Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Giant Size X-men #1

I don't know how many people are aware of the fact that the X-men as a series almost didn't make it. Seven years after its debut, the X-men comic ceased publication with issue 66 in 1970. Nine months later, they continued production but they were simply reprints of older issues. It was in May of 1975 that Giant Size X-men #1 was released, and it was an attempt to revitalize the team.


I'm going to apologize right off the bat for not having images for you beyond the cover. My copy of this issue is included in the first trade paperback volume of Uncanny X-men and as such doesn't make for easy scanning.

This issue pretty literally hits the ground running, as one by one the Professor travels the world to assemble a new team of X-men. First up is Nightcrawler, who is being pursued by a torch wielding mob in Germany. He is nearly ready to forsake his humanity completely due to the barbarous nature of the humans around him. Fortunately, the Professor jumps in just in time to shout "Stop!" mentally at the mob and save him. This Nightcrawler is nowhere near the comical lighthearted character who would later appear in the X-men, which is really quite logical given what he is dealing with. What surprised me most, however, was that twice writer Len Wein describes him giving out a "hideous howl," really playing into his demonic appearance. Obviously, much like Beast in X-men #1, they did not entirely decide to create his opposite nature until later issues.

Next up is Wolverine, showing up six months after his debut in The Incredible Hulk. He is an agent for the Canadian government, and there are even some hints that his adamantium skeleton was installed by that government, though now that I think about it I don't think the word adamantium is ever used. We also see no evidence of a healing factor - he's basically just a hothead mutant with retractable claws. The Professor basically steals him straight from Canada and the head of the department vows that they are not done with him yet.

Banshee is the next recruit, and he had actually appeared in older X-men issues as a villain. The professor asks him if he'd like to do something good for once and help him out. Banshee agrees. The Irish stereotyping here is atrocious - he uses "Begorra!" as an exclamation and tells the Professor "then sure an' I'll help ye!" Even his appearance bears a resemblance to the Irish cops I'm used to seeing in Looney Tunes cartoons.

Storm's debut, as you might expect, is even worse. She's being worshiped as a goddess in Africa, and as such she is shirtless, though amazingly has perfectly perky breasts. I'll give them credit - in the multiple panels where we see her appearing before her people and showing off her powers, they use a different technique to hide her breasts in every one of them. They were clearly having fun with it. As you probably expect, there is no mention here of the fact that she was born in America or that she was once a child thief on the streets of Cairo that pick-pocketed a walking Charles Xavier. All those details would be established much later. I also found it interesting that twice Len Wein narrates that her eyes grow dark as she uses her powers, even though we so often see them turn white now.

Sunfire is another mutant who had previously featured in X-men stories, and as such his introduction is very quick. He and the Professor have tea together, and he agrees to help him out. Sunfire will leave the team just as quickly in the next issue. He is yet another hothead, I suppose to fit with his heat powers. The sad part is there is yet another one to go...

Before that though we meet Colossus on his farm collective in the USSR. Peter's powers are revealed when his idiot sister just sits there doing nothing when a runaway tractor comes heading toward her. Seriously, the tractor is like right behind her and she just sits there playing with her toys. Even a deaf girl would have felt the vibrations. Peter manages to turn to steel just in time to grab her and save her. Colossus wonders if his powers belong to the state, but the Professor insists they belong to the world, and Peter agrees to join.

Now to our final hothead and perhaps the worst of the stereotyping - Thunderbird, aka John Proudstar, member of the Apache. John is upset that most of his tribe are just sitting like wimps on a reservation when he wants to be a warrior. The Professor wants to give him that chance, but John wants no help from the filthy white man. After a quick exchange where the Professor uses reverse psychology, John agrees to join anyway. Thunderbird's powers appear to be super-strength, but it is never clearly defined in the issue.

Once all gathered together back at the mansion, the Professor finally explains what is going on: Cyclops, Marvel Girl, Iceman, Havok and Lorna Dane (I didn't see her referred to Polaris at this point) all went to find a mutant on the island Krakoa and now only Cyclops has returned, unsure of what happened to the others. Beast is not here because he had previously graduated from the X-men and is now a member of the Avengers. So even though they have no idea what they are up against, the Professor and Cyclop's plan seems to be "bring a bunch more mutants and maybe this time we can beat it.. whatever it is."

"It" turns out to be the island itself. Nuclear testing was performed on the island, making all organisms on it merge together into one life form. Don't think about that one too much, it will hurt your brain. Krakoa has been feeding energy off the captured X-men and now wants to capture the rest, but apparently they are too strong in a group, even though they can't get along at all. They bicker almost constantly, and only shut up long enough to fight the island.

Once again, their method to defeat the island makes no sense. Storm sends "electrical energy" at Lorna, who somehow uses it to channel her magnetic powers. It's apparently quite risky and could kill her, which upsets Havok since he loves her. Cyclops tells him too bad - he has to save the world, not worry about one woman. Once she is charged enough, the two brothers both fire their energy powers at Lorna, which somehow allows her to release her energy down into the earth. This force works against gravity and launches Krakoa into space. So really.. the only one of the new team they actually needed was Storm. No wonder Sunfire and Banshee are both so ready to leave next issue.

This issue is almost identical in pattern to X-men #1 - introduce a bunch of characters then throw them into a quick fight. Despite its "giant size" it really doesn't cover much more ground. It assumes you're already familiar with the old X-men, which is kind of surprising to me because I wouldn't think back issues were that easy to get in the 1970s. Perhaps the readership of the book in its reprinting stage was so strong they figured people wouldn't have much trouble jumping on and understanding it.

I suppose, much like the original Star Trek series, you have to applaud their attempt at introducing an international team, even if it is full of stereotypes. The simple fact that these characters were included here allowed them to be built upon and deepened into better characters later - well, except for Thunderbird, who dies the very next issue.

As I mentioned earlier, I read this as the beginning of the first volume of Uncanny X-men, and I have to make a confession - I have never made it all the way through that book. The stories that follow it all feel overly silly to me - they fight Count Nefaria and his Ani-mates in the next issue, and I think those names alone give you a feel for what kind of story it is. The issue after that features a giant red demon. This does lead into The Phoenix Saga however, so I guess I really should finish it. My future reviews will all be within the Chris Claremont era of X-men, and therefore contain much stronger stories.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Nine Inch Nails

Hey, look, another music review! Since I'm still listening almost exclusively to Beastie Boys right now (I can quit at any time... maybe), I thought I'd pick a band I know so well I probably won't even have to listen to most of these albums again to do my review.

Of all the bands I love, Nine Inch Nails is one that I normally don't go out of my way to turn people on to. They're popular enough that most people have already heard of them, and either you're a fan or you're not. While the sound has changed over time, it's still basically the same, and if you don't like industrial or Trent's voice, you never will, and I'm okay with that.

My awareness of Nine Inch Nails began shortly after The Downward Spiral had come out. "Closer" was played almost nightly during the alternative hour on my local radio station, and I used to listen to that while playing cards. Call me naive if you wish, but I actually did not realize what he was saying on the chorus at first. I simply liked the way the song sounded, and it was only until I decided to try to learn the words and attempt to sing along that I realized what it was about.

Not long after this, my friend Melanie who was all kinds of awesome and therefore into better music long before I was, brought the liner notes to school. For whatever reason I never actually went and looked at them, but I remember all the guys giggling over it, most likely to "Big Man With A Gun." Thirteen year old boys are the epitome of maturity, after all.

Fast forward a year or two and I'm in high school and have my very first boyfriend. He was very into Nine Inch Nails and when I told him I liked "Closer," he was happy to share with me the rest of the songs... though it wasn't long after that he regretted doing so. I became fully obsessed with both the music and Trent Reznor himself. I was so amazed with the idea that one man could create all this music alone, write lyrics that were expressing the cynicism and self loathing my own teen self was feeling at the time, and be incredibly hot too. I think it was that last part in particular that upset my boyfriend the most. This obsession would last through the turn of the century for me, and at least one year longer than that relationship.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Ten Books I Love But Have Never Blogged About

Perhaps it's cheating for me to take part in a book blog meme when I'm not entirely a book blog. There are only 10 posts on here that I've tagged as book reviews, and some of them barely count. The majority of them are related to my Harry Potter challenge. I love reading, but find I lack the time to do so these days. I'd love to do more reviews of books, but for now please take this list as some examples of books I love. I saw this meme through Enbrethiliel at Shredded Cheddar, and The Broke and the Bookish host these weekly top ten lists. Feel free to join in and add your own!

These are presented in the order they occurred to me rather than by importance. I can't really rank them that way.

1. Homeland by R.A. Salvatore
The chronological first (fourth written) in the Drizzt Do'Urden series is my favorite. The matriarchal society of the drow fascinated me and there's a part of me that likes Zaknafein more than Drizzt himself.

2. The Stand by Stephen King
Watching the mini series had me asking my dad to borrow his copy of the book, and once I read it I had graduated from young adult fiction completely. I think its length would make it almost impossible for me to review, but I still love it.

3. Sandman Volume 4: Season of Mists by Neil Gaiman
Nearly all of the Sandman series is fantastic, and definitely belongs in a category with novels in the same way that Watchmen does. The story of Lucifer quitting his post and watching these gods scramble to take control of hell is a great one, and a hint toward what Gaiman would later do with American Gods.

4. Animal Farm by George Orwell
Perhaps not as revolutionary or as smart as 1984, there's still nothing that can match the feeling I get when I get to the last sentence of this novel.

5. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Phillip K. Dick
After enjoying Blade Runner I went looking for the novel it was based on. I didn't know I was going to find one of my favorite dystopian novels when I did so.

6. Groucho and Me by Groucho Marx
I'm not one for nonfiction in general, but I couldn't wipe the smile off my face when I read this autobiography. I felt like I could hear him reading it to me, his distinctive delivery was obvious in every line. It feels weird to have a crush on a man who died before I was born, but it is what it is.

7. Candide by Voltaire
It's not often I read a book all in one weekend, no matter how short. But I couldn't really put this one down. A fun and endlessly witty satire.

8. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
Have you figured out by now that I really love dystopian novels? You're also now finding out that I really love made up languages.

9. Watership Down by Richard Adams
I swear by the time I finished this book I was thinking in rabbit speak. This one would honestly be very hard to review because there aren't proper words to express just how much I love it.

10. The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury
I really would need to read this one again to give it a proper review. But I remember a lot of the short stories in this collection had a strong impact on me and it's my favorite of his that I have read.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Viva la ape revolution!

I'm of the type that likes animals more than people. When I enter someone's home for the first time, I often spend more time bonding with their pets than with them. I also really love going to the zoo, and I always save the apes for last, because I like to just hang out and watch the orangutans for as long as possible. So what I'm basically telling you is, this review is biased.

However I do think most people would enjoy Rise of the Planet of the Apes as much as I did. It has a strong emotional story both for the humans and the apes, and a great action packed climax. There are top notched performances here from James Franco, John Lithgow, and Andy Serkis. But chances are you've probably heard all that already. You've probably also heard that Tom Felton is pretty bad. Perhaps I'm a little more forgiving than most, but my feeling was that it wasn't necessarily his performance as much as the role he was given. My dad whispered to me in the middle of the movie "He's the entire reason for the rise of the apes!" and there's a lot of truth to that joke: both he and the "evil CEO" played by David Oyelowo are very one note characters who basically serve as examples of human evil and nothing more. They are balanced out by more moral characters in both their environments, but it would be nice if we could see some complexity within both characters.

This isn't the only place in the film where enough thought wasn't put into the story. Caesar, the ape who begins the revolution, is born and saved because somehow no one at the facility noticed they had a pregnant ape in their care, and no one noticed when she gave birth to him either. That's a severe suspension of disbelief given that we see Franklin, their main caregiver, is a very caring individual. Once Caesar is saved, we fast forward three years, and then another additional five. It's necessary because Caesar has to grow up, but it creates some lapse in logic in regards to what is going on with some of the human characters.

None of the above problems actually hurt the film. There is a part of me that would have liked to see real apes play a role in this film, but of course the CGI allows us to not have to fake abuse or force animals to do something unnatural for them, so I can't really complain about that either. I quickly fell in love with Maurice, the orangutan character who reminded me greatly of the large orangutan we used to have at the Audubon Zoo who I had affectionately nicknamed Trashheap. While Maurice only speaks in sign language, we still get some insight into his personality even before he is exposed to the virus and I think that is a great thing. The same can be said for Buck, the gorilla who cannot communicate at all, yet we still really feel for him in his situation.

These glimpses into the apes' feelings escalate until we get a fantastic emotional payoff when they escape. I've seen other people complain about the CGI in parts, but I had no such complaints. I thought they looked and felt as real as can be expected. I found myself on the edge of my seat for most of this sequence, mostly rooting for the apes though I also felt for James Franco's character. The end is predictable but still very satisfying.

I think it's almost impossible to spoil this movie, because as a prequel we all know where it ends up. There has been talk of sequels to this film, but beyond a reboot of the franchise, I'd rather not see that. I think this movie tells us everything we need to know before watching the original Planet of the Apes, and I personally wouldn't want to see an additional film set between the two. Of course I have to admit that I am largely guessing here, as I have not actually seen the original. I've seen the Tim Burton remake, which I was pretty lukewarm about. I plan to watch the original very soon - I've got a tab sitting open to rent it via Amazon Instant Watch.

If you're sitting on the fence, I highly recommend going to see this. Since you know the ending already, all you're really worried about is the journey, and I can tell you it is a good one.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Beastie Boys Action Figures (video)

Poor planning on my part means this video clocks in at just under 25 minutes. It's a little fumbling in parts and this is the first time I had to edit clips filmed out of sequence, but I still think it is entertaining and hope you will enjoy it.

If you've got the cash, you can order your own set here.

I love that I seem horribly embarrassed by the fact that I still own Barbie and Ken, but not at all bothered by the other toys.

As promised, this is the video directed by Spike Jonze featuring these action figures:

The alternate outfits here make me think there is a way to change them, but of course they could have just had special dolls made for it, so who knows. If they are changeable and they sold these outfits, I would probably buy them too.

And these are the two charities you can make a donation to if you don't have enough for the actual figures:
Pablove Foundation
Alex's Lemonade Stand

Also, since I seem to have a knack for uploading these to Youtube shortly before I go to bed and then posting them on here in the morning, you can watch these before anyone else by subscribing to angie462 over there.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Batman: The Animated Series - Scarecrow Episodes

The structure of Batman: The Animated Series makes it difficult to review in season order. It was originally a M-F afternoon series, and as such the first season contains sixty five episodes. The second season contains only twenty because the show was renamed The Adventures of Batman and Robin and aired on Saturday mornings. Instead of attempting to try to sum up my feelings on either of these seasons in one big entry, I thought it might work better to break it down. After all, the strength of an episode is usually largely related to the villain involved. For no particular reason beyond my mood, I decided to start off with the Scarecrow.

There were a total of three episodes starring the villain, and they are all from the first season. My hunch is that the reason he didn't get any attention in season two is because one of these episodes includes Robin already, and season two was all about adding in more Robin episodes.

"Nothing to Fear"

This episode is not quite an origin story, but more our and Batman's introduction to the Scarecrow. He's shown to be crazy from a very early age, always enjoying scaring the daylights out of people for no good reason. It made me wonder how a man like this could ever get far enough to be a professor conducting experiments on people, but I guess we're not supposed to think about all that. The best thing about the episode is that Batman gets exposed to a slow release fear toxin that reveals his greatest fear: that his father would not be proud of him. It's a perfect angle for Bruce, given the playboy image he shows to the public and also perhaps a kind of doubt that he's going about this the wrong way. There is a very touching moment where Alfred assures Bruce that his father would be proud, because after all, Alfred is proud of him.

The main issue I had was that Batman feeds a strip of cloth he pulls off the Scarecrow into the batcomputer for analysis, and it conveniently takes most of the episode to figure it out. When it does tell him that the cloth has residue from a chemical, he asks the computer to cross reference the chemical suppliers with Gotham University (since all the attacks have been there). The computer immediately tells him that about Professor Jonathan Crane being fired and how he had a specialty in phobias who also owns one of the chemical plants. Wouldn't just checking the university's records for fired professors have already gotten him this info? It's clear they were just delaying Batman finding out the answer for no good reason.

Also, how does Batman conquer his fears? By shouting: "I am vengeance. I am the night. I am ... Batman!" As much as I love that wonderfully overdramatic line, how does that prove his father would be proud of him?

"Fear of Victory"

This is the Robin episode of the bunch, and therefore one I really enjoy. This time around the Scarecrow is using a fear toxin that activates when the person exposed to it gets an adrenaline rush - he's using it to throw sports games in his favor by making the star athletes panic. Since Dick Grayson's roommate is the star quarterback of the university's football team, he also gets exposed to the toxin. It makes Dick afraid of heights, a particularly illogical fear for a guy who was once an aerialist in the circus. Robin does manage to conquer his fear in time to save the day.

What is done best in this episode is that the climactic scene occurs at a football game, and the announcer's words and the cheers of the crowd happen to perfectly correlate with what is happening between Batman, the Scarecrow, and Robin above the game. I also enjoyed seeing a Batman in this episode who has a bit of a sense of humor, adding to that idea that Batman needs Robin to mellow him out a bit.

"Dreams in Darkness"

This one is fairly unique compared to a lot of BTAS episodes in that it is mostly a flashback story narrated by Batman. It definitely sets a different tone, if nothing else. The Scarecrow once again has created a slow release type gas that is making Batman hallucinate. His delusions get him locked up in Arkham while the Scarecrow has snuck out and is about to poison Gotham's water supply with the very same chemical. The plot is beyond simple - the Arkham doctors don't believe Batman, but then eventually do go ahead and check the Scarecrow's cell anyway, and sure enough, Batman was right and he gets past the orderlies in order to stop Scarecrow and save the day.

What is far more interesting are Batman's hallucinations. He watches his parents head into a dark alleyway, and then the alley transforms into a giant gun that drips blood. Don't ask me how they got that past the censors, but it's awesome. Later, Batman starts seeing all of his Rogues gallery - the Penguin swells to enormous size, and then his head pops like a balloon and Two Face's head is underneath. He's then tied down by a Poison Ivy/Clayface amalgam while Robin and Alfred mock him. Try and tell me that isn't something you want to see.

All three of these episodes can be found on Batman: The Animated Series, Volume 1 if you want to see them for yourself.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Salt (2010)

Last year I heard a lot of talk surrounding Salt. It was originally going to star Tom Cruise, but he backed out after he decided it was too close to his Mission Impossible character. The decision was then made to change the script slightly to make it a starring role for Angelina Jolie. The story goes that a studio executive had offered Jolie a role as a Bond girl in the past, and Jolie had responded that she would rather be James Bond instead. So when this movie lost its star, they decided to give her that chance.

Knowing all this I couldn't help but watch the film from the perspective of whether or not it felt like a woman playing a man's role, if they had perhaps changed a lot to make it more feminine, or if it was just a role anyone of any gender could play. I actually think they did a really good job of accomplishing creating a gender neutral film for the most part. Evelyn Salt is a CIA agent who is accused of being a Russian spy who will soon assassinate the Russian president while he is in America in order to start a war. She runs away from her fellow CIA members because she is concerned that the group accusing her has probably kidnapped her husband or worse.

The main thing about the film is that we are purposely left in the dark about where Salt's loyalties lie. It's used to create suspense and it makes this film a bit different than many other "man on the run" type films, but it also makes it hard for you to sympathize with the character when you don't know whose side she is on.
The theory behind this plot, that there were children trained in Russia from a very early age to be American citizens waiting around to cause this war, is also very hard to swallow. As the man was setting up the premise, I couldn't help but roll my eyes. It borders on science fiction, or at least wild conspiracy theory. However once I accepted it, I didn't have any other problems with the story itself.

It's a decent action flick with lots of fighting and some explosions, and they all happen for a reason, which is something I can't say for some Bond films I've seen. Jolie did nearly all her own stunts and fighting and it comes off really well.

The only thing I thought a bit silly was that it seemed the entirety of the other sleeper agents who were revealed were all male. Would it have been too hard to find some females at least among the extras, if not the leads? Beyond that it was really refreshing to see a woman in this type of role who wasn't a mother doing it all to save her child or a temptress flashing her boobs to get her way. Salt is intelligent, resourceful, and pragmatic while also having a heart. It's something we just don't see often enough these days. About the only other recent female action lead I can think of is Milla Jovovich the Resident Evil series, and I haven't seen any of those to know how good they are.

It's not a perfect film by any means, but if you're in the mood for a decent action thriller, it's definitely worth checking out.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Monsters vs Aliens Challenge: The Thing (From Another World)

In the Monsters vs Aliens storyline, the monsters are much more recognizable than the aliens. Or more appropriately, alien. While every one of the monsters has a specific counterpart, the alien seems to be an amalgam of various aliens from 1950s movies, nearly all of which were concerned with world conquest. The Thing From Another World is an excellent example of these types of movies. It's also incredibly well done and not the silly B movie you might be expecting. The main focus of the film is more on the scientists and military men who find the creature than on the creature itself.

The story is still relevant 60 years later. The scientists' main focus after finding the creature is to study it and perhaps try to communicate with it. The military grunts want to destroy it the moment they realize how dangerous it is, but the bigwigs want them to leave it unharmed and trap it, quite possibly to use it as a weapon. The creature itself seems to be mostly concerned with draining humans and animals of their blood in order to feed himself and his young. While he can't actually communicate with the humans, they are all convinced that he's come to Earth to nurture his seeds and eventually conquer the planet.

I couldn't help but make comparisons with the alien to Frankenstein's monster. He goes after the humans with his hands out in the same stiff pose, he speaks in grunts, and they even try to defeat him with fire at one point. The film is in black and white, but the posters show him as being green. I guess the main difference would be that electricity gave Frankenstein's monster life, whereas here it kills the alien creature.

As I mentioned, the focus of the film is really the people and there are a lot of fun characters here. Captain Hendry, played by Kenneth Toby, reminded me a lot of Steve McQueen as the charismatic head of the military grunts. Douglas Spencer plays Scotty, a wise cracking reporter who has come along in the hopes of getting the big scoop. Margaret Sheridan plays Nikki, who is the scientists' secretary and love interest for Captain Hendry - she's got a lot of spunk and attitude for a 1950s woman. Robert Cornthwaite is also great as Dr. Carrington, the scientist most convinced he can communicate and learn from the creature.

While the other monster movies I've watched in this challenge so far really suffered from the lack of monster time, I really didn't care how much time the alien appeared on screen in this movie at all, I was so wrapped up in the character interaction.

It's almost impossible to compare this alien to Gallaxhar, as the alien doesn't talk whereas Gallaxhar never shuts up. But they do both seem to want to conquer earth, as most aliens seem to want to do. Gallaxhar actually has a lot more in common with most evil scientists, and after having seen Megamind recently, I honestly don't see much difference between the two characters beyond Gallaxhar having tentacles instead of feet. But that's Dreamworks for you...

John Carpenter's The Thing is not, strictly speaking, a remake of this film but rather another adaptation of the same short story, "Who Goes There?" by John W. Campbell Jr. However I rarely see mention of one of these films without the other, so I thought it would make sense to include it. I already have established a difficult relationship with John Carpenter's films, and this one started off not much better. I came really close to turning it off in the first hour because it was moving way too slow for me. I'm happy to say though that after awhile things did amp up and I enjoyed the second half of the film much more. The creature in this version is far more horrifying and just flat out disgusting. It's a bloody tentacled monster that can take the shape of anything it comes in contact with.

In this version of the film there is no scientist vs military issue, it is just the scientific crew and their helicopter pilot alone in the antarctic against this menace. Since the alien can take on the shape of anything, the film is far more about trusting no one than anything else. I think part of the reason I was unhappy with the beginning is because this angle has been used so many times before that it was hard for me to really get involved until the crew started taking more desperate means to try to discover who among them was infected by the alien. I also enjoyed its more ambiguous ending.

They've recently announced plans to make another version of The Thing, that will supposedly be a prequel to the John Carpenter version. It seems like people are determined to keep visiting this story from slightly different angles.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and Terminator Salvation

I have a very strange relationship with the first two Terminator films. Depending on my mood when you ask me how I feel about them, you're probably going to get a very different answer. It's mostly dependent on whether or not I feel like giving them the benefit of the doubt or not.

I watched Terminator 3 for the first time last week and walked away from it very annoyed.

Nick Stahl looks absolutely nothing like Edward Furlong. He does however look at least somewhat like Michael Beihn (who played his dad in the first film), so I'm willing to forgive this somewhat.

The T-1000, from Terminator 2, was pure liquid metal. The T-X here is liquid metal over a more solid frame, and automatically looks like a random hot chick the moment she appears in the future. This seems like a step down in model rather than a step up to me. Not because she's a hot chick, though really there's no logical reason for her to be so beyond them wanting to use a female terminator this time. When she shows up, she has eight people she wants to knock off. She succeeds in killing at least three of them. This contradicts the predetermination theme the movie is trying to bring us back towards. This is my biggest complaint about the film - the way there is absolutely no consistency and the details change as needed to move the story forward.

The most obvious version of this is Kate Brewster. She is a veterinarian because we need a reason for her to meet up with John. She's the daughter of the military guy because she needs a connection to Skynet. She wields a machine gun in one scene so John can be reminded of his mom and therefore attracted to her. And finally, she can fly a plane simply because there's no other way for them to escape. This is not how you build an interesting character.

I also really hated the long drawn out car chase scene. It was a complete and utter "let's blow stuff up!" excuse if there ever was one. I find that action scenes with actual motivation behind them are infinitely more thrilling then explosions done just for the sake of it. I ended up eventually fast forwarding through this, because it went on far too long and lacked any kind of suspense since you knew the characters were going to survive.

Once again, they spit in logic's face for the sake of watching Arnold Schwarzenegger attempt to act. The scene where he needs to simultaneously kill and save John makes no sense, and watching him pound the hood of that car in what I guess was supposed to be frustration wasn't even laughable, it was just dumb. I hated the "I cannot self terminate" scene in 2, and seeing this callback to it just had me groaning all over again.

The one thing I do like about the film is the fact that it takes us back to everything being predetermined. It's one of the reasons I prefer the first film over the second. The idea that all of their efforts to change things actually help create what they're doing really appeal to me.

Eager to be done with the series, I followed it up this week with Terminator Salvation. I don't know if its the lack of Schwarzenegger (beyond the quick CGI cameo) or the fact that it's set in the future, but I actually enjoyed this one a bit more than the others. I wouldn't call it great by any means, as it certainly dragged in parts. But at the very least there was nothing for me to laugh at or get annoyed by like in the earlier films.

I found it interesting that the film essentially had two leads - seemingly trying to balance between Christian Bale and Sam Worthington's popularity at the time it was made. I don't think it hurt the film though - John Connor's rise to power as a leader and Marcus's struggle with the fact that he was a terminator were both interesting stories, and I'm not sure either could actually fill a movie on their own. They also tie them together fairly neatly at the end, even if it doesn't exactly seem practical.

The action was pretty good and given the post apocalyptic world made perfect sense - you expect a lot of fights with robots, and those fights are probably going to include explosions.

I don't think Anton Yelchin looks like a young Michael Beihn at all, but I'm willing to bet they weren't even trying at this point. He does do a good job in the role though, and I honestly didn't even remember he played Chekov until after I watched it. Between these two films and Fright Night coming up, he seems to be establishing himself as a young actor with a decent amount of range.

I also thought Sam Worthington did a really good job, I was much more impressed with his range here than what I saw in Avatar. The main thing I noticed was that his accent was really inconsistent. Sometimes he was obviously speaking in his normal Australian voice, other times attempting to sound American. Perhaps the dialogue coach on set just wasn't very good, because I noticed some inconsistencies with Christian Bale as well.

More than anything I liked the fact that the film seemed to suggest that it was Skynet's actions that have created John Connor. It leaves both sides of the war equally responsible for the conflict, in a way.

I know there has been some talk of continuing the series, and even of Schwarzenegger being involved again. Personally, I think that's insane. The only way you could include him at this point would be to show him as the man they modeled the T-800 after, now aged and perhaps trying to take Skynet down. There is apparently a deleted scene in Terminator 3 that actually showed him being based on a real person, so they could technically do that. I think seeing him as an actual terminator at this point would just be ridiculous. I also would prefer to keep the story in the post apocalyptic era, but then I've always really loved that setting so that's no surprise. At this point the planned sequels seem to be in limbo, so who knows what it will actually be once things get off the ground.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Last Airbender

During the recording of our first podcast episode (check it out if you haven't yet!), The Last Airbender came up in conversation. I had stayed away from it in theaters after the bad reviews came out, but I knew I would watch it eventually to judge for myself. I agree with some of the popular opinion, but not all of it.

It's kind of baffling to see a movie where the director is a supposed fan of the source material yet completely and utterly missed the point of the original series it was based on. Perhaps he's a very busy man and he didn't really watch the series as he claimed to - simply glanced at it long enough to make sure it was something appropriate for his children to watch and move on. That makes far more sense to me.

Shyamalan said he took out the "slapstick" and "fart joke" elements from the show because they were for "little kids." But the show's sense of humor is one of its greatest strengths. It's not as lowbrow as he makes it out to be, and it matures a bit over the course of the series. It's heavily influenced by anime and manga sensibilities that I think are part of what makes it so appealing. Watching the film it's pretty obvious that when you remove these elements, you are left with a really bland story.

It also means your main protagonist is nothing like his original form. In the series, Aang initially runs away when he finds out he's the avatar because he wants to have fun and be a kid rather than train and take on that responsibility. He's carefree and silly and is constantly trying to impress Katara, who he has a crush on. In the movie, he says he ran away because they told him the avatar couldn't have a family. What 12 year old boy do you know is worried about the fact that he won't be able to get married and have kids?

Sokka is also a shadow of his former self. Sokka is Xander with warrior training, frustrated that he is surrounded by people with powers but only has his boomerang to fight with. But he's also lighthearted and always hungry, like Shaggy if he had courage. Removing that in the film just leaves him as the generic kid with a chip on his shoulder that we've seen too many times before.

Nearly all the characters come off in this same lifeless fashion. The only time I felt anything was when Aang screamed as he found out the other air benders had been killed. There should have been plenty of other emotional moments to be found, but without providing us with anything to make us care about these characters, it just isn't there.

I also thought it a little strange to show Zuko and Iroh as good guys so early on. I think it would have worked better to keep Zuko as more of an enemy here, have him turn in movie two and then help in movie three. It would more closely follow the series and also provide us with character development. Instead they refuse to provide us with any character development at all.

Of course the biggest complaint and biggest source of controversy around the film was the casting of white actors in the roles. This was a stupid move on their part, but I do think it's worth mentioning that I didn't find it distracting while watching the film itself. The only thing I did notice is that the fire nation is made up almost entirely of actors of Indian descent, which seems a strange choice for an Indian born director to do for the villains of his picture.

The other main complaint I hear about the film is the overabundance of exposition in the narration. Perhaps it was because I have seen the show and knew what Katara was talking about, but this didn't bother me at all. I was more bothered by the occasional moments when a character's dialogue was clearly being used in the same fashion: "He's creating fire out of nothing! He must be a really advanced fire bender!"

To Shyamalan's credit, I do feel like he managed to find the important elements of the first season to put into the film, with the remaining elements that he left out being largely "monster of the week" (or in this case, spirit) type stories that people can discover when they watch the show for the first time. All of what was shown in the movie felt necessary to me, assuming the plan was to continue with a trilogy.

The direction itself is also well done, and it has a wonderfully epic feel. The battle in the northern water tribe area starts off looking way too much like the battle for Helm's Deep, but quickly moves into something more unique. The martial arts look great throughout the film, and watching on my television I didn't see anything wrong with the special effects.

I think if I didn't know what I was missing, I might be able to enjoy this film a little more. As it stands, it just kicked off an Avatar: The Last Airbender rewatch for me, because it's been long enough and I want to revisit this great series again. Perhaps sometime in the future this series will get a reboot film. If it means I eventually get to see Toph on the big screen, I'll be happy for it.
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