eric Roberts is the head of a cutthroat Wall Street trading firm. You can tell it’s Wall Street because every other scene transition is a montage of “Wall Street” street signs. The members of the firm are all werewolves, if the nonstop barrage of ever-so-subtle double entendre is any indication. I haven’t made it all the way through this one yet.

Game Night: 30 January 2007

Arkham HorrorDue to some wintery weather and other extenuating circumstances, Game Night did not get underway until about 9:00 this week. Once again, the game was Arkham Horror, but this time out the Unquiet Desperado himself, Chris Miller, joined in the festivities.In as much as clinging to your last shred of sanity while battling a seemingly endless onslaught of savage creatures from Other Worlds can be called “festive”.

Once setup was complete (which took about twenty minutes), Miscellaneous G™ was playing Amanda Sharpe, the student, Chris was playing Monterey Jack, the archaelogist, and I was playing Vincent Lee, the doctor. We three investigators were all that stood between the small town of Arkham, Massachusetts and the Great Old One, Ithaqua.

It took us a little while to get into the flow of the game, and there were several points where I had to search through the 22-page rules booklet for clarification on how we were supposed to handle certain situationsUnfortunately, the rules aren’t exactly consistent on the movement of flying monsters. Reading the official FAQ from Fantasy Flight Games last night, I found that the sidebar detailing this aspect of the game omits an important aspect. Had I been handling this properly, there would undoubtedly have been several more encounters with flying monsters., but the game did go much quicker than it would have if none of us had played before.

Arkham Horror isn’t a game for the faint of heart. In addition to the aforementioned 22-page rule booklet, the twenty-one different types of cards, the myriad array of tokens to keep track of and the various modifiers that come in and out of play throughout the game, there is the realization that the investigators’ situation grows more and more hopeless with each turn. While they rush around Arkham scrabbling to gather the necessary elements to successfully close and seal gates to Other Worlds, the investigators must deal with monsters of every shape and size, ever aware that new gates are opening, the townspeople are growing more terrified, more monsters are appearing, and an ancient and powerful evil is ever closer to stirring from its slumber. On more than one occasion the question of whether it was even possible to triumph in the face such seeming insurmountable obstacles was voiced.

It is, but the task is daunting. Amanda Sharpe and Monterey Jack both successfully investigated Other Worlds and closed their gates; unfortunately, the cost of doing so was high, and left the investigators unable to seal the gates and prevent new ones from opening. All three investigators—through the casting of spells, discharging of firearms, invoking of arcane artifacts and sheer dumb luck—defeated cultists and other monsters, collecting grisly trophies to mark their victories.

Alas, we were racing against the clock, as Chris had to get up at some silly hour the following morning, so we decided to wrap up at around 11:30. Two gates had been closed, the Terror level was at 2 (shops start closing when it reaches 3), the Doom track was four or five, and there were several monsters in the Outskirts.

Chris recorded the entire game on his MacBook. The recording may go up on the Rolemonkeys feed from The House of the Harping Monkey later this week. This feed is dedicated to actual play recordings of roleplaying games, but we thought a game of Arkham Horror might be of interest to the Harping Monkey audience. Only time will tell whether we were correct. I think I’d like to try recording another game, perhaps with a bit of actual roleplaying and a couple of pictures to make it interesting.