Sherlock

Reviewed by Mister Critic

Thanks to public broadcasting, and viewers like you, we now have a 21st century  version of Sherlock Holmes that is as brilliant as the original story. Today’s Sherlock has all of the deductive skills, wit, quirks and vices of olden days, but now set in modern day London. In this new series, Holmes is a consultant for the police, brought in when their detectives are unable to solve the case. He doesn’t do it for the money, he does it because he loves solving cases. And his enthusiasm is catchy.

In the first episode, A Study in Pink, we see how Holmes and Watson met and came to live together as roomies at 221B Baker Street. During their first case they must figure out whether several recent deaths were separate suicides or the work of a very clever serial killer. It is that cleverness that draws Sherlock in, but maybe a little too close this time.

I love that the creators of this new show did not warp the Holmes character, destroying his very essence with non-Sherlockian qualities.  It is as if the makers of the new PBS/BBC series “Sherlock” read my mind or maybemy last Sherlock blog post.  The updates either add interesting new insight into how a modern detective solves modern crimes, like the role of cell phones and text messaging, or the updates help enhance my intrigue with the character’s wonderful mind. For example, as Holmes studies a crime scene, we see words pop up on the screen showing what Holmes is observing (kinda reminded me of The Electric Company). But what do these words mean? Perhaps we can deduce before the great Sherlock! So the game is afoot and we are in on the action as he figures out the crime.

Another great update is the new dimension that has been created in the character of Dr. Watson. Today’s Watson is a military doctor having served in Afghanistan. Now he is back home, has been injured and is haunted by his past.  Whereas, I felt the Jude Law version of Watson was a rather bland tag-a-long, this new Watson, played by Martin Freeman, has brought some real depth to the character with superb acting. Now I am excited for the new Hobbit movie as Freeman has recently been tapped to play Bilbo Baggins.  In addition to the psychological demons, Freeman also portrays the fascination Watson has with Holmes in a way that is believable and which helps the audience actually like Holmes, an self-diagnosed sociopath.  Although, I don’t think my wife needs that help, as I have heard on many occasion since this first episode aired how she is in love with Sherlock. Great, how does one compete with Sherlock freakin’ Holmes?

Well, quite right, jolly good show. I am looking forward to many more adventures with this new duo, and I hope that you will join them Sunday Nights at 9:00 pm, on your local PBS station.

Sounds Like This-Eric Hutchinson

Reviewed by Mister Hand

I don’t listen to the radio much, as they tend to overplay songs and make me hate some of my favorite artists. That said, one of my favorite hobbies is to do is discover new artists, which is where I usually have to deal with my love/hate relationship with the radio. Now add to my hobby, the wonderful world of iPhone applications, one of which is called Shazam. Not to be confused with the ill-fated Shaquile O’Neil movie Kazaam, this application samples songs and then spits out the artist, song title, and album. This has tremendously helped identify songs since radio stations don’t often say anything but their station identifier anymore. So Shazam has helped me not only identify songs, but I also find that if I sample a song 3+ times it probably means I really like it.

In comes Eric Hutchinson’s song “Rock & Roll” off his album Sounds Like This. I really dig the driving guitar and drum beat, but his blues-like voice really captured me. It sounded much different than most of the styles of music I’d been hearing for some time. I pushed off the urge to buy the cd for much longer than I once was able to – due mostly to a thing called a mortgage and groceries and other frivolous things. Eventually I decided to listen to other songs on the album. Oddly, I found that I liked some of the other songs better than the radio hit. The first song on the album, “Ok, It’s Alright With Me,” grabbed me right away and I knew my ears were in for a great ride. After sampling the album on iTunes – who knew 30 seconds of ten songs would be all it took – and the unresistable price of $7.99 would hook me… but it did. Add to that a great review by the online “Queen” of reviews Parez Hilton and you’ve sold me. I’m not going to try to compare Hutchinson’s sound to other artists… I just urge you to check him out and give it a try on Pandora, Rhapsody, or iTunes.

Dreamscape (1984)

I meant to post this right after the Inception post, but life got the better of me.  By happenstance (or was it fate?), I stumbled upon Dreamscape on Netflix Instant movies right before seeing Inception. Apparently, I missed the Dreamscape boat on the first go around back in 1984. But look at that cover! This looks like something I would have loved as a kid. I mean it looks just like Indiana Jones . . . but of dreams!

However, wow, covers can be deceiving. I am sorry to anyone who loved this movie back in the day. It is not a good movie.  First of all, the premise is that Dennis Quaid is a psychic whiz kid who is too cool for school, acting like a poor man’s Han Solo. He’s wasting his talents at race track making lots of money. And he plays the saxophone. Not important to the plot really, just shows he’s a cool cat. But soon he is kidnapped by this secret, government(?), research group and they convince him to help them with program they are developing: a way to use his psychic powers to enter other people’s dreams and interact with the dreamer. So Quaid reluctantly goes along with the program by doing things like helping save a kid from some creepy nightmares, and helping a guy get with his impotence problem.  But it turns out a person can die in dreams and perhaps the program is being used for other purposes, like MURDER.  I don’t want to say who the target is, less for spoiler reasons and more because I don’t want to end up on some government watch list for posting the magic words that get you on a no fly list. Let’s just say it is the highest level government official of the United States of Americans.

Anyway, the other plus of the movie is that it has Norm from Cheers. I can’t tell, but I hope he made it on the cover.  SPOILER ALERT: you get to see him die.

Inception is proof that Dreamscape could have been a great movie. It was just made in the wrong decade by the wrong director with the wrong cast and the wrong plot.  And the effects sucked. The movie relied heavily on Claymation, and that is creepy (more on this in a future post), don’t get me wrong. But these are dreams, man. It should have been either a fun adventure as promised by the cover, or a horror movie, although in that respect, Nightmare on Elm Street did the dying in dreams thing much better.

And the worst part for me was the main character’s love interest, Kate Capshaw, who will forever be known to me as the annoying woman that ruined the Temple of Doom with her whinny voice.  In this movie it is just assumed that she should be into Quaid’s character. No real reason given. She is a successful career woman, a research scientist, she doesn’t need some punk kid who is too immature to understand the need to use his psychic abilities for good rather than gambling. And she tells him she’s not into a relationship because it could jeopardize her career, but does he respect that? No, instead he goes into her dreams, without her consent and tries takes advantage of her during a private sex dream. This movie should have been called DreamRape, not Dreamscape. No means no even in the dream world, right?

Anyway, very disappointing. This movie was not the stuff dreams are made of, or whatever corny dream reference you want to insert. Maybe someday someone will make a cool Indiana Jones of Dreams.

These Children Who Come at You With Knives by Jim Knipfel

Reviewed by Mister Critic

I had so much hope for this book. The concept of a collection of modern, humorous, adult fairy tales sounded so good. It seemed to be getting good reviews, the title grabs you, and look at that cover. So much potential.

And yet, so much disappointment. The author captured the “feel” of a fairy tale written by the Grimm Brothers. I have been reading the original Grimm’s fairy tales to my daughter lately and it is interesting to see how dark the stories are compared to the sanitized versions we grow up. Mr. Knipfel’s stories carry the same dark theme but in today’s world.

However, overall the stories were not that funny, not that poignant, not that clever and just not that good. Some stories elicited a slight chuckle here and there, but over all I did not find it very funny. I am not a big fan of gross or potty humor and the author drew from that well quite a bit. it was hard to tell if the author was including that type of humor because he thought it was funny or was trying to be ironic about how some people find that stuff funny. Either way, just wasn’t my kind of humor. And I didn’t find the moral behind any story all that interesting. Maybe I just didn’t get, but it there wasn’t anything that was that mind blowing about his stories. In fact, as I sit here to review this, I can barely remember most of these stories. They just weren’t that interesting.

Instead, the general feel of the book reminded me those times when you tell a story when you are really tired or drunk and at that moment you think it is really funny, but when you think back on the story in the rational, sober light of day it really wasn’t funny and in fact didn’t make much sense either. This book was like that for me.

I would like to see see a great comedy group like those who did Wet Hot American Summer and The Ten, picking up the general idea of the book and then improving it into a great comedy. Like I said, there is so much potential in this idea, but for me, this book squanders that potential and will not live happily ever after.

Inception (2010)

Reviewed by Mister Critic

“You mustn’t be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.”

The above line from the movie Inception was one of my favorite, and it is apparent that Christopher Nolan took those words to heart when he wrote and directed Inception. Simply said, I loved this movie. A thoughtful plot with fun characters, a cast of great actors, amazing visuals, and an ending that is assured to make you want to discuss it with friends. The movie is a sweet dream. There is the right balance of action, suspense, and mystery to keep the film moving forward without turning into a thoughtless shoot-em up.

If you have not watched the movie, stop reading right now and come back after you’ve seen it because I do not want to risk ruining it for you. Don’t worry, we’ll wait.

Okay for those of you who are going to be stubborn and not watch it first, here is a little summary. See in the world of Inception, there is this machine that lets you go into other people’s dreams, apparently used sometimes by corporations to steal secrets from each other. But the bigger question is can you plant an idea in person’s head while you are in their dream without them realizing it was not their idea? Can you create inception? Hence the title of the movie. Leonardo DiCaprio is a master of the dream domain and he is hired to assemble a team of specialists, sort of like Ocean’s 11, to enter into a guy’s dreams to convince him to break up his family company.

Let me just say I love just about everything about this film, as well as Christopher Nolan’s past films. His movies are complex, well written and make you think, which is rare in movies today. I wish he would make more. And I have to also say I have become more and more impressed with Leo D each time I see him. When I first heard he was in this movie, I was worried, but he has really grown into great actor. I thought his portrayal of the psychological strain his character was struggling with was very well done.

The only thing that stood out for me in the movie was that I felt at times the dialogue was little clunky or obviously trying to catch the viewer up on some of the technical details. But some direct, in your face explanation was necessary since I felt at times there was a lot going over my head. There was so much to learn about this world, and I feel as though I only picked up on half of what was going on. It was one of those movies where immediately after it ended I felt like I needed to buy a ticket to watch it again.

So maybe I will. And you should too. Sweet dreams from Mister Critic.

SPOILER ALERT:
For discussion, two questions: What is your totem? and What do you think happened to the top at the end? I’ll share my answers as soon as a good discussion starts up.

Frugal Game Reviews: Crayon Physics

Reviewed by Mister Parvenu

Remember when when you used to unroll a seemingly endless sheet of white butcher paper and start drawing? Those drawing would come alive in your mind. Crayon Physics does just that. It’s an obvious labor of love that lives on the fringes of what one can call a “game”, in much the same way as Flower or Flow.

Crayon Physics is less “played” than explored or experimented with. The goal of the game is to complete every level. Levels are presented to you via a “Super Mario 3” top down view of the world with a path dotted with nodes that represent different levels. The goal of each level it to manipulate a red ball so that it rolls into the star. Each level is a static side view of varied terrain, that can be complicated platforms or a simple as empty space.

The red ball can be gently pushed by clicking on it in order to start some kind of motion, but clicking the ball only imparts a very small movement. You must draw ramps, stair, seesaws and various other simple machines that materialize and on the screen and become part of the landscape that the ball can interact with in it’s travel toward the goal-star. As you progress through the game there are “tutorial” levels that show you how to build new primitive objects, like ropes, fixed axes, wheels, pulleys etc. There are also rockets that you’re able to use in interesting way to launch, drag, pull, hurl, or otherwise get the red ball to the star.

The whole game is rather hypnotic, the benevolently haunting music, the elementary-school ambiance, the whole experience is quite enveloping. Though the stated goal is to get the ball to touch the star, the real point of the game is, I think, to find the most creative way to do so. Often the simplest ways to complete a level are the least rewarding. Which leads to my one critique of the game. There’s no in game reward or encouragement for elaborate or especially creative problem solving, which is perhaps by design. After all, there really wasn’t any incentive to start drawing on that butcher paper as a child; other than your own amusement.

Watch the trailer here.
Crayon Physics Deluxe for PC (only) can be purchased here for $19.95

Committed: Confessions of a Fantasy Football Junkie

by Mark St. Amant

Reviewed by Mister Critic

MEMO
TO: All My Rowdy Friends
FROM: Mister Critic
RE: Are you ready for some (fantasy) football?

I have been in the world of fantasy for going on nine years. I have been haunted by my lack of knowledge, lack of luck and lack of passion for the game. When I first started, I would let the computer make my draft selections. Some weeks I would forget to change the line up, even though some players were on a bye week. Needless to say, I never made the playoffs. Sure I won a couple games, but you know what they say about a stuck clock? They say it is better at fantasy football than I am. I mean it was so bad that one year, we needed another player because someone dropped out at the last second, so the league manager signed his pet parrot up for his own team. And the parrot beat me. I am not kidding. Do you know what that does to a man?

Frugal Game Reviews: Star Control II – The Ur-Quan Masters

Reviewed by Mister Parvenu

Thomas Wolfe said, “You can’t go home again”… I respectfully disagree.  For the gamer in me, Star Control II, or what is now known in the open source community as “The Ur-Quan Masters”, is a homecoming.  Released in 1992 by Toys for Bob as a sequel to the 1990 original Star Control, Star Control II (SC2) features rich dialog, pointed humor, excellent music, harrowing plot, challenging combat, and some of the most sprawling space environments to confront a player in all of video game history, let alone video games of the early nineties.  This is by far one of my favorite games of all time, not simply because it was for its time an amazing game (which undoubtedly it was), but this game continues to hold a grip on me because of so many things it leaves up to the imagination of the player.  Letting the player do some of the imagining “legwork” is something modern games have long forgotten how to do. Read More

Fallout 3

Reviewed by Mister Critic

Being a child of the 80s has left me with a fascination with and constant fear of nuclear apocalypse. During the height of the Cold War, I am sure I drove my father crazy with questions about what would happen in a nuclear war. Would there be any chance of survival? What would the world look like? That fascination, coupled with my aforementioned love for the survivalist genre, has led me to my dystopian utopia called Fallout 3.

I have been a fan of this series from the beginning, but I have to say the creators of Fallout 3 have outdone themselves this time. They have created a game that really immerses you into their world. They have thought of every thing. And I love them for that.

Sherlock Holmes (2009)

Reviewed by Mister Critic

So director Guy Richie brings us a new Sherlock Holmes. Not the lanky, nerdy Holmes from those boring books with words and stuff. No, a Holmes that is ripped, kicks butt and solves crimes. He is an expert fighter, throwing punches in slow-mo, breaking bones, blowing stuff up, and shootin’ thangs. Don’t worry, he’s still really smart, but that is just icing on our action movie cake.

We meet up with Holmes, played by Robert Downey, Jr., as he is wrapping up a multiple murder case. He is assisted by his faithful sidekick, Dr. Watson, played by Jude Law.  The movie begins as the case ends with Holmes taking down an evil villain practiced in the dark arts.  The villain is captured, executed and everything is wrapped up nicely. Or is it? It appears this bad guy may have returned from the dead and people start dying mysteriously, so Holmes is back on the case.

My understanding is that those that made this movie were attempting a reboot similar to Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins. Don’t get me wrong, I like the idea of making a gritty, bloody, dark, sorta true life crime drama featuring Sherlock Holmes.  I would have loved to see a mix of Holmes with something like Seven. In fact, this could have easily been done by focusing on the murder case that the duo is wrapping up in the beginning. But that wasn’t this movie. Instead, we get an action movie that changes the character of Sherlock Holmes, and the plot starts after all the good stuff already happened so what we are left with what could have been summed up in a third act.

Robert Downey Jr. is a great actor, and gives a good performance. But not as the character Sherlock. He plays it mores as a British version of billionaire playboy, Tony Stark/Iron Man. There were great scenes were he was doing the old deduction tricks that I thought he played very well and no one does eccentric like Downey. But other than the fact he lives at 221 Bakers Street and shares the same name, you would be hard pressed to guess he was actually portraying Sherlock Holmes if you weren’t told right away. I mean, come on, they have Holmes doing fight club stuff, and there are these strange moments where he plans out the fight in his head. So you see it once in slow motion, and then all over again in real time. I’m fine with watching graphic violence just one time, thank you very much. The strange part is that this slow-mo thing happens a couple times in the first half of the movie but was not carried out through the end.  In the second half, they seemed to switch to Holmes using his brain to figure out ways to use his surroundings to win a fight rather than using his might, which I thought worked much better. That seemed more true to the character of Sherlock Holmes.

Jude Law was a waste as Dr. Watson. He was about as bland as you could make that character without just having a cardboard cutout. His character was getting married and wanted out of the partnership, which I figured was good riddance for Holmes. I did not care about the deterioration of the relationship between him and Holmes because they spent no time supporting it. Can’t you see Holmes? He was just riding your coattails the whole time.

Racheal McAdams played the love/hate interest for Holmes, and for similar reasons, I just did not feel any chemistry between the two. The development of any love between the characters is implied to have happened in the past, and therefore had to be assumed. Again, that development maybe would have made for an interesting movie if we got to see it.  Instead, we were supposed to want them to be couple without any set up for it. So, with what I was given, I just didn’t buy that Holmes would fall for that this woman. In fact, had they stayed true to the original character, I wouldn’t think the real Holmes would be interested in women at all. He always seemed like more of the asexual type to me.

(Spoiler alert) I appreciated that the end solutions were based on rational explanations rather than saying, “it was all magic!” or “magic does exist.” I was afraid for a moment that they were going down that road. So in that respect, the movie was comparable to the original Holmes stories.

The overall plot of the movie was not bad per se and there were some entertaining and funny moments. Had it been made sans the “Sherlock Holmes” name, it may have worked perfectly fine as a stand alone movie. Perhaps then I would not have been as critical and given it higher marks.

It comes down to this for me: why does everything need to be re-imagined or re-booted? Why does everything from literature or my childhood need to be remade, and then in the process, possibly destroyed? I know that we ran out of original ideas long ago and a handful of plot lines are consistently recycled, but at least pretend to create something we haven’t seen before. Bring something new to the discussion that, for the love of God, doesn’t ruin the original. This was my complaint of the recent remake of Alice in Wonderland and here we go again.

My concern, as with other remakes or reboots, is that these movies instead attach themselves to great characters that have already been developed in a certain way that makes them great. And ya, they have Holmes playing the violin, the same instrument he played in the books, and he smokes a pipe, and apparently they have some quotes from the stories scattered through the movie. All of that is fine, but then the movie makers go and distort certain things (that he’s some sort of street fighter) about the character critical to the very heart of the character. So with that they loose me because I spend most of the time pointing out the things Holmes is forced to do in the movie that are completely out of character. How about this, I know it sounds crazy, but how about you know your material and stick with the things that make a character great. Then you can make a great reboot, like Batman Begins. It’s elementary.

Instead, you get an average 3 out of 5 movie.