Friday, August 23, 2013

Why I Hate Christopher Nolan

Everyone loves Christopher Nolan. He has directing credits, and writing credits for some of the most popular movies in the last ten years. Geeks and nerds around the world are building shrines in his name. I want to point this out, because I don't believe anything I say here will cause him to weep in a corner on a big pile of money. He is also from London, so at best, he might give me a hearty “Cheers, mate”, if he took time to read my rant.
I should also explain, he's not a horrible director. I will give credit where credit is due of course, but we need to take a moment and examine his popularity. Today, I plan to finally expose how this man has somehow brainwashed the world into accepting him as a hero. Once again, our core nerd values are at stake, and yet, he continues to gain accolades, where none are due!

Blasphemy you say??? Don't believe me? Let's take a moment to dissect the movies that people have been shoving down my throat telling me how good they are.

Memento (2000)

Here's a trailer:

If you're curious, he has no super powers, so the intro with the gun flying into his hand, is what the kids call trick photography. Guy Pearce plays Leonard, a guy who suffers from a very real mental illness (called anterograde amnesia, for future psychiatric students reading). While trying to keep track of people he met, and things that happen, he's constantly writing notes, and taking pictures. But since we live in America, people love to play cruel jokes on someone like this, so he's never sure what to believe.

But Mr. Nolan wasn't content to just tell a story. He had to tell a confusing story! I can only assume he watched too much Pulp Fiction, or episodes of Lost, where the story jumps around through time. Memento tells the story mostly in reverse, backing up roughly 10 minutes at a time. Since I'm not one of those “smart” people, a very straightforward story, suddenly became a big mess.

Whatever happened to linear story telling??? Maybe I can sort of understand why he did this, because it does build a bit of a mystery. But when you put things in order, it's a pretty good movie, so why screw with it?? And if you're curious to see it in the proper sequence, youtube has versions of the entire movie, re-edited in the proper sequence for your listening and dancing pleasure.

RottenTomatoes gave Memento a 92%. Maybe I'm just a clueless idiot?

Personally, I thought it was done right the first time in 1994, when it starred Dana Carvey and was called Clean Slate. Here's another trailer:

Although, the real credit should go to Saturday Night Live, and Tom Hanks for creating Mr. Short-Term Memory in 1988:

This brings us to the movie that made Nolan “legendary” (note the quotes):

Batman Begins (2005)

Here's an important life lesson: You don't have to work too hard to impress anyone, if everyone else screwed it up. Case in point, 1997's Batman and Robin *cringe*. I sincerely hope you know how bad Joel Schumacher's version of Batman was (starring George Clooney). If however, you enjoyed it, please stop reading now and seek professional help.

So in 2005, nerds everywhere rejoiced! Someone took the character of Batman seriously, and made a believable movie about this epic franchise! There were a lot of things to like about this movie. Christian Bale made a very good Bruce Wayne (although questionable Batman with his painfully gravely voice). Gary Oldman made a great Jim Gordon. You also had Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Cillian Murphy, and Morgan Freeman. Very impressive! Well, on a personal note, Katie Holmes just did the job and never overly impressed me.

And with a surprisingly decent script by David Goyer and Christopher Nolan, this was a very good Batman movie. But, I can hear you shouting, “But Deeesher, why didn't you looooove this movie???” I said I enjoyed it. But looooove is a very strong word. The main reason, is because I couldn't find any “moments” in this movie.

When I watch a movie, I look for something artistic and memorable. Think back on movies you love, and there are always scenes and dialogue that stick out very clearly in your mind. Whether it's Kirk screaming “KHAAAAAAAAAAN!!”, or Charlton Heston pounding his fist on the sand in front of the busted up Statue of Liberty, or Superman catching a helicopter in 1978, or King Leonidas shouting “This.. is.. Sparta!” before kicking the dude into the bottomless pit. These moments have power, and impact. A movie isn't required to have these moments to be enjoyable (or successful), but it really does help in this particular genre.

How often did Batman Begins slap you in the face and make you realize you were watching something epic? Was there a “Snakes... why'd it have to be snakes...” moment? Was there even a “Luke, I am your father” moment? How about a “There is no spoon” moment? I got none of that. To me, this is the difference between like, and loooove. Batman Begins was just a wash of mud. An enjoyable wash, but still just mud. And isn't the job of a director, to make something memorable for moviegoers? Maybe you will tell me that was the fault of the scriptwriter (just as a reminder, Nolan co-wrote the screenplay). Or maybe it was the fault of the actors.

But one thing I can blame Nolan for, is the look. Movies are meant to tell a story, and possibly also be be artistic. The more epic your movie, the more artistic I will expect it to be. If your name is Rob Schneider, I'm not expecting to see anything cinematically beautiful on the screen. If you name your movie Sharknado, I can lower my expectations exponentially. However, if you are spending millions of dollars to create something, that you expect to make billions of dollars for, I will anticipate something to really wow me.

Technicolor was invented in 1916. Why isn't he using it??? Movies have colors like, red, green, blue, yellow. I'm pretty sure there are a few other colors, but overall, when used properly, they tend to give a movie a bit of life. All I see from Nolan, is brown, black, and white. Memento added some light blue and occasional black and white scenes, but that's it. Is Nolan colorblind? Have I finally exposed his deepest secret perhaps?

And now you shout to me, “But Deeesher, this is Batman, The Dark Knight! Of course it's supposed to be dark and gritty in Gotham!”. Now I must remind you of a movie from 1994, called The Crow, starring Brandon Lee. This was also based on a comic book. But not just any comic book... a black and white comic book! The Crow somehow managed to use color, but still created the same feel as the comic book. I always said, it was one of the best black and white color movies ever made. But whatever happened to director Alex Proyas? Well, please just remember how good The Crow was.

But let's move on shall we...

The Prestige (2006)

A movie filled with superheroes! Okay, maybe not. Two magicians from London in the 1890's hate each other. Starring Hugh Jackman (formerly known as Wolverine), Christian Bale (formerly known as Batman), Scarlett Johansson (formerly known as Black Widow), and David Bowie (formerly known as Ziggy Stardust... look it up kids!).

For the most part, I enjoyed this movie. Although, I did figure out 'the twist' half way through. But it was still a good story, maybe cause I like magic, and Tesla. I will even go so far, to give Nolan a pass for the browns, blacks and white look of this film, because remember, nobody invented color until 1916.

However, once again, Nolan seems to enjoy this non-linear storytelling. Maybe I could accept it, if there was a very obvious change in the look of the scene, showing you it's six months earlier, or one year later etc. Maybe you could even put text at the bottom of the screen, saying “Six months earlier”. But with my tiny brain, I had to really pay attention to the scene to figure out when in the story it takes place, causing me a bit more confusion than I am accustomed to.

The Dark Knight (2008)

Heath Ledger, Heath Ledger, Heath Ledger. I can't say enough about his performance. Remember those 'moments' I talked about earlier? Here they are! His performance as Joker really helps you ignore some of the flaws in this movie. And sadly, there are still plenty of flaws.

Again, keeping consistent, we have the drab browns, blacks, whites and greys. The exception being the Joker. The only bit of life in this entire dull looking franchise. Otherwise, once again, I felt this was more like CSI: Gotham City, than a theatrical movie.

The story was decent, but I will always say Harvey Dent's story, (played by Aaron Eckhart) needed to end after Joker visited him in the hospital. Instead, suddenly we have two villains to contend with at the end of the movie. Two-Face should have been saved for the third movie in the trilogy.

Inception (2010)

Well this was interesting. Dreams, within dreams, within dreams etc. It was unique (if you ignore Dreamscape starring Dennis Quaid and Max Von Sydow from 1984). I can say I mostly enjoyed this. Although, Nolan's use of browns, blacks, and greys are getting very old very quickly. There was some pretty things visually, which was a nice change of pace for Nolan.

Dark Knight Rises (2012)

*sigh* So much potential. So much crap. I did give this movie a fairly decent review, if you shut off your brain and stop thinking. If you don't examine the story too closely, it was fun-ish. Tom Hardy as Bane made it mostly enjoyable as another memorable bad guy (although still drastically different from the comic book... why???). Anne Hathaway as Selina (aka Catwoman) also made it enjoyable for other reasons.

This movie could have been helped with a better story, and of course a bit of color. It could also have used some decent fight choreography, and maybe a bit of lighting, less quick edits and pull your camera back so we can see what's going on, but... maybe I'm silly.

Man of Steel (2013)

The more I think about this movie, the more it makes me angry. But I'm not sure who to be angry at. Everything inside me, is eager to blame Nolan, because I've always loved director Zack Snyder. But how much influence did Nolan as producer have over the project? Nolan co-wrote the story with David Goyer, but who's decision was it to take away the core values of what makes Superman a hero?

And again you shout to me, “But Deeesher, Superman really needed a 2013 reboot, and he's learning to become a hero!” And I say to you, stop yelling at me. And I very strongly agree, Superman needed a 2013 reboot... but this wasn't it. It is possible to keep the important small town philosophy of Clark Kent, and still have him be the hero we know for today.

Man of Steel had a lot of potential, and after they spent millions of dollars making it, they really fell short in my mind. There were a couple of nice scenes, but they were heavily overshadowed by bad writing. I have a couple of great ideas on how to make the Clark/Superman/Lois love triangle work... but nobody asked me!

And again the look... between the fast quick camera edits, the extremely annoying shaky cam making it difficult to see, to the washed out uniforms and drab backgrounds, I just feel cold and empty inside.

So there ya go. Nolan's not a bad director, but maybe he's more suited for television than taking our nerdly birthrights away from us. This rant has been slowly building over the last few years, but the final breaking point was after hearing the announcement of Man of Steel 2, with special guest star, Batman. The roar of nerd-cheer was heard around the world... as I cringed in terror. Are nerds and geeks so blinded by this epic event, that none of them take a moment to really study what they are giving us??

Of course I will keep an open mind, but given what I've seen so far, I am extremely apprehensive.

And this just in: Remember how painful it was to hear about Nicholas Cage playing Ghost Rider? Ben Affleck has been signed to play the new Batman! At what point can I start shouting, “I told you so!!” It seems Christopher Nolan hates us, so it's okay for us to hate him back.

Oh Joss Whedon, you've never hurt me. Please keep me safe with your big strong Buffy/Angel/Firefly/Avengers arms! Make my dreams come true by writing and directing Wonder Woman pleeeeeease!!


Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Sensitivity Training aka Bullying Rant

I'm not perfect. I know, as difficult as it is to believe, it's true! But honestly, I'm okay with that. Sure I strive for perfection, (mostly because I am very OCD), but most times, I fall short. Over the years, I hope I have improved, sometimes through helpful suggestions of others, and sometimes noticing my own issues I needed to address. But I have learned that nobody is in fact perfect.

Sadly, it seems some people still expect perfection. Some people have this vision of how you should behave and how you should look. And if you don't fit into their ideal cookie cutter mold, then it becomes obvious (to them), you're a loser, and they are eager to point out all your flaws.

I would like to think, that in these 'enlightened' days, people are more tolerant of others, or at the very least accept differences in others. But there are apparently still bullies in the world. A bully likes to think he is better than you. A bully is very quick to explain all the reasons you are inferior, and will find every one of your imperfections and focus on them to make you look as small as possible.

I think most of us have experienced bullying in some form or other, but it seems nerds/geeks are the most obvious common target for them. I recently read an article about someone dressing as a Star Wars Stormtrooper at a charity event. Some kids came up behind him and pushed him. Why??? This type of bullying seems stupid, hurtful and a very obvious waste of time.

But what about verbal bullying? It tends to be a bit more vague, however, it is still just as real, and just as disgusting and I will never understand it.

When I was young and maybe extra nerdy, I was always a bit different. I don't mean I had three arms, or two heads or anything like that, but I didn't fit into the cookie cutter mold.

Ironically, in grade school, I was considered one of the 'cool kids' *gasp!*. Partly because there were only about twenty kids in my class, and partly because I was one of the few that weren't Amish. This was a pretty big deal in my very small Indiana town.

Then I moved on to middle school, and suddenly realized my place in life. This isn't something I thought of, but it seemed everyone was eager to point it out to me. You see, I had some very nerdy interests. I liked science fiction. And as any of the cool kids in school will tell you, having an imagination is the worst thing you can do with your life (apparently).

But having an imagination was only the tip of the outcast iceberg. I was a little guy, and I hated sports. And as most kids in a small town will tell you... that means I was obviously gay.

Let me state for the record, I am not gay. I've never been gay, and personally, I can't understand how any man (or woman) could ever be attracted to another man, cause I find men sort of yucky and gross. Especially when women are so hot!!

But let me also say that if you're reading this, and you are gay, I have the utmost respect and empathy for any abuse you dealt with growing up (or even as adults). Cause I was right there with you, hearing every one of the taunts and all the harsh name calling.

There were days I hated the idea of going to school, or riding on the bus. There were days I dreaded eating in the cafeteria and there were just some classes that I really wanted to avoid. Even subjects that I was sort of interested in, suddenly became pointless and a drudgery to study, because it all had to do with that disgusting place of abuse, called Middle School.

Before you start thinking everything was all bad, I was very fortunate to have great parents and really cool friends. But there are just some things you can't talk to your parents about. What will they do? Fight your battles for you? Yea, that should clear up all your problems *cough cough* And even my friends couldn't be there all the time. So what's the solution?

For me, the solution was writing. It was a fantastic outlet for me! Whether I wrote science fiction, or poetry, or even a free writing prose, it was cathartic to get all those feelings out, and for a short time, drift to another world mentally. For the record, I did study self defense books. But the type of bullies I dealt with, didn't beat me up (although there were maybe three fights I can recall). For the most part, they used words. So I needed better words. My writing became my own personal sword and shield. Or more to the point, they became my own personal band-aid.

When I got to high school, my frustration and maybe even confidence started to reach capacity. I remember being in math class, and the jock football player was sitting behind me and flicking my ear (cause that's apparently what dumb jocks do). When the teacher turned to write something on the board, I turned around and hit him in the face (the jock, not the teacher). The entire class gasped loudly. The teacher turned to ask what happened, and nobody said anything. During the remainder of the class, I got all these death threat notes explaining how he was going to kill me (or whatever it is jocks do to threaten little guys like me). I ignored them. As we walked out of the class, everyone followed us. I didn't care. He made more threats that I ignored and nothing ever happened. Was I foolish, or lucky? Maybe apathy saved me.

Eventually, I graduated from high school and things got much better. I moved away from my small town and lived happily ever after.

The end.

But wait... a few years later, something interesting happened that brought all those frustrations crashing around me again. Someone invented the internet!

I was one of the regular writers for a fairly small MSN group. There were maybe a hundred or two hundred members in the group total, but only a handful of us posted anything regularly. I usually did movie or music reviews. I generally tried to be nonsensical, but overall, I hoped I could entertain everyone.

But one day, something dark and disgusting happened. Someone anonymous started to post some very hurtful things about me. They posted personal information about my past, and tried very hard to discredit me. It seems in these 'enlightened' days, the internet allows bullies to abuse you anonymously.

Why??? At first, I tried to ignore it and sort of play along with this cruel joke at my expense. But the attacks got deeper, and not one person came to my side to defend me. Suddenly I was all alone. Suddenly, I was back in middle school again. I carried these painful attacks with me to work, and they kept me awake at night when I wanted to sleep.

I convinced MSN to delete the abusive posts, but the damage was done. I seriously wondered why I bothered writing. Writing was what I loved, and was proud of, but someone chose to shatter my shield and wound me all over again. I was ready to never write anything publicly again.

But, just like leaving high school, things got better. The dust settled and I finally started writing again fairly regularly, and some people seem to appreciate what I have to say.

But looking back, I have to ask... was I too sensitive? Do I have scars that are too deep, that are easy to tear open again?

An artist friend of mine had a very similar experience on his website. Someone targeted him and started sending some very abusive comments about his work. Is there really a point to this? I have always said, one way to improve is through criticism. Remember, I'm not perfect, so I am always open to criticism to help me improve. But there is a big difference between a critique, and an attack. And nobody wants to feel attacked and hurt.

The moral to these stories, are that nobody should have to put up with abuse of any kind. It is a horrible and painful way to live. It creates doubt and distrust in your heart and distracts you from who you should be. But yet, as Americans, we often play a bit roughly with each other, because it is sort of part of our culture.

I have a friend living in Japan who doesn't understand our American way of playfully jabbing at our friends. She doesn't get most of our sarcasm. But I sometimes feel like, the Japanese culture may be right. Where is that line of playful fun, and outright abuse?

The trademark ploy for most bullies is to say, they were only joking. But where is the line? Am I too familiar with verbal abuse as a child, that I can't take a joke as an adult?

Words can be weapons. When I write, I never want to hurt anyone with anything I say, so I choose my words very carefully. If someone asks my opinion on their work, I will always try to be sensitive to their feelings. I never want anyone to come back to me, and say, “Look how cruel you were to me when you said this!”. I don't want to hurt anyone, like I've been hurt, so I try very hard to type gently. But am I, at times, unintentionally abusive without even realizing it, because I live in the United States of Sarcasm?

Maybe the key word here is tolerance, but how do you make anyone tolerate someone who is different? Good parenting is a start. But how do you make someone be a good parent?

Another important key word is empathy. When you take a moment to put your brain inside someone's head for a bit, you might be able to understand how they feel.

Maybe we will never have clear answers to any of these questions. But for myself, years of therapy might be a good start.

And for bullies in schools today... shock collars.


Monday, July 29, 2013

Hunger Games The Movie Review

Have any of you ever seen the movie Battle Royale? This was a Japanese movie filmed in 2000 by director Kinji Fukasaku based on a very popular novel. To summarize, in the near future, the Japanese government takes the lowest rated school of ninth-graders (i.e. having the most delinquents), ships them to an island and lets them fight... to the death!  It was amazing!  It was epic and intense and kept you guessing at every turn. The characters were interesting and it was just a good overall film.

Check out the trailer here:

On a side note, I wasn't as impressed with the sequel (Battle Royale 2).

But, I live in America, where we can't seem to come up with anything original or unique. So we rip off other peoples ideas and call it our own. And it seems most Americans are so desperate for entertainment, moviegoers will support anything Hollywood shoves down our throats hard enough.

Today's case in point: Hunger Games.

Hunger Games is based on a novel, where people in the future select children from ages 12 to 18 from each of the twelve districts to fight in the annual Hunger Games competition... to the death! Does any of this sound familiar?

Check out the trailer here and tell me which version of bloodthirsty children killing each other do you prefer, Japanese or American?

I had so many problems with this movie, I don't even know where to begin. But because I feel writing is so important to a movie, let's start there.

Call me silly, but I sort of like to be surprised or maybe kept guessing when I watch a movie. “What will happen next???” “Will they be okay???” “How will they get out of this???” After seeing this movie, I'm thinking about playing the lottery, because it really made me feel psychic! Somehow, (perhaps magically), I was able to predict nearly every twist and turn, even though the writing makes no sense!

Now in defense of Hunger Games, I have never read the original novel. Generally, American movies based on novels tend to be very loosely based, so there might be something with a bit more substance on the written page that never got conveyed. For example, why doesn't every town riot when their children are taken away to be killed? And this has been happening peacefully for seventy-four years? Or how can any 12 year old little girl expect to defeat an 18 year old boy in a death match? Or how can you realistically train children to become brutal killers in the space of three days? And beyond that, there is an endless stream of horrible cliche moments.

But let's just say for a moment, I can somehow ignore the aneurism the bad writing gave me, and let's examine the characters. Jennifer Lawrence plays Katniss Everdeen, and while she is not as horrendous to watch as Kristen Stewart (from Twilight), she is still extremely bland. Speaking of Twilight, of course there is a love interest! Josh Hutcherson plays Peeta. In terms of a love story, this one drifts somewhere between meh and forced. It's a half tic above Twilight. In other words, I don't hate the characters that much.

The rest of the cast got a paycheck. And for the record, I'm really starting to think Woody Harrelson is stalking me.

Then finally, we have director Gary Ross, putting the shaky cam icing on the top of a very bland cake.

Rotten Tomatoes gave this movie an 84%, and there are a few sequels in the works. Did I see a different movie than the rest of the country??? Can someone please tell me why this is so popular??? I'm not saying it's the worst movie I've ever seen, (that award is still held by Twilight and the George Clooney Batman and Robin), but this filled me with lots of WTF's.

So please, stop promoting movies with this kind of blah, and start supporting good writing, like Limitless, or Avengers, or Doctor Who, or Looper, or Zombieland,...

Or even Sharknado!


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Man of Steel Review

I like to think I know Superman fairly well. One of my very first comics was a Superman comic. And maybe one of my favorite superhero movies of all time is the 1978 Christopher Reeve version of Superman. Followed soon after by the nearly equally awesome Superman II. Followed by the frustratingly painful Superman III, and not forgotten soon enough, the gut wrenchingly horrible Superman IV. But I also at times enjoyed the George Reeves television Superman, (in all it's glorious silliness). And then came Superboy, and Lois and Clark, and the animated versions of Superman, and Smallville seasons 1 through 4 (ignoring the rest), and the meh rated Superman Returns... And the list goes on.

So here we are in 2013, and I learned one of my favorite directors, Zack Snyder, is making his version of Superman, called Man of Steel. What could possibly go wrong???

Well, here we have another origin story. Someone pointed out to me, that Superman (and other Superheros like Spider-man and Batman), need to be more like James Bond. They should give a brief overview of their origin in the first 5 minutes of the opening credits, then we can move on with our lives and focus on the real story. But whatever... we get another origin story. And then Superman fights General Zod.

Did I miss anything? Nope. 143 minutes running time, and that was pretty much everything. Sure, I could discuss the details, but what's the point? Most of those details are lame. Like how Lois Lane seems to have some serious unnatural pull in the military for a newspaper reporter (very similar to one of my complaints about Transformers! Does the military let just anyone give orders now???). Or like how Lois suddenly appears right near Superman, even though he and Zod have been quite literally fighting all over the city, including at one point going to space and landing back in the same city! And I'm still curious, when did the military suddenly decide to negotiate with terrorists before anyone fires a shot??? I guess terrorists can give orders to the military too now, especially if they are alien origin.

Maybe writer David S. Goyer is getting tired? He did write everything from Dollman vs. Demonic Toys in 1993, and more recently Batman Begins, Dark Knight, and Dark Knight Rises. Well, let's be honest, out of all of those movies, maybe I found the least problems with the Dollman vs. Demonic Toys script. Don't you dare tell me for one second how awesome the writing on the Batman trilogy was! We both know, the writing got progressively worse!

I really don't want to blame director Zack Snyder. We were BFF's! I even touched myself thinking about him sometimes! But this time, he really broke my heart.
Let me count the ways:

I have no problem with the planet Krypton being 're-imagined'. However, wouldn't it make more sense if it looked like people lived there? They were a fairly advanced civilization, with ships and lasers and video screens you could buy from Spencers! So why did they live in caves??? Shouldn't there be shops, or art, or maybe a restaurant, or some sort of entertainment center in their homes? Even a pool table would have been nice!

Do I blame Zack or producer Christopher Nolan (director of the recent Batman Trilogy), for the look of things? Having Superman and Zod fighting against gray buildings and gray dirty backgrounds, while they both have very dark colored suits on, makes no sense. I'm far from a fashion critic, but couldn't they at least have made Zod's uniform a bit more black and given Supermans uniform a bit more brighter contrast? I don't mind the battle armor they wore, and I could even sort of accept the new Superman uniform but... I'm confident enough in my manhood to say, it just wasn't fabulous for me *snap snap*

And did anyone else play Mass Effect? Is it just me, or do Zod's ships look a bit familiar?

And sadly, Zack did the worst thing he could have possibly done to me... he shook his camera. Not just once or twice, but all night long! It never stopped! One reason I loved Zack, was because in his past movies (300, Watchmen, Sucker Punch), I could see the action! This time, things were shaking, and too close and too quick edits. My love affair is over, when Zack suddenly became just another *cringe* J.J. Abrams, or Michael Bay. Frustratingly, there were many fights that were impossible to watch. And the fighting takes about half the movie.

But, before you think it's all bad, it's really not. One saving grace, was Henry Cavill. I easily accepted him as Superman. I could go on about his chiseled jaw, or his dreamy blue eyes, or his rock solid chest, or bulging biceps but... you get the idea. He had a very cool Greatest American Hero homage as he was learning to fly, (although I still don't understand the afterburner exhaust). And with every Superman, you get a Lois Lane. This time played by Amy Adams. She got a paycheck, and that's about it. She felt a bit too light and meek to be a real Lois Lane to me. And of course you also get a General Zod. Michael Shannon also got a paycheck for screaming. He was by no means Terence Stamp from the 1978-80 Superman! And at no point, are there any “Kneel before Zod!” moments *sigh*

My personal favorites, were Kevin Costner as Jonathon Kent (who had one of the best moments in this movie, but his overall influence on Clark's life was poorly written), and Antje Traue as bad girl Faora. She was underused but awesome every time. Russell Crowe also made a pretty good Jor-El (but also badly written for the most part).

I really wanted to like this movie, and there were a few good shots. But instead it just made me angry because it had so much potential that was just wasted. And unfortunately, most people will love it, because it's a Superman movie, and everyone loves Superman. And since they spent so much money on it, it must be good! For me, I'll still take my 1978-80 Superman as the best. I would rank Man of Steel better than Superman III and even better than later seasons of Smallville. But not as good as the first few seasons of Smallville, or the recent animated Superman stories. So that puts it slightly above Superman Returns.

Now let's talk about making Supergirl!
Up, up and away!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Into Darkness Review

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...  Wait, that's not right.  Sorry, things get a bit confusing when universes collide thanks to people like J.J. Abrams.  Do I still sound bitter?  Just to refresh your memory, read all about it here.  Hey, it's been a while since I've complained about him, and if he can become ruler of the two most powerful franchises in the known universe, then I feel it is my rightful destiny to complain about it!

But I digress...

The reason I brought you all here today, is to discuss the sequel to Abrams 2009 Star Trek 'reboot' *coughs*.  This one is called, Into Darkness.

Okay, I admit, I was kind of excited about seeing this.  Oh stop gasping, even I sometimes get excited about seeing a movie.  I mildly enjoyed the 2009 Star Trek, but I wasn't overly thrilled.  I felt it had a lot of potential, but missed the mark.  In other words, phasers were set slightly above 'meh', (check out the review here).  I really hoped that Abrams read my review, and learned some valuable lessons about how horrible lens flare really is, and how annoying a shaky camera and quick edits really are for people watching your movie. So I was eager to see if I could personally be responsible for improving the overall quality of his production!  Then when I saw the Into Darkness previews, I really thought it looked cool!

If you recall, in our last trek to the stars, some disgruntled random Romulan altered our time line, just enough so nothing is the same, but many things are similar.  I think the official rule is, Abrams picks what he wants to keep, and for everything else, you can blame it on the new timeline, and not Abrams.

This time, Kirk (Chris Pine) and crew go after terrorist John Harrison, (yes, we all know it, so say it with me here... actor Benedict Cumberbatch, who is equally awesome as a modern Sherlock Holmes in the BBC series, Sherlock).

For the most part, this was a fun movie.  Abrams gave us a great solid bad guy this time, and Cumberbatch was interesting to watch.  Although, I do wish they had given him a pure evil speech moment to solidify his official bad guyness, he was still consistently charismatic.  There were also plenty of beautiful images of some ships, and it was an exciting movie to watch.  Most of the characters and acting was good, and the running time of two hours and twelve minutes really flew by.

However... it was heavily flawed!

I know, I can hear everyone screaming, "But Deeesher, the timeline changed, and you are just annoyed cause it's not exactly like the Star Trek you know, so you need to get over yourself!".  Well, first, I am over myself, thank you very much.  And secondly, I'm not expecting it to be like the Star Trek I know.  I'm referring to simple common sense.  I don't care if it's Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, or Doctor Who.  I'm looking for good solid writing and directing styles, (and for the record, the current Doctor Who wins that hands down).

So allow me a few moments to nitpick.  Let's begin with:

Directing.  Oh J.J., will you ever learn???  A lens flare is an effect, not a lifestyle choice!  Lens flare isn't quite as overwhelming as 2009's Star Trek, but it is still heavily overdone.  Can I just watch two people having a conversation without a lens flare blinding me please?  And can we have a choreographed fight scene where I can see the action please?!?  For the record, the chase scene towards the end, and ensuing fight weren't too painful to watch.  However, every other fight was just poorly directed.

Set Design.  From the thrown together garbage dump that is engineering, to the disorganization of the bridge on the Enterprise, (as well as the dreadnaught ship), it would be nice if someone had a sense of symmetry or the simple concept of a layout that you can understand.  The dreadnaught ship interiors were too dark to get any clear idea of how it looked, and the Enterprise bridge was painfully and unnecessarily bright (obviously lending itself to more and more lens flare opportunities). 

Costumes.  Who seriously approved any of these outfits?!?  Does the color Lifeless Grey exist?  Because that's what they used for the boring dress uniforms, (including the painfully unnecessary caps).  The enemy uniforms looked like a couple of grey and blue cloths of basketball mesh recklessly sewn together.  Even Cumberbatch wears nothing but a simple black shirt and pants.  I really think Abrams was doing everything he could to stay away from anything that people might want to cosplay at a convention!  He only used the traditional red, blue and yellow uniforms out of some obligation.  And even then, he looked for any opportunity to take them off, to wear more black or browns.  With these dark boring styles, mixed with the bland dark convoluted backgrounds, it was even more difficult to see any type of action sequence, when everything just blended together.

Writing.  Remember when I said the story was decent and moved along very nicely?  Don't question it.  Don't study it.  Don't examine it.  Don't you dare think for one second.  Because the moment you start to think, you will find flaws.  Endless flaws.  Flaws in common sense, and flaws in simple logic.  I could give you the list, but we would be here for a while.  There are some bad ideas that nobody in their right mind would do.  There are some homages that feel extremely forced and painfully predictable.  For some reason, Abrams continues to use writers Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof.  When will someone in Hollywood realize, these guys aren't that good!  Between Prometheus, Lost, Cowboys and Aliens, and Transformers, none of these were known for their great storylines!  Okay, maybe Lost had a few decent moments, but gather a room full of nerds together during a panel discussion at any random sci-fi convention, and they could accidentally write a better story that makes more sense than anything these guys have ever written.  Stick to television and stop ruining our movies guys!

I have said (often), one of the reasons I respect the original Star Trek, is because most episodes were written by actual science fiction authors (such as Norman Spinrad, Harlan Ellison, David Gerrold etc), just like the original Twilight Zone, and the original Outer LimitsWhat happened to those days?  Why can't we hire real writers to write our movies and television shows again?  They are the ones with talent.  Give them a job please!  

Anyway, putting things back into perspective, Into Darkness is still not a bad movie.  Abrams did give us a few beautiful images of the Enterprise that were perfect for any computer desktop.  I even started to accept Chris Pine a bit more as Kirk (although he still has some growing up to do).  Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban and Simon Pegg (Uhura, McCoy, and Scotty) all did fantastic jobs again.  But biggest kudos to Zachary Quinto for Spock.  This felt like his movie from beginning to end.

So if you've never seen any incarnation of Star Trek in your entire life, and if you don't like thinking cause it hurts your brain too much, you will really like Star Trek Into Darkness.  Oh and by the way... stupidest title for a movie ever!

And by the way again... I am eagerly anticipating cosplay versions of Wetsuit Uhura!

Boldly being Deeesher

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Iron Man 3 Review

Remember when I used to have regular prescriptions to comic books?  Yes, I meant prescriptions, not subscriptions,  cause they cured what ailed you.  I regularly followed The Incredible Hulk, and Spider-man, and occasionally Batman and/or Superman.  But for me, I was only mildly aware of Iron Man.  He showed up at times in crossovers, but for the most part, I was bored with him.

Then in 2009, director Jon Favreau released the first Iron Man movie.  And God bless his little heart, it was awesome!  Soon after, Favreau  gave us a sequel, aptly named Iron Man 2 (review here), which was also very freakin' cool!  And last year, director Joss Whedon released Avengers, which was chock full of superhero goodness, and it completely melted our brains with how nerd-tastic it was (review here).

Now it's 2013, can director Shane Black continue to make Iron Man someone I could still lust after, (in a very heterosexual way) with Iron Man 3?

Here we have Tony Stark, losing sleep and in recovery from the events in Avengers.  Then suddenly (and perhaps too casually?), we have a terrorist names Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), randomly terrorizing people by blowing stuff up.  Tony gets annoyed, threatens him, then we have the rest of the movie.

And quite honestly, the rest feels sort of thrown together.  It's like someone was eager to finish the trilogy.  Which is a bad concept overall, when you realize there will be an Avengers 2, and most likely Avengers 3, staring... Iron Man!  Awkward...

Robert Downey Jr. is still Iron Man.  Or more to the point, he's still Tony Stark, who, for the most part, is still a fun characterBut it seems a bit unbalanced, like this movie should have been called Tony Stark, because there seems to be a serious lack of him being Iron Man.  Sure there is plenty of mech, but generally his suit is either falling apart, or it's automated.

I also have a real problem with Tony suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome from his Avengers adventure.  Isn't the whole concept of Tony Stark someone that kicks ass for the fun of it???  Exhausted yes, but mentally debilitating to him?  I think not.

Now let's talk about Mandarin.  *sigh*  Ben Kingsley did a great job but, after all the hype from the previews, this character is a very big disappointment.

Director Shane Black made a movie.  It fulfilled the requirements as a comic book movie, but this will always be my least favorite of the franchise, partly for story, and partly for directing.  Unfortunately, we have to suffer through some annoying shaky camera moments this time, which made me miss Favreau and Joss more and more.

I really feel like this Iron Man could have been a straight to video release, and it would be great.  But after Favreau and my BFF Joss Whedon raised the bar so high, it's difficult for anyone else to know what to do with the character.  Go see it anyway, and just shut off your brain for a while, and you'll be fine.

If all else fails, you can still enjoy some Pepper Potts (Gwenyth Paltrow)?


Monday, April 22, 2013

Brother Grimm Reunion

Everyone loves a good Tale. This particular Tale begins in 1993, when I was just a wee nerd. I was new to the big city and very new to studio recording, (for the sake of our story, in 1993, try to imagine me as a very mature looking intelligent six year old child). I was mostly clueless, and maybe more than a bit arrogant, but fortunately, I was extremely good looking.

But more importantly, I was very lucky.

I was lucky to get work at one of the bigger studios in Miami (Studio Center). I was lucky to get a job teaching audio for the Art Institute. And I was extremely lucky to work with some cool and talented people, on some very cool songs.

But the luckiest of those times, was when I began working with the band, Brother Grimm
Based out of West Palm Beach, Florida, the band consisted of singer Mike Roi, who mixed unique creative lyrics, with a voice that was sometimes soothing and warm, to suddenly powerful and in your face. Dan Gindin, who was an extremely talented keyboard/piano player, and a lot of fun to hang out with, despite being completely insane. Brian Shinn, who played guitar and wrote some sweet melodies adding to the unique sound of the band. Uda (aka Yehuda Ashash), who was simply amazing with his skill on bass, and overall musical genius. And Rich Veitch, who was a solid drummer who helped make every experience with the band fun and memorable.

Because of my association with the Art Institute, I needed bands to help explain the recording process to the students, and Brother Grimm were eager guinea pigs for me. Depending on availability, sometimes they sent other bands for me to work with, (Loose Association was one of the more enjoyable and memorable bands I had a chance to record, check their page out here), but for the most part, Brother Grimm was my most common go-to band.

We even got a write up for our efforts!  
Click on the image, then right click view image to read the full story
A couple of the earlier sessions were recorded/produced by other Art Institute instructors (with me assisting). Then later, I would use studio downtime to try to come up with a decent mix. Sometimes the band was there to oversee (overhear), and sometimes they were not. Later, when I began teaching the classes, I did a lot of experimentation with recording, and learned a lot, and hopefully the students learned something too. Eventually the band had enough material to release a cassette demo of their songs, entitled Tales
Complete with artwork from the one and only Tony DiTerlizzi, (if you've never heard of him, you really need to check out his site here!).

It really was the best of times.

So here we are twenty years later, and Brother Grimm has gently faded into the ether of time. The members have drifted to the four corners of the world to seek out their own individual adventures. I think one of them became a ninja, and another is studying to be a wizard... but I'm unsure if these reports are valid.

However, one very accurate report is that singer Mike Roi has been focusing on his new band, Roi and the Secret People (check him out here and discover he is just as awesome now as he was then). And through the miracle of modern technology, Mike has also been posting the Brother Grimm video archives here, which inspired me to start thinking (as rare as thinking can be for me).

With all these fancy new computer gadgets the kids have, and with all the advancements in my brain, can I improve on my recordings from twenty years ago? I also wondered, if maybe there are many fans of Brother Grimm that never got a copy of some of the more rare or obscure recordings from those days. Or maybe you have an old melted cassette copy of the songs that you can't listen to anymore.

So after spending the last couple of weeks, tweaking, fine tuning, changing my mind and giving up, restarting again a bit more enthusiastically, and finally reluctant acceptance... I present to you:
Tales - 20th Anniversary Extended Edition

"Ooh Deeesher, where can I get that???"
The best thing to do is contact Mike Roi or the fan page here.  Or you can always contact me and maybe I can arrange for you to get a copy of the songs.

I have always said, I have a story for each of these songs, and since this is as close to a reunion as we are likely to get, I'll share some of my Tales of Brother Grimm with you.

*Tech notes: Most of my tweaks were simply adding volume, and maybe some highs or lows to the overall mix. I will notate any other drastic changes I made, and I sincerely hope I did manage to improve some of the work I did, even if it's just a bit. And if you never heard any problems with my mixes before, then yay for me!

Mother Tranquility - The intro was originally longer, and included a line about "where vampires weep". We all felt it was too long and unnecessary, so Mike was outvoted and the line was cut. He was brokenhearted, because he really loved that line.
*Tech notes – The “T” on “Try your hardest” was cut, so I added a “T”. I also added a bigger slam at the end. I tried adding heavy distortion to the “Wake up”, but I couldn't get the right amount of fuzz.

Shift - Most of you know this story. We recorded drums and bass in the first half of the song. But, Dan wasn't there when we did the final mix. I asked if they thought he would be happy, and everyone felt he would find something to complain about. So we joked about taking the keyboards out completely. Then someone said he would only be happy if the entire song was only keyboards. I was going to make a 'fake' mix for Dan with only keyboards but... everyone said it really sounded cool!
*Tech notes – I took out half of the 'I go insanes', and fixed the popping 'p's' in the intro.

Underside - I remember a live show, where the stage was beside the entrance to the club. People were coming in and out during the show, and I remember Mike sang, screaming the chorus at people, “Leave by the door... It's open f'in wide...!"
*Tech notes – When recording, I used the same mic to record guitars that Spinal Tap uses, (not the actual mic, but it was an AKG D12, not D112). The original mix always bothered me somehow, and finally, years later, I like it. I added an overall subtle reverb to the entire mix to give it a bit more life. I also added the cool/cheesy swirly flange effect at the very end.

Blue Ketchup – Rumor has it, this song was based on a painting by Tony Diterlizzi. When recording, we were running out of studio time, so Mike needed to record his vocals quickly. He did it all in one take, with no mistakes! He even made up a new word: Condifference. Listen for it.
*Tech notes – Recorded by the illustrious Giorgos Papabeis (aka George)

Ichabod - This was the first time I met the band, and was before Uda joined. I instantly fell in love with this song. But because I was only assisting in the recording, I wasn't there the entire time. I still remember Dan running out to tell me to come in and listen to Mike's vocals, "Dude, you have to listen to what he just did!"
*Tech notes – I was never happy with the kick drum sound when it was originally recorded. Plus I was told that (in theory), it should fade into Self Treachery. So, when mixing, I sampled the kick drum from Treachery, and replaced the recorded kick drum on Ichabod. Maybe the band didn't know I did that, but I thought it sounded a bit better, and hopefully matched with Treachery. Maybe not... oh well.

Self Treachery - Another student recording but... none of the students showed up! This was recorded maybe 6 months after Ichabod, but because they do work well together, I combined them many years ago, and now they seem inseparable to me... quite literally. I have no way of breaking them up now because of the crossfade I created.
*Tech notes – Recorded by the legendary Eddie Mashal, who you may know from such rare obscure albums like Hotel California and The Long Run.

Eve - Uda proving his talent and genius in this song! Recorded during studio downtime, Uda and I stayed up all night working on this mix. We began recording around 9pm and Uda and I finished the final mix at about 9am. While Uda was recording some of his parts, Mike, Dan and I discovered 'something' on his computer. I can't begin to describe it, but we all had a good laugh about it.

Alain - There is something about the lyrics, and the way Mike sang here, that I always loved. This is also one of my favorite Brian guitar solos.
*Tech notes – I never quite got the cool swirly flange sound on the chorus I wanted, but I guess it's okay. However, I was always happy with the 'yeah...' effect, and the '...craaaaaazzzyyy...!' effect in the second verse. I always liked how the song started a bit keyboard heavy, then accidentally got more guitar heavy.

Can't Always Get It - Young engineers, heed this advice: When someone tells you NOT to record, you should ALWAYS record! Christmas day was another day of no scheduled bookings in the studio, so I invited the band to hang out and record. This is Mike and Dan accidentally showing off how talented they really are. None of this was faked or overdubbed. If you listen closely, you hear my dorky voice in the background saying, "Okay, jam!", while I was on the phone with a friend (Francine). FYI - The only food we had in the studio, was turkey bologna...

New Orleans Moon – Also recorded on Christmas, when Brian joined (the others were unavailable). Brian got a new Line 6 guitar processor for Christmas and was eager to test out every patch in it before recording. If you listen to the rain at the end, the thunder was a very unexpected surprise that was timed perfectly.

Progress Babies – I love the simple guitar/vocal intro, and the way the rest of the band comes in always sounded so full and impressive to me. With Mike's lyrics and how he sang, this will always be one of my favorite Grimm songs.
*Tech notes – I removed clicks during the guitar intro.

Ash – Another of my absolute favorites, Brian has one of the best solos here, and Mike belts out a perfect vocal all the way. Of course Uda shows off some amazing stuff as well.

Exit 53 - The studio was renting some kind of stereo enhancer, so I tried it out. The depth of stereo it created still impresses me today.
*Tech notes – Lowered the volume of the toms.

Listen to the Toads - What a fun song! Uda and Brian showing off how talented they really are here. It was awesome to record a live horn section for this. But the best memory I have of this song, was before a live show, Mike was still trying to write lyrics for this song. I asked what he planned to sing live, and he said he always makes it up. He said, "I could sing 'watermelon' and nobody would notice. I'm going to do that tonight!". And on the 2nd verse, I clearly heard him shout, "Waaaaterrrmellonnn!" And the crowd loved it!
*Tech notes – Rich used a Dr. Pepper can during the intro and second breakdown. I used a Sennheiser 421 microphone to record it.

Your Darkness, The Dog in me has Died, Dreamcatcher – All three recorded the same day. All three had quick 'lightning mixes', and I never had the chance to take time to mix them right. While the students took a break, we recorded Dog in under an hour.

Origin of a Species – Recorded live in the studio, with only Mike recording overdubs later. Brian's amp was down the hall in an empty room with cables running back into the studio for him to play with the rest of the band. I was told, this song is different every time they played it.

New World Presence – They very reluctantly recorded this song for me. I loved the original demo version, but they weren't so eager to record it. Listening to it again, they were right. Oh well...

Terese, Pools of Blue (acoustic), Bewlay Brothers, Ash (acoustic) – The studio had a baby grand piano, and Dan loved playing it. When he wasn't talking, he was playing that piano... whether we wanted him to or not. Recorded randomly through the year, each of these are very simple and relaxing to enjoy. I still wish I had a full version of Pools of Blue. And Terese was always a very beautiful original song to me, and Mike sang it brilliantly, as always.

Self Treachery (acoustic) – I have to talk about this one separate from the other piano recordings, because of how beautiful and chilling this version really is. Mike and Dan were trying to decide what to record, and I suggested Self Treachery. They began recording, and had to restart two or three times for one reason or other. When they finally found their groove, it was simply amazing. Sitting in front of the console listening to them record this version was one of my most proudest moments in the studio. I was honored to be at the front row of this private concert.

Moonage Daydream – What a sad day! This was the last song I recorded with them before they moved away.

And we all lived happily ever after (more or less).

But I've gone on long enough, although I'm sure you've got your stories.
So what are your Tales of Brother Grimm?