Tuesday, April 5, 2011

"What? He was freaking me out!" and Other Such Nonsense

When I first saw The Green Lantern trailer I just shook my head in utter disappointment and disgust. Since then, despite my lack of enthusiasm for the movie, I've admitted to myself that I will most certainly go to see it in theaters. I will not go see it because I think it will be good, however.

I have liked comics, comic book movies, and the like for the entirety of my conscious life, but with Green Lantern, the dismal Thor, the irritatingly promising Captain America, The Dark Knight Rises, Superman: Man of Steel, The Avengers, The Justice League, the Spiderman reboot which will spawn several sequels, the DareDevil reboot that could spawn several sequels, the inevitable Iron Man 3, sequels to The Avengers movies, sequels to The Justice League movies, a Wonder Woman television series, The Cape (which disintegrated into awfulness after three episodes), and the Batman reboot set to occur once Chris Nolan forfeits the director's chair which will then spawn several sequels, I've come to lose hope, not only for comic books, comic book movies, movies in general, originality, quality, but in the human race itself. There are, very simply, too many comic book movies. I honestly do not care if every single one of those franchises manages to create a variety of excellent and entertaining movies. We, the people, need more than comic book movies. While there certainly are other sorts of movies available, one would be hard-pressed to find other genres producing anything worthwhile either. It's frustrating, as a human let alone a film-lover, that the only somewhat intriguing or attention-getting movies that keep coming out are from one very narrow, very specific genre.

How I feel about the latest Green Lantern trailer is the epitome of how I feel about the genre, and how I'll likely feel about the movie. The beginning of the trailer is impressive. It looks like something new and alien and striking, and it's clearly "serious". Then the lovable, devil-may-care, wise-crackin' protagonist starts talking to a lantern in an "amusing" fashion, and suddenly my heart sinks. Do people actual laugh at this? I ask. Why must he do this? I ask. Do people ever say these things in reality? I ask. Perhaps they do, but do they say them in this way? I ask. Why is every one of these movies the same? I ask. And then there are pretty lights and explosions and I get a little excited again and suspend my disbelief and am left feeling hopeful. Then there's more disheartening stupidity, then more "goodness", and then I am left feeling as though, finally, I'm saturated by the whole of it, and I'm bored with this emotional & mental tug of war.

I just finished watching Tron: Legacy, quite possibly one of the biggest disappointments I've ever encountered, and it aided me in realizing how utterly disgusted and exhausted I am by big budget CGI effects driven "action" fanboy pandering "films". There's a point in Tron where the good guys are fighting the bad guys in a dogfight, swirling around shooting digital bullets at each other. The main character says things like "They're coming!" or "Roll!" and the lead female character goes "Woooo!" as the villain says something like "I have you now" and the wise older father figure pushes the plot forward. I realized, that not only have I witnessed this exact scene a thousand times, but that far too many action movies have followed this exact same pattern, leading to this exact same sequence. And realizing this left me feeling as though nothing happened. And nothing does happen in Tron: Legacy. Nothing happens in so many of these movies now, because for all their "action" and "production value" I am never once moved, and I never once see something that I have not seen before. There isn't even the imprint of a perspective, something honest from a human's creative soul, tweaking a narrative they've always loved, offering up their touch that makes it different.

I love the things that have made movies like Thor, Tron, and Avatar the norm. You would think this would be a paradise for me, being that I love old-fashioned adventure tales and pretty flashing blue and red lights and big weird-looking monsters that fly. But it's not. These are dark times, my friends, and they are dark because the things which have provided me joy are being produced with the speed and efficiency of toys on an assembly line. The genre has been robbed of its soul, of its wonder, of its fun, and, ironically, of its actual quality.

Yet another comic book movie. Okay. So?

It's to the point where all one can do is hope for a comic book movie about their favorite hero. That will be the only thing unique about any of these movies, the fact that they star different super heroes. But even that is going to be taken away because the studios know how desperately we, "the people", want our cross-over fangasm in the form of The Avengers and The Justice League.

The reason I don't care if any of these movies are good, is because a "good comic book" movie is going to become rather easy to come across. It used to be a special thing because it rarely happened. The original Superman, Batman (1989), Spiderman 1 & 2, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, Kick-Ass are rare gems deserving of their mantle and worthy of inspiring others. What made them special was the fact that they were made by talented, intelligent people who knew what they were doing and had an actual point of view. But now, with the success of The Dark Knight, it's as though the studios have caught on. They've realized the following: Hey...let's make these movies...good! It's not the honest version of the revelation our society so sorely needs; that being the very logical and simple recognition of actual quality's worth. It's the recognition of quality's ability to sell.

"Good", which can be used to describe the first Iron Man, is a perfect example of the studios and the culture recognizing how "quality" can sell. And so adjectives like "dark" and "serious" get tossed around and the market gets flooded with a stream of "good" comic book movies or "good" sci-fi actions movies like Cowboys vs. Aliens, Battle: LA, and Super 8. The Green Lantern has the potential to be good if it emulates much of the tone in this latest trailer...but will that make it unique. Captain America has the potential to be good based on its trailer...but will that set it apart. The Spiderman reboot is something I'm actually excited for and it could potentially be better than the originals...but in what way does that make it special? It's simply another good comic book movie.

It used to be a rare and wonderful occurrence for there to be a good comic book movie, to the point where even an average one like Iron Man or Iron Man 2 could be called "good". The Green Lantern, Thor, and Captain America simply have to be not terrible for them to be considered "good" in the same way Iron Man is considered good. With enough stars, enough production value, and enough adherence to the source material, any of these "comics" can be called "good".

In fact, if a comic book movie is even remotely good or has anything of quality about it, we tend to believe it's better than it actually is. The perfect example of this is The Dark Knight.

Have you watched The Dark Knight lately? I love The Dark Knight...but it's not the cleanest movie ever made. It's not There Will Be Blood. It's not The Godfather. It's not even Heat. It's legitimately good, but if it weren't a Batman movie people would notice the disorganization of the plot, characters, and pacing and not give these poor qualities a free pass. If it weren't a comic book movie people would notice the bad acting of all the secondary characters, the heavy handed high-school level moral lessons taught to us by unnamed and uninteresting ferry pedestrians. If it weren't a comic book movie people would wonder why there's an obnoxious Swat team member saying unrealistic things as his fellow cops die before his eyes in a fiery blaze of helicopter wreckage. If it weren't a comic book movie people would revile the character who discovers Batman's identity. If it weren't a comic book movie people would think The Dark Knight is a disjointed mess fluctuating between confusing quality and odd choices in voice-acting, editing, and writing. But it's a Batman movie and it has some great performances by a few people, some great and intelligent dialogue, and one good action sequence...and so it is considered one of the best movies ever made by many.

I fear the time when "quality" becomes the standard practice and we are given a series of Iron Mans, Watchmens, Trons, and Star Treks, movies that I shouldn't call "bad" because I recognize a certain level of craft...but there's just something about them that rubs me the wrong way. It's as though a corporation is licensing "good" and "serious" and "dark" and pumping out a product. It's not staggering and remarkable in its ingenuity, but it's just good enough for us to not complain and not notice what's going on.

This numbs a creative mind. It dumbs a society. And it's all about to get very, very boring for a lot of people who desire a bit of spice, a bit of variety, a bit of originality in their entertainment lives. The things we love are being manipulated and twisted and exploited in the subtlest, most intelligent fashion yet, and many fans are being sold on this process. It's not sustainable, however. Eventually people will tire of this and something new or something old will take its place.

But, I never actually explained why I'll go see The Green Lantern. My reasoning is that of a DC comics fan, and if The Green Lantern was the only comic book movie coming out this year and for a while, I would feel there's nothing wrong with my reasoning. I would feel it's perfectly fine to support the brand you love or the genre you love, take a chance on something being awful, if there weren't so many of these movies coming out.

DC Comics has not been as successful as Marvel in cinema. Successful is a relative term, however, and in this case it's strictly referring to finances. In terms of actual quality, has Marvel ever produced a film that is as good as the original Superman or the original Batman, not even mentioning The Dark Knight?

I like the story of The Green Lantern and I want to see DC have one of their only other good comics brought to life. And so, with the hopes of a fan, I will see it strictly for that purpose. There's nothing wrong with that, but there definitely seems like there's something wrong with it based on my lashing of comic book movies in the previous paragraphs. I'm made to seem a hypocrite simply because there are so many comic book movies coming out.

What I believe is needed for things to get better is for people like myself, who are typically excited by the prospect of any comic book movie, to simply refuse to pay and see them in the theater. I encourage us to view them and formulate our opinions of them, but to do so without spending money on them. I would be a hypocrite if I went to see Thor, Captain America and every other comic book movie that came out. But I will not pay for Thor or Captain America or Iron Man 3, or The Avengers or a host of others. I will only pay to see The Green Lantern this year. I will pay to see The Spiderman reboot. I will pay to see The Dark Knight Rises. I will pay to see the Superman reboot. I will pay to see The Batman reboot. The only reason I'll pay to see these particular comic book movies is because of the promise of actual quality as a result of their lead characters, and their track record. I'll pay to see them for the same reason I'd pay to see The Tree of Life, the prospect of insight, entertainment, and joy. I refuse to pay for Thor for the same reason I refuse to pay for Fast Five. But where I would never actually consider ever paying for Fast Five, I typically would consider paying for Thor simply because it's a comic book movie and I'm a comics fan. This is the sort of thinking that must cease.

If you really love Thor and you're being honest and you actually think it looks good based on the clips and trailers you've seen, then by all means, pay for it and enjoy yourself. But if you're going to see Thor, Captain America, or The Green Lantern simply because you love comics and you want to be able to talk about these movies with your buddies, not necessarily because you think they look excellent, then do not give away your money.

Let us be more selective, friends, and in so doing dictate what is created for us.



Friday, March 25, 2011

Things To Watch On Instant Watch

If you're fortunate enough to have a Netflix subscription and a Netflix-ready-device, then you are likely aware of Instant Watch. Instant Watch is an application that permits viewers to stream thousands of movies and television shows through their X-Box 360, PS3, Wii, or PC, and watch directly on their television. Those of us who make use of this feature understand that it is not only the best thing since sliced bread, but that it is, in fact, in close contention with sexual intercourse as the greatest thing in all of existence.

I've encountered a bit of a problem, as have many, with regard to this feature, however. Though this is clearly the complaint of the spoiled, once you absorb all of the quality films and television, it becomes rather difficult to find engaging entertainment. B-Movies and straight-to-DVD titles abound at a baffling rate. There are very few notable modern movies that are both good and popular. You'll have a hard time finding something of the caliber of Inception or Kick-Ass, for example, but no problem finding a Bounty Hunter or Grownups.

Having devoured hours upon hours of films over the past three years as a result of this beautiful application, and watched several entire television series, I'm left scouring for good, engaging entertainment and sometimes it's hard to find. I even forced myself to watch three seasons of Weeds despite completely disdaining the show and all of its characters (I give it credit where it is due, but it is such a mean, vicious show). There are a litany of classic and 'important' foreign films I know I should watch, but honestly I'm somewhat tired of watching French people be sad...and French. Every once in a while I like to randomly put something on without reading a description, or give something a try despite the bad title or bad dvd cover.

I'm going to recommend a few things for those who have encountered a similar problem, a few slightly more obscure suggestions that were pleasant surprises.

1) 3rd Rock From The Sun - I never watched this series when it was on the air, but I was always aware of it. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, for a while, was simply that kid from 3rd Rock to me. It always seemed like a bad sitcom from afar, lame and lowly. My impression couldn't have been more incorrect. Not only is 3rd Rock legitimately funny, it is, I believe, one of the most groundbreaking and original sitcoms I've ever seen. Unlike How I Met Your Mother or Two & A Half Men, the characters on this show are honest, created by intelligent actors. It's not a sitcom equivalent of a corporate boy-band regurgitating old formulas for the sake of cash (which describes the entirety of CBS's lineup). It's honest and occasionally daring. Each actor truly inhabits their character to deliver something that, if not always funny, is always interesting and entertaining. John Lithgow's child-like love of Jane Curtain is one of the most heartfelt and engaging television romances I have ever witnessed. There is rarely a "serious" moment on 3rd Rock (in fact I can only think of two) but these moments are truly moving and original. It is also, without a doubt, the most consistent television show I have ever seen. There were only a few episodes, during the entire 6 season run, that I thought: that wasn't that great of an episode. But I never hated one moment, which is not something I can say for The X-Files, Lost, The Simpsons, or even Seinfeld. Over the course of two weeks I grew to truly love the Solomons and it pained me to leave them. Check this one out and stick with it.

2) Chloe - I started watching this movie simply because the description promised some nudity. I wound up being treated to a psychosexual drama that not only provides the kind of lovely sensuality you might crave whilst alone in the wee hours, but also provides some of the most intelligible and honest observations about marriage I've seen in a long time. I highly recommend watching this movie for anyone who's considering matrimony as an option. Though the production value could be greater and the psychology of Julianne Moore's character could have been further explored and the girl-on-girl sex scene could have been handled much more tastefully (the movie gradually builds toward it in a logical way and yet the way it is shot and presented to the audience is so 'typical sex scene' that it feels dishonest and purely sensationalistic. If Kubrik made this movie, it would be amazing). Regardless, it's worth it for Julianne Moore's remarkable performance and one scene toward the end between her and Neeson. Good movie.

3) Billy Elliot - This movie received a good deal of attention, as I remember, but I've never had the inclination to watch it. Definitely check it out. It's slow at first but it is one of the most emotionally moving films I've seen in a long time. The last forty minutes are spectacular and one emotional sucker punch after the next (I hate the fact that I just wrote 'sucker punch' but I cannot think of anything else. I was just shocked by how good and moving the film became). You really grow to care about this very realistic family and care deeply about Billy's dream. And it makes ballet seem cool, which is no easy task. The last sequence of shots is everything a film climax should be.

4) The Phoenix Lights - Watch this! Not only are UFOs clearly a real phenomena, but aliens and/or inter-dimensional beings (which may or may not be one and the same) are amongst us. This documentary, while very slow and repative in the beginning, is worth watching for anyone who has ever gazed at the stars in wonder. A sci-fi, UFO, X-Files, or supernatural enthusiast should know about the wondrous Phoenix Lights. After watching this, and listening to the witnesses describing their sense of euphoria as they looked up into this lights, as their lives were awakened by them, I felt something within me shiver in recognition. It just seemed right, like it made sense, and it made me believe that something truly magnificent will happen in my life time. Mark my words friends, we are not alone. And, within the next fifty years, we will be given a massive sign, a clear indication of this truth from another realm we currently cannot perceive.

5) Dan Akroyd: Unplugged on UFOs - Not nearly as good as The Phoenix Lights but worth a watch. I always despise how UFO documentaries are shot in a cheap manner meant to make us "afraid" or to make it seem spooky. I also hate how footage of UFOs is never shown in its entirety, and we are only shown a snippet in these broadcasts thereby making them less credible. While the atmosphere of this interview is obnoxious, the content is very interesting. And it's fun to watch the very cool Akroyd discuss his supernatural experiences and his beliefs in a very serious manner.

6) The Merry Gentleman - Being that some of my earliest memories are of Batman (I got my first action figure when I was three), my earliest memories are also of the great Michael Keaton (if you haven't ever seen The Dreamteam, check it out. Hilarious 80's movie). I've always thought Keaton was an excellent actor and a cool guy, and he proves with his directorial debut, The Merry Gentleman, that he can direct as well. This is a quiet, humble movie that doesn't try too hard to do anything but tell its story. An excellent first outing for the true Dark Knight.

7) Parks and Recreation & Archer & Dexter - I highly recommend these three series. If you're stale on The Office then you may pre-judge Parks and Rec, which is a shame because it is vastly superior. Parks and Rec is the only truly positive, entirely upbeat and uplifting show. It is basically devoid of cynicism, which is necessary and refreshing in today's world. Genuine and endearing, the show offers a cast of entirely likable characters. I almost always dislike one particular character in a show but such is surprisingly not the case in Parks and Rec. Switching gears drastically is dear demented Dexter. Michael C. Hall, in the four seasons I've seen, has delivered one of the finest performances in the history of the art. Enduring the show's obnoxious third-tier characters and lame subplots designed to keep actors working, is entirely worth it for the psychosis and evolution of this oh-so-interesting character. Now for my very simple and honest endorsement of Archer: Archer is the funniest television show I have ever seen.

8) A Complete History of My Sexual Failures - this isn't for everybody and be prepared for some unsightly male nudity. But, I found myself laughing hysterically while watching this movie/documentary. At times hilarious, other times sad and touching, this worth checking out, especially for anyone who hasn't ever felt like a perfect human being and occasionally laments their own existence.

9) For Your Consideration & Best In Show - Both are hilarious and in keeping with the tradition of This is Spinal Tap, which is also on Netflix and must be seen.

10) The Quantum Activist - If you have any interest in quantum physics, spirituality, or if you ever find yourself asking questions like "Why am I here?" "What the fuck is going on?" "What the fuck am I?" "What happens after I die?" "What is conciousness?" "Why can I not experience someone else's conciousness?" "Why do bad things happen?" "Why do good things happen?" "What?" "Who?" "Where?" "Why?" then you may find this interesting. It's just a collection of interviews and lectures, which I enjoy because it's not the least bit condescending. You are not bombarded with cartoons and visual tricks as in What The Bleep Do We Know. For the ideas and final message, this is worth absorbing.

So there are a few suggestions for things to check out on your queue. I hope you enjoy and please let me know if there's anything you think is worth checking out as well.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Dead Island Mindblowingly Awesome Trailer

I have never heard of this game before - which seems nigh impossible - especially since it was announced in 2007. Dead Island just released this amazing trailer to their zombie-survival-action-RPG and I couldn't be more pumped. I love when video game developers get it right. Dead Rising is good, but slightly unrealistic. Left 4 Dead is awesome but not deep enough. In the rush of zombies attacking all mediums at the present, its about time a zombie video game comes along and just gets it right. Watch this video now. And then comment. Its fucking good.