30 June 2012

The Watcher: June 2012

It's been a long time. I know. My bad. But the summer is upon us, and it's time to sum up some shows now passed and to write up about current addictions. And since June is pretty much with the nearly being over, I've cobbled everything June-y television-y into this post. Anyone watching with me? Thoughts?

Awkward., Season 2, Episode 1 - Resolutions (Airdate: 28 June 2012)
The one great show on MTV the channel hasn't canceled yet is back! [Note: I'm still bitter about the Skins cancellation, and also bitter that folks didn't seem to have a liking for it, what gives?] At the end of last season, Jenna just found out the individual who wrote The Letter (pretty much saying, 'Buck up, stand out, stop being a whimp') was none other than her very own mom! Additionally, in that wonderful category of ones love life, Jenna and Jake smooched, while Matty was regulated to the sidelines. If you're not watching Awkward., you're missing out. It's amazingly clever, from the way these tired teen show tropes come across as brand spankin' new to the hilarious dialogue and variety of brilliant wordplay (check out how many ways a character can talk about a penis without outright callin' it out). And it doesn't hurt that the cast is so darn cute and charismatic, playing off each other fantastically, making these 21 minutes fly by faster than Superman's blurryness.
"Resolutions" returns on top form: Jenna and Jake are having a blast with the making out, fun physical stuff, but have yet to really hammer out the details: is this a relationship? Matty knows he screwed up, but he's willing to do anything for a second chance with Jenna, and ends up making a dumb, impulse decision in the end. And Jenna finally decides to take charge of her life, she makes her decision about Jake and she lets her mum know that...dun, dun, dun (!)...she knows. All in all, a really solid twenty minutes, made - as per usual - in large part from the fantastic Ashley Rickards. New crush. Wonderful lady. But speaking of true awkwardness, the penultimate scene of the episode with Jenna, Jake and the condoms and their discussion afterward, not particularly a huge fan of how that played, specifically Jake's reaction. Felt a tad forced. Otherwise, great episode, and I'm over the moon Awkward. is back. Just wish it was for a longer period than 13 episodes. Ladies and gents, check out the show, you (most likely) won't be disappointed.

Bunheads, Season 1 - The First 3 Episodes (Airdate: 11 June 2012 - Present)
As a fan of Amy Sherman-Palladino's Gilmore Girls run, there was not a scenario where I wouldn't be checking out her latest series, Bunheads. And I'm sincerely glad I did. The setup is that a Las Vegas showgirl, Michelle, leaves behind her unsatisfactory life and, via a evening of champagne and unwise decision making, wakes up married and on her way to the very small town of Paradise. Michelle's trying to find where she belongs, and her path leads her to Paradise and, inevitably, a dance studio. Concerning the specifics of the series, I'll leave that shadowed, because I went into Bunheads not knowing a single thing about it outside the Palladino Stamp and by premiere's end, was flabbergasted by the turn of events. And the episode after that ends on a crazy note, as well.

For three episodes, Palladino and her crew have set about building the world and characters that inhabit Paradise and establishing Michelle's place in town - and it's been fantastic. Two really excellent, fun episodes and one solid piece (the latest ep). There's just enough similarities to Gilmore Girls to raise a few eyebrows, but in truth, there is plenty of originality to separate the two, even if the voice and tone is very much the same. Not going to get into specifics, because I want folks to be intrigued enough to check it out for themselves, but overall, Bunheads has been quite satisfying in dialogue and content.

I know that the series hasn't been a ratings success for ABC Family, and the consequence of that fact sets its future in inevitable stone, but I don't want this party too end too early. Bunheads boasts a terrific lead embarking on familiar territory, it's watching how Michelle deals with this new environment that is so damn compelling. At the very leastest of hope, the show deserves a second season pickup, the story demands some satisfaction. So, folks, give it a whirl. Grade: A

Game of Thrones, Season 2 - The Complete Season (Airdate: 1 April - 3 June 2012)
Nudity, blood, politics, dragons, nudity, dwarfs, sarcasm, kingdoms, mist, monsters, betrayals, and lots and lots of characters; that about sums up Game of Thrones. Somehow, as the first season aired and ended, the series became a juggernaut, critically and in the ratings, appealing to both the fantasy gurus and the general public. Folks have been eating up Game of Thrones, and two years and twenty episodes in, I feel the writing and production team haven't quite done enough to deserve the faithful followers they've inspired.

Season 1 was pretty damn good, I'll give it that. Some areas moved at a pace that was altogether too slow for my liking, but season one and season two reflect the same amount of pace as, for comparisons sake, the two years of The Walking Dead: one quick, the other slow and, at times, frustratingly boring. With the exception of one of the ten episodes that compose GoT season two, there was very little that impressed me this year, or let alone was deserving of the accolades and ferocious fanbase. And instead of going on lengthy, obnoxious rants, I'm going to attempt to concentrate on something pacific: characters.

There is what feels like nine million characters inhabiting the world of the series, and the writers were unsuccessful in giving each character something to do, and making their actions and arcs make complete beginning, middle and end sense. Failing to come up with an example off the top of my noggin', there are instances where things are brought up and then dropped entirely. In the first year, it was those freaky creatures that began the series, and this year, the Smoke Monster that was birthed from crazy Red Head Girl. It's never spoken about or alluded to, as far as I'm aware of, again.

In the end, I'm going to chalk season two's odd pacing and lack of true movement as a necessary evil for placing all the characters in the right place for when the narrative really starts to heat up. Besides, this was the year that gave us a truly demented Joffrey on the throne, and that rat bastard was delicious entertainment. My feelings are about this series is best summarized by saying that people who don't have a clue as to what happens in the books, who only know of the information given by the series - the writers need to work more towards those people. I understand there's a ton of shit in the books that may or may not make their way into the televised series. This is irrelevant. What does matter is making sure what they decided to include makes sense, has an arc, and actually matters.

Episode nine gave viewers the first real look of a Helm's Deep-esque battle on a HBO television budget, and it was glorious. With a heavy concentration on character - which, in turn, made the battle all the more emotional and important - the limitations of the budget didn't end up hurting it at all, because it wasn't about the scale and spectacle anymore. By giving us real, frank moments with the characters, they sold those 55 minutes entirely. If the series can somehow find a way to channel the magic they conjured in that episode, Game of Thrones will be in for a marvelous third season.

Perhaps I'm just very giddy that a series of my genre is getting global recognition, and I really hope the content merits the attention, so that everyone will look at the fantasy (and sci-fi, argh) genre and give it the same respect as, say, Mad Men. For me, the show has yet to reach the level it deserves. Grade: C+

Girls, Season 1 - The Complete Season
A unique show with a unique voice that makes it fairly difficult to give something resembling a proper review, so a good amount of this might just come across as rambling. Created, written/co-written, and starring Lena Dunham, Girls features four gals in New York and depicts their individual journeys in a very frank, unconventional manner. Actually, 'unconventional' is a fantabulous way of describing the series. It's not the modern Sex and the City, nor is it some soap opera thing you'd find on The CW, but this time with the added layer of nudity and swear words. It's a difficult show to describe, and that, I think, is why I find myself so damn fascinated by it.

Dunham's character isn't an immensley likable character. Hell, none of the characters really are. And there's something worth complimenting on its own: boasting flawed characters that are real and messed up, who make dumb choices and aren't CW-level pretty. One lady is having a friends with benefits fling with a tall, skeletal dude who has some genuinely odd turn ons, while another sexes around town and doesn't seem to have a firm grasp on what to do next, and Girl #3 is trying to figure out her relationships and life. Oh, and there's a younger gal, the hilarious virgin, who is written so brilliantly that she more than makes up the show.

In ten episodes, Dunham crafts a arc for each of these characters, and because of the manner it's written, the show is thus unpredictable, and that's something commendable. There's no large battles, no obnoxious soap opera elements or cat fights; Girls is just a grounded, realistic, harsh look at three/four girls and the decisions they make. Absolutely worth your time. Grade: A

True Blood, Season 5 - The First 3 Episodes
Coming off the wildly successful fourth season (at least for me), I've had high hopes for True Blood's return, and thus far, I'm not disappointed. Two things have kept me the most interested: Bill and Eric's dynamic and where they fit into this new Sookie-free paradigm, and The Authority, what constitutes their religion and ethics and series of rules (and, of course, Christopher Meloni's tremendous acting chops). The scenes with the Authority and our protagonists are absolutely riveting, and continue to pump blood into this aging series. On the opposite spectrum of interesting, Hoyt's descent into becoming a Devil May Care gothic dick, Arlene's husband's war/fire thing with Scott Foley, and Lafayete's continued existence prevent the show from becoming really damn good. Tara's newfound predicament lends itself to multiple dramatic possibilities, but its execution to this point hasn't impressed - although I have no doubt the actress portraying Tara is having a field day, and quite happy to no longer be bound by the angry, bitchy, whiny Tara that chewed up scenery for four years.

Jason finally seems to be developing into what can best be described as a real character, Jessica just wants to have fun, Alcide's angry and huffs and buffs and does stuff, Sam ain't all that bad this time 'round but really ain't doin' anything, and Sheriff Andy's had his ass crack exposed to all manner of species in Bon Temps. This is the current state of True Blood. Oh! And I've neglected to mention Sookie a paragraph in already - my bad. Truth is, Sookie's one and only problem right now is dealing with Tara, which is both understandable (when considering that only, what, two days have passed, counting the day of the season 4 finale?) and nice, in that she's not neck-deep in some stupid vampire romance/killing spree/whatever shit - although with the return of Russell right around the corner, things are probably going to start getting ugly for dear ol' Sookie. What more, this year has shed light on Pam's past, and her rebirth as a vampire, highlighting the actress' amazing emotive abilities and talent for deadpan comedy.

Three episodes is hard to truly judge the series completely, but with less than 10 episodes to go now, I feel confident with the story this year, and that the characters are heading into interesting places. Yes, I would prefer to have each and every character to have important, captivating, enlightening arcs year after year, and this has truly not been the case, but preliminary signs indicate...season 5 just might be a winner. At the very least, Bill and Eric's Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid journey (as it's been described by showrunner Alan Ball) will be fun to watch, as will be The Authority's impact in the series universe. Grade: B+

Movie Prowlin: 2012 Edition, Vol. 2

You could say that I've really sorta majorly lost my groove this year. I stick a good amount of that blame on lack of money. Damn you, lack of money, damn you! But then I can't help but dislike myself for not reviewing a single damn one of these flicks - er, well nearly every single damn one of these flicks. That said, I plan on giving my two cents about each and every one of these 2012 releases as soon as possible. Since next month will primarily be based around Batman and worshiping all things related to the Dark Knight, reviews will be forthcoming in August.

Compared to this time 2011, yeah, I've really dropped the ball. Frankly, 2012 may be the year where I transition from loving movies and finding them the best thing in the universe, to falling in love with television and everything it has to offer. I mean, c'mon, I've already hit twenty-two full seasons watched, and with 22-24 episodes per season, that be a lot of time! Blimey! Anyone else love themselves this much TV?

But what I will say in regards to 2012 cinema is that it's been more interesting than last year. Cabin in the Woods recontextualized a whole genre, The Hunger Games opened the movie industry's eyes that women can kick major ass too, The Avengers have solidified Joss Whedon's name as The Man, no longer loved by just a devout few, and plenty of big budget productions have been failing to hit the mark (e.g., Battleship, Snow White and the Huntsman) while smaller (but still sizable) productions have either refused to leave my mind or impressed me far more than I could have expected (e.g., The Grey and Dark Shadows, respectively). And now July offers up two movies I couldn't anticipate more.

Like I said. Interesting year.

Oh! And just wanted to say, after viewing Final Destination 5 in 3D, I don't know why, but home theater 3D has impressed me far more than theatrical screenings have. So, despite my dislike for the ticket prices and BR prices of 3D, perhaps - just perhaps - there's something to the whole thing after all...cos that was really something. Also, if you have the chance, Adventures of Tintin was pretty damn awesome in 3D, as well.

Movies Watched from 01 April 2012 - 30 June 2012

39. The Woman in Black
40. The Cabin in the Woods
41. Shame
42. American Reunion
43. The Hunger Games
44. Underworld: Awakening
45. The Avengers
46. The Avengers
47. The Sitter
48. Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol
49. The Darkest Hour
50. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
51. The Five-Year Engagement
52. The Lucky One
53. John Carter
54. The Grey
55. Battleship
56. Dark Shadows
57. The Avengers
58. The Cabin in the Woods
59. The Avenges
60. New Year's Eve
61. Men in Black 3
62. Mirror Mirror
63. Dark Shadows
64. Snow White and the Huntsman
65. In Time
66. One For the Money
67. Tower Heist
68. Transformers: Dark of the Moon
69. Ted
70. Prometheus
71. What To Expect When You're Expecting
72. Blade Runner
73. Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark
74. Rock of Ages
75. That's My Boy
76. Jane Eyre
77. Hunger
78. Final Destination 5 [3D]
79. Fright Night
80. A Dangerous Method
81. Fish Tank
82. Angel
83. Centurion
84. Brave
85. Seeking a Friend at the End of the World
86. A Guy Thing
87. American Reunion
88. Piranha 3DD
89. People Like Us

TV Seasons Watched from 01 April 2012 - 30 June 2012

19. House: Season 3
20. House: Season 7
21. Parks & Recreation: Season 2
22. Parks & Recreation: Season 3

25 June 2012

MMAM - Vol. 57

Over the weekend, I participated in my first podcast (major w00t!), and the subject was the actor Michael Fassbender. Thus, I took a long, thorough look at his filmography, and revisited Steve McQueen's 2011 drama Shame, which has received wide attention for all the wrong reasons. The film is a gripping tale, thanks in large part to Fassbender and his enigmatic eyes, but also because of the riveting score by Harry Escott. Despite the phenomenal performances that the film can boast until the end of days, Shame would, I feel, hardly be as effective were it not for this score.

For Much Music Awesomeness Monday, I present the opening track, "Brandon". Listening to it solo, it's just as haunting (yet serene) as it is in the movie, but despite how bloody brilliant the cue is on its own, the visual facework of Fassbender and the Girl in the Train must be seen and experienced. So listen to this brilliant track, and then - if you haven't already - locate a copy of Shame and watch it immediately.

19 June 2012

Geek Does Comics: June 2012

Batman [#1-10]
Written by Scott Snyder

The New 52 launch made by DC last August/September was of interest to me for three titles: Batman, Superman, and Green Lantern. Batman I love dearly, but after whatever it is that Grant Morrison has done with the series over the last several years [apparently was transported back in time by Darkseid, and then Wayne traveled through several eras before coming back to 'life', while Grayson filled in as Batman during Wayne's absence, and then Wayne founded Batman Incorporated or something; and there was all this stuff with Thomas Wayne and Black Mask and secret organizations and revelations of family member shit, it was all very confusing], I was a bit turned off. And I've always wanted to get into reading Superman comics, specifically so I can start to understand the character a little better and maybe give a damn about him outside of the nifty action scenes and the attractiveness of Lois Lane. As for Green Lantern, outside of a really abysmal Hollywood production last summer, I really dig the character and the universe he inhabits. So to have the leisure of forgoing titles that have 700 issues to their names and starting at the beginning - it was quite appealing.

Under review today is the first ten issues of the New 52's Batman series, under the reign of Scott Snyder (American Vampire). To be precise and to the point, Snyder has an amazing handle on the Batman character - the pain that drives him, his unmatched detective skills and thorough research, his resolution to never give up to his dying breath, etc. The mannerisms and dialogue of Batman is very, very well executed, as are his interactions with the Bat family [such as Alfred and Dick Grayson]. In the first volume of the series, encompassing issues 1-6, Snyder beats down Batman so hard, he becomes a frazzled, hollow impression of the master of fear he once was. He becomes a fearful man, unable to concentrate, the victim of the Court of Owls, and they are winning over his mind. Batman's very sanity is walking out the door, and with some wonderful art accompanying the narrative, Snyder realizes a true fall for Batman....only to rise up, greater than ever.

That's actually what I've loved most about this Batman run - the psychological aspects of Batman. Well, that and the art. One of the things that drew me into comics back in 2000 was the amazing artwork that was found in the Marvel title Ultimate Spider-Man. It was so real and beautiful, I couldn't help but be lured in. Artist Greg Capullo is at work bringing Snyder's script to life, and realizes the gritty realism of Batman's world. Personally, I've always wondered why no one has tried to translate the armor-esque outfit Batman wears in the Nolan movie trilogy to comics, instead keeping with the simple cloth-looking costume that is the Dark Knight's signature style. But still, that menace is there. Costume aside, the real talent behind Batman's figure is the eyes. Those two white slits. Just watch the evolution of Batman's eyes from the first issue to this current one; it's a wild ride of ups and downs, perfectly reflecting the narrative frenzy.

So this is where Batman is. He's confident in his city, Gotham is all his, he knows the insides and outs, every corner, every street lamp and sewer - he has Gotham in the palm of his hand. And now something is emerging that threatens that belief, that there is something unknown lurking in Gotham's infrastructure with the means to topple it. Enter the long elusive Court of Owls, an organization cloaked in darkness and secrets since Gotham's inception, having a strong hand in how the city operated day after day. Now it's Batman who they set their sights on, and it takes every ounce of mental and physical endurance for the Dark Knight to conquer his foe.

This run has a heavy emphasis on the history and building structures of Gotham, which is neat and all, but overused. The first three issues was Batman cementing his post as the big detective in Gotham, Bruce Wayne under attack, and then another three issues on Batman's deteriorating psychological state, then the Night of Owls, and now Batman striking back and reclaiming the city. For being the premiere storyline of the New 52 Batman lineup, things needed to get moving a bit faster. That said, issues 4-7 were truly magnificent. Batman at the mercy of the Court, physically beaten and mentally beside himself - that was spectacularly strong stuff. But since the actual Night of Owls, as the Court initiates attacks on forty plus important figureheads of Gotham - I'm at a point where I want the story to move on from the Court and have Batman tackle something else.

And this brings us to issue 10, which concludes on a revelation. If you haven't read it, (obviously) stop reading now. So Bruce Wayne has a brother, it would appear. Hopefully there's not some obnoxious cop-out at the beginning of issue 11. I can possibly get behind that; it would be an interesting dynamic to have Bruce Wayne stuck with a sibling. But with only one or two issues of the Court of Owls arc left before it concludes, will this plotpoint be resolved within this arc, or be a lingering element?

From issues 1-7, I was yours, Scott Snyder. Now I just want the Owls to wrap up their attacks, and Batman to move on with his enemy. Still interesting storytelling issue after issue, and absolutely gorgeous artwork, just the Owls have overstayed their welcome. Grade for Batman Issues #1-10: A-

Batman Annual #1
Written by Scott Snyder & James Tynion IV

Set during the chaotic events of the Night of Owls, Mr. Freeze successfully breaks out of Arkham and initiates a plan to save his beloved Nora. But of course, Batman shows up and foils Freeze's plans (oh, spoiler?).

Basically existing for Scott Snyder to give his take on Batman's nemesis Mr. Freeze, the Annual isn't by any means bad, it's just not very exciting. So the paramount element of interest in this issue is how Freeze is handled, and frankly, it's quite cool. There was no pun intended.

Freeze is like a young Michael Myers. He killed/experimented on animals as a young child. He commits a crime of the highest degree...as a child. And he has quite the obsession over someone he can't have, blaming the world for the mistakes and horrible shit that's come his way. Freeze is a freakazoid who has a penchant for the cold, who has lived his life with his heart ice cold with no real emotions or ability to connect on a human level. And as the pages wind down, Batman reveals a Snyder-twist to the Freeze tale that makes the Sub Zero villain all the more messed up in the head. Seeing as how Mr. Freeze has never been a favorite of mine - although seven year old me quite enjoyed the Arnie's take of him in Batman & Robin - I don't mind in the least that Freeze has shed the tragical history his character used to have and instead became a straight up, well, sociopath.

The penciling by Jason Fabok is gorgeous. Worth the purchase alone to look over this wonderful work. But overall the story was just very "meh". I'd rather something more 'event'ish, like maybe the Owls decide to unleash Snyder's version of the Joker on Batman. Perhaps the Joker has some vital piece of intel. Nah, that's rubbish. But still a decent issue, just not very deserving of being the first annual, in my opinion. Grade for Batman Annual #1: B -

Smallville, Season 11 [#2]
Written by Bryan Q. Miller

After ten years and countless frustrating episodes and a good batch of truly spectacular episodes and presenting to audiences one of the finest realized Lex Luthors in memory, Smallville concluded its series run May 2011. Tom Welling (Cheaper by the Dozen) embraced his destiny as earth's savior, soaring over the skies of Metropolis to save them from Darkseid's Apokolips that was on a collision coarse to earth. In the closing shot, standing ontop of the Daily Planet, the John Williams score plays in all its Superman-y glory, and Clark Kent rips open his shirt, revealing the giant red and yellow S on his chest, and flies to save the day. Superman has officially arrived, and although that was the end for the series, it's not the end of the story.

Bryan Q. Miller, who penned a few episodes of Smallville, returns to the franchise to continue that story in Season Eleven. Only two issues in, and it has surprisingly been extremely faithful to the source material, in tone and style. As far as the artistic renderings of the actors to comic, that adaptation was less successful, and I'll get to that in a minute, but it's a real pleasure to see Clark Kent back in action.

What Smallville did successfully is made a Superman worth following, worth believing in. He wasn't just the Boy Scout who did no wrong. Clark Kent's journey was thrilling, wrought with emotional heartbreak and difficult moral choices. And let's not forget mentioning the mythic friendship between Clark and Lex, and the slow deterioration of that friendship as lies started stacking ontop of more lies, until by the end, Clark can't save him, and Lex takes his rightful place as his enemy. [Well, sorta. There's this whole mind wipe thing that happened in the series finale that makes Lex...complicated. More on that in a second or two]

So now that we have Superman, the red, white and blue defender of all things good in the galaxy, how well does Smallville present him? Pretty damn good. This is the Superman we all internationally recognize, and he's also the same Clark Kent that we watched grow up in ten seasons of the television show. Miller found just the right balance with Superman, made all the more wonderful by the extremely faithful-to-the-series and heartwarming exchanges between Clark and Lois. He does his best to make the wife happy, he's agitated he can't reveal Lex's murder of Tess or unravel the billionaire's schemes, and he does everything in his power to fight the good fight. And we got some cool space stuff this issue.

As for Lex, who is, for me, one of the most fascinating characters I've ever experienced - thanks in large part to Michael Rosenbaum's complex and tormented performance - his arc is interesting, but not altogether compelling. After murdering Tess in the series finale, Lex has been receiving visitations of her, Tess standing around or following her brother, taunting him with his obsession with Superman and everything that he doesn't remember. In regards to the series "Finale", I wasn't a huge fan of how they erased nearly all of Lex's memories pertaining to his time in Smallville, because that's seven years of character building that just went out the window. Now we have a guy who instinctively doesn't trust Superman, is haunted by the apparition of his deceased sister, and initiates schemes/plans under the guise that it will help the earth.

In summary, Clark and Superman are wonderfully realized (although visually disappointing), Lex Luthor continues to dominant the page, Lois is still all kinds of fun, and the dialogue and vibe of the comic feels very much in tone with the series. The content of the new season is less interesting, which is rather problematic for a series that's two issues in and boasts a four-dollar price tag. I'm not really sure where the story is going, but where ever it leads, I'll follow. I've watched Clark become Superman, not about to stop now. Grade for Smallville Season Eleven Issue 2: B+

12 June 2012

Tuesday Talk: The Dark Knight Legend

36 days until The Dark Knight Rises...

From the age of three, I fell in love with two things that remain to this day dear to my heart: dinosaurs, and Batman, the Dark Knight. Around this time, Warner Bros. debuted Batman: The Animated Series, and with that, my love for the Caped Crusader was cemented. Naturally I sought the live action productions soon afterward (with Batman Forever being a favorite for a long time) and I owned enough Batman toys I would need a whole house to display their beauty. Batman was awesome because he kicked butt and the Joker was cool and the series was beautifully drawn.

In 2005, everything changed. Batman Begins, written by Christopher Nolan & David S. Goyer and directed by Nolan, opened up a whole new understanding of Bruce Wayne and his path to rid Gotham of its criminal underworld. The psychology of the character suddenly became of paramount importance in my life, and the poetic, Shakespearean, magical story of this one man who so finely crafted himself a instrument of perfect deduction and physical skill, vowing that on his watch not another kid will have to suffer the same pain he has suffered, became this beautiful addiction. Begins had me fall in love with the man. In 2008, Nolan and Goyer teamed up to bring The Dark Knight, and with it, my imagination grew even more. A corrupt city, a madman who wanted nothing other than to "watch the world burn", a good man turned vengeful, and the outlaw who fought the fight against insurmountable odds.

These weren't/aren't just movies to me. They represent something fundamentally important to my life personally, and helped mold the type of storytelling I find interesting in my 'career' as a writer. I'm not in love with a guy in a cape and a bat outfit - I'm in love with the why he's in that outfit, the how he came to be in it, the what the costume represents, and the city that refuses to be healed. This is truly amazing material, brought to life by three brilliant, talented individuals who approached the subject from a realistic perspective. And thanks to them, Batman transcended the 'superhero' genre staple and became loved by the mainstream audience.

So understand me when I say, there will be few things in my life I will look forward to as much as I am 20 July 2012 when at midnight The Dark Knight Rises plays at the local movie theater.

Over the weekend, during the MTV Movie Awards (rather bland, minus the hilarious and gorgeous Emma Stone, future wife-to-be), Christopher Nolan, Gary Oldman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Christian Bale took the stage and presented one minute and twenty-five seconds worth of Rises footage. Some new, some recycled, but it was amazing nonetheless. It gave us some spectacularly intimidating shots of the ruthless Bane (Tom Hardy, Inception) and further insight into Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway, Love & Other Drugs). This is very, very good.

Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) holds no allegiances
Not gonna lie, I for one was not on the Catwoman bandwagon. Now, as much as the next guy in the world, I was all for Anne Hathaway in this rather nice, form-fitting outfit, but the casting of Hathaway didn't exactly inspire me, nor did the very inclusion of Selina Kyle/Catwoman in this Nolan universe. I guess it stems from me just not really caring that much about the character - Catwoman just never made that much of a mark on me. After the footage seen here (and the third and final trailer released under a month ago), I'm sold, I'm game. Hathaway nails it, and Nolan clearly understands the character. I'm still a little fuzzy and unsure how she fits into this world, and specifically this story. The amazing thing about Begins and Dark Knight is that each member of the sizable cast played a part - a very important part - in the film's narrative. I'm curious as to how she fits into all of this, and I hope that Selina won't come across as a superfluous character thrown in there for the sake of simply being there. People can complain about the presence of The Joker, Two-Face and Scarecrow in The Dark Knight, but their argument holds very little water when looking at how each of the villains affects the story. So how Selina is relevant to the narrative, that waits to be seen, but for the first time, I'm quite giddy about it. She doesn't appear to be on anyone's side, doing what she wants and needs. From the looks of it, Selina's the one who gets Batman and Bane in close quarters which initiates the first brawl.

So Selina Kyle, I still don't quite know where she's going or how she impacts the story, but I'm having a bit more faith in her inclusion. And with more and more promo shots of her Catwoman visage, I'm becoming more convinced that her outfit is more in line with the trilogy universe. Basically, I'm getting excited.

Bane (Tom Hardy) is revealed in all his glory.
In December Warner released a 6-minute prologue that showed before Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, exclusive to IMAX screens. Naturally I took it upon myself to find a copy online, since the Minnesota Zoo ain't exactly a quick jaunt. The prologue was our primary introduction to Bane, showing a man who is mysterious and calculating, willing to do anything and sacrifice anyone to achieve his plan. Visually, it was very striking, in true Nolan fashion, and Bane looked absolutely intimidating. But seeing as how this was also our first introduction to Bane's voice, this is where the red alert lights started going bonkers in the entertainment world - eventually making itself mainstream by getting mentions on late night talk shows. The problem was that because of the mask and the accent of Bane's voice, some of his dialogue was muddled and indecipherable.

This is my feelings about the Bane stuff: honestly, I love what they're doing with his voice. It's menacing. It's freakin' frightening. A man in a mask isn't scary enough, it needs to have the voice to back it up (e.g., Darth Vader, Batman, The Joker), and Tom Hardy accomplishes that. In the video of the prologue I watched, I could understand Bane's dialogue up until the climax when he wrestles his target in his hands and says something along the lines of "Now is not the time for fear. That comes later." It was muffled, and I had to consult alternatives to find out exactly what was said. Still, Trailer #2 and Trailer #3, both which feature Bane dialogue, feature Bane's voice in all its crystal clear spine-tingling glory.

"I am Gotham's reckoning."

"Your punishment must be more severe."

"Let the games begin."

"When Gotham is ashes, you have my permission to die."

So in conclusion about Bane: I'm freakin' excited. The Joker was the absolute right villain to counter Batman in The Dark Knight, and Bane is absolutely appropriate as Batman's final nemesis in this concluding chapter. A man with a plan, who will resort to any length to fulfill those devious, murderous plans. His voice is spine chilling, and his physical presence enough to make me recoil and pray he chooses to spare me. During filming of the daylight royale between Batman and Bane, onlookers commented on the two adversaries demeanor: Batman fifty or so feet away from Bane, a crowd of police and henchmen beating each other, and the two men in masks searching each other out, ready to fight, ready to end it.

Whatever the story elements or the theme of The Dark Knight Rises is, Batman vs. Bane has me giddy as New York. This is going to be amazing.

Look at the intensity of Bane. This is going to be a seriously awesome battle.

"The Legend Ends", the tagline reads, and this is bloody enticing. For once, we get a genuine, honest to God, planned conclusion to a hero's journey. It's not exactly something we see with hero stories anymore, with the properties usually abandoned (e.g., Spider-Man, Fantastic Four) and rebooted, but never really given a proper ending. Now we're getting that, and to my favorite heroic character of all. How does one end Bruce Wayne's journey? In Batman Begins, Rachel comments that Bruce's true face is the one the criminals now fear, that Bruce Wayne never came back [in essence, that from the minute his parents where killed, he was from then on always Batman], and in The Dark Knight, Bruce begins to contemplate life outside of Batman, looking to Harvey Dent to be "the hero with a face" that "Gotham deserves." I don't think this Batman tale will end with Bruce Wayne dying, but his rise into the city's savior will spell the end of the cape and cowl. Will Bruce relinquish himself into police custody to stand trial for the acts of Batman (as foreshadowed in Dark Knight)? Will Batman 'die' saving the city (and successfully inspiring it) leaving Bruce free to shake off the shackles of his Dark Passenger and finally be free?

Nolan has always been a man to approach characters from a psychological standpoint first and foremost, and however the physical journey ends, I think Bruce Wayne will end on a completed, content note. As the trailers ay, this is the end of the 'Dark Knight Legend'; Batman will live on through stories or whispers or in the spirit of the Police Department, it's how Bruce hangs up the mask that interests me. Hell, everything interests me. I could go on and on and on about this production.

Perhaps I'm too excited. That's a possibility, and all I will be heading towards is inevitable disappointment. That is a possibility, of course. When I first saw The Dark Knight, it didn't deliver what I was expecting, so I was initially taken aback. I studied those trailers like one of 'em CSI blokes, dissecting every frame and tidbit I could get my hands on, and the movie still 95% surprised the hell out of me. I still have no frakkin' idea what transpires in The Dark Knight Rises, but as long as Nolan continues to honor the themes and story beats he set up in the first two movies and brings a natural resolution to Bruce and, just as importantly, Gotham City, we're in for a wild ride.

All this writing boils down to one simple proclamation: I, Andy Simon, am more excited for The Dark Knight Rises than any other event in 2012. I'm already planning my activities for 19 July - when to arrive, what to bring, what to buy, etc. - because I both will be anxious to see the movie and sad that the time of Nolan's reign over the Batman franchise will shortly be coming to an end.

I'm thinking of dedicating most, if not all, of July to covering the Batman saga. Sound fun?

My tickets for Dark Knight Rises at the Marcus Oakdale UltraScreen. :) Boo ya!
How about you much less Batman addicted fans but general movie lovers? Excited for Dark Knight Rises? Thoughts on the Bane voice? Thoughts on Hathaway's Selina Kyle? How do you think the film will conclude Bruce Wayne's story?

04 June 2012

MMAM - Vol. 56

It's been a long-ass time since I posted one of these, and my apologies. But today I bring it back with a score deserving of recognition. Tomorrow sees the release of JOHN CARTER on home video, and with it, the beautiful soundtrack by Michael Giacchino (of LOST and STAR TREK fame) blasted in surround sound. Or whatever systems you have. Point is, Giacchino crafted a magnificent score, and no track on the CD release best exemplifies this but the video below. Additionally, the scene in which this accompanies is heartbreaking and absolutely amazing to watch.

Listen to the score (complete or the video below), and buy or rent JOHN CARTER. It's well worth the bucks.

02 June 2012

Comics Review: Ultimate Spider-Man Vol. 11 [Hardcover]

Ultimate Spider-Man Vol. 11 [Hardcover]
Premiered 2008-2009
Creative Team: Brian Michael Bendis (Writer), Stuart Immonen (Art)
Collecting Ultimate Spider-Man 123-133, Annual 3, Ultimatum Spider Man: Requiem 1-2

Ultimate Spider-Man got me into comic books way back in 2000. This was before the Sam Raimi movie had come out, before Spider-Man was a big property, and Marvel re-launched the Spidey title with this brand spankin' new iteration of the origin story. I recall first and foremost being stunned by the art from artist Mark Bagley, drawing characters on paper that looked so real, so richly detailed and defined, it was amazing. The art pulled me in, but the dialogue captivated me. Prior to this (well, I was at the age of 10, so, not like I knew a lot of this info back then) I hadn't heard of writer Brian Michael Bendis, so I wasn't familiar with his collective impressive resume. Starting from the first issue, I was hooked. Brian's characters were as complex as Bagley's artistry, and the storylines never failed to grab me completely. 15-year old Peter Parker living in Queens, New York, facing off against Norman Osborn, Doc Ock, Eddie Brock and the genetically-engineered symbiotic that turned into Venom, and the ruthless Kraven who hunted Spider-Man for publicity. Let's not forget the on again/off again relationship between Peter and Mary Jane Watson that in the span of a year had more break-ups and get-back-togethers than a quarter-aged soap opera. I loved every issue, every story. Wonderful, wonderful work. Sure, the drawing by Bagley disappeared in favor for hideous, indescribable fashions, but here, collected in Volume 11, Bendis reunites with Bagley (together with Immonen) to craft a closing chapter to the original Ultimate Spider-Man line.

Volume 11 collects such stories as Eddie Brock's return as the ravenous Venom, the reappearance of Gwen Stacey since her resurrection in the Clone Saga, the Ultimates [aka Avengers] intervening on Spider-Man's behalf to finish out a battle between two Symbiotes and a pesky Wasp, the return of Norman Osborn and several others of Spidey's own 'Rogues Gallery', the arrest of Aunt May, and finishing the narrative, the Ultimatum Wave, an enormous wave caused by Magneto that engulfs most of Manhattan. It's not usually easy being Peter Parker, but hell if that kid isn't put through the ringer this time around. And when he's not busy dueling bad guys, there's the intimate Annual #3 that shines the spotlight on Peter and Mary Jane's relationship.

First, the Eddie story. Basically, Eddie wants Peter dead. Bounty hunters want the alien symbiote that makes Eddie Brock into Venom. Peter just wants to have a good time with his dear galfriend Mary Jane. And Gwen Stacey just wants to return to some sort of normalcy. Unfortunately, everyone pretty much gets screwed over in this War of the Symbiotes arc. It's my least favorite of the stories told throughout the comic series run, but I can't deny that the action scenes are nevertheless entertaining and wonderfully drawn. Venom becomes such a menacing, seemingly unstoppable force, and when Carnage comes about and the two get their war on - it's breathtaking. But the end result is what makes me happy enough with the story: re-establishing Gwen into Peter's world. Plus, there's some fantastic interaction between Spidey and the Ultimates [plus Nick Fury] that is all kinds of fun.

The Ultimate Spider-Man Annual #3 examines Peter and Mary Jane's relationship. At only age 15, the pair of them have gone through more troubles and growing up in the last several months than most undergo their entire lives. And with how frequently their relationship hits speed bumps and the very real possibility any day could be Peter's last, naturally the conversation about entering a new, mature relationship comes to light. The artistic work here isn't my favorite, but the script picks up the slack with some smart dialogue that sells the relationship really well - makes it honest and realistic. Despite the soap opera nature of Peter/M.J., I feel that the Ultimate line presents one of the best examples of these two as a couple, and if the feature films can even halfway live up to the level of maturity and realism that is on display here - well, all I can say is that it would be damn good.

And with the end of the Annual, we enter Ultimatum, the beginning of an end...

Ultimatum, as I understand it, was a plot device that would allow the creative team at Marvel to refresh the story for their entire Ultimate book lines. They were apparently becoming too convoluted for their own good, or resembling other titles too closely that a change had to happen. Regardless, this is quite the mega event. Lives are lost in the millions (including those of fellow superheroes), and in this tragedy, Spider-Man's heroism shines. J. Jonah Jameson has spent all of the series' hundred plus issue run doing everything in his power to spoil the name of Spider-Man to the citizens of New York via the Daily Bugle, and now, under the circumstances of this horrible disaster, Jonah witnesses with his own two eyes how wrong he's been, and from this story onwards, Jonah now does everything in his power to help the web slinger. It's moments like these, these character beats, that really sell Bendis' writing. In the wake of the wave, when Spidey is declared dead to all the world, Jonah sits in front of a computer and takes it upon himself to write Spider-Man's obituary, and it's nothing short of beautiful. If there comes a time when Sony and the creative team behind a Spider-Man live action series decides to emulate Christopher Nolan and bring Peter Parker's journey to a close, mirroring Jonah's lament through some sort of heartbreaking montage would be the way to go.

Everything with Ultimatum feels like one enormous tension-filled emotional extravaganza, where every action Spider-Man takes has a sense of lethal threat that none before have felt. He could seriously die, and there's the very real sense that Bendis will do it. One bad thing after another gets in Peter's way, and how Peter could possibly solve these issues and survive it - well, it's just, y'know, intense. Add that with Aunt May's refusal to leave Peter's side, her cries for her nephew, and some beautifully worded dialogue thanks to Bendis, and this is a recipe for a arc that is sure to hit any reader in the gut. In this volume, only stories pertaining to Spidey's narrative is included, so everything involving Ultimatum, including characters that pop in and out of this hardcover, won't get proper explanations - guess we'll have to check out their solo titles for the full story. Ultimatum is epic and tragic and full of insane action pieces, beautifully realized by Bendis and his artistic team.

Volume 11, collecting all these arcs and the annual, feels like one long walk to the gallows for Peter Parker, with each story getting closer and closer to One Really Long and Really Bad Night. Unfortunately, we have to get through the messy and not-all-that-interesting Venom/Carnage story, but what follows from that, the emotional consequences and the wonderful story beats, make the entire journey well worth it. For fans of the Ultimate Spider-Man brand, this is a worthy addition to the lot, and for newcomers, just trust me on this part: read this series from issue one to present day. You will not be disappointed. 8.5/10
J. Jonah Jameson watches Spider-Man's selfless acts in the wake of the Ultimatum Wave.

01 June 2012

Snow White and the Huntsman

 Snow White and the Huntsman

Directed by Rupert Sanders
Written by Evan Daugherty, John Lee Hancock, Hossein Amini
Featuring Kristen Stewart, Charlize Theron, Chris Hemsworth, Sam Claffin, Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Toby Jones

The Legend...Redux...Again

Snow White's whole Evil Witch-poisoned-apple-seven-dwarfs tale has been brought to live action and animation on several occasions, so breathing life into a long-told tale isn't something new. It's all about how you approach it. If the creative team can come at the story in a unique angle, either emphasizing an aspect of the story that usually is glossed over, or omitting story points, or re-imagining everything altogether - than it's a worthwhile shot to take. 2012 has brought two financially backed Snow White movies: Mirror Mirror, released in March and concentrating on the more family-friendly elements of the tale, and now Snow White and the Huntsman, a story with complexity and grittiness that emphasizes said grit over the bright colored, good natured Mirror Mirror. Both movies have their own purpose for existing, and both fulfill their style and tone exceptionally well.

Snow White and the Huntsman is something weird and unique, yet familiar. There's the thing with a young damsel who has run away and is very valuable to the Big Bad who will stop at nothing to procure her, and the handsome, lethal man who reluctantly protects her. And there's a bit about destiny, because all Hollywood tentpole flicks have to have something dealing with destiny. But the beautiful thing is that while watching the movie, it doesn't feel like you're experiencing something you know inside and out, that deadly apple and true love's kiss and all that yadda yadda, because of the way this story is presented to us makes everything so fresh and engaging, like I was experiencing everything for the very first time. This is Snow White encompassing a whole new world of vibrant colors, unique creatures, a deadly forest, an impenetrable castle, seven dwarfs of valor, a mystical deer that was very Aslan-ish, and the best presentation of the evil Queen ever realized, I think. The movie deserves points for that alone - making a old tale seem new again, but let's get to the finer points:

The Case for the Queen and the Curse of K-Stewart

Charlize Theron dominates every frame of Snow White and the Huntsman when she's onscreen because of her brilliant, disturbed, and downright batshit crazy performance as Queen Ravenna. This is the first time I have ever encountered a Snow White tale where the Queen is better developed than our main protagonist; Hell, she's the best developed, complicated character in there. And, mind you, very frakkin' threatening. Ravenna is mathematical in how she executes her plans, but when things start getting personal and she becomes unhinged, Theron adjusts her performance accordingly and becomes a tall, mystical, scary bitch who will stop at nothing to get her beauty. The Queen's backstory is revealed through quick flashbacks, and never once does her agenda feel lacking in substance or one dimensional. She's not the Big Bad just because the story needed her to be, and that right there is one of the major successes of the film. And the fact Charlize Theron is mesmerizing as the Queen, that helps quite a lot, too.

But because of how splendidly detailed the Evil Queen is, and the manner in how Snow White is handled, there is an unfortunate outcome: by the finale, I felt more inclined to have the Queen victorious and continue her world-destroying reign of the kingdom, cos Snow White just ain't cuttin' it.

First, I want to give the slightest of positives. In the first hour or so, Snow White is an interesting character, and I didn't quite mind Kristen Stewart's portrayal of her at all, and she was actually sorta pretty. Downside of the compliment: I realize, in retrospect, that for that first hour, Snow really didn't talk for 80% of it and instead starred open mouthed at some wondrous sight she beheld. Eventually there comes a time where Stewart is called upon to act, and she unfortunately fails to make any impression. This is particularly hurtful during a sequence when she gives what is typically a rousing speech to her compatriots to gallop into battle, but thankless to her delivery of said speech, there's very little rousing going on. If I was one of those sword-wielding blokes, there's no way I would think, Sure, I'll (possibly) lay down my life to help you defeat the Evil Queen and save the land because we have you to lead us into glorious battle! Nah, I'd just go back to my hut and play with stick figures whilst reciting the earliest version of The Empire Strikes Back in un-recorded history.

I by no means entered the movie hoping Stewart would fail; I hoped the opposite, in fact. She gets ripped on for her work in the Twilight movies, and she deserves every ounce of that criticism, but here was a venue for her to shine, to shake off the shackles of that vampire saga and prove her girth. Eh, not so much. Stewart didn't destroy the movie, not by a long shot - thanks in large part to Theron's amazing Ravenna - but the negativity towards her character definitely impacted the film overall.

Furthermore, there's a problem inherent in Snow White as a character, and, to a degree, extends to the rest of the film. The villain of the movie - the script, specifically character development. Like I wrote above, Snow spends a good portion of the first hour just looking concerned or in awe over some pretty sight, not really being a character. At one point, Snow is reunited with a long-lost friend from her younger years, and their reunion is nothing short of lame. A name drop and another name drop - and a short dialogue between them, that encompasses all of it. Considering how useful this character is, it'd be best just to drop him. And that's the downfall of the script overall: there's just enough character, um, stuff, to make the movie work, but just. I still think there should have been more.

The world of Snow White and the Huntsman is fully realized. It's a living, breathing, gorgeous, painted world - the same just can't be said for the characters that inhabit that world.

Also, the last twenty minutes could have used a lot more in the script department. I love a good battle as much as the next fan of action/adventure movies, but the, shall we say 'epilogue', deserves to be just as satisfying as the sword-and-blood melee. It doesn't quite reach that. Basically, the film could have benefited from (probably) not cutting so many scenes and leaving 'em on the editing floor. Could have made quite a difference.

And thus far I haven't mentioned Chris Hemsworth. That's not a negative thing. He's awesome. Worth price of admission alone. Love that man. Would not be disagreeable to a Huntsman spin-off. Hemsworth continues to shine with each role I see him in. Moving on...

Oh! And the dwarfs - now this was a odd thing if ever I saw one. Instead of simply hiring little people to fill the dwarf quota, they used actors of notoriety (e.g., Toby Jones, Ian McShane, Nick Frost, Ray Winstone) and through the magic of CG, shrunk them down to size to make absolutely 100% believable dwarfs. It's really quite amazing, and I'm not entirely sure how they managed to pull that off. For all intents and purposes, those gang of actors are now officially only four foot tall - splendid CG work. But more than that, the creative team got them right this time, or at least what I consider to be right. No longer are they bumbling idiots who steal and good love-struck by Snow and want to make her feel better, they are a band of men (and from the sounds of it the last of their kind) who want to restore honor to their names, and in the name of honor and the promise of Snow's reign - that's why they help the gal. The dwarfs worked, and it's amazing to look at 'em.

Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder

So all this hum-dum has been made about how damn beautiful the film looks. Well, it does, and all that hum-dum is well deserved. The castle is expansive and looming. The (Forbidden) Forest is brought to life in a Tim Burton-esque fashion, where every shadow is a threat, and every object can come to sinister life. It's really quite cool. And when Snow, the Huntsman and the seven dwarfs come across a lush, green land full of unique creatures and colors - it's a rainbow painting come to life. It can be a hand held shot, a steady cam, a wide, a medium, or a close up - the movie never relents to become anything less than beautiful to look at. Even when the dwarfs are walking through the sewer. Fun times. And my God, next to New Zealand, wherever Snow White was shot, that's where I want to go. The location shooting is just so damn gorgeous. Director Rupert Sanders has visualized a gritty world of mud and smoke when all is dark and lost, and when Snow and the dwarfs come across the Aslanian figure, the colors seem to be bursting from the frame. Just for the sake of commenting on it, Huntsman is visually leaps and bounds superior to Mirror Mirror.

James Newton Howard nearly redeems himself for lazy work in Green Lantern and The Hunger Games with one hell of a fine tune for the film. Beautiful, battle-ready, quirky - all the necessary components. The CG is, as expected from a multi-million dollar film, absolutely splendid. I think there was only one or two shots where the CG wasn't living up to its money, otherwise, this is definitely solid work. Basically, everything on the technical side of things - directing, editing, lighting, music, special effects, wardrobe, etc. - is marvelous.

Snow White's Win

In the end, Snow White and the Huntsman was enjoyable from beginning to end. This tired tale feels brand new, and thanks to the amazing imagery and a cold, calculated performance by Theron, it's a world well worth seeing. There are some quibbles, specifically with character work and a rushed third act, but that doesn't wreck any of the fun and beauty of the production. Mirror Mirror was wildly successful in its comedic self-referential tone, and Huntsman works quite well by fully embracing its dark and realistic style. It's just a shame K-Stewart was cast, otherwise this would be a near super win. 7.5/10