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The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
Amazing is more like the third word I'd use.
Physically, Andrew Garfield makes for a much better Web Head than Tobey Maguire or Nicholas Hammond. He looks the part in a way requiring no imagination. Emma Stone is a perfect match for Gwen Stacy's likeness, even though her look has remained frozen in the late 60's to early 70's. Martin Sheen and Sally Fields did Ben and May Parker justice and stand as this films one, truly flawless asset. Due to them, the Parkers were shown in a light that not only outdid the previous films, but managed to surpass over 50 years of comic-book continuity. There was also far less of a CGI Spiderman than in previous installments, which added a certain tactile element to the main character. Lastly, Spiderman's smart mouth was in full effect with some genuine zingers. Now, so you were warned, it's all downhill from here.
To me, it was painfully obvious TASM was written almost entirely by committee. And each voice it featured seemed to conflict with another voice. There are simply too many plot holes, inaccuracies, omissions, WTF moments and pacing issues for this to be otherwise.
Some of the gaps were manageable. Why did the receptionist believe Parker to be Hispanic? No one noticed Parker, in civvies, swing from the top of a high rise and down to the sidewalk in broad daylight? How is it Gwen Stacy, a high school intern, seemingly had executive level clearance at Oscorp? What was with Parker's camera setup in the sewers, since he was not yet in the business of shilling photos? Now, with the small potatoes out of the way, it's time for the biggies.
What happened to Mr. Ratha (Irrfan Khan)? He seemed important. But, during the second act, he disappeared without explanation. After his incident as the Lizard, Connors is walking through the sewers and smells Peter Parker's scent, right around where Spiderman clocked him. Why didn't he remember that? When Pete went to Connors' to ask about reptiles, and saw that mutated mouse, why did he let Connor's walk away? The Lizard mutates a SWAT team into lizard men. Why didn't they go on the rampage? Why weren't they even mentioned? After Parker dispersed the cure are we supposed to believe everyone infected was instantly cured? Like the Lizard, wouldn't many of those who were mutated have gone underground? Also, wouldn't the cure have also affected Spidey? He's not reptilian, but he's still a human mutate. So a "gene cleanser" having no effect on him at all is odd. Then, there are the inaccuracies.
Half the time, Spiderman was either swinging into walls or into traffic. Other times, he had no problem swinging like a pro. The Lizard got the drop on Spiderman in the sewers, but shouldn't Pete's spider sense have gone off? Also, shouldn't it have gone off when he went to Connor's after the encounter on the bridge? Anyone else notice how Spiderman couldn't really crawl up walls? He did a lot of grabbing, pulling, pushing and jumping. But it was all far more parkour than wallcrawling. Then, towards the end, Peter was dangling from Oscorp Towers as though he can't adhere to vertical surfaces and actually had to be pulled up.
Parker also got his ass kicked on a regular basis, despite being strong enough to single-handedly hold a car in midair. He didn't seem capable of hurting the Lizard. Matter of fact, had it not been for the intervention of others, Parker would've been shredded. The NYPD kicked Parker's butt too, even going as far as to unmask him. Given Spidey's propensity for adhesion, the mask coming off shouldn't have happened. The only people Parker seemed able to handle were lowly street muggers. But, when they got together, he ended up running from them. Oh, and all of the mentioned events either take place after dark or underground. So expect an otherwise colorful and vibrant character to feel quite muted by shadows.
Then there are the WTF moments. Parker shows up Flash Thompson by jumping 20 feet in the air to slamdunk a b-ball? Parker catches a football and throws it with enough force to bend a goalpost? Come on. For some reason, it was also decided Parker would rock a skateboard. Who the hell Tony Hawks it down a crowded school hallway anymore? Lastly is the pacing.
Despite appearances, this is a plodding film. In 2002, Parker had been bitten by the spider, gotten powers, trounced the bully, suffered the death of his uncle and was in full costume at around 30 minutes. TASM stretches the same material out to over an hour, and little of it is handled smoothly. So, if your threshold for repetition is low, prepare to suffer. Contrarily, the romance between Peter and Gwen is rushed. In two days they go from being tangentially aware of each other to being madly in-love. Even for teenagers, that's too fast. Yet Parker was sharing his secrets and going to Gwen to get patched up, although she had no medical training, in little to no time.
There are a lot of careless problems here that could've, that should've been fixed, but were ignored. It feels like all Sony cared about was getting this into theaters (to retain the license) between the release of the Avengers and TDKR (to maximize earnings) instead of making a coherent film. For this, The Amazing Spiderman is merely passable. It's better than Green Lantern or 2003's Hulk, but it's not the next great Spiderman film. In all honesty, it doesn't quite break even with Spiderman 3.
The Living Daylights (1987)
A real world James Bond.
I'm not that into James Bond nowadays. I've seen all the movies, several more than once. Too many of the plots involve evil trust fund babies trying to take over the world, destroy the world or steal the all the money in the world. When the Bond films try to ground themselves in some semblance of reality, they still indulge in fantastical gadgets and implausible action-set pieces featuring everything from wheelie popping big rigs to parkour. The only exception to this rule, so far, has been the Living Daylights.
The story has nothing to do with global domination or obliteration. It's just about a scam being perpetuated by a Soviet officer and an American arm's merchant to skim millions off the Soviet's occupation of Afghanistan. As such, TLD's storyline feels very much in line with the reality of Cold War era politics. It was so dead on it even had to have a disclaimer put at the beginning of the film.
As for Bond himself, Timothy Dalton nailed it. First off, Dalton, circa 1987, looked like a regular, run of the mill guy. He didn't have a deep, overly confident voice. He didn't have a swagger. He didn't have broad shoulders or a distinct lack of empathy for the human condition. He was one of us. Thanks to Dalton's performance, Bond's humanity, which is usually ignored, got to shine through. The look of surprise when he found out the "sniper" was the cellist; the look of pure rage when Saunders was murdered; and the horror on Bond's face when he nearly shot a mother and her child because he misread the situation painted a very human portrait. So, when Bond spring to action, it had a little more impact than in the other films. Case in point, the ambush of General Pushkin was some pretty ice cold stuff.
As for the rest of the cast, I had no problem with them. Kara was a doe eyed ditz, sure. But she'd been painstakingly sheltered from certain realities. It made absolute sense how Bond could develop real feelings for her over the time they were together. As for the bad guys, good work. Many say the villains of TLD weren't up to the task, but I say nay. In the real world, killers for hire don't wear razor rimmed hats or have bionic braces. They're just really good at getting you to stop breathing through proper planning, preparation and execution. So Necro measured up by being physically unremarkable, save for the fact he was exceptionally skilled at what he did. Koskov and Whitaker, however, really take the cake. The reason people who pull strings like to stay behind the scenes is because, 90% of the time, they don't have the gut for the live stuff. So these two being such lames is not only realistic, it is commendable the studio was brave enough to not amp them up to some impossible level of formidability.
However, this isn't to say there isn't action. There are car chases, gunfights, fistfights and explosions galore. The pursuit and confrontation between Bond and an assassin in the opening; the attack on the safe-house; the Soviets pursuit of Bond and Kara; the rooftop escape in Tangiers; the brawl at the prison; Bond hijacking a plane in the middle of a firefight between the Mujahideen and Soviets; the fight between Necro and Bond; and the death of Whitaker were all on it. With the lone exception Bond and Kara's escape to Austria, nothing was overdone and felt plausible. Bond's marksmanship and affinity with firearms never felt unrealistic. His proficiency at unarmed combat wasn't flashy, but remained extremely effective and practical. This Bond had one foot firmly planted in hard reality and the other right up someone's ass.
There have been over two dozen Bond films, each one claiming to reinvent the wheel and change how the character will be perceived. Some have had better luck at this than others. But The Living Daylights stands as the only one that can honestly be classified as a genuine espionage thriller. TLD delivers a very human Bond to a setting that feels ripped from old newsreels and not from a pulp serial. If that sounds up your alley, treat yourself to a viewing. Go ahead...you deserve it.
The Avengers (2012)
There can be no going back from this.
It once seemed like Hollywood would never realize how profitable comicbook to film adaptations could be if handled properly. But, eventually, they came around. Since then, superheroes and villains have been setting the Box Office ablaze. But, there's always been one problem with these summer season mainstays.
All of the characters were isolated in their own pocket universes. We could never see Spiderman kick back with the Human Torch. Superman could never run across Green Lantern. Well, here comes Marvel's the Avengers (MtA) to do away with this shortcoming. From here on out, there can be no going back.
The plot to MtA sees Loki (Tom Hiddleston), partnering with a maleficent race of beings to conquer Earth. Nick Fury (Sam Jackson), the head of S.H.I.E.L.D., takes issue with this and, thankfully, has a contingency plan up his sleeve called the Avenger's Initiative.
Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) come together, with some wrangling by S.H.I.E.L.D., to stop Loki. But, before they can work effectively as a unit, there are a few bumps to be smoothed out.
The first 90 minutes of MtA leads to several instances of one constant of superhero team-ups. That is before they can work together, the good guys have to kick each others asses for just a bit. These hero vs. hero battles are tremendously satisfying. Thankfully, the reasoning behind all of the inter-Avenger bouts is also sound. So you can sit back and enjoy the visuals without feeling as though you have to turn your brain off.
When Loki escalates his plan, however, all differences are put aside as the Avenger's assemble. During this final act, every member of the team gets their moment in the spotlight. One, who happens to be green, gets several.
A particular highlight for me was a bit between the Hulk and Loki that played like something from an old Warner Bros. toon. Anyone who's seen the movie knows what I'm talking about. Besides that, there's Thor calling down thunder, Captain America laying an up close smack down on the baddies, Iron Man zipping and dodging through the urban chasms of NYC and Black Widow and Hawkeye sniping hostiles and snapping necks. If you find yourself feeling anything less than 100% involved with what's happening on screen, consult a physician or check the power level of your positronic heart—something is clearly wrong with you.
When the dust settles, the bad guys have been thoroughly trounced. The good guys are all on good terms as they ride into the sunset. Nick Fury is still looking like the zenith of cool, and things are set up for the, as of yet, unannounced sequel. In short, MtA did its job admirably.
Every actor brought their character to life, special recognition to Ruffalo and Middleston. Ruffalo was able to take a character that's been portrayed by four different actors (Bixby, Ferrigno, Bana and Norton) and still lend it enough pathos to make it his own. Instead of being evil for evil's sake, Middleston's portrayal of Loki depicted a tragically flawed being, driven to the brink of insanity by living in the shadow of his brother.
With the introductions relegated to the solo films, the script was free to move along briskly. At the same time, it was never afraid to slow down and flesh out details that, otherwise, would've left things feeling disjointed. The SFX were superlative. The Hulk not only looked better than ever, his face resembled the actor playing him. The S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier looked surprisingly plausible. The hostiles looked imposing, and their flying behemoths were terrifying. But the major contributor to this movie's success, I feel, is Director Joss Whedon. The guy was able to take the reins of four separate franchises, simultaneously, and never once lose control. I thought such a feat would be impossible for a single director to achieve. I still think so, unless the director happens to be Joss Whedon. There's no rulebook for helming a project like this. Yet, he still hit a homerun—kudos.
MtA does have its snags. The first is if you had a problem with Iron Man, Captain America, the Hulk or Thor in their solo films, you'll have the same problems with them here. I took issue with Captain America.
I gave the First Avenger a 10/10 on this site because I had my head up my ass and didn't notice what a fanboy I was being. Well, the deficits in that film translated to this one. The good Captain doesn't feel anywhere near as skillful or formidable as he should. There's a scene where Roger's, sans shield, is pinned by machine gun fire. In the comics, the gunman would've been eating that weapon in three seconds flat. But, this isn't the comics. As the scenario played out, complete with Rogers picking up a weapon and unsuccessfully returning fire, it made him feel less like a super-soldier and more like a regular guy in blue spandex. Yes, in the final act he got a chance to shine. But it did little to balance out how poorly he'd fared in the proceedings up to that point. The second problem I had was a minor one about Rogers' new costume. The red, white and blue stripes should completely wrap around his waist. Without that, his costume looks like blue long-johns from behind.
Regardless, Marvel's the Avengers is a really fun, enthralling ride that needs to be seen to be believed. After four years of careful maneuvering, Marvel was able to successfully deliver this first of a kind film that actually lives up to the hype.
ALSO: If you liked MtA, be sure to check out Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes. It's an outstanding animated-series that further fleshes out the world these characters call home in a way live-action simply cannot.
Larry Crowne (2011)
Larry Crowne is not a bad movie, per se. Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts afford their roles well. Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Wilmer Valderrama, Pam Grier, Bryan Cranston, George Takei, Taraji P. Henson, Cedric the Entertainer and the rest of the supporting players back them up admirably and flesh out the world this takes place in. The script keeps itself light, breezy and moves along. There are also quite a few laughs. While not of the raucous, belly laughing variety, the setups and punch-lines never failed to illicit a smile on my part.
Larry Crowne also serves as a movie for the times. Many people here in the states and abroad have indeed had to reinvent themselves during these hard times. So a movie about a man who's thrown to the wolves and finds himself having to do the same does indeed deserve to exist; even if it does romanticize the situation. So take that, Ebert.
There's only one problem with Larry Crowne, and it sadly mars the hell out of what would otherwise be a totally enjoyable flick. The problem is from the moment Larry (Tom Hanks) and Professor Tainot (Julia Roberts) first laid eyes on each other, even a blind man could see how things were to end. Everything proceeds along a well worn path.
Many have put Larry Crowne's lukewarm critical and commercial reception on Hanks and Roberts playing it safe. But, I say nay. Forrest Gump and Pretty Woman were a long time ago, and, since then, their star wattage has faded tremendously. So comparing their current work to the stuff they were doing 15-plus years ago is akin to comparing two completely different actors.
So what really is the basic problem with Larry Crowne and pretty much all other movies that never stray far from the beaten path? The problem is it overstays its welcome. There is a point in the film, with about ten minutes left, when the movie would've been wise to stop. Everything was in place. We all knew what was going to happen. All they had to do to save the production from being almost unbearably cookie cutter was end it there, with that scene in the diner.
But, no. Instead, Tom Hanks (co-writer/director) and Nia Vardalos (co-writer) opted to spend the final ten minutes clubbing the audience over the head with what had been obvious since Larry first stumbled into Professor Tainot's classroom. And, on these ten minutes, I'll cede to Ebert's charge of them not needing to exist. Yet they do. And, in doing so, drag everything down into a syrupy blend of yadda yadda, been there-done that.
Still, I can't bring myself to say Larry Crowne is a bad film. It's just a little too familiar for its own good. If you want to see an easygoing flick which doesn't take any real investment to sit back and watch for 100 minutes, this is a good pick. It's fun and easy to digest. It's also one hell of a good date flick, and infinitely more tolerable than anything with Ryan Gosling (excluding Drive). Just don't expect to be fully engaged, even once, during its running time.
Were it not for those last ten minutes, Larry Crowne would be a much better movie that had just enough ambiguity to put off the by-the-numbers-plot. But those last ten minutes are there and lower what should be a solid 8/10 down to a 6.8/10. Since IMDb doesn't allow for decimal places, I'm rounding up to the above score.
Ultimate Spider-Man (2012)
Not the Spiderman we need, deserve or want.
I remember watching the two part series premiere of the Spectacular Spiderman in 2008. Despite reservations over the art style, I could tell the show had the goods halfway through the first episode. By the end of the second episode, I couldn't wait to see the third the following weekend.
Fast forward to 2012 and I find myself watching the two part series premiere for Ultimate Spiderman. By the end of the second episode, I was feeling on the verge of being physically ill. However, to be fair, I decided to watch the third episode to make sure my hunches were correct. They were. This show is rubbish.
USM is nowhere near being in the same league as SSM. To be blunt, it comes up short against every animated series to feature the character. Yes, this includes Spiderman and his Amazing Friends. While Spidey had to share the spotlight with Firestar and Iceman, in that series, here he is all but crowded out of frame by the likes of Power Man, Iron Fist, White Tiger and Nova. Oh Yeah, there's also Nick Fury, Agent Coulson (from the movies) and the rest of shield. Oh yeah, there's also the ever ubiquitous villain of the week. Not one of the good or bad guys really fit in with the Spiderman mythos, and it shows. Thankfully, there are the good old standbys.
For instance, Mary Jane Watson is now a burgeoning, high school reporter and only feels vaguely reminiscent of a teenage Lois Lane because this characterization blatantly rips that property off. Aunt May is shown as being a bit younger and livelier here than ever before. Were it not for her gray hair, one could imagine May blowing off her nephew to go clubbing with college kids. J. Jonah Jameson has apparently gotten out of printed news and is now a television news personality, because seeing him scream out from a television screen is cooler than seeing him run roughshod over a bullpen. Right? Then, there's Harry. Why should Harry Osborn be a geeky outsider, when he can be a cool kid who sticks up for Parker? Well now we find out why.
But, the belle of the ball, the icing on the cake, the cherry on the top and the recipient of more clichés than I have fingers is USM's lead. One has to wonder if Otto Octavius was charged with developing this series because the Wallcrawler really gets the short end of the stick. Here, Parker is prone to flights of fancy where he'll see himself as a toaster or using a jetpack. When not envisioning painfully out of character scenarios, he's breaking the fourth wall with an alarming regularity. Every time he freezes the action to talk to me, an esteemed member of the viewing audience, I find myself wishing he'd have the common decency to shut up. Some of this is due to the context of the situation he's in. It makes no sense for him to "timeout" in the middle of a fight to fill us in on what's happening. But the majority of the pain this narrative device provides, however, is due to Drake Bell's performance as Peter Parker.
Over three decades of reading the comics, watching the movies, watching the cartoons and playing the games, I've come to expect Spiderman's voice to be cerebral and quite sardonic. In short the character's always been a blast to listen to. In USM, instead of an intelligent smart aleck, we get a pipsqueaky delivery that confuses crass for wit. Spidey, the thinking man's superhero, sounds about as witty as a high school kid bragging about his first beer.
There's only one aspect of USM that compares favorably to previous series. This would be the animation and overall character designs. Visually, Parker veers extremely close to his depiction in the USM comics. The character model is quite detailed. Surprisingly, despite the bump up in detail, everything animates very smoothly. To be honest, the animation here actually seems to do a better job of conveying momentum and impact than even SSM. Regardless, when the writing, acting and action scenes are so jarringly bad, what does it matter? A lemon's a lemon, regardless of how shiny its paint job is.
I honestly have no idea what the creators of this series were thinking. Most of them are former or current comic scribes who honestly should have a better handle on things. It's as though there is a deliberate effort on their part to sabotage this series. Either that or these guys are working past their expiration date. I'm going with the latter. Even so, this would still be an interesting experiment in failure; were it not for the fact a MUCH better series was cancelled for this pile to exist.
In defense of USM's creators, this probably was written for a much younger audience to sell toys. After all, exploiting rugrats to attack their parent's wallets is such a noble endeavor. Regardless, if you're in the target demo and are old enough to sleep on your stomach without dying, don't watch USM. It'll only make you want to swear, and that's a bad habit to get into.
The Amazing Spider-Man (1977)
One Amazing Spiderman.
It's easy to look at 1977's The Amazing Spiderman series and laugh our asses off. We've already had three live action Spiderman films that were able to perfectly capture Spidey's grace and agility through the use of cutting edge CGI. But, even before Sam Raimi's films, the original live action Spiderman series was ridiculed on a regular basis. Even going as far back as the mid 80's, it looked so craptastically cheesy it rivaled Adam West's and Burt Ward's Batman in preposterousness. But, hindsight being 20/20, I realize we all may have been wrong. It may very well be the single best interpretation of this character
I know this sounds insane. However, there were a lot of things this show had that really worked. One, for instance, is the lead. When this show was still airing on CBS, the comics saw Peter Parker as a college student somewhere in his early to mid twenties. He was depicted as being tall and having a lean, athletic build. Well, Nicholas Hammond matched those qualities to a tee. He stacked up to Peter Parker the same way Christopher Reeves did to Superman. I won't lie; his portrayal lost some strength when he was in costume. However, out of costume, he did a damn fine job playing Parker as a highly intellectual dude with great power and great responsibility.
Besides Hammond's physical performance, I've got to bring up the special effects. Silly string that stood in for webbing; webs that had to wrap around flagpoles to stick; wall-crawling that looked like a man being lowered from an off camera rig; web swinging that definitely looked like a stuntman being hurled through the air at the end of a rope; Spidey leaping from rooftop to rooftop by overlaying video onto background footage. Yeah, they all look more like student film territory by today's standards—worse even. Nonetheless, when this originally aired, these visuals were bleeding edge stuff. CGI was all but science fiction. Green screen tech was too cost prohibitive for television. This was the best that could be done, and, in 1977, it glued asses to seats. So while the first ten minutes of 2002's Spiderman blow this out of the water, ASM was quite revolutionary and outright jawdropping for its time.
Spiderman looked cheesy, but realistic. The truth of the matter is that spandex only makes for dynamic attire in comics, cartoons and videogames. In real life, even if you were built like Hugh Jackman or the Rock, it would make you look like a chump with an overly pronounced feminine side. So Hammond looking less than impressive, when in costume, is pretty much what Spiderman would look like in real life—deal with it. The costumes worn by Tobey Maguire and the one to be worn by Andrew Garfield are more dynamic and eye catching. But, between style and reality, I always choose the latter.
Over its brief thirteen episode run, none of the villains from the comics were featured. This is a point of contention for most, and an understandable one. But this was a TV show in the 70's. There was simply no money to include characters like the Green Goblin, Doc Ock, Sandman or any other classic foe of Spidey in a compelling manner. Even so, ASM did feature a take on the 1970's clone storyline when it was still a fresh in the comics. It wasn't much, but it was the best they could do and was quite remarkable for the time.
Given the era in which this aired, ASM was nothing short of miraculous. 1977 was over twenty years before comics were finally allowed to enter the mainstream without being frowned upon. It was an extremely hostile period where comic books were treated with all the dignity of a dirty Kleenex. It was so hostile CBS gave ASM the runaround for two years before pulling the plug. When they did, it wasn't due to low ratings because the show was doing well. They cancelled it simply because, after Wonder Woman and the Incredible Hulk, they were afraid CBS would come to be known as the Comic Book Station. Seriously. That's it. Hell, Stan Lee saw fit to bash this show (even though he was a script consultant). But I'm willing to bet that could've been over him not being given a cameo—something he's apparently quite fond of.
In the over 20 years between the cancellation of ASM and the 2002 film which rewrote the rulebook on blockbuster premieres and opened the floodgates for Marvel in Hollywood, ASM was ridiculed by any and everyone. I too occasionally took shots at it. But, now in my thirties, I can honestly look back and see what ASM really was. It was a program that had a lot of ambition, took a lot of creativity, did everything it could to succeed and still came up short—all because it was two decades ahead of its time. Had the public attitude towards comics been more positive back then, this would've been on the air for years and been a smash hit. It would've been the best live action Spiderman, probably to this day.
If you're a fan of Spiderman or of comic related media that's seen fit to ridicule this effort, stop. 1977's The Amazing Spiderman deserves your respect. It deserves all of our respect. And I just want to add Stu Phillips' theme is one of the most infectious pieces of music I've ever heard. It gets in your head and just sticks there—like a spider man.
What's up, my ninja?
Ninja is as simple, effective and to the point as its cover suggests. The word hangs at the top of the DVD cover all alone, avoid of such descriptors such as American, assassin, mutant, red, shoguns, teenage, turtles or warriors. Its only companion is a picture of a single man in a black costume wielding a sword that may very well be in mid swing. In both title and image, this cover tells you this flick delivers ninja
period, and that is no lie.
At the heart of Ninja are bitter rivals Casey (Scott Adkins) and Masuka (Tsuyoshi Ihara). Casey is an all around good guy who, despite being a westerner (P.C. for white), just happens to be a top student at a prestigious ninjitsu school in Japan. To ensure we see him as sympathetic, the movie reminds you he's an orphan every fifteen minutes or so. Masuka is the other top student and (surprise, surprise) hates Casey with a passion usually reserved for pedophiles and fascists. When Masuka goes as far as to try and murder Casey during a sparring match, the school's headmaster sends him packing and sets things into motion.
There are a lot of things which occur during the 86 minute running time of Ninja. There's a trip to New York City to retrieve an artifact for the school. There's also a secret society that feels straight out of a comic book and comes off as 1/2 cult and 1/2 mafia. There's even the budding romance between Casey and Namiko (Mika Hijii), the headmaster's daughter. But all of this is background to what we all want to see in films like this; ninja and action starring ninja.
While there are only two ninja in the film, the sheer amount of badassery present dares you to feel shortchanged. Most of the action deals with Casey fighting members of a mysterious cult who're in league with Mazuka, and these scenes deliver. Name a martial arts move and, odds are, it's used to great effect here. Scott Adkins is the real deal and is effortlessly able to tread that thin line between believability, practicality and style often lacking in more mainstream action flicks. While the scenes with Mazuka take a back seat, they still do a damn good job of establishing him as an extremely viable threat and a reason to keep the lights on at all hours. While Ihara's not a martial artist in real life, you'd truly be hard pressed to know it by how well he compares to Adkins' physical performance.
Between Casey and Masuka, more asses are kicked around the Big Apple than in the typical play through of Arkham City. And, I have to say, the beatdowns seen here veer dizzyingly close to being a live action version of that game. No matter how good that may sound to you, believe me, it looks even better in action. However, it all comes down to a bloodfued between two ninja that can only end with one left standing.
When the finale comes around, this is when Ninja's ninja really starts to shine through. The hand to hand takes a backseat to the likes of caltrops, shuriken, katanas and even poison. Things definitely get ramped up as the two rivals leave an impressive trail of bodies in their wake as their final conflict looms. And, that climatic showdown does not disappoint. By film's end, there is only one ninja left standing. But, at several points, it felt like it could have gone either way.
Now, while Ninja is everything you've been trained to believe a film with ninja in the title can't be (namely good), there are a few points of contention I had with it. First, the costumes looked like a cross between the Power Rangers and something from an old Sho Kosugi flick. While they worked within the context of the movie, I personally find the more traditional shozoku robes to convey a much more powerful image on screen. Then there's the ending. I think this movie would've benefited greatly by ending immediately after the final confrontation between Casey and Mazuka. It would've made a better, longer lasting impression by being more brutal, final and cutting edge (pun intended). Also, it would've kept things open for potential sequels. American Ninja was like smallpox on celluloid, yet it spawned four sequels. Relative Oscar bait by comparison, Ninja is easily of enough quality to warrant at least one follow up treatment as it's a sincerely entertaining film. All in all, Ninja stands heads and shoulders above the likes of similar fare such as the theatrically released Ninja Assassin.
Also, I just want to say Scott Adkins may very well be the single best Bruce Wayne ever and, sadly, one we'll probably never get to see on screen. Still though, one can only hope someone at Warner Bros. might take notice of the obvious match between looks, age and skills, coupled with some solid acting chops, and have that proverbial light bulb go off over their head.
Terra Nova (2011)
A great cast, a promising premise and the great taste of dinosaurs.
When I first heard about Terra Nova, I wasn't impressed. At first I thought it would be yet another sci-fi show about yet another family trying to start over on yet another newly colonized planet. Then, when I heard the story involved traveling back in time to the Prehistoric Era, I figured the show would be dead on arrival. However, I could hardly complain without ever having watched it. So, I steeled myself to catch a few minutes of the pilot. I haven't missed a minute of Terra Nova since.
This series is good. It's really, really good. What you have here is a show with a rather high concept premise involving high technology, a dystopian future, the distant past, warring factions and dinosaurs. The concept itself is good enough to carry two or three episodes. But then the showrunners went the extra step and populated the world of Terra Nova with an army of characters who are interesting, relatable and layered. The Shannon family, Commander Taylor and Mira are just the tip of the iceberg in a show dominated by well written characterizations which are complemented by solid acting. The character of Skye (Allison Miller) is a good example of this.
At first Skye just appeared to be the throw away love interest for Josh Shannon. But as the season went on, this angle was dropped and Skye became more pivotal and perseverant than I would've thought. By the season finale, she'd become a fave of mine. This is 1/2 writing and 1/2 the actresses convincing portrayal. This is the same formula I can easily apply to every character on the show.
This one-two punch of inspired characterization and deft acting is further bolstered by some pretty respectable set designs, F/X and action. On a visual, the settlement feels like the right combination of future tech and older trappings such as flee markets and dirt trails. The dinosaurs aren't nearly as omnipresent as the trailers would make them seem. But when they're on screen, they don't look like busted CGI. I therefore have no problem believing the characters are dealing with these creatures as a way of life. When Terra Nova calls for action, and it does frequently, it never fails to deliver. For the most part, the hand to hand sequences are far more brutal and grounded in reality than overly balladic. When the dinos rear their heads, all the actors effectively convey their characters are dealing with large, apex predators. I didn't have any reservations about Stephen Lang's performance when Commander Taylor successfully faced down a slasher with nothing more than a growl and a tiki torch.
Another thing I have to bring up is the heterogeneous cast. The characters of Terra Nova are of African descent, European descent or Middle Eastern descent (among others). For a primetime show to feature so many prominent characters that aren't white is impressive and, dare I say, progressive. This is especially reflected within the Shannon family. Jim Shannon (Jason O'Mara) is white, Elizabeth Shannon (Shelley Conn) is Sri Lankan and their kids are biracial. Yet, this is never treated as the driving force of any aspect of the narrative. It's never about the culture clash the media insists on employing in their portrayal of biracial couples. The Shannon's marriage and family is merely something to be taken at face value, the same way you should any happily married couple with three children. This is simply a level of open mindedness you don't see with most televised programming stateside.
Also to be commended is the twelve episode season. The standard programming season for a series over here lies somewhere in the mid-twenties. And to achieve this high number, most of our programming has to rely excessively on filler—stories that go nowhere and only exist to pad out the episode count. Terra Nova just being twelve episodes doesn't fall into this trap. The series is able to keep its momentum, while having adequate time to explore its rich setting, without ever feeling needlessly drawn out.
Terra Nova feels more in line with the quality, original programming found on TNT, USA or SyFy. It's characters first, premise second and action third. And, this feels like the only problem facing this well deserving series. It's too good for FOX and is unlike any other program in their underwhelming arsenal of reality based properties. As such, Terra Nova's future is unsure. If FOX doesn't decide to renew for a second season, I sincerely hope one of the three above mentioned networks has the moxy to snatch it up. I could see the further exploits of the Shannon's doing much better on TNT, nestled between Falling Skies and Leverage than on the network which brought us American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance.
Fright Night (2011)
Welcome to Fright Night...for real.
Fright Night (2011) is a rare horror remake that, much like the Hills Have Eyes (2006) and Piranha (2010), does way more than merely not suck. There are parts of this remake which truly surpass the original. However, these are complemented by parts that definitely do not.
The original, for the most part, felt like a PG-13 flick. This is a more visceral and streamlined tale cutting right to the hard truth--a boy fights for his life against a bloodthirsty monster. As such, gruesome and dark things occur. The opening scene, a rather muted and harrowing affair, truly sets the stage for what follows. This dark parable is further lifted by some fresh characterizations which help it break free from many of the ruts which pervade this genre.
Jerry Dandridge (Collin Farrell) isn't a tortured soul. He isn't a sympathetic being who only wishes to be left alone as he reluctantly does what he must to survive. No, unlike what is commonly seen in contemporary fiction, he is entirely bereft of humanity. He moves into a neighborhood, feeds on its population and then leaves to start anew somewhere else. There is no regret or sorrow over what he does. He is a gleeful monster, through and through. Farrell is effortlessly able to carry off this hodgepodge of insincere charm and supernatural menace.
Charlie Brewster (Anton Yelchin) is basically a normal kid who starts off as the worst kind of real world douchebag—the kind who alienates his friends for popularity. Thankfully, this doesn't last long before Brewster finds himself faced with his neighbor. When he is, and Dandridge literally comes knocking, Yelchin sells Brewster through his reactions. His performance delivers a young man who doesn't endlessly quote pop culture references. He doesn't get snarky. He's not a stoner monkey or horndog. We instead get a teen who narrowly manages to hold onto his sanity in the face of overwhelming darkness. Towards the end, while watching the sun come up over the mountains, he doesn't even blink when the light hit's his eyes. That's because he's been hollowed out and is nearly catatonic. Given the situation, that's really the best anyone could ever hope for, and Yelchin nailed it.
There's also Charlie's mom, Jane (Toni Collette) and his girlfriend, Amy (Imogen Poots). Jane isn't the typical horror movie mom who goes to work at the beginning and gets home just in time to wonder what's happened to her home. She's actually present in the narrative and in her son's life. She also happens to have a pretty good handle on the lay of the land. So when Charlie warns her about Dandridge, she actually humors him—even though she doesn't understand what's going on. So instead of opposing her child, as most horror movie parents unwittingly do, she had his back 100%. As for Amy, she wasn't some doe eyed submissive. She was quite confident and assertive in what she wanted from her boyfriend—and her demands were in no way unreasonable. Like Jane, she backed Charles all the way. And, had it not been for Amy, when things started to get grisly, Charlie probably would've lost the ability to function rationally.
The overall flow and direction of the screenplay by Marti Nixon is a strength. The acting by Farrell, Yelchin, Collette and Poots brought the characters to life. Everything else, sadly, drags the production down.
Evil Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) was unnecessary. He served no real function other than to pay homage to the original and paint Charlie Brewster as a dick. He was annoying, and his devotion to pop culture felt forced. Matter of fact, Fright Night (2011) wouldn't have lost anything from his omission. Since Charlie lived next door to Jerry, it's hard to believe he wouldn't have known something was wrong almost immediately—if for no other reason than seeing Jerry chat up his neighbor and her disappearing right afterwards. Here, Ed was simply too typical of the genre and didn't bring enough to the table to warrant his inclusion—not through his characterization or portrayal.
Peter Vincent (David Tennant) was another letdown, but not due to Tennant's entertaining performance. This was due the script. Vincent's supposed to be an integral part of Fright Night. However, the character is treated more like a tacked on sidekick to Brewster and not a partner/mentor. In a perfect world, there would've been a few more minutes to accommodate a more detailed exploration of how Vincent's story mirrors Charlie's and how they're linked by this. Alas, this, a perfect world, is not.
The biggest issue I take with Fright Night is the horrid CGI. Late in the movie, a character pulls back her face to reveal fangs. Besides that, she looked normal and was highly off-putting. Then she transforms into what can best be described as Mr. Potato Head on LSD. The same goes for Dandridge. An imposing and monstrously powerful predator, he's defanged upon vamping out and looks like a pale Sloth. When it comes to effectively rendering vampires, less has always been more since Lugosi's heyday.
Fright Night (2011) boasts a script and direction which has a genuine edge and packs a bite. Dandridge, the Brewster's and Amy feel far more like genuine characters than cookie cutter caricatures. Ramin Djawadi's score, particularly the track "How to Kill a Vampire" is catchy and conveys the proper tone. This is counterbalanced by an unnecessary character, a lack of insight on Peter Vincent and some seriously hideous CGI. This had the potential to be better than the 1985 original. On the other hand, it could've been a lot worse. But, at the end of the day, it only breaks even. If you like the original, this is an alternate and well executed take that warrants watching. I'm rather saddened Fright Night didn't do well enough to warrant a sequel. I'd love to see what happens to Charlie now that the night has taken notice of him.
A most unimpressive shade of green.
If you're a fan of animation or grew up in the nineties, you're probably familiar with the name Bruce Timm. He played a pivotal role in the emergence of complex and nuanced animation on television with hits like Batman the Animated Series, Superman the Animated Series and Justice League. Well after five years away from the boob tube producing animated DTV's, Green Lantern the Animated Series (GLAS) marks his return to the small screen. Sadly, it would appear his time in the DTV market has knocked him off his game.
First and foremost, I have to bring up the visuals to GLAS. They're not appealing. I've seen cutscenes on old PS2 games better looking than this. The backgrounds are devoid of textures, reducing mountainsides and cityscapes to an assortment of flat and dull shapes. The lack of textures in the background also extends to the characters, giving them a rather pronounced, plastic-like quality. Speaking of the characters, in hand drawn animation, the exaggerated physique approach that's indicative of Bruce Timm is surprisingly effective. But, the strength of Timm's style becomes a glaring weakness the second it's rendered in 3-D by CGI without the use of cell shading. This is especially true for the character model of Hal Jordan, which looks like a stock character from the background of an old Pixar film. His chest and arms are unbelievably massive. His chin is extremely prominent. By comparison, his waist is implausibly thin. Devoid of anything resembling texture and impossibly proportioned, Jordan looks like the bastardized offspring of a pro wrestler and a primate.
Many will say lackluster visuals don't matter if the writings spot on. Sadly, the writing of GLAS is hardly in a position to balance things out. Hal Jordan is taken from being a headstrong, but still loyal lantern into near treasonous territory. The Guardians tell him to stand down, he laughs at the order. They're questioning his tactics and he cuts them off. They tell him he is not to intervene, under any circumstances, and he pulls the intergalactic equivalent of GTA and hauls across the cosmos to intervene. This doesn't feel like the Hal Jordan of the comics or even the depiction in the movie. Worse was that Kilowog, the Guardian's right hand man, was right beside him. This didn't ring true to decades of characterization. Thankfully, it would appear the rest of the GLC will be spared this treatment.
This is because, according to this pilot episode, the series will primarily take place in an extremely remote sector of space the Corp can't get to in any reasonable amount of time. So the expanded Green Lantern Corp will most likely not be making an appearance. So don't expect to see Tomar Re, Boodika, Gnort, or even Katma Tui. Also, don't expect to see Jordan return home to establish he does have a life and a day job and a girlfriend. This effort only fills half the canvas and is akin to Superman without Clark Kent.
The conflict in GLAS is provided by the Red Lantern Corps, led by Atrocitus. In the comics, the Red Lanterns are savage, near mindless bruisers with a penchant for spewing blood. Here, they're basically treated as evil counterparts to the GLC. If that's what GLAS wanted, why didn't it go for the Sinestro Corps? This would've made things more personal for Jordan and the rest of the Corp as it would've been them vs. the former AAA lantern of their ranks. But instead of a more fitting adversary, we get villains which, while new to the medium, have largely and understandably been neutered.
I'd been looking forward to GLAS since before the live action film debuted and bombed. But now that I've seen the pilot, I'm not angry or even disappointed. I'm worried. On one hand, there's the future of this series. On the other hand, there is Bruce Timm.
As previously stated, from 1992 through 2006, he played a key part in raising the bar for animation on television. Yet, here's he's given us a show about Green Lantern which features boring, flat and preposterous visuals; characters which don't feel true; a setting which eliminates much of what's enabled this property to survive for over fifty years; and a villain that's been twisted around to fit the standards of children's television as opposed to a more suitable adversary. The only aspect of GLAS which can't be challenged was the acting. But this is animation, not Terms of Endearment. It would appear Timm, like Frank Miller, Chris Claremont, John Landis, David Chapelle and so many other truly talented people, may have run out of juice.
I do hope he's as dissatisfied with this pilot as I am and, if it truly is indicative of the rest of the series proper, is able to retool it as much as possible. I don't care if the series premiere is delayed by a month, a season or even a year. I know Timm can do better by this property, if for no other reason than Justice League TAS, Green Lantern: First Flight and Emerald Knights. These treatments were so much more engaging than this one is. Then again, maybe they're the problem. Hal Jordan and Kilowog stranded in a remote section of space and cut off from the Corp, while facing a dire threat, would make for a damn fine DTV or two episode arc. But I just don't see how this story coupled with this presentation will hold up under the stress of an ongoing series. One can only hope this sneak peek was a test run and not the final product—fingers crossed. If this is the case and things aren't as final as they'd seem, I will heavily revise this review and the score.
Hawaii Five-0 (2010)
Exquisite scenery, but lame everything else.
The first five episodes of Hawaii 5-0's debut season were extremely well done. The same is to be said of both the first season finale and the second season premiere. However, the remaining twenty-four episodes of the thirty-one which have aired are nowhere close to being in the same league. Matter of fact, they're boring. I usually don't turn in until around 2:00 a.m. and am wide awake when 5-0 comes on. But this series does something to me, and I usually end up falling asleep for fifteen to twenty minutes per episode. Upon using On Demand to review what I've missed, I'm always left feeling disappointed. The common outburst is something like WTF.
The first season was rough. Sadly the second season doesn't appear to be doing anything except heading in the wrong direction. Case in point, I'll bring up the addition of Lauren Weston (Lauren German). In what weird, Bizarro universe way is she supposed to convincingly portray an elite police officer? She's too young and too slight. It feels like a lazy attempt to boosts 5-0's appeal to the female demo. And that's what the overall problem with this series is. It's so unbelievably forking lazy on all motorforking levels.
The acting is lazy. By birth, by training and by choice, I wouldn't even dream about being an actor. Yet, I can still tell the difference between acting and pretending. Most of the shows I watch (Person of Interest, Supernatural, Once Upon a Time, and Terra Nova) feature actors and actresses doing their jobs. Hawaii 5-0's cast, on the other hand, can only pretend. McGarrett (Alex O'Loughlin), Danno (Scott Caan), Chin Ho (Daniel Dae Kim) and Kono (Grace Park) don't feel like cops—even if their names do rhyme. They can stand around, bark orders and spout terminology until they're blue in the face. But, unlike the casts of the L&O and CSI franchises, the leads here can't quite seem to connect with the situation or their surroundings when it doesn't involve running with firearms. Speaking of which
the action is lazy. Ninety percent of the action scenes involve a foot chase between McGarrett and a perp, covering almost half a mile of terrain. They'll jump across low level rooftops, scale fences, roll over car hoods and otherwise live out their childhood ninja fantasies. When McGarrett catches up, there'll be a fight scene. It will be overly choreographed, tightly edited, super stylistic and feel 100% fake. After sprinting a few blocks with your sidearm out and up, it's only natural you'd be up to some high falootin' CQC rather than shooting or puking or both. This is why, when these scenes start, I yawn. They only seem to exist to demonstrate how hyper athletic and tough Steve-O is (now his name rhymes with everyone else's).
The casting is lazy. Hawaii 5-0 relies almost fanatically on high profile guest stars. So far, there've been over twenty including such notables as Peter Fonda, Kevin Sorbo and Rick Springfield. Yet, only Sean Combs had a role which qualified as more than a mere walk on cameo. You can tell the others used this show to see Hawaii on CBS's dollar. Smart and shameless on their part? Hell yes. Lazy and wasteful on the casting director's part? You betcha'.
The writing is perhaps the laziest, most uninspired aspect of this piecemeal show. Did anyone believe Chin Ho's head was going to be blown off? Did anyone think McGarrett would spend more than a second in prison before being reinstated with honors? Did anyone buy Kono as being a crooked cop and not working undercover? The answer should be no, unless you spend your free time diddling chickens while eating glue.
Furthermore, the writing is also too lazy to develop any character besides McGarrett and Danno. Kono often has nothing to do from episode from episode, save take notes and preen. Chin Ho feels like he could become a draw, but is always relegated to playing second fiddle. Yet, every episode is rife with McGarrett/Danno banter that's gone from being funny to forced to insipid and is now edging into homoeroticism. The more I see of Danno's private life, his estranged relationship with his wife, his daughter and the very air he breathes, the more I wish he'd fall into a volcano (my apologies to the volcano). Also, by making McGarrett into such a one man wrecking crew and not developing anyone else's capabilities, the writers have made the other characters redundant. If McGarrett's smarter than Danno and Weston, faster than Kono and tougher than Chin Ho, then why does the show need them?
Hawaii 5-0 has potential. A handful of episodes will attest to this. But due to its uninspired acting, action, casting directors, writers and probably even caterers, there's nothing to it. This honestly doesn't feel like a police procedural or action show. It feels more like an advertisement for a lifestyle, like Miami Vice was. Everything's nice and pretty to look at. Everything's cool and ultra stylized. But there isn't anything to hold this together. There isn't anything to make you feel invested in the characters or the situations beyond an extremely superficial level.
Hawaii 5-0 has all the earmarks of a flash in the pan show. It's one of those programs people will think about and be embarrassed to admit they watched, worked on or produced. The only thing keeping it from becoming a memory is no other network thinking to do a similar, but better show in the same time slot. Given what I've seen so far, something better wouldn't be hard to manage. Should this occur, Hawaii 5-0 dies within weeks.
Now, to be a nice guy and not such a Gloomy Gus, I'll close this review with a compliment. The colors are very lush and vibrant. They nearly succeed in masking how hollow and insubstantial this show is. Once again nearly.
The Simpsons (1989)
The Simpson's are blocking my view of Springfield,
I started watching The Simpson's when it first started. The then Bart-centric show was a cultural phenomenon which simply had to be watched week in and week out. Later, when Homer took the lead, it remained a weekly destination for some deep belly laughs. However, over the past ten years, I've mostly been watching The Simpson's out of habit. It seemed to have lost something, but I continued to persevere and give it the benefit of the doubt. Last week, Treehouse of Terror XXII, finally convinced me this show no longer held anything for me other than a history. The Halloween episodes are usually highpoints, but this last one was simply too flat to hold my interest.
Naturally, this bummed me out. Hey, sue me, but I'm not too eager to let go of a show that's been a part of my life since before I was old enough to buy my own clothes. This got me to thinking over what was wrong with this series. Boy, was the list a long one. However, the numerous items all had one common feature. It turned out what had formerly been the Simpson's greatest strength had become its greatest weakness. This would be the Simpson family.
Over the show's twenty-three seasons and 489 episodes, there's simply nothing left to say or do with the leads. Homer is borderline mentally handicapped and sociopathic. Marge is his faithful, endlessly suffering wife. Lisa is socially conscious and an insufferable know-it-all. Bart is an ever gleeful rabble-rouser. Maggie is a BAMF infant who has a tendency to bail her family out of some pretty tough spots. Every possible storyline and permutation has been explored with them in triplicate. In short, there's nothing left for these characters to tell their audience.
In all honesty, it's been this way for a while. Yet, I kept watching. If the main characters had all run their course, what could possibly have been left? Then it hit me. Yes, the Simpson's have long since passed their expiration date. However, they just happen to live in Springfield, which has more pop culture icons per capita than Metropolis, Gotham City or even Marvel's NYC.
There are dozens of laugh-out-loud characters who've been hammered into the collective conscious of the viewing public. From The Android's Dungeon, to Springfield Elementary, to the nuclear power plant, to the Quickee Mart and more, Springfield is rife with character's who deliver the funny. Sadly, the Simpson's tend to hog the spotlight.
Since my favorite parts of the show have more and more frequently featured the supporting characters and less and less Homer and co., I had an idea as to what could save this property. FOX should cancel The Simpson's? Uh, no. FOX should retool The Simpson's so the emphasis would be more on Springfield and less on 742 Evergreen Terrace? Abso-flippin-lutely.
Bart has been explored to his fullest. But Jimbo, Sherri and Terri, Lunchlady Doris and Ms. Hoover have largely remained untouched. We know how much of a jerk Homer is. Well what about Moe, Barney, Lenny, Carl, Mr. Burns, and Mr. Smithers. For that matter, what about the Comic Book Guy, Apu, the Van Houten's, Crazy Cat Lady, the Texan, Bumble Bee Man, the Ship Captain, Otto, the Wiggums, Fat Tony, those at Springfield Retirement Castle and so many others? There are easily thirty gut busting characters here who could more than hold an episode or two where they were the central character. Hell, Mr. Burns alone could carry an entire season. Don't even get me started on Chief Wiggums and the SPD.
I say from this point on out, Groening and company should embrace this approach to this franchise. Just stop calling it The Simpson's and, instead, call it Springfield or maybe A Town Called Springfield. Take the spotlight off the Simpson's and shine it on this Emmy winning supporting cast. But that's not all.
One major problem I've had with The Simpson's is each episode tends to end with a reset to the beginning. Nothing is ever changed or carried over, save for the death of Maude Flanders. I don't think it would hurt to have a few events occur which set a loose timeline. Maybe there could be a few story lines which stretch over more than one episode (a la Who Shot Mr. Burns?). I don't want to see characters get older and grow up, which would ruin the series. But I sure wouldn't mind seeing them retain at least some knowledge of what's been going on and maybe applying it in some manner.
If Groening as well as the cast and crew of The Simpson's were to roll up their sleeves and pull this off, it would add at least another ten years of quality entertainment to FOX that doesn't involve singing or dancing. How freaking cool would that be? It would be very cool indeed, if I say so myself. Unfortunately, unrealized potential and $1.50 will only get you a ham sandwich. So as The Simpson's are now, I can only award it 6/10.
Batman: Year One (2011)
Gotham, from the bottom up.
Like the Batman DTV's before, this is based on a comic book storyline and has an exceedingly short running time. Nonetheless, unlike Batman: Gotham Knight, Batman: Under the Red Hood and both Batman/Superman features, this is special. It's probably the best production put forth since 2009's Wonder Woman—if not the best animated DTV yet.
This is due primarily to it's faithfulness to the original, 1987 mini-series by writer Frank Miller and artist David Mazzucchelli. Normally, I hate watching stories I've already read and know by heart. But Miller and Mazzucchelli's tale isn't a simple story; it's a masterpiece of storytelling which pushed the boundaries of the genre.
Visually, everything is rendered to look less stylized and more realistic. The backgrounds are more in line with the realities of urban decay rather than Gothic fancy. Bruce Wayne looks like a normal guy, even when he's kicking trees in half. As Batman, while definitely a BAMF, he doesn't miraculously gain muscle mass. Jim Gordon looks less like a caricature and more like an actual detective—complete hunched shoulders and weary glare. Everything animates smoothly, although, just as in real life, there aren't any overly dramatic or spectacular shots.
The story's further propelled by some rather understated acting by its two leads. Bryan Cranston does Jim Gordon justice, managing to sound weathered yet compassionate all the same. Benjamin McKenzie's portrayal of Bruce Wayne felt a bit uneasy. But that's fitting, seeing as how the character's just starting out and was a little unsteady. I could see McKenzie's Wayne eventually growing into Kevin Conroy's, which is all I needed to.
As for the direction of Sam Liu and Lauren Montgomery, they played it smart. The source material nearly serves as shot for shot storyboard. So they wisely chose to follow what Miller wrote and Mazzucchelli rendered. Kudos! Now for the story.
Batman: Year One (BYO) details the first year in Gotham City's long, unending road to redemption. It starts with Bruce Wayne's return, after twelve years abroad, and the arrival of, then police lieutenant, James Gordon. Both of them oppose the deep-rooted corruption within the city. But, one is part of the system and the other isn't—leading them to employ different tactics. Although they start off at odds, by film's end, a legendary partnership has been forged.
There's no need to say more about the plot. This is an almost panel for panel reproduction of the mini-series. So, if you've read it, then you already know what to expect mostly.
There are a few additions made to BYO that fit the animated medium. They are as follows: an lengthened fight between a pre-Batman, Bruce Wayne and a pre-Catwoman, Selina Kyle; an extended fight between Batman and SWAT; Wayne brooming an escort after she helps sell an alibi; Catwoman scratching up some mobsters; and Wayne, in civvies, engaging in some super-I've spent twelve years traveling the world and mastering exotic martial arts-parkour. Most of these additions are devoted primarily to action. This is good, because you don't add scenes of dialogue to a crown jewel of storytelling without running the risk of irrevocably screwing up. Unfortunately, there are still a few snags.
While nearly every scene from the mini is present and accounted for, a few things were omitted. Most were lines of dialogue. We never hear why Gordon hates his gun. We never hear how much Gordon curbed his pummeling of Flass. We don't hear Batman size up the Roman's security detail before crashing that banquet. Alfred's throwaway line about Superman is cut. These are lightweight omissions, the rest are not.
The scene which firmly established Gordon's growing attraction to Essen was cut. Without it, their first kiss felt sudden and almost out of character instead of inevitable. More important is the scene where Bruce identified Gordon as someone he needed on his side. Without this scene, Bruce showing up to save the day felt more convenient than logical. Also, when Gordon headed back home, in the final act, it was clearly dark outside. Yet, two minutes later, the sun was out. Wayne's earlier line to Alfred about never suiting up during the daytime makes this one, graphical misstep even more obvious.
Yet, it has to be said the reason I know of these exclusions and find their absence jarring is because I know this particular story like the back of my hand. If you haven't read the TPB enough to wear out the spine of two copies, you'd be hard pressed to notice.
All in all, I feel this is the best presentation of Batman currently available. It's more fallible, human and believable than the comics have been in over twenty years. It's more mature and packs more punch than BTAS. There are no superpowers. The lead is never once referred to as a superhero. Gotham isn't hopelessly Gothic and full of long, winding spires just for the sake of it (Burton). The darkened skyline isn't awash with garish, neon lighting, nor does the batsuit have nipples (Schumacher). An organization of overly pious assassins doesn't stage a terrorist attack on Gotham, nor does a nearly omniscient, self proclaimed agent of chaos make an appearance (Nolan). Batman isn't built like a pro-wrestler who has an endless array of batarangs, other assorted tech and can expertly engage endless opponents without hurting for it (Rocksteady's games).
BYO's chief strength is how it takes the world we know and tweaks things, just a little bit, by adding a very human Caped Crusader who's new to the job. Everything besides this lone element feels eerily true as this is ultimately a story of corruption. It's about those who profit from it, those who perpetuate it, those who are victimized by it and those few who choose to fight it.
Buy this film. Rent this film. Watch this film. Watch it again. This is the best, most compelling take on the Batman mythos you're likely to see.
Men in Black: The Series (1997)
If Will Smith made this look good, then this series makes it look great.
This series is a testament to the power of the animated medium. MIB: The Series (MIBTS) takes everything established by the wildly popular and immensely cool 1997 flick and runs wild with it. Everything that movie set up was expanded upon here in a manner live action productions can't match. Even the 2002 MIB sequel wasn't able to capture the energy held by this program.
MIBTS covers so much more than the movie, the original film nearly feels obsolete by comparison. We get more, much more detailed info on Agent K's past as well as on the history of the MIB. The ever droll Elle was graduated from NYC's M.E. to a regular roll as the MIB's chief science officer. The Worm's affection for coffee was explained in full. Frank the Pug and Jeebs were fleshed out past being purely comic relief. When not adding detail, MIBTS adds gobs of new material to the mythology of the Will Smith & Tommy Lee Jones blockbuster.
There's Agents Aileen and Eidi, aliens from an off planet branch of the MIB. Zanzar Canicas is an extraterrestrial symbiote who occasionally teams with Agent J—but not for more than 24 hours at a time. Agent X was another extraterrestrial alien agent of the MIB who worked planet-side and held a rather skewed view of humanity. Dr. Zan'dozz Zeeltor was brought in to serve as the MIB's new tech guy whose experiment often had unwanted and comical side effects.
On the bad guy side was Buzzard, an intergalactic bounty hunter who butted heads with the MIB more than once. Dak Jeebs was the psychotic twin brother of Jeebs. We got to see the Bug Queen, mentioned in the original film by Edgar. When not picking his feet or wreaking havoc, the pyrokinetic alien Drekk was always planning on boiling his enemies alive. And then there's Alpha, who's in another class all by himself.
K's former partner, Alpha was the definitive baddie of MIBTS. Going rogue long before J was in the picture, he liked to graft alien body parts to his anatomy. Each organ or limb he stole did more than make him powerful. They also rendered him extremely grotesque. Every time Alpha showed his face, he looked worse and worse as his plans became darker and darker. Finally, towards the end, he looked like a zombie. The agents of the MIB and even the most intimidating E.T. was scared spitless of Alpha—fitting since the body parts he accumulated never came willingly.
While much of the show was stand alone in nature, certain events managed to successfully establish a loose continuity. One of these is J's eventual transformation from being a borderline liability to a bonafide asset in the field. You can tell what season an episode is from based on how effectively he handles a situation and on K's attitude towards him. Aside from this are the numerous appearances of Alpha, Elle's promotion to field agent and numerous additions to the cast all serving to set things in a loose order.
MIBTS effortlessly outshined the movie it was based on and the sequel which came after it. So if you're a fan of animation; irreverent, science-fiction; or the Men in Black franchise, you need to seek this show out. It can be found in syndication on the Hub (in the States) online or on iTunes and is quality programming.
Regarding its availability, WTF Sony? MIBTS ended its run over ten years ago, yet not one episode has been released on DVD? This is a good series fit for the whole family to watch. As such, it deserves a little more respect than this—especially since MIB 3 is due in theaters in 2012. It's time for this gem to be given its due on home video. I'm not talking about 3-4 episodes a disc. I'm not talking about full season box sets either. I want a complete series box set containing all 53 episodes across all four seasons. But, after this much time, the pot should be sweetened.
It should have all the bells and whistles including, but not limited to: character profiles (a who's who of the MIB); an armory feature (detailing all the notable tech); deleted/alternate/extended scenes (if possible); cast and crew interviews; making of featurettes; a photo gallery; a five minute speed through of all the major events on the series, set to an extended mix of the title theme; selected commentary tracks; and a healthy dose of advertising for the upcoming MIB III. For all these features on top of nearly 20 hours of topflight content, you could name your price. It's just something to think about, Sony.
Young Justice (2010)
This has sidekick written all over it.
Young Justice has a whole lot going for it. The art style and animation would seem to push the boundaries of what's possible on a television budget. The action is highly involving and effectively conveys a sense of movement and impact. The acting, while not of icon-in-the-making status is still commendable. Through all of this is some pretty tight direction to tie everything together into a neat, easy on the eyes package. Unfortunately, there's one major flaw which outshines all of this. It can be found at the beginning of most episodes.
Here's why I didn't praise the writing. We'll see various members of the League during the last leg of a major battle or randomly rescuing civilians. When it's over, they'll give Young Justice a small detail to manage. At first this seems to be secondary or tertiary in nature. Of course, it turns out Young Justice's role is far more vital than anyone thought. Then, at the end, the League comments on the actions taken by Young Justice (despite knowing a million and one languages, Batman doesn't know how to say "thanks, good job" in any of them). By this point, the damage is done. In their few minutes of screen time, the Leaguer's have effortlessly upstaged their protégé's.
When it comes down to it, the members of Young Justice aren't as interesting as the members of the Justice League. Robin (the Dick Grayson version) can't compete with Batman. Superboy doesn't hold a candle to Superman. Artemis and Red Arrow, even if combined, come up short against Green Arrow. Don't even get me started on how poorly the others hold up against their mentors. This is only compounded by the way this show is handled.
While each episode is good on its own, as a whole they fall apart. For one, they've been aired out of order, which can be confusing. Secondly, for some reason, Young Justice was pulled off the air for a few months—leading to even more confusion. Lastly, each episode hints at there being a larger picture, an all-encompassing storyline to tie everything together. Well, ten episodes in, this mystery plot line has yet to be revealed. To me, it seems producers Weisman and Vieti don't really know what to do with this property.
Young Justice could be cancelled. Keeping Weisman and Vieti onboard, a new Justice League series could be produced. The big guns of the DCU are more recognizable and marketable than their kid counterparts. Also, with this new animation style, it would definitely stand apart from the previous Justice League series. And then there's door number two.
Young Justice could be refined. If so, the Justice League should be written out of the series entirely, allowing this team to stand on its own. Instead of being made to do damage control for the big guys, Young Justice should have their own identity. They should have their own enemies, their own resources and be fully independent. In other words, Superman's acceptance shouldn't weigh so heavily on Superboy's mind. Red Arrow and Artemis shouldn't care much about who's endorsed by Green Arrow. Robin should be allowed to step it up as the mini-Batman he is. As for Kid Flash and Miss Martian, their concern over getting the job done should outweigh their adolescent pining for their teammates. It really says something when the only character who truly feels like his own person is Aqua-Lad AQUA-FREAKING-LAD!!!
The idea of an overreaching plot should be abandoned, because it takes too much time (time you may not have) to establish. Instead, each storyline should stretch over two to three episodes. This gives the antagonist enough time to establish themselves as a viable threat. It also provides the heroes enough time to shine as individuals and as a team. While I'm at it, episodes should be aired in order and there shouldn't be any breaks in production except for between seasons. Doing otherwise has only served to rob Young Justice of its momentum.
Young Justice has a lot going for it. However, it also has a few items to be tallied against it as well. I'll keep on watching, because the animation is superb and the action delivers. However, I can't help but feel, as with the Spectacular Spider-Man, I won't have the chance to watch this for much longer before these sidekicks are (***bad pun alert***) kicked to the side.
Flaming Sensibilities + Wooden Pacing = Torchwood
Despite its pedigree, Torchwood has become a sub par, sci-fi show which feels more on the road to cancellation than retirement. It doesn't deal with anything The Twilight Zone or Outer Limits hasn't already covered to better effect. The only thing separating Torchwood from the pack is its main character being immortal and gay. That's simply not enough.
The first two seasons followed a freak-of-the-week format, which was largely hit or miss. The third season, while a highpoint, spent just a little too much time setting things up for my taste. Season four started off strong. However, it quickly lost momentum and ended up limping to a lackluster and confusing finale—one fit only to heavily constrain future installments. This is no way for a show with such potential to be handled.
First, Torchwood is hampered by poor pacing. Most of the season one and two story lines would've benefited from being fleshed out over two or occasionally three episodes instead of just one. Contrarily, season three would've been better off cutting some of the fat and serving as a four episode arc instead of five. As for "Miracle Day" it seems for every minute of progress, there are fifteen of filler. Every supporting character, from Oswald Danes to Phi Corp, was unnecessary. Anything added by them and their story lines were either non-events, immediately redacted, highly peripheral, or obvious to the point of redundancy.
As for the Torchwood team, they've always felt like amateurs pitted against the unknown. They're too sexed-up, standoffish and unprofessional to be believable as serious investigators. At the center of this assemblage are the two core characters.
Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) isn't anywhere near as formidable as he should be. He's an immortal from the 51st century who has also lived through the distant past. Yet, he only knows English? He doesn't have any knowledge of military strategy or basic combat tactics? With his longevity and experience, he should be a clip better equipped. Instead he comes off as being a flamboyant dud in vintage RAF gear. And his sex scenes need to go. They don't add anything besides the shock of seeing two chaps diddling. Since Torchwood doesn't bother to focus on anyone else's sex-life, the spotlight should be pulled back on this jarring and off-putting distraction.
Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles) was initially more interesting than Jack. But this was mostly due to Myles herself. The character, devoid of the actress, doesn't quite fit the grander scope this show is supposed to have. She feels even more out of place and has become grating, now that "Miracle Day" has made her histrionic. As for the rest of the major players, everyone from Toshiko Sato to Rex Matheson feels unremarkable. They're functional, but aren't well developed enough to be remotely interesting. This is why the cast of the first three seasons were so easily discarded and haven't been mentioned since. This lackluster tone affects more than the characters.
I can't recall one chill bump inducing moment on Torchwood—save the final act of series three. Besides that, things have just kind of happened. There's no overall sense of danger, urgency, intrigue or anything you'd expect in a show about a clandestine unit of paranormal investigators.
After 41 episodes, it's high time Torchwood started living up to its potential. This series occasionally deals with time travel and alternate dimensions. So a re-envisioning is just one warp-gate/time-portal away. Keeping this in mind, these are changes I'd make.
Torchwood would be an elite, international organization protecting the world from supernatural menaces and science gone array. Jack Harkness would be an immortal BAMF. His homosexuality would be background. The focus would instead be on him knowing exactly how to or being directly capable of kicking nearly anything's ass. Gwen would be an ace pilot in the RAF. Impressing Harkness, she'd be seconded to Torchwood as a pilot/1st officer. There'd be more than just two main characters.
I'd have a medic from a far, alternate future who escapes to the past just before his timeline of origin is ablated. Him being just sub-Whovian in intelligence, he could diagnose or treat nearly all abnormal conditions. There'd be a teenage girl who is actually an extremely advanced, artificially intelligent, techno-organic robot. Cybernetic, the world's computer systems would be an open book to her. She'd also be a physical powerhouse. Then there'd be the pointy end of the stick. Highly trained, extremely dangerous and appointed by an external council, this guy would be THE assassin charged with sanctioning whatever's deemed a threat. He'd also serve to keep a government controlled eye on the proceedings.
Backing the heavies would be a full support team of "red shirts", because five people can't do everything. These expendable staffers would facilitate the plot by negating the need to show the leads tending to minutiae. They'd also establish a threat by frequently meeting an unpleasant end in the field.
Torchwood would have most uncommon technology at their disposal. Every arcane artifact and scrap of alien tech they captured would be salvaged. From energy weapons, to defensive fields, and even teleportals, they'd have crude versions of them all. As for the bad guys, there'd be a rogue's gallery of extraterrestrials, demons, warlords, sorcerers, sinister organizations, and more to provide conflict.
Story lines would never be cut too short or needlessly stretched out. Characters and relationships would be given time to naturally evolve. The bad guys would be out to do major damage. The good guys would stop them. Everything would be epic, and a new mythology would be established.
These are all ideas I absolutely had to get off my chest due to my aggravation over how lame and disinteresting this once promising show has become. It almost seems impossible for it to not somehow be any better than it is. I honestly don't care how; Torchwood needs to improve before it loses my viewership entirely.
The colors in this movie don't run.
Here, in the States, we've an increasingly right-wing movement in the government that borders on being fanatical. Unemployment and underemployment are reaching all time highs. Corporations are pulling it in hand over fist while the average dude is losing out. Hell, if Congress can't figure out a way to raise the debt ceiling, by 8/2/11, the country defaults. Well here's "Captain America: The First Avenger" (CATFA), to show what the USA used to stand for before all of this
This is more than a good comic book movie. It's more than a good WWII movie. While CATFA involves themes such as bravery, compassion, love, integrity and strength, which are in no way exclusively American, this is still one hell of a good American movie.
It's the forties, and ultra anemic Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is trying to enlist in the Army. He doesn't want to rack up a tally of confirmed kills or blindly surrender himself to the will of Uncle Sam. He only wants to do what he feels is right—even if it costs his life. However, while brave and true to a fault, he's too frail to be anything other than lightweight cannon fodder. But a chance encounter ultimately leads to Rogers becoming the epitome of human, physical potential. However, due to a tragedy, he's relegated to the USO circuit and not the front. He's a hit on stage with civilians, but the grunts in the field hold him in contempt. Then he hears Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), his old buddy, has been captured behind enemy lines. This leads to Rogers finally embracing his potential and saving not just the life of Barnes, but over 400 other POW's. With this, he finally earns the right to serve, the respect of his brothers at arms and the title of Captain America. Yes, the Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) and Arnim Zola (Toby Jones) are present and in full effect. But this is much more about the shield slinger than they.
I was distressed when Evans was announced as Steve Rogers. Well, that was a mistake because he smashed it right out of the park. He connected with the character in a way that made everything feel fresh and heartfelt. I knew the dude would end up on ice. But seeing it play out to the reactions of both Peggy Carter (Haley Atwell) and Colonel Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) took me by surprise in its power. Then, when Cap does wake up in 2011, I couldn't help but feel sorry for him over all he'd lost. That's about 35% script and 65% Evans' portrayal. The same can thankfully be said about every actor who worked on this film.
As for the script and direction, they're also hitting homers. I was doubtful about the whole USO storyline. However, it showed how Captain America is more than muscles and a costume. It was also refreshing how the script ramped up the soldier over the super. Seeing C.A. and the Howling Commandos waging guerrilla war on Hydra was dead on and sold the military aspect of the story. It also showcased what makes this character unique in a sea of brightly colored, spandex clad characters that can fly, swing and slice through steel. This well crafted screenplay is complimented by Joe Johnston's surprisingly deft direction.
It seems all the goodness Johnston didn't bring to "The Wolfman", he delivered, and then some, to this. When Cap was in action, every punch, kick and bounce of the shield was shot clearly for the audience to see. Certain scenes were shot in a way that non-verbally conveyed mood. The USO montage was effortlessly comical, yet disheartening. Contrarily, Rogers sitting in the remains of a bombed out bar visually expressed the extreme loneliness he felt over the death of his old friend. If I had to pick a highlight of Johnston's direction, however, it would be the final confrontation with Hydra.
It goes from action (a motorcycle chase, Cap smacking down a handful of Hydra agents); to somber (Cap's outnumbered and taken before the Red Skull); back to action (the Howling Commandos assault, chasing the Skull down); to romantic (Cap and Carter sharing a kiss); back to action (Cap b-smacking more Hydra soldiers, an aerial dogfight, the final battle with the Red Skull); and then to morose (the sight of the tundra drawing nearer as Cap kept that plane in a nosedive). These shifts in tone never once felt jarring or forced. In the hands of "The Wolfman's" director, this would've been a mess. In the hands of THIS Johnston, everything was smooth sailing.
Yeah, they probably could've shown how a post serum Rogers went through a grueling tutelage fit to make Bruce Wayne puke. They probably could've put more emphasis on his mastery of martial arts and acrobatic fighting style. They probably could've found some way to make the costume from the comics work. They probably could've portrayed Bucky exactly like the comics. Yep, they could've done all of this and more. But, who cares when this is already an excellent movie. The only real fault I can think of is CATFA felt a little short—not that it was rushed. I just wanted to see more. First there was "Spiderman" (2002). Then there was "Batman Begins" (2005). This was followed by "The Incredible Hulk" (2008). Well now there's "Captain America: The First Avenger" (2011) as the fourth flawless, highly satisfying comic-book based film.
Now, on an overly politically minded aside (to tie this into my intro), maybe our esteemed congressman should take time to watch this flick. However unlikely, CATFA might just clear out the cobwebs and focus them on their duty, to their constituents, as opposed to party politics—just like Steve Rogers. At the very least they'd be entertained for 125 minutes, before getting back to the merry business of screwing so many over.
Green Lantern (2011)
Beware his power...Green Lantern's blight.
In the Lost Sector of Space, the fear empowered entity Parallax escapes from where he was imprisoned by the Green Lantern Abin Sur. Parallax spends the next six months consuming entire civilizations before tracking down his jailer in space sector 2814 for some payback. In the brief struggle, Abin Sur is mortally wounded and ends up retreating to Earth—the nearest inhabited planet. Once here, he charges his ring with finding a suitable replacement. It settles on test pilot and all around cool guy Hal Jordan. As Hal deals with this, xeno-biologist Hector Hammond is called on to perform an autopsy on Abin Sur—accidentally becoming infused with residual energy from Parallax. Hal initially resists his new calling while Hammond embraces his newfound power. This leads to the inevitable confrontation where Jordan trounces Hammond, feeds Parallax to the Sun and saves the Earth before heading off to patrol his slice of the cosmos.
That's the story. Despite what the critics are saying, "Green Lantern" isn't a horrible movie. But it's also a far cry short of great. This could've been a major summer event; but too many elements drag it down and into absolute mediocrity.
First, the only thing that worked about "Green Lantern" is the lead. Reynolds did a credible job as G.L. Even more importantly, he nailed Hal Jordan as someone wielding a cavalier attitude to hide some pretty heavy emotional issues. So, be it getting his butt kicked in the parking lot of a bar or cruising the stars, Reynolds managed to carry this film. Aside from him, however, nothing else quite clicked.
Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard) was too much like the poster child for high school reject syndrome. Carol Ferris (Blake Lively) looks more like a little sister to Hal than a viable love interest and peer. The government conspiracy angle, as represented by Amanda Waller (Angela Basset), served no real purpose and felt shoehorned in. The stuff on OA was underwhelming, and seeing Jordan as just one of 3,600 G.L.'s felt like a waste of CGI. Not to be left out are the energy constructs that, while workable in animation and on the comics page, don't necessarily hold up in live action.
The biggest problem, though, is how derivative everything felt. G.L. was kept planet side and robbed of the cosmic edge which makes him unique in the DCU. So you're left with a hodgepodge of the world saving antics of every Superman movie; the recklessness and self loathing found in "Iron Man"; the romantic beats that feel ripped from "Spiderman"; and a pinch of the parental abandonment issues found in "Batman Begins".
So the script, the direction, the action, and the special effects were pretty much all unremarkable. However, this brings me not to the screenwriters, the director or the F/X crew. I instead find myself looking to Geoff Johns. He's the Chief Creative Officer (CCO) of D.C. Comics and serves as a co-producer on this film. But before any of this, he is a gifted writer who has left his mark on several of D.C.'s major franchises. One of the characters he's helped to redefine was Green Lantern, beginning with his 2005 retelling of Hal Jordan's origins. And it was Johns' material this film liberally borrowed from. However, his take on G.L. definitely is not the best fit for the big screen.
The optimal fit would've been "Green Lantern: Emerald Dawn". This six issue mini by writers Keith Giffen, Gerald Jones and artist M.D. Bright came out in 1990 and dealt with Hal's standing as a green, Green Lantern. The story was streamlined, stuck him on OA and fully fleshed out who the Corp is and what they do (most notably with Kilowog and Tomar-Re). The capabilities of the ring were better defined, with them still being vulnerable to yellow. It even provided a worthy adversary who afforded Jordan the opportunity to prove himself as THE Green Lantern. With a three act plot begging for adaptation, this would have been the movie to put asses in seats and keep them there.
Unfortunately, it's not the one written by Geoff Johns. I find it hard to believe the CCO of D.C. and co-producer of this film didn't push to have his work adapted to the big screen, as opposed to an older one that would be more approachable to an audience who may not even read comics. So instead of what might have been the beginning of a viable franchise on par with "Batman Begins", we get this rather inert production which doesn't work. But, I don't hold a grudge. This is just a rookie mistake any creator in a newfound position of power could make when they're insulated by success. If Johns has this opportunity again, I hope he learns from what went wrong here and is able to take any traces of ego out of the equation.
So if you want to read the excellent G.L. movie that could've been, track down a TPB of Emerald Dawn at the local comic's shop or bookstore. There's also the two animated DTV's "First Flight" and "Emerald Knights". No, they aren't perfect. Regardless, they still have a much better understanding of what makes this property pop than this movie does.
If, by some lark, "Green Lantern" manages to make enough to warrant a sequel, I hope the studio sees fit to address these issues rather than do a reboot. The next chapter, if done properly, with regards to the needs of this medium, can redeem the property and serve as the start of a franchise. Another reboot, however, could spell the end of this genre since movie audiences aren't as forgiving as those who follow the comics.
The Green Lantern Corps long overdue moment in the spotlight.
I have three problems with D.C.'s line of animated DTV's. First, of the twelve films (including the showcase compilation), only three haven't starred or featured Batman and/or Superman. Secondly, the story lines and art styles are often lifted panel by panel from the comics. Lastly, the running times for these productions falls somewhere between an hour and 78 minutes. This is normally too short to tell a full story and way too short to be taken seriously by anyone but an extremely small, niche market. Well, I'm glad to say "Green Lantern: Emerald Knights" (GL: EK) remedies most of this.
Superman and Batman are nowhere to be found within this anthology. Even though he's on the cover, Hal Jordan isn't even the focus. This DTV instead fleshes out the expanded DCU characters of the Green Lantern Corp across six chapters.
There is "The First Lantern". Serving as an origin story, of sorts, for the Corp, we get to see the first time a ring chooses its bearer. Later, when this first batch of Lantern's is being pummeled, we get to see Avra, a former scribe, create the first ever energy construct and save the day. After this is "Kilowog", which is a condensed, cosmic version of the military boot camp scenarios presented in films like "Heartbreak Ridge" and "G.I. Jane". It starts with Kilowog as a rookie dealing with an overbearing drill sergeant named Deegan and how, due to battlefield conditions, he ultimately becomes THE overbearing drill sergeant. Next is "Laira", which successfully combines the tone of Xena with the Green Lantern mythos, and sports some of the best fight scenes to have graced any animated DTV. Following this chapter is "Mogo Doesn't Socialize". The short is basically one big setup that leads to a pretty effective punch-line regarding the size and scope of the Corp's single, largest member. Narrated by Sinestro, "Abin Sur" is mostly a sobering discussion between Abin Sur and the warlord Atrocitus and then between Abin Sur and Sinestro about such heady subjects as death and destiny. Honestly, it was a bit of a drag. The final entry is "Emerald Knights" which ties together all the shorts in a grand cosmic battle where the planet OA is wielded as a mace to knock the big bad back into the sun.
Of these six stories, "Kilowog", "Laira" and "Mogo Doesn't Socialize" were lifted from the comic's. Contrarily, "The First Lantern", "Abin Sur" and "Emerald Knights" were largely original creations. The art style owes more to the lavish designs of "Green Lantern: First Flight" (GL: FF) than any comic panel which helps this further distinguish itself from the source material. I'm also highly grateful for the increased running time. These DTV's usually feel about ten to twelve minutes too short. But, at 84 minutes, "Emerald Knights" doesn't feel even remotely rushed and has enough time to say what it needs to. Unfortunately, there is some bitter to go with the sweet.
The pink, beach-ball looking G.L. was killed on camera in Laira's story and his ring then went to her. However, he could clearly be seen at the end as part of the assault against Krona? Also, GL: EK contradicts or completely disregards major plot points from GL: FF. A seasoned Hal Jordan works alongside Sinestro, who's yet to go rogue? Arisia is a new recruit being mentored by Hal? Boodika and Tomar-Re are still alive? This makes it so the two films aren't related in any way save for subject matter. The DTV market may be flexible enough to accommodate this, but I see it as a wasted opportunity and take issue with it. By the way, speaking of Tomar-Re, it's a shame his character was so marginalized—given his role in the comics and the live action film. It would've been nice to see more on his back-story, even if it was nothing more than the fact Krypton blew up in his sector and on his watch.
Despite these shortcomings, to any fan of the comics, the movie or numerous animated series to feature any member of the Corp, GL: EK is still well worth watching as either a rental or as part of your collection. While it sports a few dings, Bruce Timm and Lauren Montgomery have demonstrated a far better grasp of what makes this property work than the powers behind the lackluster, live-action production do. One can only hope they're allowed to continue devoting their talents to the characters of the expanded DCU and not just to a nerdy bumpkin named Clark and a sad little rich boy named Bruce.
So now, as a blogger, a fan of animation, a reformed comic fanboy and just cause I can, I'm going to ramble off a list of projects I'd love to see: Secret Lives/an anthology detailing a day in the life of the core Justice League's secret I.D.'s; Deathstroke/the sacrifices Wilson's made to be the most dangerous man in the DCU as he faces his greatest challenge; The Flash/Wally West's first time connecting with the speed force; Birds of Prey/showing how the fairer sex of the DCU is most definitely not the weaker one; Robin/Tim Drake dealing with the legacy of being Robin as he takes the title out of Batman's shadow; Suicide Squad/villains unleashed against enemies of the state; Shazam/Captain Marvel repeatedly being mistaken for an off-world Superman as he repels an alien invasion; Wonder Woman/a direct sequel to her outstanding 2009 DTV; Secret Six/bad guys fighting worse guys; Hit-man/Tommy Monaghan and company shooting their way through a different side of Gotham City; Booster Gold & Blue Beetle/the duo falling ass backwards through saving the day; Blue Devil/high technology mixes with ancient magic, creating a new kind of hero; Green Arrow/anything by Mike Grell.
If just one of these characters ended up being the subject of an animated DTV, I might risk breaking my face and actually crack a smile.
Smallville: Finale (2011)
I think they got wrapping things up confused with letting down the audience.
I guess I'm a fan of Smallville. I've cringed at the truly horrible episodes. I've been on the edge of my seat over the unbelievably good ones. I've yawned through the vast majority which were ultimately forgettable. Through it all, I kept watching in the belief it would eventually lead to Clark finally and fully embracing his destiny. However, now the show has concluded, the finale has aired and I find myself feeling perplexed.
The finale had a ton of problems. These missteps include the following: an overlong, boring and redundant first half; an unnecessary fight between Clark and a possessed Oliver Queen; the hollow dispatching of Darkseid's three emissaries by Green Arrow; the unceremonious murder of Tess Mercer; the return of Lex Luthor, in all his malicious glory, only to have his memory erased; and an anticlimactic fight between Clark and the Darkseid possessed corpse of Lionel Luthor.
Not one of these problems is minor, and, in a professionally written review, would most likely result in some hefty deductions—especially for a finale. Unfortunately, these problems, even when lumped together, are almost inconsequential against the most glaring flaw imaginable. That would be the conscious decision being made to not deliver what the audience wanted.
After ten years and 217 episodes, there were no clear shots of Clark in full costume. Instead we get a few long distance shots of a poorly rendered CGI Superman. The shots that weren't from a distance were close-ups of Tom Welling's face. In the final shot of the series, just when it looks as though things might pay off, we see Welling do the iconic shirt rip to reveal what could only be a short sleeve Superman shirt. There wasn't even a point where he either called himself or was directly identified as Superman. In short, the destination was never reached. Once again, I'm left feeling more that a little confused.
Don't the executive producers know how the people who work on genre shows depend on their fanbase to score other gigs just as much, if not more so than the quality of their work? David Boreanaz, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Marc Blucas, James Marsters, Eliza Dushku and Joss Whedon were able to rely on their fan appeal from "Buffy: the Vampire Slayer" to get involved on other projects. The same goes for "Firefly's" Nathan Fillon and Summer Glau. Grace Park (formerly of "Battlestar Galactica") and Daniel Dae Kim (formerly of "Lost") both landed leading roles on "Hawaii Five-0". These are things the principles on a genre show can look forward to when they deliver the goods. "Smallville", for some inexplicable reason, took the other route. It's the route taken by "Heroes", and has anyone seen that shows leads do much of anything since its cancellation? So now I'm going to make a prediction.
I see that, within three to four years, the principle on camera and behind camera crew will find themselves doing one of three things. Option A involves them shilling their autographs on the convention circuit. Option B involves them ending up on a soap opera. Option C involves them writing, directing and/or starring in the occasional SyFy Channel original picture—the likes of which have included such gems as "Sharktopus" and "Mansquito".
Who's going to want to see another show starring Tom Welling or another series that's written or executive produced by Miles Gough, Alfred Millar, Kelly Souders, or Brian Peterson after this? They basically relegated a ten year series into a sneeze that never comes, into an itch that's never scratched. Check the message boards. There isn't one person who isn't at least mildly disappointed with the way things ended. The one's who say otherwise then go on to state they never thought "Smallville" was good to begin with. That's definitely not how you want to send off a long running series—by leaving a steaming pile on the realistic and warranted expectations of its fans.
So while those who've worked on other genre shows enjoy continued success, the buck probably stops here for those involved with "Smallville". I'm pretty sure Erica Durance, Allison Mack, Justin Hartley, Cassidy Freeman and Michael Rosenbaum had nothing to do with this inordinately, ill-advised decision. Matter of fact, I'd wager money they didn't agree with it. Nonetheless, this is a lump sum game, and this is their lump. It doesn't matter if you sell shoes, crunch numbers or work in movies & television, the same standards apply. You deliver what your customer/client/audience wants and reap the rewards. But should you decide to screw them; the only thing you reap is ill-will. In an industry so reliant on charisma, this may as well be an acute case of Ebola.
After over twenty years of seeing these things play out, I'm pretty spot on about this stuff—it's kinda' my thing. As such, I only see a few ways out of this quandary for the primary cast and crew whose name and likeliness' are linked to this epic fail. They can release a statement stating the Superman name and costume was off limits for legal reasons (cheap and easy to do). They can provide extra, clearly shot footage of Welling wearing the full costume, while in action, for the upcoming DVD release or as an exclusive extra for the complete series box set (it could push those overpriced blue boxes right off the shelves). Or they could always do a made for T.V. movie, or series of them, detailing the events immediately following Smallville's conclusion. This could serve to keep up the interest in Superman until the "Man of Steel" hits sometime in 2012. Seeing as how it has to get past the bomb that is "Superman Returns", this could leave both the big and small screen parties in a rather desirable position.
Dylan Dog: Dead of Night (2010)
An underdog of a flick, which was made for fans of the genre.
"Dylan Dog: Dead of Night" is an extreme underdog of a movie. It doesn't have an A-list cast. Its budget is small for a wide-released genre film. It even has the dubious distinction of being badmouthed by the Italian press well before its North American release. But, don't let any of this fool you, it's still an entertaining movie.
First off, this isn't the character created by Tiziano Sclavi. This is an approximated, overly americanized version of his seminal creation. London isn't the backdrop and there is no Groucho. So, if you grew up reading the comics, you might not recognize the character in anything other than name. However, if you never heard of Dylan Dog before, this flick, made purely for fans of the genre, should do you just fine.
Taking place in Louisiana, the story involves an impending war between varying supernatural factions over an object of great power. Some want it to ensure its safekeeping. Others want to use it to overthrow the natural order. In the middle of this is the eponymous character that gets caught in the middle, all while trying to solve a murder.
With a running time of 107 minutes and so much material to cover, it might seem things would become unbearably muddled. Thankfully this is not the case. Following Dog's investigation, we're introduced to many of the supernaturals that call the Big Easy home in a brisk, yet naturally flowing manner.
There are the werewolves headed by Gabriel (Peter Stormare). A lycanthropic man of honor, you could see how, full moon or not, he was literally fighting back the darkness just under the skin. The vampires were led by Vargas (Taye Diggs). A polar opposite of Gabriel, Vargas was gleefully opportunistic and, ultimately, a charming parasite. And then there was Big Al (Dan Braverman). He was an absolute hoot as the ever so humble owner of Zombie Mart—think of an auto supply store, but for body parts. Watching his undead clientele casually peruse the selection of arms, legs and scalps available for purchase was surreal and really conveys the tone of the movie.
Leading us through all of this was Dylan Dog (Brandon Routh). Despite being human, he was the most dangerous and resourceful person in the film. A highlight of this was when he shot his way into the vampire's stronghold in broad daylight. Cornering Vargas in his bedroom with the sunlight directly behind him, Dog used his shadow to shield Vargas from the sun. Every time the vampire lied or refused to answer a question, Dog simply moved and let him burn to force the truth—right awesome. His assistant, Marcus Adams (Sam Huntington), added some much needed comedy as he slowly came to terms with his newfound status as a zombie. He went from refusing to accept his condition, to wanting to die with dignity and, finally, to acceptance. He even gets to be the hero by wielding his own, severed arm as a club. The client, Elizabeth Ryan (Anita Briem) at first seemed to be a typical dame in peril. But, as the story progressed, it became apparent she was hiding a secret—one which provided the best fight scene in the film.
So yeah, some of the creature effects were a bit less than inspired—werewolf designs have been in decline since Landis' 1981 masterpiece. Dog lived through so many hard, bone-rattling and body flying through the air blows, it started to become a little bit too unreal by the film's end. Also, while he's come a very long way since "Superman Returns", I felt Brandon Routh came off as playing himself pretending to be Dylan Dog instead of just being the character. It wasn't a big deal here, but it was noticeable. All he needs to do is completely let go of himself and, between the calls of action and cut, simply be whoever he's signed on to play.
Despite these minor nitpicks, Dylan Dog is a good movie that never once lost sight of what it was or what it was supposed to be. I'm pretty sure it won't do much business in this day and age of animated features, rom-com's and remakes. But that doesn't mean I didn't have a blast watching this in the theater and won't be waiting for this on DVD. If you're a fan of properties like "Men in Black", "Hellboy" and "Ghostbusters", you owe it to yourself to check this out on the big screen—it was tailor made for people like us. No, it's not a flawless film. But, it is still one hell of a fun ride that never once drags.
And just when it's on the verge of greatness...
The first three seasons of "Smallville" were good T.V. Then the next four seasons nearly rendered the show unwatchable. It got so bad that, on 5-29-08, I wrote a review on IMDb entitled "What in the world have you done with Superman???" I bemoaned Jimmy Olsen being a peer of Clark's, Clark's overall whiny attitude and the meandering plot lines leading nowhere. Then when season eight premiered in September of 08, the damndest thing happened. Most of the problems I'd mentioned were fixed—if not immediately, then definitely by the end of the season. On the remote chance this wasn't a fluke, I'm cutting straight to the chase.
DO NOT RETIRE THIS SHOW!!! It's taken ten years, but everything is finally where it needs to be. Tom Welling is nailing Superman better than Christopher Reeves (R.I.P.) ever did—even if he doesn't fly, doesn't wear the cape and isn't called Superman yet. The only problem area was Clark Kent. But now that Welling is working to establish Kent as being an alternate persona, everything feels right. Meanwhile, Erica Durance makes for the best Lois Lane this side of the comics. Her Lane is more dynamic than Margot Kidder's and more believable as a reporter than Teri Hatcher's. These two are pretty much all the show needs to work. After all, this isn't the story of Green Arrow, or Chloe Sullivan and hasn't been about Lana Lang in a long time. As for Tess Mercer, she's a substitute for Lex Luthor—to be probably be rendered obsolete when he makes his return in the finale.
Retiring Smallville just when all of the relevant pieces (the right version of Clark, the right version of Lois, Metropolis, The Daily Planet and Lex Luthor's return) are finally in place would be a waste. After ten years of build up, this could be a chance for the C.W. to do THE Superman show.
They should first test the water by commissioning a made for T.V. movie, detailing the events after "Smallville". When this proves to be a ratings success (it will), they should do another two or three films over the 2011/2012 television season. After these films demonstrate the public's demand for the further adventures of an icon, "Smallville" should be renewed. But if it truly has to be cancelled, in keeping with the final season tagline, the studio can always re-brand it by another title like the Man of Steel. At any rate, this could be the primetime contender the C.W. so desperately needs. Allow me to put this statement in the proper context.
The W.B. and U.P.N. Networks were both launched in 1995. Despite having some moderate successes, they weren't pulling in the viewership they needed. This is why the two merged in 2006, forming the C.W. But even so, the C.W. still isn't able to pull the numbers the four major networks do. This brings to mind FOX.
Launched in 1986, FOX was also an underdog. Then in 87 it started airing a show that enabled it to start standing its ground. That show was "Married with Children". Two years later this led to "The Simpson's". Four years later there was "The X-Files". Now, 25 years after its launch, FOX is a powerhouse. However, all of this started with that one show.
A straight forward Superman show (no two person romantic triangle and no tortured, teenage Clark) will be that one property the C.W. needs. It will be that one show which serves as the start of them pulling the kind of numbers the big four have to take notice of. No, a Man of Steel program won't dethrone "American Idol". But there's no way it wouldn't be able to steal anywhere from 30% to nearly 50% of that juggernaut's audience. Being able to do that will bring in higher numbers and greater add revenue than the C.W. has EVER commanded before. In turn this will lead to them being able to cultivate more hit programming and gain a greater share of the primetime market.
Now I get a large part of the motivation for shelving "Smallville" is due to the upcoming Superman flick headed by Henry Cavill and Amy Smart. The studio heads believe having a movie and television show on at the same time about the same thing, but with different actors, could cause audience confusion at home and at the theaters. I don't think we're that obtuse, but the money bags seem to think otherwise. So, given this misconception, the powers that be at Warner Bros. need to make a decision about what's more important.
On one hand they have the success of a film franchise, released at a point in time when movies aren't doing the business they used to. The number of film actors making the transition to television says this more than the dwindling box office returns. Then, on the other hand, Warner Bros. stands to arm their fledgling network with the exact kind of property it needs to start effectively competing with the big boys to pull the kind of numbers that result in the big bucks. To me there's no real contest. But I'm just another blogger.
Now some will say continuing this property after ten years will only serve to run it into the ground. However, technically, "Smallville" isn't a Superman show. It's always been about a pre-cape Clark Kent. So a Man of Steel program wouldn't be so much of a continuation as a graduation—a step up to the next level. It would more than be able to distance itself from the past and establish its own, separate identity. If this sounds like a good idea to anyone still reading this, feel free to support this post with your votes, write your own post concerning this matter or petition the C.W. The worst that can happen is "Smallville" goes off the air just as it stands on the verge of greatness.
Mighty Max (1993)
This cap was made for bearing.
"Mighty Max" is truly a lost show. It aired its forty episodes between 1993 and 1995, ran in syndication until 1998 and was utterly forgotten by 2000. Only a handful of episodes were released on VHS, and the show had gone the way of the dodo well before DVD's took over. Thankfully, the show has managed to survive online and is every bit as good as I remember.
This is basically about the adventures of Max (Rob Paulsen). He's a prototypical American teen who likes hanging with his buds, extreme sports, is a bit of a smart-aleck and, despite never cracking a book, is remarkably intelligent. Then one day he receives a red ball-cap, and his life is turned upside down. This is because it turns out he's the latest in a long line of "mighty" cap-bearers and is destined to save the world a lot. Thankfully, he isn't alone.
Aiding him are Virgil (Tony Jay) and Norman (Richard Moll). Virgil is a 10,000 year old, anthromorphic owl from Lemuria. Max's mentor and guide, he is every bit as intelligent and stuffy as you'd expect from a 10,000 year old owl—even if he does insist on being a fowl "actually". Norman is a 10,000 year old Viking warrior fit to make all the immortals in Highlander pee their pants. The guardian, he's overly tense and laconic in nature, and lets Max and Virgil do most of the talking while letting his blade speak for him.
Together the three face off against numerous threats to world. These include mad scientists, aliens, demons, ghosts, werewolves, vampires, mutants and many more. However, the chief baddie and the one Max is prophesized to destroy is Skull Master (Tim Curry). Yes, he's inspired by Skeletor and would rip Skeletor's heart out and crush it under his feet. Another 10,000 year old, he oozes menace and definitely makes the cut for an arch-villain. The guy is basically a big, skull faced demon who's trapped in Hell; has a limitless army of lava men, golems and zombies at his disposal; and is bent on not just world domination, but on the utter annihilation of Max and company.
However, no matter where Max and crew ended up, and no matter whom they fought, the high quality of "Mighty Max" raised things well beyond the mundane. Despite claims the animation wasn't that good, I beg to differ. Never once were frames repeated, and there was never any scene that felt still or stiff. If anything, the animation style was in line with that of Batman: TAS. The character designs were streamlined, and much of the detail was provided by shading. But the real star was the scripting.
"Mighty Max" was funny without being corny; action packed without being far-fetched; educational without being boring; and violent without ever once being graphic. This may sound middle of the road, but it's not. It actually pushed the boundaries of what could be shown and said in children's programming circa the mid nineties. By today's stricter standards, however, "Mighty Max" could only exist on Adult Swim.
Most episodes featured at least one, horrific death. "The Werewolves of Dunneglen" is one example. It's night on the Scottish Highlands, and a lone man is investigating a series of strange noises. He hears growling from just behind him, and turns in time to let out a bloodcurdling scream before the scene transitions to Max chilling out half a world away. In "the Magnificent Seven" the four champions who accompanied Max, Virgil and Norman to Skullmaster's realm were all killed. In "The Axeman Cometh" Norman enters a darkened cabin and grimaces at what can only be slaughtered bodies strewn every which way. In every instance of death and dismemberment, nothing was ever shown or explicitly stated. But things were implied more than strongly enough to make the impression that something horrible just happened—albeit off camera.
There were a few problems with Mighty Max though. At first Max felt more like the product of a focus group than a true character. Over time this changed, most notably after the "Magnificent Seven". But it was still a fly in the ointment. Also, the cap he wore didn't feel all that special. All it could do was use portals to teleport, and anyone could use it. Only Virgil knew where most of the portals were, and he had to consult a map that, once again, anyone could use. When it came to dealing with the bad guys, the cap really wasn't good for much, save a hasty retreat. When searching for a portal, Max would often disappear in plain view of a freaked out public—yet no one ever once followed up on this upon his return. I get how, after living 10,000 years, Norman would possess enough skill to be the greatest warrior to have ever lived. Yet, his occasional feats of superhuman strength were never explained and, I felt, this diminished him.
So I can't say Mighty Max is the best animated-action show I've seen. But I can say it is of extraordinarily high quality and is dangerously watchable. You'll check one episode and then want to see another and another and another, until you're trying to rationalize how you can get to work and do your job on less than two hours sleep.
Lastly, I want to give a shout out to Arsenal1508, at YouTube, for helping to keep this gem alive. Whoever you are, I just want to say thanks. Were it not for fans like you, "Mighty Max" would really be nothing more than a memory from the nineties. It's so much better than that—even if Film Roman has carelessly allowed it to languish.
Human Target (2010)
I say thee, shenanigans.
"Human Target" (HT) is damned good television. When an episode is lacking, it still manages to be an above average action romp with slight comedic elements. But when it's working, the show isn't like anything else on television. In all honesty, it's more like a big budget, action film on the tube. Yet, this isn't getting good ratings, which puzzles me. But before I cover this, I just want to acknowledge what makes HT so great.
The first season worked primarily due to charisma and interaction of the three leads. All of the primary actors nailed their roles. Christopher Chance (Mark Valley) is the headliner with a shady past. A pretty boy/face breaker, he's an expert on keeping people alive due to him formerly being an expert on taking people out of the equation. Guerrero (Jackie Earle Haley) is a walking oxymoron. He looks like a nerd, but has a real mean streak and the skills to back it up. Winston (Chi McBride) is more or less the straight man. Large and in charge, he's the rational one who points out just how ludicrous some of the circumstances they find themselves in are. Season two saw the addition of Ames and Ilsa Pucci. Ames (Janet Montgomery) is a thief and serves as the rookie of the team. Even though she's just starting out, she has enough moments to let you see she can pull her weight. Ilsa Pucci (Indira Varma) is the moneybags who enables all the fancy equipment and air travel. She's also an absolute stranger to the world she's entered and serves as a reason for most of the craziness to be explained for the audience.
The action is better than what's found in most summer movie fare. There are car chases. There are really cool shootouts. Blow-up-able objects have a tendency to fulfill their purpose. There was even a passenger jet flying upside down, all to put out an onboard fire. But hand to hand is the soup du jour, and HT delivers with bone-crunching satisfaction. All I can say is Valley really knows how to sell a punch. He also really knows how to sell a kick, an elbow, a knee, a headbutt and any combination/variation of the basics.
The writing on HT makes each episode into a fully developed story and not just a juxtaposition of loosely related scenes. Characterization is tight, consistent and never betrayed for the sake of the plot. The threats are almost always interesting and well balanced against the good guys. The structure of an episode can't be taken for granted. Sometimes an episode starts well into the storyline, and we have to catch up via flashbacks—as in season one's "Baptiste". Other times an episode is more chronological in nature, but throws a seriously wicked curveball—just like in season two's "Kill Bob". Through it all is a very wicked and subversive humor that permeates every line of dialogue and every punch thrown. For the most laughs, however, you can never go wrong with Winston and Guerrero. The two are extraordinarily mismatched. This leads to any number of insults, threats and snide remarks that feel like two stand-up comedians sniping away at each other.
Yet, despite all of this, HT doesn't get the ratings. And, this is what puzzles me. I hear the most coveted demographic for advertising dollars are adult males, age 18-34. Yet, this show, which is tailor made for us, is struggling? I was talking to someone about this, and she brought up a valid point.
In the box office, the proof is in ticket sales. This is why the biggest blockbusters of a year are always action oriented. Check out the haul of 2008's "Dark Knight" vs. "Mamma Mia". Bruce Wayne stomped Abba's arse. But on television, success isn't determined by cold, hard cash. It's determined by ratings.
Isn't it odd that in the theaters, properties like "The Bourne Identity", "Spiderman", "RED" and "Inception" rule the roost? Yet, on TV, shows like "Human Target", "Detroit 187", and "Chase" struggle, while "Glee", "The Good Wife", and "Grey's Anatomy" rock out. So the same people who pay to see movies, don't watch television? It seems rather incongruous.
Maybe the television execs are wrong about the strength of their preferred demo. Maybe we don't watch TV, even though the Superbowl is the biggest programming event of the year. It's entirely possible guys really could be immersing themselves in overly dramatic, masculinity challenged narratives. Who the hell am I to judge? On the other hand, there could be another reason for the discrepancy between the big and small screen.
You can't give the over 100 million dollars generated by the "Dark Knight" to "Mamma Mia" or "Sex & the City". A ticket sale is a cash medium that involves thousands of people. However, in this digital age you could probably skew TV ratings like no one's business. Like all data, it can be interpreted, misinterpreted or even faked any which way but lose. Anyone who's taken basic statistics knows this.
Does anyone know of any males, age 18-34, that regularly watch "Glee", what with the singing and dancing? If not, then how could it be a success without us? So is it then possible the failing of action driven shows like HT and the success of menial fare like "Glee" could be due, in no small part, to fraud in both how the ratings are collected and construed.
I'm really pulling for "Human Target" to be renewed. It's one of those rare shows that actually delivers in a way standard TV generally doesn't. It's always a blast checking in on Chance and company, and a third season can deliver the success this property deserves. However, if this second season is the last one, it's been a swell ride and I've said my piece.
9 Songs (2004)
This is a kind of tragedy only Hollywood can provide.
I strongly disagree with "9 Songs" and films like it. This is not because I'm a prude who can't handle the prospect of viewing frank depictions of sexuality. I didn't have to endure a strict religious upbringing anymore than I hold conservative political views. But, before I get to why this production doesn't sit well with me, I should probably cover this inordinately sparse effort, by Michael Winterbottom, to at least some extent.
I get what high art films are striving for. They want to capture every nuance of a character, from the seriocomic aspects, to the overly dramatic beats and down to the base carnality that holds space in most of our lives. In all honesty, the only difference between a mainstream film and an art house production is that art films seem to strive far closer to 100% authenticity with their portrayals of sexuality and physical intimacy. This being said, "9 Songs" is not art. It's porn. Allow me to explain.
"Ken Park", Irreversible" and "The Brown Bunny" are more focused on scenes devoted to character development that, on occasion, are crowned by instances of graphic (mostly simulated, but occasionally explicit) sexuality. "9 Songs" goes the other route and features explicit content that, on occasion, is crowned by a threadbare plot. Over a 71 minute running time, Matt (Kieran O'Brien) and Lisa (Margo Stilley) have sex, indulge in a little recreational drug use, go to a concert and repeat. Some folks with a penchant for intellectually smug, masturbatory jargon, to explain away the bulge in their pants, may state otherwise. But, as someone who has sat through this film more than once, there really is nothing else to the proceedings.
Since this was dominated by sex, let's talk about it. Nothing was filmed well enough to be titillating or disturbing. It was just there and the two actors involved were, simply put, not cut out for it. This last bit pains me, because they put everything on the line for this production. But, despite the sacrifices they made, it still isn't any good. "9 Songs" spends far too little time on character development and too much in the bedroom. So, if you want to see an adult film with noble aspirations, this is it. But, then again, you could save yourself the effort and just surf the adult web. Hey, it's only two or three mouse clicks away from this review.
Now I'll get to why this movie disgusts me so. I imagine the two leads were told "9 Songs" was going to be a groundbreaking, genre redefining hit with the indie crowd that would open doors and launch their careers. Well, seven years later, that's yet to happen. Based off the info derived from IMDb, I'd say this flick only served to slam doors in their faces hard enough to knock them on their asses. And the phenomena isn't relegated to just this film.
The overwhelming majority of the cast of 2002's "Ken Park" was never seen on screen again. The leads in 2006's "Shortbus" largely disappeared and one nearly lost her day job. I think it's profoundly wrong to prey on the masses of struggling, hand to mouth actors to populate a film that will most likely hurt their acting prospects and shrink their non-showbiz opportunities as well.
Directors like Michael Winterbottom should stop kidding themselves and be honest about what they're doing when they set out to craft a film like this. They need to be especially honest about the damage it can wreak on their actors. Deep down they have to know this, since they will never try to snag A-list talent. This is why I say, for the next high art film, when the writer/director is looking to cast, he/she should seriously consider the adult film industry.
Adult film performers are comfortable in front of a camera and, with direction, can act well enough. "Baise Moi" serves as a prime example of how such a film can benefit from their participation. For a mainstream example, look at Sasha Grey in "Entourage". She's an adult film actress, and, while nowhere near being in the same league as an Oscar contender, the lady gets the job done.
What it all boils down to is the explicit sex, since this is going to be more powerful than any dialogue, comedic or action heavy scene could ever hope to be. Two struggling actors conned into having sex on screen are going to be horrendously (prom night level) awkward. Worst of all, depending on your gender, persuasion and taste, they may not be the kind of people you'd ever want to think about in a sexual context to begin with. But, with adult film actors, this wouldn't be a concern.
For one, they're usually models. Also, they're used to going to these private places, on camera, and have enough confidence with their bodies to lend these scenes the kind of charisma needed when filming explicit material. Best of all, it would do nothing to harm them in the long run. If anything, it would show them to be more versatile than just randomly lamenting to the tune of "oh yeah, oh yeah". It would be a win-win for all parties, right?
At the end of the day, I'm just a straight dude, living in the 21st century, who blogs on the net every so often. So, obviously, I'm not terribly opposed to viewing risqué, explicit or hardcore content. I just don't want to see anymore fledgling actors and actresses exploited to their detriment for films that, like "9 Songs", are nowhere near being worthy of their sacrifice. Because to use someone's dreams and aspirations to, ultimately, victimize them feels deeply wrong.