The Life & Times of an Auteur.

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

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".

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

After seeing the reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, I went into this with low expectations and... they were met. I'm not going to say too much, because this movie hasn't earned that kind of analysis.

Let's talk about what I liked first. Once again, the cast was mostly pretty good. While I don't think Andrew Garfield has quite nailed Peter Parker, I think he's definitely nailed Spider-Man. He quips, he's friendly neighborhood. Of all of the superheroes, Spider-Man embodies New York more than any other and that was all over this movie. Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy was, again, perfect casting... and the chemistry between those two is great. Much better than the chemistry between Toby Maguire and Kirsten Dunst. I thought Dane Dehaan was a better Harry Osborn than James Franco, but I just don't like James Franco.

The action scenes were great, and Electro made a great visual as I knew he would. There were a lot of nice touches, like the clock stopping at 1:21 during the climax, as many Spidey fans will understand the significance of that. Sally Field is a great Aunt May, and I loved her scene with Peter because damn straight she's his mother... more so than Mary Parker could ever be.

Now let's talk about what I didn't like, mostly that damn script. Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci have been the hottest screenwriters for the past few years, and I will never understand why. They are hacks. Their Transformers scripts are terrible, the script for "Star Trek: Into Darkness" was terrible. I'm browsing their IMDB pages right now and their credits are embarrassing. Most of the dialogue in this movie was really, really bad... and if you haven't figured out that Gwen Stacy was going to die the moment you heard her graduation speech, you need to have your head examined... and while I'm on the subject, the first ASM ended with Peter listening to Uncle Ben's last voice mail again at the very end and this one ends with him watching Gwen's graduation speech at the very end. This sort of thing annoyed me in "Spider-Man 2" and it annoys me here.

Enough with Richard and Mary Parker. They may have done the deed to spawn Peter Parker but they are not important characters in the mythos. Uncle Ben and Aunt May are Peter Parker's parents, and I don't understand the fixation on Richard Parker that these movies, as well as Brian Michael Bendis, seem to have. You could have cut most of that from the movie and kept Peter, Gwen, and Harry the main focus and it would have been tighter and better for it.

Remember when I said Electro was a great visual? Well, that's all he was because the character was awful. I know Max Dillon has never been the deepest character. In the comics he was a petty crook who got struck by lightning while working on a telephone pole and gained superpowers, deciding to rob banks. The 90's show turned him into Red Skull's son. "Spectacular Spider-Man" had him suffer a tragic accident, and had him fall into Doc Ock's clutches with promise for a cure. This... well, it was worse than him being Red Skull's son. They turned him into Edward Nygma from "Batman Forever", and I don't want to be thinking about that movie. Ever. But his dialogue was hilariously bad (Orci and Kurtzman), and you could have also removed him from this movie and not lost much.

Dr. Kafka really annoyed me... aside from the gender lift, they turned her/him into the most stereotypical evil mad scientist I have ever seen... again, I'm reminded of Joel Schumacher. The actor was as bad as the butler in Spider-Man 3... as if he failed an audition at Lynchville, Alabama's community theater production of "Dr. Strangelove."

Finally, and this is a personal thing, but I absolutely hate that Harry Osborn is the Green Goblin before Norman... but hey, it's not like Norman is in this movie. Well, he is but then he dies after one scene... and I do think he's dead because his character is pointless now. And maybe that's for the best because that green claw we saw reminded me too much of the Ultimate Goblin and I hate the Ultimate Goblin.

At first, I thought the man in the shadows was Osborn before we saw said man taking orders from Harry... something no version of Norman would ever do. Do you want to know who the mystery man is? He isn't even anyone from the comics. He's from a trilogy of Spider-Man prose novels that were published over a decade ago... you can read all about him here. And given his story in those novels, the shadow of Richard and Mary Parker isn't going to go away... they'll keep on overshadowing Uncle Ben. Hey, remember Uncle Ben? Good, because Peter doesn't. But why are you mining those lame novels for material? Spider-Man has fifty years of history. You need a mastermind? Norman Osborn! Don't want to use Norman Osborn? Doc Ock was also called the Master Planner! Can't use the Kingpin? Use Tombstone in a similar manner that "Spectacular Spider-Man" did! Even the Jackal and the Cabal of Scrier would have been preferable.

Spider-Man is my favorite comic book hero of all time, and frankly, he deserves better than this. It was better than "Spider-Man 3", but that's such a low bar. I don't want to turn this into a Raimi vs Webb debate because, quite frankly, I don't think either one of them delivered the perfect Spider-Man movie... but mash their work together and it could come close. They each are strong where the other is weak. But, I don't know... just give the rights back to Marvel Studios because I am not excited for "Spider-Man 3" and I am definitely not excited for "Sinister Six".