Sunday, March 1, 2015

Ranking the Comics Adaptations - 2015 Update

Last year I took it upon myself to rank the comic book adaptations. I did it about a year ago, so I figured that it was time to revise the list, as there are some notable additions including Captain America: The Winter Soldier, X-Men: Days of Future Past, and Guardians of the Galaxy.

My original list included 53 movies based on comics that were originally written in English. I didn't even consider it at the time, but when I sat down to do this update, it occurred to me that I didn't even think to include movies like The Adventures of Tin Tin, Persepolis, and those adaptations of the Asterix comics. (I would have to leave the last ones off my list because I don't think that they've ever been released in the United States on video or otherwise.) To save my sanity, I'm not going to be adding those to the list.

Also, I'll only include comments on the new additions for the most part. If you want to see what I had to say about all the other movies, check out my original list. Also, I will link the titles of the movies for which I have written full reviews.

Before I proceed, I'll just go ahead and get it out of the way that the 2014 version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles won't be on the list anywhere. I didn't see it. I don't plan on seeing it. I don't want to see it. I might even go out of my way to avoid it. I'd be really surprised if it found its way out of the bottom fifth of the list.

So, here's the revised list:

61. Batman and Robin - still sucks
60. Superman IV: The Quest for Peace 
59. Blade: Trinity 
58. X-Men Origins: Wolverine 
57. Fantastic Four
56. Superman III 
55. The Punisher 
54. Green Lantern 
53. Spider-Man III - Sam Raimi even admits it sucks.
52. The Crow
51. Daredevil 

50. 300: Rise of an Empire - Does this even belong here? It's an adaptation of a comic book that Frank Miller hasn't made yet, and who knows if and when he'll ever make it? It certainly wasn't horrible, but although Eva Green was entertaining, everything else was pretty forgettable. The first one, as silly as it is, at least gave some visuals that we've never seen before, and some of the battle scenes were pretty damn intense. This one just felt like a bit of "been there, done that" even if we did get a naval battle instead.

49. Batman Forever
48. Hulk  
47. Kick Ass

46. Sin City: A Dame to Kill For - Does this even belong here? It's an adaptation of a comic book that Frank Miller hasn't made yet, and who knows if and when he'll ever make it? It certainly wasn't horrible, but although Eva Green was entertaining, everything else was pretty forgettable. Okay, yeah, that's exactly the same thing that I wrote for 300: Rise of an Empire but it's true for this one as well. (Okay, the main story was based on an actual comic that Miller did, but about half of the movie is new stuff.) I loved the first one, and I think that it holds up, but this one feels like leftover ideas from the first. It's not bad, and if you loved the first, it's worth checking it out at least once. Other than that, I don't think that I'll remember much of this one.

45. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 - This one also was not horrible, but it was lesser than the sum of its parts. Imagine Batman Forever if it had better acting and dialogue, and that's basically what you have here. Sure, Spidey looks better than he probably ever has in the movies, but overall there's an overly crowded story filled with uninteresting villains. Plus, the bit of tragedy winds up not feeling very tragic. Looks like I'm not the only one who feels like this was a misfire, considering Marvel Studios now has a special deal with Sony, and we'll be seeing a new Spider-Man in the next Captain America movie. It's really too bad, because I saw a lot of potential with this particular version of the character.

44. 300 
43. Punisher War Zone  
42. Blade  
41. X-Men: The Last Stand - I still think that this one is unfairly maligned.

40. Kingsman: The Secret Service - There's so much good about this movie, but man, the ending just gets me. I'm not even talking about the bit of CGI that completely took me out of the story. I'm talking about the bit of ridiculous sexism. I suppose that this is objectively better than a lot of movies that are higher up on the list, but I'm too bothered by that to get it any higher. Check out Maryann Johanson's evaluation of how it handles its female characters.

39. Superman Returns
38. Superman II

37. Hercules - I had a hard time ranking this one, mainly because it feels weird to put it on the list in the first place. Yes, it was based on a comic book series, but it's not like Thor, where an old myth inhabits a shared comic book universe. This was just a new tale of a classic character, and it was originally told in comics form. Anyway, I enjoyed this one a lot. I cannot argue that it's a great film, but it's solidly entertaining, and there is much to appreciate. It's basically a really well-done B movie.

36. Blade II 
35. Batman 
34. Batman Returns 
33. From Hell 
32. The Rocketeer 
31. The Incredible Hulk 
30. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm 
29. X-Men 
28. Iron Man 3 
27. Man of Steel 
26. Thor 

25. The Dark Knight Rises - This one has gotten bumped down upon repeated viewings. It was all the way up at number 8 on my previous list. Looking back, I think that much of it had to do with all of the good will that was built up in the previous two installments. There is still much that this movie gets right, and I still think that it's better than any of the Burton/Shumacher films. Still, the plot is a bit of a mess, and Bane, who is a great villain at the start, winds up getting tossed aside at the end too easily. He was awesome when it was all part of his master plan, but it turns out that he was just a glorified flunky? Lame sauce.

24. Watchmen 
23. V for Vendetta 
23. Thor: The Dark World - This one dropped a bit, but just a bit.
22. Hellboy 
21. Dredd 
20. X-Men: First Class 
19. X2 
18. Iron Man 2 
17. Sin City 
16. Hellboy 2: The Golden Army 

Guardians of the Galaxy - I'm curious as to whether I'll feel the need to promote or demote this one on the list as time goes by. I think that if it wasn't for the fact that the third act kind of fizzles, it would have probably made it into the top ten. Not enough can be said for how brilliant it was to make Rocket Raccoon into such a likable and sympathetic character, and I still feel like the entire film would have fallen apart if they wouldn't have gotten this right. (Same goes for Groot.)

14. Spider-Man - I recently re-watched this one, and it's jumped up significantly on the list. I think that I was far too harsh with it when I made my original list. It was all the way at 29 the first time out, and as you can see, it's cracked the top 15. I guess those clunky bits of dialogue stuck out in my head too much, and I still think that it was much more natural sounding in The Amazing Spider-Man. Still, watching it again reminded me of just how much Sam Raimi got right the first time around, and there's a lot of love put into this film. Who knows? In time, I might even rank it higher than "Amazing", and we'll see which one holds up better.

13. Scott Pilgrim Versus the World 
12. The Amazing Spider-Man 
11. Captain America: The First Avenger - This might be a bit high simply because I love the character so much.

10.  X-Men: Days of Future Past - I'm pretty sure that I'm not alone in calling this the best of the X-Men films. However, I'm probably in the minority for thinking that The Wolverine is still a bit better. Anyway, I think that the reason why this one was a step up from even Bryan Singer's previous endeavors, was that he really injected a real sense of fun into the mix. Plus, it looked right to the comics for inspiration. Sure, things were changed, but it really got to the heart of what some of those wacky X-Men stories were all about.

9. The Wolverine 

8. Big Hero Six - Even though it was from Marvel, I know very little about the comic inspiration for this Disney film. From what I understand, this movie is pretty different. I'm okay with that even if the comics are awesome, because this movie really hits the nail on what makes superhero stories great. I'd include The Incredibles on this list as well if it weren't for the fact that there wasn't even a comic with that name before the movie came out. Anyway, I saw this one in the theater with my four year old son, and he loved it. We've been watching it since it came out on video. There's so much to like about this - the characters, the story, the humor, the imaginative look of the whole thing, etc. Maybe it'll drop a bit on this list as time goes by, but I can't see it dropping very far.

7. Superman: The Movie 

Captain America: The Winter Soldier - I've watched this one quite a few times since it came out on home video. I think that the only problem with this one is that there are just so many great superhero films out there now that it almost gets lost in the shuffle. Imagine if something like this came out before Batman Begins. It would have been a revelation that a superhero film can not only directly look to the source material for inspiration but also create an action movie that addresses some real world issues. It's amazing how different this one is from the first film - almost to the point where it seems like a completely different genre. However, the personality of Steve Rogers remains consistent.

5. The Dark Knight 
4. Spider-Man 2 
3. Iron Man 
2. Batman Begins 
1. The Avengers 

Friday, February 13, 2015

Kingsman: The Secret Service - review

I got a chance to see Kingsman: The Secret Service today with my wife, as we both had the day off. I've actually read the comic book series by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons, and I re-read them fairly recently, so the series is pretty fresh in my brain. Since I enjoyed the series, and the director, Matthew Vaughan, has done some pretty good movies, I figured that I'd like this one.

The basic premise is that there's a, well, um, "secret service" that handles various major crises in the world, and it has several James Bond-esque agents working for it. When one of them dies while on duty, it's time to recruit a new member to take his place. Harry "Galahad" Hart (as played by Colin Firth) decides to give his "nephew" Gary "Eggsy" Unwin a shot, as Eggsy has shown a lot of potential while still making some pretty poor lifestyle decisions like getting involved in drugs and crime.

The movie then goes back and forth between Eggsy's initiation and the villain's master plan. The villain is played by Samuel L. Jackson, who utilizes a slightly distracting lisp in order to make himself seem awkward and nerdy. By the third act, it all comes together, as it's up to Eggsy to foil the villain's plan to make a serious dent in the world's population in order to "save the planet".

Overall, it was pretty damned entertaining. There was one action scene involving sky diving where I had to remind myself to breathe. Also, the characters were all pretty likable, and while Taron Egerton, who plays Eggsy, I think that he has a pretty good future ahead of him as a leading man. While it didn't stick 100% true to the comic, it was definitely close enough. The basic plot was the same, as were the character personalities and overall theme behind the story. Only minor details were changed, which kept things interesting enough to keep me on my toes. Oh, and for anybody who enjoyed the bit with Mark Hammill in the comics, you'll be surprised but probably not disappointed with how they change that bit.

I have to say that it kinda lost me in the last act. I don't want to give away too much, but let's just say that CGI is good for some things, but it's absolutely lame for blood and guts. I kept thinking to myself that I was looking at computer effects, and that completely took me out of the movie. Also, there's a really cheesy bit of dialogue toward the end that's both unbelievable and obviously intended as nothing more than a cheap laugh.

I was worried that those complaints would ruin it for me, but when I think back on it, I definitely liked more than I didn't. I'd probably enjoy watching it again, and while I might not buy it right away when it comes out, I might pick it up if I see it cheap (unless it streams on Netflix).

Macbeth in Comics

I've written about the comics adaptations of The Odyssey and Romeo and Juliet by Gareth Hinds on this blog, so I was looking forward to picking up his rendition of Macbeth when it came out this week. In a fun bit of coincidence, I picked it up on the very same day that I finished reading the play with my seniors. Or maybe it was fate. It's hard to know for sure what you have control of in your life after reading this play.

I was expecting to like this one, and I wasn't disappointed. While glancing through it at first, I was a bit disappointed that it lacked the vibrant colors of his Romeo and Juliet, but when I sat down to read it, it occurred to me that darker colors and grays are a bit more appropriate for this sort of a thing, and Hinds puts that to good use.

One bit that stands out is how he handled my favorite scene in the play, which is where Banquo's ghost makes an appearance. I remember that really capturing my imagination when I was in high school and talking about it with my dad, which was my first realization that when it comes to Shakespeare, there's a whole lot of stuff to talk about. Anyway, Hinds has the ghost look like what you'd imagine a generic ghost to look like (no, not the kind with a sheet - just all white) and as Macbeth proceeds to freak out, Banquo looks gorier and gorier, reducing down to a bloody skeleton.

Another great touch was when Macbeth speaks the line "I am in blood stepped in so far that should I wade no more, returning were was tedious as go o'er." He's sitting there in his dining hall with his wife, and at their feet is a pool of blood. That's one of those nice things about comics; the artist can literally draw the metaphor and it doesn't lose its impact.

I also appreciate how Hinds lets the reader in on his creative process in the end notes. I found myself learning some new things that I'll have to incorporate in my lesson plans. I already knew that the play was historically inaccurate (although I only recently learned that Banquo probably didn't even exist!) I didn't know that they didn't even have proper castles back in 11th Century. And to think that people get all up in arms about the inaccurate history in Braveheart! It's got nothing on this one, I think. But who cares? A good story is a good story, and if it's really good, it can inspire you to learn the truth.

I should probably note that for the most part, Hinds retains the original language. He doesn't format it into iambic pentameter, which actually makes it a bit easier to read, as it causes the reader to pay more attention to punctuation. Of course, like all adaptations, some scenes are cut, but nothing that I think anybody would consider a favorite scene.

I hope that we'll see more comics adaptations of Shakespeare, as it seems like a real no brainer. When it comes to comics, the artist is doing a job that's similar to the director, only he's completely in control of all the actors. Just as it would be worth it to see more than one stage production or more than one movie version of the same play, it would be great to see even more artists take a turn at this material.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

I can't explain The Who

Back in 1996, I got to see The Who when they brought their Quadrophenia tour to San Jose. I remember sitting next to a guy who said that he was a teenager when the album came out, and I replied that it came out the year that I was born (just a month before, actually).

Why were they touring for an album that was over twenty years old? It turned out that they were unable to perform that rock opera the way Pete Townshend envisioned it originally, and when the opportunity came along to do it the right way, with a large band with a horn section and large screens to tell the story, it was time to do it.

How was the show? It was great. Of course, original drummer Keith Moon wasn't there, since he had died back in 1978, but they were ably assisted by Zak Starkey, a protege of Moon's (and son of Ring Starr).

The whole show was a real treat for me, because Quadrophenia is easily my favorite album of theirs. I was just listening to it the other day, and I have to say that it's one of my favorite albums EVER. There's a lot of stuff that I loved in my 20s, and while I still love it to this day, it doesn't have the same kind of emotional punch for me as it did back then. This particular one though had me singing and feeling like it was still new to me. (Notable track: "The Punk and the Godfather". Maybe it's because I'm even older and more disillusioned now.)

I've written a few tributes to some of my favorite bands now, but for some reason I'm just getting around to writing about The Who. I've started and stopped writing posts about them before, never quite finding the right angle to take on how I feel about them. The thought came back to me recently as I've been listening to the audio of Pete Townshend's autobiography, Who I Am.

It's fitting (and simultaneously ironic and coincidental) that they have a song title that perfectly explains my inability to express how much their music means to me. I definitely feel something strong, but it's hard for me to put it into words.

Obviously, I wasn't around for when they first came on to the scene. For the longest time, they were just one more band on a long list of "oldies", and it wasn't until I started exploring classic rock that I started listening to them. One of the first CDs I bought was Who's Next, the reason being that I saw a video of Pearl Jam performing the song Baba O'Rily.

So, I don't have any memories of seeing them at Woodstock or having been a mod who used to fight the rockers in Brighton. I just had those CDs which I blasted in my car while on my way to college classes and/or my job at a grocery store. I remember that I even incorporated them into some of my creative writing short stories when I went to San Francisco State University, and I even snuck Pete Townshend into the background of a comic book I drew.

One thing that I can say for the band is that they're one of the few where each member is crucial to their sound. Yeah, they had albums after Moon died, but I don't recommend them all that much. He had one of the most distinctive drum styles. He was kinda the anti-Ringo Starr, who operates on the principle of "less is more". With Moon, it's "more is more", but it still goes with the music, never overtaking what the others are trying to do. Still, you can just sit there and listen to him and be entertained.

I especially don't recommend Endless Wire. Not only is Moon not present, but they're lacking one of the best bass players ever, John Entwistle. That man wasn't just part of the rhythm section. His playing was a crucial part of the melody of many of The Who's songs. There's a reason why he's one of the first to do a bass solo (on "My Generation").

Of course, Roger Daltrey also had (it's gone now folks, sorry) one of the greatest rock and roll voices ever, with him able to do a melodic love song and a lion's growl with equal effectiveness. Of course, without Pete, you don't have most of the ideas and songs from the band. Honestly though, I can't think of many bands where changing even one member has such a drastic effect. The Who is definitely one of those though.

Like I said, I wasn't there for when they first made it big, but I have a feeling that I would have liked them just as much had I been.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Gary Fouse continues to not understand climate change

I've written about Gary Fouse a couple of times now. The short version? He's a "conservative" blogger who doesn't believe in global warming/climate change. The reason why basically boils down to the fact that he doesn't like Al Gore. Since I accept climate change, I must love Al Gore, because the two ideas are inseparable, just like GMOs and Monsanto. (And if you believe the second statement, I would suggest that you need to read up on GMOs a little bit more.)

Pretty much every year, he waits for some kind of cold weather event, and he posts about it to further his point that Al Gore is dumb and that climate change isn't real. It's been pointed out to him again and Again and OH MY GOD AGAIN that nobody has ever said that we would no longer see cold weather - especially in WINTER. In fact, what has been predicted is more extreme weather.

But he will never learn, because Al Gore is bad; therefore, it's cold, and global warming is bogus. Here's his latest little bit of genius.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Rethinking the blog

When I created this blog back in 2008 (so long?) I titled it Comics, Beer, and Shakespeare because I figured that's primarily what I would be writing about. While I certainly wrote about those things, and the order of the topics reflects the number of times I wrote about those topics, I wound up writing about all sorts of things. There are probably more posts about religion and skepticism than anything else.

About five years ago, I wrote a post entitled "Atheism is getting boring" as I was starting to feel like there really wasn't much more to say about the topic. Turns out I found more things to write about - quite a bit more, and I don't think that I revisited the same territory. I found myself having some thing to say about the arguments of apologists, for instance. I also found myself writing a few blog posts going over various logical fallacies - many of which are used by apologists. Some of the ones which I am most proud of didn't involve me debunking religious claims or making a case for atheism so much as attempting to communicate exactly what atheism is and how Christians and atheists can better understand one another.

Once again, I find myself losing interest in writing about religion. Right now, I'm starting to wrap up Richard Carrier's book, On the Historicity of Jesus - Why We Might Have Reason to Doubt. Carrier is a mythicist when it comes to Jesus, which means that he doesn't think that there's enough reason to declare Jesus to be a historical figure, much less a divine one. I was pretty skeptical about this, as I've read books by John Dominic Crossan, and I even wrote a review on my blog about Reza Aslan's Zealot. Crossan's works were pretty influential on me when I first started admitting to myself that I was an atheist. I was able to find some meaning in the Jesus story without having to accept any of the supernatural elements of it. After all, there was this historical person behind the whole thing, and if you scraped away the dogma, you had something pretty cool.

As of now, I'm not so sure. And just as Carrier never definitively says that there was no historical Jesus, I don't say that either. However, I'm jumping ship and I'm willing to say that we definitely have reason to doubt. Not only is it likely that there was never a historical Jesus, but even if there was, what he has become in the New Testament (and other traditions) is so far removed from anything that ever existed in reality.

And with this book, I kinda feel like I'm done. I'm usually reading something or other, and I've got a long queue of audiobooks from Audible that I want to get. However, I'm just not interested in any more books about atheism (haven't read one of those in a while, actually) nor any books about searching for who Jesus really was. I genuinely feel done, and I'm currently listening to Pete Townshend's autobiography, and I just finished Jim Gaffigan's latest book. I'm more interested in supplementing my comic book reading with stories from musicians and comedians. I think that I'd only want to pick up another book about Jesus if there was some radical new information about him; otherwise, I feel done.

I'm not quite sure what I'm going to do now. I might just write about what I want to write about and keep it on this blog. Part of me wants to start a new one and just focus on comic books. I'm still interested in skepticism, so maybe I'll have a blog just about that. Yeah, I still like beer, but I don't have much to say about it. Shakespeare? I think that I've covered much of what I have to say for a while.

I guess what I want to do is to have a blog that has a narrower focus. Why not do more than one narrow-focused blog? Maybe one day, but I don't have the time nor energy to write several blogs right now. I think that comics might just be the way to go - that, or skepticism.

We'll see. If you read my blog, expect some changes. Or not. I don't know.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Spreading atheism is pointless

The last President of the United States, George W. Bush, stated that God told him to invade Iraq (among some other requests). It's stuff like this that atheists point to when they want to see religion and religious thinking to go away. God told him? You mean that being for which there is no evidence of its existence? This is what you're basing policy on? Policy that costs the lives of thousands of people?

Many of my fellow nonbelievers find a little bit of hope in the fact that religion is on the decline in this country and around the world. It certainly would remove a lot of reasons for behaviors that are difficult to justify when you don't have a supreme being commanding you to do it. It certainly seems like we're entering a new age of enlightenment, but I'm not so sure that there's any reason to get too optimistic.

Let's take the example about Bush invading Iraq because Jesus told him to do so. Would it be any better if he said that he did it because that's what his astrologer told him to do? How about the ghost of George Washington said it would be a good idea? Maybe some aliens landed and told him that he should do so, and since they come from an advanced civilization, he figured that he'd follow their advice. Would any of these scenarios be any better? Of course not because they're all irrational and not based on any kind of evidence.

I sometimes will post all kinds of skeptic-related memes and thoughts on Facebook, and it's amazing to me how I'll get some people who'll "like" pretty much everything I post, but then they draw the line when I make fun of something that's equally irrational. For instance, I know people who will laugh at religious absurdities, but then they'll defend homeopathy. Also, I have one online friend who posts all kinds of amusing anti-religious memes, but then she posted something about her astrological sign. I didn't want to give her a hard time about it, but I expressed my confusion as to how she could be such a firm atheist and yet give any credence to astrology. I ended by explaining that the reason why I don't believe that me being a Sagittarius has any significance is the exact same reason why I don't believe in a god.

Obviously, a person can be an atheist and not be a skeptic. I think that's a little hard for people like myself, who started out as skeptics and found themselves becoming atheists as a result, to understand sometimes. I'm not quite sure what motivates people to become atheists otherwise. Perhaps it's that they simply don't like what religion has to offer, and they don't feel enough pressure from their friends and family to get involved with one. Maybe they had bad experiences. I don't know, but it seems like an interesting bit of compartmentalization to reject the idea of a God yet still believe in ghosts, for instance.

Let's also not forget the fact that there are a lot of atheists out there who might be skeptics when it comes to the supernatural, that doesn't necessarily mean that they're on the right side of science. Take, for instance, Bill Maher. I have such conflicted feelings about this guy. When he discusses religion and politics, I find myself in agreement with him, and I think that he has a great way of cutting right to the heart of the matter in a humorous way. Sometimes he goes a bit over the line, but I'm fine with that. When I have a real problem with Maher though is when he goes anti-science, in particular his statements about vaccines and GMOs. I ask you now, my fellow atheist, would you feel comfortable living in a world with a bunch of Methodists who vaccinate and don't work toward preventing potentially life-saving GMOs from going to poor people? Or would you rather be around a bunch of atheists with whooping cough?

So, yeah, it might be great to imagine a world with no religion, as John Lennon explained, but getting rid of religion doesn't mean that we'll suddenly be in a more rational world. If it's not coupled with skepticism, then we might be exchanging one kind of absurdity for another. This is why trying to spread atheism is ultimately pointless if you're also a skeptic. So, consider me unimpressed that there are more nonbelievers out there. I'll be more hopeful when I see other irrational beliefs go on the decline.

This is why we should concern ourselves with encouraging people to think skeptically. It's the sort of thing that ultimately works against religion, and all sorts of other tribalistic ills like nationalism, Atheism will come with a more skeptical outlook, and if there is good reason to believe in a god, then skepticism will bear that out as well.