Thursday, June 30, 2011

Coming Soon....

With the Fourth of July weekend coming up I thought it would be time for a film festival around the ol' Compound Geekery blog.

And what could be more patriotic for the Fourth of July than..........


That's right. For the holiday weekend Compound Geekery is going to be running a comic book movie film festival with each film chosen at random.

So tune in tomorrow for our first installment!

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Flash Reviews: Captain Cold


The more of these things I watch the more I realize that time has NOT been kind to this series.

Let's just jump right in, shall we?

The Plot: There is a mob war in Central City's criminal community and one of the mobsters ups the ante when he arranges for a killer for hire code-named Captain Cold to take out his rivals. The good Captain has a unique method of dispatching his victims -- flash freezing them!

Now, there's only one thing that stands between the lone mob boss and total domination of the city... the hero known as the Flash. And the super-speedster presents an intriguing challenge for Captain Cold.

The Flash has never a met a villain like this before and Captain Cold just may prove to be the one to put the Flash on ice!

My Take: Well, seventeen episodes in and we FINALLY get another one of the comic book's traditional Flash villains. Yay! Unfortunately he bears no likeness to the comic book villain. Boo. Also, the show continues to shy away from giving the villains more traditional costumes. Crap.

In the comic books Captain Cold is Leonard Snart -- a thief who actually tends to shy away from killing. Yeah, okay, the name is kinda not very intimidating and the original costume -- a guy in a parka -- would probably also look a little silly in live action but there should be SOME kind of happy medium because the Captain Cold we get here is... really uninteresting.

For one thing, the live-action Captain Cold is a killer-for-hire. That, I suppose, might be interesting enough but it seems a bit... overkill (heh)... to make him a killer who freezes his victims. Why not just shoot them? Or poison them? Or blow them up? The killing-by-freezing thing seems needlessly elaborate besides which is going to draw attention to himself and his later pursuit of the reporter character makes it seem as though he DOESN'T want to draw attention. So it makes even less sense. Whereas the original Captain Cold's freezing gimmick actually works from a bank robber point of view. He could freeze the guards, freeze the vault door until it becomes brittle, and then freeze any cops who arrive on the scene so he can make his getaway.

The original Captain Cold was also more of a thinking man's villain. Sure, in the Silver Age stories things get goofy but at least you see Cold really trying to think of ways to use his cold-based weaponry to defeat the Flash. He doesn't just spray the room and hope for the best.

For another thing, the live-action Captain Cold we get here is an albino. Why? Because he's a cold-based villain and we all know that cold-based villains have to have pale skin... or blue skin... because... COLD! And since the series was striving for some measure of reality the character must have a reason for the pale skin and hair so... albino! Yeah. Right.

Still, the actor does a pretty good job with the role until about half-way through... when he decides to start hamming it up. It just kind of all slides downhill from there.

The episode also suffers from yet another example of 'Poor Female Character' syndrome. In this case we get a female newspaper reporter working for a National Enquirer-like rag. She lies and tricks her way through the story in an attempt to expose the real identity of the Flash in hopes of breaking into the "big time" of a serious and respected newspaper. Because, you know, the New York Times hires people from the National Enquirer all the time. And, of course, her stunts nearly get the Flash killed -- and then nearly get her killed too as Captain Cold tries to eliminate her as a witness to his (presumed) killing of the Flash. And, of course, all this also happens because she doesn't go to the police right away so that she can publish her "scoop" (despite the fact that telling the police would do NOTHING to prevent her from still having the scoop). As is usual for this series, she learns her lesson when the Flash/Barry shows her the error of her ways... and she decides to go work as a writer for a greeting card company.... WHAT THE HECK?!?!?! Ugh.

Okay, it's bad enough that we have yet another "career driven female character" who is portrayed as having her priorities out of whack because she is too determined to succeed at her career. It's bad enough that yet again the male character has to "teach" said female character the "error" of her ways. But then we get to add insult onto injury by having said character seemingly give up her dream of journalism in favor of a much "nicer" job writing copy for the inside of cards. It's flat-out patronizing. And I'm sure a degree in journalism makes one infinitely suitable for writing 'Hallmark Moments'. You can't see me but I am currently rolling my eyes so hard I'm liable to roll them out of my head. Why not have said female character get a job working for a little, suburban newspaper to learn the ropes of good reporting better? Why not have said female character decide to take a refresher course in journalism? And speaking of journalism school -- I'd love to know what kind of journalism program she graduated from that encouraged lying, sneaking, conning, and bad reporting all around. Yeesh.

This is a story that could have had class. Captain Cold is one of the Flash's oldest and most storied villains. He could have posed a real threat and been poised to be a recurring foe but instead we're treated to a one-off appearance by a character who bears no resemblence to the the comic book villain and who is instead a rather bog-standard hired gun type... it's just that the gun in question is a little unusual.

Whether you're a comic book fan or not, there's just nothing here that makes any sense.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

It's Time to Re-Meet the Muppets

Full trailer for the upcoming Muppet Movie is LIVE!

Now, admittedly, I haven't kept up with all of the more recent Muppet movies. The last one I bothered watching was Muppet Treasure Island but it seems as though the franchise lost it's way a little bit over the last few decades. Hopefully, if the trailers are anything to go by, the Muppets have found their true voice again.

Because here's the thing about the Muppets.... We need them around. Why? Well, for three main reasons:

1) The Muppets were, at their best, about the square pegs in a round hole world. The Muppets spoke to anyone who ever felt like they didn't fit in. They were all, to greater or lesser degrees, beings who didn't fit societal molds -- a dog who played piano, a bear who told lousey jokes, a glamorous pig, etc. But these beings were warmly accepted and had a place in the Muppet world. So the movies and the TV show showed all those who didn't fit in that it was okay not to fit in -- that variety is really the spice of life -- and rather than trying to change yourself to fit into the world it was far better to change the world to fit you. In short, if you're a square peg in a round hole the Muppets taught you to cut out to hole to make it more square.

2) The Muppets are all about dreams. If you have a dream and it's worth fighting for then the Muppet motto is pretty much "fight for it!" Even through adversity the Muppets embody a determination and spirit and they show that the path to achieving your dreams may not always be easy and you may have doubts and set-backs along the way but if you really want to make your dreams a reality then you have to be willing to persevere and fight. It's not a bad message to send to kids.

3) Inspired lunacy. If ever there was a rule book the Muppets threw it out a long time ago. Anything can happen... Anything probably will. Don't be surprised and don't ask questions just go with it. You'll have more fun that way.

and always remember.....

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Summer Movie Round-Up: Green Lantern

Okay, I'm a comic book fangirl and more significantly I'm a Hal Jordan Green Lantern fangirl.

It' probably best for the uniformed to understand that there have been a number of Green Lanterns from Earth -- John Stewart (who featured in the Justice League animated series as well as the follow up series Justice League Unlimited, Guy Gardner, and Kyle Rayner. But for me, Hal's my favorite.

The other thing you should probably know is that Hal was created in the 1960's and at the time he was introduced he was pretty much like a lot of DC heroes of that era -- square-jawed, stand-up, establishment authority figure. Over the years Hal's backstory has been tweaked to give him a few more flaws -- recklessness, irresponsibility, and a wandering eye when it came to the ladies.... Alright, so he's a himbo.

Anyway, it's the more modern Hal we meet in this movie.

As far as sticking to the comic book origins... well, as I've said, he's had tweaks to his over the years and this story pulls a bit from several of them but it isn't a page-to-screen direct translation... but then again, I can't remember the last comic book movie I watched that was.

The plot is pretty simple: Hal Jordan is a reckless test pilot who, as a child, watched his own test pilot father die in a plane crash. In the wider universe a war against evil is being waged with the alien Green Lantern Corps acting as a police force for the universe. A dark and terrible force was once imprisoned but has now escaped and it targets the Green Lantern Corps member that imprisoned it -- Abin Sur. Wounded and dying, Abin crash lands on Earth and orders his ring to find a successor for him. The ring chooses Hal Jordan.

Now Hal is thrust into a world he never dreamed of and one he feels ill prepared for. There is no time for him to find his way slowly -- he must either rise to the task of being a hero or else die along with all the Earth.

So what did I think?

Well, the film has some flaws. A lot of the humor is rather sophomoric and really not that funny. Peter Sarsgaard as Hector Hammond chews more scenery than an army of termites and his villain set-up is poor and lacking. And speaking of villains -- the movie suffers from having one too many and not developing either quite well enough.

The CGI costumes all the Lanterns wear took some heat from fans and non-fans alike but overall they didn't bother me for the most part. The only place where they really didn't work was the necklines (really noticeable in close-up shots) and with the masks.

The story also follows the pretty standard "hero's journey" trope -- so no surprises there -- but I found Ryan Reynolds' Hal Jordan to be rather charming and genuine in the scenes where Hal lets his guard down. Which is another thing the film does well -- show how much of what we see of Hal is bravado and bluster hiding a vulnerable core.

Most of all, though, what I walked away from this film with was a 'cosmic' feeling. It really hadn't occurred to me how many superhero movies lately have followed this trend of being "grounded". It's like filmmakers feel as if the movies won't be taken seriously enough unless they keep at least one foot firmly planted in the dirt. It's also why I've been skeptical of talk of an Avengers movie or a Justice League movie. If you're bringing together a team of heavy hitters then they can't just be battling some villainous corporate raider or some big city mob boss. The heavy hitters need Earth shaking, nay universe shaking threats. The heavy hitters need something that is worthy of a team of some of the most powerful beings. Green Lantern finally delivered at least a little peek at that kind of scope. I also enjoyed that the filmmakers fully embraced the idea of the Corps instead of shying away from it. One of the franchise's strongest elements has always been this idea of other beings from other planets who do this job as well.

Here in the film we meet Sinestro, Kilowog,and Tomar-Re, and in the background of scenes are others Lanterns recognizable to comic book fans like Stel and Bodikka. Back in the day the comics would occasionally swerve off and do an entire story about one of these alien Lanterns. Eventually there was entire spin-off book that focused on nothing BUT these alien Lanterns. We got Mogo -- who is a living planet (Yeah, seriously, a living planet... and it's coool!), Rot-Lop-Fan -- an alien from a planet that exists in perpetual darkness and so his people are all born without eyes. He is completely blind and has no concept of the color green therefore. They get around this creatively by translating the color into a musical tone -- F# -- and so Rot-Lop-Fan considers himself not a Green Lantern but rather a bearer of "the F# Bell". Trust me, it's not as weird as it sounds... Okay, it IS as weird as it sounds but it's weird in a GOOD way.

So, yeah, I really enjoyed the fact that the filmmakers went full-bore and didn't just divorce Hal from the Corps for this first film.

Final summation -- the film has problems, it could use a tighter focus, but it was a lot of fun and it brought back some of the epic scope I've found missing in superhero films lately. And I think that, given a chance for a sequel, the filmmakers could build and improve upon this and tell and even bigger and better story. In the meantime -- go see this, don't bother springing for the 3-D, get a bucket of popcorn and turn your brain off for two hours. There are worse things you could do... And judging from the trailers there are worse films coming...

Friday, June 17, 2011

Mystery Science Theatre 3000 Season 1 Addendum

Since in my previous Season 1 review I didn't recommend any episodes which featured host segements I considered good I thought, through the magic of YouTube and some like-minded posters there, I would include a few of the better Season 1 host segments.

First up: A general fan favorite -- "Servo hits on a blender". This one is pretty much word-for-word a recreation of a host segment from the KTMA days.

Second up: "The barbershop skit". This one is another 'do-over' from the KTMA days but unlike the "Blender" skit this one was slightly re-written and expanded from the KTMA version.

And finally: "Tom and Servo Swap Heads". Honestly, the ending to this one is a bit of a let-down but the build up makes me laugh.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Next Sunday A.D.....

Mystery Science Theatre 3000: Season 1

Well, we've left the wilds of independent UHF TV behind and have jumped into the exciting new world of cable. And what is the result?

The first thing you notice is that the bigger budget has let the show LOOK better. The visuals and the music for the opening theme now have a slick, professional look but without sacrificing the deliberate cheesiness that was at the heart of the show – for example, using models for the overview of Gizmonic… and deliberately letting them LOOK like models – right down to seeing the string attached to the rocket to accompany the “They shot him into space” line of the theme song.

Once into the show itself we see the Mads get an appropriately Mad Scientist looking lair in “Deep 13” and the bridge of the Satellite of Love, while it still has a little way to go, looks quite a bit better than the KTMA version. All of the people look better too – we get much better and brighter costumes, better hair styling and better accessories – all of which help cement the characters. Even the bots get a makeover as Gypsy and Tom Servo are basically reworked from scratch and Crow is refurbished and his design tweaked a bit. Sharp-eyed KTMA era viewers will recognize that the original KTMA version of Gypsy is re-worked into the new Cambot for the opening theme. All is not perfect, though, as for the first several episodes the hinge on Gypsy’s jaw squeals horribly and clanks a bit as well – making it actually hard to hear the dialogue when she’s on-screen.

And that brings up the fact that the voices have changed. Trace Beaulieu doesn’t really change the tone or tenor of the voice he uses for Clayton Forrester much but he does make it more rounded and slightly pompous. His voice for Crow also evolves slightly over the first couple of episodes until he finally locks into the tenor and pitch he would carry for the rest of his tenure on the show. For his part, Josh Weinstein doesn’t really change the Tom Servo voice he chose in the KTMA days but he drastically changes the voice he uses for Dr. Laurence Erhardt. In the KTMA days his Erhardt was a low, slightly growly affair and for this season he flips and moves in the other direction to go with something slightly nasal, higher pitched and somewhat whiney… It’s not a change for the better in my opinion. And finally, there is Gypsy. In the KTMA days Weinstein provided both the puppeteering and the voice of Gypsy (except in those occasions where both Tom Servo and Gypsy had to appear on-screen together. In those cases Weinstein provided the voice but someone else did the puppeteering… although in one notable case make-up lady Faye Burkholder provided the voice of Gypsy) but now producer Jim Mallon begins providing the voice and the puppeteering for Gypsy.

The writing staff has also gotten bigger to help with the scripting process. Notably, Josh Weinstein "discovered" Michael Nelson on the Minnesota comedy circuit and approached him about "doing some typing" -- which ended up having a very bright future...

The scripting and rehearsing of episodes shows almost immediately. The skits flow more smoothly and there are fewer miscues and flubbed lines and there are fewer ‘stepped on’ lines in the theatre segments – almost completely eliminating the old problem of Hodgson, Weinstein and Beaulieu occasionally talking over one another with different jokes and riffs. The scripting also allows the guys to act as a team more often – building jokes and passing lines from one to another and speaking in unison as well.

The guys deliberately, however, didn’t make things perfect and that’s also good. There are still a few blown lines here and there and props which fail or fall off – mistakes made which end up in the finished product in order to retain the old “raw” feeling of the old days. And often the blown lines lead to even more jokes and riffs as the guys don’t completely forget their old ad-lib training. It also gives the show that feeling of anything can and probably will happen.

On the downside, surprisingly the riff rate is pretty low and slow in the first few episodes. Despite all their practice in the KTMA days and the fact that the scripting ought to have made things easier there is still a ‘clunky’ feel to the early efforts. As the season goes on, however, they get better.

They are still experimenting with the formats and this is both a good thing and a bad thing. They add new regular segments – like the Invention Exchange (which takes the place of the Mads just generally bantering with Joel in the KTMA days) – which work well and become a staple of the show, while others – like the “Movie Reviews” at the end, don’t seem to work out quite as well and eventually fade from sight. When these things work well they are generally solid to extraordinary but when they don’t work well they are one of the worst things in the world in my eyes – boring. For example, for quite a while there was a tendency to use at least one of the host segments for Joel and the bots to just stand around and talk about the dumb/inane/nonsensical elements of the plot and this tended to be, on the whole, boring, because they’ve tended to have already either directly or obliquely riffed on this stuff already in the theatre! It’s a retread, it’s usually not that funny, and we GET it already. Likewise the “pageants”. The first one they do – on the life of Ro-Man the Robot from “Robot Monster” -- is funny, mostly because it comes out of left field and is so surreal as to be kind of divorced from reality. You really do start to question the sanity of Joel and the bots on that one… but that’s what makes it funny. Later ones, however, feel forced and are actively dull with no real payoff.

So by the end of the season things can be seen finally locking into place. The guys had pretty much discarded the things that didn’t work and kept the things which did and were starting to cement all of this into a regular format. Unfortunately this also came with a big change -- the departure of the first cast member in Josh Weinstein.

According to reports and interviews Weinstein, who was only about 18 years old at the time, was not happy with the amount of scripting being done on the show. He himself was an improv comedian and thrived on the ad-libbed nature of the KTMA era. In addition he had conflicts with other members of the team and felt that his youth was partly causing problems for himself and some of the rest of the cast and crew so he opted to leave.

From some things I’ve seen and read around the internet it seems to me that Weinstein often gets a bit of a raw deal from fans. For me, personally, I think part of the reason he is unfairly compared to his replacement, Frank Conniff, is that Conniff had a greater amount of time in which to endear himself with fans and to build his character. Discounting the KTMA days, Weinstein only had one season – 13 episodes – in which to work on his characters and show viewers what he could do. For another thing, there were changes made to one of Weinstein’s characters – namely Laurence Erhardt – which were not, in my opinion, the best thing for the character.

For one thing, the Erhardt character was actually STRONGER back in the KTMA days. Despite Erhardt being called a “doctor” in the season 1 episodes he all too often comes across as just Forrester’s lackey. Case in point, in one of Weinstein's last episodes Erhardt sings that he enjoys "working for" Forrester. In the KTMA days Erhardt proclaimed himself Forrester's partner and there was a stronger sense of that partnership between the two – Erhardt often was the one to tell Forrester to send to the movie or to “give ‘em a commercial”. The change in the voice that I mentioned above also didn’t help. The lower, rougher, tone Weinstein used to use gave his KTMA Erhardt a sinister feel while the higher, whiney tone of Season 1 made him seem wimpy.

For another thing, people often point to enjoying the… ambiguous, shall we say?... relationship between Forrester and Frank without realizing that this sort of thing actually started in the KTMA days with Weinstein and Beaulieu cooking up some skits that played around with the nature of the “partnership” between Forrester and Erhardt. For some unknown reason though this was dropped for season 1 on the Comedy Channel rather than being expanded or built upon!

In the final equation I suppose I just feel that Weinstein gets a bit short shrift sometimes from fans. Taste is personal and God knows I’m not saying that everyone should run out and watch every episode available of the KTMA stuff because some of it is… well…. That thing I hate… you know, BORING. I, myself, like everyone who has been with the show. They each have their own style and each brought something new to the table and that is true of Weinstein as well. His Servo was acerbic, occasionally smug and superior, sarcastic with a very dry wit and of course, funny. Go back and watch “Robot Holocaust” and you’ll see that Weinstein was burning down the house in that one with clever line after clever line. And really, it isn’t fair to compare him to the comedians who came after him since, after all, each was a different comedian with a different style. Instead, it’s much better to see and appreciate what he did bring to the show for the short time he was with it… and it would not be the last the movie riffing world saw of Josh “J. Elvis” Weinstein… but that is a story for another day.

So looking over the entire first season I have to say that I was left surprised that the team didn’t hit the ground running considering all of the practice they got with the KTMA days. And I was disappointed in some of their innovations but thankfully much of what I didn’t like didn’t seem to hang around too long. If nothing else the writing team seemed to have a good grasp on what was truly funny and what wasn’t. By the end of the season things were really starting to hum and from here it should just be a matter of spit and polish. There is a bit of bittersweet in seeing Weinstein leave the show and to do it without a real farewell or acknowledgement and personally, there is a part of me that will miss his characterizations.

Despite the unevenness, the first season is still interesting as it is very clearly continuing the ‘comedy lab’ aspect of the show which started at KTMA as the team experimented and grew in their craft. I also noted that, at the very end of the closing credits there is a list of “Special Thanks” to various people and organizations and one of those on that list is KTMA TV-23. It was very nice of the gang to pay that bit of tribute to the station that first gave them their break and the stepping stone they needed to reach higher.

My personal favorite episodes?
Robot Monster: By this point the guys had done several installments of a "Commando Cody" serial from the late 1940's and most fans tire of the serials quickly but I love the riffing for the two serials which come here before the main movie. There are great lines like Crow's "What's the physics of a broken jaw college boy?" and "The Cody Institute for scientists who get pummeled." There's also a fun bit in between the two serials in which Servo and Crow can't take another serial installment and try to make a break for it only to have Joel go after them and drag them back, saying in exasperation "I'm surrounded by idiots... of my own design!" Be warned, though, the host segments are kind of weak. The movie itself is.... yeah, this one is BIZARRE and believe me it deserves every single one of those capital letters. The riffing team has a great time with it and it's even easy to come up with your own jokes for stuff they missed. But as a movie... this has to be seen to be believed that someone actually got money to commit this to film.

Moon Zero Two: Again, I found a lot of the riffing on this one to be really strong. The host segments are kind of weak but there are some great one-liners... as well as plenty of double entendres. The movie itself is... okay, it hasn't aged well and it's kind of weird but it actually isn't that bad. The filmmakers were trying to do 'Westerns in Space' -- they just did it really, really ham-handedly. A lot has been written about quite a bit of sci-fi basically being like old-time Westerns. Heck, the first line you get on the Star Trek theme is "Space: The final frontier." With Moon Zero Two you have a protagonist who is mourning the loss of the "frontier" in that no one is interested in exploring or expanding anymore. So that's your 'frontiersman at the edge of the frontier' motif of later Westerns. Then you have miners and a plot about what amounts to claim jumping and a damsel in distress who is named Clementine for goodness sake! Could you GET any more Western than that?! The big problem is that the special effects haven't aged well and kind of of suck, the 'Western' theme is handled unevenly and most of the time it has all the subtlty of a pile of bricks... dropped from the top of the Empire State Building... on top of the audiece's head.

The Black Scorpion: Yet another one where I like the riffing but find the host segments to be poor. In point of fact one host segment is entirely about stop-motion animation pioneer Willis O'Brien and it isn't funny at all... and isn't meant to be. It's informative and obviously a tribute to O'Brien. Kind of nice of the guys but just not fitting well considering they spend most of the movie riffing on the effects. But it's just stereotypical, classic, 1957's giant monster style sci-fi. In this case giant, mutated black scorpions from the depths of the Earth terrorize Mexico. There are, of course, giant bugs (of actually several stripes), heroic scientists, and a really, really, REALLY annoying kind named Juanito whom, by the end, you're pretty much right there with Joel and the bots rooting for at least one of the giant insects to eat.

Women of the Prehistoric Planet: First off, the title is a lie. Second off, this one is placed fourth in the running order of the show. This is also a LIE. If you choose to watch the season in order (as I did) DO NOT WATCH THIS ONE FOURTH!!! Parts of it will not make sense. According to internet research (so take with a grain of salt) the production team WANTED to do this movie fourth but couldn't clear the rights in time. As a result they skipped it and went on. By the end of their taping season, though, they had finally cleared the rights and so they scripted and taped this episode as the last one of the season... but left it with the original production number which placed it fourth in line. Watch this one last. Trust me. Anyway... Good riffing, lots of jokes -- some of which probably barely clear the censors, and finally some pretty good host segements. It's also notable for being the first episode to feature Michael Nelson in a speaking role... as the voice of the Isaac Asimov Literary Doomsday satellite.

Now you may notice that, out of my personal favorites here, most of the ones I picked I didn't like the host segements. That's one of the catch-22's with this first season. Some of the earliest episodes have some of the slowest and less funny riffing but they have the better host segments. Go figure. Also, many of the funny host segements that appear early on are actually re-runs of segments the guys crafted in the KTMA days. Some are almost word-for-word and shot-for-shot recreations but others have been re-written and cleaned up and are the better for it.

On to Season 2!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Summer Movie Round-Up II

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

This one is what it is... a four-movie franchise built pretty much entirely of Johnny Depp's charisma.

There are good things and bad things on this one.

One good thing is that Orlando Bloom and Kiera Knightly are gone and so is the sub-plot of Will and Elizabeth... which is good because I was never that fond of the characters. It is kind of ironic, though, since, all those years ago, when the first movie came out I really wasn't interested in seeing it but a friend talked me into going basically because of Orlando Bloom. We had seen Bloom in the Lord of the Rings movies and he was easy on the eyes and we were bored so we went to see Pirates of the Caribbean. We walked into the theatre talking about Bloom but we walked out of the theatre talking about Johnny Depp. He pretty much tucked the movie under his arm and walked away with it... and he's still doing it today.

This marks the first time in the franchise, though, that Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow has carried the movie as the clear protagonist -- and that's a good thing. Depp's charisma is enough to carry most of the humor and action. And, best of all, this is a movie that gets that if you're going to have a film about pirates there had better be some swashbuckling. And there is, and it's well done. Knowing how to buckle a good swash is a dying art in Hollywood.

The film also twists some tropes around and plays the reverse card in a lot of scenes -- which is fun and keeps the film from getting formulaic and dull. But then it goes a little too far in the other direction in order to try to break formula and ends up crowding the film with some unnecessary clutter. We'll get to that next...

One thing that just doesn't work is a more traditional 'romantic' subplot between a "cleric" (very carefully not labeled or dressed as a Catholic priest) and a mermaid. This is, I suppose, meant to contrast the rather untraditional relationship between Captain Jack and Angelica but neither the cleric nor the mermaid is given much screen time to develop and as a result it comes off as 'romance for romance's sake' and honestly, we just don't care because we aren't given a reason to care. And Jack and Angelica's relationship is far more fun because of it's non-traditional nature.

Geoffrey Rush is back as Barbarossa but this time we get the added benefit of Ian McShane as Blackbeard. Yes, THAT Blackbeard... well, sort of. I mean, if Blackbeard had been a practitioner of Voodoo... with Zombie crewmen... and a ship that was apparently alive.... *sigh*... yeah, here's where things start going south... HARD.

McShane is great as Blackbeard. He's crafty, manipulative, and he manages to hold his performance to 'just under over-the-top' but it's the script that lets him down. They pile on all of these unnecessary 'mystical' elements which just don't work. I know, I know, ALL the movies in the franchise have contained some fantasy elements but this one just has too much and too many. The zombie crewmen (and we're talking 'zombie' of the old, stereotypical, Voodoo variety, NOT the George Romero "braaaiiiinnnnsss" variety) serve no real purpose and the script would have worked just as fine with them being ordinary humans. The voodoo doll that Blackbeard creates of Jack Sparrow ends up also providing nothing to the plot. And then we get the fact that Blackbeard's ship -- the Queen Anne's Revenge -- seems to be alive and that Blackbeard can control her actions with a sword. How? Why? We don't know, we're never told and, again, it adds nothing to the plot except a chance for the CGI artists to have a little fun.

We also have the McGuffin (or as I still like the call it, the "Grelbin") for the movie -- the Fountain of Youth. And even THAT gets overly complex and layered with a useless "ceremony" which must be performed in order to gain youth and, even then, one doesn't truly gain "eternal youth" so the whole thing is like a bait-and-switch. The ceremony makes no logical sense and simply adds on extra... well... to be frank... crap... that the movie doesn't need.

In the movie's favor, however, I have not seen the previous two installments of the series and I was perfectly able to follow along with this one so if you're behind in your Pirates watching then never fear -- you can jump right in here and not feel out-to-sea. Aside from that, though... If you haven't seen this one yet... go ahead and wait for the rental. It's good, it's entertaining, but in the end it's got some clutter problems that keep it from being a really great film.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Summer Movie Roundup -- So Far

Okay so between last weekend and this weekend I've been trying to get caught up on the big Summer blockbusters.

And here's what I think so far....


It was okay but I really wanted to love it… and I didn’t.

All the emotional beats felt rushed… or incomplete. I kept waiting to feel like I was getting to KNOW these characters and then, just when I was on the verge of it the scene was over!

Jane Foster played by Natalie Portman never came alive for the same reason. She talked passionately about her research but she never talked passionately about the WHY of her research. Why was she doing this? What did she hope to gain for herself? For humanity? What was her ultimate goal? Knowledge is good but knowledge for knowledge’s sake is empty and that’s all we ever got from her. Plus, while the movie tried to give us a romance between her and Thor it never felt that authentic because the two of them just didn't get to spend that much time around one another.

Also, while in the original comics Foster was a nurse there was really no reason to necessraily transform her into a physicist either. The story would have worked just as well and maybe even better if they had updated her and made her an EMT.

Hemsworth COULD emote it’s just that we’re never given enough scenes of him emoting. We never see the impact of being exiled really hit him. I mean, he had basically a good relationship with his father – they basically cared for one another – and then he does something that screws him up so bad he is not just turned out of the house he is sent somewhere where he has no friends, no family, no contacts, no support, no aid, and no way back home on his own… and that never seems to hurt him that badly. Where’s the anger? Where’s the righteous indignation? Where's the hot-head whose hot-headedness got himself into this mess in the first place?

Although I will say this... Shirtless Hemsworth with the low slung jeans... Oh, yeah, that was nearly hot enough to make the theatre catch on fire. Thank you movie makers for giving us a little beefcake for a change. Now.... more please. Because one scene like that just wasn't enough.

Loki… Geez, Loki is a mess. He goes through so many different motivations for why he does what he does that you get plot whiplash. In the end you STILL don’t really understand why he’s doing all this. It doesn’t even make sense if you accept the theory that he is clinically insane. As the villain of the piece he is seriously lacking.

SHIELD… Yeah, SHIELD are a bunch of stupid douchebags here. And they are that way because…. The plot says so apparently. I mean, they take Foster’s research and her equipment which she even states she built herself… and they leave Foster out of the loop. Which is just STUPID. Really, SHIELD just couldn’t approach her and co-opt her? It makes so much more sense because then they get the equipment AND her. As it is, SHIELD operatives have to waste precious time learning how to operate her equipment and going over her data and sorting it out. It would be faster and easier to tap her knowledge – it reduces the time on study so hey can hit the ground running AND they get her training their scientists. It’s a two-for-one sale! But no, according to plot tropes the government agency has to be stupid and heavy handed.

And that’s the other thing… the plot here was just too formulaic. I mean, yes, it’s a comic book movie and that means there will be a formula but unlike other comic book movies this one never seemed to be able to run the formula with enough charm and wit and occasional surprises that we don’t CARE about the formula. Even the jokes here are tired retreads that you just see coming a mile away.

And the special effects? Really not that crazy about them either. The scenes of Thor flying weren’t all that great and Asgard looked like the Emerald City of Oz and a lot of the scenes looked like models… and I don’t mean that in a good way. On top of that, while the imagery for Bifrost, the bridge to and from Asgard, wasn't bad it really didn't seem that imaginative to me either. And in the end, the whole thing boiled down to "dimensional cannon" -- although they didn't call it that. I couldn't help it, in the theatre I just thought to myself "It's a dimensional cannon like you might see in Doctor Who. Which is alright for Doctor Who but a little bit less than what I was expecting for a multi-million dollar movie. The armor wasn’t bad, the Destroyer was good and the helmets, when the characters wore them, added a nice Jack Kirby (original artist who co-created Thor) look to the proceedings.

I know, going by the above you might think I hated the movie but I didn't. It was just that it was merely "okay" and I wanted something I could walk out of the theatre going "Man, that blew me away!" I'll give the script this as well -- it gave us a "nice" ending but we didn't get the full-on happy-sappy ending -- and I kind of like that. It sets up for a sequel... or the Avengers film Marvel has waiting in the wings... but it also gives us just a little bittersweetness to give things some emotional weight which was lacking.

All in all, if you haven't seen this one yet... go ahead and wait for the Redbox rental.

Friday, June 10, 2011


Burned out, bored, jaded, and mildly peeved.

Here, have some Black Adder because it IS the funniest take on history EVER.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The OTHER Problem with the New, New, New (We Really mean it This Time), New DC Comics

So yesterday I ranted a bit about the reboot of the DC Universe although, for the most part, I'm so jaded by events and reboots and being told by comic book companies that "Nothing Will Ever Be The Same Again!!!" only for everything to go back the way it was a year or two later that I could really care less about this latest reboot. All that being said (and yeah, that's a bit of a run on sentance there isn't it? Sorry) I still feel some things need to be said from a practical point of view. And, from that practical point of view, I think the reboot is just going to end up boomeranging and coming back and biting DC in the backside in a few years. I could be wrong but honestly, I don't think so.

But there's something else DC is doing with this reboot that I think is also pretty wrong-headed and that's keeping a lot of this under wraps.

Now I understand the value of surprise and shock announcements. I understand the usefulness of keeping people waiting on the edge of their seats to learn more but in this case it's just not really a good idea.

Here's why.... Pull Lists.

For the non-comics initiated... most comic book fans get their comic books from comic book shops... or online comic book retailers. Back in the old days you got your comic books off of spinner racks or magazine racks at the local convienience store or grocery store or the like but as the comic book market became both incresingly specialized in focusing on comic books and yet more diverse with small press publishers and mature readers titles comics left the convenience store and went to the comic book shop.

Most comic book shops offer to their regular customers a "pull list", also called a "reserve list" or a "subscription list" among various other names. By whatever name you want to call it, it amounts to the same thing -- You tell the owner/manager/guy behind the counter at your local comic book shop what titles you want then, every Wednesday when the new comic books come out, the owner/manager/worker will pull out one copy of each of the titles you requested from the shipment and set it aside for you. Then, when you go in to your comic book shop all you have to do is pick up your stack.

This service has several benefits -- for one thing it saves you time since all you have to do is go in, grab your stash, and pay for it. For another you don't have to scour the shelves looking for the latest issues of whatever titles you're interested in. It also means that you don't accidentally forget a title you meant to pick up. For another thing it insures that you get a title that you want if it's something that your comic book shop doesn't regularly carry they will usually special order it for you. And finally, if a title ends up being hugely popular and sells out before you can get to your comic book shop it guarantees that you still get a copy of the sold out title.

The thing is that most comic book shops also have to place their orders for which titles they want and how many copies of those titles three months in advance. A lot of comic book shops pass this deadline on to their customers -- meaning if you want a new title you have to have it added to your pull list three months before the new #1 launches.

So this entire DC reboot will be taking place in September -- about three months from now -- and what is DC doing? They're doling out information in drips and drabs. For the most part we're being informed of the titles and the people writing and drawing those titles but aside from that we're getting nothing.

Back in the 1990's and to a certain extent still today for some people just hearing that a writer or an artist was going to be working on a comic would be enough to make some readers rush right out and put it on their pull list sight unseen. And I suppose there's nothing wrong with that... but I and many like me have been burned before; a good writer or a good artist who is just not a good fit for the character they're writing or drawing. I don't read comic books *just* because of who is writing or drawing them. I read for the characters and the stories.

And so, we get to the heart of the problem of DC's trying to drum up excitement by telling us nothing... those who are like me have no idea if we want to put ANY of these comics on our pull lists because we don't know what they're about! I need to be making these decisions now for my pull list in September and yet I don't have all the data I need to make those decisions. It isn't enough to tell me that Voodoo #1 will be written by Ron Marz with art by Sami Basri -- I need to know what it's going to be ABOUT. What is the premise? Who is the title character? What does he/she do?

I've been burned by bad comics before and at the prices now being charged for single issues I'm not about to put something on my pull list without a better idea of what it's going to be about. And I'm not alone out there. So DC Comics again gets a failing grade on not understanding that it's all well and good to try to drum up excitement by withholding information but that all comes with a downside as well.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The New, New, New, New (We Really Mean it This Time), New DC Comics


Okay, I guess, as a geek girl, I should address this. It's been in the news lately. DC Comics is apparently "rebooting" their universe.... Again. Although also apparently DC doesn't want to CALL it a reboot. Screw that noise, it's a reboot.

This isn't the first time DC has done this. It won't be the last time they do it either I'm willing to bet. And don't think DC is alone in this -- Marvel has had it's share of reboots as well -- it's just now it's DC's turn.

The non-comics initiated among you might be asking "What's a 'reboot' and what's the big deal?" Well, as many comic book writers and fans have said over the years, comic books have the thing that most any ongoing series has -- "history" and "continuity".

"History" is just what it sounds like -- the history of the title. "History" tells us that Batman was created in 1939 and has been published under one title or another pretty much continuously since then. "History" also tells us that Bruce Wayne became Batman when his parents were killed right in front of him as they were walking home from the movies one night. "History" tells us that Batman has a sidekick named Robin and that Robin has had a number of different kids under the mask over the years -- Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, Tim Drake, and now Damian Wayne.

"Continuity" refers to internal consistency within the comic book. For example, going back to Batman, originally we were told Bruce's parents were both shot. Later, readers were told that his father was shot and his mother suffered a fatal heart attack in shock. Later still it went back to both of them being shot. That's a lack of internal consistency. If we are told Bruce Wayne is an orphan then we expect him to remain an orphan and not have his parents suddenly pop back up out of nowhere. If we are told a certain character has a law degree then we do not expect to suddenly be told that they actually dropped out of law school before they finished their degree.

Some continuity problems are caused by new writers coming in and not being completely familiar with the continuity of a character. Other times continuity changes are required as a result of changing times. For example, in Iron Man's original origin story Tony Stark was injured and captured by the Vietcong during the Vietnam War and built his first suit of armor to escape and keep his damaged heart operating. Obviously if this origin still stood Stark would no longer be the young playboy of the comic books but rather pushing retirement age. So the basic broad strokes of the origin are kept but the wars being fought and the armies who captured him have changed over the years.

But then there are deliberate continuity changes designed to alter a story or change a character in hopes of bringing in more and new readers. These are known as "Retcons" -- short for Retroactive Continuity. For example, let's go back to our lawyer character above. For years Our Hero (tm) may have been a crusading lawyer by day and a costumed superhero by night. And then, suddenly we learn that he actually never finished law school and that for all this time he's actually been practicing law illegally.

Shock! Surprise! Our Hero's (tm) life is thrown into disaray! He loses his law practice, he is disgraced! What happens next?! Well, that's the hook, isn't it?

I won't completely bash retcons -- some have worked and actually worked pretty well and told very interesting stories in the process. The vast majority of them, however, were what you would expect -- ham fisted, forced, illogical, attempts to change a character that didn't really need changing to begin with.

So what does all this have to do with a reboot?

Well, the thinking from On High -- A.K.A. the publishers, CEO's and Executive Editors -- tends to be that one can have too much history and continuity which in turn make it difficult for new readers to jump on board.

Over the last decade or two it has been a demonstratable fact that mainstream (i.e. not Japanese Manga) comic book readership has been shrinking. Fewer and fewer people buy and read comic books and those who still do are an aging population. Whereas one the average age of a comic book reader was in their teens and then their twenties now the average age is in their thirties. Comic book companies want to hook younger readers to augment this... and also so that maybe those readers who are fourteen now will still be reading comic books when they hit thirty-four.

So the solution to luring new readers on is to basically reset the universe. Most of the time this has been done in the past it hasn't been a complete reset but rather a partial one... although a complete reset HAS been done in the past. This time, however, it looks like DC is going for the complete (or nearly so) reset of their universe. Older characters get de-aged to a younger point in their lives, their pasts -- histories and continuities erased -- it's all a blank slate for writers to basically start all over again and try to lure in new readers.

It's just there's a problem with this. In trying to lure in new readers with promised stories starting out on the "ground floor" they run the risk of alienating their current reader base who have been following these characters for years and enjoying the character developments and have little interest in seeing old plot tropes rehashed.

For example, a personal favorite of mine -- Booster Gold. Booster was a character who was born and lived in the 25th century. When he disgraced himself and ruined his life he hatched a scheme to steal items from a superhero museum, travel back in time to when no one knew him, become a superhero and then parlay that into wealth and fame. Over the years, however, personal problems, tragedies, and friendships have instead led Booster down a different path. He's grown, matured, changed, and given up on wealth and fame in order to do the right thing. He's also found a new calling, not as a traditional superhero but rather as a time traveler who protects the past and the future from those who would change events to suit their own desires. And now potentially all that growth and character development could be wiped out resetting him to the money-hungry bumbler he started out as. Needless to say I am not necessarily pleased at this prospect.

The other problem with the line of thinking the higher-ups are operating from is the idea that history and continuity are stumbling blocks. They aren't. As comic book reviewer Linkara once recently said -- the best way to jump into comic books is simply to find a title or story that sounds interesting and read it. Most of the time nowadays new writers come into titles every year or so and each new writer seems to start fresh with their own ideas many of which are NOT linked to a lot of history or continuity. And if something comes up in a comic which is not clearly explained then there are plenty of places on the internet where one can find the answers without a lot of difficulty. There are also always new #1's being launched with wholly new characters where new readers can jump on and there are stand-alone mini and maxi-series always being published as well. And, thanks to more and more libraries carrying trade collections new readers can often try out a title without any danger to their bank account! Just go to your local library, find a trade that looks interesting and check it out. If you like it you can seek out more or maybe start picking up an ongoing series at your local comic shop if you don't like it you simply return it to your library -- no harm, no foul.

The problems with rebooting entire universes like this is that, in the end, new readers don't necessarily know what's going on anymore (A Superman comic where Clark DOESN'T love Lois Lane?!) and long-time readers find that all of their beloved character development has been thrown out the window (A Superman comics where Lois and Clark aren't married?!). This sort of thing leaves no one happy in the long run.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Spoiler-Free "Doctor Who" Mid-Season Finale Thoughts

I'm actually.... on the fence about this one. There were things I liked and things I didn't like. There was stuff that worked well and stuff that I felt didn't work so well.

But there are a couple of things that stood out universally...

* There are some great character moments for all involved but it's Matt Smith who steals the show. Despite his youth his acting is and has been effortless for the series. He never seems to be playing to the camera and the emotions he projects seem genuine. There is one scene in particular in which the Doctor's emotions teeter on the brink of an almost giddy rage. It is a fascinating moment to see the Doctor absolutely enraged and yet... there is a part of him that is almost intoxicated by that rage. It is nicely, nicely done on Smith's part.

* If you don't love Arthur Darvill's character of Rory by now then there's something wrong with you. He perfectly portrays the kind of 'everyman' who, when danger looms, proves that his soft heart is married to a spine of steel. By the end of this episode you will know that you screw with Rory at your own peril.

* Showrunner Steven Moffat takes on the Doctor's legend head-on and makes us THINK about it. Ever since the show returned in 2005 increasingly the Doctor has been portrayed as a kind of man who 'shakes the pillars of heaven'. Fans really responded to the idea of the Doctor as a badass. Like David Tennant proclaiming the the Earth is protected, Tennant also telling the Vashta Nerada in "Forests of the Dead": "You're in the biggest library in the universe... look me up." And the Vashta Nerada back away. Of Matt Smith telling the Atraxi to "Basically... Run." in "The Eleventh Hour". All of these were cool moments and yet, at the end here, we get the flip side of that coin. If the Doctor is a badass what does that really MEAN? To Moffat it means that for all those who see him as a (to borrow from the TV series Firefly) Big Damn Hero there are those who are frightened of him. For all those who see the Doctor as a savior and a helper there are those who see him as a warrior and an avenging angel. This is not what the Doctor started out as and Moffat, in this story, starts asking if this is really what the Doctor is supposed to be. And asking that question is a good thing. Asking audiences to think about this is a good thing as well. We start to see the dichotomy here of the Doctor as a being who tries to help by pushing things along vs. the Doctor as someone who helps by bashing things over the head and making them rue the day they met him.

So, now... half of season 6 is over and we have to wait until the Fall to find out what happens next. The story ends on quite the little cliffhanger and it should be fascinating to see where we go from here...