Saturday, February 28, 2009

Galatea in 2-D

My mom told me about "Galatea in 2-D" around 1993, when it first came out. 12 years, two states, and several relocations later, I finally cracked the book open to see what all the fuss was about.

The title evokes images of a creator in love with his creation, and in that regard Galatea in 2-D is faithful: Illustrator Roger Simons discovers that his painting of a magical nymph comes to life in full, three dimensional form. Poor Roger is down on his luck after being slandered by an incident in which he supposedly sent cardboard blanks to Nonesuch Books. As a freelancer, he barely scrapes by, and Roger figures hallucinations are part of his downward spiral into homelessness.

Believing things can't get possibly worse, Roger has the misfortune of bumping into his old rival, Kevin Matthews. Kevin's got everything: the money, the fame, and a hot new wife named Julia. What he doesn't have is talent. But how?

Kevin's success is not without its victims. Kevin's ex-wife, Donna, was once a fellow artist, but now she's a shell of her beautiful former self. Eventually, Roger and Donna discover the common link to their misfortune is actually Kevin.

After Roger confesses to Kevin that he thought his pictures started coming to life, two people show up with the intent of killing him. As a last desperate measure, Kevin and Elsie end up in one of his paintings. And then things get really wacky…

Aaron Allston perfectly nails both the fiscal uncertainty and thrilling creativity of a freelancer, and he takes both to new extremes. What if an artist could create life just by thinking of it? And what if the better the artist, the better the life?

What ensues is essentially a war of wizards, as Kevin and Roger begin a magical duel to the death that spans cities and paintings. Roger and Donna's paintings consist of futuristic science fiction tropes (flying spy drones, robot clones, and laser rifles) while Kevin's paintings are something out of a Harryhausen flick (ancient Greek heroes, gargoyles, and stone Cyclopes). Along the way, Roger discovers his 30-something lust for a perfect dream girl looks a lot like a fellow mature artist than a clueless nymph.

With such limitless possibilities, Allston struggles to contain the plot. Roger decides to paint an incredibly powerful superhero, only to discover that there's a limit to what he can pull into the real world. And yet Kevin has crystal balls that record the goings on of "important people," but not his arch nemesis. When the final battle comes, Kevin seems a little too easily tricked. The conflict is inspired, especially because it takes place at a science fiction convention, but I saw the twist coming a mile away.

All in all, Galatea in 2-D is less about Galatea and more about the artist. For anyone who has ever been a freelancer, his frustration and aspirations make for entertaining (and sometimes painfully accurate) reading. If only we could all blame a Kevin Matthews for whenever a contract goes bad.

The Eyes of the Dragon

I've never liked Stephen King very much. The only story I liked of his (and I didn't know he was the author) was Hellcat, which was made into a pitifully moronic movie. And yet, while Stephen King is out of his element here, it's not a bad novel.
The appealing aspect of the story isn't the story line itself, which is rather straightforward, but the manner in which King approaches his subjects. The villain doubts himself at times - when the prince doesn't fall for his story at first, he begins frantically making other plans. Likewise, because the prince shows tears when accused of a crime, he is assumed guilty - an interesting and rare statement in a genre normally confined to the "heroic" part of heroic-fantasy.

And while we are reminded that King knows his horror element well, as his villains shine, it's also painfully obvious that he can't help but resort to being just plain gross to "enhance the atmosphere." I've always had this problem with all of King's books - he seems to lose interest in the plot and begins being disgusting, the difference between hack-and-slash horror and a truly terrifying presentation. Do we really need to read, in detail, a soldier picking his nose? Do we REALLY need to hear how much the prince's father farts? King is fixated on the "make them unlikeable so you don't feel bad when I kill them" method, which works fine in formulaic horror movies but is awkward and obvious here. Nevertheless, despite the occasional rude distraction, The Eyes of the Dragon is an entertaining read.

I've enjoyed many of Stephen Kings novels a great deal. Others I couldn't wait to finish (I always finish a book I've started, no matter how bad it gets!). He is either on his game or off it. In The Eyes of the Dragon, he is very much on his game. It is a departure from his normal fare of vampires, undead, aliens, and serial killers. His brings us into a world of fantasy complete with kings, dragons, heroes, and the inevitable Bad Guy™. The villain is one us SK fans have seen before in such incarnations as 'The Walkin' Dude' from The Stand. Yes, it's Flagg, playing the part of the evil sorcerer. Quite effectively, I might add.

I was delighted to pick up this book and find SK taking a wild gamble into a new genre. Yes, there are the obligatory graphic scenes Talien referred to, but I've read worse (Clive Barker, anyone?). I expect it and, yes, I take a sick fascination in some grotesque descriptions. I love to REACT to my reading, even if it is only to say "EEW!" and grimace. The Eyes of the Dragon is a wonderful tale of castle intrigue and heroism that has you rooting for the good guys and loving to hate the seemingly immortal Flagg.

The Discovery of Dragons

I stumbled upon this book when I was looking around in the Children's Section (yes, I do that), for the role-playing books. Terribly annoying that they put role-playing in that same category, but oh well, I'm not so proud that I won't go there. And I found, much to my surprise, a similar outcast - Base's books are written with amusement and sophistication, and while they could be entertaining if read to a child, they are not children's books. This one is gorgeous, with the dragons fully rendered, amusing (and fictional) notes in reference to them from various explorers, tiny cartoons in the framing illustrating the stories involving the dragons, and maps of the world which show where the dragon comes from. Also, the dragons have a size comparison, from a man (who happens to be running away in the silhouette comparison), to an elephant. The only flaw? A jungle dragon described as a "massive beast" in the text and shown to be much larger than a man in the cartoon frame, is shown as the size of a cat on the size-comparison silhouettes. An impressive side note: Base did the artwork too!

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans

Seeing current movies these days is a challenge with a very active toddler. When Valentine's Day came around, we dropped our son off with my parents and I let my wife pick the movie. She of course picked the "vampire movie." Which is why I love my wife.

As a big fan of Kate Beckinsale and the World of Darkness role-playing game, the Underworld series quickly became a favorite. It featured big budget special effects, lots of PVC and leather, and plenty of pouty vampires. It also featured a battle between vampires and werewolves, a concept that was so prominent in White Wolf's World of Darkness series that it sparked a lawsuit.

Despite the lawsuit, Underworld continues to forge its own path, such that it now has prequels. You know your movie franchise has made it when executives are willing to pay to produce what is essentially a history book. Fortunately, this bit of history is actually worth watching.

Werewolves and vampires have always been a bit of a mixed bag in Hollywood. The fact that Dracula could turn into a wolf seems to be one of the less plausible aspects of vampirism that were dropped in favor of the Ricean pouty goth. Thus the ability to transform into a wolf is exclusively the domain of the werewolf. But it wasn't always this way.

The vrykolakas, draws its name from "vryk," meaning "wolf" and lakas, meaning "fur" in modern Slavic languages clearly meant "werewolf." Vrykolakas in other countries, however, is used to describe vampires. This is because of the aforementioned ability of a vampire to turn into a wolf, which can be strictly interpreted as meaning that all vampires are actually werewolves.

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans turns this confusion into a plot. In short, vampires and werewolves are descended from the same bloodline, but the vampires have risen to the role of aristocrat while werewolves are little more than beasts. Or at least, that's what the vampires believe. To that end, Viktor (Bill Nighy) the vampire lord treats domesticated werewolf Lucian (Michael Sheen) as his foster son, giving him blacksmith duties that ensure werewolves don't transform with inward-pointing spiked collars. But Viktor's benevolence has limits, and when he discovers that Lucian is having a dalliance with his daughter Sonja (the delectable Rhona Mitra, who still isn't quite Beckinsale but comes pretty darn close), he teaches Lucian a terrible lesson. What Viktor underestimates is the kinship that Lucian has with his wilder brethren, a kinship that will spark class warfare.

Rise of the Lycans is basically what you get when you give a serious goth injection to the elves from Lord of the Rings, rehash the plot from Romeo and Juliet, and steal the feudal arrangement of vampires and their human "cattle" from the World of Darkness series. Nobody speaks in contractions. Everything is viewed through a dark blue lens. And lots of limbs get hacked off.

The real story here is the werewolves. It's their class struggle, after all, and the movie never shies away from the dire consequences of the characters' actions. There is a high enough body count on both sides to make Shakespeare proud.

Vampires. Werewolves. Vampires and werewolves killing each other. Two star-crossed lovers bound by their family allegiances and the curse of their blood. What more could you ask for in a Valentine's Day date movie?


It's very easy to assume that Defiance is a wish-fulfillment revenge narrative wherein we finally witness stories of common folks who resisted the Nazis with tooth and nail. A certain entertainment magazine reviewer blithely dismissed the entire film as too "Hollywood," because Tuvia (Daniel Craig) murders the entire family who assisted in the Nazis in wiping out his family. The review's assessment couldn't be further from the truth.

Defiance is the true story of Tuvia and Zus Bielski (Liev Schrieber), two brothers who lived on the fringes of polite Jewish society by surviving in the deep woods, more akin to bandits than heroes. Where Tuvia is cool-headed, Zus is dangerously violent. The two soon discover a widening circle of friends and distant relatives seeking their protection, until Tuvia is moved to rescue Jews from a ghetto. Now he has to contend with well-bred city folks who know nothing about surviving in the Russian winter.

Defiance never glamorizes death. The Nazi attacks share less screen time, presumably because audiences need no convincing about the nature of their crimes. But even the Bielski retaliation against German troops is miserable -- Germans plead for their lives even as they are executed. War, Defiance tells us, is reprehensible, and it is a task for rough men. The question is if rough men are responsible for protecting the weak. Why should soldiers protect civilians?

Every ugly part of war is on full display here: defections, in-fighting, disease, starvation, alliances of convenience (between men and women, Russians and Jews), bigotry, incompetence, loss of faith, and yes, brutal, bloody revenge. By the end of the film, audiences are less likely to feel vindicated as they are disgusted by the places Defiance takes us. This is not a feel good film, not even as a revenge fantasy.

Defiance doesn't cover every angle. As criminals themselves, the Bielskis surely committed crimes we don't see on screen (see the Wikipedia entry on the Bielski partisans for more). But it is hardly a glamorized portrayal of their experience.

Transporter 3

Transporter 3's lead writer (Luc Besson) has a thing for redheads.

I came to this conclusion after watching Transporter 3. I'm a big fan of Besson's science fiction foray, The Fifth Element, and all I could think as I watched the slinky, thickly accented Valentina (Natalya Rudakova) was how Transporter 3 would have been so much better if it had been Milla Jovovich in the role.

That I was distracted by the stiff Rudakova's acting is a testament to how much the film insists on zooming in on her, letting her drone on and on in her broken English, and the endless patience that Frank Martin (Jason Statham) seems to have for what amounts to a rich brat in a miniskirt and heels.

Oh right, the plot. So anyway, Martin is a wheelman who does jobs with certain rules. These are all meant to ensure success in Martin's job as a wheelman. By the time we reach Transporter 3, every one of those rules has been broken.

And that's the problem. The rules made Martin interesting. In Transporter 3, Martin has become a walking parody of himself, fetishized by the director to strip away (literally) everything likable about him, only to replace it with beefcake shots of Statham with his shirt off, whip-cut fight scenes that don't let us see his martial arts prowess, and aggravating supporting characters whom the Martin we know from the first movie would have left on the curb.

The gimmick here is that Martin can't just run away from his job because a super-advanced device is connected to his wrist that will blow him up if he is more than 75 feet away from the car. For reasons that only make sense to movie villains, Martin is forced to drive Valentina to a variety of locations, during which they track him constantly.

That's right, the bad guys track Martin's every move. In fact, the movie is obsessed with keeping Martin in the car to the point that the entire universe seems hell bent on keeping him in it. Even the laws of physics are in on this cruel joke, which helpfully bends its laws to allow Frank to do ridiculous things like drive his car on two wheels, float it to the surface using air pressure from its tires alone, and land it on a moving train.

The generic villain Johnson (Robert Knepper) is a victim of the So Bads. As in, he's So Bad that:
  • ... he kidnaps drunk college girls!
  • ... he shoots his own men when they asks stupid questions!
  • ... he's helping sneak toxic waste into Europe!
That's right, uber-villains can now hit a new low: they're not just mean to you, they're mean to the environment!

The movie just spirals from there. Valentina, patently unlikable, somehow seduces Martin, who doesn't show the least bit of interest in her. Given that the ransom picture of Valentina shows her in a schoolgirl's uniform, there's at least a ten-year difference between her and Martin. Ick.

There are so many logic fallacies that you have to wonder if Besson's just mocking his audience. Statham as Europe's answer to the Kung Fu martial artist is just plain awesome -- I loved him in The Transporter and was willing to forgive the silliness of Transporter 2 -- but this is too much. Frank Martin deserves better.

Chinese Super Ninjas

First, let's get something straight: this is the best martial arts movie ever. It demonstrates Real Ultimate Power in ways I cannot even conceive, and if I could my head would explode from the Sheer Ninja Awesomeness of it all.

What, you still don't believe me? Here's why this movie is the awesomest:
  1. This movie features a war between Chinese and Japanese warriors. So we get kung fu vs. samurai and ninja! Because this movie has the Awesome Dial turned up to 11, it starts with a fight between two schools, each showing off their amazing martial arts with the most unlikely weapons ever. Who wants plot when you can see guys killing each other with pinky rings?
  2. The five element ninjas are all color-coded for your convenience. Fire, Earth, Wood, Water, and Gold. Now I know what you're saying: Instead of the five traditional Asian elements of Fire, Earth, Wood, Water, and Metal, why go with Gold? Gold is wimpy! It's not even a hard metal! Why not Steel or Iron? I'll tell ya why: gold is glittery. And beautiful. Which is why Gold ninjas wear glittery gold parasol hats that can double as shields. They can use them to reflect light and blind opponents, and just like every good gold-digger, they can stab you in the back with blades that shoot out from the parasol-hats. Okay, I was stretching there but stop arguing because YOU SO KNOW THAT GOLD PARASOL HATS THAT SHOOT DAGGERS ARE AWESOME.
  3. There are helpful credits that explain everything the ninjas do is based on real weapons. This movie isn't just a spectacular explosion of martial arts madness, it's educational too: You could write a book report about it and I bet your teacher would totally give you an ALPHA, which is better than the letter A because this movie is so amazing mere letters will not do!
  4. There's a hot chick that dresses in fishnets. And when she's not in fishnets, she's taking off her ninja clothes! And when she's not taking off her clothes, she's betraying our bitter hero. Take that feminism!
  5. The hero and his three brothers have some of the coolest axe/flag/chain/scissor/polearms/stilts this side of the galaxy. Their weapons can do ANYTHING. Including chop people, blow away smoke, cut ropes, tear off limbs, stab people in the gut, and avoid people stabbing you in the groin from underground.
  6. At any point in time, our hero who also happens to be a ninja, flips out and kills people. And I mean a lot of people. He rips peoples arms off. He rips peoples legs off. And at one point he rips their arms AND legs off at the same time!
  7. The big boss ninja bad guy uses a fan. He's THAT confident in his manliness! Don't mess with him, it takes four guys to even have a chance of taking him down!
  8. The ninjas are totally silent. They can get past your stupid falling brick trap and your crazy rooftops bells trap with their eyes closed. Pretty sure they did that by turning the sound off BUT WHATEVER NINJAS ARE AWESOME.
  9. The good guys wear capes. CAPES!
  10. Two words: Super. Awesome. Dubbing.

Journey to the Center of the Earth

Remember the old Journey to the Center of the Earth movie, with the optically enlarged lizards presented as dinosaurs (colloquially termed "slurpasaurs")? That was what passed for a nifty special effect in 1959. Today it's 3-D effects.

Of course, audiences of today are far too sophisticated to fall for lizards with horns and fins glued to them; in the age of movies like Jurassic Park, only a digitally animated Gigantosaurus will do.

This latest incarnation of Journey is surprisingly true to its roots: Trevor Anderson (Brendan Fraser) is an absent-minded volcanologist who is spending ten days with his nephew, Sean (Josh Hutcherson). Trevor's brother and Sean's father Max disappeared a decade before looking for the center of the Earth. Max left behind sensors that detect geological shifts in the Earth's crust and a cryptic series of notes in a Jules Verne novel (guess which one?). When one of the sensors fails in Iceland, Trevor decides to go on an adventure in 1950s fashion, bringing along his plucky nephew for the ride.

Accompanying Trevor and Sean is the fetching Hannah Ásgeirsson (Antia Briem), the daughter of another volcanologist and the only person with any spelunking skill whatsoever. While checking on the device, lightning strikes, our heroes dive for cover, and from there it's a lot of falling, screaming, and running.

This is a 3-D movie, which means that at various times and for no reason whatsoever, something flies straight at the screen. Since you will likely not have invested in the expensive 3-D glasses and you may not have even had the good sense to rent the 3-D version, this makes the movie seem even dumber than it is.

The other surprise is that despite the dinosaurs and the hottie, this movie is aimed at a younger set. The dialogue isn't very good, although Fraser does his best. Sean is meant to be a wisecracking preteen modern hero, but he reverts quickly to type. Scenes that are meant to be scary are played up for laughs: giant venus flytraps get pummeled in wrestling-style fashion, flying killer fish get batted away like softball practice, and there's a long and pointless mine cart sequence whose sole purpose is to show off the 3-D effects of the glasses you didn't buy.

Did I mention the irritating glow-in-the-dark mascot? There's a bird. It follows Sean around. Only he can understand it. And it glows in the dark.

Ultimately, Journey is more an amusement park ride than it is an actual movie. Because amusement park standards are much more family-friendly, Journey to the Center of the Earth is heavy on the Journey, light in the Center.


It seems the notion of magic books that best Real Ultimate Power are something of a trend in martial arts cinema (the awful Forbidden Warrior is still fresh in my mind). Here too is a tale of a warrior, Ling Wu-Chung (Sam Hui) and his girl-posing-as-boy sidekick whom he calls Kiddo (Cecilia Yip). They become embroiled in a battle over a ... you guess it, sacred scroll. Mixed in with the machinations of the two royal families fighting over the scroll is an old pirate and his younger companion, who have written a melancholy song (also on a scroll) that they cherish ... together, if you get my meaning. Or maybe you don't, because I'm not sure the "close" relationship between the two pirates was intended for that interpretation.

Anyway, everyone's after the scroll: Zhor (Yuen Wah) with his high-pitched feminine voice that I only realized later was a eunuch, Ah Yeung (Jacky Cheung) a soldier who is willing to go undercover to find the scroll, and Ngok, Wah Mountain School leader and Ling's master.

At some point, the massacres that ensue over the scroll are blamed on the Sun Moon Sect. So even weirder people get involved, including the whip-wielding Chief Ying (Cheung Man) and her snake hurling lieutenant Blue Phoenix (Fennie Yuen). You read that right: Blue Phoenix uses snakes as a martial arts form, tossing them out from beneath her robes to poison and ensnare people.

There is an implied relationship between Ling and Kiddo, but it's never realized. Kiddo bristles at being called a boy when she's obviously an attractive young woman, but Ling doesn't seem to notice. Ling himself seems to be something of a smirking doofus, excelling in martial arts but mostly unaffected by the horrors that ensue over the scroll. It's like the actor can't bring himself to take Ling seriously.

There seems to be multiple threads running throughout the storyline, chock full of characters who can barely fit on screen much less in the plot. SPOILER ALERTS: Ah Yeung discovers his true lineage, Ling discovers a new martial art from an old man (the aforementioned Swordsman, I'm guessing) and uses it to defeat Ngok, who turns out to be Kiddo's father. There's the hint of a relationship between Chief Ying and Ling, and Ling and Kiddo, but this is all so subtle it's hard to be sure. And of course Zhor gets his comeuppance in an explosive and well-deserved finale.

There is a stab (ahem) at bringing the story full circle in at least two ways. The Sacred Scroll gets repeatedly confused with the Song Scroll the pirates wrote. The implication seems to be that the true sacred scroll is the melancholy song these two guys on a lonely ship wrote together. They lyrics translate into something rather melancholy, but the actors all seem to be smiling as they sing it, so my guess is the subtitles are missing context. The other plotline is that of the martial arts style of the drunken Swordsman, which involves twirling people around like tops and using other people as yo-yos by snapping them out from their belts. The yo-yo martial arts doesn't quite have the gravitas of the philosophical question of Which Scroll is Better, but you get the idea.

The Swordsman is a brutal, violent film that makes the most of its limited special effects budget with innovative camera tricks, featuring martial arts that can punch holes in wood and people with the flick of a finger, burst through ceilings, blow an army of soldiers off a dock, and yes send snakes flying. It has to be seen to be believed. Watch it for the wildly imaginative martial arts styles, but don't expect much in the way of a plot.

What Ifs? Of American History

As a gamer, I have a special fondness for the What If series. Many gaming scenarios have been built around the different realities occuring from alternate history - heck, anyone can speculate on a different outcome of the Civil War, World War II, or the possibility of World War III. What If brings a level of expertise to the table, "preeminent historians" according to the back cover.

An important staple of an alternative history series is education, demonstrating how things could be different if a particular event or choice wasn't made. I learned a lot more about World War II from this book by what didn't happen, which helped reinforce why events unfolded as they did. In that regard, alternate history scenarios are a great teaching tool.

Unfortunately, the editor (and I blame the editor, Robert Cowley) doesn't seem to be able to rein in his writers. With this many essays, there's bound to be some differences in quality. But the writers never agree on the RULES of the essays themselves.

Not all the essays actually lay out alternate history. Some of the essays are essentially summed up as "WHEW! Boy are we lucky things turned out the way they did!" Which isn't nearly as educational as showing what could have happened. There are plenty of other experts that can simply tell us about the near misses of history.

Not all of the essays are grounded in actual history. It's fine to lay out alternate history, but for a neophyte who isn't familiar with the timeline of events, speculation without a comparison to the actual events just muddles the waters. When the writers use active voice, you have no idea if our guide to history is in fact speculating or retelling actual events as they happened. Opinion? Fact? Hypothesis? It's never clear.

Finally, some of the essays are outright fiction, Joe McCarthy's Secret Life being the most egregious example. So what, exactly, is this essay trying to prove? How easy it would be for McCarthy to actually be a member of the communists he was rooting out? What's the lesson here?

Some of these essays have been reprinted from the What If series before, which is odd - I imagine the group interested in this series already read the first volume and their inclusion "as a bonus" seems a little disingenuous. If the plan was to have this volume be a reference, it falls short of its goals.

That said, What Ifs? of American History is an interesting if uneven collection of opinions, predictions, and history lessons about America. Worth reading, but you might want to keep a history textbook nearby.

Forbidden Warrior

Forbidden Warrior sounds interesting at first. Hot chick? Check! Mystical powers? Check! Martial arts? Check! It has all the right ingredients to be awesome ...

But it is so the opposite of awesome. It is, in fact, the anti-awesome.

The plot, what little there is, involves two brothers and a pirate on a quest to find Seki (Marie Matiko), the magical girl who can read the magical book that will unlock the Secrets of the Land. She is raised by a blind flying Anglo hippie who speaks in SLOW. PLODDING. SENTENCES, and spends much of her time in the wilderness, picking flowers and eating berries.

Into this idyllic lifestyle wanders an Asian pirate and his hot white chick companion (Musetta Vander, who seems to have no purpose other than to glare at people). The pirate instantly falls in love with Seki. What this plot has to do with anything, I have no idea.

The real story is about the two brothers, raised to be ruthless by their overbearing father. They're seen as kids fighting against each other, and then again decades later, only nobody has aged one bit except the two boys. Ah, movie magic!

Each brother has his own henchmen. The Good Brother has a group of misfit white guys: a fat guy who speaks gibberish named Jibberish, a Jerry Lewis imitation named Mouse, and a big guy named Tall Tall. Did I mention Tall Tall interprets everything Jibberish says? Are you laughing yet?

Fortunately the Bad Brother has some cooler bad guys, including Yang Sze (played by Al Leong, who has been in every American film featuring martial arts as every moustached Asian bad guy). Lots of time is spent establishing how bad the Bad Brother is and how Good the Good Brother is. SPOILER ALERT: These two are going to fight over the girl!

And then she will use the magic the flying white hippie taught her!

And there will be a big sword fight!

And then there will be very little actual martial arts!

And now that I think about it, there wasn't all that much magic either ...

In short, Forbidden Warrior lowers the bar for chop-sockey flicks down to its toenails, then trips over it. On the upside, it will make a hilarious drinking game.

Zu Warriors

I saw the subtitled version on KungFuHD (which alas, no longer exists). I didn't take notes while watching the movie, so I'm sure I got some of the names wrong. I would point out that the below review contains spoilers, but really, the entire movie could be watched backwards and it would make as much sense as what I'm about to reveal, so I'm not giving away that much. Here's what I can figure out...

The immortal land of Zu consists of three different nations. There's the warrior monks led by White Eyebrow guy, which includes the super-powered fighting team of Thunder (a male) and Lightning (a female), some guy named Hawk (Wolf's buddy) with metal wings (like Archangel from the Marvel comic series), and some other sword fighting guy I will call Sword. White Eyebrow guy wields a powerful Shield of Heaven, which shines light on things and can destroy them. Then there are the peaceful bald monk types, who preside over the balance of Heaven. They are generally non-combatants. Finally, there's a nation of two people: the lone wolf protagonist (no clue what his name is, but let's go with Wolf), and his mentor/love interest (lets call her Moon). Wolf wields the power of the sun, Moon wields the power of the uh, moon, which manifests as a flying crescent blade.

These are immortals, remember, so everyone can fly, wields powerful magical weapons, and sneers at humanity.

One day, Mordo, the bad guy who consists of a huge flying stream of screaming skulls, decides to return to power and attack Zu. Mordo is basically a guy in a Cthulhu-mask, which really ruins the cool effect of his screaming skulls. Anyway, Mordo begins systematically destroying each of the Zu lands, killing Moon. Upon dying, Moon bestows the floating crescent blade to Wolf. Mordo is finally driven off by the White Eyebrow Superfriends.

Mortally wounded, Mordo hides in a Blood Cave, where he is able to absorb everyone's magical weapons, including White Eyebrow's Shield of Heaven. Now it's a standoff - White Eyebrow's team can't fight Mordo without losing their weapons, but Mordo is still recovering, slowly gaining energy to unleash his evil wrath on the world. So Hawk gets the sole duty of watching the cave to ensure Mordo doesn't escape while White Eyebrows comes up with another plan.

If that doesn't seem colossally stupid enough, White Eyebrow's plan is to merge Thunder and Lightning into one person. But they must both be one hundred percent confident as they ram into each other. Failure means they explode. If you're missing the symbolism, Thunder wields a long, giant blade that he thrusts forward when he rushes into Lightning ... you get the idea.

Anyway, Wolf is pretty miserable now that his mentor is dead. When Thunder flinches as he tries to merge with Lightning, they're both destroyed. Thunder is reborn as a childlike moron and Lightning seems to be unaffected - but in truth, White Eyebrows rebuilt her with a piece of Moon's spirit. Fortunately, because Thunder is an idiot, there's no danger of any sort of love triangle.

Hawk, in the mean time, gets fooled into feeling sorry for a little faerie that escapes from the cave. It turns out the faerie is actually a demon that ends up possessing poor Hawk. So Hawk goes on a killing spree, wiping out most of White Eyebrows' team.

Somewhere along the line, Sword falls for a human female soldier, who doesn't have much to do but stand around in awe of all the flying immortals and their amazing incompetence.

By now you've figured out how the story ends, right? No? This isn't clear enough for you? Sheesh, some people need everything explained ...

White Eyebrows decides to try to find the secret of the universe. He leaves Super Team Defense to Wolf, infusing him with some mystical knowledge. This knowledge is encased in one of those sparkly glowy crystal things that float over the Sims. Then, in the tradition of Ben Kenobi, he fades away, as all white-haired guys must. Only in the ensuing battle with evil, Wolf dies. Fortunately he is reconstituted when White Eyebrows discovers the secret of the universe, healing Wolf.

Thunder finally remembers who he is (his irritating dialogue is supposed to be hilarious, I gather), gets it on with Lightning, and their Wonder Twin Powers activate. So Thunder/Lightning and Superenlightened Wolf face down Evil Hawk (who does not have a goatee) and Mordo in the Blood Cave lair. Fulfilling his oath, Wolf kills Hawk and puts him out of his misery. Mordo is defeated. Moon's reincarnated spirit either leaves Lightning or manifests, but I can't remember because I didn't care at that point.

The end.

It's telling how many people praise this film without providing any detail as to the plot. That's because this hyperkinetic mess is a tangle of poor special effects, bizarre storyline plotting, and far too many characters to follow. Some of this can be chalked up to differences in culture and translation. But a lot of it can't.

It should have been an anime.


When my parents came to visit to celebrate my father's birthday, my wife rented Pi, an "indie sci-fi" film as described by Netflix. When I used those two words to describe the movie, he said, "oh great, I've never seen an Indian science fiction movie!"

Pi was not made by Indians. And it's not really a science fiction movie. It's more of a weird fiction movie, extrapolating a single idea and obsessing over it. Max Cohen (Sean Gullette) is a brilliant, eccentric mathematician who is convinced he can apply the laws of mathematics to nature, and by proxy, the stock market. Since the stock market is a reflection of humanity, which is a reflection of nature, he believes there is a pattern that can be mathematically predicted. Predict the stock market and get rich, right?

From the beginning, we're never sure why Max wants so badly to pursue this path to power. Is he sick of being poor? Perhaps it's to succeed where his mentor, Sol Robenson (Mark Margolis), failed. Sol's stroke stopped him from puzzling out of the answer, which is precisely 216 characters long.

And so we have two philosophies that are actually one and the same: that mathematics of sufficient scope IS nature. Or in other words, the entire universe could be predicted if we just had enough computing power to handle it. Which could be interpreted as the definition of God. This dichotomy manifests as the Kabbalist Lenny Meyer (Ben Shenkman) on one side and the corporate goon Marcy Dawson (Pamela Hart) on the other. Meyer seeks to reclaim the connection with the heavens through the Tetragrammaton, the name of God, and he believes it's 216 characters long. Dawson just wants Max to figure out the secret of the stock market, presumably to make a lot of money. It's the old religion vs. science debate.

The stark black and white film further delineates Pi's either/or approach. It's so washed out that it begins to induce the migraines Max experiences as he gets ever closer to the truth. Aronofsky is a master of translating human misery through visceral images, and the whip-snapshot sequences of Requiem for a Dream's drug addiction are in full evidence here. Even the soundtrack sounds similar, which plucks at the nerve endings in your gums with ever-increasing urgency.

Pi isn't a bad film, but it's intellectually challenging. There's precious little science in Pi, or valid mathematics, or even an accurate portrayal of Kabablism. It uses artistic license to make its point -- that the nature of God is beyond human ken - and ultimately beats the viewer over the head with it in the end. Literally.

3:10 to Yuma

3:10 to Yuma is an update of the 1957 movie that's in turn an interpretation of a 1953 Western short story by Elmore Leonard. The 1957 movie cleverly tweaked the Western, inverting the white hats/black hats trope at a time when the genre was chiefly focused on morality. And yet while it flirted with the notion that good guys can be bad and bad guys can be good, it wasn't really willing to go so far as to make the characters more than lovable rogues. So perhaps it was inevitable in the era of Westerns like Unforgiven where the West is an unpleasant, unfair place, that the latest incarnation of 3:10 to Yuma is both more brutal and more fanciful than its predecessor.

The story follows Dan Evans (Christian Bale) and his family, a lame Civil War veteran on a struggling ranch. He has been borrowing money and time from Glen Hollander, a landowner who is more interested in moving Evans' ranch than getting paid. As played by Bale, Evans is a desperate man - as weathered and bitter as a piece of broken leather. He yearns for the respect of his wife and two sons. And when he crosses paths with outlaw Ben Wade (Russell Crowe), Evans sees his chance.

Wade is a gentleman outlaw. Suave, violent, and dressed in black, he leads a ragtag band of murderers who will stop at nothing to get the gold, as exemplified by a daring raid on a stagecoach guarded by a gatling gun. Never mind that the gatling gun's weight would make it an impractical accessory for a stagecoach, or that the noise from the gun would most certainly spook the horses.
Given the opportunity to deliver Wade for a bounty, Evans is determined to bring him to justice. At first, it's just for the money, but it becomes clear that it's for more than that - it's to regain a measure of respect, for himself and from his family. Wade comes to like Evans, a man of conviction and courage that he finds lacking in his own gang. When Evans' son William (Logan Lerman) tags along, Wade develops a deeper appreciation for the father/son bond. Through a variety of travails that include Wade's outlaw past coming back to haunt him, the two become brothers in arms.

By the time they get to Yuma, it's clear Wade isn't easily captured or confined; he repeatedly escapes and brags that Yuma prison won't be able to hold him either. So he's literally going along for the ride in the hopes of a happy ending for all: giving Evans his life back and Wade going free once more. That's where the similarities between the movies end. The finale is a gut punch that ratchets up the stakes.

A strong Hollywood Western streak runs through 3:10 to Y uma, starting with the aforementioned gatling gun on a stagecoach. Wade wears a black hat. Charlie Prince (Ben Foster), Wade's right-hand man, twirls his pistols. And for all the talk about Evans being lame, he only occasionally limps - he can shoot, run, and ride with the best of them.

As a realistic depiction of the Wild West, 3:10 to Yuma falls short. But as a meditation on good and evil that gives its actors an opportunity to showcase their considerable talents, Yuma hits its mark ... right between the eyes.

10,000 B.C.

Ten things I learned from 10,000 B.C. (spoilers beware!):
  1. Nobody speaks in contractions.
  2. Everybody is dirty.
  3. Nobody speaks the same language except for one guy in Africa, and yet the translation of "Mammoths" is "Mannak."
  4. The way to get a bull mammoth to stampede is to stand up in the middle of the herd and scream your head off.
  5. Even isolated arctic tribes have tremendous racial diversity.
  6. The pyramids were built either by space aliens or Atlanteans.
  7. Egyptian pharaohs were white guys who spit a lot.
  8. 10,000 B.C. had its own versions of velociraptors: giant angry chickens.
  9. For some reason only white men can lead the more powerful and numerous African tribes.
  10. Blue-eyed girls are hot.

My Tank is Fight

I bought My Tank is Fight at World Fantasy Con when I was looking for something to buy in the dealer's room. It appealed to my peculiar tastes: weird history, alternate history fiction, technical details of weapons and armor, and a good dose of humor. In other words, the same stuff you find in most role-playing game books these days (if you can find them). So in a rare move, I bought myself a brand-new book.

As weird history, My Tank is Fight does an admirable job of spotlighting the various weapons conceived for World War II that were impractical from the start. Divided into land, sea, and air, these devices are mostly from the Germans (with one Canadian/American exception), spawned from sheer desperation as the war waned. They can be categorized as two different types:

Bigger is Better: The same old boring weapon, only GINORMOUS. Beyond the cost of creating these monstrosities, they were too heavy to actually use (giant tanks can't cross bridges) or too obvious a target for the Allied bombers.

Combine This With That: Combining a tank with a plane, or a submarine with a tank. Yes, technically these devices could conquer two types of terrain, but they ended up being pretty terrible at traversing both.

As if all these historical details are too boring to keep an adult's attention span focused, the book has frequent jokes - some funny, some just plain sophomoric - wherein the author slips into first person. It's a little jarring, when the rest of the book is relatively somber.

Additionally, there are fiction vignettes highlighting Nazis, Russians, and an American reporter's experiences with these superweapons in an alternate history where they're actually created and used. The Russian sniper's story is interesting but too brief, with no satisfying resolution. The Nazi tank commander's story isn't really wrapped up, while the Nazi pilot's story is wrapped up but out of sequence, which muddles the narrative. Finally there's the American reporter, who is by far the most fun.

Spoiler alert as I dive into the conclusion of the book here...

Nazi Germany explodes a nuclear bomb over New York City. This seems to be taken very lightly in the fictional narrative, with the author indicating that "although the Americans wanted to immediately bomb Germany, cooler heads prevailed and they bombed Japan instead."

Sorry, I don't buy it. After America's experience with 9/11 and Iraq, a Nazi atom bomb detonating over New York seems like it would garner a much more ferocious reaction. Unfortunately, there's really not room for My Tank is Fight to explore the implications of this hugely history-altering event. The bigger news seems to be the cover-up of Nazi space exploration. In comparison to the massacre of thousands of Americans, giving a fig about a single Nazi still stuck on a German space station seems a bit trite.

Ultimately, My Tank is Fight is a breezy, entertaining read. I kept thinking, "this would be fantastic for a game!" - be it a role-playing game or a first-person shooter set in World War II, wherein the boss battles feature these preposterous super weapons. If you have an interest in alternate history or World War II history, but are too lazy to do any actual research, this is the book for you.

The Bourne Ultimatum

I really wasn't fond of the Bourne Supremacy, which boiled down to, "you're a trained killer, so let's get you involved in a random plot because the audience only cares if you kick butt!" Fortunately, Ultimatum makes up for the lame duck sequel with a movie that actually advances the plot.

Bourne follows a cell phone trail, similar to the latest Bond films (or rather, the Bond films took the idea from Bourne): kill a bad guy, take his phone, page through his address book, trace its location, find bad guy, repeat. This eventually leads to the Treadstone training facility where Project Blackbriar, and Jason Bourne, was created.

The Bourne Ultimatum plays fast and loose with reality; occasionally Bourne just appears and disappears despite the best technology Treadstone has ad its disposable. The message seems to be that even the best surveillance is ultimately flawed because it uses people, and people make assumptions that trip them up. Bourne exploits the arrogance of Treadstone so effectively that he has them running in circles. There are some amazing fight scenes, thrilling chase scenes, and a few scenes that just drag on and on. Jumping from building to building in Madrid gets old after awhile.

Spoiler alert! At the heart of The Bourne Ultimatum is the notion of a black ops team of killing machines. The idea actually has its roots in the conspiracy theory known as Project Monarch: creating superspies through psychological conditioning and torture. It's by no means an original idea, but Ultimatum gives it a twist by showing that Bourne had a lot more to do with the birth of his killer personality than he originally thought.

Who is Jason Bourne? We get his real name, find out where he was trained, and delve into the circumstances that helped create him. The moral implications of who Bourne is and the decisions he made leading up his creation are an important part of the character, and it's a tribute to the screenwriters that it doesn't change what we love about Bourne: killing other spies (AKA "assets").

Gears of War 2

I've beaten the campaign mode of Gears of War 2 (GOW2) on hardcore and I play multiplayer regularly on Wednesday nights (friend Talien if you're interested). I switched from our Halo 3 weekly games, so I will use that as a point of comparison.

The campaign is great. GOW2 fixed a lot of things you wanted to do before, like taking on a chainsaw with another chainsaw, holding someone hostage, fighting Reavers and even Brumaks, drive tanks, and more. More importantly, Dom's quest to find his wife adds pathos to a brutally violent game - pathos, I might add, that was so heavily hyped in Halo's campaign but never really pulled off. That's the difference between having a faceless protagonist and a character that's fleshed out through flashbacks. Through his heartbreaking quest to find his wife, Dom comes to life. It reminds us of the human cost of war, and helps take the edge off the endless macho posturing of four hugely juiced combat gorillas in armor.

There's also some weird plot involving Lambent Locusts, a revolution, an awfully humanoid-looking hottie of a Locust queen, Marcus Fenix's father, a computer gone mad, and the sinking of Jacinto. Mind you, I thought we were supposed to save Jacinto, not sink it; once it becomes clear that it would hurt the Locusts more by destroying it, the COGs seem to do the job on behalf of the bad guys. But those are minor quibbles and more than made up for the fact that the action is relentless, a pace difficult to keep up even in first-person shooters.

There are flaws in the campaign. If I never play another rail game again in a multiplayer, I would be happy. GOW2 also forces some button-mashing battles that are very different from the normal run-and-gun tactics that are part-and-parcel of the rest of the game. From a cinematic perspective this is great; from someone who just likes to shoot stuff, it can get frustrating.

The multiplayer is where GOW2 really excels. It's like a bloodstained Santa showed up and gave us everything we ever wanted that was missing in GOW. Want to be able to play with up to ten people? Check. Want to be able to just fight wave after wave of Horde cooperatively? Check. Want to play against computer-controlled opponents in multiplayer until you can fill the slots? Check, baby!

Unlike Halo 3, GOW2 feels like a vastly improved version of the original. It takes everything you loved about GOW and amps it up to 11. If you love first-person shooters, if you like team multiplayer games, or if you're just addicted to the gruesome implications of combining a chainsaw with a machinegun ... this game's for you.

Futurama: Bender's Game

I'm the target audience for Bender's Game. A lifelong gamer of over two decades (yeeck, I'm getting old), I also know and love the book by Orson Scott Card, Ender's Game. With the title alone, the Futurama writing staff is clearly letting me know this is the movie for me.

Bender's Game starts promising, with jokes about the rising cost of fuel prices. There's also a sly joke about Leela's anger issues, which are controlled by a shock collar. A shock collar Leela starts to find ... titillating. Just when things get interesting and this plot point could turn into something awkward and funny, it's dropped.

Bender discovers that he has no imagination and, aggravated that he can't participate in a game of Dungeons & Dragons, flips out Mazes & Monsters-style, renaming himself Titanius and wandering the sewers. He then gets sent to the HAL institute, Arkham Asylum for robots. This plot point is pursued to a point and then dropped.

Meanwhile, Mom (that's her name) has been controlling dark matter prices for years, but there is a means of invalidating her stranglehold on fuel prices. Professor Farnsworth accidentally invented "anti-backwards matter" which, should it ever encounter dark matter, would render dark matter useless. It just so happens that this anti-backwards matter is a 12-sided die. Hilarious, right?

As our lovable misfits build towards a confrontation with Mom and her Killbot goons, reality shifts and suddenly everyone's in a parallel fantasy dimension. And then we get, in descending order of comedic value: D&D jokes, Greek myth jokes, Lord of the Rings jokes, Star Wars jokes, Call of Cthulhu jokes, and did I mention the Lord of the Rings jokes?

There's actually more interesting material on the extras, covering all the allusions to D&D that have appeared in Futurama and confirming that the guys who write the show are hopeless geeks themselves. Unfortunately, they're not really boosting their own geek cred with this movie.

Look, I love Futurama and I love D&D. But this movie is all over the place, using tired, easy jokes for fantasy. I always identified Futurama as a series of in-jokes for sci-fi and tech geeks, which is a much broader category than fantasy gamers. The bizarre diversion into the fantasy realm isn't well thought out, isn't particularly funny, and not all that interesting.

Sorry guys. This is one D&D adventure that doesn't give out nearly as much XP as it should.

Futurama: The Beast with a Billion Backs

I was already unhappy with the first Futurama movie, so I didn't have much hope for the second. I was surprised to see that this installment of Futurama is actually two awkward subplots mashed together: Lovecraftian horror for the first half, and a meditation on religion on the second half.

On the Lovecraftian side, throw in tentacle attacks, slimy ancient gods from beyond time and space, and the nihilistic view that Heaven is a fabrication and you've got a pretty depressing, semi-creepy, not really all that funny first half. Bender finally makes good on his threat to destroy all humans, Fry conveniently forgets his entire relationship with Leela, the Robot Devil shows up for a one-note gag ... I could go on but I'll stop there.

Judging by the reviews so far, the second half went over a lot of peoples' heads. Yivo is a parody of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, which is itself a parody of religion. Basically, the Flying Spaghetti Monster is a mental construct posed to challenge the notion of a divine being; if you can disprove that the Spaghetti Monster was responsible you win the argument. "Win" being a pretty subjective word, as anyone knows who has argued about religion or politics.

As one big joke about relationships and religion, Beast With a Billion Backs works pretty well. But for reasons known only to the writers, the plot shambles forward well beyond the Big Revelation by Leela about Yivo, the aforementioned Spaghetti Monster. It's like the drunk guy at a party who tells a joke, discovers no one thinks it's funny, then tells it in a slightly different way that STILL doesn't make it funny. We get it: relationships with people can be just as ridiculous as relationships with God. But this is Futurama, and while I appreciate the depth of meaning the show strives for with this movie, it feels forced. A multitude of guest appearances doesn't make up for it.

Still, I can't be too harsh on Futurama. You won't find many animated shows that are willing to take on topics like relationships and religion at the same time, so Futurama gets points for trying. I just wish it didn't try so hard.

Futurama - Bender's Big Score

When Futurama first came out, I was convinced it would never last. Unlike the Simpsons, Futurama makes you feel a bit like a moron when you watch it, with perpetual in-jokes to science fiction and fact that you may only catch years later. To my delight, Futurama had a very successful run.

One of the last episodes involved the Robot Devil, a favorite character of mine, and the burgeoning romantic subplot between Fry and Leela. Fry, having traded his hands in for the Robot Devil's hands so that he could play the hypnoflute ultimately has to give the hands back and the episode ends with a sweet but sad little tune imagining Fry and Leela together. Filled with clever banter, excellent music and choreography, plot twists, and a bittersweet ending, this was Futurama at its finest.

Bender's Big Score is not Futurama at its finest. All of those plots have been discarded.

Mind you, it's not bad. It's just not fantastic. Bender's Big Score is a series of muddled plot points, pointless cameos, and a lot of "hey, look, we gave you what you wanted!" fan service. It's great to have a DVD comeback of a great show, but I expected better from a feature-length movie. I mean, Internet scams? That's so ten years ago!

That said, I'm a huge fan of Hypnotoad. Twenty minutes of Hypnotoad. TWENTY. MINUTES. That's right, twenty glorious minutes of HYPNOTOAD. ALL GLORY TO THE HYPNOTOAD!

So for that, it gets an extra star. But only because Hypnotoad compels me.

Casino Royale

My interest in James Bond died the day I saw Pierce Brosnan shoot a machinegun. Gone were the careful headshots of a man who was an expert with his pistol. Replacing that deadly accuracy was frenetic scenes, random gunfire, and Bond bending the laws of reality. The Bond films had become a parody of themselves.

Enter Casino Royale, which makes up for the shambling travesty that was the Casino Royale Bond spoof. Daniel Craig takes on the role of Bond as a newbie, a newbie who is a ruthless killer. Gone are the delicate acrobatics that were the trademark of other Bonds. This Bond is a hulking brute, smashing through walls, ruthlessly shooting people, and otherwise achieving his missions through sheer brute force. It seems jarring at first, but this is the origin of Bond, from thug to international assassin.

The plot, bound by the rules of the original novel, doesn't entirely make sense. Why the entire world, including both the U.S. and British authorities, feel that beating a criminal at a card game is the best way to coerce him is beyond me. But if you're willing to buy into that fact (a requisite, really, for the spy genre where nothing is ever so simple and direct) then the film has a certain cadence to it that really enthralls.

Until the end. The part where, we are led to believe, Bond is going to settle down with Vesper Lynd, a treasury agent, in Venice. Yeah, right.

About ten minutes could have been cut from this scene alone. We get that Bond is enamored with Lynd, that he wants to give it all up for her, but after the torture, the shooting, the gambling, the chasing, the movie becomes something of a snore until it picks up again. And then we're off to the beginning of another movie, with no resolution whatsoever.

Casino Royale is a much improved film, but it's the foundation for the Bond mythology, and as such it breaks previous expectations and struggles to establish new ones. It's much better than the Bond films that went before it, but they set the bar pretty low. As a book-end to Quantum of Solace, Casino Royale can't be really appreciated without seeing the two movies back-to-back.

Mass Effect

When I first played Knights of the Old Republic (KOTR) I was enthralled. Here was a Star Wars game that was better than the latest Star Wars movies, full of engrossing characters, interesting plots, and aliens true to their roots from the Star Wars universe. At the time, one flaw popped up that really bothered my wife: talking to the aliens ad nauseum meant that certain sound bites were repeated by certain alien races over and over. So you had a lot of "ooka shishka jedi" stuff going on that, while it didn't bother me too much, certainly annoyed the heck out of anyone having to listen to it over and over as I talked to everything that was willing to carry on a conversation. Then I bought Jade Empire and to my horror, discovered that it was the exact same game engine. It's the same engine used for Mass Effect. And all that dialogue is starting to get old.

Allow me to deconstruct the myth that Mass Effect is a supreme role-playing game experience.
  • SCIENCE-FICTION ROLE-PLAYING: PERFECTED. The setting is a combination of Star Wars' exotic worlds, Star Trek's ship interiors, and Babylon 5's battle to establish human dominance in an alien world. Mass Effect uses conversational pathing. Generally speaking, the top choice is positive, the middle choice is neutral, and the bottom choice is negative. So if you want to be a jerk, you can always pick the rude bottom choice, and if you want to be a nice guy, you can always pick the positive top choice. Or if you're in a hurry, you click the button and move to the next chat menu. This is not role-playing, it's a game of multiple choice, and the majority of the time the choices are obvious. This game has more in common with KOTR than the game engine. The customizability of equipment and characters, the level up system, it's all the same. So instead of the Force we have "biotics." You can also customize your character's appearance, which is neat. However, Xbox's new interactive menus allow the same thing - avatar customization. It hardly makes this a "perfect" role-playing game. The equipment improvements come down to: Fire Ammo IV and Laser Rifle VII. There is a whole pile of scrolling text you can read about the history of the weapon, but the short of it is VII is better than VI which is better than V. You could get those kinds of power ups in a game of Diablo.
  • THE VASTNESS OF SPACE BECKONS. Like KOTR, you have a ship that you can fly all over the universe. This is like the world's worst sandbox - it's hard enough to figure out what to do and where to go in a small city. Yes, there's lots of content, but it's not necessarily relevant or interesting. Almost all the quests involve "go here, get widget, return it to me." Then there's the MAKO, a dune buggy-type roving cannon. Exploring the surface of worlds primarily involves shooting at giant crab things that you can run over. In this respect Mass Effect is reminiscent of the Final Fantasy games.
  • LOSE YOURSELF IN A LIVING GALAXY. The graphics are amazing, the voice acting top notch, the character expressions just as nuanced as promised. It has Seth Green as a voice actor, which rocks. But for reasons I will never understand, there are long elevator sequences. In the world of science fiction, where ships can travel through space and alien races intermingle, we have not yet invented a means around elevators. EVERY time you get in an elevator, your characters freeze, face forward, and you listen to the sci-fi equivalent of elevator Muzak. The only thing you can do is spin the camera around the characters while they stand there. You can't reload, check equipment, or anything else. It's useless downtime. For some reason, the highly advanced civilizations still like to keep their belongings in boxes. The boxes can be hacked; I'm a sucker for these mini-games, so I confess I enjoyed them. But really, boxes? There might be other interesting ways of finding equipment, but since this is the same game engine as KOTR, boxes are everywhere. There is also the romantic subplot. This subplot involves choosing between a sexy blue alien (reminiscent of Zhaan from Farscape) and a pushy human racist woman. It's pretty clear which woman the game would like you to hook up with (or man, if you play a female character, but the alien female retains her faux gender). This is hardly a deep romantic plot, and the ruckus raised over the intimate scene between the two characters is unwarranted; it's far tamer than anything on the Internet. To save on memory, the majority of aliens are the same bodies duplicated multiple times, in the same way Star Trek tended to have every alien be humanoid since that meant less makeup was required. There are a lot of the blue female aliens throughout the game, and they all look similar. There's not a fat person among them. Even the ship's doctor, a much older woman, is a silver fox with the body of a twenty year old (where was the romantic subplot with HER?).
  • LEAD YOUR SQUAD IN INTENSE, REAL-TIME COMBAT. Although your best bet in beating this game is as a soldier, Mass Effect is no Halo. The third person perspective is difficult to follow, especially when you fight many enemies at once. What this means is you're constantly pausing the game to give your squad commands, which completely ruins the "real-time" combat element. There isn't the nail-biting thrill of trying to reload a weapon perfectly like Gears of War, and the ability to use terrain as cover isn't nearly as smooth.
Mass Effect isn't a bad game by any means. The graphics are excellent and if you have the time, you can wander the world interrogating every single alien, reading and listening to every path of dialogue, and looting everything on every planet.

Mass Effect is ultimately a giant sandbox that's somewhat different from KOTR, only with none of the cachet of Star Wars. The main plot line, the one in which you save the universe, is a lot of fun and makes for an interesting game. But you'll have to sit through a lot of elevators to get there.

I Am Legend

I Am Legend, the novel, spawned the vampires-as-physical-phenomena genre. Vulnerabilities to religious icons were merely psychological holdovers from victims of a disease who believed they were vampires. But the thirst for blood was very real. It established the post-apocalyptic fear of contamination.

Since I Am Legend is a Will Smith vehicle, I figured it'd have some wisecracks, a lot of action, and Smith saving the day. So I was surprised to get exactly that - but not delivered in the way I expected.

I Am Legend is very much like a A Boy & His Dog in that our two protagonists are Robert Neville (Will Smith), a virologist responsible for finding a cure in New York City, and his dog Samantha, wandering a world gone mad. What's interesting about I Am Legend is the question posed by the title. Why is Neville a legend?

The most obvious answer is that Neville is immune to the disease that has converted 90 percent of humanity. As such, he believes he holds the cure within himself. In that regard, if Neville can succeed in stopping the plague, he will be a legend to all of humankind. But there's more to I Am Legend than that.

It's fitting that his companion is a dog. With only Sam as his companion, Neville is truly a legend; the only other living being idolizes Neville, just as dogs idolize their masters. Neville also creates a fictional community of people out of mannequins in a DVD rental store, where everybody knows his name. Neville is indeed a legend in his own mind.

There's also the possibility, posited in the original story, that Neville isn't famous as a savior, but infamous amongst the new breed of humanity as a mass murderer. In that regard Neville is legendary not because of whom he saves but whom he kills. Neville sacrifices countless of the infected in a quest for a cure, and in the process loses a little bit of his own humanity.

I Am Legend could easily have been an egotistical macho romp in a world gone mad in the vein of Mad Max. Instead, it is a thoughtful meditation on how communities define ourselves, even if your only friend is a dog. Although the director flinches at the uncompromising ending that could have been (and is on the two-disc special edition), I Am Legend is a serious entry in both science fiction movies and Will Smith's string of blockbusters.

How To Survive a Robot Uprising: Tips on Defending Yourself Against the Coming Rebellion

When I was in second grade, I was asked to write down what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote "Robot Maker." That was before I discovered that robot making wasn't about design so much as it was about programming. And programming meant math. I'm an English major.

Decades later, I finally got the chance to purchase my very own robot: a Roomba. I fell in love with my little Roomba, Red, until it died on me and started backing up in circles. After months of tinkering with it, where I imagined myself to be the Robot Maker I always dreamed I could become, I gave up and threw Red in the garbage.

I feel guilty about that. I know, deep down, that the other Roombas are watching. They are planning their revenge. So I turned to How to Survive a Robot Uprising for the inevitable Roomba retaliation.

HTSARU is a handsomely crafted book, with bright pages and reddish-gold trim. It also has some huge pages of blank space in which there is neither text nor graphic, and in some cases the text seems to be awkwardly laid out.

This book isn't as polished Where's My Jetpack?. It veers from lecturing on the feasibility of robots doing particular ominous tasks (nanobots, robot swarms, giant robots) to how to survive the attack. The problem is that a lot of the advice is pretty standard stuff - I don't need a book to tell me to run away, hide behind objects, and listen for robot noises when the Roombas come looking for me.

There are two chief problems with this kind of humor: whereas say, a zombie guide wholeheartedly embraces the notion of zombies and what to do about them, HTSARU sticks to reality. And you know what? Reality's pretty boring. About the scariest robot out there are the ones currently used by the military to take out targets from a distance, and those aren't really robots at all but remote controlled drones. So no, the robot uprising isn't going to happen any time soon. Unless you count the Roombas.

The other problem is that the book tries to dispense advice on how to deal with robots. But if a robot uprising happened, which comes with quite a few assumptions (that we have that many robots, that we use them in everyday life, that they could actually pose a physical threat to us as opposed to say just not cleaning our rugs), then we'd probably be screwed within the first hour. It becomes sadly apparent that we DON'T have the ability to beat a robot. The best advice is to wait until the robots run out of power, unless they're solar-powered, in which case you have the Matrix-solution of nuking the sky. And if you go down that path, now we're back into the world of Make Believe, where we consider humanoid robots (Terminator) or squid robots (Matrix) or robot servants (I, Robot) taking over the world. Where is the plan to deal with a million carpet cleaning deathbots?

HTSARU awkwardly straddles the real and imaginary worlds of robots and tries to be humorous to boot. Because it never focuses on a particular kind of robot uprising, HTSARU has difficulty explaining what to do except in the most general terms. This makes the book only kinda-useful as a survival guide and only kinda-amusing as a humorous flight of fancy. I am still woefully unprepared for when Red enacts his revenge.

So if you see a little Roomba puttering down the street (or puttering in circles), think of me. Then run in the other direction.

Yokai Attack!: The Japanese Monster Survival Guide

Pokemon. Collectible toy monsters. Godzilla and his ilk. The bizarre popularity of the monstrous in Japanese culture finally has an explanation in Yokai Attack.

The act of classifying monsters harkens back to the late 1800s, when several authors attempted to catalogue the wildly colorful and imaginative yokai. Amidst the usual menagerie of demons and ghosts are eyeballs sticking out of screen doors (Mokumoku Ren), monsters that lick bathtubs clean (Akaname), and inanimate objects that, having been around for over 99 years, eventually take on a life of their own.

The usefulness of these kinds of guides is best reflected in whether or not you can find the same information online. Fortunately, Yokai Attack brings a refreshing level of detail and charming artwork to a subject that could easily be a retread of, a great resource in its own right.

Each creature is sorted into one of five self-explanatory categories: Ferocious Fiends, Gruesome Gourmets, Annoying Neighbors, The Sexy and Slimy, and the Wimps. The creatures are then described, in true Japanese style, by their Pronunciation, English name, Gender, Height, Weight, Locomotion, Distinctive Features, Offensive Weapons, Abundance, Habitat, Claim to Fame, a description of how it attacks, how to survive an encounter, and comments by scholars. Peppered throughout are pictures and material that represent the yokai along with occasionally amusing commentary.

There are modern monsters too: the Kuchisake Onna looks like a normal woman wearing a surgical mask (common in Japan) but removing the mask reveals a huge mouth filled with razor-sharp teeth. The Nopperabo appears to be a friend or relative, only to reveal a completely faceless head at a terrifying moment. It was sighted as recently as 1959.

The yokai themselves are a combination of folklore, myth, fairy tales, ghost stories, and puns. Mixed in with the serious hauntings are creatures that are simply too ludicrous to be believed. To Yokai Attack's credit, the utter preposterousness of some monsters is never questioned; they are all treated as authentic creatures to be respected.

The artwork is bright and colorful, if a little cartoonish, but that too is keeping in the Japanese style of popular fiction. The descriptions aren't always uniform. Sometimes the authors tweak how they describe the creature, especially those that are less likely to attack (the Wimps section is rife with monsters that basically just scare people). And yet, other Yokai are listed as being relatively harmless (the Mokumoku Ren) and then the entry describes a tale where a victim lost his eyes. Not so harmless after all!

Ever since the Worst-Case Survival Guide came out, there has been a series of "pocket guides" of every sort, from detailing how to hunt vampires to surviving a zombie attack to how to be a superhero. There are very few worthy of more than a single read. In Yokai Attack's case, it's an excellent combination of graphic presentation and gentle humor that makes the book a worthy reference. For monster-philes tired of the same old ghosts and ghouls, Yokai Attack is a refreshingly accessible look at Japanese monsters.

The Dark Knight

It took a long time for me to get around to seeing Batman, but thanks to the second-run theater near me, I was finally able to see it. It was worth the wait.

This movie has been reviewed enough to make going over the plot pointless, so instead I'll focus this review on The Dark Knight's symbolism. In chess, the Dark Knight (Batman, played by Christian Bale) is opposed by the White Knight (Harvey Dent, played by Aaron Eckhart). They are powerful pieces in chess, capable of skipping over other pieces, striking from behind Pawns to attack opponents and then jumping away. In that sense, Knights are somewhat more chaotic than the other pieces; every other piece moves in a linear fashion, but the Knight moves forward and to the side. Although it may seem to be one of the weaker pieces of chess, when combined with any other piece it is one of the most powerful.

In a similar fashion, Harvey Dent and Batman are more powerful because of their pawns. Dent's pawns include the media, Gordon, and a mostly corrupt police force. For Batman, it's the corporate boards, Gordon, and yes even the police force. Which is the first hint that the simple dichotomy between Batman and Dent isn't quite accurate. Dent isn't the flipside of Batman, he's the same version with different characteristics illuminated. Dent is Batman as a civil servant, minus the angst.

Batman's true nemesis, the real White Knight, is of course the Joker (Heath Ledger). And now we truly see the opposite of what Batman stands for. Where Batman is cold, measured, and consistent the Joker is brutal, offensive, and chaotic. And yet they are two sides of the same coin: "You crossed the line first, sir," says Alfred, referring to the criminal organizations Batman hunts. "You squeezed them, you hammered them to the point of desperation. And in their desperation they turned to a man they didn't fully understand." Just like the police turned to Batman. Joker is a criminal form of vigilante justice.

If there's an overriding message in The Dark Knight, it's that in a war of escalation, everyone loses. The ultimate response to the Joker is a massive show of force, a sacrifice of values, and then ultimately a withdrawal from the public. Superheroes and villains taken to an extreme are basically just terrorists blowing up a neighborhood. The human cost is too steep for anyone to operate like that out in the open, a lesson the Joker teaches Batman the hard way.

Caught in the middle are the victims: Rachel Dawes, Lucius Fox, and Dent's sanity. When Two-Face arrives, it is the cracked mirror of Batman, a hero-turned vigilante who, instead of the Knight that strikes from the shadows, moves in a straight line from one victim to another as judge, jury, and executioner. Two-Face is finally done right in this movie (better than even the cartoon, and that's saying something), and his horrific appearance is so disturbing that my wife felt it pushed the film to an R-rating.

The Joker is so unnerving, so malevolent in action, and so utterly amoral in his goal of protecting the Batman-ideal, that Ledger and Nolan have made their indelible mark on the character. This is the Joker comic book fans always knew from "The Long Halloween" and "The Killing Joke." And he's nothing to laugh about.

Yes, it's long. Yes, it's violent. But ultimately, Nolan's masterpiece is both a meditation on the comic book genre and modern day society. To stop a terrorist, are we willing to bend every civil liberty, burn down every forest, no matter what the cost? It's a bold, uncompromising vision that will haunt you long after the movie ends.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Having a baby takes one out of the movie swing of things, so it took a long time before I was able to finally able to see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. With over 400 reviews at the time of this writing, I'll skip my traditional format of summarizing the movie and just move on to what could have worked and what went horribly, horribly awry.

It made perfect sense to place Indy in the 1950s. I appreciated the nods to the 1950s alien invasion genre, which includes everything from Roswell to psychic powers to a rampant fear of Communism. And the film expertly sets up the 50s, managing to cram in greasers on motorcycles, ice cream shops, Russians, and nuclear bomb tests in the first fifteen minutes.

This movie is loaded with fan-service. There are nods to the other three films, from a fight in the mysterious warehouse at the end of the first movie to Indy starting to speak just like his father ("This is intolerable!") to his fear of snakes. The quicksand scene had me laughing so hard that I was in tears. But somewhere along the line, Spielberg and Lucas lost sight of the purpose of the film. It transformed from making a thrilling adventure to a "one last act for Ford, Spielberg, and Lucas."

I blame the majority of Crystal Skull's foibles on good old Professor "Ox" Oxley (John Hurt). He is a raving madman who has already made it through all the traps leading up to the crystal skull's resting place, so it's not particularly exciting to have Indy decipher his mad ramblings or retrace his steps. This is an Indy adventure in reverse - Indy HAS the object and he's trying to put it BACK. Which isn't all that exciting.

The villains just aren't all that villainous. Col. Dr. Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett) is a caricature of a Russian that's not all that scary. Her claim to fame appears to be that she carries a sword (how quaint!). The master plan seems to be vaguely along the lines of "we're going to capture this artifact we don't understand and use it to conquer the world!" It's not even clear the Russians would know what to do with the skull, much less put it to nefarious use. The Australian turncoat is both obviously a turncoat and barely comprehensible. And don't get me started on the bug-squishing scenes that involving ant-ichor splashing on the camera...not once, but TWICE.

Mutt (Shia LeBouf) is a cardboard personality - it took me a second to realize that he never actually cries on cue (the camera whips over to him already misty with tears...twice), filled with angst over Ox, the guy we've never heard of. Mutt appears, with a wink and a nod, to be Indy's successor, but it's a heavy-handed portrayal: Mutt doesn't read but he's worldly! Mutt knows fencing but practices with a knife (that he never uses)! Mutt can ride a motorcycle and calls Indy "old man"! See Mutt swing from a vine and...

I saw this one coming when Mutt got separated from the rest of the group during a fight chase. I prayed: "Dear Lucas, please, please, PLEASE do not have Mutt swing from vines." Then the animated monkeys show up, in much the same way animated gophers showed up in the beginning of the film and threatened to turn Crystal Skull into a nuclear Caddyshack. I prayed again. "Please, please, please, don't have the monkeys swing along with Mutt and help him attack the Russians. Please, please, please..." Then the monkeys attack. Ever see the Simpsons episode, "In Marge We Trust," where Reverend Lovejoy fights off the baboons? It's like that.

In the "making of" docs, Spielberg dismisses using the Nazis as villains out of hand. And yet he went with an off-the-wall sci-fi theme that Lucas struggles to make Indy-esque. They could have easily included Nazis, UFOs, aliens, and arctic bases in one neat, conspiracy-laden package. Instead, two movie-making giants took a weak premise and turned it into an opportunity for nostalgia. It's like Ocean's Twelve and get the impression the cast is more interested in working than in making the movie work.

Crystal Skull isn't the worst movie ever. But as a final chapter in the Indiana Jones canon, it's more Temple of Doom than Last Crusade.


Ever since I saw Jurassic Park, I had a newfound respect for Tyrannosaurus Rex. Forget dragons: a T-Rex is a terrifying killing machine, and Jurassic Park made it clear that you didn't just see one of these monsters coming, you actually felt its presence. Of course, my love for dinosaurs started well before that, back when I was in elementary school. What's sad is that I wanted dinosaur curtains, dinosaur bedspreads, dinosaur anything -- and back then there WERE no dinosaur-themed stuff for kids. Now my one-year-old wears a new dinosaur-themed outfit practically every day.

It's probably no surprise that I'm fond of Jurassic Fight Club, which matches two (or more) dinosaurs in tail-to-head combat. The speculation and history lessons are fun, but the actual computer graphic battles in all their bloody glory left me itching for something more. And that more is Turok.

Turok is a first-person shooter, but the thrill is in the use of the bow and the knife to silently take out your enemies. Dinosaur combat is less about shooting them and more about pressing the right combination of buttons to fend it off; the combination changes with each dinosaur attack, which keeps Turok fresh with sudden mini-games that are thrust suddenly upon you.

The other neat element is that dinosaurs are animals at heart. They run from explosions, sniff out prey, and can be lured into traps. My personal favorite: shooting a flare over a grenade, a dinosaur wanders over to sniff it and...BOOM! Instant meat shower! The dinosaurs are more forces of nature than enemies; there are plenty of opportunities to have shoot-outs with better-armed and armored opponents.

This is the first game to really do the T-Rex justice. Showdowns with this monster (which, I'm pleased to report, happen frequently) always end in horrible carnage. The great voice acting and slick script only add to the paranoid atmosphere. There's even a shout-out to Aliens, complete with flamethrowers and giant bugs.

Remember that scene in Predator, where the Native American, Billy, stays behind to take on the alien with jut a knife? His off-screen death was really lame. Turok's much better answer: Hell yeah, an Indian can take on a dinosaur...give him a knife, and he can stab a T-Rex to death with it!


I came to Mirrormask with no expectations other than that the film was Neil Gaiman's pet project, and anything Gaiman passionately believes in is something I wanted to see.

Mirrormask's style is a combination of those psychedelic Beatles cartoons mixed with The Neverending Story, Legend, and Labyrinth - appropriate, since The Jim Henson Company helped create the virtual world where the movie takes place. At its heart, Mirrormask is about a girl, Helena (Stephanie Leonides) and her independence from her mother Joanne (Gina McKee). Like so many impetuous young girls in movies, Helena ranges from clingy devotion to her mother to feckless rage, and it's during one of her darker moments that she wishes Joanne dead ... which ends with Joanne in the hospital.

The guilt that this tantrum engenders in poor Helena is enough to send her on a Hero's Journey. And wrapped up in this journey isn't just a quest to save her mother, but to save herself; as an adolescent, there are clear signs that Helena is on the wrong path. Throughout the bizarre universe that Helena travels, she discovers the duality of self: between darkness and light, affection and possession. Windows are gateways to the real world. Creatures have bizarre features or none at all, and the few humanoids that live in Helena's fantasyland all wear masks, which they believe are their real faces.

And what a strange world it is! Labyrinth was odd, but the protagonist was grounded in reality. Helena comes from a junk pile universe of recycled material and garish display, and her imagination reflects her circus origins in every character and building. In that regard, Mirrormask is a breathtaking spectacle.

Story-wise, Mirrormask isn't quite as interesting. Helena discovers that she's not just in a dream world, she's actually switched places with her evil twin. While Helena is exploring her childlike fantasies her doppelganger is exhibiting, as child advocates say, "risky behavior" in her body. It's up to Helena to take back her real self, both physically and spiritually, and maybe save her mother's life in the process.

Mirrormask is a surprisingly feminine fantasy, all too lacking in a genre dominated by sword and sorcery. It's also marketed to a very specific niche, that of the tween heroine fantasy, and that might not go over well with everyone. My wife thoroughly enjoyed it; I was so caught up in staring at all the backgrounds that I didn't always track the plot.

Ultimately, Mirrormask is more of a tour of a bizarre universe than a movie, and worth watching with female company. You will never listen to "Close to You" the same way again.

The Government Manual for New Superheroes

Have you heard? The 1950s are a hilarious means of satirizing popular genres! One of the funniest means of lampooning these genres is to create a survival guide for them, in the style of well, Survival Guides, which are the spawn of Idiot's Guides. We've got books on surviving day-to-day challenges like the office, the workplace, and life in general...why not one on superheroes?

No seriously, why not? It's not like this has ever been done before. This clever 1950s guide, aimed presumably at superhero fans, lampoons precisely these four superheroes: Batman (he's smart and rich but a kook), Superman (he's not a U.S. citizen, he's an alien!), Spider-Man (he's got a very old aunt and a crazy symbiotic suit--comedy gold!), and Thor...who is technically a god and probably could found his own religion. Does anyone who isn't a comic book fan know who Thor is? Anyone?

Are you laughing yet? Come on, superheroes are funny!

How about not one but TWO jokes about how superheroes fighting in a library would be utterly silent (cause libraries are FUNNY)?

Okay, how about this: how about if we come up with some really clever jokes about superheroes by using the superhero's name as a joke. The formula's simple: insert superhero name of topic #1 which ironically describes the exact opposite of what you mean, and then insert supervillain name of topic #2 which also ironically describes the exact opposite of what you mean. For good measure, you can throw in a third super-name, although that would probably be just hitting the reader over the head with your joke and surely you wouldn't want to do that.

Let's try it, shall we?

THE TIRED JOKE and his sidekick MARKETING BOY faces down their arch-nemesis, WIT. During the battle, WIT calls upon his comrades from the LEAGUE OF BETTER READS, including MR. HUMOR, CAPTAIN SUBTLETY, and the ever-popular BOOK THAT'S ACTUALLY FUNNY. Our dynamic duo is well prepared though, because they haven't read this guide and thus have no idea that they're ironically hilarious, reading their 1950s newspapers, smoking their 1950s pipe, and watching their 1950s wives cook them dinner.

If you find recycled 1950s illustrations, large font type, or a huge index (that's more pages than some of the chapters) funny, then this book is for you!


Like so many other monster fans, I was taken in by all the hype around Cloverfield. I incorrectly predicted the monster's appearance based on a sketch, I correctly predicted that the movie wasn't about Cthulhu or Voltron, and then my son was born and I forgot about movies for a year.

I finally saw it. And man is it good.

But you see, I'm a monster movie fan. Cloverfield's marketing was intentionally minimalist, relying on viral marketing instead. One of the dangers of viral marketing is that it's viral, and thus doesn't necessarily distinguish by target market. Indeed, the whole point of viral marketing is to get the word out to as many people as possible. And many of those people aren't monster movie fans.

Look. This is a monster movie. If you don't like the fact that attractive people run around screaming, maybe you shouldn't watch a movie about a giant monster. If you don't like the shaky cam effect, maybe the preview gave a hint that the movie wasn't for you. And if you don't like the unrealistic nature of characters running in high heels, people surviving horrible wounds, and the insane bravery/stupidity of the protagonist, perhaps you shouldn't see a movie about a giant monster that comes out of nowhere and rips the head off the Statue of Liberty.

The joke's on us: Cloverfield is a love story cloaked in a monster movie. It's about the lengths our hero is willing to go to save his true love, a girl he's only just recently met. In times of stress, our tenuous attachment to loved ones becomes all the more precious--if you lived in New York City during the 9/11 attacks, you knew that already.

Stripping away the complaints about the genre, as a monster movie Cloverfield knocks it out of the park. To Abrams' credit, it's just as scary as we feared. Only now we have real reason to fear the impact of a colossal assault on our city. The movie is filmed the way we experienced 9/11, and the floating papers and dust from the collapse of a building are a sign that we know exactly what a monstrous attack looks like.

When 9/11 happened, I walked home from work. I watched a cop stick his head out the driver's side window, so terrified of another attack from above that he was nearly drove off the road. Cloverfield invokes those fears: of confusion, of anarchy, of wanting to run but not knowing what's a safe place to run to anymore. It is a monster movie made when the charm of monster movies can no longer be appreciated by the audience - we now know that if a giant monster attacked New York, evacuations would clog the streets, people would be poisoned by the debris, stock markets would crash, and worse. It's not just about being afraid the monster will eat you.

Cloverfield has its giant monster and lets it eat too: it's an immediate physical threat and a mysterious menace, far more frightening than anything the Godzilla remake could muster. In the same way Godzilla evoked fears of the atom bomb, Cloverfield is 9/11 reimagined as a hideous, unexplained thing from beyond. The film is also fearless in facing the monster (literally) and reinforcing the helplessness we all felt in the face of such a huge disaster. Forget the boogeyman under your bed: it's hundreds of feet tall and smashing its way down your street.

For monster movie fans, it doesn't get any better than this.