The Life & Times of an Auteur.

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

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.