27
Jul

real-talk-movie-review-star-trek-beyond-spoiler-free
 REAL TALK MOVIE REVIEW: Star Trek Beyond (Spoiler Free)

I got to see Star Trek Beyond in the theater this week. I’ve been a Star Trek fan since I was really little and I’ve seen all of the series’ with the exception of the end of Voyager and all of Enterprise except the first episode.

I thought the new Star Trek films were OK and actually better than I had expected. They were fun, but prior to Star Trek Beyond they didn’t feel like Star Trek.

startrekbeyondposter

Character Development / Dialogue:

STB feels the most like Star Trek of all 3 of the new films. Long time fans of the series will no doubt greatly enjoy that the dialogue in STB is INCREDIBLY well written. This will be the most quotable Star Trek film out of the new series. In typical space drama fashion, shit happens and the crew gets split up. The pairings of the characters were great. McCoy and Spock are a joy to watch and made all of us laugh out loud. Literally. I don’t mean “LOL”, I mean the entire audience was literally laughing. McCoy was written well – if written poorly he could come off as a jerk, but that was not the case. Their rivalry was one of the best parts of the movie.

The same goes for Kirk and Chekov. Anton Yelchin really shines as Chekov, which reminded me how sad it was that he was killed before the film came out. I have never met him, but everyone who has has told me that he was a wonderful guy with a great personality. I loved that they paid tribute to him at the end of the film.

We got to see Sulu being amazing (and gay). I know that George Takei didn’t approve, but I really liked that he was gay and that it was so understated and normal in the film. That was probably the only clue the movie gave to how society had evolved by this time in the future. The character interactions were where most of the Star Trek universe feeling came from and not the narrative.

Scotty and newcomer alien Jaylah also had great chemistry. I did feel that Jaylah’s character design screamed “Star Wars” rather than “Star Trek”. I sort of remember that I’ve seen a similar character on a Timothy Zahn Star Wars book cover, ad, or somewhere similar. That can be forgiven since many of the characters have new designs but this actually didn’t feel very Star Trek to me. Star Trek and Star Wars always had a different feel to their designs. I kept waiting for BB-8 to roll out of her house somewhere.

StarTrekBeyond_Trailer1

Uhura was probably written in the best way that she’s been written since this franchise launched. I would have liked to see more from her that we got but she did have a more active role than in the other films. So there’s that. I also loved their tribute to Leonard Nimoy during the film.

Action Sequences:

That said, Star Trek Beyond is not a film that I would watch again and it’s solely due to my utter hatred of the CG action sequences. When Justin Lin (Known for the “Fast and Furious” and “Tokyo Drift” franchises) was announced as the new director people made jokes that it would become like those films. I didn’t give any weight to it. I should have.

If you have a high tolerance for “X-TREEEME LET’S PUT MY BASEBALL HAT ON SIDEWAYS AND GO TO 7-11, BRO” CG-based space battles that have weird physics that is applied inconsistently you will no doubt disagree with me on this. I couldn’t get past it. I caught myself looking at my watch during several of them. You have lots of quick cuts and the design of the terrain and the trajectory were rendered such that I could not suspend my disbelief that what was happening had any merit.

For example, you have Captain Kirk on a motorcycle. (To avoid spoilers I will keep this vague, but I am referring to when he was the person on the motorcycle before the diversion scene.) You can’t just have a human man drive THROUGH rocks and solve that by cutting away before he’d hit it. He was too close to have been able to avoid hitting the rock. The same thing went for most of the other scenes – so much stuff flying around that none of it seemed to have any weight other than just being “big”.

Justin Lin basically undercut the line of action in most of these scenes by making the physics so inconsistent. This is not the X-Men. Why pay attention if you are just going to throw a lot of random shit at the screen and explosions and it doesn’t even look like he’s avoiding / interacting with his surroundings correctly? You would have had to have been one of the X-Men to survive some of these battles, but the crew are not super powered.

I am all for wild physics in films – these are supposed to be big experiences. My problem is that they undercut their own logic and thus undercut these scenes even being in the film. That is why, to me, most of these scenes felt like annoying commercial breaks between what was a good film. You could have removed them and had the Muppet Babies act out the scenes with paper planes and cardboard and I’d have been more engaged in the line of action.

It felt random and wasteful of time and money. Who cares if he hits the rock? You’ll just cut away before he hits it and make him win anyway. The amount of CG here swallowed the actors to the point that the graphics were center stage and not the story. I was getting Star Wars Episode 1-3 flashbacks. It was THAT busy. I saw the first 2 new ST films when I was going blind and I could follow the action. With almost 20/20 vision I had difficulty/annoyance with STB’s action sequences.

I get that I’ve been blind until recently but holy shit are all films like dubstep videos now? WTH. The “too close” shots that really didn’t even allow you to see who hit who, or in some cases, what had even just happened. I know this is a “modern” action sequence style now–but I just don’t think it matches with Star Trek.

It’s like they just made stuff happen so things would blow up and it didn’t even matter if it remotely looked like the characters were accomplishing much. To me it was a fireworks display that detracted from the fabulous dialogue that is in this film and inhibited the character development of the villain.

The Bad Guy (Whoever he was):

Let’s talk about him. Whatever his name was. He’s so generic that I am just going to call him “the villain” because that’s all he was. He was just the 1 dimensional boss at the end of the video game – but one with very little explanation and probably the game that puts up the “Thank you for playing!” message and restarts instead of giving you the rest of the story.

I understood why he was mad but they don’t show you this. They just tell you. They never explained where his guys came from (leaving this vague to avoid spoilers) or how he got to where he was. Much of his story I do not feel was ever told. They also don’t explain why he doesn’t seem to know about the Franklin’s location or where he got all of his weapons, or his minions (and why would they follow him?). Not going into spoiler territory, but if you’ve see the film you’ll know WHY that’s ridiculous.

They could (and should have) have cut some of those action sequences to give us more story.

If you aren’t familiar with the Star Trek universe you’ll have no idea what this world is like. If you are bringing someone who is not already a Star Trek fan you will not want to make this the first film that they see if you would like them to be a Star Trek fan and not just enjoy a space shooter film. (Personally I’d suggest TOS, TNG, or DS9, but if you must, the 2009 film would be a better starting point than Beyond.)

Normally in the Star Trek universe you’d probably learn a bit more about the villain. Even if you don’t agree with him you’d be forced to understand his side in some way – that’s one thing that Star Trek (except for these new films) has always done. They make it clear that there are grey areas and often highlight the moral decisions that the Captain and crew have to deal with. The new films see to have real issues coming up with good motivations for the villains–let’s not forget Nero from the first film, and his weird logic of blowing up federation planets–instead of zooming over to Romulus to tell them to be prepared for the future problem thus saving his own people.

So, nah you won’t get that real deep thought provoking story that makes the villain understandable and “real”. You get “Thank you for playing!” guy instead. Did anyone else notice that most of the “ugly” aliens got killed and all of the “pretty” people didn’t die? I picked up on that early in the film and correctly predicted who would die.

Is STB a bad film? No. It’s actually quite enjoyable and many may argue that this is the best out of the new series of films. The characters’ interactions felt like the most Star Trek we have seen in a long time, but unless you already know the Star Trek world it won’t be illuminated that much for new people.

That’s not the worst thing ever, but the low amount of character development given to the villain in favor of long action sequences was something that I didn’t care for. The dialogue was so well written and it was so fun to watch the actors interact with each other that it made me sad, imagining what we didn’t get in favor of Random Explosions. If they had just given a few more minutes of character and world development this might have been the best Star Trek film ever made, inclusive of all of the classic Trek films. The actors were certainly bringing their A Game.

I’m told that most action films follow this formula now so perhaps I am one of the few people who will have a problem with this. I haven’t been able to enjoy movies for years since my eyes got really bad and so all of this is new to me now that I can see again.

If you just want a fun film and aren’t annoyed by “X-TREEEME” action sequences you will probably really enjoy this one.



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27
Jul

elysburg-pennsylvania-haunted-attraction-review-knoebels-haunted-mansion-new-rooms-added-for-2016
 Elysburg, Pennsylvania Haunted Attraction Review: Knoebels Haunted Mansion – new rooms added for 2016

Knoebels Haunted Mansion is one of the few (the other being Rehoboth Beach’s Haunted Mansion in Delaware) haunted attractions that I put on the same awesome level as Disney’s Haunted Mansion. I’m looking through my own blog and stunned that I’ve not posted a formal review specifically of it before. I guess I just included it in my theme park report and updates when they got new merch in.

Knoebels is located just outside of Philadelphia. It’s about a 3.5 hour drive from where I live in Central NJ and it is well worth the trip. If you like classic family-run theme parks, this is the park for you. It’s a low stress experience where you feel welcome, the prices are lower than corporate parks, and the food tastes homemade. Admission to the park is free. A ride on the Haunted Mansion is just $2.00 per person.

There are not many parks left like this. Knoebels is probably the most important theme park left in the world today for this reason.

The Knoebels Haunted Mansion is a ride through, family-friendly haunted mansion that is just a bit edgier than Disney. They do utilize startle scares inside. Smaller children may be afraid but will quickly grow to love it as they get a bit older.

There is nothing negative about this ride. It’s what I look for in life. It’s a shining example of haunt excellence. Not only is it accessible for kids, but it’s just scary and well-designed enough to startle and engage adults. This ride is for literally the whole family.

DAFE did a breakdown of this attraction with photos that I can’t get because I was there when the ride was operating.

Image from DAFE.

Image from DAFE – click over to there to get more details on the interior.

What I can tell you about is that they just added new rooms for 2016 that are definitely worth a look.

The new rooms are all very well done. The staging is great. The sound is amazing. The ride moves fast so I am not even sure how much is new in here. To us it seemed like quite a bit.

I have a love/hate relationship with the room that replaced the mirror/bobbing skull room. I love what they did but I also miss the bobbing skulls. You can see some of the bobbing skulls in areas in there but it’s not as freaky as it was before.

The room is great. Don’t get me wrong. And I get why, from a design standpoint this was one of the rooms that they chose to alter. It was longer than the other rooms and nothing happened in there besides the bobbing skulls. If you are familiar with one of my favorite artists, Yayoi Kusama, this room reminded me of some of her work.

Kusama in Fireflies by Jason Schmidt - Whitney Museum, NYC

Kusama in Fireflies by Jason Schmidt – Whitney Museum, NYC

So I sorta wish they’d add a bit more of that back. BUT!!! I also love what they did at the same time.

Knoebels Haunted Mansion is and has always been one of the best ride through Haunted Attraction outside of Disney World. It’s truly one of my favorite things in the world. Knoebels and Disney set the gold standard for what all other haunted ride through attractions are measured by. No – they set the standard for what all THEME PARKS are measured by. Yeah they are that good. I’m glad they are caring for the Haunted Mansion and adding to it.

SEE THIS ONE.

Haunt season is almost here. Catch up on my reviews and GET HYPE GET HYPE!



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20
Jul

thomas-dolby-joins-intervention-7
 Thomas Dolby joins Intervention 7!

Well we have been busy.

I16W02n2_TDolby

I am extremely excited to announce that professor and musician Thomas Dolby will be appearing at this year’s Intervention in Rockville, MD! If you are just showing up here to this blog, Intervention is the convention that I produce every Fall that you should register for right now.

In addition to his prolific musical work, Mr. Dolby is also a Homewood Professor of the Arts at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland where he does amazing work!

Mr. Dolby will be making a limited one-day speaking-only appearance on Friday of the event, so be sure to join us!

If you haven’t registered for the event, now’s a great time to do so — and check out all the other awesome guests joining us this year!

This year’s Intervention isn’t just going to be the best Intervention I have ever organized. It is the best thing I have ever done in my career. If there is 1 year to NOT miss, it’s this one.



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19
Jul

real-talk-movie-review-ghostbusters-2016-spoiler-free
 REAL TALK MOVIE REVIEW: Ghostbusters 2016 (spoiler free)

In all of my reviews I articulate my personal bias so that you can understand how to read it in a way that benefits you the most. I personally loathe remakes and reboots. Any film that is a remake or reboot has to work extra hard to get me to not dislike it.

I accidentally saw the trailer for Ghostbusters 2016 when it ran before a YouTube video that I was watching. I don’t care about trailers and I have no understanding about why people even pay attention to them. You guys really pay attention to trailers? Cool story. I also watch the grass grow, put squirrels down my pants, and bang my head into my car door for fun.

Same shit. Look at me with my squirrel pants trailer. Total blockbuster. Get your popcorn. I feel so informed now! Toot toot.

Trailers are always bullshit.

The Wild Wild West movie had a great trailer but is one of the biggest piles of shit I have ever had the misfortune of sitting through. Every trailer today has that stupid buzzing sound. They all may as well be the same. It’s like a bee took a shit all down the block like Family Circus.

I think it’s a waste of time to speculate too much about a film until you actually see it, so that’s what I did.

I didn’t go into the film expecting to love it. I did not expect to be saying this: From beginning to middle to end Ghostbusters 2016 was a really fun film. If you agree with me that Big Trouble in Little China is one of the best films of all time and also enjoy the original Ghostbusters film, you should drop your life and see this film immediately. They EARNED this review.

So what do I mean by this? Just like BTILC this is an action film with a modicum of comedy that allows both action and comedy to exist together without detracting from either concept. It also does not take itself too seriously. The ideas and attitude of the original Ghostbusters world were present but nothing felt like a shot by shot remake. Nothing felt boring.

Ghostbusters 2016 is simply a fun action comedy film that stands alone unto itself. The gender swap wasn’t gimmicky. They were just people doing things. That’s all.

Ghostbusters-2016

It felt like another story inside the Ghostbusters world that could have been an alternate universe story. Anime fans will recognize this concept because it is very common in Japan to have another telling of the world that compliments and reignites interest in the original idea. This isn’t a copy. It doesn’t try to erase anything from the past.

It feels like a love letter to the idea by some of the original actors and crew which was brought even more into focus by the numerous cameos they had in the film.

Self-Awareness and Character Balance:

I particularly loved the subtle send up they gave to the people who trashed the film before it ever came out. It was so light-handed that it’s likely many will have missed it – and that’s why it works so well. Nothing was preachy. In one particular scene they reference YouTube comments. I’d also argue that one of the villains in the film was part of this. They make it clear that the Ghostbusters have been bullied tremendously and so has the villain. The idea it brought to my mind is one that I’ve explored in the past with my art and comics – if you are bullied you can react positively and be a good person or you can become a negative person who tries to take others down. It’s your choice.

They pulled off self aware without being preachy or heavy. I loved the chemistry the new characters had together. You will no doubt hear that Holzmann was the best one. She is fabulous, but that’s also one thing I found that I didn’t care for about the writing in this film. It felt like they weighted the writing and development toward her and didn’t develop the other 3 Ghostbusters nearly as well as they should have.

You shouldn’t have to know the original films to fill in the blanks. You could have condensed the other 3 Ghostbusters into 1 character without much trouble – their personalities weren’t distinct enough.

These Ghostbusters are Erin Gilbert (Kristin Wiig), Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy), Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon), and Patty Tolan (Leslie Jones). Chris Hemsworth plays Kevin Beckman, their rather dim but good-looking secretary. I gathered that Holtzmann was an inventor. I can reference the original film and get who each character was supposed to be based on, but in this film by itself it was hard (or impossible) to tell what the other Ghostbuster’s skills were other than funny quips and shooting things.

Chris Hemsworth seemed to be having a great time in his role and he was great to watch. (Stay through the credits.) An element of lazy writing in woman-focused films is to make the women smart and the men dumb in order to get their point across. While I enjoyed the film, you can see an example of this in Disney / Pixar’s Brave.

Ghostbusters did not do this.

Kevin was dim but likeable and clearly not reflective of all guys. The other men in the film were all intelligent and articulate for the most part which I felt reflected a diverse range of people and points of view.

That’s the key and why it worked.

The woman were smart but sort of clueless sometimes. This makes sense given that they are just figuring all of this out. It actually made it easy to identify with them, but my husband did remark that he wished the women had been smarter as a cohesive group. Again – Holtzmann seemed to be the only one who knew anything about what was going on. The group’s strongest point was being reactive after something had gone bad.

Character Differentiation:

The only people whose names I remembered after leaving the theater were Holtzmann and Patty. I actually had to google the others in order to write this review so that should give you an idea of how little they developed the other Ghostbusters as individual people. Erin Gilbert mostly just complained about stuff and shot or stabbed things. Some of her more frantic scenes could have been cut from the film entirely. Did we really need to see her embarrassing herself in a crowded restaurant? I’d argue that I’d have rather seen more character development of her skills and emotional motivation. Abby Yates was the vaguely sensible person who shot things. Patty Tolan was a subway worker who had an uncle who had a car and…also shot at things.

That said, it still worked. It worked DAMN well. The dialogue felt real and funny. The challenges felt extra real since the city didn’t want to give them a chance, much like the people who claim they hate this film but never even saw it. The film felt fresh and for folks like me who are tired of everything having to be XTREEEEME and gritty, this was a FABULOUS return to the fun, geeky action films of the 80s such as big Trouble in Little China, Bill and Ted, and more.

The issues this film has are minor. This isn’t Schindler’s List or something serious so it’s rather pointless to critique it (or classics like BTILC) on that level. It’s a fun action film. It gets my highest recommendation. In addition to that I have to say that it is pretty much never that you’ll see women written as actual people in a way that feels real and not written by a 67 year old guy who maybe saw a woman once. It’s also a really enjoyable reboot of the Ghostbusters franchise that will probably inspire a generation of kids to be themselves.

Conclusion:

God damn it, guys. I never thought I’d ever utter the phrase “really enjoyable reboot” in the same sentence. This film had everything stacked against it being a success for me yet it still won me (and pretty much everyone I know) over against all odds – including the terrible trailer they released that did more harm than good. (Seriously – they need to fire whoever cut that thing.)

Is it better than the original? Calm the f down. You were probably like 5 when the original came out. You still believed in Santa Claus. NOTHING is going to be better than a film you enjoyed through the eyes of a child. Also? I don’t think they were trying to be better. They were trying to simply be. I have to personally say that I’ve waited 30 years to see any sort of woman in a major film with whom I could see myself in and this is the first film I’ve ever seen that gave it to me.

You should definitely see Ghostbusters 2016 in the theater. If you go into it looking for fun, you’ll get it. For the first time that I can remember we have comedy, action, and great dialogue in a film without a pandering romance or other bullshit that we see in every single film ever made. We actually have a reboot that doesn’t piss me off and is good enough to see a second time. I’m glad this was the first movie I saw in a theater after my eye surgery.

That’s pretty huge. Everyone who was involved with this film should be proud of what they have accomplished.

SEE THIS ONE.



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07
Jul

no-bs-review-bite-beauty-agave-lip-mask
 NO BS REVIEW: Bite Beauty Agave Lip Mask

Bite Beauty Agave Lip Mask is $26 and one of the few things I have spent that much coin on that I find to be absolutely worth it so I figured I’d tell you guys about it.

bite beauty agave lip mask

I have super dry skin and have trouble especially when I am speaking at conventions. I inevitably get stupid dry and it feels like my lips are falling off. I’ve tried Carmex which was smelly and didn’t work as well as this. I also tried an ass load of lip glosses and lip balms over the course of my life – all which didn’t work as well as this and most of them gave me that stupid white line buildup. That shit is the worst.

Bite Beauty Agave Lip Mask works better than anything else I’ve ever tried in my life, lasts a long time, and doesn’t really give me white line as readily as other lip balms. This is one of my convention bag must haves – indispensable when I don’t want to have to recheck how I look much.

Which is like every day. I’m a CEO, not a peacock.

I have not been able to find a cheaper product that works as well. When I had invisalign this was all I wore for that entire year because the original version is colorless and I didn’t have to worry about it smearing on my trays and looking stupid. Basically this thing solves my problem and has a very low risk of looking stupid. Win.

The only problem is that the packaging will look like this in about a week if you carry it in your bag with other items. Yes, I have had this one for a year plus, but it looked mostly like this after a week of being in my bag:

bite-beauty-agave-lip-mask

You will also notice that I literally have almost used up the entire tube and will eventually. I am not a fan of collecting makeup – I am a fan of spending intelligently on shit that I will actually use.

I already bought a second one of these. It took me like a year or more to get to this point so the price isn’t terrible considering how long it lasts.

Only quibble is that I do think that for a makeup product that falls in the “hella coin” (AKA high end) category, the packaging could be nicer.

I don’t know if Bite Beauty’s other products are as good as this, but this one item kicks The Ass. It’s my favorite lip balm of all time. If you have chronic dry lips and want that to cease to be an issue for long periods of time without having to worry about white line you should definitely try this. Sephora gives free samples if you ask so you can try it out before you buy it.



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