Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Getting Serious (and a Little Political) for a Minute

You still have time to back out because here's something that I've just got to get off my chest.... and I'm one of those gosh-darned liberal hippies.....


One of the two things in this life that is certain if you believe the old adage.

Now here's the thing....

Everyone is fighting over taxes. Everyone bitches about taxes. Everyone would like to find a way to pay fewer taxes.....

Except me.

No, I'm not lying here.

Am I happy when I get a refund on my taxes at the end of the fiscal year? well, yeah.

Do I wince a bit when I have to OWE money to the government at the end of the fiscal year? Well, sometimes. Depends on how much I owe and what kind of thing I may have had my eye on for purchasing for myself in the near future. Or how much I may have had to shell out recently for car maintenance or like things.

But I don't bitch about it endlessly. And I don't go out a seek tax loopholes I can exploit so that I can pay LESS taxes.

And do you know WHY?

Because I've got all I've ever asked for.

I never asked to be rich. I never thought I would EVER be "rich". I probably never WILL be "rich"; and those are the plain and simple facts.

When I set off to find a career all I ever wanted was a good job, a decent place of my own to live in, enough money for food and to pay my bills, and to afford transportation in the form of a car.

I have all those things and I have had them for years now.

My taxes run the government. My taxes pay for upkeep on the roads I drive on. My taxes pay for the police who protect me and others in my community, the firemen who will be there if I ever need them and who are there when others in my community need them, the teachers who teach in the schools and even though I don't have kids of my own I recognize the importance of well educated generations to come. My taxes pay for my mother's Social Security checks and my mother's Medicare. My taxes help to feed those who aren't as lucky as me in having a job that meets all my needs. And my taxes go toward programs which help those people get into better jobs or get more education so that they can move up in the world and then maybe have their own dreams met.

So.... I guess what I'm trying to say is....

I'm ready and willing to actually pay MORE in taxes if it means keeping up services and infrastructure and a safety net for those less fortunate than me. My attitude is that if you have more than enough then it's fair to pay what you can to help those who DON'T have enough.

Not everyone in this world is lucky enough to have friends and family to help out when needed. Non-governmental charities do what they can and go as far as they can but they can't cover everyone and they can't be everywhere at once.

I'm willing to pay my fair share and I'll do so gladly. I don't care. I'm not bitching about my tax rate because I have what I want out of life and anything over and above that the government is welcome to in order to keep things running.

I Know, I Know.....

Blog's been dead lately. Sorry about that. I've got a few too many irons in the fire but it's a GOOD thing.

Report of stuff and some junk soon....

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Stay Classy(cal)

I like classical music. This wasn't always the case. As a youngster my school always went to those symphony field trips which were supposed to infuse us with a love and understanding of classical music. Didn't take.

It wasn't until my college years when all of these studies recommended studying to classical music as a way of increasing retention of information that I started dabbling in it. It was also around that same time that I made some very close friends who were music majors and so, of course, were steeped in music culture.

So, I started with the "greats" -- guys like Beethoven and Bach and Mozart -- but thanks to my friends I found some of the less widely known guys like Bruckner (more on him in a future post).

One who was in the middle was Antonin Dvorak. Most people if they know Dvorak at all know him for his Symphony #9 -- "From the New World". And honestly, that way my first exposure to his work... but it wouldn't be my last...

On a wandering path that I won't bother to tell I eventually stumbled into Dvorak's Stabat Mater.... and was blown away.

A little background here -- the Stabat Mater is based on a long, religious poem possibly written by a monk (but there are disagreements), that recounts Mary, the mother of Jesus's experiences at seeing her son crucified. The poem is in Latin and so is Dvorak's adaptation.

Dvorak started writing the music to the piece after the death of his youngest child while still basically an infant. He didn't finish it at that time and put it aside. He later returned to it and finished it after the rapid deaths of his two remaining young children.

Even without knowing the background one can hear, can *feel* the grief and sorrow that pours out of this music. It is power and passion in both sadness and hope. It hits like a hammer to the heart and it steals your breath away. I mean that literally. The first time I heard this piece in full I had to stop and just take deep breaths because it hit me that hard. It isn't often that music moves me like that but this piece did. And that is the greatest compliment I can think of to pay to the memory of Antonin Dvorak.

So do yourself a favor and seek this piece out and listen to the whole thing. Here's just one movement of the piece to give you some idea....

Monday, July 11, 2011

No, I Haven't Left Town....

Been busy... Gotta work for a living. Bah! BUT I'm (slowly) working my way through season 2 of Mystery Science Theatre 3000 AND a little something else arrived in the mail lately that I'm also working my way through slowly... More details to come!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy Fourth of July!

Happy Fourth everyone!

Hope you have a good day.

And if you mess around with fireworks be careful and don't blow yourselves up, okay?

Compound Geekery Film Fest! "Spider-Man 2"

2004 saw the sequel to the summer blockbuster Spider-Man.

Let's just jump right into this one, shall we?

The Plot: Two years have passed since the events of the first movie. Peter Parker has a small, run down apartment in the city and struggles to balance his life with work, going to college and, of course, being Spider-Man.

In addition to this his relationships with his friends are also strained -- Harry Osbourne is still obsessed with the idea that Spider-Man killed his father and he accuses Peter of protecting Spider-man because the wall-crawler helps him earn his pay with the photographs he takes; and Mary Jane Watson has grown tired of waiting for Peter and is dating another guy. And if that were not bad enough, Peter's beloved Aunt May is also in financial straights and is also still mourning the loss of Peter's beloved Uncle Ben -- a death that Peter still blames himself over.

In the midst of all of this, Peter meets and befriends famed scientist Otto Octavius -- who is about to unveil a new fusion device to create abundant, cheap, and clean energy. Tragedy strikes, though, and Octavius's machine goes out of control. In the ensuing destruction Octavius's beloved wife is killed and the four computerized arms Octavius used to work the machine are now fused to his back.

Unbalanced, and with the machines whispering in his head, Octavius decides to turn to crime to get money to rebuild his experiment and try again. This brings him into conflict with Spider-Man.

As Peter's life spirals out-of-control, though, he finds his powers as Spider-Man waning. Disgusted with forever being the loser in life Peter finally gives up being Spider-Man "forever". Bad timing for Peter since Octavius has made an unholy bargain with Osbourne to capture Spider-Man for Osbourne's revenge.

With the city and Mary Jane in danger can Peter rediscover the hero within himself?

My Take: At one point in time I considered this movie the best of the Spider-Man franchise... and to a certain extent it still is but, after the passage of time a number of cracks begin to show in the film.

One of the biggest problems with this movie is that it completely fails to understand that character of Peter Parker. In the comics Peter was the perpetual "lovable loser" whose actions as Spider-Man always seemed to throw a monkey wrench into his life. This is balanced, however, by Peter's quick wit and sarcastic attitude as Spider-Man. In the films Peter comes off less as the "lovable loser" and more as an emo dork mostly by dint of the removal of Spider-Man's snappy banter. In the comics Spider-Man tends to keep up a running line of comments and insults designed to drive his enemies crazy while maintaining his own sanity. In the movie Spidey is nearly silent during all the fight scenes and when he does speak it isn't with a quick one-liner or a clever insult. On top of this pretty much ALL the humor in the movie comes AT Peter's expense. We don't laugh at the situations he finds himself in nor do we laugh WITH him... no, we laugh AT him because Peter Parker is a big ol' dork. It really doesn't endear the character to us.

There are also a lot of plot holes which tend to get noticed on repeat viewings. For example, Octavius's arms are an amazing invention in and of themselves and could revolutionize a number of dangerous jobs. He could make a mint off of marketing them but nope, they get ignored in favor of the big, dangerous, fusion reactor. Also, the artificially intelligent arms seem to convince Octavius to continue his experiments and, honestly, what do artificially intelligent arms WANT with a fusion reactor anyway? Why encourage this? Come to think of it -- what WOULD artificially intelligent arms want out of life anyway?

And then there's Mary Jane. *Sigh*. The character pretty much exists as an object in this film. She is the object of Peter's desires and later she becomes the bait in Octavius's trap for Spider-Man. She drifts along through most of the film, letting others define her and waiting on approval or approbation from those others. Despite Peter's constant waffling on their relationship and despite her repeated telling him that she's tired of not being able to depend on him she keeps going BACK to Peter and keeps giving him more chances despite saying that she won't. It is only at the end that she seems at all proactive in matters... but before that she has to play the screaming damsel in distress -- putting the final capper on her trifecta of female character tropes.

The film is also filled with rather heavy-handed, schmaltzy, moments, at least one deliberately cheesy musical montage which, all things considered, doesn't really doesn't belong in this film, and a complete lack of emotional subtlety in several scenes. Oh, and the script also beats the "Spider-Man No More" motif into the ground like a tent peg.

When it comes to some aspects of the movie, though, I admit I'm torn. On the one hand, the character of Otto Octavius -- a pretty much out-and-out villain in the comic books -- becomes much more sympathetic in the film. It is interesting to actually get to know him as a person rather than a cardboard cutout of a villain but on the other hand making him a kind of victim of his own mental unbalance caused by the robotic arms also kind of dilutes his villainy. I also love that the script writer worked in some nicely subtle themes of hubris with Doc Ock. In Greek drama and literary tradition hubris was an overweening pride which caused one to eventually try to set oneself up on the level of the gods. At which point the gods would smite said mortal for getting above their station. It's a common theme -- myths like that of Arachne and Niobe display this -- and that's what we get here with Octavius. His pride in his work and his absolute self-assurance cause him to ignore the fears and cautions of others and in the end it costs him dearly. Of course it also doesn't hurt that Alfred Molina turns in a really nice performance here at Octavius.

And that leads me to the performances... Really, Molina is the best of the bunch. Up to that point actors playing villains in comic book movies tended to take things over the top, ham it up, chew the scenery, etc. Molina resists that temptation. Oh, make no mistake, he takes it up TO the top here but he wisely doesn't step over the line. It makes for a really refreshing villain.

Toby Maguire, having come to prominence in the award winning Cider House Rules stepped into the Spider-Man role and certainly brought vulnerability and a dorky kind of charm but... it wears thin. Particularly here where he spends most of the movie alternating between two facial expressions -- a goofy grin and soulful, blue, whipped-puppy-dog eyes. The latter one gets overused waaaayyyy too much and becomes annoying rather than affecting.

Kristen Bell... well, we've already gotten into the problems with her character of Mary Jane and her performance plays up to the role but never exceeds to try to elevate the character above the script.

James Franco as Harry Osbourne is... well, kind of uneven. Franco here can't decide if he wants Harry to be quasi-slimy businessman or young man haunted by the death of his father and driven by revenge to the point of it eating up every good think in his life. In years since this film Franco has turned in some much better performances so I tend to blame a combination of the script and him being an actor who needed a little more seasoning for his problems here.

Spider-Man 2 being a movie about a guy who swings around New York on webs also stands or falls on the special effects. The good news is that seven years later a lot of the CGI still holds up pretty well. The bad news is that some of it doesn't. There are several sequences which now look like video game footage... and not in a good way. Also, there is a scene in which a powerless Peter rushes into a burning building to rescue a little girl. The green screen work with the fire is really, painfully obvious and the filmmakers might have been better off going with more practical effects and using a stuntman for the whole scene instead of part of it.

Overall.... eh, it's an entertaining enough film and it's still the best of the three under the helm of Sam Raimi as director. The franchise is due to be rebooted with a new movie already in production. We'll see if a second go-round gets more right or more wrong with the characters.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Compound Geekery Film Fest! "Hellboy: Sword of Storms"

Animation again!

This one probably gets overshadowed by the two live-action Hellboy movies but that's a shame because Hellboy: Sword of Storms is really GOOD!

Let's jump right in, shall we?

The Plot: Hellboy is sent to Japan with B.P.R.D. (that's Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense) agent Kate Corrigan to investigate when strange events appear to surround a Japanese professor of folklore. The two get much more than they bargain for when the folklorist proves to be possessed by the demons Thunder and Lightning. As if that were not enough, Hellboy finds himself the bearer of the enchanted sword which can free Thunder and Lightning from their imprisonment. And this would be a bad thing as not only are Thunder and Lightning ticked off enough to want to bring some serious destruction on the Earth they also will awaken their "brothers" -- seven dragons sleeping across the globe.

Hellboy finds himself transported into a mystical realm populated with beings from Japanese mythology and folklore (and most of them hostile) while Kate and another B.P.R.D. agent try to track down the possessed folklorist. Now Hellboy must find a way back to reality without freeing the demons but if he fails... all hell is gonna break loose.

My Take: This 2006 direct-to-DVD offering is, quite simply, awesome. While it followed up the modest success of the first Hellboy live action movie it is NOT a continuation of the live-action movie's continuity. Writer/artist/Hellboy creator Mike Mignola once said that there are basically three continuities -- the continuity of the comic book series, the continuity of the live action movie and the continuity of the animated movies. There are things that all three share in common but they do not overlap. And, me, personally, I don't have a problem with this. I read the comic book series' and I own the animated movies and I've seen and own the live action movies as well. All of them bring something different to the plate.

Between the live action movies and the animated ones, though, I have to say that the animated Hellboy movies are *closest* to the comic books.

But focusing on THIS movie... One thing that Sword of Storms has going for it is that Hellboy creator (and writer and artist) Mike Mignola wrote the story for the film along with Tad Stones who has an extensive history of executive producing a lot of popular animated TV shows -- including many from Walt Disney. Stones, along with Matt Wayne then adapted the story into a screenplay. This kind of collaboration has left the film feeling like a cohesive whole as well as being really true to the characters.

As I mentioned, this film pulls more from the comics than from the live action movies although the voice cast is nearly the same as the movie cast -- Ron Perlman is Hellboy and Selma Blair voices Liz Sherman but, in a departure from the first film, actor Doug Jones -- who played Abe Sapien in the first film only physically while the voice was provided by actor David Hyde Pierce -- now is given the chance o voice Abe Sapien. The movie cast is also joined by Peri Gillpen who gives voice to Kate Corrigan. All of the actors, despite most being more used to being in front of a camera than a microphone, do an excellent job with the script -- although it should be said that Selma Blair's performance is perhaps a bit *too* low key but not enough to be distracting.

The story is not only deeply interesting, everything in it works and works well. The Japanese setting and use of Japanese figures from mythology and folklore make this film stand above the usual supernatural fare of vampires, werewolves and zombies (although there is an opening gambit with some zombies... but at least they're ancient Mayan zombies enslaved to a bat-god so that makes them a little different. And how often do you get to type the phrase "ancient Mayan zombies enslaved to a bat-god"?). The animators also do a good job with this -- keeping their own, stylistic look for the film while at the same time adding traditional Japanese art influences. The script also really allows for some nice characterizations -- something that often gets overlooked in animation for favor of slam-bang action. Here little touches and simple lines of dialogue tell the audience of how the B.P.R.D. as a whole is more like a family (and for those familiar with the movies, don't expect to see Hellboy and Liz's romance reflected here. The animation is a different world with Liz, Abe and Hellboy being more like two older brothers to Liz) and how, in many ways, the extraordinary is so much a part of their daily life that it becomes the ordinary. Take, for example, the scene in B.P.R.D. headquarters when it is revealed that they can't find Hellboy's tracking signal anywhere on Earth. Abe and Liz shrug it off as "Again?" and other agents start reeling off lists of times Hellboy has disappeared off the planet on one mission or another. It's a hilarious scene made all the more so by how blase everyone involved is about the situation. All this is not to say that there isn't any slam-bang action because there is plenty of that as well. Hellboy fights his way past various threats in his usual wisecracking, bashing style. The film runs an hour and twenty minutes but feels full and satisfying for that.

As a warning the film has a PG-13 rating and there is a bit of blood and a couple of mild swear words but, honestly, there's actually less swearing and less blood here than the previously reviewed Justice League: New Frontier.

If you love supernatural action-adventure stories with both humor and heart then there is no way you can go wrong with Hellboy: Sword of Storms. Trust me and check this one out.

P.S., if anyone is a fan of or familiar with the Hellboy comics Sword of Storms also manages to seemlessly incorporate the fan-favorite Hellboy short comic "Heads" into the overall movie story. The animators do an astoundingly good job at translating the story from the page to the screen and it's delight to get to see an actual adaptation of one of the comic book stories.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Compound Geekery Film Fest! "Justice League: New Frontier"

Time to get animated with Justice League: New Frontier

This one is going to be a little hard on non-comic book fans because this direct-to-video animated film is *very* closely tied to writer and artist Darwyn Cooke's 2003-2004 six-issue prestige format comic book mini-series.

But let's see if I can give a simple summary here.....



Okay, buckle up.

Comic books tend to be divided into eras which are then referred to as "ages". The Golden Age is the first big era of comic books -- roughly from the creation of Superman in 1938 to the rebirth around 1956. The Silver Age lasts from around 1956 until roughly 1973. The Bronze Age lasts from 1973 until about 1985 or 1986. Everything from 1986 onward is considered the Modern Age -- although some argue we are in the Post-Modern Age. Actually, comic book fans argue about ALL of these eras and their designations but this is pretty much how things stand today.

Comic books had been a pretty solid industry from their introduction up until the 1950's. In the post-war years, though, things began to change. Public tastes ran to cowboys and Indians and movies about giant monsters mutated by atomic radiation or invaders from another planet. Superhero comics were on the way out. Companies like EC caught the bandwagon with new kinds of comics -- hard boiled crime stories and horror comics like the famous/infamous Tales from the Crypt. Other companies, like DC and Marvel sent many of their superheroes into mothballs and focused on making Western comics or romance comics to appeal to girls or comedy comics trying to tap into the popularity of early TV sitcoms or comics about giant, mutated monsters.

In the mid-1960's, though, DC Comics' Editor Julius Schwartz figured that it was time to revive the superhero but if people wanted space-age stuff then DC should create a new round of heroes with a more sci-fi twist. For the most part trading on names DC had already trademarked the company launched all-new versions of Golden Age characters.

So, for example, Green Lantern in the Golden Age had been radio announcer Alan Scott who found a magic lantern and ring which allowed him to create objects out of light. In 1959 the new Green Lantern became hot-shot test pilot Hal Jordan who was given a lantern and a ring created by alien science which allowed him to create objects out of light. More to the point, this new 'space cop' now traveled to other planets and met alien beings and fought them.

In the Golden Age Hawkman had been archaeologist Carter Hall who had discovered that he was the reincarnation of a murdered, ancient Egyptian prince. Using a magic metal from that era Carter Hall was able to fly as Hawkman. In 1961 the new version of Hawkman was an alien police officer named Katar Hol who came to Earth with his partner and wife in pursuit of an alien criminal who had escaped custody. Hawkman now flew because of an alien metal and the wings were actually his alien culture's version of a police uniform - paying tribute to a hawk-like bird on his own, home planet.

And it went on....

In 2003 writer/artist Darwyn Cooke began a mini-series to explore this transitional time in superhero comics. Only for his series he chose to place the heroes within their context -- mixing what had been happening in the real world with what happened in this superhero world. So the series covers such issues as the Red Scare, the Cold War, lynching in the South, the rise of television and the like. The series, called New Frontier was critically acclaimed, industry award winning, and beloved in the fan community.

So when, DC Comics decided to branch out and start doing direct-to-DVD animated features one of the first things they decided was that they would adapt some of the most well-regarded and best-selling mini-series, story arcs, and graphic novels from the past few years... and one of those was Darwyn Cooke's New Frontier.

In order to increase name recognition, though, DC chose to alter the title to Justice League: New Frontier

So let's (finally) dive into the plot!

The Plot: It is the end of the Korean War but pilot Hal Jordan, who has a streak against killing, is shot down and forced to kill a North Korean soldier at close range in order to save his own life. The experience give Jordan time in the psych unit of a VA hospital, leaving him considered "damaged goods" and seemingly ending his dream of becoming a government test pilot for the space program.

Elsewhere, a scientist accidentally manages to teleport a native of Mars to Earth. The scientist suffers a fatal heart attack from the shock and the Martian, now trapped here, begins to learn about Earth culture.

Superheroes have been mostly forced underground or into non-existence due to government suspicion. Only two operate above ground -- Superman and Wonder Woman -- and Wonder Woman increasingly sees a disconnect between what the American government says their aims are and their actions.

Time passes. Hal Jordan gets a job with a shadow government space program being run out of Ferris Aircraft Company... and in Gotham City the Martian has become police detective John Jones because he wants to be a good guy and help people. And in Central City a super speedster is trying to clean up the streets but finds himself targeted by the government...

Throughout it all is the spectre of The Centre... A being as old as the planet, powerful, telepathic, and malevolent. The Centre has decided that humanity is a threat to it's existence and it intends to wipe the planet clean of them. The only hope for defeating the Centre is if suspicions and prejudices can be overcome and ordinary mortals can work with super-beings; men in masks can trust those without them and vice-versa. It will either be the dawning of a new day or the final end of an old one.

My Take: The title of this movie is a little deceptive. Sure, a lot of the traditional members of the Justice League are in here but they aren't the Justice League... not yet. They are a collection of individual heroes who are struggling along doing what they can when and where they can.

Also, let's make this clear here right from the start -- this movie, despite being animated, is not for little kids. It has a PG-13 rating and there is blood and violence and some mild swearing. The comic book mini-series is also not for little kids as there is also some blood, violence, swearing and, even more than in the movie, some serious, serious topics discussed. Like lynching in the South and the entrenched bigotry of that era.

As for the film itself... Well, it's lovely. The animation echoes Darwyn Cooke's distinctive art style (which, admittedly, may not be to everyone's tastes but I find it great stuff) and the film boasts a stellar voice cast. David Boreanaz (Angel and Bones) voices Hal Jordan with a perfect cocky assurance. Lucy Lawless of Xena: Warrior Princess fame finally fulfills a lot of fans' dreams and gets to play Wonder Woman. Neil Patrick Harris does a great job as the earnest Flash and Miguel Ferrer turns in a measured performance as John Jones (A.K.A. the Martian Manhunter), and that's just the tip of the ice berg here.

I have to say, though, that I don't think Kyle McLachlan was the right choice to voice Superman and Jeremy Sisto just doesn't make a very forceful Batman for me -- he's not got enough darkness in his voice.

That aside... I have to be honest... I just CAN'T fairly evaluate this film. In many places it is an almost exact adaptation of scenes from Darwyn Cooke's mini-series BUT the movie clocking in at 1 hour and 15 minutes leaves a lot of Cooke's original story out. And I mean a LOT. I love New Frontier and when watching the film I find myself automatically filling in the parts of the story from the comic books which aren't in the film. So I really just can't say whether the film actually hangs together and makes sense or not. I can say that, while I understand the need to cut the original story down to fit it into the animated film I wish they had not done it.

In the end Justice League: The New Frontier is great as a COMPANION PIECE to the original work by Darwyn Cooke but I just don't think the film stands up well on it's own.

Let me urge you, however, if you have not yet read New Frontier find a copy at your local library and check it out (and if your local library doesn't have a copy of it then pester them to buy one because they SHOULD have a copy of this!). You don't need to be a big DC Comics fan to follow the story nor do you have to be a historian to get it. The series has been collected now a couple of times into handy, single edition books so you don't even have to worry about reading it in installments. The story is sweeping and epic and yet personal at the same time and Cooke really brings home the humanity of all these characters.

Then, once you've read the graphic novel go and rent this movie.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Compound Geekery Film Festival! "Hulk"

  • So we're starting out with, chosen at random, 2003's Hulk. Also sometimes known as The Hulk.

The Hulk was created for Marvel Comics in 1962 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Originally the character was colored gray but the inks of that time period could not create a consistent shade of gray each and every time. So at the behest of the colorist Lee changed the Hulk's color to green.

Lee has stated that his two influences in the creation of the character were Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Later writers would also add elements of Beauty and the Beast to the character as well.

Over the course of decades there have actually been different versions of the Hulk and different elements added to and subtracted from the characters of both Bruce Banner and the Hulk.... but we'll get into that a little later. For the most part the Hulk in the comic books has always been able to talk but many people are probably more familiar with the TV series from the 1970's in which body builder Lou Ferigno played the Hulk as pretty much mute with the exception of grunts and growls.

But that's probably enough of that -- let's take a look at the movie...

The Plot: David Banner is a scientist working for the military to try to find ways of allowing humans to recover from serious injuries -- even to the point of being able to regenerate severed limbs. When his request to move toward human testing is denied he begins experimenting on himself. When his son is born he realizes that his experiments on himself have yielded genetic changes in his son.

When the military uncovers his unorthodox experiments, however, he is ordered to shut down his research. Enraged, David Banner goes to extreme measures... something happens and little Bruce Banner locks away his memories...

Years later Bruce Krienzler is a researcher working to produce rapid healing in humans using a combination of nanotechnology and radiation therapy. Bruce's partner in research is also his former love Betty Ross. Their results are up to that point fatal when an accident in the lab exposes Bruce to the nanotechnology and radiation and he miraculously survives. But something has been awakened in Bruce... something that feeds on his emotions and the hidden genetic changes in his body. Bruce's dark past is about to come back to haunt him in a big way...

And that past takes a physical form as well. David Banner is out of prison and looking to reconnect with his son... but his motives may not be so pure...

The Hulk has now been given life and Bruce is trapped in a nightmare of power and rage...

My Take: This film was largely polarizing. critics were split on it with some loving it and others panning it. The comic book fan community largely hated it and it did not perform well at the box office despite being anticipated as a Summer blockbuster.

Here's the thing about the movie... It's a GOOD movie... It just isn't a good HULK movie.

Director Ang Lee, riding high after Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon threw himself into the movie wholeheartedly -- actively working to make the film look like a comic book. From the fonts on the opening credits to many of the transitions, the movie looks more like a comic book brought to life than pretty much any other comic book film in the last decade. The screen is split into panels in places and other sequences look like splash panels.

The cinematography here is simply gorgeous -- long shots of desert scenery which blend with CGI to transform into the interior of the human body or lichens growing on tree stumps. At another point a photograph comes to life and draws the audience into a flashback. It's wonderful, wonderful stuff and all contribute to a dreamlike atmosphere.

Which is another thing here. Dreams play a big role in the film. Characters seem to often have prophetic dreams or they dream of the past. Sometimes flashbacks actually prove to be part of someone else's dream and all of the dreams contain heavy symbolism. Dreams and emotions all wrap up inside one another and the whole film has a quiet, hypnotic, dreamlike feel to it -- including the score by famed composer Danny Elfman.

And this is the problem. It's a Hulk movie. If there is anything the comic book Hulk is known for it's the phrase "Hulk smash!" This quiet, slow paced film which digs deep into the psyche of it's characters is totally foreign to the big, hulking bruiser of the comic books who regularly tears up city blocks. The film is also missing quite a bit of Bruce Banner's angst. Bruce was virtually created angsty in the comics. A man tortured by the fact that he had to live with this rampaging Id always waiting to be unleashed. For the movie Bruce is more bewildered by his new alter ego than tortured by it.

The movie also makes a few other missteps like:

some of the symbolic imagery being so terribly obvious it's less "symbolic" and more "bash you over the head with a sledgehammer".

Nick Nolte's performance as David Banner is well.... 'psychotic father is psychotic.' There is no real subtlety and it's amazing that none of the characters call the cops on creepy David Banner since he does everything to be as creepy and obvious as possible that he is mentally unhinged.

The "Hulk Dogs". Ohhhh, these things received howls of laughter from fans... and deservedly so. Using Bruce's DNA David Banner manages to turn his three mean dogs (which seem to follow him around everywhere for no good reason) into Hulk-like creatures. The CGI was laughable then and really hasn't aged well now and the execution of the idea in general doesn't make them seem threatening but instead a joke. Despite that though I gotta say that the idea behind it also makes me really uncomfortable as a dog lover. This jerk mutates his dogs and then the Hulk bashes them around violently and smashes them to bits. *Wince*!

The film also waits a little too long to give us our big, bad villain. We spend a little too much time dealing with everyone's psychological make-up and repressed memories and we don't get a real enemy for the Hulk until the last twenty minutes of the film or so.

Related to that, the final fight scene is simply an incomprehensible mess. We really don't understand what is going on or why and therefore it turns the climax into an anti-climax.


As a comic book reader... well, I've got to confess I was never much of a Hulk fan but one of my friends was and I grew up on the old TV series. I know enough about the character to see the comic book influences in the movie as well as the way they diverted from them. In the original comics Betty Ross was not originally a scientist -- although the change here works okay and doesn't seem out of step for the character.

Also, the original origin story was much more suited to the Cold War setting of the original comic book -- a young teenager named Rick Jones accidentally wandered onto a testing site for a new Gamma bomb. Seeing him, Bruce left the safety of the block house and rushed out to try to save the youth. The countdown not able to be halted and with no time to clear the area, Bruce threw Rick into a ditch and covered him with his own body, shielding him from the radiation... yeah, I know, radiation doesn't work that way. It's comic book science and it was the 1960's.

For the movie it gets an update with technobabble about "Nanomeds" and gamma radiation. For the film Rick Jones is jettisoned for Bruce and Betty's lab assistant who is working on the equipment in the lab when he accidentally causes a short circuit which sets the sequence off. Bruce rushes into the containment room, puts an oxygen mask on the young man so he won't breathe in the "Nanomeds" (although now Bruce, himself does) and then throws himself over the machinery with fires the gamma radiation -- using his body to absorb the radiation. And yeah, radiation STILL doesn't work that way.

Do the changes work? Eeehhhh... sort of. I think it adds a new layer of complexity that isn't necessary as instead of Bruce spontaneously mutating to form the Hulk it now becomes the combination of genetic changes inherited from his father with combine with the radiation and the Nanomeds to make him become the Hulk. It requires the idea of this kind of perfect storm of coincidence to create the character that strains the cables on the suspension of disbelief bridge.

The psychological issues were also a later addition to the comics books. At first the Hulk was simply a matter of Id vs. Superego but round about the 1980's or 1990's writers added something new to the mythology by introducing the idea that Bruce's father had been an abusive jerk and as a child Bruce had witnessed his father beating his mother but repressed the memories. These repressed memories helped fuel his equally repressed rage which led to the Hulk.

This film took the basic idea that Bruce's father had some anger management issues as well as hints that Bruce had a naturally repressed personality and built from there. With these additions, though, I'm still on the fence as to whether they work or not. On the one hand, the scenes in the film are strikingly done but on the other hand they don't really fully integrate into the characters -- this part of the film remains more David's story than Bruce's.

There is also the problem of David Banner -- Bruce's father. Rather late in the film he develops super powers of his own... which leads to David becoming basically the Absorbing Man -- although they don't call him this. The Absorbing Man is a long-time comic book villain. He was originally introduced as an enemy of Thor but he went on to cross into other books fighting other Marvel heroes including the Hulk and the Avengers. His powers are pretty much like you would think based on his name -- he can absorb the attributes and properties of anything he touches. So he might become as hard as steel after touching a steel girder or he might become as shifting as sand after touching a pile of sand. In the comics, however, the Absorbing Man was a former wrestler named "Crusher" Creel and he had no connection really to Bruce Banner or the Hulk. That the character's attributes are just kind of merged into the David Banner character last minute seems a waste of a perfectly good villain and, again, a needless complication. The Hulk has a number of different, excellent villains of his own and any one of them could have been used here instead of this mish-mash of villainy and psychosis.

Looking at the more technical aspects of the film -- it's true that one difficulty that has always stood in the way of the character was finding a way to realistically bring the Hulk to life. The TV series used a body builder in green body paint and a bad shaggy wig but there was always something lacking in that. By 2003 CGI had advanced to the point where the filmmakers thought a good computer generated version of the Hulk would be possible to incorporate into the film. Eeehhh... not quite. In the darker scenes it works but in scenes set in bright daylight the CGI has just not aged well. The Hulk figure looks cartoony at worst and like a video game character at best.

The acting performances, though, are all around good. Relative unknown then Eric Bana is, perhaps a bit *too* low key as his Bruce Banner but there is also a kind of innocence to his performance -- a man who is slowly having the world he thought he knew ripped apart around him and he doesn't really understand how or why. There is also something genuine feeling with the emotions he conveys in his scenes with Jennifer Connelly's Betty Ross.

And speaking of Jennifer Connelly her character actually has a nice little arc -- which is sadly something that the female characters in films like these rarely get. She's a bit witchy a borderline snarky when we first meet her but as she becomes more deeply involved in events and as she comes to learn more about Bruce than even he knows himself she begins to peel back her own layers as she tries to help him uncover his hidden past. Her performance is understated which is, in one way, great but in another way yet another understated link in a whole understated chain of a film where understatement and comic book characters don't really get along too well.

The highlight here is Sam Elliot who seems pretty much incapable of turning in a bad performance. He doesn't allow his character of General Thaddeus "Thunderbolt" Ross to remain one-note. When he first appears we are prepared to dislike him as a hard-nosed, inflexible military man but as the film goes on we see him capable of compassion and understanding but caught up in something unexpected and honestly believing that, while Bruce Banner may be innocent and harmless, the Hulk is a dangerous threat and having to make the decision to be willing to end the life of an innocent in order to stop the threat.

Nick Nolte as David Banner is actually the weak point of the story. In a film full of good performances Nolte seems like a ham by comparison. As I mentioned before, he seems to actively play the character as trying to be obtrusive and obvious. He might as well have a flashing neon light over his head from his very first scene saying "Villain, Villain, Villain." And because of his performance in scenes where we're supposed to be drawn to feel sympathy for him we end up feeling nothing.

In the final equation....

2003's Hulk is worth a watch -- particularly if you aren't too familiar with the character. If you remember the TV series, though, and are expecting that then put that idea right out of your head.

Also, if you're expecting a wham-bang big action flick then this is NOT going to be the movie for you either.

If, however, you're interested in a beautifully and creatively filmed drama about complex interpersonal relationships then give this a try. It is a little slow in places shows that the comic book movie can be more than just big explosions and trope filled plots. The problem is that, as a Hulk film, it could have used just a bit more action and some better villains. Still, it's worth a watch.