Monday, June 17, 2013

Man of Steel Review

If you're a super-hero nerd like myself, you have been anticipating Man of Steel for a long time and now that it's finally out you have either already seen it or you are wondering why the reviews for it seem to be so mediocre.  Having seen the movie I would have to say I'm slightly surprised by the stale response that critics had toward Man of Steel.  I was really into it.  Like all movies these days, it is impossible not to compare it to the slew of super-hero movies that have inundated cinemas for the past, let's say decade. Take this movie and release it 10 or even 5 years ago and it would have been one of the best things anyone has ever seen.  As such I can only conclude if you generally like super hero movies and don't like Man of Steel, it was for 1 of a few reasons.  Among them.

1) It wasn't Chris Nolan's Dark Knight Franchise.
2) It wasn't the Avengers.
3) Your standards for a movie about a guy who flies around in blue spandex are too high.

I'm not saying the movie was a flawless masterpiece, quite the contrary.  Just that it's a victim of it's own hubris and few movies could live up to the expectations that were placed on this Man of Steel movie.  I was never bored by it, except maybe during the last set-piece (more on that in a bit). The story was great and the action was for the most part fantastic.  Tonally, I would say it is somewhere between the brooding Dark Knight films and the action packed Avengers.  The movie was severely lacking humour though.  Don't get me wrong, I'm glad the movie wasn't the perpetual wise-cracking slapstick that was Iron Man 3. That wouldn't be consistent with the character.  But it didn't have to take itself as seriously as it did either.

It almost felt like 2 different movies. For the first 30 to 60 minutes, I was watching something spectacular.  The cinematography was gorgeous and it really drew me in.  It took its time telling a story.  This movie has Krypton like you have never seen it before, with eye-popping visuals, complex culture and politics.  They did a good job of giving us the Superman backstory without getting too bogged own in it.  It reminded me of Batman Begins.  They jump around in time so that you only get the information you need (though director Zack Snyder doesn't do it nearly as well as Chris Nolan).  By the time Clark Kent becomes Superman you're like, "Already?  Well, that was pretty cool."

And then, problems start to pop up.  The characters do and say things that don't make any sense.  Martha Kent's (Diane Lane) reaction to Superman saying, "I've found my people!" Was little more than a dry, "Good for you."  As if she couldn't care less.  Had I been Superman at that moment I would have been like, "Good for me...?  My people are aliens!  From outer space and I found them!  Our planet blew up, they're all dead!  Do you know what a planet is, Mom?  Also, I can freaking fly!  Mom?  Are you awake?"
Superman: "Mom, I'm from another planet that exploded and I'm the last of my kind."
Martha Kent: "Meh..."

You may have seen the scene in trailers where a young Superman, after rescuing a bunch of children from drowning in a bus, asks his father, "What was I supposed to do?  Let them die."  And a morally bankrupt Jonathan Kent played by Kevin Costner basically says, "Yes." Really??  The idea is supposed to be that Superman's adopted father is so worried that people will persecute Superman when they find out he's an alien, that he should keep his powers a secret, even if it means standing by and watching people die.  It gets a little strange.

"Clark... God clearly wanted those children to die. I know you have super powers but I don't want you going around saving people's lives!"
And then the ultimate sin of this movie comes in the last 45 minutes.  Non-stop, mind-numbing, senseless action.  There are times when the action is great.  But the final set-piece is way too long.  It was ALMOST as tedious to sit through as the ending of Transformers 2 and 3.  Buildings are crumbling to bits, Superman endlessly punches the villain, sending him flying through walls and even into outerspace.  At a certain point someone throws a train at Superman and then an orbital satellite which just made me laugh out loud.  It was overkill.  You'll hear this phrase in many reviews of Man of Steel.  "Less is more!"

Was the movie too melodramatic at some points?  Definitely.  But other times it was spot on.  Other times the action or the pacing just seemed off.  Other times it was perfect.  Henry Cavill's Superman didn't have great chemistry with anyone on screen from his parents to Amy Adams' Lois Lane.  I think he was trying too hard to be alien and otherworldly.  Sometimes it actually worked quite well in a scene, other times it was just creepy and weird. But there is no denying that he looks the part.

At the end of the day I would say, aside from a few misfires, it's a good movie.  After the origin story, which is as well known as the story of Jesus at this point, Man of Steel becomes an alien invasion story done sufficiently.  The invaders have history, and culture and motivation and are lead by a charismatic General Zod played by Michael Shannon who many critics feel was not in full form, but still very good.

The movie is inconsistent.  Its high points are incredibly high, and it's low points are jarring enough to take you out of the movie entirely.  But in many ways this is the Superman movie a lot of us have been waiting for.  Finally, he gets a worthy adversary!  The battle scenes in this movie are what has been missing from our Man of Steel all these years.
Time for an epic fight!  And by epic I mean long.
So, if you're a fan of Superman, comic books or the DC universe, I suggest you just roll with it.  Not all movies can be Dark Knight, or Avengers.  On the bright side the movie isn't Daredevil or Spider-man 3 either (yet).  Besides, we have tolerated all kinds of sub-par super hero movies.  When I think of Marvel's Thor, Captain America and Iron Man 2 as build ups to the Avengers, I would have to say that Man of Steel is at least as good or better than those, though it would have benefit from a little humour here and there. 

And, the good news is, with the success of this movie there is some hope that the DC Universe will finally find life at the cinema.  Justice League movie?  More Batman movies?  That's all us fanboys want.  So I choose to give Man of Steel a break and say it was enough that it wasn't terrible.  The plot held together relatively well, it was exciting and I was rarely ever bored by it..

3.75 choo-choo trains to the face out of 5

A few very minor spoilers.  If anyone has seen the documentary, "An Evening With Kevin Smith" you will probably remember his story about the brief time he was hired to write for the Man of Steel movie.  This was back in 2001 and he tells a great story about producer Jon Peters, who is in fact one of the producers of Man of Steel today. The story goes that Jon Peters insisted that Superman have a giant spider in it for no apparent reason and that polar bears guard the Fortress of Solitude.  Though Jon Peters eventually got to shoehorn a giant spider into the movie, Wild Wild West I think it's pretty clear that the World Engine is some kind of giant spider.  Also, there is a very odd shot of a polar bear early in the movie. Start watching at 5:18 for the Jon Peters story.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Iron Man 3

Who will deliver the goods this summer?  Iron Man or Man of Steel?
I've been sitting on this review for a while, not quite sure if my opinion on it is set in stone.  Even while watching Iron Man 3 I went through periods of loving it to periods of hating it.  What's clear is Iron Man 3 is a movie that seems so eager to please.  I think they tried to do too much with it and the end result is a mixed bag.  Sometimes it's trying to be a character movie with Tony Stark suffering anxiety attacks in the wake of his harrowing experience in the Avengers movie.  Then they have some very dark scenes with the movies main villain, the Mandarin, played by a creepy and ruthless Ben Kingsley.  Then it alternates between being a buddy comedy, with Tony and Rhodes (Don Cheadle was badass!), a buddy comedy with Tony and some little kid (which was funny).  It's also a Bond movie, a slapstick comedy and of course a super hero movie.

All the little parts work really well on their own, the movie's funny, the action is great, somehow I just felt when it all came together it seemed like too much.  Robert Downey Jr. is Robert Downey Jr and therefore fun to watch.  His scenes with Don Cheadle are lots of fun but far too few.  Ben Kingsley was excellent as the Mandarin and almost all of his scenes were really strong. Guy Pearce was fairly interesting villain.   Sadly though, the weakest part of the movie for me ends up being the 'super-hero' part.  Stark spends a good part of the movie out of armour, having anxiety attacks, bickering with Gwyneth Paltrow and doing other things I could have done without.  Worse stilll, when he is in armour, you don't really care.  Probably because there is so much over the top, almost cartoonish action taking place that the movie loses a lot of tension.  And by the time the movie gets to the scene with dozens of Iron Mans flying around, the thrill of seeing Iron Man is completely gone and the grandiose super hero is somewhat diminished.

I like Iron Man.  I like bacon.  Would I eat 20 packs of bacon?  Maybe.  But this is too many Iron Mans.
The movie is really funny, but this eventually becomes a problem for me.  On the one hand they seem to want this to be a darker Iron Man. On the other hand any time things are about to get serious and you get any sense of menace, they undo it with some comedy.  Something horrible happens, then there's a cheesy one liner or comedic slapstick.  So tonally it sometimes comes off as sloppy to me. Add to that, all the characters are too quick to deliver one liners.  So not only are there dozens of Iron Man suits, there's also dozens of Robert Downeys.  Didn't bother me too much, but you notice it.

Then, there is the twist! The plot twist in Iron Man 3 has been very polarizing and I can't say too much about it without spoiling the movie.  But I will say that when I first saw it I felt let down.  No, that's not strong enough.  I was incensed!  As a comic book fan, what they did was nothing short of heresy. However, as the movie progressed I grew to appreciate it and now I even think it's pretty clever.  I guess the director was making a satirical statement about the face of terrorism by the end.  I can appreciate what the movie was trying to say, but then they play even that for laughs and we're back to status quo comedy and frenetic action.

Ben Kingsley as Osama Bin Ladden as the Mandarin.  Not the villain we deserve, but the villain we need?
Iron Man 3 is hit and miss for me.  Maybe it sounds like I didn't enjoy it, but I really did.  Good laughs, good action...  It's just that as a follow up to the Avengers it's bound to disappoint some and the geek in me really wanted more. The painful reality is that no super hero movie this year is going to be as completely satisfying as the Avengers.  I'm almost dreading Captain America, Wolverine and Thor and I fear the Marvel vehicle may run out of steam before the year is up.  The consequence of the Avengers movie is, the Marvel movies up until that point were all building up to this big amazing thing.  We were paying our dues because the promise was a big payoff!  We've seen the Avengers and it was everything fans wanted.  Now we have to go back to the milquetoast adventures of the individual characters again : Hero X has girlfriend Y and fights villain Z.

Not that the movies will necessarily be bad, I'll probably even enjoy them, but they certainly won't be amazing.  Also, Iron Man is the strongest of those characters, so as far as Marvel Movies this year, we've already peaked.  In short, the only Marvel movie I'm really anticipating at this point, is Avengers 2.  I'm hopeful that with Man of Steel on the horizon and the Dark Knight trilogy still a fan favourite, it may be DC's chance to take back its throne at the box office becoming the paragon of super hero movies once again. Here is what nerds like me are hoping for.  1) Man of Steel is amazing. 2) Chris Nolan gets involved with making a Justice League movie (or at very least a World's Finest movie) and 3) we get to see a few new DC superheroes get their own movies in the next year or so (and those movies won't suck).

Quite frankly, if Man of Steel doesn't deliver in a big way, I ... I just don't know.

3.5 exploding bad guys out of 5

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness review and a list of my favourite Star Trek movies

I am a hardcore Trekkie.  Star Trek is a rare example of optimistic sci-fi, one that paints a future where diverse cultures get together to make the universe a better place.  Over the years that theme has taken a back seat to things with wider appeal and cheaper thrills : special effects, action, sex, youth...  Consequently, although I enjoyed the rebooted Star Trek of 2009, I wasn't thrilled by it. It was just a fun sci-fi action movie with characters I used to know and love inserted into a paper thin plot.  There was a generic villain who wanted to destroy the universe (why?) and a handful of heroes dressed up as Kirk, Spock and Uhura to take him down.  Fun movie, but was it a Star Trek movie?

I saw this movie a few hours ago and can't remember why this woman is in her underwear.
That said, the latest entry into this franchise, Star Trek Into Darkness came as a very unexpected surprise for me.  First off I would like to thank the director JJ Abrams for keeping most of the details of the movie under lock and key.  It's one of the rare movies that I went in without knowing anything about the premise, aside from a few rumours here and there.

So, I won't do you the disservice of ruining the movie for you.  I'll just say I really enjoyed the story.  I thought it brought back the 'Star Trek' element to the universe and we get to consider, briefly, the Federation's mission to be at peace with scary alien cultures all the while trying not to interfere with their evolution in the galaxy.  It was there just enough to feel like you were watching a Star Trek movie, but subtle enough that it wasn't a preachy movie about 'the Prime Directive' and peace among races.  When they did deal with the themes of the movie, there was always a powerful human motive driving the story forward. 

Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto as Kirk and Spock are phenomenal.  I must say, there were some emotional moments for me in this movie with both actors really pulling at your heartstrings at some moments. Those moments could have come off as schlocky to some, but they resonated with me for some reason.  Kirk and Spock are vulnerable heroes facing some interesting dilemmas which to me has always been the heart of Star Trek.  Benedict Cumberbatch is an intense, brooding villain stealing scenes from beginning to end.  Bruce Greenwood and Robocop (Peter Sellers) were really engaging in their supporting roles.  The movie does a masterful job of handling its different elements.  Action, sentimentality and humour come together without clashing.  I mention this because I recently saw Iron Man 3, which is a hilarious movie, but when the jokes come in Iron Man 3, they sometimes suck the life out of everything else that's going on and ultimately diffuse the tension of a scene.

There isn't much in this movie that didn't work for me.  One minor complaint : it's difficult to watch a movie where they need to give characters something to do.  Zoe Saldana is given her Uhura moments, which are fun and well done.  We get an extra helping of Simon Pegg as Scotty which fans will appreciate.  The rest of the crew is dutifully given a nod here and there.  The biggest disappointment for me was that I found Karl Urban's Dr. McCoy to be underused.  I like the actor and I like the character but in this Star Trek franchise he is not the presence that he was in earlier movies when played by the late Deforest Kelley.  Dr. McCoy, once a main character, is now there for gags.  There is also a ham-fisted cameo by a Star Trek alumni which is pointless to the plot but I thought served to add some gravitas to a scene.

Some people may find the movie too frenetic. I would go as far as to compare this to Michael Bay levels of flashy colors and explosions, all being shot by a camera man who is shooting the movie while on a truck, driving over speedbumbs while he is being electrocuted. But, there is actually a story to justify the action so the intensity and spectacle are justified and even welcome.

I love seeing new movies, and get excited after watching them if they're this good.  As such, I would need to see the movie again to really finalize the opinion I'm about to give you, but this Star Trek has at very least made it into my top 3 Star Trek movies of all time, battling it out with Star Trek 2 and 6 for top spot.  It easily out-classes any of the other movies.  I think it has wide appeal, the fan service is there and it actually has a great story IMO. 

rating : 5 dying tribbles out of 5

Oh, you're still here?  Let's rate the Trek movies in order of preference, shall we?  Which one is your favourite?

Star Trek 6: The Undiscovered Country : Star Trek at its finest.  Kirk, Spock and Bones endeavor to make peace with their long time enemies, the Klingons.  This movie has great action, the Star Trek brand is being used to talk about real issues like racism, international conflict and we get to see our characters dealing with personal issues like friendship and old age (a common theme in a franchise starring actors that were past their prime decades before this movie was released).  It marks the return of Nicholas Meyer, the man who many believe saved Star Trek by directing the Wrath of Khan.  I love this movie. 5 eye patches bolted to your face out of 5

Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan : Speaking of Nicholas Meyer, Wrath of Khan is a a fan favourite and as I said, the movie that saved Star Trek. Kirk fights his nemesis, the super genius Khan.  A good balance of quiet character moments and tense action, Wrath of Khan is something of a space thriller with a classic, unforgettable ending.  5 brain controlling ear parasites out of 5

Star Trek 3: The Search for Spock :  I liked the science fictiony ideas they had in this Star Trek movie.  Search for Spock has the feeling of a fantasy adventure and again, the friendship between our main characters comes out a lot in this movie. 4 space coffins out of 5.

Star Trek 8: First Contact : Possibly the only good Next Generation movie.  This was pretty much a sci-fi action movie, but they shoe horn in the 'peace with other cultures' theme fairly appropriately.  Definitely a fun watch and our only opportunity to see the Next Generation crew shine in a motion picture.  It keeps a brisk pace that usually manages to outrun the many plot holes.  4 borg queens out of 5.

Star Trek (2009 with Chris Pine and Co.):  A competent reboot of the franchise, featuring a swaggering, convincing Chris Pine as Captain Kirk.  An undeniably fun action movie with the 'Star Trek' themes mostly lacking.  Like First Contact, the fun and the action allow you to overlook the elements that don't work.  4 cases of pandering to the audience out of 5.

Star Trek 4: The Voyage Home :  A Star Trek comedy?  I can never decide how much I liked this movie about time travel with a heavy handed message about the environment and biodiversity.  It's fun, and basically it's part of 1 big story (with Star Trek 2 and 3 being the first parts of that story).  It's impossible to hate, and in many ways I believe will be the only Star Trek movie of its kind.  4 aliens who befriend humpback whales out of 5.

Star Trek 5: The Final Frontier :  A lot of people hate this one, but I had fun with the somewhat underwritten adventures of Kirk, Spock and McCoy on their quest to find God at the behest of a charismatic Vulcan cult leader. 3 fake deities out of 5.

Star Trek 10: Nemesis : A disappointing swan song for the TNG cast.  A plot full of holes, desperate attempts at fan service while using the aging next generation cast to fight a villain who, of course, wants to destroy Earth.  But why?  2.5 years past its expiry date.  Umm... out of 5.

Star Trek 9: Insurrection :  A mediocre episode of the Next Generation TV show, barely dressed up for the box office.  A planet with a cure for something is attacked by guys... Then picard shoots stuff and kisses a lady.  2 purple bazookas out of 5.

Star Trek the Motion Picture (which I have yet to watch without falling asleep).  Dated, slow and boring, I can't believe that this movie was the beginning of a series of what is now 12 movies spanning over more than 3 decades.  I'm told the story is pretty good, but I wouldn't be able to say.  2 mid movie naps out of 5.

Star Trek: Generations : An incoherent mess with Next Generation crew and Original series crew thrown together using silly plot devices.  Humourless, tasteless and senseless, it fails as Star Trek, it fails as sci-fi and it fails as a movie.  Eff this Ess!!! 1 lame flying pink plot macguffin out of 5

It is very difficult to place the rebooted movies on this list as they seem to be in a class of their own.  But in terms of pure enjoyment, as I said in my review, Into Darkness is really fighting hard for top spot.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Gun control works

Kind of depressing for a blog post, but I read a story that really bothered me. Consider this tragic and infuriating story of a 2 year old who is accidentally shot and killed by her 5 year old brother.

Perhaps the story stuck with me a little more because I know this weekend in Houston, the NRA is having a conference, which has been described as something of a victory rally for the gun laws that they shot down recently in the US. Celebrating the very same love for guns that have killed so many children in homes and schools in the past year alone.

I can't decide what is more depressing, the actual story, or the family's reaction.  Uncle Mann says, "It's something you can't prepare for."  Except you can... By not buying guns for 5 year old children.

Grandmother Linda Riddle says of her grandaughter's death, "It was God's will. It was time to let her go."  I guess it's easier to hide behind pseudo-pious garbage like that than to take responsibility for killing a two year old with a gun.  Don't get me wrong, I can't imagine how devastating it would be if someone in my family died because of my negligence and I don't know how I would handle it.  And tragedy can happen to anyone.  My heart goes out to this family and their loss.  BUT....Can we maybe get a revelation beyond the moronic, "It was God's will"?  Is it possible that God doesn't want children to kill other children?

I guess I'm talking about two different things.  Gun control and gun safety are two different things.  But the story of this poor family seems to reflect the general attitude of a culture in love with guns.  "Children are dying, but what are you going to do?  God MUST want a society like this!"

Again, kind of depressing.  But here's John Oliver to lighten things up a bit and give us an enlightening piece about the positive effect strict gun control has had in Australia for over 2 decades. Of course gun control works, here's the proof.  It's a hilarious three parter worth watching.  It is also really inspiring to see politicians standing up for what is right, at great personal cost to their careers.  I have so much loathing for the politicians running my little province of Quebec, I was encouraged to see that it is possible for politicians to do something besides parasitize millions of people.  Politicians who care about making the world a better place more than they care about money and their careers?  Revolutionary!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

My top 10 Action Cartoons from the 80's.

You know what's better than doing work?  Thinking about the awesome cartoons I used to watch in the 80s.  What made 80's cartoons so great?  Well, for starters, most of them were just extended commercials to sell toys.  Well, I guess that's not such a great thing, but many cartoons in the 80s were high-concept off the wall premises with lots of action.  Recently, Hollywood has taken to raiding my precious 80s cartoons for movie ideas and the result is often disastrous.  So, to soothe myself, I made a list of some of my favourite 80s cartoons. 

*disclaimer* This list only contains action cartoons.  Does Ducktales have action?  I guess, but I guess Ducktales will have to be addressed in another list some other day.

10)  He-man and the Masters of the Universe 
A sci-fi/fantasy cartoon that is ahead of its time for featuring the first openly gay main character in an action cartoon series. Alternating between a flashy pink blazer and a baffling S&M battle outfit, it donned on me when I was a little older that Adam may have preferred the company of Man at Arms to that of... whatever that girl's name was in the show.  The director of the last GI Joe movie, Kenny Chu, is rumored to be involved in making a new He-man movie (the first one being the 80s movie starring Dolph Lundgren).  Anyone else think that Shee-ra, the cartoon about He-man's sister, was the better cartoon?

9) Dinoriders
Dinosaurs were all the rage in the 80s.  And so was violence.  Putting lasers and rocket launchers on Dinosaurs seems like such an obviously good idea to me I am surprised that there aren't a team of scientists working on making such an army a reality right now.  The main character's name is Questar and the main villains name is Cruelos leader of the Rulons.  Now that's just lazy writing.  But who cares I guess?  As long as it has frickin' dinosaurs with frickin' lasers attached to their head!  Never had any Dinorider toys, but they look pretty sweet.

8) Robocop
Robocop was so freaking cool.  To this day the first Robocop movie remains the most terrifying thing I have ever seen.  It still makes me tense to remember the over the top gore, cruelty and violence that children nowadays cannot even fathom.  Surprisingly, back in the 80s they made a cartoon based on the horrific movie and that cartoon was pretty dark and violent itself, at least by cartoon standards.  They're remaking Robocop and I can guarantee that this new movie will be one of the biggest disappointments of my life.  Paul Veerhoven is already rolling around in his grave. And the movie isn't even out yet!  And Paul Veerhoven isn't dead!  The movie will be so bad, Paul Veerhoven preemptively bought himself a burial plot so he can roll around in it, moaning in despair over what's been done to our beloved Robocop.

Check out the opening scene to this children show which shows the main character getting gundowned by a cartoon of Eric Foreman's dad.

7) Thundercats
I never had any thundercats toys.  I think it was one of those shows I usually missed on Sunday mornings because of church.  You may ask yourself, what kind of God would allow me to miss a mediocre cartoon to worship him every week?  I asked myself the same question on Sunday mornings.  But what I do remember about the cartoon was pretty cool.  The guy's were cats with swords.  And they fought a mummy for some reason.  Mummies and cats have been mortal enemies since the days of ancient Egypt.  They remade that cartoon recently and it was pretty good.

6) Mask
Cool toys about some guys who fight other guys.  The hook?  Their cars and airplanes transform into cars and airplanes with guns.  And for some reason the guys in the cars wear masks.  I remember loving this cartoon and having a few of the toys.  That being said, I don't remember too much about the actual plot of the show.

5) Silverhawks
Best. Toys. Ever.  Just incredible.  These guys were some kind of space... guys.  They were fired out of this amazing spaceship (for which I had the toy) and then their silvery armour deployed wings so they could fly around in space and fight a red guy who flew around on a giant squid.

4) C.O.P.S.  
Best. Toys. Ever.  I know I said it about Silverhawks but these are the REAL best toys ever.  COPS was this odd, cyberpunkish cartoon about police officers fighting a mob lead by the Big Boss.  The characters were memorable, the action was intense.  I may have been only 8 years old at the time, but is it possible that the characters in this show were written a little better than in other cartoons?  Maybe it's just my imagination.  The action figures for these toys were pretty big had more points of articulation than any toy I can remember and each one came with a cap gun.  There were also tons of vehicles to go with these toys.  Too bad the show didn't run longer than it did.  Bulletproof FTW!

3) Transformers
Obviously this one was going to be near the top, though the show didn't age well.  Add to that the fact that the franchise has been forever defiled by the unscrupulous and evil, Michael Bay.  Aside from the completely incoherent plot of the movies especially the second and third one, they have ruined a childhood icon, Optimus Prime.  Optimus Prime, voiced by Peter Cullen since 1984, was a character who was honorable and merciful almost to a fault.  Anyone my age will remember the day that Optimus Prime died.  Why?  Because he hesitated to blow Megatron's head off.  In the new live action movies, Optimus Prime blasts Leonard Nimoy's face off, then rips Megatron's head off with an axe AFTER Megatron just saved his life.  We won't even get into how every single Transformer character was ruined in these movies.  Transformers will forever be the best example of Hollywood ruining my childhood.

2) GI Joe 
My mom wouldn't let me own GI Joe's because she thought it promoted war and violence and she was totally right.  And it seems that GI Joe used to run at the same time as Jem, about a rockstar/superhero, so my sister and I would have to compete for TV time to watch our favourite cartoons.  But the apocryphal story of why I went into the field of Biology is that when I was young I saw the episode of GI Joe where Dr. Mindbender genetically engineered an evil dictator named Serpentor by splicing together the DNA of Ghengis Khan, Dracula, Sergeant Slaughter, Julius Ceasar, Sun Tsu... and more!!!  What a cool idea.  When I learned this DNA stuff was real, well, I was hooked on science.  Thanks GI Joe.  Thanks to you I spent way more time in University than any sane person should.  I hated the first GI Joe live action movie, but the second one was tons of fun.  Of course, the REAL GI Joe movie will always be this...

1)  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles  
I don't' know if Ninja Turtles belongs at the top of the list. But I find this show had it all.  It was funny, great action, great characters, amazing toys.  (I had tons of these and the awesome party wagon).  What sense of humour I have, I owe in large part to the hilarious Ninja Turtles cartoon.  Ninja Turtles started a trend of cartoon animals fighting bad guys. I haven't seen any of the recent remakes of the cartoon but I doubt they captured the often corny humour of the original cartoon. What was so funny about Ninja Turtles?  The main villains, Shredder and Krang, a ninja and a talking brain, who basically acted like an old married couple.  Who came up with that?

Looking back on my list I've forgotten 2 very important and possibly lesser known cartoons.  Visionaries, which was one of the best things ever, featuring toys with holograms on their chest.  It was kind of a medieval fantasy with knights and wizards.  Inhumanoids was a pretty scary cartoon where the main characters turned into monsters. Okay, okay, I'm done.  Next week, 90s cartoons?

Monday, January 14, 2013

Django: Unchained

Pure Badass
Django: Unchained is easily one of my favourite movies of the year.  Anyone who has been following the buzz surrounding this movie is well aware of how amazing Leonardo DiCaprio and Christoph Waltz are in this movie.  Quentin Tarantino’s trademark meticulous dialogue has already gotten a Golden Globe for the movie.  Jamie Foxx, who plays the main character of Django, has not gotten as much attention for his performance, but I enjoyed it a lot.  His performance bubbles beneath an intensely silent exterior.  He starts off broken and hopeless but grows into an action hero/super hero/Blaxploitation anti-hero, wearing each of those hats convincingly throughout the film. It’s exactly what he needed to be for this movie and I thought he did it perfectly. Samuel L. Jackson is always awesome, but maybe just a little bit more awesome than usual in this.

The movie opens when Dr. Shultz, played by Christoph Waltz, frees Django so that he can help him find 3 criminals and collect the bounty on them.  In return, Dr. Shultz will help Django find his wife, Broomhilda Von Shaft, played by Kerry Washington (an obvious nod to Blaxploitation films).  Funny, well-written and action packed, the movie is as enjoyable in its cathartic violent moments as it is heart-wrenching in some of its more depressing scenes.  It goes from being a fun action/adventure to a period piece about slavery to a fairy tale and like it's main character plays its many roles convincingly.  

Django is on its way to becoming Tarantino’s highest grossing movie in no small part because of the controversy surrounding it.  People were afraid that it might take the horrors of slavery too lightly.  Other people were uncomfortable with the frequent use of the word ‘nigger’.  I don’t know how that is possible.  Does anyone listen to rap music?  Have these people ever read Huckleberry Finn?  Well, then you certainly shouldn’t be bothered with this movie that uses the word in its historical context, generally to characterize the villains in the movie.

Have you ever seen my movies?  Frozone is the only character I have played who doesn't say the 'n-word'.

Why you no like it when I wear a dress, Spike?
And when will people like Spike Lee learn that there is no such thing as bad publicity?  Before the movie’s release, Spike Lee announced that he would not go to see the movie because, “Slavery was not a spaghetti western.  It was a holocaust.” Very true, but I’m always amazed by Spike Lee, a vocal critic of not only Tarantino but even Tyler Perry.  I’m tired of having Spike Lee’s recipe for Black empowerment shoved down my throat anytime anyone deals with issues of race. Don’t get me wrong, I love Spike Lee’s movies, and I think he has done a lot for the movie industry, but I could do without Spike Lee rants.  Especially since his cantankerous sounding off probably has exactly the opposite effect that he would like it to have.  Not all movies need to be, or can be ‘Malcolm X’. Some movies are ‘Madea’s Big Top Adventure’ or 'Madea Saves Christmas' or 'Madea goes to..." whatever, you get the point.  If Black people survived slavery they’ll survive Madea, it’s okay, Spike.

Still, I was certainly worried that with Django, I would be seeing a movie that dealt with slavery in a flippant manner.  The only thing I would have hated more is the feeling of watching a movie where the main white character suddenly realizes, “Well, Golly!  Black people are very much like human beings! Let’s free all the slaves!” In this movie the main white hero, Dr. Shultz, starts at the same point as the audience (most of us):  that slavery was a barbaric and cruel affliction on human beings with black skin.  It avoids the condescending preachiness of some movies that endeavor to tackle a big issue.

Where the movie really turns into something unique is when we see the role reversal that takes place between Django and Dr. Shultz.  Django starts off as an uneducated man, broken by the cruelty he has endured throughout his life and the loss of his wife. Dr. Shultz trains him to be a bounty hunter, teaching him how to read, negotiate and generally how to be an awesome badass.  It’s a super hero origin story with an almost wizard like mentor, teaching the main character how to become a hero.  But once the two characters are immersed into the ugly, cruel world of slavery in Mississippi, it is Dr. Shultz who becomes the neophyte, completely baffled by the horrors around him. We then see Django growing into his role as a hero, ‘getting dirty’, in ways that make even Dr. Shultz, an otherwise remorseless killer, shudder.  I thought the actors did a great job of bringing out the subtleties in their characters and showing their growth and change throughout the movie.

"Feel the Force, Django."
With all that being said, ultimately, the movie is a simple revenge flic, Tarantino’s speciality.  Does it need to be anything more than that?  Do we really want to charge Hollywood with the task of teaching us history or morality?  I don’t think anyone is rushing to give Tarantino a Nobel Peace Prize for this action movie but as a movie that seeks to be escapist entertainment I think it succeeds.  Anything else it might do with regards to ‘opening a dialogue about slavery’ is debatable but it certainly doesn’t hurt. 

Tarantino walks a fine line in making an entertaining movie without making a farce of slavery itself.  Of course it goes without saying that Django: Unchained is not a history lesson, with many fantasies invented or borrowed for the narrative of the film.  Most upsetting is the idea of slaves fighting to the death for the amusement of their capricious masters.  Here’s an article that discusses some of the more contentious claims being made in the movie.

I myself am not what you would call a fanboy of Quentin Tarantino, though I do enjoy some of his movies.  I would highly recommend this particular movie, unless of course you are not in the mood for over the top violence and some truly upsetting scenes of cruelty and brutality. 

5 bullets to the junk out of 5.