The Culture Cast with Zack and Nick

Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!

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

Pitch Perfect 2 (or How To Make a Good Sequel to a Movie that Didn’t Need a Sequel)

May 19th saw the release of Pitch Perfect 2, the long awaited sequel to the 2012 surprise musical/comedy sleeper hit.  And the follow-up is pretty much the exact same thing as the original and a hell of a lot of fun.

PP2

The story picks up three years after the Barton Bellas won their first national championship.  Since that time, the group, led by Anna Kendrick’s Beca, have become a little too complacent and have begun to rely more on special effects during their shows than letting their singing be focused.  They begin their senior year with disastrous show which ultimately suspends the group from preforming in an official light.  However, they strike a deal that if they are able to win a world championship (where they meet stiff competition from a snobbish German team), they will be reinstated.

During their trials, the Bellas encounter sing-offs, new members, original songs, and rock-bottom fall-outs.  If you haven’t already figured this out, Pitch Perfect 2 pretty much follows the exact same story beats as its predecessor (kind of like Ghostbusters 2).  However, none of this bothers me at all.

One of the saving graces is that the movie is fun.   The cast is having a blast, and that was infectious. Everything is light and breeze, and the film embraces what it is.  This is one of the key ingredients that makes this sequel completely work.

Pitch Perfect 2 also doesn’t fall into the trap of trying to be too cool and hip, because the first was surprisingly popular.  The movie doesn’t rely on needless gimmicks to make it seem relevant.  Most of the goofy stuff here was introduced in the original and grew organically in the sequel.  There is nothing in it that feels out of place.  Even the extended cameo by the Green Bay Packers (an idea that sounds awful on paper) actually works given the way they were introduced into the film.  The film didn’t try to accommodate the Packers.  Instead, the Packers accommodated the film – which is how something like that should be done.

Director Elizabeth Banks gives the film a good balance and also smartly doesn’t completely rely on the first installment’s breakout characters, Rebel Wilson’s Fat Amy and Banks’s and John Michael Higgins’s inappropriate announcers, to carry the film.  Not to say they do not have a presence, but they are not overused to the point of being obnoxious (they probably have as big of a role as they do in the first installment).  This could have easily been the Fat Amy movie, but Banks didn’t go that route, and Pitch Perfect 2 is better for it.

I like Pitch Perfect 2.  It was fun to revisit these characters and this world.  It is also an example of how to do an unexpected sequel correctly.  I’d be down for a third movie in this series if the same creative staff stayed intact.  Given the runaway success that this sequel has had already, I think we’ll get that third movie.  Here’s hoping they continue the trend they started here.

~N

I saw Mad Max: Fury Road

I don’t particularly care for the first or third Mad Max films. I recognize the cultural importance of the first film, and the third has become known for its “Two men enter, one man leaves” catchphrase which has been parodied a million times throughout pop culture. But I don’t have any kind of nostalgia for either of them. The first is a cult classic and the third was a minor Hollywood hit, but the second film, known here as The Road Warrior and internationally as Mad Max 2, is my pick for the second best action flick of the 80s (just narrowing out Aliens and behind Die Hard, the greatest film of the 1980s).

Max_Mad_Fury_Road_Newest_Poster

I bring all this up because I was hoping that Fury Road, the fourth in the long running film series and the first in nearly 30 years, would end up more like The Road Warrior and less like a Tina Turner vehicle. I avoided almost all marketing for Fury Road, choosing to not watch trailers, and even leaving the theater for a moment when they popped up. When commercials aired for the film on Hulu, I would instinctively mute them and look away. I went into this thing without seeing a single trailer and only have glimpsed the big bad, Immortan Joe, a single time. This was for the best, because ultimately Fury Road is an amazing action movie and a more than worthy sequel to a series that gave us The Road Warrior.

Director George Miller’s film will suffer the inevitable backlash as it has already received nearly unanimous praise. I’ve seen people dub it the savior of the action film. I’m not going to go this far (action movies have been great lately – see: The Fast and Furious franchise, John Wick, and 2013’s The Wolverine), but holy crap Fury Road is amazing. From the amazing stunt and practical effects work to the deft direction and brilliant shot composition to the outlandish vehicle and character design, there’s not much out there like Fury Road except for Fury Road. It’s a tremendous triumph of cinema, and an easy candidate for one of the year’s best films period, action or otherwise.

Tom Hardy steps into the role of Mad Max (last occupied by Mel Gibson), and Hardy is really damn good as Max. He’s off-kilter, unhinged, and opportunistic after years of living in the wasteland. When he’s captured by Immortan Joe’s (Hugh Keays-Byrne) War Boys, however, he becomes a blood bag, essentially spare parts for one of the young soldiers in Joe’s army. Max subversively spends the first half-hour of the movie in captivity, while the story unfolds. One of Joe’s lieutenants, the charismatic Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron in what should be an Oscar nominated role), decides to go rogue, intending to free a cadre of young brides Immortan Joe has set aside for his own personal breeding purposes. This sets in motion a chain of events leading to Max becoming free and ultimately deciding to help Furiosa on her journey.

The film from there on in is essentially a two-hour chase through the desert wasteland, as Joe gathers his allies and heads out with deadly intent to murder Furiosa and return what he sees as his property. Complicating matters are Spendid (Rosie Huntington-Whitely), one of Joe’s brides – who is nine months pregnant, and Nux (Nicholas Hoult), a seemingly bulletproof War Boy who just won’t go away. Throughout the chase, Max and crew face off against motorcycle-riding bandits, porcupine-esque vehicular combat, a gentleman named The Bullet Farmer, and a band of tough-as-nails old women who remember what paradise was like before the expansion of the wasteland – all the while being pursued by Immortan Joe and his lieutenants.

Much has been written online about Fury Road’s amazing practical effects, gender subversions, intense imagery and violence, memorable characters, and deft direction. All these are true. This film is a modern classic featuring some of the best car combat captured on film. It’s also something of a relief that the film has found its audience, almost through sheer source of will. Even though the 150 million dollar production isn’t doing Avengers-type numbers (hey, what is?), the film is a pretty big hit domestically and worldwide. This speaks volumes to the film’s quality, as word of mouth has been overwhelmingly positive.

I imagine I have not touched on any new ground writing about this movie, and that’s fine with me. This is the type of production where, upon seeing the final product, you immediately go out and tell your friends about it. I’ve mentioned how great the film is to people would never go see a movie titled Mad Max: Fury Road, and not only did they see it – they also loved it. It’s been quite a while since something of this level of quality so unexpectedly became foisted upon us. If you are still on the fence, even just a little bit, about this film, please go out and check it out. It’s a pretty amazing, pretty special product.

-Z-

The Gorehound Reviews: Extraterrestrial (’14)

Up today is an entry into the never disappointing genre and 90% of the Gorehound’s movie repertoire, teen slashers- five teens getting slashed in a more often than not, a cabin in the woods. It’s a combination that strikes gold for this ferocious flickster: drinking, screaming, stupid/questionable decisions, and most important slashing- all wrapped up into 90 minutes of cinematic pleasure. Brought together by the Vicious Brothers (who are only known for the well-made, but not excellent, Grave Encounters), Extraterrestrial strikes gold.

EXTRATERRESTRIAL_UK_QUAD

The story of Extraterrestrial isn’t very unique, more along the lines of a teen slasher than an alien invasion and certainly no friendly neighborhood E.T. but just as appealing to horror-focused folks. This movie hits all the necessary points for an entertaining sci-fi/horror flick. Some teens, each a different stereotype, head into the woods for a night of fun but unfortunately, an agreement between the government and aliens has gone wrong and vengeance must be paid on these poor and stupid souls.

A common disappointment among alien sci-fi movies is the lack of extraterrestrial imagery. Suspense is a wonderful aspect of horror and should be utilized, but when aliens are involved, seeing them is a necessary requirement. We must see the aliens. Without any sight of them, I feel that the director is thoughtless and has little vision. Sure, if suspense is what you’re going, then great, but more often than not, the Gorehound needs ALIENS.

HNFNsThis movie has hints of Signs (’02). Obviously, it’s not as good as Signs because there is no Phoenix or Gibson and the sights of aliens are nowhere near as intense. The sight of the aliens in Signs is like a lightning strike to the viewer, which is excellent for that style where the story is crucial… but in teen slashers, which aren’t aiming for awards or recognition, just horror or science fiction, additional imagery of the aliens is more rewarding than fewer scenes. If the Gorehound rents a low-budget alien movie from Family Video, there better be multiple scenes of aliens.

None of the characters are attractive or appealing to look at so we’re not really focusing on them. Melanie’s overdose was ridic (fun fact: her real name is Melanie Papalia… and who the shit ODs during an alien invasion? The Gorehound would hands down prefer death by aliens, than death by drugs). The alien coverage was wonderful (i.e., we saw a shit-ton of aliens). The cop is the most sensible and likable of the characters. The aliens are just unique enough, but still not straight from some obscure universe. We have expectations here and we’re still in the milk way here…. In addition, there was an ass probing, which isn’t seen too often. Kind of forgot the notion that many abductees reference probing.

When Netflix asked whether the Gorehound liked this movie or not, he said “I really liked it.” There were a few moments when the Gorehound felt disappointed, at which point the story took a quick turn, like the fake out ending, which abruptly turned into a government coverup. Regardless, teen slasher+aliens+fake outs=4/5

PS Many kudos for including a “Smoking Man” at the end. The Gorehound has high respect for X-Files.

Speed Reading! – The Flash #37

“The Savage World of the Speed Force!”

“The Savage World of the Speed Force!”

The parallel stories of the two Flashes continue in this issue.  We first find “present-day” Barry in the Speed Force with his new friend Selkirk.  They approach the latter’s settlement housing several other time-lost people trapped in this world.  After a brief battle between the settlers and a group of pre-historic robot creatures, Flash is determined to get back to Central City, and Selkirk indicates that is possible if they make it to the top of a very large mountain.

If it was possible to escape this version of the Speed Force, how come no one else here tried it before?  Or is Flash the only one who ever wondered about it?  Or, how does Selkirk know that it is a possibility?  Lots of unanswered questions that Flash seems to just accept.  He doesn’t know these people and, so far, things are just too good to be true.  Flash, in this New 52 series, has been through too much to just be this trusting so quickly with a new group of people.  It can be tough to buy into.

In addition to that, I’m not sure I care much for this version of the Speed Force.  The take they have with it is just too mundane.  Instead of the Speed Force being a mysterious place with some sort of hidden magic behind it, it comes off here as some sort of lost island in the Bermuda Triangle.  I liked how the Speed Force had this mystical nature when we were first introduced to it back in issue 8 and am disappointed that it has been dropped.  I bet this was done so each writer/writing team can do their own spin on it without contradicting each other.

Anyway, in Central City, not much happens.  Future Flash acts like a jerk in front of Patty when she has some sympathy for the guy who he killed in the previous issue is brought into the morgue, Patty discovers (based on Barry’s tip), a whole host of bodies from the Forever Evil siege, and a new horse and carriage-themed bad guy appears and kills his jerk of a passenger (who, frankly, probably deserved it in the grand scheme of things).

Much of this is set-up, obviously, but with that last bit, I am assuming this is Overlord, who was teased last month and on this month’s cover.  For a character given a lot of teases to, they really sort of make him an afterthought in this issue.  They don’t even refer to him as Overlord.  I had to re-read it a few times to get that this was him.  Sure, he is going to be showing up some more next month, but still it seemed odd to prop him up and not do much with it.

A very uneven issue.  Booth is back on art duties full-time, and that was good. The writing here could probably have used a bit more ironing out.  The problems are minor, but, I think, could have been fixed at the editorial stage.

Next: Meet Napalm, the World’s Worst Rogue!

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