Sunday, July 29, 2007

Bionic Woman Television Review

Created by one of the co-creators of the critically acclaimed series "Battlestar Galactica", David Eick, "Bionic Woman" stars Michelle Ryan as Jamie Sommers. Jamie is a bartender who takes care of her deaf sister after the supposed death of their mother. After an attempted vehicular homicide against her boyfriend of five months, Jamie is injured almost beyond repair. Fortunately, her boyfriend works for a top secret organization that specializes in bionic replacement parts. So her boyfriend, the one who was supposed to be killed in the accident, walks out with nary a scratch and takes Jamie to be outfitted with two new legs, a new arm, and a bionic eye and ears. The rest of the episode has her struggling with the new power she has obtained that culminates in a final battle with the original bionic woman, Sarah Corvis (Katee Sackhoff, star of "Battlestar Galactica").

Unfortunately, despite an interesting premise, the show does not live up to expectations. The pilot is all over the place. Things seem to happen out of the blue and there really is no coherent structure overall. After realizing she's been outfitted with new bionic parts to replace the old, irreparable parts, Jamie freaks out. She gets angry at everyone around her and asks "What did you do to me?" Oh, I don't know Jamie. Maybe they just saved your life? Maybe THAT'S what they did. I think that having no legs and one arm would be highly negative in comparison to having a couple of badass bionic limbs. But maybe that's just me.

Michelle Ryan as Jamie Sommers does not seem to exude the presence that a role of this magnitude requires. Although it may be a result of poor writing, her attitude changes like the wind and this is not presented in a believable manner. Starting off completely angry and upset with her changes, by the end of the episode she is telling those who want her to join the secret organization that she will help on her terms and that she will kill anyone who tries to control her. Now, it may just be me, but it seems to follow that a person who may have never been in a fight in her life would not be so open to killing people with such conviction. This constant change in emotion is jarring and does not ring of much realism.

Despite the unfinished effects, they certainly need some work. The scenes of Jamie running super fast look dumber than the young Clark running along the train scene in the original Superman. When the POV moves to her bionic eye for the first time, it becomes somewhat difficult to understand what exactly it is that she is seeing, so having that cleared up a bit would be nice.

That is not to say that all is bad with the show. Some of the fight scenes are pretty decent as is Katee Sackhoff's original Bionic Woman character. And there is also an interesting premise lying within the show. Whether or not it could be fully exploited remains to be seen. The problem is at this point I do not ultimately care that much whether or not it gets there. When it airs, I may watch an episode or two to see where it goes, but given that there are so many other good shows I am currently watching, I do not see this overtaking my staple programming anytime soon.


Saturday, July 28, 2007

Pushing Daisies Review

Almost every year, there are inevitably those shows that may be difficult for the general public to really take a handle on. Despite the actual quality of the show itself, there exist certain irreverent aspects that sometimes are not able to translate to the mainstream. Pushing Daisies is one of those programs.

Written by "Dead Like Me" creator and former "Heroes" writer Bryan Fuller and directed by Barry Sonnenfeld of "Men in Black", "Pushing Daisies" tells the story of Ned (Lee Pace) who has the inexplicable ability to bring the dead back to life just by a touch. The only caveat to this gift is that if they stay alive more than a minute, someone dies in their place. And if he ever touches them again, they die again. This discovery was made as his mom kissed him goodnight as a child after suddenly dying from a brain aneurysm. In an attempt to honor his mother, he opens up a pie shop and distances himself from everyone in his life.

One such person he is distanced from is his childhood love, Charlotte "Chuck" Charles (Anna Friel) whose father he unexpectedly killed by keeping his mother alive for more than one minute. Kristin Chenoworth also stars as Ned's neighbor and employee at the pie store Olive, who is secretly in love with Ned and is curious as to why Ned seems to show no affection whatsoever for any living soul.

The only other person aware of Ned's gift is Private Detective Emerson Cod (Chi McBride) who witnessed the power when Emerson chased a suspect off the top of a building. Cod saw how he could exploit this power and entered into a business arrangement in which a person being murdered is brought back to life, tells them who the murderer was, and the two of them collect and split the reward. Their first big case happens to be solving the murder of Chuck and Ned, almost inadvertently, keeps Chuck alive. The rest of the subsequent episode is devoted to solving Chuck's murder.

The show has a very lighthearted vibe despite the premise being so heavy. Visiting murder victims and bringing them back for less than a minute at a time sounds much more morbid than it actually ends up being. Bryan Fuller has written an incredibly funny pilot which sets the stage for what could be an incredibly interesting show. A narrator humorously explains events and thoughts of the characters, which is not too different from the excellent contemporary classic "Amelie". This adds to the quirky atmosphere that so heavily permeates the program.

There is also the issue of the love between Ned and Chuck that can never be fully realized as a result of the fact that if he ever touches her again, she dies. What will be interesting to see is how this ultimately plays out and how the series will ultimately resolve this issues since it is one that truly defines the show.

What is mostly concerning is where they will go from here. Yes, Chuck's murder is one that needed solving but she was able to stay alive for more than one minute. Having this gift and keeping people alive for only one minute should be enough time to give them the information necessary to go straight to the source. Whether or not more situations like Chuck arrive in the future makes me wonder how much information can be given in one minute's time.

While the pilot was rather satisfying, I cannot help but wonder exactly how this level of quality will be maintained throughout the duration of the series. I will be watching this show with a high level of curiosity and could end up being one of the best if this quality continues.

"Pushing Daisies" airs Wednesdays 8/7C this Fall on ABC.


Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles Pilot Review

The Terminator franchise is one that just will not seem to go away. The first two movies by James Cameron were nothing short of brilliant. The Terminator was revolutionary for its time and made Arnold Schwarzenegger the star he is today. Terminator 2: Judgment Day was a completely different movie. Where the first movie was about accepting fate, the second movie was about changing it. T2 seemed to close essentially all gaps in the franchise. The creator of SkyNet was killed and all of his work went with him, thereby preventing Judgment Day from ever occurring. Of course, despite this, people still wanted to see some Terminators, so twelve years later, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines was released making a decent amount of money but was somewhat disjointed from the rest of the franchise. SkyNet was now essentially the internet and more focus was placed on John Connor's future family than that of John and Sarah, especially given that Sarah was written out by succumbing to leukemia.

Now here we are, barely four years later and a new, possibly long running installment in the Terminator franchise has arrived. What this television show, which will be running on the Fox network beginning in January, is attempting to do is stand in place of Terminator 3. Essentially pretending that T3 never existed, the show is open to so many more possibilities than it would have otherwise and could possibly be a worthy successor in the Terminator universe.

The show begins in 1999 as Sarah Connor (Lena Headey from 300) was just proposed to by her boyfriend of 6 months. Taking on the alias of Sarah Reese (after Michael Biehn's character Kyle Reese), she and John (Thomas Dekker) are trying to lie low after blowing up Cyberdyne two years prior. An FBI agent, James Ellison (Richard T. Jones) is hot on their trail so Sarah takes John away and brings him to New Mexico to start a new school and yet another new life. Since they stupidly did not change their aliases, the two Terminators are able to track them down with relative ease. When the initial Terminator battle happens between the protector, a seemingly fellow high school student Cameron (Summer Glau), and the killer (Owain Yeoman), the resulting witnesses see a robot leg and all sorts of destruction not able to be caused by normal people. This puts doubt in Ellison's certainty of Sarah's insanity. The rest of the episodes centers around the fact that Sarah still wants to stop SkyNet from going active and therefore the journey begins.

What is great about the episode is the casting of John and Sarah Connor. Edward Furlong, who played John in T2 was not the greatest actor. Yet, Dekker brings to the table a vulnerability that Furlong was missing and certainly does a better job than Nick Stahl in T3. Lena Headey does a phenomenal job of replacing Linda Hamilton in the role of Sarah Connor. Sarah Connor was Hamilton's iconic role and it is a hefty challenge to replace her. While not surpassing Hamilton, Headey does a more than adequate job of commanding the role and it should be interesting to see where she takes it over the course of the series.

The action is also phenomenal. The producers seemed to spare no expense. While there was only one shot of an all-out terminator, as cool as it was, the battle worn terminators are very realistic and on par with T2, if not quite T3's effects. The intensity of the earlier movies is still present here and I am very curious to see where it is going to go and how they will keep it up. The Terminator Cameron is a very interesting character and plays it with more humanity than any previous terminator, despite having no explanation as to why at this point.

There are a couple of big negatives that could ultimately be rectified by further explanation down the road. First of all, the creation of SkyNet happens in 2011 instead of 1998 or whatever the original timeline was. How this is possible given what transpired in the second movie will need a lot of explanation, although it is very superior to the completely unrelated SkyNet that was created in T3. Secondly, the way time travel is handled in this movie is completely against everything that was established in the first two movies. The Terminators and Kyle Reese all took one-way trips before the time machines were destroyed. There was no way of going back. Now, there seems to be more time traveling happening that does not fit into the established mythology. Yet, because this was such a blatant violation of the rules of the universe, I expect that there is a distinct possibility that there are good reasons for these changes. This is one of those things that I will have to wait on.

On one final note, the pilot that I have seen will be changed slightly upon its final airing since they recently revealed that they were going to be reshooting scenes in which a shooting occurs at a school in an attempt to be sensitive following the Virginia Tech shooting. Since this scene was so integral to the plot, I am curious to see how they will be changing it. Nevertheless, it was a very cool scene and a fun introduction to the Terminators.

Overall, the show begins with a bang. The cast is good and the story so far seems interesting, even though it's starting out to be a rehash of T2. I trust that they will find their footing and come up with some compelling Terminator stories. When I initially heard about the show, I thought it was going to be a terrible idea. I did not want to see it. Now that I have seen it for myself, I think it could have some serious potential and will definitely be on my must-see list come this January.


Friday, July 27, 2007

The Simpsons Movie Review

Over the past 17 odd years, The Simpsons have been a staple of Sunday night television. Banned from my household when I was very little because of the attitude the children have towards the parents, it eventually saturated television enough that my parents moved on to more pressing concerns and I was able to catch a good chunk of Simpsons episodes for a good number of years.
Yet, as the years went on, the show seemed to become somewhat stale, so over the last 8 years or so the number of new episodes I have seen have been few and far between. Of course, I could not pass up an opportunity to see how The Simpsons would fare on the big screen and the answer to that question would be rather well, if not particularly spectacular.

What "The Simpsons Movie" does well is necessarily expand the scope to a degree that one would expect for a film. Instead of cramming all sorts of ancillary characters into the movie in an attempt to please the legions of fans of the show, they instead focus primarily on the Simpsons family themselves and the story is ultimately Homer's.

Through an unfortunate series of events that highlight the irresponsibility of Homer Simpson, the town of Springfield becomes the most polluted city in the country. President Arnold Schwarzenegger is told by the Director of the EPA that a drastic plan needs to be put into effect. Through this, a giant dome is placed over the city of Springfield, separating it from the rest of the world. Once the facts are revealed that Homer is the one responsible for this travesty, the town is looking for vengeance. Now, the Simpsons need to find a way to save Springfield and keep their family together.

As stated before, the movie is good, but not great. And most of this is a result of the writing. A huge trap the writers could have fallen into was taking a 20-minute story and stretching it to 90-minutes in length. Fortunately, this was not the case. Every event follows logically from point to point and never lingers incessantly to pad the length. The narrative is largely coherent and rather focused. Despite the irreverence of much of the plot, Homer does go through a personal journey in which he attempts to grow as a human being. Whether or not this has happened before in the show, I am unaware, but it was certainly welcome to see here since this is a feature-length film.

Yet, there is nothing that really separates this from most of the run-of-the-mill comedies out there. Yes, these are the Simpsons and it would probably be one of the better episodes of the series, especially of the last few years, but there was nothing truly great about it. Most of the jokes only gave me about a half-smile until the end, where a few actual laughs shone through. And there were a few pretty funny jokes comparing the movie screening to watching the show on TV, but with those few exceptions, it just was not that funny. The alternative would be that the jokes were unfunny, like in Evan Almighty, so mildly funny jokes are much preferred.

Surprisingly, many of the most popular characters of the show are only shown in the background given little or nothing to say at all. Characters like Barney and Principal Skinner are barely in the movie and the two of them probably have a total of five or six lines, maybe less. This was necessary in keeping the story focused and it makes sense for why decisions like this were made.

"The Simpsons Movie" is a must see for anyone who is a fan of the Simpsons. They do a lot of things relatively well and they do not really do many things that are particularly negative. After nearly two decades waiting, expectations are obviously very high. Whether or not it met those expectations is up to individual viewers to decide, but as it stands alone the movie is slightly above average. If you do not like The Simpsons, nothing in this movie will probably change your mind even though it is a fairly well-told story. The Simpsons Movie is a nice, welcome diversion as the summer heads to a close for Simpsons and non-Simpsons fans alike.


Monday, July 23, 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Review (Pretty Much Spoiler Free)

I have never really done a book review before, as books are not really my thing. Lately, I have been trying to make more of an effort to actually read things above and beyond my normal reading habits, Harry Potter included. But every so often an entertainment experience happens that needs to be shared and therefore I have decided to share that experience with you.

My Harry Potter history is one that has happened more recently. I watched the first two movies because I certainly cannot miss any event movies, and when the third movie rolled around I found it to be the best so far, yet it did not entice me very much to read the books. Yet, in the summer of 2005, I found myself surrounded by fans of the books in massive anticipation for the sixth installment, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. At this point I found myself wanting to get on the bandwagon. There is nothing like an entertainment experience that is shared on a level with so many others. So, the day after the Half-Blood Prince was released, my friend Audrey loaned me the first five novels in their paperback form. And despite some bumps along the way (like a sunburn, a story for another time), I devoured those books like nothing I had ever done before. Within two weeks all six books had been read and I found myself a huge fan greatly anticipating not only the fourth movie which was to be released in less than six months time, but the 7th book, which I was willing to place money would be released on 7/7/7. Of course, someone should have taken me up on that bet because I was wrong. Not by much, but I was certainly wrong.

I followed the revelations with fervor. I was ready to experience the last chapter of the saga. Is Snape good or evil? How will Harry be able to manage his final quest without the aid of Dumbledore? Will Ron and Hermione finally get it on? These were questions begging serious answers and I could not wait to get my hands on them.

I was really hoping to experience the prerelease madness with some of my peers on the evening of July 20th. Unfortunately, given my recent move to South Carolina, I had no friends or relatives with which to share that experience, so I opted for the route. Then around 2PM on Saturday afternoon, I received the book. At 4:00PM I began reading and I read throughout the evening and night sporadically. At 2:30AM when everyone was asleep I picked up the book for the last time and read it until 6:08AM on the morning of the 22nd.

As a result, I can happily say that this installment did not disappoint, despite a few issues the book had along the way.

The book starts out the way the previous few had started out: outside Harry's perspective. Almost a brief prologue, it sets the stage for what is to come in the rest of the book, and for what you expect to see. When the story shifts back to Harry, the book really takes its time to get going. There is so much to be done in the book, as there are at least 4 Horcruxes that need to be destroyed before the final battle with Voldemort. Events such as Bill Weasley and Fleur Delacour's wedding do not even happen until Chapter 8. Much of what precedes the wedding is necessary exposition and moves along at a relatively brisk pace. Sure, I may have wanted them to do a little more during the beginning and really get into the heart of the quest, but compared to what happens next, the first portion is incredibly fast paced.

After the chapter on the wedding, things seriously start to slow down. A huge chunk of the middle section of the book is Harry literally camping in a tent wondering what to do and where to go next. Every time I turned the page, I expected them to get going but they really never seemed to. This isolation was not particularly helpful as there was surely so much going on in the wizarding world that would be interesting to see. Yet, this is Harry's quest and what must be done is done.

Fortunately, once that section ends, a stretch of somewhere around 250 pages is essentially non-stop action leading into a phenomenal conclusion and a battle that I could not stop thinking about how cool it would be to see on screen. There are moments near the end that I will not share for those of you who have yet to read that just floored me. Certain characters were developed in ways that I had never expected and acted in brilliant ways.

What really impresses me the most about the series is how intricate the fabric of the seven novels is woven. At no point do you believe that any of what was put in earlier books was by chance. Everything had a purpose. Characters whose motivations seemed to be clear cut in earlier novels are now turned on their heads. Fortunately, it never feels like a betrayal of those characters. If a change happens, then the reasons and purposes of those changes have been intricately laid in prior novels. Rowling did not write these books flying on the seat of her pants. She had a plan and implemented it almost perfectly. Very very few plot holes exist in these books. Granted, I am sure there are a few if a person looks hard enough, but you will be hard pressed to find them. There are a few questions I have (most interestingly about an item called the Elder Wand), but I feel there are answers out there that Rowling has just not given yet. I am sure there are answers to those questions, and maybe I just glossed over the answers and missed them.

The amount of death in the book is almost astonishing. Many characters die, some expected, some not so expected. Yet, with one exception, all of them are handled well and some are actually very touching.

The biggest complaint I have about the book is not enough time is spent with many of the periphery characters. Granted, this is ultimately Harry's story but after spending so much time with so many people it would have been nice to see how everyone was coping with the onslaught of the evil Voldemort rising to power. A little more time with Snape would have been crucial since he was so integral to the sixth book and the conclusion of his storyline is not exactly what I would have liked to have seen, even though it may come across better filmed. Indeed, there was a good portion of development given to Snape's character which was absolutely welcome to see because you are shown precisely the reasons why he did what he did and whether or not what he did was for good or for evil. Prior to the book's release, I was willing to bet loads of money on Snape's goodness, but no one took me up on the offer. Did they agree with me or was I just lucky that they didn't want to take my money? I won't give the answer here but I will say it was great to get the backstory that we did.

An epilogue was placed on the book telling you the fates of some of the characters, which I have somewhat mixed feelings about as it really does not give the reader that much information. While it was nice to have, it seemed to be somewhat disjointed with the rest of the book.

Ultimately, this is fiction at its finest. Many, if not all, of the themes are themes people have seen before. Good vs. Evil, dealing with issues of racial purity, an innocent thrown into a situation of which he seems to have little control, and so many more are all pulled almost straight out of a textbook on mythology written by Joseph Campbell. But the way Rowling was able to string together the plight of adolescence with so many of these heavier themes into a compelling narrative, one in which some of the most cohesive storytelling of all time is shared with the world, makes Harry Potter a definite recommend for anyone who loves a good story. These are not children's books. They are books for anyone who loves stories.
A definite recommend.

Overall: A-
Last 250 Pages: A+

Friday, July 6, 2007

Video Games Live: Detroit Review

As an avid video gamer, I have spent countless hours listening to the music from my favorite games. While many people would consider that to be rather odd, I feel that in today's video game environment, listening to that music is akin to listening to a piece of classical music or a composer's newest symphony.

Many games today are embarking on the trend of using fully orchestrated scores with renowned orchestras in an attempt to bring the player further into the game. An advantage of this revolution is that often times the music is wonderful on its own merits, outside the realm of video games. Which is precisely what Video Games Live attempts and is successful at accomplishing. This was my third video game concert in the last three years and I would unhesitatingly consider this to be the best one.

Prior to the show, an area of Orchestra Hall was sectioned off where people could play Guitar Hero II, enter a costume contest, or play some Halo 2 or Madden sponsored by GameCrazy. This really allowed a sense of fun and enjoyment to overwhelm you prior to the start of the actual concert. There was also some souvenirs that one could purchase in preparation for the meet and greet with the creators after the show. So I picked up a program and a poster.

We went to go sit down and saw people from all walks of life showing up for the event. It was quite interesting to see. The show began with a wonderful medley of classic games from Pong to Donkey Kong to Super Ghouls 'N Ghosts all set to perfectly choreographed video and brand new orchestrations, the likes of which raised the quality of much of the music to realms I had never expected it to. Even the games with which I had no personal connection were wonderful to hear live and knowing the humble beginnings from whence the music came was astounding, especially seeing how far the music has come.

After the medley, Tommy Tallarico came out to pump up the crowd and introduced a video of Hideo Kojima, creator of Metal Gear Solid, talking about the music to his game. This was immediately followed by one of my favorite performances of the evening, a Metal Gear Solid suite. Most of the music came from Metal Gear Solid 2 and if I am not mistaken a little from 3 as well. Hearing this live was truly remarkable. Video from Metal Gear Solid 1, 2, 3, and even 4 was shown to help emphasize the intensity of the music. A man dressed as a Genome Soldier (complete with exclamation point above his head!) ran around searching for Solid Snake. Of course, who could find Snake when he was hiding in a cardboard box just behind the soldier?

Yuji Naka, creator of Sonic the Hedgehog appeared on screen following the MGS Suite and introduced his music. Music from the original Sonic the Hedgehog was played in orchestral form as video from every Sonic game shown above. An excellent piece overall, although I would have liked to hear more from other Sonic games.

The box was still on stage after the piece and out popped Tommy Tallarico to bring a new twist to the evening. A person was pulled out of the crowd to play Space Invaders to the music and he had two minutes to beat the level to win some cash. Unfortunately, this guy was all over the place and won nothing, but it was fun to watch nonetheless.

In another interesting move, the next piece was from Medal of Honor, written by one of my favorite current composers, Michael Giacchino (Lost, Alias, The Incredibles). Instead of playing video from the game, video on loan from the History Channel displayed images of World War II. While never playing the game, I was fond of this music and found the footage to be absolutely moving when compounded with the orchestra.

Next up was a piece from Sid Meier's Civilization IV. Another game I am not familiar with, this was an excellent piece that was punctuated by a young male vocalist singing in a language with which I am not familiar but sounded right at home with the video playing above him.

Of course, what would a video game concert be without some classic Nintendo music? Mr. Tallarico introduced a video from Koji Kondo who introduced a piece from Zelda. The only complaint I have about this piece is that any rabid video game music fan would be familiar with this exact same orchestration, since it has been around for years. While I have never heard the piece live, I knew precisely what to expect because I had heard it before. This is not much of a complaint though, since it was beautiful to hear being played by the DSO and having video from every Zelda game played brought back some wonderful memories.

Coming back from intermission, Kingdom Hearts was next. Since Square would not authorize the use of their video in the concert, VGL went to Disney and used video from all the Disney movies represented in the Kingdom Hearts series. The video was astounding and beautifully choreographed to the music. This was only the "Simple and Clean Orchestration" from the first game, but after hearing the ineffective mash up that was attempted at last year's "Play! Symphony", this version was WHOLLY appreciated.

World of Warcraft came next and in my opinion this was the weakest piece of the night. I have never played WOW so there is no emotional attachment to the music, but hearing it on its own, I was not particularly impressed.

Next up was the Video Game Pianist, Martin Leung who played a suite from Final Fantasy, starting with my personal favorite "To Zanarkand". Running the gamut from a number of different Final Fantasies, I was mind boggled as to how a human being was able to move his hands so fast. Absolutely incredible. He would come out again a few minutes later to play some music from Super Mario World and Tetris. This was completely unexpected and an incredible surprise.

Somewhere around this time, two 8-year-olds were given the opportunity to play Frogger against each other in an attempt to win a $2500 laptop. No 8-year-old needs that kind of laptop, so yes, I'm a little bitter I didn't get the opportunity. Each child claimed he never played Frogger before, but one of them seemed like he may have been lying since the first kid never got to the logs and the second kid was kicking the crap out of the first one. A hilarious and fun moment which was presented with the Frogger music in real time by the orchestra.

Then, Koji Kondo came back on screen to present the Super Mario Bros. piece. This, again, was the same orchestration that has been around for nearly a decade. Despite this, it was still incredible to hear and was glad I got the opportunity to hear it while watching video from numerous Mario games.

The night was coming to an end and Michael Salvatori was brought on stage to introduce what was to be the final music of the night, music from one of my favorite games, Halo. This piece was so awesome and phenomenal to hear. Yet, once it ended, the music from Halo was not over yet, as Tommy Tallarico came out with his Pong-flavored guitar and started rocking out to the Halo 3 announcement teaser. This may have been my favorite piece of the night since I am a Halo nut and hearing all of that put together was almost something out of a dream.

Then, the night ended...wait, not exactly. How could ANY video game concert be complete without a rendition of one of the most overplayed video game tracks of all time? Nobuo Uematsu's "One Winged Angel" from Final Fantasy VII. While I thought I would be annoyed at hearing the song once again, having Tommy Tallarico on guitar injected a MUCH needed sense of fun that was missing at all other performances of the piece I have ever heard.

This being the third video game concert I have attended, I expected it to be on par with the other two. It wasn't. Bar none, this concert blew "Play! Symphony" right out of the water. Looking back, "Play!" seemed to be a concert put on almost to exploit those who like video game music. Nothing more than another revenue flow. The video was out of sync, sometimes the video did not work at all, and there seemed to be little to no care for the actual compositions. Every piece that "Play!" did that "Video Games Live" did, Video Games Live did better. No question. The music in VGL was more natural and did not attempt to cram entire soundtracks from a game into a 4-minute suite. Sure, there may have been disappointments in that this piece of music was not heard or I wished they played this instead of that, but these are all minor complaints overall. I would rather hear that which is played WELL and works as an individual work than a piece I prefer that is played shoddily.

The VGL production is top-notch. Despite the fact that I paid more than twice as much last year for my "Play!" ticket, I certainly did not get any more than I got here at VGL. The little touches such as yellow, ringed lights being shown during the Sonic suite really gave off an atmosphere of fun that made me smile like I was a little kid again. Prior to the show, I thought the lights were going to be gaudy and overwhelming, but I was incredibly wrong. All it did was add to the atmosphere in ways I did not expect.

The only real complaint I can offer is that it was too short. I wanted more. I wanted more Final Fantasy orchestrations, I wanted Beyond Good and Evil, I wanted Splinter Cell and God of War. Yet, at the same time, they probably were not able to be there all night. I suppose when your worst complaint is that it was not enough, then you came out all right.

After the show, there was a meet and greet with Tommy Tallarico, Jack Wall, Martin Leung, Michael Salvatori, and another composer whose name escapes me at the moment. All of these guys seemed genuinely excited to be there and talk to the fans. There was a passion there that was missing at the prior concerts I attended. These guys are fans like I am and truly wanted to share that love with us. And it makes all the difference in the world.

I leave you with one final note. If you go to one video game concert ever, go to Video Games Live. And if you're debating on whether or not to go to "Play! Symphony" or VGL, if you have the money, go to both. But if you only have enough for one, then pick Video Games Live. Trust me, you'll thank me later.


-Sean Diroff

Monday, July 2, 2007

Transformers Review

I am not familiar with the history of the Transformers. I watched them periodically as a child and I am sure I had a few of the toys as well, but the subtlety and nuances of character that were apparently evident in the cartoon show were not something that I picked up on. So going into this movie, I had no real expectations for which characters interacted with others and the histories between them.

At the same time, I find it hard to respect that sort of history which really boils down to advertisements for a toy line. Sure, people were greatly attached to these characters and these stories but to expect them to be adapted perfectly to the screen probably would have resulted in not much of a different movie and could ultimately have been bogged down by the attempts at robot characterization.

Of course, all that aside, Transformers essentially blew me through the back of the theater. The sheer spectacle of the film (I hesitate to even use that word since this is not a "film" in the auteur's sense of the word) is one that cannot and should not be missed by anyone who enjoys movies. Michael Bay ("The Rock", "Armageddon", "Bad Boys") crafts what could be considered his best movie yet and does it with such style that any lack of substance becomes a moot point.

The premise of the movie is a very simple one. Thousands of years ago, a cube known as the "Allspark" crash landed on Earth. Megatron, leader of the Decepticons, was able to locate the cube and attempted to track it down. Unfortunately, he missed his mark by a bit and was frozen in the Arctic Circle. So years later, his Decepticon buddies attempt to track him and the Allspark down. And of course, it's up to the Autobots, led by Optimus Prime, to stop them. The catalyst for all of this robot madness is Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) who puts the glasses of his grandfather on eBay, which just so happened to have Cybertronian (that's the homeworld of the Transformers for those keeping track) symbols etched into them from the discovery of Megatron in the Arctic over 100 years ago. Oh, and there is also something about a love story between Sam and Mikayla (the ridiculously gorgeous Megan Fox). So, in summary, track down the Allspark, have robots fight and all hell break loose.

The thing is, you never think about that. The human element works, absolutely. The charisma of all players is something that truly emanates from the movie and is what gives the movie its roots. Whether it be the members of the US Air Force (played by Josh Duhamel and Tyrese) or the Defense Secretary (Jon Voight), everyone plays it with such believability that this alien threat is accepted.

Of course, the true stars of the movie are the Transformers themselves. The things that these robots are able to do are incredible. After a few minutes on screen, you completely forget they are CGI creations and are completely believable as things occupying space and having mass. The transformations they undergo are completely mindboggling every time they occur. And on top of that, they all seem like characters, not just robots. Yes, I am sure to the diehard Transformer fan out there, they are missing certain characterizations that make them their unique selves, but each Autobot specifically brings something to the table. The Decepticons on the other hand are pretty interchangeable. With the exception of Megatron (voiced by an almost unrecognizable Hugo Weaving) and Starscream, they were really nothing more than showcases for the incredible technology and amazing battles.

The movie starts off relatively slow in comparison to what ends up happening, although in many action movies, the first couple of action scenes would be the pinnacle of the entertainment. Showing Sam's acquisition of Bumblebee and subsequent learning about his origins take up a fair amount of time. Yet, once Optimus Prime and the rest of the Autobots show up, there is essentially nonstop action with a few pauses for brief exposition. Of course, this is interspersed with some Transforming action in Qatar in which Tyrese and Josh Duhamel are responsible for holding the Decepticons Scorponok and Blackout at bay. Sam and the human element remain a factor throughout and most of the action is seen from their perspective, adding to the sheer spectacle of it all. Even small characters such as Anthony Anderson's hacker and Bernie Mac's auto salesman add to some of the many bits of humor throughout. And you also have the token hot hacker, played by Rachel Taylor, who figures out important alien info akin to Jeff Goldblum in Independence Day and is not taken seriously. And why should they? She's a ridiculously hot female computer nerd. I don't even believe those exist.

Steve Jablonsky delivers a rousing action score that is effective in ramping up emotion in particularly important scenes. It certainly helped to add to the overall mood of the movie and I will be anxiously waiting a score release.

Personally, I do not know who could have done a better job at crafting such amazing giant robot battles other than Michael Bay. Say what you will about his characterization and storytelling, the man knows how to shoot action. It pulls you in and doesn't let go. The fact that it was reportedly made for half as much as both Spider-Man 3 and Pirates 3 goes a long way to showing how well he is able to do his job, because to be quite honest, the action is twice as good as either movie.

If there are any complaints about the movie is that Optimus Prime is not given as much to do as I would have liked to see. Using the original voice actor was a choice many fans were happy about and I can certainly see why. Peter Cullen has such an amazing vocal charisma that he almost made me spur into action against the Decepticons. Being given a decent amount and wanting more is not that huge of a complaint to have in a movie such as this one.

I suppose I could complain about the lack of story. Yes, I can always appreciate a fleshed out story, but to be completely honest I did not expect one here. It just was not necessary. This was ultimately a battle between good and evil with the fate of the world at stake. With the increasingly complicated Pirates 3 and to an extent, Spider-Man 3, it was nice to see a movie where you could enjoy the movie for what it was and not be frustrated because of all the absurd turns it was taking.

The movie is left absolutely wide open for a sequel. I hope that we get one sooner rather than later because I personally cannot wait to see the further adventures of the Transformers. I may even check this one out again tomorrow. After a summer of perpetual tentpole disappointments, I am happy to say that one movie has finally delivered on its promise. I highly recommend this to anyone who enjoys a truly fun time at the movies.