The Life & Times of an Auteur.

Commentary on Pop Culture, and maybe creating some of my own.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Avengers Assemble

Okay, the first episode of "Avengers Assemble" is temporarily available for free on iTunes. I figured I had an hour, so I would check it out. What are my impressions? It's not good. The best thing I can say about it is that it's better than "Ultimate Spider-Man." But that is damning with faint praise, it looks and feels like "Ultimate Spider-Man" but without the Family Guy-style cutaways and immature attempts at humor.

Let's start with the animation and character models... this show looks like it was done cheap. The characters all look like decals in a sticker book when they're not in motion. I know some people didn't like the stylized designs of "Spectacular Spider-Man" or "Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes" but they had a charm and liveliness to them that really brought the characters to life. They were animated shows that didn't look like they were ashamed of their medium.

The plot is predictable, and the pacing is atrocious. It just throws things constantly at you, but really it's all nothing. Red Skull and MODOK attack the Statue of Liberty, kill Cap but not... Tony assembles the Avengers again, and they go after Red Skull... get followed by Black Widow and discover that Cap was kidnapped and Red Skull traded bodies with him.... and not only bodies, but voices (I thought such ridiculousness died in the 80's)... action scene, bodies are switched back, and then Red Skull (who stole Cap's body because his was dying) stole Iron Man's armor to keep him alive... never mind the ARC reactor was designed for a specific purpose, to prevent the shards of shrapnel from getting into Tony's heart... it's not a magic cure-all.

The characters don't fare too well either, most of the voice actors are miscast... the characters are making bad jokes seconds after hearing that Cap "died." Nick Fury, for no reason whatsoever, fires Falcon from S.H.I.E.L.D. when he joins the Avengers... and done in a ridiculously boneheaded scene. Black Widow fares the best, but she doesn't rise above being merely okay.

Now, I suppose you're wondering if Jeph Loeb and Man of Action told the truth when they said it was in continuity with "Earth's Mightiest Heroes." The answer is no. It can't be. And Falcon is one of the big reasons why... this show treats him like the rookie, he became Falcon for the first time, even though he was Falcon already in "Earth's Mightiest Heroes". So, yeah, Loeb and Man of Action lied.

The show is bland, safe, and there is nothing challenging there. It's bright and colorful, and perfect for the purpose it serves... to sell toys. And unlike "Earth's Mightiest Heroes," there will be action figures. It ranges from "okay, that wasn't too awful" to "oh my god, that was completely awful" several times within the episode itself. It's a throwback to cartoons of the 1980's in many of it's less flattering ways.

"Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes" wasn't perfect, especially in the latter half of the second season... but most of the time, it was the Avengers show I would always want to watch. I miss it, and I'm thankful this doesn't share continuity with it. It's not worthy to.

Greg Weisman On Star Wars

So Greg Weisman just revealed his latest gig on twitter:

A 3D animated series called "Star Wars: Rebels". So, congratulations to him for the gig. This should be interesting, and I will check it out. Although, for me, the "Star Wars" franchise has been mostly crap. Two okay-to-good movies and four terrible movies. To say this a franchise I don't care about is to put it mildly. But I tend to check out my favorite writers' gigs, even on franchises I have little to no interest in. Sometimes it works out (J. Michael Straczynski's Thor), and sometimes it doesn't (J. Michael Straczynski's Superman).

I wish him well with the gig, and know he'll bring his A-game to it.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

An Update

I know I said this was Tarantino Month, but... packing up an entire house for a big move has been taking up so much of my time, I have barely even had time to watch them, let alone write about them. I just don't have the time, at all.

I'll try to get one or two more out, but the move is coming up on me fast, and there will be so much to do, including a period where I lack internet access.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Tarantino Review - Reservoir Dogs

After a simple jewelry heist goes terribly wrong, the surviving criminals begin to suspect that one of them is a police informant. "Reservoir Dogs" was the film that put Quentin Tarantino on the map. This was the first film he directed, and it was done with such class that you are left stunned that this was his rookie film. The directing, the producing, the plot, and the acting were sublime. For a story line so straightforward, the actors had a real challenge to highlight what their characters are all about. But, surprisingly, every actor did his job just fine, giving us a great performance, making us believe that they were real criminals in a documentary.

The film features a non-linear narrative which puts a refreshing spin on the typical beginning, and end archetype. These flashbacks allow the viewer to piece together the heist; basically giving the viewer a chaotic feeling much like the films characters. It also allows for some entertaining dialogue: the conversation between Mr. White (Harvey Keitel) and Mr. Pink (Steve Buscemi) discussing the psychotic Mr. Blonde (Michael Madsen) going trigger-happy at the bank. Their discussion paints a menacing picture in our heads; so when Mr. Blonde is finally revealed we realize his subtle, malevolent nuances. Speaking of Mr. Blonde his torture scene is one of the most gruesome, and hilarious scenes (he listens to Stealer's Wheel's "Stuck in the Middle With You") ever filmed

The film feels fresh not because it is gritty, and violent; the film takes a genre which is innately violent, and infuses it with witty dialogue. It gives it's characters an arc not usually associated with crime films. Cynical character's who talk about day to day pop culture, albeit it is a bit more vulgar... they're gangsters after all.

"Reservoir Dogs" isn't for everyone. It's rough, tough, gruff and at times sickening. But if you can handle some very strong violence and language, then this film is for you. It's got some amazing talents, some fairly unknown at the time, bringing together one masterpiece of a film under the direction of a man who quickly became one of Hollywood's greatest auteurs.

Oh yeah, and Mr. White mentions previously being partnered up with a woman named Alabama. I think we can figure out which ending to "True Romance" is canon to Tarantino's world from that.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Tarantino Review - True Romance

I apologize for taking so long with this review. I've been both packing up an entire house for a move (which isn't done yet), and it took me a while to find a copy of the "Tarantino cut" for this film. So, with that out of the way, let's talk about Tarantino's first script and Tony Scott's best movie.

"True Romance" is about a couple named Clarence Worley (Christian Slater) and Alabama Whitman (Patricia Arquette). Clarence works at a comic book store, loves to watch Kung Fu movies, and is generally lonely. Alabama is a prostitute that Clarence's boss hired to show him a good time for his birthday, who was supposed to disappear by morning. But she falls in love with him and the next day they get married. Clarence decides to kill her pimp (Gary Oldman), after the "ghost of Elvis" tells him to, and succeeds taking a suitcase full of cocaine from the pimp (but left his driver's license there when he was frisked), and the mob quickly finds out who he is and hilarity ensues as they chase them from Detroit to Los Angeles where Clarence hopes to sell the coke to a big Hollywood producer.

Like all Tarantino movies, it tends to back and forth between making you laugh and making you squirm in disgust without at all feeling like it has no idea what its tone is supposed to be. There is a scene where a hit man named Virgil (James Gandolfini) beats the crap out of her to find the stolen cocaine, and it is one of the hardest scenes I have ever watched in a movie... it's brutal. Especially with a line like this:

"Now the first time you kill somebody, that's the hardest. I don't give a shit if you're fuckin' Wyatt Earp or Jack the Ripper. Remember that guy in Texas? The guy up in that fuckin' tower that killed all them people? I'll bet you green money that first little black dot he took a bead on, that was the bitch of the bunch. First one is tough, no fuckin' foolin'. The second one... the second one ain't no fuckin' Mardis Gras either, but it's better than the first one 'cause you still feel the same thing, y'know... except it's more diluted, y'know it's... it's better. I threw up on the first one, you believe that? Then the third one... the third one is easy, you level right off. It's no problem. Now... shit... now I do it just to watch their fuckin' expression change."

Yes, the scene is very violent, yet watching it makes me stunned in awed silence. The part when Alabama lifts up her cork opener to defend herself against a gun pointed at her and that she still manages to laugh sends chills down my spine.

The Tarantino cut was never actually released, but his script has been out there for many years, which allowed fans to re-edit the movie, use deleted scenes and an alternate ending (which was filmed) to restore the film to something much closer to Tarantino's original vision, and it's better. Much better. This isn't a slight against the original version, but I don't know if I can ever watch it again now that I've seen a superior version. The Tarantino version is told in a non-linear fashion, like many of his other movies while Scott's is told linearly.

It also features one of the best scenes in any movie, between Christopher Walken and Dennis Hopper.

Now, the ending.


The Tony Scott released version features Clarence losing his eye in a shoot out and escaping with Alabama to Cancun to live happily ever after and raise a son they both named Elvis together.

The Tarantino cut features Clarence dying in the shoot out, and Alabama escapes with the money. She blames Clarence for getting himself killed, and simply goes on the prowl for another man. Now I know some might say this ends up making her look more like a cold opportunist, but she was.... this is the same woman who marries a guy after one night together and then manipulates him into murdering her pimp in cold blood.


It's a good movie, both versions are. But if you can find the Tarantino Cut, that's the one to see. It's always been a favorite of mine. Check it out.

I'm skipping "Natural Born Killers" because what Oliver Stone did to it was a travesty. Reservoir Dogs is next.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

May Fourth - Avengers Day!

Despite what the internet says, "Star Wars" was NOT released on May 4th. It was released on the 25th. So, no, today is NOT "Star Wars day." But "Avengers" came out last year on May 4th; and was the culmination of a franchise that's been around since 1963. So yeah, Happy Avengers Day! Go out and treat yourself to some schawarma and remember that Hulk beat the crap out of two gods for our sins.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Iron Man 3

So I was hanging out with my brother, watching "Game of Thrones" when we took off for our local movie theater, to pick up tickets for the midnight show and stop at McDonald's. We arrived at about 10:30 to find there was a show about to start. We bought our tickets and rushed inside in time for the "Thor" trailer, which is looking good. After sitting through the terrible looking "Lone Ranger" trailer that followed "Thor," the movie began.

I liked it better than "Iron Man 2" but not as much as "The Avengers," or the first "Iron Man." But it was great summer blockbuster fun, without ever talking down to its audience. The central focus in this film was where it belonged, on Tony Stark. Unlike "Iron Man 2" which acted as a launching pad for other movies, this was definitely Tony's movie.... which is a good thing when you have as compelling and strong a protagonist as Tony Stark.

What can I say about Robert Downey Jr's Tony Stark that I haven't said or others haven't said already? RDJ owns that role. He is Tony Stark. After three previous movies, he could easily phone it in and collect a paycheck, but doesn't. As of this moment, he hasn't signed on for anymore, but I hope he does. Tony Stark spent this movie dealing with post traumatic stress (I feel dirty calling it that, George Carlin was right... it should still be called shell shock) after the events "The Avengers" which is unique to a movie like this. It gave him another of his many personal crises to overcome without him having to learn previous lessons. While some people might complain that he doesn't spend enough time in the armor, I think the core truth of Tony Stark is that he is almost always more interesting out of the suit. That's the mark of a strong superhero character.

Gwyneth Paltrow really comes into her own as Pepper Potts in this one. Well done love interests in superhero movies are very rare - not even Christopher Nolan pulled it off with the Rachel Dawes character - but I always liked her the most in these Marvel movies. While at one point she does end up in a typical damsel in distress scenario, she also shares in the action this time around.

I didn't much like Don Cheedle as James Rhodes in "Iron Man 2" mostly because I didn't think he and RDJ had much chemistry together, and couldn't buy their friendship. This problem has been corrected in this installment. It helps that the two of them have a lot more screen time together.

Guy Pierce plays Aldrich Killian, a scientist who ends up becoming the founder of the Advanced Idea Mechanics (aka A.I.M.), and really seems to be having a good time on screen. He is, of course, connected to our movie's Big Bad....

The Mandarin, played by Sir Ben Kingsley. I've known this character for most of my life. Hell I knew him long before the Marvel Action Hour dyed his skin green and had him pal around with M.O.D.O.K., for me he was always Iron Man's greatest enemy. What did I think of this? As much as I love Sir Ben Kingsley, I was annoyed when his casting was announced.... I figured there were plenty of East Asian actors who could have pulled off the part of the Mandarin. Of course with China being a huge market, and a business partner on the production of this movie, I knew we weren't going to see the Chinese warlord wielding the ten rings of power who sought to dominate China. Considering the character's origins as a racial caricature, I knew there was no way. I enjoyed what we got. It was a very different and original take, but in the context of the movie, it works. Would I have liked to see a more faithful take? Sure. But I liked what we received.

Go see it.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Quentin Tarantino Month!

It's May 1st, and I thought I would kick off Quentin Tarantino Month in style. Let's take a look at the man himself. Tarantino was born in Knoxville, Tennessee and was moved by his mother to Torrance, California at the age of two where he would spend his developing years at the cinema. Dropping out of school at age fifteen, Quentin briefly pursued acting before taking a job as a clerk at a video rental store (look them up, they don't exist anymore) called Video Archives in Manhattan Beach where he lived and breathed movies.

While working at the video store and living on a friend's couch, Tarantino met Lawrence Bender at a party, and wrote his first screenplay titled "My Best Friend's Birthday" in 1987, sadly the final reel was destroyed in a lab fire during editing. He then went on to write "True Romance," which would end up being directed by Tony Scott; and "Reservoir Dogs" which made it to Harvey Keitel who read it, liked it, and his participation brought it a budget. "Reservoir Dogs" became a hit at the Sundance Film Festival in 1992, and the rest is history.

The moral of this story is if you're smart, clever, and have passion; there is no limit to where you can go if you work hard to get there, and make some good contacts along the way. Now, I definitely do not advocate dropping out of school, but it is definitely part of what makes Tarantino so appealing. He's the geek who made it, and someone I aspire to eventually become.

In the very near future, I'll be reviewing "True Romance." I'm sure you all can't wait. But for now, I'll leave you with this.