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Leftover Questions: Jurassic World Edition (Spoiler Warning)

I saw Jurassic World this weekend.  It was fun movie for what it was and, for modern blockbusters, incredibly restrained in its action – kind of refreshing to see.  However, there were just some nagging questions that remained after I left the theater.

There are spoilers, so you have been properly warned!

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1. Owen used to be in the Navy which apparently led him to his work with the raptors. What about his naval experience makes him an expert at training wild animals, let alone dinosaurs?

2. What exactly is InGen? In the first two movies, they seemed to be the company that created the dinosaurs. Here, they act as some militarized force of security.  What is their relationship to Jurassic World?

3. Why is Owen sexually harassing a supervisor? Sure, he might think it is flirting, but she is clearly not into it, but he keeps going.

4. Speaking of which, how long ago was their first (and only) date? Why is Owen coming off this strong/creepy after only one date (that neither one of them actually seemed to enjoy).

5. Does Owen really live in a van down by the river?

6. Why didn’t anybody check right away for the I-Rex’s tracking device when they failed to notice the heat signature in paddock?

7. How come Owen is the only one in the entire park that ever notices something strange or realizes a bad idea?

8. Why does the control room give her the silent blame treatment after the first I-Rex attack? That was completely outside her control and, to be fair, not really her responsibility in the first place.

9. Why doesn’t Jurassic World have any sort of override in place to prevent exactly what the two kids did with the gyrosphere?

10. How come Jurassic World has absolutely no contingency plans in case any of the dinosaurs get loose? Granted, the I-Rex is a new dinosaur, so they are learning the ropes with her, but what about the pterosaurs?

11. Speaking of that, why breed pterosaurs (or that many) in the first place since they cannot be easily contained?

12. How come the I-Rex is able to display new abilities right when the movie needs her to? Did she read the script? She probably read the script.

13. How come what the I-Rex was genetically culled from was classified to the park trainers and, of all people, Masrani? Shouldn’t that be something the CEO is automatically be allowed to know?

14. For that matter, before beginning, how come Masrani didn’t give a final approval?

15. How come Jurassic World’s designers not cannibalize the remains of the old park? Why were there cars, tools, and other useful items just abandoned?

16. How did the I-Rex get inside the old park visitor center when was in-closed and the doors were shut?

17. How did the kids get the old jeeps working? True, they were able to quickly swap out an engine (somehow), but where did they get the gas from to operate it? And if they did have gas, how is that gas even still good after 20 years?

18. Why does Owen (who has a gun) do absolutely nothing to help Hoskins from getting eaten? Sure, he didn’t care for the guy, but Owen pretty much allows him to die.

19. Where did all the visitors go after the pterosaur attack? Were they completely ferried off the island before the final showdown?

20. How can Claire outrun a T-Rex in high heels? How can she outrun a T-Rex, period?

21. Why does the 4th raptor coming running out to attack the I-Rex? Shouldn’t that raptor still think the I-Rex is her alpha since she wasn’t there when Owen reestablished his connection with the other three?

22. Why do the T-Rex and the raptor have a bro moment? Doesn’t that go against everything else established about these creatures in this film series so far?

23. How does Lowery make his way out of the control center? He was the last one there and the ferries are a good mile (or more) away with a T-Rex and Raptor on the loose.

I saw Jurassic World

I’ve been putting off writing this review for a few weeks, not totally out of procrastination either. 1993’s Jurassic Park is legitimately one of my favorite movies ever, and probably my favorite summer blockbuster ever (it often trades places with Jaws, another Spielberg joint). I can’t lie; I was not looking forward to Jurassic World. I was expecting it to be a piece of crap, much like the sequels to that excellent 1993 feature film. I’m happy to report that my fears and worries were misplaced. Despite a mind-boggling marketing effort, Jurassic World is a pretty good and really fun summer movie. And while I am a bit surprised it has done as well as it has, I’m not surprised it’s a big hit.

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I can’t stress enough how bad the marketing was for this film. Universal, who has done a decent job marketing their Despicable Me and Fast and Furious franchises, botched Jurassic World almost from the start. The teaser trailer felt disjointed and cliché, and now mega-star Chris Pratt seemed out of place and miscast. Bryce Dallas Howard seemed no match for the material either. The second trailer wasn’t much better. I’d argue it was actually worse, as it almost completely turned me off to the project. The addition of two adorable teenage moppets seemed disastrous, in the vein of Jeff Goldblum’s daughter from the second film and that obnoxious little twerp from the third film. I was hoping they wouldn’t dumb Jurassic World down for kids, but it seemed like that’s exactly what Universal was doing.

When I actually saw the film, however, I was blown away but just how good and suspenseful the end product is. Essentially a retread but on a bigger and grander scale than Jurassic Park, World opens with two brothers getting ready to jet off to the theme park to visit their overworked and stressed out aunt, who runs Jurassic World on the operations end. Meanwhile, Ingen geneticist Henry Wu (BD Wong, the only actor to return from the first film) and Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan, who is excellent) plan to show off their newest creation, Indominus Rex, to the general public for the first time. Complicating matters are Velociraptor trainer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt playing Chris Pratt essentially), who voices objections and concerns over Indominus’ paddock, and Vic Hoskins (a scenery-chewing Vincent D’Onofrio), who wants to use the genetically engineered dinosaurs for military purposes.

Of course all hell breaks loose, and when it does, the film gets really, really fun. The special effects, while not as ground breaking as the 1993 original, are well done and never overly egregious. Characters don’t act inconsistent or irrational for purposes of moving the plot along. When it’s suggesting that Owen use his trained raptors to hunt down Indominus, for example, he is openly hostile of the plan and thinks it is a bad idea (it is). Direction is fairly taut and honestly much better than I had expected going in. Working for the first time with a massive budget (at 150 million, Jurassic World was expensive but not nearly as expensive as The Avengers or the upcoming Batman vs. Superman), directing Colin Trevorrow acquits himself nicely, backing up the faith Spielberg had in him when he personally selected him for the project. I think Trevorrow does about as well as could possibly have been expected out of him.

There are, however, tons of problems with the script. Bryce Dallas Howard’s character, for example, is largely defined by her lack of a personal life, meaning she is sad because she doesn’t have a husband and children. This was the most egregiously offensive thing about the screenplay. The notion that people must procreate and have children to achieve maximum happiness in life is laughable and idiotic, particularly in a movie released in 2015. Of course there is a love story between her and Chris Pratt’s character shoehorned in (though the two honestly make a good couple). Additionally, some of the stuff with the teenagers is downright laughable and/or badly acted, particularly by the younger brother. I was never able to buy into the chemistry between these actors, and they don’t reach the heights of the bond that Tim and Lex shared in the first film.

Outside of more than a few scripting issues, Jurassic World is a very strong example of how to do a modern summer blockbuster right. At 124 minutes, it has an almost perfect running time for a summer escape. The special effects work well, the direction is taut and creates tension, and the actors are entertaining. Chris Pratt has now become a marquee movie star, Irrfan Khan is fantastic as the would-be John Hammond character, and D’Onofrio chews scenery like no one’s business. Despite the script short-changing her, Bryce Dallas Howard is also fine as well. She’s got good comic timing and decent chemistry with Pratt. In case you’re one of the 5 people left on earth who haven’t seen Jurassic World yet, I can recommend it as a nice summer blockbuster and an entertaining thrill ride.

-Z-

What Went Wrong?: Vol. 53/Whatever Happened to…? Vol. 6 – The Curious Case of Nia Vardalos

In early 2002, Nia Vardalos was a virtual unknown in Hollywood. Having attempted and failed to sell her life story as a sitcom, Vardalos set out to make a movie adaptation instead. Charming the likes of Tom Hanks and producer wife Rita Wilson, Vardalos wrote and starred in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, a romantic comedy that made use of gross ethnic stereotypes in light of actual jokes or characterization. The film started slowly, but word of mouth built and it enjoyed a long run in theaters, where it ultimately grossed over 240 million dollars against a five million dollar budget. Almost overnight, Vardalos was the hottest thing in Hollywood.

Vardalos' 2002 breakout hit film.

Vardalos’ 2002 breakout hit film.

A boondoggle worthy of its own write-up.

A boondoggle worthy of its own write-up.

When you are responsible for a film that grosses that much, you can pretty much write your ticket to do whatever you want in Hollywood. Vardalos used her clout to make a musical drag queen comedy called Connie and Carla, co-starring David Duchovny and Toni Collette. The film opened to mixed-negative reviews and grossed only eight million dollars domestically against a budget of almost 30 million. Just as rapidly as she had rose, Vardalos now began to quickly descend. Why Vardalos would follow up one of the biggest hits of the 2000s with a lavish drag queen musical is anyone’s guess.

Five long years would go by before Vardalos would appear in another high profile film, this time My Life in Ruins. Vardalos plays a tour guide who attempts to find herself or find love or something else corny like that while leading a group of tourists through Greece. Though the film actually surpassed its budget in terms of gross, it was met widely with scorn and derision. Roger Ebert called the film “superficial and unconvincing.” Scott Foundas of The Village Voice called it an “anti-comeback” vehicle for Vardalos. It didn’t help that the film opened against The Hangover, one of summer 2009’s biggest breakout films.

Vardalos’ most epic boondoggle came just after My Big Fat Green Wedding, however. Her first post-Wedding project was such an abject, embarrassing failure that it’s surprised she was allowed to make Connie and Carla or My Life in Ruins. It’s surprising she’s even getting the chance to make My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, which I’ll discuss later. Vardalos’ biggest public embarrassment came in the form of a CBS sitcom that debuted on February 24th, 2003 and then quickly ended on April 13th, 2003, less than two months after it began. That project of course was My Big Fat Greek Life, one of the biggest television disappointments of all time.

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Vardalos’ would-be comeback vehicle references her hit film from seven years earlier in what was surely a great marketing strategy.

As stated earlier, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, after debuting in stage form in Los Angeles, was originally conceived as a network sitcom in the vein of Mad About You or Friends. After significant executive interference, however, Vardalos pulled the plug on the proposed television project and developed the film version with Hanks and Wilson instead (Wilson, who is of Greek heritage, had seen and lavished praise on the original stage version). Some of the network interference including changing the family’s ethnicity from Greek to Hispanic and/or casting Marissa Tomei in the lead role instead of Vardalos herself. After the noted success of the film version (which included an Academy Award nomination for Vardalos’ screenplay), Vardalos and Playtone Productions brought the project back to CBS, and they now had the clout to develop the project in the way they originally intended.

The production had quite a few things going against it from the start. Male lead of the film version John Corbett was unavailable

Actor Steven Eckholdt does not resemble actor John Corbett at all -- a fact the TV adaptation should have just ignored.

Actor Steven Eckholdt does not resemble actor John Corbett at all — a fact the TV adaptation should have just ignored.

to reprise his role for the television adaptation due to previous commitments. Corbett’s absence was especially notable as he was perhaps the most seasoned and best actor in the film. He brought a charm to the role that would be hard to replicate, much the same way he did in the HBO series Sex and the City. Corbett was replaced by Steven Eckholdt, an unknown actor who had appeared only in bit or recurring parts on various television programs. Instead of just ignoring this, the show made light of it continually, breaking the fourth wall in the process. What was meant to be a cute joke about Corbett not being in the series turned into a dumb meta-joke about Eckholdt looking nothing like the character originated in the film version.

Additionally, as noted earlier, My Big Fat Greek Wedding relied on gross ethnic stereotypes in lieu of actual jokes and or characterization. While a 90-minute film can get away with this in places, a sitcom needs real characters with real experiences and emotions in order to be resonant. This is the reason why shows like Seinfeld were great and shows like Two Broke Girls are terrible. There has to be more to a character than just being a Greek immigrant with an accent, and no amount of spraying Windex on things is ever going to change that. So after the show debuted to some 23 million viewers (an astronomical amount in 2003 and an unthinkable number in 2015), it quickly tailed off, to the point that CBS (television’s #1 network!) never bothered renewing the show for a second season.

CBS had some of the biggest sitcoms of the time on its airwaves. Two and a Half Men, Everybody Loves Raymond, and The King of Queens all drew massive numbers and continue to be popular in syndication to this day. Charlie Sheen, Ray Romano, Patricia Heaton, and Kevin James are all well known comedians/actors with large fan bases. Vardalos, coming off the second biggest hit of 2002, should have easily been able to turn her show into at least a two-season project. That it ended up being a seven-episode embarrassment is still mind boggling to me some odd twelve years after cancellation. It was a huge blunder of massive proportions and a big black eye for everyone involved. There will one day be a book about the rise and fall of this project, and I will be first in line to read it.

So whatever happened to Nia Vardalos? After her 2009 comeback vehicle My Life in Ruins again failed to become a hit, she wrote 2011’s Larry Crowne with Tom Hanks. That film also failed to gain any real traction in the box office. Vardalos has also made sporadic television appearances one shows like Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, Cougartown (which co-starred her real life husband, Ian Gomez), and Jane the Virgin, one of last fall’s biggest critical hits. Recently, it was announced that she would finally make a sequel to her breakout 2002 film, as My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 was commissioned by Universal Pictures, again to be produced by Playtone.

Next spring, Vardalos and Corbett will return in My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, the much anticipated return of Toula Portokalous.

Next spring, Vardalos and Corbett will return in My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, the much anticipated return of Toula Portokalos.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 is scheduled to open against Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice in March of 2016 as a clear example of studio counter-programming. I can’t imagine that, 14 years later, the film will be a big hit. Vardalos has had one of the strangest and most disappointing Hollywood careers of anyone expected to be the next “it” thing. With the exception of her appearances on already established television programs, she’s never once experienced anything resembling the success of her debut film. This is not to say I’m not rooting against Vardalos – I actually found her quite charming in her debut film. But at 52 years old without any kind of Hollywood success, I don’t suspect she’s going to get many more chances to breakout once again.

-Z-

What Went Wrong?/20 Years Later/Disappointing Childhood Movies/1995 All Rolled Up Into One Edition: 1995’s Congo

Released almost two years to the date after Steven Spielberg’s massive hit Jurassic Park, 1995’s Congo was another science fiction Michael Crichton adaptation expected to conquer the box office and do for Paramount what Park had done for Universal. Directed by frequent Spielberg collaborator Frank Marshall (Arachnaphobia) and produced by his wife Kathleen Kennedy, Congo was met with harsh reviews from critics, who compared it unfavorably to Jurassic Park, and disinterest from audiences. Though it tripled its budget in international grosses, it became almost universally a symbol of the failed summer blockbuster and was considered a massive creative disappointment, especially when compared to the culturally huge Jurassic Park.

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After a failed expedition into the jungle rain forests of the African Congo results in seven dead men, TraviCom CEO Joe Don Baker (I refuse to look up the character’s name… he is Joe Don Baker) sends Dr. Karen Ross (Laura Linney) after an expedition group led by Dr. Peter Elliott (Dylan Walsh) who are headed into the jungle under the guise of releasing an ape back into the wild. In actuality, they are after diamond crystals, which can be used in order to get a leg up in the communications industry somehow. It’s a whole lot of techno babble that really makes no sense. They meet up with Captain Munro Kelly (an excellent Ernie Hudson) and Herkemer Homolka (a scenery-chewing Tim Curry) and form a party to search for the lost city of Zinj, where apparently the diamond crystals are located perhaps.

The biggest “star,” however, of the movie is Amy, the talking gorilla. Unconvincingly portrayed by several actors in a crappy costume and an annoying voice over artist, Amy is one of the most horrifying things I’ve seen in a movie. Looking less like a gorilla and more like a twisted monstrosity with a nightmare-inducing non-articulated face, Amy is awkward, unconvincing, and an overall bad special effect, particularly for a big budget film considered the follow up to Jurassic Park, one of the biggest special effects extravaganzas of its time. If the writing were better perhaps the gorilla might be less distracting, but Amy’s lines are clunky, unfunny, and embarrassing. At no point did I ever believe Amy to be an actual gorilla, unlike something found in the recent Planet of the Apes movies (and yes I know technological advancements have obviously made this easier).

I remember when Congo was released into theaters. It was one of the hottest summers on record, and the film had a tie-in deal with Taco Bell. I remember the giant plastic Congo cups sold at Taco Bell, and how similar they were to the color change Jurassic Park cups sold at McDonald’s two years previous. We had a few of them, and I remember carrying one with me filled with ice water while I delivered newspapers throughout my neighborhood. Funny that my most distinct memory about Congo is its product placement tie-ins. I also remember the terrible toy line for Congo, and how the film was obviously expected to be a huge hit but turned out to be a flop, sending the merchandise to the clearance bins pretty quickly.

I also remember how the film was highly anticipated, heavily hyped, and expected to be one of the biggest films of 1995. That did not turn out so well, as only 22% of critics gave it a positive notice, according to Rotten Tomatoes. The film, to its credit, features some interesting and entertaining aspects, however. As noted earlier, Ernie Hudson is great as Captain Kelly, the group’s guide into Africa. The film is actually decently shot and edited, and is appropriately tense and entertaining when it needs to be (the plane chase sequence, for example, is well done). Clearly director Frank Marshall had some idea of what he was working with. Additionally, though the script isn’t great, the film has an adventurous spirit that is sorely lacking from a lot of modern movies.

Unfortunately, the movie is chock-a-block with shit. Dylan Walsh and Grant Hezlov make for uninteresting and bland lead male characters (it doesn’t help that they each have the worst possible haircuts I’ve ever seen for leading men in a film). Walsh is totally unconvincing in his role, and his line readings are downright amateur in places. He is neither dynamic nor charismatic. Laura Linney is a talented actress, but she is not an action star and is clearly miscast here. She’s neither Sigourney Weaver nor Jamie Lee Curtis, and it shows. The script is also atrocious, and the film in places looks like a made-for-tv movie (the parts with the “authentic” African tribes are downright offensively bad).

It is the ape costumes, however, that make for the most embarrassing and crappiest parts of the movie. In addition to Amy’s unconvincing costume, there are the dreaded grey “killer apes” that act in this film like the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park do. However, for as good as the dinos look in that movie, that’s how bad these apes look in Congo. They are meant to be scary and intimidating, but come off looking like a total joke. Marshall does his best with the material and I believe he is a capable and competent filmmaker, but what he’s working with is almost total crap. The fact that he had to use slo-mo to the point of absurdity shows the cheapness of the costumes he is working with.

It’s not surprising that after Congo, no other Michael Crichton film adaptation was deemed a critical success, and commercial success eluded all of theatrically released works except one. Sphere proved to be another flop, The 13th Warrior is notorious for all the wrong reasons, and Timeline is completely forgotten, having tanked worse than any other Crichton adaptation. His only other box office success came in the form of Spielberg’s The Lost World, a movie that has more than its fair share of problems. In a post-Jurassic Park world where every movie studio was looking for the next Jurassic Park, Congo must have surely seemed a safe bet. But it was a botch job based off of less than fantastic source material, and its legacy is ultimately one of almost total critical failure and commercial disappointment.

-Z-

Franchise Fracas! – Terminator

While there is no hard or fast rule, I usually like to do one of these Franchise Fracas entries when a movie series of at least three films comes out with a new installment.  We haven’t really had one of those lately (the Jurassic Park series notwithstanding), but this week, we get a big release for fans of action movies or just cinema in general.

Terminator: Genisys opens in theaters tomorrow (with some special screenings tonight).  It is the latest in the long-running Terminator franchise started in 1984 by James Cameron.  This is a series that has had a lot of ups and downs over the years, but, surprisingly, continues on with an ever-present popularity – I am sure this is why Hollywood continually tries to bring back the property every couple of years or so.

But why is that?  What is it about the Terminator films that keep people coming back to them (even when an entry is incredibly subpar)?  Granted, four of the five films have featured Arnold Schwarzenegger in what is arguably his most iconic role.  But that can’t surely be enough?  Can it?  Or is it riding of the popularity of the earlier installments?  Let’s look back at this series and see what we can find.

T1

The Original

1984’s The Terminator is really a film that could only have been made in 1984.  The style, the soundtrack, the cinematography, and the action sequences – it has such a 1980s aesthetic.  Even the future sequences have that 1980s feel to it.  Action films made during this time are just so unique in that the filmmakers didn’t give a rat’s ass about being over-the-top with the violence.  Not that the film is gory or anything like that, but there is this real-world grittiness to it.  Later movies (including Terminator sequels) really sanitize the violence to make it more marketable.

But beyond that, for as mind-bending as it could be, the story is really unique and high concept.  However, Cameron is able to distill that down for anyone to really pick up and get (made even better given that the actually narrative is, in essence, one big long chase).  It also surprisingly fits into the four quadrants that film studios love.

The Terminator was a runaway hit in 1984, but in 1991 the sequel Terminator 2: Judgement Day (or T2 as it has since been known) was a bigger hit in every conceivable way.  And, as many would argue, is an even better movie than its predecessor.  Despite it being a sequel, T2 is basically a remake of the first film with just a bigger budget and even more creative control by James Cameron.  Don’t believe me?  Just look at the story.  A robot from the future goes back in time to kill a human before he is able to grow up.  The film is also one big chase with several sequences lifted from the original film.

The Gold Standard

The Gold Standard

But, you know what? Who cares?  T2 is a classic.  With the higher budget, Cameron was able to push the visual effects to new limits (back in a time when visual effects were there to enhance the story) and delve into more philosophical ideas and themes.  T2 is probably one of the best science fiction films ever made because of it.  Instead of it being more of a straight-up action film, it has a deeper levels to it supporting the action.

Yes, Edward Furlong is insufferable in this film, but everything else just works.  Future generations are going to come back to this film again and again, because it is a solid action film.  It may not have the grittiness of the 1984 original, but it replaces it with a timelessness that will never, ever go away.

Originally, Cameron was finished telling the story he wanted to tell with Terminator.  He had no plans to make third.  That didn’t stop other people from doing it.  It took several years, but 2003 saw the release of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.  This film is looked down upon by many, and I can understand why: it is largely a retread of T2.  While the “remake aspect” might have worked for T2, enough was enough for T3.  Audiences became restless.

Underrated

Underrated

Here is my confession: I actually like this movie.  I think it is a solid action film that uses a healthy mix of practical effects and CGI stunt work.  It isn’t as deep as T2 or as original as T1, but on its own merits, it isn’t all that bad.  Plus, the unexpected ending really sold me on this film overall.  Its biggest sin is that it isn’t as good as T2.

If the series would have ended there, I think we would have had a sold trilogy of films comparable to the Star Wars trilogy (Good first one; Great second one; middling third one).  Instead, Hollywood said more was needed.

This is where things really start to get weird.

In 2008, the FOX network began airing Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles.  During its two season run, the series side-stepped the events of Terminator 3 and began to weave its own mythology about the creation of villainous Skynet and the Connors fight for survival.  I got into the series pretty heavily during that first season, but lost interest quickly during the second.  That show wasn’t all that bad – it just stopped becoming appointment viewing for me.  Apparently that was the case for many people as ratings plummeted and the show was cancelled on a cliffhanger in the spring of 2009.

The Show

The Show

To me it seemed strange that The Sarah Connor Chronicles was made at all.  For starters, the fact that it outright ignored the events of Terminator 3 even though that film was made only a few years prior seemed incredibly bizarre.  I get why they did (there is more story to tell), but I can’t help but wonder if some executive wondered if it would be confusing to the casual fan.  The even stranger oddity is that a fourth film was in development and was going to have no ties to the TV show.  Not that the two projects needed to be in sync with each other, but given how relatively small, but visible the franchise is, it makes for an odd choice.

In any event, the show was over by the time 2009’s Terminator Salvation was released.  This film gets a lot of flak.  I cannot actually talk on the quality of it as I have never seen it, but from what I gather, it is entirely deserved.  I give it points for doing something different from the previous films since it takes place in the future and shows the origins of John Connor becoming the resistance leader as opposed to a movie-long chase.  It just seems that the execution was flat.

The Bad One

The Bad One

I can only imagine that there were two problems at play here.  The first being no Arnold.  He is kind of the glue that holds this series together.  The second being…was there really that much of a demand for a future war movie?  Even when this film was in production, I always wondered why they were making this.  The future war provided a good narrative background, but likely wouldn’t have been all that interesting itself.  I just don’t think people cared all that much.

This film greatly under-performed and the potential direct sequels were scrapped.  Hollywood is attempting to try again to restart the Terminator franchise now with Genisys which looks to be a hybrid reboot/sequel in the way Star Trek and X-Men: Days of Future Past are.  Originally, I was looking forward to this film as it just seemed incredibly crazy, but after recent trailers have given away some major twists about the film, my excitement has been curbed considerably.

I go back to my original question: what about The Terminator not only draw people to it, but makes Hollywood want to go back to that well?  Overall, it is an entertaining franchise, but it is also one of diminishing returns.  What can it be?

Here is my theory:  Audiences and Hollywood wants to recapture T2.  As expressed above, it is a great film.  But even if you are not a fan, you have to recognize that T2 was a cultural event.  Does anyone else remember how big this film actually was?  That summer, Terminator was everywhere.  Likely taking a cue from the Batman franchise, the marketing was out of control for T2!  You could not go five feet without seeing something connected to Terminator.

There were video games, t-shirts, pin-ball games in arcades, books, comics, etc.  There were even action figures and other toy lines created in 1991 that were aimed directly towards children – something that would never happen today for a “hard-R” movie.  This might not seem that strange for today (all summer blockbusters get big pushes), but in 1991, this wasn’t the case.  And since it wasn’t the case, T2 stood out among the other films.  Seriously, without looking it up, can anyone immediately name another big film that came out in the summer of 1991?

This push cemented Terminator 2: Judgement Day into our culture forever.  That’s what people want.  Audiences and filmmakers want another Terminator 2 experience.  Unfortunately, it is not going to happen.  I don’t mean to suggest that past or future Terminator projects won’t be good.  T2 was lightening in a bottle.  Replicating something like that is going to be near-impossible.  Look at the follow-ups since T2 – they have all struggled in one way, shape, or form.

The New One

The New One

So, how successful will Terminator Genisys be?  Who knows?  Early reviews are not promising, but that doesn’t mean anything when it comes to box office potential.  Genisys is following the pattern that T2 went in having Arnold back as the “good” Terminator and by opening on the long 4th of July weekend.  Anything is possible, but I suspect that Genisys will be out of the public mind when the next big blockbuster comes out (Ant-Man probably).

~N

Good-Bye, New 52! Hello, DCYou!

A few years ago, DC Comics rebooted their superhero publishing line. By wiping the continuity clean, writers and artists were able to rebuild characters and concepts from the ground up and not be hindered about what came before. It also allowed for an excellent jumping on point for potential new or lapsed readers. This initiative was titled “The New 52” as DC launched 52 new series. At the time, I did an opinion piece on the launch and promised to do a one-year-later follow-up.

The follow-up never happened. However, DC is now retiring the New 52 branding and going in a new creative direction, so why not look back at the New 52?

new52The core idea behind the New 52 was to increase sales. And they did. Those first few months DC was booming. Like anything, sales eventually decreased and leveled out. However, the company was still making more money than they were from before the reboot. On that level, they succeeded.

However, there was a lot of turmoil behind the scenes early on in the New 52. Many creators felt stifled by their editors and higher-ups. Story changes were decreed at the last minute. Things that were approved where later unapproved. Many creators such as George Perez and Rob Liefeld left their books in frustration on how the company was being run. Things were looking grim and a number of books suffered for it.

For example, the Superman line had a lot of problems finding a footing. Grant Morrison started the New 52 by telling Superman’s early days in Action Comics (which started off well, but then got too “Grant Morrison-y” for its own good), but the main Superman title had no direction for a good year (some of which was stated to be because Morrison refused to tell other writers his plans thereby making it difficult for them to write stories since Morrison’s story was taking place in the past) before much reviled (for reasons alien to me) Scott Lobdell came on and gave the book the focus it needed.

Superman had some problems getting going.  Writer/artist George Perez left after 6 issues.

Superman had some problems getting going. Writer/artist George Perez left after 6 issues.

That said, other titles were very successful. Scott Snyder’s Batman and Geoff John’s Justice League were critical and financial successes. Additionally, The Flash seemed to suffer from very little editorial meddling. It seemed as if the meddling depending on who was writing it. This problem seemed to get better with time and is virtually gone by now (at least what is made public).

While I enjoyed what DC was doing and was constantly invested in the comics I read (ie. The Flash) or what I read through news sites, I was a bit disappointed that DC didn’t push the envelope further to really change things up. I know after being in business in various forms for 75+ years and a total corporate company, they are not going to rock the boat too much, but how great it would have been to reboot these superheroes and completely reimagine them in the process. Think how the Golden Age Flash (Jay Garrick) was reimagined into the Silver Age Flash (Barry Allen). Same basic concept, but new take with it.

DC did this somewhat with the popular Earth 2 series which completely revamped and modernized the Golden Age heroes. Earth 2 is a book that I truly loved the concept and the general ideas behind it, but I just could not get into it as I would have liked. Much of that had to do with then-writer James Robinson’s story pacing issues and truly awful and confusing dialogue.

Beyond that, DC did take some risks with a few titles by having some focusing on being a western, fantasy, science fiction, and even political. Unfortunately, none of these were all that successful and were cancelled at various times during the New 52. But, hey, at least they tried to bring something new to the table.

In the end, I do think the New 52 was successful. Is it the success that DC and others may have wanted? I don’t know. People who were against the reboot for really petty reasons complained about it endlessly it seemed. Some overzealous fanboys just can’t be happy unless they complain. What I do know is that it is probably good that they are retiring the branding. It has been nearly 4 years. Time to move on.

dcyou

Which is what they are doing. DC just did a mini-revamp to their publishing line. Nothing as drastic as the New 52 reboot as the New 52 continuity is continuing on. Calling itself the DCYou (a play on DCU – DC Universe), the initiative is trying to create new starting points for readers to jump on the books. Most of the titles are re-introducing their characters with new costumes and/or status quos.

Most interesting with DCYou is that creators are reporting a lot of creative freedom – much more than they have had before. This, of course, is ironic given the complete reversal that was reported at the beginning of the New 52. Continuity between books is supposedly going to be much looser than before. The idea being that DC wants their writers to write the best story ever and not worry about what is happening in another book.

I like this approach. I think it frees writers up by not having to worry about other books. Continuity between books was never a real big thing during the first 30-40 years of comic book publishing – why not go back to that?

Do I think there will be epic crossovers in the future? Of course I do. Those sell. However, I don’t think it DC’s idea is that they are going to be focusing on one crossover event leading into another crossover event. For what is it is worth, there has been a surprisingly small amount of actual major crossover storylines since the start of the New 52. Perhaps this is an extension of it.

The DCYou is also experimenting with different types of storytelling with satirical books such as Prez and all-ages books such as Bizarro. It is great to see more diversity in a publishing line (and better advertising for it the more off-beat, non-superhero titles).

Not to say that the DCYou campaign is not without its controversies as demonstrated by Batman's new look.

Not to say that the DCYou campaign is not without its controversies as demonstrated by Batman’s new look.

So, where does all this lead me? Am I still going to be collecting The Flash and reviewing the speedster’s adventures month after month? Truth is, I don’t know. Here is the catch with the “DCYou”: a good handful of books are jumping in price from $2.99 to $3.99 without any page increase or other incentives (as far as I know) that would justify a price increase. The Flash is one of these books (likely due to the runaway success of the character’s TV show).

I know that prices go up. And I knew that DC wouldn’t be able to keep all their comics at $2.99 forever. However, for the longest time, $2.99 was my limit to spend on a monthly comic (not counting a special or a one-off). It gets too costly for something that is only 20 pages long. I know I only buy one comic a month on a regular basis, but a line in the sand needs to be drawn. $3.99 is that line.  And, given its monthly sales, I don’t think Flash warrants to be a $3.99 comic.

So, I don’t know what I want to do with that. I’m leaving that door open for right now. Maybe you’ll see a review pop-up here within the next week. Maybe you won’t. Who knows? I might wait and go to a convention in a few months and pick up the new comics in reduced price bins. Or will I cave? It’s possible.

Flash might be unstoppable, but his new price tag might stop me.

Flash might be unstoppable, but his new price tag might stop me.

Back on point: Good-bye New 52! You did your job well, but it is not time to move on. Hello DCYou! Let’s see what you have for us! Maybe I’ll do a follow-up piece in a few months to see how things played out. Oh, who am I kidding? Even I know I won’t.

~N

Speed Reading! – The Flash #40

"The End of the Road"

“The End of the Road”

Our two storylines finally collide and Future Flash deals with Overload and present-day Flash deals with Selkirk.  And, in direct contrast to my earlier complaints of this storyline being too drawn out, the resolution feels completely rushed.  And it was even a double issue!

In the Speed Force, Barry is strapped down as Selkirk talks in some kind of squiggly speak (wonder what that translates to) and brings down the Speed Force lightning.  Obviously, things don’t go as easily as planned and he gets half his face blown off.  But Barry gets his powers back and races out of there.

While that goes on, Future Flash gets his hand blown off trying to protect Iris and Patty (who thought they would somehow be able to stop him) from Overload.  Where are the cops during this?  Isn’t there a huge mayoral event going on a block away?  Anyway, this causes Barry to come clean that he’s not Patty’s Barry, but a future version of Barry.  Patty, for reasons that can only be described as “Comics!”, accepts this and demands to know where her Barry is.

After an exposition dump and a pep talk from Patty, Future Flash realizes how to defeat Overload without killing him and shorts out all the nearby electronics by causing them to be used all at once.  Happy that the “buzzing” stopped, Overload is taken away by the police.

Then the present-day Barry arrives.  But before these two Flashes can duke it out, Selkirk, now with speed abilities arrives on the scene.

Future Flash, who suddenly turned a leaf (from Patty’s pep talk?), decides to take himself out to end Selkirk and he forces a collision with Barry to recreate the explosion from issue 35.  It works.  Selkirk is gone and Future Flash winks out of existence just before he gives Barry a name connected to his mother’s death: Thawne.

Then Patty breaks up with Barry for the most questionable of reasons: she sees the Future Flash in him.

While I am not too saddened that Barry and Patty are over, her reasoning doesn’t seem to really make logical sense.  She knew that Future Flash wasn’t her Barry and, partly due to the former’s actions, that her Barry would never become that.  It seems horribly, horribly unfair to Barry that this happens.

I can see if she broke it off with him because of all the crazy danger she has found herself in.  That’s different and justifiable, if clichéd a bit.  Maybe they wanted to put the toys back into the box for DC’s mini-relaunch, but this was tough to buy into.

Following Barry’s heartbreak, we see Selkirk (presumably back in the Speed Force).  His body is broken and spine is shattered.  He’s talking to someone, and that person is the New 52’s Professor Zoom.

I suppose it was only a matter of time before we were reintroduced to Zoom.  We already gotten a new Reverse Flash, but with the TV show using Eobard Thawne as the main nemesis, it seemed only logical that Thawne would show up in the books.  I wonder if he’ll use the moniker of Reverse Flash or just Professor Zoom.  Time will tell, I suppose, but I to love his new look.

Again, I feel that this issue was rushed, but it worked for a finale.  Now that DC comics is going into their two-month Convergence story event and Flash coming back after that, maybe Venditti and Jensen will be able to work out their pacing problems.  I’m excited about the Professor Zoom returning, but I am getting weary of another “evil speeder” story arc.  This is the third one we’ve gotten in two years (four if you count the Future Flash as two).   Let’s see what happens.

In other news, I am all caught up with my reviews!  Huzzah!

Next: In June, The Flash Returns to Face his Deadliest Enemies Yet.

Speed Reading! – The Flash #39

“Power Loss”

All right.  This is what I am talking about.  Actual progression and development!  I’ve been growing weary with this storyline as of late, and we get somewhere with it.

First: Flash in the Speed Force.  The group finally makes it to the top of the mountain.  There was danger along the way and one member of the group (who suspiciously looks exactly like Cyclops from the X-Men [including having a giant “X” on his shirt]) bites it.  But they get there and find a temple.  Flash sees all these carvings about speedsters and learns that Selkirk has been deceiving him the entire time.

Consider me not shocked by this at all.

You see, apparently Selkirk can (somehow) call down lightning that can get people out of the Speed Force, but lacks the proper lightning rod.  Enter The Flash.  So, Selkirk has lured the Flash to the mountain in order to make a rod out of him.

I have lots of questions about this.  First, who made all the cave drawings – including the one that depicted Selkirk zapping lightning into The Flash?  Two: Why didn’t Selkirk just tell Barry what he wanted to do?  Barry is the type that probably would have been willing to work something out.  Three: Is the “Savage Speed Force” different from the previous Speed Force?  Up until now, it seems to have been the same place, just different locations.  Now, the issue seems to backtrack from that indicating that this is a different place and that they need to call down the Speed Force to escape from it.

Maybe some of this will be explained next time.  It just seems like this guy was obviously evil from the beginning (my evidence: the “too good to be true” technique), but Barry never bothered to question the guy.  I can’t help but think that he wouldn’t do that.  I don’t want to Monday morning quarterback here, but couldn’t Barry have questioned something at the beginning and Selkirk give him some line of bullshit?  Then Barry (and the readers) could buy it only later realize Selkirk was lying?

As is, I couldn’t believe that Selkirk had Barry’s best intentions in mind.  Then again, maybe we, the readers, were not supposed to think that. Instead, perhaps we were to watch Barry making a terrible decision by trusting the guy.  Kind of like in a horror film when we know the soon-to-be-victim is going into a room that we, the viewers, know will lead to the character’s death.  If that was the case, I am not sure Venditti and Jensen were successful in that regard.

Anyway, I’m going on long enough about that aspect of the story.  I am sure more will come next time.

While Barry is dealing with his trust issues, Future Flash makes his move on Overload in Central City.  Turns out Overload gets a super-migraine with all the electronics buzzing around and that causes him (somehow) to blow things/people up.  Future Flash finally tracks him down before he really reigns down destruction.  He’s about to go in for the kill with Iris and Patty arrive, and Future Flash accidently hits Patty.  Iris sees this and is convinced Flash is a killer.  Overload then strikes.

This moved along nicely.  It had good action and pace and enough backstory to get who this Overload character was.  I like the idea of him and the commentary of our digital devices.  It makes him less of an outright villain and more of a sympathetic character.  He seemingly doesn’t want to kill or destroy things.  He’s just in that much pain that he doesn’t know how to deal with it.  How that translates into powers, I am a bit unsure of, but I’m willing to let that one slide for right now, because “Comics!”.

As I’ve mentioned in previous reviews, this storyline has gone on too long, but now that we are reaching the climax, it’s hitting all the right notes.  Despite the issues I had with the Selkirk storyline this time around, it isn’t that bit of a deal.  They are just questions I have – it didn’t ruin my enjoyment of The Flash #39.  I’m pumped for the grand finale.

Next: Flash and Future Flash Race Toward The End of the Road!

Speed Reading! – The Flash #38

“Skeletons in the Closet”

“Skeletons in the Closet”

The duel-Flash stories continue on.  I can’t help but feel that the “Future Flash” storyline was stretched out in order to facilitate DC Comics’ mandate to wrap-up storylines at issue 40 (to service the company’s move to the west coast) as there seems to be a lot of wheel spinning going on here.  That said, the current issue does seem to be moving the storyline forward on multiple fronts.

The Flash from the now-alternate future continues to act hard-core with his enemies.  The latest villain to encounter him is a wannabe Rogue, Napalm.  Napalm, as we soon learn, is an obnoxious twit that even his evaluator, Mirror Master, finds annoying.  Future-Flash doesn’t have time for this and winds up severing his arm.  He’s even about to kill him in cold-blood when he notices Iris in the crowd.  Future-Flash speeds off, and Iris fully believes that “The Flash” is now a killer.

Odd reasoning considering that Future-Flash didn’t kill Napalm, and, more importantly, Iris knows the Flash.  Shouldn’t she wonder if something else is going on before jumping to the simplistic conclusions?  Granted, she’s correct in her assumptions, but it seemed out of character to leap to her conclusion.

Not helping matters for the doppelgänger is that Patty is also refining her suspicions that Flash isn’t who he says he is.

While that is going on, the real Flash is still stuck in the Speed Force and learns a lot more about Selkirk.  Turns out that he studies speedsters before he was pulled into the Speed Force.  His past is outlined over a two-page spread, but the interesting thing I took away from this is that he very casually references that other speedsters have existed in the DC Universe before Barry Allen.  I’m a little surprised that Barry didn’t find this the least bit interesting.

I hope this is the set-up for something.  The Speed Force mythology as originated for the New 52 back in the first Grodd issue is very interesting as there seems to be a lot to mine.  Hopefully, this can be explored when and if the Future Flash storyline is resolved.

Anyway, Selkirk and Flash then head out to the top of a mountain that will give Flash his powers back.  Somehow.  It still isn’t explained to Flash (or the readers) how this will work.

I am growing antsy with this story arc.  What happened to Overload?  He’s still around, right?  We get a mention of him, but this character really feels like an afterthought.  Oh well.  At least, we got some good Brett Booth artwork to look at.

Next: On the Hunt for a Killer!

Its June…Why Not Talk About April’s C2E2?

C2E2About a month and a half ago, I went to C2E2 – the Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo. This was my 4th year going and marked the first year that I went all three days. As always, it was a very fun time and I don’t regret going at all. However, I did notice somethings that I am starting to become discontent with.

The convention hasn’t really changed from much in the past. You have your panels, giant retail floor, and artist alley. I was able to meet a lot of great writers and artists. Aaron Kuder (current artist on Action Comics) is an incredibly nice guy and really fun to talk to, artist Rod Reis seemed confused when I asked him to sign a Superman comic he contributed to, and former Justice League artist Kevin Mcguire is an incredibly difficult person to track down. The comic creator highlight was meeting Brian Buccallato, former co-writer/artist on The Flash (read my reviews here). I am pretty sure he thought I was a weirdo because I came up to him and didn’t know what to say. At all. We made some very awkward small talk. I am not one to get star-struck, and I don’t think this was what happened here.

Me with Brian Buccellato

Me with Brian Buccellato

I guess part of the problem on my end is that I never know what to say to the creators whose work I really enjoy. Tell them “I like your stuff”? Well, no duh. I wouldn’t be there otherwise. Tell him I review his comics? Somehow I doubt he would care about some nobody writing a blog that very few actually read. If I get a chance to meet Buccallato again in the future, I’ll have something better planned.

Another fun story is that while walking the floor, I ran into internet celebrity Doug Walker (the Nostalgia Critic) and his cohort/brother Rob. Unfortunately, at the time and due to the unexpected nature of running into them, I mistook Rob for another internet celeb, James “Angry Video Game Nerd” Rolfe. I didn’t realize my mistake until we parted ways. I’m sure they rightfully thought I was a tool. Still, they were really cool to talk to for a few minutes.

And, for what it is worth, Walker seems almost exactly like his internet alter-ego in real life.

Me with Doug

Me with Doug “Nostalgia Critic” Walker and Rob Walker

With the panels, I went to a select few. The more publisher panels I go to, the more I realize that they are just there to pimp their product. Not that that is bad, but I am learning that I don’t care much for commercials. I did go to a really neat panel on the comic creation process. I’ll never work in the industry (nor do I have grand ambitions to), but I do enjoy learning about it.

I did attend a few Game of Thrones­-related panels. I don’t watch the show or read the books, but my girlfriend does. The panels featured Jason Momoa (who I will always know from Stargate). He is awesome. What a great presence onstage. I know nothing of GoT, but he was entertaining to watch, that is for sure.

Jason Momoa likes his hats.

Jason Momoa likes his hats.

I also had to suffer though part of a Dr. Who panel in order to get really kick-ass seats for the Game of Thrones panel that followed. The things we do for those we love.

As I mentioned, I went all three days. Friday and Sunday were fine with the crowds, but Saturday was overwhelming. It felt nearly impossible to get through even the large walkways in the Artist Alley. It almost made it not fun. If I go back, I don’t know if I could do Saturday again. Yes, I am getting old.

I bought some stuff. Some neat things from the artist alley, but when it came to the retail floor, it was hard to really buy anything. I did pick up some comics, but it felt like I was forcing myself to get something. I am sure some of that had to do with the fact that I didn’t have time to really plan out what I wanted to get ahead of time, so I was “looking blind”.

Who are you going to call?

Who are you going to call?

I do think another part of that is that I just don’t really care anymore. I still like this medium and I enjoy meeting creators and such. But, at the end of the day, I do wonder if I am growing out of it. At what point do I say to myself, “That guy wrote some issue of Superman that you own. You should get his autograph, but who cares, really?” (Probably not the greatest of examples as I typically view creator autographs as convention scavenger hunts).

Another part of my apathy, I feel, has to do with what I felt was a lack of actual comic retailers at the show. Maybe it was on par with previous years, but I couldn’t help but think that there were very few booths actually selling comics. Instead, there seemed to be an overabundance of booths selling toys and other pop-culture merchandise. And each booth seemed to have the same crap. And, on top of that, many booths that did sell comics didn’t really seem to run competitive deals. Not that every booth has to sell at a dollar, but things just seemed shrewder than I remembered in the past.

Maybe I need to take a new approach about what I am looking for or, not that I am old, what I want my collection to look like. My life has taken a lot of new directions over this past year. Perhaps I need to reexamine my comic collecting.  Or maybe the rough year I had preceding the convention was just that: rough. And now I should go back to focus on some hobbies.

Let's face it: The Nesquik Bunny had this coming.

Let’s face it: The Nesquik Bunny had this coming.

That aside, I still did have some good fun at C2E2. Perhaps if I better prepared and was able to take my own advice, I would be able to enjoy the convention more than I did. My girlfriend did say that if we go back, we are dressing up in costume, something neither of us has done at one of these things. She doesn’t want us to look like the strange ones. My, how times have changed.

~N

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