Sunday, December 15, 2013

Update: 2013

I can't believe I haven't written here since last August.

Well, yes I can. I've been busy in other areas of my life, so the "Missing Man," by necessity, had to stay missing, apart from twitter.

I had wanted to write a DVD review of Skyfall (2012) but then time passed and I didn't have the film in the forefront of my thoughts to be able to write a credible article. I've seen The Avengers (2012) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012) again, but what would I say about these films that I haven't said before. The same is true of my recent viewing of Man of Steel (2013).

On the other hand, I've avoided viewing Star Trek Into Darkness and Iron Man 3 (both 2013) on DVD because although they were entertaining films, I didn't feel like spending even a little of my cold, hard cash on reviewing lukewarm experiences.

On recommendation of a friend, I did watch and thoroughly enjoy Red (2010). It was a fun romp with a bunch of aging badasses and on that theme, a better viewing than The Expendables (2010). Not enough new, young action heroes so we have to keep recycling the old ones.

And then, just the other night, I watched Taken (2008) for the first time. The young woman at the rental place said she watched it with her Dad all the time as the "perfect father-daughter movie." All I knew was the famous line parodied in all the memes:
Brian: I don't know who you are. I don't know what you want. If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don't have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired over a very long career. Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you let my daughter go now, that'll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you. But if you don't, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you.
And kill them he does. I don't know about the "perfect father-daughter movie," but it was a watchable action film. Bunch of plot holes such as how he and his daughter make it out of France without being arrested since Brian kills something like 35 people through the course of the film. Or what about his daughter's traveling companion? After Brian finds her dead of an overdose, that's the end of it. No one cares about her. No one worries about telling her parents she won't be coming home. Who takes care of the body count?

I'm finally in the 10th season of my Smallville (2001-2011) reviewing. I have to say that at this point, I'm getting ready for it to end again. On the other hand, I find that I've gotten very used to Clark and Lois together, now that Clark's secret is out. But the story arcs are uneven, Ollie's whining about Chloe is getting on my nerves, and I just don't buy that Tess, who has murdered more than a few people in cold blood, just gets a pass and is now one of the good guys.

I'm considering watching The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) tonight (never seen it before) even though I have to get up early tomorrow. I watched Mr. and Mrs. Smith (2005) last night because it was the shorter of the two films and I was tired. Not bad on the subsequent viewing, but I kept thinking how much Angelina Jolie looks like her Dad Jon Voight when she makes certain facial expressions.

I did have a lot of fun watching the first two seasons of Batman Beyond (1999-2001) as well as the first season of Batman: The Animated Series (1992-1995). They were more a trip down nostalgia lane, but Kevin Conroy still is the voice of Bruce Wayne and Batman. In a way, I like Conroy's old Bruce in "Batman Beyond" better. He's more vulnerable since he's an old man, but his emotions are much less transparent, which makes him more like Batman than ever psychologically.

That's about it for now. Just a few weeks left until 2014 and a whole new year of films to look forward to, though I'll watch only a small number on the big screen.

Friday, August 2, 2013

DVD Review: Marvel Knights, Astonishing X-Men

From Joss Whedon, the Mastermind Behind the Acclaimed TV Series Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Firefly, and Award-Winning Artist John Cassaday Comes the Ultimate Story of Mutant Survival!
 
When Dr. Kavita Rao develops a controversial mutant cure, Professor Charles Xavier's X-Men, the aggressive Wolverine, conflicted Beast and newly returned Kitty Pryde, led by Cyclops and Emma Frost, once again find themselves battling against science, prejudice and a mysterious new foe named Ord! Can the X-Men protect the mutants of the world against this powerful new alien menace and the concoction that threatens to rid them of their unique abilities?
 
With smart storytelling, incredible action, startling revelations and the reemergence of old friends, this Will Eisner Award winner for Best Continuing Series will have you on the edge of your seat like never before with truly astonishing animated motion co-directed by artist John Cassaday and the legendary Neal Adams himself! 
 
Editorial Review for Astonishing X-Men - Gifted (Marvel Knights) (2009)
 
Sometimes your local public library can have some interesting videos. Last week, I discovered mine had the Astonishing X-Men Gifted, Dangerous, and Torn motion comics (at least, that's what they're called. The videos are taken from the graphic novels of the same name. Having never read the graphic novels, I can only assume the story lines are the same or markedly similar.

However, I had to read up on the Marvel Knights imprint to find out that these stories were taking place in one of a collection of Marvel Universes (comic books are becoming way to complicated, in my opinion).

In brief, this trio of videos forms an entire, unbroken sequence of stories starting with Kitty Pryde's (Sprite, Shadowcat) return to Charles Xavier's school as an adult after an absence of some time. Although Cyclops (Scott Summers) is currently running the school and is the leader of the X-Men, the story is largely Kitty's story. She's the heroine on more than one occasion and the person who seems to be seeing with the clearest eyes.

Jean Grey (Marvel Girl, Phoenix, Dark Phoenix) is dead and the Professor is on a sabbatical at some initially unknown location. The other X-Men are Hank McCoy (the furry blue version of the Beast), Logan (the recently returned Wolverine), Emma Frost (the White Queen) and eventually Peter Rasputin (Colossus). Since the audience is thrust into the sequence of events mid-stream, we pick up details as the action moves along.

The videos seem geared to an older audience, as evidenced most clearly by the sexual scenes involving Scott and Emma. Nothing pornographic, but you see them in bed together in fairly little clothing and leaving almost nothing to the imagination. Also, at one point, Wolverine starts swearing. No, you don't hear the words, but you hear a lot of bleeping, during one sequence for about ten seconds solid, so you know he's unhappy.

The X-Men are apparently trying to recover as a team both in terms of public image and motivation at the beginning of the story. The school is like how Xavier's school is treated in the live action X-Men film series with the X-Men being the core team and the school's instructors but with a large number of young mutant students who play supporting roles in both the film series and this motion comic series.

The series ties directly into the larger world of Marvel characters with a cameo appearance by the Fantastic Four and an ongoing presence by SHIELD.

There are a number of subplots including the aftermath of a genocidal event which claimed the life of Kitty's father among millions of others, and which seems to have involved both the Sentinels and the X-Men. This is where the Professor has chosen to go, leaving the X-Men behind (he never rejoins them at the Mansion during the three-disc series.

The story arc that crosses all three discs is the prediction that one X-Man will be responsible for the destruction of an alien world. Someone from that world was sent to Earth to kill all the X-Men, since it's unsure which one will be "the destroyer of worlds." SHIELD is charged with stopping the alien but also finding the "guilty" X-Men, and it's unsure if one rogue agent and her team may not try to take the X-Men out themselves to prevent an interstellar war.

Within this context, other subplots occur, including the Danger Room becoming sentient and reforming itself as a feminized, humanized robot and trying to destroy the X-Men (and all of the students) by exploiting their weaknesses which "Danger" (the humanoid version of the Danger Room) knows all too well.

Emma Frost is something of an "X" factor within the team since she originally was a member of the Hellfire Club. It's revealed at the end of "Dangerous" that she is still in league with her former partners for some insidious purpose, but she's conflicted (of course) because she really does love Scott (even though she takes away his powers and reduces him to a drooling idiot in "Torn."

The stories are all reasonably compelling and the "acting" isn't bad. Each disc is made up of about six "chapters" running around fifteen minutes each (sometimes it seems that the opening and ending credits of each chapter go longer than the actual story). The animation seems choppy and especially in the opening sequence, the X-Men move more like robots than people, but I think that's an effect of this series being "motion comics" as opposed to straight up animation.

In addition to how the school and students are presented, other similarities to the films include a cure for mutation, the death of Jean Grey, and sinister Government forces threatening to destroy the X-Men. SHIELD even has a mole inside the school (I won't give the identity away and its only revealed late in "Torn".
 
Oh, one more similarity is that Scott is pretty much a stooge and an ineffectual jerk in both the films and the motion comic series. He's a tad more heroic in these videos, but not by much. Emma even confronts him about how Xavier only made Scott the leader because he felt sorry for Scott. Scott doesn't deny it.

Apparently Jean's death breaks him completely and he never emerges as the hero and leader he was (though still admittedly conflicted) in the original comic book incarnation.

The series is definitely watchable but if there is a back story that explains what's going on and what lead up to this sequence of events, I don't know about it (which is no surprise because I don't really keep up on the comic book universes...who has the time or the disposable income?). I was disappointed when I saw that "Torn" ends on a cliff hanger. We discover who the "destroyer" is and that destruction of the alien world is coming soon, but with the launch into space of a SHIELD spaceship trying to head off the disaster, that's all she wrote...literally.

Both the graphic novel set and the series of videos include only "Gifted," "Dangerous," and "Torn" without any subsequent products, so either the story was continued in some older series which was eventually collected as graphic novels, or (hopefully) the cliffhanger will be resolved at some future date.

The creation date for the videos runs 2009-2012, so they're recent. My interest and curiosity is piqued. I want to see what happens next. I think you will, too.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Film Review: The Man of Steel

I'm in a little bit of shock. I don't usually see movies so close to their release date. Nevertheless, on Sunday, July 7th, I was sitting in a local movie theatre watching Man of Steel (2013). I couldn't have been happier.

A word of warning, especially if you haven't seen the film yet (and I highly recommend that you do). I'm going to be dropping spoilers all over the place. If you don't like surprises ruined, then save this review until after you've seen the film. Remember, you have been warned.

I love this movie. I really do. It's not a perfect film but it's very, very close. As far as superhero films go, I thought The Dark Knight (2008) completely nailed it, and Heath Ledger's portrayal of the Joker sent it over the top. I thought The Avengers (2012) was just as good, although in a completely different style. I'd have to say that Man of Steel comes very, very close to equaling those two other movies with just a few small problems.

First things first, though.

The Movie

Man of Steel starts out with a bang, almost literally. We're on the planet Krypton. The son of Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and Lara (Ayelet Zurer), Kal-El (when referred to by his Kryptonian name, he's called "Kal" most of the time) is the first natural birth on their planet in centuries. He doesn't have much time to enjoy that distinction.

The planet Krypton is about to explode. This is straight from Superman canon going back at least fifty years. Jor-El confronts the planetary council and begs them to take the only option they have left after centuries of consuming the core of their now unstable planet: space travel. One hundred thousand years past, Krypton had a thriving system of space colonies. They eventually became a more introspective and even xenophobic race and withdrew from space, abandoning all the colony worlds. If they don't revive that tradition and very quickly, the planet's explosion will destroy the Kryptonian civilization.

The old guard in the council refuse to accept this. Jor-El speaks to deaf ears. But General Zod (Michael Shannon) has another plan. Violent overthrow of the government in order to save the essence of what Krypton is. Jor-El approves of saving Kryptonians but not by bloodshed.

Lots of action ensues and not only does Jor-El illegally launch his newborn son into space, but he sends the stolen codex, the genetic record of all Kryptonians, into the void with him, rocketing to an unnamed planet with a yellow sun.

In the battle to prevent Zod from stopping the launch, Jor-El is killed. Zod and his commanders, including Faora-Ul (Antje Traue), are captured and condemned to the Negative Zone. With her husband dead and her son sent into an uncertain future on an alien planet, Lara lives long enough to mourn before being killed along with her entire species as her native world explodes.

A space warp opens and a ship emerges just outside Saturn's orbit. The ship negotiates the rest of its journey with remarkable speed, passing Earth's moon and then entering the atmosphere...

...shift to the present on a fishing boat where a mysterious man with a beard is working, although this is hardly the sort of job he's used to. An emergency call from a burning oil platform. Men trapped inside. The stranger disappears from the boat and the trapped men are confronted by a shirtless man standing in the naked flames unburned...one who can rip a steel door open with his bare hands.

They all make it out and onto a rescue helicopter in time except for the stranger, who manages to keep the flaming, melting superstructure of the rig from collapsing on the aircraft until it can take off.

Clark Kent's (Henry Cavill) life story is told from present to past and back to present in a series of flashbacks. As the stranger travels from town to town in the frozen north, he picks up clues to the mystery he's searching for...an artifact of some kind trapped in a glacier over ten-thousand years old.

He's a quiet man, almost serene at times. He wants to help, even when it's not appreciated. He doesn't quite fit in. He keeps moving.

Enter Lois Lane (Amy Adams) by helicopter at the arctic site where the American military and scientists, including Dr. Emil Hamilton, still can't find a way to investigate whatever is buried in the ice. She almost doesn't notice a worker named "Joe" who is assigned to carry her luggage.

That is, until she sees him later that night outside in the sub-zero weather wearing no coat. She follows him. It almost kills her.

Besides the ship, Clark came from Krypton with two artifacts: the codex and a key displaying his family crest. Clark burns his way through the ice and into what turns out to be an ancient Kryptonian scout ship. He activates the ship with the key and his father's "personality" is uploaded. Jor-El answers all of Kal's questions. Lois isn't so lucky since the ship's security identifies her as an alien.

Clark saves her...the first of many times. He places the wounded woman outside where she's quickly found by others. The ship launches and then lands in another part of the arctic, this time without witnesses. Jor-El tells Kal of his destiny, gives him the undersuit to the battle armor worn by the House of El. It's a suit that is unmistakably familiar to generations of people in search of a hero.

We learn in flashbacks that Clark's amazing calm (no, he's not emotionless) is a result of how his parents brought him up. His mother Martha (Diane Lane) helped young Clark overcome the debilitating sensory overload when the vast information gathering power of his eyes and ears turned on all at once.

His father Jonathan (Kevin Costner) was hard on Clark, desperate to protect him, and he's the one who taught Clark to endure any abuse or insult, no matter how harsh, as opposed to using his vast power to strike back, which would not only kill, but expose young Clark to a government that would most assuredly exploit or destroy him if they knew of his existence.

But sometimes young Clark had to help. A blow out of a school bus tire sends the vehicle over the side of a bridge and into a river. Everyone is going to drown...except one young teenage boy. He's the boy who pushes the bus back onto the bank and then dives under the water to pull out Pete Ross (the teen version played by Jack Foley), who only minutes before had been teasing him.

Jonathan and Martha later try to calm Pete's mother down as she rants on about how Lana (Jadin Gould), Pete, and several other kids saw what Clark did. After all, how could any human being, especially a thirteen year old boy, push a school bus out of a river? This isn't the first time Clark's done something like this, but it's rare enough that it only attracts local attention...for now.

As an adult, Clark has an almost supernatural calm. But he's not perfect. When he's bullied by some drunk in a bar, Clark just walks away. But when the trucker walks outside, his rig is a twisted mess, tangled with cable and tree trunks. Apparently Clark can lose his cool, but only when no one can see and so that no one gets hurt.

When Perry White (Laurence Fishburne) refuses to print Lois's story about the alien stranger and the ancient spacecraft in the Daily Planet, she goes on a personal quest, starting with "Joe" at the arctic site and working backwards, searching records for mention of a dark stranger, a loner with a penchant for helping, and who sometimes seems more than human.

Apparently, it's not hard to follow the trail, which leads the reporter straight to Smallville, Kansas, restaurant manager Pete Ross (as an adult played by Joseph Cranford), and finally, Martha Kent.

Lois meets Clark again at his father's grave. She knows who he is now. And because of who he is, she kills her story. She'll never tell anyone about him as long as she lives...if she can help it.

It might have ended there if not for the message from a ship from the stars: "You are not alone." When Krypton exploded, the Phantom Zone was opened and Zod and his commanders were freed. They converted the "phantom drive" of the prison ship to a warp drive and then searched the old, long dead colony worlds for decades, picking up old technology, looking for the lost Kal-El, until Clark's entrance into the scout ship activated a signal and led Zod straight to Earth.

This is when the world learns that they have had an alien in their midst for thirty-three years. This is when they find out if he's a threat or a hero.

That's really the point of the movie in many ways. Ten and twelve year old boys in 1938 wouldn't have asked themselves how we'd all react if we really found out we weren't alone in the universe. They wouldn't have wondered how the human race would respond to an alien "Superman" whose powers would make it all too easy for him to kill millions. They'd have assumed he was good and a hero and a lot of fun to read about. They wouldn't have a clue how a flawed and panicky mankind would really see a stranger from the stars who could "bend steel in his bare hands."

The love story between Kal and Lois is handled well. She does name him "Superman" in a lull in the action, after Kal surrenders himself to the military and before he is surrendered to Zod in exchange for Zod not destroying Earth. They only finally kiss near the end of the film but the magnetism between them is obvious and forged by her search for his story and her integrity in keeping his secret.

It's Lois who saves Kal on Zod's ship where the Kryptonian environment maintained on board weakens the would be "Man of Steel" and even makes him sick. She uses the key given to her by Kal, since she was turned over to Zod as well, to upload Jor-El, and the simulation of Kal-El's father sends her off the ship in an escape pod along with the secret Jor-El teaches her of returning Zod and his crew back to the Phantom Zone.

Jor-El reprograms the environment on the ship for Earth normal, and Kal's powers are back...but not before a blood sample is taken, which is important later on.

Superman rescues Lois from her damaged space pod and sets her down on Earth. But the battle is on. Zod and his team come to Earth, to Smallville. They want Kal's ship and the codex that is supposed to be inside.

The problem is not only how Superman is supposed to handle numerous super-powered Kryptonian soldiers, all wearing battle armor. It's also how the U.S. military considers all Kryptonian's a threat, including Kal. The human weapons can't really hurt him but the betrayal can, especially since he gave up everything to protect them.

However, after the immediate battle is finished and Kal exploits the one weakness the Kryptonians are sure to have and sends them back to their ship, General Swanwick (Harry Lennix) tells his troops, "this man is not our enemy."

This is also where Clark's calm and his father's love and trust pay off. After the fight is over, Kal pushes the wreckage aside and finds dozens of American troops all pointing their weapons at him. He looks at them. He's serene, almost parental. He slowly, calmly walks up to them and past them. They can't fire. Everyone is in awe of him, not just his powers, but how almost godlike he is.

"This man is not our enemy." It's the first time Kal-El becomes Superman, Earth's greatest protector.

Lois shares the secret of stopping Zod and his lieutenants with Kal. It involves Kal's ship and the Kryptonian key. It may be too late. Zod uses his ship in tandem with something called a "World Engine" to attempt to change Earth's environment into Krypton's. Zod discovered one unpleasant thing in Smallville. Kal's ship didn't contain the codex. His blood sample revealed that Jor-El had encoded all of Kal's cells with the genetics of millions of Kryptonians. They could be used to restore their race using the Genesis chamber in the scout ship. But doing that would exterminate all terrain life...including human beings.

All Zod has to do is kill the son of his enemy and take his blood to make his race live again. It's all Zod knows how to do. It's the one thing that gives Kal the advantage. On Krypton, everyone is artificially nurtured from conception to birth. All their characteristics including their role in society are predetermined. This was true of even Jor-El and Lara, just as it is true of Zod. Kal-El was the first natural birth on Krypton in centuries. Of all Kryptonians, only Kal-El is free to choose his own destiny. It's what saves his life when, after the rest of the Kryptonian soldiers are sent back to the Zone, he is faced with battling a desperate and incredibly dangerous General Zod alone.

Kal-El wins. Superman wins. The world is saved. But the cost is horrible. Kal has to give up everything. His ship, the scout ship. All of Zod's technology. Even the key bearing the crest of the House of El. All that is left of Krypton is its last son...and the DNA of his race now trapped in his body, with no way to release them, to regrow them, to restore their lives. Perhaps even his mother and father are somewhere inside of him.

There's one more cost, the worst of all. In order to save people, Kal had to take a life. It devastates him. But Lois is there to comfort him.

Man of Steel is a virtual rollercoaster ride of action and is paced wonderfully so that the more "narrative" portions of the film take nothing away. I especially loved Clark's relationship with his father Jonathan. As an older teen, Clark chafed at being controlled but in the end, his father, who was also a very calm and parental man, was always right. Even on the day he died.

Heroes

Superman wasn't the only hero. The world was full of them. OK, to be fair, there were also a lot of jerks in the movie, which was part of Clark's problem. When Zod gives him only twenty-four hours to surrender to the authorities, Clark doesn't know what to do. Are human beings worth it? He's an alien but he was raised in Kansas. He turns to the only authority who he thinks can help him, a Priest in a church.

I'm glad this scene was included. Clark was raised by a farm family in a small town in the middle of Kansas. His values from a young age were almost certainly conservative and he probably went to church as a child. Hollywood has been phobic about having their heroes be religious for decades now for fear of offending someone, but the movie, television, and comic book media abandon and important aspect of many people's reality by enforcing a politically correct (and real world incorrect) view of our world.

In his context, church is the only place where Clark could learn why it was right for him to surrender to save a people who might end up hating him just for who he is. The priest, once learning that he's in the same room with a potentially dangerous alien, maintains his composure (after a moment of total shock) and tells Clark that we have to have faith before we can earn trust. It's that message that enables Clark to do the most heroic thing he's ever done...protect the human race even if they aren't worth it.

Except they are.

Jonathan Kent dies when his son Clark is seventeen years old. There's a sudden tornado. Traffic is backed up. Jonathan sends Clark to shelter under a freeway overpass to protect his mother while Jonathan helps rescue other people. Something goes wrong. Jonathan's caught out in the open with a broken ankle. He'll never get to safety in time. Clark struggles against a lifetime of inhibition against using his powers and almost races forward to save the only father he's ever known.

Then he sees his father. Jonathan looks right at Clark and calmly, quietly raises his hand telling Clark to stop. He's almost smiling at his son when the tornado strikes. Clark let his father die because he trusted that his Dad knew what was right. As much as anyone, Jonathan Kent lived and died to show his son what being a hero was all about.

Perry White is a hero. In the destruction caused by Zod's ship and the World Engine, as gravity is turned upside down and inside out, a Planet staffer is caught under some rubble. There isn't time to get her out and destruction is coming. Perry and reporter Steve Lombard could still run away and survive, but then the young woman would die alone. They stay. And halfway around the world, an all but exhausted Superman stops the World Engine just in time.

Colonel Nathan Hardy (Christopher Meloni) is a hero. He's a soldier, so you short of suspect he should be, but even knowing how impossible it is to stop any Kryptonian soldier, he still goes toe to toe with Faora...with a knife. She tells him that a good death is its own reward. A line he'll use against her at their next and last meeting. Even more than General Swanwick, I liked Hardy. At first, I thought he'd be a typical Army hardass, but he was always at the front of the action, never shirking risks his men were taking, protecting them, protecting his people.

Even Emil Hamilton was a hero, on board a crippled aircraft activating Kal's ship at the last second so it could be used to send the Kryptonians back to the Phantom Zone.

Lois Lane is a hero. She kept a secret that if revealed, would have made her internationally famous overnight (true, she'd already won the Pulitzer Prize for Journalism). At first it was out of respect, but eventually it would be love that turned a hard nosed and jaded reporter into a woman with a conscience who would sacrifice even her career for the hero we don't deserve but desperately need.

A Few Problems

Superman supposedly gets his abilities from sunlight. Somehow, his biology allows him to absorb the rays of the yellow sun, store their energy, and turn it into the source for his amazing powers. He generates a field around his body that makes him invulnerable and enables him to fly. Sunlight also powers his strength and his sensory abilities. He can even survive for brief periods in orbital space (and who knows what his limits are in this universe?).

So why does Kryptonian air and Kryptonian gravity suddenly make him weak, sick, and have him spitting up blood?

Here's a much bigger problem. Clark shouldn't have a secret anymore.

It seemed almost easy for Lois to start at the arctic base and work her way backward through Clark's history, eventually tracing him to Smallville. Pete Ross remembered Clark and when Superman crashed into his diner during the battle with the Kryptonians, Pete looks right at his face and knows who he is.

Martha Kent told Lois about her son. I don't know why she trusted Lois.

After Kal rescues Lois from the burning space pod when they escaped from Zod's ship, he leaves her by a country road to go battle Zod who had invaded his mother's farm. Lois gets a ride from a passing police car. They take her to the Kent farm where they can obviously see a costumed Clark Kent talking with his mother.

Later, when its discovered that Kal's ship is the secret to sending the Kryptonian criminals back into the Phantom Zone, the military just retrieve it from the storm cellar under the Kent's barn.

And at the very end of the film, when General Swanwick is asking Superman how he could ever be sure Kal wouldn't turn against American interests, the last son of Krypton replies, "I was raised in Kansas. I'm about as American as you can get."

Duh!

But at the very, very end, Perry White introduces a new stringer to Lois and Steve Lombard and asks them to show him the ropes. It's Clark Kent in a suit and glasses and a winning smile.

Humor

A number of the other reviews I've read of this film have complained that Man of Steel lacks the ability to make fun of itself, that it's too dark, too serious. I know my fear was that too much camp would be inserted into the movie and I'm thankful I was wrong, but most critics say movies about Superman need to have the ability to poke a little fun at themselves.

But this movie does that. I guess no one was paying attention.

The first time Martha sees Clark in his costume, she wryly comments, "Nice suit."

When Kal turned himself in to the military, he was handcuffed. He's sitting in a room talking with Lois while being watched by a lot of soldiers including General Swanwick. He can see all of them and standing to address them, Superman tells them they are afraid of him because they can't control him. He punctuates that statement by breaking the handcuffs, startling everyone behind the glass.

This may have been unintentional, but in the final battle with Zod, the General finally strips off his battle armor revealing his under suit...which looks a lot like Kal's except it has no cape. At one point Zod, having recently learned how to fly, grabs Superman's cape and uses it to whip Clark around and throw him several hundred feet into a building. Inside my head, I heard a tiny voice whisper "no capes."

When new reporter Clark Kent is introduced to Lois Lane for the first time, she says, "Welcome to the Planet," obviously referencing his being from another planet.

British Henry Cavill playing Superman tells General Swanwick that he's as American as they come. That's got to be worth a chuckle.

There weren't a lot of jokes in the movie. It wasn't that kind of film. But I did see that Man of Steel was able to wink at itself from time to time.

Smallville Television Show

There were a few tie-ins but just a few. In the Smallville TV show, Dr. Emil Hamilton is played by actor Alessandro Juliani. In Man of Steel, Juliani plays a minor role as Officer Sekowsky, a technician at the site where the Kryptonian scout ship was found.

Of course, actress Amy Adams plays Lois Lane in the film. However, she also played a high school student in the first season Smallville TV episode Craving (2001).

I know when this film was first announced, an overwhelming number of fans of the Smallville show demanded that Tom Welling and Erica Durance play Clark/Superman and Lois Lane respectively.

Having seen the film, it's tone, it's personality, I just can't see those two fine actors pulling it off the way Henry Cavill and Amy Adams played Clark and Lois. Welling was a great teenage Clark Kent, but even though Cavill is only six years older than Welling, the Smallville actor's youthful face wouldn't have carried over into the maturity that Cavill brought to the role. Cavill is young enough to communicate charm, especially once he puts on the glasses, but old enough to be Superman. Even though during the final episode of Smallville, the Superman suit was CG-ed onto Welling's body, it never seemed to fit.

As far as Durance vs. Adams as Lois, Durance patterned a lot of her portrayal of the role after Margot Kidder's Lois from the Christopher Reeves Superman movies. Lois was disorganized, impulsive, scatter-brained, and she couldn't spell. While Durance played Lois a little more seriously than Kidder, she was never a "real" reporter. Adams brought a serious human being into the film. True, as time progressed, Adams seemed just a tad "sappy" every time Kal was around, but she could bring both a hard edge and competency to her Lois Lane. Durance might have been able to do the same, but the fans would have freaked if she was the same face but a different personality.

Also, Smallville was largely derivative from the earlier Superman films and Man of Steel needed to be a clean reboot. And it was.

DC Universe

Two small tie-ins to the larger DC world. We see a truck with the LexCorp logo on it, promising a future appearance of that company's dastardly CEO. The satellite that Kal and Zod crash into during their final battle had a Wayne Enterprise logo. Either Batman already exists in Kal's world or he soon will.

I know this was long. It's longer than I intended it to be. I had a lot to say about this movie, but I'll sum it up in just a few words. If you haven't seen Man of Steel yet, go! It's worth it. It's the must see movie of the summer of 2013.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Review: Iron Man 3

It wasn't as bad as Iron Man 2 (2010) but not quite up to the original Iron Man (2008) film. Of course, it's trying to tell a more complicated story than the original film and it's trying to show us the humanity of Tony Stark. So who is Iron Man: man or machine...or both?

That's really the main question this film is asking and trying to answer, which is why we don't see Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) in his armor for most of the film. However, when this movie finally gets rolling, we have armor up the wazoo!

But first things first.

The movie starts in the dark with Stark's narration, "A wise man once said: we make our own demons." This is important but you don't realize it right away. I'll get to that.

Stark decides to start his story on New Year's Eve 1999 in Bern, Switzerland. He's trying to get a brilliant research scientist named Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) into bed for a one-night stand and all she wants to do is talk about her latest experiment in reprogramming the human brain to amplify a person's ability to self-repair dramatically. Tony seems too drunk to notice or care, but he's brilliant enough to not let that stop him, either in his quest to get her into the sack (which he does) or to help her with her technical problem (which he also does, but we don't find out until later).

OK, she's interested in bedding Tony too, after they get rid of the overly attentive Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau). Tony's also promised to meet with the newly minted inventor of AIM (that's right, Advanced Idea Mechanics...the bad guys) Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce with a really bad haircut and a hopelessly fan boy attitude in the 1999 sequence) on the roof of the hotel, but that was a total lie. Booze and sex drive Tony Stark at this point in his life.

All this is to set the stage for the present where we pick up the loose threads left dangling on the morning of January 1st, 2000.

As a nice homage to the first film, we get to see the brief appearance of a very beloved character (at least to me) in the opening few minutes of the 1999 sequence. Watch for him.

Shift to the present or close to it: the Christmas season 2012 (presumably). Happy has been upgraded to Chief of Security at Stark International, Pepper is handling the day to day running of the empire, and Tony...Tony's a mess.

He has been ever since the end of The Avengers (2012), but then again, escorting a live nuke into another dimension and almost getting stranded there, and then, having gotten back out, almost falling to his death, all have a way of negatively impacting a person. In Tony's case, he's prone to panic attacks (they don't last long enough to qualify as anxiety attacks).

Pepper's moved into the Malibu mansion with him, but that only helps a little. Night after night he can hardly sleep and he spends most of his time building a wide variety of super-powered armor prototypes. The latest is Mark 42, which on command, will leap into the air in pieces and slap themselves onto Tony's body (it's not a perfect process).

But then he finds something to focus on besides the past, his anxiety, and his uncertainty. The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley). The Mandarin seems to have it in for America in general and the American President in particular. So much so that he needs to blow up lots of American stuff, including the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.

Long story short, the formerly dweeby Aldrich (with a much better haircut and tons more confidence) visits Pepper at SI to pitch "his" technology for hacking into the human brain to enhance healing and performance (sound familiar). Pepper turns it down since it can all too easily be weaponized (something SI doesn't do anymore). Security Chief Hogan gets suspicious of Aldrich and his henchman Savin (James Badge Dale) and follows them to the aforementioned Chinese Theatre...

...where he discovers how the Mandarin blows up things...not with bombs but with genetically altered people...

...and ends up in a coma (don't worry, he gets better by the end of the movie).

This is where it becomes personal for Tony and he challenges the Mandarin on TV to a duel, giving out his home address (as if the entire world could miss that giant half factory/half work of art in Malibu hanging over the Pacific).

Big mistake. The long missing Maya Hansen shows up "coincidentally" to warn Tony about her boss as Pepper is trying to convince Tony to get out of the mansion...just minutes before three of the Mandarin's helicopters blows the whole thing into the ocean.  Tony "armorizes" Pepper just long enough for her to get Maya and herself out of harm's way, then pulls the armor onto himself just in time to go into the water with his house.

So begins Tony Stark's armorless journey to discover who the Mandarin is and the secret behind exploding people.

Cute relationship between Tony (AKA "the Mechanic") and eight-year old Harley Keener (Ty Simpkins). Nice and heartwarming, even though Tony is still a dick at heart. The relationship does buy Tony time to start unraveling the mystery and he makes a number of surprising discoveries.

Most aren't all that surprising to the audience but one came at me out of left field. I loved what Kingsley did with Trevor. I had no idea it would turn out this way but in retrospect, it was brilliant. It goes completely off canon which is probably good, since you can't do The Mandarin the way he originally appeared in the 1960s Marvel comic books. The Mandarin in the comics was actually a throwback to the 1930s pulp fiction stories and comic strips and in no way could that "Fu Manchu" character type ever play in the 21st century. Nice twist and kudos to the writers.

I was disappointed that the armored suits, including James Rhodes's (Don Cheadle) seemed to be taken out so easily by the "Lava people." Even though Rhodes inside Iron Patriot (the War Machine armor with a Captain America paint job) was taken by surprise, once Rhodes regained consciousness, none of the armor's toys were put into play to get him out of his mess. The best he could do was eject himself out of the armor and run like hell.

In fact, Rhodes was a far more effective fighter without the suit than he was in it. He could totally kick ass with nothing besides a sidearm and lots of athletic skill, which is how he manages to rescue the President.

Tony manages to do derring do, including saving about a dozen people in free fall who were forcibly blown out of a crippled Air Force One, but finally it's Rhodes who saves the Pres and it's Pepper who defeats the real bad guy and saves Tony's ass (never mind that she came just that close to buying the farm herself).

Good Stuff

What they did with the Mandarin. Ben Kingsley puts in a surprising performance once Tony comes face to face with who he thinks is the mastermind behind the international terrorist organization AIM.

The finale where thirty or forty remotely controlled suits of armor are all flying around fighting the bad guys. JARVIS is the main hero here, although Tony shows masterful coordination at getting into and out of different suits of armor literally on the fly. Pretty good for a guy who has panic attacks with very little provocation.
For once, the female lead saves the day. She kind of blows it by immediately being shocked at how violent she could be (having just blown the bad guy into millions of superheated pieces).

Tony finally gets rid of all of the shrapnel around his heart, eliminating the need for an electromagnet in his chest powered by a mini-arc reactor.

He blows up his armored suits. All of them. It's a way for Tony to grow up and realize that he is he hero behind Iron Man, not a bunch of technology.

Bad Stuff

For a guy who has panic attacks when you just mention "New York," he can do lots and lots of really risky, heroic stuff that should either have put him in a fetal position or sent him to an emergency room. Even without his armor, he's leaping  thirty feet to come down on precarious perches, dodging flying debris, explosions and one really super-heated and pissed off bad guy. If he was that prone to debilitating anxiety, she should have ended up dead.

The film seemed uneven. Yes, I know the point was to show Tony outside his armor and what he could and needed to do without depending on "the suit," but the name of the movie is "Iron Man," not "The Adventures of Tony Stark."

The armor was shockingly ineffective against a crew of super villains whose only real power was getting hot enough to melt metal and exploding. I can see where that could catch you by surprise the first time, but once you expect it, the armor and all its gadgets should just kick ass. I think the film makers tried too hard to make their "man over machine" point.

The worst disappointment though has to go to the after ending credits scene. Normally these scenes are meant to show secrets into the next Marvel films, little surprises, teasing easter eggs. This time it was a cheesy joke between Stark and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo). Totally not worth wasting seven minutes of my life sitting through the end of film credits. This is where we see that Tony's narration is part of a dialogue with Banner.

The movie is watchable. It leaves us with the feeling that Tony has outgrown Iron Man and is leaving the armor behind along with his blown up and sunken Malibu mansion (guess he's moving to New York). If I didn't know Downey had signed on to do two more Marvel films, I would have interpreted this movie's ending the way The Dark Knight Rises (2012) ended. Batman dies so Bruce Wayne can live.

I had thought that the after end credits "teaser" might have been used to introduce Ant Man (2015) or at least his alter ego Henry Pym. No such luck (unless he was in the scene but too small to see).

Yeah, I'll watch this movie again, but not until it's out on DVD. It was a nice ride, but not a fully satisfying one. The Avengers is still top of the heap of super hero movies...at least until I see Man of Steel (2013) next Sunday and then review it.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Super Independence Day!

Yes, it’s Superman, strange visitor from another planet who came to earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. Superman, who can change the course of mighty rivers, bend steel in his bare hands. And who, disguised as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, fights a never ending battle for truth, justice and the American way.

-Opening narration from the television show
The Adventures of Superman (1952-1958)

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Review of Star Trek Into Darkness

It's been out for about a month now and I finally got around to seeing Star Trek Into Darkness (2013). First of all I must say that I think it was a better film than the original Star Trek (2009). It's not that the first film was bad, but it had just a ton of plot holes that I still can't get past. The current film feels much more cohesive, if derivative (but I'll get to that).

Oh, if you haven't seen this movie yet, this is your one and only warning that my review contains major spoilers. You have been warned.

The movie starts out with Kirk and Bones on an alien planet where Kirk has pissed off the locals by taking some sort of artifact or god or something. They're running for their lives and Kirk, confronted by a huge monster that came out of nowhere, stuns the beastie, only to learn from McCoy that it was their ride.

Meanwhile, Spock, Uhura, and Sulu are in a shuttlecraft heading into a live, about-to-erupt volcano to stop the fireworks. Failure to do so will result in every living being on the planet dying (that's some badass volcano), even though their orders from star fleet said only to survey the planet, not save it.

Spock is lowered down in some super heat resistant suit with a fusion bomb (why that would make a giant volcano inert is beyond me). His line to the shuttle breaks and the heat threatens to destroy the shuttlecraft so Sulu is forced to fly (limp) back to the Enterprise, which is hiding under the nearby ocean.

Spock is alone and if he can't get out of there in just a minute or so, Young Spock will die and there'll be no Genesis planet to revive him.

Kirk breaks the prime directive to save Spock by pulling the Enterprise out of its watery cover so they can beam Spock back. All the pre-industrialization aliens see the ship and there are strong indications that it becomes their new god.

In the original series, Kirk broke the prime directive with such regularity, it seemed like the law was made to be broken.

Not so in the reboot movies. Kirk loses his command (thanks to Spock filing a truthful report...Jim's log was full of "half-truths") and the Enterprise goes back to Pike. Kirk goes back to school.

Fortunately villainy is afoot and the mysterious John Harrison saves the life of a star fleet officer's daughter in exchange for that officer blowing up an archive...which just happens to really be a secret star fleet weapons development center (or should I say "centre") in the heart of 23rd century London.

Pike calls in some favors and gets Kirk assigned as his first officer (Spock is reassigned to the USS Bradbury and Kirk is still pissed at him for not understanding why Kirk broke every rule in the book to save his life). Kirk is the only one to figure out (but not in time) that after a disaster such as the one in London, all starship captains and first officers are called into a mandatory confab at Star Fleet headquarters...a perfect set up.

And it was. Harrison swoops in with a ship and peppers their meeting room with gunfire. I must say Star Fleet air security was really lax. In the 21st century, air traffic controllers and the military know when an aircraft is anywhere near restricted air space. If the room in the film had been the White House, the President would have been toast.

Admiral Marcus makes it. Kirk not only makes it but brings down the attacker (but Harrison beams himself halfway across the galaxy before his ship actually crashes) Spock makes it.

Pike isn't so lucky.

Amazingly Admiral Marcus gives Kirk his command back, reassigns Spock as first officer, and gives Kirk seventy-two highly classified photon torpedoes to kill the attacker with, who has beamed himself to an uninhabited area on Chronos, the Klingon homeworld. Kirk's orders are to hang at the edge of Klingon space, lock onto Harrison, and fire without warning.

Kirk is OK with this morally, but Spock, Bones, Scotty, and just about everyone else isn't and try to talk Kirk out of it. Scotty even quits his job over it. A new, and might I add beautiful science officer Carol Wallace (Alice Eve) is assigned to the Enterprise right before launch.

So far so good. Kirk got a good talking to by Pike before he bit the dust and frivolous, womanizing Kirk has had this "comeuppance." Pike was the closest thing Kirk had to a father and watching him die right before his eyes has left him hungry for revenge. In that sense, we can almost forgive him for not noticing that a star fleet admiral has just ordered him to commit murder and risk interstellar war all for the sake of getting one man. No attempt at a capture, not even a warning to be issued. Why would Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller) even do such a thing?

On top of all this, Spock and Uhura are barely on speaking terms but the reason isn't made clear until later. Neither is the reason that Spock could face his own death with little emotion but he was shocked the moment Pike died.

So off to Chronos the Enterprise goes.

I must say at this point that Scotty's transwarp beaming equation has made transporters too powerful. If Khan, uh, I mean "Harrison" (why the heck couldn't they get an actor from India or of Indian descent to play a Sikh warrior from India is beyond me) can beam from Earth to Chronos across hundreds if not thousands of light years, who needs starships?

With Scotty partying back on Earth, Chekov, who should be about 21 years old by now, is made chief engineer (people are promoted awfully fast in this version of Star Trek...Kirk was made Captain before he ever graduated the academy) and he's got a big problem. Somewhere near Klingon space, the Enterprise just stops dead. There's a leak in the warp cooling system and it's going to take Chekov hours if not days to track it down (he's no miracle worker).

Kirk, after much soul searching, which we don't actually see, decides to not fire the mysterious torpedoes (they're resistant to scanners...no one can even figure out what kind of fuel they use) and instead is going to lead Spock and Uhura (she can speak Klingon) on a covert mission to try and capture Khan (yes, it's Khan) and bring him back to Earth alive to stand trial.

They make it to Chronos but not undetected. They encounter first one and then several rather overly designed birds of prey and have no choice but to land. Uhura tries to negotiate with a group of rather overly designed Klingon warriors, all carrying overly designed batleths, but no go (it's like the folks in charge of making Chronos and everything Klingon decided that it all needed lots and lots of modular lumps, and knobs, and doohickies all over everything. The Klingon world and all the Klingon stuff looks like a bunch of black and white legos...but really, really sharp.)

Khan, of all people, comes in at the last second to rescue Uhura with some sort of big particle weapon and takes out almost all of the Klingons and their ships. Oh, he saves a few for Kirk to fight but it's really Khan who saves the say.

Khan surrenders after finding out that Kirk has exactly seventy-two specialized, long range torpedoes on board, and allows himself to be put in the brig.

And then Khan lays it all out for Kirk while Bones is studying Khan's highly unusual blood sample.

He's three-hundred years old. He and a group of enhanced human beings were launched into space as war criminals. Marcus found their ship, thawed only Kahn out and held the other seventy-two members of Khan's crew in status to force Khan to develop new ships and weapons technologies for the Admiral. After the whole mess with Nero in the previous film, Admiral Marcus decided that the only way to prevent another such happening is to turn star fleet into a military organization...and he plans to start a war with the Klingons to do it. The torpedoes, the Enterprise's break down, everything was part of Marcus's plan. Khan even gives Kirk a set of co-ordinates near one of Jupiter's moons that contains the proof.

As all this is going on, Spock discovers that Carol Wallace is really Carol Marcus, the Admiral's daughter, who is snooping around to find out why her father has gone so "black ops" lately. Kirk calls up Scotty and his alien friend and pleads with them to investigate the co-ordinates near Jupiter. Simon Pegg plays Scotty with lots of attitude and crankiness, but not much personal resolve. Off to Jupiter he goes.

Bones examines Khan in sickbay and is trying out some of Khan's blood on a dead tribble (yeah, but only one tribble).

Later Bones and the now confessed Dr. Carol Marcus try to open up a torpedo and find not only explosives but a highly enhanced human being in status...it was Khan's plan to try and free his people by hiding them in the weapons he built, but he was found out and Marcus took the torpedoes before Khan could smuggle them away from the weapons center. Khan's murderous attack is explained as revenge for the Admirals poor treatment of him and his people and in protest for his "evil plan".

And who should show up before Chekov's repairs on the warp coolant leak are finished...the Admiral in a secret attack ship that had just been assembled near one of Jupiter's moons.

I won't give you the rest of the blow-by-blow, but Kirk, backed into a corner, learns the meaning of responsibility and command, something he was sorely lacking by the end of the first film. I was afraid that J.J. Abrams was going to leave Kirk not only a jerk, but an inept one at that. This entire second movie is to develop Kirk into the Captain he's supposed to be. For the most part, it works.

We also find out that the destruction of Vulcan has left Spock more vulnerable than anyone imagined. Uhura was mad at him for risking his life and accepting certain death because he didn't care about her and how she would feel. But it was his feelings Spock was trying to protect. He mind melded with Pike at the moment of death and he has been trying to hide just how "emotional" he's been about relationships. Spock "felt" Pike's confusion, anger, and fear when he died, and those feelings mirror how Spock feels about Vulcan...and those closest to him if they should die. It's not that he doesn't love Uhura enough but that he loves her too much.

And then things get too rewired and it's like the ghost of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) moves in. After Kirk and Khan get on board the Admiral's ship with a little help from Scotty who stowed away, to rescue Carol, who Admiral Marcus beamed aboard once he realized she was on the Enterprise, Khan kills Marcus, beams the Enterprise trio back onto their crippled starship and as he's about to destroy them, they pull a surprise warp jump and head for Earth.

They almost make it. But the engines are damaged. Kirk (and not Spock) enters the radioactive chamber to fix the engines so the Enterprise doesn't crash on Earth. After the touching "I shall always be your friend" scene, it is Spock who has to helplessly watch his friend Jim die, so soon after he's lost Pike. It's Spock (and not Kirk) who screams in rage, "Khhhhhaaaaaaaaaaaaaaannnnn!!!!!!!!"

Spock has also pulled a fast one and agreed to beam seventy-two torpedoes on board Khan's (well, it's Khan's ship now) ship but really, the people and cryochambers were removed before hand...not so the explosives which Spock armed.

The Enterprise is saved but Khan's ship is hopelessly crippled by the exploding torpedoes and crashes into San Francisco. Khan (of course) survives, and Spock goes after him and revenge.

Meanwhile, the dead tribble that Bones had treated with Khan's blood revives and the resurrection of dead Kirk (minus a Genesis planet) is assured. But Bones needs Khan alive to get enough blood to save Kirk.

Khan, for his part, isn't all that easy to kill, or even stun. He's absolutely ruthless in a way that Ricardo Montalban's Khan never was...and a lot stronger. Even Spock's neck pinch doesn't work...and when Uhura beams down to stop Spock from killing Khan, even her phaser on heavy stun doesn't quite do the job. But using some piece of machinery like a boxing glove, Spock beats and beats and beats Khan up which finally does the trick.

But we had far, far too much "Wrath of Khan" storyline for my tastes and just how emotional is Spock going to be from here on in?

Months later, Kirk has recovered, and one year later, at the Enterprise's re-christening ceremony (she was pretty badly beaten up), Pike is eulogized by a much more mature and worthy Captain James T. Kirk. With the crew and ship in top shape and ready, they finally embark on their five year mission, the longest ever attempted by a starship.

Space, the final frontier.

It was good. It was long. All the stuff pulled from that 1982 movie was way over the top. The actual origin story for Khan and his people (not one of them were revived, although you'd think Bones would have wanted to test their blood, too) was never detailed so how they were created on Earth sometime in the twentieth century remains a mystery. At the end of the film, Khan is refrozen, begging a sequel.

Oh yeah, Bones synthesized a serum from Khan's blood so in theory, now star fleet medical has an immortality potion. If you die, it's not permanent. If you want to go to the other end of the galaxy, you can just beam there. Things happen fast in this version of Star Trek...and they're getting more powerful by leaps and bounds. Pretty soon, they'll even be able to stop Superman...except at the box office.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

DVD Review: Green Lantern (2011)

So I finally got around to seeing the 2011 film version of Green Lantern. The movie was generally panned by critics and audiences alike, but I felt that I owed it to myself to see if it was really that bad.

First, the stuff I liked.

Taika Waititi as Tom Kalmaku was great. I was wondering how or if the film was going to include Hal's best friend "Pieface." OK, Tom was introduced in 1960 when (white) people didn't consider it racist to call the Inuit people "Eskimos" or to refer to an Inuit native as "Pieface." Pie, uh...Tom was originally Hal's aircraft mechanic at Ferris Aircraft and Hal's best friend (on earth) but he got an upgrade to best friend and engineer. In the silver age GL comics, Tom actually chronicled Hal's adventures (that book would be worth a lot of money) not unlike Dr. Watson's role relative to the adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Sometimes, the reader is treated to a GL adventure from Tom's POV.

In the film, Tom is a fun and smart engineer who can readily out think Hal but who still makes for a good "wingman" and reminder of just what an irresponsible jerk Hal can be sometimes.

Peter Sarsgaard in the role of Hector Hammond pre-transformation. He was brilliant, quirky, but likable and approachable. In spite of his intelligence, he was vulnerable and always living in the shadow of his powerful Senator father. If "Daddy Dearest" had just left him alone and kept him out of the investigation into Abin Sur and his spaceship, Hector would have gotten along just fine. It kind of ruinned it when the Parallax fear energy started infecting him, resulting in him murdering his own father (the guy was a douche, but not worth an execution by fire douche) and committing other heinous crimes including turning the earth over to a superpowerful alien (the aforementioned Parallex) for destruction.

Blake Lively as Carol Ferris. I thought she struck the right balance between corporate responsibility and human vulnerability, the heir apparent of the Ferris Aircraft "empire." She could be a little too "dippy" at times, especially for a woman who knows how to handle all of that responsibility, but in the end, she managed to keep her head long enough to save Hal from Parallex's clutches so he could retrieve his ring and save the day.

I was a little disappointed that the writers made her a test pilot and a corporate executive, not because I have anything against women being test pilots, but Carol was always the yang to Hal's yin, the level headed responsible person to Hal's irresponsible adventurer. Putting them both in high performance aircraft and literally making her Hal's wingman crossed the line and disrupted the balance between their characters. Carol and Hal shouldn't be on the same playing field.

I'm glad the movie maintained Hal's family including his brothers and nephew. The silver age GL comics always made a point to show Hal and his brothers together, each one having their own skill sets and all of them being highly competitive as brothers. It humanized Hal for the readers in a way the "only children" heroes of the 1960s (Superman, Batman, Flash, and so on) never did. In real life, most of us have some sort of family.

The scene between Hal and his young nephew Jason was one of the better ones in the film. Hal, the fun, favorite uncle, who screwed up and almost got himself killed, freaking out young Jason, not unlike how Hal felt the day he watched his father die as a test pilot in an experimental jet.

The portrayals of Sinestro (Mark Strong), Tomar-Re (Geoffrey Rush), and Kilowog (Michael Clarke Duncan) were great. Although the dedication and heroism of Sinestro was an especially strong presence in the film (foreshadowing Sinestro's fall from grace later on), Rush's Tomar-Re was my favorite among the "alien" GL's. As a kid, Tomar-Re was my favorite GL after Hal. He was Hal's best friend in the Corps in the silver age comics. Although the DC writers may not have intended it, the friendship between Hal Jordan and Tomar-Re showed that no matter how different, how alien two intelligent, compassionate beings can be, it's the desire to do good and to uphold justice that beings us together. Fitting that their relationship should have started during the early civil rights era.

In the film, Rush lends a calmness and warmth to Tomar-Re's voice. You can trust him. He's a little bemused at Hal pretty much all the time, but it's like a father relating to a young child who knows one day that child will grow to far surpass him. Tomar-Re is the kind of friend (and father figure) who would give a son just the right amount of encouragement and the time it takes for Hal to grow up.

What didn't I like. 

Everything else.

From the first few moments of the film and the opening narration, I could tell I was going to be disappointed. It was like reading a comic book and not a particularly well written one. The opening just screamed at me: "Don't take this film seriously." In relation to the Dark Knight Trilogy and the soon to be released film Man of Steel (the trailers look fabulous), Green Lantern was nothing to write home about.

I think Ryan Reynolds was well cast to play the version of Hal Jordan the writers created, but he wasn't the Hal Jordan. In the original comic books, Hal already had the heart of a warrior and a hero. He had the personality of a policeman, albeit a somewhat rigid one. Right and wrong were polar opposites and in his heart, he always knew the difference, a fact that writer Dennis O'Neal used to good advantage when he and artist Neal Adams created the now legendary story No Evil Shall Escape My Sight (Green Lantern #76 - 1970).

Of course "perfect" heroes, such as DC tended to create in the 1950s and 60s don't make good movie characters because they have no room to grow. But having grown up loving the Hal Jordan Green Lantern and wishing for a really good film version of my favorite DC hero, I just didn't "feel it" watching Reynolds play Hal on the screen.

Frankly, I think the film's approach was all wrong. I'd never have introduced the "outer space" aspects of what it is to be a Green Lantern and certainly wouldn't have introduced the Corps and the Guardians so early in the game.

Hal had virtually no time to come to terms with the ring and the lantern before being whisked away to Oa, and even then, his training was about fifteen minutes long before Hal "quit," took the power ring, and with his tail tucked between his legs, scurried back to earth.

In the early silver age comics, Hal didn't know anything about the Corps. He periodically got "orders" from the lantern about specific "assignments" but he didn't know where they came from or what they meant beyond the immediate mission. I would have liked to have seen Hal trying to deal with the ring and the lantern more on his own first, discovering himself as a hero but only beginning to get a glimpse at the true implications of wielding that kind of power.

The writers could have even introduced a sort of "symbiotic" relationship between Hal and the ring, as if they both had something to give each other, the ring giving Hal power and Hal giving the ring the means to use it for good.

In spite of the fact that Hal was given a virtually overwhelming villain to defeat and the task of protecting the planet earth, I just didn't get any sort of personal angst or anguish...something to really overcome. Sure, Hector Hammond captured Carol and threatened to infect her with the Parallax energy, but I was really hoping Hal would have been able to face something even more personal (or maybe it was just the writing and the performances that didn't convey what I was looking for).

I recall in the issue 34 (1966) Green Lantern story "End of a Gladiator," Hal learned about the ring's "mortality fail safe." An emergency store of energy that's available, even when the ring's energy charge is exhausted, that can save a Green Lantern's life, even when the ring wielder is unconscious. During a battle between GL and one of his foes, Tom is mortally wounded. The villain tricked Green Lantern into thinking he had recently charged his ring, but in fact, it was an illusion and at the height of the battle, Hal's ring runs out of power. On the one hand, Hal is about to be shot. If he does nothing, the ring's emergency reserve will save his life. On the other hand, Tom is seconds from death. Hal does the impossible and orders the ring to use the emergency reserve to save Tom's life. Tom lives, but Hal is shot and presumed dead (a highly unusual set of circumstances results in his being revived).

It's that kind of conflict that would have made the climax of the film. The stakes didn't have to be a world, just the struggle for discovery of how heroic, how courageous, how honest Green Lantern member Hal Jordan could be.

In spite of all the special effects, the best efforts of the actors involved, and the decades of source material to be drawn from, Green Lantern the legendary hero of my childhood never materialized on the screen in 2011. It was just another movie.

With the potential for a DC Universe set of films culminating in one or more JLA movies in the future, I'm hoping for a Green Lantern reboot. Let's do it better next time.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Batman: Year One (2011) A DVD Review

Two men come to Gotham City: Bruce Wayne after years abroad feeding his lifelong obsession for justice and Jim Gordon after being too honest a cop with the wrong people elsewhere. After learning painful lessons about the city's corruption on its streets and police department respectively, this pair learn how to fight back their own way. With that, Gotham's evildoers from top to bottom are terrorized by the mysterious Batman and the equally heroic Gordon is assigned to catch him by comrades who both hate and fear him themselves. In the ensuing manhunt, both find much in common as the seeds of an unexpected friendship are laid with additional friends and rivals helping to start the legend.

-Written by Kenneth Chisholm

That a summary of the video Batman: Year One (2011) which I saw on DVD a couple of weeks ago. I saw and subsequently reviewed the 1989 Keaton/Nicholson Batman film on the same weekend, but I couldn't summon whatever I needed to write my "Year One" review at the same time.

Maybe that's because the video reminded me so much of the Batman: Year One graphic novel (2007 -- originally published February through May 1987 in the regular Batman comic book series) by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli. The graphic novel gained rave reviews if you can believe Amazon (and most people do), and I remember the work favorably as well. Why do I feel so "cold" about the video based off the graphic novel?

Maybe because it was so similar to its 136 page source. I mean, having read the graphic novel, why did I need to see the 64 minute video?

Don't we want films made from books to be true to their source? Well, yes and no. If I were talking about a text-only novel, there'd be no visual component except what was generated in my head as I was reading. With a graphic novel, you get words and pictures. With an animated video you get spoken words and moving pictures, but it (in this case) looks pretty much the same.

It was as if the makers of the animated film said, "Let's make the graphic novel story again but make it move." In other words, I didn't learn anything new or have much of a different experience than when I read the graphic novel a few years ago. Any film should be more than just a moving, talking version of its source. I want to have a different experience, related enough to the original to recognize it, but different enough to be worth my while.

If I had a choice, I'd probably just read the comic book version again because print typically includes more story detail that's cut for time in a film presentation.

This isn't to say that I didn't enjoy the animated film. It was watchable and entertaining. I could certainly see the portions that linked into Batman Begins (2005), such as Batman "calling for backup."

You see the less than honorable side of a relatively young Jim Gordon, cheating on his pregnant wife, struggling to rise above his failures, fighting criminals with almost the same darkness as Batman. You see a young Bruce Wayne donning the mantle of the Bat for the first time, making rookie mistakes that almost get him killed, nearly killing the legend along with him. You see a different "Catwoman" with a (apparently) lesbian twist (it's only hinted at, but you get that vibe).

If you've never read the graphic novel or the original series of comic books, you'll enjoy the film. If you've read the graphic novel, seeing the film will be like deja vu. It's that simple.

If I watch Batman animated films, I'll try to pick those that don't follow the print material so closely. I want to be surprised as the story unfolds in front of my eyes.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Young Clark Kent

No, not really, but when I saw this guy's photo online (I have no idea who he is or where this is), the first thing that popped into my head was "young Clark Kent." With the U.S. release of the Man of Steel film just a little over two weeks away, I figured I'd share what I think a young Clark Kent in his late teens or early twenties might look like as he spends his last days in Kansas.


Monday, May 27, 2013

DVD Review: Batman (1989)

Sometimes I revisit older movies even though I know they aren't as good as what replaced them. I saw the DVD of the 1989 version of Batman starring Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson at my local library and figured "what the heck". At the time, it was the only live action film made about the Dark Knight (the 1943 Batman movie serial doesn't count). Just because Heath Ledger totally owned the role of the Joker in The Dark Knight (2008) doesn't mean I can't appreciate Nicholson's interpretation.

It wasn't bad. It wasn't great. I remembered all of the controversy about Keaton being cast at Bruce Wayne/Batman (and my own confusion about why Burton would go with Keaton). At the time, Nicholson's Joker was just menacing enough without being truly frightening for younger audiences. Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger) was a Lois Lane copy, both in the comic books and in the film. Michael Gough competently played the faithful Alfred, always there to pick up after Bruce, but I missed the chemistry between Christian Bale's Bruce and Michael Caine's Alfred.

I'm trying not to compare this Batman against the Dark Knight Trilogy, but it's tough.

In the 1989 film, we come across Batman who is already well into his career. The origin story, the death of Bruce's parents, are shown in flashbacks, but we don't get the full treatment of how Bruce "develops" Batman as we see in Batman Begins (2005). Keaton's Bruce is absent-minded and distracted most of the time, like a child with an attentional disorder. I suppose this was to "disguise" him so he wouldn't be suspected of being Batman, but one wonders who is making money at Wayne Enterprises if Bruce isn't in that game (not that Wayne Enterprises is ever mentioned in the film).

Much more attention was paid to the origin of the Joker and his original relationship to crime syndicate head "Boss" Carl Grissom (Jack Palance). Feeling the heat from the new D.A. in Gotham, Harvey Dent (played by Billy Dee Williams in a role that was a waste of his time and talent), Grissom orders Jack Napier (the Joker's "real name") to break into a chemical company and destroy records that implicate their gang in some sort of crime (just exactly what the threat is to Grissom isn't made clear).

Jack and the boys find out that there are no records. It's a set up. Grissom has used his connections to corrupt cop Eckhart (William Hootens) to arrange a police raid of the plant with orders to shoot to kill. All this is over Grissom's girlfriend Alicia (Jerry Hall) who is two-timing him with Jack. The old man doesn't like his "sugarplums" being "sugarplummed" by another man, especially his "right-hand man".

Batman gets wind of the raid (Commissioner Gordon was at a party at Bruce's mansion earlier and had to "leave suddenly" because he finds out about Eckhart's raid) and shows up to help out. Batman and Napier tangle and one slip later, Jack falls into a vat of toxic chemicals and is flushed out to a nearby river (Gotham must have a horrible environmental safety record).

The Joker kills Grissom, takes over the mobs, invents Smilex, a chemical that kills through inducing laughing seizures, and competes with Bruce over the attentions of Vicki Vale.

I used to watch this movie a lot, so I can't tell if it feels predictable because it was written that way or because I remember it so well. The movie was a "so-what" at the theater (really, that's all there is?) but plays better on the small screen. Maybe it reminds me more of a made-for-TV movie than a major motion picture release. That doesn't say much for director Tim Burton, but then he was early in his career, and even Jack Palance became irritated with the young and inexperienced Burton on the set.

Batman was made in an era when Hollywood still hadn't figured out how to take costumed heroes seriously. It wasn't exactly "campy" but it didn't feel "real" either. The film tries to be dark and gritty and styles mimic the 1930s and 40s to some degree (Batman's natural habitat apparently) but in the end, the costumes and sets still look like a comic book come to life.

I have to remember though, that if it wasn't for this film, the Batman animated series of the 1990s probably wouldn't have happened. Up until Christian Bale's performance of Batman, I considered the animated series the best presentation of Batman not in a comic book or graphic novel. A fact I was reminded of in the first few minutes of Burton's Batman film when Danny Elfman's opening theme plays and I recognized it from the animated series. If that was the only legacy of Burton's Batman, then it did it's job.

I'm probably being too hard on Burton's film. It has the benefit of being the first serious film on Batman and it sailed uncharted waters. There's even this:

In an interview with About.com, Christopher Nolan (director of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight) described this film as "...a brilliant film, visionary and extraordinarily idiosyncratic...".

 I think it was for its time, though it was certainly flawed as I've already described.

Tim Burton's Batman has a well deserved place of honor in the history of the Dark Knight in film, but it was somewhat "damaged goods" when it was new. Now that nearly a quarter of a century has passed since its original theatrical release, it has aged, much like "Boss" Grissom. Another Batman has come to Gotham and it is his time to reign.

And should Warner Bros. decide to pursue a Justice League film, they'll need yet another Batman. Who will inherit the mantle of the Bat and how will be wear it in comparison to Keaton and Bale?

Friday, April 12, 2013

Superman Reborn



Couldn't resist posting this. Awesome Superman image.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Iconic Supermen

The cover of People Magazine for January 1979 gave the world the now iconic photograph of Superman as played by Christopher Reeve. For the general public, this was perhaps the first time they believed that a man could fly and this image will live on in their memories and in all our memories as the one and only Superman for generations.

This month's cover of Entertainment Weekly attempts to paint, for the current generation, the portrait of Reeve's heir apparent, Henry Cavill as the Man of Steel. I am posting both covers side-by-side in an effort to illustrate the passing of the torch. Reeve first appeared on the big screen as Superman in 1978 when he was 26 years old. Sadly, he passed away on October 10, 2004 at the age of 52. For many people, Christopher Reeve was their Last Son of Krypton, and for them, that was the day their Superman died.

Cavill, who turns 30 next month, picks up the mantle and the cape that Reeve in death had allowed to fall to the ground. Can Henry Cavill fill the red boots and wear the red and yellow shield in honor of the Superman who came before him? Can he inspire this generation and those who come after as the Superman of the 21st century? Will his image on the cover of Entertainment Weekly replace that of Reeve's, and will be he the hero we need to inspire us as we rush headlong into the future?

Superman: Man of Steel premieres in the United States on June 14, 2013. That's when we'll get our answers.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Review: A Good Day to Die Hard

Unlike the previous films in the series, A Good Day to Die Hard was widely panned by critics. Based on 177 reviews collected by Rotten Tomatoes, the film received a 16% approval rating from critics, with an average score of 4/10. By comparison, Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating in the 0–100 range based on reviews from top mainstream critics, calculated an average score of 29 based on 39 reviews, indicating "generally unfavorable" reaction. On both websites, the film ranked lowest among the Die Hard films. CinemaScore polls reported that the average grade cinemagoers gave the film was "B+" on an A+ to F scale, and that audiences skewed slightly male and older.

-Wikipedia

Warning! Spoilers ahead! This is not a drill!

Actually, I liked it. No, I didn't think the latest film in the Die Hard franchise was terrific or fabulous, but it's a pretty good way to kill 97 minutes and watch lots of chase scenes, shootouts, and explosions. In the opening scenes, Bruce Willis shows his age (he'll be 58 next month) with very visible grey in his beard and hair (both remarkably short but visible), which I suppose is to highlight the fact that he has just discovered that his estranged son Jack (played by Australian actor Jai Courtney) has been put in a Russian prison for murder. Of course, John has no way to know that his son is an operative for the CIA and this is all a clever plot to put him in the same Moscow courtroom as Yuri Komarov (Sebastian Koch), a former terrorist and former partner of corrupt Viktor Chagarin (Sergei Kolesnikov) who "grew a conscience" in prison and is now going to testify against Chagarin, implicating him in some unmentioned (at the beginning of the film) chicanery.

John shows up in Moscow just as Jack is being taken into court. He manages to get to the outside of the courthouse, but the courtroom with Jack and Komarov is sealed, presumably to prevent another assassination attempt against Komarov.

John looks around and spies a rather unusual vehicle but doesn't put two and two together in time before the plot is hatched and a gang of Russian thugs led by Alik (Radivoje Bukvić) blows up a ton of parked cars, blasts a hole in the courtroom freeing Jack and Komarov, and kills just about everyone inside.

Jack manages to get out of the courthouse with Komarov, avoiding a hit squad that was sent in to make sure of Komarov's death and steal a van. The problem is, as Jack and Komarov are making their getaway, John steps in front of the van, thinking his son is a fugitive from justice, and stops them. During the delay, even though Jack and Komarov escape John, they miss their exit window and are stuck with "plan B," a safe house in Moscow.

The usually competant John McClaine gets egg on his face on multiple occasions early in the film as he realizes he's blundered into a scenario far outside his normal "cops and robbers" scope. This does nothing to help repair the already trashed relationship John has with Jack. Even after John manages to stop Jack's pursuers in a spectacular car chase that you'll have to see to believe, Jack still thinks his father is a total screw up. Thus the three of them arrive at the so-called "safe house," which is where John finally sees who and what his son really is...a CIA agent.

But Jack's partner is abruptly killed before getting "the file" from Komarov, so with no allies left in Moscow, John, Jack, and Kamarov go it alone in search of "the file" that Kamarov is supposed to have and will give to Jack in exchange for getting him and his daughter Irina (Yuliya Snigir) out of Russia.

Of course, it's not that easy. One key acquired, one double-cross, one beating, one shootout, and one helecopter attack later, Komarov, Irina and the key to the file are gone, in the hands of the bad guys while Jack and John are left battered and bleeding with no "plan C" or any other letter of the alphabet left. Jack, who up until this point, has always played by the rules, is out of options, but this is where his "shoot from the hip" Dad feels right at home.

The film seems a little forced or awkward during the conversations where John and Jack are supposed to be trying to relate to each other as father and son, but then again, their relationship as father and son is forced and awkward, so it fits. Neither of them know what to say to each other and when John finally says, "I love you boy," you can feel the weight of his age and the long years that stand between them in his words and his voice.

But there's another double-cross. Komarov and Irina aren't the victims, they're the predators. The prize never was a file full of evidence, it was a crap-ton of weapons grade uranium hidden in a vault in the one place in the world no one in their right mind would want to go: Chernobyl.

The place should still be incredibly radioactive, but except for protection suits worn by Kamarov and his party while locating the vault, that doesn't seem to be a problem. Irina uses some sort of device to "neutralize" the radiation, then all protective gear is no longer required. Komarov caps Alik and has Chagarin's neck broken by his own masseuse.

Then the McClaine father and son team, who have providentially stolen a car loaded with body armor and weapons, drive the twelve hours it would take to go from Moscow to Chernobyl, Ukraine, and kick ass.

The good guys win but not until a series of death defying feats that should have put them bothin intensive care and lots and lots of bodies, bullets, and explosions happen, which is why we watch these types of films anyway.

There's a horrible hint that Jack might take over the "Die Hard" films, retiring Willis and replacing him with Courtney (and possibly Mary Elizabeth Winstead playing Jack's sister Lucy who was featured in the previous film and who briefly appeared in this one). I really hope I'm wrong.

On a scale of 1 to 10, this film is solid "OK." It was entertaining, but I really didn't need to see it on the big screen. It would have been just as good as a DVD and that's probably when I'll see it again.

I tend to think that the original film Die Hard (1988) and Die Hard with a Vengence (1995) were the best in the series. The fourth film was pretty good and certainly one, three, and four beat the current film, not to mention the terrible Die Hard 2 (1990), which was just a lame recycling of the first film.

Yeah, it was a good shooting, explosion, thrill rush film for guys and I'm not sorry I saw it, but if you don't want to blow your hard earned dough on seeing it in the theatre, I'm sure it'll look just as good on the small screen at home.

Oh, the one thing I would have liked a little more of is the "steamy" side of Irina. But her hottiness is revealed just in passing.