Sunday, September 4, 2016

San Francisco Comic Con

Wonder Woman by Mike Mayhew
Since the departure of WonderCon to Southern California, the San Francisco Bay Area has been making several attempts to replace what was easily the biggest comic book related event of Northern California. It was looking like the Big Wow Comicfest might have taken its place, but that seems to be a thing of the past, and it's been replaced by the Silicon Valley Comic Con. I didn't attend that one, mainly because it seemed like more of a media convention and I was still hoping that Big Wow might be making a return. (I'm not including the East Bay Comic Con. I've been to the past two of them, but it's a pretty small, although worthwhile, show.)

Since that idea is apparently a bust, I went ahead and bought a ticket to the San Francisco Comic Con. The ticket price was a bit steep at $50 for a Saturday ticket, but I have been dying to go to a big show, so I ponied up. It didn't have nearly the star-power of the Silicon Valley show, and there weren't too many artists in attendance that I wanted to see, but when a buddy of mine expressed interest in going, I figured that was a good enough reason to at least check it out.

Overall, I think that it was a pretty good convention. While there weren't a lot of comics professionals there, the ones I got to see where kind of a big deal to a long-time comics fan like myself. For some reason, I've managed to go nearly 30 years of reading comics without meeting Mike Zeck, who drew one of the greatest Spider-Man stories, Kraven's Last Hunt. He's also the guy who designed Spidey's black costume.

I not only got his autograph on the first part of the aforementioned Kraven story, I had him sign the issue of Secret Wars that detailed how Spider-Man received the black costume. On top of that, I got the signatures of the inkers: Bob McLeod on Kraven's Last Hunt and John Beatty on Secret Wars. One more signature topped off the Secret Wars, and that was writer (and former editor in chief of Marvel Comics) Jim Shooter.

I also parted with some money when I bought some art prints with some classic covers that Zeck did, along with a really cool profile of The Punisher. (I had two Zeck-drawn Punisher posters hanging in my room when I was a kid.)

Writer, penciler, inker - all signed
Those guys were all some of the best in the business, but you don't find them doing much in comics lately. Zeck and Beatty informed me that they work more in licensing now rather than do the monthly comics grind. I'm assuming the same is true with Bob McLeod. (McLeod also signed the first two issues of The Amazing Spider-Man that were penciled by Todd McFarlane. In my opinion, his inks improved McFarlane's art. I told him so, but he said that McFarlane didn't think so.)

I did get to meet one artist who's currently putting out some great work, and that's Mike Mayhew. He has recently illustrated a couple of issues of Star Wars that feature the exploits of Obi Wan Kenobi and young Luke Skywalker, filling in some gaps between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. I got him to sign those tow comics, but I was disappointed to hear that there weren't any more issues like that in the works. I also got into an interesting conversation where I got some insight into the workings of Disney and Marvel regarding keeping all of the continuity straight between the movies and comic books. Just like with Zeck, I also purchased some pretty cool art prints from him. One was with Wonder Woman, one with Batgirl, and one with Jean Grey of the X-Men.

One other thing I observed was the overall quality coming from the independent comic book publishers. Usually it's pretty easy for me to bypass what they're selling, and maybe once in a while I'll see something interesting. This time I found myself passing on a lot of stuff that looked pretty cool. (But I did pick up a couple of them - most notably from Emet Comics. Their focus is female creators and female characters, but I was drawn to the obvious quality of the artwork. I haven't read them yet, so I can't speak to the quality of the stories. One way or the other, the female angle is definitely not just a gimmick.)

As for shopping, you'd be happy if you were looking to buy some classic comics (think Golden and Silver Age) as there were a few vendors specializing in those. I didn't see as many dealers selling trade paperbacks and graphic novels as I'm used to seeing, and I didn't see a whole lot of toys or cool T-shirts either.

They apologized for looking exhausted,
but they were good sports as I geeked out.
I only checked out one panel, and that was the one with Ian McDiarmid. You probably know him better as The Emperor from the Star Wars movies. He took audience questions and shared stories from filming the movies and his stage career. Fun fact - he does an uncanny impression of George Lucas.

Of course there were also plenty of cosplayers, which is a bigger deal now than when I started
reading comics. There were the ones you'd expect like Boba Fett, Stormtroopers, Deadpool, Spider-Man, and Batman. I only caught a few surprises like a 90s era Superboy and Captain America's dancers. (I did the closest thing to a catcall in my life when I saw them on the street, pointed at them and shouted, "Awesome!" They thanked me, so I guess I can keep my Not-a-sexual-harasser card.)

I'm glad I went, but I'm also glad that I just went with a friend and fellow comic book fan. I didn't bring the wife and kid, and I'm not sure if they would have enjoyed themselves as much as they did at Big Wow. There wasn't as much kid-friendly stuff, and it was a lot more crowded. It's not that I think my wife would have hated it, but I don't know if she would have wanted to stay as long as I did. Hopefully this is just the beginning for this con, and we'll see an even more impressive guest list for next year.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Suicide Squad - movie review

For those who haven't read any of my comic book movie reviews before, I should probably start with the disclaimer that I'm almost always positive when I write about these films. In some cases, like Batman V. Superman, I could recognize the movie's shortcomings while still enjoying it. In other words, it's pretty tough to create something that I don't like so long as it's based on comic books.

With that said, I really wasn't going in to Suicide Squad with super high expectations. I've never read the comic, and the only characters that I cared about were the ones who were Batman-related. And while I realize that many people loved the trailers, I was a bit underwhelmed. That feeling only sank when the negative reviews started to pour in. I wasn't going to let that stop me from seeing the movie, but I continue to worry that Warner doesn't know how to handle its DC properties the way that Marvel Studios knows how to handle theirs.

Once again though, I'll say that while I understand the negative criticism, I still liked the movie. Much like DC's last effort, Batman V. Superman, I found this to be a pretty frustrating movie, only I have less personally invested in this particular property. I thought that the movie had a really great original style, but it seemed to be the victim of (once again) too much executive interference with the creative process. And Warner is still trying to artificially catch up to Marvel by throwing as many characters in one movie as possible. (How cool would it have been if we already knew most of these villains from various superhero movies and then have this become an anti-Avengers by having them all team up?)

One thing that I can definitely say for it is that the movie really kept up a nice, brisk pace up until the final act, which got caught up in the whole "Why are they all fighting this guy?" trap that so many of these movies do. I thought that the director, David Ayer, made good use of various classic rock songs throughout. Sometimes when people do that, it feels like they're ripping off Scorsese, but I guess it doesn't feel that way when it's done in this particular genre.

All right, here are some scattered thoughts:

Jared Leto as The Joker - I was more than willing to give Leto a chance, and I didn't really pay too much attention the fact that the guy seems to be a real creep. Obviously, Heath Ledger's performance is still fresh in a lot of people's minds, so that would be tough to top. Leto was going to have to take the character in a different direction if he was going to stand out? Did he do that? I guess, but he didn't really do anything all that interesting with the role at all. The Joker just felt like a generic bad guy.

I also think that, with the exception of the flashback scenes, the character felt pretty perfunctory in this movie. I'm not entirely sure what he added to the story other than that.

Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn - She was probably the perfect choice for this part. She's a very pretty woman, but she's also able to pull off crazy pretty well with that wide smile of hers. It was pretty clear that she looked to the character's original portrayal in Batman: The Animated Series for inspiration. (And you actually get to see her in the original outfit! And you quickly realize why they changed it.)

I think that we can blame the issues with The Joker on the fact that the movie had Harley in it, as her origin is so tied to that character. Still, Robbie's portrayal was interesting enough that I think that they could have had her merely hint at her origins.

Will Smith as Deadshot - I don't know too much about the character, but I liked Smith's portrayal. He's always pretty likable, and he was a good choice if they were going to make at least one of these villains have a bit of a heart. I'd be really happy to see more of him in other DC films.

I don't think that this is the sort of movie that will win over people who normally don't like comic book movies. It might even turn off a lot of people who like what Marvel has been putting out over the past decade. As I said, I get the negative reviews, and it's a bit of a mess toward the end. Still, there was enough for this comic book nerd to enjoy, and I hope to see it again (especially if there's a director's cut.)

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Ghostbusters (2016) movie review

I have a confession to make. I never saw the original Ghostbusters in the theater even though I'm pretty much the perfect age to have done so. (It came out when I was in the fourth grade.) Back when I was a kid, I was easily scared of anything that looked even remotely scary, and my neighbor describing the scene with the librarian ghost at the beginning was enough to frighten me away until years later when I finally saw it on video. After that, it quickly became one of my all-time favorite movies and I watched my crappy VHS copy of a copy over and over again.

I did see Ghostbusters 2 in the theater, and I remember being really excited for it. I went out of my way to see it on the last day of school of my freshmen year of high school. And even though my standards were a lot lower back then, I remember being really disappointed in the whole thing. It just felt like a less funny and less exciting version of the first one. I watched it again recently when I bought a blu-ray combo pack of both movies, and I continue to be disappointed.

When I heard about the current remake/reboot, I was interested. I most definitely did not join the chorus of fans who freaked out when there were going to be four female Ghostbusters this time around. The last one had four men, and that wasn't a problem. Why would four women be a problem? I also am not somebody who bemoans the "lack of originality" in movies, as I teach Shakespeare and that guy was all about rewriting previously told stories.

The only thing that I cared about was whether the movie was going to be good or not. Four women is fine so long as they are four funny and talented women. The story also had to be good. It had to capture the spirit of the original while not simply giving me what I've already seen before.

My hopes were raised when they announced the cast. I was only really familiar with Kristen Wiig, who I think is awesome. Even the weaker Saturday Night Live bits with her in it were usually worth watching just to see what she'd do. I also liked Bridesmaids, and she's hilarious as the yoga instructor in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. (You have to watch the extended edition of that movie to catch that scene.) I also think that Melissa McCarthy is pretty funny as well, as she had a lot of the best bits in the aforementioned Bridesmaids. I didn't know too much about Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones, but I was willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

If I'm totally honest, I did have an opinion regarding the all-female buster casting. It made me root for this movie to succeed because I'm a big believer in the notion that we need more diverse and positive roles featuring women. I'd personally like to see more completely original stories with female protagonists, but this is a decent step in between male dominated action movies and a more diverse fare.

Still, I figured all of this would be for naught if the movie stunk, so while I say that I was rooting for it, I was rooting for its potential to be something good. I wasn't going to praise it no matter what.

Which leads me to the first preview.

Egads. That did not look good. I know that I'm not alone, as I heard a lot of other people chime in, including Kevin Smith on his podcast. In fairness to Smith, he was quick to blame whoever cut the trailer, as he couldn't imagine how that cast with director Paul Feig could possibly make something that looked so horrible. All of the gags were slapstick and obvious. I mean, there was an Exorcist reference. What year is this? And it didn't help that Leslie Jones's character seemed to be a stereotype of a black woman.

I really wanted to be wrong, but I was ready to accept that for the second time, there was going to be a lousy Ghostbusters movie.

My hopes raised a bit when I saw some other trailers, but not too much. I figured that I'd wait until the reviews came in, and if they were mostly positive then I'd make the effort to see it in the theater. Lucky for me, that was the case, and I went to see it with my wife.

I don't know if anybody is outright praising this movie, but I absolutely loved it. In a way, it made me hate the trailer even more, as it really did the film a disservice. Maybe the problem is that the really funny bits require a certain context. Whenever there was a silly slapstick moment, what was usually funny was what the other characters were saying or doing as it was happening. I'm eager to see the film again, as there were some moments where I was laughing so hard that I no doubt missed two or three other funny lines that came right after them.

What else did I like? I thought it did a really good job of capturing the heart and spirit of the original without being slavish to it. The characters didn't evenly line up with their male counterparts from the original. At best, you could say that Kate McKinnon's part was a combination of Egon and Venkman. Other than that, they all brought something new to the franchise.

Wiig and McCarthy didn't disappoint, and Jones's character rose above the stereotype to the point where I didn't even think about it anymore. It was really McKinnon who nearly stole the movie for me though. She was definitely not quite in her right mind, but she had enough charm to her that you could believe that she'd get away with it.

I was also pretty surprised with Chris Hemsworth, better known as Thor from the Marvel movies. I knew that he could be funny, as he's had some good bits as the Thunder god. However, he really got to show his comic timing in this one. He was a complete airhead, yet he still was able to inject his character with enough humanity to make him more than just a figure to laugh at.

I don't think that this is ever going to hold up to the original, but it was loads better than Ghostbusters 2, and hopefully if they do a sequel, they can outdo the previous franchise.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Hope for the Ark Encounter?

Utnapishtim's, ahem...Noah's ark
Depending on how much you pay attention to issues regarding religion, you may or may not have heard of the Ark Encounter. In a nutshell, it's a museum devoted to the Biblical flood story, and it's a life-size reconstruction of Noah's boat. I suppose it's more of a construction than a reconstruction for the simple fact that NOAH'S ARK NEVER FRIKKEN' EXISTED.

Yeah, I'm being a little harsh, but if you think that the Noah story actually happened, or you even entertain the possibility that it happened, then the rest of this post isn't going to appeal to you. Unless you can provide some AMAZING evidence (you can't) of a global flood, I'm going to put flood believers into the same category as Scientologists who learn about Emperor Xenu and still stay in the organization anyway.

It opened on July 7th, and from what I've read, opening day didn't have quite the turnout that they were expecting. Maybe there aren't as many Biblical literalists as they were hoping for? Or maybe the literalists just don't care that much? Who knows? I'm not expert in these matters, and I haven't seen any official figures, but I have to wonder if this thing will one day go the way of Jim Bakker's Heritage USA, and become a monument to religious folly.
Let's just assume that I'm right and this thing will eventually go bankrupt and have to close down one day. Overall, this would be a good thing. Perhaps it's too bad that the state of Kentucky is losing out considering how many tax breaks Answers in Genesis (the company that built the thing) got for it, but the good far outweighs the bad. For starters, the place is basically devoted to spreading ignorance and anti-science. Even worse, it's targeted at children with its inclusion of dinosaurs. (It's funny how for some people the dinosaur thing is what puts it over the top into Crazy Town territory. Guess what? It's crazy without dinosaurs.) It will also be good to see the end of a place that has discriminatory hiring practices (no non-Christians, no gay people) while receiving taxpayer money. 

With that said, I wouldn't want to see the place get torn down. I also wouldn't want to see it just sit there and rot. Here are some possibilities as to what can be done with it:

1. Turn it into a science museum. Have a big part explaining how flood geology is riddled with fallacies.

2. Have it be a museum devoted to mythology. Utilize much of what's there, and keep the dinosaurs in a section entitled "What happens when people take myths literally." Include displays for various flood myths, paying special attention to Utnapishtim and his similarities/differences with Noah. 

3. Make a nautical museum. Yeah, it's in a landlocked part of the country. Well, who would be more starved for boat-related stuff than them? People on the coasts have their fill of that sort of a thing, thank you very much.

4. Make it a literal monument to religious folly. Have displays ranging from the weird to the outright dangerous like snake handlers and Jim Jones.

5. Why was the world flooded? Because of sin, right? Make it a museum of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. People will love it. Throw in some hookers while you're at it. See if the firmament opens and the waters pour forth. 

Monday, June 20, 2016

Thoughts on the DC Rebirth

Honestly, if push comes to shove, I'm more of a Marvel guy than a DC guy. The first comics I ever bought were Marvel, and it took a few years for me to actually start buying some DC titles as well. (Keep in mind that I started reading regularly back in the sixth grade.) This doesn't mean that I think that Marvel is "better", it's just that I've gravitated more to the House that Stan and Jack Built more than the Distinguished Competition. With that said, it's strange that I've written more about the various developments at DC several times now while not writing too much about Marvel.

And this brings me to DC's latest initiative, which has been called Rebirth, which is kinda making me hate DC Comics. Is it because  the last major relaunch was a mere five years ago? Is it because it feels gimmicky? Is it due to the confusing continuity?

No, it's because I pretty much want to read everything that they're publishing. While I'm certain this problem will not be able to sustain itself for a long period of time, I'm finding myself intrigued by everything I've read so far, and I'm still looking forward to some titles. Oh, and did I mention that most of them come out twice a week? There's still plenty of stuff from Image, Boom, and IDW that I want to buy, not to mention the offerings from some random company owned by Disney. (And I should mention that company is still turning out great Star Wars comics.)

For those who aren't currently reading comics, or haven't been following the news of the relaunch, here's the brief synopsis of what's going on:

Less than five years ago, DC canceled its entire line and relaunched absolutely every title along with a bunch of new titles. There were 52 total, hence the name The New 52. It was a controversial move, and while there were definitely a lot of great comics to come out in that period (particularly Batman by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo) overall a lot of fans, like myself, started to lose interest. While it might have helped to bring in a lot of new readers, I think that it might be safe to say that a lot of us felt like this new continuity was missing what we loved about DC Comics (even though we might not have realized that this is what we loved) and that's a sense of history. Or better put, the legacy of many classic characters had pretty much gone up in a puff of smoke. (The Flash is probably the one character who suffered the most from this.)

Rebirth isn't completely rebooting continuity so much as bringing back what was lost with the previous relaunch. It all started with a one-shot titled simply Rebirth, and I think that Mavel's Tom Breevort said it best: "I thought it was -- and I mean this in a good way -- the most 'DC' comic that I'd read in a long while." From there, a bunch of new Rebirth special issues and new #1's hit the stands, and I've read pretty much all of them. I picked up the usual suspects with the Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman titles, but I also revisited Green Lanterns and gave Aquaman, Green Arrow, and Titans a shot.

And I can tell you, there isn't a weak link in the bunch. I'm obviously going to have to stop dropping titles simply because I won't be able to afford everything, but I think that it's just going to come down to sticking with my favorite characters.

Anyway, here are some highlights:

Batman #1 - I don't think that I've read anything by Tom King before, but holy crap that's the way that you start a first issue. I don't want to give away too much, but it's really one long and well-constructed action sequence. However, there's a real emotional heft to it, and the last page has me dying to find out what happens next.

Green Arrow - I don't know if I'm going to be able to stick with this one, but I like the interaction between him and Black Canary. One of my oldest comics is a Green Lantern/Green Arrow reprint, so I always associate her with Ollie. I haven't been following either one of them in the New 52, so I didn't even realize that their history had been taken away. I imagine that longtime fans will be really happy with this.

Mick Gray, inker on Superman to the left, me babbling on at the right.
Courtesy of Flying Colors Comics.
Superman - Geez, but I can't think of a time when I've been this excited to pick up every Superman related title. Maybe it was back when Kurt Busiek was on Superman and Geoff Johns was on Action Comics? Anyway, I'm not sure how much this one will appeal to people who are totally new to comics, but I can't be the only veteran fan who's intrigued about what's happening here. In a nutshell, Superman is dead. But Superman, from the pre-New 52 continuity is very much alive, and he's ready to be the Man of Steel for the universe he now inhabits. He has some problems though as Lex Luthor had ideas about doing the same thing. Oh, and this Superman is married. And he's got a kid who doesn't know his own strength.

And Gene Yang has a book with a Chinese Superman? I'm down for that one as well.

The Flash - I'm doubly excited about this one since Joshua Williamson is writing it. He's currently writing two of my favorite Image books, Birthright and Nailbiter. Hopefully he'll be given the freedom to really bring his best to the Scarlet Speedster, as he's great at writing about personal relationships.

Wonder Woman - I lost interest in her adventures shortly after the conclusion of Brian Azarello's run, but this one has me back on board. This one really exemplifies what Rebirth is all about, as her origin underwent a heavy revision in the New 52. The Rebirth one-shot didn't do much other than set up a story to come, but it looks like the theme is "Who is Wonder Woman?" which has a lot of potential considering the heavy symbolism that is inherent with the character.

Green Lantern - I am a huge fan of what Geoff Johns did with Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern mythology. I kinda lost interest in the title when there was that whole New Gods business, and I really just didn't think that Billy Tan was a good fit for the title. I like the setup for the new Green Lanterns series, as it focuses on the two newest recruits for Sector 2814: Simon Baz and Jessica Cruz. The setup is a pretty good one, as the two of them have to share a lantern battery, and the Justice League will have to do their training since the Green Lantern Corps is missing in action. I don't know what they have in store for Hal Jordan in his book, but I'll at least check it out.

The Green Lantern concept already had a rich history and mythology to it, and that only became even more true under Geoff Johns. Hopefully this will continue the tradition.

No doubt I will have more to say as this reboot plays itself out. In the meantime, I'm excited and a bit daunted as to how much good stuff there is to read.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Hopes for Episode VIII

I've had the idea for this particular blog entry swimming around in my head for several months now, but after watching The Force Awakens yet again last night, I thought it was time that I finally sat down and wrote it. Another bit of motivation is that the movie is coming out next year, and no doubt some actual plot points are going to start being revealed soon.

Just to make one thing clear, I'm among the fans who loved Episode VII. I could nitpick at some things, but I'm really not interested in doing that. I also didn't have a problem with the fact that the movie's plot echoed the original as much as it did, as I thought that the characters and their personalities were all so very different from what we've seen before that it didn't matter seeing them go through the same motions that the original characters did.

I'm obviously looking forward to Episode VIII, and here are some of my hopes for what we can see next, some of them bordering on concerns.

1. Let's go in a new direction - Again, I have no problem with the plot echoes from The Force Awakens. But I want to see this take the audience into some unexpected places. I think it's safe to say that it will be darker, just as The Empire Strikes Back was to its predecessor. There will probably also be some revelations involving family relationships. With that said, we can definitely go somewhere new with this considering we have entire galaxy to play in. I have a feeling that the masterminds behind the saga have the same idea in mind.

2. Throw Rey for a loop - I have a feeling that we'll see this happen anyway, but one of the complaints about Rey in the previous movie was that she was a bit of a "Mary Sue" and was pretty much good at anything. Perhaps they were overcompensating now that there was a female protagonist? Maybe, but I don't think so. If we look at the previous two protagonists, Anakin and Luke, they both had it relatively easy compared to Rey. Sure, Anakin was a slave, but he was raised by his mother, and his slavemaster, Watto, was about as benevolent as one could possibly be. Luke had foster parents. Rey? She was an orphan, and it seems like she had basically been on her own on a junkyard, desert world ever since she was a little girl. She's had to fend entirely for herself, and it was not so strange that she would already have some grasp on the Force once it became "awakened".

Still, she did manage to take on each challenge quite well, and much of the fun was how surprised everybody was by her. Who the hell was this girl who could do so much and was channeling the Force like a boss? (Anybody else get the feeling that Han knew who she was? He kept giving knowing looks, and the camera cut away right after Maz Kanata asked him, "Who is this girl?")

With the next film, the bad guys need to be ready for her. And she just needs to barely escape with her life, perhaps with the help of her friend, Finn.

3. More new stuff to look at - Say what you will about the prequels, but they gave us a whole lot of new stuff to look at as far as different planets and spaceships were concerned. Yeah, we have different planets with the current trilogy so far, but is Jakku really all that different from Tatooine? Maybe they're running out of ideas, but I have to imagine that there are some things that nobody's done yet. Maybe we can even revisit one of those planets that we barely caught a glimpse of during Order 66 in Revenge of the Sith.

And while it's not a big deal, why the heck are they still flying X-Wing fighters and TIE fighters? Sure, they're a little bit different, but I would have to imagine that some new spaceship designs have come along in thirty years time.

4. Who is Snoke? I sure hope that they figured this out when they first wrote him into the script. If he's just some run of the mill dark Jedi, that would be pretty lame. If he's a Sith, he violates the Rule of Two. There has to be something behind him, and I really think that his origin needs to be backdated at least before the original trilogy, if not the prequels.

5. Lightsaber battles - The best lightsaber battle,visually, was the one in The Phantom Menace. Sure, it didn't have as much at stake as the one in Empire, so ultimately it's not quite as engaging, but it was finally a taste of the Jedi when they were in their prime. Obviously, Rey and Kylo Ren wouldn't be on the same level, but I think that they need to start approaching it in the next one. Personally, I would like to see a full restoration of the Jedi order, minus their dogmatic approach, by the time we get to Episode IX.

6. Kylo Ren is finishing what Vader started - This is just pure speculation. What, exactly, did Vader "start"? Is Ren referring to Vader's desire to "bring order to the galaxy"? Or could he be talking about how Vader tossed a Sith Lord down a pit, and with the rise of Snoke, somebody needs to finish wiping the evil force practitioners out of the galaxy? Then why join Snoke in the first place? Perhaps it's to get closer to him. Maybe only a true master of both the light and the dark can defeat the ultimate evil. I don't know, but I wonder if there is more to his plan than what we've been told so far.

7. Lando. Lando system? Lando's not a system, he's a man. And we need to find out what he's been up to. I'd like to think that he's living comfortably and having a nice retirement.

8. Lobot - Whatever happened to him? C'mon!

Sunday, May 29, 2016

X-Men: Apocalypse - movie review

There was a lot that I liked about the recent installment of the X-Men franchise, but it was also missing something important that would have let it rise above just being average. It's certainly not the downturn that the third movie was (although I don't think it was as horrible as everybody says it was - the first Wolverine movie was far, far worse). However, it also is a bit of a letdown after the stellar Days of Future Past.

The major problem is that there simply wasn't anything interesting about the villain, Apocalypse. I could get over the fact that he looked kinda lame, but other than that there just wasn't anything very compelling about him. One thing that has always been good about these films is that there were always conflicts between the good guys and bad guys where things went beyond just the physical and were downright personal. With Apocalypse, he basically just has a god complex, but his ill-defined powers pretty much justify them.

That said, all of the good guys were interesting, and it was cool to see the character arcs for Mystique and Magneto get carried through into this chapter. Sure, it's not doing exactly what the comic books did, but by this point they need to do things that make sense in context of the previous films and not force the characters into predetermined roles.

Speaking of making sense though, I probably should point out that by this point, the continuity of these films make absolutely no sense at all. There are things that happen in this film that flat-out contradict what happened in the previous films. I'm pretty sure that they don't even really care, and they figure that maybe the time travel hijinks of the last film can miraculously explain it all away. Whatever, that's not very important to me, but I know that it will bug some people.

Anyway, there were a lot of great moments and highlights of this film, but I don't want to give away too much. I'll just say what I knew going in but yet still managed to thoroughly enjoy. For one, Quicksilver comes back, and they do a super-speed scene that might very well rival the one from the last film. Wolverine gets a brief scene that essentially undoes the damage from his lousy origin film, and it's a good one. However, I have to wonder if everything leading up to that scene detracted from the main plot, and we could have given Apocalypse more motivation. We also get to see a bit of Phoenix, and that's always cool.

One thing that I also liked was how Alexandra Shipp was a big step up from Halle Berry as Storm. Berry is a fine actress, but I never really felt like she did very much for that part. Shipp managed to hold an accent, and I was slightly surprised to see that the actress is from Phoenix, Arizona. (I figured that they might have gotten an actual African to play her.)

Speaking of Storm, it should also be noted that the ladies definitely get a lot to do in this story. They get some of the biggest moments and they're some of the most powerful players. While I think that The Avengers franchise is better overall, Marvel Studios could take some notes from what's going on with the X-Men movies.

If you've generally enjoyed most of the X-Men movies so far, you're probably going to like this one just fine while not being blown away. If they've never done anything for you, or you've been overall pretty ambivalent about them, this one won't change your mind. Brian Singer has done a fine job with this franchise, but I'm personally pretty eager to see some new blood show us what they can do.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Calm down about Hydra Cap

I don't think that anybody would argue the notion that I love comic books. I've been reading them regularly for nearly 30 years now, and I've never gone more than a month without a trip to the comic book store during that time. It's a basic part of my life, and to quit reading them to me would be as strange as it would be for some people to quit watching TV or attending sporting events. I'm always excited to talk about them when I get the chance, to the point where I do a whole lesson on comics and superheroes with both my freshmen and senior English classes. (And from the comments I get at the end of the year, that's easily my most popular lesson.)

With that said, I really can't stand comics fandom sometimes. I've already written about this once, but the recent brouhaha over Captain America has prompted me to return to my blog and give my two cents. For those who don't know, the controversy is over a recent revelation in the new Steve Rogers: Captain America series. It turns out that Cap is a member of the evil Hydra organization, and this has been true ever since he was a child. (Flashbacks show his mother being recruited by a Hydra agent.) The reveal came at the end of the issue, and we don't know much else.

And fans are freaking out. Many of them are saying that this completely destroys the character. Some of them are saying that it's a slap in the face to his Jewish American creators, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, since Hydra had ties to the Nazis. (In the sense that any fictional organization can have ties to a real organization.) Even those who aren't letting it upset them are dismissing it all as a cheap gimmick - merely a stunt to bring in new readers.

Here's my response:


Is it possible that this story will be a slap in the face to the character? (Funny how fans don't seem to lob this comment at Frank Miller, who craps all over Superman's legacy in his various Batman stories.) Sure, it very well could be. But as of right now, all we know is that he's been a member of Hydra all along. At least, it seems like that's what it is. We do not know the circumstances. Maybe he's trying to destroy it from within and has some kind of master plan? Maybe they're mind-controlling him? Maybe he thinks that by being part of the organization, he can somehow contain it? The point is, we don't know. The explanation may turn out to be really horrible, and later those fans will feel justified. However, there's also the possibility that there's a really good story behind this that will make Cap stand out as an even greater hero than ever before?

What about the charges of this just being a gimmick? I don't see why that's necessarily a problem. It certainly is a gimmick, but so what? It's bad if it's a gimmick and a poor story, but being a gimmick doesn't necessarily take away any artistic merit from a work. A lot of superhero comics are based on gimmicks in the first place because the publishers were trying to sell stories. What do you think inspired team books like Justice League of America and The Avengers in the first place? How is that NOT a gimmick? I even think that Paul McCartney would be the first to admit that Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band was a gimmick, but that's one of the greatest rock albums of all time. Shakespeare wrote about what people wanted to see and no doubt employed what then would have been seen as a gimmick in his time. (He did make a living off of his art, ya know. I doubt he would have done that if he ignored what the masses wanted to see.)

Lastly, can we give the writer, Nick Spencer, a little bit of credit here? The man has shown that he understands Captain America's value as a symbol with the Sam Wilson: Captain America comic. I had said that I wouldn't be too interested in that series if they made Sam (The Falcon) the new Captain America and made it so all of America was fine with the idea of there being a black Captain America. Spencer went with that idea, with a whole lot of parallels to the national freak-out that happened when Obama became the Commander in Chief. He even managed to get the Fox News talking heads all discombobulated. In other words, he has earned the benefit of the doubt.

As for me, I dug the first issue, as there was a lot more going on than the "gotcha!" ending. And it should be noted that the art by Jesus Saiz is awesome. I'm looking forward to how this all plays out. If you are a comics reader and don't find it interesting, then that's fine. However, stop making sweeping judgments based solely on the first chapter of what will no doubt prove to be a lengthy saga. When it's all said and done, then let's evaluate it as to whether it's a highlight or a low point for the character. And even if it is a low point, the character will survive. If he could survive the cancellation of his series at the end of World War II, he'll get through this.

I'm glad to see that I'm not the only one who feels this way.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Captain America: Civil War - movie review

The most significant thing for me about seeing this latest Marvel Studios film is that it's the first one that my wife and I brought my son to see in the theater. He's five, and he's seen pretty much all of them on video. When he sat through Captain America: Winter Soldier, and was absolutely fascinated with the brainwashed Bucky Barnes, I figured that he'd be fine to see the next installment in the theater.

How did he do? He got a bit fidgety during the long bouts of dialogue, but he was pretty riveted whenever somebody was in costume, and he was definitely enthralled every time there was a battle - especially if it involved The Winter Soldier. (Not sure why that character fascinates him so much.)

Here's my son's short review: "It was great and a lot of things happened."

As for my thoughts, anybody who reads my reviews knows that I'm going to find something to like in pretty much every comic book movie, especially the ones coming from Marvel Studios. Sometimes I add special caveats. With this one, let's just say that if you've enjoyed most of them, then you will probably like this one as well and might even include it in your top three. (Which is where I put it. Is it as great as the first Avengers film? Not sure if I'm willing to go there just yet. I'm not even sure if it's better than The Winter Soldier. But I have an easier time saying it's better than pretty much every other one.)

For those who don't know, this film borrows a story right out of the comics, while shifting around some details in order to make it fit a new storytelling format. The basic concept is that the governments of the world want to crack down on superheroes and basically make them accountable to the United Nations. Captain America, burned by his experiences with SHIELD, isn't willing to do that. His good friend Iron Man is, and the two wind up fighting with each one recruiting their own mini-army of like-minded heroes.

This movie does a nice job of picking up threads from both the previous Cap movie and Age of Ultron. Not only that, but there's a real arc with Captain America, who has gone from being a loyal boyscout in the first film to downright cynical of authority. Iron Man has made almost the reverse trajectory, as he's grown such a conscience that he's more than eager to have himself restrained. One could easily see each one of them fighting on the opposite side of this issue in each of their first films. (Think of the scene in Iron Man II where Tony Stark speaks before Congress.)

Another thing that was handled well was all of those characters. Did it make the movie a bit longer than it should have been? Perhaps. But I also enjoyed the big superhero fight where you got to see Ant-Man, Hawkeye, Spider-Man, The Black Panther, etc. all go at it. Did all of this make it feel more like an Avengers movie than a Captain America movie? Maybe. But the focus always came back on Cap, with Iron Man taking a close second.

Anyway, here are some random thoughts:

Spider-Man - Tom Holland is getting a lot of praise in his turn as the webslinger, and it's well-earned. While I wouldn't go so far as to say his appearance in this makes it the "best Spider-Man film" (that still goes to Spider-Man 2) I will say that the upcoming Spider-Man: Homecoming has the potential to be the best Spider-Man film. It was great to see him as a kid, and even better, a guy who talks way too much while fighting. (And just like in the comics, the other characters are keen to point out that he needs to shut up.) Was his role totally necessary in this film? Maybe not. But just like you could cut out the bit in Hamlet where the Danish Prince interacts with a gravedigger and not have it affect the plot, I can't imagine this film without it.

The Black Panther - King T'Challa was a welcome addition to the story as well, and unlike Spider-Man, his role was far more necessary to the story. He functioned as somebody who was looking at everything from an outsider's perspective, which by this point the audience isn't going to be at. I don't want to say much more in fear of spoiling the plot, so I'll conclude this bit by saying that the action scenes were top-notch. He definitely has a style all his own. Also, he had a character arc that didn't feel forced despite his limited screen time.

Zemo - As an old fan of The Thunderbolts, I'm particularly fond of Baron Zemo as a villain, and I don't feel like this character was close enough to his comic book counterpart to even justify having the same name. Was this guy a decent villain? I suppose, and he certainly could have had more to do. I'm just hoping that maybe he can evolve into something closer to his comic book counterpart.

Ant-Man - Upon repeated viewings of his solo film, the character has grown on me. He was a welcome addition to this one as well. Even though his role was a small one, he nearly upstaged Spider-Man, which isn't an easy feat.

Batman v. Superman - Is it fair to even compare this film with that one? I think so. It's a superhero film. It's part of a bigger franchise. It features a lot of characters and hints at an even larger universe. But here's the deal - even though I gave a fairly decent review to BvS, the more I think about that one, the more I think about its flaws. I still insist that it had a lot of good stuff going for it. (And I'm excited that Ben Affleck is moving forward with his solo Batman film that he will direct.) However, it was a mess. Basically DC/Warner is trying to do what Marvel is doing, only they're not willing to do the legwork that's involved with this kind of universe building. Imagine if Civil War was the film that came out right after the first Iron Man. It's hard to have a lot at stake with Batman fighting Superman when it's their first film. However, it was heartbreaking to see Captain America and Iron Man pound away at each other because we've seen a friendship grow, develop, and evolve before it all went south.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Berkeley Rep - Macbeth

Lady Macbeth
Didn't I just review Macbeth? Indeed I did, but that was the recent movie version starring Michael Fassbender. I also got to see Berkeley Rep's production yesterday, so here's what I thought about that one.

Overall, I thought it was really good. It's a bit hard for me to evaluate this play, I realized, because I know it so well after having taught it for so many years. I constantly find myself anticipating lines and even thinking which act and scene we happen to be on at any given moment. Still, I found myself getting lost in the story, and this really zipped by. (The entire show was over two hours, which is actually one of Shakespeare's shorter plays.) My wife agreed, and she really liked it a lot. The two ladies sitting next to us seemed to enjoy it too, and I got a chance to talk to them a bit about the play when one of them said to me after the show, "You seem to know a lot about this play." (She overheard some of my comments to my wife during the intermission.) So, I answered some of their questions and got to give a bit of subtext and some of my own interpretation of what's going on.

It was a pretty straightforward telling of the story, keeping the historical setting (anachronisms and all). It made good use of Berkeley Rep's stage and even incorporated some video during the scene where the apparitions deliver their prophecies to Macbeth, but other than that, there was no modern twist. That's neither good nor bad, but I figure worth noting. And while I don't necessarily have the play memorized line-by-line, I know it well enough to know that they really didn't cut out a whole lot. Little bits were trimmed here and there, but it had every scene - minus that one with Hecate that Shakespeare probably didn't even write.

One particular wise move that I caught was when Macduff asks Ross to not hold back the truth in the fourth act. The actual line is, "Be not a niggard of your speech." They changed it to "Be not a miser of your speech." That's pretty smart considering that: 1, most people don't know the word "niggard" and don't know that it has no connection to the word "nigger" aside from an unfortunate homophonic coincidence; and 2. both Macduff and Ross were played by black men. Sure, Shakespeare nerds like myself would know that nothing racial was said, but much of the audience would no doubt get distracted by that and taken completely out of a colorblind interpretation where black men can be thanes of Medieval Scotland.

Here's what I thought of the key players in the production:

Conleth Hill as Macbeth - I definitely got to see something here that I haven't seen before. He was actually a pretty jovial guy, which might seem like an odd choice, but Hill was able to also fill him with a nervous sort of energy at the same time. It was like his jolly nature was a cover for the dark thoughts that were constantly percolating deep within him. I did feel like some of his lines toward the end felt more recited than acted, but overall it was a really good performance and he created a believable dramatic arc.

Macbeth, the witches, and an apparition
Frances McDormand as Lady Macbeth - She was one of the main reasons why my wife and I wanted to see the show, and I'm pleased to say that she did the entire part in her Fargo accent. Nah, just kidding. She was great, of course. McDormand didn't do anything surprising or risky with the performance, but it was still one of the best parts of the play. The one thing that I did like, which might not have been entirely her but part of a collaboration, was how her madness seemed to stem from the fact that her husband was shutting her out of his plans once the first murder was complete.

Korey Jackson as Macduff - This is an important part to get right. Obviously, Macduff is key to the plot, but you also need to have somebody who contrasts sharply with Macbeth. I don't know if the choice was deliberate, but I love the fact that he wore a red cape throughout the story, which might make a modern audience think of a superhero. Because in many ways, that's what Macduff is. If you ever watch some of those old episodes of Batman: The Animated Series, the story will follow the villain's fall from grace, and then it's up to Batman to come in and stop him (or her). That's Macduff's purpose here as well, and he should carry a certain nobility and sense of decency about him. Jackson was the right choice if that's what they were going for.

Honestly, there wasn't a weak link in the entire production. It was cool seeing a lot of familiar faces from Calshakes as well, and these actors always deliver. Was it cool to see some big-name celebrities? Sure, but everybody else was up to the same level.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice - Movie Review

I was going to wait a few more days to see Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice but I found myself getting involved in too many online discussions about it that I was getting bombarded with spoilers. So, I seized the opportunity to see it this afternoon and just got back home about an hour ago.

I wasn't in too much of a rush to see this one, honestly. I was disappointed with Man of Steel and this looked to be more of the same from director Zack Snyder. I didn't think that I would hate it, just that it wouldn't live up to its potential. When I started to see the reviews pour in, I really started to fear the worst (actually, that started with a few somewhat lame looking previews).

Basically, I'm disappointed in the direction that DC/Warner is taking with their shared cinematic universe. They're trying to catch up with Marvel Studios, but they're not necessarily learning the right lessons. They see that it's cool to have a bunch of superheroes in one movie, but they don't want to take the time to build up those characters in their own movies first before rushing to the Avengers goal post. Plus, they got off to a rocky start with the aforementioned Man of Steel and the trainwreck that was Green Lantern. (Which I'm pretty sure is considered apocrypha by now.)

So, what did I think now that I finally saw it? I actually really liked it a lot, and I'm looking forward to seeing it again. This isn't to say that it doesn't have problems - because it definitely does. It also doesn't mean that I'm going to echo the cries of "the critics don't know what they're talking about!" Most of the criticism that I read was pretty fair, and while the negative points don't bother me as much as they did some people, I can see how they might detract from somebody's enjoyment of this film.

Here's what I thought about various aspects of the movie, in no particular order. Oh, and SPOILERS.

Batfleck - Unlike a lot of fans, I did not bemoan the casting of Ben Affleck as Batman. I thought it was an interesting choice. This doesn't mean that I thought it was a good idea, but I have been surprised by so many unconventional choices (Heath Ledger as the Joker anybody?) that I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Now it sounds like a lot of people are praising him for his performance. So, what's my verdict? I definitely lean more toward the praise than the lamentation. I don't know if this is the "best" Batman, but I can't say that it's worse than either Christian Bale or Michael Keaton. He certainly looks the part more than Keaton, and his Batman voice is less over the top than Bale's. Overall, good job, Ben. If I ever see you while crashing the movie set to Good Will Hunting 2: Hunting Season, I shall shout: "Affleck, you were the bomb in Batman v Superman, yo!"

Gal Gadot - I had a good feeling about this casting choice, and those feelings were justified. While I might have preferred a bit more of a muscular Wonder Woman, I can overlook that. (If I can overlook Michael Keaton as Batman, I can get over a more slender Amazon Princess.) Aside from that, she's exactly what I wanted in a Wonder Woman - beautiful and yet totally convincing that she could kick your ass. I also got a bit more than I hoped for, as she has an accent (the character isn't American, after all) and she actually looks Mediterranean. Props to Linda Carter, but we don't need another Wonder Woman who looks like she's of Northern European stock. (Personally, she's one character where I wouldn't mind if they cast a woman of any ethnicity.) Oh, and the best part of her performance was how she clearly relished being in combat. Now THAT'S Wonder Woman.

Luthor - I actually think that this was one of the weak spots of the movie. I was actually pretty excited that an unlikely choice like Jesse Eisenberg got to play the part, but I feel like he's just doing "Generic Super Villain" with this role. I was kind of hoping that he'd basically do what he did in The Social Network only more menacing.

The Story - There's a lot that works. For one, Batman is given a really good motivation for wanting to take down Superman. I'm not sure if his sudden change of heart was all that believable though unless one takes in the entire Batman mythology as a whole. Aside from that, this movie did suffer from trying to cram too much into one movie. The fight with Doomsday would have felt totally anticlimactic if it weren't for the chance to see Wonder Woman kicking some serious butt. I'm sure that with subsequent viewings, I'll notice more plot holes and inconsistencies, as that sort of thing happens when you try and put too much into one movie.

And yes, much of this was a setup for the future Justice League movie. Do those parts work? Yeah, sure. Could the movie have done without them? Yeah. All they needed to do was make a brief mention of the fact that other metahumans exist. We didn't need a whole scene that served as a preview of franchises to come.

I guess I felt the same as I did with Man of Steel. There were parts where I felt emotionally invested, and then there were parts where it just felt like it was dragging on.

Final note - I don't think that it's possible to give an "objective" movie review, as the nature of the beast is subjective. However, when reading my reviews of superhero movies, one should always keep in mind that I'm always going to be partial to them and find something good to say for the sheer fact that they put superheroes up on the screen. Perhaps a good gauge is for me to put it on my list where I rank the comic book adaptations. It would definitely be in the top half - but perhaps not too much higher than that. Time will tell if it rises or drops.

But I will say this - it currently ranks below Affleck's rendition of Daredevil on Rotten Tomatoes. That's crazy. Maybe it's just because the bar has gotten really high since then with the various Marvel studio movies and Christopher Nolan Batman films. But there is not a moment in this movie that's worse than Affleck and his wife fighting on a swingset.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Macbeth (2015) movie review

When I first heard about the latest film adaptation of "The Scottish Play" starring Michael Fassbender, I got pretty excited. I like the actor, and I've been hoping that a new version of the film would come along that I could show to my high school senior English class. I currently show them the 1971 version that Roman Polanski directed. While it still holds up, and I am fairly fond of it, I was hoping that one with a more modern sensibility would come along that my students could relate to a bit better. (The 2006 version starring Sam Worthington couldn't quite cut the mustard, and the 2010 PBS production starring Patrick Stewart, while good, didn't quite give me what I wanted either.)

I got even more excited when I saw the trailer. Were we actually going to get the battle scene that the bleeding Captain describes in the first act? It sure looked like it. Perhaps we'd even see poor MacDonwald get "unseamed from the nave to the chops". Other moments got me excited, like the way Fassbender delivers the line about how his mind is "full of scorpions". I've never quite seen it done that way before. Usually he's just lamenting his guilty conscience, but this version carried a "Man, I've really gone and done it THIS time!" vibe.

The big disappointment? It didn't play in any theaters near me. My local theater that would have normally played this sort of a thing closed down a few years ago, and the closest one that was playing it was all the way in San Francisco. (It's about an hour away from me. Not ridiculously far, but a bit inconvenient.) There may or may not have been other means of viewing the film that may or may not have been entirely legal, but those wound up not working out for various quality and/or virus-related issues. 

When I saw that it was coming out on Blu-Ray, I decided to just take a chance and buy the damn thing. (I can provide a receipt!) I figure even if I didn't like it, I'd be voting with my wallet to encourage the film industry to keep making Shakespeare adaptations. I started watching it late last night and finished it this afternoon. In short - I absolutely loved it. I don't want to make a hasty declaration that it's my favorite film adaptation of a Shakespeare play, but I wouldn't be surprised if I list it among my favorites a decade or two from now.

Before I go any further, I should probably point out that there are some SPOILERS. How the heck do you spoil a four hundred year old play? (He dies at the end!) Obviously, I can't spoil the basic story, but the reason why one sees a new version of any of Shakespeare's plays, be it on the stage or on film, is to see how a new director and actors will interpret something that's been done so many times before. Director Justin Kurzel takes a lot of liberties with the text, but I'd be disappointed if he didn't as there are plenty of versions that remain word-for-word the same. (Ever see the 1983 version that PBS did? Holy crap in a bucket but it's more boring than watching an inflatable swimming pool deflate.) Of course, there's always a certain irony in purists complaining about people putting their own spin on Shakespeare's material considering that's what he did with almost every play he wrote. Macbeth may be based in history, but it's even less historical than Mel Gibson's Braveheart. So, I'm going to give away some of the twists and interpretations, and if you want to be surprised, you should stop reading at this point.

I should probably also note that I'm somebody who knows this play backward and forward, and my review is really for people who are already familiar with the play. If you don't know it at all, you'll probably just wind up being confused.

Anyway, here's what I thought about various aspects of it, in no particular order:

The cinematography - Sweet Jeebus, but this is a gorgeous looking film. Watch it on your biggest TV, and be sure to watch it on Blu-Ray. This made me regret not seeing it on the big screen even more, but they really took the time to do what you can only do on film and can't do on the stage. If you're going to translate it to a different medium, then play to that medium's strengths.

Justin Kurzel's vision - I would hope that even people who do not like this version could admit that Kurzel definitely had a vision here and he achieved what he set out to do. It really streamlined what is already a pretty rapidly paced story (for Shakespeare's standards). The focus was sharply on Macbeth and what was going on in his mind, and various political and cultural subtexts are pushed aside.

Marion Cottillard's Lady Macbeth - I have a feeling that this performance will reward repeated viewings. I honestly wasn't thrilled about this piece of casting - not that I think she's a bad actor. Maybe it's just because I was more excited about Fassbender. That said, she and Kurzel created an arc for the character that hadn't ever occurred to me before. Oftentimes Lady Macbeth is portrayed as being totally wicked and just gets in over her head. However, it should be noted that she gets less and less involved with Macbeth's evil plans as the play goes on. I always attributed that to the fact that he shuts her out because of how manipulative and cold she was at the start. With this version, it's not so much that she gets pushed away as she wants less and less to do with him. This ultimately makes everything make even more sense when she completely loses her mind at the end, as she realizes that her initial push merely opened up Pandora's box.

Oh, yeah, what about Fassbender, anyway? - Overall, I think that he did a great job. I'll admit that there were a few parts where it felt like he was reciting lines moreso than performing the part of the character, but the good bits far outweigh the bad, and the REALLY good bits (like the scene with Banquo's ghost) made up for it even more.  I recommend watching the bonus features of the disc, as the actor explains that he was playing the part of a man who was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, which makes A LOT of sense when you consider how he was out there fighting on the front lines in a time where the battles were up-close and personal and the blood of your enemy would splatter all over you.

The music - Jed Kurzel's score is hard to ignore, and it really adds to the overall mood of the film. I am reluctant to compare this all to a music video, but there are certainly some comparisons that can be made. You can get a pretty good sense of it if you watch the trailer.

The changes - I'm not going to list off every change/interpretation of this film, but let me just make the general statement that a lot of it involves taking bits that were soliloquies directed to the audience and having the characters say them directly to another character. For instance, when Lady Macbeth talks of her husband being "too full of the milk of human kindness" she says it directly TO HIM. And you know what? It works. It even works better than having it just be her thoughts.

Another interesting bit is when Macbeth speaks to Banquo's murderer just before the dinner/Banquo's ghost scene. In the text, it's all an aside so only those two and the audience can hear. In this one, Macbeth says it loud enough for people to hear, as he's already losing touch with reality.

A more significant change involves the circumstances of Malcolm fleeing to England. (Donalbain is completely cut out of this version.) In the play, he leaves after everybody finds out that his dad has been killed. Honestly, I've always found that to be an all-too convenient plot point. With this version, Macbeth gives the line about how his dad is dead right in front of Duncan's murdered body, as if to say, "Yeah, I'm the one who did this. What the hell are you going to do about it? I'll kill you, too."

While there are a lot of other changes, I never felt like any of them were there just for the sake of doing things differently. Each one either raised the stakes or simply provided me with a new way to think about a play that I've read so many times. If you're a purist, you'll no doubt be upset, but I have a hard time empathizing with that point of view in the first place, as I've already pointed out.

So, will I show this one to my class now? Honestly? No. As much as I loved it, I'm afraid that it will just cause too much confusion. I'm already spending a lot of time emphasizing the difference between what Shakespeare wrote and what they see in the Polanski version as it is, and even with that, I still have students write about events in their essays that were merely an interpretation of the director and not what Shakespeare wrote. (They often write about how Lady Macbeth threw herself off a balcony, when the text simply says that she died and it's later revealed that she most likely killed herself.)

With this version, I will have to pause it every ten minutes or so and point out stuff like, "So, in the text, he says this only to the audience." It would get pretty annoying pretty quickly. So, while I won't be showing this, I will definitely recommend it to any of my students who like the play enough to want to explore it further. Perhaps an extra credit review assignment?

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Deadpool - Review

Before I get started, I should point out that even though I'm a big fan of comic books, superheroes, and superhero movies, I'm not a huge fan of Deadpool. I don't think that I have any Deadpool comics, and I think that the only ones that I have with him are ones where he's making a guest appearance. It's not that I actively dislike the character, it's just that I never found him appealing enough to follow his book. After 30 years of reading comics, that's true of a lot of major characters though.

As a result, I might have actually skipped this one if it hadn't been for all of the good reviews. After all, I'm a fan of the Fantastic Four, but I didn't bother with the last movie since the reviews were so bad. With so many good comic book movies, why waste your time with what looks like a real stinker?

That certainly didn't seem to be the case with Wade Wilson's feature film, and the people who seemed to like it the most were the comic book fans. Also, it seemed like it was a project that the creative team really believed in and really wanted to get right. So, even as a passive fan of the character, I had to check this one out.

Overall, I really liked it, and it lived up to the hype. It was crude, violent, and hilarious, but they did a good job of creating a character that I could care about, and the love story was better than a lot of movies that are marketed as love stories. Here are my thoughts, in no particular order:

Ryan Reynolds - After the disappointment that was Green Lantern, I honestly wondered if the guy had what it took to carry a feature film. I think that this was the movie that proved that he can. I actually have a lot of respect for the guy, as I know that he's one of the main reasons why they got this right. He obviously respects the character and the fans, and he wanted to not just make a good movie but to make one that was true to the spirit of the comic book. (Even though I don't own any, I have read a few, so I can say that it succeeded on that level.)

The story structure - I can't think of another superhero film that does a similar thing, but this one began in median res. For those of you not well-versed in Greek epic story structure, that means that it starts in the middle of things. It doesn't waste any time showing Deadpool in his full costume right from the first scene. It then flashes back, catches up to where it started, and then it continues the narrative. I thought that was pretty smart, as most of Deadpool's appeal is in his fighting style, which includes a whole lot of talking too damn much.

The costume - I don't want to hear any more crap about how superhero costumes don't necessarily translate to the screen. If Deadpool doesn't look like he just jumped right off the page, then I don't know what's what. If they can do that, then we can see Wolverine in something a bit closer to the comics.

The wisecracks - The movie proved that you can have flippant remarks while fighting without taking away from the dramatic weight of the situation. While the two recent Spider-Man movies started heading in that direction, now there's really NO reason to not have Spidey be his smartass self in his next feature film.

The R rating - I'm totally fine with an R rated superhero film. There are a lot of adult fans out there. But like some others have commented, I'm worried that Hollywood will learn the wrong lesson and go that route with too many of them. As a father who likes to watch these films with his son (not this particular one just yet - my son's only five) I'm not too happy at the prospect of even more of these being out of his age range. Because believe me, he knows who Deadpool is, and he wants to see the movie. I'm not sure if I like the idea that the next Wolverine will be rated R (especially considering my son is named for him) and the fact that there will be an R rated version of Batman V. Superman on home video has me a bit nervous. (Superman should be accessible to little kids. I'm sorry, but any other way of looking at that is just wrong.)

Colossus - Even though it wasn't horrible what they did with him in the X-Men movies, it was nice to see a Colossus who was recognizable from the comics. I was a bit worried that he was going to be all grim and gritty as well, but he made for a nice foil for Deadpool with his earnest and heroic attitude.

The love story/ending - SPOILER ALERT - I really liked the relationship in this film, but I think that they should have taken more of a chance with the ending. I can believe that Vanessa would want him back, but they should have saved that for the next film. She was obviously hurt with him disappearing on her like that, and believing that he was dead took a toll on her. I would have found it perfectly believable if she would have told him that she loved him despite his deformity but could no longer be with him because of how hurt she was. The movie took so many chances in so many other ways that it would have been nice to see it do something a little more unconventional with the love story. That's a minor complaint, mind you.

The tone - This is probably the most incredible part of the movie. It's hard to pull off a movie that switches from comedy to drama as much as this one did, but it really pulled it off. Somehow I completely accepted the absurdity of some of the situations, but when everything took a dramatic turn, I was still invested in the characters.

I guess the only real shame is that even though this is a Marvel property, it's not part of Marvel's movie studio. It would be cool to see him interact with The Avengers, but I guess that's just not to be.