Category Archives: Television

Muppets Most Wanted review

On Saturday, 29 March 2014, Janice and I screened Muppets Most Wanted at the AMC Burlington Cinema 10. We enjoyed the latest film from Disney/Henson a bit more than its 2011 predecessor.

Muppets Most Wanted

More Muppet mania

As you might expect, Muppets Most Wanted combines self-aware puppets, celebrity cameos, and musical hijinks to good effect. The plot is simple enough for most children to follow: Immediately after the events of The Muppets, Kermit the Frog is sent to a Russian gulag in a case of mistaken identity, while his lookalike criminal Constantine takes his place as master of ceremonies as part of a devious plan.

I didn't miss Jason Segal or Amy Adams, thanks to strong casting. There were many fun appearances in Muppets Most Wanted's globe-hopping story, but the main supporting actors are worth singling out. Ricky Gervais, playing Constantine's henchman Dominic Badguy as smarmily as Charles Grodin was in The Great Muppet Caper, to which this movie owes several stylistic debts.

Tina Fey joins the song and dance show as Nadya, guard captain at the Russian Gulag (and a ringer for Rocky & Bullwinkle's Natasha). Ty Burrell matches wits with Sam the Eagle as Interpol Inspector Jean Paul Napoleon, who apparently went to the same academy as Inspector Clouseau.

As you might guess from the above, the movie does lean heavily on national stereotypes, but the jokes are clever enough for adults and broad enough for children without resorting to potty humor. The puppeteers can't quite match the frenetic energy and raw talent of Jim Henson and Frank Oz, but they get pretty close.

Unlike some critics, I liked that the overall tone of Muppets Most Wanted was a bit more upbeat than that of The Muppets, and I thought its script and soundtrack were better. As with Mr. Peabody & Sherman, it's hard to balance nostalgia with the expectations of today's audiences, not to mention keeping a beloved franchise going into the future.

Overall, I'd give Muppets Most Wanted, which is rated PG for slapsticky humor and mild innuendo, an 8 out of 10, four out of five stars, or a B+. The Lego Movie is still the best family movie I've seen so far this year, but not by much.

This coming weekend, I hope to see superhero sequel Captain America [2]: the Winter Soldier. In between game updates, I still hope to post thoughts on the current genre television season and more!

"Star Trek: Restoration" Episode 1 — Old and new foes

Fellow role-players, here are my notes for our Star Trek telecom scenario of this past weekend:

“Space, the final frontier. Our starship’s mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life forms and new civilizations, and to boldly go where no one has gone before.”

Almost four decades after the Enterprise-E fought the Borg and Remans [see Nemesis], among others, the United Federation of Planets and other interstellar states in the Alpha Quadrant are slowly recovering from wars and ecological disasters. A refitted vessel takes a new crew on its first missions of defense, diplomacy, and exploration….

Player Characters for Gene D.’s “Star Trek: Restoration” space opera one-shot, using D20/FATE house rules, Friday, 21 March 2014:

  • “Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Kyerak” [Bruce K.]-half-Vulcan with a temper, in the U.S.S. Rotha’s command division
  • “Lt. Jarric Jameson” [Dexter V.H.]-male genetically modified human colonist (former Maquis) communications and wilderness survival expert
  • “Lt. Orzzek Kalifa” [Byron V.O.]-male Andorian (blue-skinned humanoid with white hair and antennae), assertive science officer
  • “Lt. Mari Killu” [Sara F.]-female Caitian (felinoid) security/tactical officer
  • “Lt. Boran’ Gorir” [Josh C.]-male Jem’Hadar (Dominion soldier), aggressive envoy/engineer

“Stardate 95248 (1 April 2418):” The U.S.S. RothaNCC 1993-C, a refitted Ambassador-class ship, picks up three passengers from the U.S.S. Tempest. Capt. Andelina Nobatu is ordered to take them into the Neutral Zone to be relayed to Qo’nos, the Klingon homeworld.

Alternate ambassador

The U.S.S. "Rotha" NCC 1993-C

Capt. Nobatu later convenes a meeting of her command crew, as well as supporting junior officers [the P.C.s]. The Terran human asks the science division to check for star systems and planets in case the ship needs to hide or resupply en route.

Engineers are tasked with improving efficiency, while tactical officers prepare for the inevitable engagement with ships that ignore diplomatic protocols. After reporting to their superiors, the junior officers meet in the “Starlight Lounge.”

They compare notes as Bolian bartender Mr. Vallcin brings drinks. Lt. Jarric Jameson asked Betazed communications head Lt. Artemis Borellis for permission to work with the engineers on a cloak or other countermeasures to Klingon and Romulan technology. Lt. Kyerak and security chief Pierre McDonough assigned guards to watch the guest quarters.

Lt. Orzzek Kalifa and Lt. Boran’ Gorir checked Starfleet records for solar systems between Earth and Qo’nos. The scientist and engineer identify Acamar (Theta Eridani), which had been affected during a Borg incursion, and Khitomer, site of past negotiations between the U.F.P. and the Klingon Empire.

Lt. Gorir and genetically enhanced Lt. Jameson also worked with chief engineer Lt.Cmdr. Akira Gorou to optimize the Rotha’s systems. Dr. Jones, the holographic chief medical officer, prepared sickbay, and Trill first officer Cmdr. Nasami Wahid oversaw crew readiness.

Chief McDonough assigned Lt. Mari Killu to work with other crew members to ensure that the passenger handoff goes smoothly. Lt. K’dex, the three-armed, three-legged Edosian science officer, scanned for possibly cloaked enemy craft.

The junior officers’ discussion is cut short when Chief McDonnough contacts Lt. Killu to tell her to investigate the guest cabins. Apparently, the guards aren’t responding. Cmdr. Wahid orders Lt. Kyerak to accompany her.

The Caitian and half-Vulcan find En. Thompson regaining consciousness. He tells them that the Orion, Gorn, and a hooded guest emerged from their quarters and refused to wait. En. Jonas ran after them.

Lt. Kyerak and Lt. Killu draw their Type 2 phasers and ask the ship’s computer where the aliens have gone. It responds that they are on Holodeck 3. Instead of an Orion harem or a Gorn environment, the Starfleet personnel find a room full of humming machinery.

D’naar, a green-skinned Orion trader, claims that he just wanted to demonstrate water-purification equipment he had learned about in his travels to “Hand of Giblets,” the reptilian Gorn representative of the Klingon Empire.

En. Jones appears with a rumpled uniform. Kyerak subtly uses telepathy to communicate with Mari, who also senses that something is wrong. From the bridge, Lt. Kalifa and Lt. Gorir can tell that the gear in the holodeck has overridden security controls and is drawing extra power.

The Andorian and Jem’Hadar try to tell Kyerak, but their signals are jammed. Orzzek informs Capt. Nobatu of the situation, and Boran’ grabs his short sword and heads to the holodeck.

Chief McDonnough and Lt. Jameson try to shut down the unauthorized energy drain, and they find that the ship’s shields are fluctuating in a patter, presumably to broadcast a signal. The captain orders a full stop.

In Holodeck 3, Hands of Giblets [Byron/Non-Player Character] leaps toward Lt. Killu. D’naar [Josh/N.P.C.] disintegrates En. Thompson. En. Jonas hides among the machinery. Kyerak stuns the Orion pirate, and Mari shoots at the Gorn emissary.

Lt. Gorir arrives, and he runs after En. Jones. Lt. Kalifa asks Lt. Borellis for help restoring communications. Lt. Kyerak eventually stuns Hands of Giblets, and Lt. Killu restrains the Orion and Gorn before going to aid Lt. Gorir. Other tactical and medical teams arrive and secure the perimeter.

Boran’ recognizes some of the machinery and implements the LaForge Protocol. He and Orzzek manage to shut it down, but the signal has been sent as the Rotha entered the Neutral Zone.

Mari shoots at En. Jonas, destroying a personal holo-emitter and revealing that he is in fact an Undine (formerly known as Species 8472; the medical team later finds the actual ensign, who has been killed).

The Undine hits Lt. Gorir again, and Lt. Kyerak and Lt. Killu shoot at it. Mari stuns the gray-skinned alien, and Boran’ beheads it. Kyerak berates the Jem’Hadar for giving in to his bloodlust, but Lt. Jameson notes that D’naar and Hands of Giblets are in custody and can still be questioned.

From the bridge, helmsman En. Brandon Marks reports to Capt. Nobatu that a Valdore-class Romulan warbird has just de-cloaked off the U.S.S. Rotha’s port bow….

Valdore-class warbird

The Varguille

Beruk and Geoff, we missed you this past weekend, but I hope that everyone else enjoyed this “episode!” I’m sure we’ll return to this at some point, so please post your characters to the “Vortex” site on Obsidian Portal, where I’ll also post my background notes. Let me know if you have any questions. Live long and prosper, -Gene (“Capt. Tzu Tien Lung”)

March movie madness, 2014 edition

In the past few weeks, I've seen more movies than I usually see in months. I enjoyed Mr. Peabody & Sherman, 300:Rise of an Empire, and Veronica Mars, but I wouldn't recommend them to everyone.

On Saturday, 8 March 2014, Janice and I went to the Apple Cinemas in Cambridge, Mass., for Mr. Peabody & Sherman, which is based on cartoon shorts by Jay Ward, who's best known for the subversive Rocky and Bullwinkle. The computer-animated movie retains some of the original's cleverness and expands on the character relationships.

If you've seen the trailers or Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, you know what to expect. Genius dog Mr. Peabody (voiced by Modern Family's Ty Burrell) and his adoptive son Sherman adventure through time with difficult Penny Peterson. This Dreamworks film is aimed at younger audiences, with a PG rating, but its script includes a few adult gags. I'd rate Mr. Peabody & Sherman an 8 out of 10, four out of five stars, or a B+. It's not as witty as The Lego Movie, but it was still fun.

By contrast, I advise lowering one's expectations for the sword-and-sandals 300: Rise of an Empire, a sequel to Frank Miller and Zach Snyder's 2007 ahistorical epic. On Friday, March 14, I met fellow Game Master Jason E.R. for dinner and Rise of an Empire at the Reading 3-D IMAX.

Loosely parallel to the events of the previous 300 flick, in which elite Spartan troops tried to hold back hordes of Persians at Thermopylae, Rise of an Empire depicts Athenian general Themistocles leading the Greeks in naval battles against Persian despot Xerxes and his right-hand dominatrix, Queen Artemisia of Halicarnassus. Miller and company clearly subscribe to the "great men" and "clash of civilizations" ideas, despite the fact that the Greeks weren't yet enlightened democrats, nor were the Persians mindless, monolithic barbarians.

The first third of 300: Rise of an Empire is arguably the most accurate, showing some of Themistocles' tactics and the daunting odds faced by the Greek hoplites. The middle of the movie would be a decent sword-and-sorcery film, with Xerxes ascending to weird demigodhood and Eva Green a better Belit from Robert E. Howard's Conan stories than Artemisia.

The last third of the movie features huge set-piece battles and lots of repetitive speechifying. It also manages to have the Spartan navy get credit for an Athenian victory, well-oiled bodies in slow motion, and yet more gratuitous beheadings. Jason and I were surprised to see young children in the audience, and at a hard "R," that's not a good idea.

I would recommend 300: Rise of an Empire to those who enjoy swordfights but aren't too worried about actual history (which is interesting enough in its own right). I'd give it a 6 out of 10, 2.5 to three out of five stars, or C+/B-.

As a contributor to the Kickstarter campaign for a cinematic follow-on to the Veronica Mars television series, I was predisposed toward this sleuthing sequel. In the noir TV show, Kristen Bell played a precocious adolescent who solved crimes around Neptune High School in southern California. I met Thomas K.Y. & Kai-Yin H. for lunch and saw this film at the AMC Loews Boston Common.

"We used to be friends"

The cast of "Veronica Mars," then and now

The Veronica Mars movie picks up about a decade later. Veronica is interviewing for a high-powered lawyer job in New York City when murder and intrigues draw her back home. It was great to see the TV show's entire supporting cast, as well as a few celebrity cameos, and the darkly comic tone was pleasingly familiar, not unlike Joss Whedon's "Buffyverse."

The Veronica Mars movie is definitely a gift to fans; like Firefly/Serenity, newcomers won't understand most of the jokes or appreciate why some of us liked the original so much. The first season of the TV show was its best, but we should be glad that, with Bell and others busy, we still got a fond reminder and wrap-up. I'd give Veronica Mars, which is rated R, an 8.5 out of 10, four out of five stars, or an A-.

In the coming weeks, there's Muppets Most Wanted and Captain America: the Winter Soldier, and I'm also looking forward to Amazing Spider-Man 2 and the latest incarnation of Godzilla. I know it has been a while since I've blogged about non-gaming topics, but I'll keep trying to find the time!

Supernatural TV successes

I know I've fallen behind with nongaming blog posts, but I do hope to catch up on genre entertainment reviews, food observations, and more in 2014.

I just caught up on the half-season finales of the supernatural trifecta of Sleepy Hollow, Grimm, and Dracula. I'm pleased that all three have been firing on all cylinders lately!

Supernatural TV

NBC's fantasy/horror

High melodrama, plot twists, actual character development, and sprinkles of violence have made all three must-watch shows in a crowded genre TV season.

 I've also been enjoying Almost Human, Person of Interest, and Arrow, and I was happy with the return of Sherlock as a counterpoint to Elementary.

I'll be catching the premiere of Black Sails this weekend. I also look forward to the eventual return of Orphan Black, Continuum, Vikings, and Doctor Who.

I'm still hanging in there — just barely — with Agents of SHIELD, Revolution, and Atlantis in the hopes they'll improve. Psych and Warehouse 13 should wrap up OK, but Castle and White Collar may have jumped the shark with forced conflicts.

In animation, Dragons: Defenders of Berk is entertaining while I wait for How to Train Your Dragon 2 and the return of Avatar: Legend of Korra, but superhero representation has dropped with the untimely cancellation of Beware the Batman and the weak representation of Avengers Assemble.

We'll see if there's room for Defiance, Da Vinci's Demons, or other newer shows in my busy schedule. So much to watch, so little time!

"Day of the Doctor" review

As a longtime Whovian, I've been pleased to see Doctor Who attaining new heights of popularity as its 50th anniversary approached. BBC America's Doctor Who Confidential retrospectives, an ever-growing reference library, and plentiful merchandise warm the heart of this fan, who wore oversize coats and long scarves around the television show's 20th anniversary. I even got my mother to sew question-mark lapel pins.

While I had some reservations about the so-called War Doctor and apparent lack of actors from before the 2005 restart of the long-running British series, it was hard not to get caught up in the fan anticipation. The time-travel franchise is rightly one of the best and longest in speculative fiction.

If you're reading my blog and know nothing about Doctor Who, I'm afraid that most of this post won't make much sense. Go watch the show! For those of you who are fellow enthusiasts, here's my initial review of the episode of Saturday, 23 November 2013, sans "spoilers" (a River Song favorite, found in some of the enclosed links).

Story

Doctor 11 (played by Matt Smith) finds himself interacting with Doctor 10 (David Tennant) and a hitherto unknown past incarnation (John Hurt). The three Time Lords — actually the same person — must deal with nasty Zygon doppelgangers, the last day of the Time War between the besieged Gallifreyans and cybernetic Daleks, and their own guilt. I've seen some complaints that the episode was too low-key or "too zany," but I think it balanced action with puzzle-solving and introspection.

There are "timey wimey" maneuverings, lots of script and visual allusions to past Doctors, and a reminder of the heroic idealism and childlike whimsy that have entranced viewers for decades. At their best, both Star Trek and Doctor Who have these qualities. I was dreading a dour, fatalistic look back, but I found myself looking to the future with renewed optimism.

Doctor Who 50th anniversary

Day of the Doctor

Acting

More than the recursive plot, the success of this crossover storyline is thanks to strong performances by Smith, Tennant, and genre veteran Hurt. They're ably supported by Jemma Redgrave as the daughter of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, Jenna Louise Coleman as latest companion Clara Oswald, and Billie Piper as Rose Tyler, the first of the modern companions.

There are a few surprise appearances, only adding to speculation for the upcoming Doctor 12, to be played by Peter Capaldi. Doors that were closed have been reopened, but the cast and crew manage not to trample on the legacy of Tom Baker, Paul McGann, and Christopher Eccleston.

Direction

The pacing of this anniversary episode starts out slowly, with idyllic vignettes and an apparent mystery. As with many of Doctor Who's landmark episodes, it soon accelerates with helicopter rides, chase scenes, and a race to save entire planets.

Ultimately, the producers are right to focus on the Doctor's conscience and his love of common people with extraordinary potential. References to the fairy-tale infantilism of recent seasons, dueling Doctor egos, unresolved threats, and curating the best of the past to inspire the future all make this episode worth rewatching and discussing among friends.

Visual Effects

Story and character are still paramount, but special effects have come a long way in 50 years. I'm sure those who screen the "Day of the Doctor" theatrically in 3-D will have a lot to enjoy. I was thrown for a moment when the episode opened with the 1963 opening titles, after the pregame show had shown bits of the previous Doctors. I was also happy to see the Zygons, who were the first Doctor Who monsters to haunt my youth.

Even the characters noted the aesthetic differences among three TARDIS consoles. The aforementioned helicopter ride across London, visits to hidden vaults in the National Gallery and Tower of London, and glimpses of the Time War make this a true romp across space and time.

Soundtrack

I recognized references to Rose's "Bad Wolf" theme, and subtle differences between Tennant's tenure and Smith and Coleman's era. I also have a renewed appreciation for the earlier Doctors (whom recent comic books have also revisited).

While Eccleston's short run was marked by social commentary and a contemporary feel, this anniversary episode reminded me of "The Five Doctors" and the more mythic feel of some recent runs without feeling so overblown. Let's hope that the self-aware sci-fi franchise continues to go strong as Capaldi's time in the TARDIS approaches….

"Day of the Doctor" is a must-see and a gift for any Doctor Who fans, and I'd give it a 9 out of 10, four out of five stars, and an A-. The only way I'd give it a higher review would have been a longer episode with more cameos, but that's only hardcore fan wishes.