Posts tagged #movies

Guest Post: Parker's Top 9 of 2015

Nic here. My cousin Parker has written a couple of guest articles on here before. As you may remember, he's a big film fan. (He and his father go to Sundance most years.) What you might not know is that film studies is his major in college.

And so, after the jump, I encourage you to read this guest article of his, where he briefly discusses his favorite nine (yes, nine, not ten, deal with it) films of 2014.

Take it away, Parker....

Top Nine Films of 2014

I think it should be said that this is my list. I know that not everyone may agree with me; this is just my personal favorites of the year. Also, yes, you read it right. There are only nine films, not ten, decided to be a little different.

First off, the top 3 for this year were all masterpieces, and it was really hard figuring out the order. If any of these films had been released a year ago, they would have all ended up as number one for my list of 2013. Alas, it was tough competition this year, which means it was also a great year for movies!

Number 1 – Boyhood

Someone once asked me, “ How many great movies have come out in the last decade or so? I mean truly great? A movie that you will tell your kids about?” Boyhood is one of those films. A movie I will in fact tell my kids about. Richard Linklater’s 12 year project is simply put: beautiful. Boyhood somehow captures the little moments of life, seamlessly flowing through the events of Mason’s childhood. Nothing incredible happens, no big events, nothing extraordinary, instead Boyhood focuses on the mundane, the seemingly ordinary, communicating to the viewer that life is truthfully just a compilation of these moments. And for an audience member that realization can either be completely awe inspiring or incredibly horrific. Mason’s mom toward the end of the film, as she’s sending her son away to college, breaks down in tears and says, “I just thought there would be more.” Perhaps that’s the lesson moviegoers should heed from Boyhood, there doesn’t need to be more. Life is filled with various nuances, little moments that come and go and appear insignificant, but later prove to have tremendous amounts of meaning. In the ordinary, we experience, passion, joy, disappointment, and looking back, it rushes us with nostalgia. While some will try to grasp for more, the truth is we don’t need more, because in the mundane, Boyhood proves we get to do something overwhelming beautiful; we get to live. My favorite scene from the film comes when Mason ask his father what the meaning of life is, his father responds, “I sure as shit don’t know. We’re all just winging it. The good news is you’re feeling stuff.” I’m not gonna lie, I got emotional towards the end of this film; it’s a movie that doesn’t just make you contemplate the ideas presented, but makes you reflect internally about yourself, about your own experiences, your own memories, and about your own life. It’s a reflection ultimately of gratitude. Boyhood may be Linklater’s crowning achievement, and it’s a film that will be revered, praised, and applauded for years and decades to come. A true masterpiece.

Number 2 – Whiplash

There is a fine line between ambition and obsession, between greatness and madness. Perhaps no other film has dealt with this idea as complexly as Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash. Chazelle poses several difficult questions and wisely avoids answering hardly any of them, allowing the film to remain morally grey. Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons deliver two of the best performances of the year. Teller plays a student drummer with lofty ambitions of greatness, and Simmons crushes the role of the ruthless instructor, who pushes his pupils far beyond their breaking points. Their shared ferocity, passion, and ultimately hatred for one another, fuses an intensity that practically burst off the screen, like a firecracker you never know when it’s going to go off. The characters have such depth, their motives so clear, and their drive so tangible, that when those goals begin to come under attack, the film actually transforms into the best psychological thriller of the year, demonstrating that character tension and dynamics are far more gripping than shoot outs and car chases. Cinematically, Whiplash is almost flawless, yet the most notable aspect is the editing, which often uses the beats in the jazz music as cues when to cut. During faster songs it can actually become quite jarring, but it renders its desired effect, adding another layer of intensity to a scene full of suspense. Whiplash can viewed with two entirely different perspectives. Some will say the film asks, “Is greatness worth it? Is it worth going through psychological torture? And especially, is it worth alienating those that truly care about you?” Others will see a slight variation in those questions, “What is the sacrifice of greatness? How far must one test themselves before they can become truly great? And is there no option but to disconnect from those who are holding you back?” The last ten minutes of the film will determine what you take away from Whiplash, and if you think about it, that ultimately reveals a lot more about you than it actually does about the film itself.

Number 3 - Birdman or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance

Does Birdman count as the best superhero film of the year? I don’t know, but it’s certainly a funny thought. Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu has crafted one of the most memorable and unique film experiences of the decade, and credit everyone involved in taking a risk on such an ambitious project. Birdman is shot to look like one long continuous take, and it’s a phenomenal technical achievement. It’s just really fantastic to witness a director take chances and get creative behind the camera. However, the tracking shot style of filmmaking serves a larger role than just for the film pseudo-intellectuals to salivate over; it actually enhances the experience, adding to the films chaotic quick pace. From the opening shot to the ending credits the movie never stops moving at an Olympic speed, the tracking camera adds to this element, hastily following characters as they run through the set. The dialogue is quick-witted and constantly progressing, like something out of a Sorkin screenplay, and the background jazz drumming only increases the tempo. All these elements create an adrenaline rush that last throughout the entire film and because of it, it’s impossible to be bored in Birdman. The performances are all top notch and some of that has to do with how incredibly layered each character is. These characters are given such great depth; it results in a film that covers a whole array of topics because every character is fleshed out so well, each with their own complex issues. Riggan (Michael Keaton) desires respect and admiration, to know his existence means something, and to ultimately know he matters. Sam (Emma Stone) deals with various drug problems and those problems stem from a feeling of neglect, from the fact that her father was never really there for her. Mike (Edward Norton) struggles with the issue of duality. He’s an actor, but he can never be himself unless he’s on stage. His true emotions do not exist in his real life. It’s an identity crisis. The film manages to impressively discuss all of these issues, but it doesn’t stop there. It critiques modern Hollywood, taking jabs at the blockbuster genre, and it raises questions about the job of critics, insinuating that it’s easier to write behind a pen and paper then to actually get up on stage and perform. Birdman is a multilayered film, filled with nuances in thematics and technique, there’s just no way one viewing will suffice. Seth Rogen said it best, “Just saw Birdman. S**t was dope.”

Number 4 – Wild

Personally, I’m a huge fan of these soul searching, finding yourself, adventure films and Wild is the best installment in the genre since Sean Pean’s Into The Wild. Director Jean- Marc Vallee has made an absolutely beautiful film, and Cinematographer Yves Belanger took full advantage of the breathtaking landscape, expertly framing each shot to encompass all the beauty presented. However, what this movie does so well is that it moves beyond aesthetic beauty; it’s just as thematically rich, dealing with heavy subjects, asking meaningful questions, and brilliantly using flashbacks to add depth and layers to the main characters overall arc. Wild deals with the idea of redemption, rebirth, and cleansing oneself from past demons. It’s a journey both literal and figurative, of the body and soul. Reese Witherspoon has never been better as Cheryl Strayed, a women who’s broken from what life’s thrown at her and what she’s thrown at herself. Witherspoon delivers the performance with such honesty, being strong yet vulnerable, conveying a whole array of emotions with little dialogue to no dialogue. Her performance really becomes quite moving. The editing is also flawless using the right cues through the hike to reference past emotional tragedy, allowing for a better understanding of Strayed’s need for redemption. Wild is ultimately about choices. How we choose to handle adversity, hardships, and the general struggles of life. What’s going to be our perspective when we’re going through tribulation? And what’s our attitude when life doesn’t go our way? We always have a choice. “There is a sunrise and a sunset every day and you can choose to be there for it. You can put yourself in the way of beauty.”

Number 5 – Guardians of the Galaxy

Sure, the villain is undeveloped, the first half of the plot is somewhat messy and sloppy, and the third act is nothing new from a Marvel movie. But you know what? I DON’T CARE!! You wanna know why? Because Guardians of the Galaxy is the most entertaining movie of the year, and it delivers on its promises, giving the audience an intergalactic space adventure that relishes in its eccentricity, rather than neglects it. James Gunn is the real star of the film, directing the picture with style and flare, embracing the uniqueness of the material, instead of shying away for a safer film. The opening credits, showing StarLord dance around to the beat of “Come and get your love,” sends a message that paves a way for the rest of the movie. That message is that Guardians of the Galaxy is going to be exactly what it is; a silly space film saga with whacky, off the wall humor, inspired 70’s pop music, and a gang of unwanted misfits that are just as oddball as the material itself. Essentially, it’s refreshing. It’s refreshing to see a summer blockbuster break away from the mold and distinguish itself through characters and style rather than heightened special effects. The cast and crew clearly had a good time while making this production and their enjoyment is infectious, jumping off the screen and into the audience. Basically, it’s almost impossible not to have fun while watching Guardians of the Galaxy. So sit down, grab a coke and popcorn, and prepare for one wild ride.

Number 6 – Cooties

The opening scene completely sets the tone for Cooties, showing the process of how a chicken becomes a chicken nugget. Suffice to say, it’s as gross as any scene in the entire film and at the same time, equally as clever and hilarious. This infected chicken nugget goes on to become the catalyst for the disease that spreads rampant among elementary school children, turning them into crazed, blood thirsty zombies. The result is a horror/comedy that’s able to perfectly balance the two styles without compromising it’s tone and legitimacy. The film is exceptionally funny, as it makes the wise decision in fleshing out its characters, giving them each their own unique quirks and personalities, and making us as the audience invested in their stories. Directors Jonathan Milot and Cary Murnion have fun with elementary zombie storyline, inventively clashing the two for some laughs(let’s just say they don’t use a tetherball on the playground). Cooties has all the elements of a horror/comedy classic. The humor at the beginning of the film certainly delivers, but when the horror arrives, it never feels out of place or parodistic and yet, it never overshadows the comedy. Cooties could easily began to fall during the second act of the movie, but instead it hits full stride, never losing site of its own identity. In all honesty, Cooties may have been the most fun I’ve had at the movies all year and at the end of the day, you can’t ask for more than that.

Number 7 – Rudderless

William H Macy’s directorial debut is nothing short of spectacular. Rudderless is a emotionally powerful film, dealing with ideas such as, guilt, loss, and ultimately forgiveness. Billy Crudup excels as Sam, a mourning father who has to find acceptance in the death of his son Josh. This is where Rudderless really begins to shine, as Sam discovers comfort through his son’s old music. The score is easily the best aspect of the film, offering up songs that are both poignant and reflective then up-beat and inspiring. However, the music serves a larger purpose than just making you tap your feet; it’s used as a gateway for Sam to re-understand his son. Through this Rudderless discusses several ideas about art and it’s relation to the artist. In art can we discover more about an individual than we previously knew? Can it reveal the complexity of their emotions and thoughts? Essentially, can it show who they truly are? There’s a wonderful scene where Sam gives the box of his son’s music to his ex-wife. Sam says, “Give the music to his brother. That way he’ll know who Josh really was, instead of just what he’ll read in the paper.” The lines in the closing song of the film perfectly demonstrate what Rudderless is really all about, “What is lost can be replaced. What is gone is not forgotten.”

Number 8 – Nightcrawler

Corrupt. Vile. Morally dissolute. Nightcrawler is a chaotic, twisted but compelling film, that reflects on the darker truths in our society. In particular, the film examines the media and the tainted American dream. The main character, Louis (Jake Gyllenhaal), works as an independent cameraman for news stations. His job is to collect the most violent, disturbing, and horrific footage, putting on display the absolute worst of humanity. Certainly there is a connection to our current news channels, which constantly seem to be filled with negative after negative story; however, Nightcrawler draws more attention to the how impersonal stations treat victims, looking more at the dollar signs than the actual tragedy. One scene is quite powerful, Louis’s partner asks Louis not to film a certain individual because they knew him, Louis retorts, “No, he is a story now.” The American dream is shown in its ugliest and darkest form, highlighting how truly self-serving it is. The film does a great job of demonstrating how nasty the business world can be and how one may have to sacrifice morality for prestige. Louis begins by simply filming crimes, then he repositions victims for better camera angles, and eventually he starts committing crimes himself, all for the sake of his business. However, even through all of this, you still root for Louis to achieve his ambition. That’s an impressive feat for any film to achieve, making an antagonist main character that still manages to receive the audience’s support. Jake Gyllenhaal gives not only the best performance of the year, but also the best performance of his entire career. He gets lost in this character, perfecting all the details, like the smallest of mannerism, tone of voice, and the general eye movement. Louis is sly, ruthless, and cold, and Gyllenhaal portrays all of this often in one simple gaze. Nightcrawler is ultimately like its main character, dark, manipulative, and devilishly twisted, but also so utterly fascinating; you simply can’t turn away.

Number 9 – Edge of Tomorrow

After an awful ad campaign, which featured a rather inconsistent Tom Cruise, a terrible tag line, and a trailer that was utterly boring and forgettable, no one believed in Edge of Tomorrow. However, Edge of Tomorrow was the surprise hit of the summer, cleverly constructing a plot-line that’s the sci-fi equivalent to Groundhog Day. The film is funny, well paced, and brilliantly edited. Seeing Cruise relive the same day over and over again, in an attempt to stop the alien invasion, could have easily been one of the most dull moviegoing experiences of the summer. After all, it’s hard enough to make a scene interesting the first time, let alone making the same scene watchable on the sixth or seventh viewing. This is where the editing comes in beautifully, never showing the audience more than they need to see, briskly moving from scene to scene. Edge of Tomorrow does a wonderful job of creating humor in the midst of Cruise’s situation, keeping the tone light-hearted and getting laughs out of Cruise’s many failed attempts; it actually becomes really inventive at times. Emily Blunt and Tom Cruise also do a great job at anchoring the film, delivering a real emotional arc between the two characters, giving the film a personal touch that is often missing in big summer Hollywood movies. Edge of Tomorrow maybe the smartest blockbuster of the year, and it’s living proof that Tom Cruise has a little gas left in the tank.

Posted on January 7, 2015 .

Nic's Response to IGN's "A Newer Hope"

[Edit: This article was originally written in October 2013. On May 1, 2014 IGN decided to rerun the article that this article is responding to. So here we are again. I've made a few minor edits here and there to 'celebrate.']

Back in August, IGN posted an article entitled "Star Wars Episode VII: A Newer Hope." Its central thesis is that George Lucas never really understood Star Wars and its greatness. He created it, and presided over it. But he "never got what made it so special." However, the sequel trilogy there's a new hope that Star Wars films can be enjoyable again.

You know us. Here at The Inner Dorkdom we enjoy the Prequels. And we believe that although entertainment can educate and inspire us, it's something that should never cause us to despise other people, or treat them poorly.

But I must admit, when I read articles like this (even if they are written with more civility than normal) part of me wants to punch people (the authors in particular) right in the mouth.

Of course I would never do that. That’s taking things incredibly too far.

So instead I offer you, dear Inner Dorkdom readers, a point-by-point response to the article.

In the opening paragraph, the author says, "for too long the history of that galaxy far, far away was at the mercy of an incurable revisionist, someone who didn’t mind treading on the memories of others."

A couple of things here.

First, for too long? Star Wars was being presided over by the man who created it for too long? I must ask: According to what standard? Certainly not any objective standard. In fact this, like much in the article, is nothing more than a subjective preference stated as an objective fact.

There is no standard for how long the creator of Star Wars needs to be in control of Star Wars. It's just a matter of tastes. And since I like the stories George Lucas tells, and the way he tells them, I for one am glad he was involved with Star Wars for as long as he was.

Second, how much has Lucas revised over the years, really? I mean, I hear people make this charge from time to time. But the claims always seem larger than the actual facts of the matter. From a plot point standpoint, what has Lucas changed over years? (I'm not counting any decisions he made contrary to EU canon, because, well, we've been over that one.) Ep IV had the scene with Jabba added and changed it from Han to Greedo shooting first. Ep V changed the dialogue between Vader and the Emperor, gave Boba Fatt Jango's voice, and changed Vader's line after his confrontation with Luke. Ep VI changed the song Sy Snootles sang, gave Anakin a couple of "no"s, and made his Force-ghost reflective of his young mid-twenties self. And that's it. The rest of the changes were cosmetic. Fancier shots of ships flying around, some shots of the Wampa, and so on. Of course one can discuss how one enjoys (or doesn't) the changes. But to say they show Lucas to be an incurable revisionist is just silly.

Third, the memories of others bit. Though he says it with more tact and civility (which I thank him for), this is really akin to the old "George Lucas raped my childhood" chestnut. And, I'm sorry, I just don't understand that. He has done nothing to your memories. What you saw back in the day is still what you saw. That hasn't changed. Again, you don't have to like that he's made revisions. But just because he's made and released them doesn't mean your memories have been trampled. To think of it that way is, if I may, an awfully self-centered way of looking at an author modifying HIS work.

(And it is his work. If he wants to alter something, it’s his prerogative.)

Next up: "...hopefully we can now all admit this publicly, Episode I never felt like Star Wars."

I'm going to ignore the problem of taking a subjective opinion and stating it as a universal fact. Otherwise, we'd be here all day. (Just know that I noticed it.)

How can one say it didn't feel like Star Wars? It is Star Wars. Thus, by definition, it feels like Star Wars. It can't not feel like Star Wars.

What I assume our author really means is that it didn't feel like the Original Trilogy. What do I make of that?

First of all, I think we should ask, should it feel the same? Does a film set in a very different era, featuring characters with very different backgrounds, occupations, and goals need to feel the same? I argue that it shouldn't. At least, not in every respect. How else are we going to feel the impact of the Sith conquering the Galaxy and all the changes that brings?

Second, granting those differences, Phantom Menace still 'felt like Star Wars' to me. Jedi, lightsabers, Tatooine, hyperspace, Tusken Raiders, Jawas, Jabba, Palpatine (played by Ian McDiarmid), Yoda (played by Frank Oz), space battles, ground battles, a dialogue-free ending, wipes as transitions, all with John Williams music throughout.

I think it's worth asking: Is the reason for Mr. Krupa's feeling simply due to the fact that the elements The Phantom Menace didn't have (scoundrels, flirtatious banter, Vader choking people, etc.) are the things he likes most about Star Wars?

Next: "Exciting moments are scattered throughout the prequels, as are likeable characters and moments of intrigue,..."

Which, the negative connotation of the word "scattered" notwithstanding, is the best that could be said about any quality story. Not every moment is, or should, be exciting. Not every character should be likeable. And every event doesn't need to produce intrigue.

Next: "...but it’s all so haphazardly assembled that I’ve long suspected that these are little more than kind accidents."

How is it haphazardly assembled? Our author just plops that statement down as though it were a well established fact. But it's a rather large statement that could use some supporting evidence.

But here's the thing. So the Prequels have a slightly different tone than the Original Trilogy (just as each film in the Saga has its own distinct tone). Why conclude that the difference between the two trilogies is probably attributable to George Lucas' incompetence, and that anything good about the new films is purely accidental? Why be drawn to the conclusion that carries with it a critical, even derogatory, attitude toward an artist?

Given that Mr. Lucas was involved in all three original Star wars films (including ESB), as well as the Indiana Jones films, it just doesn't make sense to conclude that the guy doesn't understand how to create likeable characters, enjoyable action sequences, and so on.

Isn't it also a possibility, and more consistent with the facts, that the differences between the OT and PT were purposeful? That Lucas simply wanted to tell a different kind of story with Episodes I-III? Indeed, did he not tell us beforehand that such was going to be the case? Are the seeds of the different kind of story not clearly evident in the notes that he wrote back in the late 70's?

Next: "’s clear they’re [the Prequels - NW] deficient in so many of the qualities that the originals had in abundance – genuine warmth, wry humour, real charm..."

Slow down, man. Let's take them in turn.

genuine warmth - I think it's safe to say that for the most part the Jedi are the main characters of the Prequels. And I think it's also safe to say that the Jedi can come across as a little distant and cold at times. I loved Episode I, but that was one of the few things about it that disappointed me a little. But then I remember the first time I saw Episode II noticing and enjoying several of moments right in the opening minutes that almost felt like I direct attempt to reverse that trend (Yoda and Mace concerned about the Separatists, Yoda's warm feelings over Padme's surviving the terrorist attack, Obi-Wan and Anakin joking in the elevator). I realize that still might not be the sort of heart-on-sleeve wearing that people would prefer. I get that.

And, if I may, it seems like perhaps that's part of the point of the Prequels. The Jedi, out of fear of themselves going to the dark side and using their powers in vengeful or controlling ways, have decided not to have attachments. Better never to be close to anyone than to be close, get hurt, and have to fight the temptation to respond negatively. This philosophy, which, granted, many of them don't seem to always follow, helps get the order decimated. It's Luke's compassion and obvious warmth that brings Anakin back in the end, allowing him to destroy Vader and Sidious, bringing balance to the Force.

wry humor - Allow me to retort: "That's why I'm here." "Good job." "Not to worry, we're still flying half a ship." "Another happy landing." "Today you were the hero, and you deserve your glorious day with the politicians." "Alright, but you owe me. And not just for saving your skin for the tenth time." "Ninth time. That business on Kato Nemoidia doesn't...doesn't count." "I'll try not to destroy all the battle droids before you arrive." "So uncivilized." Etc. Yes, most of those quote are from Obi-Wan. But didn't most of the wry humor in the OT come from one or two people (Han, and to a lesser extent, Leia)? Also, the wry humor increases as you go from Ep I to Ep III. Just as darkness increases in the galaxy.

real charm - This one is really subjective. What one person finds charming another won't, and vice versa. When I watch the Prequels, I see what I feel to be be real charm. So now what? Neither one of us is objectively right or wrong.

Next: "Nothing in the prequels ever came close to drawing out this emotion." [i.e., "that less tangible property that made Star Wars so unique. It differs between viewers, but for me, it was always a hopeful sense of wonder, a secret knowledge that a greater destiny waits for us amidst the constellations. I think its at its most palpable when Luke watches the twin suns set on the desert planet of Tatooine."]

Again, this one is very subjective, and is a simple case of your mileage may vary. Indeed, our author acknowledges this by saying that what he's talking about differs between viewers. Yet he says it's nowhere to be found in the Prequels. That doesn't make sense to me. If it's a differing thing from person to person, how can you definitively say that it's absent from the Prequels?

But for sake of discussion, let's take what the author says is that quality for him--this sense of wonder / knowledge that a greater destiny awaits in space.

First, I'm not convinced that's what Luke was thinking when he looked at that sunset. I personally never read him that way. I've always figured he's thinking, "When's it going to be my time? Will it ever be my time? Cause, boy, I'd like to get off this rock. I think I would enjoy it. But who knows if I'll ever get to." I don't take it that he's also thinking, "Deep down inside I know that I will. Secretly, I know it is my destiny." I read him 100% yearning, 0% secret conviction.

Second, even if we granted for sake of discussion that Luke did have that secret knowledge, where's that quality in Episodes V and VI? This is, after all, something he argues the OT had (not just A New Hope) and the Prequels lack.

Third, do the Prequels actually lack it? Little Anakin looking up at the stars with Qui-Gon, the Jedi council testing Anakin, Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon looking out over a Coruscant sunset, and Anakin kissing his mommy goodbye may not have been accompanied by swelling music from the excellent John Williams (except that last example), they may have been more subtly-stated, but story-wise they are dealing with the same thing. Characters wondering what their future holds.

It seems to me that much of the flack the Prequels get comes from the fact that with them Mr. Lucas wanted to tell a more complex story. In my experience, adding complexity to a story sometimes results in a sacrifice of archetypal and emotional resonance. "Farmboy dreams of leaving his family farm in the desert, and when his family is killed he follows an old warrior on a mission into the starts to rescue a princess, following in his late father's footsteps," is different from, "slave boy with a mysterious origin has no illusions of ever being free, but some religious knights show up due to a broken ship, and one of them wagers for his freedom, believing him to be a prophesied chosen one who's destiny is probably to do something good but there's debate about the prophecies' interpretation."

Next:  "...too bogged down in recounting the bureaucratic origins of the Empire to ever truly reach out to grab the stars."

Like I said, a more complex story that perhaps sacrifices some archetypal resonance. If you’re not interested in complexity, or don’t desire that type of complexity from Star Wars, you’re naturally going to be disappointed.

Also, how else does one tell the story of a republic collapsing from within (due to political machinations) and turning into an empire? How do you tell a story about politics without dealing with politics?

Next: "And ironically Lucas’s passion to innovate and use cutting-edge technology, which made the originals such landmarks in the history of cinema, actually undermine the prequels quite badly – so much is left looking synthetic, cold, and dated."

We're going with the 'CGI looks fake' argument, it would appear. I don't want to be the bearer of bad news, but model work composited on an optical printer with visible matte lines/rectangles and occasionally awkward looking motion also looks fake and dated. A puppet whose mouth only opens and closes and occasionally suffers from extreme bouts of lazy eye looks fake and dated. It looks fake in a different way, granted, but it still looks fake.

If I may expand on that. I was talking about Star Wars with my father-in-law the other day, and he made basically the same point as Mr. Krupa. As we discussed the matter I developed a theory I'd like to share with you for your consideration Internet. Is this a generational thing? People like my father-in-law grew up on analog special effects. He'd been a full grown adult for some time when Jurassic Park came out. Non-digital matte paintings, miniatures and model photography, analog compositing, people in costumes, these look more real to him than CGI. On the other hand, kids today feel the exact opposite. The old tech looks bad to many of them. CGI looks more real. And then in the middle there are people like me. Born in 1978, I grew up with both types of technology. Analog visual effects were the norm when I saw a little boy. But I was only in early high school when Jurassic Park came out. To my eyes, both practical effects and CGI look fake. Or, I should say, they can look fake to varying degrees based on the quality of the work. Neither one has an inherent advantage in my eyes. They can both look fake, just in a different kind of way.

Point being, what looks synthetic, cold, and dated to one person looks perfectly fine to another. Thus the author's point, yet again, is actually a subjective preference.

Next: "Lucas mistakenly believed the magic of Star Wars resided in the Universe he had created, and that simply showing more of it would be enough to satisfy fans. He was wrong."

He didn't just simply show more of it. But anyway.

I was satisfied with the Prequels, and I'm a fan. Josh was satisfied, and he's a fan. Todd was satisfied and he's a fan. Thus your claim is shown to be factually inaccurate.

There's no arguing, many Star Wars fans didn't like the Prequels. Seeing the galaxy far far away again wasn't enough to outweigh their disappointments (one or more of the following: plot, scripting, casting, acting, art style, visual effects work). I don't deny that.

But many Star Wars fans did like the Prequels. Some in spite of those things, some because of them.

I don't understand why those who dislike the Prequel continue to act like they are the only ones who exist, or the only one whose opinions count.

Next: "Recently, I attended Star Wars Celebration Europe where I saw Kathleen Kennedy, the executive producer of Episode VII, talk about the approach of the new film. Character and story were being prioritised above everything else, she said; effects would be at the service of the story; CGI would work in tandem with more traditional forms of effects work – miniatures, set-building, shooting in exotic locations. As Kennedy presented this new creed, it was greeted with hungry applause by the congregation."

New creed? Is it really new?

I realize that people on the internet talk all the time as though it is. 'Lucas cared more about CGI than character development.' 'He cared more about CGI than analog forms of effects work.'

People say it, but they offer little support. From what I know of the Prequels, CGI got Lucas excited about making them because the technology allowed him to write almost whatever he could imagine. He could conjure characters and places freely. CGI was great, because it could serve the needs of character and story. And when it came to actual production, ILM used a combination of digital and analog technologies. Even in Episode III.

But about Ms. Kennedy's statements at Celebration Europe, yeah I remember hearing about that. It didn't send me over the moon with joy and excitement. The emotions it created in me were more subdued, because it seems to me this indicates one of two possibilities, neither one I'm overjoyed at.

First, it’s possible that perhaps this doesn't reflect Ms. Kennedy's views on the George Lucas and his work with the Prequels, and is just PR-driven Prequel-disliker baiting. You know, like click-baiting, but for people who didn't like the Prequels. I mean, come on. In that one presentation she dealt with all of the major over-arching complaints the stereotypical "Original Trilogy only" Star Wars fan has with Eps I-III. Disney/Lucasfilm is certainly going to want the enthusiasm (and money) of that portion of the fan base. Everyone already knows Lucas won't be scriptwriting or directing these new films. Thus, that crowd is already feeling some hope. Why not throw them a few bones, say some things they want to hear, to further excite them? My problem with this option is that Lucas and the Prequels are implicitly being thrown under the bus simply for marketing purposes.

Second, to me the more troubling possibility is that the new head of Lucasfilm might actually believe those criticisms herself. (Given the Lucas appointed her this possibility is doubtful, but you never know.) My problem with this option is that, again, I think those criticisms of the Prequels are unfair and unwarranted, and as such I'd rather the head of Lucasfilm not believe them. The Prequels had a story. A complex one. They had characters. Granted, most of them were stoic Jedi, awkward Jedi (I tend to think written and directed that way on purpose), and politicians. So, maybe not the kinds of characters some people wanted. But they had characters. I've watched the Prequels literally dozens of times. And I just don't see the argument that they are more about the visual CG spectacle than they are anything else. And as for special-effects techniques themselves, again I don't see the criticism as valid. All three Prequels had model work. They all had sets. They all shot on-location. So, in the Prequels the two approaches already were working in tandem. If we're just talking about what the ideal balance is between CG and practical, isn't that a function of individual tastes and, for the filmmakers themselves, budget considerations?

The common thread in both options is the possibility that throwing Lucas and the Prequels under the bus is going to be an on-going part of Lucasfilm's PR strategy. This is a possible trend that I'm not excited about, since I respect Lucas as a filmmaker and want to believe that he was sincerely trying to make the best films possible, and I like the Prequels.

Next: "The fallout from the prequels has made audiences realise that it wasn’t simply the universe they loved – it was the timeless approach to storytelling and the way it had been made, principles that had been forgotten at the turn of the millennium."

Except that a great many audiences enjoyed the Prequels and felt they still exemplified a "timeless approach to storytelling."

But, regarding the specific differences between the Original Trilogy and the Prequels, again the author here assumes that Lucas forgot certain storytelling tools, instead of entertaining the possibility that he simply chose to do some things differently. I'm personally really growing tired of the almost arrogance that seems to be at the heart of this oh-so-common assumption. Can't one just say that he/she didn't like the changes and leave it at that, instead of moving beyond that into things about which one doesn't know (i.e., Lucas' mind), and making personal criticisms?

Next:  "She was involved in the very first use of CG in cinema..."

Allow me to be annoying for a moment.

No she wasn't. Ep IV, which itself wasn't even the first use of computer graphics in film, had primitive CG for the Death Star trench run briefing. That was '77. Ms. Kennedy didn't get a producer credit on a movie until '81. And if we're talking CG used to represent something "real" within the film's story, then she still wasn't, since she didn't work on TRON or The Last Starfighter.

Next: "and produced Jurassic Park, a seminal film in the history of CG effects. At Star Wars Celebration, she spoke about the excitement she experienced when she first saw that wireframe model of a dinosaur sprint across a CRT monitor at ILM. She knew, using this technology, it was possible to make the impossible – that dinosaurs could return from extinction. The brilliance of Jurassic Park lies in the sparing use of CGI and how it’s deftly balanced with the use of more traditional special effects, like animatronics, and shooting in fantastically beautiful or strange real-world locations."

But it isn't like they had a choice. The state of CG work when Jurassic Park came out in '93, both in terms of raw technical ability and costs, precluded fully-digital photorealistic environments or the elimination of animatronics. They couldn’t have done those things even if they wanted to.

Next: "It was clear that Kennedy recognised the dangers of embracing CGI too openly, forgetting its limitations and the deadening effect it can have despite its inexorable march towards photorealism."

That may be. But the fact that Jurassic Park used CGI sparingly is no way proof of that.

Next: "But it’s the emphasis on writing that’s really reassuring. They’ve even called Lawrence Kasdan to attend daily script meetings."

That is indeed cool. I'm not complaining that Kasdan is involved. But, he did co-write Return of the Jedi, which many Star Wars fans dislike. So, there is that.

Next: "Kennedy, when she spoke about the film’s director, described J.J. Abrams primarily as a storyteller, with a background in screenwriting and television touted as his most impressive and valuable credentials."

People's mileage varies on this. But, for me, when one starts talking about J.J. Abrams, they run the very real risk of getting me started.

But for now, I'll just say that Abrams wasn't hired as a writer, but a director. So, even if he is a wonderful writer, that doesn't necessarily mean anything. There are many great writers who would make horrible directors, and vice-versa. Will he contribute to the story? Probably. But he isn’t writing it.

[UPDATE: Since the time this article was written, Disney/Lucasfilm announced that Arndt was out, and a writing team of Kasdan and Abrams would be penning the screenplay to Episode VII. So, well, it could be good. But, my gut feeling is, "oh poodoo." Hope that gut feeling is way off. No way to know until December 2015.]

Next: "His Star Trek reboot pulled off that most paradoxical feats: a canonical reboot."

I'm serious now. Don't get me started.

Next: "It didn’t ignore the disregard what came before..."


Next: "...but with one swift movement, it avoided forty years of densely-tangled continuity."

Uh oh, here comes the windmill....

Next: "And nobody’s delicate memories were trampled or even wrinkled in the process – every mission of the Starship Enterprise still took place but just in another timeline."

Of course no one’s memories are trampled on. (See above.) But things are messed with. Significantly. The reality is that for most practical purposes it did ignore and disregard much of what came before. And the notion that every mission of the starship Enterprise (and those of the Enterprise-D, Enterprise-E, Deep Space 9, Voyager, and everything else in the pre-Abrams world of Trek for that matter) still occurred just in a different timeline is one of the most inconsistent cop-outs in the history of quantum mechanics and inconsistent cop-outs.

(Incidentally, you don’t need the “many universes” quantum mechanics angle to create a canonical reboot. Just have Nero and Spock travel to the past and change the timeline as they would in any old Star Trek episode or movie, and then don’t have them try to fix it. Sure, everything that happened before would be erased from the timeline. But you would still have an in-universe canonical reboot.)

Next: "It had moments of sentimentality, but on the whole it was a remarkably forward-looking, assured film that decanted what made Star Trek special."

By...spoiler alert...destroying Vulcan? Having a Starfleet cadet become captain of the Federation flagship? Inventing a stable version of plot-eroding transwarp beaming? Hooking Spock and Uhura up? Having Deep Roy walk around a beer factory...I mean starship engine an alien suit? Not bothering to put "tripods" in the filming budget?

Don't get me wrong, despite the negative bias I had going in, I fairly well liked Star Trek 2009. But "remarkably forward thinking?" I don’t see it. It was yet another time-travel story.

Next: "(Incidentally, one of my biggest problems with the sequel, Into Darkness, was its decision to revisit old frontiers.)"


But, interestingly enough, my wife, who likes Trek but hasn’t watched that much of it (unlike Josh, Todd, and I), rather enjoyed the movie. The revisit didn’t feel like a revisit to her. And what many fans lamented as a departure from the style, tone, and substance that is at the very core of Trek, she wasn’t bothered by. Yes, Abrams and company changed things. But she was ok with the changes, because she liked the results and wasn’t tied to the original.

Next: "The reboot proved it’s better to be daring, than deferential."

That's exactly what the Prequels did! They changed some things up! Yet our author think they're a disappointing mess, for the very fact that they didn't adhere closely enough to what it was about the originals that he liked.

Next: "This desire to look back to the originals for inspiration..."

Uhhh....I'm getting whiplash. Now deferential is good again?

Next: "...seems to extend across other Star Wars projects now in the works. The new animated show Star Wars Rebels, for instance, is revisiting the legendary concept art of Ralph McQuarrie, which had such a profound influence on the look and feel of the Star Wars universe. The show’s producer Dave Filoni..."

Don't be too proud of the "Lucas-era is behind us" mentality when bringing up Dave Filoni

Next: "Filoni and his team have studied the film’s shooting itinerary, trying to replicate not only the exact camera movements and lens used in the space battles but also trying to recreate the grain of the original film."

I can't find any corroboration on this point.

Next: "There seems to be a newfound respect for the past, and a humble desire to learn from it, not rewrite it."

I refer back to the beginning of this article about rewriting.

Next: "The new creative talents involved have a reverence for the source material in a way that Lucas never could. And by looking backwards, Star Wars Episode VII may have inadvertently picked up its most potent weapon: nostalgia. As fans of Mad Men know all too well, nostalgia in Greek refers to the pain from an old wound – a nagging, dull sort of pain, tugging at your insides, making you remember the initial cut. And that’s how I feel about Star Wars – I remember the way it was, how it made me feel as a child, but those feelings have faded over time. Episode VII has re-opened those old wounds, and that twinge is the dormant pain you only get from a new hope."

Blah blah blah....

My translation: "I didn’t like the Prequels. People I talk to didn't like the Prequels. People on the internet didn't like the Prequels. In other words, no one liked the Prequels. They weren't what I and the aforementioned groups of people wanted them to be. Thus, they were bad. And they show that Lucas' success with the Original Trilogy was kind of an accident. He didn't understand what he was doing. But fortunately for us, a new generation of filmmakers, along with acceptable and approved remnants from the old guard, actually get Star Wars and thus can do a better job of making quality Star Wars films. And by that I mean films that, when compared to the Original Trilogy, keep the same that which I personally want kept the same, and change that which I personally am OK with being changed. So I'm still sad that the Prequels were such a mess. But I'm hopeful that finally Star Wars can be set right. And by that I mean "exactly the way I want it to be."

I guess I’m being a bit provocative there. In the end, the points are argued by Mr. Krupa with more tact than that. (And certainly with more tact than how many other folks dissatisfied with the prequels have approached the subject. See the article’s comments section.) But when it’s all boiled down, it seems to me to be a simple matter of a person not respecting the role of an author/creator, not liking three films in a franchise, not being able to see past the subjectivity of his own opinion, and ascribing deficiencies of skill on the part of the film’s creator rather than allowing that it might be a simple matter of differences in goals between the filmmaker and himself (thus engaging in what psychologists call the fundamental attribution error).

I’ll end with this:
No one has to like the Prequels.
No one has to dislike the Prequels.
No one has to like the Prequels more than the Original Trilogy.
No one has to like the Original Trilogy more than the Prequels.

And the Sequel Trilogy will be what it will be

 - Nic

Posted on May 1, 2014 .

Josh's Inner Dorkdom Journal - Episode 10

1. HD for last-gen games?
Go on and do yourself a favor and download a Playstation 2 emulator. I've recently been replaying Final Fantasy XII and I can honestly say that one of the low points of the series (in my opinion) is now a more pleasurable experience because of PCXE2. The once (again, in my opinion) horrid graphics of one of the last major PS2 titles are much more palatable at a higher resolution, due mainly to the various plugins available for the emulator.

I'm not condoning the use of a pirated copy of FFXII, as PCXE2 will play titles directly off of the original game DVD. So if you have some old PS2 games (and a powerful enough PC rig) and you want to see what those games look like in HD quality, download the emulator and give it a look. You won't be disappointed.

2. Selling your soul to the devil... all for a videogame.
In my last post, I talked about the fact that I would probably be reviewing Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. To someone like Nic, this may come as something of a shock since I've been staunchly against paying a monthly fee for a game.

My opinions on charging players to play a game is a whole other story for a whole other article.

But I figured... what the heck? (censored Back To The Future quote)

The pricing schemes for FFXIV are kind of ridiculous, but I won't be playing the game forever. I'm planning on paying the minimal fee so I can see if I like it or not. Plus, you get a month free when you start the game, so that should be plenty of time to check the game out and give it a trial run.

When The Elder Scrolls Online releases, however, I may just have to suck it up and pay for it full-tilt. Those are games I can get into for a long period of time, so I'll probably be just a tiny bit more justified in the month-to-month fee... right?

3. People need to leave Ben Affleck alone.
Seriously, what did this guy do to garner all this hate over him playing Batman? I think it's a great choice and he's a great actor. I've never seen a movie with him in it that I didn't like. Or at least, I've never seen a movie of his that I thought was terrible.

Yes, I saw Gigli, Phantoms and Daredevil. I personally like Daredevil, and Phantoms (in which he was da bomb, yo) and Gigli certainly weren't the best movies I've ever seen, but they weren't nearly as bad as jerks on the internet make them out to be. And even if one thinks that those movies are bad, exactly how much do they really believe that Affleck was the cause? He didn't write those films, or direct them, he just starred.

So I guess because Ben Affleck, a good actor, decides to take a few acting gigs in movies that people deem terrible means that we should crucify him for playing Batman? Really? The internet really needs to take a minute and think about the logic they use to come to a conclusion sometimes.

Just as a side note: I also think Ben Affleck should play Eddie Dean in The Dark Tower films if they ever get made.That's the guy I've always pictured since I read the character in The Drawing of the Three. Hate me, internet.


Josh's Inner Dorkdon Journal - Episode 9

No content in over a month and a half?!


The Wolverine:
Saw it. It was ok. I wasn’t blown away, but I really don’t think that was the intention of the film makers. It was supposed to be a “bridging of the gap” for the new X-Men: Days of Future Past film, and I think it does that pretty well. One thing I thought was interesting about the movie was the fact that almost any character could have been in Wolverine/Logan’s place. This was very much a side-story featuring an extremely popular character. It works, I just don’t really think it was necessary in the grand scheme of the X-Men film franchise. But who am I to say what a “necessary” film is?
Overall, I’m probably in the extreme minority that likes the original Wolverine Origins movie better than this one.
Yeah, I said it: I like that movie better!
Lots of people hate on it, but I thought it was great. I think they could’ve handled Deadpool much better, but other than that, it was a great movie.

Things have been relatively quiet in the gaming world lately, which is odd considering the fact that two brand new consoles are going to be released at the end of this year. One thing that I find odd is just how many “AAA” titles are still being released for THIS generation after the release of the PS4 and Xbox One. It makes one wonder if just how much faith Sony and Microsoft have in their new product. Or maybe it’s that they’re being overly confident in thinking that the new systems will sell by the bucket-load, so they’re not pushing it as hard?
Whatever the case may be, I just figured information would be coming a lot more frequently than it has been. How ‘bout some more press conferences or something? 

Doom 3 Mods: 
Steam recently had a sale of all id Software games after the latest Quake-con. For something like $90, you could get nearly every major game the company has released since, and including, the Commander Keen games.
(I realize some of you may be thinking, “What the crap is Commander Keen?” Yeah, I’m old.)

The pack included the likes of Quake(s) 1-4, Doom(s) 1-3 (and BFG Edition), the two Wolf 3D games and even newer titles like Rage. For the old-school PC gamer, $90 is an extremely good deal, considering the quality of content. However, I didn’t buy the entire pack - just some selected titles that I used to have back in the day like the Quakes and Heretic/Hexen.
 In my rekindled love for all things id, I stumbled upon the Doom 3 mod community and found a total conversion mod for Doom 3 which converted the entire game into an all-new Hexen game called, “Edge of Chaos.” It looked amazing from the couple of demo videos and screenshots, so I decided to continue browsing the total conversion mods. The one that immediately caught my attention was “Doom 3: Classic.” This was a mod that basically re-created the entire first episode (Knee-Deep In The Dead) of the original Doom in the Doom 3 engine.
I downloaded and played.

It was amazing.

The level design, enemy placement, secret areas, weaponry and even the music (which is AWESOME, by the way) were completely and faithfully redone with graphics that hold up well with current-gen titles. As soon as you load the mod and start E1M1 (Episode 1, Map 1, for all you non-Doom Heads) and that awesome, metal guitar riff starts up (based off of Metallica’s song, “No Remorse,” in case you didn’t know), you have to wonder if this was the way John Carmack and John Romero originally envisioned the game back in the early 90’s.
I highly recommend purchasing Doom 3 on Steam (it’s only $10), if for nothing else but to experience a 100% faithful remake of the original shareware Doom. Just make sure you buy the original version of Doom 3. The mod (and most others) won’t work on the BFG Edition.

To convince you, here’s a video of the classic first level:

And here’s the Doom 3: Classic mod of the same level:

Pretty cool, right? Go get it… if you’re man (or woman) enough!

That’s about all I’ve got at the moment. I still need to post my review of The Last of Us which is now almost two months old (sorry)! I’ll try to get on that soon. Maybe even immediately after this post!

Posted on August 12, 2013 .

Man of Steel - Nic's Impressions

Well Internet, I've seen Man of Steel. And, well, much like I was after seeing Star Trek Into Darkness, I'm conflicted.

Warning, SPOILERS follow...

In fact, for us here at the Inner Dorkdom the scene after the movie was very similar to the one after Into Darkness. We were having our post-movie credits-are-rolling conversation about the movie. Some in our group really liked it. Others were not impressed. When it came for me to give my input, there I was again, in the middle, only able to say, "I'm conflicted." I couldn't give a simple, "loved it," or, "hated it." In some ways and on some levels I really enjoyed it. And in others I was disappointed. And, again, just like immediately after Into Darkness, I couldn't initially sort my feelings out and put them into words. On the drive home with Josh (who loved it) and Liz (who hated it) I started trying to, particularly what disappointed me about the film. But it didn't go well. Again, too many emotions and responses all intertwined.

I think the reason this happened with Man of Steel is the same reason it happened with Into Darkness. In both cases we have a reboot of a franchise (sorry J.J. Star Trek, but for most intents and purposes that's what you are) that I have a familiarity with, an affinity for, and thus, expectations regarding.

So to sort out my feelings, I'll begin by doing what I did while pondering Into Darkness.

If I evaluate it just as a summer action movie:
No doubt it's a well made action movie. There are plenty of action-packed scenes (especially in the latter half of the film), heroics and villainy of a very high order, and lots of stuff that goes boom (grain silos, Sears stores, IHOPs, 7-11s, dozens of Metropolis skyscrapers). Indeed, the action scenes themselves are full of impressive imagery and intense kinetic action. My problems with it on the purely action movie level are the same that I have with any film that really goes in for the distinctively modern trends in action movies (shaky cam, muted colors, action sequences that go on a bit longer than I'd like, a Hans Zimmer styled score--in this case composed by the man himself).

If I evaluate it as science-fiction:
And I should. Superman is an alien. Superman stories, though the extent to which they emphasize this varies, are science-fiction stories.

And as a science-fiction film, I think it really works. It's not as deep as some sci-fi, no doubt. But, for my money, it works much better on the sci-fi level than Into Darkness does. In Man of Steel the science-fiction elements are more than just the backdrop used to give flavor to a story that with minimal tweaks could be set in realistic modern day. (Which is, as you guessed, how I felt about Into Darkness, although perhaps I'm being too hard on it.) The science-fiction elements are integral to the story and plot here. But, it should be noted, they don't completely overshadow it.

If I evaluate it as Superman:
Again, having been a fan of Superman for years, this is where I bring certain personal baggage with me. That is, expectations, or at least preferences, based on my previous experience with the franchise (which is not in-depth on the comic book side, although I did read Superman comics as a kid).

With my Into Darkness impressions I tried to filter out the Nic-specific baggage and evaluate it just in terms of it being Star Trek. I think that approach made sense because Star Trek, a franchise less than 50 years old, has only had (and, I admit, technically still only has) one continuity. Different shows and films have their own unique flavors. But nonetheless I think one can look at Star Trek as one cohesive thing.

But it doesn't make as much sense for me to do that here, because Superman is a much more varied franchise. There have been many continuities over its 75 year history. Superman stories have been told in a number of different media, with no one medium being thought of as the one true official one. And the stories themselves have varied greatly in terms of content, tone, themes, and so on. So its more difficult to nail down certain elements, whether they be of story or style, and say, "Regardless of one's personal preferences, this is what Superman is." I do think some exist. But they are far fewer than the one-continuity of Star Trek.

So all I can do is evaluate it as Superman with my personal tastes in view. And what is the result?

First, and I think foremost, it makes my problems with the modern edgy action-movie stylistic sensibility more acute. Because it's Superman. Yes, he's the Man of Steel. But he's also the Man of Tomorrow. The boyscout. The kindly flying super-powered space alien from an old-fashioned small town in Kansas. Also, even amongst superheroes he is distinctive and one-of-a-kind. And I personally want a Superman film to tonally reflect those values and ideas. I certainly don't want it to drink so heavily from the modern "gritty realistic" style. Now, even though I think of most of them fondly, I'm not asking for a straight up emulation of the Christopher Reeves films, or even Superman Returns (which, in my mind, was a Christopher Reeves film without Christopher Reeves). I understand filmmakers today are highly unlikely to go that far. General audiences' tastes have changed a bit over the decades. But I would like a Superman film that at least, when compared with other films of its day, leans noticeably in that direction. I want a Superman movie to standout from its peers as a bit "classic," when it comes to its presentation. Man of Steel doesn't do this. In fact, quite the opposite. The film takes up the gritty style more so than most Marvel films, and ends up being, in my eyes anyway, tonally closer to The Dark Knight Trilogy.

Truthfully, of all the recent movies I've seen, I feel like Captain America: The First Avenger did the best job of capturing the vibe I'm wanting in a Superman film.

Don't get me wrong. When evaluating this as a Superman movie, it's not all bad. Not at all. For example, I thought the cast did a wonderful job. Although I still miss Brandon Routh, I was pleasantly surprised with how well I felt Henry Cavill works as Superman. He could play the serious, almost brooding side, and also the warm optimistic side (on the very rare occasions he was given opportunity to do so). Amy Adams as Lois Lane is great (though early on I feared Lois' spunkiness was going to come across more like witchiness, but fortunately that didn't pan out). Of course Ma and Pa Kent and Jor-El were wonderful. I know there's been some controversy over Michael Shannon's performance as Zod, but I personally liked what he did with the role. Laurence Fishburne was great as Perry White (indeed, his scenes helped make the whole affair feel more like a Superman movie, though I'm not sure why). And the other bit players performed admirably as well.

As for the story, which is no question the heart of any film (except for 'artsy' films, and by the way that's a technical term I learned when studying film criticism in college), no doubt there are changes made here, including a couple of significant ones. I'm personally not of the "They changed something thus its ruined forever" mindset, at least when a film is creating or working within its own continuity. Change by itself is neither good nor bad in my book. You have to look at the changes themselves, evaluate them on their own merits. For sake of time I'll only point out the one change that had the largest impact on my enjoyment of the story, and by extension, the film itself. That is, they decided to play up his alien nature to the point where, it seems even growing up in Smallville, he was an outsider. A loner. And them, upon graduation, a drifter.

Let me say that I do think the filmmakers executed that idea well. But, that choice had a profound impact on the film. And in a way that worked against my enjoyment.

On the ride home with Josh (who loved the film) and Liz (who hated it), I started trying to explain my feelings. I talked about warmth. Josh was amazed I didn't see that in the film. Liz and I talked about the film lacking a sense of fun, and again we had trouble communicating.

I've been thinking about it, and I think I've figured out how to articulate it.

Some folks say difference between 2006's Superman Returns and Man of Steel was action. The former had too little, while the latter, at least for some, had too much.

I think it's deeper than that. It seems to me that Superman Returns emphasized Superman's compassion, his relationships, his personal warmth, his emotional side. In Man of Steel, because he's a loner for much of his life, this side of him doesn't have a chance to be explored, let alone emphasized. Rather Man of Steel emphasizes his resolute moral character. Here is a 'man' who has deep convictions. He has great power, but he also has great restraint. He is not one to seek vengeance, even on those who often treat him poorly (that one guy's big rig notwithstanding). Indeed, he shows himself, at a young age even, to be willing to protect even those people. And, perhaps most important of all, he is highly selfless, willing to live the life of a drifter because of the combination of two things: 1) he cannot stand by and not use his powers to help others, and 2) his earthly father instilled in him the importance of not revealing himself to the world too soon.

Both elements, his compassionate personal relationship side and his moral resolve and strength of character, are important parts of Superman. Both are needed. If he's compassionate but not resolute he might use his powers in dangerous/harmful/vindictive ways due to those he personally loves (this is what the Jedi during the time of the prequels feared could happen if they allowed themselves to form attachments). If he's resolute but not compassionate, he comes across as distant, his desire to protect humanity becoming merely a philosophical decision.

Superman in Man of Steel is not devoid of this personal connection and compassion (just as Superman in Superman Returns isn't devoid of strong moral resolve). He clearly loves his adopted parents. And at the end of the film as he begins his new life as Superman and Clark Kent, reporter for the Daily Planet, it starts to come through again. But, again, because the story is structured as it is, throughout the film we don't see much of this side of him. He just doesn't have many relationships. He cares about 'humanity,' but we don't get many chances to see that abstract idea made personal and, well, human.

And that is why I, and I suspect others, feel like the film, and Superman himself, was lacking a sense of warmth. (It's like, I know this Superman would care about me if I were falling out of the sky or something. But I don't know that he'd want to be my friend.)

Incidentally, the scenes that did help bring some warmth to the film were somewhat stifled by the pointless shaky-cam and other facets of postmodern action cinematography (I'm looking at you, scene with Pa Kent after the school bus incident).

His being a loner also probably accounts at least somewhat for what I call the lack of 'fun' in the film. The type of thing I refer to when I talk about a sense of "fun" typically comes from personal interactions. Or, at least, it's expressed typically through personal interactions. Characters commenting to others (usually associates or friends) about what's happening ("You and I remember Budapest very differently," "Well, I hope this experience hasn't put any of you off flying. Statistically speaking, it's still the safest way to travel," "Another happy landing"), or interacting in other ways (Steve Rogers giving Nick Fury ten dollars, acknowledging his losing their bet). But, again because the filmmakers chose to tell the story they did, Kal-El/Clark/Superman doesn't interact with many other people in the film. Here's who I remember: His parents, computer ghost Jor-El, girl and jerk at diner, Lois Lane, a priest, Zod's lady sub-commander, Zod, couple of military guys. That's it. Thus, even if he wanted to give us some fun (and this Superman, being a bit broody until he truly finds his place in the world, probably wouldn't), there are few people around for him to play off of.

(Incidentally, I'd read a review that said Superman and Lois' relationship in the film isn't the big iconic romantic thing we might expect, but we can see how it could bloom into that. Having seen the film, I think by in large that's an accurate description. And I'm ok with that. But, I was thus a bit surprised at the kiss. I didn't expect it, since they hadn't really had time or opportunity to fall in love or develop anything more than an initial attraction and respect for each other. I personally would have been OK without the kiss. Let that come in the next film.)

I don't know about cinematography, editing, and music, but as for my other disappointments, I think there's a small amount of hope for the future, if the last five minutes of the film are any indication. First you have Superman's response to Lois's line about first kisses (a wry humor "fun" moment). Then there's the scene with the general and the destroyed drone. I read someone say it comes off as a poor attempt at Tony Stark / Nick Fury banter. I disagree. Does the scene channel a bit of that Marvel movie fun? Yes. But Superman isn't being anything like Tony. He's still clearly Superman, making valid and mature points. He even acknowledges his rural Kansas upbringing. And the military personnel are definitely a bit less, theatrical, than Fury. So to me the scene feels very natural...and fun. Then there's the final two scenes, where Clark explains to his mother what his job will be (guess he doesn't have to go to college for that?), and we see him arrive for his first day at the Planet. Maybe it was partially seeing the standards of Superman mythology finally start to fall into place, maybe it was the resolution of the broodiness of earlier, but whatever the reason, I couldn't help but have a pretty big smile as I watched those two scenes. (Then the music continued to be Zimmer's score, and the smile lessened slightly).

OK, I guess I may as well say a little something directly about the score. I'll save more in-depth observations for a dedicated article. For now I'll just say that I for a Superman score, I personally want something else. Something more traditionally orchestral (but not necessarily exclusively so). Something with a bit more melodic and rhythmic complexity. Something with a touch of classic heroicism and patriotism, maybe even with at least one trumpet or woodwind instrument somewhere in the score.

In a publicity interview, Zimmer said that Nolan's Batman is inward and brooding, and the Dark Knight films were serioius psychological explorations. But Superman represents hope, and even traditional Midwest Americana. As I read that, it made me think that perhaps his Man of Steel score would be different from his Dark Knight scores. Perhaps his themes would do a more adequate job of embodying the specific characters, and not just conveying the basic psychological journey of the character.

But I have to agree with others on this, I don't think that's what happened. On the contrary, the music to this film feels very similar to his Batman scores. To me the music Zimmer wrote for Man of Steel doesn't reflect Superman's inspiring hope in others. It doesn't embody his heroicism. (That's what John Williams' themes did.) Rather, when it isn't being just ostinato triplet pattern driven action, it seems to be more of a reflection of Superman's inner psychological journey. When I hear Zimmer's 'main theme' it conjures in my mind the image of a person who had been kneeling because of something oppressive finally standing up. But the nature of that person, and that oppressive force, isn't specified. It could be any number of people, dealing with any number of oppressive circumstances. It doesn't convey the particular image of a man in a cape with super powers flying through the skies saving the world. It doesn't contribute to the film as a whole being the kind of rousing, awe-inspiring experience I, and others, wanted it to be. And that's the kind of score I personally wanted. Even if it had only displayed those qualities right at the end, that would have been welcomed.

Well, Internet, there's the broad strokes on my feelings about Man of Steel. In some ways I enjoyed it. In some ways I didn't. In the end, I wish it had been a bit less dark and brooding.

I have some other thoughts about specific plot points, stylistic choices, etc., that hopefully, along with a more detailed discussion of the score, I'll share with you soon. But until then, I remain,

 - Nic

Posted on June 18, 2013 .

Was J. J. Right for Star Trek?

I just finished reading something extremely interesting: An unpublished book by the late Michael Piller (1948-2005) which recounts his experience writing the screenplay for Star Trek: Insurrection. The book is titled Fade In and goes through nearly every detail of writing a screenplay, from conception, all the way to the reviews once the film is completed.

Piller, head of the writing staff for most of Star Trek: The Next Generation’s run, tells of how he got the job writing the third of The Next Generation cast’s feature films and all of the hardships that went along with it. Perhaps the most interesting thing about this process is what the film ultimately became: A disappointment in a lot of people’s eyes. Personally, I don’t share these feelings (I quite like Insurrection), but I’ve always been able to see where people have problems with it.

The biggest issue most folks have with the film is the fact that it feels like an extended episode of the television show. I’ll readily admit that it does to a certain extent. However, it’s still a good movie. Most people feel that, since it’s a more character driven work, it doesn’t come close to living up to the previous movie, First Contact, or even older Star Trek films such as Wrath of Khan. Both of those movies were pretty heavy on the action, something that, as Piller describes in his book, he never intended in the first place. He states that he wanted to have the film focus primarily on two things: Family and a hero’s journey for the Enterprise’s commanding officer, Jean-Luc Picard. Does the final film accomplish these things? Well… Sort of. The question is: Was that the writer’s fault?

Based on the evidence provided in the book, Piller started with one idea and ended up changing nearly everything he wrote on multiple occasions due to the suggestions of both Star Trek producer, Rick Berman and Picard himself, Sir Patrick Stewart. Originally, the film was about Picard having to rescue a malfunctioning Data (the android 2 nd officer of the Enterprise), which would entail Picard resigning his commission to Starfleet, while fighting Starfleet itself because of their disobedience of their own Prime Directive. The film would end on a cliffhanger, Picard being carted off by Starfleet Command because he stood by his personal convictions and those that the Federation was founded upon, leaving the audience wondering as to what would be his ultimate fate.

According to the script notes and discussions that these three guys had, their suggestions weren’t really all that bad. Berman felt as though there were things in the script which seemed a little too underwhelming, while Stewart thought that the family aspect had already been established multiple times throughout the TV show’s original run.

Understanding their concerns, Piller went through several rewrites and revisions until we got somewhere pretty close to the film we’ve all seen. But that’s the thing: Even then, it kind of wasn’t.
Piller reveals that, after a (what the studio executives deemed) bad test screening of the film, major cuts would have to be made which amped up the action. And here’s the point of the article…
Hollywood doesn’t understand Star Trek anymore.

I understand that a feature film has to be amped up to a certain degree, or at least be made on a more epic scale than an episode of a TV show. It’s when you start to lose the essence of what made the property great in the first place, you’re going to lose your audience. In my opinion, Piller’s original ideas that he conceived before the studio got heavily involved would have made a much better and more enjoyable experience for movie-goers. Particularly the hardcore fans of the franchise.
Take the 2009 reboot for example: Did Paramount make a lot of money off of that film? Absolutely. Did Star Trek fans enjoy it? There were some, but the overwhelming majority were those that went to see the newest, flashy action flick. A.K.A. non-Star Trek fans, or casual fans.

When I say things like this, I’m not trying to sound like some pompous film snob, or say that movies without substance are crap. That would be the furthest thing from the truth. What I’m trying to say is that Star Trek, as a franchise, was built on substance and deeper meaning. That’s why people like it in the first place. Another thing I’m trying to say is that (SHOCKER!!!) maybe it wasn’t J.J. Abrams’ fault for Star Trek not being very Star Trek-y. It may very well have been Paramount’s. All signs point to that very thing, especially given what’s in Michael Piller’s book.

Let’s think about it for a second. Rick Berman, the long-time producer of all things Star Trek had stepped down from his spot shortly before the new film was conceived. Paramount, not having to deal with his wanting to preserve the Star Trek legacy, were free to hire anybody they wanted to take the reins of the franchise.

“Hey, J.J. Abrams is a ‘hot’ name right now. He made Lost and that did really good on TV. He knows how to run a TV show, so he’ll probably know Star Trek!”

I imagine that Paramount’s thought process was something along these lines. However, they were wrong. I’ll admit, lens flares aside, Abrams does know how to make a good action movie. But was he right for Star Trek? I say no. I think it shows in the movie he and his writers made and the fact that he himself said, “I’m more of a Star Wars guy.”

Michael Piller, Rick Berman, and Patrick Stewart. They knew Star Trek. They understood what the fans wanted to see and how to formulate a story in that universe. Again, as I said in my article yesterday, the Abrams movie is good. There are some problems with it, in my opinion, but for the most part, it’s a good movie. There are things that are Star Trek, it just lacks the psychological subtext that the franchise is known for and comes off more as a straight-up, sci-fi action flick. So is that J.J.’s fault? I still say no. He was just doing a job he was hired to do. Paramount is the one to blame here since they probably shouldn’t have offered the job to him and his team in the first place.
All that being said, and back to one of the original points: I believe that had the Abrams movie contained more of the underlying themes that made the franchise great, its audience could have been even bigger.

While, yes, a lot of people loved the new Star Trek film, it lost a lot of long-time fans in the process. All things Trek up until that point have had a lasting impression with fans since 1966. That’s almost 50 years of longevity for millions of fans all over the world. I feel that the new movie franchise will continue to gain a completely new set of fans that dig the new “action-Trek,” but wouldn’t it have been great if those two sets of fans, both old and new, all liked Star Trek for the same reasons? It’s disappointing that fans will be separated now by pre-2009 and post-2009. Sure, you had that when The Next Generation premiered, but to my knowledge, no fans of the 1966 series hated the new one. They just “preferred” the old show, yet still loved The Next Generation.

But who knows? Maybe Into Darkness will somehow turn everybody around, myself included. Maybe there’ll be more substance added to this new version of Trek. I sincerely hope so. We’ll find out this Friday when Star Trek: Into Darkness opens in the States!

By the way, Michael Piller’s book, Fade In, was (as stated above) unpublished, so you won’t be able to buy it in stores. Unfortunately, due to Piller’s death in 2005, it probably never will be. So if you want to read it, just do a quick Google search, as it’s pretty easy to find.

See you… out there! (That’s number 1)
Posted on May 15, 2013 .

Response To IGN's List of Star Trek Films

Recently, IGN ran an article that listed the Star Trek films from least to greatest in terms of quality. In this article, they list Star Trek: Insurrection as the “worst,” and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan as the “best.” In addition, they list the 2009 “reboot” as the 3 rd best film in the franchise. Unfortunately, this ordering of the Star Trek films seems to be an opinion held by most casual fans.

The newest film, Star Trek: Into Darkness, will be released in theaters this Friday. Am I excited? Well, I want to see it, but just like the first film in the series “reboot,” I’m just a tad bit skeptical. I think that Hollywood and most of the movie-going public have lost the point (or never understood it) of Star Trek. The focus of the Star Trek franchise has always been that the more we learn about all these new species and worlds, we learn even more about ourselves as a race. Honestly, the new films are about high-octane action and little else. Visually, they look like Star Trek, but thematically they don’t feel like Star Trek.

Before I go any further: Anyone who has ever listened to any of our podcasts knows that I’m a huge fan of the 24 th century era of Star Trek. Meaning, I’m more of a fan of The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine than I am of The Original Series featuring Kirk, Spock, McCoy, etc. Do I hate TOS? Absolutely not. I will admit that I enjoy the feature films dealing with the original cast more than I do the series, but I can watch TOS and not have an urge to switch the channel. It’s by no means unbearable or anything of the sort. I never liked the idea of rebooting the franchise, because here was yet another situation that didn’t warrant it. A time-traveling sequel is something that I’d be down for, but using time travel as a way to make drastic changes to a beloved franchise with a rich mythology was, in my opinion, not the way to go. The only way that I’ll ever be comfortable with that is if the characters, by the end of this series of films, eventually change the past back to the way it originally was… Honestly, that would change my opinion of the new films greatly.

Also, another quick note: I believe that Star Trek works best predominantly on television as opposed to film. The films are great and allow for more “epic” stories, but the heart of Star Trek lies on the TV screen, as probably any Trek fan would tell you. The fact that a new franchise has started on film makes it less likely that Trek will return to the small screen anytime soon. And that is one of the most disappointing things overall. People who think they like Star Trek because of the 2009 J.J. Abrams movie will probably never check out the older shows because it “feels too dated,” or because they aren’t as “cool” as the Abrams film. This is a shame because these folks are missing out on what makes/made Star Trek a really good franchise. There’s more to Star Trek than flashy action and lens flares, I just don’t think Abrams has tapped into that stuff yet, and more than likely never will. Abrams had the perfect opportunity to freshly reintroduce Trek to a whole new audience, but that audience is getting what I (and many other long-time fans) consider to be a very “dumbed down” version of Star Trek.

With all that having been said, let’s go down IGN’s list (from 1-11) and make some comments, shall we? Afterwards, I’ll give my own personal list.

1. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
This is perhaps the most overhyped film in the franchise. I like it, but I believe that it is far from the best. I personally think that most people, at the time of the film’s original release, were just ecstatic to finally have a “good” Star Trek film, as opposed to the first, which was quite a boring experience. Star Trek II actually had action, good character development and seemed like an embodiment of what the franchise stood for. It felt more like its own film rather than trying to be an extension of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

2. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Now this is one I can actually understand being in the number 2 spot. This is just a straight up great film. Part of its charm is the fact that it takes already established characters and puts them in a fish-out-of-water situation. Also, I’m always a sucker for a good time travel story.

3. Star Trek (2009)
And this is what I mean when I say that the general movie-going public doesn’t understand Star Trek anymore. There is absolutely no reason that this film should be this high on the list since there are far better, more “Trek-like” films rated worse. Yes, I enjoyed the film, but it was more so because it was good to see something that “kind of” looked like Star Trek on the big screen again. There were several problems I had with it, but it was a decent Trek movie. My biggest problem was that it was too “action/sci-fi” rather than just straight up sci-fi, which is what Trek always had been up until that point. Action in a Trek movie is fine, but when you lose the human element that the franchise is known for, it tends to become what feels like an imitation of something great.

4. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
The last film to feature the entire original cast. Not much to say other than this one can also be seen as deserving its high spot on an ordered list. Tis a great film. Also, it had Worf in it!

5. Star Trek: First Contact
The number 5 spot is much too low for this one, in my opinion. Everything that people loved about Star Trek was there: humanity, time-travel, emotion, etc. The only thing that it perhaps lacked was the exploration element. Although you could consider Picard and Data’s self-discovery as the exploration aspect of the film. Since it was a sequel to one of the most well-received episodes in all of Trek, however, I can see this lack of true exploration as forgivable.

6. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
On my own list, I’d have to put this one on the spot right below The Wrath of Khan, as the two are directly related and one is impossible to have without the other. Personally, as far as my enjoyment goes and as a whole, I like this movie better than The Wrath of Khan.

7. Star Trek: Generations
I can definitely see this one being where it is on IGN’s list. The first film featuring the TNG crew, Generations is kind of a difficult movie to watch. For one: It looks weird. The filmmakers were definitely going for a more cinematic look to the film, but what resulted was a mess in cinematography. From a story standpoint, it was ok. It’s confusing at times and hard to keep up with, but would have made for, and probably been better suited as, an excellent 2-part episode of the TV series.

8. Star Trek: The Motion Picture
Waaaaaaaaaaay too high on the list. I know we’re only a few from the bottom, but there’s no way on God’s green earth that this should be above the movies that it is. It’s certainly not better than Insurrection. Best thing about it? It featured Jerry Goldsmith’s Star Trek theme which was a radical and much appreciated departure from the Desi-lu studios-style music of TOS. Other than that, the film is boooooooooring. I love Star Trek, but not enough to sit through this beast more than a few times ever.

9. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier
Why this movie gets hated on, I’ll never understand. I find it severely underrated. It’s one of the more comedic films in the series and is only rivaled by The Voyage Home.

10. Star Trek: Nemesis
I can understand why IGN would put Nemesis this low on the list. I personally don’t feel it should be this low, but I understand the hate it gets at times. It was made with a lower budget and one of the most endearing Star Trek characters of all time is killed off. I hated that as much as anyone else did, but you can’t tell me that the final scene when B4 starts whistling the tune signifying that pieces of Data’s memories remain inside him, and Picard walks away while his smile gets bigger and bigger as Goldsmith’s music swells, doesn’t make up for those two things. Plus, Tom Hardy as Picard’s “evil” twin/alternate version was absolutely brilliant. The theme of the movie, “the choices you make /environment in which you’re born can alter who you are” is, in my opinion, one of the best in the series and is executed perfectly.

11. Star Trek: Insurrection
Ok. People have officially lost their minds. I don’t think that Insurrection is the worst Trek movie, but it’s by far not the worst. The thing that really disappoints me is the fact that Insurrection truly does have everything that Star Trek is about. Exploration, humanity, emotion, action… It’s all present in Insurrection, yet most people don’t see it. Just more proof that people either don’t, or never understood Star Trek to begin with. The folks at IGN are apparently some of those people.

My personal list from greatest to “worst”:
1. Star Trek: First Contact
2. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
3. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
4. Star Trek: Insurrection
5. Star Trek V: The Final Frontier
6. Star Trek: Nemesis
7. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
8. Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
9. Star Trek: Generations
10. Star Trek (2009)
11. Star Trek: The Motion Picture

So where will the new Trek film fall on this list? I’m guessing right after the 2009 “reboot.” I’ve read some spoilers about film and I think that what they’ve done is an attempt to rehash the number 1 movie on IGN’s list (which is probably why IGN will give it a glowing review). I’m going to do my best to go into the movie with an open mind, but because of my (in a lot of ways) disappointment in J.J. Abrams and his writers’ grasp on the franchise, I can’t help but remain skeptical. My opinions of the new film will continue next week in part II!


Source: IGN

Star Wars Prequel Discontent?

IGN recently interviewed Lawrence Kasdan about his involvement in the new Star Wars trilogy. I'm excited that he's going to be a part of it, so I gladly read the interview. Over the course of the discussion, Mr. Kasdan had this to say:

I was pleased that there would be new ones, that there was a chance to capture some of the spirit of the original trilogy that I’d worked on. I thought there’s an audience out there -- my grandchildren, lots of original Star Wars people -- and there always will be. It’s only good that we try to do some more great ones.

Am I reading into things too much, or does it sound like Mr. Kasdan didn't like the prequels all that much?

A few days ago, Mark Hamill was being interviewed about his involvement with the new films. Among other things, he said this:

 "I said to George that I wanted to go back to the way it was, in the sense that ours was much more carefree and lighthearted and humorous – in my opinion, anyway....hope they find the right balance of CGI with practical effects. I love props, I love models, miniatures, matte paintings -- I'm sort of old school. I think if you go too far in the direction of CGI it winds up looking like just a giant a video game, and that's unfortunate. … If they listen to me at all, it'll be, 'Lighten up and go retro with the way it looks.'"

Now, I agree with his assessment about the differing tone of the two trilogies. But, now I can't help but wonder if the unstated part was, "and the tone of the originals was better."

Come on famous people who were heavily involved in the first Star Wars trilogy! Don't be haters!

What say y'all?

 - Nic

Posted on February 25, 2013 .

J.J. Abrams Is Directing Episode VII

And we have the first image from the first film in the Star Wars sequel triolgy....

 - Nic

Posted on January 24, 2013 .

So, If There Is Ever a TNG Reboot Or Something...

So my wife and I were watching Good Luck Charlie last night. One episode (we have several on the DVR) featured a relatively new recurring character: Victor. Victor is president of the A.V. club, a master at Mock U.N., and in general a likeable nerd/dork.

He's played by an actor named Kevin Covais. Some people remember him as a finalist on the fifth season of American Idol. I am not one of those people. I had no idea he was on American Idol until I looked at his Wikipedia article about 5 minutes ago. As far as I can recall, him showing up on Good Luck Charlie was the first time I saw him. But now I know. In addition to being on the Fox juggernaut, he's also had a few acting roles outside of GLC.

Ok, so here's a picture of him:

And here's a video clip of him:

Alright, folks. Tell me if you think I'm crazy. But if in 5-10 years the powers that be at Paramount and CBS decide to revisit Star Trek: The Next Generation with a reboot, or maybe let them make an appearance in the Abrams-timeline, I think we've found who should play Data.

I mean:

What do you say?

 - Nic

p.s. - While getting out my Wacom to do the rush photoshop job there, I thought to myself, "Yeah, I guess I need the Wacom for this. I mean, not that it really matters that I do a flawless job with it. But, then again, how impossible and yet cool would it be if this image caught on, and eventually it got the attention of Paramount and CBS, and the image and the fan enthusiasm got the momentum going, and eventually a return to TNG did happen? And it all got started here, with me going through this box, getting my Wacom, and photshopping a picture. And then The Inner Dorkdom would come to be known as the site that gets stuff done." And then that last sentence amused me, so I thought I'd share it with you.

Posted on January 21, 2013 .

Let's Talk Superman - Take 2

Alright, let's try this again.

Last night for some reason I was on a Superman kick, so my article today is going to be about the upcoming Superman movie, Man of Steel.

Before I begin, I think it best to let you know 'where I'm coming from.' I'm a big of the Superman. From childhood until only very recently he was far and away my favorite superhero. His time of complete supremacy came to an end when Disney and Marvel introduced me to a guy named Steve Rogers, a.k.a., Captain America. But even now he is still in my top two.

You also need to know where my appreciate of Kal-El comes from. I'm not The Inner Dorkdom's resident comic book expert (that's Todd, no question). In fact, growing up I had very few comics. It's not that I disliked them; I just didn't collect them. And unless my memory fails me, I've never owned a single Superman comic. So when I talk about Superman, I'm not approaching it from the perspective of someone who knows all about Kal-El's decades of comic book exploits. My knowledge and appreciation of Superman comes from film/television (the Superman films and the old Superfriends cartoon show most notably).

I tell you this because someone might read my about-to-be-shared-with-you concerns about Man of Steel and say, "Come on man. This kind of stuff has been happening in the comics for years. Get with the program. Get with post-modernism. This us just the superhero genre growing up." I'm just going to go ahead and head that off at the pass: Yeah, that's great, and very well may be true. But I don't read the comics. And if I did, and if what you say is true, I'd probably feel the same about them as I do about what it looks like Man of Steel will be.

Ok, now with that behind us, let's talk about Man of Steel. The truth is we don't know that much about it. A couple of trailers have come out recently that have shed a little light, but we'll talk more about them in a minute.

It's a reboot. The all-news cast includes greats like Kevin Costner and Russel Crowe, and relative newcomers like Britain's Henry Cavill (Kal-El himself). Hans "I write superhero themes that consist of 4 notes" Zimmer is doing the score, and has said he won't be using any of John Williams' themes. And given the screenwriter (David S. Goyer), director (Zack Snyder), and producer (Christopher Nolan), folks have inferred that the film will give us a dark, more gritty, 'realistic' take on the story of the last son of Krypton.

And this is what concerns me. I'm just not a fan of applying the "darker and edgier" trope (overused these days anyway, in my opinion) to Superman. I'm ok with a Batman movie being dark. It fits with his character. "Dark" is even in one of his nicknames. But Superman isn't Batman. The story of Batman is the story of a man overcoming a great personal tragedy and using his wits and fortune to fight for justice in a corrupt place, channeling the darkness within him into his Batman persona. The story of Superman is the story of an alien...from outer space...orphaned as a newborn, who finds he has extraordinary invulnerability, flight, and laser eyes...and chooses to use them to protect the people of his adoptive home, fighting for truth, justice, and freedom wearing a blue and red uniform with a cape and a big bold S on the front.

I know that the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy has done very well for DC. The films were praised critically, and made boatloads of money. But that doesn't mean that the same formula should be, or must be, followed for all superhero films in order for them to perform well. Marvel's recent films I believe prove this conclusively (The Avengers, anyone?). I fear that the powers that be in the DC world are afraid to embrace the 'lighter' side of their properties on film. Maybe The Green Lantern is part of the reason. Then again, maybe I'm completely off-base on why they would choose to make Superman gritty.

But, with the release of two trailers now, I think it's safe to say that's exactly what they've done.

Or it is? I think we need to throw out a little disclaimer here, to keep us from jumping to conclusions.

See, the thing about trailers is they can very easily be misleading, because they exist for marketing purposes, not artistic purposes. They are made in order to 'sell' the movie to us. That being the case, they aren't designed to purely reflect the final film. Sure, they use footage from it, and attempt to give us at least a sketch of what the film will be about. But accurately previewing the tone, pacing, style, or overall vibe of the film is not the top priority. Now, this is nothing new and earth-shattering. Many of us have been the victim of a misleading trailer, going into the theater expecting a film very different (sometimes better, sometimes worse) than the one we actually saw. And there's an entire genre of videos on YouTube that exploit their inherent potential unreliability.

So information gleaned from trailers is somewhat suspect. Always good to remember that. But, bearing that in mind, I think it's safe to say the new trailer does give the impression that Man of Steel is going to be the grittier, darker, edgier, and 'more realistic' take on Superman that we were expecting.

First, so we're all on the same page, here's the trailer:

So all the usual suspects for "darker and edgier" are all here. Enya-style, chorus-filled, this-is-stinking-serious-folks-so-take-it-serious music: check. Muted color palate with a hearty helping of blue tint: check. Quick fades to people suffering: check. Tripod-free shaking cinematography: check. Random shots of water over rocks: check. Superhero outfit that has been modified from the traditional outfit in such a way that it almost seems to be apologizing for its roots: check.

But let's also notice the story points the trailer seems to be sharing with us, because that's where I think we get the 'more realistic' take stuff.

We begin, despite the initial images of him as an adult splayed out in the water (somewhat Jesus-style), with Clark as a small child. He's talking to his mother, presumably about the hardship his super-hearing is giving him. The world is too big, the voices are too many. It's making him cry it's so bad. And so his adopted mother is apparently trying to teach him how to cope by focusing only on one voice.

See? He has super-hearing, and it's not just coolness and rainbows for him. If someone really had super-hearing, yeah it would have advantages, but it would also be a total burden, man. This is realism.

(If you'll allow me the opportunity to be especially dorky, I don't think this is actually more realistic. His super-hearing is apparently an innate ability all Kryptonians have, and is, barring hearing sounds on other planets despite a vacuum between them and Earth, just a souped up version of our hearing. So why would he need his mom to help him learn how to filter sounds? We humans have that ability on a smaller scale, and no one has to teach us. Our moms don't have to sit down with us when we're at the mall or supermarket or some other place with a lot of voices and sounds and help us learn how to focus on just one. We just do it. It is an innate ability, and seems to be a part of the "ability to hear" package. So it seems odd that if Superman's natural hearing ability is just a better version of ours, his sound sorting ability would be a thing that had to be learned, making it worse than ours.)

The second story point in the trailer takes us a few years further into Clark's life. He's in high school it looks like. A school but plummets into the water, and he saves everyone. His dad is concerned, because saving a bus full of children puts the secret of his abilities in danger. Should Clark have just let them all die? "Maybe," his dad says.

See, Clark's parents have to wrestle with the fact that a person with superhuman abilities isn't just going to be accepted and welcomed. People will be curious, fearful, jealous. They'll want to know why he can do those things. They don't want that for their son, so they wrestle with whether or not he should use his powers. This also is realism man.

The third clear story point (as the second half of the trailer includes tiny snippets of all sorts of action-filled scenes) is an extension of the second. Clark, apparently in military custody, is telling someone that his dad (presumably Pa Kent) thought that if the world knew who he was, it would reject him. He believed people weren't ready for him.

See, this is realism man. An alien with superpowers shows up on Earth, puts on a suit and starts flying around fighting evil, it doesn't matter that he's fighting evil. That's going to freak people out. They're not going to respond with gasps of joy, thunderous applause, and looks of awe, admiration, and gratitude. He won't be man of the year. He'll be public enemy number one.

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not against realism completely. I don't even know how one could be, unless you're all into strange French cinema. You need some realism. This is not a matter of absolutes. It's a matter of balance. And while it is true in many types of stories, it is perhaps especially true that in superhero stories you're always having to find that good, balanced amount of realism. You need to have some minimum amount, so that characters behave in believable ways and plots feel cohesive and believable. But if you have too much realism then, well, Superman can't fly (no dense molecules and amazing strength because the gravity of his star...not even his own planet...was higher, no zero point energy, no telekinesis).

So my concern isn't that there might be some realism in a Superman story. My concern stems from the fact that, at least these days, realism seems always to be of the 'dark and edgy' variety. It's as though in many people's minds, "realism," inherently includes, "dark and edgy." Just note the three examples from this trailer: A boy crying because he hears a bunch of stuff a lot, a parent who tells his young son that maybe he should have let a bus full of children, his own peers, die, and a person trying to do good bound with chains.

So if Man of Steel is going to give us a more realistic take on Superman (a.k.a. a flying space alien in a tight suit who fights crime), that means it's probably also going to present that realism in a dark, gritty, edgy way. In a way that (maybe until the end of the film) lacks any vibe of optimism. That is, it won't be like, "Life is rough but then comes Superman to give us all hope and help! Hooray!" It'll be, "Life stinks, even for one trying to be a hero."

Again, don't misunderstand. I'm not anti such ideas being explored. When done so in a thoughtful and skilled way the results can be thought-provoking and emotionally moving. But, and this is just personal preference, I don't want to see them explored in Superman. My reasoning is simple: because the character for so long has been the one voice of optimism when everyone else in the room was being pessimistic. To fight the dark, Bruce Wayne embraces the dark. To fight the dark, Kal-El stands in the light. To take that character and give him the dark treatment, and to do so in the name of realism, I just don't think it fits.

This is also not to say that I doubt that the film will be executed well. Zack Synder is a skilled director. David Goyer is a good writer. The cast members whose work I'm familiar with are all talented actors and actresses. And I suspect the editing team, sound designers, etc. will do well with their unsung but oh so important contributions.

My suspicion is that I'll roll away from the film thinking, "That was a good film. But it didn't feel right. It didn't feel like Superman."

Hans Zimmer's score in general, and the lack of the classic themes in particular, I think will be a major contributing factor. It's not that I hate Zimmer. He's a better composer than I, no question. But I'm typically not impressed with his scores. They feel less like "underscore" to me and more like "background music." That's not my attempt at being a musical elitist or anything. I'm not trying to make any kind of normative (look it up) statement. What I'm trying to articulate is just a difference in style. When I talk of, "underscore," I'm thinking of music that complements the on-screen action, but also stands up well on its own. When I talk of, "background music," I'm thinking of music that complements the on-screen action, but isn't the sort that stands up on its own. That doesn't make it inferior, it just makes it different. It's a different style, one that I personally don't enjoy as much, especially in genre films.

And of course there's the matter of themes. As I've already mentioned twice now, the indication is John Williams' themes will not be used. I find that disappointing, because...

Now that's what I'm talking about! That's how I personally want it done.

Obviously I'm not alone in that sentiment. But on the other hand there are many folks who feel just the opposite. Some people may want to chalk the difference up to a generational thing (the old folks who grew up on Williams want his themes, whereas the young whipper-snappers who grew up with this modern trend in film scores want Zimmer). Some may think it's just a fanboy thing (some folks love Williams, and others, like one person whose comment I saw on YouTube want Zimmer, because "he's f-ing Hans Zimmer").

Those explanations account for some of the differences, sure. But I think the most real, the most artistically relevant reason, is one of tone. Someone I know referred to the Williams themes as "cheesy," and not suited to Man of Steel. One person on YouTube said the Williams music won't fit "with the tone and type of superman movie" that Man of Steel will be.

Allow me to be the old fogey: If that's true, it's because they aren't trying to make a Superman movie that is positive, optimistic, hopeful, inspiring, and fun. Because Williams' music fits perfectly with that type of film.

Alright, well, I guess I'll leave it there for now. I'm sure there'll be much more Superman discussion in the weeks and months to come.

Until later, I am,

 - Nic

Posted on January 18, 2013 .

Let's Talk Superman

For some reason I seem to be on a Superman kick this evening, so my article today is going to be about the upcoming Superman movie, Man of Steel.

Before I begin, I think it best to let you know 'where I'm coming from.' I'm a big of the Superman. From childhood until only very recently he was far and away my favorite superhero. His time of complete supremacy came to an end when Disney and Marvel introduced me to a guy named Steve Rogers, a.k.a., Captain America. But even now he is still in my top two.

You also need to know where my appreciate of Kal-El comes from. I'm not The Inner Dorkdom's resident comic book expert (that's Todd, no question). In fact, growing up I had very few comics. It's not that I disliked them; I just didn't collect them. And unless my memory fails me, I've never owned a single Superman comic. So when I talk about Superman, I'm not approaching it from the perspective of someone who knows all about Kal-El's decades of comic book exploits. My knowledge and appreciation of Superman comes from film/television (the Superman films and the old Superfriends cartoon show most notably).

I tell you this because someone might read my about-to-be-shared-with-you concerns about Man of Steel and say, "Come on man. This kind of stuff has been happening in the comics for years. Get with the program. Get with post-modernism. This us just the superhero genre growing up." I'm just going to go ahead and head that off at the pass: Yeah, that's great, and very well may be true. But I don't read the comics. And if I did, and if what you say is true, I'd probably feel the same about them as I do about what it looks like Man of Steel will be.

Ok, now with that behind us, let's talk about Man of Steel. The truth is we don't know that much about it. A couple of trailers have come out recently that have shed a little light, but we'll talk more about them in a minute.

It's a reboot. The all-news cast includes greats like Kevin Costner and Russel Crowe, and relative newcomers like Britain's Henry Cavill (Kal-El himself). Hans "I write superhero themes that consist of 4 notes" Zimmer is doing the score, and has said he won't be using any of John Williams' themes. And given the screenwriter (David S. Goyer), director (Zack Snyder), and producer (Christopher Nolan), folks have inferred that the film will give us a dark, more gritty, 'realistic' take on the story of the last son of Krypton.

And this is what concerns me. I'm just not a fan of applying the "darker and edgier" trope (overused these days anyway, in my opinion) to Superman. I'm ok with a Batman movie being dark. It fits with his character. "Dark" is even in one of his nicknames. But Superman isn't Batman. The story of Batman is the story of a man overcoming a great personal tragedy and using his wits and fortune to fight for justice in a corrupt place, channeling the darkness within him into his Batman persona. The story of Superman is the story of an alien...from outerspace...orphaned as a newborn, who finds he has extraordinary invulnerability, flight, and laser eyes...and chooses to use them to protect the people of his adoptive home, fighting for truth, justice, and freedom wearing a blue and red uniform with a cape and a big bold S on the front.

I know that the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy has done very well for DC. The films were praised critically, and made boatloads of money. But that doesn't mean that the same formula should be, or must be, followed for all superhero films in order for them to perform well. Marvel's recent films I believe prove this conclusively (The Avengers, anyone?). I fear that the powers that be in the DC world are afraid to embrace the 'lighter' side of their properties on film. Maybe The Green Lantern is part of the reason. Then again, maybe I'm completely off-base on why they would choose to make Superman gritty.

But, with the release of two trailers now, I think it's safe to say that's exactly what they've done.

Or it is? I think we need to throw out a little disclaimer here, to keep us from jumping to conclusions.

See, the thing about trailers is they can very easily be misleading, because they exist for marketing purposes, not artistic purposes. They are made in order to 'sell' the movie to us. That being the case, they aren't designed to purely reflect the final film. Sure, they use footage from it, and attempt to give us at least a sketch of what the film will be about. But accurately previewing the tone, pacing, style, or overall vibe of the film is not the top priority. Now, this is nothing new and earth-shattering. Many of us have been the victim of a misleading trailer, going into the theater expecting a film very different (sometimes better, sometimes worse) than the one we actually saw. And there's an entire genre of videos on YouTube that exploit their inherent potential unreliability.

Ok, so here's the truth. I started looking for the videos to link to in that last sentence, and I ended up spending over an hour looking at stuff on YouTube. It's late now, as well as almost the end of the day. So I'm just going to try this again tomorrow.

In the meantime, I also found this, and this funny. Spoiler alert.

Suffering from ADD apparently, I am,

 - Nic

p.s. - This is what I was talking about.


Posted on January 18, 2013 .

Josh's Inner Dorkdom Journal: Episode 6

Not a whole lot happened this week/weekend, but I’ll give a little rundown of what did.

I bought a Kindle Fire HD. After having a normal Kindle 3G Keyboard for a while and getting some time with both my sister’s and Todd’s, I decided to go through with an upgrade. So far, I really dig it. The main thing I like is the fact that my Amazon account is completely tied to everything on the Kindle. Now, I can read my books, watch movies, download apps and buy nearly everything my heart desires all from 1 portable device. Sure, I had my laptop, but my laptop is quite big. Rather than go with portability, I went with functionality, so the laptop is only good if you wanna lug a briefcase around all the time. Also, Todd sold me on Amazon Prime. That’s the Amazon who has accepted the Matrix of Leadership, put it into its chest and commands the Autobot legion.
Or, it’s an $80 per year service in which you get free, 2-day shipping on nearly everything from I just started back to school and bought my textbooks from there. Since I get free shipping on all those books (totaling nearly $300), Prime has already paid for itself. Quite a deal, really.

Saw Texas Chainsaw this weekend (Saw Texas Chainsaw? Weird wording). T’was a bloody mess… and not in a good, horror sort of way. This movie should be avoided unless you REALLY have to see every film starring the villainous Leatherface. The movie claims to be a true sequel to the Tobe Hooper directed, original film of the 70s, but it doesn’t really feel like it. The setup for the movie (the family from the 1 st film are confronted by the police following the events of said film) is okay, but I remember when another director (Rob Zombie) did the same sort of thing, only he pulled it off waaaaaaaaay better (The Devil’s Rejects).

In short: The movie’s not scary, nor does it offer the same kind of look into the disturbed, deranged criminal mind as the original did so well over 30 years ago. Instead, it just comes off as another lackluster movie made to cash in on the whole 3D thing.

That’s about all I’ve got for now, but I’ve got a few article ideas I’m working on. Speaking of which: I know last week I promised an article titled, “What IS Core Gaming?,” but I’m just not ready to put it out yet. It’s done, but it’s in a very rough form and needs a lot of polishing. In the meantime, I’ll release a couple of other articles, hopefully, over the next few days.

Posted on January 16, 2013 .

Nic's News for Today

The sinus bug has attacked again, so I'm not feeling great. But nonetheless, here goes.

1. On Scribblenauts Unlimited for the Wii U, I was able, through the power of the object creator, to bring together my dream team of fictional heroes: Obi-wan, Captain America, Optimus Prime, Voltron, Indiana Jones, K.I.T.T., Mario, and Link (plus a flying DeLorean for Maxwell). I still need to add a few more. But it got me thinking, who would be in your dream team?

2. The new Die Hard movie is rated R. This is as many people think it should be.

3. IGN has a great article up on upcoming 3DS games. If you have the system, or are thinking of getting it, check it out.

4. It looks like Ted is going to meet his future wife this year. But we shall see.

5. Apparently MySpace is back with an all of new iteration. Who knew?

6. TRON: Uprising needs more viewers. If you have Disney XD, watch it. From the few episodes I've seen (on their website or the plain old Disney Channel), it's worth your time.

That's all for me for the evening. Until next time, sniffling, I am,

- Nic


Posted on January 15, 2013 .

New Star Wars Film News - Samurai Jedi

So today I was going to write a little article about different video game control schemes. But then I found myself busy with other things throughout the day, and now it's just too late in the evening.

So instead, I'll simply post this:

Today was the day we got our first information about a Star Wars film that won't be a part of the numbered saga. IGN is reporting (along with others, perhaps) that Zach Snyder of 300 and The Watchmen fame is working on a Seven Samurai inspired Star Wars film (but not Episode IV). It will be set post-RotJ, and might even occur during the events of the Sequel Trilogy.

This certainly is an exciting time to be a Star Wars fan.

Wondering what the future holds as a I lay my head on my pillow, I am,

 - Nic

Posted on January 14, 2013 .

The Razzies....oy

File this under "Why we created The Inner Dorkdom."

Many of you are no doubt familiar with the Razzies. If not, then all you need to know for the purposes of this article is that they are a group of awards given to ostensibly the "worst" in film and within a given year. So, you might say, the opposite of the Oscars. Tuesday the Razzie nominees for 2012 were revealed. As I read about the announcement on IGN, I felt compelled to share with you these two observations.

1. I just don't get the idea of the Razzies. I mean, I understand the concept. But I don't understand the point. Taking pleasure in demeaning the work of others? Don't get me wrong, people are entitled to their likes and dislikes (ID Primary Directive #3). And they are entitled to express their dislikes. But being all snarky about it, acting like what the voters don't like is indeed the worst (as though there is some objective standard with art), and taking the effort (minimal as it may be) to have awards for them... Well, it's like Jetfire said: "Who wants to live a life filled with hate?"

2. If you're nevertheless going to have awards for the "worst," why don't you at least try to seriously follow through with it.

This year Breaking Dawn Pt 2 has more nominations (11) than any other film. It's been nominated for worst film, worst director, wost actress, worst actor, worst supporting actress, worst supporting actor, worst ensemble, worst screenplay, worst remake rip-off or sequel, worst screen couple, worst screen couple (yes, it has two nominations in the same category). There are only 10 categories in the Razzies. Now, I've actually seen Breaking Dawn Pt 2. It isn't my favorite film ever. But it is a very competent movie. People may not care for the story. Love, teenagers, and vampires may not be something some people want to see mixed. That's their prerogative. But if you do like such things, and especially if you care about the characters of the Twilight series, I can assure you this film was made well enough to elicit all the emotions the production crew intended. I saw it happen with my own eyes.

Yet it has been nominated for all those Razzies. I'm sorry, but if there were such a thing as an objectively worst movie, Breaking Dawn Pt 2 wouldn't be it for 2012. Same can be said for the film's actors, actresses, and their chemistry. So why all the nominations? Of course I can't be certain about how these decisions or made, but it certainly gives off the impression, to me anyway, that often times it boils down to the same old chestnut: it's cool to hate on certain things.

In an attempt to explore this notion, I took a look at the past nominees and winners of the worst film of the year. Waterworld was nominated in 1995. If you recall, that's the year it started to become cool to hate on Kevin Costner. Two years later the movement was in full swing, and lo and behold The Postman won worst picture that year. The three most recent Twilight films were each nominated, and yet the first one, which even some Twilight fans believe had tons of room for improvement, wasn't. (Did it just take some time for Twilight hate to catch on, or have the films really gotten progressively worse?) Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen won in 2009, and Transformers: Dark of the Moon was nominated in 2011, and of course we know how cool it is to hate on Michael Bay. And then there's this man named George Lucas, who, I think, might also be on the "cool to hate" list. Two of the three Star Wars prequels were nominated (the fact that Episode III wasn't suggests there must be some bare minimum standard of integrity).

Looking at the Worst Prequel, Sequel, Remake, or Rip-off category, we find that Kingdom of the Crystal Skull won in 2008, beating out another Lucasfilm production that was also nominated, that being The Clone Wars film. The Santa Clause 3 was nominated in 2006, around the time it was cool to hate on Tim Allen. And, yes, all Twilight sequels have been nominated.

A few more quick notes. In directors, Costner was nominated for Waterworld and won for The Postman, Lucas was nominated in both 1999 (Ep 1) and 2002 (Ep 2), M. Night Shyamalan won in 2006 for Lady In the Water (beating out Uwe Boll), and Michael Bay won for Revenge of the Fallen and was nominated for Dark of the Moon. In screenplays, The Postman won in 1997, and Lucas was nominated for worst screenplay with Ep I, and won (along with Jonathan Hales) for Ep II. What about worst actor? Shocker, Costner was nominated for Waterworld and won for The Postman. And last but not least, in worst film score, which was discontinued after 1985, the winner that final year was Vince DiCola. That's just stupid.

Again, I can't be certain about why some films get nominated or win. But when Crystal Skull beats out Disaster Movie, or The Postman beats Anaconda, or Kevin Costner beats out Joel Schumacher, one can't help but be dubious.

Ah well, the hates can have their fun getting together and hating. Meanwhile, we'll continue to spotlight what we enjoy, as well as pointing out the silliness of the hater.

Until next time, I remain,

 - Nic

p.s. - They also hated Howard the Duck.

Posted on January 9, 2013 .

I'm Telling You, It's Kahn

IGN has an interview up today with Bryan Burk, a producer on the new Star Trek film.

There are at least two moments in the interview that further make me think the villain in this second alternate-timeline Trek film is in fact Kahn.

Check out the interview and tell us what you think:

 - Nic

Posted on January 8, 2013 .

Josh's Inner Dorkdom Journal: Episode 1

With this article/journal, I’ll be giving my opinions on current things that I’m digging on or excited about, as opposed to doing full-blown reviews (probably save those for later). I don’t know how often this thing will get updated, but I hope that a new episode will be available every Monday. Think of these as sort of “Facebook-style status updates about dorky stuff.”

1. Mass Effect 2 Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I purchased a crapload of games on Steam for PC because of their “flash sales.” These sales would pop up every day for 4 days, usually only lasting for about 5 hours. Over that weekend, I downloaded approx. 8 games for less than the price of a full retail title. Among the games I bought were: Portal 1&2, Doom 3: BFG Edition, Trine 1&2 and Mass Effect 2. Without a doubt, Portal 2 was one of the best gaming experiences I’ve had in a long time, but as of right now, I’m REALLY digging on ME2. Every single mission in that game is like playing a fully fleshed out episode of Star Trek!

2. The Walking Dead Who’s NOT digging on The Walking Dead? Mid-season finale was Sunday… very sad to have to wait 2 months to see the rest.

3. Mortal Kombat I know I said in my Tekken Tag 2 vs. DOA5 opinion piece that I was going to Tekken, but I realized shortly after that article that I will never be on the level I want. People have been playing Tekken for over 10 years and the games have used pretty much the same systems for all games, so I decided to stick with Kombat. I’m already pretty decent at the game, so why not just put my efforts into new characters and learn more of the cast? My mains in the game have been Kitana and Sub-Zero for quite some time, but I decided to put some time into playing Kabal, Sonya, Cyrax, Raiden and Smoke. Thinking about going to Final Round in Atlanta again this year, but probably won’t unless my training partners can attend as well. Watched the NEC13 MK9 tournament this past weekend. Congrats to Obs/EMP REO for winning in not only MK9, but MK2 and UMK3 as well. My favorite MK player and fellow Sub-Zero main, Tom Brady, also made an extraordinary showing.

4. The Amazing Spider-Man and The Expendables 2 Watched these on Blu-Ray this weekend, Spider-Man for the 2 nd time. Man, Spider-Man was excellent – made me tear up quite a bit due to its awesomeness. That’s right, folks. Spider-Man made me cry like a woman. Shut up. The Expendables 2 was… ok. In my opinion, it’s not as good as the first film from a plot standpoint, but it was more humorous. It had some super corny dialogue. Stallone’s speech’s about not getting close to people made me kinda cringe at the awfulness. Ah-nold and Chuck Norris’ cameos were awesome! I was really surprised that Van-Damme played a villain, though.

5. The Wii-U This here is a console that I still don’t know what to think about. I’ll probably get one this summer so I can play Nintendo franchises in glorious HD quality, but what the system will mean to me beyond that remains to be seen. As it stands now, there’s no reason for me to rush out and buy the system. There are no launch games that interest me aside from New Super Mario Bros. and there have been no announcements for future titles that make me feel like I have to rush right out and buy it. We’ll see.

All for now.
Posted on December 4, 2012 .

The Avengers Impressions

Tomorrow (Sept 25th), The Avengers arrives on Blu-ray to the delight of  millions of people. In light of this...and in light of the fact that we never did one...I thought now would be a great time to offer my informal review/impressions of the wildly successful superhero ensemble movie directed by TV's Joss Whedon.

Warning: Past this point there be spoilers.

Of all the films I saw this summer, all of them were enjoyable, quality entertainment. And given that they were so different from each other in terms of story, tone, and style, it's not really possible to compare them. But, I can say that out of all of them, I enjoyed The Avengers the most. Here's why.

The Fun
I've always been a fan of movies and TV shows that have a sense of fun about them. Perhaps it's because I cut my media watching teeth (that's a weird image, if you think about it) on properties like Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Back to the Future. While each of those had their heavy moments, they also had a general air of fun about them. Old Jedi masters hitting droids with sticks, archeologists cracking wise while cracking whip, and time-traveling teenage guys kissing their teenage moms without vomiting. I've noticed that this sense of fun often comes at the expense of some realism. Just think about it. Were these characters really in these situations, their more realistic responses would probably be less fun to watch (indeed, if someone really traveled through time and kissed his mom, would he not at least get sick to his stomach if not full on ralph right there).

This summer we had two major superhero movies (sorry Spiderman, you're too soon of a reboot in my eyes). Both I found to be excellent and enjoyable, but only one I found to have that sense of fun. The other, while a fine film, is not a motion picture I would describe as "fun." ("It was such a fun moment when Bane was beating the mess out of Batman in the sewer. And the part when the military wouldn't let Blake save those kids...awesome!" Yeah, that doesn't sound right.) And note that in describing it people often talk about its sense of realism.

There is a time for everything. I'm glad TDKR is the film that it is. The 'realistic' take on Batman has made for a great trilogy of films. But I'm also very glad that Marvel continues to imbue its films with a sense of fun.

Much of the credit for the fun in The Avengers in particular is due to writer/director Joss Whedon. While he has been known to avoid fun like the plague at times (the 6th season of Buffy, the last two seasons of Angel, etc.), by in large he's a guy who knows how, and is inclined, to include levity into what he produces. Fortunately, he was true to form with this film. From dialogue (his responsibility as a writer), to pacing and delivery (his responsibility as a director), The Avengers is a movie that will make you smile.

Of course, a lot of credit must also go to the actors (and the CG artists for The Hulk). The script gives each one of our leads a chance to shine in the fun department, but it is up to the actors and actresses to realize that potential. And they deliver in spades. From deadpan moments ("He's adopted"), to subtle ones (Steve slipping Fury a ten), to more direct ones ("Doth mother know you weareth her drapes?"), to slapstick (The Hulk), it all works wonderfully.

After the film premiered and from its opening weekend made insane amounts of money, The Avengers related images started popping on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc. One of my favorites was of the four principle actors (Downey Jr., Evans, Hemsworth, and Ruffalo) pointing intimidatingly at the camera. The fan-added caption was, "Your move, Batman." You know, why am I describing it to you? This is the stinking Internet. Here's the picture.

It made me smile that a fun movie was doing so well, and that there were others out there who felt the same. (I'm assuming people liked that photo for that reason. But I guess it could be that they were fueled by Batman or DC hate.)

The Story
Sometime ago there was a 'meme' going around where you take film and succinctly and without passion describe its plot. I think it was popular because even great films sound incredibly boring and/or stupid when described that way. ("A farm boy joins forces with an old man, a smuggler, and his large dog in order to destroy a large weapon." Or take the sequel: "A farm boy turned war hero unwittingly kisses his sister, who later kisses a smuggler. The boy then has a fight with his dad." Or take the third installment: "Gold bikini." Ok, that last one still sounds fun to a lot of folks).

Let's do that with The Avengers:
A group of people (a strong man, a rich guy with a robot suit, a long-haired alien, an angry man, a bow hunter, and a spy) working for the government must stop arguing and come together to stop the long-haired alien's adopted brother from using a stolen block to destroy a city and maybe conquer Earth with a borrowed army of ugly monster aliens.

Sounds kind of silly, doesn't it? Boy, that was fun.

But I think the 'meme' also points out something very interesting about the films/shows/novels that we enjoy. While the general story certainly matters, the magic is usually found in the details—characters, dialogue, nuances in plot, pacing, visual and audio design (except in novels of course). The Avengers typifies this very well. It's the interactions between characters, the memorable bits of dialogue, the iconic design of our heroes, the stirring music of Alan Silvestri, the individual journeys of the characters, etc. that make all the difference.

A little bit on that last point. Most of the main characters have their own mini-growth arcs. Steve Rogers is assimilating into the 21st century. Tony Stark has to conquer his ego and learn how to work well with others. Bruce Banner has to demonstrate to himself that he really can control the Hulk. Black Widow has to let go of the guilt of her past. Hawkeye has to stop being controlled by Loki (ok, that one is more of a major plot point). Nick Fury has to finally and fully put his faith where his heart knows he should (i.e., The Avengers) regardless of personal consequences. And that man over there has to beat his Galaga addiction. It's those things that take what is otherwise a fairly straightforward story into something more engaging.

The Style
I think in many of my reviews, I'll have a section like this where I give my take on some of the nuts and bolts features of any film.

-  Story: Already talked about it.
-  Dialogue: On the whole, very good I felt. All the characters were given their proper 'voice,' and the words flow naturally most of the time.
-  Acting: Everyone nailed it.
-  Editing and Pacing: Everything was good here, I thought. It wasn't rushed, nor did it drag anywhere for me. The action scenes were kinetic, but not spastic. The 'tender' moments were given the screen time they needed.
-  Music: I'm a huge Alan Silvestri fan. I think he's one of the best composers working today. Though this wasn't my favorite score of his (the BTTF scores still hold that spot), I thought it was good. There weren't any cues that jumped out at me during the initial viewing (the way, say, The Asteroid Field did in ESB), but the main theme is very nice. It's simple, especially in comparison to the great movies themes of the past, but it is effective. You just can't beat a good french horn lead.
-  3D: This was a post-production 3D conversion, rather than being shot in 3D (like TRON: Legacy). Conversions are a mixed bag. One might even call them a box of chocolates. You know....cause you never...know.....what you're gonna get. Ahem, anyway, converting a 2D movie to a 3D movie is a little bit of science and a whole lot of art. It takes talented people to do such work. I've been fortunate, in that I've seen four 2D to 3D converted films (The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, The Phantom Menace, and The Avengers), and they've all been done well. I saw The Avengers in IMAX 3D, so I had a very good look at it. There were a few places where I could tell it was a conversion (at the time I only suspected it, as I did not then know whether it was shot in 3D or converted). But on the whole, it was very well done. My wife is afraid of heights, and the fight on the carrier with Iron Man, Cap, and some goons made her very uncomfortable. So...mission accomplished I guess.

What I Didn't Like
This is The Inner Dorkdom, where we like things. But that doesn't mean we think everything we like is perfect. There were a few things about the film I either didn't like, or thought could have been done in a way that would have been more least for me.

I start with the villains. Loki already had a film wherein he was introduced and explored. As a result, although there are a few gaps, we as an audience already understand his motivations pretty well. (Although I was a bit surprised by the menacing off-kilter demeanor he shows here, as it was a change from the more cool and calculating vibe he gave in Thor.) So I'm not talking so much about him as I am the other villains. The vulturri, or the hibachi, or the cardigans, or whatever they were called. We know little about them, other than they want the Tesseract, and are willing to make a deal with Loki to get it. (Incidentally, here's a bit of 'fridge logic' I had: Ok, so Loki comes through a wormhole to Earth to get the Tesseract. The impression I got was that the wormhole was created by the Tesseract. So, why couldn't the krelshie come through and get it themselves? Why did they need Loki to do it? Maybe I just missed it.) We figure these aliens are bad news, as they support Loki's desire to conquer Earth. But beyond that, they are a total stinkin' mystery. The teaser at the end of the film suggests they'll get their exposition in the next Avengers film. But I wonder if a bit more of that in this film would have made it that much more satisfying.

Second, the "let's bicker in the woods" scene. Don't get me wrong, I found the scene enjoyable, and it setup the idea that these heroes won't just come together and be like all BFFs and stuff. But the logic of it seemed a bit strained to me. Why would Stark go after Thor? According to him he, unlike everyone else, did his homework. You'd think that would include at least some info on Thor. So why would he fight him, especially if that meant leaving Loki unguarded? On my second viewing I noticed Stark's justification: it doesn't matter if Thor is good, if he takes Loki there's no clue where the Tesseract is. No offense to anyone, but this seems a bit weak to me. Why would Stark think Thor would just take Loki and leave the people of Earth in the lurch? In his earlier time on Earth, the Norse god demonstrated a strong concern for Earthlings, so for him to take Loki and leave wouldn't make sense. But on a positive note, I can't help but wonder if this scene was also setting up certain ways these three can work together, ways that aren't paid off in this film but might in future installments (Thor can charge up Tony's suit, Thor's hammer + Cap's shield = impressive shockblast).

Third, the "let's all bicker on the boat" scene. Don't get me wrong, I understand the need for the scene. And by in large I thought it was pretty good. Steve would be annoyed by Tony's showboating attitude. Tony would be annoyed by Steve's boy scout attitude. Bruce would be on edge about the whole 'you made a cage for me' thing. Nick would be flustered at these guys attributing to him bad motives and/or the worse judgment in the history of mankind, apparently. But there were a couple of moments where it felt a little forced to me. The standout one for me was when Thor, who'd been pretty level headed up until this point, chimed in with something to the effect of, "You humans are so puny." Whaa? Where'd that come from?

Fourth, the politics of the whole "we were making weapons with the Tesseract" subplot. I thought the buildup, i.e., the hinting that S.H.I.E.L.D. was up to something fishy, could have been executed better. In particular, it felt a bit forced and stumbling. For example, why would Banner have thought Loki's "a warm light" comment was meant for Stark? I'll grant that Banner could have surmised that Loki had learned some things about S.H.I.E.L.D. activity, like them trying to use the Tesseract to make clean energy, from Hawkeye and Selvig. Banner might even have speculated that they told him that Stark, who wasn't working with them, was involved in clean energy research. But why would Banner think that Loki was trying to tell Stark something? That is, unless it was to get him to turn on S.H.I.E.L.D., in which case he'd clearly be baiting him (which appears to be exactly what he was doing) and they'd be wise not to bite. Then, aside from the buildup, there's the unanimity of their opposition to S.H.I.E.L.D.'s research, and the way they express it. Steve lived before the atom bomb, so I don't see it as a foregone conclusion that he'd be on the anti-nuke train that's popular in some circles in 2012. Tony having a problem with it is totally believable and expected, but the way he objected didn't add up. He said sarcastically that the whole 'have weapons of mass destruction as a form of deterrent' thing has worked out so well in the past. Granted it hasn't been absolutely flawless...but, yeah Mr. Stark, it actually has worked well in the past. The Cold War ended without a single nuclear strike. I would think that a guy whose business used to be weapons would know that. Again, I'm not saying he'd be in favor of what S.H.I.E.L.D. had done. It just seems to me he'd have a better objection. And finally, after the ambush on the carrier, when Steve is trying to 'rally the troops,' he comments that Nick Fury has the same blood on his hands that Loki does. Now, I'm no expert on Captain Steve Rogers. But it seems to me that a man from the 1940's wouldn't look at things that way. Nick Fury had not killed those 80 people in two days, Loki had. Certainly Fury's actions were a link in the chain of events they found themselves in, but he didn't kill those people. Back in Steve's day personal individual responsibility was something people emphasized. And they weren't post-modern in their thinking either. So although I can definitely see Steve acknowledging that Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D.'s actions contributed to the choices Loki had made, I can't see him blaming Loki's atrocities on anyone else but Loki.

And lastly, there's the matter of Bruce's inconsistent, in my view, ability to control The Hulk. From the first time we see him, the focus is on not making him angry (we wouldn't like him if he were angry). Folks seem to be preoccupied with walking that fine line with him. And he doesn't shy away from reminding us how dangerous and unpredictable "the other guy" can be. Then the attack on the carrier goes down, and sure enough, Dr. Banner loses it and the Hulk nearly kills Black Widow. Then, as the battle in New York starts up, suddenly all that is different. Bruce tells them that his secret is that he's always angry, and then, at will, transforms into the Hulk and takes orders from Cap just like the rest of them. In the words of the great philosopher Goofy, "som'th'n wrong here." It looks to me like there's a missing step in there. Perhaps the answer would have been found in a scene that ended up on the cutting room floor.

But these things weren't enough to in any way ruin the movie for me. As I say, it was my favorite film of the summer, and I look forward to more movies set in the Marvel universe.

Feel free to comment!

 - Nic


Posted on September 24, 2012 .

Avengers Re-Assemble!

Just in case you didn't know, The Avengers is returning to theaters this Labor Day weekend. We're definitely going to try and see it again.

Ok...that's all I got.

 - Nic

Posted on August 30, 2012 .