Things I Think Too Much About: Super Smash Kart?

September 14, 2014
Well, that's one way of getting across Hyrule Field.

Well, that’s one way of getting across Hyrule Field.

The upcoming downloadable content for Mario Kart 8 was unveiled recently and it exceeded most expectations (STILL no traditional Battle Mode arenas, Nintendo?). 16 new tracks, 8 new vehicles, 6 new characters and a variety of color customization options for two characters already on the roster — all for only $12.  That’s hard to beat.  Better yet, 3 of the new characters revealed aren’t even from the Super Mario franchise (Link from The Legend of Zelda and the Villager and Isabelle from Animal Crossing) and several of the upcoming tracks are based on the F-Zero, Animal Crossing and Excitebike games. Mario Kart has done game crossovers before (in their arcade ports), but not to this extent.

"Get off my bumper, you pellet-popping cherry chaser!"

“Get off my bumper, you pellet-popping cherry chaser!”

Two of Nintendo’s best-selling franchises are Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros. Why not take the gameplay of Mario Kart and implement the no-holds-barred, franchise-crossing antics of Smash Bros. into one amazing game? That seems to be their reasoning right now, and it’s smart — damn smart.  But now that they’ve gone this far, why not go whole hog and just make it a new franchise?  A Super Smash Kart, if you will.  If they were to do that, I think they’d have to do some things to differentiate it from Mario Kart, but keep the spirit of Smash Bros.  Here’s what I would do if I were to make the game….

1. Co-op Karts

Mario Kart: Double Dash!! for the Gamecube is amazing, but at the time it was released, it wasn’t as appreciated as it should have been.  Perhaps it was too weird and too different from what people were accustomed to — I don’t know.  What I do know is that game had some of the most amazing multi-player ever.

In Double Dash!!, two characters rode on one kart. In a single-player race, it allowed you to obtain multiple items at a time; each character could hold an item and they switched places to fire.  In a multi-player race, you had the option to have two players on a single kart — one drove while the other handled items. It might sound boring for the item player, but they could also attack the other racers with punches and kicks even without items — a feature you don’t have in the single-player modes.

Frankly, you haven’t raced until you’ve seen Princess Peach hip-check Bowser off the road.

"FEAR ME!"

“FEAR OUR POWER!”

That’s just scratching the surface of how the co-op mechanics worked. Every time the item player attacked, it would cause the kart to swerve, and it was possible to throw the entire kart off the track if they weren’t careful. To get a drift boost, you needed both players — the driver initiated the drift and the item player would have to lean into it to get the boost.  All of these factors forced the players to work together or else they’d lose, and it really made you feel like a team. It was an excellent multi-player experience that was only rivaled by, well, Super Smash Bros.

And while we’re talking about Double Dash!!

2. Character-Specific Special Items

Double Dash!! introduced character-specific items to the Mario Kart franchise. For example, only Donkey and Diddy Kong would receive giant bananas that when dropped behind them, would cover up two-thirds of the track.  With the dual person kart setup, you could mix and match characters to get a balance of items that you wanted. Team up Mario with Waluigi to get fireballs and bombs as your special items and then you’ll view everyone else on the course as clay pigeons.

And there were no survivors. The end.

And there were no survivors. The end.

The character-specific items gave everyone personality and allowed for strategy when you mixed and matched different characters together, which is a shame that they stopped with this game (for console versions, at least). But imagine that mechanic with other Nintendo properties involved. Starfox‘s Fox McCloud’s Arwing spacecraft could appear overhead, allowing him to hop into it and momentarily fly over the course, evading obstacles and getting a boost in speed. Maybe Link gets the Hookshot, allowing him to latch onto and pull himself towards or past racers in front of him.

With an improved and expanded arsenal, a better defense would be needed, so I propose….

3. A Shield Mechanic

This might sound weird at first, but hear me out. In the Mario Kart arcade games, you’d gain a temporary shield while you were drifting. It’s a nice bonus for those who are more nuanced to the mechanics and get sick of being nailed by cheap items. This idea hasn’t expanded to the other Mario Kart games partly because the arcade versions were developed by Namco (hence the Pac-Man cameo).  But there’s another Namco racing game that used a similar, better mechanic that would be worth steal — er, I mean, implementing for a potential Super Smash Kart.

Pac-Man World Rally is a mostly forgotten kart racer featuring Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man… and… others.  Anyway, in the game, whenever you would drift, it would fill a meter down at the bottom of the screen.  Once you filled the meter, you were able to activate a shield that stopped attacks.  You could keep up to three shields in stock and once activated, they lasted only a few seconds or until you were hit by an item — whichever occurred first.

It was a nice mechanic that I felt helped balance the gameplay.  Players who got the drifting mechanics down were mostly likely the people in the front and therefore, the ones most likely to get hit by items from those behind them. Giving the leader the ability to shield themselves outside of relying on items allowed players to not fear taking the lead.  Everyone who’s played Mario Kart games know that if you’re in first place, it’s only a matter of time before you won’t be.

"NOOOOOOOOO!"

“NOOOOOOOOO!”

Another game with a similar mechanic was Mod Nation Racers, a Sony-exclusive racer whose main selling point was fully customizable tracks and characters. In that game, drifting filled a meter that once full, could either be used for a shield or a boost, allowing players to play aggressively or defensively.

Hey, how about we get to my final point?

4. Tracks That Fit Their Franchises

This is bit of a no-brainer, but it’s worth covering.

The Sonic & SEGA All-Star Racing games are SEGA’s attempt at exactly what I’ve been writing about for the last few paragraphs.  In those games, characters from SEGA franchises got together for friendly/violent races on courses based on their respective games.  Beyond character cameos and other general fan service, most of the tracks not only pay homage to the games they’re based on, the tracks themselves are designed with their respective games in mind.  For example, the object of the game in SEGA’s NiGHTS Into Dreams is to fly through rings in an open area, pass checkpoints and teleport to different areas.

Guess what you do in the track based on NiGHTS?

The courses in Sonic & All-Star Racing Transformed feel like the games they’re based on, and Super Smash Kart would have to borrow/steal this idea. A Legend of Zelda track could be a large, open field with a lot of caves and shortcuts, forcing players to explore it for the best route.  An F-Zero-based course would be insanely fast, covered in boost pads, with zero-gravity portions and a crazy track layout. A Star Fox track would have lots of hazards and dynamic laps, with explosions and toppled buildings changing the course as you raced.  Or hey, how about a 1080 Snowboarding course? You could just take the Mount Wario track from Mario Kart 8 and re-skin it.  Job = done.

"Mount Wario? But I hardly know him."

“Mount Wario? But I hardly know him.”

I have faith in Nintendo regardless of what happens.  If they know how to do one thing, it’s milk franchises for everything they’ve got and still put out well-polished, enjoyable games.  If Super Smash Kart becomes a reality, I’m sure it’d be great… especially if they listen to me.


Chuck E. Cheese in the Galaxy 5000 Review

November 30, 2013
Abandon all hope.

Abandon all hope.

A six-foot-tall rodent mascot for a pizza chain known more for its arcade games than its food participates in an intergalactic race on a faraway planet for a chance to win $50,000 so an apple-cheeked, little boy whom he just met can replace a broken tractor.  That string of language vomit is the I-swear-I’m-not-making-this-up plot to the proof of God’s inexistence some people might dare to call a “movie,” Chuck E. Cheese in the Galaxy 5000.  Based on how ridiculous the synopsis is, you might have some preconceived notions as to what type of film this is — I certainly did.  Let me dispel some of those ideas right now by saying that 1) it’s a live-action film, not a cartoon and 2) it’s a musical.

Let’s get this review over with, shall we?

The movie opens with Mr. Cheese and his three other anthropomorphic animal friends (who will be mentioned by name in this review when/if necessary) entering a pizza parlor run by an Italian stereotype named Pasqually.  I’m sorry, but I have to digress….

Watching the film, you’ll notice two very distracting elements in the first scene that will be present through the entire movie.  First of all, Charles Cheese and company, despite talking incessantly, barely move their mouths and yet blink constantly, as if the head piece operators confused the mouth and eye controls.  These are some of the worst animatronic heads I’ve seen since The Garbage Pail Kids Movie, another awful film you probably never knew existed until now.

And trust me, you were better off never knowing.

And trust me, you were better off never knowing.

Second, Pasqually wears a distractingly fake wig, a cartoonishly-large false mustache and even fake eyebrows.  The entire time I wondered why the filmmakers would make that decision.  Is that the best they could do?  If so, why couldn’t they just find an actor who looked kind of like that character instead of making an actor wear all those applications?  Why is his entire head covered in really bad fake hair, even the eyebrows?  Was he a cancer patient?  I don’t ask to be mean — it’s just so distracting that I kept wondering about it the entire time I watched the film and couldn’t get over it.

Anyway, back to the “story”….

Pasqually asks Chuck E. if he has any money, to which he and his friends say they only have a few bucks between them… and I don’t know why they entered a pizzeria without enough money to buy a pizza large enough to feed four people.  C. E. Cheese asks Pasqually why he needs money, and we are then introduced to Charlie Rockit, a horrible child actor who needs $50,000 to replace his aunt and uncle’s farming tractor.  Cheese and friends ask how they can come up with $50,000 since, apparently, Charlie’s aunt and uncle’s problem is now everybody’s because [insert motivation].  Pasqually says, “Imma glad’a you asked,” and then turns on the television, which just happens to be showing a news broadcast about the Galaxy 5000, an interplanetary race held on the distant planet of Orion… all of which are normal things to occur in this film’s universe, I guess, as no one questions why any of this nonsense is happening.

Given how long it would take for the footage to travel through space, wouldn't the race be over by the time Earth even -- no, you know what?  Screw it.  Forget I said anything.

Given how long it would take for the broadcast footage to travel through space, wouldn’t the race be over by the time Earth even — no, you know what? Screw it. Forget I said anything.

Pasqually tells Chuck E. that the grand prize for winning the race is 30,000 Keelars, which is — and I quote — “about fifty-two thousand U.S. dollars.”  I guess having the conversion rate between an alien monetary unit and United States dollars equaling the exact amount of money that Charlie’s family needs is unrealistic.  If there’s one thing that a children’s film about talking anthropomorphic animals racing in flying alien spacecraft on a distant planet needs it’s verisimilitude.

Speaking of not understanding the concept of suspension of disbelief, the next scene is this film’s first music number.  Chuck E. leaps from his table and starts singing a song about “the scent of adventure” or some such piffle (my mind blanks out during films when people start singing).  The best part of this scene is that as Chuck E. walks to the center of the restaurant to dance and sing, we clearly see the actors striking the set to give him room.  I am not kidding.  This film already asks the audience to accept giant talking animals, intergalactic racing, and characters singing and dancing choreographed numbers out of the blue in public as commonplace, yet using clever editing for the sake of plot convenience must be too much to buy into.  I honestly can’t imagine anyone watching this movie and questioning the film’s continuity of furniture placement when the six-foot-tall mouse starts singing.

Strike that — I honestly can’t imagine anyone watching this movie, period.

If you're filming a music number in a pizza joint, the most important question you should ask is "Who gives a shit about making sense?"

If you’re filming a music number in a pizza joint, the most important question you should ask is “Who gives a shit about making sense?”

After the song wraps up, the characters appear in a large laboratory-type room of some sort.  Honestly, I don’t know — they’re just there without explanation or even a proper scene transition.  On the floor of the room is a giant Trivial Pursuit game piece that Pasqually calls the Awesome Adventure Machine.  Apparently, if you stand on the machine and flip the switch, it will teleport you to adventure; in this case, the Galaxy 5000 race.  Why they didn’t abandon all pretense and call the machine the Plot Device, I’ll never know, but I’m all for whatever avoids wasting time with outer space travel and makes this movie end sooner.

When the crew arrives on planet Orion, a third distracting element rears its disfigured head: the “special””effects”, and there are not enough quotes in all of existence to properly surround both of those words.  The rest of the film takes place on an alien planet, so every shot from here on out is live actors standing in front of a blue screen with a digital environment created around them.  If you’re thinking of something like Sin City, don’t.  This is an independently-made, low-budget film from 1999, so its computer rendering is severely lacking.  For example, this is a shot of our “heroes” arriving on planet Orion:

Movie "magic."

Movie “magic.”

If you ever watched the mid-’90s television show ReBoot or played a Playstation 1 game, you have a general idea of how this entire film looks, except it’s way worse because it was made years after either of those examples, so by all means it should look better.  It also incorporates actual people amongst the bad CGI making it look even more fake, which doesn’t seem possible.  If I were generous, I would describe the film as looking dated, but that insults time itself.

Upon arrival on the planet, we are properly introduced to the villains, the X-Pilots — Peter and Ivan.  Did you ever see the Saturday Night Live sketch of Pumping Up With Hans and Franz?  Well, Peter and Ivan are exact imitations of those two characters, who themselves were imitations of Arnold Schwarzenegger.  I can’t wrap my head around that right now.  Just know that they’re two dumb bohunks who can’t stop flexing and talking about how strong they are.

"We're here to RIP--" *clap* "--YOU OFF!"

“We’re here to RIP–“
*clap*
“–YOU OFF!”

The X-Pilots are being interviewed by the press about their most recent speed record at the previous Galaxy 5000 and the muscle-heads beat up a reporter for asking a question about allegations that they cheat.  Peter and Ivan then see Chuck E. and begin hitting on Helen Henny, the human-sized talking chicken that’s a part of Chuck E.’s crew.  I would comment on how disturbing it is that two human males are flirting with an anthropomorphic hen, but I am literally only 12 minutes into this film and my brain is imploding, so I should just get through this as fast as possible.

The X-Pilots leave and we’re introduced to Flapjack, a mechanic who’s a friend of Pasqually’s and who’ll be fronting the vehicle that Chuck E. will race with.  If you guessed that he’d sound like an old-timey prospector, then congratulations — you are just as creatively bankrupt as the makers of this movie.

Next up in the failure parade is Astrid, a race groupie.  No, seriously.   She’s just some woman who wants to hook up with a “real racer” and has eyes for Chuckie because beastiality is perfectly acceptable subject matter for a children’s movie.

"Is it true that mice have taste receptors in their testicles?" *giggle*

“Is it true that mice have taste receptors in their testicles?” *giggle*

Astrid’s flirtations with Chuck E. causes Helen to storm off in a jealous rage.  In the next scene, Helen sings about how she wishes Chuck E. liked her or something (my brain thing again).

The next day is the qualifying race, and Helen is nowhere to be seen.  Chuck E. gets nervous about her disappearance, but he does well during the race without her, up until the final stretch.  In the second half of the race, the X-Pilots, realizing that they’re losing, kick it into Vega 2 (which is their version of warp speed or something) and activate “Zoom Gas.”  Their cockpit fills with smoke and they begin giggling like they were on nitrous oxide.  They blow right by Chuck E., who then decides to go to Vega 2 as well, only to lose control of his ship, crash against a canyon wall, and have his near-totaled ship barely cross the finish line in last place.  Things are looking pretty bleak for that kid who needs the prize money for a new… um, rec center — wait, why is this all happening again?

After the qualifier is over, Chuck E.’s crew is looking pretty bummed, except for Helen, who is now arm-in-arm with the laughing X-Pilots.  She comes over and teases Chuck E. by saying this race separated the men from the mice, which made me laugh because it is either a better burn than I was expecting from this movie or I am becoming stupider just by watching it.  I’m willing to accept both options as possible.

At least someone's enjoying this movie.

At least someone’s enjoying this movie.

Then Jasper, Chuck E.’s dog friend, has a country music number and the less said about that the better.

Helen follows the X-Pilots to their hideout where we’re introduced to Dr. Zoom — creator of Zoom Gas and sponsor of the X-Pilots — played by a David Carradine look-alike.  Dr. Zoom tells — er, I’m sorry, I mean he sings to Helen that Zoom Gas is an inhalant drug that causes time to slow down for the user; the side effect being that it rots your brain.

That sounds oddly familiar.

That sounds oddly familiar.

When the X-Pilots inhale Zoom Gas, time slows down to the point that they can drive at Vega 2 speeds without losing control, and Dr. Zoom specifically hired those two morons to drive his vehicle because they didn’t have any brains to lose (which I am envious of because I can feel this movie constricting my brain to the size of a peach pit).  Also, Zoom Gas is made of chicken extract, and they lured Helen to their hideout so they could lock her up and make her into more gas.

So just to reiterate, the villains are taking performance enhancing drugs to win races and are planning on making more drugs by killing and juicing a sentient being.  Moving along….

Chuck E., despondent at his failure during the qualifier, goes for a solo practice flight that night, only to crash his car into a hermit’s cave.  Harry the Hermit is played by the same actor who was Pasqually — he’s even wearing the same fake mustache, eyebrows and an equally fake wig as Pasqually’s.  None of this is explained, not that I would expect it to, nor is it revealed at the end the the hermit really is Pasqually in disguise.  They just couldn’t hire anyone else to play the part, I guess.  I’m belaboring this point because this actor sucks.  Every sentence of his dialog is spoken in a different accent.  I can’t tell if this character is supposed to be Scottish, German, Irish or what.  Then again, maybe the auditory receptors in my brain are finally giving out.

There’s only twenty minutes left of the film.  I can do this.

So after Harry the Hermit sings a song about believing in oneself and Chuck E. has a training montage, it’s the morning of the big race. Astrid, Charlie, Jasper and Munch (who is such a non-entity in the film that I haven’t mentioned him until now) are sitting around wondering where Chuck E. is.  Astrid then says that she came to the Galaxy 5000 to be with a real racer, at which point the X-Pilots show up and convince her to come with them.  She leaves the table of losers and the X-Pilots deliver the two best lines of the whole movie:

"Sorry about your little mousey friend. We liked having him around." "Yeah, we liked stealing his girlfriends and beating him at races."

“Sorry about your little mousey friend. We liked having him around.”
“Yeah, we liked stealing his girlfriends and beating him at races.”

As fun as it is to be a cynical jerk, I have to give the movie some credit in one regard: Helen Henny, who at this point in the film is kept under lock and key at Dr. Zoom’s place, frees herself.  There isn’t a scene of one of the male characters coming to rescue her as she proclaims, “My hero!”  She escapes by herself using her own ingenuity and without any help.

Helen plucks one of her feathers and uses it to pick the lock of her cage.  She then frees the other chickens that Dr. Zoom has imprisoned, escapes from his lab, runs to the race track and tells the other characters that she suspected the X-Pilots were cheaters, so she pretended to like them to learn more about how they cheated and then expose their plan.  She then notifies the authorities about Dr. Zoom and the X-Pilots using Zoom Gas and the villains are taken into custody.

Seriously, Helen is the true hero of the movie.  She’s like Lara Croft, Velma Dinkley and a chicken all rolled into one, except less sexy than any of those things individually or combined.

"You go, grrl! You don't need no man!" *snap, snap*

You go, grrl! You don’t need no man! *snap, snap*

Oh, and Chuck E. shows up at the race just in time and wins because of course he does.

The final scene of the film is a big song and dance number (natch) where all the characters celebrate the fact that Chuck E. won the race, completely oblivious to the fact that they have no way of getting back to their home planet and are stranded on the other side of the galaxy.

"We're going to die alone on an alien world! Yipee!"

“We’re going to die alone on an alien world! Yipee!”

Look, I know you might look down on me for picking an “easy” target, but entertainment geared towards children doesn’t have to suck.  Children are young and impressionable, so it’s important to expose them to quality films, not bottom-of-the-barrel dreck.  Excusing a bad movie because it’s “for kids” is unacceptable.  Children know better — I guarantee you that 8-year-old me knew the difference between a good film and a bad one — and children deserve better.

This film was made as a cash grab, riding on the coattails of another film made at the same time that had an intergalactic race as a central plot conceit.  They didn’t have to make such a stupid movie.  This film is so bad it killed brain cells.  I feel like I’m a different, worse-off person for having watched it.

This movie must’ve been dusted with “Zoom Gas” as I can no longerrr skskjba sadf lib 8gfwli 023ljbsj jjjjjj

Watch Chuck E. Cheese in the Galaxy 5000 if you want to induce a stroke.

SCORE:  2.F out of BRAINDAMAGE

FUN FACT: Virtually every single person involved with this garbage has only this movie as their sole film credit, except for the woman who played Astrid.  Lydia Mackay went on to have an extremely successful career as a voice over artist for anime films and television programs, and continues to work to this day.


6 Harsh Realities to Losing Weight

October 18, 2013

In this past year, I have lost over 100 lbs.  I didn’t have my stomach stapled or get a gastric band or anything like that.  I dropped the weight the good (hard) old-fashioned way — diet and exercise.  I’m still a bit away from being considered “normal” according to my BMI, but I still find it kind of unbelievable that I’ve lost that much.  It’s like having an entire person just fall off of me.

This guy knows what I'm talking about.

This guy knows what I’m talking about.

Many people I know are trying to shed the pounds right now, and so I write this to inform those who are in this same boat with me (the S.S. Less Fat).  When you are medically obese, losing weight is good for you on almost all accounts, but there are some things you should be prepared for.  Things that no one will tell you about, save for me right now.  For example,…

6. Lose inches off your waistline… and wallet.

Before I took the plunge into a healthier lifestyle, I had to attend a funeral. I didn’t have a proper formal suit, so I got myself fitted for one.  A month or two after the funeral I started this weight-loss regimen and a few months after that, I had a business meeting to attend.  I tried on the suit knowing I’d need it for the meeting and wouldn’t you know, it didn’t fit anymore.  I went in to get it altered to bring it down to my size only for the clerk to laugh and say, “It’d be easier and cheaper if you just bought another suit.”

Inviting the other clerks in the store to come over and laugh was crossing a line.

Inviting the other clerks in the store to come over and laugh was crossing a line.

I had dropped six sizes.  Six entire suit sizes in a matter of months, and this isn’t an isolated instance.  My pants have accidentally fallen down just walking around the apartment.  I’ve notched several holes in belts simply to hold those (now clown-like) pants up.  My T-shirts look like I’m wearing tarps and are completely unfit to wear anywhere outside of a tire fire or dog fight.

It’s sometimes embarrassing, but I put off the inevitable — buying an entirely new wardrobe — because it’s so expensive.  I also don’t want to buy new clothes because I know I’m only going to get smaller, meaning even those replacement clothes won’t fit in a few months.  It adds up to a lot of money spent in a relatively short amount of time.

Not only that, but since I have a new diet, my girlfriend and I don’t share as much food.  Most of what she eats and drinks, I can’t partake in, and she doesn’t want any of my food.  Sure, we don’t eat out as much (few restaurants even serve food I can eat), but our grocery bill now more than makes up the difference.  Protein shakes, fistfuls of vitamins, and meal replacement bars aren’t cheap.

I also find myself buying things I never thought I’d buy just to support this new lifestyle.  Gym memberships, cross trainers, workout gloves.  I even bought spandex compression clothes, for crying out loud.

Like this, only fatter.... And less silvery.

Like this, only fatter…. And less silvery.

Why would someone as big as me buy compression clothes, you ask?  Because…

5. Your body is now a carnival of horrors.

Let’s do a little experiment.  Take two brand new, fresh-out-of-the-pack balloons.  Fill one entirely with water, seal it off and then leave it for several days.  Now drain all the water out, let it dry and then compare it to the other, untouched balloon.  Notice a difference?  The one that was untouched still looks like a cute little mouse ear while the former-water balloon looks like Fat Bastard at the end of Austin Powers 3.

This is the first and last time I've thought about that movie in about a decade.

This is the first and last time I’ve thought about that movie in about a decade.

Doctor’s call the floppy, stretched-out result of severe weight loss redundant skin, and I would NOT click on that link if you’ve been eating.  That person had lost over 400 lbs. before going in for surgery to have his excess skin removed, and it ain’t pretty.

Now remember the first sentence in this article: “In the last year, I have lost over 100 lbs.”  I’m nowhere near as severe as that example patient was, but the same thing that he experienced is happening to me, as it will happen to every other obese person who loses weight.  Right now I probably have about 20 to 30 lbs. of loose skin just hanging on me like a sweater made of flesh.

This guy knows what I'm talking about.

This guy knows what I’m talking about.

I’ve been doing strength training for my exercise, so the added muscle helps tighten the skin, but I still experience problems.  Gross, personal problems.  I probably shouldn’t get into this for fear of losing what few readers I have, but let’s just say the compression clothes help alleviate some of my troubles.

The point is, I, and every other person who loses hundreds of pounds of weight, will eventually have to get the skin surgically removed.  And again, it’s another expense I wouldn’t have thought about prior to this endeavor.

Strength training combined with the redundant skin creates an odd disconnect between my body and my perceived body image.  I work all of these muscles everyday and I feel like that’s the real me and that I’m literally wearing an ill-fitting fat suit that just gets in the way.  Which reminds me…

4. You will feel like you are becoming the Hulk.

FUN FACT: The most effective way to lose weight and to keep it off is to build muscle.  Your basal metabolic rate (BMR) is your metabolism when you are completely at rest.  A beating heart, breathing lungs, and all other vital organ functions burn calories even when you’re asleep, and it’s the largest part of your daily calorie expenditure.  Your BMR increases with more muscle mass — the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn.

Even like this, he's still burning more calories than you.

Even like this, he’s still burning more calories than you.

I mentioned that I’ve been strength training, and I can’t speak on behalf of those people who simply have surgery for their weight loss, but for those who work out to lose weight, you’re going to see some radical changes.  First of all, you’ll notice getting muscles you never knew you had.  I didn’t even know what the latissimus dorsi were, but now I can flex them as easily as a bicep.  It all started small, but as I worked out more, I noticed something else about myself as I came to realize the “new me.”

A side effect of all that new muscle mass is my body is now pumping way more testosterone than it did before.  As such, I found myself flexing my muscles as I drove into work in the morning and feeling a little invincible.  I would size guys up, thinking about if I could kick their ass or not.  The “old me” never thought that,… but then again, he was a soft, fat, wimpy marshmallow man.

This guy knows what I'm talking about.

This guy knows what I’m talking about.

As a result from all of this added testosterone, I became more aggressive and “alpha male,” so to speak.  The good thing is that once I realized what was going on, I was able to control it.  The same can’t be said of the next point…

3. You will feel like you are in The Twilight Zone.

A sad fact is that we unconsciously treat attractive people better than everyone else.  Many studies have proved this time and time again.  What is unusual is to experience and recognize this difference in preferential treatment first hand.

My favorite part of the film Shallow Hal isn’t even in the actual movie.  One of the special features on the DVD is a behind-the-scenes look at the suit and makeup Gwyneth Paltrow wore to give herself the appearance of being over 300 lbs.  They tested out the prosthetics by having the crew follow her with hidden cameras while she walked around in public in full costume.  What happened was amazing.

Ladies and gentlemen, say hello to People Magazine's World's Most Beautiful Woman.

Ladies and gentlemen, say hello to People Magazine‘s World’s Most Beautiful Woman.

This extremely recognizable Hollywood actress was rendered virtually invisible with only a foam fat suit and some makeup.  After her short trip, she came back to her hotel room literally in tears.  She said of the experience,…

“I realized immediately that no one was making eye contact with me, or would even look in my direction. No one wanted to connect with me. It was a profound, very sad and startling experience.”

I would still be considered overweight by most people, but since starting this program, I am more V-shaped, my face has thinned out, and my arms and legs have a lot more muscle tone.  That said, many things about me are still the same as when I was obese; same-looking clothes, same haircut, same apartment, same demeanor, and the same loving girlfriend.  Overall, I still see myself as the same person, but strangers view and treat me differently.  Now people are nicer to me, they make eye contact more often, they are more willing to help me when they see I am having trouble, and a couple of times, women have openly flirted with me, which has never happened before.

"Look, THEY flirted with ME and I didn't reciprocate their advances, so please don't make that face. Please? Fine, I'll get you flowers. And chocolates."

“Look, THEY flirted with ME and I didn’t reciprocate their advances, so please don’t make that face. Please? Fine, I’ll get you flowers. And chocolates.”

When all of this attention first starts happening — and it will happen — it’s a shock, and nothing can really prepare you for it.  It’s a huge shift from what you’re used to and you’ll notice it.  Granted, this isn’t so much a “harsh reality” as it is an odd, semi-positive side effect to weight loss, but the same can’t be said of #2.

2. You WILL fall off the wagon.

Perhaps the hardest aspect to face in trying to lose weight is knowing how close you are to losing it all, which is to say gaining it all back.  I’ve done diets in the past and then gained the weight I lost back, however the difference between then and now is my support system.  I have more people cheering me on and actively helping me do this.  But even with all of this help, I’ve had moments of weakness.

A few months ago, I tore my pectoral muscle while working out.  The doctor (more expenses) made me do physical therapy (even more expenses) and told me what I was and wasn’t allowed to do until I was back to normal.  For future reference, here’s the list of strength training exercises you can do with a torn pectoral muscle: legs, nothing, and nothing.

A full week of leg extensions, calf raises, nothing, leg curls, nothing, and 20 minutes of nothing for cool down.

Needless to say, not only did I not lose weight, but I actually regressed.  I only gained a couple pounds, but it was still devastating to have that happen given all that I worked for.

Right before my injury, I saw a documentary about diets and weight loss where someone said something that stuck with me: “When you fall off the wagon, just realize that the wagon is still there and then get back on it.”  That may sound kind of hokey, but when you’re staring into the abyss of a peanut butter cup-induced shame spiral, a trite quote can snap you back to reality.

Weight loss is a multi-year journey, and you can’t plan every detail that far in advance.  You will hit snags, you will fall off the wagon and you will have a really bad month or two.  Just keep at it and don’t ever quit what’s working, because…

1. This is all worth it.

“You will lose weight like it’s a matter of life and death, because it is.  This fat is killing you.  Literally.”

That’s one of the first things a friend — who happens to be a certified personal trainer — said to me when I started this journey.  My asshole puckered when he said it.  It was chilling, scary and worst of all, true.  Obesity is the leading cause of Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, hypertension — the list of maladies goes on and on.  What he said to me was just what I needed to hear to get me motivated.

Since that first day, I have counted my calories, watched what I ate, worked out an hour a day minimum for six days a week with only injury or illness ever keeping me from that routine.  I push myself every time I go to the gym and I get stronger with every visit.  In the beginning, the strenuousness of my workouts caused me to puke, but I kept going and now my body is used to it… the weightlifting, not the puking.

Work that body! Feel the BLEERRGH!

Work that body! Feel the BLEERRGH!

It’s all scary at first because you are essentially changing every aspect of your life, and your mind and body will work together to fight you.  Your body’s become acclimated to whatever routine you’ve had for these past many years that got you to where you are now, and now you are telling it, “No.”  It thinks it knows better, but it doesn’t.  It thinks you should skip that workout, but you can’t.  It thinks you should eat that candy bar, but you won’t.

This isn’t a diet anymore; this is your life, and it’s what’s at stake here.  Every day you work out and train is a day spent extending your life.  Once you realize that, you’re ahead of the game.

These guys know what I'm talking about.

These guys know what I’m talking about.

This post wasn’t created to scare you, but to hopefully help and inspire you.  If you are obese and actively trying to lose weight, good for you — keep it up.  This journey you’re on will be the toughest thing that you ever do, so don’t be afraid to reach out.  Know that there are others experiencing — or have already experienced — everything you’re going through right now and they can help.  If you are feeling like everything is coming down on you and you can’t do this, visualize whatever it is that gives your life meaning and remember that’s why you’re doing this.

And if you are obese and not trying to lose weight, it’s not too late to start.


The Avengers (2012) Review

May 3, 2012

Wait, what the shit?

There. That’s better.

I’ve read from others who have criticized the last few Marvel films for simply being advertisements for The Avengers, which, quite frankly, is a point that’s hard to argue against. The previous movies have been feature-length bits of exposition whose purpose is to get the plot set-up and character development out of the way so that they can focus on their true goal: a super-hero mash-up. Marvel always wanted to make an Avengers movie and we all wanted to see one, but they can’t just jump into it — we know that. So we’ve been patiently watching their “commercials” and waiting for the day when the “real film” comes along. So now that it’s here, is The Avengers worth the 4 years of set-up?

Short answer: yes. Long answer: very much so.

Before I fully get into this review, I should explain my mindset going into The Avengers. I’ve enjoyed all of the Marvel films leading up to this one (in order: Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America), but then again, I like comics. Sure, they change the mythology for the films and my inner-nerd will get mad from time to time at what they’ve done, but it’s difficult to fault Marvel with the niche that they carved for themselves. Structure problems aside, the films are entertaining summer blockbusters. They don’t challenge you, but they don’t mean to. They’re competently-made, fun movies filled with action and humor — a formula that Iron Man and its filmmakers started and the other Marvel films continued. Honestly, I’ll take Marvel’s “passably competent” films over what is considered a “blockbuster” nowadays.

FUUUUUUUUCK YOOOOOOOOU.

So that brings us to The Avengers. Without visiting Spoiler Town (population: SECRET), the plot revolves around the Tesseract (the Cosmic Cube to us comic book nerds), the blue, glowing power cube from Captain America. Loki, the Asgardian villain from Thor, comes to Earth in search of the cosmic relic for a nefarious purpose. After an altercation between Loki and Nick Fury (head of the secret organization S.H.I.E.L.D.), the one-eyed spy turns to super-powered heroes to help him stop the “god of mischief” from potentially destroying the world. Hijinks and [redacted for spoilers] ensue.

To carry the mantle for this film, they got Joss Whedon, who knows his way around comic lore and ensemble pieces. I wouldn’t consider myself a Joss Whedon fan (I’ve only watched a couple episodes of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer series and haven’t followed him much in recent years), but I’m sold with how he handled this film. All of the characters stay true to what has been established in previous films and they all have equal time to do their thing. Everyone is given a dramatic moment where they interact with another member of the team and they all shine through with comic interludes and witty dialog. (Believe it or not, the Hulk has one of the funniest moments of the film. No, seriously.) It’s almost insane how well the characters are handled. Those five previous Marvel films are so well represented and expanded that The Avengers truly does feel like it is simultaneously a sequel to five separate films, which I would’ve thought to be impossible.

While the run time is extremely long, it’s paced well enough that you don’t really feel it, even if your ass does. Then again, a two-and-a-half hour running time is to be expected with modern “blockbusters.”

FUUUUUUUUCK YOOOOOOOOU.

Overall, the film is a helluva lot of fun. My only complaint would be more for the people who are going into this without any prior knowledge of the previous film canon. I’m speaking on their behalf even though I’m not one who can relate, but I would imagine it would be hard to keep track of everything without grounding first. But for anyone who has seen the five previous Marvel films mentioned earlier, this is required viewing — no ifs, ands or buts. It’s not even a question. Go watch it. For comic book fans, there might be a few nerd-rage inducing moments with how it runs fast and loose with the lore, but there’s enough awesome fan-service that you’ll find it hard to complain. For anyone who just wants to see a fun-filled action film with more funny moments than you’d expect from these types of films, again, just go watch it. Honestly, this film and those like it are the reason why we even have a term “summer blockbuster.”

Just be sure to stay through the credits… ALL the way through the credits.

Every time I think about the Hulk in this movie, I smile ear to ear.
9/10


Things I Think Too Much About: The Best (Fake) School

January 9, 2012

One of my friends posed this hypothetical question:

Which would you choose:
a. Go to Hogarts?
b. Join Starfleet Academy?
c. Train to be a Jedi?

An interesting question, and one nerdy enough to set off the pleasure center in my brain. Let’s over-analyze our options, starting with the most popular pick amongst my friends; Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Everyone seems to think of Hogwarts as quaint and enchanting — you know, British. Everything around you is magic, you attend classes in a castle, and everyday you learn something whimsical that you wouldn’t learn at any other school. Also, Alan Rickman’s there, which is pretty awesome in and of itself. But let’s just take off our Awesome Glasses for a moment and think about how it would really be to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

"I was hoping for Hans Gruber for homeroom, but had to settle for Wicket the Ewok."

First off, and this must be said, Hogwart’s is probably the scariest and most dangerous school ever imagined. Yes, I know Voldemort was behind several of the shenanigans that put many lives in danger, but he’s not responsible for all of the school’s troubles. From the foundation on up, Hogwarts is a horribly-run place that, if it were any other school, would have been shut down years ago.

To use an example from Chamber of Secrets, the school’s staff was well aware that Hogwarts was built on top of a lair that houses a deadly beast, but they chalk it up to being a myth since no one has actually seen it. Then several students were magically paralyzed by a creature that was obviously on the loose on school grounds, and threats from the perpetrator were scrawled on the walls in blood directly mentioning the lair in question. Do they shut down Hogwarts pending a formal investigation and seek the immediate capture/eradication of whatever monster was responsible? Nope. In fact, they let one of their students handle the situation, and then refrain from taking any disciplinary action against him for risking his own life in doing so.

Then there’s the incident from Prisoner from Azkaban, where a convicted murderer escapes from prison and the school’s staff knows that he’s heading for Hogwarts. In order to capture him, the Ministry of Magic sends Dementors — soul-sucking vaporous creatures — that outright attack one of the school’s students. Again, does the school shut down considering all that is going on? No.

And then there's the Triwizard Tournament, which is all sorts of wrong.

Speaking of the school’s staff, it should be mentioned that there’s obviously no background checks for the instructors. In a reality where werewolves are real, would you even consider hiring a professor named Remus Lupin? Hogwart’s did, and — surprise, surprise — it turned out he was a werewolf and nearly murdered several students. Was he fired? Of course not. He left of his own volition and no inquiry or punishment against him was made.

There was also Gilderoy Lockhart, a Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor who lied about all of his qualifications, erased people’s memories and put the well-being of several students in jeopardy on multiple occasions. And let’s not forget Professor Quirrell, who had the embodiment of evil living on the back of his head.

"Hey, don't get mad. How were we supposed to know he had the embodiment of evil living on the back of his head? For crying out loud, he wore a turban all the time!"

It’s pretty telling that one of the most qualified and competent professors at Hogwarts murdered its Headmaster.

All that aside, casting spells and making potions is pretty sweet. However, students go into Hogwarts with a 4th grade education and after ten years, they leave… with a 4th grade education, except they now have the abilities to make deadly potions and travel through time. There’s no Reading Comprehension, Grammar or Arithmetic — hell, not even Art — taught at Hogwarts. Think about it: A bunch of teenagers with the literacy and intelligence of 10-year-olds are sent out into the world casting Magic Missiles and concocting the most potent date rape drugs known to humankind. What a bright future to look forward to.

Even if you’re cool with all of this because you’re thinking about how awesome casting magic would be, put yourselves in the parents’ shoes — honestly, would you want your kid to attend Hogwarts? How many altercations with corrupt/incompetent school officials and near deaths would it take before you say to yourself, “You know, this school is kind of shitty”?

Answer: Quite a few.

All right, so Hogwarts might not be for everyone… or anyone. But what about Jedi training, the second most popular choice amongst my friends? What possible negatives could there be to being a Jedi?

If you enjoy romantic relationships and the perks that come with them (i.e., sex), I don’t think you’d want to be a Jedi. You’re forced into the life of a celibate space monk, trained from infancy to resist temptations (i.e., fun) and to live a life of duty and honor. Noble, sure, but once you’ve completed training, your job is to serve the Jedi Council, who in turn serves the Galactic Senate. As Mace Windu put it, you’re a “keeper of the peace.” Your most common duties are to have diplomatic talks with unruly aliens as a liaison to the Galactic Senate and to be a personal bodyguard for Senators, and they won’t all look like Natalie Portman, either. (Even if they did, it would still suck — remember, a Jedi’s life is free of romance of any kind. You can’t even think about sex.) Given the Law of Large Numbers, you’d probably end up the bodyguard for some 4-foot tall space cockroach, or worse, Jar Jar Binks.

"I swear, Jar Jar, if I hadn't promised the Jedi Council that I wouldn't kill you, I'd kill you."

But hey, having a lightsaber, telekinesis and mind control is awesome, right? It would be, but you’ve been conditioned to not find it fun, and the second you start having fun, it means that you’re probably a Sith. Better start preparing yourself now so that you can fight one of your Jedi friends to the death some day.

Look at Luke Skywalker. In A New Hope, he was an impetuous, light-hearted teenager who handled the lightsaber like it was an awesome toy, but by Return of the Jedi, he was stoic, reserved and almost a completely different person. He changed after training for only a short time; imagine being trained for your whole life, from pre-school on.

In the end, being a Jedi is diminished by what it means to actually be a Jedi. We imagine having Jedi powers without doing all that boring meditation and rigorous conditioning, but you can’t reach the end without the means. Once you’ve gone through Jedi training, you’ve repressed all your emotions and are no longer you. You are an automaton serving the Galactic Senate, and is that what you want for your life? Can you give up all that you have and are for the sake of some mind powers and a lightsaber?

"Sex is overrated." - Luke Skywalker

The last and least picked school is Starfleet Academy. I can see why this option might seem “boring,” but there’s some advantages to going to Star Trek’s prestigious military academy over the other choices.

Given how I talked about the dangers of Hogwarts (yet failed to address the issue with Jedi training), I’m sure some of you are thinking about how deadly being on the Enterprise would be. First of all, not all people who graduate Starfleet Academy end up on the Enterprise. There are safer alternatives out there, if one was so inclined to pursue them. Second, crew members that were not on the bridge were rarely put in danger and it was even more rare for anyone to be killed — that includes the infamous “red shirts”, who were most likely just enlisted petty officers who never graduated Starfleet anyway. The academy itself has an infinitesimal mortality rate, so mentioning death and danger is a moot point for Starfleet Academy attendees.

Now that that’s out of the way, I must point out that Starfleet Academy is the most school-like of the optional schools, but is that so bad? While you may not care about all of the subjects that you’ll be taught (much like all schools), it’s guaranteed to be full of some of the best teachers on the planet, if not galaxy. Even the worst class would probably be better than what you’re used to. Hell, just look at any time they feature Starfleet in any of the Star Trek series. It’s located in a futuristic San Francisco with amazing weather and scenery and it’s always full of smiling, uniform-wearing young cadets. Starfleet looks less a school and more like some sort of pleasure resort or fun-loving cult.

Not pictured: Xenu

That said, Starfleet’s still a military academy, which might be a turn off, and that’s understandable. The idea of going to a military academy isn’t inviting to me either, but then again, attending West Point won’t allow you to interact with alien life on starships, space stations and research colonies. Context is key. Starfleet gives you excellent prospects by the time you graduate, which is more than you can say for Hogwarts or Jedi training.

“Ooo, Starfleet is all boring and doesn’t kill its students. La-dee-da and whoopty whistle,” you say, like a condescending jerk. “You can move stuff with your mind following the Jedi Order and you can cast magic at Hogwarts, so either one is obviously more awesome than Starfleet.”

Well, you can do anything in the Star Trek universe. How? One word: holodecks. In holodecks (or the much more available holosuites), you can do whatever you want in a computer-controlled, consequence-free environment. Punch dragons, have sex with your favorite celebrity, use your boss’ face as a toilet — holosuites/decks are the ultimate in wish fulfillment. Why would you settle for anything less?

"Luke Skywalker's an idiot." - Quark

My fictional school of choice: Starfleet Academy


Xanadu Review

July 19, 2010

Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem Kubla Khan inspired both Citizen Kane and this. Just think about that for a moment.

In 1980, three musicals were released within a three month period that were so bad, they inspired John J. B. Wilson to create The Golden Raspberry Awards to “honor” horrible films. As you can rightly assume, all three movies were critically reviled and did terribly at the box office. They have since reached a somewhat cult status, as many good bad movies do… if that makes any sense. But are these actually decent films that have become cult musicals because they were underappreciated in their time, or are they just campy garbage that people “enjoy” ironically? In this three-part review, I will watch all three of these infamous musicals and give my opinion on each one because what is the internet for if not to boast about your opinion to the entire world?

Let’s get this out of the way first: Musical films are hard to pull off successfully. Having a character break from the narrative to sing about their thoughts instead of, oh, I don’t know, talking about them in a realistic manner, completely dispels whatever suspension of disbelief there was. In a theater production, the music numbers can work in one’s favor because, given the limited amount of sets and the fact that the actors are right there, in your face, live, it’s easier to buy into, contextually speaking. Most of the universe building is done in the audience’s mind, so a theater goer is usually more forgiving of what constitutes as a “fourth wall” anyway. Since there is less space and budget to work with, as long as there’s catchy music done well and some good choreography that really takes advantage of the stage’s limitations (or goes beyond them), a theater audience will be delighted.

How else can you explain how this damn thing ran for so long?

In a film, it’s a bit harder for the average audience member to see someone, for seemingly no reason and without warning, break from the plot to sing a song and dance around. There’s already a distance between the audience and the actors since the audience is merely watching a projection instead of live performers. Because of that, the fourth wall is more clearly established, making it even more jarring to have the characters break through it by doing a dance number. After that, we no longer see the actors as characters living an unfolding drama, but entertainers singing for our amusement. When people go to a movie, they want to see a good narrative, believable acting, excellent direction, relatable characters, drama and emotion. A musical film has to work that much harder to have the audience believe in the spectacle because the singing has to seem completely natural to the universe that’s established while exceeding beyond what could be done in a play.

Making the film a comedy usually helps.

That said, Xanadu does itself no favors by being a movie instead of a stage production. Its plot is bat-shit insane, but it’s filmed in the most uninspiring way imaginable. Most of the music numbers are shot with minimal coverage — single shots at flat angles with takes that go on forever. It’s an extremely bland and unexciting film. For example, check out this “music number”:


Xanadu – “Suddenly” scene

Perhaps if I was watching the actors sing this live on a stage, along with all of the effects, I’d be a tad more forgiving of this scene. But as is, it’s long, boring and serves no purpose within the film…. It’s padding, basically. Most musicals typically have simple plots that you could describe in a single sentence, and Xanadu is no exception. (In their defense, musicals pretty much need uncomplicated narratives in order to fit in music numbers and still be within a decent running time.) However, there’s no excuse for when the songs are completely pointless and extraneous — the music can, and should, be necessary for the experience. The last thing you want is to have your audience checking their watches when the lead character starts singing.

"No one told me this musical would have so much singing in it! All right, that does it! I'm leaving!"

Since I brought it up, I guess I might as well talk about the plot. I just stated that it can be summed up in one sentence (and that it’s bat-shit insane), so here goes: A struggling painter is visited by an honest-to-god, daughter-of-Zeus muse in order to be inspired to create a rollerdisco, but the two find themselves falling in love, which complicates her mission since she’ll eventually have to leave him and return to Mount Helicon. No, seriously — that’s the plot. You don’t really find out that she’s a muse until the third act, so, spoiler alert, I guess. But then again, the film is 30-years-old (and terrible), so it’s not like you haven’t had time to watch it (assuming that you’d even want to, which you don’t).

I’ve said several times now that the film is terrible, but haven’t really gone into detail. Well, that’s because it’s just overall bad in every conceivable way that a musical can be. The acting sucks, the directing is lazy and uninspired, the plot is beyond stupid, the dialogue is pure exposition, and worst of all, the music isn’t even really that good. The soundtrack may have had a couple hits back in the day, but Olivia Newton-John and Electric Light Orchestra phoned it in for this one.

The whole film smacks of boredom and incompetence… except for Gene Kelly. Even though he was past the point of retirement when the movie was made, he was hoofing it like a pro. Throughout Xanadu, I got the vibe that he was genuinely having a fun time, even though he was totally debasing himself by even appearing in it.

Gene Kelly: 68 and still makin' panties drop.

Seeing it now, it’s pretty weird to watch Xanadu. The movie serves as both a time capsule of kitschy, campy nostalgia and as a once-harbinger of death for many elements of American pop culture: disco, roller rinks, Gene Kelly, and Olivia Newton-John’s career as a bankable actress. Despite all the things that died around — and due to — Xanadu’s premiere, it’s even weirder to see the successes that came from it. The film spawned an extremely well-reviewed and profitable Broadway adaptation; Joel Silver, a first-time producer for Xanadu, later financed The Matrix films and many other box office hits; and Robert Greenwald, the director, went on to make popular left-wing propaganda documentaries about how FOX News and Walmart suck.

That's odd. I don't see "From the director of Xanadu," anywhere on the cover.

While Xanadu was a compost heap that eventually grew a flower (of debatable merit), the same can’t be said for the other two films in this soon-to-be pseudo-trilogy. Stay tuned for the next musical review, as I examine a film that has one of the most ironic titles ever.

Xanadu? More like Xanadon’t.
3/10


Alice in Wonderland (2010) Review

March 26, 2010

Get used to this face, folks, 'cause you're gonna see it a lot.

There are few books that have been adapted to visual mediums as much as Lewis Carroll’s Alice stories (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel, Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There), and it stands to reason, too. With their evocative use of nonsense verse, fantastic imagery and whimsical characters, the Alice stories feel like they were written to be brought to life. Not only that, but the scenarios presented have a satirical sensibility that’s ingeniously made palatable for children. Depending on the adapter, one could use the Alice stories to subversively present a critique on any idea to children and adult alike — from organized religion to the judicial system to mathematical theories. It’s a thinking person’s satire dressed up as a merry children’s bedtime story and vice versa. Complex and interesting, visual and cerebral, the stories embody imagination itself.

But screw that noise! Read the cliff notes, adapt the books into another effects-driven, generic fantasy action film and make some fucking BANK!

Every time someone reads that last sentence, Jerry Bruckheimer gets a huge erection.

Admittedly, Tim Burton’s recent take on Carroll’s works starts with promise. The movie opens with young Alice waking from a nightmare about Wonderland and her father consoles her back to sleep. Flash forward several years: Alice is now a 19-year-old, her father has passed away and she can’t help but dream of a less stifling life. She and her mother attend a social gathering where Alice discovers that it is intended to be her engagement party as she is proposed to by a stuck-up, pompous git whom she is arranged to marry. Given that this is mid-to-late nineteenth century England, she has little say in the matter. With all of the party goers standing around waiting for her to say “yes,” Alice spots a curiously familiar white rabbit in a jacket, flees from the party to chase him and finds herself falling down the rabbit hole once again.

It’s at this point that the film’s quality goes down with her.

It's both an act break and a metaphor. Curiouser and curiouser.

As a fair warning to you, I’m about to get into some serious, major spoilers here. However, it ultimately doesn’t matter because when you get down to it, you’ve already seen this film many, many times before and already know how it goes.

I don’t think anyone was expecting a true word-for-word retelling of Alice in Wonderland, and anyone who has seen some of Tim Burton’s other book-to-film adaptations can attest to that. Everyone has seen interpretations of Alice in Wonderland and the last thing we need is another retread. Besides, this can’t possibly be the same story since it clearly establishes itself as a pseudo-sequel (to an already existing sequel) that follows an older Alice who is returning to Wonderland… or at least it would be, if the filmmakers didn’t decide to change the name of the damn place. Yes, it’s no longer called Wonderland — it’s Underland. According to Absalom, the Blue Caterpillar, she apparently misheard the name when she was little.

Personally, I prefer The Venture Bros.' version of Underland.

Oh, but the “Underland” renaming is just one example of the many unnecessary changes made to the established backstory that, in my opinion, ultimately hurt the movie overall. Keep in mind, there’s nothing wrong with putting a twist on an old story. The fairy tale of Cinderella that we all know and love has tons of variants and is quite different than its original incarnation. After all, the story of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland — witty and clever as it is — is a pretty unstructured narrative without much conflict, so I could see how one might have to change some things to make it an engaging film for modern audiences. Also, aging Alice to early adulthood is a welcome idea that’s rife with possibilities in how one could interpret the story (see the analysis of themes in the film Labyrinth for possibilities). But some of the changes to Alice make you wonder what the filmmakers were thinking.

"So, like, let's give the Mad Hatter a disappearing/reappearing Scottish accent and make him look like a clown with orange hair."

Anyway, back to the story. It turns out that the White Rabbit intentionally lured Alice down the rabbit hole because — according to an all-knowing scroll called the Oraculum — it has been prophesied that on Frabjous Day, Alice would come and save Underland (*grinds teeth*) from the rule of the tyrannical Red Queen by slaying the Jabberwocky. As the rabbit explains the situation to Alice, they are attacked by the Bandersnatch and separated. Alice then stumbles around Underland (…ugh) without guidance and runs into only the most famous of the characters from the books while trying to find the vorpal sword (the only thing that will kill the Jabberwocky) and avoiding detection from the Knave of Hearts, the Red Queen’s personal assassin.

If this synopsis sounds like it’s a dragon-slaying, Lancelot-styled fantasy also-ran with the Wonderland characters and setting being merely window dressing to the proceedings, then you’re ahead of the game.

While one can appreciate a more story-driven reinvention of the source material, several characters have to do an about-face just so the plot can make sense. Not only that, but anyone who is familiar with the books and other adaptations might be disappointed to see what many of these beloved figures have become in this film. Granted, this is supposed to be a dark reinvention of Alice and I understand that, but seeing the Dormouse as a needle-brandishing, bloodlust-filled crusader who literally gouges out creatures’ eyes instead of the sleepy loser who was picked on by a foppish version of the Marx brothers can be disheartening to fans of the stories.

"Let's slip you out of these wet clothes and into a dry mar-tea-ni!"

The “kill the big, bad monster” plot and brooding visuals clash unsuccessfully with the cartoonishly dry, British whimsy that many of the movie’s characters try to pull off (“try” being the key word). This PG-rated film wants to be both family friendly and dark and scary, but like a jack of all trades, it succeeds at neither and just comes across as off-putting. For example, The Mad Tea Party — where the March Hare, Mad Hatter and Dormouse sit around singing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Bat” — is sandwiched between scenes of the Bandersnatch getting its eye ripped out by the Dormouse (busy little bastard, ain’t he?) and Alice having to cross a moat by using severed heads as stepping stones. It’s like the ’80s all over again.

"Nice fuckin' rating system!" *honk, honk*

Not only are the characters and atmosphere at odds with what we’ve come to know, but the film’s message doesn’t make any sense. At one point in the film, Alice decides to go to the Red Queen’s castle because she wants to rescue the Mad Hatter from imprisonment. Bayard, a talking bloodhound, tells Alice that she can’t do that because the prophecy says that she needs to go to the White Queen’s palace instead. Alice then tells him that she doesn’t care about some prophecy and that she makes her own path. She then goes into the Red Queen’s castle and yadda, yadda, yadda. At that moment, I thought that perhaps this film was going to throw us a curveball: Will Alice buck convention and find a peaceful, non-violent resolution by “making her own path?”

Nope. She accepts her destiny (literally becoming a knight in shining armor) and fights the damn Jabberwocky — exactly as the Oraculum said. So much for making her own path.

And there's the Mad Hatter in the back with a claymore and a kilt. So is this Wonderland, Underland or Scotland?

After Alice has her adventure in (W)Underland, she comes back to the engagement party and blows off her arranged suitor. She then proceeds to tell off everyone else at the party who tried to put her down, effectively taking charge and making her own path.
So… what is this movie trying to say? Should we accept the responsibility that fate has in store for us or are we masters of our own destiny? Which is it, movie? It can’t be both.

Despite all that I have said so far, there were a few things that I enjoyed about the film. Some of the special effects are really good and convincing, and many of the CGI characters are well-acted animated and vocal performances. Anne Hathway was, by far, my favorite live-action actor in the movie. She plays the White Queen as a tongue-in-cheek exaggeration of a Disney Princess, constantly keeping her arms daintily aloft at hip height and floating in and out of frame. It’s hard to describe, but she’s basically a parody of Disney’s Snow White and it’s pretty funny.

"Ms. Hathaway, if you're reading this, we would like to thank you for making this film bearable." -signed, me and my girlfriend

There’s been much ado about Helena Bonham Carter’s Red Queen performance — either you love it or hate it. I found it grating at times and an impersonation of Blackadder‘s Queenie the rest of the time. (Was Miranda Richardson too busy or something?) Mia Wasikowska makes a really bland Alice, only displaying emotion to show that she is either bored or annoyed — the rest of the time she looks like she’s moments away from falling asleep. Johnny Depp plays the Mad Hatter as a D.I.D. sufferer who has random, manic anger fits and… it’s pretty cringe-worthy. If you can tolerate seeing him slip in and out of having a Scottish brogue, I guarantee that you won’t survive seeing him do his “flutterwacken.”

When the movie was over, I could only say to myself, “Why?” Why make the March Hare the White Queen’s cook when the books already had a cook they could have used? Why was the Mad Hatter given Scottish traits but then did an anachronistic (and embarrassing) break dance at the end of the movie instead of doing a Scottish highland fling? Why did they make the Dormouse a nigh-murderous sociopath? Why did Alice have to say that shitty, awful line as she killed the Jabberwocky? Why was this movie made?

If anything, they should have just gotten the license to American McGee’s Alice and made that instead. It’s basically the same plot, except more thought out, mature and it doesn’t entirely crap on the characterizations. What a missed opportunity.
4/10


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