Thursday, March 31, 2011

A Response to Max Borders

The following post is part of an application for a scholarship from Templeton Press. It is in response to a video from Max Borders, a link to which has been posted below this note.

Mister Borders, have you ever seen the film Falling Down? It stars Michael Douglas as a man who snaps under the pressures of everyday life during a traffic jam and goes on a journey to find his ex-wife so he can see his daughter on her birthday. There's a scene, about halfway through the film, where Michael Douglas goes into an army surplus store, looking for some boots. Here, he discovers that the store owner is racist, homophobic, and a neo-Nazi. Thinking that Michael Douglas is of a similar mindset, he takes him to the back room of his store. In the back room, he shows Michael Douglas a menagerie of disturbing things, such as Nazi porn books and a used canister of gas from the Holocaust. The store owner keeps remarking to Douglas "We're the same!" Douglas eventually says "No, we are not the same. I am an American. You are a sick freak."
What does this have to do with regulation? I'm not sure, your video just reminded me of it. It also reminded me of a kind of motto I find applies well to most political matters: find the middle ground. Should regulation be intrusive to small business? I suppose not, but you also need to consider the fact that most regulations are in place for the benefit of the consumer. Deregulating all business puts a lot of faith in business practitioners to be able to know what consumers want, and more importantly, what is safe for consumers. For example, let's say that the grape jelly I noticed you putting in that barbecue sauce hits upon a certain combination that results in food poisoning for some people? It's unlikely, but there's not a good chance that you'd be able to test it for certain or even think much of it. However, someone who's trained to examine food products would do both.
The whole thing is a matter of idealism vs. practicality, and in this case, practicality wins for the most part. There's obviously a lot of factors to consider, and I don't' think I can cover everything in under five hundred words, but what I know for sure is that putting matters entirely in the hands of the people will not work. The general populous on the whole, frankly, is not smart enough to handle such a task, and I don't think someone who puts grape jelly in his barbecue sauce is, either.
Apologies for the snark, but I seriously can't get over that.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Well, Does it?: A Review of Kick-Ass

Once upon a time, in 2008, we were young, and foolish. With the release of Iron Man, we felt that the perfect not-too serious, non-stop entertainment superhero film had been achieved. We were wrong. Now, it is 2010, and the bar has been set yet again. And more than that, the bar hasn’t just been set higher, the bar has been raced out of the old building into a new one with 5000 more floors and placed at the very top. Such is the new film by director Matthew Vaughn starring new comer Aaron Johnson, Kick-Ass.
The film tells the story of Dave Lizewski, a nerdy teenager with an astoundingly unexciting life. One day, out of sheer boredom, he decides to become a superhero. He dons a painted wetsuit and mask and becomes Kick-Ass. However, things don’t go very well for him the first time out, and he contemplates quitting. But he figure he ought to keep on keeping on and tries it again, this time with some semblance of success. Through his adventures, he comes into contact with professional vigilantes Big Daddy (Nicholas Cage, in a truly amazing career turnaround) and Hit-Girl (ChloĆ« Grace Moretz, proving there are still great child actors out there). They’re out to stop drug kingpin Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong) and Kick-Ass—in a way only an untrained buffoon like him could—gets involved. As for all the rest of the plot and various sub-plots: you’ll have to see the movie to find out.
First off, let’s get out some things that could be considered problems. One: the violence. Don’t let the kid-friendly trailers fool you, this movie is brutal. Blood splatters, bodies explode, and limbs get hacked off. The more touch types aren’t going to be fans, and it might throw off people who just saw the trailers. Two: the juxtaposition of said violence with raunchy, zany comedy. This is another thing that might throw people off. Seeing a guy pretending to be gay to hang out with a girl he likes isn’t something you expect to see in the same movie wherein drug dealers explode a dude in an industrial-sized microwave. It’s another thing that a lot of people won’t be expecting, and it could cause confusion. Make no mistake, even tough the violence is graphic, it’s still over-the-top, and should not be taken seriously.
That’s pretty much it for potential problems. So, do either of those things actually detract from the film’s watch ability? No. Not even a little. The movie just works, plain and simple, it works. And it works beautifully. It manages to be a great satire of superhero movies while at the same time being a great superhero movie itself. Every single frame oozes visual style and reminds the viewer why they go to the movies: to be entertained. To be entertained and to be entertained in a way that doesn’t involve you making fun of bad characters’ actions or turning your brain off. Pure cinematic escapism, dare to say, on a par with the original 1933 King Kong. It’s serious when it needs to be, funny when it needs to be, and incredibly exciting when it needs to be. This brings us to another great thing about this film, the action sequences. Some of the most mind-blowing, pulse-pounding action you will ever see, you will see in Kick-Ass. It’s a brutal ballet. Think if Dancing with the Stars involved chopping opponents into ribbons. Let’s see Robert Downey Jr. do that with the Iron Man armor.
Finally, we talk about the absolute best part of this film (although saying anything is “best” in this film is like saying there’s a “best” part of eating the world’s greatest ice cream), the characters, and by extension, the actors. There is no such thing as a weak character in Kick-Ass. Everybody here is fleshed out and fantastic to watch. Even Dave Lizewski’s girlfriend, whom one would think to be boring, and yet she’s not, you actually get attached to her despite her limited screen time. The same goes to Dave’s friends, who provide some of the best laughs in the film. That’s thanks to both a great script and great acting. Everybody here brings their A-Game. Johnson does a great job portraying the title character, and Christopher-Mintz-Plasse (Superbad’s McLovin’) is quite entertaining as Red Mist. But the two characters that everybody will love come in the form of Hit-Girl and Big Daddy. Already, I established that ChloĆ« Moretz and Nicholas Cage do a great job in their respective roles, but on top of that, both characters are the perfect blend of loving father and daughter and awesome crime-fighters. There’s something inherently hilarious about Nic Cage impersonating Adam West as Batman, and who doesn’t want to see an 11-year-old girl spouting profanities and committing acts that would make John McClain green with envy? And of course, this film goes the extra mile to give us glimpses into these character’s back stories and gives the audience something more to latch onto than a few laughs.
So, in short, Kick-Ass knows exactly what it’s doing: creating a well-told tale that makes you wish all superhero movies were like it. It’s exciting, emotional, hilarious, and overall incredible. A perfect five Godzillas. You must see this movie.

Oh, and in case you were wondering: it does, indeed, kick ass.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Top 10 Films of the Decade (2000's)

It seems that everybody and their mother is doing a "Top 10 of the Decade" list for their passion/obsession. And quite frankly, I want to as well. Anyone who knows me knows my love is movies. I love watching movies, talking movies, going to the movies, and yes, even making movies (even if my films don't make sense right now, consider yourselves lucky, YouTubers). So, I decided to pull together a list of my top 10 films of the decade. This decade being the 00's or the "Oughts" or "Noughties", however you say it, you know what I mean.

Now, look, I obviously haven't seen every movie this decade, and I haven't even seen a lot of the critically acclaimed films this decade, so my list will probably be controversial to some. But bear in mind, these are just opinions, my opinions. If you disagree, then you have every right to. You're not wrong, and I'm not wrong, we just have different tastes, that's all. No harm , no foul.

So with that out of the way, let's get started.

10.) Star Wars Ep. III: Revenge of the Sith (2005)
No, it's no Empire Strikes Back. It's not even Return of the Jedi. What it is is the closest the prequels have come to capturing the magic of the original films. Yes, there are cheesy moments, yes, the acting is not that great, yes Darth Vader is not as menacing as he once was. But to me, none of that matters when the rest of the film is just so solid. It, unlike The Phantom Menace, has a leg to stand on in terms of how it's put together. Unlike Attack of the Clones, it has some real, real emotional weight. Not to mention, it has the Yoda vs. Palpatine lightsaber duel, which is one of the most underrated action sequences ever. Here, we have the two juggernauts of the Star Wars universe--the master of all Jedi and master of all Sith--duking it out and hardly anyone talks about it. A real shame.

9.) The Incredibles (2004)
If The Iron Giant had been released one year later, it would be in this spot. Instead, we have Brad Bird's second greatest achievement. There's not much to be said on this one. Just one of Pixar's best and really stands up to repeat viewings. If you haven't seen it, you're a bad person.

8.) Cloverfield (2008)
This is where the real controversy starts for my list. What Cloverfield did, that no other movie this decade did, is bring the giant monster movie back to the domestic front. Or at least it tried to. It's a tightly knit, well-crafted monster flick with an interesting story and some genuine scares. And made in the post-9/11 climate, it has more thematic weight than one would expect. If The Blair Witch Project (which I haven't seen, BTW) is an example of horror films brought to the modern area, then Cloverfield is the same with monster movies. Fanboys can moan all they want about not having enough monster, but they're missing the point. The point isn't to have a monster-fest. The point is to make a good movie, which happens to have a 300-foot sea monster as its villain. And it succeeds at it.

7.) District 9 (2009)
I love this movie. Simply love, love, love, love, love, love, LOVE this movie. I honestly don't care what naysayers think. In my eyes, this movie is perfect. The characters, story, messages, and the world it creates are all beautiful and yet unnerving. It asks some tough questions about humanity and what we're capable of in terms of both cruelty and kindness. It paints a picture of a world that is very dark and cynical, very grimy and dirty. It even, at times, creates a sense of irony through minorities being the biggest supporters of racism. All this while also being a kick-ass, balls-to-the-wall sci-fi action piece that keeps you on the edge of your seat. Great effects, great story, great acting, and a unique blend of documentary style with traditional narrative style all make District 9 an easy pick for number 7.

6.) The Host (2006)
Another monster flick. I've got a few of those on here. But this one is quite different. It's not really trying to say much of anything, it's not all that groundbreaking, it's just really, really well made. It's a classical monster movie with a strong human story, good acting, and solid effects. Just further proof that Asia has a much better grip on giant monsters than we do.

5.) King Kong (2005)
I'll get the elephant out of the room now and just say: I don't care about the length. I kind of like longer movies, they let me spend more time in the movie's world, more time with the characters, and more time to let the story develop. That said, I also think there are bits of this that could be cut, just to make it more accessible to Joe Shmoe movie-goer. But putting the length aside of a minute, we can see the real reason this movie succeeds: this is how you remake a classic. Change enough to make it enjoyable for the fans of the original but keep enough the same so that newbies can get relatively the same story and experience. And if you can do all that while maintaining a good grip on your effects, actors, and storytelling, then you have class A remake on your hands.

4.) Coraline (2009)
As much as I loved Fantastic Mr. Fox, I feel Coraline is a bigger achievement in the long run. I also find it ironic that it took a "Not Tim Burton" to recapture the magic of 1990's Tim Burton. Beautifully shot and animated, smartly written, and with some really stellar voice acting, Coraline is arguably one of the best animated films of all time. Plus, how can you wrong with Keith David?

3.) Godzilla, Mothra, and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001)
How could there not be a Godzilla movie on my list? Seriously, though: this is as good as it gets for the millennium series. A very, very Japanese movie with top-notch effects of its kind, solid acting, and a very good story that perfectly blends science fiction with fantasy. Not only that, but it's the first film since the original, really, to do something new and interesting with the character of Godzilla. Making him the embodiment of the angry souls of Japan's war dead was a both unique and befitting move for director Shusuke Kaneko, and proves that there is life still left in the old radioactive dinosaur.

2.) Futurama: Bender's Game (2008)
Yeah, maybe it's cheating to include a direct to video release, but by dammit, I loved this little flick. By far, the best of the four Futurama movies and honestly, the best comedy of this decade for me. An absolute riot from start to finish, along with an actual story and some nice character moments. There's no way I can properly explain everything that's awesome and hilarious about this movie without doing a commentary, so I'll just say go watch it. Now. The Hypnotoad commands you.

1.) The Dark Knight (2008)
Yeah, I went with the most obvious choice ever. So sue me. It's great. Really, what can I say that hasn't been said already?
It's a comic book movie, it's a crime drama. It's a detective story, it's a psychological character study. It's the story of a noble politician's fall from grace, it's the story of a madman on the loose. It's deep, it's profound, it's smart, it's gripping, it's all of these things. And it's all of these things while also being a mainstream summer blockbuster with the honor of third highest grossing movie of all time. When I first saw The Dark Knight, I literally could not move for about five seconds after it was over. And I couldn't think about things properly until at least 30 minutes after it was over. I had my mind blown. Plain and simple. Not just the best movie of the decade, but one of the best films of all time. You can have your hard-ons for No Country For Old Men and Slumdog Millionaire all you want, but when push comes to shove, there is only The Dark Knight.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Who Watches the Watchmen? I Don't Know, but Your Life is Not Complete Until You Read This

I wrote this review over a year ago, and am now posting it for the world to see.

Ladies and gentlemen, weep your pathetic earthly tears now, and accept that no matter what you do in life, no matter how much money you make, how many lives you save, how many spiritual epiphanies you have, how many women you have sex with, it doesn't matter. You will never be as good as a single chapter, scene, or even panel of Watchmen. 
But enough of that, let’s dive right in.
The story, well, it’s very long and complicated, so make sure you aren’t reading this while laughing at the hilarity of your favorite TV show.
In order to understand the plot, you need to know the universe. Basically, it’s an alternate reality where the superhero comic fad of the 50’s turned into a fad of real-life costumed adventurers, as the book calls them. They’re there for a while, but then, the government outlaws them. The only two left legally active are The Comedian and Dr. Manhattan, who is essentially like a god, he can do anything. It’s all set in an alternate 1985, where the Cold War is real and Nixon is still president (*shudder*). The book actually opens with the murder of The Comedian, who is like Marvel Comics’ The Punisher, but, well, what makes him different is a major character plot point, so I won’t say. Anyway, so then, an illegally active costumed hero, named Rorschach, is investigating the murder. Rorschach believes that someone is picking off costumed heroes, although we aren’t sure. This soon introduces us to the remaining three characters, Dan Dreiberg, the second Nite Owl (the first being a man named Hollis Mason), Laurie Juspeczyk, the second Silk Spectre (the first being her mother, Sally Jupiter), and Adrian Veidt, who is also known as Ozymandias.
Rorschach goes to all of the other characters; Dr. Manhattan included, and tells them about the murder of The Comedian, Edward Blake. The majority of the first half centers around this mystery, as slowly the hit list for the heroes grows Rorschach becomes ever more convinced of his “mask killer” theory. Eventually, it all boils down to a point where the heroes need to essentially save the world.
There’s a lot more to it than that, with a lot of secondary characters, sub plots, and flash backs. However, for the sake of space, most of this will be left for you to discover.
Wow. That’s about all you’ll be able to say after reading this. Let’s start with the story. The story is very well thought out, it pulls you in from the beginning and never lets go. You keep reading and reading until eventually you’re hooked, and you can’t wait for some spare time to find out what happens next. That’s what a good story does. Which brings us to the writing. This Alan Moore is a genius. Never before have I seen a comic book so down-to-earth. With the exception of Dr. Manhattan, this book keeps everything within the acceptable range of believability. Not only that, but every character is fleshed out, and develops as the story progresses. You don’t feel cheated, like you missed something with a character, because no one gets missed. That’s hard to do in a book, or anything, that has so many characters. The characters themselves are brilliant. The great thing about them is, they’re all flawed in some way.
Even Dr. Manhattan, perfect on the surface, has unfortunately had his humanity taken away when he becomes an omnipotent super being. In other words, you can connect with all of them, even if they are nothing like you, you can still understand them, and you can believe that they exist.
The art by Dave Gibbons, while a bit cartoonish by today’s standards, has a draw to it. A nostalgic charm combined with a unique style of color that all accumulates into an effect that is very pleasing to the eye.
Also, there’s a lot of symbolism and subtext in Watchmen. The book raises a lot of moral, social, and even religious questions as to what is acceptable and what ultimately becomes of us. These only enhance the experience.
All these elements, the story, writing, characters, and artwork, combine into a spectacle that is one of the best ever to grace the grid-like pages of comics.
A fair bit of warning: this story is not for the faint of heart or easily offended. There’s quite a bit of violence, imitatible violence at that, and yes, there is a fair amount of bloodshed. There’s also some nudity, so if you find this discomforting, you might want to stay away from this one. However, if none of this bothers you, then go right ahead.
I encourage anyone who doubts the ability of comic books to carry a good, thoughtful, and believable story to read Watchmen. If you think this is where I mention any faults, then you’re bloody mental, this book has none. Its richness can never be denied, and it gets better every time you read it.
No one can deny, Watchmen is dazzling, thought-provoking, engaging and one of the greatest comic books ever written. Scratch that, one of the greatest books, no, one of the greatest things ever created.

For my overall rating, I give Watchmen: a perfect five Godzillas.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Could it be? It was thought impossible….

Wow. This is it. This is what every science fiction buff has been waiting for. “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” eat your heart out! The best science fiction movie in decades is here, and it is “District 9.”
This time, let’s do quick plot synopsis, since the plot is actually WORTH talking about with this one.
“District 9” tells the story of a race of aliens known as Prawns, who came to earth 28 years ago. Their ship parked over not Chicago or New York, but Johannesburg. The ship just hovers there for a while, and eventually, the humans decide to cut into the ship, where they discover the aliens within are not evil things wanting to destroy us, nor are they advanced beings come to share their knowledge with us. They are refugees, the last surviving members of their race. We decide to shelter them in a slum outside Johannesburg known as District 9. Eventually, the “wow” factor wears off, and the situation is handed over to Multi-National United, a private corporation more concerned with the aliens’ weaponry than their well-being. This is where we meet our human lead, Wikus van der Merwe. He is charged with the task of moving the aliens out of District 9 and relocating them somewhere else. Somewhere worse. While looking through one of the alien’s shacks, he comes across a small canister, which sprays out a mysterious fluid. And that’s all we’ll say here. Let’s not spoil it for the uninitiated.
“District 9” is a true science fiction film. Not the space opera offered from “Star Trek” or the explosion-fest offered from “Transformers.” The idea of having on or two outrageous concepts, and the rest is all down-to-earth. Not only that, but it’s good science fiction. The story is fantastic. It draws you in with this fascinating look at a theoretical world of aliens and humans, where the awe we might have once had at these creatures has long since turned to disgust. Where the aliens themselves are as lost and confused as an average human would be if he or she were stuck on some far off planet. Then, it gradually changes to the story of two families, Wikus and his wife, and the alien Christopher, and his son. And then, it changes again, into a thrilling action-adventure. It all blends together to create something no one has seen before, and it is spectacular.
The acting deserves equal props. Sharlto Copley gives a great turn as Wikus. Especially considering this is his first acting job. His performance is very believable, and it makes you care for someone you shouldn’t.
The effects. Would you believe this was made for 30 million dollars? Believe it. In a day and age where most blockbusters cost 100+ million, and sometimes don’t even look that good, this film has brilliant effects for less than half that.
There are not enough good things that can be said about this film. Go see it. Now. This is it, what we’ve all been waiting for. A great, original, and in some ways, revolutionary science fiction film for this generation. At long last, we have our “Terminator.”

For my overall rating, I give “District 9” a perfect five Godzillas

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Prepare for Avengance!

No, that's not a typo.

I was watching The Incredible Hulk today, and it got me thinking what I would like to see in the upcoming Avengers movie. Well, I got some ideas.

Have the main villian(s) be The Masters of Evil, led by Doctor Doom (I'll get to what we do with him later). The movie opens with the Avengers called to action to stop a rampaging dragon-creature. Whoever gives them thier debreifings tells them that the creature is very large, very powerful, and surprisingly intelligent. For those who haven't caught on, the creature is Fin Fang Foom (voiced by David Kaye). The battle should have a different dynamic than most "little superpeole vs giant monster" battles. With Fin Fang Foom doing crazy things such as teleporting, climbing up walls and saying "yeeeeessss" constantly. From there, we can transition to a flashback of how the group got together. Introduce the characters who DIDN'T get thier own movies, and show how they were all brought together. Do this in about 30 minutes, and we're all set to go. Next, we'll get the group trying to recruit the Hulk. I personally would like the gray version, allowing for some nice banter between Hulk and the various Avengers team members. They eventually convince the Hulk to help them in the fight against, well, whatever they fight next. From there, we find out about the Masters of Evil. Now, let's talk Doom. Victor Von Doom, to be percise. For the love of God, if Marvel does this, PLEASE DO NOT follow the Fantastic Four movies. Have him talk in the third person, and explain that his ego has grown so big, he not only loves the sound of his own voice, but the sound of his own name. The other members? Well, Loki for sure. Fin Fang Foom, from the opening scene. The Leader, perhaps? Oh, and Ultron, can't forget Ultron. For thier evil plan, go the Ultimate Alliance route. With Doom stealing the power of Odin. This would undoubtedly accumulate with a great final battle between Doom and Thor.

Those are my ideas. I would really like it if they decided "screw it, let's make this really over-the-top and a real comic book film." None of this "It has to be realistic for the general public" crap. Did Star Wars have to be realistic for the general public? Did Forbidden Planet? Star Trek? All the most well-remembered science fiction films and series embraced the "fiction" side of the genre. And the "Comic Book Film" needs to embrace the "comic book" side of it's genre.

Friday, July 24, 2009

If only I knew what I was doing.

Because I really have no idea. I'm just rambling right now. I've got crazy ideas for Transformers and Godzilla stop-motions dancing through my head. I have a burning desire to make a podcast, hey, that's what I'll write about.

For quite some time, I've had the idea of putting together a monthly podcast with me, NickJownz, and Deadzilla. The problem is, I don't know all the ins and outs of doing such things. I know I need Skype, and I got Skype, but I also need recording methods. Does Skype offer recording methods? What do the guys at TFWIRe use? What does the WTF@TFW (don't click that link, it goes to compse mail for some reason) crew use? Also I need to formulate a schedule that works for all three of us.

I'm hoping to get it up and running by December, so any help would be greatly appreciated.