Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

Review: The Wolverine

July 26, 2013

Rating: B

Before I even begin the review of The Wolverine, I need to point out that the film you will see could not have been made possible without Len Wein, John Romita Sr. and Herb Trimpe (the creators of Wolverine) and specifically Chris Claremont and Frank Miller who wrote the 1982 four issue limited series this film is based on.

Overall it was not a bad film and there seems to be a level of quality control with this film that was not there with the first Wolverine film (see my review).  X-Men: First Class has become my favorite of the X franchise and the pendulum seems to be swinging towards quality.

That said, I did have issues with this film.

When this film followed the story laid out in the limited series, it was great, and that’s even with some of the subtle character changes (like with Yukio) that I thought worked and made sense.  I also liked the opening sequence which was extremely well done.  I am not someone who says that films need to be slavish to the source material.

But it is important to keep the spirit of the piece intact.

Where this film runs aground is when the screenwriters decided to grow a brain and add in things that just really didn’t make much sense.

For instance, the villain is both a copyright curiosity (does Fox own the rights to her?) and just took the film in directions that stunk of generic super hero movie.  There is also a huge part of the plot that deals with mutant powers that is a MacGuffin meant to create “manufactured danger”  that is extremely transparent (hint: if the actor’s name is the first billed on the poster, they’re not going to die).

Fox is trying to build a franchise out of the X-Men properties that they have the license to and that’s a good thing.  There’s even a great teaser in the credits for the next X film.

Typical of Hollywood however is that they learn the wrong lessons from their successes.

The lesson from X-Men: First Class was that if you build a great film first (in that case, a period spy piece) you win.

The lesson is not to build generic super hero films.  That’s X3 and it nearly killed the franchise it was such a mess.

Speaking of which, there is a heavy reliance on knowing what happened in X3.  So if you didn’t see that and aren’t familiar with the X-Men comic books, you might be scratching your head on a few scenes.  But more power to them for trying to build their universe.

The source material is not a super hero comic book.  It’s a samurai tale.  It’s very simple.  Very A-to-B.  And it works.  It’s stood the test of time.  Which is why, for instance, it is mind boggling that in addition to all of the crap they piled on the film they also made the decision to make it where Logan does not speak Japanese and has never lived in Japan.

It takes away a huge part of his cool factor and puts him in that generic super hero cookie cutter.

It’s also bizarre that so many of the divergence from the source material pull out some great set pieces (like running through Tokyo with Yukio).  That said, I found it interesting that they really tried to recreate some of the Frank Miller imagery in the film.  In some places they get close, but it really shows how different the mediums are where what you can do on the page doesn’t always work on the screen.

To that point, voice over almost never works in films, but works amazingly well in comics and I’m thankful they knew that and opted to not go with a voice over.

Overall, it’s not a bad film.  But it had so much potential.  Read the source material and you’ll understand what I mean where if they had stuck with the vision and the tone of the comic book the could have made a film that was better than Iron Man.

But like I said, they decided to try to get “clever” and “creative” and we all know that when it comes to Hollywood that’s usually not a good thing.

[Update: Sean Howe interviews Chris Claremont about his thoughts on the film on Vulture, and Claremont does a great job of articulating some of my issues with the film]

Wolverine #2, Page 27 by Frank Miller & Joe Rubinstein

Wolverine #2, Page 27 by Frank Miller & Joe Rubinstein

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Review: Sucker Punch (Extended Cut)

June 16, 2012

Carl: According to the map, the cabin should be right here. Lenny: Hey, maybe there is no cabin. Maybe it’s one of them metaphorical things. Carl: Oh yeah, yeah… Like maybe the cabin is the place inside each of us, created by our goodwill and teamwork. Lenny: [in a flash of insight] Ohhh! Nah, they said there would be sandwiches. – The Simpsons, “Mountain of Madness

Sucker Punchfeels like it was written by a seventeen year-old boy; and that’s only a good thing some of the time.

As a film that switches between realities, this particular film only works when the characters are in the hyper-battle reality where they’re shooting and doing amazing wire work.

When they are there…holy shit, it’s nothing short of amazing.  The number of times I said, “Hot” during the film went into the triple digits (ask my friend Pansy, she was keeping count). All of the actresses are outstanding doing their fighting stunts, firearms sequences and fight choreography.

There’s a bit where Abbie Cornishis wearing a hoodie mixed with medieval shoulder pad armor (pictured above) that is fantastic.  The style of the characters and landscapes combined with the action are fantastic. I could have watched that part of the movie for hours.  Just that for an evening would have made this film an A+. The problem is they did not stay in that reality.  Instead, the “narrative thread” that strings together these amazing scenes is something out of a bad high school notebook.

Homer [while watching the movie]: I’ve heard how this ends, it turns out the secret code was the same nursery rhyme he told his daughter! – The Simpsons, “Colonel Homer

The entire movie is like this quote.  The metaphors are so heavy handed that it’s any wonder the actors could lift the scripts. Entire scenes and huge chunks of dialogue made absolutely no sense.  Metaphor or not.

In keeping with the metaphors, the film had this dark / goth tone across the A storyline (if one could call it that) and it was simply unnecessary. Speaking of which, I suspect the mascara budget on this film was in the high six figures (it would have been cheaper to just buy Lancome).

Back to the reality switching for a moment.  The bizarre irony of the film is that on the one hand it relies on the imagination of a woman in the 1950’s who is dreaming about things that did not exist sixty years ago, and on the other hand she lacks imagination to do certain fundamental things in the plot.

I also call a bit of dirty pool on the director for establishing a film that is following the POV of a specific character…then having entire sequences without that character in the room.  This was done a few times.  It’s just sloppy writing.

The other element of the film that was obtrusive was the music.  The opening sequence is little more than a music video (which, I have to ask the director if he had enough confidence in the scene that he should have just left it to stand by itself).  The music overall is done as a series of cover versions of classic songs that we know and love.  Except the Bjork song.  Which is the original.  To which I’d ask: pick one!  Do either all covers.  Or all originals.  Doing both just gets annoying.

But maybe my temper was running high because I wanted them to go back to the hyper-reality action stuff.

BTW, the music is used during the dance sequences where the main character zones out and shifts into the hyper-battle reality.  The most hilarious thing about the film is that when she finishes her “dance” the characters who have seen this are shown crying.  She’s such a good dancer that she makes people weep. Again.  The heavy hand combined with the music just make it…ugh.

Overall, I’d say that if you want a movie that you can mute for long periods of time to read comics and then unmute when some of the most insane action sequences come on than this is your movie!

If you are looking for a deep and meaningful movie that speaks to the human condition.

See the statement above. Rating: C-

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

July 1, 2011

Rating: B

In the mid-1990’s, television talk show host Kathie Lee Gifford was producing a high quality apparel line for K-Mart at affordable prices.  Then in 1996, the National Labor Committee reported (Democracy Now) that the clothing was being made in sweatshops with conditions that are too unspeakable to go into in this blog post.

I mention that to mention this.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon is bananas.  B-A-N-A-N-A-S.  Bananas.

It so crazy and insanely over the top that even with a $200 million (US) budget, I have to wonder if we won’t find out in a few months  that none of the actors or crew were paid (or fed) and that the special effects were all done in fifth-world sweatshops in countries we’ve never heard of.

But until then!  This movie is just insane and worth seeing in a great theater with a nice digital 3D projector (like the Alamo Drafthouse here in Austin).

Let’s start with the fact that if I were a kid.  This movie would be my jam.

Visually, it is incredible.  It’s one of the first times where I’ve noticed a director composing his shots for 3D and then actually pulling it off without it being the stupid ‘he that actor is throwing something at me’ nonsense.  Rather, subtle things like foreground elements such as lamp posts give this movie the three dimensions that other movies (like Green Lantern) fail to do.

The open letter that Michael Bay wrote to theater projectionists and fans was on  the money; the theater experience will make or break this movie for you.  My older brother convinced me to see this in the theater and he was right to do so.

BTW, let’s talk about Green Lantern for a moment.  My hatred of Green Lantern is well-known.  Transformers delivers all of the awesomeness that Green Lantern did not.  I am not lying to you when I say that there is a scene in the first five minutes of the movie that looked more expensive than all of Green Lantern combined.  And it lasted for maybe 5 minutes.  If that.

There’s also a stunt involving Bumblebee on the highway that…when you see this thing your jaw will open and you’ll think what I did, “Wow.  That one scene is so much better than the entirity of Green Lantern.”

Michael Bay is a very easy target.  He’s made enough bad movies (I saw The Island in the theater, thank you very much) and he’s a “jock” in a world full of nerds.

But let’s look past all of that because this is a good movie.

Michael Bay does two things that you would think are diametrically opposite of each other very well.

He can handle a large budget like $200 million (US) without bankrupting his backers or the studio and at the same time he can stretch a dollar in the way that Sam Raimi and Robert Rodriguez can.

The other thing that Bay does quite well is action, and a lot of it has to do with his unique relationship with the military.  I recall reading somewhere that after doing Pearl Harbor, the US military has pretty much been open to any request he asks of them (short of doing a Dogs of War thing, I suspect).

For instance, the last film was the first use of the V-22 Osprey and this film uses them heavily as well but the drop into Chicago in particular is a scene where you recognize that not only does MIchael Bay have some of the best military tech advisors on speed dial, but he backs up the budget to let them show us some amazing stuff.

The script from Ehren Kruger is interesting in that it’s a lot more historical fact-meets-fiction (ala National Treasure and the like).  Overall, the story holds together.

If I were to scrutinize it, could I find plot holes?  Sure.  But I almost give it a bit of a pass because the movie progressed at a nice rapid clip and overall it was visual insanity set to screen.

The dialogue from Optimus Prime was everything it should be.  Every time Peter Cullen speaks it is inspirational and at the same time heroic.

I will say that the role of women in this movie was horrible.  Seriously.  The lack of roles for women in this film outside of girlfriend, horrible boss and assistant probably set the suffrage movement back about 50 years.  And yes, that was Keiko Agena aka “Lane” from Gilmore Girls.

Also, this movie suffers from what Green Lantern did in that it only credits the screenwriter and not the many hard working individuals who created the comic book and television show.  It should be noted that former Editor In Chief of Marvel comics, Jim Shooter, actually created the storyline and character details for the comic, the toys and ultimately the television show.  He was not credited.

Overall though, this is a fun movie to go see during the summer.  Don’t scrutnize it too hard.  LIke I said, go to a theater with a good 3D digital projector.  Put on the glasses. Have fun.  And prepare to see in snanity that is bananas.

…and in honor that, I give you Mindy Kaling singing, “This day is bananas.”

Green Lantern The Movie

June 17, 2011

Rating: C for the movie itself, F for failure to credit the creators (see my other post, Green Lantern: The Credits You Didn’t See)

Brandon at Austin Books did an extremely nice thing for me the other day.  He connected me with a private screening of Green Lantern being held by Harry Knowles of Ain’t It Cool News.  The attendees were 112 of his friends, family and select fans such as myself.

Advantage: Harry

One of the advantages to seeing a movie with Harry Knowles is weird stuff like the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar theater we were in had been calibrated earlier that morning for another screening he was doing and it was, as he pointed out, probably the best conditions you’d get in seeing a 3D movie.

And he was correct.  Watching Thor 3D at the Galaxy Highland was like watching the movie through a glass bottom boat.  This was a  bright, clear-as-day 3D experience.

As For The Movie Itself

You know how back when you were in high school and the teacher would give an open book exam and there’d be kids that still got answers wrong?

Well.  In this case, there were 5 guys who got a lot of answers wrong; Greg Berlanti, Michael Green, Marc Guggenheim, Michael Goldenberg and Martin Campbell.

Scripting By The Numbers

It only takes one guy to write the Green Lantern comic book.  And that comic book is excellent.  Read the Sinestro Corps War, it’ll make your head explode.

So, how is it that five guys can’t seem to get out of their own way in making a train wreck of uneven pieces that was Green Lantern?

Well, for starters, the script follows all of the beats that you’d expect a “hero’s journey”/Joseph Campbell story to take.  Blah blah blah.

And I guess that’s the problem.  It’s kind of like the movie Salt and how the way that the film was written you’d think you were watching something released in 1986.

Also, the budget for this movie was about $200 Million and it’s clear that maybe $5 of that was spent on actually reading the script.

The Open Book Exam

Green Lantern has been in steady publication since 1959.  There have been so many stories written with Hal Jordan that it should be easy enough to cherry pick the good stuff and leave out the bad stuff.

Of course, I had the same reaction when I saw Wolverine: Origin (my review) and as evidenced by both movies, Hollywood seems to have a problem with understanding what good things look like.

Just like Wolverine traded in ninjas for a cabin in Canada (yes, really!).  Green Lantern traded some of it’s most awesome villains for Hector Hammond.

So.  Yeah.  They could have featured the Manhunters; the original “space cops,” robots built by the Guardians who eventually went rogue and made the Guardians realized they needed people behind the power rings.  (Robot army vs. Green Lanterns)

Or the Tattooed Man, whose tattoos come alive as they rip off his body.   And of course, the most obvious choice would have been the Black Hand, whose got a device that absorbs Green Lantern’s energy and can then be used by this villain in the same way.  (Constructs of energy vs. constructs of energy)

Those sound great, right?  Any of those would have been awesome.

Instead, we got a smoke monster named Parallax and Hector Hammond.  A guy with a big head.

Scripting By The Numbers: Part 2

As bad as it was to pick Hector Hammond as one of the villains, they also did this thing that I have complained about since Batman (1989).

  1. That every first comic book film needs to spend at least 2/3 of the film on the origin story (best origin story in a comic book movie was Blade: done in like 3 minutes).
  2. That everything needs to be A-to-B.  So, in Batman, Jack Napier needs to be the guy who kills Bruce Wayne’s parents so that when Batman is fighting the Joker he’s actually fighting the guy who killed his parents.

It’s stupid.  It’s lazy.  It’s forced.  But that’s Hollywood for ya’.

Scripting By The Numbers: Part 3

They also made excessive use of callbacks, to the point that they were not so much rewarding as they were condescending.  It’s almost as funny as the scene in Wayne’s World 2 where they stop to point out the chicken crates and plate of glass in the middle of the road (“Yeah, you’ve got to wonder if this is gonna pay off later on.“).

It’s stupid.  It’s lazy.  It’s forced.  And we’re back in a screenplay from 1988.

How To Train Your Green Lantern 

I was one of the many people who got excited when I read that  Kilowag, the trainer of the Green Lanterns, was going to be in the film.

The possibilities for what they could do were limitless.  That is until I saw the film.

For Green Lantern and the $200 Million they had, I don’t know what they were spending it, but it was clearly not for the five minutes Hal Jordan spent learning how to use his ring.

That’s correct.  When you get a power ring and are recruited to be a space cop.  And you’re about to go up against the most powerful force in the universe.  You are given a whole five minutes of drill instruction and then apparently you’re set.

Seriously.  Waiters at TGI Friday’s have more training on their first day than what Hal Jordan was given.

But I should point out that those five minutes were not entirely wasted because one of the few things Kilowog did teach him…wouldn’t you know it, it was the thing that helped him save the day later on.

If I might quote Homer Simpson, “I’ve heard how this ends, it turns out the secret code was the same nursery rhyme he told his daughter!

More Helicopters, More Problems

There is a huge set piece that involves a helicopter that is going to crash, and of course (spoiler alert) Green Lantern saves the day.

Just like Superman saved a helicopter from crashing.

Apparently the hazing ritual for the “new guy” is to have them have to save people from a helicopter crash.

Fine Acting On An Uneven Script

Ryan Reynolds was fine.  He’s not the Hal Jordan from the comic book, but I’m more than OK with how he augmented his performance to match the screen in a similar way that Robert Downey Jr. changed Tony Stark in Iron man.

Blake Lively was fine.  Mark Strong was fine.  The performances were all solid.

But the scripting and the pacing to this film were just uneven.

This was not a great film.

Fifty-plus years of Green Lantern comics suggested that they could have turned in a great film (like Dark Knight, Iron Man, etc.).

Instead, we got a number of awkward selections for plot points and what I can only guess were random choices for characters (really, Hector Hammond?)

The script had what could have been some nice character moments, but in execution felt like I was watching an episode of Brothers & Sisters with a quick cut to wide shots of magnificent Oa. Back to watching an episode of Everwood.  Cut to what is trying to be something out of Harry Potter castle sequences 101.

Also, I should point out that the character choices being made with Sinestro were horrible.  Sinestro’s first reaction to Hal Jordan is downright stupid.  He thinks that Jordan is not worthy to be the successor to his friend’s legacy.

It’s a missed opportunity that makes me wonder if anyone at all working on this movie was thinking of this as a franchise.  Think Anakin and Obe Wan in Star Wars.

But like I said, they only spent $5 on someone reading the script…

The Ring Can Construct Anything You Can Imagine: So Try To Imagine Better Stuff Guys

The coolest thing about having a $200 Million Green Lantern movie should be the constructs.

Every single penny of that $200 Million should feel like it was spent on making the most insane and elaborate constructs you would never dream of.  They should wow you.

In my review of Doomsday, I pointed out how that director (Neil Marshall) put every single penny of his $30M on screen.

As opposed to this movie that felt like they were always running out of money.

The quote of the day on this topic is from Mark Millar.  He nailed it when he said:

“I hereby declare Green Lantern the worst superhero movie ever made. And yes I count The Phantom and The Shadow as superhero movies. Green Lantern was the cheapest-looking 300 million dollar movie I’ve ever seen. Why didn’t they give that money (to) Africa? It had a couple of good moments, all coming from Mark Strong. But oh man. It was just such an ODD movie. Like it travelled here from a parallel universe where they made a Green Lantern movie in 1995. But it was only eight quid and thus worth it. And I know I’ll go and see it again  ”

In the Roger Corman Fantastic Four (1994), I recall reading that they could only show the Human Torch on fire like 2 times in the entire film.  Well, it’s what I thought of when two Green Lanterns who can construct anything they can imagine.  They decide to fight each other.  With swords.  Just plain ol’ swords.  Yawn.

I should also point out that there’ a very annoying special effect where the actor’s eyes change color when they’re using their power. Guys: I’m watching the movie.  You don’t need to turn Hal’s eyes green to let me know he’s using the ring.

C’mon Guys, Earn It

Nordling of Ain’t-It-Cool accurately points out that Hal Jordan is the reluctant hero…until he has to be the hero and then he steps up because the plot demands it and the script is running out of time.

It’s lazy.  It’s cliche’. It’s typical Hollywood.  It’s 1986 again.

It’s Not Raining, That’s A Dog Going To Town On My Leg

Comic book fans such as myself have so been beat down by a string of utterly miserable turkeys and high expectations that never seem to get met that when anything even remotely decent comes along, it gets propped up as being great.

Well, I’m here to tell you that Green Lantern is good.  Not great.  C at best.  

It’s nice to see the characters on screen, but this entire movie was mismanaged worse that a graphic novels section in a B Dalton’s in 1986! (see how I made that 1986 reference pay off!)

It used to be that the most that we as comic book fans could ever hope for was that Hollywood didn’t screw things up too badly.

But that was then.  Films like Iron Man.  Spider-Man 2.  Dark Knight.  They’ve proven that you can make great comic book movies.

For $200 Million, we should be treated to something more like the X-Men: First Class and less like Dolph Lundgren’s Punisher (1989).

Don’t be apologetic for wanting to have great movies made from comic books.  It can be done.

And don’t accept garbage and try to pretend that it’s anything but.

If I had to give this film any credit, it’s that they opted to not go the Jack Black route (yes, that almost happened, see this article from 2004).

Green Lantern: The Credits You Didn’t See

June 17, 2011

My review for Green Lantern will be the next thing I post, but I want to be very clear that this movie is receiving an F as my official rating because it failed to credit any of the writers, artists and editors whose work the film was based on.

Why do I feel so strongly about this?

As a primer, creator’s rights is a topic that is very familiar to comic book readers.  Back in the day, the industry had most writers and artists locked into contracts that were…well, the only word to use in retrospect is “shameful.”

In addition to the stories you know about, like Siegel & Shuster signing away Superman, there are also stories that are even more horrific:

  • Bob Kane signed a “sweetheart” deal with Batman that ensured his continued credit for creating the character and cut out his co-creator entirely, a gentleman by the name of Bill Finger.
  • The legal battle between Jack Kirby and Marvel and possibly the most egregious business practice which was where Marvel would stamp the back of their pay checks with contracts that forced creators who needed to endorse them (read: get paid) to have to sign away their labor as “work for hire.”  So sign the contract, or starve.

While some of these individuals entered these contracts willingly, I think that we can all agree that nobody could anticipate how things would turn out years down the road.

Things could have easily imploded, like vaudeville or old time radio, and we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

But they didn’t.  Instead, companies like DC Comics and Marvel make billions of dollars off of the work of these individuals often without a credit to their names on the work.

Contracts have gotten better over the past 20 years or so, but the legacy stuff where the bulk of the money is made, are still pretty dicey and it’s times like this where legal obligation and doing the right thing meet at a crossroads and it defines a company.

At the end of the Thor movie, Marvel (see above) surprised many fans with a “Thanks” credit given to a handful of writers and artists whose work clearly influenced the film.  It wasn’t something they needed to do.  They did it because it’s the right thing to do.

When Batman Begins came out, a number of writers and artists whose work was featured in the film received small payments from DC Comics.

Which is why when the credits rolled on Green Lantern, people such as myself were in disbelief when the credit simply read: based on the character appearing in DC Comics magazines (or some such boilerplate copy).

Considering this was similar wording used in the Superman television series from the 1950’s (when DC was dodging Siegel & Shuster), it would have been laughable if it were not a sad, shameful and pathetic.

Warner Brothers and DC Comics should be ashamed of themselves for not stepping up and recognizing the backs on which they are to make millions of dollars.  

The same company that continues to try to screw the Siegel And Shuster estates at every turn is the same company that did this utterly low-class move.

So, before I go into a complete frenzy, let me share with you the credits that should have been on the screen:

  • Bill Finger.  Yes, the same guy who Bob Kane screwed over.  He and an artist by the name of Martin Nodell created the original Green Lantern.  An interesting piece of trivia about Nodell is that he worked at the Leo Burnett Agency where he helped create the Pillsbury Doughboy.
  • That character ended publication in 1951 and it wasn’t until the late 1950’s when an editor named Julie Schwartz got the idea to take the names of old DC comic book characters and revive them with “modern” science-fiction backgrounds, something he did successfully with The Flash.
  • Schwartz hired writer John Broome and artist Gil Kane to remake Green Lantern for the modern world.  Their version, Hal Jordan, is what the film is based on.
  • In fact, they not only created Hal Jordan, but Hector Hammond.  Oa.  Guardians.  Tomar-Re.  Carol Ferris and Sinestro.
  • Even the basic logo/look of the ring (the two horizontal lines with the circle in the middle) came work done by Kane and Nodell.

Which is why the way that Warner Brothers and DC Comics chose to credit the creation of this character can be summarized in one word: shameful.

Super 8: A Gift Of Beauty

June 10, 2011

Rating: A

The less you know about this film, the better.  What I will say about this movie will be spoiler free and it is my hope that you enjoy this film as much as I did.

What I will say is that my generation had movies like The Goonies, Stand By Me and <blank>.  This generation will have Super 8.

JJ Abrams is the anti-Michael Bay.  Where Michael Bay films demand that they show every single thing in massive million dollar explosive detail, Abrams more often than not takes the more subtle approach.

The brilliance of Super 8 is the subtlety of movement that this film takes.  With so much going on, it’s what Abrams chooses to focus on at any given moment that sets him apart from other directors.

I don’t know what the budget to this film was, but I can for certainty that there was an economy where every single penny was spent in just the right place on just the right things when they needed to happen.

Also, much like Alias was less a show about spies and more about a father and daughter relationship, Super 8 is less a <blank> movie and more about the relationship of these friends.

The script is written to reward those paying attention.  The dialogue is not dumb and when it’s expository it’s usually done in the background.

As much as this feels like a classic Spielberg-era film, it also has all of the things that Abrams has brought to every project he’s worked on in his career.

Abrams knows how to write relationships.  He understands how to develop characters in a short period of time but still make you understand (and care about) them.

I can not say enough about how great the characters in this movie were done.

In addition to perfection in writing, this movie also has two hallmarks of any JJ Abrams project; amazing casting and detailed production quality.

First the casting.  Every single role is brilliantly cast, but the standout in this film will be Elle Fanning.  There is a scene early in the movie (and you’ll know it when you see it) where she is so good at conveying exactly what she needed to in the moment that you completely forget that you’re watching a movie and you buy her as the character.  Doing what she’s doing in the moment.  And you’re as mesmerized as those watching her.

I should also mention Austin’s own Kyle Chandler (yes, we’re claiming him now if that’s cool) is perfect in his role as well.

As for the production quality.  in the past I have Twittered extensively about how amazing the props and production people are on the TV show Fringe.  The crew that Abrams had on this film were equally amazing.  The hardcore nerds, like myself, will be amazed at the attention to detail.

I said on Twitter that Super 8 is a gift.  It is a gift from JJ Abrams to his audience and it does not pander.  It comes straight from the heart.  This is a movie that has soul and will both move you and be a lot of fun to watch and enjoy.

*and yes, the <blank> things are put there on purpose.  If you want to know what I was talking about specifically, you can Twitter me.  But they are references that might spoil the film.  

The Day I Watched The 1990 Captain America Movie

March 22, 2011

The announcement on io9 that the 1990 Captain America movie is going to be rereleased with a director’s cut promoted this blog:


There are days that, when they occur, have a dramatic impact on the rest of your life.

The day I watched the 1990 Captain America movie was one of those days because, in an odd way, that Captain America movie taught me about hope.

Rewind to an early Saturday morning in the Fall of 1990 and I was at my high school (Go Chargers!) taking the SAT exam for the second time.

My first attempt yielded me a score that was less than favorable and this second attempt was my best hope to get a score that might secure me a spot somewhere other than my “safety” school.

My college admissions was hinged on retaking this exam and doing significantly better than I had previously and having a score that I could start to send out in the Fall for early admissions.

Like I said.  It was one of those days that then shapes the rest of your life.

I had gone to an SAT prep class, and while my instructor was good she could not prepare me for what was about to happen.

Towards the end of the exam, as the classroom turned to section 6, the proctor made a startling request, “Please turn to section 3 of your exam booklets.”

I say that this is “startling” because one of the first things they teach you in SAT prep classes is that once you’re done with a section; you’re done.  They don’t go back.

So, as everyone turned to section 3, the proctor made another request.  The one that would change my life.

Please raise your hand if there are 35 questions in your exam booklet.

I raised my hand.  Along with a number of other students (we represented maybe 10% of the students in the room).

The proctor then said, “Please close your exam booklets and give your tests to me and leave the room.  There has been an error.  Your test has been invalidated and you are asked to call the Princeton Review on Monday to schedule a makeup exam.

At 17 years old, I don’t think any of us were handling the shock of our futures being torn away from us.  As we tried to plead and beg to get more information, the proctor pushed us out of the room explaining that the other students (the fortunate ones) still needed to finish their exams.

Leave the room.

That was the request.

And we complied.

We would later find out that in the history of giving the SAT exam, this was the first time in something like 30 years where there was a misprint in the exam booklets (section 3 was meant to have 45 questions).  But we’d only find this out later.

For that moment, in the hallways of North Miami Beach Senior High School, we wandered with thousand yard stares trying to get information from each other.  From teachers.  From anyone.

But there were no answers to be had.  This was 1990.  There was no Internet to speak of and any calls to the Princeton Review went straight to voice mail (don’t forget, it was Saturday).

My future was uncertain.  I didn’t know if there would be a chance to retake my SAT in time to start applying early to the colleges I wanted to go to.  And worse, would I even be ready to take the exam for a third time?

I think I called my brother from a pay phone and all I could do was laugh because crying would have just made me realize the gravity of the situation.

So.  It was 11 AM on a Saturday and of course, my thought was to go to my local comic book store around the corner.

I don’t know that I had the courage to go home right away.

I think I explained the the situation to Glen (the owner) and I forget if I had already had it on hold or not, but he gave me a bootleg VHS of the Captain America movie with Matt Saligner that was being passed around among the customers.

He warned me it was horrible.

I didn’t care.

I went home and watched it.  Trying.  So hard.  So so hard to get  my mind off of the impact this curve ball would have on the rest of my life.

The only thing I can remember was that the shield special effect looked expensive and I think it didn’t have Nazis (I think they fought the Italians?).

Subconsciously, the act of me going to the comic store.  Watching Captain America.  Trying to bring some level of normalcy back to my life.  It was me knowing that things would be OK.

That hope was an option and that I was embracing hope because it’s always there.

Much like Steve Rogers was given hope to serve his country and fight the Nazis Italians (?) for his country.

Things worked out, and they worked out for the better quite frankly.

Most of us found out that week that the Princeton Review would comp us to take the exam at a later date.  I retook the exam (for a third time) in May and had my results that summer in time to apply for early decision to many of the schools I wanted to go to.

My score went up 170 points.  Actually, it went up 180, since the Princeton Review decided to go back and grade the English on the second exam (the only section that was officially completed by us).

The combination of the second English section and the third Math section was enough to get me accepted to the University of Texas (Hook ‘Em).

And things turned OK because I guess I always knew that there was hope.

So.  Like I said.  As strange as it sounds, the Matt Salinger Captain America taught me hope.

Defining Yourself- A SXSW Story

March 19, 2010

At this year’s SXSW conference, I had the pleasure of meeting two very enthusiastic, bright and extremely nice women while I was waiting to attend a session in the Hilton.

But I will admit that it was kind of awkward at first.

I saw their badges and said something like, “Oh, so you’re filmmakers.” and one of the women responded, “No, we’re students.

I was a bit confused and asked, “But you’ve made films, right?  You’re in film school and all.

The woman responded again and said, “Yes, I made a film, but it wasn’t very good.

So you’re a filmmaker!” I said, ecstatically but at the same time not to try to embarrass her but rather encourage her.

I then proceeded on a rant about how “good” and “filmmaker” are mutually exclusive.  You can be one.  Or the other.  Or both.  The example I used was: let’s say ******* *** (a Hollywood hack) and the super-talented Jason Reitman were both standing in the same room and someone yelled, “We have an emergeny.  Is there a filmmaker in the house?

Both Jason and the other person would go running.

The hack wouldn’t even pause a second and might even run over Jason! (who is clearly the better filmmaker)

The point I was trying to make to them was that you have to own what you do and the only way you can even take yourself seriously is by starting with that.

We then talked about films, title sequences and all sorts of other stuff and had a nice chat.

As I was leaving one of the women said to me that she was going to take my advice to heart which meant a lot to me, seeing as how I hope I can impart some level of wisdom to the next generation and not just fill their heads with random stories about the like.

I left her by telling her that I had heard Tony Hawk talk about how when he fills out an Immigration Form when he’s coming back into the US, under occupation he is always so happy to write, “Professional Skater.

Not “CEO.”  Not “entertainer.”  Not “athlete.”

Skater.

I hope that helped them and I hope that soon, both of these women will be making amazing movies (or title sequences) and/or doing whatever it is they find their passion in and owning it.

Footnote: as good as my advice was, my friend Allyson had even better advice during an interesting conversation with a woman on her flight to SXSW.  The woman talked about wanting to be a professional blogger.  My friend Allyson suggested that she start by writing herself a check every week to blog.  To pay herself to blog. . That way she’s gonna have to work to earn her money and she’ll own it and be it.

Dracula 2000, Or Your Pizza Is Free

September 14, 2009

Lorne Michaels, creator and producer of Saturday Night Live, has a saying: “The show doesn’t go on because it’s ready.  It goes on because it’s 11:30.

On that note, here’s an article that is quite possibly my favorite thing ever written about the process of movie making.

Neck & Neck” by Rebecca Ascher-Walsh (Entertainment Weekly) is the story of – what do you when your movie is called “Dracula 2000” and  it absolutely, positively must be delivered before December of 2000?

It’s a fascinating look at the insanity of meeting an immovable deadline while simultaneously trying to put out a quality product.

Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Movie Review: Inglourious Basterds

August 22, 2009

Rating: A-

Before I even begin to review the film Inglourious Basterds, there are two people I would like to punch in the face; the Universal marketing department and MTV writer Larry Carroll.

To The Universal Marketing Department: I understand why you’d want to market this film as a “WW II action movie.”  It puts butts in seats.  But the reality is that this movie is not that.  It’s a meaningful and thoughtful piece about war and revenge that deserves to be in an art house cinema and not in the film library of PC Danny Butterman.  You might be selling tickets, but it risks a backlash of negative reviews from people who were expecting something different.  It’s also too damn easy.  Nut up and work for a living.

To MTV Writer Larry Carroll: you’re next.  Be a damn professional and think before you put a damn spoiler in your article headline you stupid @$%#!  There are some people who try, very hard, to avoid spoilers.  We can’t do that when you put them in the headline.  *#$%!

So, what about the movie?

Excellent.

Tarantino is three things; a writer of sharp dialogue, a master at pacing and a skillful hand with his camera.

Writer of Sharp Dialogue: Tarantino is known for the way his characters talk, and I love that about his films.  You know you’re watching a Tarantino movie, just like you know you’re watching a David Mamet film.  This movie has his unique flourishes of dialogue, but very carefully placed within the context of the 1940’s.  It sounds like a Tarantino film while at the same time sounding like a WW II period piece.  That, my friend, is a skill.

A Master Of Pacing: Tarantino goes where the story takes him.  It doesn’t matter if that scene is 3 seconds on 13 minutes.  The actors and the film itself serve the story.  There are numerous scenes that are “long” because that’s what the story commands.  They’re both entertaining and they add to the tension of the film.  So they’re not “long” so much as they’re simply “longer.”  To that point, Tarantino takes a page from the TV show LOST, and really squeezes every drop out of his entire cast.  I enjoyed seeing some of the supporting cast members getting as much screen time as Brad Pitt and Diane Kruger (no offense to them, but you get what I mean).  Tarantino has always been good with large casts, and this film allows him to place the pieces on the board and push through his story at the right pace utilizing each of these characters.

A Skillful Hand With His Camera: Tarantino shoots like Kubrick; every shot is well thought out and planned.   He moves the camera.  He uses awkward angles.  Much like how he uses his words and his actors to accelerate his story, he uses the camera in the same way.  It services the story and it adds yet a dimension to the movie as a whole that provides his signature.

This is a great movie.  Like I said above.  It’s thoughtful.  It’s a meaningful film about war and revenge.  It’s funny.  It has action.  It has all the things that other Tarantino films have and it’s everything I enjoy about his filmmaking.

PS I will also say that if you do enjoy this movie, your first thought would be to go and rent The Dirty Dozen or Kelly’s Heroes…which is cool, but you might consider instead to seek out the Paul Verhoeven film Black Book (Zwartboek) and Valkyrie (see my review) instead.  Both are excellent chasers to this film.