Saturday, June 12, 2010

Firefly: Still Flying: Celebration of Joss Whedon’s Acclaimed TV Series by Joss Whedon

Written by Pirata Hermosa

On the heels of his incredibly successful Buffy the Vampire television series, Joss Whedon introduced another creation called Firefly. With everyone expecting another smash hit from the mastermind, it was a complete shock to many that his new show, which was a cross between a western and science fiction, was not only canceled in its first season, but before all of the episodes had even aired. And it’s even more shocking because it has such a rabid fan base that has not only kept the stories alive for the last eight years, but it also pressured the film industry to make a major motion picture based on the show called Serenity.

But if you’re reading this review, you should already know that. And if you’re even considering reading this book, then you must be a fan of the show. If you haven’t even heard of the television show, then this book is not for you.

There have been two previous companion books released dealing with more specific details of the show, while this is more along the lines of what you might learn if you went to a science-fiction convention. There are a lot of comments about on-set hi-jinks, how much the fans have meant to them, and what it was like to be part of something that has had such longevity.

A number of the sections are broken down by the specific characters on the show. Each character has several stills from the show along with quotes from the actors about their character. All of these are taken from either website interviews or transcribed from what they said during any number of sci-fi conventions. Having been to a number of conventions myself, it was easy to picture them on stage and even imagine myself being at one of the Firefly conventions. It does make for an interesting read for that reason, but a lot of the uniqueness would probably be lost on someone who can’t pull from that similar experience.

The book is filled with photos from the show. Not only are the actors featured in these photos, but a lot of the props, sets and CG animation as well. There is a section showing various hand-held weapons, what they are really made of, and where the ideas came from. There is a section on the wardrobe of the cast showing various photos as well as the preliminary drawings. And of course, you can’t forget the drawings, models and animations of the space ships themselves.

There are also four new pieces of fiction from former writers of the show in the book:

“What Holds Us Down” is a very short story about Kaylee and Wash as they try to steal parts from a junkyard to fix Serenity, but find themselves being hunted down as Kaylee tries frantically to fix another ship and escape.

“Fun with Dick and Jayne” is two cartoons comparing the old Dick and Jane books we all read as children but substituted with a sick and violent Jayne from the show.

"Crystal” is another short story about River as she walks around Serenity telling the crew members what will happen to them in the future, but mostly how each will die.

“Take the Sky” is a look into the far future when Mal is old and he receives a message from Zoe that Jayne has died. It also gives a brief and sad look of what happened to the crew and where they are, just before Mal decides to do something that will once again alter the course of his life.

There is a lot of interesting material to read and experience in the book, but with a lot of the comments coming directly from conventions and entire sections dealing with the convention experience and what endeavors the current fan base is still involved in today, this is obviously a book dedicated to the fans. Certainly not a difficult book to read, but one that only true fans will understand and enjoy.

Article first published as Book Review: Firefly: Still Flying: Celebration of Joss Whedon's Acclaimed TV Series by Joss Whedon on Blogcritics.

THE KARATE KID (2010) Loses Too Many Battles

Written by Hombre Divertido

Set in present-day China, young Dre (Jaden Smith) is forced to adapt to a new environment after his mother (Taraji P. Henson) is relocated from Detroit by her employer. During his first day in China, Dre manages to make an American friend (Luke Carberry), meet the apartment handyman (Jackie Chan), catch the eye of a local girl (Wenwen Han), and gets beat up by the neighborhood bully (Zhenwei Wang).

Yes; “his mother”, “American friend”, “apartment handyman”, “local girl”, and “neighborhood bully” are all accurate, and the titles are as developed as the one-dimensional characters and performances in this film, which is ultimately its downfall.

The supporting actors in The Karate Kid are given little to do, while the lead actors, who are given room to stretch their thespian limbs, land extremely limited blows. Jaden Smith gives a reasonably enjoyable performance, but in many scenes, his inexperience is evident. He has managed to learn to deliver a well-timed, poignant look when needed, but the skill of doing the same verbally with any consistency still eludes the young actor. Even more disappointing in the film is the performance of Jackie Chan, though ultimately the responsibility for this falls on the writers and director. Chan has proven over his career that he posesses the ability to display not only energy on screen, but excellent comedic timing as well. In The Karate Kid Chan is relegated to lumbering around and delivering one solemn line after another.

Eventually Mr. Han the Handyman manages to teach The Karate Kid enough kung fu to defeat all the local kids, who grew up learning the art form, in a tournament and thus earn their respect. Unfortunately this takes well over two hours and plods along at a pace that seems as painful as trying to sit through an episode of the 1989 Karate Kid Saturday-morning cartoon series.

The comparison of this film to the 1984 is inevitable, and the 2010 version fails monumentally. Though advertised by many associated with the film prior to its release as not a remake, the 2010 version follows the same story as the original too excessive detail in storytelling and dialog. In essence, all that was done was to take a familiar story and place it in an unfamiliar environment, though there are other detrimental changes as well. The roles of the supporting characters have been whittled down to stereotypes, the humor and personality have been extracted from all involved, the creative training techniques have been reduced to wardrobe changes, and the action sequences are poorly choreographed and filmed. All this was done while somehow managing to make the story longer.

We may not have liked the villains in the original film, but they were relatable. They all had names; we knew who they were and what they were about. Not so in the new release.

We loved Daniel (Ralph Macchio), Mr. Miyagi (Noriyuki 'Pat' Morita), and Mrs. Larusso (Randee Heller) in the original. They had a sense of humor. There is no humor in this new film, and the portrayal of Dre’s mother by Taraji P. Henson exceeds the level of one-dimensional annoyance established by anyone in the 1994 film The Next Karate Kid. Was Jada Pinkett Smith too busy to step in here?

Recommendation: The filmmakers should be chastised for taking the beloved, energetic, and humorous mentor Mr. Miyagi and turning him into the humorless lump Mr. Han, who does nothing but beat up twelve-year-olds, and yell “Focus!” throughout the entire climactic scene of the film.

The 2010 version of The Karate Kid is trite and manipulative storytelling at its worst. Showing us that Dre’s father is dead in the first scene of the film, and then later showing us that Mr. Han’s family was killed, in hopes of a bonding along with the characters shows little respect for the audience.

Don’t do it. Watching the original or its two sequels would be a far more pleasurable experience.

Article first published as Movie Review: The Karate Kid (2010) Loses Too Many Battles on Blogcritics.