Monday, September 30, 2013

My Thoughts on the Breaking Bad Finale -- with Comparisons to Dr. Horrible and Star Wars!

The Breaking Bad finale was a poetic ending, but not a wholly satisfying one. After all, it was neat, unsurprising, and almost devoid of true tension. When were you biting your lip aside from the 90 seconds Walt was separated from his machine-gun-activating keys?

In other words, it was everything the Ozymandias episode wasn’t. Looking back, Ozymandias was the true climax of the series -- the point where everything came to a head and was never the same after. The following two episodes were more resolution than anything else. We saw the dots connected from all of the cold openings featuring shaggy Walt. We saw everyone die who deserved to die. Everyone we wanted to live lived. It was what we all wanted to happen, which isn’t always the best way to go.

According to storymaster Robert McKee, the best endings are ironic ones, and I am inclined to agree. Ironic endings are the kind where you achieve your goal, but have to give up something important to get it. Where good and bad meet in the middle. A great example is Dr. Horrible’s Singalong Blog in which (spoilers!) Dr. Horrible finally gets into the Evil League of Evil by killing someone, but the person that died was his one true love. In Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, Luke finally redeems his father, but his father pays for his sins with his life. There were ironies to Walt’s end story, but they weren’t pronounced enough in the finale to ring true.

In fact, for a story about a man breaking bad, he wound up being more of a hero by the end. I think that had to do with Vince Gilligan and the other writers wanting to redeem Walt in the eyes of the audience, even if it went against what they had been writing towards for five whole seasons. I would have preferred to see him fully break bad by the end and for that to have dire consequences. Let him become the man his actions have built him up to be and nothing less.

Gilligan built the show on the premise of wanting to turn a protagonist into an antagonist, but we saw a protagonist turn into an antagonist and then become an anti-hero. Why focus an entire series on the concept of a man becoming a monster, only to end it in a way that will make you go, “Oh, well he wasn’t that bad of a guy in the end!”

I’m not saying this was the worst finale ever. Far from it. There were many awesome moments. Lydia dying via her obnoxious tea-drinking habit. Walt “buying” sympathy with the lottery ticket. And every single scene with Jesse. This finale was Walt’s show, but it was Jesse who made me feel the most. His wood-carving heaven was a thing of sad beauty. The way he took care of Todd with the very chains that made him his prisoner was sweet justice. And his tearful elation at being free from not only from the Nazis and the meth cooking but from Walt was, well, beyond perfect.

And for a moment I thought he was going to shoot Walt. He had me feeling for him and I was unsure of what he was going to do. Walt, on the other hand, seemed to be on autopilot. I believe this is mainly because of the cold openings showing so many elements of the final episode. When the pieces were put together, they didn’t create anything unexpected. The season two finale -- as ludicrous as it was -- was at least genuinely thought-provoking. The whole season would have been better served without the one-year jump. I would have been more invested in the end if the events of the final episode had occured soon after Ozymandias.

Perhaps my biggest reason for not absolutely adoring the finale was a lack of revelation. It’s unclear about what brought about Walt’s final change of heart. Why did he give up his life of seclusion to get back at Gray Matter? From what we saw, it was only to threaten Elliot and Gretchen into giving his money to Walter Jr., making his monstrous actions at least be good for something. Saving Jesse, ending Lydia’s blue meth business, and taking out the Nazis were all an afterthought that he decided on after Badger and Skinny Pete mentioned it in the car. What would Walt have done if those two dorks never mentioned it? Gone back to his cabin and wasted away to death from cancer?

Breaking Bad defined itself by keeping you guessing every step of the way. To get a finale with such a weak poker face is a bit of a disappointment, but on the other hand, to get such tight closure -- however telegraphed -- is a blessing in disguise. One need only think of the absolute mess that was LOST to be grateful for the tight ending of Breaking Bad.

LOST had a complicated tangle of unanswered questions that it swept to the side at the end. Yes, there were unanswered questions in Breaking Bad, but they were the good kind. Who was Gus back in Chile? What exactly went down with Gray Matter? Those answers are tantalizing teases that anyone watching the show would want to know, but they are all secondary story elements that don’t matter in the grand scheme of Walt’s character arc. Plus, they’re more fun to just wonder about than actually know -- like the Joker’s multiple choice origin.

I was expecting some crazy twist to come in the finale. Something juicy and polarizing and shocking that would be divisive among fans. But they played it straight and ended it on a safe but sound note. With such huge expectation for the show to stick to its unpredictable guns, perhaps giving us exactly what we wanted is the biggest twist that Breaking Bad ever pulled.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

I Gave Wonder Woman #23 a Perfect 10 on IGN!

A 10 at IGN is something to get excited about. Of all the big comic book review websites, IGN is the only one, to my knowledge, where a 10 is a rare, coveted prize. There have only been seven 10s awarded in its entire history (eight now), whereas other sites award one every week or so. I'm not putting those websites down, but rather pointing out how IGN has made the awarding of a 10 a momentous occasion simply because it doesn't happen that often.

I was actually going to give Wonder Woman #12 a 10 for its mind-blowing climax, but, looking back, I was too scared. A 10 was a big deal to me, and I felt better "saving" it, although for what I couldn't say, because my socks had just been knocked off. The same thing happened with FF #17, but again something held me back; I didn't want to lessen the prestige of a 10, even though the comic deserved it.

Luckily, lightning struck twice. Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang delivered yet another smashing ending, this time for the First Born arc in Wonder Woman. When I got to the end, that haunting end with no dialogue and pitch perfect colors, my head was buzzing with the emotions and energy of the story. I got up and walked around and then pressed my head down into my bed sheets, but the feeling wouldn't stop. That's when I knew that this issue was a 10, and just like Wonder Woman had to make a monumental decision to become the God of War, I decided I was going to award it this time.

In hindsight, I should have gone with my gut and given those other books a 10. As my Editor Joey said when he gave Superman #712 IGN's first-ever 10, I don't want to live in a world where there can't be perfection. Actually, I don't want to live in a world where I can't admit there can be perfection.

"At long last, Wonder Woman joins Superman #712 and Batman #17 to form the Trinity of Perfection. I thought Wonder Woman #12 was going to be as good as it gets for this series, but somehow Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang managed to build on what made that issue so great and deliver the most poignant, powerful, and poetic superhero comic book I’ve ever read. It doesn't get much better than this, folks."

Read the rest of my review on IGN!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Man of Steel Review

There’s a moment during the third act of Marvel’s The Avengers where we see Hawkeye and Black Widow helping civilians out of a bus as invading aliens attack New York City. It’s a quick shot, but it did it’s purpose in showing us that even amongst all this chaos, their main mission was to save people. In a third act not worlds away from the one in Avengers, Superman does a whole lot of fighting, but not near enough saving -- unless your name is Lois Lane.

Director Zack Snyder no doubt salivated at the thought of bringing Superman to life on the big screen using all the neat tricks he learned making 300 and Watchmen, yet all that over-the-top action proves to be to the film’s detriment. Superman battles other Kryptonians in Dragon Ball Z fashion where every punch sends the opponent careening through cars, storefronts, and skyscrapers -- all of which do not appear to be fully vacated. It’s chilling to think that Superman’s body flattened a room full of people, yet he throws himself back into the fight without a thought of whose remains are on his boots.

But the movie is not all bad. There are some wonderful elements that come from Superman’s two dads, Jonathan Kent and Jor-El. They seem to talk in nothing but Life Lesson Speak, but it’s the eloquent kind that gives you feel-good goosebumps. You’d get why a guy who grew up hearing that kind of rhetoric all his life would turn out pretty super.

While Henry Cavill certainly looks the part with super pecs and super biceps --  and even at one point a super sexy beard -- he never wins the audience over with his personality. And seeing how his actions don’t prove to be entirely super when it comes to saving people, there’s not much to get behind. This Superman is touted to be an inspirational leader for the human race, yet he lacks the charm of one.

Michael Shannon proved he’s capable of turning in a Joker-level performance in Revolutionary Road, but he’s not given much to work with here as General Zod. He screams quite a bit and revels in making extreme decisions. We are told the reason for this is his genetic programming as a warrior protector, and by the end you’ll understand his motivation one-hundred percent. It’s just not the most compelling motivation, making him the greatest one-dimensional villain in superhero movie history.

His right-hand woman, Faora, steals the show from him with a few deliciously evil encounters, although, like her General, she doesn’t get much to say other than explaining why she’s superior to Superman as she beats the crap out of him. I would have liked to see her and Zod interact a bit more. A scene while they were at rest in between big action set pieces would have allowed them to talk freely and given us the opportunity to get under their skin. Still, moments where Faora lets loose with full super speed make for the film’s finest action scenes.

The visuals are generally top notch. Krypton is a beautiful alien world with weird creatures, making this more of a sci-fi epic than a superhero movie. The fights are cool to watch, although trimming each one’s length down by two-thirds would have gone a long way to keep them tight and special. When the battles go on too long, the characters start to look like slick, unfeeling cartoons. The strange liquid metal tentacle defenses of the World Engine were a nice sci-fi surprise, even if they seemed pointless by the end of that scuffle. This is a movie with a lot to see, even if it overindulges on a regular basis.

The score starts out as something truly inspiring, adding weight to the dialogue and setting the thoughtful tone of the flashback scenes, of which there are many -- and all are just about perfect. However, once the third act kicks in, the score competes with the many crashing/exploding sound effects, making for an experience so noisy and cluttered that the silence that comes with the resolution feels completely euphoric.

Super SPOILERS beyond this point!

The most heart-wrenching scene in the film was when Jonathan let himself be taken by the tornado to save Clark from revealing himself to the crowd. It showed that Jonathan trusted his adopted son to do what was right, but only when the world was ready. Now, contrast this to the end when Clark snaps Zod’s neck. The puzzle pieces just don’t seem to fit, which unravels all the hard work the filmmakers did to build up the character we know as Superman. 

That Superman killed Zod is the absolute worst moment of the film. I say this not as a Superman fan or because I’m a slave to the comics or because I think I get the guy more than you. I am saying that, within the bounds of this movie, based on everything we’ve learned from his fathers about sacrifice and inspiration, he defied the very moral fiber of the character we saw being built for two and a half hours. I can point to several moments that would show why he would not kill Zod. I can find none to show why he’d take his life, even when faced with such a terrible decision. Is this the inspiration he was supposed to provide? When things get tough -- unbelievably tough -- just kill the bad guy? Yikes.

For as brooding as the Dark Knight Trilogy could be, it had several moments of genuine humor to balance it out. No such luck here. Secondary characters such as Perry White and the hyped-but-sidelined Jenny Olsen seemed the obvious choice to provide that reprieve, but their inclusion is so superfluous it’s a wonder they were included at all. Lois had some good investigative journalist moments, but Amy Adams never so much as remotely engages the audience with even an ounce of wit, snark, or charisma. Not to mention her chemistry with Cavill wasn’t strong enough to sell that big kiss at the end. For a movie about an alien trying to find his place among humans, it was lacking the warm heart and humor that makes humanity so special.

At the end of the day, Man of Steel was not as thrilling, inspiring, or fun as it most certainly should have been. There are several elements worth enjoying, but they are all ultimately ruined by the film’s disturbing ending. As a result, kids are now forced to look up to Superman the Killer. If Batman exists in this universe as the blink-and-you-missed-it Wayne Industries satellite would suggest, then he will surely be on Superman’s doorstep tomorrow, ready to teach him his one rule about being a hero.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

IGN Comics: My Review for the Final Issue of Geoff Johns' Green Lantern Run!

Reviewing comics is never work to me, but I was beyond enthused and even a little bit honored to review the final issue of Geoff Johns' Green Lantern series. Green Lantern has been the most integral part of my time as a comics reader right up there with Archie and Y: The Last Man. It is of course sad to see it go, but when an ending is this good, it's hard to complain.

"Geoff Johns ends his Green Lantern masterpiece with a resounding blockbuster bookend. Just wow! After nine years and over one hundred issues, he took a cheesy character whose weakness was the color yellow and turned him into one of the most consistently thrilling, compelling, and outright enjoyable heroes in comics. He did this by bringing the key element of the emotional spectrum into the fold. The rings now take something special to wield them – rage, avarice, fear, will, hope, compassion, love – and over the course of this series, Johns gave us plenty of reasons to feel those same emotions right along with the characters on the page. This final issue will take you on a tour of the entire emotional spectrum, and that’s exactly the point of the journey of Hal Jordan."

Check out the rest on IGN!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Cover Comparison: Batman and the Red Hood vs Age of Ultron

Homage? Parody? Ripoff? Marvel and DC aping each others covers happens with such frequency these days it's hard to say.

MTV: 'Iron Man 3' -- Where Does It Rank In The Marvel Cinematic Universe?

My friend Brett White who works over at MTV asked me to weigh in on Iron Man 3. 

"When the smoke clears and the armor is plugged in to charge, where does 'Iron Man 3' rank? Is it the best of the 'Iron Man' trilogy? Does it come close to 'The Avengers'? Do Captain America, Hulk or Thor's solo films give it a run for its money? We rounded up a panel of specialists to put 'Iron Man 3' in its place." Keep reading on MTV!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Ranking Every Modern Superhero Movie

I just came across a list of The Best Superhero Movies Ever I wrote at the end of 2011 where I ranked every superhero movie I'd ever seen (ie, all of them). It just includes movies from 2000 onward, because I mean how do you compare anything to the first two Superman movies? Unfortunately, this also leaves out the likes of the original Punisher and Blade movies, but they get representation by their more recent additions here.

A lot has changed with the release of The Dark Knight Rises, The Amazing Spider-Man, and, of course, The Avengers, so I thought I'd revisit the list. I also added in Iron Man 3, which I saw just last night.

New additions are in blue.

After recently re-watching Superman Returns, Ang Lee's Hulk, and Watchmen, I advanced them up the list a bit because they are still coherent movies with strong narratives, but they fell victim to their lackluster tone and misused themes. Green Lantern was originally the Worst Ever second only to the unwatchable Punisher: War Zone, but after viewing GL again I realized that it wasn't quite that bad and advanced it up some, but not much.

As for the movies that went down, Captain America swapped places with Thor and went down a notch. Thor didn't have as much heart at Captain America, but I enjoyed its humor and marrying of science and magic quite a bit. Captain America was such a good movie until he actually became Captain America, turning the movie into a montage of awkward action hero scenes, letting him join Wolverine in the not-so-illustrious club of Marvel heroes who have walked away from an explosion in slow motion without looking.

In all of this, I realized how much I didn't like Kick-Ass. I enjoyed the humor at the start, but its overt violence without consequence became more crass than anything by the end.

Movies that went up are green, down are red.

It's also worth noting that I haven't seen The Spirit, Jonah Hex, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, and probably a few others, but given their critical reception, I'm sure they'd wind up being neighbors on this list with the likes of Catwoman and Elektra.

And in case you're wondering why Spider-Man 2 beats The Dark Knight, it's because of two key reasons.

One, SM2 is paced better. There's never a wasted moment in SM2 all the way up to the end. You can say the same for TDK right up until the end when it gets two awkward climaxes, neither of which are wholly satisfying.

And two, SM2 is thrilling. All of the encounters with Doc Ock are breathtaking fights that could only happen between those two characters. They fight up and down a wall; inside, outside, and on top of a high-speeding train; and in the wreckage of a tragically failed science experiment. TDK had its fair share of cool moments, but they don't give me chills every time like SM2 does.

TDK does have the Joker, who is certainly the best super villain ever filmed, but Doc Ock is no slouch and fills the villain role perfectly.

And with that, the revised list:

  1. Spider-Man 2
  2. The Dark Knight
  3. X2: X-Men United
  4. Blade 2
  5. Iron Man
  6. X-Men: First Class
  7. Sin City
  8. Hellboy 2: The Golden Army
  9. The Avengers
  10. Batman Begins
  11. The Dark Knight Rises
  12. Iron Man 3
  13. Spider-Man
  14. X-Men
  15. Thor
  16. Captain America: The First Avenger
  17. Daredevil
  18. Hellboy
  19. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
  20. Hulk
  21. The Punisher
  22. Watchmen
  23. The Incredible Hulk
  24. Iron Man 2
  25. Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
  26. The Amazing Spider-Man
  27. Superman Returns
  28. Kick-Ass
  29. X-Men: The Last Stand
  30. Blade: Trinity
  31. Spider-Man 3
  32. Fantastic Four
  33. X-Men Origins: Wolverine
  34. Green Lantern
  35. Elektra
  36. Ghost Rider
  37. Catwoman
  38. Punisher: War Zone

Iron Man 3 Movie Review

Beware of spoilers!

Tony Stark is a wicked amalgamation of Batman and Superman. He’s a billionaire with an endless array of gadgets, and he can fly, shoot lasers, and take all sorts of damage when in his Iron Man suit. But he lacks Superman’s humble Kansas demeanor and Batman’s unbreakable No Killing Rule, so how does he get away with still calling himself a superhero? He makes us laugh.

Director Shane Black earned his name combining hard-hitting action with gut-busting comedy in Lethal Weapon, and the same formula works wonders when applied to Iron Man. The laughs come from all angles in an endless stream from Robert Downey Jr.’s quiptacular mouth. Whether he’s talking to girlfriend Pepper, best pal Rhodey, or a little boy in rural Tennessee, he’s determined to dominate the conversation with his superior witticisms, even if it means calling the kid a pussy. No zinger is off limits for the Man of Iron.

The Marvel cinematic universe continues to grow as Guy Pearce’s Aldrich Killian brings Advanced Idea Mechanics, or A.I.M., into the fold, not to mention Roxxon Corporation also plays a small role. With HYDRA, Hammer Industries, and other villainous organizations popping up in other Marvel movies, it’ll not be long until the cinematic universe is as fully developed and addictingly convoluted as the comics.

Not using the A.I.M. from the comics = GOOD IDEA
Through revelations big and small, we learn that Killian was wronged by Stark in the past and now he’s back with the unstable Extremis techno-virus that can regrow limbs and turn your hands into blowtorches, with the small side effect of sometimes causing you to explode. The Extremis-infused goons are a new and frankly refreshing threat to Iron Man. What use are all his weapons when the enemy can regenerate? What protection does his armor provide when they can effortlessly tear chunks out of it? Pearce exudes a brazen charm as he banters and manipulates and seduces his plan into motion. He’s certainly no Heath Ledger Joker or Alfred Molina Doc Ock, but he’s a welcome improvement over yet another guy in a robot suit.

Killian works with the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), an international terrorist with a Bin Laden beard and Unabomber shades. Given that in the comics he wields ten magic rings -- a concept that Marvel’s quasi-realistic tone might not readily accept -- the makers of this movie were faced with the challenge of how to convert the Mandarin to the big screen. Their solution? They didn’t. I’ll let you watch to find out what that means, but suffice to say that some fans will be pissed at the treatment of Iron Man’s greatest nemesis, while others will be tickled at the surprise twist that inspires a great bit of acting from Kingsley. Count me among the latter.
Now do you see why they didn't use the rings?
Rhodey, Pepper, and Happy are all back, but Tony spends most of his time away from his familiar cohorts, and that’s what gives the movie its unique feel and sense of freedom. Iron Man 3 takes a page out of The Dark Knight by having Stark use his vast array of technology to play detective. He also spends a majority of the movie out of the suit -- never mind that he’s now able to remote control it -- which lets us see firsthand what the Man is without the Iron.

The result is a fascinating look at a man with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder -- if you saw aliens pour out of a portal in NYC then you would, too -- and an extreme dependency on the machinery that gives him his identity. Watching him figure out how to live a life in a world without ready access to his limitless resources and a battle suit for every occasion is the bread and butter of the movie.

It’s unfortunate that the PTSD arc fizzles out just before the third act. Instead of an emotional climax based on the intriguing character work that invested us in Tony Stark the Man, we get the equivalent of a toddler upending his toy box on the floor and smashing together all his action figures with delight. A few dozen Iron Men descend on a shipyard full of glowy bad guys, but with the suits being pilotless and the villains being largely immune to harm, it’s hard to care about anything that transpires.

And a note about the Extremis baddies: they seem to be all but immortal, but then we see them die for random reasons that contradicted their previously demonstrated durability. The bald Extremis lived through quite a bit, but then died to a focused beam through the chest. The female Extremis that attacked Tony in the bar died in an explosion, but when Tony detonates his suit while on Killian, he survives. Yet when Pepper kicks a missle into his face and detonates it, Killian dies. I would argue that a concentrated explsion spread across one's entire body is more intense than one just next to you, but it seems like they needed Pepper to have her "moment" at the end.

This also brings to light that Pepper was relegated to being the typical girl tied to the tracks for half the film. She's shown captured and in pain as the villain salivates over her as his prize, only to then show her dangling upside down in a sports bra before falling to her "demise." With only one female on the Avengers -- one without powers, at that -- and most female Marvel leads existing as love interests and little else, it's a shame that the one woman who can verbally spar with Tony is only given half a movie's worth of compelling material.

Getting back to the robotic finale, the different armor designs are cool at first glance, but they only work to point out a glaring plot hole of the film. If Stark had a fleet of battle-ready suits ready to launch at the push of a button, then why didn’t he use them when his mansion got attacked? When he had to save thirteen people jettisoned from an exploding plane? When he had to do anything, really?

The best suit was the Hulkbuster one with its distinguishing bulkiness. The physical manifestation of heavy metal. But even that follows the trend of wasted potential when, instead of fighting, it acts as a support beam and is never seen again. I wanted to see one of its elephant-sized feet come down on an Extremis baddie, crushing them into sparks like putting out a cigarette with your shoe.

Why Hulkbuster no smash?

It also would have been nice to see it in a green color, perhaps acknowledging Tony’s bromance with the Hulk’s Bruce Banner. This would also act as a clever response as to why Tony doesn’t immediately call on the Avengers for help: he’s already built suitable replacements. But the movie does answer this question in its own way. The Avengers only assemble when a threat appears that no one hero could stand against. Clearly, Tony could handle this one all by himself.

But despite any nitpicks, the film is a win. Anything that can move me to laughter gets a bonus in my book, and this movie succeeded despite every flaw because of the effortlessly humorous RDJ. It’s better than the misguided-but-still-watchable Iron Man 2, but too overreaching in its need to dazzle to best the original. It’s certainly a solid follow up to The Avengers and the start of Marvel Phase 2. Speaking of future Marvel movies, perhaps the oddest bit comes at the start of the credits when we see: “Tony Stark will return.” Even though we just saw him all but relinquish everything that makes him Iron Man, Marvel made sure to blatantly state to audiences that there’s more coming. As if there was ever any doubt.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Awesome Cause: Bring the Hulk to the Northlake Public Library

If putting a 9-foot tall Hulk statue in the lobby will help a library, then it's a cause worth donating for!

My high school librarian ripped the pages out of a comic book because she thought it was inappropriate -- right in front of me! -- so it's great to see those at Northlake Public Library going in the opposite direction by encouraging their patrons to read comics, create their own comics, and MAKE THEIR OWN ACTION FIGURES!

Why haven't you donated already?

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Get Thrillbent

It's no secret that I absolutely love what Mark Waid and company are doing over at Thrillbent. Free comics from top notch creators that are made specifically for mobile devices -- it's a comic book revolution in the making.

And this is Mark Waid we're talking about! He's a living comics legend doing something completely selfless and awesome for the betterment of creators and readers alike.




Tuesday, March 26, 2013

IGN March Comics Madness: It's All Over!

Thanks to fellow IGN Comics Review Crew member Poet Mase for creating and running the extremely fun IGN March Comics Madness tournament-bracket-filling-out-thingy. I was 100% sure Jesse was going to win since he's a certifiable comics genius, so imagine my surprise when I took first place and earned ego-inflating title of 2013 IGN Comics Cagematch People's Champion!

And here's my bracket, which I filled out with a mix of my favorite titles, what sells best, and what the IGN community seems to dig. It was the IGN community who did the voting, so this just proves they have good taste!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Movie Review: Oz the Great and Powerful

Oz the Great and Powerful aims high yet hits well short of its goal. In a world of glossy and often times garish 3D CGI-fest remakes, Oz makes a good companion to Alice in Wonderland in 3D and Jack the Giant Slayer in 3D, but unfortunately their club isn't an illustrious one.

The movie centers around James Franco's Oz, who plays the Wizard with enough ham for a Christmas feast. He goes from painfully over the top to somewhat over the top and back again at regular intervals. He is so obviously pulling a fast one on the women characters that his performance is devoid of any real charm, making you wonder what not one, not two, but three ladies see in the guy.

Oz the Mean and Pitiful.
Michelle Williams is capable of delivering some knockout performances with her ability to show off her sultry flair while masking an unspoken troubledness in movies such as My Week with Marilyn and Brokeback Mountain. Yet her Glinda is unengaging, mistaking calmness for strength. She plays the part with such frigidity that you might think she's Narnia's icy White Witch instead of the Good Witch of the South.

Mila Kunis plays Theodora, who starts out as a vulnerable doe-eyed young woman wearing her heart on her sleeve, only to have that heart broken as easily as a piece of straw after being wooed by the unsexy Oz. It's a discredit to Kunis that her Theodora is so easily heart-broken by what amounts to a middle school crush. After seeing her play the sexually unafraid Lily in Black Swan, it's clear she can deliver a more engrossing performance than what we see here. This movie is for kids, yes, but that doesn't mean it can't make us feel something.

It's not a stretch to believe that Kunis's upbeat energy and instant charm would have made her the better Glinda, while the ability for Williams to channel a deeply troubled young woman would have made her the better Theodora. 

"You shall not cast... me in the right role."

[Beware of spoilers below!]

In a blink-and-you-missed-it downfall into "darkness," Theodora is tricked into becoming the iconic green skinned, pointy-hat-wearing villain. This is the downfall of the movie. Kunis as the Wicked Witch of the West is the worst casting choice since Topher Grace as crybaby Venom in Spider-Man 3. Heath Ledger surprised us with his take on the Joker and that unsettling laugh. Kunis' signature cackle is dubbed over with some computer generated sound effect. They give her piercing yellow eyes, frighteningly arced eyebrows, and a long hooked nose, making her look more like a super model gone wrong than an ugly witch.

If you wanted to make Kunis come off any worse on screen, then you would put her next to the ever-impressive Rachel Weisz, who plays her role as sister Evanora with devilishly smooth conviction. Each of her lines drip with sweet venom, diffusing them of their cheesiness and empowering them with a serious-yet-fun tone that the rest of the movie lacks. She's the best witch, and without an ounce of makeup.

Weisz looking more Witchy-Bitchy than the girl in all the makeup.
The supporting cast consists of an annoying monkey played by Zach Braff, a one note Munchkin, and a surprisingly funny porcelain doll named China Girl. China Girl's best moments are ones where she drops her cutesy demeanor to kick Oz in the shins or pull out a tiny doll-sized knife. She is the most engaging character of the movie along with Evanora, which is saying something.

The plot is full of faux-twists and big moments that don't feel earned. It follows a path we've seen time and time again, to the point where you'll be able to predict the outcome beat for beat by the half-way point. Director Sam Raimi is known for camp, horror, and camp, and unfortunately he doesn't deliver near enough of either here. His mishandling of the female cast members reminds you that he's never given cinema any notable woman characters, while his safe approach that emphasized 3D landscapes over an engaging story reminds you that the big studio that funded this picture probably called most of the shots.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Pitch for Samurai Jack/Powerpuff Girls Crossover!

Samurai Jack and Powerpuff girls have been acquired by IDW Publishing for some new comics!

The properties are ripe for a crossover. You already have sugar, spice, and everything nice, but what happens when you add a samurai sword? 

When Jack tries to hop in a time portal back home, Haku’s meddling causes him to be spit out in Townsville right in the middle of Professor Utonium’s lab.

His sword gets doused in Chemical X and the resulting explosion transforms Jack to look just like the PPGs w/big eyes and stubby arms but he still has the signature Samurai hair.

Jack has been imbued with his sword! But he’s not used to fighting with super powers instead of a sword, so the girls must teach him control while Prof works to reverse the process.

MEANWHILE, Haku has followed Jack and teams up with Mojo Jojo! Haku merges with the monkey man as a dark magical armor and we can see Haku’s eyes and mouth in Mojo’s brain -- EEWW!

Start training montage where the girls try to show Jack how to use his new super powers while Jack tries to teach them samurai discipline.

The girls take to calling him Jacky. Bubbles tries to do his hair to no avail. Blossom and Buttercup vie for his attention b/c they want to be as good as a samurai. OH, GIRLS!

The montage is cut short when the Mayor calls in to report a bank robbery! While flying to the bank, Jack notices a few buildings look strangely familiar.

The quadrio attempt to foil the robbers but in an effort to impress Jack, the girls overdo it and destroy the bank, leaving only robbers/people and the vault remaining amongst smoldering ruins.

In the midst of their fighting in which Jack just watches in wide-eyed silence, Haku Jojo appears and attacks with his new dark magic monkey smarts. He wipes the floor w/them b/c Jack isn't used to his powers yet and the girls keep getting in each others way to try and prove they are the best.

Jack’s powers are ineffective against the combined might of the villain. When Haku Jojo goes for a killing blow on Buttercup, Jack intercepts it.

The essence of the sword is activated when Jack is hit and his eyes go all glowy and a white blade of energy sprouts out of his head, but he doesn’t move.

The girls see that he has turned into a giant lightsaber and together as a team they wield him to fight off Haku Jojo and split him back into two. 

Funny bit where the two villains chastise each other for their obvious pitfalls that we the audience see time and time again. The pair disappears.

Back at the lab, Jack is separated from his sword and reverts back to his normal self thanks to the Prof’s new device. 

The Prof and full-sized Jack take each other in for the first time and there's a ambiguous conversation about maybe them being related b/c they look so similar.

Jack presents them with their own cute little samurai robes in pink, blue, and green.

Jack gives them all his samurai hairdo and in exchange Bubbles gets to give Jack a stylish new hair style (think Tom Hiddleston’s Loki but less creepy).

He’s pleased that they learned to work together as a team instead of working against each other.

Jack recounts the friends he made on his journey, like the Scotsman, and reminds the girls that a samurai may be a fierce warrior, but without strong bonds of friendship, they will fall.

Prof sends Jack back through a time portal, but Haku sabotages it and jumps in after him, directing him back to the world where he rules.


Thursday, February 21, 2013

IGN: The Best Tweeters in Comics

Twitter may be an addictive social media tool, but it’s an addictive social media tool that allows fans to keep an eye on and interact with their favorite comic book creators. Some creators rarely tweet while others only use Twitter to promote their latest comic, but there are more than a few whose feeds are more entertaining than the last movie you watched.

Take a look at our favorite comics tweeters so you know who should be your next follow.

Check out my list on IGN! 

Friday, January 4, 2013

A Django Unchained Conspiracy Theory

Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained was a bloody revenge flick, but was it really Django's story of revenge? This conspiracy theorist says no!

I want you to think back to near the end of the movie after Django's (Jamie Foxx) bloody shootout when he tricked his new handlers into releasing him. He did this by showing them a wanted posted in his pocket -- earlier given to him by Dr. King Schultz (Christopher Waltz) -- and telling them that the wanted men were back at Candie Land. This ended up being a lie so he could get free to kill them and head off to the film's explosive climax. When I saw Django trick those guys with the wanted poster, I got the same feeling I did at the end of Memento.

At the end of Memento, we learn that Leonard's (Guy Pearce) motivations were fake, propagated by the vague details on some paper, a tattoo, and a picture that incited a revenge scheme. My conspiracy theory is this: Dr. Schultz tricked Django into helping him completing his revenge scheme. He is not a bounty hunter, but instead a smooth talker with a personal hit list. Here are three reasons that back this theory up.

1.  He Made it Personal

Dr. Schultz showed Django the wanted poster to validate killing the man on the farm while his son was present. Wouldn't a gentlemanly bounty hunter wait for the kid to leave? I know they had a whole conversation about it, but in the end, to inflict that kind of emotional trauma on someone's child is clearly an unprofessional and personal action that doesn't line up with Dr. Schultz's demeanor up until that point in the movie.

A wanted poster or a web of lies?
2. He Used the Memento Trick

Django used the same wanted poster and the same story that Dr. Schultz had told him earlier in the movie. If it was a lie when Django said it, then why couldn't it be a lie before? The wanted poster had a list of names and one poorly drawn fellow that could look like any number of white men with facial hair during that time period. Also, the identity of the Brittle Brothers was never made explicitly clear after Django killed them, leaving us to only go on what Dr. Schultz used as a cover story. The same notion applies to the end of Memento: a vague description can fit a wide variety of people, all you need is a little convincing.

3. He Had a Death Wish

Dr. Schultz went to Candie Land to die. It's never said, but Dr. Schultz could have had a long personal vendetta against Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). So he uses his skills of deception to take out Candie's men across the US under the guise of a bounty hunter before going after the man himself, not unlike The Bride did in Tarantino's bloody epic Kill Bill. This makes sense when you think about how Dr. Schultz killed Candie with a shot to the heart instead of shaking his hand. It's not like Dr. Schultz had a "Marty McFly Chicken Complex" the entire movie, so why would such a previously calm, cool, and calculating man suddenly make a suicidal move instead of taking the easy way out?

Revenge! That's why!

Dr. Schultz uses his I HATE YOU eyes on Candie.
Dr. Schultz may have truly befriended Django, but ultimately he was tricking him into helping him get to Candie. What better partner than someone who is blindly devoted to rescuing his wife from the same man you want dead?