Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Worst. Game. EVAR

No, I'm not talking about the Ravenchase Great America Treasure Hunt, about which many of the participating teams have already complained.

I'm talking about the "secret illegal cross-country road race" depicted in the short-lived TV series Drive. I watched the final two produced episodes last night--mostly because of Nathan Fillion and Melanie Lynskey--and y'know, I wish someone would make a puzzle-hunt show which actually deals with the puzzles. If I want melodrama, I'll watch Gray's Anatomy.

Although it would be interesting to compare and contrast the event actually run by Ravenchase last week, and the one imagined by the producers of Drive. Let's see...

Ravenchase: required several hours of driving between checkpoints each day.
Drive: featured truckloads of green-screen "driving" footage every episode.

Ravenchase: used obscure ciphers and symbols like the Ogham alphabet to encode messages.
Drive: used ambiguous phrases like "Surrender USA" to indicate specific locations.

Ravenchase: allowed teams to take time penalties in order to get hints on difficult clues.
Drive: did not offer hints.

Ravenchase: changed their own scoring rules several times in attempts to make up for puzzles which hadn't been adequately playtested and often contained errors.
Drive: blackmailed players into performing mysterious and arbitrary tasks to satisfy the whims of the shadowy organization running the race.

Ravenchase: did not require teams to do anything illegal.
Drive: did I mention that the exact phrase "secret illegal cross-country road race" is spoken at least once per episode?

Ravenchase: no players were seriously injured, not even during white-water rafting.
Drive: one player, dead; one player, shot in the stomach; numerous others threatened.

Ravenchase: gave the winning team a model sailing ship trophy.
Drive: claimed that the winning team would receive a $32 million prize.

Ravenchase: ended at a bar in New Orleans, where teams partied until the wee hours.
Drive: didn't end so much as just stopped after six episodes, with nothing resolved. At least Amy Acker got a couple of lines.


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Legends of This Fall

No, actually, it's not too early to start thinking about the fall TV season. Entertainment Weekly certainly doesn't think so. (Of course, this is also coming from the guy who has a modded 800GB HD DirecTivo, which is currently at 84% disk usage. I may be a little obsessed.)

I've mentioned before that I prefer "genre" TV, and I've recently developed a fondness for series that are just a little beyond normal--i.e., set in the present-day real world, with just one or two sf/fantasy elements to make things interesting. For example, House, which takes place in a parallel universe where the United States has universal health care and no patients ever ask how much all these crazy tests and procedures are going to cost.

These are the jokes, folks. Feel free to laugh.

Anyway. The EW viewing guide linked above lists thirty(30!) new shows in prime time, but I'm only going to talk about those which have genre elements.

Sam I Am (Monday, NBC) - Christina Applegate has amnesia! Yes, "the amnesia episode" is a long-standing TV tradition, but now someone has boldly gone and made an entire damn series out of this creaky premise! I have low expectations.

Journeyman (Monday, NBC) - That dude from Rome plays a time-traveling reporter who helps people. I think these comments from IMDb sum it up pretty well: "I liked this show before, when it was called Quantum Leap." "It's NOT Quantum Leap." "It's Voyagers!"

Cavemen (Tuesday, ABC) - Yup, those characters from the GEICO commercials have their own show. I'm dubious. I mean, I like the ads, and Phil Hartman's Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer sketch was fun, but every damn week? I dunno.

Chuck (Tuesday, NBC) - "A computer geek morphs into the government's most essential agent after downloading an entire server of secrets directly to his brain." Uh, yeah: I liked this show better when it was called Jake 2.0. And I didn't even like it that much then.

New Amsterdam (Tuesday, FOX) - NYC homicide detective happens to be immortal. And...? The promos I've seen are intriguing, but don't tell much about where they intend to take this premise. I'll watch.

The Reaper (Tuesday, CW) - 20-year-old slacker discovers that his parents sold his soul to the devil, and now he has to track down evil souls and send them to hell. Again, I liked this show better when it was called Brimstone, and that went away in a real hurry. (Let us never speak of GvsE. And no, Dead Like Me didn't ring my bell. Mandy Patinkin can't save everything.)

Pushing Daisies (Wednesday, ABC) - Dude can bring dead things back to life by touching them, but if he touches them a second time, they die forever. We've been seeing promos for this during the pre-show ads at AMC Theatres, and D thinks it's doomed.

Kid Nation (Wednesday, CBS) - The only reason I mention this reality show is so I can say: I liked this show better when it was called "Miri," and only lasted for one hour. Zing!

Bionic Woman (Wednesday, NBC) - The 500-pound gorilla. Really, is there anybody who isn't going to watch this? And raise your hand if you're also hoping for a Heroes crossover!

Moonlight (Friday, CBS) - I liked this show better when it was called Angel.

That's the lot. Nothing much new, but some potential here and there. What I'm really waiting for is midseason, to see how badly FOX screws up The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Oh, I anticipate a train wreck of apocalyptic proportions, I do. Make me a liar, Fish!


Saturday, July 07, 2007

And speaking of food...

We saw Ratatouille tonight, and it did not disappoint. D didn't enjoy it quite as much as I did, because--in her words--"It's a rat!" Which I found amusing, because she and the protagonist rodent both enjoy heightened olfactory senses. She can often identify the ingredients in a dish by taste, and she can distinguish Coca-Cola from Pepsi by smell. I'm not even kidding here.

Anyway, Brad Bird is becoming one of my favorite writer/directors (as the French might say, an auteur). I didn't think The Iron Giant was all that great, but that was based on Ted Hughes' book anyway; The Incredibles and Ratatouille are masterpieces. Granted, both of those films were produced by the Disney/Pixar juggernaut, but that dedication to story and character is sorely lacking in most movies.

I wonder how (and what) Bird might do at another studio. The sad truth is, animated features still exist in a Hollywood ghetto, even though live-action films are using more and more computer animated visual effects. Consider: there were only one or two physical robot models built for Transformers, the horribly unnecessary Underdog is the demon spawn of Babe's talking animals, and just about everything in the last three Star Wars movies was (wait for it) animated. Except for the acting. (Zing!)

On that note, I also enjoyed the retro logo at the end of Ratatouille's credits proclaiming that the movie was made using "100% Genuine Animation! No motion capture or any other performance shortcuts were used in the production of this film." That's how it should be. Yeah, I'm looking at you, Robert "cast of Tron doing bad Shakespeare" Zemeckis! I'm talking to you!

North Carolina

We're just here for the food.

Okay, not really. In addition to getting a little South for our mouths, D and I also puttered around downtown Raleigh today, checking out the capitol building and then ducking inside the Museum of Natural Sciences to escape the heat, where we saw our first-ever live sloth, up close and personal.

Later, we drove out to the Joel Lane House and Mordecai Park to get our history on. It was a little odd to hear our tour guides talk so matter-of-factly about how many slaves the colonial homesteaders owned, but considering all the memorials dedicated to Confederate dead at the state capitol, I guess people around here just learn to live with it.

Tomorrow: Temples, Tombs, and maybe some pomegranate wine.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Transformers: Spectacularly Okay

That's my two-word review, as requested by D when I came home from the movie on Tuesday.

My biggest complaint (minor spoilers): Did anyone else notice that the final shot was set in virtually the same location as the infamous "animal crackers" scene from Armageddon? And that the Autobots-hiding-in-the-yard scene was ripped off from Bad Boys? I mean, I knew Michael Bay had a limited repertoire, but when he starts repeating himself exactly... not a good sign for Transformers 2.

Otherwise, for a toy commercial conflated with GM ads and USAF recruiting posters, it was appropriately spectacular, but in toto just okay. One of my co-workers described it as "Independence Day with giant robots," and he wasn't referring to the release date. It's a fair comparison. Scattered storyline; sound-and-fury technobabble; lots of supporting roles, many of which characters never amount to anything real... but Shia's fine, Turturro's always good for comic relief, and Peter Cullen is Optimus Prime.

The special effects are damn good, but movies do not transcend genre by FX alone. The comedy was just this side of camp, but it worked. And there were some nice, comic book-y touches, which I suspect were thanks to original screenwriter and geek icon John Rogers. RepreZent, brutha.