Sunday, July 31, 2011

This Week in Geek (25-31/07/11)

Buys

Was intrigued by this Iceland/Norway production called The Bothersome Man, so I snagged it.

"Accomplishments"

In theaters: I was expecting Captain America and Bucky, but I wasn't expecting the Howling Commandos and the Human Torch android. I was expecting the Red Skull, but not Arnim Zola and Hydra. I certainly wasn't expecting a visual reference to the Cosmic Cube or a musical number. Not only is Cap a good superhero movie, but a war picture as well, and its got those extra layers for the knowledgeable comic book geek too. I was reminded throughout of how good the G.I. Joe movie might have been, because this is basically that, isn't it? A good G.I. Joe movie. And it's almost disappointing to leave World War II behind for Avengers and any possible sequel, because it really gave Captain America its own identity (which I believe is where the Marvel movies' success lies - Cap as Weird War II movie, Thor as fantasy, etc.). That, and it means we lose Tommy Lee Jones' Colonel Phillips!

DVDs: As far as watching movies at home goes, I went a little more realistic. Ridley Scott's Black Hawk Down recreates the battle of Mogadishu in Somalia, a powerful vision of urban warfare and a true event that changed U.S. policy for the better part of a decade. Many actual soldiers are collapsed into easier to follow characters, and the movie's made changes here and there, but it's essentially what happened. And it's exhausting, which I guess is the point. These soldiers were under unrelenting fire for 18 hours on a mission that should have taken a half hour. Ridley Scott says in the extras that he wanted to recreate the experience, not load the film with back story. He's certainly managed that, and there's no question his visual style fills every frame with something interesting. And if you're interested in recent military history, the DVD package has loads of extras. Three commentary tracks: Ridley Scott & Jerry Bruckheimer (the latter a little political for my tastes, by which I means I don't share his), the writers of both the book and the script, and some of the soldiers who lived through the event. These not only talk about how the film was made, but also sets the record straight where it needs to be. Disc 2 features about 3 hours of making of material from inception to reception, as well as deleted scenes, commented storyboards and pictures and an alternate opening sequence. And then there's Disc 3, which features two separate documentaries on the actual event made for tv (they don't use the same spokespeople nor cover the same ground, so they aren't redundant), a music video, three 10-minute edits of various Q&As, and commentary on a multi-angle sequence. At the risk of telling you too much about one event and film, so to speak, but I was always kept interested.

A big DVD meant I was also gonna watch a bunch of cheapies, with no real extras. It's my last week of vacation, I wanted to empty a bit of the unwatched shelf, you see. The first of these was The Accused, the film that made a star out of Jodie Foster, and this despite top credit going to... Kelly McGillis?! Who the heck? I'm kidding, we all remember her from Witness as well. McGillis plays a D.A. who takes up the case of a girl (Foster) who is gang raped, though because of her less than stellar reputation, is considered a sure loser. This too is based on an actual event, a landmark case from 1983, and it's got some pretty harrowing scenes of rape. McGillis is a bit "tv movie" for my tastes, but Foster is completely believable, at once damaged and sympathetic, and rightly won the Oscar and Golden Globe for Best Actress for it in 1988 (or '89, since they're given the next year).

Next up was an old favorite. The Color of Money is one of my favorite films of all time, and an underrated Scorsese picture if there ever was one. I'm not sure why, but this 25-years-later sequel to The Hustler (itself a fine, but completely different, film) moved with the cracking power of billiard balls. Check the film out again if you haven't in a while, and you'll see crash zooms and quick camera motions on the people as well as the balls. But at the heart of it, The Color of Money is about second chances. Paul Newman's character looks at first to buy himself one, but discovers he would rather earn it. And Tom Cruise is at a point in his career when his trademark energy seemed appropriate. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio has never been sexier (only slightly because it's the first time I've seen it with nudity). And there's a scene with a young Forest Whitaker that I quote to someone probably once a year. Revisiting it this week, I didn't find it lacking. I wish people paid it more attention.

Green Lantern: Emerald Knights is a sequel to the animated movie First Flight, with Nathan Filion in the lead (voice) role (and come on, he'd make a great Hal Jordan). The main story is that of Krona coming to eradicate Oa, just as Arisia (Elizabeth Moss) enters training. It's a fine excuse to tell many tales of the Green Lantern Corps through the movie, including those of the very first GL, of Kilowog's days as a rookie, of Mogo, and more. After three consecutive GL-related movies that feature versions of Hal's origin story, it's a breath of fresh air to see something else. Most of the stories used are adapted from the comics, some recent, but some as far back as the 80s. They seem fresh here, and the animation is certainly as sharp and action-filled as in any of the WB's releases. The WB continues its streak of Sneak Peaks at other stuff (most notably Batman: Year One), yet nothing on the feature at hand, not even a reprise of its own Sneak Peak. Ah well. Still, a good animated feature for Green Lantern fans.

I think I talked about Superman Returns enough today, so I'll stick to the DVD's special features, all on a second disc. There's a huge making of documentary that follows pre-production and shooting in detail and is quite fun. It never takes itself too seriously, and a lot of screen time is given over to the antics of Bryan Singer, James Marsden (that guy's just funny) and Kevin Spacey (no slouch either). It even ends with a blooper reel. In the inception stages, one might find just where the film went wrong, though it never detracts from the film's achievements. After you're done with those almost 3 hours of documentary, you'll still have 10 deleted scenes and a technical bit that shows how they recreated Marlon Brando's Jor-El for the film. The package as a whole enhances the viewing experience, which is what they're meant to do.

All through July, I've been comparing two versions of the same story each week. This time around, a bit of a change of pace because the two versions could not be more dissimilar, to the point of avoiding comparison altogether. Yes, I watched the first Batman film and the last (or latest, if you will), i.e. The Dark Knight. The Adam West original, filmed between seasons 1 and 2 of the 1960s show, is really all we have to pore over on DVD of that era, at least, until they untangle the rights to the tv show itself. Good thing it's a good example of it, then. Batman and Robin go up against their four greatest nemeses, Joker, Riddler, Penguin and Catwoman (and while I've often professed a preference for Julie Newmar's, Lee Merriweather's will do just fine, thank you) in what can only be termed an absurdist comedy. Batman is a send-up, but not a parody or spoof, which is a thin line to walk, and yet it does so admirably. From the moment that rubber shark takes hold of Batman's leg, you know you'll love this ride filled with flashy vehicles, bizarre detective conclusions and other silliness. The DVD includes a commentary track by Adam West and Burt Ward, but they basically have a good time watching the movie with you. They mention all the best stories in the 15-minute featurette anyway, and more besides. There's also a bit with the Batmobile's designer who has plenty of stories to tell, and a load of behind the scenes pictures.

I spilled a lot of virtual ink about The Dark Knight when it came out (I think everyone did), and I sure don't want to repeat myself. Of course, I wrote about the film after seeing it once on the big screen. Seeing it again, I'm chuffed that bits I'd completely forgotten support my thesis about the film's theme. To me, The Dark Knight has a thematic richness that far outreaches its action sequences. Watch your ears. On my tv, at least, the action BOOMED while the dialog was mixed in much lower. The DVD extras are a mixed bag (isn't this one of those DVDs where they purposely tried to get you to switch to Blu-Ray?) in scope if not in quality. There's an excellent 6-minute piece on the film's music, an interesting 17 minutes more on the evolution of the suit, gadgets and vehicles, and some 45 minutes of entertaining "Gotham Tonight" fake news show webisodes leading up to the film's events. Less interesting are the IMAX sequences, which offer a taller format on action scenes. Not as relevant as discussion on the script or the film's villains, which are sadly missing from this edition.

Kung Fu Friday's selection was The Master AKA 3 Evil Masters, a very strange hybrid indeed. The story is a good one: A martial arts master is severely wounded in a fight with the dreaded "Three Devils" and finds refuge with the most junior student of a martial arts school. In exchange for his help, the master teaches the student a better form of kung fu, which he'll eventually need to defeat the Devils. It's got a well-constructed plot and stellar fight choreography. However, it's also an unforgivably broad comedy, and some of the clowning will definitely turn Western audiences off. And the music sure doesn't help, a collection of cartoon sound effects and intrusive stock music. I say watch it for the action (it's awesome), and grit your teeth when it's trying to be funny. Maybe one to see with a large group of hecklers, it'll make you feel less guilty. The DVD has some photos and trailers, but its main attraction is an 8-minute interview with the Master himself, Chen Kuan Tai, who talks about the film and about his lawsuit with Shaw Brothers.

Audios: Continuing my journey through Doctor Who's lost episodes, I listened to Galaxy 4 this week, a somewhat dull science fiction story starring the 1st Doctor, Vicki and Steven. Nominally about not judging a book by its cover, it's also got space amazons with an intriguing culture and a bunch of bleeping robots who, on audio, bleep a heck of a lot indeed. Long stretches of bleeping. It's meant to be charming, but it's not quite R2-D2. The linking narration is the weakest I've yet heard in the first volume of the Lost Episode sets. It's written well enough, but Peter Purves (Steven) sounds like he has a cold and makes a lot of wet mouth noises. His delivery certainly lacks the tension other narrators (the gold standard for me is William Russell, but Carole Anne Ford is good too) have brought to this set. I'm afraid I'll be stuck with Purves until the end of volume 2, so I hope he picks up the pace a little bit.

New Unauthorized Doctor Who CCG cards: 23 new cards, mostly from A Christmas Carol, though some basic concepts from other places, like the Torchwood Hub, the Sonic Screwdriver and some Dalek cards. We're still a ways from making rudimentary decks to test the engine, but I'm trying to get enough key cards to make a test game possible. I'm confident what I learned in the past half dozen years will serve me well in this 2nd edition though.

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
III.i. Briefings - Branagh '96

Batman and the Outsiders #7 - Pages 19-23

Already heading for the finish line? Well, like I said, I didn't think this issue of Outsiders was all that risible, and I really want to do the next, which is a Christmas story featuring an evil baby! So let's finish this issue already so we can get to the good stuff! Where were we? Ah yes, the Cryonic Man/Phillip's lair. And the Outsiders have just rescued poor, naked Katana. So can we go home now?The way things have been going, I'm kind of surprised Batman doesn't send the "kids" home while he takes care of the Cryonic Man alone. I mean, you KNOW he COULD. And Katana's just been gassed and electrocuted and forced to smell Metamorpho's ammonia hands. But I guess they could use the training. God knows Geo-Force hasn't learned to shut his mouth yet. Well, guess what, Outsiders! The Cryonic Man is going to war too!
Seeing him get dressed only emphasizes how silly that hat it. Not that the Outsiders don't have their share of silliness. Rex's flying head alone...
So they found Katana's costume and restored her dignity, but Halo has to open her big mouth and start talking about the her soul-sucking sword.Outsiders, by the way, is a great book if you want to play games like "fill in the blank". They're always interrupting each other (or themselves). Let's try one from Halo: "Why didn't you tell us? You must be..." My own answer is "...Elric!" What's yours?
Remember: Philip doesn't have a supervillain code-name. Batman's decided on Cryonic Man. Black Lightning throws his hat in the ring with "The Popsicle Man". Wow. That's the last time we let him choose.
Now BL reasonably discusses strategy with Popsicle Man (hm, I guess it stuck... must be the shape of the hat) and we learn that magnetic fields interfere with superconductivity. That much is true, though I'm surprised Black Lightning hasn't really made use of magnetic fields before, or why, if he can, he doesn't do so more often instead of whining about how useless he is. Imagine if this English teacher was teaching science instead. But the lesson is, of course, just a distraction. The Outsiders do a LOT of this. Maybe they wouldn't have to consistently set each other up just so they have something to do if Barr would actually pit them against super-villain TEAMS or even lone villains with POWER.
BL and Rex do all the work and Geo-Force swoops in to finish it and steal everybody's XP. Typical. And this makes sense because there's NO ONE ELSE on the team who can hold a normal recipient of middle-aged grafted limbs in an arm lock. You're once again invited to read Lightning's dialog with gritted teeth. The punchline will make more sense:
That's a very tall basement. I wish various basement appartments in my life had had as much head room. Anyway, GF has some doors to batter down - ONE-HANDED! (Show-off.)
What gave it away BL? All the wires? I do wish Aparo drew the family in more detail here, because it looks like Phil took all their arms in addition to the older man's leg. But time for another Black Lightning trick. I swear, if he starts blubbering about his uselessness one more time after this, I'm breaking the fourth wall and slapping him. That hand that comes out of nowhere will be mine. Reading Grant Morrison comics, you get to learn some tricks.
That's it, Lightning. You're the Little Engine That Could. If that helps you feel useful. Here we go...
As everybody in the room can apparently hear this, BL has just turned a telepathic field into audible sound. Or since Philip is the only one who "answers" the sleepers' answers, and he's communicated with them before, maybe the Outsiders are just standing there listening to one-sided conversations. One is scientific nonsense, the other is nonsense because it's hard to believe Halo wouldn't be pestering everyone with questions. So the old man is now imagining a future where people are baptized "Black Lightning". So it must be the late 60s, right?
No! 1983. The old man asks what the world is like, but of course, we know all that already, so BL shan't discuss it. Will we finally get answers as to what's going on here?
In comics, scientists make these kinds of advancements all the time and then forget to share them with the rest of the world. Well, you don't want to wake up after the nuclear winter and find other people there, do you?
Gee, how soon did Philip take his mentor out of the tube to cut off his leg? Because he's only got one in the first panel there. And when did the atomic bunker become a surgical bay anyway? How did a cryo-engineer's "assistant" program robots to make complex organ and limb transplants? Oh yeah, and I suppose, why did Phil lie about the atomic war?
That answers ONE question... but hold on. Phil's been waking up from time to time to what, steal new surgical technology? That's why his doc-robs look like they're from a 1950s B-movie? Or how they're performing medical miracles unheard of even today? Was "professor" spelled "professer" in the 1940s? Is anyone going to ask these pertinent questions?
Why no, they're all too busy enacting their private episode of The Outer Limits. And the Outsiders do enjoy a good episode of The Outer Limits.
FINALLY, Melissa can see into Phil's mind. Which makes sense because they're linked through a telepathic field. So... why did the sleepers never read his mind before? Time for the ironic twist:
Bizarrely, the sleepers all start talking about being one with the body like it's a damn rerun of Return of the Archons. What, we they communists? And the Popsicle Man really needed a lesson about what "common good" means. Poaching other people's organs so that one person can live is pretty much the opposite of "common good". But he won't get the chance to look it up. He's dead. They all are.
Judgmental Batman comforts Katana by telling her their souls died long ago anyway, so no real victims here. He's a metaphysical expert, you see. He can tell these things. He knows who's been naughty and nice, who goes to Heaven (the Waynes) and who goes to Hell (everyone else). Last words, Bats?
Lesson learned, sir. Lesson learned! And that's another victory for the Outsiders! So far, their score card looks like this:
-Baron Bedlam: Already beaten, he is thrown off castle ramparts by Geo-Force.
-Agent Orange (who??): Defeated.
-Miklos: The Outsiders are unable to prevent him from committing suicide which was his whole plan.
-Meltdown (who???): Wasn't really so bad and turns himself in for medical treatment.
-Fearsome Five: Defeated with the help of the New Teen Titans.
-Cryonic Man: Killed by telepathic sleepers while the Outsiders stand around and watch.

Not awesome. But look! The Phantom Stranger is coming! The Phantom Stranger by Jim Aparo! Things can only get better. (Cough.)

Reign of the Supermen #284: Brandon Routh

Source: Superman Returns (2006)
Type: FilmSo I watched Superman Returns again this weekend, intent on re-evaluating it. I'm afraid not much has changed in the past 5 years, except perhaps Brandon Routh's cred. Five years of living with the idea that he IS Superman (until the next movie supplants him), and enjoying his geek-friendly turns hanging out with Zack, Miri and Chuck. He's got the look for sure, and the costume works for him (even if it needed to be a little redder). He's got a pleasant on-screen personality that sells Superman's wholesomeness. The problems his Superman has are all down to the script and really aren't his fault. These boil down to two things really. First, playing up the Christ figure elements leads to pretentiousness at best, and complete nonsense at worse ("The son becomes the father and the father becomes the son"?? What the heck does this mean in the context of this film?)

Secondly, and more importantly, is the script's fetishization of Richard Donner's two films. I understand from the DVD extras that the movie probably wouldn't have been made if Bryan Singer hadn't secured Donner's blessing, but the fact that it takes place in the Donnerverse is what keeps this Superman movie from taking off. I enjoyed the Donner films as much as the next guy, but they are a bit cheesy. On purpose, of course, just like the Batman series was campy. It's how comic book properties were seen and part of why the franchises were enjoyable. Cut to 2006 and it's a different world where more naturalism is required. And the film IS naturalistic, but in an effort to pay homage to Superman I and II and place Returns in the same continuum, we've got Superman putting on a cheesy public persona ("The only safe way to travel", etc.). Routh isn't really given the chance to make the character his own, because the script insists on Christopher Reeve's version of both Superman as big blue boyscout and Clark Kent as clumsy doofus. And so it goes for the entire movie, Kryptonian crystals and all. The same theme tune, I could have accepted, but everything else? And what makes this slightly bizarre is that all the recast actors look younger than their 1970s counterparts even if it's meant to be five years later.

It's a very pretty movie, no doubt about it. Visually stunning. But it's incredibly indulgent as well. In that sense, I was reminded of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. At two and a half hours, it's too long and needed harsher editing. Nothing wrong with grand and sweeping, but there are longueurs here. And plenty of stuff that's not integral to the story. Did we need the flashback to Clark's youth, running through corn fields? Did we need the scene in which Martha Kent muses on the possibility of there being other Kryptonians out there, despite the fact that none arrive in those 2½ hours? Surely, the answer is no. And while we're on listing the film's flaws, I should mention the fact that Superman doesn't throw a single punch in this movie. Not a one. It's all lifting and pulling and slowly advancing on opponents. I think somebody owes us a Super punch-up movie. And then there's Lois Lane, who is put to shame by the 40s and 50s Loises I've recently discovered as far as being a strong and independent action heroine goes. It's terrible that our most recent Lois also seems the least "liberated".

I'll tell you who comes up smelling like roses though: James Marsden as Lois' boyfriend Richard White. If Lois' already announced new boyfriend is anything like Richard, I think I can find a way to accept it. Richard is a good guy, a selfless hero in his own right, and as deserving of Lois Lane as he is undeserving of her loving another man. And Marsden plays it with the right amount of ambiguity. Does he know Jason isn't his son? Yeah, I think he does, but he's too much of a gentleman to ever say anything. I hope that "Jonathan Carroll" is the same kind of guy, a guy I can feel sorry for knowing that Lois has a thing for Superman, a guy I can root for.

There are other good things here, of course. The film creates a number of memorable iconic images: The plane crash, the bullet in the eye, the corn field run ending with a near crash in a barn (it's memorable even if I don't think it makes the best use of the movie's time), Superman's Atlas moment. Kevin Spacey is a fun Lex Luthor whom I much prefer to Hackman's. Sam Huntington's Jimmy, Frank Langella's Perry and Parker Posey's Kitty are all good in their minor roles. The film also takes some chances with the mythos. Giving Superman and Lois a son is much more extreme than having the two of them get married, and something that was attempted in the comics by Donner himself (and in 2006, so I wonder why Chris Kent isn't called Jason), but only with the most comic booky of manipulations (with an easy, no-consequences, exit too). So I give it props for that.

What? I make no mention of the ludicrous finale in which Superman lifts a hundred billion tons of kryptonite? Do I need to? You know the score.

To bring the discussion back to Routh, I think he made a fine Superman and I wish he's been allowed to go in a more surprising direction. I'll always miss the follow-up movie in which he might actually have gotten to punch a giant Brainiac robot or something.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Batman and the Outsiders #7 - Pages 15-18

We interrupt this regularly scheduled Cat of the Geek to bring you another exciting chapter in the most unfairly critical dissections of a comic on the World Wide Web (yes, now you can read them WHEREVER you are!). The outsiders are just getting to the Cryonic Man's not-at-all suspicious abandoned Gothic house surrounded by an electric fence.We head to the basement, where Philip (who still doesn't know Batman gave him a nom-de-guerre) is having his robots prep Katana for an organectomy. But... what's he doing in the back room?
Looks like he's getting undressed. Weird and creepy, but why... OH!
That's just gross. And not just because Katana's organs are gonna be plopped onto a little shelf. Breathe easy, readers. Cryonic Man just took off the wetsuit to hose it down a little before putting it on again (guy really needs a wash and shave, smells like freezer burn in here).
Even so, doesn't NOT make him a peeping tom. And that alarm is positively pervy too:
Now let's see if Phil has as yet managed to identify the team of heroes who keep trying to stop him...
Nope. Still the no-names. It's back to preop for Katana as "guard-robs" are dispatched. How quaint.
Oh Geo-Force, will you never learn? Batman is the leader here. You don't make suggestions. You don't even make statements of fact. And he's about to get a right smackdown ("Listen, jerkweed..." when GF decides to come clean about his little problem:
Dude, there's a TIME and a PLACE. No but seriously, GF is really defensive, isn't he? Comes with getting bat-nitpicked, I suppose. I don't feel sorry for him at all, but I'll tell you who I do feel sorry for: Those dinky guard-robs. Not only do they not deserve a number or even a different paint job, but they might topple over at anytime because of those dutch angles. Geo-Force puts one out of its misery.
Can you hear the tooth-grinding dialog in this scene? GF has to work on his banter. First he comes off as a vain show-off, then as a passive-aggressive jerk. "Look at me, I'm super-strong and ripping a robot's head off. How's it going over there, all-too-human Batman?" Hey, Batman's a pro.
He somehow maneuvered the "robs" to whooosh at each other. And though he claims he doesn't have "flair"...
...we know that's a big fat condescending lie. Or in GF's parlance, an "error". But only if Mike Barr actually believes the words he puts in Batman's mouth. Meanwhile, Philip watches color tv.
I only mention it because everything else in the base comes from the 1940s. But Cryo-Phil's question is a good one.
Metamorpho is a one-man vehicle and sometimes a boring one as well. My theory on why the team is impatient to get there - based on the lazy coloring job - is that they've been going around in circles. Not only doesn't it look like they're about to connect with another tunnel, but in the next under-earth panel, we've either "crossed the line" or the Molamorpho has turned around.
Another close call for our heroes as Halo and Black Lightning tumble to the back of the Metamolepho... WITH A RAZOR-SHARP KATANA. Oh Rex, good thing you're the joker of the group, or we might not be able to forgive you:
Now THAT'S funny. It's like he knows Katana is in her undies next to a tray of scalpels. As Halo and Lightning crawl out of his butt, we see that Halo's flashcards have come in handy.
She can now identify a teammate out of costume and tell her general condition. Tatsu isn't hurt, of course, merely sedated, but at least she's trying. Which is more than I can say for Aparo here as the room tips and stretches to accommodate the action.
I mean, are the heroes at the "bottom" of the room, watching the robots glide down towards them? And what about Rex? Why hasn't he morphed back into something useful? We can see his drill bit sticking out of the ground, but that's it. Saw Katana naked and prone on a gurney and lay there stunned? Halo's yellow aura is basically a bright light, which here seems to blind Black Lightning more than the robs. She might also have selected heat beams or concussive beams, but that wouldn't have given Lightning a chance to, uhm, shine. "Can you DO something?" Geez, the guy's not doubting himself enough?
There, he CAN do something. Not that he needed to. He's just fortunate that Halo doesn't really understand her own abilities yet. And again, if you want to read the dialog as if through clenched teeth, you can. "I'm doing something, can you pull your weight already, Mr. Fifth Wheel?" "Hey, shut the hell up, GIRL!" Ok, Rex, your turn.
You don't want to play smell my finger with Metamorpho, I can tell you that right now. Ammonia is one thing (and can be used as a respiratory stimulant), but when he gets the sulphur out, ooh boy.

Tomorrow: The gang's all there, and that can only mean two things - Cryonic Man's going down and more examples of failed team work.