The Life & Times of an Auteur.

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

Monday, December 29, 2014

Sitcom Nostalgia

"Love...hate...we're a family, so what's the difference?"

I will never understand nostalgia for tripe like "Boy Meets World". I will never understand nostalgia for crap like "Full House". I will never understand nostalgia for a turd like "Saved By the Bell". Tell me you love Steve Urkel, and I will have murder fantasies about you. I have no fond memories of the TGIF line-up, or any other overly sentimental, corny bullshit that was being passed off as a situation comedy. Not one. You see, I was raised on comedy of a different kind, "Married... With Children" was my comedy. And, I know different strokes for different folks (Hey, "Diff'rent Strokes" was another awful show, but the Very Special Episodes are ironically hilarious), but... no, this show was objectively better. You can disagree, but you are wrong.

From what little I can remember about discovering this show, I had my TV on after I went to bed, and it just came back. My very first episode was one where a Peeping Tom was in the neighborhood and had peeped every woman except for Peggy, who was upset that she wasn't being spied on. So, after much whining, Al pretended to be the peeper which resulted in him getting his ass kicked for one of his few good deeds. Peggy got peeped by the real peeper and regained her self-confidence. It's even more messed up than it sounds. But, for me at the time, it was different and I loved it. I became a loyal fan, and doing research on when this episode aired, I had just turned eight.

So when I received the complete series on DVD for Christmas, I was ecstatic and I've already re-watched the first four seasons. When this show was pitched to Fox, it was titled "Not the Cosbys" as it was very much the anti-Cosby Show. Now, nearly twenty-eight years later, Ed O'Neill has a reputation as being a good, decent family man. And Bill Cosby, well.... yup.

I should not take for granted that everybody knows the premise so here it is. Ed O'Neill plays Al Bundy, a former jock who peaked when he played High School football (did you know he scored four touchdowns in one game? He'll never let you forget it), and now works a dead-end job selling women's shoes. His wife, Peggy (played by Katey Sagal), is a stay-at-home layabout who never leaves the comfort of her couch. Their daughter, Kelly (Christina Applegate) is the iconic dumb, troublemaking, easy, dullard blonde. Then there's the smart one, Bud Bundy, a creepy stalker pervert who is as lecherous as they come... played by David Faustino and yet still a much better human being than that piece of shit, Mako, on "Legend of Korra." And then there's the Bundy dog, Buck. Buck is everything he should be.

Then there are they neighbors. Marcy played by Amanda Bearse, a career woman at a local bank who is Al's sitcom arch-nemesis and yet has more in common with him than either would ever admit... while she seems like a straw-man feminist a lot, there are no good guys on this show, and Al is never portrayed as being moral or right in the face of her, either. Then there was her first husband, Steve Rhoades played by David Garrison. Like Marcy, he was a greedy, materialistic, successful banker... but that changed, as he slowly became more and more like Peggy. He was a great foil for Al, while actually developing as a character. But David Garrison left the show in season four and was replaced in season five by Ted McGinley as Jefferson D'Arcy. Did the show jump the shark then? Well, no. But I won't lie, I thought Steve was the better character. It was around this time the show became more of a live-action cartoon. It was still hilarious, but it wasn't quite the same. This isn't a complaint, though.

The great thing about Al Bundy as the lead was I sympathized with him while utterly disagreeing with many of his social views. I disagree with his viewpoint on everything, and I tend to agree with Marcy as I consider myself a feminist, and yet both are assholes. I think it helps that the show doesn't try to make Al some macho he-man hero, even if that's how he sees himself. We're meant to sympathize with him because of his situation, even if some of his views are backwards. In that, I think he is a very three-dimensional character. It's a hard balance, but the producers, writers, and Ed O'Neill did it.

This was the show that put the Fox network on the map before "The Simpsons" came along. It was black humor, it was raunchy, and it was hilarious. But it didn't become a ratings winner until it's third season when anti-obscenity activist, Republican activist, member of the Romney Clan, and all around imbecile, Terry Rakolta launched a boycott of the show that garnered nationwide attention. With that attention came higher ratings, and renewals, and success. The producers of "Married... With Children" would, for many years hence, send Terry Rakolta a gift basket around Christmas time thanking her for their success.

The show still holds up surprisingly well, and while the debut season is different (they were still finding the characters), it's never not funny. And debut seasons are usually hard. Even "Seinfeld"'s debut season was rocky, and looking at the first season of "The Simpsons", I am surprised it received a second.

It not only pushed the envelope, it often incinerated it. Like "All In the Family" before it and "South Park" after it, it was getting away with murder while often being the most cleverly written comedy on the air. It remains a favorite of mine, and well... unlike your nostalgia for that TGIF bullshit, "Married... With Children" was actually funny, then and now.

"Your mom’s the one who makes the pies for everyone in the neighborhood except those nice Bundys. Okay, Santa will leave you a pony under your tree. But if it isn’t there in the morning, that means your mommy chased it away and killed it."

Saturday, December 27, 2014

End of the Year Grading

Now, it's my annual tradition, I write-up and grade the TV shows and movies I watched in 2014, be they new or if I experienced them for the first time. I really, really wanted to see "Rosewater", but the nearest theater screening it was ninety minutes away.

I also can't help but feel I'm forgetting a few things. Aw well, I'll edit them in if I remember.


The Amazing Spider-Man 2 - Okay, Amazing Spider-Man 1 wasn't perfect, but it was a nice step up after the horrid Spider-Man 3. Well, we're back to Spider-Man 3. A decent cast in a horrible movie. This was truly the Joel Schumacher of Spider-Man flicks. Grade: F

Being There - This was made in 1979, but I watched it for the first time this year. Very funny movie starring Peter Sellers as a simple-minded gardener named Chance who just so happens to say what is interpreted by over-analytically people as genius by chance. See it if you can. Grade: A

Captain America: The Winter Soldier - A huge step up after the fun first Captain America movie, and a real game changer for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Great action, perfect casting, and a topical message that doesn't feel heavy handed. Grade: A

Frozen - You know, the grade I was going to give it right after viewing it for the first time was much higher than the grade I'm going to give it now. A cute, but very flawed movie that produced the most annoying song in the world, and a behemoth of hype that's resulted in me never wanting to see or hear this thing ever again. Just go the fuck away! Grade: C-

Godzilla - No, just no. Grade: F

Gone Girl - David Fincher brings us another incredible, stylistic thriller. Ben Affleck turns in a great performance as the lead (can people please stop whining that he can't be Batman) in a story that is so twisted and wonderful. Grade: A+

Grey Gardens - Based on the life stories of the eccentric aunt and first cousin of Jackie Onassis (both named Edith Bouvier Beale aka "Big and Little Edie") raised as Park Avenue d├ębutantes but who withdrew from New York society, taking shelter at their Long Island summer home, "Grey Gardens." As their wealth and contact with the outside world dwindled, so did their grasp on reality. Grade: A

Guardians of the Galaxy - This shouldn't have worked. This shouldn't have been as awesome as it was. A fun, intergalactic adventure with a lot of heart. Firefly in the Marvel Universe. Grade: A.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies - Flawed but fun. I enjoyed it very much, even though some of the flaws such as the bad pacing and the awful love triangle got on my nerves. But what it got right was so beautiful. Grade: B+

The Interview - Many people will like this one because it is stupid, ignorant, bad, and the whole derpy marketing for the 'Murica fuck yeah mentality. It's the perfect movie for idiots. Grade: F

The Lego Movie - I had fun with this one. I will admit, it was hyped up a little too much, so I wasn't blown away by it. But I enjoyed it. Grade: B+

X-Men: Days of Future Past - You know, I liked the movie a lot when I was watching it. When I think back on it, I still liked it a lot. But it's also a movie that, for some reason, I often forget exists. I don't know why. It's easily one of the best X-Men flicks (but the competition isn't that steep). I'd like to say it was because of lowered expectations, but I legitimately liked this movie. So why was it so unmemorable? Fassbender and McKellan were great. So were Stewart and McAvoy. So was J-Law. So was Dinklage. But, I'll probably forget I saw it again in a week. Grade: B


Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. - As I've said before, maybe it's not the worst TV series ever made but it's easily the worst TV series I have ever seen. Disgusting and repulsive. Grade: F-

Arrow - I wish I didn't come to this show so late. I've only seen the first two seasons, but I liked season one and loved season two. Grade: A

Fate/Zero - My brother introduced me to this anime. So far, so good. A mediocre dub, but beautiful animation and a great concept. So far, Grade: B+

Game of Thrones - Yeah, this was a particularly controversial season, particularly the fact that they accidentally shot a rape scene. Whoops. But, aside from that the writing and acting has been as sharp as ever, and the game keeps changing. I look forward to seeing what happens from here. Grade: A

House of Cards - Kevin Spacey plays the most sociopathic, scheming politician ever... or Kevin Spacey plays a politician. Great acting, direction, sharp writing. Grade: A

How I Met Your Mother - I have to say I agree with the critics, this last season... particularly that final episode was blech. I understand what they were going for, but as much as I like the show, I really did NOT like Ted Mosby. So, Grade: D

Supernatural - It's ten seasons in and while the show isn't in its golden age anymore, it's not become even close to unwatchable either. The Demonic Dean plot didn't go as I would have liked, but that 200th episode was beautiful, and the characters are still fun to watch and the cast so charismatic. Grade: B

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies

I saw this the other day, and rather than write my review right away, I decided to sit on it and see how I felt about it later. I liked it when I walked out, and I still like it today. I thought it was a big step up from the deeply flawed "The Desolation of Smaug". But was it perfect? Well, no. But that's what a review is for.

This movie still felt very bloated, because it was. But that bloat felt more justified than the last one. While there was still way too much, it didn't annoy me this time. It felt that the story itself was much tighter than the previous installment.

I don't like the love triangle between Legolas, Tauriel, and Kili, and I never will. I have no problem with Tauriel in and of herself. I think Evangeline Lilly does a great job playing her, so much so that when Kili died and Tauriel grieved over him, admitted that she loved him... I felt for her. And this was over a subplot that I hated, and I still felt for her. I'd still have much happier without the love triangle, but damn... well done, Ms. Lilly. That's the mark of a great actor. Well done.

The return of nuclear Galadriel kind of annoyed me, but I never liked that sequence in "Fellowship of the Ring". It was glaring, and it came out of no where. But, when I look at this and I think that future generations will be watching this in chronological order, suddenly that initial scene has more of a foundation, which benefits it. I'd still rather have not had either, but aside from Galadriel turning blue again, I liked the scene.

Finally, I thought the opening scene where Bard slayed Smaug was a great ending for "The Desolation of Smaug", but a poor opening for "The Battle of Five Armies". I think that scene should have been at the end of the previous installment. Hell, I'll go as far as to say that if Smaug perished at the end of the last movie, more people would have walked out of that movie satisfied. But I'm glad we got the scene, I used to joke that we'd have to wait til the Extended Edition of "Battle", to which I was told to shut up and not joke about that. But yes, moving that sequence to the beginning of this movie is a choice that I don't understand.

What did I like? Just about everything else.

The sequence at Dol Guldur where the White Council rescued Gandalf and faced Sauron and the Nine was something I've wanted to see when I read "The Quest For Erebor" in the appendices of "The Lord of the Rings" oh so many years ago. These beings on a higher plain dueling. I loved Sauron's design, and how powerful he was despite being unable to take on physical form. One more reason why I loved it? Because finally, finally, there's a response to the question "why not take the eagles to Mordor with the Ring?" Sauron would have spotted them and easily, EASILY, taken it back. The quest or Mount Doom had to be stealth. Also, Galadriel addressed Sauron as "Servant of Morgoth". That made me happy.

Thorin's descent was a little bit over the top, but melodrama has always been a part of these movies, and Richard Armitage sold it. His Thorin was perfect. This was the character I've known since I was five. His death scene and final words with Bilbo were perfect, as was his rage when he learned that Bilbo gave Bard the Arkenstone. This is a classic story of a fall and redemption. I also enjoyed his final battle with Azog the Defiler.

Martin Freeman's Bilbo shined more, this was as much his story as Thorin's. I was excited when I heard Freeman was cast, and my excitement was rewarded. Especially at the end when asked who Thorin Oakenshield was to him, and all he had to say was "he was my friend." Yeah. Powerful words, a powerful performance.

There was so much in here that I enjoyed. Yes, the battle itself went on for maybe too long, but I enjoyed watching it. I enjoyed the politics of it all, I... well, I suppose I should go on about my overall feelings for these movies even though they are mostly over (not until the Extended Edition comes out!). Are these as good as "The Lord of the Rings" movies? Not even close. Are they comparable to the "Star Wars" prequels, again, not even close! They are much, much, much better than the prequels. These are good, fun movies whose biggest crimes are being no where near as good as their predecessors, and being way too bloated. But, you know what, "The Hobbit" as a book is also no where near as good as "The Lord of the Rings" as a book. Hell, when Tolkien wrote "The Hobbit", it wasn't even linked to the mythology he was creating. He didn't know until he had written the sequel. Would things have been different if "The Hobbit" was made first? Probably. Should it have been three movies? Probably not. But, in spite of all I wrote above about it being bloated, I still can't wait for the Extended Edition, because Middle Earth, both in the books and on screen is a place I love to spend my time in. The more time the better.

Thank you, Peter Jackson. Thank you for one more trip into Middle Earth. I suppose I'll have to come visit New Zealand for more.

A Legendary Finale!

That was beautiful! I laughed, I cried... it was an incredible run for an incredible TV show. We'll never see the likes of this again. Sure, there will be imitators, but it will never be duplicated. You can make an argument that it was the best show of its kind. Will those involved be moving on to greener pastures? Time will tell, but how do you ever top that? And....

Oh crap. I used a screenshot for the wrong show.

Let's try this again, shall we?

That was beautiful! I laughed, I cried... it was an incredible run for an incredible TV show. We'll never see the likes of this again. Sure, there will be imitators, but it will never be duplicated. You can make an argument that it was the best show of its kind.

I remember the premiere of "The Colbert Report" like it was yesterday. I had just moved to Winter Park, Florida, to attend school at Full Sail University. I was already a die hard fanatic of "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" with Stephen Colbert being my favorite of the correspondents. I also remember wondering if this spin-off would work. Spoiler Alert, the spin-off did pretty well. I tuned into the "Report" every night for nine years, and I never missed an episode. And if I did miss an episode, I always made sure to catch what I missed at "The Colbert Nation", where the entire run of the TV show is archived. Hopefully permanently.

I met Stephen Colbert for the first and only time at New York Comic Con, in 2007 where he was doing a signing promoting the Tek Jansen comic book. We chatted for a minute and then I shook his hand. Behind me on line was legendary comic book author, Peter David, who wanted to show Stephen his cameo in an issue of "Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man" that he had written. This was well before Stephen ran for president in the Marvel Universe. But I've seen him twice since then, again when I attended a taping of his show, where his guest was Elliot Spitzer making his first guest appearance since his resignation as governor of New York. The evening ended with Stephen tossing a few Wrist Strong bracelets into the audience; my friend, Nick, caught one and was kind enough to give it to me. I wore it all day yesterday. The last time I saw him was when my entire family attended a taping of "The Daily Show" and we were lucky enough to be present for this magical moment. The entire chase scene can be seen here.

Stephen's entire farewell tour was bittersweet to me. Sweet because he was on his A-game, and it was hilarious. Bitter because I knew the end was near. When he not only made peace with the bears, but admitted that he had been wrong about them all these years, I knew it was truly over. But we had awesome moments, especially over the past two weeks. First was President Obama removing Stephen from his desk and delivering The Word himself; and when I wondered how that could possibly be topped, boom, in comes Smaug! And that's just the tip of the iceberg of nine years of magic.

Last night's show, I won't lie, I teared up a little. But it didn't go where I thought it would. His final guest was ominously announced as being Grimmy, who had already made not one, but two hilariously creepy cameos that felt like they were setting up the death of Stephen Colbert, at least as we know him. But no, Stephen Colbert is immortal because, while little has changed since he went on the air, the work he did will always be remembered. Raising millions of dollars for charity, his work to not only entertain but educate... he did more to show the American people what a SuperPAC actually was and why they are not a good thing than any of the major news networks. And then there was that time he got directly into the face of power and spoke truth. Okay, he did that way more than once, but we all know which one put him on the map. Despite his character being a "well-intentioned, poorly informed, high-status idiot", the real Stephen Colbert often shined through, with his charity work, everything he did for our veterans, and his desire to inspire us to all be better toward our fellow man. He is a deeply religious man who teaches Sunday School, and his Sunday School students, well, I hope they know how lucky they are. When the real man shines through, we see a man who is being Christ-like and not just Christian.

Oh yes, he often did have harsh words for those who purposely set out to harm others, as seen above and below.

I think, at the end of it all, the real lesson is exactly what Alex Trebek said: 

“All of life’s important answers must be in the form of a question.”

That's the lesson. That's what Stephen has been trying to do for all of us these last nine years. The world is a complicated place, nothing is black and white. There isn't one singular right. There are no easy answers, and don't accept them: not from the media, not from the government, not from big mega-corporations. Don't just follow your gut instinct, educate yourself, make an informed choice, and know that your informed choice might not be someone else's.

I'm going to miss "The Colbert Report" desperately. I want to say the television landscape will not be as bright a place without it, but it wouldn't be as bright a place if it never were. Good night, Stephen. I hope when you got home last night, the first thing you said to your wife was "well, I'm back."

That was fun.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

On writing villains

"As for villains, I look for connections to the heroes, something that in essence makes the villain a dark mirror of the hero. If Batman is order than Joker is chaos. If Superman is strength, Lex Luthor is intellect. So I’m always looking for what it is that connects the villain and the hero; it doesn’t have to be a history, although obviously a backstory that connects them like Demona and Goliath is fantastic. It doesn’t have to be history but it has to be some, even metaphorical connection that makes the villain a good opponent.

Then the thing about characters, particularly Xanatos or Vandal Savage, Queen Bee definitely, and Demona; one of the things that I got tired of was stupid villains.I’m tired of villains who literally think “I’m the villain”, no one thinks that. Hitler didn’t think he was the villain, he never thought that for a second. He really was, but he never thought that so I don’t like that.

But I also don’t like, I’m tired of, it’s not like there aren’t dumb bad guys out there, there are plenty of them in real life. But I was tired of, from a fictional standpoint, of villains who in essence defeated themselves. Or when villains teamed up, one of the things that Brandon and I talked about at the very beginning of “Young Justice” is, we didn’t want bad guys to be defeated because they were infighting. We didn’t want a secret society of supervillains who, in essence, sabotaged themselves so all the heroes had to do was survive for twenty minutes because in the last three minutes you knew those villains were going to betray each other or get pissed off at each other and blow it. So one of the things we decided about the Light right off the bat was that Vandal, Ra’s al Ghul, Lex Luthor, Queen Bee, Ocean Master, Klarion, and Brain, that they got along. They each had their own individual goals but they had a common interest that was important enough to them that they would make allowances for their different points of view on certain issues but they would pull together as a coherent and cohesive unit to further their larger goals.

And the other thing that sort of bugs me about villains is I’m tired of petty villains. I don’t mind it so much if it’s a minor villain, like someone who’s working for the big bad guy, but the big bad guy who’s got his eye on the big picture, that notion of that guy who, when a flunky screws up he pushes him off a cliff, I’m so tired of that because what a waste of the resource. So one of the things we did, definitely with Vandal Savage, but this goes back to Xanatos more than Demona because Demona really did want to kill everybody, but one of the things about Xanatos was that he wasn’t wasteful. I was tired of wasteful villains so from Xanatos’s point of view, he didn’t set out to kill the gargoyles unless they were literally in his way for some specific goal of his, but in general he had no interest in revenge, he’s got a line where he says “revenge is a sucker’s game.” He had no interest in any of that because the gargoyles might prove useful later. And that was the same attitude that we had Vandal Savage take towards the team. People kept asking me “well if Vandal Savage knows Superman and Batman’s secret identities, why isn’t he just killing them?” Why would he want to? Look what he’s accomplished with them around. Look how he’s used them. He doesn’t need to kill the team, he doesn’t need to do that. He needs to thwart them in one manner or another, but killing them is a waste of a resource because from Vandal’s point of view, from David Xanatos’s point of view, everything is a resource. If you’re that smart, and your goals are that large, everything is a resource and you don’t waste it unless you absolutely need to."
- Greg Weisman

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Gone Girl

I would like to begin this post by saying that I struggled trying to figure out how to review this movie. I struggled with this for almost a week. It's fantastic. It's almost as if David Fincher asked what kind of movie Alfred Hitchcock would have made were he alive today, because that's exactly what's on screen. But, to properly review this movie without spoiling anything is all but impossible. So, I'll skip over the plot.

First off, Rosamund Pike is unbelievably amazing in the role of Amy Dunne, the wife of Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck). Her character is complicated in a film full of complicated people. But she was mesmerizing. You can see why Affleck's character fell in love with this "cool girl". And you will wonder why anybody would ever want to hurt her, let alone kill her.

Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne is amazing, but I've always been a fan of Affleck. So, rather than spoil the movie, I will talk about how we are in the midst of an Affleck resurgence. I'll even go farther and say this: he's perfect for Batman. Come on guys, "Daredevil" was eleven years ago, and even that wasn't his fault. He's a brilliant man. "The Town" was terrific, "Argo" was terrific, "Gone Girl" was amazing, and he'll be a great Batman (whether the movie will be good or not, the jury's still definitely out, but even if it's not, it won't be Affleck's fault). I've never seen Affleck play a role like this, detached, middle-aged husband in a marriage that's going through problems. It's so much more down to Earth than what we're used to seeing and yet, more fantastical at the same time. I've been a fan of Affleck since "Chasing Amy", "Good Will Hunting", and "Dogma". He is a splendid actor. Stop giving him crap because of "Daredevil" and his short relationship with Jennifer Lopez.

Even Tyler Perry was a revelation. When I first heard he was cast in this, when I was told he was GOOD in this, I was surprised. But his character is magnetic, and features some of the best lines in the movie. Likewise, Neil Patrick Harris is a lot of creepy fun in this movie. But if there is a true villain of this movie, it's the media. The Nancy Grace expy was so on point, it was terrifying... doing what Nancy Grace does, and what the media always does, sensationalize and terrify (take a look at the current ebola scare to see it playing out in real life once again).

"Who did it" movies are nothing new, but "Gone Girl" is a fresh, Hitchcockian approach to a very old concept. It's worth seeing, it was the best movie I've seen all year, and I recommend it. You will be surprised, your sympathies will transfer more than once, and you will fine yourself transfixed by a movie that depict marriage itself as scarier than any monster, serial killer, or supervillain you'll come across in the movie being played one theater over.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Animated Shudderings

Now it's time for a Hall of Shame. I'm disqualifying schlock like "Family Guy" because it's for an entirely different audience... and, quite frankly, it means nothing to me at all. My picks might not be technically the worst like "Gilligan's Planet", or  "The Punky Brewster" cartoon. But these are the five that personally make my skin crawl.

5. The Legend of Korra

What happened? This show had everything going for it. An astronomical budget, beautiful animation, and more good will than any series before it. But the most beautiful animation in the world, and well choreographed fight scenes don't mean a thing if I don't care about the people involved or why they're fighting.

The four leads are Korra, Mako, Bolin, and Asami. The latter three fail the Red Letter Media Character test that I mentioned in a previous post. I want to defend Asami and I find myself unable to, even though I kind of like her in spite of that. Bolin's only character trait is that he's stupid; but he's so stupid that I find myself having to suspend an ungodly amount of disbelief anytime he is shown to be capable of walking erect, feeding himself, and human speech. And as for Mako, I have never seen such a creator's pet be such a contemptible character outside of Chloe Bennet's character in "Special Snowflake and The Shit Squad". Take any villain from "Avatar: The Last Airbender" from Azula to Zhao to Fire Lord Ozai to Hama to the captain who murdered Katara's mother and all of them are still better human beings than Mako... and yet the narrative keeps rewarding him.

Okay, I enjoyed most of the first season, although I hated anything having to do with Mako, Bolin, and pro-bending. I enjoyed Amon, Tarlokk and the Equalist story. But I hated how the season ended, and I do not find it the slightest bit believable that the Equalists would disband just because Amon was revealed to be a waterbender... this was an organization that could not have come to exist if non-benders weren't being oppressed (because they were). But hey, their leader is a bender, a non-bender is elected president of the Republic and prejudice is over... just like how racism ended when Barack Obama was elected president. Yay?

The second season murdered the show for me. Flat out murdered it. Even the material I talked myself into liking just did not stand up under scrutiny. The original Iroh is brought back in an awful case of fan service, because the new cast is awful. It was desperate. And Unalaq was one of the worst villains I have ever seen in anything. He was so obviously evil even before the reveal, that this music could have been playing when he was around and it wouldn't have been less subtle. And when he said the words "Dark Avatar", I burst out laughing... it was an angry laugh because I could not believe this thing got past the idea stages, let alone the editing stages. It was like an awful fanfic.

Even the fan favorite "Beginnings", while beautiful to look at had... issues. I hated the reveal of Vaatu and Raava's existence. Hated it. What is the Avatar about? Balance. Not order. Balance. Both of these spirits should have been a part of the Avatar. And with that, I'm going to present what my idea would have been were I on the production team as a Story Editor.

1. Season one can run as is, but Korra doesn't regain her bending via the deus ex machina at the end.

2. Season two hits, Korra is on a spiritual journey to restore her bending when she is offered a shortcut. Maybe Unalaq is behind it, maybe not. But Korra jumps at this short cut, but her own spiritual balance is thrown off. We learn the origin of Wan, the first Avatar. We learn that both Raava and Vaatu exist within the Avatar, and the consequences of Korra making this bad choice cause Vaatu to drown out Raava within Korra, and Korra in essence becomes the Big Bad of the season herself, maybe Vaatu takes full control... the world is suffering from the destruction she is wreaking on civilization. And, it's a very spiritual and very internal battle, but Korra needs to really learn how to be spiritual so she can restore the balance within herself and save the world from herself. Which leads to...

3. Season three, the Red Lotus' plans to destroy the Avatar are a direct consequence of what happened in season two.

You see? The story builds on itself. The things that came before matter. It wouldn't solve all the problems. The biggest problems are still with the characters themselves. Develop their relationships. Make Bolin naive, not a complete asshole moron... I mean, Broadway on "Gargoyles" was illiterate, but he was never this stupid. Sokka was comic relief, and he had a lot of growing up to do, but he wasn't a moron. Develop Asami beyond her relationships with other people. And Mako, I don't know, but just about anything would be better.

It could have been so much better, it should have been so much better. But it was one gigantic pile of waste. I despise wasted potential. Especially when it was the sequel to one of the greatest TV shows of all time.

4. Captain Planet and the Planeteers

I almost feel bad for tossing this one on here, because it's such an obvious choice and while its heart was in the right place, it was handled in such a manipulative, heavy-handed, cretinous way that it deserves every bit of bile it has ever received. What can I say about this show that hasn't been said already?

3. The Goliath Chronicles

You all know about this one, I'll just link to this, because I can't think of anything else I can say that I haven't already.

2. Ultimate Spider-Man

This TV series is a mockery. It's made by untalented individuals under their overlord, Jeph Loeb (sound familiar) who have openly admitted that they are talking down to their audience. Don't believe me?

Man of Action lied. "Spectacular Spider-Man" did very well with the target demographic. The six to eleven crowd latched onto it, and that show was on a weaker network without the corporate support "Ultimate" is currently enjoying.

The Spider-Man they present is one who never learns. With great power comes great responsibility? Fuck that shit, I'll do what I want! It is so offensively stupid, and it has no right to be. But what offends me the most is the dumbing down to spoon feed it to an audience that is more sophisticated than they give it credit for. By not trying to challenge the target audience at all, by willfully spoon-feeding them this schlock, they are committing an atrocity, a crime against humanity...

Thank you, Man of Action. If I believed in Hell, I would be comfortable knowing that there is a special circle in Hell just for people like you. Congratulations on assisting in the downfall of human civilization.

1. King Arthur and the Knights of Justice

This is one of those shows that popped up in the very early 90's, around the time the 80's was fading, but before the great material really arrived. "King Arthur and the Knights of Justice" was about a college football team called the Knights who are brought back in time by Merlin to pose as the the Knights of the Round Table with their quarterback, Arthur King, posing as His Majesty. The real Arthur and his real knights were imprisoned by Morgana and her army of stone warlords led by Lord Viper were running amok in Camelot.

Okay, I know that sounds like standard stupidity, so what was so offensive about it? What places it in the #1 spot? The heroic Arthur King was raping Queen Guinevere. Yes, in the pilot, the queen is abducted by Morgana's minions, and Merlin tempts Arthur and his friends into staying by pretty much offering Guinevere to him on a platter. Guinevere believes this man is her husband, and I will never believe he's not playing the part in the bedroom... at no point does she ever get a clue that this isn't her husband and these aren't the knights. So, I'm going to assume Arthur's best friend, Lance, was playing his part as well. In fact, the pilot ends with Merlin bringing a large group of court ladies into the Round Table chamber and offering them to the knights like sheep are tossed to lions.

Now, if you read the Arthurian Legends, you'd realize this is not at all out of character for Merlin to do. It's basically how King Arthur was conceived in the first place. But to portray it on a TV show without a hint of self-awareness is pretty disgusting. Don't believe me? Take a look for yourself...

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Deep Space Nine

So, for the past few weeks I've been watching "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" on Netflix. A show I swore off almost twenty years ago due to a little controversy with another science fiction TV show set on a space station that aired at the same time. I apologize for starting my review off with this, but I can't properly review and discuss my experience with DS9 and what I took away from this watch without discussing this... it's part of my experience.

J. Michael Straczynski spent five years developing a TV show called "Babylon 5", he pitched it all over town. Paramount nearly bought it before deciding that a series set on a space-station couldn't work. After JMS successfully pitched B5 to Warner Bros and they announced it in Variety, a few weeks later, Paramount announced DS9, and there were a ton of dirty tactics and games played with the independent networks of the time to keep B5 off... but that's the nature of the business. JMS himself was always convinced the Paramount executives were shady, while always defending Rick Berman and Michael Piller as honorable men and genius writers. But after meeting JMS and conversing with him privately, he urged me not to boycott "Deep Space Nine" on his account. Yeah, studio executives suck, we've all known this for years. Did anything shady happen? Who the hell knows. Yes, the two shows sometimes had some very eerie similarities (and this went both ways), but both did things very differently. So, after nearly two decades, I decided that whatever happened or didn't happen, both shows were out there, both told their stories. It was time to judge "Deep Space Nine" on its own merits, because at the end of the day, that's how a work should be judged.

So why did I decide to watch it? Well, I was bored one day. I'm currently between gigs, and I decided I was in the mood for grumpy Picard and began watching some TNG episodes on Netflix. Then I got to "The Chain of Command" two-parter where Picard is tortured by the Cardassians... then I watched the TNG episodes that featured the politics between Cardassia and Bajor and decided I wanted more. Well, there was this entire spin-off being built off of that, so I figured, oh what the hell, and began the pilot.

Shortly before I began this entry, I finished the final episode of "Deep Space Nine" and.... *drum roll* I liked it. I actually liked it a lot. In the eyes of many, this is the best "Star Trek" series ever made. While I'm not sure if I'm in that camp, I think I still prefer the cast of "The Next Generation", "Deep Space Nine" definitely wins story wise. It hits a lot of the same notes "Babylon 5" does, but it does it in it's own way. And, well, both shows were following Campbell's "Hero's Journey" anyway... as sagas like "Star Wars" and "Lord of the Rings" did long before them. "Deep Space Nine" is the Trek franchise doing an epic myth in a long established universe. It's a story that's been told over and over again throughout the history of human civilization, and I think the producers and writers of "Deep Space Nine" did a magnificent job.

Just because I prefer the TNG cast, don't take that as a slight against the DS9 cast. Without a splendid cast, no show can endure no matter how sophisticated and epic the story being told is. Avery Brooks plays Benjamin Sisko, a Starfleet captain that is thrust into a situation where he has to make the hardest calls since "Mr. Worf, fire." After an encounter with the Prophets during the pilot, he becomes a messianic figure to the Bajorans... a people who have only recently cast off the chains of occupation, whom Sisko is trying to bring into the United Federation of Planets.

Nana Visitor plays Kira Nerys, a former resistance fighter (though many of the Cardassians still call her a terrorist), whom much of the drama revolves around. It's her gods... her prophets that touch Sisko. It's her whom the former Cardassian prefect of Bajor, Gul Dukat wants to make his personal conquest. It's her who needs to learn how to trust the Federation, it's her who's the focal point of this broken people trying to rebuild. The story of the Bajorans is one we need only to turn on the news to see play out over and over again.

Rounding out the trifecta is Rene Auberjonis as Odo. A Changeling chief of security on board Deep Space Nine who seeks to learn about himself, and his origins. This mystery isn't dragged out for too long, as come the beginning of the third season, he finds his people... and the Alpha Quadrant quickly comes to regret it. His people are the Founders of the Dominion, a dark mirror of the Federation which represents fascistic order in stark contrast to the Federation's freedom and democracy.

The rest of the cast is terrific and were I to devote a paragraph to each of them, this entry would go on longer than I wish. I'd only be heaping praise on them. Quark is great. Bashir is great. Dax is great. Jake is great. Rom is great. Nog is great. O'Brien is great. Garak is REALLY GREAT. The recurring characters are great. They're all great.

I've been told prior to watching this that Mark Alaimo's Gul Dukat was the greatest villain in the "Star Trek" franchise and, after finishing it, I don't know... I think I still lean towards Khan, but if anyone says it's Dukat, I can't blame them. He's definitely up there. I definitely believe the Dominion is the greatest foil to the Federation that has appeared in the franchise. They're more three dimensional than the Klingons were in their villainous days, more exciting than the Romulans, and they haven't been ruined like the Borg were in every appearance following "The Best of Both Worlds".

Even the show's stand alone episodes were pretty strong. If I ever re-watch it, there isn't one episode I will say "Ugh, do I have to sit through that one?" and I can't think of another multi-season science fiction series I can say that about. But the arc episodes were where the show shined. Especially during the war, and the development of the characters. War is hell, and this series shows that in ways no previous "Star Trek" series did. This show was easily the ballsiest of the Trek shows, and the last time the franchise was any good. "Star Trek: Voyager" was the worst of the Trek shows, "Enterprise" was mediocre, "Insurrection," "Nemesis," "Star Trek (2009)" and "Into Darkness" are all awful movies. I'm perfectly fine with considering "What You Leave Behind" to be the ending of the franchise as a whole. It's a good one.

The best episode of the series, and probably the best single episode in the franchise is "In the Pale Moonlight". And, well, anyone who's seen this episode would know why. I don't want to spoil it for anyone who's not seen it. But, for a franchise who's history often involved the commanding officer always finding another way or a better way, well, what happens when there is no other way? When do you cross the line into doing the necessary thing, even if it's not the right thing. "In the Pale Moonlight" did this, without walking it back, without apologizing, without watering it down. I had to watch the episode a second time because, well, this is "Star Trek", did they just do that? The answer was yes. Yes, they did that.

If there is one flaw, the final arc with the Pah-wraiths could have been better. Don't get me wrong, it made sense. With the entire premise behind Sisko being the emissary of the Prophets, it needed to be there. But it felt a bit rushed, and it was definitely overshadowed by the Dominion War. I liked the idea of Dukat seeking out the Pah-wraiths, in order to become the Bajoran version of the Antichrist. It just needed more time, but I can't think of what I would have cut to devote more time to it.

What is this show's legacy? Within the Trek franchise, the answer seems to sadly be "non-existent." But I think it, alongside "Babylon 5" helped usher in serialized, long form storytelling on television. A format that began with "Hill Street Blues" back in the 80's, but didn't catch on with the network dramas until much later. I still prefer "Babylon 5" as a series, but that isn't a slight. Both shows exist, both are good television... but I'll give DS9 an edge in that it has no bad episodes, even B5 has several stinkers in the first season. The first two seasons of TNG are borderline unwatchable. So what's the lesson? For me? You can enjoy both Coke and Pepsi. Granted it's a lesson I've learned long ago, but it's a lesson that's worth revisiting.

I'm not too proud to admit I was wrong. In this case, I'm more than happy to admit I was wrong. It's a great show, even if it took me twenty years to find out. But like all great TV, it's timeless. I did not need to cast myself back to an earlier era and say "it's the times." Great show.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Friday, September 19, 2014

The RedLetterMedia Character Test

"Describe the following Star Wars character WITHOUT saying what they look like, what kind of costume they wore, or what their profession or role in the movie was. Describe this character to your friends like they ain’t ever seen Star Wars."

Well, that’s RedLetterMedia’s test and I think it applies to just about anything. So, without citing “Star Wars” characters, I’ll run some of my all time favorite characters through it.

Demona is bitter, cynical and vengeful. She can’t recognize her own culpability in the tragic events of her past and blames everyone else for them. She is passionate and will do just about anything to achieve her goals, but probably hasn’t thought far enough ahead to figure out what she’ll do once she gets what she wants.

Elisa Maza is curious and impulsive. She is an idealist but highly guarded and private. She doesn’t like to share her secrets, because those secrets make her feel special. But when push comes to shove, she will do the right thing. She is tough, smart, and represents the best of humanity.

Sokka is a guy with something to prove, because he had to grow up fast. He may not be the biggest, or the toughest, but he’s got a mind for strategy. He’s a skeptic, but is capable of having an open mind. Throughout it all, he still has a lot of growing up to do.

Spider-Man is an average guy with above average intelligence. He has a powerful sense of responsibility, and a sharp, sarcastic wit. He made a huge mistake once, and has taken it upon himself to makes sure it never happens again.

David Xanatos is cool, calm, collected. He’s brilliant, and arrogant without letting that arrogance cloud his judgement. He’s suave, sophisticated, and charming while being manipulative and three steps ahead of everyone, he always has contingencies.

G'Kar is deeply spiritual, a natural born but reluctant leader. A man who learns through blood and tears that forgiveness is often better than vengeance. He's well spoken, eloquent, but not above having a good, long laugh even at himself.

That’s just a few. Now, let’s go for "Legend of Korra".

Korra is hotheaded, impulsive, and doesn’t stop to think. She wants to be more spiritual, but finds it difficult because it’s not in her nature. She lacks humility and is extremely arrogant, believing anything can be solved with her fists.

Okay, Korra passes it, just to prove that I am trying. Let’s look at the rest.

Mako is… um… stoic? He’s the brother of… no. He’s the love interest of… no. He’s a detective in… no.

Bolin is retarded. He’s the comic relief… er… he’s an actor… ugh. Well, he’s retarded, that’s his character.

Asami is… god, and I even kind of like her. She’s rich, she’s the daughter of… the ex-girlfriend of… Sorry, Asami. I like you, but you have no character.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Agents of SHIELD - The Complete First Season

Because there is no way I would have willingly plucked down money for this shit.

NOTE: This was supposed to go up on Marvel Animation Age, as I was sent a review copy for that purpose, but Stu and James Harvey have both been very busy and neither know when they will have time to post it. So here it is.

Like many of you, I was raised on Marvel Comics. I learned to read with Spider-Man comics. I went to see "Iron Man" on opening day and loved it. Likewise, I went to see each movie on opening day, never missing it. I loved "The Avengers", and the worst any of the MCU movies have ever been in my eyes has been just okay. Agent Phil Coulson grew on me and like most of you, his death hurt. I waved my "Coulson Lives" flag (there was a bumper sticker with the slogan on a street light in lower Manhattan right outside of Lombardi's Pizzeria) and was ecstatic when "Agents of SHIELD" was announced with a resurrected Phil Coulson played by Clark Gregg as the lead. I oohed and aahed over the trailer, and every piece of marketing. The potential was endless, and as we have spent the last few years in the golden age of television, I awaited the premiere with breathless anticipation.

Then the show hit the airwaves.

I was in denial.

I watched the second episode.

I tried to talk myself into thinking "well, it's... okay."

By the time the fourth episode aired I asked myself "am I actually enjoying this?"

I quit after watching the sixth episode after admitting what I didn't want to admit: I hated this show.

I read the showrunners' "our show does not suck, you're just watching it wrong" damage control interviews. There were a lot of those, mostly using the straw man argument that those of us who were disappointed were expecting superheroes or the Avengers every week.

I read that Clark Gregg called people who quit watching the show "losers".

I watched "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" and believed there was potential for the ship to correct course.

I tuned in and finished the season.

The ship did not correct course. The ship went down faster than the Hindenburg.

Anybody who said it did improve was in denial. Or lying.

How did this happen? I was not expecting superheroes every week, I was expecting a decent TV show. I was expecting Joss Whedon-quality television. But this wasn't really Joss Whedon's show. The showrunners were Jed Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen; Joss's less talented brother and sister-in-law. To make matters worse, the beneficiaries of nepotism had Jeph Loeb as their overlord, a man who has been busy ushering an age of low quality television ever since he failed upward into the seat of Marvel's television division. Together, they managed to hire people of little to no talent, and bring people who actually possessed honest to god talent down to their level. There is not a single moment in all twenty-two episodes of the show that feels sincere. Not one line of dialogue, not one example of cinematography, not even so much as an inflection or facial expression from any of the cast. This entire series feels like a master's program in how to produce the worst television series possible. I understand the concept of "so bad it's good", but this series is so bad that it's insulting.

Chloe Bennet as Her Greatness, the Special Snowflake Whom We All Love and Brett Dalton as Grant Ward the Block of Wood epitomize everything wrong with the casting of this series all by themselves. One is a failed pop star turned failed actress (look up Chloe Wang's music video, "Uh Oh" if you're in the mood to cringe) and the other would benefit from Hayden Christensen as his acting coach. The rest of the cast doesn't fare any better with Iain De Caestecker and Elizabeth Henstridge playing walking, talking cliches; two scientists who each make the other redundant. Clark Gregg and Ming-Na, the two acting veterans fare poorly here, as bad directing and awful material prevents either character from even taking a step towards potential. Likewise, guest appearances by Samuel L. Jackson, Jaimie Alexander and Cobie Smulders would make you swear these three needed to attend acting classes if you had never seen them before.

If a series is only as good as its villains, then this show is the pits as our villains are personified by a dull girl in a flowered dress, a generic evil business man, and eventually, Agent John Garrett. Garrett is played by Bill Paxton, a mentor of Grant Ward, and an agent of HYDRA who's villainy is revealed when the series briefly ties into "Captain America: The Winter Soldier". I'd be lying if I said there was no potential in Garrett, but all of that is stripped away in the finale when he transforms into a Power Rangers villain, delivering a performance that would embarrass even Uwe Boll. It was like an 80s cartoon, where all the villains got dumbed down so the writers didn't have to think too hard. Oh yeah, and Deathlok is in this show, too. Do you care? I don't.

This show didn't even care about the HYDRA reveal as it was structured so that once SHIELD fell, nothing would really change anyway. Coulson and his crew were on their own all the time, hardly ever backed up by the greater organization, so nothing changed at all once "Winter Soldier" hit. Nothing. The worst part of the season finale, other than Bill Paxton chewing all the scenery he could, was the pointless FitzSimmons "drama". It was the "if we do this one of us will die!" and then they both lived anyway. What was the point? How can you have drama without consequences?

Now, some of you might wonder why I am so angry at a television series. I looked back at comments I've made over the past year and even asked myself "was I really that furious, why was I that furious?" Re-visiting these episodes for this review I reminded myself that I was furious because I despise these people! Why do I despise these people? Because drinking bleach seemed like a better use of my time than watching the Special Snowflake and Sidekicks behave like irritating idiots while the writers sprinkle in names like "Stark" and words like "Avengers" and "HYDRA", along with references to Captain America, the Red Skull, and Loki so that morons like myself would keep tuning in because we love the Marvel Universe.

Jeph Loeb's reign of terror at Marvel's television division began with the animated series, "Ultimate Spider-Man" and continued with "Avengers Assemble" and "Hulk: Agents of SMASH" and culminated in "Agents of SHIELD", and it shows no signs of slowing down. I have never seen such a smorgasbord of tripe that hearkens back to the days when television was known as the idiot box. We live in a golden age of television, an age that has given us TV shows like "Breaking Bad", "Game of Thrones", "Mad Men", "Sherlock", "Orange Is the New Black", "House of Cards". An era that started with "The Sopranos" and was pioneered years before that by "Hill Street Blues". Even "Arrow" is fun and brings quality, and while "Supernatural" is no longer as good as it once was, it still blows "Agents of SHIELD" out of the water on every level. There is no excuse.

Every great franchise needs an awful inclusion. STAR TREK has "Voyager" and "Enterprise"; BABYLON 5 has "Legend of the Rangers" and "The Lost Tales"; STAR WARS has the prequels; for the MARVEL CINEMATIC UNIVERSE, let's hope "Agents of SHIELD" is as bad as it gets. But, I will not be watching the second season, I have no good will left towards this show nor curiosity to discover what happens next. If you want to keep watching, then frankly I feel sorry for you. I understand loving Marvel, I do too. But I don't love the brand blindly, nor unconditionally. I love it enough to tell them when they suck, because it's the only way they will ever get better. Unfortunately, it's too late for this show, as the worst aspects are so ingrained into it, it would be a completely different show if they excised those elements. And for those of you who think it's genuinely good, you need to expand your horizons and watch better TV shows, I know this sounds insulting but I say it because it's for your own good. Before you post the angry comments, ask yourself this question and answer it honestly: would you care about this show at all if it didn't have Marvel's name on it?

I'm not saying it's the worst television series ever made, but it's definitely the worst television series I have ever seen. Nepotism is bad, Joss.

Now, after all of that, I had hoped to at least say that the disc was well done, but it isn't. The menus are ugly, and slightly confusing. The bonus features consist of "Journey Into S.D.C.C." documenting Jeph Loeb's appearance with the cast at San Diego Comic Con to a thunderous applause from MCU fans weeks before the series premiere... and I cannot help but wonder how many of them were disappointed when the show finally aired. Also included is the TV special: "Marvel Studios: Assembling a Universe" which originally aired shortly before the premiere of "Captain America: The Winter Soldier".

In addition to that are several making of featurettes (called "Field Reports") that include:

* "The Malibu Jump" - A behind the scenes look "The Asset", specifically the assault on Quinn's mansion. Much props to Chloe Bennet's stunt double, who is thousands of times more talented than Bennet, herself.
* "The Bridge" - which documents the action sequences in the tenth episode of the series.
* "Asgardian Bar Fight" - Which features a look at the action sequences of "Yes Men", featuring welcome appearances by Jaimie Alexander as Lady Sif of Asgard and Elena Satine as Lorelai... the only episode of the series I almost didn't hate.
* "Classified" - A look at the making of "Turn, Turn, Turn"... the episode where supposedly the world is flipped upside down, but due to how the show was constructed from Day One, nothing really changed.
* "Cello Duet" - A behind the scenes look at "The Only Light In the Darkness" which features a welcome appearance by Amy Acker as Coulson's former love interest. I've always enjoyed Amy Acker and I believe it is a shame that this series failed her.

"VFX Breakdowns" offers a fairly decent look at the show before and after the visual effects (which were correctly defeated by "Game of Thrones" at the Emmys) were inserted, and finally "Bloopers of SHIELD" which features more heartfelt performances and humanity than the series itself, as well as a small selection of Deleted Scenes.

There are supposedly audio commentaries on the discs featuring various members of the cast and crew, but so far I have been unable to find them. Not under BONUS FEATURES, not under SET UP, or even under the episode selection. I've spent the better part of an hour searching; and I blame the design of the menu.

The Aspect Ratio is 1.78:1, 16x9 Widescreen. The Audio on the Blu-ray is 5.1 DTS-HDMA, while the DVD is 5.1 Dolby Digital. The episodes themselves are only in English with English, SDH, Spanish, and French Subtitles.

Overall, this is a mediocre release for a repulsive television series. I would avoid it, and keep on enjoying the movies because nothing in this series will ever influence the big budget feature films. Next week, "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" arrives on Blu-ray, and I look forward to watching it again. It will be the perfect antidote to this filth.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Well Deserved!

Entire cast and crew Outstanding Drama Series

Bryan Cranston Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series

Anna Gunn Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series

Aaron Paul Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series

Moira Walley-Beckett (Ozymandias) Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series

Much deserved, you guys went out on top. Congratulations.

Speaking of "well deserved", I am amused that Marvel's TV division submitted practically their entire cast and crew of "Agents of SHIELD" for Emmys, and except for a special effects nomination (which it rightfully lost to "Game of Thrones"), the show was shut out entirely. Yes, very well deserved.

Now, for those of you who are tired of my negative comments about "Agents of SHIELD", I'm on the verge of finally getting it out of my system. I'm receiving an advanced copy of the Blu-ray to review for a website which receives hundreds of thousands of hits a week. Oh, yes... this is going to be fun. I cannot wait.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy

I've known Spider-Man all my life. I've known the X-Men most of my life. Batman, Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, the Avengers; I can recite chapter and verse. But I have never read a "Guardians of the Galaxy" comic book in my life. I've read comics that have Gamora and Drax in them. I've heard of Rocket Raccoon and Groot; I knew next to nothing about Star Lord. So I went into this movie without any biases or pre-conceived notions. And whether it was good or not, I rooted for its success so that neither Marvel nor DC Studios would ever be able to say "this is too absurd for a movie" ever again.

I am happy to say the movie was good. That was the most fun I've had at the movies all year. My god. It was fun, it was offbeat... it was the exact opposite of a Nolan film (and I like Nolan films). I'm still gathering my thoughts, but I laughed and grinned my way through the entire movie.  It's not as thoughtful and topical as "Captain America: The Winter Soldier", but it doesn't need to be. This movie, like "The Avengers" before it, is the definition of a perfect popcorn movie.

The script is brilliant, this is a funny movie. The dialogue was witty without feeling forced and unnatural... something even the great Joss Whedon occassionally has a little bit of trouble with (and this is not a knock against Joss Whedon, I genuinely do enjoy his writing). I am tempted to say the script is the real star of the movie, because I rarely come out of movies like this thinking of the script first. But here we are.

As far as movies that are mostly shot on green screen, this one is better than most. It's bright, it's colorful, and everything is wonderfully alien. This is what Martin Campbell's "Green Lantern" should have been. Ben Davis did a wonderful job with the cinematography. The special effects were great. This is what the "Star Wars" prequels seemed to want to be, but failed at. Why? Because those movies put the SFX first when, despite everything I already said, as all the Marvel movies before it, the characters were front and center.

Do you like Nathan Fillion as Malcolm Reynolds in "Firefly"? Then you will like Chris Pratt as Peter Quill aka Star Lord. He brings a lot of charisma and his offbeat sense of humor to the part. A close friend of mine is a huge fangirl of Captain Mal and I said to her "if you don't fall in love with Star Lord, then I don't know who you are". In a lot of ways, this movie does feel very much like a much more comic booky version of "Firefly" and that is a good thing.

Before this movie, I did not count myself as a fan of Zoe Saldana. I'm not sure why, but she never really wowed me. Oh, what the right part can do for a thespian. I loved her as Gamora, and despite the more offbeat tone, I was able to buy into her as the deadliest woman in the galaxy. I was a little confused at her motivations early on, but thankfully my patience was rewarded, and her actions earlier in the movie made sense to me. I just wish I had gotten a little bit more.

Gamora and Star Lord definitely have a Beatrice and Benedict romance going on, and it doesn't feel forced. I've found that romantic relationships in comic book movies are seldom done well. The only ones I've ever bought into were Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone's Peter and Gwen, and Steve Rogers and Peggy Carter. Bruce Wayne and Rachel Dawes? Nope. Superman and Lois Lane? Nope. Tobey Maguire's Peter and Kirsten Dunst's Mary Jane? Hell no... and I love Peter and MJ in the comics. Don't even get me started on Thor and Jane Foster. But Star Lord and Gamora? Yes, I bought into them and I look forward to seeing what's next for these two.

Drax and Groot are very well done. But the show stealer was definitely Rocket Raccoon, and he had to be. If they screwed up, Rocket would have been the Jar Jar Binks of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I think most of us comic book geeks were nervous about Rocket going in, but he lived up to the hype. Rocket is probably one of the hardest characters in the Marvel Universe to translate to the silver screen, and they did it... *glares at Warner Bros* come on, guys, what's your excuse now?

The villains weren't the most engaging characters, but they got the job done. Ronan was effective and intimidating. I felt he could accomplish what he set out to accomplish. Likewise, Nebula was fun and I only wish she had some more screen time; but I have a feeling we'll be seeing her again. As for the Mad Titan himself? I will admit, I think his character design could use a little bit of work, but I liked what we saw... and he's only there for two short scenes, this isn't Thanos' time yet. We'll get there eventually, but I already fear for my favorite Avengers when the time comes to throw down with him... assuming they all survive Ultron next May.

Finally, the soundtrack for the movie was orgasmic. It was just beautiful. It was more than just background music, it was a character in and of itself. I'd say more, but you'll understand when you see it, and I don't want to spoil too much of it.

Go out, go see it, have a good time. I did, and you all know how picky I can be. I give the movie a solid A.

Thursday, June 19, 2014


Paramount lays out its next two years of sequels and remakes - Yup, Bayformers 5 is already greenlit, as is another G.I. Joe, and a sequel to "Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters". But, yay, more Bayformers!

Look, when I go to the movies I don't want to have to think or understand. My day-to-day life of pedestrian job and web surfing is just so incredibly taxing that I can't handle any thought in my free time. I just wanna sit there and see crap blowing up and robots punching each other and guns and boobs and stuff. You can enjoy your coherent plot and developed characters and gay-ass stuff, and I'll be here enjoying the rapping robots in the next Transformers movie...

... So, how was my impression? I've had years to study, observe, and perfect it.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Valar Morghulis

Lord Tywin Lannister on the throne.

And so, the fourth season of "Game of Thrones" comes to a close, and what a close. The best show on television left me wanting more, and now the long wait begins before season five premieres. Evenings like this just make me so happy, and remind me why we are, indeed, living in the Golden Age of television.

First of all, some of the story lines which were less interesting to me got some much needed shots in the arm. Now that Bran has reached his destination, I cannot wait to see what happens next. Likewise, while I enjoy the Wall, it never intrigued me the way the events down south did... as such, I think the arrival of Stannis Baratheon and his court will result in just the right amount of spice benefiting both story threads. I look forward to seeing how Jon Snow and Stannis play off each other, and likewise what Melisandre sees in the young bastard.

The penultimate episode of the season, "The Watchers On the Wall" was a terrific action sequence which felt to me very much like the Battle of Helm's Deep from "The Two Towers" but far more real. Yes, this is what a siege looks like... even if giants riding mammoths are involved. And while I knew Ygritte was done for, it was still a heart breaking moment. Shot through the heart, indeed.

The episode prior to that one was terrific, with the shocking end of Oberyn Martell at the hands of the Mountain. I should have blogged about that, but that was a fine example of a guy who could have won if he didn't need to showboat and be a complete asshole. But then I remember that he wasn't doing it for Tyrion. He wanted the Mountain's confession and he died getting it. What this means for the next season, I have no idea. But they did cast a lot of new Martell characters.

But tonight's episode, the season finale, was pure, bittersweet, cathartic bliss. It's the mark of a great series when I don't question how a character will escape a precarious situation, but will they escape the precarious situation. I honestly believed Tyrion was dead. After Ned Stark's beheading, all bets were off. Hell, last year ended with the Red Wedding, I could easily see Tyrion dying. So I was relieved when Jaime showed up to help his brother escape.

More shocking was when Tyrion went to the Tower of the Hand to confront his father, Tywin. I honestly don't know what was going through his mind as he did that, but I just about fell out of my chair when he discovered Shae in Tywin's bed. Of course, despite all his supposed hatred of whoring, Tywin hired whores.. and to think, a few weeks ago I was wondering if he had gotten laid since his wife died. But that makes perfect sense. To Tywin, appearances were everything, as long as he's not publicly seen with them. He wanted to be respected and feared. And perception was the key to his power, which was made obvious when we found out he was not as rich as we once thought. But that was the final stab in Tyrion's heart, I didn't think anything could top Shae testifying against him, but this did it... and what followed was heartbreaking.

Then came the scene, where Tyrion confronted his father one last time. The scene was bittersweet, cathartic, and wonderful all at once. Tywin Lannister. The Lion. The Warden of the West. Hand of the King. Most powerful man in the world. Died on the crapper. For personal reasons, given my relationship with my father, this was very cathartic. But it was also bittersweet since Charles Dance as Tywin was one of my favorite performances in the series, and I'm going to miss him. But I loved it because, well, how often do we see characters as dignified as Tywin always presented himself die such an undignified, inglorious death? It's just never done. He was, by many appearances, the Big Bad of the series up until now. Imagine, for a moment, Lex Luthor, or Norman Osborn, or Gus Fring, or Demona dying on the toilet. It's never done, and yet... it was perfect. The climax of four seasons worth of material... every scene led to this moment. Combine that with Cersei confessing to Tywin that the rumors of all her children being conceived by incest with Jaime were true, and I am so happy this episode aired on Father's Day.

Lord Tywin Lannister on the throne.

I am relieved Tyrion survived, as a character I've identified with since Day One, I'm glad he had this moment. But I don't think it will come as a relief to him. His entire support network (yes, he did have one) is now gone and he is a fugitive. What this means for him in the fifth season, we don't know yet. But I imagine all of the Lannisters are in peril now that the father of the pride is now gone.

It was a beautiful ending for a beautiful season of a beautiful TV show. I look forward to the Emmy nominations, because while I know it will not win, I believe the show deserves the recognition of being nominated. Likewise, I think both Peter Dinklage and Charles Dance have more than earned their nominations for Best Supporting Actor in a Dramatic Series. Their last scene together alone is worth the price of admission for the whole series. Wonderful, just wonderful.

My final grade for the season finale is an A+

What am I doing now? Well, I need a new TV show to obsess over now that season four of "Game of Thrones" is over. I've been watching "Mad Men", "The Walking Dead", and I plan to give "Dr. Who" a second chance as well as check out season three of "Sherlock" and the debut season of "True Detective". But, honestly, "Mad Men" is winning right now, and I have A LOT of that to watch.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Godzilla (2014)

The marketing for the movie was brilliant. I was excited for this movie, I was pumped. That doesn't happen to often. Godzilla looked terrific, and to headline the human story, they cast Bryan Cranston... one of the best living actors of my generation. The studio swore up and down that the lessons of the Emerich movie from 1998 were learned. The trailers seemed like an apology for that movie. I couldn't wait.

We did not get that movie.

First of all, for a two hour movie, Godzilla is only in ten minutes of it. Let me be clear, those ten minutes are awesome. Every moment Godzilla was on screen, I loved it. I loved the design, he radiated power. They nailed him. That being said, this was not his movie, and not because he had so little screen time, but because you could have removed him entirely from the movie, and it would have been the same movie. Godzilla felt like an afterthought in what should have been his own movie. It was not about him.

Likewise, the marketing around this movie centered around Bryan Cranston's presence in the movie. Even more so than Godzilla. When I first heard they cast him, I thought it was a brilliant move. Nobody goes to a Godzilla movie and ever comes out caring about the humans... with the exception being Dr. Serizawa from the 1954 classic. And it seemed like Cranston's casting was going to pay off. Every moment he was on screen was electric. He is one of the most charismatic actors alive, he could read out of the phone book and it would be mesmerizing. He drew me in, and I cared about his character and story even though this time he was playing something I've seen a million times already. Then they kill him off forty-five minutes into the movie, and the rest of the movie focuses on Aaron Taylor Johnson playing his son, with only slightly more charisma than Hayden Christensen in the "Star Wars" prequels.

Ken Watanabe is in this playing the wise Japanese scientist who acts only as the voice of exposition. His character is named Serizawa after the heroic scientist from the original, which I was fine with as a nod. Watanabe tries, and does the best he can with the material given to him. I would have loved to have watched a movie with Ken Watanabe and Bryan Cranston teaming up to deal with this menace, that's what the marketing promised us... but we didn't get that movie.

This movie was about the MUTOs  (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism). They were the menace of the movie. They are the reason Cranston's wife dies at the beginning of the movie. They feed on radiation. They are going to reproduce, and lay thousands of eggs in the heart of San Francisco. They need to be defeated, because Aaron Taylor Johnson's wife and son live in San Francisco and are in danger. While Godzilla kills them both in a battle that is in the background, Aaron Taylor Johnson destroys the eggs in a very standard scene we've seen a million times already, and then reunites with his family.

In the middle of the movie, when Aaron Taylor Johnson knows these three monsters are converging on San Francisco, he speaks to his wife on the phone and doesn't tell her to grab their son and get out... he says "I'm coming to get you and I'll get you out" and I'm wondering "what the hell?" His entire motivation for fighting the MUTOs is to save his wife and son, when he could have gotten them out of danger before word got out that San Francisco was a target. This succeeds in making our protagonist look as intelligent as he is charismatic.

Godzilla is barely explained. Apparently he's millions of years old and existed in the prehistoric age as he is now, as the alpha predator. The MUTOs are his prey, and he's been swimming around the Pacific for millions of years unnoticed until 1954 when Japanese and American forces tried to nuke him, but he survived and continued to swim around for another few decades until the MUTOs awoke and went on a rampage. Then he rises out of the ocean, fights them and kills them... but he doesn't even eat them. You know, his prey. There is no logic to his presence, and I know I shouldn't look for logic in a Godzilla movie, but this was glaring.

So what do I think happened? I think they had a script for a movie about the MUTOs, a standard giant monster movie where a beast you don't care about wrecks havoc and gets defeated. Nothing original, nothing special. Then Warner Bros scored the Godzilla license from Toho and with some very quick re-writes, they forced him in... again, as an afterthought. The result left me unhappy. This was as much a Godzilla movie as "Pee-wee's Big Adventure" was (remember, Godzilla pops up for a few minutes there, too)... but Pee-wee was fun and entertaining, this wasn't. What gets me is that this movie wasn't even poorly made. It was beautifully shot, the monsters looked great, the direction was good. The script was bad, and they forced an iconic character into a movie he had no business being in to draw a larger audience.

I believe Aaron Taylor Johnson vs the MUTOs could have been an average, if standard and forgettable, giant monster movie. Calling it Godzilla was what set others and I up for disappointment... that and the "Bryan Cranston is our star" marketing. Likewise, upon getting the license, they should have started from scratch. No MUTOs, none of that. Focus the movie on Bryan Cranston and Ken Watanabe teaming up to save the city (Tokyo, New York City, San Francisco, whatever) from the Godzilla we saw in this movie, and that could have been pretty great.

Was it better than the 1998 movie? Well, it was more competently made; and while I hate the 1998 movie, at least that was honest about what it was. You could make a case that this movie was false advertising. Avoid it like the plague.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Tyrion may be innocent, but Agents of SHIELD is guilty

Once again, "Game of Thrones" hits a home run with its most recent episode, "The Laws of Gods and Men". Many subplot are pushed forward, such as Daenerys discovering that conquering is easier than ruling; Reek's messed up relationship with Ramsay Snow (who I swear is the scariest person on television); and, of course, Stannis and Davos traveling to the Iron Bank of Braavos... and Davos heartfelt speech about how much he believes in Stannis, which convinces the Iron Bank to invest in him.

I don't believe I've mentioned how much I love the idea of the Iron Bank. A cold, soulless organization that just about everyone is afraid of, even the Lannisters. It doesn't matter how big and bad you are, if you are in debt to the Iron Bank, they will recover their money one way or another. Most fantasy I have read doesn't feature an institution like this. It kind of reminds me of Sallie Mae.

But all of those plot lines, excellent as they are, pale before the real meat of this episode: Tyrion Lannister's trial for regicide. The trial is, naturally, a farce. Tyrion is innocent but he's going to be found guilty because that's what his father, Tywin Lannister, wants. The coldest aspect of this had to be when Jaime made a deal with Tywin to spare Tyrion's life... and considering how fast Tywin agreed to it, it was all about Jaime. The coldness, the sheer monstrosity of all this. I know there is a meme out there about how Norman Osborn or Fire Lord Ozai are the worst fathers... but I think both of them pale before Tywin Lannister.

Then Shae, Tyrion's ex-girlfriend (or ex-whore) is brought out to testify in a scene that is so painful, Tyrion finally breaks. Tyrion had been married to a whore before, until Tywin had her gang-raped and the marriage annulled... because he's a super nice guy, that way. So, years of anger, bitterness, hatred and resentment in Tyrion finally exploded and... what can I say about this scene? I think it speaks for itself. Give Peter Dinklage an Emmy, now. Please!

I love this show. Thank you, HBO, for continuing to offer quality television a midst a cesspool of garbage.

Sadly, it's time to talk about "Agents of SHIELD". The season finale was so bad it made me wonder how the hell it's legal to produce television like this. Now, people say the show has gotten better since "Captain America: The Winter Soldier", so I came back to check it out and see how things would play out. At least no one can accuse me of not having an open mind.

The Big Bad of the season, John Garret (played by Bill Paxton), at first seemed like a breath of fresh air... then he turned into a cartoon character. I don't know who directed the season finale, but they shouldn't be allowed near actors ever again. Paxton's performance was so over the top that Cobra Commander and Rita Repulsa would be embarrassed. I know Garret was supposed to be crazy at this point, but my god...  Faye Dunaway's performance as Joan Crawford in "Mommie Dearest" was subtle compared to this. It was painful to watch. Gods, I hate this show.

The show continued to demonstrate its lack of balls. Ward is still a villain, but he survived and was taken into custody (if he's still a regular next season, expect a lame redemption story). Fitz and Simmons were thrust into a situation where only one could survive and, naturally, both of them survive. If this were any other show with Joss Whedon's name on it (and I know he's barely involved), Fitz would have been dead. Gods, I hate this show.

They tried to leave a few mysteries open, like teasing Mary Sue Poots' father... naturally, I don't care. Why is this character still alive? Gods, I hate this show.

Oh yeah, and Samuel L. Jackson returns as Nick Fury, helps them beat Cobra Repulsa Crawford, and disappears again. I'd ponder why SLJ chose to do this, but he had no problem appearing in the "Star Wars" prequels. So Coulson is now director of SHIELD, and his first course of action is to rebuild... which could be a fascinating show, but this is Marvel TV under the direction of Jeph Loeb, so it won't be.

And so ends the debut season of the worst television series I have ever watched. Normally, this would be the part where I rant about how it is beyond me that ABC could renew this, but nobody ever went broke underestimating the tastes of the American public.

Game of Thrones: A+

Friday, May 9, 2014

TV Talk

Season four of "Game of Thrones" is proceeding quite nicely. I may wonder about the pacing, but it always keeps me glued to my seat. The aftermath of Joffrey's death has been wonderful to watch, and I eagerly anticipate Tyrion's trial for regicide.

More to the point, Littlefinger has turned out to be such a magnificent bastard, I take so much joy in watching him. While I had my theories, I admit that I didn't see him as potentially the true Big Bad of the series coming; especially with Charles Dance as Tywin Lannister being everything a decent Big Bad needs to be.

Another eye opening revelation is that the Lannisters are bankrupt. Their last gold mine went dry three years prior and they spent everything they had to win the War of the Five Kings. Cersei might say that Tyrion set the Lannister legacy on fire, but Joffrey did it the moment he beheaded Ned Stark. Robb Stark was coming for the Lannisters' heads... he wasn't going to sue for peace and said as much. I'm not defending the Red Wedding, but if Tywin couldn't sustain a war effort, I see why he arranged that massacre. It also tires back with what Varys said "power resides where men believe it resides. It's all a trick." The Lannisters are the richest and most powerful family in the Seven Kingdoms only because it's an image they project.

Littlefinger now, he's married to Lysa Arryn who kept the Vale out of the war, so he might just have the strongest army in the Seven Kingdoms. He bankrupted the realm while serving as Master of Coin, and who knows how much of that he laundered into his own businesses... he might be the richest, most powerful man in all of Westeros and nobody knows it.

"Game of Thrones" continues to be the best show on television. I look forward to it every week, and I plan to write a blog post about the season as a whole once it's over. I can't believe we're already halfway through.

Well played, George R.R. Martin. Well played everybody.

In other news, ABC just greenlit "Agent Carter" starring Hayley Atwell as Agent Peggy Carter in the early days of SHIELD. I love the character and Hayley's portrayal of her, and I really enjoyed the short they released on the Blu-ray of "Iron Man 3" so I look forward to this with... a lot of trepidation. Why? Because I loved Agent Phil Coulson and Clark Gregg in the role and I looked forward to "Agents of SHIELD" without any trepidation and what we received was the most vile, repulsive television series I have ever had the misfortune of watching.

On that previous note, "The Adventures of Mary Sue Poots: The Most Wonderful Specialest Snowflake Ever & We're All Just So Blessed To Be In Her Presence That We Totally Love Her" got renewed despite the mediocre ratings. Another example of American pop culture rewarding shit.

Swinging back to "Agent Carter", I really hope this one doesn't suck. But, this is Marvel Television under the direction of Jeph Loeb. Jeph Loeb who brought us "Ultimate Spider-Man", "Hulk: Agents of SMASH", "Avengers Assemble" and "The Adventures of Mary Sue Poots: The Most Wonderful Specialest Snowflake Ever & We're All Just So Blessed To Be In Her Presence That We Totally Love Her". The tagline for Jeph Loeb's tenure should be "The Most Vile, Repulsive Television You've Ever Seen".