Authenticity and the Shelf Life of Things in Pop Culture

Things created in pop culture have a limited shelf life. No matter how good, original and talented the initial creator of something is, over time people will become bored with or indifferent to the thing created.

A friend of mine made the claim that people want more of the same and nothing new. It’s why they keep going back for more and paying for it time and time again. On one hand he’s right. I posted a review of Amazing Spiderman 2 (directed by Marc Webb) and it pales when compared to Spiderman 2 (directed by Sam Raimi.) Raimi took the source material and made a good movie out of it. I’m not sure if Webb has even read a Spiderman comic in his life.

Be that as it may, Spiderman was created back in 1963 as a throw off idea by Stan Lee to put in a monthly comic book called Amazing Fantasy. The 15th issue is where Spiderman first appeared and readers have been entertained by exploits of Spiderman ever since. In the 60s, Lee and Ditko created a teenage character who was dealing with his personal life and trying to balance being a superhero at the same time. This aspect made the character interesting to read and follow along with.

The Raimi Spiderman films, despite their warts and flaws, kept true to that idea of Peter Parker trying to live a normal life despite having amazing powers. I think Webb’s first Spiderman attempt was good but not great. His second film was really lacking. The key question is what was missing? The answer was Peter Parker.

To make Spiderman stories work, they need to be centered around Pete’s life including his problems. Readers and viewers of Spiderman follow along as if we were Pete’s best friends. That concept has kept readers reading for years. How will Pete deal with the Sinister Six while he tries to date MJ/Gwen/Some other girl, pay his rent because Jameson’s been cheating him on pay and give enough attention to his ever dying, but not quite dead, Aunt May.

Amazing Spiderman 2 seemed like it wanted to feature more Spiderman and his antics and skimp on the Peter Parker drama. I was thinking a key way to fix the movie would be if we focused on the “forbidden love” aspect between Gwen and Pete. They know they need to be apart from each other because Spiderman’s life is deadly but they just cant’ help themselves. They’re totally into each other. That would be totally true of teenagers.

We could have watched Gwen and Pete work on solving the mystery of Pete’s parents. There could have been a parallel between Pete and Harry Osbourne as we see their friendship go from something people can relate with to something sinister.

Movies, even superhero ones, need to be about conflict between characters. We need to see the conflict in action.

**POSSIBLE SPOILERY STUFF***
Case in point: If Spiderman had to contend with Electro as his crazy friend Harry went off the deep end, kidnapped Gwen and flew off. We would have had tension and drama. If we had seen Gwen and Pete grow closer and more intimate, we would have felt the impact much stronger than we did.
***END POSSIBLE SPOILERY STUFF***

AS Hollywood owns the rights to iconic characters, I think we can look forward to more mediocre rehashed reboots and sequels. I think it’s time we see some punk/underground/ up and coming filmmakers turn Hollywood on its head.

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Amazing Spiderman 2 Review (2014)

One could say a popcorn flick is a movie that you turn your brain off and watch. Popcorn is a nearly empty food to consume. You add butter, salt and flavoring to it, but beneath the additives, it’s still a bland crunchy treat.

Amazing Spiderman 2 is like popcorn with salt and flavoring added to it. Underneath the special effects, there’s no real story here. Things happen. Characters do stuff, and then the movie ends.

There’s supposed to be a romance storyline between Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy. It seemed like the writers simply took some loose ideas for scenes, taped them together and put them in the script. To say the relationship between the characters seemed forced would be an understatement.

Not that I want to compare this movie to Spiderman 2 (2004), but I will. Spiderman 2 had a relationship between Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson. Peter’s conflict within himself between his identity as Spiderman and his life as Peter Parker collide, and we see how it impacts his personal life, especially the relationship between MJ and Pete.

This movie was lacking in comparison to Spiderman 2. There seemed to be an overwhelming lack of internal feeling and conflict within Peter Parker and between Pete and Gwen. There was no chemistry. The conflict of being Spiderman simply seemed to be a non-issue.

Gwen’s a brilliant science student but seems to be clueless that Pete’s life as Spiderman is very dangerous and life-threatening to him and her. Her oblivious manner ends up coming back to haunt her later in the film.

I’m not sure what went wrong with this movie. I’m not sure how you bungle it so badly, but this movie just didn’t work. The conflict between Spiderman and Electro was empty as was Spiderman’s other battles. The movie had possibility, but it lacked a solid story keeping it together.

That seems to be the modern philosophy of Hollywood these days. Crank out more of the same, but don’t bother to tell a story that might be engaging. Keep it as hollow and empty as a bucket of popcorn.

The thing is, popcorn, even if you add butter and salt, goes stale over time. Sure it still has flavor, but it lacks the freshness it once had. I think this is the case with the updated Spiderman franchise. It’s stale popcorn… with butter and salt.

I give it two out of five webshooters.

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Pacific Rim & the Wolverine (2013)

Pacific Rim
Growing up I loved watching old Japanese monster movies as well as other low budget Japanese superhero films. This was the world BSW (Before Star Wars). I’d laugh and enjoy the antics of Ultraman, Johnny Socko and his Flying Robot and of course the ultimate giant monster: Godzilla!

There’s something about giant monsters that appealed to me as a kid. In the primal parts of my brain that still recalls the fun of watching the cheesy rubbery monsters, I was smitten with Pacific Rim.

Pacific Rim has the feel of an international movie and smacks of a gritty more realistic Japanese monster movie or anime style film. Guillermo del Toro was the director, and I think he succeeded with this movie. I’m kind of hit or miss with del Toro as a director. He’s made some films I like (Blade II and Pacific Rim) but others I wasn’t too wild about (Hellboy,Hellboy II, and I’m kind of on the fence about Mimic.)

One thing about del Toro that is for certain is he likes monsters and horror films. With Pacific Rim he had fun making the movie. It shows. The movie took its time introducing the main characters, introducing us to the situation in the world with the kaiju (Japanese for giant monsters) and jaegers (German for hunters. Jaegers are the giant robots designed by humans to fight the kaiju.)

I think if this movie had been released in a different era, say the late 80s to early 90s it would be a cult hit today. Added bonuses were the addition of Charlie Day of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” fame and Ron Perlman of “Hellboy” and many other feature film fame.

Pacific Rim isn’t a rocket science kind of movie, but it’s fun to watch without being a heavy summer blockbuster. I give it four out of five kaiju brains.

The Wolverine

Hm… it was good but not great. First, I’d have to say that you should watch the previous Wolverine and other X-Men movies to follow some plot elements in this movie. Famke Janssen has a recurring role as Jean Grey throughout this movie, and the Logan-Jean relationship is a complicated one. After watching this, I felt I had to go back and watch some of the other X-Men movies to remember what happened before.

The movie, however, isn’t centered on the Logan-Jean relationship but focuses on Wolverine having to go to Japan to say is good-byes to an old Japanese soldier.

The movie reminded me of an old graphic novel from the 80s written by Chris Claremont and illustrated by Frank Miller called “Wolverine.” It has samurai and other Japanese elements.

Oddly, I wasn’t big on samurai and ninjas in comics or Wolverine growing up as a kid, and I wasn’t keen on the yakuza samurai elements in this movie either. The movie seemed slow paced at times but had enough general action to keep you watching. The odd part is that I liked Pacific Rim because of it’s Japanese monster movie roots, but was not keen on samurai/ninja/yakuza elements.

It was good but not great. I think if one is a fan of the character of Wolverine, they’ll have liked it more than I did. To me, Wolverine is a one-dimensional character. He’s angry and will pop his claws to stab you if you look at him the wrong way. Over time, Wolverine becomes a much better developed character than he was in the 80s. He’s become a much more heroic character and less of a “Wolverine stab!” kind of character.

The relationship between Logan/Wolverine and Mariko helps him move past his overwhelming grief about the loss of Jean Grey. For me, what made the movie the most fun was the inclusion of Rila Fukushima as Yukio. Yukio is Wolverine’s bodyguard. She’s loyal and kicks butt.

While watching her, I felt like there must be more in the comics than what was in the movie. The relationship between the two made me want to know what happens next.

…POSSIBLE KINDA SPOILER…
┬áThat said, there’s an encounter between Magneto and Professor X toward the end of the movie that was really cool and seemed to come from out of nowhere. I’d really like to see the next X-Men movie which I presume will star Patrick Stewart as Xavier, Sir Ian McKellen as Magneto and Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. Since Brian Singer let it slip he’s directing the X-Men: Apocalypse movie, I’m now looking forward to seeing that.
…END POSSIBLE KINDA SPOILER…

I can’t put my finger on it yet, but the movie felt like it was missing something. It had a lot of the right elements in it to make it a good movie, but something felt like it was missing. It was slightly better than okay and definitely worth watching if you’re an X-Men/Wolverine fan.

I’d give it 3 out of 5 adamantium claws.

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Superman (1978) vs. The Man of Steel (2013)

Superman is iconic. The character has been around for over 70 years and has developed a devoted fan base ever since. All superheroes are compared to him, and he is the model others are judged. I would say the two other superheroes that are as iconic are Batman and Spiderman. Superman paved the door for superhero comics, movie, tv, radio, podcasts, and so forth.

Superman isn’t just a guy who flies around in blue tights and a red cape beating up bank robbers, he’s a symbol. He’s come to represent the best in all of us. He’s eternally honest, trustworthy, just, incorruptible, has unwavering faith in humanity, and will always put his life on the line for us no matter the odds. Batman shares most of the same traits, except he has an unwavering belief that all people can be corrupted and need to be watched. Batman is the heroic shadow of Superman.

Because Superman believes in us, he’ll never let us down. His unwavering belief makes others want to be better. Only the most evil, arrogant and callous of villains would stand up to the Man of Steel.

Taking what I’ve written into consideration, I’m thinking about Superman the Movie (1978) and Man of Steel (2013.) Superman the Movie was directed by Richard Donner. This movie is the gold standard other superhero movies are compared to. Donner caught the spirit of the comics in film by representing Superman and his alter ego Clark Kent. He showed us the dying and cold world of Krypton with Marlon Brando as Jor El the father of Kal El (Superman.) The movie hit all the right notes and tones of the character. The movie is the right length, has great visuals, and the characters interact in a fun way.

However, there are elements of the old movie that are pretty dated and make the movie seem silly because of 1970’s references. (For example, The movie has a pimped out man saying to Superman, “dig those crazy threads!”) While the references make the movie seem dated, the story is still pretty good. That said, I don’t think they weaken the film.

Let’s compare it to Man of Steel. Man of Steel was directed by Zack Snyder. In my view, Man of Steel was a very solid science fiction movie. It portrayed Kal El as an orphaned alien on Earth. Kal goes through the world trying to find himself and his role in life. The special effects were great. (Snyder loves his effects.) The soundtrack is solid. There’s plenty of action, and if you’ve ever wanted to see Metropolis get decimated, this is definitely a movie you’ll love. If I had never known anything about Superman, his history, the iconic aspects of his character, and what he stood for, I would say the movie was overall good with a predictable action hero ending.

However, this is Superman. He is iconic, and there’s this thing I harp on with writing. Superman is a character. Richard Donner is a director who knows how to create characters within a story that sells. Snyder really loves action over anything else. He loves special effects. I think this shows in Man of Steel. There’s a lot of action and science fiction goodness, there’s very little character in Kal El.

Sadly, I feel this is what’s going to be the trend in movies for some time to come; put blockbuster special effects in movies and skimp on stories and characters. You see this trend in all kinds of big budget movies like: The Hobbit series, the Transformers, Star Trek into Darkness, and in Man of Steel.

I’d wager the producers think, “If it sucks, we’ll just reboot the franchise in 3-5 years and rake in piles of money.” It almost makes you wish the Joker would round them up in a seedy warehouse and burn the money in front of them. The rotten thing is the producers are right. They didn’t wait for the Spiderman franchise to get old before foisting Marc Webb’s Amazing Spiderman on us.

Now that CGI is king in the box office, it seems that directors can do anything they want visually on the silver screen. As such, they’re so beholden to spectacle they’ve lost sight of what makes movies (and stories) work. Stories are about us. Characters are who we identify with in a narrative. We want to watch or read stories about characters who are up to something big and grand.

I love science fiction and movies. I love stories with great characters. Superman is not an easy character to write. The key to really getting him is to find his heart. The Richard Donner film did that. The tv series Smallville got him right. Bryan Singer’s “Superman Returns (2006) missed the mark. He gave us a wishy washy Superman who never felt like he belonged in his own movie.

Superman’s main vulnerability is through those he loves. This is the key to writing him and any other god like character. If they ever make a Wonder Woman movie, hopefully they’ll get that through there heads.

We seem to live in a time where people and things we value are treated as disposable. The trend in making special effects turkeys reflects this corporate cash cow mentality. This shows up in Man of Steel.

Lastly, there seems to have been controversy over what Superman ultimately does to General Zod in the end. The cliche ending really shows that Snyder and those creating Superman want to divorce him from his past and create him to be more like Batman. In this sense, they really don’t get the character.

Perhaps the new Man of Steel is a proper reflection of our times. The Superman of the past represented truth, justice, and the American Way. (American way, I interpret as being a land of opportunity for all.) It’s not really a surprise that Today’s Superman is lost, disjointed and wandering in Man of Steel. We as Americans seem to have lost the notion of who we can be. We need Superman as a symbol that we can make it and create a great world together. United we stand, divided we fall. Superman’s faith in us calls us to be better. The Man of Steel has no such faith or vision.

I’d give Superman the Movie (1978) 5 out of 5 red capes, while I’d give Snyder’s 3 out of 5. I won’t give Singer’s Superman Returns a rating because I’d like to pretend it was never made. If I had to, I’d give it 2.5 out of 5. It wasn’t terrible, it wasn’t great, it was sort of okay.

(Snyder’s Man of Steel was way better than Sucker Punch, and it showed that he can direct and handle a big budget movie. Just put some heart and character into your stories, Zack. Sheesh.)

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Star Trek into Darkness (2013)

There’s that old saying, “if something looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck.” Well… maybe.

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve seen Star Trek into Darkness. My first impression was that I liked it. After I let it stew in my mind for a while, I started thinking about plot holes, character inconsistencies, and about Star Trek as a franchise.

There are fun moments in the movie. For The opening scene is fun and fast paced. There are winks and nods to other Star Trek series and Klingons as potential villains. We see the return of Khan, which I called as the most likely villain after watching Star Trek (2009).

J.J. Abrams takes liberties with the familiar old characters of the original series. Fair enough; new generation, new take on old characters. That being said, I think the key element missing from Star Trek into Darkness was the fact that it was missing heart.

The original Star Trek series aired from 1966-69. There are 76 episodes that lasted three seasons. The show was a ratings failure in it’s initial run. When the show was sold into syndication it began to reach it’s target audience. In 1979, the first Star Trek movie was released; Star Trek the Motion Picture. The movie was slow paced and left many bored, but it made enough money to create future movies.

I think what made the movies work was that the actors knew the characters and knew each other. They knew how to play off of each other’s ticks, quirks, and reactions. Shatner, Nimoy, and DeKelley could have ad-libbed a movie by themselves. (That might explain Star Trek V.) If you look at the Trek series that follow, by the end of their seven year runs (4 for Enterprise) the actors knew their characters and each other very well.

When Star Trek Nemesis (2002) came out, I said, “well, that’s the end of the Star Trek movie franchise.” It was made by a director who had never seen an episode of Star Trek and it showed. The characterization was dull and flat, the action was stunted, and we had a new villain we had never seen before who was far from intimidating.

Seven years later, Star Trek (2009) was released. It caught the spirit of the original series. It was fun, action packed, and had a good story. Wow, the reboot worked in a very Star Trek kind of way. I was looking forward to Star Trek into Darkness.

Here’s what I noticed. The three year gap between making movies plays a toll on actors. The actors did a good job acting as Kirk, Spock, and the crew however it felt like they were acting, and not really interacting the way people do who are familiar with each other. The film is supposed to have a tear-jerker Kirk-Spock friendship thing, and to me it fell flat and nearly wrecked the movie. It seemed to almost be a spoof of Star Trek II at some point. Spock acts un-Spock-like and becomes a typical action hero during film’s climax. All he needed was a cheesy tag line.

Even though these are familiar characters, we’re not familiar with the actors playing them. The actors have their own nuances they’ll bring to the parts. As such, I think it was too much to ask the audience to be really pulled into the Kirk-Spock friendship arc the way the movie did. For me, it nearly ruined the movie.

Other Nitpicks:

The Klingons… the forehead-ridges on the Klingon heads were too perfect. Watch Star Trek the Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise and you’ll see variation in the forehead-ridges. With a uniform look, the Klingons seemed almost CGI and not like they were there.

Scotty needs to ditch the “cute” little alien buddy. The gimmick wore itself out in Star Trek (2009.)

Good stuff about STiD:

The movie had a good theme. It plays on America’s war on terrorism and aspects of what does it take to maintain a democratic and free society when secret government plots aim to destroy the freedom the citizens fight and strive for.

The movie is action packed and has a complex story. (Although the story seems like it was cherry picked from Star Trek Next Generation and Deep Space Nine plot lines.)

The actors do a good job playing their respective roles and each of the characters have key things to do in the movie. Unlike other Trek films, the crew in the new movies each have roles. Uhura has a key role with the Klingons, for example.

Overall, I’d say it was a good movie. It had elements of Star Trek, but it didn’t quite feel like a Star Trek movie. I think if the actors continue to play the characters for a couple more movies, then we may get a movie that feels like a Star Trek movie. I’m not sure how to hammer the point across. I guess it’d be like listening to a music group play Beatles songs. They may sound and act like the Beatles, but they’re not the Beatles.

So, I’d give the movie three out of five dilithium crystals.

Finally a prediction, I’m going to predict we’ll see the Organians and the Klingons in the next movie. Abrams is now working on a new Star Wars movie. That is not a job I would wish on anyone. I think Abrams will create a Star Wars movie that looks like a Star Wars movie, but will lack the heart of the originals. I’m sure I’ll like them, but there will seem like something’s missing. However, Star Wars will be a different blog entry.

Live long, and prosper.

Posted in aliens, fantasy, heroes, movies, opinion, planet, science fiction, Star Trek | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cowboys and Aliens Review (2011)

I kid you not… about a year ago I was talking to my brother about a screenplay idea I had: steampunk cowboys versus aliens. I had begun outlining characters, creating backstory, and even creating motivation for the aliens.

And then… I saw a movie preview for Cowboys and Aliens.

I said to myself, “crap… there goes my original idea.”

My concept was way better. It was kind of like spaghetti western meets steampunk and would have involved a dramatic gun fight (with lasers) at the end.

After seeing the movie preview, I reworked my story idea and set it in the future instead of the past and scrubbed the alien concept altogether. Instead, I began working on creating a graphic novel with a steampunk theme.

The movie stars Harrison Ford, Daniel Craig, and the woman who played Number 13 in House. I never caught her name while watching the film, so I referred to her as 13. Ford’s character was villainous, but still a good guy underneath. Craig’s character, Jake, was pretty interesting.

Two things threw this movie into shark jumping mode: Number 13’s character, and the fact that the aliens were mining for gold in the Wild West.

I don’t want to give away plot points or story details. (I hate spoilers.) However, 13’s character was more than she appeared to be and the movie for me jumped the shark. There’s a point in the film where she does something and at that point, my suspension of disbelief went, “poof!”

I’ve written an earlier post about villains. (Lex Luthor: a Study in Villainy.” ) Villains need to be menacing, not just a convenient plot device or special effect. In C vs. A, the aliens are simply a convenient effect to get you to take money out of your pocket.

As a science fiction fan, and one who has dabbled in writing science fiction, aliens can be awesome things for storytelling. They can be awesome because they are:

  • mysterious
  • scary
  • non-human
  • curious
  • fascinating
  • a narrative device to have us look at humanity
  • others… wondrous, inspiring, frightening

Aliens as villains don’t even have to speak English or be remotely humanoid. (Look at the alien in the movie, “Alien.”)

In Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the aliens are other-wordly, imaginative, and invoke curiousity and mystery. In ET, we see an alien again as otherwordly, mysterious, cute, and loveable. In each movie, when the aliens take off, you are filled with a sense of wonder. “Who are they?” “Where did they come from?” “Is there life elsewhere in the universe?”

The aliens in C vs. A, are simply dumb brutish monsters. They have nothing more than a base animal intellect. It makes you wonder how they ever invented interstellar spaceflight.

If you want to make a movie that has geek appeal, it has to have something that triggers the intellect, curiosity, a sense of mystery, or at the least give us a sense of drama and suspense. These aliens were very standard, two dimensional, unimaginative aliens. They were a convenient plot device that would work much better in a first person shooter than in a movie.

When 13 tells us the aliens travelled across the cosmos to mine gold, and they simply abduct humans to find our weaknesses, I disconnected from the movie.

Seriously? Aliens are going to travel trillions of miles, past innumerable asteroids, planets, and star systems to land on Earth to mine gold. While they’re here, prepping for an invasion, they’re going to look for human weaknesses. 19th Century humans, mind you.

Uhm… the aliens have the capacity for interstellar travel, energy weapons, flying robotic aircraft, and humans have what? Six shooters and Winchester rifles. We didn’t even have Zepplins or biplanes, for Pete’s sake! Clearly, a quick scan of our planet would tell the aliens that we are not a threat to them.

I know, you could say… it’s just a summer movie. Grab some popcorn, sip on a 48 ounce bucket of soda, and turn off your brain.

I go to movies to be entertained. I love movies that take me out of the world for a couple of hours and put me in another one. Movies can be magic like that. Close Encounters of the Third Kind was like that. ET was like that. This movie was stupid and disappointing.

I think what sucks the most is I can’t tell my steampunk western vs. aliens story without it being compared to this unimaginative movie.

Bleh! GRRR!!! Damn!

So, I think that’s it for summer movies. What a disappointing year for summer movies. Most stunk.

Well, I liked Super 8, produced by Steven Spielberg, that had an alien in it. (That alien, although kind of cliche, had a motive for what it did what it did that made sense.)

Go see Super 8. That was a movie made by people who love to make movies.

Cowboys vs. Aliens failed to cross two genres; science fiction and westerns. It really failed.

The movie had great casting, Ford and Craig were good in the movie. It had good special effects, but it lacked a workable story.

Seriously, can anyone in Hollywood write good movies anymore? Is it really more cost effective to just throw some scraps together and say, “Meh?”

I give this movie 2 out of 5 alien arm blasters.

Posted in aliens, cowboys, critique, movies, pop culture, review, science fiction, soap boxing, villains | 2 Comments

Sucker Punch Review (2011)

I just rented the movie Sucker Punch and I’m glad I didn’t spend more than a dollar on it. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good.

Here’s how I suspect the movie got created:

Snyder: Hey, I’ve got some really awesome ideas for some scenes but I don’t know how to put them in one movie.
Friend of Snyder: Really, what do you have?
Snyder: Well, I have this idea for these action hero girls and they have crazy fights.
Friend: Like what?
Snyder: In one scene, they fight these really sinister samurai demons, and in another you have them fighting German zombie soldiers during World War I, and in another they fly a B-17 bomber over a castle in a Lord of the Rings type setting and kill a giant dragon. How cool would that be to see a dragon and B-17 fight?
Friend: It all sounds cool, but it sounds like you’re mixing genres. Won’t that get way too confusing?
Snyder: No, I’ll tie them all together. They’ll occur in the mind of a girl trapped in an insane asylum. Her name’s Baby Doll.
Friend: Oh, so it’ll be like a mix of genres and have CGI anime type cinematic styling?
Snyder: Yeah. Exactly.
Friend: I don’t think it’ll work.
Snyder: Sure it will.

—-
$82 million dollars spent later… The movie didn’t do well in the box office. I’m not surprised. I really think Snyder had some really cool conceptual things going on in his mind, but didn’t have a cohesive story idea. He relied on gimmicks to pull everything together.

The movie had all the elements in it that should make every geeky fan boy drool: demonic samurai, zombie soliders in World War I, dragons, World War II bombers, swords, girls in fishnet stockings wearing pieces of plate mail armor. It has a creepy, seedy, and sleazy villain character and pretty girls. And yet… it failed.

Watching the movie I was somewhat reminded of the old Heavy Metal animated film from 1981. Heavy Metal had several stories tied together by a floating green ball. I give that movie credit for trying something different: using animation in a non-Disney or child oriented film.

Sucker Punch has a lot of visually interesting things, but they fail because there’s no contrast between the gray reality the characters live in or Baby Doll’s sepia toned anime video game fantasy world.

Everything is bleak. Which may have been the director’s intent. Everything is bleak in Baby Doll’s world, there’s no escape.

OK. Fine.

Except, movies need to give the viewer hope that things can work out for the protagonist. When things work out, audiences are happy. When things don’t work out, audiences are sad. However, there’s nothing that connects the viewer to the main character.

The movie really was hyper-real, and postmodern in style. It really smacks of contemporary cynicism in today’s Hollywood: throw in lots of CGI, market the special effects like crazy, and laugh as the money rolls in.

I think Zack Snyder had the framework of what could have been a series of cool movies. He should have tied them together in a cohesive manner.

So far, I’ve only watched 3 of Snyder’s movies: 300, Watchmen, and Sucker Punch.

I loved 300. I was not a fan of Watchmen, and I’d have to say that Sucker Punch was a great attempt.

I think Snyder loves CGI and making action scenes. I’m not sure how he is with character development and story.

Snyder is in the process of directing the new Superman movie, and I have mixed feelings. The story is by David S. Goyer, and he’s directing it. Goyer wrote some of the Blade movies. They’re good and bad.

With the new Superman movie I think we’ll see lots of CGI with slowed down action scenes, some cool costuming and very creepy villains. On the IMDB website, it looks like General Zod is going to be our main villain.

Even if the new Superman stinks, I hope they don’t do another origin story. Please! 2011 has been the movie of too many superhero films where we watched yet another origin story. The new Spiderman movie coming out, Spiderman: Holding Onto Marketing Rights, will be (you guessed it) an origin story. Is it too much to ask for some action, suspense, and some old fashioned comic book fun?

I’m ranting in a review… Sorry.

I give Sucker Punch 5 out of 5 dragon embossed magic samurai swords for concepts and special effects. I give it 1.5 dragon embossed magic samurai swords for story.

Posted in critique, fantasy, movies, opinion, pop culture, punch, review, samurai, science fiction, sucker | 2 Comments

Rise of the Planet of the Apes Review (2011)

I was listening to a podcast this morning. They were discussing the odds of intelligent civilizations existing on other worlds in the universe. The odds, it seems, are so low, it’s guessed that intelligent civilizations probably don’t exist. We only know of one world that harbors self-aware intelligent civilization: our own world.

From the initial formation of our planet in the birth of our solar system, it took life about 500 million years to begin to form on our world. That would have been four billion years ago. For 3.5 billion years, life has existed on Earth that can be traced through the fossil record. Our species, with other hominids/apes, only recently geologically speaking, arose on the planet.

Six million years ago, give or take a million, our most ancient ape-like ancestors began to diverge from our more chimp and apelike cousins.

Our species is nearly 100,000 to 200,000 years old. Around 70,000 years ago, the Toba supervolcano erupted and put the global climate into a decade long ice age. Our species almost went extinct.

Nearly 30,000 years ago, the majority of humans lived in Africa. In essence, all of humanity are Africans.

That being said, humans have only had roots of civilization for about 10-11,000 years.

The printing press is only a recent phenomenon. It was developed in 1436 by Johannes Gutenberg.

The odds of an intelligent species organizing itself into a civilization is extremely rare, even on Earth. We’ve had civilization for so long, we have no memory of what life was like before it. Humans take civilization as a given.

Which begs one question, why us?

Watching Rise of the Planet of the Apes had me ask that question. Rise is a prequel to The Planet of the Apes, which was release in 1968. A year before man landed on the moon. The current movie, and the original each warn that our civilization can disappear.

The movie is not a warning as its predecessor was. It’s a movie that looks into what it means to be human.

The star of the movie is a chimp named Caesar. He’s mostly a CGI chimp, but played so well by the antics of Andy Serkis, one begins to feel sympathy and perhaps empathy for the ape. The ape has complex feelings, thoughts, and is capable of comprehending things on a human level.

It’s well played, has action, and in a sense sets itself up for a sequel. (I hate to be cyncial, but I smell a remake of Planet of the Apes could be in the works.)

Overall, it was a good movie. It was better than some of the later Apes movies, but not as good as the original. It was, in a sense, a different movie than the original. Unlike it’s predecessor, it doesn’t leave much to contemplate. The original Apes movie ended on a note that has you wonder just how insane we humans are. The new movie ends on a note that says we just going to go out with dumb luck.

All that being said, the Apes movies should serve as a warning and a sign of hope. We should be wary that we can give in to our base fearful and aggressive behavior, but we have the opportunity to transcend out apelike heritage through compassion, wisdom, and understanding. We control our own destiny at this point. Our fear and ignorance can and eventually will destroy us. Our knowledge, wisdom, and compassion are our saving graces.

When I think of the militaristic gorillas in the original, I can’t help but think of small minded politicians in our own society. They fail to heed the words of the scientists and wise council of our more intelligent humans on Earth. Intelligent civilization may be extremely rare in the universe. As such, we humans should take that knowledge to heart and strive to make this planet the best we can for life on Earth. However, we seem to be hellbound to destroy ourselves for petty reasons.

Maybe we could learn something from the apes in Rise of the Planet of the Apes. If we create society where we take care of our own, we can survive for the long haul.

The original film served as a warning. The current film takes us into the heart of an ape. Both are good. I think the original was better.

I give Rise of the Planet of the Apes 3.5 thrown tires out of five.

****************

The population numbers of the great apes is still declining. I would not be surprised if we heard the news of chimps and apes going extinct by the middle of this century. The primary cause of their demise is loss of habitation. As we humans grow in numbers, we take space away from them, and many other kinds of animals.

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Captain America: The First Avenger Review (2011)

As a kid growing up, I watched pro wrestling. Two massive hulking rippling muscled goons would bark at each other and shout about how they’d mop the floor with one another. The villain / bad guy wrestler would usually clobber the hero wrestler when he’d turn his back.

Villains are dirty fighters. They will do anything they can and/or need to do to win. They have only one rule: win at any cost. They’re menacing because if they make the rules, everyone is doomed. They get joy out of the suffering of others, and pure delight out of the thought of having complete control of human beings.

Backstabbing and treachery are par for the course. I’m sure it’s one of the first lessons learned in Beginner Supervillainy 101 courses at supervillain colleges around the world.

Growing up, I loved to read comics. I loved to read Captain America’s adventures when he would square off against his most deadly and cunning foe; the Red Skull.

Going into this movie, I felt I would be somehow disappointed. Exiting the movie, I liked it but something was missing.

The key ingredient was suspense.

Suspense, in dramatic terms, is to leaving your protagonist hanging in a dangerous situation. The last Star Trek movie left Captain Kirk literally in suspense hanging off deadly ledges several times.

Alfred Hitchcock was the master of suspense. Here’s how it works: you show the audience a bomb hidden in a desk. It’s set to go off at noon. Two characters walk into the office around ten til noon. They sit and talk about something. All the while, you keep showing the audience the clock on the bomb ticking down. Show the seconds rapidly ticking down and you increase the suspense.

If the audience is aware of a danger the hero is unaware of, you have a formula for suspense. The danger could be anything. If we know there’s a wild mountain lion, psycho-killer, or hostile alien behind a door and our hero doesn’t, we’ll fear for the hero if he/she opens that door. As the hero’s hand reaches for the door knob, our heart rates will quicken. That’s suspense.

In the movie, we first meet the Red Skull. He’s cruel, ruthless, clever and played by Hugo Weaving, the man who played Agent Smith in The Matrix. What could go wrong?

Well, nothing on his end. He was good in the movie, as was most of the acting. The costumes and clothing were great. The special effects were great. There was even good character development with Steve Rogers before he becomes Captain America.

Steve/Cap really is a likeable guy and we want to see him succeed. The story had a weak spot, too much character development with Steve Rogers and not enough time spent building tension between Captain America and the Red Skull.

To me, the conflict between Cap and the Red Skull was pretty weak and seemed like paint-by-the-numbers screenplay writing. Thinking about the lack of suspense is what got me thinking about pro wrestling. In a very simple way, the two wrestlers mouthing off at each other before a fight is suspenseful, perhaps in a schoolyard kind of way.

Here’s how I would have reworked the movie. World War II is going badly for the Allies. Hitler creates his supersoldier, the Red Skull. In response, the Allies create Captain America. This aspect could have been played up for dramatic effect in the movie, but was very toned down for some reason. (I suspect the producers are thinking about their international audience and didn’t want to offend German movie goers by reminding them of the war.)

As such, the drama of the war was sort of hinted at. Pssst… there’s a war going on.

So, back to my scenario… Cap and the Red Skull battle back and forth in skirmishes that end in draws. The Red Skull is Cap’s equal, however, the Red Skull is developing his secret weapon.

After watching Cap and Skull square off a few times, they get down to the final confrontation. Everything must be at stake. The audience has to feel it. Cap and the Red Skull get knuckle to knuckle in each others faces as the flying death fortress flies toward America. The Red Skull ends up being chucked out a window, the controls of the plane are heading toward certain death, and the Red Skull, in a last act of villainy, pulled a switch that triggered the launch of one missile. The missile is headed toward Cap’s hometown of New York City. The higher we escalate suspense, the greater the drama.

Cap has to race toward the missile. He runs and clings on to it as it launches. (He’s now literally suspended.) He has to break into the missile, deactivate it, and keep it from crashing into New York. He manages to deactivate the bomb as we see the oncoming skyline of New York. Something goes boom and the missile races off toward the North Atlantic. We’re not sure what happens to Cap, but it’s implied he didn’t survive the crash into the ocean. Thousands of feet in the air, clinging to a missile, is literally very escalated suspense.

Anyway, the movie needed something suspenseful for it’s climax. The movie felt like it was all sort of leading up to the Avengers movie coming out next year. (I suspect the god cube that the Red Skull finds will have something to do with the plot of the Avengers movie.)

Going back to my Harry Potter review, the final showdown between Voldemort and Harry also lacked suspense. We knew Voldemort was toast. It was just a simple formality and had all the drama of watching Harry go shopping for milk.

When a villain loses the upper hand, he ceases to be a threat. If a villain never has the upper hand, he’s not a threat, and as a result he’s not going to be very threatening. A villain with no edge commits the worst sin in storywriting, he’s boring. The Red Skull never seemed to ever have the upper hand on Captain America. If he did, it was very brief. As such, the movie lacked suspense.

Although the movie lacked suspense in the potential clash between the Red Skull and Captain America, it was good overall. There are fun moments, some good stuff for fans (it was cool to see Dum Dum Dugan), it had Samuel L. Jackson as Sgt. Fury, we got to see Tony Stark’s father, and it even had a cameo with Stan Lee.

Overall, I’d say it’s fun enough for a comic book fan, but the story left me lacking. I am looking forward to seeing the Avengers movie, but would be dubious about another Captain America movie.

At least I have the comics to fall back on. Excelsior!

I’d give the movie three out of five vibranium shields.

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Harry Potter 7 part 2 Review (2011)

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part 2 and Captain America: The First Avenger each had something in common.

For the most part they were good movies, but each lacked a satisfying ending.

First Harry…

For about a decade now, we’ve watched Harry go from being a fresh faced ten year old to a young adult. As he grew, we learned more about his main antagonist: Voldemort. Voldemort was a shadowy villain slowly gaining power so that he could return to life and eventually take over the world crushing the spirits of wizards and muggles for eternity.

I love the books and love the first four movies. By the fifth movie, the Harry Potter Series was starting to show some wear and tear. I felt myself by that movie saying and feeling, “can we finally get rid of Voldemort already?”

A good villain can wear out his welcome.

So… in good marketing fashion, the Rowling and Hollywood dragged out the inevitable clash between Voldemort and Harry. Books 6 and 7 introduced us to how Voldemort could be killed by destroying horcruxes, magically charged items that contain a piece of Voldemort’s soul.Book 7 leaves us with a mystery about how to find the horcruxes and figuring out how to destroy them.

In the movies, this gave us Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1.

Where I’m willing to let a book leave me hanging for a bit, it’s not as acceptable to watch a movie and be left hanging. There are logical, technical, and marketing reasons why HP7.1 and HP7.2 were split into two films. Maybe people wouldn’t want to sit through a two and a half hour to three hour movie. It’s more profitable to make two films than one. Yes, yes… I understand that, but what left me hanging was that it took a year before they released the part 2. Yes, I could re-read the book. I could have watched the DVD before watching the movie. But… I’m old school. I waited, and there were bits and pieces of part 1 I had forgotten.

OK, I’m nitpicking.

I thought the HP7.2 was good overall. The effects were great, the acting was good, but the problem was Voldemort. Oh, he’s a cruel and evil villain but he worked best as a menace behind the scenes. I feel that he wasn’t as menacing in HP7.1 and HP7.2.

It still seemed like he was in the background during those two movies. He had his own story, and we were left in the dark not knowing what was going on in that rotten scheming brain of his. He was just evil, but kind of two dimensionally evil.

The final battle between Harry and Voldemort in HP7.2 was, to me, anticlimactic.

A final showdown between a main protagonist and antagonist should be memorable and very personal. I felt there needed to be some serious words between Harry and Voldemort at their final confrontation. Voldemort killed of Harry’s parents for Pete’s sake! Nope. They just sort of pulled out their wands and Harry dusts off Voldemort. – Poof!

We dragged you through 7 books and 8 movies for a simple quick and easy villain kill off. Poof! Dust, dust! “Well… let’s get some pumpkin juice.”

When you create a menacing and cunning villain, who commits lots of acts of evil, he shouldn’t be so easily beaten. OK, sure… it took Harry three movies to figure out how to make Voldemort vulnerable, but the final confrontation seemed lacking.

Despite that, I think the movie was good.

I left the movie with a sad feeling. I liked the Harry Potter movies. I enjoyed reading and watching the adventures of Harry as he grew from a misfit boy into a capable and heroic young man. What made me sad was that this movie and book series came to its final end.

I felt the same way at the end of Return of the Jedi. When I was a kid walking out of the theater of Jedi, I was happy because the movie was good, but sad because I believed at the time that there was not going to be another Star Wars movie.

In this case, I was most saddened because I don’t believe Hollywood has it in itself to make another good series of movies. CGI has come to dominate movie making so much, that its taking the place of storytelling. Stories are about characters not special effects. I learned that while studying how George Lucas made the original trilogy, and its true. However, his prequel movies didn’t resonate as strongly as the first because they’re special effects movies more than character movies.

I’m digressing… Characters are the key to good movies.

J.K. Rowling gave us good characters in Harry, Ron, and Hermione. She deserves to be rich in the creation of them, and kids of future generations can enjoy the exploits of Harry Potter.

I give HP7.2 five out of seven horcruxes. Overall good, just lacks a fulfilling climactic battle between Harry and Voldemort.

In my Captain America review, we’ll discuss suspense.

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