Thursday, July 17, 2008


On the eve of the opening day of the Dark Knight, a movie projected to make over $100 million dollars in just a weekend, it seems that superhero movies are all over the place. Just this summer alone we've seen Iron Men, Raging Hulks, Superman as played by Will Smith, and the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense. So with the Caped Crusader and a Joker hopped up on prescription drugs looming in the shadows, it's sometimes easy to overlook the smaller films.

With a smaller profile, indie budget, and cast of relative unknowns, Sidekick is easily able to present a closer-to-true-life experience than any big budget superhero movie. The sheer fact that it doesn't have to curtail big name actor demands and market research means we get an uncorrupted story without a tacked on third act like Hancock.

In Sidekick, we meet up with Norman, the kind of comic book geek you only really see on TV or in movies. Let's face it, readers: us Ice Anvil writers are geeks, too. But one of the very qualities of geekdom is to seek out other geeks to geek around with. Surely a geek is not worth his salt unless he finds a group of like minded social misfits to debate the logistics of time travel or clones with. In movies, however, the geek is a lonely creature who somehow manages to live completely alone, devoid except for one other person who tolerates him.

That person who happens to tolerate Norman this time around? None other than Celebrity Rehab-star Daniel Baldwin, obviously appearing because he needed beer money and they could film all his scenes in a day. So Baldwin plays Chuck, owner of the local comic book store no one but Norman seems to go to. They sit around apparently for hours debating what superpower they'd have if they had a superpower. Once again, the movie steers clear of the one true geek answer to that question: empathy. The power to have every power trumps x-ray vision or super strength any day.

Norman works for the local finance firm where he spends all day sitting in the storage closet with the lights turned off, staring into a laptop that apparently denotes him maintaining the company's internal servers. Every once in a while he'll leave his dank supply cave to get a brisk mug of tea to give him the energy he needs to continue to sit upright staring at almost nothing.

It's at just such an excursion that Norman meets Victor for the first time. Victory is the big man at the firm if high school stereotypes are to be believed. He can drink anyone under the table and is willing to sexually harass a woman to win a bet. A real man's man is what we call that. While grabbing his coffee cup over Norman's head, even an all-around great guy like Victor slips up, and quickly loses grip on the fine ceramic mug. Luckily for him, he has the power of telekinesis and quickly grabs it with his mind, in plain sight of Norman. Norman, of course, being the last possible person in the world you'd want to expose secret superhuman abilities to.

Predictably, Norman quickly drops everything else in his life (it didn't take long) to stalk Victor around trying to witness his powers in use again. At the company's softball game that weekend, he notices that Victor never misses a pitch. Yet when he tries to videotape it, the use of Victor's powers apparently EM pulse the tape, distorting it just as they are being used.

Done admiring his new mancrush from afar, Norman tries to subtle approach and offers to train Victor. Somehow reading comic books will give Norman that skill he needs to teach someone with an actual skill on how to use them. Victor quickly gives Norman the brush off since he likes just being the office dick and would rather not be the office dick who also prances around in tights at night.

Later that evening, after getting drunk at a local bar, Victor and his friend Chase are thrown out, probably after lifting a girl's skirt to see what kind of panties she's wearing on a dare. After peeing in an alley, Chase decides he's had his fill of drinking and peeing for the night and begins to head home. Victor, never tired of drinking and urinating in public, calls his friend a lightweight for giving in so early. Chase turns around and starts gaybashing his best friend, as a situation such as this warrants no doubt. However, Chase forgot about two vital things: 1. the upcoming curb and B. gravity. He quickly finds himself tumbling to the street in probably the movie's worst special effect. After the strain of slowly falling in the most safe position possible in front of a camera, Chase apparently decides to rest up and take a nap right there on 23rd street as a nearby car just happens to be driving by. Victor leaps out to use his mind bullets to stop the car only to miss by about 4 feet and completely screw up a street sign. Chase, as the red-colored corn syrup will attest, is dead meat.

So on comes the second act where Victor feels remorse for not being able to save Chase, gives into Norman's creepy man fantasies, and they start training up. What they are training for seems to be oblivious to Victor, though. That is until Norman, like the bipolar freak that he is, decides to throw himself in front of an oncoming car to prove to Victor that he has full control over his powers. Really, Sidekick is as much a movie about superpowers as it is crippling manic depression apparently.

With Norman saved and Victor feeling pretty confident that he won't let another friend die to the terrible social plague known as traffic, Norman whips out a freakishly mysterious box. Inside is a costume Norman has been slaving over for weeks for Victor to wear while they go around stopping the crime we know is sweeping the streets of Toronto. It's at this point that I believe even Victor can see through the superhero shenanigans and full comprehends just how creepy Norman's obsession with him could be, since he throws the box down and walks away.

But true love never really walks away. Within seconds Victor is back and willing to try patrolling the Canadian mean streets for evil if only for one night. Norman, so excited that he can no longer stand up without a book to cover said excitement, grabs his coat and it's off to the races. Sadly, the Canadian Mounted Police are just too effective as our superfriends find a serious lack of bank robberies or muggings to stop. They settle on a gang of adults who are apparently loitering on the street. The gang decides to strike the wasp nest with a stick and call Norman and Victor gay. This sends Victor into a passive aggressive rage as he uses his Jedi mind tricks to grab two of the thugs and make them make out with each other. That would probably be enough to prove his point thoroughly, but to totally prove to this guys he's not gay, Victor decides to force one guy to give the other oral festivities. Yes, Victor, way to prove to the scarred thugs you aren't homosexual by forcing them to perform gay porn for you. At this point, even Norman is a little creeped out and forced Victor to stop just before the climax.

Thus begins Victor's descent into madness as he realizes he is practically unstoppable. Thankfully for Victor, he has a moment at the office to prove how unstoppable he is, as there's a hostage situation at gunpoint. It seems the idiot office asshole we only really met once for about 3 seconds was embezzling money, so he kidnapped the CEO and is holding him in a conference room. Rather than call the police or actually do anything to pro-actively protect their boss' life, all the office workers scurry to the door of the room to listen in. Victor is able to mosey on in without a problem, get the asshole to let his boss go, and close the door behind the boss without anyone thinking twice. He then leaves the room 20 seconds later with the gun-welding maniac unconscious with his head smashed on the office table... again, without anyone thinking twice.

Now completely mad with power, Victor kidnaps the office receptionist and forces Norman to help him finish out the now-out-of-the-picture embezzler's plan. While hacking into the company's bank account online, Norman casually gets Victor drunk and passed out and is able to strap him to an office chair using scotch tape, throwing in even more homo-erotic overtones to their friend. Just as he's about to put Victor away for good by turning him into the cops, however, Victor wakes up and tries to push him down an open elevator shaft, apparently a growing epidemic in the fabled Canadas. Luckily for Norman, the receptionist is there to clobber Victor in the skull with a fire extinguisher, becoming the true hero of the story. We end our movie on the traditional To Be Continued note, however, as the cops don't believe in telekinesis as much as Norman does and Victor easily breaks out of the hospital room a lone cop is guarding wearing only an open-in-the-back hospital gown.

Sidekick, for as much as I give it guff in this review, is definitely a movie seething with love for comics and superheroes. It's obvious that the writer and director know their stuff and try to make the most out of a shoestring budget. The movie, though, suffers from horrible timing, coming out right before the start of the TV show Heroes. With a bigger budget and the ability to tell a larger story over greater time, Heroes has developed the villain with telekinesis into an antihero with almost as many fans as any do-gooder on the show. And with said bigger budget, Sylar is able to do way more on Heroes with his powers than Victor is able to do in Sidekick. Really, when you watch a man slice open someone's skull with his finger telekinetically, the same ol' "forcing people to punch themselves" routine just seems like old hat.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


G4TV is desperate to prove to us that they are just as legitimate a cable channel as Spike TV, even if it ultimately kills us all. To be fair, they've done a pretty good job of it so far. Their reruns of Cops and Cheaters are certainly things you would see non-stop on Spike a few years back. Their original programming also stands head and shoulders above Spike's, with 90 minutes of live television every night to update their viewers on the latest in video games, movies, and geekery. It's almost enough to make G4's mothers proud.

That was until now...

With Hurl, G4TV incorrectly assumes that they can create a game show here in America every bit as entertaining as Japan's Ninja Warrior. Oh how wrong they were.

The rules of Hurl are pretty simple: if you are a famewhore and want an easy way to get 15 minutes of televised screen time, meet up with 4 other famewhores on their street tunnel set and prepare to throw up. Surely as a child your mother might have regaled you with tales of starving children in China or Africa. Fun update: they are still starving. So when a show like Hurl comes along, it's as if the American flag's stars and stripes have been replaced with a bald eagle flipping off poor people while eating a supersized Big Mac extra value meal.

The game show, if you can even call it that, starts off with an eating competition. For our debut episode, the contestants have 5 minutes to cram as much macaroni and cheese in their gullet as possible out of a 11 pound bucket. The contestant that "won" this round only polished off 5 pounds. That means there's 6 pounds of macaroni and cheese which was thrown out. That's enough to feed 3 or maybe even 4 hobos for a whole weekend. The hobos are crying, Hurl.

What's weird about the announcers at Hurl is they seem to be taking the whole game seriously. The producers have decided to deem every move or sound made by the contestant a "play," as if from a Playbook. Not only that, they gave the plays numbers, as if we're supposed to write them down and compile our own handbook to Hurl Supremacy. Tonight we were witness to many plays, some more effective than not, that included the Snowball, the Double Fisting, the Face Plant... wait a second, are all Hurl Plays also sexual maneuvers? No wonder these guys crammed down so much food then.

Another interesting fact that announcers seem to stress every other sentence is that the food the contestants are either forcing down their throat or covering their face and shirts with is organic. Really, after about pound 3 of macaroni and cheese, I don't think a human heart cares if the cholesterol is organic or processed.

So after 5 minutes of cheesy cheesy shame, the hurl-ers scurry into hamster balls right out of American Gladiators. While strapped down in a sitting position in these globes of pain, a group of men in gas masks and hazmat suits spin them right round, baby, right round, like a record baby, right round round round. Oddly enough, even after a creamy macaroni and cheese starter, none of the soon-to-be-pukers threw up, making the first half of this game show highly anti-climatic.

Determined to videotape every single person on this show throwing up including, but not limited to, the audience, the second round was another eating orgy of Greek proportions. This time our competitive eaters must down large sized pumpkin pies and wash the whole thing down with "organic" orange soda. Wouldn't "organic" orange soda just be orange juice, Hurl? Who knows, because we've got pies to shove our faces into! And eat they do, with the winner of this round downing over 3 pounds of pumpkin pie to go with the 5 pounds of cheesy macaroni he already ate.

It's during this second eating round we actually bare witness to our first vomit of the game show as the mixture of lactose and "organic" pumpkin fixings proves to be too much. Before I describe the vomit in great detail, I must stress that this is a show that starts with a warning alerting us about the "Extreme footage of throwing up" we're about to see, probably because "Vomit" isn't part of the standard television rating system. Now that you've been suitably warned about the vomit to come, let's all revel in it, shall we?

Oh wait, we can't. Apparently, despite the warnings and the fact that the show is called Hurl, the producers have decided actually showing puke is just inappropriate. So instead of actually seeing hurl on Hurl, we see the puke covered up by cartoon buckets pulled straight from your nearest Clip Art collection CD. Just so we're on the same page: the entire reason for this show's existence is to show people throwing up, and then they censor that. We've been seeing people vomit without censorship on television for decades, moreso nowadays with shows like Fear Factor, A Shot of Love with Tila Tequila, or Real World/Road Rules Challenge. These are shows not even built on the premise of forcing people to throw up, yet they show us piles upon piles of human vomit with reckless abandon. Naming this show Hurl is a bit like watching Poison Ivy: the New Seduction edited for broadcast TV on a Sunday afternoon. They censor out the one reason for its being.

So in the end, one famewhore managed to keep from vomiting about two minutes longer than another and won himself $1,000 and a lifetime of shame. As a viewer, I won the feeling of regret that comes with just wasting a half hour watching boring, watered down television. While some might scoff at Hurl and consider it another rung down the ladder humanity is taken to the end times, it's not even worth that. It's just another half hour on G4th's schedule that would be better served airing another episode of Code Monkeys, where at least the pixelated, 8-bit vomit isn't censored.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Lost: Lovers' Quarrels

Nobody will argue that Lost has had more than its fair share of problems through its run. Mysteries hyped up for months or years only to be explained in the vaguest possible sense, characters wandering off into the uncharted wilderness on a whim, and slews of new, uninteresting characters who generally only survive half a season or so. Much of this was rectified in the much-improved fourth season, which was fairly successful at trimming the fat and convincing viewers there really is a mythos behind all this.

But there's always something.

The main problematic subplot is the world's slowest-moving natural disaster, the love triangle between Jack, Kate and Sawyer. (Juliet should technically fit in there, but since the writers don't care about her, why should I?) The group, while being good actors for the most part, have absolutely no romantic chemistry whatsoever, yet the writers keep mashing their lips together like they have to share their oxygen supply. That it takes time that could be used watching a giant plume of smoke beat the living hell out of people makes it even harder to watch.

At the end of season 3, it looked like the whole mess had finally been resolved. Kate, finally tired of Jack's shit, had settled down for a nice, mutually abusive relationship with Sawyer. Jack had proven to have a thing for bland reproductive surgeons, shacking up with Juliet and driving Kate into the arms of another man. Or it might have been the other way around. Either way, everything was in its proper place.

Of course, this is Lost, where you can't assume a storyline is resolved even when every character involved is dead. On the island, things continued to look peachy -- Juliet stayed mostly off screen and Kate and Jack were too busy dealing with about twenty new characters to bemoan their imperfect love.

For the unaware, the first three seasons of Lost featured flashbacks in every episode about the characters' lives before the plane crash. These ranged from fascinating to completely worthless, but it was an interesting storytelling technique that generally helped keep the show from dragging everything out even further than they already were. For the fourth season, the creators mixed things up a bit by changing most of these into flashforwards, following seven characters that had found their way off the island under unexplained circumstances.

The flashforwards were the first sign that something was going horribly wrong. On the island, Jack and Kate were busy pretending they'd ever had a relationship, and it was great. But off the island, in the future, they were the most heartbrokenly estranged former lovers ever. Every other scene with the two of them involved him getting jealous over Sawyer, despite him having been left behind on the island years before, or him proudly declaring his love for her and wishing that they could get back together. When Jack got questioned in court over whether he loved Kate, they seemed to be pushing it a bit hard.

Sure enough, on the island, Kate and Juliet had a big tussle over his impromptu appendectomy and it was like nothing had changed, with one big difference. This time, we had been promised -- no, guaranteed -- that this would drag on for years to come. So come season 5, we can be treated to more scenes of them flipping out over their violently bland, passion-free relationship, knowing that it'll all end with Jack and Kate living happily ever after with lots of babies.

And the glacier slides on.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Rebuild of Evangelion 01: You Are (Not) Alone

Oh Evangelion, how we have missed you. It's so hard to remember how much of an impact this little series has left on the world of Japanese cartoons with robots sometimes... well, when ADV is not releasing another 3 or 4 season packs every few months.

A lot has changed in the world of otaku and anime since Eva cashed a blank check for cash money back in the 90s. The anime business in America is in a downturn, even with more airtime than ever on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim, Anime Network On Demand, and Funimation's Anime Channel. Evangelion's original American distributor, ADV Films, appears to be in the death throes, canceling future titles and discontinuing old ones as they coyly deflect requests for information like a violin player on the Titanic. All talks of a Weta-influenced Evangelion live action movie seem to have dried up, especially since ADV were the only ones really talking about it.

So what's Hideo Anno to do? He only made one of the most influential animes of all time during a period of extreme physical and mental exhaustion, leaving a body of work that's uneven and downright masochistic at times.

Well, you post a press release saying you're curing all of anime by remaking that same body of work. It's the only way to be sure.

And with that we get Rebuild of Evangelion. It's kind of like End of Evangelion, only it exists as a separate entity along with the original anime so they can eventually sell 3 complete series DVD boxsets. But is the entire project funded just to get even more money from a cash cow that's been practically milked dry for over a decade now?

Yes. And no. Much like Evangelion pretends to be, the answer is not obvious. What the first movie in a series of four that the Rebuild of Evangelion brings provides is an almost shot for shot remake of the original first 6 episodes. There's some fat cut, some new scenes added, and if you are a fan of hearing Japanese voice actors count backwards from 10, you are in for some fan service indeed.

If you watched the original Evangelion and liked it, warts and all, you will continue to enjoy it in movie form. Everything you could want is there: religious symbolism thrown about without any real meaning, cool robot fights, fan service, gravitas literally shoved down your throat every 7 minutes; fans of Evangelion know what they want. Like a loyal drug dealer, Anno and Rebuild of Evangelion dole it out in large, finely cut rows. The new CGI battles fill in the holes left by the original anime's budget, making the fights more visceral and entertaining down to the last 500 gallons of angel blood being carelessly splayed all over Tokyo-3. The fan service seems to have been heightened, too, as lonely Rei otaku can now take a gander at actual Second Child nipple.

While that might be enough of a selling point for roughly 99.9% of Evangelion's enduring fans, the stuff they cut out and adding in the first movie might actually enhance the narrative overall when it is all said and done. After the first battle of the anime in episodes 1 and 2 gets you interested and looking forward to more robot-on-alien? fighting, the original episodes 3 and 4 were almost like a cold shower daring you to stop caring. Shinji's continued "I'm quitting... no I'm not" act got old, like an ex-girlfriend threatening to leave you if you don't take out the trash. Luckily almost all of that has been cut in favor of a 3 minute montage of Shinji going to the red light district of Tokyo-3 then returning. The narrative is better off for it even if it leaves the door open for Shinji being annoying ten-fold in the future.

Also, unlike the original story, the first movie actually gives us a glimpse of the second angel, Lilith. Right away this sets the tone that there's more going on here than just giant robots and angst, though how this plays out over the next movie will be telling. In the anime, the next 6 or 7 episodes divulged wildly from the angst to the point of becoming an almost manic comedy with the introduction of Asuka. Will all the comedy that the red haired German brings be left on the cutting room floor with that huge chunk of Shinji's whining?

The preview at the end of the movie promises a lot for another 90 minute dose of retelling: we might actually get to see Eva-04 before it blows up due to shoddy American craftsmanship, the fourth child floats down from the moon in a storyline almost torn from's seedier Evangelion posts, things blow up, Eva-05 comes and goes, Asuka debuts, and more. Could it be too much or are they just giving us a 5 minute synopsis of episodes 7 through 13 and getting to the weirder stuff?

Only Anno knows. And sometimes even that can't be trusted.