Sunday, February 23, 2014

My Hero - R2-D2

Some people watch the Star Wars movies and are impressed with Han Solo's coolness.  Others are struck by the heroism of Luke's journey from farm boy to Jedi knight.  Still others can't think of anything other than Princess Leia in a metal bikini.  (And that is pretty nice...)  But for my money, the biggest hero in the Star Wars saga is R2-D2.  Lemmie tell you why.

When you look past the lightsabers and laser blasts, it's clear that the entire story hinges on R2.  He is constantly pulling the good guys' fat outta the fire.  From the moment he pops up in Phantom Menace, saving Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan's ship from being blown to bits to zipping Luke's lightsaber to him moments before he's pushed into the Sarlaac pit, R2 is constantly making the difference that saves everyone's asses.  He keeps Padme from being incinerated in the droid factory.  He throws down with a pair of super battle droids and hands their asses to them.  

It's not just the ass kicking that puts R2 over the top.  He's constantly listening to Luke complain about being stuck on a muddy planet.  He's an out-of-the-box thinker, as he proved when he fixed the Millenium Falcon's hyperdrive.  He's also the only character in the whole saga who actually talks in believable dialogue.   It's just that they have to bleep it all out.  The pottymouth.  

Plus, for all the powers the Jedi possess, none of them can fly.  R2 can.  And he always has the right tool for the job.  He's like a trash can-shaped boy scout who's always prepared for everything.  On top of that, you can use him as a movie projector if you need one.  And he's indestructible.  You can blast him with a blaster, blow him to bits with a TIE Fighter, but give him a few new parts and shine him up, and he's as good as new.  
You can argue about the story being about the Skywalkers, or that Han Solo is the bad ass of all bad asses.  You can talk about the mythic elements of Darth Vader's story.  But there's no way you can argue or no amount of money you can offer that would convince me that R2 is the real hero in the Star Wars movies.  Without him, the those other "heroes" would be dead.

Friday, February 21, 2014

6 Reason Why Robocop 2014 is a Robocrock

I know I'm about a week late on this, but I just got out of the Robocop remake, and I was not impressed.  Sure, there was some cool stuff in it.  Sure, it had a pretty great cast.  Sure, there are some really pretty ladies.  But Robocop pretty much botches things in every way possible.

It's really hard to talk about a movie like Robocop without comparing it to its previous incarnation, but that's exactly what I'mma try to do.  Instead of whining about Robocop being a sucky movie because it's not exactly like the original in every detail, I'mma talk about how Robocop 2014 fails as a movie all on its own.  Here are six reasons why Robocop 2014 doesn't cut the mustard.  (There may be some spoilers.  You've been warned.):

  1. The story strips the protagonist of his power:  This story pretends to be about a man losing his humanity, and yet he's not responsible for his own victory.  Murphy (played by Joel Kinnaman) is blown to bits and left a fragment of man stuck inside a machine.  He fights to retain his humanity until Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman) jacks with his hormones and basically removes his emotions.  Murphy becomes a feelingless, crime-fighting machine until Norton gives him back control over his emotions.  So, Murphy has his victory, but it's not one that he's earned and that weakens the story.
  2. There's too little Robocop ass-kicking: There's a lot of screen time taken up by Murphy trying to come to grips with what he is.  There's more time taken up by Murphy's wife (Abbie Cornish) trying to get in to see him.  So, unfortunately, there's not enough time spent on Robocop kicking bad guy ass.  There's a cool scene of Murphy shooting up a warehouse full of robots and a cool scene where he shoots up a warehouse full of drug dealers.  There's a bitchin' sequence where he battles multiple ED-209 (those big, Star Wars Chicken Walker-lookin' things).  But the movie some could've used a few more scenes of Robocop crime fighting.
  3. Robocop's family...ugh!: Abbie Cornish is a devastatingly beautiful woman.  Seriously.  She had some absolutely gorgeous close-ups in this movie.  In fact, I would totally watch a movie that was just 90 minutes of Abbie Cornish close-ups.  And I'd be happy about it.  But Robocop is not that movie, and Miss Cornish doesn't do much more than cry.  Honestly, I felt her inclusion in the movie was pretty useless.  And the kid that plays her son must only have one facial expression.  Although, I should probably cut him some slack, cuz he's a kid.  But I just don't Robocop needs his family to serve as an anchor to his humanity.  Plus, it makes the movie more predictable.
  4. Lame social commentary: So Robocop opens with Pat Novak (Samuel L. Jackson), a "Bully" Bill O'Reilly-type political show host, railing about the use of U.S. drones overseas to keep the peace.  He pops up again and again, dispensing his opinion as fact, and trying to sway the tide of public opinion in favor of policy he likes.  Jackson's game to play it up and it's pretty amusing, though not not amusing as Novak's hairdo.  But most of it kinda falls flat.  There's also a whole riff on how corporate CEOs are scumbags and rich people don't care about anything except making more money and staying rich.  But it's not anything we've seen before and it's not particularly well-done.
  5. A good cast gets wasted: Gary Oldman.  Jackie Earle Haley.  Michael Keaton.  The aforementioned Jackson.  Four great actors.  Each given a fairly one-note role.  Oldman is still great, because, frak it, he's Gary Oldman.  But so much fun could've been fun watching those four guys set loose in the same scene.
  6. Boring bad guys: I'm about to fail at my promise to not compare new version to old version.  The bad guys in Robocop 2014 are so boring and bland and just like every bad guy in every other movie.  And that's what was really the most disappointing thing about this movie.  It needed a bad guy with wit.  With style.  With an attitude.  It needed a Clarence Bottiger.  Bottiger was the main bad guy from the original movie and he was awesome.  Played to perfection by Kurtwood "Red Foreman" Smith, Bottiger had swagger.  The scene where Robocop books him and he responds by spitting blood and demanding his frakking phone call, is a classic.  There's nothing like that here.  There's the corrupt rich guy (Keaton), his yes man (Haley), and a bunch of other CGI'ed adversaries.  But no personality, and that's really something this movie needs.
So that's my take.  If you have to see Robocop 2014, wait for video.  It's not the worst movie ever, but it's nothing special.  And that's not something that worth spending ten bucks on.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

All About Gravity

So, when I first saw a trailer for Gravity, I was stoked.  It looked awesome, like someone actually took the time to figure out what going through being stranded in space would actually be like.  Then, a couple weeks ago, I finally got out to see the thing, and man was I ever crushed by disappointment.  While the flick was visually amazing, the writing of the characters was just too nonexistent, so when bad things started happening to Sandra Bullock, I didn't care.  This clip from Honest Trailers doesn't mention that aspect, but it hits on a lot of the flaws in that movie.  Check it out:

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Howard Jones Screams Again...

Since Howard Jones left Killswitch Engage early in 2012, he's kept a fairly low profile.  Sure, he popped up on songs by Within Temptation and Asking Alexandria, but apart from that, Jones hasn't been making much noise.  Or maybe I should say he has been making a LOT of noise, but we haven't heard it yet.  Recently, however, a track called "Shut It Down" from a band called Devil You Know featuring Jones escaped and it's pretty heavy.  The band, which also features members of All Shall Perish, Bleeding Through, Fear Factory and Divine Heresy, plays brutal, low tuned cacophony that sounds like a giant metal-crushing monster let loose in a scrap yard.  Of course, there are also plenty of opportunities for Jones to strut his stuff, both as a screamer and as a singer.  Check out "Shut It Down" below, and witness the birth of a new metallic force:

Devil You Know is set to release their debut record, The Beauty of Destruction, April 29 on Nuclear Blast Entertainment.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Take These Jobs and Shove 'Em!

I assure you, I'm miserable.

I've been thinking a lot lately about my career.  I finally, for the first time since I was working up in the woods for the Forest Service in high school, have a job I actually like.  I get to write all day, which is awesome.  I like my boss and the other folks I work with.  Trouble is, I'm not making much money doing it, and that's in direct conflict with my goals, namely the one to get the hell outta my parents' basement.  So, I've been thinking about stuff I could do that would help me make a bit more cash while not making me wanna set myself on fire and step in front of a moving bus.

That's a taller order than you might think.  The local job market doesn't offer much to someone with my skill set.  Looking for work around here always makes me miserable and I start daydreaming about the perfect job.  More often than not, I'm doing something in my daydreams that I saw someone else doing in the movies.  Everybody has a cool job in pop culture, unless the creative team behind the property is using the character's job as part of their critique of society or whatever.

Even at that, a lot of jobs people do in pop culture look like they suck.  Here's a list of jobs from movies, TV, and comics that they couldn't pay me enough to do.  Some of them you've actually seen, and some are jobs that I just know some poor schmuck has to do behind the scenes.

  • Buy More employee (from Chuck) - Incompetent, annoying bosses.  Plus, working with Jeff and Lester.  Plus, selling electronics sucks in and of itself.
  • Klokateer at Mordehaus (from Metalocalypse) - A short term of employment is almost guaranteed, cuz these guys die like mayflies.
  • Drummer for Spinal Tap (from This is Spinal Tap) - Drumming for a rock band: Good.  Dying in some bizarrely grotesque manner: Bad.
  • Black Market Kaiju Parts Collector - Something tells me Hannibal Chau doesn't share the wealth.  I mean, just look at his shoes.  Plus, all that walking around inside giant dead alien beasts? Nasty.
  • Working anywhere near Dr. Sheldon Cooper (from The Big Bang Theory) - How has nobody strangled his smarmy, narcissistic ass yet?
  • Herald for Galactus (from Marvel comics) - A giant douche in a pink antler hat who's constantly whining about being hungry?  Worst.  Boss.  Ever.
  • Screenwriter (from any movie or TV show that features a character that's a screenwriter) - Cuz screenwriters are constantly watching directors, producers, and actors ruin what they write.  No wonder they all go nuts and start drinking
  • Q (from the 007 movies) - James Bond is always smashing up his shit.
  • Inventory worker at Research Technical Institute (from Creature Tech) - Cuz you'd have to spend all day working in a warehouse full of supernatural relics and alien artifacts that are scheming out how to kill you.
  • Redshirt (from Star Trek) - See "Klokateer"
  • The guy who boxes up Wile E. Coyote's ACME orders (from Looney Toons) - That coyote orders a metric shit ton of stuff from ACME.  Must be quite the chore pack it all in those crates.  No thanks.
  • Sterling Archer's valet (from Archer) - Look how he treats poor Woodhouse.  Come to think of it, anyone who has to work within close proximity of Archer looks pretty damn miserable.
  • Clerk at the Quick Stop (from Clerks) - That job would be great if it wasn't for the frakking customers.  Unfortunately, the customers all seem to be complete nutballs.
  • Peter Gibbons' job at Initech (from Office Space) - The bosses suck, the co-workers suck (for the most part), and the job sucks.  Let's talk about those TPS reports...
  • Alliance Fed (from Firefly) - Because your job sucks if people call you "Purple Belly".
  • Any bad guy-assisting scientist (any movie featuring a bad guy-assisting scientist) - Don't these guys know they're gonna wind up dead?  Do they not let them watch movies at Bad Guy-Assisting Scientist University?
  • Doug Fargo's personal assistant (from Eureka) - Assisting Fargo has to be a never-ending slog of trying to talk Fargo out of doing something stupid then watching him do that something stupid anyway.
  • Employee at The Fashionable Male (from Mallrats) - Cuz your boss would be Shannon Hamilton.  Also, Fashionable Male is like the least masculine name for a men's store since The Lovely Lad's Emporium.
  • Whoever polishes the wood paneling at the X-Mansion (from the X-Men movies) - Cuz every wall in the joint seems to be covered in wood paneling, so it's a never-ending tedium-type thing.  Plus, what if Prof. X decides to mess with your mind, convincing you you've missed the same spot over and over and over?...
  • Employee at the mall (from The Blues Brothers) - One minute your helping a customer find a stuffed Miss Piggy, the next, you're running for your life as a car chase trashes everything in sight.  Plus, I doubt mall employees get hazard pay for incidents like that.
  • The guy who oils the joints in Doctor Doom's suit (from Marvel comics) - That just doesn't sound pleasant.  Being that close to Doom.  Yeah.  I'll pass.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Soundtrack of my Life

Opeth - Ghost Reveries

I'm embarrassed to admit I was a bit late getting aboard the Opeth train.  My first experience with the band came when I caught the end of their set at Gigantour in 2006.  I really dug how funny frontman Mikael Akerfeldt was.  The dude cracked a bunch of jokes before each song and a lot of his one-liners stuck.  But, I wasn't a big fan of the music.  Looking back, I think I was just excited to see Lamb of God and Megadeth, and everything before they came on was an annoyance.

Some months later, I was looking for some new music to get into.  I remembered how funny Akerfeldt was live, and though I wasn't sure I'd be able to get into the music, I picked up Ghost Reveries, their most recent album at that point.  It only took about ten minutes to blow my mind.

Ghost Reveries opens with the epic track "Ghosts of Perdition".  This ten-minute-long opus weaves through tempos and intensities.  One moment the band is playing the most frightening, brutal metal you can imagine, and the next moment, the band quiets to a whisper.  Akerfeldt's voice goes through similar metamorphoses.  One minute, he's roaring out one of the scariest death metal screams there is, and the next, he's cooing like an angel.  The song twists and turns through frightening territory to beautiful soundscapes.  Towards the end of the song, Akerfeldt busts out a soaring, melodic solo which is the highlight of the whole song.  He doesn't just throw down a cloud of notes and scales.  His solo makes melodic sense, and carries the song to a higher level.

"Ghosts" is the template for the rest of the record.  Songs like "Baying of the Hound" and "The Grand Conjuration" collide the terrifying roar of metal with quieter, more serene moments, while "Reverie/Harlequin Forest" mines more melodic territory.   "Atonement" and "Hours of Wealth" provide more peaceful, reflective moments.  Akerfeldt's band are more than game enough to keep up.  Co-guitarist Peter Lindgren matches Akerfeldt riff for riff.  Drummer Martin Lopez and bassist Martin Mendez provide a versatile rhythm section that can handle anything that Akerfeldt throws at them.  Keyboardist Per Wiberg adds atmosphere and texture to the proceedings.  No matter how proggy things get, how droney and elastic the riffing gets, the band hangs together and produces a top-notch noise.

I think the reason Ghost Reveries was so important for me is because it showed me that music could be progressive and complex without the musicians playing 500 notes a second.  Seriously, before Opeth, that's what I thought prog was.  It also showed me the value of intensity and texture in metal.  Sometimes it's good if it's not blaring electric guitar riffs and blastbeats all the times.  And sometimes, when you follow up quiet passage with a roar, it makes the roar so much more epic.

Here's a little taste from Ghost Reveries, "The Grand Conjuration".  \m/ HORNS UP!! \m/  

Saturday, February 8, 2014

15 Things I'll Bet You Didn't Know About the Loch Ness Monster

Ever since her first reported sighting in 1933, the Loch Ness monster, AKA "Nessie", has captured the hearts and minds of millions of adoring fans, monster lovers, and, of course, cryptozoologists the world over.  Movies have been made about her, and songs have been sung in her honor.  However, few really know much about this amazing, damn near magical creature.  So, I've taken the liberty of compiling a list of 15 compelling Nessie facts.  I hope you find it enlightening.  And if you don't keep your mouth shut.  I don't wanna know about it.

  1. Nessie hates the name "Nessie".  She prefers "Babbette".
  2. Nessie's skin contains minute amounts of vibranium, a material which absorbs energy.  Hence the reason sonar has been useless in tracking her.
  3. Nessie's favorite thing about living in Loch Ness is the fact that she gets free cable.
  4. This one time, in band camp, Nessie farted really loud.  The resulting noise was the primary inspiration for the invention of the tuba.
  5. Nessie doesn't believe in aliens, ghosts, or Sasquatch.  But she does believe in Harvey Dent.
  6. Nessie dreamed of drumming for Ozzy Osbourne as a young monster.  But her flippers were too short for her to learn to drum.  She does, however, play a mean slide guitar.
  7. Nessie thinks that creationist looney Ken Ham should shut up and go back to working at Dairy Queen.
  8. Nessie's favorite works of music are Chopin's "Minute Waltz",  Debussey's "Clair de Lune", and Bon Jovi's Slippery When Wet.
  9. Nessie served an uncredited role as technical advisor to Guillermo Del Toro on the film Pacific Rim. 
  10. Wal-Mart has so much Duck Dynasty crap, Nessie thinks they should change their name to The Duck Dynasty Outlet.
  11. Noah didn't let Nessie on the ark because her body odor kept upsetting the platypuses.
  12. Nessie's perfect Sunday consists of a long swim, a yummy meal from the nearest Taco Bell, and a Doctor Who marathon.
  13. Nessie's favorite TV show is How I Met Your Mother.  She's a big fan of the Marshall Erikson character.
  14. Nessie and the Jersey Devil have an ongoing bet that polar ice caps will melt before the Miami Dolphins win another Super Bowl.
  15. Nessie is a big-time Jane Austen fan, but her favorite book of all time is The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.  She just loves to laugh.
There you have it.  Do you feel more enlightened now?  I sure do.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Love and Time Travel

I hate to admit it, but sometimes, I get a little bit sappy.  Sometimes, I don't mind romance.  As long as Humphrey Bogart's playing the male lead.  Or if it has nerdy stuff in it.  For example, The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is an unabashedly romantic movie, but I love it, in part because it has a awesome sci-fi machine that erases memories.  When I saw the trailer for About Time, I was sucked in by the fact that it's about dude who can travel through time.  Plus the dude wasn't conventionally handsome, which made him more relatable.  Plus it had Bill Nighy.  It looked a little mushy, but so what?  How bad could it be?

The answer is not at all bad.  In fact, About Time is one of the better non-ass-kicking movies I've seen in a while.  Sure, it's extremely mushy, and it even manages to to be a bit pretentious towards the end.  But, it's funny enough, and Domhnall Gleeson makes an appealing and engaging enough protagonist that the negative stuff doesn't matter so much.

Gleeson plays Tim, an average ginger Brit lawyer who learns a fabulous secret from his father (Bill Nighy): the men in his family can travel through time.  Tim's main concern is to use his gift to find love.  He meets the lovely Mary (Rachel McAdams) and uses time travel to go back and correct the screw ups he makes as he woos her.  He finds that he has to be careful what he changes or he'll screw up his life.  He also learns that there are things he can't stop, no matter how hard he tries.

I loved Gleeson in this role.  He's sweet, charming, funny, and a little bit underhanded.  He and McAdams work really well together.  It's fun to watch Tim win Mary's heart, and you're never not pulling for him.  Gleeson's scenes with Nighy are funny, heartwarming, and moving.  Nighy is terrific as a loving father who's a little bit eccentric.  I dug McAdams, too.  She's sweet, funny, and her character is exactly the type of woman you hope to meet but never do.

The time travel in the movie is handled very simply.  Tim goes into a dark, enclosed space, clenches his fists, closes his eyes and thinks about the moment in his life he wants to go back to.  He can't go into the future, but he doesn't need any humongous piece of fake sci-fi machinery, either.  It's actually pretty elegant.  And not all that different living in your own memories.

About Time is very funny, at times very touching, and I wouldn't watch it in front of people if you're feeling emotionally vulnerable or are an ugly crier.  But watch it.  It's sappy, and a little too sentimental.  But it's a very good movie about learning how to be happy in life, and enjoying your life for what it is.  It doesn't hurt to be reminded about that stuff every now and then.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

How To Not Eff Up The F.F.

Dear Fox Studios,

I see that you're revving up the engines on a re-boot of the Fantastic Four franchise.  I hear you have big plans for interweaving Marvel's first family with your X-Men franchise, kinda like your own, much smaller, version of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  I see you have a director and that you're circling around actors for Johnny Storm and Ben Grimm.  Some would say that it's too late to change direction, that your course is laid in.  I believe, however, that it's not too late to fix things and make them the way they should be until the film is theaters.  I also believe you want a movie that's financially viable.  And the path you're currently headed down is not going to lead to much profit.

Why should you listen to me?  Well, Bub, I'm a long-time Fan 4 fan, and I'd like to think I understand what makes them cool.  At least that I understand better than a bunch of clueless studio suits who'd be better suited to flipping burgers than making good movies.  Okay, that was a little low, but if you want to make a movie that makes money and that people won't bitch about after seeing, here's a couple things I think you have to do.

  1. Hire a reputable director.  I know you're set with Josh Trank.  What has he done?  Other than Chronicle, he's never directed an feature-length movie.  And Chronicle, one of those cheesy found footage flicks, wasn't all that great.  So, what makes you think he can pull something of the scale of the Fantastic Four off?  What's so wrong with getting a director that has a bit more experience?  Look what Jon Favreau did for Iron Man, or what Christopher Nolan did for Batman.  Those guys had enough experience directing to be able to handle whatever was thrown at them while creating emotionally satisfying stories.  Same goes for Sam Raimi (at least on the first two Spider-Man films), Joe Johnston, and Zak Snyder.  Trank may wind up being a fabulous director, but he hasn't done enough in his career to prove that he's anything more than a hack.  And the Fantastic Four deserve better than a hack in the director's chair.
  2. Mind the tone.  There is a definite trend in comic book movies recently towards making things dark and serious.  It's worked okay for The Dark Knight movies, Man of Steel, and some of the X-Men movies.  But that kind of tone will kill the Fan 4.  Marvel's First Family should be a little lighter, a little more funny.  It's basically a family sitcom where the family members have to occasionally stop frakking with each other and go save the world.  You can totally pull this off in a movie.  Look at The Avengers, a movie that had real stakes and real darkness, but was also funny as hell in some places.  If you have The Thing grab a guy by the lapels and grunt "I'm The Thing", I swear I'll burn your studio to the ground.  Or maybe just picket outside it.
  3. Don't go so young.  One of the things about comic books is that they really do crossover age demographics.  Some fans are geriatric and some of them are barely outta diapers.  But they all love them some Batman or Wolverine or whoever.  So why make a movie that only targets pre-teens.  Granted I know the biggest part of the movie going public is teenagers, but if you make a good movie, everybody will turn out for it.  And older audiences have a harder time relating to teenagers.  Not to mention the fact that it will be harder to buy a teenage kid as Reed Richards.  The dude is like the world's smartest man, a designation that I would think it would take a little while to attain.  If you want to go with folks in their late 20's or early 30's, that's fine.  But having a teen-aged F. F. is just gonna seem stupid, no matter how young they are in the comics.
  4. Get the right Von Doom.  Of all the things the original movies got wrong, this was the biggest screw-up.  Victor Von Doom is not just some handsome rich dude who gets pissed off cuz Reed steals his girl.  And that seemed to be the way first set of films chose to play things.  Doom should be smart, handsome, a bit regal (he does run his own nation after all), and most of all, menacing.  I'd like to see Erik Bana play Doom.  But somebody like that needs to hold down this role.  Cuz if the villain is stupid the whole movie will go down in flames.  While we're at it...
  5. Get the right Sue Storm.  I love me some Jessica Alba.  She's gorgeous, and in the right part, she's not a bad actress (see Sin City).  But she was wrong for Sue Storm.  The biggest reason is because she just couldn't pull off being super intelligent.  In the comics, Sue Storm is smart, nearly as smart as Reed Richards.  So to see Alba struggle with being all science-y was kind of painful.  Alba was good at the motherly, nurturing stuff, but Sue has to be nurturing and intelligent.  There are actresses out there that can pull this off.  Find one of 'em for Sue.
I could go on, but you get the idea.  In the end, you'll make the movie you make and I'll either love it or wonder why you couldn't just sell the rights back to Marvel Studios.  But please think a little harder about what you're doing and don't just make a Fantastic Four flick just to keep the rights.  Make the right movie, or it'll tank and you'll wish you'd have let the rights go back to Marvel.

(Oh, and Clifton, I'm waiting for you to show up and tell me how wrong I am...)