Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Obligatory Comic-Con 2013 Post

Okay, I'll admit, I'm a little late with this.  I've been a bit busy around the house with various things and Comic-Con came and slipped away before I could really pound out this post.  Still, better late than never, right?

Here it is, my thoughts and comments on various aspects of Comic-Con 2013.  Before we begin, I want to mention that I am a vary casual comics fan at the moment, only really dipping my toes into the comic book world.  If someone were to quiz me, I'd very much come off as a "Fake Geek Boy"--and not that wouldn't have anything to do with the fact that at the time I was wearing a loin cloth assembled from discarded SNES controllers with broken off d-pads to cover my nipples.  That's just my lazy Sunday attire, okay?

I bring this up because if it seems like I focus more on movies than I do on comics news it's because I don't have much of an opinion on comics news at this point.  I'm still much too new to the whole thing.  Maybe with time.  I mean, I'll comment if they announce something big--like say, if Superman becomes a Green Lantern or if Batman is suddenly dosed with Gamma Radiation and becomes a giant hulking green monster.  But otherwise, it's just not going to register for me.

Anyway, a brief recap of last year's Comic-Con first:

Twixt - This apparently came out quite a while ago. I had no idea. I do want to check it out, as, despite a terrible Rotten Tomatoes rating, it looks really interesting.

Paradise Lost - Apparently got canned before filming could begin because they couldn't get it under a desired budget.  Too bad.  Sounded epic.

Uglies & Jurassic Park 4 - I've heard no news. Reaction stands.

Oz the Great and Powerful - Sucked.

Resident Evil: Retribution - Never saw it. Looked awful.

The Hobbit - A bit stretched in places, a bit bloated, but I enjoyed it overall.  I may dedicate a blog post to this sometime.

Pacific Rim - Fantastic go see it, please.
Iron Man 3 - Probably my favorite superhero movie this year. Fantastic.
Man of Steel - Hyperviolent & destructive ending almost makes the conclusion feel goofy, but all in all I still quite enjoyed this film.  Another potential blog post in the future.

Horns - Supposedly (hopefully) coming this year. Can't wait.

And onto this year's Comic-Con.



Insidious Chapter 2
I fucking loved Insidious.  I thought it was one of the scariest movies I've ever seen.  It was atmospheric, it was tense, it was brilliant.  It was done on the cheap, but it doesn't look cheap, and because it was done cheaply, the effects are brilliant.  Very little CG, more practical effects, more use of visual scares and sound to set the atmosphere.  It was brilliant.  The was one of those typical "dun dun DUN" horror movie endings,
but this one, oddly enough, is actually being followed up on.

The movie is supposed to begin where the previous film left off, which is interesting because Patrick Wilson's character had just straight up murdered someone.  You don't see that in the trailer for Insidious Chapter 2, which makes me curious how that will play out.

This movie looks like it will be more of the same--very eerie visuals, great sound design, and still nice and simple effects.  Good.  We need more quiet horror films.

I love James Wan's movies, and I really look forward to this one.

You're Next
I do not get what the BFD for this thing is.  The way they're promoting it, it looks like they're trying to make it the next big thing--I mean, they went so far as to release a new poster for it at Comic-Con.  But...I don't get it.  It looks like your typical home invasion movie.  It harkens back to The Strangers, which I wasn't really a fan of when I saw it...although admittedly it's been a while.  But still, it's in the same vein as The Purge.  It looks...meh?

This is the American remake of a 2003 Korean horror/thriller film.  It's about a man named Oh Dae-su, who is locked in a hotel room for 15 years without what the reason is that he's been captured. When he is finally released, Dae-su pursues vengeance, but the events of his capture are more complicated than he understands, tied up in lots of conspiracy and violence.

The Korean film is supposed to be pretty great.  I get sort of shivery about them remaking it, because it continues a semi-recent trend of adapting foreign movies in pretty much the exact same way, but American, rather than Americans just watching the foreign version.  I haven't seen either version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but Let Me In/Let the Right One In was pretty much the same...I didn't like either one, but that's beside the point.  The original is on Netflix right now.  I plan to check it out when I get the chance.

Anyway, the remake is directed by Spike Lee and stars Josh Brolin and Elizabeth Olsen, which is certainly something.  I like both of those actors, so it does provide me with a little bit of interest to see it.  But I still plan to see the original first.

My reaction is still mostly the same as it was last year.  Only now with a pretty poster.

The Crow
I know basically nothing about The Crow.  I haven't seen the original, although it, too, is on my Netflix queue.  The only thing that I do know is that Brandon Lee died during the filming and that there have been several sequels to it since then.

At one point I read about them casting Tom Hiddleston to play the titular character, but apparently that's not the case anymore as Luke Evans has apparently taken the part.  I don't know who that is, he hasn't been in anything that I've seen, really, so my thoughts are "eh?" at this point.

What is it with sequel movies these days just rehashing an older title? The Fast and the Furious vs. Fast and Furious. X-Men Origins: Wolverine vs. The Wolverine.  The Chronicles of Riddick vs. Riddick.  Final Destination vs. The Final Destination.  The Evil Dead vs. Evil Dead. (That one isn't technically a sequel, but you see my point.)

Anyway, I freaking LOVED Pitch Black.  I watched it when I was in middle school.  I used to have pretty bad insomnia, and I would stay up late watching movies on Encore.  That's how I caught Pitch Black one night.  And it was epic.  Totally scary, tense, and Vin Diesel's Riddick was a bad ass, the perfect
representation of a character that is--in D&D terms--"chaotic neutral."  This was before the anti-hero thing was basically every hero on screen.  And I wouldn't see as charming a "chaotic neutral" hero again until Captain Jack Sparrow.

I actually just rewatched the movie recently, and it still holds up pretty well in my opinion.  The characters are all complex and interesting, it doles out information about them at a slow pace.  They're not obnoxious and shouting and screaming curses at each other like most movies do "everyone for themselves" movies nowadays.  And, yes, the CG is pretty awful, it was more than a decade ago, man!

I didn't see The Chronicles of Riddick.  It was PG-13, seeming to eschew the tense thriller/survival horror feel of the first film for a more popcorny action film.  But this new one?  This new one looks like it's going back to its roots.  I'm stoked.  I do worry that it'll basically just be a remake of the first one, but I'm going to be cautiously optimistic on this one.

I, Frankenstein
I have no idea what this is about.  I haven't read the graphic novel.  However, I am definitely intrigued.  First of all, the graphic novel is written by a PoC, which is just super bad ass, and second of all, it's got Aaron Eckhart in it.  I like him.  He was great as Harvey Dent.

Besides the lead actor, the plot sounds ridiculously bad ass.  From IGN:
"[...] this Frankenstein is like none we've ever seen before, an ageless creature who is caught up in a war between gargoyles and demons in a modern day dystopia -- with the two sides fighting to discover the secret behind his immortality."
So, you know, I'm looking forward to that.

Catching Fire
I don't have a lot to say about this one.  It looks great.  The first one was great.  They fired the guy that was at least partially responsible for the crazy shakiness.  Jennifer Lawrence is still adorable and sweet and an awesome actress that I want to support.  That does mean, however and unfortunately, that the films still indulge in brown face for the main character--because make no mistake, Katniss is absolutely not white.

I enjoyed the first one a lot; I'm sure the second will be as good.

300: Rise of an Empire
I remember when the first 300 came out.  People made jokes about a sequel.  301, 300 2: 301, 299, etc, etc.  Ha ha ha ha ha ha, yes, the name of that film sure was a number wasn't it?  And that's never been done before, as long as you don't count 9, Se7en, 11:14, Nine, 21, 42, and 50/50.

Anyway, apparently this film will be taking place at roughly the same time as the first one.  I'm a little intrigued by this movie, partially because it features 2 prominent female characters (the queen and an enemy persian), and partially because it's not directed by Zack Snyder. Not that Snyder's a bad director.  That's not what I mean.  300 was just very much a Snyder-style film, so I'll be curious to see how similar and how different this film is.

In addition, the first film was based off of a graphic novel.  This one is not, so it will be interesting to see where they take the story.

I enjoyed the original Robocop film quite a bit.  It was a darkly funny look at the future, while also still being a kick ass film in the process.  And the costuming and effects were rad.  I didn't see the later films, mostly because I was younger and much more into terrible horror films at the time.

photo by ronnieyip of Flickr
I think everyone is getting remake fatigue by this point.  And yet, if that's all Hollywood puts out, that's all we get to see, eh?  So how does this look?  Well, it actually doesn't look too bad.  The guy they cast as Alex Murphy has a very kind...lower face?  Trust me, he has a nice smile that looks very cool juxtaposed with the Robocop visor.  And although initially the new suit looked horrible, several other pictures have come out that make the suit look much better.  And it looks good in motion.

The big thing that this has going for it for me are the actors--once again.  Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Keaton, Gary Oldman--all three fantastic actors.  I also liked what the director had to say: that the original film was about a corporation slowly buying possession and control of a man.  I disagree with his interpretation of the original film, but that will certainly make for an interesting remake.  At least it's not the exact same movie...I hope.

Apparently, the hand thing isn't a mistake--like they left the roboglove off.  The film says they left one human hand on so he could come across more human-like when he shakes civilians hands.  An interesting take.  I'll reserve judgement until the final film before I say it's stupid.  But it does look goofy.

Ender's Game
Ender's Game is a bizarre moral quandry of a movie.  It is a modern classic, one of the most influential pieces of science-fiction in this generation.  And it's also written by a flaming ass-bag of hate, intolerance, and shit.  Orson Scott Card is a horrible human being that spouts horrible things.  He actively works to ruin the lives of the LGBTQ community, and has actively published screed after screed of hateful things.

Hark! I can already hear the fanboys grinding their ax heads against whetstones, ready to rage and froth at the mouth about separating the artist from their work and blah blah blah this famous author was also a jerk, and the only thing I can say is, whoever you're about to mention, they're probably dead.  Or they haven't made their awfulness as publicly known as Card has.

Some people want to boycott this movie.  They fear that a movie based on Card's book doing well means that he will get more money--which he very well could.  They fear that a movie based on Card's book doing well means that people implicitly agree, or that it means authors can say whatever they want with no consequences because people will go see it anyway.

Some people strongly (sometimes vehemently) disagree with Card's views, but want to support the movie because it is a much more complicated issue, with actors and actresses and directors having spent lots of time devoting themselves to this book and portraying it in the best way possible.  It contains female characters that aren't love interests (shock!), and the careers of these young actors and actresses may very well ride on the performance of this film.  Studio execs will probably not get "this movie did poorly because the author of the source material is a ignorant, bigoted ass hat and people didn't go see it because they didn't want to show support to the original author and his ignorant, bigoted ways."  They'll probably see "this movie did poorly because these actors are bad/this movie didn't fit to the traditional Hollywood structure."

It is a big squirming ball of toughness, and whether you go to see it or not will be determined by your own personal feelings and morality.  For what it's worth, basically everyone that had anything to do with the movie has come out against Card and his horrible ideas--but then again, they would, wouldn't they?  They want the film to do well.

As for my own thoughts:  I really don't know.  It is certainly a difficult issue.


Captain America: Winter Soldier
I quite enjoyed the first movie.  However, part of the reason I liked it as much as I did was because the film had a different sort of feel.  It was made in a sort of retro style since it took place in the past, so it was made to look similar to movies of the time period.  I'm a little concerned because this movie will have to take place in present day, which means the style will be significantly different.  It won't carry over like the Iron Man films have...unless it did.  And that would be kind of awesome.

Also, Black Widow is going to be a main character in this one.  Sweet.  Hopefully we're building up to her getting her own movie.  That would be bad ass.

Thor: The Dark World
The first Thor was great.  Obviously my favorite part was Loki.  Tom Hiddleston as Loki is just a part that he was born to play.  Seriously great.  So I'm sure I'll enjoy this movie.  However, for some reason, I'm just not that excited for it, y'know?  Like, it doesn't look bad, it just isn't raising my interest like some of the other Marvel movies have.  I mean, I'll still see it, but it's not one I'm particularly looking forward to.  Maybe it's because the previews have been sort of vague on what really is going on, I dunno.

X-Men: Days of the Future Past
I am a big fan of the X-Men movies--except the third one.  It's bad, y'all.  Real bad.

Anyway, I'm not saying a huge unquestioning fanboy.  I definitely saw flaws in Origins: Wolverine, but I still enjoyed it overall, and I'm going to see The Wolverine this weekend.  But this movie is shaping up to be amazing.

X-Men: First Class was the best X-Men movie since X-2.  It was fun in a way that the series hadn't been in a while.  It messed with the continuity of the series a bit, but the actors portrayal more than made up for some of the more minor flub ups.  And this new one will feature Michael Fassbender as Magneto...AND SIR IAN MCKELLEN!!!  Dude!  As if that weren't awesome enough, Brian Singer has said that, somehow, this movie will make First Class fit into continuity with the rest of the series while also fixing some of the problems that were created in The Last Stand.  So, I am stoked.

I hope that Kelsey Grammar comes back as Beast, because as far as Beast actors go, he's pretty much perfect--I mean, the new guy's good, but I mean for classic, older beast.  Same for Alan Cumming as Nightcrawler.  That was another one of my favorite portrayals in the series.

Anyway, I've always been intrigued with the Days of Future Past storyline, so I'm definitely looking forward to seeing what they do with it in movie form.  It's cool that the movies have lasted so long that they can do these big event stories now, y'know?  Instead starting over and having to reestablish everything?  It's nice.

Avengers 2:  Age of Ultron
Avengers was probably one of the best superhero movies I've seen in a while.  Not as good as Iron Man 3, but still damned good.  Joss Whedon has a way with characterization and dialog that is unmatched by most directors and writers.  I know this one will be great.  Same guy working on it.  Promise of another prominent female character--the Scarlett Witch!!--being brought into the mix.  It'll keep things interesting.  Not much more to say.  This one should rock.

It's kind of unfortunate to learn that they're not going to be following the comics origin of Ultron, since that would mean introducing Hank Pym and Ant-Man, but, hey.  It's Joss Whedon. He's earned some trust by this point.

Guardians of the Galaxy
Still don't really know much about this.  Don't know much about the Guardians of the Galaxy.  I do know that it's a bizarre sort of movie with not just a multi-racial cast, but a multi-species cast.  This should be interesting because it's not your sort of mainstream Hollywood affair, and probably represents a big risk on Marvel's part to be putting it out.

Also, Karen Gillen is in it: my second favorite companion from Doctor Who.  Awesome

Amazing Spider-Man 2
I quite enjoyed the first Amazing Spider-Man.  Make all the jokes you want, the fact is it was well done--although Peter Parker was a bit too mopey.  He was great in his Spider-Man outfit, but in the comics, Peter
is much funnier and light hearted than we saw.  He jokes around with his friends and family, even makes jokes to himself, and that's outside of his garb.  Sure, he has plenty of dark moments, but I'd love to see
Peter just a little less mopey in this new one.

It's interesting that they cast Shailene Woodley--of Divergent and The Fault in Our Stars--and then cut her out of the film.  I'm glad--I'd rather see his relationship with Gwen Stacy develop before we try to introduce more love interests--but I'm curious to see how that effects the overall film.  How big a part of the original was she?  Was she physically cut from the film, or was she just cast and then they decided to cut her character from the script?  Did they have to reshoot things?

Pacific Coast News - from this article
Anyway, This new film brings us a villain I'm excited to see reimagined, Electro, and PAUL GIAMATTI as the Rhino!  Jamie Foxx is a little one-note to me, but seems like he gets to be a bit more emotive here than he was in Django Unchained.  But Paul Giamatti seems to really be the one that gets to act out if these photos of him on set are of any indication.

Anyway, I'm really looking forward to this film as well.  I think it's going to be great.


Superman/Batman Movie
There's not much to say about this one, actually.  I mean, Man of Steel just came out, and it's going to be a while before this one comes out.  David Goyer I think might have started the script, but it certainly ain't done yet, and there's still rewrites, casting, location scouting.  It'll be a while.

I'm torn on this one.  On the one hand, I'm excited.  This sort of team-up movie is a bit safer than a full-on Justice League movie, while still experiment with a combined universe idea.  And it's a dream team of a team up as well.  On the other hand, DC's movies for the past thirty years or so have been pretty SuperBatcentric.

There have been 15 live-action movies of Batman and Superman to date.  One half-assed attempt at a spin-off character with Supergirl that has pretty much been all but forgotten, and Catwoman had a half-assed attempt as well.  Where's a Flash movie?  Or an Aquaman movie? (And before you scoff, maybe try reading Geoff John's New 52 issues of Aquaman--he's a badass.)  Or, my personal complaint, where the hell is the Wonder Woman movie?

I'm just saying, I know it's early yet, but we just finished a Batman trilogy, and now he's being reintroduced? And paired with the only other superhero to make any money for DC at the box office.  Maybe try branching out?  I know Green Lantern hurt y'all, but Marvel had its share of shitters at the start.  Remember Hulk? Or either of the Fantastic Four movies?

I'm just saying, this is cool and all, and believe me, I'm really intrigued, especially since, based on your public reading, you're basing it off of The Dark Knight Returns and Superman and Batman are going to try to kick each other's ass:
"I want you to remember, Clark, in all the years to come, in all your most private moments, I want you to remember my hand at your throat. I want you to remember the one man who beat you."
But maybe consider branching out a bit, guys. You're letting Marvel kick your ass.

Yeah, yeah, I know, that was a shit ton to read.  It seems it's even longer than last year, and there are some projects I deliberately left off because I just didn't have as much to say about them.  But, now I want to know, what do you think of the news from SDCC? Do any of these projects interest or excite you, or is there anything that happened that I didn't mention that you'd like to talk about? Is there anything that doesn't excite you, or that I didn't mention that you'd like to complain about? Let's continue this discussion in the comments.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Weekend Movie Round-Up: Monsters University and Much Ado About Nothing

As you know, I go see a lot of movies. I've only met a handful of people that like movies even a teensy bit as much as me. I saw some movies this weekend. I will now talk about them. This is:


I know that this movie has been out for a while, but I have a reason for why I didn't see it earlier:  I have a general policy for prequels--they are unnecessary and can hurt rather than help movie franchises.  You need only look as far as the Star Wars prequels to get an idea of how terribly these things can go.  RedLetterMedia does an awesome breakdown of not just the failures of the prequels as movies, but their failures in relation with the rest of the series.  And even the X-Men prequels, hit and miss as they've been, have wound up messing up the continuity of the series pretty severely.

Needless to say, when it was announced the Monsters, Inc. was getting a prequel...I was not exactly enthused.  If I can be blunt, it down right pissed me off.  All of the advertisements for the film completely baffled me.  The direction they chose to take, the story they chose to tell...their reasoning didn't make any sense.

The prequel is about a young Mike Wazowski.  From childhood, he has had one dream:  he wants to grow up to be the greatest Scarer in all the land.  To do so, he studies hard, which eventually pays off in him getting accepted to his dream school, Monsters University, where he chooses to major in Scaring.

And that's the entire movie.  The entire movie is Mike Wazowski's struggle to become top Scarer, going so far as the join the Scare Games on campus to try to prove he's the best there is.

Now, do you want to guess what problem I have?

WE ALREADY KNOW WHAT HAPPENS!!!  We know Mike and Sully eventually become friends.  We know that they both get to work for Monsters, Inc.  And, the worst thing, we know that Mike DOESN'T become a Scarer.  He's not a Scarer in Monsters, Inc.  In fact, he's pretty small potatoes considering he mostly just changes out Sully's Scream Containment Tubes.  He's constantly shunned by the world at large.  The running joke in Monsters, Inc. is that he keeps getting obstructions plastered over his face, even when he's technically getting awards and praise:  the corporate logo, bar codes, advertisements.  And they continue that joke (or I guess... retroactively originate that joke, since this takes place before the other one...?) in Monsters University.

This movie is very much Wazowski's movie, whereas the other one was very much Sully's movie.  And I appreciate that.  However, it ruins basically any tension you might have because, regardless of what happens, you know that he's not going to succeed.  Somehow, regardless of what happens in this film, he will NOT be a Scarer at Monsters, Inc.  He will simply be an assistant to Sully.

So that's my major complaint with the plot: like almost all prequels, this one is pointless.  However, upon thinking about the film's worldbuilding and the stuff they establish in both this movie and the original, I got to thinking about the world at large and what this film means in relation to its predecessor/sequel.

Bear with me here.  With what follows, I'm well aware that you could say I'm overanalyzing things and that these are "just children's movies" okay?  But hear me out.

In Monsters, Inc. we learn that the world is powered by the screams of children--a clever way to introduce to the audience a spin on the old trope that monsters scare kids--which we all know that.  But why?  Because it provides them with energy for electricity and power.  Because of that, we don't have any problem with them being the protagonists of the film.  They're not evil, it's just their job. 

However, we also learn by the end of that film that they were all operating under a dangerous and truly malicious misconception that had been perpetuated by the higher ups in the corporation.  They discover that the idea that children's touch is toxic was just a scare tactic by their corporate leaders the children.  AND they learned that while children's screams were powerful, children's laughter was even more so.  It provided a nice moral to kids:  even if doing bad things can benefit you, doing nice things for others instead will always mean things are better for everyone.

This movie turns the clock back.  An entire university is dedicated to the perpetuation of gathering energy based on the suffering of others.  And unlike in the previous film, which made the actions somewhat forgivable because we thought there was no other way to gather energy, in this film, we KNOW there is, making the whole thing very uncomfortable when you give it some thought.  Every success they have, they are continuing to perpetuate a harmful culture that is disreputed by the end of the original film.

In addition, all of the training and work that both monsters put in is rendered completely moot because you know they'll shift their industry by the end of Monsters, Inc.  In a way, this kind of works, as Mike Wazowski will eventually become a success; however, it will be in a completely different thing than what he has always dreamed of, and it will be after he's spent years studying theory and mechanics that are completely obsolete by the end of the original film.

Again, it makes for an uncomfortable viewing experience when everything that happens in the prequel is proven false in the following film.  It takes away from the tension.


I liked this movie.  Quite a bit.

I know, I know.  I just spent a shit ton of words ripping this movie a new one, but Pixar is damned good at telling a story.  And while I dislike prequels, and I did spend large portions of this movie wondering what the point of it all was, I don't think you'll regret seeing it.  Let me put it this way: Pixar is aware of Mike Wazowski's situation in Monster's, Inc., and they certainly paint an interesting and unexpected way for him to get there.

That doesn't fix all of my complaints, and I certainly don't like this movie as much as the original, but I was very pleasantly surprised with this film.  I enjoyed it WAY more than I thought I would, and I actually recommend seeing it.  Sure, you know where the story will end up, but the way it gets there is just surprising enough to make the trip worth it anyway.

(By the way, I wonder how copyright law and trademarking works in this world.  I mean, I assumed that Monsters University and Monsters, Inc. were affiliated, but the film doesn't imply that they are.  They seem to be two separate things that both use not only the same name, i.e. "Monsters," but also the same logo--the letter M with an eyeball in it.  If that's the case, could one sue the other for using their logo illegally despite not being affiliated?  Or is Monsters University a subsidiary of Monsters, Inc like DeVry University is a subsidiary of DeVry, Inc?  DeVry University is a for-profit university, and those things are shady at best, and pretty goddamned horrible at worst, so does that mean that Monsters University is also a for-profit school?  Because that opens up a whole new can of worms.)

The second film that my wife and I went to see this weekend is Joss Whedon's foray into modern Shakespearean adaption, Much Ado About Nothing.

The schtick behind this film is that Joss Whedon took the original Shakespearean dialogue and placed the entire play in a modern setting.  People use cellphones, wear business suits, etc., but while speaking like Elizabethan characters.  This isn't the first time this has been done:  Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet have both had this treatment in the past.  But those are both tragedies.  This is the first time I can think of that one of Shakespeare's comedies has been adapted in such a way?  How is it?

Really frickin' good.  This is a nice, tiny little film.  It all takes place in the same house in the same yard.  It's filmed in artsy black and white, and the score, composed by Joss Whedon, is nice and simple.  He doesn't get too grandiose with it, and it plays very very well.  The acting is fantastic, and the casting is very, very well done.  It's sort of a who's-who of smaller actors from other roles, but they all play their parts fantastically.

The highlight of the film, not surprisingly, is Nathan Fillion as an inept police chief.  His scenes alone are worth the price of admission, but I also really enjoyed Amy Acker as Beatrice and Alexis Denisof as Benedick.

There are a few issues with the film.  For one, a few scenes feel out of place in the modern setting because they rely on gender roles and politics that are waaaaaay out of date at this point.  However, those moments aren't horribly egregious, and the actor's portrayals are pretty good to sell you on them as long you as keep in mind that this is an adaption of Shakespeare.

I say to see this one.  I really really enjoyed it, and I very much want to support these smaller films by Joss Whedon so that he isn't roped into simply making The Avengers until he dies.  I'm still holding out for a Dr. Horrible 2, Mr. Whedon.

Anyway, that's all for me. Did you see any of these movies? If so, what did you think? Did you see anything else? Share in the comments.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Weekend Movie Round-Up: The Conjuring, Red 2, R.I.P.D.

As you know, I go see a lot of movies.  I've only met a handful of people that like movies even a teensy bit as much as me.  Some movies opened up this weekend. I will now talk about them.  This is


The first movie we saw this weekend was The Conjuring. The movie is supposedly based on the true story of the Warren family--a husband/wife duo of paranormal investigators.  They investigated the Amityville thing, also.  Anyway, this movie details another case they once had.

Some people on the internet have a surprising amount of fervor and anger over these Warren cases, but I'm going to be frank with you--I don't care.  I went to see this movie because it was directed by James Wan.  If you don't know who James Wan is, he directed some of my all-time favorite horror movies: Saw, Insidious, and Dead Silence.  I highly recommend all three of those movies because they are all fantastic.  So I went in expecting good things.  What did I think?


I know that there have a been a ton of haunted house movies that have come out this year, and, indeed, in the past couple of years.  The Woman in Black, Insidious, The Possession, Sinister, Dark Skies, and now this film.  It is a well worn story convention by this time.  However, James Wan is great at what he does.  He is a master at building atmosphere and having it pay off in spades with lots of tension that builds into horrifying moments.  Sometimes the pay off is a jump scare, but he's just as likely to just introduce a terrifying image calmly in the background and just let the camera settle on it.  It's one of my favorite things about his movies--he just knows how to put one together really well.  

The movie also knows the conventions of haunted house movies and either has fun with them, or subverts them well.  It doesn't start off with tiny cliched things like 'whoops, now where did my keys go?'  It establishes characters and motivations.  You see the haunted family's personal relationships that builds into one terrifying-ass game of hide and seek.  And that's only the start.  The tension builds from there.

It's not without its flaws.  There are a few elements introduced in the movie that don't go anywhere, and a few things that seemed like they'd be important that aren't really ever addressed again.

I didn't like The Conjuring as much as Insidious.  I felt like Insidious was just a really scary movie, despite not having the R-rating of The Conjuring.  But, that doesn't mean that this movie isn't goddamned awesome.

If you like horror, go see this movie.  It's worth the price of admission.

Red was an awesome movie based on the graphic novel by noted comics writer Warren Ellis.  I have no idea if the movie and the comic have very much in common, but I know that the movie was fantastic.  It was about a former CIA agent named Frank Moses who's retired and is living the boring civilian life.  He's adjusted, and seeks his thrills now with calling a customer service line to speak with Sarah, whom he's developed a bit of a crush on.  However, when assassins show up to take him out, Frank tracks down Sarah to keep her safe, then rounds up a crew of former friends and allies including Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich playing a hilariously paranoid former operative, and Hellen Mirren as an incredible bad ass.

The movie's story is fun, the characters are memorable, the plot works really well.

Red 2 is an example of a sequel failing to understand what made the first one successful.  It waters down strong characters and spends most of its time trying to reference the previous movie.  This movie chooses to focus more on Frank's relationship with Sarah and how they're adapting to civilian life--except...Frank was already adapted to civilian life.  Sure, he was lonely, and he clearly had more fun being a bad ass...but this shouldn't be an issue.  The humor is supposed to come from the fact that Sarah craves adventure like she saw in the previous movie while Frank is paranoid that she'll get hurt.

John Malkovich's character was one of the best parts of the original movie, but his paranoia has been turned WAAAAY down in this film.  There are a few moments where he engages in some paranoid activity, but mostly he seems almost zen-like in this film.  Where, in the previous film he was worn down and haunted by what he knew about the government (and was actually vindicated given what happens in the first film), in this one, he's very calm, dispensing relationship advice to Frank, outwitting bad guys with relaxed ease, and even napping on a couch.

The movie was a massive disappointment.  It feels ultimately kind of pointless, and it lacks the heart of the first one in a major way.  Save yourself the money and just rewatch the first one.

1) This movie looks like a Men in Black rip off.  2) I know it was based on a comic.  I have not read the comic.  3) Men in Black was also based on a comic that came out before the R.I.P.D. comic.  What I'm saying is, it's possible for this still to be a MIB rip off.  Comic rip offs are just as common as movie rip offs.

With that out of the way, with the understanding that this is a Men in Black it any good?

In short: no.

Don't get me wrong.  It doesn't deserve the 11% that I last saw it had on Rotten Tomatoes.  That's a bit extreme.  It's hardly Grown Ups 2 territories of shitty.  It's just incredibly bland, boring, and stupid for way too much of the movie.  That said, I went in expecting nothing.  What I got was a surprising amount of laughs.  Not because the movie was good.  Not even because the movie was so bad it was funny.  It was because of Jeff Bridges.

Jeff Bridges is always brilliant in basically everything that he's in.  I love the guy.  I'm always excited to see his movies because he knows how to have fun with every role he's in.  And in this movie?  He clearly does not give a fuck.  This movie is boring, and he seems to know it, channeling his best Rooster Cogburn and just hamming it up in the best way possible.

While his character is awesome in most of the scenes, because it's mostly his reactions to situations, bitching about various perceived injustices and slights, or telling his rookie partner what's what, there is one place where Tommy Lee Jones did this role better: delivering exposition.  Jones has a way of delivering lines that are simply meant for exposition in a way that makes them sound important, in a way that is engaging, that Bridges character just didn't have.  When he's chewing the scenery or bitching for the 100,000,000th time about how coyotes ate his body, it's hilarious.  When he's trying to explain the rules of this MIB-lite world, it's boring boring boring.

Ryan Reynolds is mostly sleepwalking through this movie.  He has a few moments that are really funny, but those moments are when he's just shooting the shit with Jeff Bridges.  However, those moments are few and far between.  Every time the film starts to slow down and develop characters, another CG bad guy comes crashing through the scene.  It's like they were afraid if the characters weren't constantly barebacking a CG behemoth, the audience might get bored.

The largest thing lacking in this film, I think, is the direction.  Barry Sonnenfeld directed the MIB movies, and while you may have your problems with the sequels, they still felt like MIB movies.  They had a sort of off-kilter, mocking tone.  The movies were about more than just aliens among us.  There was lots of social commentary, the director took pains to make the aliens seem like the normal ones and all of the humans seems like the awkward aliens.  It was the whole point.  RIPD's tone feels too much like a generic action movie for the most part, with a few moments of awkwardly trying to copy the MIB tone. 

For example, in MIB, the agents get the latest alien news from the tabloids.  It's a twist on an old idea that tabloids only publish garbage, but in this film they're actually the most reliable news source.  In RIPD, the entrance for the RIPD is in the bathroom of a VCR Repair shop.  They make the joke, "When's the last time you had a VCR repaired."  It's a decent joke, but the rest of the movie's tone doesn't match up to that, so you have this movie that feels like it doesn't know what kind of movie it wants to be and it ends up failing in many regards.

The one thing this movie has going for it: it's short.

I have to repeat myself.  I know I was hard on this movie, but that's because there were moments where I saw what the film could have been: Jeff Bridges playing the accordian and singing a bitchy, passive-aggressive song about his partner = frickin' hilarious.  But it kept getting bogged down with too much other crap.

If you want to see this movie, I'd wait for it on DVD.  Give it rent when you're bored and have nothing else to do, but mostly only if you want to see Jeff Bridges ridiculous "not-giving-a-fuck" performance.  Otherwise, I'd say skip it.


Anyway, that's all for me.  Did you see any of these movies?  If so, what did you think?  Did you see anything else?  Share in the comments.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Nope, Don't Like Him (A Comic Review)

Okay, so, as I mentioned recently, I've been getting into comics.  I got into DC roughly 1 year ago.  Thanks in a large part to comic book reviewer Linkara's Atop the Fourth Wall, I've been itching to read more comics than the handful of DC titles I've picked up from the New 52.  So, I decided to start trying to read some Marvel comics.

When I chose to start reading DC, they had just rebooted the entire universe, so it wasn't a terrible place to jump in with issue 1.  Marvel, however, still has it's decades-long history of comics.  So where to start?  Well, to be honest, I recommend watching Linkara's episodes that feature Marvel and DC comics if you're interested in getting into comics.  He reviews bad comics (the show's tag line is "where bad comics burn") and explains why they suck, but he also explains character history and context for why certain things are bad.  You learn a lot of the history, and it's interesting, entertaining, and hilarious to boot.

In addition, I did a ton of reading on Amazon. I looked up various ongoing series for a description of what they were about, then looked up reviews on Amazon for the trades to see what others thought about them.

I have some comics to recommend, but today I want to talk about a new comic that just started up semi-recently that I bought the first three issues of, but will no longer be reading, Alpha: Big Time.

The backstory for this hero actually starts in the Amazing Spider-man comics.
"One day during a demonstration at Horizon Labs, presented by Peter Parker, an accident similar to Parker's granted Andrew the ability to create a hyper-kinetic form of energy tied to the forces of the universe. After being tested by many superhero scientists, Andy became the new spokesman to Horizon Labs, while he was trained by Peter Parker's alter-ego, Spider-Man." --
Alpha eventually lost his powers because he was careless and stupid and nearly got a ton of people killed.  Peter rigged a machine to zap Alpha's powers away.  Alpha: Big Time issue 1 starts there, with Alpha going in periodically to get check-ups from Peter Parker.

The first issue deals with the repercussions of Alpha losing his powers.  He apparently was quite popular at school after he developed powers, using them to gain social stature among his classmates.  Now, with no powers, he's a mistreated nerd.

Right off was kind of annoyed, because the comic features the cliched "nerd table" idea.  He's so unpopular he has to sit at the "loser table," which only features two other people--an overweight stereotypical geek that drones on and on about overly-analyzed pop-culture, and a heavily-pierced girl with an attitude known (affectionately?) as "Soupcan."

This is some pretty lazy, cliched characterization.  But my beef goes deeper than that.

Alpha is a dick to both of these characters, treating them like they're below him, like his being among them is a punishment put upon him by his peers--which, to be fair, it is, but his attitude toward these "losers" that he should feel empathy toward is just as bad as his peers attitude to him.  I guess he's a teenager, and teenagers are actually like this, but ask any horror fan how portraying the absolute worst qualities of teenagers works to develop likable protagonists (spoiler alert: it doesn't).

Anyway, Alpha goes to his check up with Peter Parker, but he gets a shock:  Parker is going to give him his powers back.  This is because Peter Parker recently switched bodies with Doctor Octopus and died, leaving Doc Ock in Parker's body.  Ock-Parker has decided to try to be a hero in his own way, and decided he wanted to mentor Alpha for...some..reason.  I dunno.  I question his judgement, though, because in literally two issues (the next day) he acts annoyed that Alpha keeps coming to him for advice.

Alpha doesn't get all of his powers back, just a fraction of it.  However, it's enough to make him feel way better about himself.  After flying around and being carefree, he goes patrolling.  He sees a mugging in progress and steps in to save the victim, a young woman.  When the mugger doesn't back down and threatens Alpha with a gun, Alpha punches him in the face so hard he SHATTERS THE MUGGERS SKULL.  He starts to panic, but where the comic started to lose me was his first thought.  Not "oh shit, I just killed someone."  Nope, it's "Peter Parker is going to be so mad at me."

In issue two, he takes the guy to the hospital.  There's a scene that's supposed to be humorous I think where he thinks some cops are there to arrest him for severely hurting and potentially fatally injuring this man--thug or not.  The cops, however, shrug it off.  "He must have slipped during the struggle."

This reminds of the way cops are portrayed in Gotham (and in the new DC comic The Movement).  They're corrupt.  They abuse their authority, they feel that they can beat the shit out of petty criminals, while also being in bed with the larger, more monetarily endowed criminals.  But unlike the cops in Gotham that we're supposed to dislike, I think these cops are supposed to be good.  Like, we're supposed to like them because they let Alpha off with no consequences?  I'm supposed to be okay with that?  "Hyuck, hyuck, just a youngster getting used to his superpowers."  This scene has the same sort of tone to it as the scene in  Raimi's Spider-man, where Peter tries to swing on web and winds up leaping off of a roof instead.  But in that one, Peter just looked like a goofy youngster, charming and green.  This guy has potentially killed someone.  Ha ha?

I will give the comic this credit: Alpha still goes to Parker's lab to have his powers taken away.

While he waits in the lobby to confess to Ock-Peter that he was irresponsible, he meditates on what happened.  He expresses a little bit of guilt--but mostly he bitches and moans about how he's going to get his powers taken away (again...AGAIN...he's almost killed people TWICE, but I should feel BAD for him???).

I guess I could buy this well enough, and maybe even sympathize, if the character were built up as charming and sympathetic.  But he's really not.  I mean, he has a shitty home life--shitty (drug addict?) mom, divorced parents.  That's tough.  But that doesn't make him sympathetic if there's not something likable about his personality as well.  I get using his powers for self-gain. I get hurting someone because he's not careful.  I get being unsure, or even angry.  But he almost never expresses any guilt about what he's done wrong.  He occasionally pays some very basic lip-service, but then he launches into another bout of self-pity about how he'll miss his powers and/or grumbling about having to sit at the losers table some more.

Anyway, Alpha grabs a nearby paper to kill time and learns, joy upon joys, that the mugger will live after all.  Sure, he has a shattered skull and (most assuredly) brain damage.  But he will live.  Alpha's reaction?  Relief.  Not minor relief that at least he didn't kill the guy while still feeling guilty about probably ruining this guy's life.  No, he's completely ecstatically over the moon that he didn't kill the guy.  I mean, Charlie after finding the golden ticket jubilant.  He flies around with a big fucking cheesy grin.

My wife and I were in a car accident in which she was thrown against the windshield when her seatbelt failed to lock up properly.  She suffered pretty bad brain damage and had to fight for several months to get back to where she was, and her short term memory took even longer to fully recover.  Thankfully, she was young, so she could bounce back really quickly.  This mugger?  Got it way worse.  Not just a head injury--A SHATTERED SKULL.  He most certainly has brain damage, and will have to deal with probably years of physical and neurological therapy to get better.

Then!  Alpha decides to go to the injured man's hospital room to "apologize."  However, after initially saying sorry, he starts pussy-footing around, inevitably laying blame on the mugger for "totally trying to kill" him, effectively shirking himself of any actual blame.  It becomes one of those "sorry you got offended" apologies.

All-in-all, I couldn't stand the hero.  I think this comic is supposed to be an answer to Spider-man--young, in high school, dating girls and dealing with juggling superherodom with a broken and messed up family life--but where Peter Parker was charming and funny with his jokes and references, this character is unpleasant, self-absorbed, and almost sociopathic with his social interactions.

In a story there has to be some reason for the reader to care.  Either the character makes mistakes but feels bad about them and/or justifiable reasons for his bad decisions, he doesn't feel bad but has to deal with the consequences of his actions just the same, or some combination of the two.  It's very hard to have readers give a crap when the hero's actions are completely and totally divorced from any real consequences.

It's not just that he doesn't feel anything for nearly killing someone--it's that he doesn't suffer any external repercussions either.  The comic plays it off as a kind of sick joke.  I think it's implying that this person will come back as a supervillain, but honestly, that's not the kind of repercussions I'm talking about.  Where's the emotional turmoil and fear of what he could do with his power?  Where's the hesitation to not over do it again?  Maybe because of this, he's reluctant to help other people lest he cause more damage or hurt someone even more?  Maybe his indecision results in others getting hurt and he realizes he has to do something?  Or if he's supposed to be so emotionally undeveloped, where's the external repercussions?  People afraid he'll hurt them if they encounter him, cops investigating his abuse of power, the family of the victim suing for damages...honestly anything besides, "Wow, that sucks. BUT HE'S ALIVE, SO OH WELL!"

As if the clunky story and unlikable characters weren't enough, I'm not a fan of the artwork, either.  I was intrigued by the cover artist, who draws Alpha in a very engaging way and pleasing (to me) way.  The art is cartoonish enough to give the book a fun feel, but detailed enough to be pleasing to look at.  It's the kind of art that can carry comedic, light-hearted adventures and darker, emotional story-lines equally well.  It sort of reminds me of Ben 10 or Teen Titans.  You can see an example of the cover art above.

The inside art?  I don't like it.  The characters have weird physical proportions, their faces are shaped weird--both the shapes of their heads, but also the character's face and where it sits on their heads.  Just look at Alpha's profile:

Also, if you look at all of the pictures from inside the comic that I've posted, his hair seems to defy all logic, growing and shrinking at random.  And if that's one of his superpowers, they don't mention it.

In the back of issue 1, the writer of the comic says flat out that Alpha is supposed to be a jerk to demonstrate how unique Peter Parker was in how he handled his abilities, the responsibilities that came with them, and juggling them with his civilian life.  Parker was young when he received his burden, but, they argue, he handled it unnaturally well.  Alpha is supposed to be more akin to the typical teenager and how they'd deal with superpowers if they got them.  Well, if they wanted to portray him as a jerk, they succeeded.  I just wish they'd made him likable as well.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

I'm Back! (And a Comic Recommendation)

I feel a bit silly that the last thing I posted for several days was me indulging in some venting and whining.  It wasn't my intention to just post something like that and disappear.  I didn't ragequit or anything.  I just had a whole bunch of things pop up afterward, and then decided to take a vacation from the internet.

I haven't been on Twitter, G+, Facebook, Blogger, or any of the other 1000 social media networks that have started dominating our lives.  And how was it?  Quiet.  Nice and quiet. I didn't read the news, I didn't worry about writing stories, I didn't worry about blog posts, I didn't worry about my job.  I didn't worry about the latest political scandals, or the latest horrible shit happening because someone said something horribly offensive.  I just watched TV, read, and overall relaxed.

I am back now, and I have things I need to begin doing again, but my head feels much clearer.  I trimmed my Twitter follows a bit to clear out some of the clutter and bad news and such, which helped.

I don't just want this to be a post about me being back--because that feels so useless and boring--so I'm going to make a recommendation.

While I was gone, I rekindled my love of comics.  I'll go into more detail later, but I started reading a few new books, and I wanted to give my recommendation just the same.

Semi-recently in Marvel Comics, Ms. Marvel--noted female superhero--got a new costume and a new name.  Specifically, she took over the name Captain Marvel--who used to be a male superhero/alien that died a while back and should not be confused with DC's Captain Marvel.  Anyway, I bought the first volume of the trade collections on a whim, and I really, really enjoyed what I read.

image from: Goodreads
The first issue is a sweet, funny one-off sort of introducing Carol Danvers to the reader (if you need such a thing) and establishing her decision to take over the new moniker.  The rest of the issues deal with her suddenly being warped through time and meeting up with different bad-ass females throughout history, including a troop of female soldiers in WWII and Carol's personal hero and one of the first (fictional) female pilots, Helen Cobb.

The artwork for the first three or four issues is pretty bad.  The penciling is fine, it's the inking and coloring that makes it way too dark at times.  It does get better in the latter half of the book, although it sort of swings from one extreme to the other.

I really enjoyed this story, and I want to see it continue, despite the shakey artwork.  This character deserves to have more of her story told.  So, if you're looking for a new read, and/or you've never read comics and want a place to start, this is a great place to check out, with a strong, funny female superhero written like a person with plenty of action and character drama balanced well.

(P.S. I know there's a volume 2 to this.  It's on my list, I just haven't had the money to get it yet.  Someday soon, I assure you.)