Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Brin Hill Directs Joss Whedon’s Latest Unfulfilled Concept Film: In Your Eyes.


The Good: Well directed, Decent concept, Interesting characters
The Bad: Unremarkable performances, Predictable plot
The Basics: Joss Whedon’s script for In Your Eyes is an interesting concept, executed erratically under the direction of Brin Hill.


There is a special form of celebrity for writer/directors reached when whatever project they are even marginally associated with is attributed to them. This phenomenon was made very evident when District 9 (reviewed here!) touted Peter Jackson’s participation in the project and Cloverfield (reviewed here!) built much of its hype on the name J.J. Abrams (despite his very limited participation in the film’s creation). The latest cinematic work where the project’s director is being largely overlooked is the Joss Whedon-written film In Your Eyes.

To be fair to Joss Whedon, even though In Your Eyes is not a Mutant Enemy Production and Whedon did not direct the movie, he was both the writer and executive producer of the work. Director Brin Hill has been virtually neglected in the headlines about In Your Eyes, probably with the hope that Joss Whedon’s fanbase will download the work based on name power alone. “Download” is the right word: In Your Eyes is being released as a video on demand work, much like Cheap Thrills (reviewed here!) and Veronica Mars (reviewed here!) were earlier this year. In Your Eyes does not appear to be getting a cinematic release, which does make it an exception to the dual-release model by other v.o.d. releases this year. Sadly, In Your Eyes is not one of Joss Whedon’s best scripts and director Brin Hill does his best with Whedon’s words as he can.

For those who love the works of Joss Whedon, In Your Eyes is a rare miss by the writer; it’s an interesting idea executed in the least imaginative way possible. In Your Eyes lacks Whedon’s trademark wit and charm, but is heavy on character (as one might expect) . The romantic drama features predictably tormented characters , but feels much more like a project Whedon might have written back in high school and let sit in a drawer for years before it was unearthed than something truly fresh and new by Joss Whedon.

Opening with Dylan and Rebecca as children, hundreds of miles apart, Rebecca resolves to go down a hill on her sled. When she hits a tree, Dylan is violently knocked from his desk in school and falls unconscious. Twenty years later, Dylan is out on parole for a burglary he and some friends did, being harassed by his parole officer and Rebecca is being dragged to dinner parties by her husband, who seems largely uninterested in her. One night while Dylan is out at a bar, he gets smacked by a drunk with a pool cue and across the country, Rebecca is violently thrown to the ground while at a dinner party. The next day, Dylan is frantically driving to work while Rebecca is out shopping for underwear, Rebecca nearly gets Dillon into an accident. When Dylan gets to the side of the road and Rebecca finds a doorway in which to sit, the two begin talking to one another aloud and they figure out that they are both real.

From New Mexico, Dylan begins to talk with Rebecca outloud – which she hears in Exeter, New Hampshire. Dylan helps Rebecca not get scammed by a car repairman and Rebecca helps Dylan land a date with Donna. But as Rebecca is seen talking to herself more and more frequently, her doctor husband Phillip becomes deeply concerned about her. He tries to get schizophrenic expert Dr. Maynard to evaluate Rebecca and while Dylan starts to turn his life around (by rejecting his criminal friends), Rebecca finds herself committed to a mental institution. Dylan will risk his freedom to give Rebecca hers when their out-of-body relationship with one another leads to a predictable attachment that they have waited their entire life to understand.

In Your Eyes is a pretty audacious idea: two people live their whole lives with a faint connection that allows them to see through one another’s eyes until they hit a point when they develop a deeper and more consistent connection. That leads the two of them into an emotionally complicated relationship. Good concept. Unfortunately, the elements within that concept are a pretty hackneyed combination. Rebecca is in a loveless marriage, Dylan is a loner who has had a number of problems, but is just on the cusp of turning things around. The film bounces between the realism of the Dylan’s struggle to stay clean in his parole officer’s eyes and Rebecca’s husband reasonably leaps to the idea that she is mentally ill and the fantastic element of Dylan and Rebecca communicating “psychically” (it’s literally verbally, just across incredible distances). The more fantastic element of In Your Eyes is how Rebecca has a troubled marriage that she refuses to abandon – even after her rigorous psychoanalysis of why she chose Phillip – and claims to want to save, but refuses to tell her husband the truth to. The suspension of disbelief comes more from the problems with the realistic elements than the fantastic ones.

Despite not having a high level of diction in any of his other scenes, Dylan actually uses bigger words when he meets Donna. Donna is played as a hick who does not seem at all worthy of the attention of Dylan after he actually starts to become more articulate. On the flipside, Rebecca’s entire dilemma could have been easily solved by being honest with Phillip. If Rebecca and Phillip had a real conversation about the connection Rebecca and Dylan share and Phillip and Dr. Maynard accompanied the two to a meeting, her entire conflict would have been resolved.

But the film is clichéd. In Your Eyes could have been fascinating if Rebecca was happily married and Dylan had something real going for him. Instead, the movie treads in all of the predictable directions. The relationship between Dylan and Rebecca is set up for an obvious romance and Whedon does not push it forward in any new or unpredictable directions; instead, he has the characters explain how and why they pursue the obvious path they have chosen.

That said, Brin Hill makes a pretty fascinating sex scene with the dual masturbation scene that seems to be the inevitable outcome of the two leads staring longingly into mirrors at one another. Led by Zoe Kazan and Michael Stahl-David, In Your Eyes is a tribute to Hollywood beauty in its casting. Everyone in the movie looks unrealistically beautiful, with Kazan being the poster girl for “beautiful but doesn’t know it despite having perfect complexion, all the right curves and a upper class income to use to accessorize the taut body with.” Stahl-David is generically good looking without any distinctive talents evident in In Your Eyes to back the role up with. The supporting cast of Mark Feuerstein, Steve Harris, and Jennifer Grey lend some maturity to the performances, while Nikki Reed plays to her strengths in one of her first big post-Twilight Saga roles as Donna.

In Your Eyes is not bad, but it has nothing superlative to it. Joss Whedon might be getting the credit for the endeavor, but in the pantheon of Whedon’s creations, this is arguably his most forgettable yet.

For other works with Steve Harris, please visit my reviews of:
Quarantine
Minority Report
The Practice - Season 1

4.5/10

For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Amy Acker Is Not “The Only Light In The Darkness” For Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. At The Turning Point!


The Good: Good banter, Decent acting, Pretty tight plot
The Bad: Lighter on character, No thematic resonance.
The Basics: “The Only Light In The Darkness” advances the Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. plotline by bringing back Coulson’s girlfriend while putting Skye in the sensible danger she needs to be on her own with Ward!


It takes a pretty cool show to take a throwaway line in a movie to make an entire episode for the season from it. Back when Iron Man 2 (reviewed here!) appeared on the big screen, Agent Coulson was very much a background character. So, when Pepper Potts mentions that Coulson has a girlfriend and he mentions that she is a cellist, it was pretty much a throwaway at the time. With S.H.I.E.L.D. in shambles, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. decided to bring that cellist to the forefront. Picking up where “Providence” (reviewed here!) left off with a previously unknown supervillain being released from The Fridge and Agent Coulson determined to find him, “The Only Light In The Darkness” continues the Marvel Cinematic Universe storyline with mixed results.

“The Only Light In The Darkness” is yet another episode of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. that feels like a bridge episode that might be working toward something, but viewers have to take on faith will pay off. Given how Joss Whedon productions have a pretty long history of turning things around, the faith viewers have in Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. might well be justified, but “The Only Light In The Darkness” is not a tremendous episode on its own. That said, it’s not bad and, in fact, at its worst “The Only Light In The Darkness” is struggling because it is treading where Alias went about a decade ago. In fact, if I had more time, I’d hunt down the episode of Alias that had a similar plot wherein one of the main characters barely evades the new double agent they’ve discovered. I bet I’d find at least three.

With Marcus Daniels out in the world, killing again (despite not having been seen in the series before now), Agent Coulson’s team is finally reunited and safe at Eric Koenig’s safehouse. With Ward patched up – and telling the team how he killed Garrett - Coulson is eager to go out and recover Daniels. Koenig, however, is not an idiot and he is determined to make sure that Coulson’s team is safe to be in Providence. Ward manages to pass Koenig’s foolproof lie detector test by skewing his answers and inflicting pain upon himself. Coulson becomes obsessed with recovering Daniels and he knows how to find her: apparently Daniels was obsessed with Audrey Nathans . . . who is the cellist that Coulson dated years prior.

At Providence, Skye figures out how to find Daniels using NSA satellites. Koenig is suspicious of Ward and tasks Skye with hacking the satellites. Simmons and Triplett debrief Audrey as she tells them about her prior contact with Daniels. May tells Ward she is leaving, with the Bus fixed and Coulson ostracizing her. With Ward making a move on Koenig to protect himself, Audrey practices at a public venue as a trap for Coulson and the rest of the team to capture Daniels. While Coulson’s team works to take out Blackout without Audrey seeing Coulson alive, Skye uncovers the truth about Ward (literally seconds after I told my wife “They can’t kill off Koenig; he’s an old friend of Nick Fury who’s in the comic books for years!”) and works to stay alive.

“The Only Light In The Darkness” does some things very right. On the character front, Simmons continues to develop her relationship with Triplett and Fitz is jealous of their budding relationship. The realism of that plays out well. Coulson is appropriately tormented by Audrey’s return to a point adjacent to his life. He is unwilling to have contact with her given how she is healing from his, apparent, death in New York City. She obviously did not know about his resurrection.

The continued character development of Koenig actually makes the episode watchable. Koenig is suspicious of Ward and he does not lose that suspicion. He clearly has an agenda and director Vincent Misiano smartly captures Patton Oswalt’s subtle eye motions that emote Koenig’s continued suspicion of the operative that plays out well.

Interestingly enough, “The Only Light In The Darkness” is the episode where I finally actually liked Skye. All along, Skye has been annoying and viewers have had to take it on faith that the character has something going for her that Coulson alone has seen up until this point. Actress Chloe Bennet has not brought a lot to the role, but in “The Only Light In The Darkness,” the character is finally smart enough to justify her presence on the show and on the S.H.I.E.L.D. team. Near the end of the episode, a penny has an important and prominent role; I know what Ward was doing with it the moment it first appeared. For the first time on Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., it turns out Skye was up to speed with me. In fact, with May fleeing to an unlikely source, May is set up to be the next major character betrayed, but in “The Only Light In The Darkness” Skye is betrayed but is smart and professional enough to adapt to her dangerous circumstances. And Bennet lands it!

“The Only Light In The Darkness” is entertaining and it is clearly setting up the first season finale of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. for a big event (right now, we’re moving toward an episode where Skye is clearly about to be tortured for the location where the hard drive can be decrypted and an inevitable rescue attempt from the rest of the Agents), but on its own, it is not stellar television. It’s good entertainment, but it is hard to imagine having forty-five minutes to spare and picking out “The Only Light In The Darkness” as an episode to watch to fill that time.

For other works with Amy Acker, please visit my reviews of:
The Cabin In The Woods
Alias - Season 5
Angel

6.5/10

For other television reviews, please check out my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Dazzling Diamond Anti-Bacterial Hand Gel Could Smell Like Anything, But It’s . . . Strawberry?!


The Good: Appears to work, Easy to apply, Good initial scent
The Bad: Indistinct scent that does not endure.
The Basics: Dazzling Diamond Anti-bacterial Hand Gel is good, but redundant given other, powerfully, strawberry scents from Bath & Body Works!


The impressive product lines that health and beauty companies have, especially Bath & Body Works, often include one or two harder-to-define scents. The products like anti-bacterial hand gels often include some products where the name does not tell the consumer exactly what it is. In the case of Bath & Body Works’s Dazzling Diamond antibacterial hand gel, the name does not make it clear what the scent will be. Instead of being a powerful new addition to the Bath & Body Works product line, Dazzling Diamond is most reminiscent of the scent of strawberry candle wax from when I used to make candles.

For those who are unfamiliar with the recent trend in personal hygiene, Anti-Bacterial Hand Gels are like liquid soap. You drop a few drops of a gel onto your hands, then rub your hands together and the gel evaporates, killing bacteria on your hands. Also, it has the tendency to clean off mild amounts of dirt. It's a convenient way to clean your hands and keep them sterile while on the run or around a lot of sick people. Or when you're not around water or when you're trying to interact with people you don't want to get sick; there are a ton of times one might want to use these!

Honestly, anti-bacterial hand gels are genius. They are wonderful when out and when one sees how a number of people spread germs as a matter of course, they are likely to want to use them pretty much constantly. I could come up with literally a thousand places and times I've used anti-bacterial hand gels. Anti-bacterial hand gels are essentially biological weapons against bacteria that are convenient, easy to use and basically make living in a first world country great.

Dazzling Diamond scented anti-bacterial hand gel from Bath & Body Works features a scent that is surprisingly weak and unfortunately vague. The gel smells like strawberries . . . diluted. This 1 oz. PocketBac plastic bottle holds a fluid that smells all right, but not spectacular, in the bottle and most of the times it is used on the hands. When it is not smelling like sweetened or waxy strawberries, the Dazzling Diamond smells vaguely like isopropyl alcohol.

Dazzling Diamond anti-bacterial hand gel comes in a pocketbac bottle for $1.75, $.99 on sale. The fluid is clear with tiny silver and green glitter flecks in it. The glitter does not seem to do anything.

The bottle is a rhombus shape that fits in the hand rather easily. The flip-top lid makes it easy to open and close the bottle with one hand. This is especially convenient because if you believe you need to sterilize your hands, odds are you will not want to touch many things until you've done. The ability to manipulate the bottle with one hand while getting the product out is a good selling point.

The bottle recommends a dime-sized drop to sterilize one's hands. That seemed to work for me and when applying this gel.

Dazzling Diamond anti-bacterial hand gel does not dry out the skin and it leaves the hands smelling vaguely like strawberry and sugar. It’s not a bad scent, but it’s not great. Given how there are plenty of strawberry-scented anti-bacterial hand gels from Bath & Body Works, Dazzling Diamond is redundant and a less than exceptional rendition of the scent than it could be, but it is fun and effective at what it does.

For other Bath & Body Works anti-bacterial hand gels, please visit my reviews of:
Midnight Pomegranate anti-bacterial hand gel
Stress Relief Eucalyptus Spearmint
Fresh Sparkling Snow
Lemon Meringue Cheer
Sparking Pink Champagne
Simply Rain
Fresh Lavender
Winter Spice & Vanilla
Candy Cane Bliss
Cranberry Harvest
Creamy Pumpkin
Fresh Picked Strawberries
Eucalyptus Mint
Warm Apple Cider
Scary Cats (Black Cherry)
Plumeria

5/10

For other health and beauty reviews, please check out my Health And Beauty Product Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Monday, April 21, 2014

War Ends So Much Later For The Railway Man


The Good: Wonderful acting, Engaging story
The Bad: Pacing, Graphicness makes watching it devoid of any enjoyment, Predictable character arc
The Basics: Pairs of performers, plus Nicole Kidman, give great performances in a story of a man who must choose between revenge and forgiveness as he wrestles with the effects of his torture in The Railway Man.


As Summer Blockbuster Season kicks off, Colin Firth is going a far more serious route and sewing up his next round of Best Actor nominations with The Railway Man. The Railway Man might represent Firth’s next chance to be acknowledged as a great actor come award’s season, but the film is equally a triumph for young actor Jeremy Irvine, who plays the younger version of Firth’s character (Eric Lomax) in the film. Both men are deserving of nominations (if not awards) and would doubtlessly get those nominations . . . if anyone watched the film.

The Railway Man is a difficult film to watch, which is a somewhat stupid statement to make, but a necessary disclaimer. The film is based upon a biography by British World War II veteran and prisoner of war Eric Lomax and given that much of the movie is a recollection of torture and wartime prison conditions, the phrase “difficult to watch” is a bit of an understatement. Obviously, Lomax living through the experiences was far more traumatic and difficult than watching a film based upon those events. Still, it is essential to note that this review of The Railway Man is a pure review of the film alone; I know nothing of the historical accounts of Eric Lomax or any other British p.o.w.s. Before watching The Railway Man, the closest account I had for such events came from Bridge On The River Kwai (reviewed here!). It is also important to note that when I comment upon characters within the film, I am only discussing the individuals as they appeared in The Railway Man based on the limits of the script and the demands of modern filmmaking.

Opening in 1980 in Great Britain, at a veteran’s club, the quiet Eric Lomax recounts meeting a woman on a train. Eric met Patti and, because he knows where she will be, he is able to find her again. They develop a relationship, fall in love, and marry. But shortly after their wedding, Eric begins experiencing night terrors, sleepwalking and hallucinations of a Japanese soldier. The soldier is one who tortured him during World War II. Eric, however, is unwilling to talk to Patti about his experiences. Patti turns to Finlay, Eric’s compatriot from his time in the war and he tells her the story of how in 1942 their group was forced to surrender and be captured by the Japanese when the British pulled out of Saigon. Transported to Thailand, the captured British soldiers are interred to build a railway for the Japanese. Eric, being an expert on all things train-related, tells his compatriots that they are being used as slave labor for a train whose production was stopped due to the extreme dangers involved in clearing the way and laying the tracks.

Finlay and Patti become convinced that Eric will never get better until he confronts what happened to him after he was beaten by a Japanese soldier and taken away for days and tortured. Finlay reveals that he has discovered the identity of the soldier who tortured Eric. Learning that Nagase is alive and appears to be living well leads Finlay to ask Patti if she will stay with Eric if Finlay shares the information with Eric and he decides to act upon the information. Patti says that she will stay with Eric, but when Eric learns of Nagase’s existence, he seems unwilling to act. Frustrated and angered, Finlay kills himself and Eric is motivated to hunt down Nagase to exorcise his demons. Eric finds Nagase and interrogates him in a tense showdown between the two men.

The Railway Manis a somewhat dry film that incredibly explores the nature of grief and the consequences of wartime actions. The word “dry” certainly applies; even at the outset of the film, the characters are off-putting and very British. The initial courting scene between Eric and Patti is so stiff and repressed that Patti has to say “I am so happy” in order for the audience to know that she is actually enjoying the love she and Eric are sharing.

And The Railway Man is appropriately tough. After a long, dry spell, the film settles into a lot of necessary but not-at-all-entertaining exposition before the meeting between Lomax and Nagase. In that section of the film, all of the big character moments happen and as cathartic as they are to see, they are also incredibly predictable. Would Hollywood or Australia make a film wherein a prisoner of war is tortured, gets his life (mostly) together and then becomes a torturer himself? Not bloody likely. Instead, as one might predict, The Railway Man is all about Eric Lomax’s journey from being tortured by his memories to coming to terms with his survival and the surviving man who was involved in his torture.

And, Colin Firth is amazing at making that transition. Firth has an incredible emotional range and he makes the subtle moments of realization for his character work. It is clear when Lomax makes his important decisions because of Firth’s glances and slight furrowing of his brow. Jeremy Irvine is wonderful as well, playing the younger version of Eric Lomax exactly as Colin Firth would have were he only younger. Hiroyuki Sanada and Tanroh Ishida play off one another as the older and younger versions of Nagase with equal skill.

The performer who surprised me most was Nicole Kidman, though. Kidman plays Patti and she is – until a very late scene where she simply opens the door – virtually unrecognizable in the role. Kidman plays Patti with a reserved quality and quiet grace that is unlike any of the other roles I have seen her in. She plays the supporting role of Patti with a simplicity and strength that is surprisingly compelling.

Despite the impressive performances, The Railway Man is a very tough sell to recommend to viewers. It is not really entertaining and the catharsis is so choreographed as to be somewhat anticlimactic. The film tells an important story, but it is very difficult to watch. One suspects that Lomax’s memoirs would be much more insightful and a better use of one’s time and attention than watching The Railway Man.

For other films currently in theaters, please check out my reviews of:
Snowpiercer
The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise Of Electro
Oculus
Rio 2
Hateship Loveship
Only Lovers Left Alive
Authors Anonymous
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Divergent
Cheap Thrills
Veronica Mars

6.5/10 (Not Recommended)

For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Revamping For The Times, Diana Prince: Wonder Woman Volume 1 Turns The Demigoddess Into A Ninja!


The Good: Decent general concept, Moments of character development
The Bad: Repetitive stories, Exceptionally dated, Undermines its own premise, Artwork for much of the character design
The Basics: Back in the late 1960s, Wonder Woman was revamped and the first collection, Diana Prince: Wonder Woman Volume 1 creates a pretty erratic premise that was not a bad idea, but was poorly executed.


I am, as one might guess from my blog, a fan of Wonder Woman. The character is a complicated one and I understand that there have been many times the character has been revamped. Since I started reading Wonder Woman graphic novels, the character was essentially rebooted twice (not counting the alternate universe storylines) with Who Is Wonder Woman (reviewed here!) and Blood (reviewed here!). But, back in the day, Wonder Woman got a much more serious revamp and it went well beyond simple cosmetics. I picked up Diana Prince: Wonder Woman Volume 1 to see just how drastic her big change back in 1968 was.

And while I understand the underlying social concepts that led to the Wonder Woman revamp, it is shocking that the comic book character ever recovered from the revamp. In Diana Prince: Wonder Woman Volume 1, Wonder Woman surrenders all of her super powers and becomes a ninja with little purpose or direction, save to help those around her. The book reimagines Wonder Woman as the mundane human Diana Prince . . . then makes her so whiny it is impossible to call her a strong or interesting feminist character.

With Steve Trevor in constant danger, bailed out by Wonder Woman, the Air Force officer’s life is turned upside down. Trevor is almost killed when Princess Diana is recalled to Paradise Island. There, Queen Hippolyta informs her that the Amazons are about to depart the Earth and Diana must choose between joining her sisters or remaining behind. Diana opts to stay with Steve, out of love, but that decision comes with the consequence of her losing all of her immortal powers, her lasso, and other Amazon devices. Returned to the United States, she discovers that Steve Trevor has been branded a traitor and is on the run (which is part of an undercover operation his superior officer has assigned him on).

To survive the rough streets, Diana Prince allows the first man who offers her help to become her mentor and to make money, she opens a boutique. Taught all forms of martial arts by the blind old man, Ching, Diana Prince continues to search for Steve Trevor. When it appears Trevor has been killed, Diana Prince teams up with Tim Trench, a man who is hunting the notorious Doctor Cyber. In the quest to defeat Cyber and her increasingly outrageous schemes for technological domination, Prince, Ching, and various guest characters get the heroine closer to the villain. After a sidetrack with Reggie, who Diana claims to be in love with before he betrays her, Diana tries to foil a plot involving Bjorland when Paradise Island reappears and Diana must return home to save her brethren from the machinations of Ares.

Diana Prince: Wonder Woman Volume 1 does not have time to develop itself or realize its potential before the whole premise is undermined. There are three more volumes of Diana Prince: Wonder Woman, so she remains a ninja for quite some time. So why Paradise Island reappears so quickly makes little storytelling sense. It’s like by the time one accepts that Wonder Woman is stuck as Diana Prince, mundane human, bang, the supernatural element reasserts itself.

Unfortunately, the entire volume is so erratic. Diana Prince: Wonder Woman Volume 1 drops Steve Trevor with no real consequences early on and that leaves Diana Prince in the hands of Ching . . . or I-Ching. Ching introduces himself as Ching and appears in the book as Ching most of the time, but on covers reprinted in the volume and on a few pages he is referenced as I-Ching. That’s annoying.

The Reggie love story is similarly banal and Tim Trench is a sexist lout, which makes one wonder what Denny O’Neil and Mike Sekowsky were thinking with the revamp. The writers did not make Diana Prince into a particularly strong woman. Instead, she is a basic ninja who seems to have forgotten entirely about any responsibilities she might have had with the Justice League Of America. She trains with the first guy she almost rescues, then falls in love (apparently) with a guy who is a jerk and pals around with a guy who is an even bigger jerk. Diana Prince is not an empowered woman in this book, instead, she is just bounced around from event to event with better spies than she is telling her what is going on until she kicks some ass.

Diana Prince is very much a character who utilizes brawn over brains in Volume 1. Many of the male characters are drawn alike as well. This becomes a serious problem at the outset of the book as one of Steve Trevor’s superior officers looks like a mobster who is ordering him killed, but context clues reveal that is not the case.

Ultimately, Diana Prince: Wonder Woman, Volume 1 is a decent historical document and it seems like it would be DC Comics’ go-to to shut up modern fans who complain about the direction they are taking with the character. It is not, however, a well-executed concept and if one reads a summary of this period of Diana’s story, they will get all the essentials without the problematic details that undermine one’s love of the character.

For other Wonder Woman volumes, please check out my reviews of:
Gods And Mortals by George Perez
Wonder Woman: Challenge Of The Gods by George Perez
Beauty And The Beasts By George Perez
Destiny Calling By George Perez
The Contest By William Messner-Loebs
The Challenge Of Artemis By William Messner-Loebs
Second Genesis By John Byrne
Wonder Woman: Lifelines By John Byrne
Paradise Lost By Phil Jimenez
Paradise Found By Phil Jimenez
Down To Earth By Greg Rucka
Eyes Of The Gorgon By Greg Rucka
Land Of The Dead By Greg Rucka
Mission's End By Greg Rucka
The Hiketeia

4/10

For other book reviews, please check out my Book Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Counting Up To Six: How The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise Of Electro Loses Its Way. . .


The Good: Good performances, Pretext of character development
The Bad: Over-the-top special effects, Entirely derivative plot, Lack of spark
The Basics: The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise Of Electro starts off remarkably well, but continues to add in elements until it is diluted into being Just Another Superhero Sequel.


I went into The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise Of Electro with reasonably high expectations, despite having never been a fan of the Spider-Man franchise. I enjoyed The Amazing Spider-Man (reviewed here!), but found it largely to be an example of “better ingredients, better meal.” In other words, the reboot started out from an advantageous place considering that the actors in it were of a higher caliber than those who began in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man Trilogy. So, bolstered by the success of the reboot a few years back, I turned to The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise Of Electro ready to be solidly entertained.

Little did I know that Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci (the two who brought us the reboot of Star Trek, reviewed here!), and Jeff Pinkner were basically going to turn in a rewrite of Batman Forever (reviewed here!) for the Spider-Man franchise. Okay, it’s not quite that bad, but The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise Of Electro has a primary villain who bears a striking resemblance in terms of character arc to the Edward Nigma character in Batman Forever and he is juggled clumsily between other budding villains so he never quite pops the way viewers might hope. In fact, The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise Of Electro is such a jumbled mess of elements that it would be more accurately subtitled (for those markets that include the subtitle): The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Set-Up For The Sequel.

Therein lies the fundamental problem with The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise Of Electro: the whole film has a grossly assembled feeling to it. Of course The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise Of Electro is an assembled work: there was a writing team, a director, the actors add their own stuff, the studio comes in with notes, etc. Almost all films are collaborative works that start as a work cobbled together from ideas that writers hope will work together. The trick in moviemaking is that the film’s elements need to feel organic, not assembled. When the great moments of reversal come, the viewer should be able to say, “that makes sense” even if they did not see it coming. The best films make one stop looking for the tricks and get so engrossed that when the surprises pop up they truly are surprising. Unfortunately, The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise Of Electro doesn’t do that. Instead, the film follows a troublingly rigid formula that cobbles together elements from The Amazing Spider-Man, Batman Forever and classic Spider-Man comic book storylines that are so well known that even non-fans like myself are entirely aware of them. In short, The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise Of Electro has no surprises for anyone who is awake and has seen any five comic book-based films over the last ten years; what’s worse is that it misuses the talent present in the film in a way The Amazing Spider-Man did not.

Opening with a ballsy rehash of Richard and Mary Parker fleeing Oscorp and New York City (which keeps the protagonist of the film off the screen for the first seven plus minutes!), Peter Parker’s parents meet an untimely end, this time on-screen. As their plane goes down, Richard sends his files to a secret Roosevelt facility using wi-fi technology I’m pretty sure we didn’t have during that time period. In the present day, New York City is besieged by deranged thief Aleksei Sytsevich, who has stolen some vials from Oscorp and is fleeing through downtown with his thugs when he runs into the New York City police department and Spider-Man. Spider-Man manages to foil the robbery, much to the chagrin of Detective Stacy, who – like Peter Parker (Spider-Man’s mundane alter-ego) is kept from the high school graduation by the chase. Parker makes it to graduation just in time (just in time for an awesome Stan Lee cameo!), but having seen Detective Stacy recently, he feels conflicted about actually taking Gwen Stacy up on her generous offer to join the Stacy family for dinner that night. Appearing at the restaurant, Peter tells Gwen he can’t really keep seeing her and Gwen breaks up with Peter for not having the balls to break the promise he made in the prior film to her father outright.

Following their break-up, Max Dillon, an Oscorp employee who has created a revolutionary new power grid for New York City, which is housed in Oscorp, finds himself alone and stepped on by everyone around him. Having been rescued by Spider-Man during the Sytsevich heist, he has a bit of hero worship for Spider-Man. On his birthday, the lonely engineer – who is stepped on by everyone around him, most notably an Oscorp employee who is many years his junior, but seems more outwardly ambitious and a bit of a jackass – meets Gwen Stacy and is thrilled by the simple fact that she remembers his name. Unfortunately, that is the day that Norman Osborn, the founder of Oscorp, dies. Norman dies after having recalled his son, Harry, from prep school and revealing to him that he has prolonged his life using terrible means which have mutated him into something not-quite-human. Harry inherits Oscorp and the employees are all sent home. Unfortunately for Max Dillon, that means his jack-ass superior is unwilling to turn the power off in the conduit he is fixing for the company and Dillon is electrocuted and falls into a tank of electric eels . . . which naturally turns him into a glowing blue man who resurrects in the company morgue hours later.

Scared and unsure of his own abilities, Max Dillon walks out into New York City where his thirst for electrical energy leads him to absorb massive amounts of electricity in Times Square. This makes Peter Parker’s spider-sense tingle (though not explicitly referenced) during his conversation with Gwen Stacy, with whom he is attempting a friendship. Spider-man arrives on the scene and, despite having one of his two web-slingers knocked out by the electrified Dillon, he is able to incapacitate Max Dillon (largely because conversation with Dillon was going remarkably well until one of the police snipers jumped the gun and shot at Dillon). While Peter Parker reaches out to the mourning Harry Osborn, Max Dillon is experimented upon at the secret Oscorp facility, Ravencroft Institute. But soon, Harry’s quest for a cure to the genetic disease that killed his father and whose first symptoms he is now experiencing hits dead ends and corporate intrigue. Following Kurt Connors’ experiments in The Amazing Spider-Man, Oscorp destroyed a number of experiments to avoid lawsuits, including the radioactive spiders that bit Peter Parker. Harry’s right hand man at the company, Donald Menken, is working against him to advance to the CEO position himself. So, when Harry realizes he needs Spider-Man’s blood, he asks Peter Parker for help (thinking Peter knows Spider-man because he has photographed the superhero). But Peter Parker’s own quest for answers has led him to discover the Roosevelt facility and, in the process, he has learned the circumstances under which his father fled. Peter knows that his blood cannot help Harry, but when he and Spider-man refuse to help Harry, Harry takes a different path. He breaks into Ravencroft to free Electro (Max Dillon’s now-villainous alter-ego) and set him upon Spider-man. With the power out in New York City and a determined Gwen Stacy insisting on helping him, Spider-Man must stop Max Dillon and an obsessed Harry Osborn before they destroy New York.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise Of Electro juggles a lot and while it is not too much for a single film, it is too much for this particular film. The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise Of Electro is an odd film as far as pacing goes. It starts out with an interminably long sequence with Peter Parker’s father, becomes engaging for the bits involving Peter, Gwen and the actual rise of Electro, but stumbles through the entire Harry Osborn plot. The Harry Osborn plot is good, but it feels like it is part of another movie entirely. And, in order to make it work and all come together, the writing team and director Marc Webb seem to have given up. Much the way Princess Leia in Return Of The Jedi (reviewed here!) bears almost no resemblance to the character seen in the two films that precede it, Max Dillon/Electro bears no real resemblance to the character seen in the first two-thirds of the film. Harry Osborn gives Dillon the weakest argument for turning against his hero, Spider-man, ever conceived and Dillon just goes right along with it. In a film where the viewer knows so much of the mythos (Sam Raimi’s Spider-man movies are not terribly old and it’s not like they were not popular!) (It’s hard to call Gwen Stacy’s fate a “spoiler” when it was the subject of a comic book FORTY-ONE YEARS AGO!), the team that assembled The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise Of Electro takes all of the easiest possible ways out. Max Dillon spends the first two-thirds of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 being set up to be Spider-man’s sidekick. He’s a likable guy, stepped on by schmucks around him until he is given a series of powers he does not at all understand. Then, he’s tortured by the same people who screwed him over his whole life so . . . how is it we’re supposed to believe he goes after entirely the wrong guy in the last act?! Did the writing team learn nothing from Star Trek: Nemesis* (reviewed here!)?!

So, Electro . . . utterly generic villain after one of the coolest super hero origin stories that could have been. That leaves The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise Of Electro with two villains and a phantom antagonist. First, the villains. Aleksei Sytsevich is cartoonish in his original appearance and when he pops up at the climax of the film as the Rhino, it embodies a problem that has been present through the entire film: the special effects. The special effects in The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise Of Electro are just ridiculous. Gone is a sensible proportion, a realism of physics that was more apparent in The Amazing Spider-Man than in anything from Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man Trilogy. In fact, from his first moments on screen as a CG webslinger, the Spider-man in The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise Of Electro looks like a collection of b-roll from Sam Raimi’s trilogy. The attempt at spectacle is over-the-top, distracting and makes the film look like an animated film as opposed to a serious super hero work. But when the Rhino, in this incarnation a massive tank-like mech blasting through New York City, makes his appearance, it is much more worthy of a groan than a gasp.

Then there’s Harry Osborn. Harry is played by Dane DeHaan and he is, to be entirely fair to him, really good in the role. DeHaan holds his own opposite a heavily made-up Chris Cooper who plays the dying Norman Osborn and he has enough on-screen gravitas to be a compelling leader of Oscorp. DeHaan is as good in The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise Of Electro as Andrew Garfield was in The Amazing Spider-Man. And it’s not DeHaan’s fault that the character is written so thinly, cramped in between two other villains and manages to absurdly talk Max Dillon into completely betraying his established character. I can understand why the studio did not want to risk everything on Dane DeHaan and a Spider-Man film that focused on the Green Goblin as the villain . . . no, wait, they risked at least as much on a reboot of the franchise and won, so why wouldn’t they play to their known strengths for the mythos?! Yes, one of the big reasons The Amazing Spider-man 2 is likely to be released in the U.S. without the Rise Of Electro subtitle is because audiences will recognize the film to be equally the Rise Of The Green Goblin and wonder why the hell Sony isn’t touting that. If you’re going to turn the story on its ear from what fans of the Spider-Man film franchise know anyway, why not completely reinvent the origin of the Green Goblin and give him his own film?!

Then there’s the phantom antagonist. Detective Stacy has no real presence in The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise Of Electro. He pops up, glowers once or twice and disappears from the narrative. In fact, anyone who looks at basic movie structure will look at the film’s climax and wonder just where the hell Detective Stacy is. Peter Parker stands around at the same location for quite some time, a place where Detective Stacy would be bound to go, and yet there is no scene where the law and order cop who spent the entire first film loathing Spider-man’s vigilantism appears, sees Peter Parker and snaps just long enough to kick the kid’s ass. Detective Stacy is recharacterized in The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise Of Electro as a complete wuss. In fact, the only analogy I have is to my own life. When I met the woman who became my wife, we met online and for our first in-person meeting, we met at the restaurant at which she was working at the time. I was caught in a snowstorm and was late and her friends had been ragging on her and when I finally appeared (an hour and a half late), she was relieved and her friends were wary. Her friends, protective as they were, said to me, “If you hurt our girl, we’ll kill you.” Well, me being a pragmatist, bored, and wanting to spend time with the woman I had come to see, I said, “Didn’t you say that about the last guy she dated?” The answer from her friends were, “Well . . . yes.” So, I won some points with some and made some pretty freaked out when my response was, “Well, it’s hard to take your threat seriously when I know for a fact he’s still walking around above ground.” Detective Stacy, like my wife’s friends, talk a good game, but when confronted with everything he feared . . . the good detective completely disappears from the storyline. It’s impossible to take him seriously and I know if I ever go back and rewatch The Amazing Spider-Man, I’m going to laugh my ass off at Denis Leary’s over-the-top indignation as Detective Stacy.

That brings us to the big plot event that anyone who knows comic book history knows would eventually come to one of the key characters in the Spider-man cinematic stories. Without revealing that “spoiler” to those who are not so well-versed, it does happen in The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise Of Electro . . . in exactly the way it was done in the books (which I was surprised by because I thought it happened differently, but upon further research, yup, it was right on the mark!). That brings a decent tragic element into The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise Of Electro.

Unfortunately, it comes too late and after so many other threads have been introduced and disappointed the viewers and quite a bit before the ultimate climax to the movie. Moreover, the impact on Spider-Man is not one of a vigilante hero. Spider-Man is given an arc that is pretty much the opposite of Batman in The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise Of Electro; in analogous terms, Spider-man’s arc here would be like if Batman were an established vigilante and the death of his parents led him to hang up the cowl, as opposed to hunt down the mobsters that killed them. That Spider-Man spends no time on-screen hunting the villain that instigates the tragedy that knocks Peter Parker off his game makes one wonder just who Spider-man was setting out to help when he put on the mask (it clearly wasn’t himself!).

The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise Of Electro is a good example of better casting than performances. Jamie Foxx is good as Max Dillon . . . unless one has seen him in The Soloist (reviewed here!) in which case he’s adequate and peaks at reprising his role from that film. Colm Feore is given too little to do in the underdeveloped role of Donald Menken (which would have been a much more effective role had the character appeared in The Amazing Spider-Man as an ambitious up-and-comer who was screwed over by Harry’s return in this film) and Felicity Jones (who has given some amazing performances in the past) could be replaced by a house plant for all that the role of Felicia offers her . . . or the film. Paul Giamatti’s role of Aleksei Sytsevich is presented with so much enthusiasm that viewers have to wonder how much is the character and how much is Giamatti laughing at the studio for paying him so much for such a ridiculous role (and the promise of future appearances as the Rhino!). Sally Field, Chris Cooper, and Marton Csokas (Dr. Kafka at Ravencroft) are all adequate in their roles, sometimes even good.

But The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise Of Electro is headlined by Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone and for two performers who can usually do no wrong, they fall unfortunately flat in this film. Gone entirely is the on-screen chemistry between Garfield and Stone . . . and that has severe ramifications for the movie’s climax. The two have mediocre banter that is delivered adequately, but from Stone and Garfield, viewers expect sparks. Garfield’s initial voiceovers are quips as the CG Spider-Man flies around and Garfield sounds bored delivering the lines. Not to be outdone, Emma Stone’s valedictory speech for Gwen Stacy is delivered with such a lackluster quality that I was bored . . . and it wasn’t as long as a real graduation! Sadly, the pair reaches their peak for a scene in a maintenance closet where they almost break the fourth wall by acknowledging the cliché of hiding in the janitor’s closet whilst being pursued by company thugs (who, like Star Wars Stormtroopers see a closed door and assume that those they are hunting cannot possibly be on the other side of it). That banter is good, but subsequent scenes simply throw the pair together after months of being apart without any organic incidents to allow them to truly rethink the decisions that drove them apart. Could Garfield and Stone have sold it? It’s possible, but they don’t and that undermines The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise Of Electro.

Despite the over-the-top web-related effects, Electro looks pretty awesome in The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise Of Electro. Sure, Marc Webb essentially resurrected Dr. Manhattan from Watchmen (reviewed here!) for Electro in the film, but the effects work better than almost anything else in the movie. Sadly, given that Doc Ock’s tentacles can be seen in the Oscorp lab and rumors have leaked for months that the Sinister Six (six villains from Spider-man who team up but never seem to quite be able to actually kill Spider-man once and for all) might well get their own film, The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise Of Electro seems largely like a set-up film for that. The essential Spider-Man characters are present, they are doing their own things, but every opportunity to look back (for a dead character, Richard Parker spends a lot of time on-screen in this film!) and look forward is utilized to push those characters out of the way for painfully obvious foreshadowing moments. The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise Of Electro is almost enough to make viewers wish for six stand-alone films featuring the rise of each of the Sinister Six . . . just so long as they bothered to develop each one well. As it stands, The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise Of Electro puts three potentials in play, but does so in such a way that the viewer doesn’t give a damn if they ever grace the screen again. At least Webb and his team were smart enough to not recast J. Jonah Jamison on-screen (Sam Raimi got him absolutely, perfectly right, with J.K. Simmons!).

If you feel you must watch The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise Of Electro, I’d say hold out for its appearance on DVD; this is one of those films that the more one contemplates, the more faults they see in it and I cannot imagine it will age any better.

For other films currently in theaters, please check out my reviews of:
Snowpiercer
The Railway Man
Oculus
Rio 2
Hateship Loveship
Only Lovers Left Alive
Authors Anonymous
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Divergent
Cheap Thrills
Veronica Mars

4/10

For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

*For those who don’t catch the reference, in Star Trek: Nemesis, the villain was tormented by Romulans, discarded and despised by Romulans, and when he assembled a massive military power that would have allowed him to actually get proper revenge on the Romulans, he instead turned his aggression toward the Federation, which made absolutely no sense whatsoever. Come to think of it, his whole mission in life was blood, too, so between Harry Osborn and Max Dillon, the writing team just picked all the worst aspects of villain motivations from Star Trek: Nemesis and ran with them!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Sunday, April 20, 2014

Prequel To “Mudd’s Women:” “Bound.”


The Good: Decent effects, Acting is okay
The Bad: Dull plot, Silly reversal, Poor character development
The Basics: Playing off similar concepts to other Star Trek franchise episodes, “Bound” is a disappointing episode that finally focuses on the Orions.


One of the common plotlines in the Star Trek franchise is the “love virus” plotline. The original Star Trek started the tradition with “The Naked Time” (reviewed here!) and the other series’s in the franchise continued that. For Star Trek: Enterprise, the “love virus” episode is “Bound.” “Bound” is notable in that, like “Borderland” (reviewed here!), it features the oft-alluded to, but seldom seen Orions. Unfortunately for fans of the Star Trek franchise, “Bound” features reversals that are less exciting than audacious. Indeed, the concept of Trip Tucker being immune to Orion pheromones is essentially what happened with O’Brien in “Fascination” (reviewed here!).

The Enterprise is sailing toward the Berengaria System when it encounters an Orion vessel. After standing down, both ships are wary of the other, though Archer finally accepts an invitation from the Orion privateer, Harrad-Sar. As part of a negotiation attempting to entice Archer into getting StarFleet to build a magnecite mine, Harrad-Sar gives Archer three Orion women. Their presence aboard the Enterprise is instantly disruptive, with the men distracted by the Orion women. When Sato gets a headache, Doctor Phlox collapses and becomes suspicious of the Orions.

The retcon of the Orions is one of the least disruptive retcons of Star Trek: Enterprise; the Orions and the Orion Syndicate were mostly absent from the Star Trek franchise until late in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Enterprise.

Archer tries to tell the Orion woman, Navaar, that the women are not his property. When they arrive at the planet Harrad-Sar wants mined, the ship is attacked by a ship that cannot possibly damage the Enterprise. As Archer becomes more angry and volatile, Phlox diagnoses the crew as suffering from the effects of Orion pheromones. When the Orion endgame becomes evident, T’Pol and Tucker must work together to stop the Orions.

It’s a sweet bit of character that Tucker and T’Pol remain immune to the Orion pheromones due to physiology and emotional connection. The Tucker/T’Pol connection does not advance much in “Bound,” as it is diluted by a subplot involving the new Chief Engineer, Kelby, competing with Tucker. Instead of maturely dealing with their emotions, most of “Bound” has T’Pol fighting her feelings for Tucker in a soap operatic way. The resolution to the character arc is satisfying when it comes in the episode’s final moments.

“Bound” is a pretty average, though somewhat unremarkable, episode. The Alien Of The Week arrives, disrupts life on the Enterprise and before something befalls the entire ship, someone in the crew must stop them. It’s a somewhat droll plot that has been done to death in Star Trek and in “Bound” there’s really nothing new, save the details.

On the performance front, guest stars Cyia Batten, Crystal Allen, and Menina Fortunato do a decent job with belly dancing and moving seductively. Beyond that, the episode’s heavy lifting on the performance front comes from Scott Bakula playing Archer angry (which he does just fine) and Connor Trinneer and Jolene Blalock working to salvage some on-screen chemistry while the writing demands the pair put it off. Blalock’s performance is incredibly erratic and for a Vulcan character immune to the Orion pheromones, her acting is pretty physical throughout the episode, which is unfortunate. She recovers near the episode’s climax, which makes her emotionless delivery of jokes and romantic actions all the more baffling to watch.

Ultimately, “Bound” is all right, but nothing at all extraordinary; it is exactly what one might expect from a “love spell” episode of television and it is notable only in that it is truly the final bottle episode of the series.

The three biggest gaffes in “Bound:”
3. If the men in Orion society are the slaves, Pike should not have made the mistake that the women were slaves decades later,
2. In “This Side Of Paradise” (reviewed here!), Kirk notes that no StarFleet crew had ever mutinied, but Kelby’s actions in “Bound” are mutinous and the sense of conflict in this episode should have led to better protections aboard StarFleet vessels,
1. Given the experience with Orion pheromones in this episode, StarFleet should have developed a vaccine by the time of “The Cage” (reviewed here!), so Pike should not have even been tempted with the vision of an Orion slave woman.

[Knowing that single episodes are an inefficient way to get episodes, it's worth looking into Star Trek: Enterprise - The Complete Fourth Season on DVD or Blu-Ray, which is also a better economical choice than buying individual episodes. Read my review of the final season here!
Thanks!]

For other works with William Lucking, please check out my reviews of:
“Ties Of Blood And Water” - Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
“The Darkness And The Light” - Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
“Shakaar” - Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
“Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space’” - The X-Files

5/10

For other Star Trek episode and movie reviews, please visit my Star Trek Review Index Page!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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The One, The Only: Diamond Select General Martok Figure Was Worth The Wait!


The Good: Amazing sculpt, Decent balance, Great articulation, Cool accessories.
The Bad: Vastly over-accessorized, Accessory/grip issues.
The Basics: Diamond Select made Martok, the one-eyed Klingon General from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine into a very limited figure that has so much going for it, it is tough to complain about!


There are very few toys that keep my interest for years, so much so that they become something I do consistent price checks on whenever I am doing online shopping or attending conventions. Three years ago in Las Vegas was the last time I had easy access to the Diamond Select General Martok action figure and, frankly, for the $50 - $80 dealers were demanding for the figure at that time, it was out of my price range. The convention was not one of my better ones, so I had to go home without it (it was a pretty shit-tastic trip come to think of it!). But, since then, my wife and I have considered the Martok figure whenever doing online shopping and we have watched the price of the figure fluctuate over the last three years from an on-line high of $50 to $19.99 (its low point from one seller for one day was $9.99, but we missed the boat on that one!). When the price bottomed out, my wife had just gotten her tax refund and recently for an anniversary, Martok was presented to me as a much-anticipated, but frankly safe (she knew how much I wanted it) gift.

Part of the reason Martok is such a find is that there is only one figure of Martok; it was produced by Diamond Select in 2008 and was one per case. It is a tough figure to track down . . . despite the mixed popularity of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine collectibles with adult collectors. Having finally obtained my Martok and broken it out of its packaging, the verdict is simple: it was worth the wait, but it was not a perfect action figure. In addition to being overaccessorized, there are a number of accessories (some of the better ones for Martok, actually) that do not even fit in his grip! That robs it of perfection, though it is pretty damn cool.

Basics

General Martok is an obcure but popular recurring character exclusive to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine franchise who had not been made into an action figure until Diamond Select took a risk making him (which was far less of a risk considering how many conventions J.G. Hertzler, who played Martok appeared at each year!). Not at all a generic Klingon (though the body, I suppose could be interchangeable with the Gowron figure), Martok is distinctly Martok from the face and the emblem on the sash he wears. This is a General, not Chancellor, Martok figure as he does not come with robes. The action figure of Martok stands 7 7/8” tall and features the Klingon general in standard Klingon armor. His boots each have their appropriate metal spike and the detailing on the costume is exceptional. In addition to soft-plastic sash and gun holster, the Martok figure features exceptional detailing on the necklace the character wears. It looks braided with copper rings spaced judiciously around it. The facial sculpt for General Martok is exceptional with details like the scar over the left eye and the forehead ridges molded with exceptional detailing.

The coloring details rival the sculpt; the General Martok figure looks lifelike in the skin tones and the armor is not monotonal in its coloring. There is a faint amount of coloring depth to the nose and forehead ridges on Martok, as well as to the scar. The hair has realistic depth and shading and that is an exceptional level of detail. Even Martok’s one good eye is detailed with an appropriate brown that looks awesome.

Accessories

The figuresof General Martok comes with a whopping nine accessories! Martok comes with a Klingon disruptor rifle, d’k’tang dagger, Bat’leth sword, two bottles of blood wine, a cup for the blood wine, a Klingon disruptor and two alternate hands (in fists) for Martok. That this figure comes with weapons makes a great deal of sense, as much of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was a war story and Martok is a Klingon warrior.

The extra hands are exclusively for Martok and feature the Klingon general’s fists in spiked gloves. They simply pop in and out of the figure’s forearms and they look fine on the figure. However, using Martok’s fists means that he cannot hold any other accessories, making it something of a wash to use them.

Martok is well-outfitted with the Klingon Disruptor. At 1 1/2” long, with meticulous detailing to the sculpt, the Klingon Disruptor fits the quality of the rest of the Martok figure. Martok can easily hold the Klingon Disruptor in his right hand in a grip that looks like it was made for the black, silver and rust-colored plastic gun. The Klingon Disruptor also fits perfectly into the holster on Martok’s right hip and looks great there.

Another option for Martok to look weaponized is the larger Klingon Disruptor Rifle. At 2 1/2” long, the Klingon Disruptor Rifle may be held in a two-handed grip, but it looks just a little smaller than it ought to for that. Even so, the coloring is immaculate and this weapon suits the Martok figure well.

Of course, those who love Martok are bound to want to see what Martok looks like holding his Bat’leth sword. The Bat’leth sword is just over five inches long and features the usual curved blade of a Bat’leth. Clean and silvery, the Bat’leth looks functional and Diamond Select took care to mold the leather grips and color them appropriately so Martok looks amazing holding the weapon in a one or two-handed grip!

Unfortunately, Martok cannot possibly hold the cup for the blood wine in either of his hands (or any of his hands, as the case may be). The wide cup looks just like the one in the show: like coiled lead with a thin, wide mouth. It is well-cast for this figure, but one wishes they included hands that looked good holding it! I would almost have less of a problem with interchangeable hands that had the accessories molded into them as opposed to perfectly accurate accessories that either cannot be held or look doofy when they are!

The two 1 7/15” blood wine bottles are molded to look just like the ones on the show, but neither has a label to make it match the rest of the detailing. Moreover, given that it is monotonal silver plastic, the bloodwine bottle looks silly in the figure’s hand, especially compared to the level of quality of the figure. That said, Martok may hold the bottle reasonably well in either of his hands.

Finally, Martok comes with one of the d’k’tang daggers his character used on the show. The black and silver three-bladed knife is surprisingly intricate. It is cast with the side blades out and is 1 3/8” long. While there is no way to attach it to Martok’s belt, the knife looks great in his left hand, even if it looks a little small there.

Playability

General Martok embodies a high standard for Diamond Select Star Trek figures in terms of playability. He has eighteen points of articulation: ankles, knees, groin socket, biceps, elbows, forearms, wrists, shoulders, neck, and waist. Martok’s hair is molded in such a way that makes his head articulation pointless. His head cannot actually move. His waist articulation is also a little limited. His shoulders are more impressive, though. As ball and socket joints (like real shoulders!), they are able to strike a number of poses that might otherwise be impossible, including Klingon head butting!

Moreover, for use with actual play, Martok has great movement potential. His balance is excellent and, because of the added articulation in the ankles and knees, he may be posed in outlandish poses and still remain standing!

Collectibility

Diamond Select had a comparatively limited production run on the General Martok figure. Still, his price has peaked out and is now on the decline. Is it likely to rebound? In the long run, I’d bet on yes; there is only one Martok figure and as more people discover and rediscover Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, this figure is bound to be coveted more than it was in its original release.

Overview

Even though it was the only figure produced of Martok, Diamond Select did a pretty awesome job of making the figure at a level of quality where it is worth the effort and expense of hunting him down.

This toy is based upon Martok as he appeared throughout almost all of his episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (reviewed here!)

For other Klingon figure toys, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
Diamond Select Gowron And Worf Two-Pack
Galoob Worf figure
Art Asylum Klingon Borg

9/10

For other toy reviews, please visit my Toy Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Haunted House Horror Comes Through The Mirror: Oculus Remains Very Basic Suspense Fare.



The Good: Most of the acting is actually quite good, Characters are fairly smart
The Bad: Very predictable plot and effect elements.
The Basics: Karen Gillan and Annalise Basso carry a mediocre horror concept to a decent execution as Kaylie Russell witnesses the degradation of her father’s mental state at the hands of a possessed mirror and, eleven years later, tries to prove the mirror was behind his (and other people’s) dementia.


Last weekend, I was pretty surprised when the weekend box office race was resolved. I was not at all surprised that Captain America: The Winter Soldier held off Rio 2 to keep the top slot at the box office. No, like the producers of Draft Day, who were betting on Kevin Costner and Jennifer Garner’s ability to open a movie, I was shocked when a film called Oculus made the third-place slot. The film, which was co-produced (inexplicably enough for a film that has nothing to do with World Wrestling Entertainment) by WWE Studios, is a horror film that stars Karen Gillan of Doctor Who fame. Was Oculus launched into third place by Whovians hoping to see Gillan in an American horror film where odds are the camp factor might involve some t&a that the BBC does not allow? That guess is as good as any for how a horror film more suited to a September or February release scored as high on the charts at the outset of Summer Blockbuster Season.

Fans hoping for American horror t&a content will find Oculus lacking. While there is plenty of Gillan’s bouncy hair, cute smile, and wide eyes, such is as far as it goes on the objectifying women front and for those who want that sort of thing, they shall have to look elsewhere. Instead, Oculus is a creepy horror movie that appears to be about a haunted house or possessed mirror for much of the film. Gillan plays Kaylie Russell, a young woman who is determined to scientifically prove a supernatural phenomenon comes from a mirror that was once in her family’s possession.

Opening with Tim getting released from St. Aiden’s mental hospital on the same day that his sister Kaylie is working an auction of artifacts, most significantly a mirror with a small crack in the corner, the brother and sister are reunited. Kaylie tells Tim that she has been working to keep a promise to Tim, a promise that apparently involves killing someone or something. Flashing back to ten years prior, Kaylie and Tim are playing in their house when the same mirror is being moved in by their mother. After inspecting (and talking to) the mirror, Kaylie asks Tim to meet her at “the” house, which has been abandoned since the incident that led to Tim getting sent to St. Aiden’s. Setting up cameras, recording devices, and a killswitch, Kaylie details the history of the mirror on camera . . . which appears to be a source of evil that has led to about 45 murders over its history.

While Tim is convinced that their father was simply a murderer, Kaylie is certain that the mirror is supernatural, which is backed up by Tim’s inability to attempt to smash the mirror. The experiment puts Tim and Kaylie at odds with one another and when Tim sets free the dog that Kaylie is using as a final control variable, creepy things begin to occur that vindicate her. The cameras within the room move, the plants die, and the temperature in the room changes abruptly. Replaying the tapes, Tim and Kaylie see themselves doing things they do not remember doing. Kaylie becomes determined to expose and defeat the force within the mirror . . . even as it takes hold of her and Tim!

Oculus is a psychological horror that blends with a supernatural horror. The essential question in the film is “did a supernatural force from the mirror compel Alan to kill his wife Marie before Tim put him down? Is Tim in denial of the supernatural events that Kaylie remembers or is he correct in his psychological analysis of himself? Because there are scenes of Alan hallucinating and Marie hearing things in the presence of the mirror in the flashback scenes, it is pretty clear very early on that Kaylie is correct that there is something supernatural going on.

Karen Gillan is good as Kaylie. Kaylie, for the bulk of the movie set in the “present,” is a strong female protagonist. Sure, she has a boyfriend in the form of Michael Dumont (who she is arguably with just to get access to the mirror), but otherwise she is completely independent and in control. She has strong memories of the past and wants to exonerate her brother, who had been convicted for killing their parents. Kaylie uses smart, scientific methodology to try to prove the supernatural events she recalls and it is easy for the viewer to root for her. Gillan has enough on-screen force and gravitas to make Kaylie and her outrageous theories seem plausible.

What is equally impressive is how well director Mike Flanagan gets Annalise Basso to give a virtually identical performance to Karen Gillan’s as the younger version of Kaylie. For such a young actress, Basso brings all of the requisite intensity and articulation to the young Kaylie to make her seem plausible and strong enough to survive the initial incident. Actress Katee Sackhoff appears in Oculus with a creep-out factor I have never seen from her before. Sackhoff is disturbing to watch from her bugged-out eyes to her erratic body language as the possessed and distraught Marie in Oculus.

Before Oculus turns into a time-warped, mostly-dark, play-to-all-of-the-predictable-horror-conceits flick, it is actually engaging enough to be watchable and interesting. Like virtually every horror movie, Oculus hinges on reversals and freak-out moments that come largely from the sudden appearance of people and things on the screen when they were not present a frame prior. Oculus is predictably disturbing, but it choreographs the terror with its pounding soundtrack and tricks of light that seasoned viewers will be accustomed to. Oculus will not make this generation avoid mirrors, but if this is the start of a franchise, it is hard to see how any potential follow-up could improve upon the good execution of such a dubious premise.

For other films currently in theaters, please check out my reviews of:
Snowpiercer
The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise Of Electro
The Railway Man
Rio 2
Hateship Loveship
Only Lovers Left Alive
Authors Anonymous
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Divergent
Cheap Thrills
Veronica Mars

5/10

For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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