Tuesday, January 31, 2012

SHE-ZAM: So what's Mary Marvel's new name?

Though it's the sad end to a very long era, I'm not all that upset by DC's scrapping the Captain Marvel name and officially naming the character Shazam. I'm disappointed, but it's not New Disappointment. I'm disappointed that DC ever got their hands on the character in the first place; a much bigger issue to me than their salvaging what they can from him now that they've messed him up so badly.

To be clear, their ruining him isn't a recent thing, but a long, complicated story that goes back to the '70s and the exact moment they decided to acquire him. They've never known what to do with him and the word "Marvel" being so prominent in his name hasn't helped their marketing. They've ended up with a character better known for his catch-phrase than his name.

The question I have - and here's where I have the potential to be more upset - is how this will affect the other members of the Marvel Family. If there's no Captain Marvel, what becomes of Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel, Jr? Do they exist in the DCnU and if so, what are their names?

Suggestions? Do you care?

Monday, January 30, 2012

In which I approve of using movies as social tests, especially The Golden Child

In case you're not yet familiar with it, Our Valued Customers is a webcomic that depicts actual remarks overheard in comic book stores. It's meant to be enjoyed the same way people enjoy Real Housewives or checking in on the Kardashians: with much judgment and eye-rolling. Though it's much easier to swallow than any reality show.

Occasionally though, I find myself thinking that a comment isn't the craziest thing I've ever heard. Like the one above. I strongly object to the harshness of the B-word, but as a fan of The Golden Child, I totally agree with its use as a litmus test for discovering My People. (Having already discovered My Wife, I don't need it as a dating screen.) It's a divisive movie with more people laughing at it than with it, so any time I find another appreciator, I know we're going to get along. And if you don't laugh until you ache at "I-ah-ah-ah-I want the kniiife...Pleeeeeease," then I don't know what's wrong with you.

So my question is: what movies do you use to tell if you're going to get along with someone?

Friday, January 27, 2012

Underworld: Awakening (2012)

Though I've left out a lot of important details, there are minor spoilers for the first act or two of Underworld: Awakening in this post.

Well, I was right. Awakening takes place twelve years after the events of Underworld: Evolution, just enough time for Selene to have had a baby and for that baby to have grown into India Eisley. At least on paper. Eisley is 18, and though she can pass for younger than that, she can't pass for 12. That's just one of the problems with the Twelve Years Later timeline.

My biggest issue with it is that it reboots the world, derailing for a while the momentum of the story that Len Wiseman and Danny McBride were building in the first two movies. Not that there was a clear direction where the series should have gone after Evolution. That movie ended in a way that left the story possibilities wide open, so skipping ahead twelve years is as valid a choice as any. It's just that the world has changed so much between the two movies that it took me a while to catch up. And until I did, I felt like the film was cheating a little. Like they didn't know where to go next, so they punted. By the end of the movie, I'd adapted to the new premise and now I'm eager for more; it just took the whole first act to get me there.

If you haven't seen the movie yet, the change I'm talking about is that shortly after Evolution, humanity discovers the existence of vampires and werewolves and immediately goes to war on them. Martial law is declared, there's a huge Purge, and even Selene and Michael are affected. Selene is captured by the humans (led by Stephen Rea, the leader of a scientific think tank that's trying to cure/eradicate the supernatural) and Michael's fate is unknown for a while. Twelve years after her capture, Selene is woken from cryogenic sleep and initially believes that Michael was the one who rescued her. She quickly learns though that it was actually a young girl and that that girl is her and Michael's daughter.

A quick sidebar about Michael: I was pleased that they found a lookalike actor to play him in Scott Speedman's absence. I was afraid that Michael's fate would happen off-camera and we'd have to learn about it through exposition. So though there's not a lot of Michael in Awakening, there's enough to keep me from feeling cheated.

I won't reveal Michael's actual fate here, but as far as Selene is concerned, he's dead. The rest of the film has her struggling with her grief while also adapting to the knowledge that she has a daughter. Selene's never been all that emotionally demonstrative, so the best part of the movie for me is watching her deal with that. There's a cool, powerful scene where the daughter (she's named Eve in the credits, but I don't remember anyone actually calling her that in the film) is concerned that Selene is being cold towards her and Selene explains what's going on. That's the heart of the movie and it's enough character development for Selene to keep me satisfied until the next movie.

There's also some development in the world-building. Rea's think tank wants Eve back and as Selene tries to prevent that from happening, she teams up with some sympathetic cops and eventually uncovers Rea's true motives and a massive conspiracy behind the Purge. That revelation builds the engine that'll keep the series going for another film or two and as long as Selene continues to get the treatment she deserves as a character, I'm on board for the ride.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Fafhrd Hates Cephalopods

[Comic Megastore]

Underworld: Evolution (2006)

Though the movie's five years old and I don't think it's necessary to say so: spoilers for Underworld: Evolution below.

Underworld: Evolution continues the story of the first film in a couple of significant ways. I mean, as opposed to Rise of the Lycans, which just fills in details about a bunch of stuff you already know. It would've been easy to just remake Underworld and call it Underworld 2, but director Len Wiseman and screenwriter Danny McBride (not that Danny McBride) showed that they were more interested in building a longer story. So we learn more details about the history of the vampires and werewolves while also getting to see Selene grow some more.

There was a line or two in Underworld about all the vampires and werewolves being descended from one person (who also had a human son: the ancestor of Scott Speedman's character) and Evolution makes that the focus of its story. The remaining vampire lord, Marcus was the first vampire and when he awakens at the end of Underworld, the fracturing of vampire society sends him looking for his brother, William, the first werewolf. Apparently Marcus and Viktor were sort of keeping each other in check (presumably with the third vampire lord, Amelia weighing in on Viktor's side), so with Viktor and Amelia dead, Marcus is free to release William and damn the consequences. William is apparently mad and would destroy the world or something. The script is pretty loose with motivations, which is its biggest flaw. At any rate, unfortunately for Selene, she unknowingly holds the key (literally and figuratively) to William's location and Marcus is perfectly willing to kill her to learn it.

As she and Michael run from Marcus and uncover details about his plan (and about the mysterious man played by Derek Jacobi who's also tracking the situation for his own, secret reasons), they continue and build on the relationship they started in Underworld. There's still not a lot of chemistry between the actors, but I'm still willing to read that as their learning to trust each other. Not that they don't trust each other - they're clearly beyond the suspicious stage - it's just that neither is sure what to expect from their relationship. When something bad happens to Michael and Selene loses it, it's a nice bit of acting by Kate Beckinsale, but it seems over-the-top next to the lack of emotion she's shown about him up to that point. I'm not going to accuse Beckinsale of bad acting, so I'm gonna read that as her surprising herself by how much she cares about and needs him. By the end of the movie, they actually do feel like a couple, so Selene has learned to rely on Michael more than she did in the first film.

Selene also goes through a different kind of growth in Evolution. The movie's sub-title doesn't just refer to the evolution of vampire and werewolf society, but also to physical changes in Selene. It'll be interesting to see how Awakening deals with that.

More than that though, I'm curious to see how they're going to deal with Scott Speedman's absence. I would have liked another film with him in it to get comfortable with Selene and Michael as a couple before they're split apart, but I'm keeping an open mind about his not being there. Hopefully, that will further Selene's growth as a character in some way. I've avoided spoilers for Awakening (though I'll have seen it by the time this posts), but I'm curious about India Eisley's character and her relationship with Selene. There were far too many shots of Beckinsale's belly during Evolution's sex scene to just be about how gorgeous it is. She was totally pregnant at the end of Evolution and I suspect that Eisley is playing her daughter. That's not a spoiler; just my own theory. By the time this posts, I'll know if I'm right.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Emo Superman is emo

Is this from Action Comics or Secret Hearts? Only the Groovy Agent knows for sure!

Underworld (2003)

Something I forgot to mention in yesterday's post on Underworld: Rise of the Lycans is the final shot, which is basically the opening shot of Underworld laid over with some extremely spoilery dialogue from late in that movie. I don't like that ending for Rise. It's unnecessary to Rise's story and the only thing it accomplishes is reminding the audience that they didn't get to see Selene (Kate Beckinsale). And, if you're being introduced to these films by watching them in chronological order, it spoils a major plot twist in Underworld.

I do understand the desire to sneak Selene in there though. She's a great character and the journey she goes on in Underworld is a fascinating one. I have reservations about the romance between her and Michael (Scott Speedman), but I'm able to get past it if I read their relationship differently than love. There's not enough chemistry between them for me to root for them as a couple, but that wouldn't be a problem if not for their kiss. Other than that, they're just two people whose goals line up temporarily. The kiss suggests that they're developing feelings for each other, but there's a way of watching the movie where Michael represents something for Selene other than love.

As she's starting to question not only herself, but her entire culture, Michael is the one person she knows outside of her society and the long war that's been the center of her entire life. He's the only filter she has as she attempts to see the world in a new way, so of course she latches onto him. Instead of lack of chemistry, we're seeing reserve. Selene never lets herself be seen as vulnerable (except with Viktor) and Michael still doesn't really trust her, so they're not exactly opening up to each other. They're just in a place where they need each other, so they try that experience on with a kiss. But the movie's about a lot more than kissing.

It's about Selene's eyes being opened and her concept of who's good and who's evil being flipped on its head. Even if you've seen Rise of the Lycans and know who the good and bad guys really are, it's still interesting watching Selene go through that process. That - and the leather, and the eyes, and the butt-kicking - is what makes her a great character.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans (2009)

I've been re-watching the Underworld movies this week to get ready for Awakening (planning to see it on Thursday). Since I'm watching them in chronological order, I started with Rise of the Lycans; curious to see how it holds up on its own.

Though the blue color palette loses its effectiveness after a while, that's a feature of the entire series and otherwise the visuals in Rise are fantastic. The medieval setting is cool and the vampires have designed their castles and armor with style. It's also cool to see everyone fighting with bladed weapons. Watching that here makes it even cooler in Underworld when Viktor shuns modern, silver nitrate-filled bullets in favor of his sword. That comes across as an affectation unless you've seen Rise and can better understand his nostalgia for the glorious time when vampires didn't have to hide from humans.

The plot of Rise is pretty unnecessary. It basically expands a brief flashback sequence from Underworld, but what it adds are world-building details, some emotional weight, and action set-pieces, not story. There's nothing new to be learned that wasn't already revealed in the first movie. That's not really the point though. Rise is enjoyable for its mood and setting and its likable lead who, unfortunately, is not Rhona Mitra's Sonja.

After getting good and used to Kate Beckinsale's Selene as the main character of the Underworld series, it was difficult to see her lookalike sidelined so much in Rise. The trailers played up the similarities between the two actresses and characters - and Sonja is badass in this movie (I'm always a fan of Rhona Mitra) - but her role is essentially to end up in Lucian's (Michael Sheen) refrigerator, giving him motivation to start the Lycan uprising and push events towards Underworld. It was always going to have to be that way (again, Rise's story is outlined in Underworld), but it's disheartening to see Sonja so ineffectual in changing her world.

I enjoyed watching Lucian make the change from Viktor's lap dog to warrior and leader though. It's a fine way to spend an hour-and-a-half. I'm just sorry that Rise doesn't have a female character as strong as Selene. It's another reason to miss Kate Beckinsale.

Friday, January 20, 2012

8 Movies I Loved in 2011

8. Attack the Block

Someone finally figured out that Huge Spectacle does not equal Good Alien Invasion Movie. What's more: this is actually a Great Alien Invasion Movie with awesome, inventive monster designs and characters I cared about. Making the characters likable was a special feat since the film tries hard (and succeeds) to make the audience hate them at first.

7. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

My only problem with this movie is that it means there'll be no more Harry Potter movies. A fine end to a great series.

6. Hanna

Not just an action movie about a girl-assassin. I love how artfully it was shot and how the butt-kicking is alternated with quiet character moments as Hanna adjusts to life around people for the first time.

5. Crazy Stupid Love

Not only made me laugh and turned me into a Ryan Gosling fan; it made me think about relationships and commitment in a new way. The most underrated movie of the year.

4. Rise of the Planet of the Apes

I made sure I was good and pumped up for this movie by watching every Planet of the Apes movie and TV show ever made, but that could have backfired had Rise not lived up to expectations. It did a lot more than that though. It may just be the best Planet of the Apes movie yet.

3. The Muppets

I'm a muppet of a man.

2. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Though I kind of quit posting about it, I never gave up my dive into old Sherlock Holmes movies this past Fall. I made it through six of the Basil Rathbone films, watched The Seven-Per-Cent Solution and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother, sat through half of the 1922 John Barrymore silent film, and finally saw Season One of the Benedict Cumberbatch series. What I learned from all that was to be really patient with people's taking different spins on Holmes. Which is to say that Guy Ritchie's is not Arthur Conan Doyle's Holmes, but I enjoy him in the same way I enjoy Tony Stark and Jack Sparrow (which is to say: considerably). And now that I'm used to him, I very much liked watching him run around Europe trying to stop Moriarty from killing Watson and taking over the world.

1. The Adventures of Tintin

The best Indiana Jones movie since Raiders of the Lost Ark, the best dog since Benji, the best 3D since Avatar, the best motion-capture since ever, and the best pirate battle since...well, ever too, I guess. Sorry, Gore Verbinski.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

John Carter Hates Cephalopods

By Skottie Young. [Comic Book Resources]

12 Movies I Liked a Lot in 2011

20. The Lincoln Lawyer

I was in the mood for a legal drama and this is a straight thriller, but it's a very good one (a couple of plot holes notwithstanding). Matthew McConaughey is awesome in this kind of thing.

19. The Thing

I don't understand why people are confused about whether this is a remake or a prequel. It's clearly a prequel; it just hits a lot of the same beats that the John Carpenter version did. It doesn't do some things as well as Carpenter did (the monster test comes to mind), but it's still effective and the CGI monsters look better than most of Carpenter's practical effects. Also, the nerd in me loves how seamlessly the two films connect. They're really two halves of one movie.

18. Drive

The more I think about Drive, the more I like it. Even going into it knowing that it was an artsy thriller, it still took some time for the film to sink in and work on me. It's touching, horrific, tragic, and unconventionally heroic.

17. Horrible Bosses

Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, and Jason Sudekis are all charming and likable in this, but they're upstaged by Colin Farrell and (I can't believe I'm saying this) Jennifer Aniston who are hilarious. Kevin Spacey is also good, but I've seen him play this kind of prick before, so it wasn't as surprising. The real show-stealer was Jamie Foxx. From his character's name to the way he sips his soda, he was the funniest character I've seen in a movie all year.

16. Bad Teacher

At last, a reason to like Cameron Diaz again. And it doesn't hurt that she's surrounded by some of my favorite comedic actors: Jason Segel, Phyllis Smith, Eric Stonestreet, Thomas Lennon, and (after this film) Lucy Punch and Justin Timberlake. Building a story around an unlikable character is a tricky proposition for me, but they made it work.

15. Super 8

I was a little let down by the ending, but otherwise this movie had a touching story, humor, some stereotype-breaking characters, and great performances by the kids and The World's Most Handsome Actor. It also took me back to the '80s and that's a place I always enjoy visiting.

14. Puss in Boots

I'm a little afraid to watch this again for fear it won't be as funny the second time, but I had a blast with this movie. Lots of swashbuckling and it's hilarious, especially for people who've spent much time around cats.

13. X-Men: First Class

I was very nervous about this one after they began announcing the cast and the massive number of mutant characters that are in it. I had X-Men 3 flashbacks. Surprisingly, it's a focused story with a specific point that it makes well. Awesome performances by James McAvoy and (especially) Michael Fassbender too.

12. The Three Musketeers

Not the weightiest adaptation of The Three Musketeers ever, but why should it be? Hits most of the main story beats while adding lots of steampunk and butt-kicking Milady. My only gripe (though it's a significant one) is that the Miladay/Athos relationship is changed enough to rob their story of its power. That's one of the best, most heartbreaking parts of the novel and I'm sorry it got left out. But I'm happy about the war-dirigibles.

11. Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol

From a story standpoint: the best Mission: Impossible movie yet. I miss Maggie Q though.

10. Captain America: The First Avenger

Lots of pulpy awesomeness and great performances by everyone. I'm not into the costume and I'm disappointed that the script doesn't give Chris Evans time to develop convincingly into the inspirational leader that I associate with Cap, but even if he doesn't feel exactly like Captain America to me, I still like this character.

9. Thor

This, on the other hand, felt exactly like Thor to me. Chris Hemsworth was perfect and the script wonderfully balanced the Earth and Asgard settings in an impressive way. The Thor comics I've read have rarely made that work as well. Certainly Green Lantern didn't with Earth and Oa. Thor had character development that reflected the comics and Natalie Portman made me believe why Earth might compete for his allegiance. Also: Kat Dennings stole every scene she was in.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

17 Movies I Liked Okay in 2011

37. The Eagle

The more I think about it, the lower on the list I think I should have put this. I love an historical action film and the Roman Empire had some great visual style, but I'm remembering that the story here didn't make any sense. That's the problem with making this list at the end of the year; I forget stuff like that. Still, my recollection isn't that I disliked it, so the visuals and action must have been pretty good? Maybe I just blocked out the worst parts. I dunno; you tell me. I'm certainly not watching it again to find out.

36. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

An intriguing drama with some great actors, but very, very slooowww.

35. Sucker Punch

Awesome visuals and set-pieces; confusing message about female empowerment. Hell, just confusing in general.

34. Beastly

Beauty and the Beast for the Twilight crowd. And me, apparently. Not exactly original, but I'm a huge sucker for that particular fairy tale and Beastly hit the right beats to make it work for me. Vanessa Hudgens doesn't give me a ton of reasons to believe Alex Pettyfer would fall that hard for her, but he's great in it and sells the attraction anyway.

33. Drive Angry

Great grindhouse schlock. Didn't exactly make me love Nicholas Cage all over again, but it's my favorite thing he's done in years.

32. Conan the Barbarian

I've seen the Schwarzenegger Conan movies countless times, but I don't hold the first one in as high regard as most fans do. In fact, I like Conan the Destroyer a lot better. Which is to say that my standard for this movie was pretty low and it met my expectations just fine. It's not a great movie and it's not everything a Conan movie should be, but compared to the rest of the sword-and-sorcery movie genre that exists in reality and not an ideal world, it's toward the top of that pile.

31. Our Idiot Brother

I loves me some Paul Rudd, but this is not his best movie. It's funny in parts, but the message is overly simple: that uptight women need to chillax like the bros.

30. The Adjustment Bureau

A good thriller marred by a rushed ending. Still, I love Matt Damon and I totally bought the romance between him and Emily Blunt.

29. Moneyball

I also love Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill (and Philip Seymour Hoffman, but he's wasted in this movie). The game-changing formula that this movie is based on is fascinating; I just never got a great feel for what the movie is trying to say about it. Is it a good thing? A bad thing? A little of both? If it's a little of both, why does it matter enough to make a movie about it? The film works a little better as a drama about Brad Pitt's character, but even then I'm left unsure what it's trying to say and I've spent some time thinking about it.

28. The Green Hornet

I probably would have hated this movie had I been a Green Hornet fan, but I'm not and I don't mind its light-hearted approach. I allow myself one Seth Rogen movie a year so's not to get burned out and I enjoyed this one. Kind of wish I'd held out for 50-50, but oh well. This was fun, if dumb.

27. Fast Five

Speaking of dumb fun, Fast Five could have squandered the opportunity of putting Vin Diesel and The Rock in the same movie together. The cynical me actually expected it. But it didn't. Not only did it make the most of their screen time together, it built a storytelling engine that will easily (and interestingly) power this series for the next few movies. On the other hand, them dragging that safe down the street at the end was helladumb.

26. The Mechanic

I only have vague memories of the Charles Bronson original version, but what I do remember was handled more to my liking in this one. I know that's cryptic, but I'm mostly talking about the last five minutes of both movies. Anyway, a better-than-average Jason Statham vehicle, improved by the presence of Ben Foster.

25. Source Code

Nice scifi story. It didn't stick with me like a great movie should (maybe 'cause I figured out what was going on too early?), but it kept my attention and I rooted for Jake Gyllenhaal to figure out a way to save and end up with Michelle Monaghan's dead character.

24. Bridesmaids

Very funny and I like the meta-message it sent about gender equality in Hollywood films. I didn't buy into the romance like I was supposed to (mostly because I didn't like Kristin Wiig's character much), but it was still a funny movie with actresses I love and some nice heart.

23. Arthur

My friends who've seen the original tell me that I'm not supposed to like this, but - like with Green Hornet - I have the luxury of getting to judge it purely on its ability to make me laugh. Which it did. And the relationship between Russell Brand and Helen Mirren was awesome and touching.

22. Friends With Benefits

An almost perfect romantic comedy foiled only by a resolution as cheesy as those in the other romantic comedies it mocks. Between this and Bad Teacher though, I'm right on board the Justin Timberlake Is Awesome train now. I was already there with Mila Kunis, whom I've loved since That '70s Show.

21. Real Steel

Unambitious, but it does what it does - tell a sentimental story about a man's redemption, both to himself and to his son - really well.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

10 Movies I Didn't Care For in 2011

47. Immortals

It sure was pretty, but the story made no damn sense beyond the general outline of the plot. All form; no substance.

46. Season of the Witch

I really wanted to like this movie; partly because I wanted to see a spooky story about a lone warrior taking on the medieval church, but also because I wanted to like Nicholas Cage in a movie again. I can't talk about why I disliked this without going into spoilers, so I'll just say that I wasn't at all pleased with either the major plot twist or the way the climax was executed in general. There's some nice mood in this movie, but it supports nothing.

45. Killer Elite

It's partially disguised by the device of having an antagonist who's not entirely a bad guy, but there's no hiding that it's filled with cliché after action-movie cliché, starting with the former assassin who's new, peaceful life is threatened when he's forced to perform One Last Job. So many actors that I like - especially Yvonne Strahovski - wasted.

44. Tower Heist

There were a couple of hilarious moments that weren't spoiled in the trailer, so that's good. I even liked a lot of the characters; especially the ones played by Michael Peña and Matthew Broderick. But the hitch in the heist was lame and led to an unbelievable and unsatisfying conclusion. And though Eddie Murphy was funnier than he's been in a live-action film in years, this wasn't the role to spotlight his comeback. He's playing essentially the same function that Jamie Foxx did in Horrible Bosses, but Foxx was funnier. Way funnier.

43. Your Highness

So unfunny. The only redeeming quality is Natalie Portman's butt.

42. Unknown

Not anything like Taken, which is what it wanted you to think it was. Characters do things for no good reason and January Jones' performance is unwatchable. Liam Neeson and Diane Kruger are fun to watch together though and it sure was nice to see Aidan Quinn again, even in something like this.

41. The Ides of March

Great performances, but the movie's only message seems to be that Politics Suck. I already knew that.

40. Hugo

I feel guilty about putting Hugo behind Cowboys & Aliens, but let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up. Hugo presented itself as a steampunk story with a central mystery about an automaton and a secret key. That's the movie that I went to see, but it's not the movie that Hugo is. Hugo is a love letter to the history of cinema; a concept I can get behind, but not while I'm waiting for mystic doors to open and reveal an awesome world of clockworks and magic. I'm interested in seeing this again and re-evaluating it for what it is, but until then I'm stuck with disappointment.

39. Cowboys & Aliens

Some of my favorite fimmakers got together and hacked out this SyFy original movie. The low point in several people's careers. And yet, they're all people I love.

38. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

I've already talked about this one at length, but the gist of my complaint is that it's cartoonish and doesn't follow through on the themes or characterizations from the first three films. What saves it is Penélope Cruz' complicated character and its just being a Pirates of the Caribbean movie with all the jungle/island/sea adventure that comes with that (even if it doesn't make a lot of sense).


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