The Life & Times of an Auteur.

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

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The End of the Year


So here we are, 2013 came and went and while it might not have been the best year for this blog, it was, overall, a good year. After eight years, Season Two Volume Two of  "Gargoyles" finally came out, if you haven't bought it yet, go get it. I moved, I'm planning a new strategy to pursue my career and I am hopeful for a better 2014. I also learned that President Obama has the same taste in television that I do.

"Tarantino Month" which became "Tarantino Summer" which became "Tarantino Year" was a total bust because, well, I wasn't feeling it this year. Aside from the fact that I was very busy this year, busier than I've been in a long time, I just wasn't often in the mood to blog when I did have free time. I have no excuse, since I prefer to do the things I say I'm going to do, and for that I apologize. I could say that I plan to do more blogging this year than last, but I'm not sure if I'll have the time or the spark when I do have the time. But if I have something to say about a movie or a TV show, I'll post.

In the mean time, here's my year end review. Some of the grades may have changed since initial reviews (if there was an initial review) due to time and distance.

MOVIES

Berserk: Golden Age Arc II - Battle for Doldrey
- An enjoyable second adaptation of Kentaro Miura's manga. The animation is great, the direction is perfect. But that dance sequence near the end of the movie goes on for way too long and I feel that the time spent could have been used on better material. Grade: B

The Butler - A nice little movie whose heart was in the right place, but questionable casting and moments inappropriately played for laughs lead me to just writing it off as an entertaining and harmless diversion. Grade: B

The Hobbit The Desolation of Smaug - Overall, I loved the movie. I didn't love some of the studio forced "additions", and I felt the pacing was off, but those were hardly deal breakers. Grade: A-

Iron Man 3 - A fun movie but very controversial throughout comicdom, and for good reason. While the Mandarin was never my favorite, I think I would have enjoyed a traditional Mandarin more than what we got. Not that what we got was a bad movie. Grade: B

Man of Steel - Do I need to say more about this than I have already? Non-existent characterization, mixed with disaster porn that exploited 9/11 imagery in a manner so gaudy and classless, it was like watching the third Transformers movie again. I didn't think it was possible to make a Superman movie worse than "Superman Returns" but Snyder and Nolan showed us the way. Grade: F

Much Ado About Nothing - My favorite film of the year. Smart, witty, sexy, and a nice re-telling of William Shakespeare's classic comedy, and all in Joss Whedon's house. Grade: A+

Pain and Gain - It's Michael Bay, what did I expect? Honestly, I expected the worst movie of the year and I didn't quite get that. Still... Grade: F

Star Trek Into Darkness - A terrible movie made by a mediocre director, and the ultimate result of what happens when you bring someone into a franchise who admits to outright hating it. I like Benedict Cumberbatch as much as the next guy, but he was terrible in the role made famous by Ricardo Montalban. Laughably stupid (and not even funny), and the most unpleasant movie viewing experience of the year. Grade: F

Thor: The Dark World - A fun sequel, far from perfect, but a perfectly good time. Hemsworth and Hiddleston still own their roles. Grade: B

Twelve Years A Slave - This is going to be nominated for Best Picture. A brutal film based on a true story about a free man who was kidnapped and sold into slavery. I can't say I had a good time watching it, but I'm glad I did see it. Grade: A+

Zero Dark Thirty - This was my pick to win Best Picture last year. Not that "Argo" was a bad movie, but ZDT was better, and it really stays with you. The questions it raises, the depiction of our sins will haunt you for a long time. Grade: A+

TELEVISION


Agents of SHIELD - It fails on every level. The writing is hilariously bad, the acting is embarrassingly mediocre (I've seen better in softcore porn). The relationship between Ward and Skye makes Edward and Bella on "Twilight" look sophisticated by comparison. There are many shows I dislike, but few enter this level of loathing. It's down there with "Family Guy" for me. I hate to be that guy, but I am hoping for the swift cancellation of this failed experiment. This series is outright disgusting, the most unpleasant thing I've viewed in years. Grade: F

Avengers Assemble - I only watched the first part of the pilot, but my overall opinion has not changed. They killed a great "Avengers" cartoon to bring us this thing. The most I can give it is that it's not as bad as "Ultimate Spider-Man". Another TV series executive produced by Jeph Loeb that receives a Grade: F

Breaking Bad - A show that I resisted, but several people I respect recommended it to me, and after a month passed and the finale was still unspoiled, I binge-watched it and found a show that more than lived up to the hype, it exceeded it. Sometimes my opinion cools on things, but this still ranks as one of the greatest TV shows I have ever watched, if not the greatest. Grade: A+

Dexter
- The final season was a let down on every level. It started with potential and quickly squandered it. The final episode nearly saved it, but ultimately a decree from Showtime that the title character could not be killed off was the final stake in the heart. While I can be glad that we've had five great seasons, this season was terrible. Grade: F

Downton Abbey
- I just started watching the third season, and I'm enjoying this show immensely. Ensemble pieces are hard, especially with a cast this large. But it captures the time period perfectly, with a focus on several well rounded and very likable characters. Grade: A+

Dr. Who - I'm limping my way through this, I just finished the Christopher Eccleston season, and started David Tenant's. While I am enjoying it, and I can definitely see why people like it, I can't say I understand the pandemonium in the nerd community for it. Sometimes it gets too hokey for me, but there have been some great episodes so far, and I'm willing to stick it out and find out what draws people in. So, the only honest grade I can give it at the moment is Grade: Incomplete

Game of Thrones - Another show I resisted, and another show I fell in love with. This is great TV, and the best genre show I have seen in ages. The critics love it, and for good reason. Like "The Lord of the Rings", "Game of Thrones" is a truly transcendent experience. Spectacularly intelligent, never talking down to the audience. I can't wait to see what comes next. Grade: A+

How I Met Your Mother
- I have not watched a network television sitcom since "Frasier" ended. HIMYM is a lot of fun, the writing is sharp. The characters are quirky and likable. I watched it all on Netflix over the course of a month and I now watch the final season as it airs. It entertains me, I usually laugh a few times per episode, and I look forward to seeing how it ends. Grade: A

The Legend of Korra
- I've written at length about this show, so I'll be brief. Horrible beginning, meh middle and a horrible end. One of the worst animated series that I have ever watched.  Grade: F

Supernatural
- A fun diversion that is carried by a great cast, and a production team who are all clearly having a good time. It does way more than "Agents of SHIELD" does with a fraction of the budget. But it has a lot of heart and soul. Proof that network dramas aren't beyond saving. While the earlier seasons are better than the latter seasons (and season seven was a turd), I continue to enjoy it. Grade: A-

The Venture Bros
- This show is always a treat. We might have to wait a long time between seasons, but what we get is one of the most well written and consistently funny animated shows of all time. "Batman", "Gargoyles" and "Venture Bros" are the trifecta, and this season did not disappoint. Can't wait to see what happens next. Grade: A+

Young Justice: Invasion
- Probably the best DC animated series since "Batman: The Animated Series", and another show that was taken from us way too soon. While I thought the series often had trouble balancing its very large cast, I still enjoyed it greatly and miss it. While not as strong as "Gargoyles" or "The Spectacular Spider-Man", it was still a top notch show. Grade: A-

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Desolation of Smaug


I saw "The Desolation of Smaug" tonight and I am still processing this. I liked it. I liked a lot. I wish I could say I loved it, but I didn't. If I'm completely honest, all of Peter Jackson's Middle Earth movies had some dumb moments and elements in them. But they never annoyed me to the extent that two unfortunate pieces do in this film. Let's get these out of the way first.

I thought this movie had some really bad pacing issues. A lot of people complained that the first movie was very slow, that it took over an hour for things to start happening. Too many quiet moments. This movie took the opposite extreme, the action was almost non-stop. There were very few moments to breathe. While most of the action scenes were awesome, Peter Jackson didn't quite know where to stop in places, and what was awesome crossed over into excessive at times... granted, it became awesome again at various points, but sometimes you can have too much of a good thing. The barrel chase went on for too long, and so did the confrontation with Smaug at the film's climax which I would have been more than okay with if that barrel scene didn't go on for too long.... because the battle against Smaug was really cool.

My second big complaint was Tauriel. Okay, I am not opposed to inserting a new character, adaptations do this sort of thing all the time. Someone needs to be leading the wood elves who capture the dwarves. Want her to be a badass female elf warrior? Cool. Go for it. But where the character lost me was when they made her not only Legolas' love interest, but Kili's love interest, too. I can buy into Kili thinking she's hot, but I don't understand what attracted her to him like that so quickly... I don't understand what motivated this character period. As my friend Jennifer says, Tolkien's books tend to be sausage-fests, so I get why she was introduced, but... and once again, we come to the issues of excess... they didn't need to go so all out with her like they did. I get the feeling this is what they wanted to do with Arwen in the "Lord of the Rings" before they realized it was a bad idea.

EDIT: It has been brought to my attention that the love triangle wasn't in the script, and wasn't filmed when they did principle photography. Evangeline Lilly was part of a love triangle when she did "Lost" and didn't want to do another one, and made Peter Jackson promise there wouldn't be one, to which Jackson agreed. Then when they did the 2012 pickups, she was greeted with "Uh, the studio would really like to see...", and this is why bean counters should not dictate cinematic content.

Now that all of this is out of the way, let's talk about the rest because there is so much to like.

Smaug had a lot to live up to; I've been wanting to see him on the silver screen ever since I was a young child, and I was more than satisfied. Smaug was perfect. His design was perfect, I dare say that he is the finest computer-generated creature I have ever seen (okay, the bit where he was briefly covered in molten gold looked unfinished, but that's nitpicking). Benedict Cumberbatch's voice was perfect, and as I understand it, he did some motion capture for the dragon... I look forward to the Behind-the-Scenes features on the next Extended Edition Blu-ray to see how they brought Smaug to life. Smaug was a delicious villain, and while he doesn't get slain yet in this movie, I admit I am not all that disappointed because it means I have more of Smaug to look forward to.

Gandalf's straight out of the appendices subplot has been off-putting to some, but I enjoyed his investigation of the Necromancer of Dol Guldur (no, folks; Jackson did not make this part up). We see once again why he is such a powerful wizard, as he takes on a small army of orcs alone... but even he is no match for the Necromancer, and while I can't think of any non-book reader who didn't see it coming at this point, the reveal of the Necromancer's identity when Gandalf confronts him was really, really cool.

As usual, Martin Freeman's Bilbo Baggins is great. Richard Armitage's Thorin is great, and it's nice to get to know some more of the dwarves... Bombur gets a crowd pleasing badass moment during the barrel chase. And, as we all know, Sir McKellan just is Gandalf. Stephen Fry was acceptably slimy as the Master of Laketown. And while I liked Luke Evans as Bard, I couldn't help but think he looked like Legolas with a beard.

Don't take my first three paragraphs as a slam against the movie, I really enjoyed it, and I will recommend it. I just think it was flawed, but I hope the Extended Edition will help out with those pacing issues by inserting some quieter scenes back into the movie... I did enjoy the Extended Edition of the first film, I should mention. Was it the best movie I've seen this year? No. Did I enjoy it more than the comic book movies I've seen this year? Hell yes. Overall, I think "Much Ado About Nothing" and "Twelve Years A Slave" are the only ones I enjoyed more. Tauriel sucked, but I liked everybody else. That cliffhanger was just evil, and I wish I didn't have to wait a year to see the next installment.

Oh, and look for Stephen Colbert's cameo in Laketown while you're at it!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Rain of the Ghosts


I wish I could say that I pre-ordered this book from amazon.com, but I didn't. And for that I'm sorry, I'm really, really sorry. But I'm flat broke these days. But I had every intention of buying it anyway, and when I saw it put out on the shelf a day early in my local Barnes & Noble, I snatched it up fast and ran to the register. I read the first half of it last night, stopping at about 4am, and then just finished it about an hour ago.

"Rain of the Ghosts" is a fun romp through the Prospero Keys, a fictional chain of islands located near the Bermuda Triangle. The book serves as a two-hundred page introduction to what becomes a well thought-out world populated with a large cast of characters (each with their own distinctive voices). I also counted at least six heavy references to Shakespeare's works, particularly "The Tempest". In other words, it feels very much like a pilot to a Greg Weisman-helmed animated series; and I mean that as a positive. But while Gargoyles' "Awakening" could function as a nice stand-alone movie, "Rain of the Ghosts" operates more like Spectacular Spider-Man's "Survival of the Fittest" or Young Justice's "Independence Day": the immediate situation has been dealt with, but more questions are presented which will lead us into the second book, "Spirits of Ash and Foam" and hopefully beyond.

Rain Cacique serves as a strong protagonist. She's smart, tough, sarcastic, but still vulnerable and still a thirteen-year-old girl. Her best friend, Charlie, is someone I think every one will easily be able to relate to... yep, I felt that way at thirteen. Rain's grandfather, 'Bastian, is the grandfather you wish you had... very wonderfully human. Other characters pop up, many of whom while not important to this first novel will doubtless be developed later, as this is the first in a nine book series... already some are intriguing mysteries. I especially look forward to learning more about the villains in this series we've only gotten the barest glimpses of; Weisman's villains are always delicious.

The third person narration took a little bit of time for me to get used to, mostly because I kept on wondering just who was chronicling this for us; and at the same time,the point of views often change between paragraphs so we can get into the heads of other characters where appropriate. As with his TV shows, Weisman doesn't talk down to his reader and trusts them enough to trust him, leading to a neat reveal.

I had fun reading it, and it left me with a need to begin the second novel. Can't ask for more than that.