Sunday, November 25, 2012

Day 359 - Skyfall

Before reading any further, let me warn you - this is going to be filled with spoilers on the new Bond film, Skyfall, and why I didn't like it.  And without further ado...

Apparently I am one of the very few people in the world who didn't care for Skyfall and here's why.

1. It reminded me of Never Say Never AgainNever Say Never Again is the terrible remake of Thunderball starring Sean Connery as Bond, and the whole idea of that film is that Bond is too old to do his job competently.  And then he proceeds to save the world making Mr. Bean happy.  Skyfall spends the whole film saying Bond is getting too old, when all the while Bond, at least to us, appears to barely have lost a step.  It'd be one thing if we see him stumble in the field (as opposed to at the firing range), but we never do.  So I could never get behind that central conceit.

2. He lets Severine (Berenice Marlohe) die.  Every Bond film has a sacrificial lamb.  It's part of the story.  But what has happened in every previous film, is that Bond was unable to do anything about their deaths.  In Goldfinger, Jill Masterson is killed after Bond is knocked unconscious.  In For Your Eyes Only, Ferrara is killed while Bond is fighting off angry hockey players.  In each of those instances, Bond can do nothing about those circumstances.  In Skyfall, all Bond has to do is stall for about 20 more seconds and Severine (a woman who is acknowledged as a (former) sex slave) would have been rescued.  As a woman whose life up to this point can't have been very good, this seems like a cheap and wasteful way to die.  And for the more "emotional" Daniel Craig Bond, not another thought is given to her.  That to me is poor writing.

3. Kincade - as played by Albert Finney.  It's like the film thought that we hadn't seen a character like J.W. Pepper (Live and Let Die) in such a while that it felt it needed to fill that gap.  I really dislike him.

4. The "Home Alone" style ending.  So Bond has two gadgets - A palm-reading gun, and a tracking chip.  And the tracking chip is just something you carry in your pocket?  They couldn't have even given him a hidden tracking chip?  I mean, he's had one in his shoe (Goldfinger) and radioactive lint (Thunderball), and this tracking chip is the best "Q" can do?  However, in this gadget-free Bond film, we get to see explosive light bulbs.  I was waiting for Bond to put a hot plate on a doorknob.  Give him gadgets!  I'm more than willing to suspend my disbelief then.  By the end I was just waiting for Ralph Fiennes to get his new title.  (And let me tell you, that was, by far, the most telegraphed thing in the film.)

There were a few things I liked.  I thought the pre-credits sequence was amazing.  Everything I expect from a Bond film.  Javier Bardem did a bang-up job the first time you see him, but by the time he's crazily shooting up the courtroom I had lost all sympathy for the character.  Daniel Craig is still a great Bond.  And I enjoyed the new "Q."  But did we really need to see him get his comeuppance in his very first appearance?

Maybe I just don't need to see Bond's origins.  I don't care where he came from.  I just want to see him be the best secret agent in the world, which is what the first 15 minutes showed me.  But the rest of the film didn't.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Day 344 - Marble Cities

Marble Cities is the new play that was created and produced by Cleveland's Theater Ninjas.  And while it is a play, it's also an experience, because it's very much an assault on your attention span.  This is not a play to go see if you want to sit back and relax.  This is one that, from the very first moment, grabs you , and doesn't merely not let you go, but flings you around.
The amount of dialogue that comes at you, while being informative, is almost mind-numbing in its quantity.  But that's a lot of why it's there.  I don't think the audience is supposed to fully grasp what the characters are saying.  I don't think the audience can fully grasp everything that's said.
There are eight characters, and all of them have been given an invitation to attend this gathering - except for one, who may be a moderator or may be something more.  But the other seven have been tasked with creating/building a civilization from the ground up.  But each of the characters is flawed and while their flaws may make things interesting, they also make their relationship strained at best.
And, really, that's my best guess at what's happening. Explaining the "story" of the play is not what's important.  What's important in Marble Cities are ideas.  And there are plenty thrown around.  If you have a theory as to why we're here, it's given a voice.  If you have a theory on social politics, it's here.  If you have a theory about nearly anything, it's probably here.  Each one of the characters represents a different social class, and each of the characters is given a specific voice.  I don't think we're supposed to pick a side, but we're they're to listen, because by listening, it gives credence to what the characters say.
This is a captivating and complicated piece.  This is a play, that in order to keep up, you have to be willing to let stuff go.  If you dwell too long on any one sentence, you've already missed a half dozen other ideas.  If there's any complaint, it's that the play has too much going on.  Even half the ideas within are more than enough to sustain a whole play.  But who am I to say that something's too ambitious?  If anything, at least the actors are uniformly amazing.  They give this piece their complete attention. If any of them had given any less than their all, the play would have suffered.  But by the end, each of the actors had really imbued each of their characters with realism, intelligence, and sympathy, and that alone makes this worth seeing.
There's one more week's worth of shows - Monday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.  I may not be able to explain what's happening, but I definitely think it's worth seeing.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Day 287 Random stuff

My Neighbor Totoro is one of the happiest and most charming movies I have ever seen.  I have seen it twice - each time on the big screen, and I have had the same reaction each time - pure joy.  There's no real story or conflict to speak of, it's simply about two sisters (one 10 and one 4) and how they meet some wonderful forest creatures.
And then I followed that up with The Bourne Supremacy.  The second film in the Bourne Trilogy ends with a spectacular car chase.  After watching it, I thought to myself that every movie that has a car chase in it should do it practically - no CGI.  The only exception to that rule is the Fast and Furious series.  That fifth film was able to capitalize on the kinetic energy and destruction that CGI is able to portray.  But that being said, real cars smashing, speeding, and blowing up is something that I have always appreciated, even in a crummy movie.
Someone asked me today what my favorite genre of film was, and I replied, "Good movies."  In the span of a week I have watched Pina, a documentary on modern dance, Compliance, a stressful drama, Killer Joe, a stunning, brutal noir film, Raiders of the Lost Ark, which needs no explanation, Remember the Titans, a sports film, Totoro and Bourne.  The only thing missing from that group is a comedy.  And I do like some good comedies.
Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan's The Strain trilogy is a wonderful vampire story.  Jaw-unhinging, blood-sucking, worm-infecting vampires make for some incredibly tense reading experiences.  The first book does a great job of being tense and suspenseful throughout its entire length, and the third novel does a wonderful job tying up all storylines in a satisfying way.  This is a series that I can't wait to see adapted into a film.
Finally, soon all my free time will be taken up by all the new television shows that are starting up this week.  Good times, good times.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Day 280 - Compliance


What would you do if someone called you at work and told you he was a police officer?  If it sounded legit, would you do what he said?  And how far would you go doing something that just walks that line between being a good citizen and blind obedience?  Those are the questions this film asks, and how it goes about doing it just seems absurd, except for a couple of things. 1). The film is incredibly well-acted.  Ann Dowd, as Sandra, the restaurant manager, does such a good job as someone who's obviously in something that's over her head, and it's during an incredibly busy time, so you see her trying to keep juggling all these things, and you know it's all just going to go south.  2). The film is based off actual events.  Sure, what happens in the film is dramatized, but it makes the film just believable enough that you accept what's going on.
The basic plot is this: At a fast food restaurant on a busy Friday, a cop calls the manager and tells her that one of her employees stole money from a customer's purse.  After taking her in the back, the cop says that the choice is either the employee is strip-searched or taken to jail.  And things simply escalate from there.
When I was in college, one of the film classes I had showed a film called Sweet Movie.  The professor told the class that if any of them wanted to leave at any time due to the content of the film, it would be fine.  I stuck it out (to simply be able to tell people that this is one of my bottom five films of all time), but a number of people took him up on that.  When I saw Children of God, at a certain scene, an audience member literally ran out of the theater.  During Happiness there was a steady stream of walkouts as the film went on.  The Aristocrats sent out a number of people in the first 15 minutes (after that, the rest of us knew what we were in for).  And more recently, a father grabbed his clan of young 'uns when he realized The Campaign was rated "R" for a reason.  One of the reasons I wanted to see Compliance was because people apparently weren't able to stick it out through the whole film.  I always like to see what gets someone to think to themselves, "I spent some money on a movie, but it's not worth it to stay."  At about the one hour mark in this film, the tension ratchets up to a fantastic level, and even more bad things happen.  It was then that I saw something I have never seen before - a couple was sitting in front of me, and the lady said something to the guy, got up, left, and never came back.  He stayed, though.  That was odd.
But any movie that is this gripping and suspenseful is definitely worth staying to the end.  And the end of the film really makes the movie.  It does what it's supposed to do - give the viewer closure and satisfaction.  You may still feel like a creep (because that's what the film wants you to feel), but at least there's no indecision.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Day 246 San Diego Comic Con (Day 1)

Thursday - the first official day of the show.  The very first thing I wanted to get was autographs from the cast of Archer.  My chance for those autographs were in the same line as the Wilfred cast.  What the companies have done this year is to make everything much more reliant on luck.  You get in a line, and when you get to the front, you reach in a bag or a box, pull out a ticket, and hope that it's a "magic" ticket that has a special stamp on the back.  A blank ticket means you lose, and one that has a stamp on the back means you get to meet the cast.  I failed on Archer and I failed on Wilfred.  My ticket picking skills are not too good.
However, about an hour later they were doing the line for an Elementary signing, so I got in line (about 70 people back).  Well, the guys who were in charge of this line had no real idea of what they were going to do, which worked out well for me, as the person in charge just started handing out tickets to the signing to the first 200 people.  So I said "Hi" to Johnny Lee Miller and got to tell Lucy Liu that I really liked her in Lucky Number Slevin (to which she said "Thanks.  It was a good movie.").
After that, it was a crush of comic writers and artists, as I got to meet, Jeff Lemiere, Jeffrey Brown (really, an incredibly nice guy - if you get a chance to say "Hi" to him,  I really encourage it), Jaime Hernandez (I don't know if I've met someone as happy to be involved in this industry as he seems to be), Gabriel Ba, Trina Robbins, and Kate Beaton (who I had sign my Hark, a Vagrant hardcover - one of the silliest, smartest and funniest comics I read. And I'd like another hardcover collection soon, too, please.  Here's her website )
One of my current favorite comics is called Chew.  It's written by John Layman and drawn by Rob Guillory, and I brought the first two hardcovers with me, and one of the coolest things I now own is signed copies of them.  Rob drew a sketch of Tony in the first hardcover for me, but the coolest thing is the sketch of the chog in the second hardcover (and for those of you who don't know, a chog is a genetically created chicken and frog creation).  It's pretty awesome.
So, Thursday is usually the day I try to get a pass to a free movie screening, and I got a ticket for a flick called Hit and Run.  But, as with all those preview films, it's first come, first served, and the line for the movie was looooong.  So, I didn't get in.  As a consolation prize, they handed out t-shirts for the women, and wigs(?!) for the guys.
The next day (Friday) was when things got crazy.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Day 240 - San Diego Comic Con (Preview Night)

First off, for anyone who actually reads what I write, I apologize for not writing anything since April.

But let's dive in.  This was one of the years that I got to go to Comic Con in San Diego.  I've been going to the show off and on since 1996.  There was no wasted time this year, as I flew out of Cleveland on Wednesday July 11th early in the morning.  There was a layover in Nashville, and as I made my way to the next flight, I saw quite a few nuns.  I'm not sure what sort of portent "nuns in Nashville" was supposed to be, but the flights were uneventful.
When I go to the convention, I generally stay at the EZ 8 Motel in Old Town.  Sure, it's not the Ritz, but it's an inexpensive place to stay, and it has a trolley station that's a 5 minute walk away.  That's important, because the trolley is what get's you from place to place.  I took a couple hour nap to get recharged, and when I woke up, it was time to head to the convention center. I had no idea how long the process would take to get my admission badge, and it turned out that getting the badge was simplicity itself.  I got my program and sat down to figure out the night and the week.
This year, my plan was to meet a bunch of small press creators and have them sign my copies of Strange Tales, Strange Tales II, and Girl Comics.  All of these were comics that Marvel produced using small press writers and artists (well, Girl Comics just used women creators on all the stories, and a number of them work in the small press arena).
There's always 2 creators that I try to meet the first day out there.  The first one is Terry Moore.  I have nearly every issue of Strangers in Paradise autographed by him, I thought his second series, Echo, was fantastic, and his current series, Rachel Rising, has just kicked into high gear by making a vaguely supernatural story, a full-blown supernatural story.  Since I couldn't find my hardcover copy of Echo in time to bring it with me, I just had him sign my Strange Tales 2.
And the second person I try to see on Wednesday night is Frank Cho.  Each year that I've seen him, I've bought one of his sketchbooks.  This year, he had no sketchbook to sell, it was either a print or a calendar. I went with the calendar.
Then it was off to see Stan Sakai (of Usagi Yojimbo fame) and Jill Thompson (Scary Godmother).  Stan did a cool sketch in the Strange Tales hardcover.  I've met both of them before, and they're both incredibly nice.
And to cap off the day, I managed to catch up with the last three Unshelved collections that I was missing.  I'm a sucker for funny comic strips, regardless of how simple the art style may be.  In fact, the cleaner the art style, the more apt I am to give it a look.  But mostly I want my comic strips to be funny, and Unshelved hits that on the nose (for me).
And by then, Preview night was winding down, so I headed back to the motel, had some pizza and figured out what I was bringing with me the next day.
Here's Unshelved's website:

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Day 127 - Paul Williams Still Alive

Paul Williams Still Alive:  Singer, songwriter, actor, all-around pop icon.  He was one of those people that I grew up watching, and whether it was because he was on The Muppet Show, Battle For the Planet of the Apes,or the Donnie and Marie Show, I was always a fan of his.  The fact that he wrote "Rainbow Connection" was an added bonus.  Last weekend, the closing film at the Cleveland International Film Festival was Paul Williams Still Alive, and he was there to give a Q and A after the film.
The film was directed by Stephen Kessler, who, by his own admission, made a film that audiences seemed to like but critics didn't (Vegas Vacation - which I do think is funny), and one that the critics liked but audiences didn't see (The Independent - which I didn't see).  Within this film, he becomes a supporting character.
Kessler essentially became a stalker of Paul Williams, following him around, and finding out what he's been up to (especially since he was surprised to find out he was, in fact, still alive).  Paul had spent the last bunch of years actually being pretty productive.  He was clean and sober and was a certified drug and alcohol counselor.  He still toured the country (and lots of other countries, too, where apparently, his star is still shining bright).
But the documentary is very much about Kessler trying to figure out why his favorite pop culture icon was no longer part of the public consciousness.  But Paul Williams doesn't care.  And therein lies the whole message of this particular film.  As much as Kessler is looking for answers in the past, Paul Williams is very much looking towards the future.  It's very telling that when Kessler asks Williams if he thought that being on The Gong Show was when he started to see his star decline, and Williams defended his appearance on the show.  He didn't see it as a step down.  It was just another fun thing to do.  But he also didn't spend much time dwelling on those years.  Those were times that he did what he set out to do, and what he's doing today is what he wants to do.  There's no regrets.  Why would there be?  It's a nice little commentary on today's stars.  If an appearance on The Apprentice is a fun thing to do, who are we to say that it's a step down for them.
And after the film, Paul and Stephen talked to the audience for about 20 minutes answering questions.  The most revealing thing was Paul talking about his lowest point in addiction, and the day things turned around.  It was a truly touching and amazing story, and you could almost see Stephen standing next to him thinking to himself, "Why didn't you say any of this to me, so I could get it on film?"
This is a funny and fascinating film, about a 70's icon.  And a 70's icon who I have always appreciated.  So I give it ***1/2.  If he had less of an impact on you (or no impact at all) then I would say ***.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Day 113 - Horrorhound Weekend

Wow.  As I start to write this, I have no idea how to start.  And it isn't because I don't know what to say, but instead I have numerous ways to start this off.
Each year, after Thanksgiving, I have traveled to Columbus.  At first, I was able to combine a trip to Mid Ohio Con (Ohio's biggest comic book convention) with a visit from one of my buddies from college - one of only a few that I keep in touch with.  When Mid Ohio Con changed its date years ago, I continued making the trip on the same weekend, because I'm a big fan of tradition.  And as each year has gone by, Jason (my college buddy) and I have built a stronger friendship from those visits.
When I was in high school and college, I filled up three notebooks with Leonard Maltin-esque reviews of every movie that I watched.  When I saw Nancy Allen and Roddy McDowall in a production of "Dial "M" For Murder" I knew that I wanted to get their autographs, and I decided to have them sign my reviews of Dressed to Kill and Fright Night respectively.  Since those first two autographs, I think the collection has grown to well over 60 with people as varied as Bryan Singer to Erin Gray to Ray Harryhausen.
Finally, I think it was three years ago, I went to Horrorhound Weekend in Cincinnati to meet the cast of Night of the Creeps (which was more awesome than I could even imagine).  Each year Horrorhound holds a convention in Cincinnati, and when my cousins used to live there, I was able to do the double bill of going to the convention and then hang out with them.
Well, this year, Horrorhound held a convention in Columbus.  I told Jason I would be in town this weekend, and did he want to get together?  Much more than that, he wanted to tag along.  So, yesterday, he made his first trip to a horror film convention.  It was pretty impressive.  The amount of people that were there was staggering.  The amount of cleavage that was on display was also staggering.  But I was there for autographs.  The first person I got in line for was Stuart Gordon, the director of Re-Animator.  And I actually didn't have him sign my notebooks, but rather I had him sign my copy of Dark Visions: Conversations With the Masters of the Horror Film by Stanley Wiater.  I've already had a bunch of directors sign it already, and he was number six.
Then it was time for the notebooks.  Pam Grier (Class of 1999) was awesome.  Incredibly nice, and willing to spend time with anyone who had any questions about her work.  Sherilyn Fenn told me David Lynch was pissed that she couldn't be in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me.  Amy Steel (Friday the 13th Part 2) told me that while acting is tough, it's still better than doing something like construction work.  Adrienne Barbeau... I actually don't remember what she said.  I was honestly too starstruck.  She was the main person that I wanted to meet at the show.  Julia Adams (The Creature From the Black Lagoon) read my ***1/2 review and laughed.  Fabiana Udenio (Summer School) thought the notebooks were cool, and was really sweet.
Amongst all the autographs was lots of wading through people, looking at the Norman Reedus line (which seemed neverending), watching Norman Reedus act like the nicest guy in the world (I don't think I saw the smile leave his face the numerous times I walked by), buying a copy of the F/X soundtrack on LP, buying a copy of Paul Schrader's Cat People on DVD, and seeing a seven-foot tall Sasquatch.
It was pretty fun, and while Jason only bought a Pink Floyd LP, he still had a good time and he was a great guy to have around to face (and talk about) the madness.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Day 100 - Spoilers ahead (not really).

Nothing much in the way of pop culture today.  I watched last night's episode of The Walking Dead.  Actually, that's what I'm going to rant about.  Not the episode, itself, because that was pretty sweet.  No, I'm going to complain about people who have no filter.  Working at a comic shop has many, many advantages, not the least of which is having conversations with like-minded individuals.  Unfortunately, there's always a person (or two) who feels the need to let other people around him know how the movie or TV show turned out with no regard to anyone else.  Or, if they do have some sense of decorum, they fail so miserably at trying to keep plot points secret, that they give away the ending anyway.
I'm busy.  I have a life (you can laugh, because I'm laughing, too, at that one).  That's why we have VCR's and DVR players.  They exist for people like me who have no time(or even patience) to watch something live.  And because of certain circumstances, sometimes I'm not able to catch up on a show for a week or two or three.  I just want to be surprised.
And I realize the need to tell others about something awesome you've just seen (or heard or read) is ingrained in us at some level.   I would just rather people be more creative in their enthusiasm.
And I'm tired.  This is a stupid early bedtime, but what're you gonna do?

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Day 99 - Ghost Rider (among other things)

In order to prep for Ghost Rider 2, my friends and I endured (and I mean endured) a viewing of Ghost Rider starring Nicholas Cage.  And it was awful. Like mind-numbingly bad.  I mean, it took 49 minutes for the title character to even make an appearance.  And this is a character who is a flaming skeleton in a leather jacket riding a motorcycle.  How do you mess that up?  Let me count the ways.  1. Nicholas Cage chooses to make Johnny Blaze a wuss.  He eats jellybeans out of a martini glass?  Really?  I longed for the Nicholas Cage of Bad Lieutenant.  Give me a gonzo performance.  It would at least make him more compelling as a character.  2. Eva Mendes plays the absolute worst television reporter in film history.  It's like she's never watched television in her life.  3.  The bad guys are completely ineffectual.  Three elemental demons are the most easily defeated bad guys in film history.  Random thugs in a James Bond movie stand a better chance at taking him out than these guys do.  4. Sam Elliott does nothing.  Nothing.  5.  The stunts are so poor, they remind me of a no-budget movie.
It's just bad.

I bought the new Christina Perri album, Lovestrong, because I really liked her song Jar of Hearts.  I'm listening to it in the car (not finished yet), but I'm digging it so far.  Jar of Hearts is still the highlight of the album (so far), but at least it's not a bad album.

And I rewatched Limitless tonight.  As I type this out, I'm actually relistening to The AfterShow Podcast of the film, and we get really in depth on why we liked it.  ( ) I still enjoyed it on the second viewing.  Bradley Cooper does a great job looking like a train wreck at the beginning of the film.

It was a good day, and I haven't even watched The Walking Dead yet.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Day 97 - Roger (Corman) and me

Today was the perfect day to illustrate my incredibly varied tastes in film.  The Secret World of Arietty, the newest offering from Studio Ghibli, may not have been as fun as Ponyo or captivating as My Neighbor Totoro, but it's no slouch, either.  Taken from the novel (or the movie or The Littles), the story is a pretty simple one (which is one of the film's detriments), in that there is a family of little people ("borrowers") who are living in the the floorboards of a house and they try to keep people from finding out they exist.  The daughter, Arietty, when she goes out on her first "borrowing" is found out by the sick boy (Shawn).  Now they have to move.
As slight as the story is, the film is simply gorgeous to look at.  Each frame seems like it is a piece of artwork.  It's a lush and captivating film.  And by the end, there is some real drama and emotion.  It just seems so slight for all the effort that was put into it. ***

Then, tonight, I got to see the documentary Corman's World, which gives a fairly comprehensive look at the filmic history of Roger Corman.  It should be required viewing for anyone who likes exploitation films (the man gave us Piranha, The Little Shop of Horrors an The Raven amongst others), or who hasn't read How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime.  I already own his book and have read it a couple of times, so, really, none of the information was new to me.  However, it was incredibly cool to see people like Jack Nicholson, Peter Fonda and Ron Howard all talk about him with reverence.
As a historical piece, the film worked pretty well, with the perfect ending of Corman receiving his honorary Oscar in 2010 surrounded by friends and family.  (As a side note - I was initially pretty upset when the Oscars started handing out their honorary Academy Awards at a separate event instead of at the real deal.  But then I read an interview, probably with Corman, where they said, because they had advance warning about the Oscar, they got to invite all the people close to them to enjoy in the honor and it made things much more personal.  When the people getting the Oscars are for this process, it's hard to argue.)
The movie really skimps on his 1980's output of films, but overall, there are some fun stories and a look at one of the most successful independent filmmakers ever.  Definitely worth a watch.  ***

When I turned on the television tonight, I got caught up in Catch Me if You Can on TNT.  I had no intention of watching until the first commercial break, but I ended up watching most of the film.  After looking at his output over the last ten years, I think it's pretty safe to say that this is his best film over that period.  It has a fun story, great acting, and John Williams best score in quite some time. It does what the best "based on true events" movies do - which is make you want to read what the "real" story is.  ***1/2

A busy day.  But satisfying.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Day 96 - Thursday TV

Survivor was on Thursday nights for many years.  So much so, that as a family event, we still watch it on Thursday nights.  And this weeks episode was insane.  And when I say that, usually it can be chalked up to hyperbole, but when a whole tribe that's won immunity *spoiler alert* gives up said immunity to actually go to tribal council and vote one of their own out,then that seems to be the actual definition of insane.  I'm not even going to get into the whole race/sexuality/power struggle thing that went on with the episode.  It simply made for compelling television.  And Lief lives another day.  I just want the little man to make it to the end.

Archer continues to be a wonderful distraction.  Every character is reprehensible, and yet I can't stop watching them, and even be sympathetic (at times).  And there are such few shows that can have two cyborgs have a massive battle with endless Robocop jokes.

Unsupervised, the unsung FX animated show, isn't the best or funniest show out there, but Joel and Gary (the two main characters) have such enthusiasm for life and school that it's hard not to like them.  Unfortunately, it doesn't have a ton of laughs.  Within the last couple of weeks, I bought Archer Season 2 and The League Season 2, and I've just about finished with rewatching Archer.  But, unless I see Unsupervised for 12 bucks or less, I don't see myself owning it (even if David Hornsby, one of the stars, was in The Joe Schmo Show - one of my most favorite things ever).

On my way back from volleyball tonight, I reached into the back seat of my car to grab a CD.  I ended up with Garbage 2.0.  I just really like that album, and I can't wait for their new one to be released this year.  Now, if we can just get Fiona Apple to release a new album...

Much more stream of consciousness tonight.  But at least I'm writing.  Cheers.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Day 95 - Pop culture and me

"I am leaving in the morning, Lady Grantham."
"Do you promise?"

With that exchange in the last episode of season 2 of Downton Abbey, I laughed a lot.  Season 3 can't come soon enough.  There's something about the characters on this show that fills me with amazing amounts of empathy.  I feel sad when the characters go through bad stuff, and I find myself constantly hoping for happy endings (even for the reprehensible Thomas).

As of right now, I'm loaded up on pizza, chocolate, and a mission to get writing (again).  If I do this right, I'm going to try to at least give a little commentary on random pop culture things that I've read or watched in the last day.  For example...

Chronicle - The story of three teenagers who get superpowers and what it happens when one starts his descent into villainy.  Done on a shoestring budget, this is such a triumph of comic book filmmaking.  There are a ton of little moments that do nothing but create life into these characters, and the movie is all the better for it.  It's strong throughout, and doesn't spoon feed the audience with explanations of how the powers work.

Between Gears by Natalie Nourigat is a graphic novel that is essentially a drawn journal of Natalie's life starting in her senior year of college.  It's a massive collection, and while I've only gotten through about 20 pages so far, it's a fun read.
But a great read is Derf's My Friend Dahmer.  Cartoonist Derf went to the same high school as serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, and, in fact, hung out with him.  Dahmer may not have been a friend, but he was definitely an acquaintance.  And reading the story of his high school experience is sad, terrifying, and sometimes funny.  It never feels exploitative, and the story, combined with Derf's striking artwork has guaranteed that I'll read this many times (just like I have with his previous works, Trashed and Punk Rock and Trailer Parks.
I still really like Raising Hope, and I love the fact that actors from My Name is Earl keep appearing.  And yet, with no new characters appearing on the poorly named (and oft made fun of title) Cougar Town, I find that perfectly fine.  Besides, it would take someone of incredible fortitude to keep up with the lovable lushes of that show.
Join me tomorrow (hopefully), as I wax poetically about Survivor, Archer and The Mentalist (amongst others)

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Day 57 -Martha Marcy May Marlene

My friends always talk about how much they hate the ending of The Mist.  I never saw it with them in the theater, but when they decided to get their hate on again, we all gathered together and watched the black and white version of it.  I, personally, had very little anger towards the ending, and I think with just a little time lapse, it would have been perfect.  But after seeing Martha Marcy May Marlene, I think I may have felt a little of what they did after they saw The Mist.
This film, while it was never going to be a classic (at least to me), was interesting enough.  Elizabeth Olsen (who, up until the Academy Award nominations, was getting all sorts of acclaim) plays the title character.  And the story revolves around her as she escapes from a cult and reconnects with her sister who she hasn't seen in two years.  That all happens in the first few minutes.  The rest of the movie spends its time going back and forth between her time with the cult (and how it's as bad as you think it would be) and her time with her sister and her sister's husband (played by Sarah Paulson and Hugh Dancy, respectively).  And those two are woefully underprepared to deal with the shattered psyche of Martha.
The movie instills a real sense of dread  throughout, and the constant back and forth between then and now keeps you on edge.  As we get closer and closer to the reason that Martha has had enough and leaves (deservedly so), you start to get more concerned with her current safety.  All of this starts to come together to bring us to what should be a startling ending... or not.
In what is the worst move ever, the ending craps out on us.  Without giving much else away, the movie decides to take a road that made me both angry and frustrated.  While I may have not thought the film was a masterpiece, I was involved in the characters and I wanted to see what was going to happen.  But the ending made me completely apathetic to the whole experience I had just seen.  Solid acting, an interesting color palette, and a nice sense of mood are all wasted.  As disappointing as Tintin was, this might have topped that because this was better for so much longer.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Day 54 - Super


"Shut up, crime!"
With that declaration, Rainn Wilson's Crimson Bolt uses a wrench to knock some sense into evildoers.  This is really, if not a great movie, at least a very interesting one, and I liked it a lot.  James Gunn (of Tromeo and Juliet and Slither fame) has created a film that shows us what it would look like if an average joe dressed up as a superhero and tried to fight crime.  It would be boring, it would be violent, and it would be a little insane.
Rainn Wilson, Liv Tyler, Kevin Bacon, Ellen Page, Michael Rooker, and Nathan Fillion star in this.  If that pedigree doesn't get you to at least look at the film, then I don't know what to tell you.  Rainn plays Frank, a guy who just happens to be married to Liv Tyler's Sarah.  When your first thought is, "Yeah, right," it's a valid point.  Especially when she leaves him for Kevin Bacon's Jacques.  But we get a well-placed flashback that helps to explain a lot of the characters' decisions.  And when Sarah leaves Frank, something inside him snaps.  He has a vision (man, that's one wacky vision), and with some help from Nathan Fillion's Holy Avenger, Frank decides to become a superhero and get his wife back.  Chaos ensues.
Of course, every superhero needs a sidekick, and the Crimson Bolt is no exception.  His accomplice in do-gooding is Ellen Page's Libby aka Boltie.  What makes her stand out so well is that fact that she's on a crazy train.  From mild-mannered comic book store clerk, to full-blown superhero sidekick, Libby has some real mental issues to overcome, and Frank is so not the man to help with that (because of his own mental issues and all).
And it all climaxes in some incredibly brutal violence.
Make no mistake, this is a violent film.  But what's unnerving about it is that it runs the whole gamut, from cartoonish to very, very real.  And it constantly keeps you, as a viewer on your toes, because in one minute, you might be laughing at the fact that The Crimson Bolt just dropped a cinderblock on somebody's head, but the next minute, somebody else's legs just got crushed by a speeding car.   While the movie is out to shock, it's also trying to at least have a go at giving you something to think about.
There's an awful lot of religous imagery, too.  And most of the more serious scenes are given their full do (with The Holy Avenger stuff obviously played for laughs).  But Frank's crisis of faith is a strong theme in the film ("Doesn't the bible say violence is wrong?" he questions after bludgeoning someone).  It's contrasted nicely with Libby's gung ho attitude, and how she wants to just lay down some beatings, irregardless of criminality.
This is a film that's not for everyone, but you understand why the actors got involved in it.  Ellen Page plays completely against type, and her Boltie is a thing of insane wonder (and yes, I realize I may have overused the word "insane" but what are ya gonna do?).  Kevin Bacon's wife-stealing Jacques is the perfect foil to Rainn Wilson's Frank (who completely sheds his Dwight Schrute persona).
Being a real-life superhero may not be for everyone, but for the few that are called, here's a great primer on what to do, and what not to do. And just know that as a weapon, a pipe wrench will do.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Day 50 -Tintin

My exposure to Tintin, the Belgian reporter/hero, first started when I was in the third grade.  There was a kid's digest magazine that serialized The Secret of the Unicorn, and I read that story a lot.  And I knew there was more, because that story ends on a cliffhanger, and the class had the first part of Red Rackham's Treasure (the sequel).  After many (many) trips to the library, and a bunch of other Tintin books being read, I was finally able to see how the story played out.
I grew up reading comic books, and Tintin was no different, except for the fact that I immediately loved the stories.  Whether it was the excitement, the danger, the humor or the art (or all of it together), I read (and reread) the stories.  I have my obvious favorites (Tintin in America, The Black Island, Tintin in Tibet), but topping the list was (and always will be) The Secret of the Unicorn.  So, imagine my joy when I found out Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson were going to be making a movie adaptation of one of my favorite books.  If anyone could bring the action and excitement from these stories to life, it would be these two.
And last week I saw The Adventures of Tintin.

And it might be the most disappointing film I've seen in the last ten years.  I'd like to say that my expectations were too high, and no film could've lived up to them, but I can't believe it.  The plot cribs from two Tintin books - The Secret of the Unicorn and The Crab with the Golden Claws, and, tragically, it doesn't even take the best stuff from them.
The main plot of the film is that Tintin (with no real introduction to speak of) finds a model ship, buys it, and then finds out that there's a number of other people who want it.  Apparently there's a message about a secret treasure hidden inside the ship.  After being kidnapped, Tintin awakes on a ship, meets Captain Haddock and the two of them team up to beat the bad guys to said treasure.  Oh, and Haddock is basically a (semi) functioning alcoholic, who's booziness both helps and hinders them on their journey.
It's frustrating watching the film, because there's no dynacism or real coherence to the story.  I mean, from the very first scene, when Tintin buys the model ship, he's offered insane amounts of money for it, and he turns it down.  Is he a collector?  Is he waiting for a better offer?  No.  He just keeps it, because that's what the story demands of him.  At least in the comics, he doesn't want to sell it, because his friend, Captain Haddock, would love it.  Well, he hasn't even met the captain yet in the film.
Then there's the action... which is pretty non-existent.  All the positive reviews I've read for the film talk about comparing it to Raiders of the Lost Ark.  I don't see the comparison at all.  There's two really great set pieces - one involving a pirate attack on the Unicorn, and the other involving a chase with all the characters going after the parchments.  They're exciting scenes, but the pirate attack involves a sequence that, visually, is interesting, but makes no sense in any sort of universe.  It takes you completely out of the film.
Tintin has always been a cipher in the comic books, but as you read them, you never mind that lack of characterization, because he's such a force of nature, that you get more involved in the adventure than in his character.  But the film has such lags in the action that you spend so much time wondering what Tintin actually does.  The movie (and the books) say he's a reporter, but what's the story he's after?  Is it simply buried treasure?  At least a couple of the characters have a revenge/history thing going on.  And then there's Captain Haddock, who's such a jerk in the film.  Here's a character that we're supposed to find funny and compelling, yet throughout the film, he hinders Tintin at every turn, because he's always drunk.  Here was the perfect opportunity for the film to deviate from the comics, and make Haddock a stronger and more likable character, and I think they made him even more unapproachable.
Whenever a film is based off a book I've read, I try to separate the two of them, and I think I did that with Tintin, regardless of how much I've compared the two.  I wanted to see a film that brought me back to being eight years old.  I wanted a film that had high adventure and non-stop excitement.  This was not that film.
Should it have been done as all live action, or all animation, as opposed to the motion capture?  Possibly, but I don't think the film's flaws would have been masked by a change in filming style.  It's not a bad film, but it commits the worst offense by being boring.  I think everyone (the filmmakers, the audience) would have been better served if they had just Sin City'd it and filmed directly from the comics.
I can only hope Peter Jackson's adaptation in a few years is better.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Day 41 - Taken (again)

  •  One of my early reviews, placed here because I just rewatched Taken.  Enjoy.

    The Critic Wannabe (reviews Taken)

    1:41 AM
    Day 914
    Supermom = Tilda Swinton's Margaret Hall from The Deep End
    Superkid = Harry Eden's Paul from Pure
    And now we have Superdad = Liam Neeson's Bryan Hill in Taken.
    If you've seen the trailer (a really great one), then you know this is about a dad who goes after the guys who (randomly) kidnap his daughter while she's in France on a vacation.  That's what we call a bad move, fellas.
    Liam is a machine.  He's all sweet and lovey-dovey at the beginning, even if he's trying to get used to being "retired" so he can be closer to his daughter (literally and figuratively).  But she's his life right now, so when she's kidnapped, all the skills that our government gave him to keep our country safe - they're going to be used in France on many, many bad men.
    Rambo, last year, did something very well - and that was make the bad guys so reprehensible that you were cheering their deaths.  They were bad men.  This film uses the same tactics, and, by golly, it worked for me here, too.  When Kim (played by the apparently ageless Maggie Grace) is kidnapped, the movie decides to never stop for a moment.  All that character-building stuff at the beginning?  That was just to lull you into a sense of complacency.  Because from that moment on, Liam Neeson is a killing machine, focused only on the task at hand - rescuing his daughter in the little window of time that he's allotted.
    This is not a man who negotiates deals with bad guys for information.  This is a man who will kill everyone in the room, leaving one person left to tell him the next location where he can repeat the process.  He risks his life for his daughter.  If he can't find her (by the end of the movie), then his own life means nothing.  He shoots, stabs, and pummels anyone in his way, never losing focus that his daughter's rescue needs to be the end result.
    I refuse to nitpick at a movie that had me shouting at the screen "YEAH!" a number of times.  It's entertainment, pure and simple.  And the fact that it was directed by the same guy who did District B13 (Pierre Morel) only makes me more satisfied.
    The trailer is the movie without giving the movie away and Liam Neeson IS Superdad.
    ***1/2 (I'm feeling generous because I'm still exhilirated.)

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Day 39 - Podcasts

So, for those of you who don't know, I'm involved in The Aftershow Podcast.  It's a Podcast that my friend Adam started where we would record the conversation we have after seeing a film.  And it could be either in a theater or after watching a DVD.  A no holds barred discussion about the movie we had just seen.  It's pretty spoiler-ific, because sometimes you see a film and the ending is so good or so frustrating that you have to break it down right then and there.  But there's a core group of four of us (Adam, James, Mike and myself) that interact, and try to be the smartest people in the room.  Obviously, we love when more people show up (the more the merrier), but some people have lives.  I don't, so this works well for me.  I really have a grand time doing this, and I have no idea who listens to us, but I like giving it as much publicity as I can, because having people hear you talk is almost as good as seeing your name in print.  So this is my first plug of the night.

My second plug of the night is for my cousin Jim's podcast that he does for VH1.  His most recent one was for the most current Twilight film as he interviewed Christina Perri (who is a Twilight fan) about her love of the films (and books), and her song off the new soundtrack.  However, that's only the first part of the Podcast.  In the second half Jim interviews me about my views on the films.  Needless to say I am not the biggest fan.  But I had a really fun time doing the interview (even if I sound terrible - I was in the midst of being sick for 2 straight months).  So here's the link to that.  My stuff starts arounf the 16 minute mark.

Soon, I will vent about the Tintin film.  Just not tonight.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Day 36 - Intolerance, Fringe and Downton Abbey

D.W. Griffith's Intolerance wasn't merely one of the best silent films I've ever seen, but simply one of the best films I've seen.  There's four stories - from Jesus and the Pharisees, to the fall of Babylon, to the French Revolution, to the present - and they all work their way to an insane crescendo of a race-against-time ending.  The common theme is all about man's intolerance to man.  And while all the stories may just have that tenuous thread, the stories themselves are incredibly strong.
And if this all seems too heavy, know that the film, besides being exciting, is funny, sarcastic, and filled with one of the most tremendous battle sequences ever put to film.  Beheadings, stabbings, burning oil, catapaults... it has all of that.  And it's anchored by Constance Talmadge's performance as the Mountain Girl, who is so independent and joyous that you understand why Griffith changed her fate in a re-issue of the film.
When I saw the film last night it was accompanied by a live piano performance, and I was initially skeptical that it might overpower the film, or even be underwhelming.  But Joseph Rubin hit every note on the button, and really gave extra life to an already remarkable film.  ****
Then this afternoon, I started Season 3 of Fringe.  Bouncing back and forth between universes, this season is (so far) filled with moments that had me (again) gripping the sides of my chair (figuratively).  I think I love the fact that the Emmys continually bypass this show in all the acting categories.  I mean, everyone who watches the show knows that besides creating characters that are believable in the most fantastic of situations, these actors create characters that are playing characters who are playing characters, and doing it so well that we're never lost or confused.  And, really, who thought Joshua Jackson would've been one of the breakout actors from Dawson's Creek?
Finally, tonight started Season Two of Downton Abbey.  Season One was the moment when I realized I turned into my parents.  I still remember going to bed on Sunday nights listening to the strains of the Masterpiece Theater theme music, and hating it.  But last year I gave Downton Abbey a chance, primarily because Jullian Fellowes created it, and he's the same guy who wrote the wonderful Gosford Park.  And it was fantastic!  The whole Upstairs/Downstairs theme was done with such compelling characters and storylines that tonight's season two opener brought me back into this universe so compellingly and it both made me happy and sad with one incredible turn.  I am so invested in these characters that even their smallest problems are giving me heart palpitations.  And now, since World War I is going on, besides social faux pas, I have to be worried as to whether some of these characters might die.  It's freaking me out, and I love it.  This first two hour premiere was near-perfection.  These British shows have too few episodes for a season.  I want more.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Day 32 - Hugo


Martin Scorsese has been making some great films these last few years, and Hugo is no exception.  The story of a young orphan who lives among the clock towers of a train station in 1920's (or 30's) Paris, hooks up with a cute orphan girl, a cantankerous old man, an automaton that needs repairs and a station guard who wants to send him to an orphanage might be too scattered for any other director, but Scorsese manages to have all that plus include an ode to his own love of films and make the film in 3D.  And it's great.
I recently wrote about how I want to feel something when I watch a movie, and I've gotta say, that this film moved me in spades.  From the shots of us following young Hugo around the catacombs of the train station to the heights of the clock towers, the camera manages to, because of the 3D, make us feel that we're both there, and create a sense of fantasy.  I've got to imagine that the movie looks just as magical in 2D, but the immersive nature of 3D makes this journey all the more enjoyable.
The first half of the film sets up the characters and begins the mystery of the automaton.  Even the supporting cast has full stories that I found compelling.  Maybe because I'm such a softy, but the different love stories that the film follows are all wonderful.  From the couples that have to overcome minor difficulties, to those that have a love that lasts forever, the film gives them equal weight, without being overstated.
But the real love that's on display here, is a love of both books and films.  Hugo bonded with his father over movies, and Isabelle (with another great performance by Chloe Grace Moretz) has found that books are her gateway into adventure.  When the two of them combine, a slice of magic happens.  Hugo is able to show her the magic of films, and without books, the central mystery of the film might never have been solved.
Besides the two children (who are completely convincing), the movie also boasts of one of Ben Kingsley's finest performances as Papa Georges.  From his steely-eyed glare, to the thawing of his heart to the sadness of his past, he inhabits the character perfectly.  Sacha Baron Cohen as the station inspector is a suitable adversary for Hugo, and when you find out his story, you completely understand why he is the way he is.  And Christopher Lee as a bookstore owner?  That's a win all day long.
But, really, the main reason the film works as well as it does is the whole idea that history is important.  The characters get an education on the early days of cinema, and for many of the moviegoers, it's their education as well.  And it's fascinating.  There are wonderful recreations of the actual filming of these early films.  The joy these characters have for this time is infectious.  And none of this is heavy-handed, because the reactions the characters echo the reactions we're experiencing.
It really is an amazing film, and unlike some of the other reviews I've read, I actually like the first half of the film more than the second half.  But as a whole it's still one of my favorites of the year.  And the music is a standout as well.  There really is no reason not to see this film if you like movies.  It might love them even more than you.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Day 29 - What happens when you get older...

After seeing The Muppets a few weeks ago, my friends got it in their heads to watch Meet the Feebles as a movie chaser.  The first (and only) time I saw it was at the Cleveland Cinematheque around 1996.  But I found a copy on DVD for about $5-$8.  And apparently it's been sitting in my collection for just the day to watch it with another group of people.
When I saw the film, I was just a couple years out of college, and, while I realized it was an extreme film it didn't really bother me.  I've always said that seeing the double feature of Robocop and Monty Pythons Meaning of Life when I was a senior in high school was when I got broken.  After those two films I felt I could take on the world.
And then in college, I went even crazier.  Evil Dead 1 & 2, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 1, 2 & 3, a couple of the Hellraisers, a couple John Waters films, Sweet Movie (which I do not recommend), and John Woo's The Killer were just some of the movies that I saw.  But I don't want to make out that I was a complete heathen in college.  I was just looking to have a visceral experience, and these films gave that to me.  I never got really scared from some of these horror films simply because I grew up reading about how they made them, and watching every making-of special on TV that came on.
And it wasn't just movies - I read a lot of weird stuff, too.  Bret Easton Ellis made his first appearance on my radar in college.  And then there were the incredibly well-drawn but very strange (to put it mildly) Glenn Danzig comic books.
And here's the thing.  When you first read or see any of this stuff, you have a reaction.  Some people get a charge out of extreme films, some people see one and they're done, and others, like myself, pick and choose.  John Waters is a good example for me.  I appreciate his films.  Female Trouble and Polyester were worth watching.  Serial Mom was one of my favorite films of 1994 (like top 3).  But I wasn't happy until I saw Pink Flamingos.  And I got to see it on the big screen.  Once was enough.  But at least I can say that I saw it.  It's almost a badge of honor.
All of this occurred in the 90's.  And years later when I went back to revisit some of these things, I wondered what I was thinking.  Have I matured?  Was it a phase?  Am I satisfied with my life enough now that I don't need to watch anything as extreme anymore?  The Human Centipede was calling out my name until I saw the South Park episode, and that seemed to have sated me.  (And South Park's extremism is still something that I seem to have not outgrown).
When I rewatched Meet the Feebles, I was struck by how violent, gross and wrong it was.  I remember that it was crazy, but I didn't remember how crazy.  It's an innovative film, with some great songs, but it's so not what I sit at home and watch anymore.  And I don't know if my tastes have changed or if my mind isn't ready for this type of experience anymore.  All I can think of is that as I get older maybe I'm getting more lame.  But I might be okay with that.  Or maybe I need to watch Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 again.