Sunday, February 28, 2010
Here is the thing about Justice League - Crisis on Two Earths: it is a massive step up from last year’s Superman/Batman – Public Enemies. This time out, the whole film is more than just an excuse to throw together fight scenes, actually telling a story with a focus on characters with a better sense of plotting. When all is said and done however, Justice League – Crisis on Two Earths is perhaps the most disposable of the DC Animated films, telling an all too familiar tale in a rather tame manner.
The set up is straight forward: on a parallel Earth, Lex Luthor (Chris Noth) is a renegade hero who is working to stop the Crime Syndicate, a group of villains made up of alternate versions of the Justice League members, or their rough equivalents, whom control all the organized crime on Earth. The only thing keeping the Syndicate in check is the threat of nuclear retaliation; otherwise, they run the show. In a last ditch effort to stop them, Luthor crosses over to another dimension to enlist the help of the Justice League, which includes Superman (Mark Harmon), Batman (William Baldwin), Wonder Woman (Vanessa Marshall) and J’onn J’onzz (Jonathan Adams) among others. However, their arrival may be too late, as Syndicate member Owlman (James Woods) has a far more sinister scheme up his sleeve, a plan which will place more than one Earth in peril.
At this point, the usual compliments can be guessed at: the animation is solid, the character design excellent, and the music appropriate, if indistinctive. Dwayne McDuffie, one of the key writers on the Justice League animated series, delivers a solid script that keeps things moving while giving little character moments for most of the main cast, with only a few moments of bad dialogue to mar the proceedings (after this film, all speeches about how alike a given hero and villain combo are should be banned). Directors Sam Liu and Lauren Montgomery are sharp and focused in their work, keeping things moving with a tight grasp on the narrative. Lastly, the cast delivers excellent performances, the most notable cast members being Baldwin as a more sorrowful than usual Batman, and James Woods as the creepy and philosophical Owlman.
All in all, Justice League – Crisis on Two Earths is a professional piece of work. My only question to everyone involved in its production is this:
Why this story?
Up till this point, I have understood the reasons for each of the films produced. The death of Superman is one of the big stories from the last twenty years of comics, so it was natural for it to be turned into a film, while New Frontiers, in addition to its popularity among fans, is an intelligent homage and meta-commentary on the rise of the silver age of comics. Filtering Batman through the eyes of anime’s top animators, along with some of the best writers available, made for an interesting experiment in Batman – Gotham Knights, while Wonder Woman and Green Lantern’s origins were fertile ground for films given how unknown they are outside of comic circles. And even if the execution failed, the premise and themes of Superman/Batman – Public Enemies had much to offer.
Justice League – Crisis on Two Earths however is just a long Justice League episode with a semi-celebrity cast. The parallel Earth angle has been done with more weight and purpose on the series itself. None of the League members undergo any significant development, the Crime Syndicate isn’t given enough time to be explored as characters, and the direction that the story heads into towards the end is standard fare. It doesn’t even really take advantage of the PG-13 rating: there are episodes of the series that are more intense than this film. Cut the cursing, and I can almost guarantee that a PG rating could have been secured.
The only thing I can think of that would have anyone pushing to have this story realized on film is the character of Owlman, who is fascinating and the best part of the film by far. His motives are creepy, if not nihilistic, and as performed by Woods, has a bleak humour that makes him compelling. The problem is that not nearly enough time is spent with him to make up for the time he is off screen.
I honestly don’t know if I can recommend Justice League – Crisis on Two Earths, at least as anything more than a rental. For hard core comic fans, it offers nothing that we haven’t already seen, and for non-comic fans, nothing that you will regret missing. As for Bruce Timm and company, how about for one of your upcoming films the Alan Moore story Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? If nothing else, no one can say that it has been done before, and it’s not as if you have to worry about pleasing Moore: he’ll hate anything no matter how well it is produced.
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Life Stinks, a 1991 film by Brooks, is an attempt to reconcile these competing sides of the filmmaking legend, seeking to capture genuine emotion and exploring the relationship between the wealthy and the impoverished in a manner evocative of (though not nearly as effective as) Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights (1931). Life Stinks stars Brooks, playing Goddard Bolt, a wealthy man who, as part of an effort to buy and redevelop a poor section of Los Angeles, agrees to a wager proposed by his rival, Vance Crasswell (Jeffery Tambor), in which Bolt will live in poverty for an entire month. During the course of the month, Bolt not only has to learn how to survive, but also deal with the meddling interference from Crasswell, all while slowly falling in love with a homeless woman named Molly (Leslie Ann Warren).
Unlike Brooks’ earlier efforts, Life Stinks does not use cinema itself as its subject matter, instead evoking elements of cinema’s past to help tell his most grounded tale. Brooks seeks to examine the issues of poverty in America, particularly in urban centers, and as such moves away from the subversive, meta jokes and slapstick that marked his classic efforts, though only to a degree: there is still plenty of broad comedy moments throughout the film. The film however is an attempt to have the viewers invest emotionally into the characters in a way Brooks never really has before, or since, while still allowing for those moments of broad comedy. Brooks is clearly moving out of his comfort zone, and it gives the film a level of energy that his latter efforts often lack: you can just feel Brooks putting his all into this one, and it makes it all the more frustrating as a viewer when the film just misses the mark.
The first real problem with Life Stinks is that Brooks’ satire is not focused. As crazed and episodic as Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein appear, those films are tightly focused efforts which know their subject matter backwards and forwards, skilfully blending social satire and cinematic lampooning. Here, Brooks has brilliant moments of satire, targeting the systemic failures in American society, but the Life Stinks never quite goes for the throat like his other efforts and explore the material in depth. Instead, Brooks relies on wealthy stereotypes and cartoonish behaviour rather than substantive criticism.
The first issue is likely the result of the second issue, which is Brooks’ unwillingness to commit to this film being something different from the rest of his body of work. While Brooks plays closer to reality, he also seems to want to hedge his bets by including moments of Brooks’ brand comedy which simply do not fit in the film, from random visual gags to forced slapstick. The entire final third of the film completely abandons any notion of grounding for a completely absurd, fairy tale ending that was probably slapped onto the film because the more natural, bittersweet ending point for the film (which I will get to in a moment) was too much of a “downer” for audiences. Thus, the film concludes with a fight between two construction vehicles, the poor of the L.A. area mingling with the wealthy, and a small man pretending that his legs are getting crushed. The ending completely undoes any investment made by the audience into the story, giving into cheap tricks, artifice, and low brow gags that had thankfully been kept in check till this point.
This total lack of faith from Brooks in making a different type of film is unfortunate, because when Life Stinks works, it works wonderfully. The highlight of the film is the relationship between Bolt and Molly, which manages to be sweet and touching without giving into the typical romantic clichés. One of the best moments of the film is a scene in which Bolt and Molly engage in a silly, fantastic, and old fashioned dance number which manages to be charming and one of the best scenes in any of Brooks’ films. Greater than this though, is a scene which should have ended then film, as Molly visits a comatose Bolt, who has suffered a massive personal setback and has ended up in the hospital (whose staff is responsible of Bolt’s state). The scene is one with Molly pouring her heart out, performed beautifully by Warren, and ends on a simply look between herself and Bolt. It is a wonderful scene, and in many ways, feels like the film’s end. It wouldn’t wrap up all of the threads of the narrative, but I don’t believe that the film really needs to offer a conclusion to everything. The issues Brooks addresses and the more grounded approach to them do not befit a fantasy ending.
Perhaps Life Stinks wouldn’t have been any more successful if Brooks had gone for broke with the film. However, we do know that the finished film was not a success critically or commercially, and if Brooks’ last two films are anything to go by, he took the wrong lesson away from the failure of Life Stinks, returning with a vengeance to mocking cinema in a manner that was derivative of his early successes. I’m personally sad that the ambition Brooks shows with this film was never developed further. For all its flaws, Life Stinks might have been the first step in the development of a second stage of his career as a filmmaker. Instead, it is cursed to be known as the first step in ending Brooks’ career.
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Friday, February 19, 2010
Well, we are getting near the end of the month, and it is probably best to go over the rough plans for the site for the next few weeks, assuming real life responsibilities don't get in the way.
First up, my plan is to write another Film Geek Flashback, this time looking back at TVO's Saturday Night at the Movies. It will probably be the last post for the month, so expect it closer to Friday the 26th. I have a few other ideas for future installments in that series as well, so you may see more than one in the immediate future.
Next, here are the films I hope to review in the next little while, in no particular order:
-The Thin Blue Line (Morris 1988)
-Bug (Friedkin 2006)
-Barry Lyndon (Kubrick 1975)
-2010: The Year We Make Contact (Hyams 1984)
-Moon (Jones 2009)
-Justice League: Crisis On Two Earths (Liu and Montgomery 2010)
Again, this list is always open to being changed should real life get in the way and/or if I come across other films I feel I need to write about instead. Expect one of these before the month is out.
Last, but not least, I would like to take a moment of time out to apologize for the occasional review that comes out with errors in grammar. I'd like to feel that it doesn't happen often, but when looking back on my work every so often, I find grammar mistakes that I cannot believe slipped me by, and that you, the reader, shouldn't have to put up with.
On a whole, I am not actually too bad with grammar when it comes to editing other people's work. However, the fact is that when it comes to my own work, I am often just too damn close to it, and/or have spent so much time working on it already that I just feel the drive to get the review out so I can get onto the next review. To quote Martin Blank, "that isn't an excuse, it's a reason."
The fact is I really need someone else with a good eye to edit my material, or wait for days on end till I can return to my work fresh. I am working harder to try and build time into my schedule to allow for this extra time for editing so that I can write, edit and post a review at a regular pace while still working the day job amongst other commitments. The fact is I love writing about film, and I always want to keep the conversation going. However, you the reader deserve better. I am going to do my best to achieve better.
Anyways, back soon with more reviews and new articles!
Then, there is Jean-Claude Van Damme.
In some ways, you have to feel sorry for the man. Despite his success in the early 1990s as a second tier action star, playing the lead in goofy but amusing films, he never seemed to quite find his niche like the others did. Oh yes, he made some decent films and is internationally known, but his career has often seemed aimless. His attempts to carve himself an identity as a filmmaker as well as an actor in the Stallone mould came to a crashing halt with the 1996 failure The Quest. Nor did science fiction action films prove a good fit, never finding the film to put him into the big leagues like Schwarzenegger, as much fun as films like the idiotic Time Cop (1994) are. Street Fighter (1994) is best remembered as a camp classic, a far cry from the major franchise the video game developers and studio had hoped, and Van Damme’s more “serious” efforts, such as Legionnaire (1998) mostly underlined his weaknesses as an actor. Factor in his personal problems which plagued him in the late 1990s, and he was practically doomed to direct to video productions and joke status.
Yet, in the past five years, Van Damme has managed to perhaps undergo the most startling transformation of all the action stars. While Stallone’s current position was a natural development, especially with the absence of action rival Schwarzenegger, and Seagal seems happy to fight it out with Chuck Norris for who is the bigger internet punch line, Van Damme has managed to salvage himself by outright attacking his own image as action hero. Yes, he still stars in action films, but these days, his characters are not nice heroic men, loveable cons who do the right thing in the end, or over the top super heroic individuals. Instead, Van Damme presents himself and his characters as damaged failures, if not outright victims.
You will find no greater example of Van Damme’s evolution than by tracing his history over the course of the Universal Soldier series of films, the only real franchise he has been involved with that has gone anywhere. Over the course of seventeen years, this somewhat inventive Terminator/Robocop knock off has come to embody the career of Van Damme more than anything else he has ever done, mirroring his highs, lows, and rebirth since JCVD (2008) put him back on the map. Each film is shockingly different from one another, embodying different attitudes and approaches to the same material, guided by different filmmakers, and utilizing Van Damme in different ways. Thus, we look at the Universal Soldier trilogy to trace this progression.
(NOTE: Yes, I am aware that there are two made for cable films that came between the first two Van Damme films, but seeing as how Van Damme is not in them, and that I have never seen them, I will not be including them in this review.)
The original Universal Solider is a film that is oddly entertaining and enjoyable despite being little more than a rehash of ideas and concepts from other films. It is also one of the last few action films to truly draw upon Vietnam as a source for much of its imagery and, in this case, for its actual story.
The film begins in the Vietnam War as two American soldiers, Luc Devereaux (Van Damme) and his Sergeant, Andrew Scott (Dolph Lundgren) kill each other after Devereaux tries to stop a seemingly insane Scott from murdering civilians. Twenty plus years later, Drevereaux and Scott appear again, seemingly without having aged, this time as Desert Storm style soldiers. They have been “resurrected” as UniSols, soldiers who are supposedly dead, lacking both memory and free will, as part of a program to save soldiers' lives by utilizing the dead in combat rather than the living. Davereaux’s memory however seems to be returning, and he makes an escape with a reporter (Ally Walker) looking to expose the program. Soon, the other UniSols are on their trail, including Scott whose memory is also starting to make a comeback, along with his insanity.
The actual premise for Universal Soldier could have been used to make a fascinating study of war and the manner in which soldiers are dehumanized by not only their experiences, but by their own leaders whom reduce them to little more than bags of flesh. However, this is an early 1990s action film by Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin, the duo behind the better known films Independence Day (1996) and the wretched American version of Godzilla (1998). While their best film together is arguably Stargate (1994), Universal Soldier is by far their second best effort. It is a collection of action clichés, but is a cut above thanks to the interesting premise, slick direction, memorable action sequences, and most notably, a completely over the top performance by Dolph Lundgren, who is clearly having a blast in the film with his psychopathic character. The film also reminds us that Jerry Orbach did do things other than Law & Order during the 1990s, appearing here in the role of a caring scientist.
The film suffers from typical action film flaws, such as plot holes (if the program is illegal and risks jail time for all involved, why is it that the general in charge allows the UniSols to be used in very public operations bound to attract attention?), cheesy dialogue, and predictability, but the film never fails to deliver on the B-movie expectations that the title and presence of its two stars invites. For a Saturday afternoon film to kick back to, you could do far worse.
Where does Van Damme fit into all this? Well, he has the Arnold role: the cold, robotic hero that occasionally shows signs of emotion. Really, the film requires nothing other than Van Damme’s kickboxing skills, while letting better actors around him carry the weight of the scenes he is in, better actors mainly being Ally Walker as Veronica Roberts, aka the Lois Lane role, and Lundgren. It is hard looking back to evaluate if the lack of material for Van Damme to play is either a blessing or a curse: has Van Damme always been a capable actor, or has that been a recent development? No answers are to be found in this film. Universal Soldier only serves to highlight Van Damme as being a substitute Arnold, rather than as a star in his own right.
When it is all said and done, Universal Soldier is a fun B-movie, with just enough memorable elements to allow it to overcome its predictability and make it a re-watchable in the right environment. The same however, cannot be said of Universal Soldier – The Return, the awful 1999 sequel.
By the late 1990s, Van Damme was at the worst point of his career. After several box office disappointments, including the failed vanity project The Quest (1996) and wannabe epic Legionnaire (1998), Van Damme needed a hit. The result was the old fashioned idea of a sequel to a hit film, and Universal Soldier – The Return was the end result. It would be the last theatrical film for Van Damme till JCVD in 2008.
To begin to understand where the film goes so horribly wrong, one needs to start with the poor excuse for a story: Luc is now working with the heads of the UniSol project to improve the soldiers, when the project is shut down. Why it wasn’t immediately shut down after the events of the first film, I have no idea, but let’s go with it for now. The artificial intelligence computer SETH, which operates the UniSols, doesn’t want to be shut down, and begins a massive take over of the UniSol base using the new UniSols and giving itself a body (Michael Jai White). SETH however will self delete without a code that will shut down this function, and the only person who knows the code is, of course, Luc. Throw in Luc’s daughter as a plot point, and you have Universal Soldier – The Return.
The first major problem with the film is that in no way, shape or form is it consistent with the original Universal Soldier. As simplistic as that film is, it at least has a sense of structure, a consistent science fiction mythology, even if the science is bad science, and some character development as Luc recovers some of his lost humanity by the film’s conclusion. Right off the bat with Universal Soldier – The Return, you will be asking a series of unanswered questions that point to just how poorly thought out the film is.
First, why is Luc working as part of the UniSol program? This is a program that stripped him of his humanity and used his body as a punching bag for over twenty years. You would think that anyone who had been through that would have a few problems with having the same thing happening to others. Beyond that, how is it that Luc even capable of helping the program? Even assuming he has a scientific background, the man missed twenty years of scientific developments and had memory issues. How did he have time to catch up, have a family, and work for the program?
Then there are the Universal Soldiers themselves. The whole point of the program was to strip dead soldiers of their personality and make them little more than programmable killers. Yet here they are with distinct personalities and making jokes. The original concept wasn’t brilliant, but at least made some sense. If this fundamental story point is not even understood, you can imagine just how well the rest of the film fares.
Of course, nothing in this film has any point at all. The film just jumps from scene to scene without a reason or goal. Characters aren’t even stock types, as even stock types would have some sense of purpose in the narrative. The characters in this film just show up to take brutal beatings and/or die. William Malone and John Fasano have easily turned in one of the worse scripts I have ever seen produced with this film, clearly having not bothered to make an effort at having a cohesive narrative, or even giving the viewer something to invest in.
The rest of the production is as much a failure as the script, with production values that bypass straight to video films and head straight to syndicated Canadian television. Director Mic Rodgers, in his one and only directorial effort, deserves most of the blame. He has crafted a total mess of a film, unable to stage even the most basic of scenes, let alone moments of real drama. Rodgers shows no ability to handle actors, as every performer seems to be on a different page, some playing the film straight while others operate as if they are in an action film parody. Even the action scenes, which one would hope Rodgers would be able to have some ability to direct, are complete messes.
When it comes to acting, Michael Jai White and Xander Berkeley are far better actors than this film deserves, yet they are stuck floundering here, trying to find anything to work with, either from the script, their director, or their fellow actors. Unfortunately, they are mostly stuck working with either wrestling stars like Bill Goldberg, who has no acting ability, or former cheerleader Kiana Tom, who is a total non-entity on screen. I honestly have no idea what Rodger’s was thinking when he cast this film, if he even had that much involvement in the casting anyway. The presence of every "actor" here smacks of cross promotion opportunism rather than a serious effort at finding real actors.
Why was Rodgers' placed in charge of this film anyway? While his credits do contain some second unit directing, Rodgers’ primary credits are working in the stunts department, notably as Mel Gibson’s stunt double. As important as the stunt department is, it is hardly the place in which one develops a sense of cinematic storytelling, making his selection as a director on the film a highly dubious choice. So who selected Rodgers for the job? While I cannot find any definitive answer, the most likely culprits would be the producers, which include Craig Baumgarten and Allen Shapiro, both of whom produced all three films in the series, and none other than Jean Claude Van Damme himself, making him in large part responsible for this debacle.
In fact, the failures in directing oddly mirror those of Van Damme’s directorial effort The Quest. While I certainly cannot say this is the case, I wouldn’t be surprised if Mic Rodgers was a ghost director on the film, with Van Damme really calling the shots, not unlike Stallone’s supposed arraignment with director George P. Cosmatos on the films Rambo: First Blood Part 2 and Cobra. Even if this wasn’t the case, the whole effort exists solely as a career salvage project for Van Damme, making him the real driving force behind the project.
Given Van Damme’s previous efforts before this film, it is easy to see just how involved Van Damme was in the creative process, tailoring the film to his supposed image as an actor. While Luc was not much of a character in the first film, the Luc of this film has been reinvented to be nothing more than Van Damme himself, or rather, what Van Damme tried to portray himself as being during the late 1990s: a take charge average joe who is likeable, fairly personable, and only wants to take care of his family. Like the film as a whole, this image that Van Damme portrayes is hollow. As an overall persona for Van Damme in general, it clashed with the Van Damme known as a drug abuser; as an actual performance, it is awful. Van Damme lacks the skill of even the most basic actors to truly become a character and eliminate their personal lives from the mind of the viewer. Van Damme simply comes off as desperate in the film, trying hard to get the audience to like him and thus pay to see his films.
In fact, desperation is really all Universal Soldier – The Return is about. It is a testament to the desperation of one man, filled with bad choices that embrace the worst of the action genre. So what were the odds a third film would be any different?
Enter Universal Soldier – Regeneration.
More than anything else, one film kept coming back to my mind while watching Universal Soldier – Regeneration: Sam Fuller’s White Dog (1982). That film, which I reviewed here, examines the ways in which a society attempts to deal with its hateful elements, particularly racist hate that is taught to the young and impressionable. Can one deprogram hate, and if so, how? Universal Soldier – Regeneration similarly examines how soldiers are dehumanized by forces beyond their control, focusing on how training and programming that goes in making a solider war ready, and how such training and experiences seperate a soldier from the rest of the world. While nowhere near as powerful or important as White Dog is, Universal Soldier – Regeneration shows a greater sense of focus and ambition than has been shown in the previous films, aiming to be more than a simple action film without becoming pretentious.
The premise for the film is simple, and ignores the last film: a group of terrorists capture the children of the Russian Prime Minister, and set up a stronghold in the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, threatening to detonate a bomb if their comrades are not released within three days. In the possession of the terrorists is a next generation UniSol (Andrei Arlovski), which is faster and more dangerous than his predecessors. When the US forces try to step in, they are quickly defeated by the UniSol, which even slaughters four old model UniSols brought in to assist. As a backup plan, Luc, who is undergoing treatment to undo the training and psychological scaring done to him by the program in Switzerland, is beaten and dragged in to be programmed to fight again should the need arise.
The first thing that will likely surprise viewers of Universal Soldier – Regeneration is that the film is an ensemble piece rather than a one man show, focusing most of its running time on the behind the scenes decision making process involving generals, politicians and scientists, all of whom have their own agendas and personal interests in the outcome of the situation. Caught in between are the various soldiers who are used and abused, carrying out a mission whose various sides they do not know or understand. The result is a film that is atypical of the action genre as it is not driven by plot, spectacle or demonstrations of the physical powers of a lead hero. While certainly full of memorable action sequences, in fact, the best the series has had, the film is actually more of a study of the treatment of soldiers and their place in battle. The film carefully subverts the usual expectations of such films by actually sidelining the character who would typically be the hero of the film into a secondary role, namely Luc.
Luc in this film isn’t the figure who supposedly reclaimed his humanity at the end of the first film, or the average joe hero of the second film. In this film, Van Damme’s role is that of a victim. His experiences in life have crippled him emotionally and mentally, to the point that he can no longer even remember what day it is. Luc knows one thing and one thing only: how to kill. In a scene very reminiscent of White Dog, Luc is brought out into public for a meal as part of his treatment, and then suddenly snaps, nearly killing a man for no reason. Luc is smart enough to understand something is wrong with him, but he has no ability to make heads or tails of his situation, relying on those around him to help him live what little existence he has. The supposed reclamation of his humanity in the first film has turned out to be a negative, as it has cast him into a personal hell where he belongs nowhere in the world: not human enough for regular life, too human to be a brainless killer.
Once Luc is brought into the main story, it isn’t in a heroic fashion: Luc is gassed, beaten and dragged to Russia by US forces, yet rather than putting up a fight when he awakes, he appears as a lost child, more or less accepting what he is being told and agreeing to be used as a UniSol again. At no point does Luc even really seem to know or comprehend who he is fighting or why, nor does he seem to care. He is a broken man who can at best expect to be treated like a dog by those around him. He acts because that is the way he was trained, no more, no less. Van Damme gives what is easily one of his best performances in his career here, finally finding a real identity in the action genre, an identity which is arguably more interesting than any of his fellow stars, becoming the action hero in existential crisis. With any luck, Van Damme will continue to develop this persona.
While the film does contain memorable action sequences, including an impressive chase sequence to start off the film, all the action in the film has an undercurrent of horror. These are not the over the top antics of the original film, but a more realistic combat style that merely presents the violence rather than necessarily glamorizing it. When people die, they suffer: blows to the body are brutal and cause immense damage. For the first time in the series, the treatment of soldiers as little more than meat is actually a focal point. Yes, these themes, ideas and concepts have been done before and better in other films, but the filmmakers are clearly trying their best to make a film that is more thoughtful than a film like this has any expectation to be.
Just who is the filmmaker behind this effort? John Hyams, a first time director and son of Peter Hyams, a filmmaker who produced a number of underrated and memorable films throughout the 1980s and 1990s, and who acts as the cinematographer on this film. In his first ever effort, John Hyams shows immense skill as a craftsman, focusing on telling the story of the film rather than crafting the story around action sequences. There isn’t a wasted moment in this film, with each scene building upon the last, deftly bouncing back and forth between the various ongoing stories. He successfully develops a dour tone to the film, and never gives into the temptation to insert inappropriate humour. Moreover, Hyams makes his limited budget work for him. Unlike the slick, over produced sets that might usually feature in films such as this, the stark sets add a level of authenticity to the whole of the film.
Credit must also go to screenwriter Victor Ostrovsky, for which this is his first credit. Ostrovsky has brought a greater sense of logic to the series, grounding everything in more recognizable military procedure and expanding on what the programming a UniSol involves, evoking some of the more questionable tactics of recent military history. When it comes to the characters, the film is built upon small moments rather than overblown speeches and epic heroics, allowing even the smallest characters to get little scenes of their own to flesh them out. It isn't all brilliant, but it works and manages to make sense, unlike the last film.
Hands down, Universal Soldier – Regeneration is the best film of the series. Those expecting a typical action film will likely be disappointed, but for everyone else, you might as well skip the other films and watch this one directly. Yet I cannot help but recommending the viewing of all three films for those interested in the evolution of the action genre, though they are likely already familiar with the films.
As for Jean Claude Van Damme, it will be interesting to see where his new writing and directorial project The Eagle Path will go. With any luck, Van Damme now understands his strengths and will play to them. However, with Van Damme again in control of the creative process, there is the slight risk of seeing him return to the vanity projects of the past. Let us hope he has learned his lesson.
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
At the end of my review of the original Wolf Man, I stated that Joe Johnston and Benicio Del Toro had the opportunity to take the ambitious but flawed original and make an even greater film, unlike so many remakes which can go nowhere but down. While Johnston and Del Toro’s Wolfman never exactly achieves being greater than the original, at the risk of getting flack from classic horror fans, I am going to say that it equals the original, carving out its own path, with its own strengths and suffering from different weaknesses. Furthermore, at the risk of getting outright slaughtered, I am also going to say that the new Wolfman is the more enjoyable film.
The new Wolfman, set in the late 1800s, follows the story of Lawrence Talbot (Del Toro), a stage actor called home by his missing brother’s fiancée Gwen (Emily Blunt). Upon his arrival at the decaying family home, headed by distant patriarch, Sir John Talbot (Anthony Hopkins), Lawrence discovers that his brother’s body has been found horribly mutilated. At the request of Gwen, Lawrence stays to try and solve what happened, and in the process winds up at a gypsy encampment just as it is attacked by a menacing animal, leaving Talbot injured. Soon enough, he begins to suffer strange symptoms, and becomes drawn into a greater and more personal mystery than he had originally anticipated.
Early in the film, a scene is shown of Lawrence performing Hamlet on stage, and to those familiar with Shakespeare’s masterpiece, the foundation upon which the new Wolfman has been built will be immediately recognizable. While the original Wolf Man was certainly tragic, the new Wolfman is an outright familial tragedy, dealing with madness, various Oedipus complexes, and murder. Many of the basic elements from the original film remain, yet the new production sets about crafting its own identity as a horror version of Shakespeare's play and refusing to be slave to what has come before. While it never quite succeeds in being the horror genre’s Hamlet, the ambition on the part of the filmmakers shows in every frame of the film, a passion that is often missing in most horror remakes.
The original film is structured through a series of oppositions which Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.) finds himself caught between with no real sense of control. The film pits institutionalized patriarchy and marginalized matriarchy against one another, each side being aligned with other opposing concepts: rationalism and emotionalism; science and superstition; etc. While rich in complex ironies, the original film is very clean and organized in its presentation of these concepts, both on the literal and figurative levels, such the town embodying civilization and the woods becoming the center of uncontrolled instincts. While the approach works, it also helps to make the original film a very stilted affair as it tries too hard to lay everything out in an easily digestible manner, a problem point for a film that deals with themes of the repressed and uncontrollable.
The new Wolfman does away with such oppositions, as the complex issues are internalized in Lawrence himself rather than being represented by external forces in the narrative. This results in a far more driven and emotional Lawrence, who actively fights back against his own internal impulses and conflicts which stem from his childhood experiences. As played by Del Toro, Lawrence is a man whose calm reserve is little more than a thin mask for the turmoil going on beneath the surface. It is a very physical performance, even without the elaborate makeup, and Del Toro manages to utilize his body language to do much of the work for him, even working in gestures that are reminiscent of Chaney Jr. The Wolfman has been a long admitted passion project for Del Toro, and he clearly is giving it his all here.
The shift in how the underlying issues of the film are organized is further reflected in the presentation of the town and woods, which are no longer distinct entities that boarder one another, but instead bleed into each other, enveloping all who reside there in its dark, murky aesthetic. London, which has a large presence in the film, is the new site of supposed rationalism and progression, and the place in which we first find Lawrence. Yet London itself is a visually dark and chaotic mess, an urban hell that itself is torn asunder by the issues it denies and mocks in one of the film’s most memorable sequences.
I really should take a moment to talk about the visual look of the film, from the wonderful production design to the gorgeous cinematography of Shelly Johnson. The world created by director Johnston and his crew is nothing short of spectacular, visually emulative of the horror films of old, and designed in a manner that manages to evoke stage play like artifice without breaking the sense of a lived in world. There are frames that are so rich in detail that I cannot wait until the Blu Ray is released to study them. Only a few moments of CGI mar the film, particularly a scene with a CGI bear that really wasn’t necessary, but the sheer level of practical effects in the film is amazing given the era in which we live, the standout being the makeup effects of Rick Baker.
Still, the main reason the film works is because of its cast, primarily Del Toro and Hopkins. While Del Toro’s work has already been covered, Hopkins needs to be singled out because, if for no other reason, he seems to actually be giving the film his all rather than coasting for a paycheque as he has often done in the past ten years. While it is hard to discuss his character without spoilers, Hopkins manages to sell even the oddest of moments by giving every action of Talbot’s a sense of giddy, insane glee without hamming it up, except where appropriate.
The film does have its failings. While the film is double the length of the original, the opening third of the film still feels like it is going by at a record pace. Some scenes, such as the first meeting between Lawrence and his father, feel as if entire sections of the scene have gone missing. These scenes function well enough, but they don’t always allow the atmosphere to sink in as much as one would like. Similarly, while the werewolf scenes are for the most part expertly handled, some of these scenes towards the climax of the film begin to feel a little over the top, emulative of a superhero film rather than a horror film. Such moments are brief, but are annoying none the less. The same issue plagues some of the film’s gore, though it was nice to see the filmmakers embrace an R rating rather than toning the picture down for a PG-13.
Still, The Wolfman is a worthy remake. It manages to make entire errors of its own, but nothing that outright sinks the film. Furthermore, in a time where old fashioned horror filmmaking is in short supply, The Wolfman manages to evoke the past in a way that doesn’t feel like it is merely recycling the past, and is well worth checking out.
Sunday, February 14, 2010
The review of Universal Soldier Regeneration has been pushed to Friday in order to review the new version of The Wolfman first, which I hope to have up by Wednesday. Also, the Universal Soldier Regeneration review will now review all three films of the Van Damme series, rather than just the latest. Trust me, I have my reasons.
See you later!
Saturday, February 13, 2010
The Amityville Horror (Rosenberg 1979)
At the Circus (Buzzell 1939)
Being There (Ashby 1979)
Black Legion (Mayo 1937)
Black Sheep (King 2006)
Blue in the Face (Auster and Wang 1995)
The Box (Kelly 2009)
Brimstone & Treacle (Loncraine 1982)
Cheap (Jones 2004)
Daleks – Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. (Flemyng 1966)
Doctor Who: The Movie (Sax 1996)
Dr. Who and the Daleks (Flemyng 1965)
Freak Out (Jones 2003)
Harold and Maude (Ashby 1971)
Paranormal Activity (Peli 2007/2009)
Payback/Payback: Straight Up (Helgeland 1999/2006)
The Princess and the Frog (Clements and Musker 2009)
Sherlock Holmes (Ritchie 2009)
Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (Sam Liu 2009)
Tales from the Darkside: The Movie (Harrison 1990)
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2 (Hooper 1986)
White Dog (Samuel Fuller 1982)
Whoever Slew Auntie Roo? (Harrington 1971)
The Wolf Man (Waggner 1941)
The Wolfman (Johnston 2010)
Woyzeck (Herzog 1979)
1. Say Anything
2. Bringing Up Baby
3. Grosse Pointe Blank
4. Mad Dog and Glory
5. Shaun of the Dead
Five Films for Those Who Hate Valentine's Day
1. Hot Fuzz
2. Bubba Ho-Tep
3. The War of the Roses
4. The Fly (1986)
5. Dead Ringers
Thursday, February 11, 2010
There are some ways of describing a film that have simply become clichés, and I do my best to avoid using them. Referring to a film as a “minor work” is one such description that has fallen into overuse. Yet when it comes to Werner Herzog’s Woyzeck, I really cannot think of anything better than to describe it as a minor work. While I still have many films to go in my viewing of all of Herzog’s work, Woyzeck simply feels like a filler project, going over ideas and concepts that other films and filmmakers, including Herzog himself, have touched on before without really saying anything new, or at least finding a new vantage point from which to talk about these topics.
Based on a play by Georg Buchner and set in the early 1800s, Woyzeck is the story of Franz Woyzeck (Klaus Kinski, once a frequent collaborator with Herzog despite their equally frequent clashes), a poor private in the military whom has had an illegitimate child with his wife Marie (Eva Mattes). To earn money for his family, Franz performs tasks for his Captain, who views him as little more than a cheap amusement, and also works as a guinea pig for a local doctor’s bizarre and cruel experiments. Used an abused, Franz hears voices inside his head, but seemly remains stable enough to ensure his family is taken care of. When his Captain lets slip that Franz’s wife is having an affair with a Drum Major, the last remains of Franz’s sanity begin to collapse with tragic results.
Woyzeck certainly isn’t a bad film, yet it never manages to be as engaging as one would hope from a work by Herzog. Herzog approaches the film in a fairly detached and ironic manner, utilizing a series of long takes with a mostly stationary camera which allows the viewer to carefully observe Franz Woyzeck and the world around him. Herzog also presents the events of the film in a manner which may be linear, or may be totally fragmented, furthering the feeling of disconnect from the world of the film. In taking this approach to the film, Herzog allows the viewer to be objective in the act of watching the narrative unfold while at the same time giving viewers a sense of how Franz views the world. The balance between objectivity and subjectivity is a major accomplishment, and for that alone the film is certainly worth viewing. Furthermore, Herzog's approach to the film transforms the viewer into one of the clinical scientists and military officials that observe Franz as a curiosity, a point made clear time and again when Kinski as Franz gazes out of the screen and directly at the viewer, seemingly lost in confusion and pain and in search of answers that never come, thus putting the whole of the cinematic apparatus under critical examination.
However, as magnificent as the film making and narrative technique are, Woyzeck never really manages to be overly involving on any level. Emotionally, the film is too detached to truly draw in the viewer into the narrative. We have a sense of who Franz is, and even a limited understanding of him, yet as noted, the viewer is encouraged to remain distanced from Franz and approach him (and the film as a whole) from an intellectual perspective. Yet intellectually the film is not overly involving either. Class politics, time, religion, money, exploitation and the relationship between the individual and the whole of society are all subjects that the film examines, yet it all feels tired and doesn't offer anything new to the discussion of these topics. Indeed,much of the subject matter and even the observational, detached style are reminiscent of Herzog’s earlier film The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (1974). While both films are certainly different from one another, Woyzeck in many ways feels like a collection of ideas that Herzog didn’t get to use in the earlier work, resulting in Woyzeck feeling like a retread rather than a progression for Herzog as a filmmaker.
The film also occasionally suffers from the conflict between Herzog’s brilliant cinematic visuals and the dialogue that comes from the original play (presumably from the play, I really should say, as I have never read the work, nor seen a production of it). It’s not that the dialogue is bad, but rather that Herzog makes many of his points visually, nullifying the need for the dialogue. I admit that this point is a nitpick, but it was certainly something that occurred to me during the film and continued to bother me afterwards.
Yet, I don’t want to come down too hard on Woyzeck, as there is wonderful material to be found in the film, from moments of grim satirical humour with both the Captain and the Doctor, to the brilliant execution of a scene of murder that is shockingly violent whilst showing the viewer nothing. Then there is the haunting closing shot in the film, with the sinister and ironic closing text that does manage to bring the film to a powerful close.
Then of course, there is Klaus Kinski, who is at his reserved best in the film as the title character. Tortured, confused and yet strangely articulate, Kinski manages to portray a dissent into madness in a manner that dodges the overblown performances of other actors in similar roles. It isn’t Kinski’s definitive work, but it is damn fine work that continues to show why Kinski is held in such high regard as an actor.
Still, I cannot help but feel that Woyzeck is a film that should probably wait until one has seen all of Herzog’s greater works, or viewed before seeing any of his efforts. It’s a good film, but in a career of great films, flawed but ambitious films, and films that are fascinating failures, Woyzeck can wait to be seen.
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
The next review should be up Friday, Werner Herzog's 1979 film Woyzeck. After this bit of mid-70s German filmmaking from the infamous duo will be followed early next week with a review of a different film dealing with abused military soliders: Universal Soldier: Regeneration. Yes, you read that right.
As for the delayed Star Trek series of film reviews, they will begin starting next month, but they will be done in groups rather than as individual films for a few reasons. Also, expect that these reviews will be limited to one set a month, as I want too keep a variety of reviews happening over the course of the month.
Lastly, I just want to guide people to this review over at the DVD Verdict by Judge David Johnson. Funny stuff sir!
Monday, February 8, 2010
Finally, we reach the end of the Doctor Who film reviews, with the sequel to Dr. Who and the Daleks (Flemyng 1995), Daleks – Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. (for the sake of readability, from now on I am just going to write 2150 A.D. when it comes to the title). Again adapting a Terry Nation script from the series as the basis for the film, the Dalek story “The Dalek Invasion of Earth,” the story of both the film and television versions follow the crew of the TARDIS as they land in London of the 22nd century, only to find the Daleks have invaded and now occupy Earth, transforming various citizen’s into Robomen, squads of mind controlled humans who police the streets of London,rounding up humans to work in mines. The reason for the Daleks digging to the core of Earth is unknown, but the TARDIS crew find themselves caught up in events and fighting alongside the resistance in a desperate hope to solve the mystery of the Daleks plan and save Earth.
The original television version of the story is an excellent and significant serial in the history of show, if perhaps undermined by some poor science. Whereas the first Dalek story was a moral and ethical drama, the second story addresses the issues surrounding being a country occupied by a military force, and how it corrupts human values. Furthermore, the story is a character driven piece, addressing issues of identity and how we define who we are. The Doctor (William Hartnell) is very much an individual who defines himself as being the outsider: no true home save the TARDIS, living outside the bounds of time and space and in the early days refusing to name just where he was from, the Doctor revelled in the freedom his lifestyle provided. In stark contrast to him is his granddaughter Susan, who from the beginning of the series has been looking for a place to belong. “The Dalek Invasion of Earth” is really her story, as she finds a home and place among the human’s of the 22nd century, resulting in the first ever companion leaving the series in a touching and iconic scene, as the Doctor says goodbye to his only existing blood relative (that we know of) in his own peculiar, yet perfect, fashion.
Once again, all of this wonderful character and thematic material is gutted from the film adaptation, with 2150 A.D. being nowhere near the equal of its television original, just like Dr. Who and the Daleks. The darker elements of the story are toned down and the characters are reduced to stock adventure types. However, unlike its predecessor, 2150 A.D. manages to function well enough given the simpler goals it sets out to achieve. While Dr. Who and the Daleks’ narrative suffered from the simplification of the moral complexities upon which the original story hinged, 2150 A.D. manages to function well enough as an adventure yarn to be entertaining, if totally hollow and ultimately forgettable.
While hardly the grim yet hopeful narrative of the television original, 2150 A.D. noticeably takes itself more seriously than Dr. Who and the Daleks, cutting back on the forced slapstick and camp humour that was totally out of place in the last film. While some out of place humour crops up from time to time here, it is more tolerable this time thanks to the presence of actor Bernard Cribbins as the character Tom Campbell, a police officer who accidentally ended up in the TARDIS on its journey into the future. Campbell is a replacement for the character of Ian, apparently written out of the film due to the unavailability of actor Roy Castle. This is an absolute blessing, as Castle’s performance as Ian was the case of an actor simply trying too hard to make the material work, playing the character as a walking cartoon. Cribbins’ Tom by contrast is a competent man in a situation he didn’t ask to be in, and the moments of comedy involving Tom are more natural as he tries to work out the situation he has found himself in. Cribbins’ is good enough that a painful scene involving Tom trying to behave like a Roboman almost works. Oh, and for the record, I am not praising Cribbins’ acting in the film only in light of his wonderful work on the modern Doctor Who series as the character Wilf.
The returning actors also seem to be making a stronger effort here, with Peter Cushing being noticeably more energetic and lively compared to the last outing, though the weaknesses of that performance may have been the result of the script’s failings to make the warm and cuddly Doctor Cushing played make the darker decisions that Hartnell’s initially anti-heroic Doctor did in the original episodes. Once again promoted to the forefront of all the action, Cushing makes his Dr. Who quirky and fascinating enough to engage the viewers through the entire running time.
The biggest step up however is on the part of director Gordon Flemyng, who seems far more at ease with the large scale set pieces in this film than he was dealing with the various conversation scenes in the last film. While he still has no understanding of subtly, Flemyng does manage to keep the pace moving this time out, packing in enough modestly budgeted spectacle to temporarily overcome the failings of the rest of the film.
Still, when it is all said and done, 2150 A.D. is really nothing to go out of your way to see. Along with the major flaws noted earlier, the film is internally inconsistent with regards to the Daleks, who apparently can take direct explosions from high powered bombs, but will be destroyed when smashed gently by a small truck or thrown off a ramp. Furthermore, the major flaw of the television version returns to plague the film adaptation as well: the Daleks’ plan makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. At least the television version bothers to make its character drama interesting enough so that the reveal of the plan doesn’t result in laughter on the part of the viewer during the final few episodes. Sadly, the same cannot be said of the film.
Thus, we arrive at the end of the series of Doctor Who film reviews begun in December. The final verdict on all three films is the same: each is a well meaning attempt to expand the audience and awareness of the Doctor character, but each ultimately fails for a variety of reasons. As such, I highly recommend letting the show do the talking for itself, be it the classic series or the current revival. Trust me when I say it is well worth the investment of time and effort to watch.
Thursday, February 4, 2010
Why have I never seen The Wolf Man before now? I am not sure that I really have an answer to that question, or rather, an answer that is satisfactory. Mainly, I have just never felt a drive to see the film, unlike other classic Universal monster films. However, having picked up the Legacy Edition release for less than ten dollars and the release of the remake in a week’s time, my list of excuses has run out. As such, I have finally seen The Wolf Man and after all this time I can say it is an ambitious and complex film that never manages to reach the heights of its more famous siblings, Frankenstein (1931) and Dracula (1931).
The Wolf Man tells the tale of Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.), who returns to his family home in Wales after his brother’s death, to become the new heir to his father’s (Claude Rains) estate. Smitten with a local woman named Gwen (Evelyn Ankers), Talbot joins her and her friend Jenny in going to see a nearby gypsy to have their fortune’s read. When Jenny is attacked by an animal, Talbot’s rush to her defence ends with two dead bodies and Talbot injured. As more and more animal attacks take place, Talbot finds himself under increasing scrutiny from the community and increasingly questioning his own state of mind as he is confronted with evidence that he may be becoming a werewolf.
At its best, The Wolf Man is a clever examination of both patriarchy and the expectations which a society and culture place upon an individual, particularly the ideas of what it means to be masculine during the journey from childhood to adulthood. While Talbot is a fully grown man, who has lived on his own for some time, he is a strikingly childlike figure in a somewhat adolescent situation. Unlike Baron Von Frankenstein’s (Basil Rathbone) return to the family manner in Son of Frankenstein (1939), Talbot returns home to a very much living father as a second choice heir, having to wait to take control. Despite Chaney’s massive size, Talbot is a character who is dominated by the world around him, literally and figuratively, from his father’s massive house to the fact that Talbot’s identity in the community is totally understood in terms of being the son of his father. Whatever accomplishments Talbot has made elsewhere in the world are of no value in this community. He lacks agency of his own, and the public nature of this lack sets in motion a crisis of masculinity which triggers the events of the rest of the film as he attempts to prove his worth as a male.
Talbot’s initial pursuit of Gwen is highly aggressive and voyeuristic, and it is this attempt to prove his masculine identity through sexual dominance which leads to a very different “masculine” display in his physical confrontation with a similar predator, the gypsy Bela (Bela Lugosi), whom is also a werewolf. The events surrounding the confrontation are filled with irony: while Talbot fails to save Jenny, he proves his physical prowess and “masculine worth” as community understands it by killing the predator Bela, only for the event to be misunderstood and used as proof of a possible mental weakness on the part of Talbot when the aftermath of the battle fails to match Talbot’s claimed experience. These multilayered ironies in the early third of The Wolf Man are a joy to behold, and set up a fascinating exploration of the failings of modern concepts of masculinity, which serve little more than to cover the base nature of the male animal in the film.
The second act of the film follows on from the first as Talbot’s status and identity come under the scrutiny of the entire community, and Talbot finds himself sidelined by doctors, police and his own father. Everyone feels that they know what happened about the death of Jenny and Bela, as well as whom Talbot is, more so than Talbot himself, resulting in his opinions and knowledge being dismissed and misunderstood. Chaney’s performance is at is most fantastic during these sections of the film, as he starts to unravel and his facial and physical reactions become increasingly similar to that of a frustrated child, assisted by the def direction from George Waggner. This is perhaps best encompassed in a scene in a church, as the camera tracks down the pews of people, each turning back and staring at Talbot at the back of the building, leading right to his father at the front of the church who turns to face his son with confusion, leading Talbot to run from the building. It is a powerful moment, and perhaps the film’s most memorable.
The film also takes on an interestingly feminist stance as female knowledge and power is upheld over that of institutionalised male knowledge and power. Talbot finds himself increasingly torn between the expectations of his father and the understanding of his situation that the motherly Maleva (Maria Ouspenskaya) holds, a point which is expanded beyond the familial to the societal in a moment when Maleva tries to save Gwen late in the film, only to be ignored. The ideals and leadership of patriarchy are not only destructive to the male, but to women who believe in it. It is no surprise when the film, towards the conclusion, features a scene in which the marginalized mother figure confronts the literal father, and undermines his false authority and beliefs.
So, given that the film is rich in ironies, complex ideas and features uniquely progressive gender politics, why the reserved recommendation on my part? Despite its great strengths, as a narrative, the film falls apart in the third act as its earlier failings in developing the supporting characters result in characters behaving in ways that are solely dictated by the needs of the plot. I am primarily referring to Gwen, who initially serves as little more than a figure for Talbot to lust after. This would be fine given that Talbot is the protagonist and that it is his psychology that is under examination if the third act didn’t honestly expect the viewer to believe that some form of love had developed between Gwen and Talbot. Gwen’s sudden turn to wanting to leave with Talbot when he runs away has no basis in the events that come earlier in the film, and smacks of the filmmakers having painted themselves into a corner. As wonderfully complex as the ending is, the manner in which it reaches this conclusion distracts the viewer from the meat of what is going on in the film.
Another problem plaguing the film is the sledgehammer to the head approach to explaining werewolf lore and foreshadowing of events. The poem recited by Gwen about men becoming werewolves is fine the first time, but by the third repetition in ten minutes time, it feels like over kill and a lack of trust on the part of the filmmakers towards the audience. This becomes most evident in the various speeches given by characters that sound like endless exposition rather than dialogue. In a seventy minute long film, it is too much repetition and explanation when the film really needs to begin to move forward. The end result is a film that, oddly enough for being about emotion and the breaking through of base animalistic traits, is stilted and reserved when it needs to be neither.
Yet I don’t want to take away from the end result either, for The Wolf Man is an understandable classic of the Universal Horror series, with more raw potential and ideas floating through it than either Frankenstein or Dracula. It is just that, unlike those films, the execution of The Wolf Man is not quite as flawless. As such, The Wolf Man remains a film that I oddly enough do not mind being remade, despite its classic status. There is an opportunity to make a film that, much like John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982)and David Cronenberg’s The Fly (1986), is every bit the better film than the already excellent original. With any luck, Joe Johnson and Benicio Del Toro will have pulled this off.
Monday, February 1, 2010
So, we are one month into a new year. Hopefully, everyone is doing fine and things are looking up for the rest of the year. Or the next few months at the very least.
I have two new reviews in the works, one of which will be up on Thursday, possibly Friday depending on how the responsibilities of real life go. I won't say what the films are, so as not to dissapoint anyone if one or the other review goes up instead.
I would also like to take this moment to thank everyone for reading this blog, especially when there are better designed, flashier sites out there. It means much to me to see people actually take an interest in the things I have been writing, even if you disagree (in some cases, especially if you disagree!).
So see you later this week!