|photo by Gage Skidmore|
Sunday, August 30, 2020
Saturday, August 29, 2020
Wednesday, August 26, 2020
Readers of this blog will already know that I am a Geoff Johns enthusiast. So it should come as no surprise that I thoroughly enjoyed this book, which has been many years in the making.
Back during "The Darkseid War," Batman gain the near-omniscient power of Metron's Moebius Chair and asked the question, "What is the Joker's real identity?" The answer shook him, but the reader didn't know what the response was until the end of the story:
"There are three of them."
Finally, after four years, Johns can tell this story.
From the very beginning, it is clear that Johns is once again entering into the legacy of Alan Moore, who wrote The Killing Joke, where the Joker tried to turn Jim Gordon insane by shooting his daughter Barbara (aka Batgirl) through the spine and taking pictures of her naked. From the beginning, the paneling, pacing and color palate by Brad Anderson all evoke that pivotal story.
I find it interesting that Johns once again dives into Alan Moore's DC universe. Much of Johns' Green Lantern run was predicated on a single story that Moore did about the "Blackest Night." Doomsday Clock was Johns' attempt to do a super hero reconstruction, rather than a deconstruction we found in Moore's Watchmen. And now Johns enters into Moore territory again with The Three Jokers. I cannot tell if Johns is just a passionate fan of Moore's, whose stories inspired Johns' excessive imagination or if Johns feels like he is constantly in Moore's shadow and is trying to best him on his own ground.
Regardless, Johns steps always steps on dangerous ground here, because the comparisons between the two writers are inevitable.
The plot of the story revolves around Batman, Batgirl, and the Red Hood. All of them have dark histories with the Joker. Batman has had his life turned upside down by Joker more times than can be counted. As mentioned before, Batgirl was shot, paralyzed, and degraded by the Joker. Red Hood, who is Jason Todd the 2nd Robin, was beaten nearly to death and then blown up by the Joker (only to be resurrected later through a comic book contrivance).
The book is about the scars that the Joker leaves: physical, emotional, and psychological. Our three main heroes have been horribly damaged by the actions of this grinning malevolance.
On one particular night in Gotham, three crimes are comitted at the same time:
1. The execution of a mob family that was once suspected of having Thomas and Martha Wayne assassinated.
2. A beloved comedian is tortured to death while being live-streamed.
3. Three men are killed with Joker toxin, dressed like the criminals present when he became the Joker in The Killing Joke.
All three crimes happen at the same time and all three seem to have been done by the Joker.
I will not spoil anything else, but Johns seems to be trying to harmonize the various versions of the Joker throughout the years. Suffice to say that the Jokers have a plan. And if I am correct as to where this story is going, this could be the most tragic Batman story I have ever read.
Johns writing is excellent as always. He knows how to tell a story that works on multiple levels of character and theme while never forgetting that his first job is to draw you in with an engaging story. The heart of the story are the ties between our three main heroes and how they are stretched to their breaking point and beyond. Again, I cannot go into more detail without spoiling anything.
Jason Fabok is amazing. I have not been this blown away by a book's art since Gary Frank on Doomsday Clock. I could stare at his layered and dynamic images for a long time. His take on Gotham is reminiscent of Brian Bolland in The Killing Joke, but is definitely Fabok's own artistic eye that informs the visuals.
Some people have been heaping lots of praise on this book and it is well-deserved. But like the first issue of Doomsday Clock, this book is clearly just the set up. However, with only 3 issues planned (I believe), Johns has got a lot of story debt to pay off in very little time.
But if anyone can do it he can.
Sunday, August 23, 2020
I am a DC Comics fanatatic.
A quick look at my house will be more than enough evidence of my obsession with all things DC. The characters and the stories that have come from this publisher have done a great deal to fill up my time and imagination and have left me with a great deal of inspiration.
So naturally, I signed up for the online hype event DCFANDOME. Essentially it is like Comic-Con for DC, but all online.
I was unable to watch most of the live announcements and panels as I actually do have a life outside of geek culture. I wanted to sit in on a number of the live events, but mostly I had to catch up with the major announcements on YouTube. Here are my thoughts:
(Normally I would simply embed the videos from YouTube as my commentary on them counts as fair use. But with the number of videos and the exclusivity of the event, I have provided YouTube links. Also the content for the Suicide Squad game is a touch vulgar.)
The first two movies in the “Harley Quinn” series are regarded as middling to bad. But Warner Bros
is sticking with this franchise. In an effort to turn the ship around, they hired James Gunn to direct. Gunn
took a C-List Marvel team and turned them into on of the most beloved MCU movies in Guardians of the
Galaxy. When Marvel temporarily pulled Gunn from this franchise, DC scooped him up. Gunn’s most
important job, besides delivering a good movie is to generate good buzz.
And i have to say that it worked.
DCfandome released two videos. The first was a teaser for all of the actors and characters who are
going to make the group in Gunn's The Suicide Squad. The cast had been known for a long time, but now we know who we are playing. The biggest surprise is Idris Elba is playing a little-known character named Bloodsport. It was at first thought that he was replacing Will Smith as Deadshot, but recently the thinking had been the Bronze Tiger.
The second video was a behind the scenes promotional with the cast and crew giving us a brief glimpse into the movie. I particularly like how Peacemaker (played by John Cena) is described as a "douch-y Captain America." The movie was compared to a gritty 1970's action flick. And I think that is a good fit for The Suicide Squad. The sheer number of members of the squad this time around tells me that a lot of them are going to die. My guess would be that a lot of the lesser-known actors will be killed off, but I think some (like Nate Fillion as TDK) will get the axe, result in a glorified cameo. But I get the feeling that Gunn is not going to play it safe, so I wouldn't be surprised if some of the more central characters like Bloodsport would also bite the dust.
Gunn succeeded in getting me very hyped for the movie.
Finally, they showed a trailer for the new game Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League. The concept is actually very good: Superman (and maybe other super heroes) have been possessed by Brainiac. Now the Squad has to take them down. It's a way to play the four main Squad members (Deadshot, Quinn, Captain Boomerang, and King Shark) right on the line between hero and villain. I also love that it is set in the same universe as the Arkham games. The trailer was action-packed and that last part with the boomerang was hysterical.
SHAZAM! and BLACK ADAM
I was able to catch a little bit of the "zoom" conference with the cast and the director (with a special appearance by Sinbad) where they announced the name of the the sequel:
Shazam: The Fury of the Gods.
But overshadowing that was the official teaser to Black Adam. This has been a project that has been gestating for years and years. While it has been official, they haven't started filming. However, they had some concept art and animatics with Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson narrating. A few things about this have me excited.
-First, it looks like this is now moved away from development hell and is on the fast track to being made.
-Second, they got an A-list star like Johnson to bring this character to life.
-Third, they seem to really understand the character as developed by Geoff Johns and David Goyer. Black Adam is too complex to be easily categorized. In some sense he is a hero and in others he is a villain. Someone once said he was the Dr. Doom of the DCU and I think that is an apt analogy. He is power and violence personified, but he is backed up by an absolute sense of righteousness that justifies his actions. This would be simple if he was always in the wrong, but Adam is sometimes on the side of the angels.
-Fourth, it looks they are folding in members of the Justice Society into the DCEU as Hawkman, Hawkgirl, Dr. Fate, and Atom Smasher are all supposed to be part of the supporting cast.
-Fifth, Johnson keeps hinting at a showdown between Black Adam and Superman. This would be epic and would make me horribly excited to see.
The final trailer for Wonder Woman 1984 arrived. I think the earlier teasers were better, but this trailer did nothing to dissuade me.
The biggest plus was seeing more Kristen Wiig as Cheetah. Wiig is an excellent comedic talent, though she has a tendency to go very broad in her comedy. My worry is that she will bring a level of camp to the role that will not suit the movie, like Jim Carrey in Batman Forever. But the footage of her in the trailer is very on point. I don't think I've ever seen Wiig like this and I'm curious to see how it all fleshes out.
Other than that, the action still seemed very good. I especially like the shot of Wonder Woman pushing the two trucks apart. But my favorite was her spinning the lasso and deflecting the bullets.
On the game front, they gave us a trailer for Gotham Nights. It is an interesting concept that I will get behind, but I am unsure how the general gaming public will like it. The concept: Batman has died and now Nightwing, Batgirl, Red Hood, and Robin have to carry on his legacy.
I love the Bat-Family, and I'm excited to see them take center stage. I'm curious if gamers will want a Batman-less Batman game, however. I also cannot tell if the Robin Tim Drake or Damien Wayne (it looks more like Damien). If so, I wonder if they will incorporate the other Robin into the story somehow.
Director Matt Reeves laid out a lot more of the basic ideas for the movie: It is Batman's second year in Gotham, so it is not a full-on origin story. Our hero is taking stock of what kind of impact his crusade is having while coming to terms with the full-scale corruption that goes deep in the city. The catalyst for the story is a series of murders that Batman has to solve (and it looks like it will done by The Riddler played by Paul Dano).
I love the idea of this being a murder mystery. Remember that Batman debuted in Detective Comics and the cinematic versions of him have never leaned too heavily into this aspect of his life.
I think Robert Pattinson looks great in the role. What sold me was the shot of him at what looks like a funeral, with a fiery intensity in his eyes. I didn't like the early releases of the suit, but the trailer makes it look very good and gritty. I love the scene where he beats the crap out of the street thug.
I cannot believe that Colin Farrell is playing the Penguin. I could not have called that in a million years. Zoe Kravits looks good as Catwoman and I have always loved Jeffrey Wright and think he will be a great Jim Gordon. I didn't see any shots of Andy Serkis as Alfred, but I heard his voice. Serkis is such a scene stealer and I think he will add some nice levity to his dynamic with Bruce.
I have to say I am more excited for this movie than I thought I would be.
Also nice use of Nirvana.
JUSTICE LEAGUE: THE SNYDER CUT
Instead of using traditional scoring, Snyder is using the song Hallelujah, and not a very pretty version either. It's a bit raw and weary, but emotional and glimpses of light. I especially love the moment that the music crescendos and cuts right when Superman punches the bad guy.
There is a meta-narrative in the trailer about the struggle that it has taken over the last three years to bring Snyder's true vision to life. HBO Max will be turning this into four one-hour parts and then release the whole thing together at some point in the future.
The footage looks great. It feels very much in keeping with the tone set by Snyder's first two movies in his trilogy.
I wish I could say that the special effects looked great, but I have to be honest that they do not. It's great to see Darkseid, and even though he and the other villain designs appear to be an improvement on the theatrical Steppenwolf, they are way behind the designs of Thanos from the MCU.
Assorted things I picked up in the teaser:
-Cyborg will have his origin told and his story looks to have a very emotional arc.
-We get to see Barry meet Iris. Also, Barry looks less silly.
-Black suit Superman looks very cool. I also like the emotional moments with Lois and Martha.
-Ben Affleck's performance is so noticeably different that it makes me wish that he would keep playing Batman forever.
-As mentioned before, Steppenwolf looks better, though still a bit cartoonish
-I loved the shot towards the end fo the six heroes looking over the battlefield.
There were more things brought up at Fandome, like the return of the Milestone imprint and the new designs to the cinematic Flash's costume. But I think that is enough for today.
Again, as a DC fan, this was a home run for me. Even though I already had a positive view of these upcoming project, this event stoked my excitement and has given me a lot to think, write, and talk about for the foreseeable future.
Friday, August 21, 2020
I am a huge fan of Kenneth Branagh and I LOVED Murder on the Orient Express. It had such a classic style while telling an engrossing mystery with an all-star cast.
This trailer for the sequel looks so much like the first trailer of Murder that it seems like Branagh is trying to make another hit by using the exact same formula:
-all star cast
-suspects cooped up on a travelling vessel.
-include at least one comedian not known for drama (Josh Gad in the first, Russell Brand in this one)
-the case tests the morality of the detective.
-use an anachronistic pop song in the trailer.
I cannot tell if this is a good idea for the movie or not. However, as a trailer, I think it is very good. It makes me remember the feelings I had seeing Murder, and it made me excited to see this one.
Like the first movie, I have not read the books on which they are based. So I am looking forward to trying to figure out whodunit.
Tuesday, August 18, 2020
Continuing on with the series on the 50 Most Disappointing Movies of All Time, here are the movies that fell short because they were over-hyped.
Now, expectations may have been raised because of an incredibly strong marketing campaign. It is no wonder that they say that a studio spends as much on the advertisement of a film as they do on the actual budget to make it. They will do anything they can to get butts in the seats. For me, the most egregious sin of this kind is when the advertise a serious, tragic drama like its a light-hearted comedy. I remember we took my mom to see One True Thing because the trailers looked like it was the story of a daughter and her quirky mother who dresses up in costumes. It was actually about a daughter who watches her mother slowly die of cancer. That movie isn't on this list simply because I wasn't expecting to be good in any case.
However, some movies have their expectations raised in me simply because something captures my imagination and I build it up in my head, even against all evidence. Even though I don't have anyone to blame but myself in these cases, they are still disappointments.
This movie had one of the best trailers I have ever seen. It was strange, off-key, and exciting. There was some subliminal nostalgia in using songs from Wayne's World (Bohemian Rhapsody and Ballroom Blitz) in the trailer to amp up the energy. It had a terrific cast and it was the DCEU's follow up to one of my favorite movies Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. And to be clear, this is not a terrible movie. But it it did not live up to the hype.
From what I understand, the studio made a lot of revisions to the director's film as a response to the general negative reaction from BvS. However, what we have is often a mess. Characters have such abbreviated introductions and arcs. The take on the Joker was a miss. The main villain was awful, who basically conjures magic by hula dancing. And while the action pieces were good and Captain Boomerang was so funnier than I was expecting, I walked away thinking about how much better it could have been.
The Hateful 8
The trailers for this looked great. Tarantino's last two films had been good and I could see his skills as a director constantly improving. And even as I began to watch the movie, it felt like it was going to be great. But as it began to unfold, it started getting worse and worse until it degenerated into awfulness. This movie was hailed as Tarantino's masterpiece and it might be his worst film.
A Star is Born
This is a hard one to explain without spoiling it. If you haven't seen it and don't want SPOILERS, skip to the next.
The ads for this film made it seem like a tragic, poignant love story. And the music was powerful and a big selling point. While it delivered on the music, it destroyed any good will that it had. Having your love story end with a tragic death can solidify its romance. Having your movie end with a pointless, nihilistic, despairingly stupid death will make you hate that romance. It was incredible, I can actually still feel the exact moment that I went from loving the movie so much that I was anticipating buying it when it came to Blu-ray to detesting it and wishing I had my two hours back.
This comes down to the poster. If you look at the poster for Commando, which came out the previous year, you can clearly see Raw Deal copying it.
Commando is one of the most enjoyably silly, over-the-top action films of all time. Raw Deal clearly leans into that with the poster. Now, you may say that it is silly to have expectations because of a poster, and you are correct. But my young self couldn't make the distinction as I went with my dad and brother into the theater for another fun adventure with Arnold.
Raw Deal is not fun. It is not an adventure. It is dark. Much darker than Commando. And even though I was a kid, I knew that the jokes were awful. Arnold, delivering with Terminator-like seriousness the line "You should not drink and bake," is worse than anything he said in Batman and Robin
Another Arnold film. He had just done two good movies (Predator and The Running Man). This movie looked like another action hit. And the ads with Jim Belushi made it look like it was more of a comedy in the vein of Beverly Hills Cop. But they could not crack the code for action/comedy and it was oddly pro-Soviet for the anti-communist Arnold. All-in-all, a drag of a film when all I wanted was light-action fare.
This was a film written by John Hughes and the trailers were actually pretty funny. The concept was simple: imagine being trapped in a Target overnight with Jennifer Connelly. And I will admit that as a red-blooded young man, I had a bit of a crush on Ms. Connelly and found the concept of such a film appealing. And the trailers did everything to make her look appealing. The trailers also implied that comedy legend John Candy would have a much bigger role instead of being only in one scene. And the main character was built up as the next Ferris Bueller.
But the movie is awful. None of the jokes work. The dialogue is terrible. The romance makes no sense.
In short, the film is just plain stupid.
Again, probably a film most of you have not heard of. It was an action comedy from the 1990's staring Christian Slater. In fact, the trailers did very little to highlight the action and the drama. The film looked like it was only a comedy. I'm sure that if you were to watch the trailer on YouTube today, you would think it looks lame. But maybe it was because I had watched Pump Up The Volume dozens of times on video that the humor in the trailer really grabbed me. But the funniest parts are in the trailer (and I admit that in hindsight that they weren't that funny to begin with).
Of course it has one of the stupidest, funniest lines of a movie from the 90's: "Never go to a bald barber. He doesn't respect your hair."
They played this movie up a lot on MTV. Sad to say that it worked on me and convinced me that this was supposed to be the epitome of cool. It expertly used music to tap into my Gen X sensibilities and made me hyped to see it.
Of course the movie is terrible. It's a bunch of narcissists who cannot understand why their own selfishness isn't making people adore them. Oh, it is so awful. I would say that it is some kind of commentary of the selfishness of this generation, but the movie revels in their naval-gazing and ends on a joke about how the main character stole thousands of dollars from her parents.
Remember, this was after the original Spider-Man was a breakout hit. This movie not only had wall-to-wall ads, but it also had tons of merchandising tie-ins that were constantly on TV.
Poor Eric Bana. He is actually an incredibly talented actor and he has been a lot of star-making vehicles like this, Troy, and Munich. But director Ang Lee decided he wanted to take a crowd-pleasing super hero film and just get weird with it. This was one of those films that I defended after seeing it, even though in my heart I knew it was bad. That's how deep my disappointment went.
Cowboys and Aliens
The title alone would have gotten me into the theaters. But the trailer was fantastic. Jon Favreau's movie looked like a star-studded perfect merging of the Western with Sci-Fi. The plot was shrouded in mystery, adding to the mystic. And the super-bowl ad was perfect.
The movie itself was not perfect. It had its moments, but it felt so... bland. Instead of the two genres enhancing each other, they felt like oil and water. The alien factor diluted any of the classic Western style. I bought into the hype and I was cheated.
Stay tuned for our next category for disappointing movies: Wasted Talent.
Monday, August 17, 2020
There is a common myth in our world today that science and faith are opposed to each other. Looking on social media, many people oversimplify the relationship between the two in order to support their atheism or their fundamentalism.
From one side, I’ve had many students come to my class thinking that science has debunked religion. The idea they have in their head is that religion is superstition that has now been disproved by the scientific method. When I ask them which science has disproved religion and how, they are not sure. The closest thing they point to is evolution. On the other side, I have encountered fundamentalists who work incredibly hard to squeeze some of the Biblical stories into the scientific data or they decide to dismiss the data altogether. Both of these extremes narrows the view of both science and faith and causes great confusion when applied too broadly.
A quick search on Amazon will show you many books that can give an in-depth analysis of the issues. This article will be the briefest of overviews about some of the guiding principles to have in mind if someone brings to you this subject.
During the Enlightenment, scientific reasoning came to prominence. Dr. Peter Kreeft makes the point that science started becoming popular at the same time as alchemy. His point was that there seemed to be a similar goal in the conquest of the natural world to bend it to the will of man. The only reason why alchemy was abandoned and science adopted, according to Kreeft, is that science worked while alchemy did not.
The scientific method works so well because it is based on two fundamental principles: doubt and empiricism. Doubt is incredibly helpful to science. Every assumption is subject to challenge, question, and attack. Everything can be called into question. This is very helpful because it helps prevent you from relying on unproven assumptions that can lead into error. Albert Einstein worked incredibly hard to come up with his theory of relativity. But almost immediately, he began setting up criteria under which it could be attacked and disproved. That is because while he thought that his theory was the best explanation for the data, he left himself open to doubt and the possibility of a better theory.
Empiricism means that the only things we can know are things that are physically observed. While this is problematic when applied to some things (which we shall see later), it is very helpful for science. Everything in science must be data driven. There must be some kind of measurable data upon which you can build your theories. You cannot say in science, “I feel like my theory is right.” You must have something that is observably measurable to make your point.
Doubt and Empiricism has done wonders for science.
They are terrible when applied to faith.
Here is where we must be careful. Some people attack faith because it does not survive the scientific method. But there are a few reasons why this might be the case.
Before I move on, I want to make clear that when I talk about “science,” I am talking about what most people have in mind when they use this term: empirical scientific reasoning and data. I am talking about fundamental reason and logic. Reasons itself can prove the existence of God, as St. Thomas Aquinas famously did with his 5 proofs for God’s existence. His proofs are “scientific” in that they are rational and necessary, but they are not empirical in the sense of the modern scientific method.
Empiricism, as we said before, cannot be applied to all areas of life. When it comes to faith, it will always fall short, primarily for two reasons.
The first is that God, by His nature, is pure spirit. That means that God in His divinity does not have a body that is physically measurable. We cannot weigh God, measure God, dissect God, or see God directly with our eyes. There is no scientific instrument that can be used to quantify something that is not, by its nature, physical.
At this point, many atheists would use this point to say that this makes God less real because He is not measurable by the scientific method. But this ignores that some of the most important aspects of human life are not physical. The very laws of logic upon which science is based are not physical things. For example, there is the law of non-contradiction. This very common sensical principle is that something cannot be something and not be something at the same time. I can be human or can be not human, but I cannot be human and not human at the same time. This doesn’t mean that I can’t be combinations of unlike things: I can be soul and I can be body. But I cannot be soul and not be soul at the same time.
This principle is the bedrock of all logic and thus the bedrock of all scientific reasoning. And yet, the law of noncontradiction is not a physical thing. We see it play out in our world, but the law itself is not physical. In the same way, we can see the effects of God in this universe, but God Himself is not physical.
The second reason why scientific reasoning isn’t completely compatible with faith is because faith is ultimately a relationship. Jesus says that we should believe IN Him. Notice, it is not merely that we believe THAT He is the Son of God, which would be accepting something as fact. When you ask someone “Do you believe in me?” you are generally not asking if they believe you exist. You are asking if you trust in their goodness and potential as a person. But the only way someone can believe in you is if they have some kind of relationship with you.
The same is true in our faith relationship. We believe IN Jesus because we have a relationship with Him. Now it is true that there has to be some evidence upon which we build this relationship. Before my wife agreed to marry me, we dated for two years, during which she learned a lot of facts about me. But more so that this, she got to know who I was as a person because she was in a relationship with me. And yet for some reason, she still married me.
With God, we enter into a relationship with Him and this is the life of faith. Now, there is nothing wrong with asking questions of God or looking for proof of his fidelity. But applying doubt and empiricism as the foundation of any relationship is a bad idea. You can see this play out on shows like The Big Bang Theory, where Sheldon Cooper (who is a scientific genius), tries to use the scientific method to understand his friendships and romantic relationship. It results in a lot of humorous situations, because we intuitively understand that it is not doubt, but trust that serves as the foundation of a relationship. In many ways, love is an act of faith. In any relationship, you can never have certainty that the person you care about will feel the same. But you make the leap of faith and enter into the relationship.
Friday, August 14, 2020
Thursday, August 13, 2020
My good friend Rick O. asked me if I could think of the most disappointing movie I've seen. Little did he know that this was the equivalent of putting mentos into Diet Coke inside of my brain. I spent the next day pouring through lists of movies I've seen to come up with the perfect candidate.
But the brain-worm didn't stop there. He didn't ask me what was the worst movie I have seen, but the most disappointing movie I've seen. That is a very different thing to ask. It made me realize that I had to set up a critera for what it meant for a movie to be "disappointing."
-Expectation vs. Reality
This is the key criteria to understanding if a movie is disappointing. When you go into a movie with a certain level of expectation, if the resulting film does not meet or exceed this expectation, there is a sense of let down.
What is important to understand about this is that the gap between expectation and reality may not reflect the goodness of the movie. You can have an excellent movie that disappoints and a terrible movie that doesn't. Allow these examples:
A few months ago I finally watched Lawrence of Arabia. People like Steven Spielberg have talked about how utterly influential and epic this movie is. And in my own life, there are several people who hyped it as one of the great adventure epics of all time. When I finally saw it, I thought it was beautifully shot, expertly acted, but lacking the catharsis of something like Braveheart to make a permanent attachment to my thoughts. It is in no way a bad film, but I would call it disappointing because it did not match the high expectation I had of it.
On the flip side, in memory of my mom, I went to go see Mama Mia: Here We Go Again! The original was my mom's favorite musical, but I thought it was awful. I went into the sequel expecting it to be bad and for the most part it was. But I was not disappointed because the bar was set so low.
In the films discussed in this series, please know that if I choose a movie that you think is high quality, I may not have a dispute with you. The only issue I have is that the movie failed to meet the bar that I set for it. Which brings me to the next criteria:
More-so that even a straight-up movie review, this series will be highly subjective. It has to be. The whole subject is based around my own subjective expectations of a movie. And there can be so many reasons why expectations are high and they don't have to be rational at all. It could be something as simple as one of the shots in the trailer really touched me for no reason. It is irrational to extrapolate the full quality of a movie from something as simple as this, but our subjective feelings don't have to be rational.
And our expectations don't have to be rational. They can be based in rational reasons, like the quality of work of the filmmaker's previous work. But one thing I've learned is that just because a filmmaker makes an amazing film, it doesn't mean that they have it within them to repeat that same feat. Every rational piece of evidence tells me that most Adam Sandler movies are terrible. But because of The Wedding Singer and Click, I always come in with ridiculously high expectations.
So this list is less a about an objective analysis of these films and more of an insight into my own subjective tastes.
I have seen so many movies that coming up with a list was difficult. But I decided to pare down the movies only to ones that I saw in the theater.
In general, movies that you see in the theater have higher expectations on them than those you see at home. The fact that you are going to go out and pay an incredibly high price to see the film with hundreds of strangers shows that interest in the movie is high. Again, this isn't always the case, but it is the general rule of thumb. If you say to yourself, "I'll wait until I can watch it at home," already the expectations are a little lower.
Also, movies that you watch at home can be unfairly judged. In a theater, the movie commands your full attention as you sit in a dark room in front of a tremendous screen where no one is supposed to talk or be on their phone. At home, there are way too many distractions and you have to power to skip around in a way that was unintended by the filmmaker.
Note: THERE IS ONE EXCEPTION TO THIS RULE ON THIS LIST. There is a movie that did not get a theatrical release that I eagerly anticipated. I got it the day of its release and the fall from expectation to disappointment was so huge that I couldn't leave it off.
Rather than do a full countdown, I decided to differentiate the movies by category. As with most categories, there will be overlap between them, but the films will be placed in the category where it best fits.
The categories are:
These are movies where I was disappointed because of my familiarity with the source material. If the stories on which these movies are based created a strong sense of expectation that the movie failed to me, it would fall into this category
These are movies where the marketing created an unrealistic expectation of the movie's greatness. This is also highly subjective. It may reflect an incredibly large corporate marketing campaign to build hype. Or it could be something as simple has having one really good trailer that gave a different impression to the movie's quality to me.
I am one of those people that goes to see a film because of the people who made it. Christopher Nolan, Joseph Gordon-Leavitt, Rachel McAdams, and Ben Affleck are just to name a few. Rightly or wrongly, if these people give me a good movie in the past, I expect them to deliver again and again. If they don't, I walk away from the film let down.
This might be the most common source of disappointment. Making a good sequel is tricky: if you give the audience the exact same experience, they will be bored. If you change things too much, they will feel betrayed. Making a sequel that is equal or greater than the original is not an easy feat. Most sequels are greenlit because audience expectations are already high and so there is a built in challenge.
-The Top Ten
Finally, there will be a list of the top ten most disappointing movies, regardless of category. These are ones that jump out far above the rest and stick in my mind as the biggest let downs.
I look forward to sharing this with all of you and hearing your thoughts.
Wednesday, August 12, 2020
Two days ago, it was reported that about one-third of the staff of DC comics was let go. My heart is sad for all of those people whose jobs have been lost. This was part of a corporate restructuring plan. AT&T owns Warner Media, who owns DC Comics. Warner has been in financial trouble for a little while and with the pandemic, it has been very difficult for the entertainment company to bring in large amounts of revenue.
I am less concerned for the corporation of DC. They will still produce comics either digitally or in graphic novels and trade paperbacks. But if they make a large reduction in their monthly comics (and I can't imagine Marvel won't do the same), this could be devastating to the local comic book shops.
Either way, things are look ing grim. So, at DC they are facing either a Doomsday or Crisis.
A Doomsday would mean that this is the deathblow of the company as we know it and all that is left is for DC to succumb to the wounds.
How did we get here to this point?
There are several factors involved. The problem of their corporate managers is a real one. Also, print media in all forms has seen a decline in sales.
But I have to agree with those in the industry who have been critical of the overall editorial decisions made by both Marvel and DC. The companies saw that their demographic was getting older. The most significant portion of the customer base were middle-aged men who entered into the hobby as children and teens and kept up with it as adults. However, new generations of children and teens were not replacing the grown-ups as customers. It appears that the companies chose to try and appeal to a younger, trendy audience. This is not a problem, per se. But this was often done at the expense of the existing customer base.
You can see this in disastrous plans like DCYou or the (seemingly) cancelled 5G, where classic heroes were replaced. Readers who have been loyal for decades have developed emotional ties to the characters, but this was ignored by many. One of the problems with this strategy is that if you write stories that turn off the older customer base, they will begin to abandon the entire hobby. This may not have been as big of a problem if the customer base they were seeking made up for the loss of sales. But this never materialized. Instead, the companies tried to get customers who would not buy their comics while at the same time turning away those who already were.
Let us take a look at the state of things in DC in the last few years.
-The Fall of King
Tom King created the worst comic book I have ever read, Heroes in Crisis #8. It was the time I was most tempted to quit DC. And while the beginning of his run on Batman was strong, he turned off so many readers that his run was cut short. Not only did he make Batman a mushy mess, but his story ruined Dick Grayson and gave us "Ric" Grayson. King's promotion for his new Rorschach comic led to the Twitter mob coming after artist Jae Lee.
DC snagged Brian Michael Bendis from Marvel and gave him control of the Superman universe. If they had hired the Bendis of Ultimate Spider-Man, then this would have been a boon. But instead they got the Bendis who could not shut up. Most of his books are a talkie mess, with so much text in them that you may as well be reading a novel.
One of his first decisions was to ruin the fan-favorite duo of the Super Sons by aging up Jonathan Kent into a young adult and removing him from the much-loved family dynamic that was established by Peter Tomasi. He introduced new villains that no one really cares about. He interconnected his stories into something called Event Leviathan, but instead of being a neatly woven and delightful tapestry, it was a heaping mess. I read every issue and I probably still could not tell you what it was about. His Young Justice has some nice moments, but once again drowns in his over-complicated words. He's like someone who gets up to the microphone who starts with a good point, but then is so excited to have people listen to him that he rambles on. His Naomi was nothing special. And even though he didn't write the book, Wonder Twins was under his imprint. I was very excited to have these characters enter the canonical DC comic book universe. But this comic, which I must emphasize was geared towards YOUNGER readers, began it's first issue with an alien sky orgy.
No, that is not a typo or an exaggeration.
In short, like Shaq with the Boston Celtics, DC overpaid for someone whose is way past the height of their career.
-Weirdness and Insanity
Grant Morrison took over for Green Lantern. Instead of producing stories that delighted fans as he did with his classic JLA run, his stories tended to the more obscure and strange. It is like he is trying to write Green Lantern the way Gaiman wrote Sandman. And while there are many people who revere that series, it doesn't really fit with Hal Jordan, especially in the way the Geoff Johns and Robert Vendetti wrote him.
Scott Snyder found some success with his DC Metal story a few years ago. It was very imaginative, but it pushed the boundaries of craziness similar to Morrison. But he kept pushing this so that his Justice League became difficult to follow and his current Metal story leans so heavily into the strange that it is hard to engage.
-Where is the A-List Buzz?
We already mentioned Superman, Batman, and Green Lantern. But where are the rest of the heavy hitters? I don't currently read Wonder Woman and Aquaman because they have done nothing to hook me. The Flash by Josh Williamson has been decent and I plan on giving it another read once his run on the book is done. Teen Titans is off the rails boring and Suicide Squad has some good writing, but they introduced too many new characters to care about. The best written series right now is from B-List characters Hawkman and SHAZAM!.
Now, that isn't to say that it is all bad. As I just mentioned, Hawkman and SHAZAM! are good. DCeased continues to be an engaging, intense, and wildly entertaining. The Terrifics is like quircky DC Fantastic Four. And I've already pre-ordered every variant cover to The Three Jokers.
So again, this could be a Doomsday or a Crisis. If it is a Doomsday, then there is no recovering from this catastrophe.
But it could be a Crisis.
This means that while things are dire, this will force them to re-discover the core of what makes this universe so special. During a Crisis at DC, horrible things happen and there is more than enough pain to go around. But through that adversity, the heroes remember who they are and why they fight. They remember that they stand for truth, justice, and the American way. They remember that part of their jobs as heroes is to act as an inspiriation of courage and honor, even in the face of doom.
DC can take a good, long, hard look at itself and it can choose: accept their Doomsday or overcome this Crisis through this Blackest Night and into Brightest Day.
Sunday, August 9, 2020
Raiders of the Lost Ark and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade are what happens when Spielberg has a good story and is at the top of his game. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is what happens when Spielberg has a bad story and he phones it in.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is what happens when Spielberg has a bad story but is at the top of his game. It is a movie that reminds us that in this medium, the director is the main visionary who brings the work to life. Even if the raw materials are sub-par, a great director can make something amazing.
Why is this movie not higher on the list?
The main reason is Willie Scott. This is not a knock on Kate Capshaw's performance. But the character of Willie is so cloying that she drains a lot of the fun from the film. I understand what they were going for, trying to go in the opposite direction of the tough, assertive, and independent Marion Ravenwood. But this was too much of an overcorrection. Her screams inspire more eye-rolling than terror. The film also has a tonal problem. It is true that every one of the Indiana Jones movies has scenes with creepy-crawly creatures, but this is the film that leaned so heavily into the gross-out horror as to be at times off-putting. This is the darkest of all the film in the franchise. Lucas alluded to the fact that his divorce was influencing his outlook when developing the story. Ironically Spielberg met Capshaw on this film, whom he would later marry. It mixes the super-dark with the cartoonishly silly. The escape from the plane is probably just as laughable as the atomic fridge.
But beyond that, this movie still holds up.
The main reason is that Spielberg uses every visual trick to give you an exciting and heroic story. He firsts sets you off balance with the big musical number at Club Obi-Wan. But then he pulls you into a James Bond film, with Indy in the full tuxedo. The introduction of Short Round carries with it the same logic as introducing Robin in Batman: you now have a character through which kids could viciously share the hero's adventure. Short Round was smart, funny, and a good fighter. Not only that, but it is Short Round's love that saves Indy from his spell. That taps into the primal hope of children that they can reach the heart of seemingly tyrannical parents.
The horror element is real and still holds. I remember the shock I first had when Mola Ram rips out his victim's heart. I can still remember some time after I had seen the movie, I was at the theater to see something else. As I was at the concession stand, an older girl came running out of the theater where Temple of Doom was playing. I was so shocked I asked her what was wrong. She said she could watch it again. I looked through the theater door windows (they used to have those) and I saw it was the scene where Willie was about to be sacrificed and this girl did not want to see Willie get her heart ripped out. This moment always stuck with me because it hit me how utterly effective Spielberg was at creating tension and fear.
Speaking of Mola Ram, Amrish Puri deserves so much credit with making this villain work. He has so little to go on from the script, but Puri infuses him with a madman's glare while maintaining intense mystical power. Notice how he laughs maniacally as he murders one of his own soldiers on the bridge for no reason. To this day, the way he says the line, "And then the Hebrew God will fall" is chilling to me.
And enough cannot be said about Harrison Ford. He shows off his full range of action, drama, and comedy in this movie. Nothing he does feels out of character and that is something. What Spielberg and Ford created in Indiana Jones was a character who was not only incredibly competent, but one that incredibly flawed and reliant on luck. He screws up as much as he overcomes. He drinks poison, he loses the diamond, he gets on his enemy's plane, he gets captured and brainwashed, he chooses the wrong path when Short Round tells him the right one, etc. One of my favorite performances of Ford is when he shouts to Willie as he and Short Round are about to be crushed, "Willie... we are going to die!" It is a mixture of terror, frustration, and funnily enough, utter disappointment.
But what makes him come out on top is not that he does everything perfectly; it's that he never, ever gives up. In the movie's best shot, and quite possible one of the best shots in all of movie history, Indiana Jones appears in a darkened, tunnel, his backlit presence defined by that iconic silhouette. But then spotlight slowly reveals the hero there to save the children. He is beaten down, more-so than we had seen him in Raiders. But his face is full of such grim determination that he could bend steel and you would believe it.
Throughout the movie, Spielberg frames and lights his hero with such power that the images have remained potent decades later. All of this comes to a head at the bridge. Indy is put into checkmate, surrounded by enemies closing in. He is bleeding, shit torn, armed only with a sword. He then shouts to Short Round and gets an insane look in his eyes as he raises the sword. The fight afterwards is just as exciting to watch now as it was when it first came out. And as before, Indiana has a spiritual epiphany that saves the day.
The finale is also wonderfully happy, like the ending of a fairy tale. John William's score not only brings adventure, but joy. Spielberg wisely understands that fairy tales can get incredibly dark, but that we all yearn for the cathartic happily ever after.
Friday, August 7, 2020
|photo by Gage Skidmore|
A year ago I saw Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood. At the time I gave it a better than average review, but I was not terribly impressed. And yet for days afterwards, the movie stayed with me. When it came out on Blu-Ray, I bought it immediately and I have re-watched it several times since.
To be honest, I had trouble understanding why. My original critique of the movie as being meandering and lacking in a tight plot still stands. And yet it lingers. In fact, that is the case for a great deal of Tarantino's films. I personally do not think Pulp Fiction is a very good movie, but for some reason I watch it at least once a year. I think Reservoir Dogs is genius and I enjoy Kill Bill, Django Unchained, and Inglorious Basterds. I think most of his movies have sever flaws, but something keeps bringing me back.
Particularly when thinking about Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood I think I may have an answer, even if it is not THE answer:
It is the masculine genius of Quentin Tarantino
I think one of the keys to understanding the enduring appeal of his movies is the the unfiltered, potent masculinity found there. He fills his movies with men who are truly manly men: alpha males and men of action who are decisive and strong.
This is not to say that all of his portrayals of masculinity are positive. In order to understand the appeal, you have to understand that it is the masculinity that is appealing, not necessarily the vices that accompany them. Michael Corleone, Tony Montana, and Walter White are all evil men and the stories about them make the tragedy of the horrible moral choices very clear. And yet, you cannot deny that there is a significant portion of the male population that finds something very appealing and cool about them. You could chalk this up to the concupiscent desire for evil in fallen man. But I think that is too simple. These men are not admired because they are evil. They are admired because they are masculine.
Part of Tarantino's genius is that he knows that masculinity in and of itself is not a moral good. The same manly attributes can be used to make someone a hero or a villain. Masculinity is portrayed in both its admirable and toxic forms in his movies.
SPOILERS FOR QUENTIN TARANTINO FILMS
His first movie, Reservoir Dogs is filled with alpha males. This is exemplified when they get their names and Joe Cabot says, "No way, no way. Tried it once, it doesn't work. You get four guys all fighting over who's gonna be Mr. Black, but they don't know each other, so nobody wants to back down. No way. I pick. " There is not a high level of agreeableness among them because they each have very strong opinions and are not shy. The opening scene is a wonderful example of the kind of un-refined dialogue that often happens when guys are alone without the civilizing effect of the feminine. Their masculinity is not uniform. Mr. Pink is not physically intimidating, but his brain is a sharp weapon. Mr. Blonde is a brute. Mr. White is fiercely and violently loyal. Mr. Orange is patiently endures death to fulfill his duty.
Again, these men are not saints because they are manly. Mr. Pink is a coward. Mr. Blonde is a psychopath. Mr. White is a cold-blooded killer. And Mr. Orange is a liar who lacks compassion for his fellow officer. We don't want to be these men in their totality of virtue and vice. But, as men, we would hope to be as witty as Mr. Pink, as strong as Mr. Blonde, as brave loyal as Mr. White, and as brave as Mr. Orange. We may be able to console ourselves in that we would not be murderers, but could we stand by a friend in the face of death?
Pulp Fiction gives us protagonists who are also incredibly manly. Vincent and Jules are wicked killers. But when they enter into a room, they command the attention. Jules is particularly cruel in inflicting great fear into those he is about to kill. And yet, this moral wreck of a man begins a turn away from his life of crime. In doing so, he does not become less manly. His decision is based on a resolute and decisive choice to accept God's presence in saving his life. He even holds to this in the face of ridicule. And when he faces down Ringo in the coffee shop, he shows great strength of will against his evil nature as he says "I'm tryin' real hard to be the shepherd." I have serious doubts about if his conversion will be successful, as there is still too much self-centered willfulness in his attitude. But makes his choice as a free man.
Vincent's big dilemma is not spiritual, but relational. As he finds himself attracted to his boss's wife, he struggles with attraction versus loyalty. He even has a rather vulgar conversation with himself reminding him that a man keeps faith even if his desires are opposite. But it is also Vincent's machismo that gets him killed. For no reason, he stares down Butch in the night club. For some reason he felt the need to try and dominate the boxer in that moment. But that lingering resentment got him killed when he came out of the bathroom later in Butch's apartment.
Strangely, you can see the masculine genius at work the best in the story of Butch and Marsellus. As the story "The Gold Watch" begins, Captain Koons tells the young Butch about how he was a POW with Butch's father. He says that when you go through something like that with another man, you take on certain responsibilities. As an adult, Butch betrays mob-boss Marsellus, who then puts a hit out on Butch's life. The two end up running into each other, but through a strange twist of fate, Butch and Marsellus are captured by rapists, who take Marsellus away to assault him. Butch escapes his bonds during this time and he has a chance to escape. But as he goes to leave the man who wants him dead to this horrible fate, he stops and decides to save him.
Tarantino understands the horror that Butch has at what Marsellus is enduring. Butch returns to save Marsellus not because he has feelings of friendship for for Marsellus or because he thinks it will result in a reconciliation. He does it because he has a responsibility towards him because of their common imprisonment. Marsellus understands what Butch does for him and now understands his own debt to him that must be repaid. There is zero affection between them and neither of them leave necessarily more virtuous. But they both stepped up to the unwritten obligations before them.
Kill Bill is more of an exploration of strong women, but the character of Bill and his brother Bud show strong masculine traits. Bud is a disgusting loser, but he does not try to equivocate his responsibility, acknowledging his guilt and the justice of his enemy's vendetta. When Bill dies, he stands up straight, buttons his coat, and boldly takes the five steps that will explode his heart. Tarantino never lets these men off the hook and their fates are deserved.
Django lives up to the masculine fantasy of being able to do great violence to anyone in order to rescue the woman in his life. Every man, even if he would never actually do it, secretly hopes that they have it within them to take on any enemy and defeat them to save their wife or daughter. Dr. King Schultz even accompanies him on this difficult quest simply because they are friends and he understands that it is Django's duty as a husband to do anything to save his wife.
Lt. Aldo Raine in Inglorious Basterds is a cold-hearted brute. There doesn't seem to be an ounce of softness in him. He isn't stupid, but he is utterly simple, without any complication in him. When the brilliant and evil Hans Landa has Aldo captured, they have this exchange:
Aldo does not have any complexity which makes him a man of complete and total action. He can decisively commit to his course of action without looking back. Most men try to be this decisive. That isn't to say that this quality isn't easily corrupted into pride and stubbornness. You get the distinct suspicion that Aldo could easily unleash his violence on a less deserving enemy. But there is a strong desire to be able to choose and hold a course of action.
Finally, in Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood, you have two protagonists that are so different and yet are intensely masculine. With Cliff Booth, his manliness is obvious in his strength, determination, and decisiveness. He says to Squeaky Fromme that he's going to check on his old friend George and that nothing is going to stop him.
Rick is much different, as he is much more outwardly emotional. But he is still hyper-masculine. You can see he takes his job as an actor very seriously by the way he works at memorizing his lines. When he screws up, he is so humiliated because he appears as though he hasn't been taking his responsibilities seriously. While he is horribly insecure, he never stops trying to find his level and do a good job. You get the strong sense that for him it isn't merely a matter of fame, but that intensely masculine desire to do your job well because your identity, rightly or wrongly, is tied to your job.
But for me, the best moment, the one I watch repeatedly, is a simple one. Rick asks Cliff if he wants to come in and watch his show that is going to be on TV. Cliff says "I figured we would. I got a six-pack in the back and I thought we'd order a pizza."
It is a simple scene, but in that small moment, it captured something about manly friendship. Someone once said that your best friends are not those you see as your equals, but as your betters. Rick is a little nervous at asking if Rick will want to hang out with him. But Cliff simply enjoy's Rick's company and planned on hanging out anyway. Even though Rick has money and stardom, Cliff doesn't ahve a drop of envy. In other words, their friendship has closeness and loyalty, but no drama. This in many ways is an ideal masculine friendship.
There is much more that can be written on this subject. There is indeed plenty of room to critique his portrayls of men. Tarantino's portrayl and treatment of women in his films is also a subject about which much can be written. But we will leave these considerations for later.
Tarantino gives us manly men in his movies. He not judge them for being masculine, nor does he sanctify them for being manly.
But in either case, you can say of each of the main characters discussed have something in common. Whether he is a good man or bad man, there is no question that he is a man.