Posts Tagged ‘review’

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

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-

Review: Comic Book Men (Rating: C-)

February 13, 2012

Rating: C-

I was only half-joking when I said on Twitter that Comic Book Men (AMC) will set the comic book community back by about 30 years.

The only thing missing was a basement…but in their defense, this was the pilot and no need to blow everything in the first episode.

A Cold Open Like Clerks, But Not As Funny

In lieu of a basement, the cold open for the show has the staff of The Secret Stash talking about Robin and going over the same dumb jokes that have been said by any number of us…except not as funny.

And it just goes downhill from there.

I take that back.  I suppose this conversation might be funny for those that have not heard it before, but the conversation on tape played like a joke on Two And A Half Men, playing to existing stereotypes and firing right down the middle.

Which is sad since there are moments later in the show of both clarity and insight into comic books.  The problem is that they are so lightly peppered across the one hour broadcast that if you’re checking your Twitter feed for a second you might miss them.

Instead, the show reinforces every “Comic Book Store Guy” stereotype that people already have for us.

Welcome To The Android Dungeon

The reinforcement of the stereotype was the most surprising thing about the show given that  Kevin Smith, of all people, knows the pain of living with the image that has been placed on all of us who read (and love) comic books.

And yet, when given an opportunity to challenge and counter it, he and the producers of this show decided it would easier to just play to what is expected; three white guys (four if you count Smith) and one Asian guy who are all over 30.

No women. No younger people.

In January, Zoe Gulliksen wrote about not making it onto the show, and it still confuses me as to how she did not make it in.

Yes, these are his friends from childhood blah blah blah and one would argue that hiring a woman to the show, specifically for the purpose of casting her so the show would have a female “character” could be seen as sexist (or any number of other things).

But this is television.  It’s not real.  Even if they call it “reality television,” there are still writers and producers and it’s edited.

So, not having a female perspective is one of the most glaring things that hurts this show before they even got off the ground.  It distorts the reality of who the  people that create, read and sell comic books are.

Pawn Star For Nerds (and yes, please be offended by that title)

In so many of the conversations on the show about comic books, other perspectives would have been helpful.

But that said, they really don’t spend too much time talking about comics which again is a shame because the framing device of using the podcast recording sessions to talk comic books was one of the few things I liked about the show.

I can only guess that the studio note was that talking about comic books is too “high art” and too cerebral.  Instead, the producers want a cheap “Pawn Star for nerds” that they can let audiences laugh at the people coming into the store to sell items.

To that point, in this pilot I did not see a single customer actually buying a comic book.  Just people off the street trying to sell stuff (it’s not to say that we won’t see that in future episodes).  It was hinted that there was a “casting call” of sorts to line those people up.  I’m fine with that.  Like I said, it’s television.

Of all the sellers, the only one that was enjoyable came from outside of the core cast.  A very melodramatic man comes in with a case handcuffed to his wrist (seriously) wanting to sell lobby cards and a poster of one of the Romero zombie movies for $800 and $200 respectively.  Since it’s not comic book specific, they call in an expert.  And the expert they call in makes very short work of the melodramatic man.

That and some discussion over signatures being less valuable on a collectable (because they’re not able to certify them) were interesting but they were hidden beneath the “A story” of a  “forced challenge” that had the employees go to the flea market to sell excess merchandise.

Thank you once again, producers.  This “a story” seemed forced (studio note: “We must have conflict”); probably because it was and was utterly boring.

Back To Stereotypes

Of all the people in the store Bryan, who may or may not be an employee (I’m not quite sure), is clearly there to rub people the wrong way and to call comic book readers nerds. He’s quite annoying and while the show (and Kevin) try to paint him as a loveable jester, he came across to me as being a jerk.  I have stopped shopping at comic book stores for less, and if I had to deal with him I’d probably change stores or move to mail-order.

Limited Production When It’s Needed The Most

One of the other misses of this show is in the production.  There are a few moments of interesting discussion over comic books that you’d figure would lend themselves to seeing the panels that are being discussed  (example: confusion over what actually happens in the classic Green Arrow/Green Lantern issue with Speedy doing drugs) and yet they do not show anything other than covers of books being sold.

I don’t know if this is a money thing (can’t afford the rights) or they know how litigious DC and Marvel could be if they tried.  Not being a lawyer I would argue that usage of panels of a comic book in this particular case would fall under “fair use” that’s used for reviews.  But I suppose they’ve never picked up a Comics Journal or copy of Amazing Heroes…

In Summary

The ratings for Comic Book Men were simply OK.  According to Deadline.Com, the show’s lead-in (The Walking Dead) had it’s highest ratings ever at 8.1 million viewers but Comic Book Men lost 75% of that audience which left it with 2 million viewers.

That’s a significant drop off, and it will be interesting to see what the ratings settle into as we get into weeks 2 and beyond.

Overall, this could have been a great opportunity to change the way people see the stereotypes of the comic book community.  However, instead of Lisa Lionheart, we got another Malibu Stacy (but she’s got a new hat).

[Note: @ZeusComics in Dallas tweeted me to let me know about their show “Variants” which is a fiction web series that does have a lead female character.  I have not seen it yet, but will check it out]

Breaking Bad Season 3

July 19, 2011

In anticipation of Breaking Bad Season 4 (first episode aired last night, and man was it insane), I just finished Season 3 and…wow!

I stick with my A+ rating from my earlier review.

I stand by everything I said earlier and would like to elaborate on three things that make this one of the best shows on television.

Breaking Bad Is Fearless

So much of television, and in particular procedurals, is plot-driven.  Breaking Bad is the opposite.

Breaking Bad is character-driven and it is the actions of the characters on the show that progress the plot forward.

It is the characters who make the decisions that impact the direction of the show.  And they get it wrong more often than they get it right (kinda like in real life).

Jesse is a perfect example of this.  His decisions are dictated by the ‘what would a f***-up meth dealer and wannabe gangster do?’ and not by the whims of what is convenient for the writer.

And he is just the most obvious example.

The Production And Art Departments

I talked in-depth about this in the earlier review and I stand by the fact that the art and props department (and location scouts) are “JJ Abrams quality” in their ability to set the scene perfectly.

I’m always raving on Twitter about how flawless the production design is on Fringe and I gotta say that Breaking Bad is just as good (maybe better).

From that stupid Pontiac Aztek to the leather jacket that Walter wore in a flashback, there is never a moment when you are not in the reality of Breaking Bad.  Never a moment that you think that you’re watching life and not a Hollywood production.

Oh, and those Los Pollos Hermanos commercials are just brilliant.

Three words: Gale’s recumbent bicycle.

I should also mention that the cinematography and lighting are superb.

Giving Character Actors Something To Do

By far, the biggest strength of Breaking Bad is its extended cast.

It’s one thing to hire great character actors.  Any show can do that.  It’s another to actually put them to work.  To give them depth and literally “things to do.”

Dean Norris has shined on this show, but then you get guys like Jonathan Banks (Mike) and…seriously, Jeremiah Bitsui (Victor).

The two of them.  There’s so much going on with those characters and they just nail it.  For Bitsui it’s even more difficult to step up to the challenge since I can’t say he’s said 10 words on the entire show.

Which is probably why Mike and Victor are currently my two favorite characters on the show.

I should also mention that even though he’s not a character actor, Bob Odenkirk as Saul Goodman might be one of the greatest supporting characters ever.  TV Guide, EW and whomever else makes those type of lists needs to make sure he’s in their Top 3 (at least).

I don’t know what else I can say about how great this show is except that I have loaned my Season 1 and 2 box sets to the first of many friends and expect them to continue traveling for quite some time.  (which means you’re on your own to get caught up before Season 4 starts)

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).

Early Review Of Falling Skies

June 13, 2011

The TNT marketing department is wasting no time in trying to get the buzz out for the new show Falling Skies.

Social media folks who have high Klout scores were given “VIP” passes to a pre-party last Thursday at the Highball and then preferential seating at a screening of the premiere episode (really episodes 1 & 2) at the Alamo Drafthouse, followed by a Q&A with Moon Bloodgood.

Before you think I have Klout score that even ranges within the single digits, I was invited by my friend Kat (@katmandelstein, thanks!).

So how was it?

I give the show a B- rating and I will watch it this season to see where it goes.  

While it’s a good show with a lot of room to grow into itself, the comparisons to the Walking Dead are inevitable and I have to point out that as a result, the bar is being set very high.

One of the disadvantages this show has out of the gate are the aliens.  When you think about the Walking Dead, the zombies are not an adversary so much as they are an environmental condition.  The zombies have no strategy.  No plan of attack.  They just exist to foil the humans.  The conflict is entirely within the confines of the human condition; man vs. man.

With Falling Skies, the backdrop of the alien invasion has to divide it’s time between the alien takeover of the planet (“them” vs. us) as well as the human condition elements.  Too many unanswered questions (like what’s their end game? etc.).

While both conflicts are served, they do tend to go back-and-forth a lot.

Not too much has been revealed about the aliens, and I almost would have liked to have had even less information than was given.  The reason being, once you start to peel that band-aid you really want to just keep tearing at it until you rip the entire thing off.

What if the alien plot becomes more interesting than the people?  Stargate always had this problem, where the characters became subservient to the science.  These type of shows only work when it balances out evenly (which is a difficult task).

While there were a few dark elements that speak to how people will respond to what might be the end of civilization, these things are presented and then quickly tucked away.  Which is not a bad thing.  It’s just a thing.  Steven Spielberg is the executive producer of the show and it airs on TNT, so given both of these facts you kinda know going in that if it ever starts to go into dark territory it’s going to refocus back onto the alien conflict and not linger in the depths of the soul of the downtrodden.

For instance: there’s a particular sub-plot about children that should be a lot more disturbing than it actually is and yet they spend very little time on the depth of emotion to be had by this sub-plot and I suspect that later on in the season it will be more about the alien invasion and less about the children affected.

Recently, the show “The Killing” had a stand-alone episode that just focused on the detectives and not on the murder they are investigating.  Some felt it was a cheat.  Others felt it was a brilliant piece of storytelling.  If Falling Skies wanted to be cutting-edge, they’d pull a “Lost” and do a show from the perspective of the children at some point.  Flip the camera around as it were (Tailies, represent!).  But I won’t be holding my breath for that to happen.  10 minutes, maybe.  But not a full episode, sadly.

The first episode was written by series creator Robert Rodat (Saving Private Ryan) and while it was good, the second episode was the stronger of the two  with a number of moments that the audience reacted to (it helps that Graham Yost wrote that second episode).

The cast is solid and Noah Wylie is a great lead (as to be expected).  I will say that Will Patton kinda sticks out a bit. He’s an amazing actor, but I can’t shake the image of him as the bad guy in The Postman.  There’s a post apocalypse “you can’t go home again” joke here; somewhere.

The standout of the cast has to be the character Jimmy (Dylan Authors), a solider who only yesterday was a thirteen year-old boy.  He doesn’t have a ton of screen time, but when he is in a scene he owns it.  I give a huge amount of credit to Falling Skies for getting a leg up on the Walking Dead with this brilliant character.  My challenge to this show is to take advantage of him and bring him to the foreground the way that writers did with Kat on Battlestar Galactica.

This is a solid show, but it’s also family entertainment.  And that’s not a bad thing.  It’s got drama.  It’s got action.  And like I said, if the Walking Dead is a bit too dark of a show, this might be a nice alternative.

And, as a counterpoint to that statement: if you do like the Walking Dead, you might like this show as well.  Just don’t expect to see someone forced into a “hacksaw” type of decision any time soon.

I’ll report back on the blog as the season progresses to let you know where I land on this.

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.  

Observations From Breaking Bad Seasons 1 And 2

September 8, 2010

Rating: A+

So why have I not been watching Breaking Bad (AMC) since the pilot?

I will admit to having been distracted when I watched the pilot when it first aired.  My head was “somewhere else” and I turned it off after five minutes, which in retrospect was a mistake.

A number of people who I know, and trust, have been raving about this program and as a result I have been spending time getting caught up.

I can say, emphatically, that it has been time well spent.

Season One (seven episodes) and Two (thirteen episodes) were on sale at Target and I have been squirreling away Season Three (thirteen episodes) on my DVR, hedging my bets that I would like it.

And I have enjoyed what I have seen so far (1.01 – 2.10).

This is a spoiler free review and I will not talk about plot or characters in a way that will take away from your enjoyment of the show.  In fact, this isn’t so much of a review as it is observations.

The reason for this is that one of the things that added to the enjoyment of the program for me was knowing little to nothing about it.

I knew that it was about a science teacher who cooks meth with a former student.  That’s about all I knew and that’s about all you need (or want) to know going into it.

The Writing

The character creation is tight and quite strong.  Creator Vince Gilligan was a writer on The X-Files; one of the best television shows of the 1990’s.  He and his writing staff can do subtle, but they can also shock the **** out of you with a single line of dialogue.

From a plotting standpoint, the show is ultimately about how life throws us obstacles and the decisions that we make to attempt to overcome them.  Sometimes they are the right decisions, but the outcomes are wrong.  And vice versa.  And anything in between.  It’s about how we adjust and adapt and what we do when faced with challenges.  Where this program, and others on cable (versus the “big four networks”) differ is that things don’t always work out in the end.  Rarely are the happy endings happy.

It is also interesting to note that characters stay in character.  They make bad decisions as if they would in real life, and not decisions that are convenient for the writers (or network).

In a weird way, this program has a number of similarities to the 1985 film, The Falcon and the Snowman which I blogged about in the past, but expands on a number of the ideas in that film throughout the seasons.

I hate to use the word “raw,” but when it comes to the affect drugs and the war on drugs have on people’s lives, this program is quite raw when it comes to portraying this.  Episodes 2.06 (“Peekaboo”) was one of the most disturbing things I have watched since Oz.  It will haunt you.

It also does a very good job of adding discourse to another aspect of the current political debate (which I won’t talk about because it might spoil a reveal in the pilot and throughout the show).

The Acting

Brian Cranston did appearances on Adam Carolla’s podcast to promote the show, and he sounds not only like a nice guy, but like a man who is doing something he loves.  Looking at his IMDB credits, there is no doubt that an actor with this much time on screen could pull in three Emmy awards in a row, he just needed the right part.  And to that point, I would submit that his work on Malcolm In The Middle prepared him for this role more than any other actor when you consider that this is a role about a man undergoing a metamorphosis; one where he is changing from the man he was to the man he is at this moment.

It is a Jekyll/Hyde role, but it is in the moment.  He needsto be able to switch from “family man” to “what he as become”  flawlessly and in an instant.  151 episodes and six years doing Malcolm In The Middle makes his transitions immediate and jarring and effortless.

The entire cast, supporting cast and guest actors/actresses are fantastic but the standout is Aaron Paul.  Paul has one of the most difficult jobs on this show; going toe-to-toe with Cranston in the bulk of his scenes.  It is exhausting work for any actor, let alone an actor as young as he is, but he pulls it off (and got an Emmy award of his own for Season Three).  The “relationship” that Cranston and Paul negotiate on camera changes from father/son to business partners to apprentice/mentor to contempt and then respect…changing by the second and based on the whims and scenarios of the characters.  He can play aggressive and then clueless and then sympathetic as the scene progresses.  And both of them keep pace with each other (and the rest of the cast) perfectly.

The Production

The production department for this show deserve a tremendous amount of credit for the authenticity of this show.  Costumes.  Props.  Locations.  When you watch this program, you feel as if you are looking at real people living their real lives and not a Hollywood interpretation.

This is further made real by the cinematography and lighting.  For a program shot in HD, there are scenes that look like they were shot using a Kodak Disc with a bad flash and then enlarged to 5 x 7; grainy, washed out with lots of muted browns and yellows.  The show has a distinct look that combines the way it was shot with the physical elements and provides authenticity.

Every person who works on this show behind the scenes contributes to why this show works and why it looks so “real” without the viewer thinking that it is being faked.  To say that it looks “real” is the highest compliment I can give a production.

AMC Gets It Right Once Again

AMC’s new strategy for producing quality original drama programs appears to be working; High-end creators working with limited creative restrictions and a cautious/low risk production rollout.

While it is a small lineup of three programs (though it will be growing to include The Walking Dead and The Killing), I can safely say that every show on AMC is worth watching and I will watch anything they decide to air.

As far as distribution, the first seasons are either seven or thirteen episodes commitments and the original programming is limited to Sunday evenings with two hour blocks, multiple repeats and availability on iTunes.

…and with that, I have to get back to finishing the end of Season Two and starting up Season Three.  In the meantime, here is a great image from print maker Tim Doyle called, “The Cook.”  (it was for sale on his site, but has since sold out so check eBay if you want a copy).

The Cook, By Tim Doyle

The Cook, By Tim Doyle

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.