Wednesday, September 24, 2014

TGLC: Gotham review

In the past few years DC Comics has proven that they rule the small screen, with little serious competition from Marvel. This is, once again, evident in DC's Batman prequel, Gotham. The show, which premiered Monday on Fox, stars Ben Mckenzie as Detective Gordon, a greenhorn in the Gotham City Police Department. His first case: the double homicide of the parents of Bruce Wayne.

This fall, we will have reached season three of Arrow, the highly successful superhero action show, as well as the dawn of it's spin-off, Flash, both of which contain action packed, super heroic crime fighters. Gotham, on the other hand, teased an "Agents of SHIELD"-esque style of story-telling that focused on the B-list characters, rather than capes and tights. That said, how does it stack up?

In short, to answer the first burning question, it's good, and is worth your time. Since the premise is centered on the police department, and not Batman, be prepared for quite a bit of NYPD Blue and CSI-type interrogations, following leads, etc. but set within an environment we're already familiar with, while highlighting characters who will become future heroes/villains in the comics, and hopefully in later seasons.

Corey Michael Smith as Edward Nygma

Robin Lord Taylor as Oswald Cobblepot
Without spoiling the entire pilot episode, it centers on Detective James Gordon and his partner Harvey Bullock, a semi-crooked, battle hardened GCPD detective. Their back-and-forth is definitely engaging, but it often comes too close to the typical, "you've got a lot to learn, kid" and "I'm too old for this" cliches. That said, Ben MckKenzie's take on Gordon is fantastic, they stress that he's a rookie, like a blank slate to be decimated throughout the coming episodes. The pilot also introduces several likely season antagonists, including crime bosses Fish Mooney and Carmine Falcone, as well as potential future villains, including Edward Nygma, Oswald Cobblepot, and even a brief cameo from the future Poison Ivy. Young Bruce Wayne even seems like he'll be showing up fairly often, and David Mazouz does an amazing job as the young future caped crusader. Batman fans will no doubt have a field day with the amount of cameos and easter eggs that this show will pack in future episodes.

As strong as the lead cast is, however, the supporting cast can be pretty weak. I don't know what it is about DC Comics TV shows, but they have a tendency to pick comparatively weak supporting actresses. All scenes featuring Gordon's fiancee Barbara, played by Erin Richards, feel like watching a cardboard cut-out. She shares a scene with Gordon's rival detective Montoya, played by Victoria Cartagena, wherein they discuss a game changing plot point, but I couldn't get the full effect of the news, due to their incredibly bland "acting." This is, however, a nit-pick as the rest of the cast does a fantastic job in their roles.

Just as Agents of SHIELD is set in the Avengers universe and therefore lends a similar atmosphere, this show gives off an energy nearly identical to that of Batman Begins, apart from the new cast. This tends to bounce back and forth between a help and a hindrance. For example, there is a montage of Gordon and Bullock interrogating a series of shady individuals that takes place under the dim, yellow light of a swinging lamp. This seemed incredibly cheesy, and didn't fit very well, given the quick pace, and drastic changes in atmosphere. As mentioned earlier though, it is also done very well in later scenes, one such being the first time we're introduced to Oswald Cobblepot, as he and several goons beat someone up in a dirty, rain-soaked alley. Given that this is a pilot episode, it seems likely that these quick bounces in atmosphere will be resolved in time. There's a delicate balance that needs to be struck between a CSI-esque crime drama, and an Arrow-type comic book show.

The short answer is: Yes, you should give this show a chance. While it does have several wrinkles that need to be worked out, it does what a pilot episode should, it sets the tone for a good show with a strong cast of interesting characters within a familiar setting, but from an angle we haven't seen before. 

Here's the best part, if you didn't get the chance to watch it on TV, Fox has the episode available to watch online for free:

Thursday, September 18, 2014

That Guy Defends Movies: Episode 1 - Speed Racer

The internet is....a thing. Its a thing that can be wonderful, and seconds later make you want to dig your fingers into someone's throat to shut them up. No matter what the topic is, people will always disagree on it. But what I hate more than anything on the internet is when people say things like:

"That movie SUCKED."

......Are...are you going to go into further detail? Are you just going along with the bandwagon because you heard a famous critic say he didn't like it? Did you have a friend who saw it that wasn't a fan, so you just take his word? Do you simply not like one of the actors?

Opinions are a wonderful thing, but people need to learn that saying things like "Its a fact" does NOT make it fact! And having an opinion means that it is YOUR belief, NOT a statistically proven reality simply because you SAY IT IS!!!

Now this applies to everything, (most notably politics, religion, etc.) but here and now, it has led to a new segment of TGLM, titled: That Guy Defends Movies. This is where I'll be defending  movies that I feel have garnered an undeserved reputation over the years, and explain why you should give them a second (or maybe even a first) chance, or at least get you thinking about why you don't like them in more detail, other than just saying "it sucked". These won't so much be reviews of movies, more along the lines of editorials, so expect POSSIBLE SPOILERS.

On that note, let's get rolling!

Kicking things off is one of my top favorite movies of all time, no joke. I saw this movie in theaters at least five times, bought it on DVD on day one of release, and since then, I haven't been sick of it for one second. So let's take a look at...

Speed Racer (2008)

I mentioned that I saw this movie in theaters at least five times, and in all of those viewings, I remember seeing other patrons in the theater maybe once. From opening week until the final viewing, this movie was a box office disaster. Rotten Tomatoes reviews averaged out to a 5/10, and critics demolished the movie's "headache-inducing special effects" (Rotten Tomatoes), stating that it "...proudly denies entry into its ultra-bright world to all but gamers, fanboys and anime enthusiasts." (The Hollywood Reporter). Others mocked its story, or lack thereof, in some opinions. For others, it was the cheesy, over-the-top acting. There are plenty of topics of discussion, so let's just dive in.

According to reviews/critiques, the main issues that critics had boiled down to these categories:

Directed by the Wachowski brothers (um...siblings now I guess. One of them had a sex change a few years back), famed directors of the incredibly popular Matrix trilogy, Speed Racer is based on the 1970's anime of the same name, following the high-speed exploits of Speed, and the rest of the Racer family. The show has had a lasting impact on anime, and pop culture in general, and even a few new iterations on TV around the same time as the movie. 

The TV show had a very distinct style: packed full of color, fast-moving backgrounds, and camera cuts. After all, the title of the show starts with SPEED. On that note, to betray the show's heritage of style and explosions would be an absolute insult to fans, and would betray the idea of what made the original so fascinating for newcomers. The visuals of this movie are the biggest reason I adore it so much. Every color glows, whether it be the breathtaking sunsets, racetrack crowds, or even just the driveway of the Racer home. You don't see these visuals in even the most special effect-packed movies year after year, and for me, this was a welcome change.

I really want to address that comment I pulled earlier, saying:

"[Speed Racer] proudly denies entry into its ultra-bright world to all but gamers, fanboys and anime enthusiasts."

Ehem...NO SHIT!!! That's like saying Seventeen Magazine proudly denies entry to it's all-pink periodical to all but SEVENTEEN YEAR OLD GIRLS! The movie was clearly marketing itself to Hot Wheels and video game-loving pre-teen kids, and if you ask me it does it flawlessly! How or why anyone could chastise a movie for appealing to it's target audience and seriously call themselves a movie critic makes my soul hurt. Just because it wasn't the type of movie that these critics would go home and watch to relax does NOT justify the movie being bad.

I don't like Wizard of Oz very much, but I can still admit that it was visually unique, especially for it's time. I don't listen to The Beatles, but I acknowledge the impact they had on music as a whole, even on some of my favorite bands. Personal dislike does NOT warrant a bad rating.

To be fair, I'll admit that the very end of the final race does give me a headache:

But at the same time, it still to this day gets me out of my seat with excitement.

If you haven't seen the movie or TV show, here's a basic backstory (potential SPOILERS):
Speed Racer's older brother Rex Racer used to be one of the best. But in order to fight the growing mafia control and corruption over racing (which in this world is about 1000x bigger than football in America), he faked his own death, and became the crime fighting Racer X. The movie follows this, but puts a larger focus on the trauma and changes that Rex's death caused the Racer family, and how Speed plans to finish what his brother started by taking on the Mafia controlled racers in several high intensity races.

Maybe its just me...but what about that is so hard to believe or follow, given the already present visual style? Why is it so easy for people to believe a guy dressed as a bat can take down a purple-suited clown, and yet THIS seems far-fetched? Granted there is quite a bit of dialogue, but none of it is anything that a child wouldn't be able to follow.

My one and only complaint with the story is that when the Mach 5 is given all of it's powerful new counter-weapons, there are a few explained that are never used. That is literally my only complaint with the story. It's simple enough that kids can follow, but gets into a complex economic/political/mafia-esque scandal that's just as entertaining for adults.

Critics bashed the movie's hammy acting and over-the-top characters, but again, take a look at the source material:

If you've never seen it, I'd suggest taking a look here:

Given that, what could anyone honestly expect to be any different? The casting of each character was perfect, combining incredibly well known actors like John Goodman and Susan Sarandon, with newcomers including Speed himself, Emile Hirsch.

There are plenty of scenes where the acting is ridiculous and over-the-top, but guess what? That's what they were going for! (see my previous rant about overpaid movie critics clearly judging based on what their personal likes/dislikes are, not the quality of the movie)

All in all, the movie is NOT for everyone. If you look at this and get a headache, you're probably not going to want to see it. But for any kid who has ever played with Hot Wheels, and in terms of pushing special effects to their pique, this movie is, in my opinion, solid gold, and absolutely worth at least one view from any action/racing fan!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Sexism In Comics: Let's get something straight...

Have you ever noticed how people, since the dawn of comics, movies, television, etc. have always felt that there’s such thing as a line between “too much” and “acceptable”? Whether it regards violence, nudity, language, or even religion, there has always been a line. If you’ve taken a look at any news site in the past few weeks, you’ve probably seen the questionable alternate cover of Spider-Woman that has the Internet all abuzz. If you’re unfamiliar, here’s how it looked:

The cover is by famous Italian comic book artist Milo Manara, and reflects his personal style, which has won countless awards. Tonight, I signed into Facebook, and was greeted with a link portraying the cover of a new comic book based on the pop culture character Vampirella. Here’s what it looked like:

 BREASTS. Bare naked, no excuses, breasts.

Now, if you, at gunpoint, HAD to choose one that you thought would cause more controversy than the other, what would you choose?

Here’s my point: Over the past two (or so) weeks, the Web has been buzzing with imbalanced beliefs about sexuality in comic books, because of the Spider-Woman “controversy.” Some viewers said that it appeared as though she was “presenting herself”, or that her costume wouldn’t cling to her in such an unrealistic way, saying that men have never been portrayed in such a way, and that the comic book industry is sexist. (This is a load of garbage, but not my point at this particular time...)

Granted, it may not have been the most realistic, or even the most decent cover in the world. But suffice it to say that there are definitely more unrealistic things in the world of comics than a character’s costume clinging to their skin.


I love comics. No, I LOVE comics. I don’t see them as sexist, racist, religion…ist…whatever. If you have half a brain, and can see that they quite obviously take place in a fictional realm wherein people have super powers and have, for damn near a century, donned skin-tight costumes in the process, then you will be as un-offended as I am. But this Vampirella garbage? This is where the “exploitation” that so many have been complaining about becomes a real, serious issue.

Now, I don’t have kids. I plan/hope to someday, and at such time as I do have them, I’d LOVE to take them to a comic book store. So if you can, please join me in this future situation: You and your six – to – twelve year old child (male or female, it really doesn’t matter) walk into the comic store together, and you see this cover, featuring a woman, TOTALLY bare-breast. Heck, for the sake of argument, let’s say the Spider-Woman cover is right next to it. Chances are, you AND your kid will notice the Vampirella cover first, and be FAR more shocked by it. Now as a parent, who loves and cares for your child, are you going to be okay with exposing your child to this at such a young age?! I’m not talking about anything religious or not, what I’m talking about is plain DECENCY.

But TGWLComics, the human body is art! You're an artist, you're just being immature.
Okay, you're right. I went to school for art, and I learned that the body is a beautiful thing, and inherently is not a sexual thing, until sex is added into the equation.

That said, I pose a new situation to you: 
You and your child are walking down the street. Suddenly, a completely topless woman walks past you. Men can't help but stare at her and cat-call her, purely because of her body. Not because of anything she's ever done to prove that she's anything but a pair of breasts. Do you want your son to learn that this is okay, or your daughter to learn that this is how she should act?!

This comic book cover is the first and ONLY time I've EVER been this furious about female exploitation.

If you have any brains at all, you won't support this...this SMUT! If I had any disposable income, I'd buy and BURN this crap, and I hope you'd do the same. Personally, I have nothing at all against the Spider-Woman cover, and if that shocks you, take a look at this video, and I hope you'll agree with me. But this Vampirella crap does NOTHING to end the media's attack on comic books/video games/movies and sexuality, and I pray that you join me in fighting this garbage.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

TGLComics: Marvel vs DC, who rules the big screen?

As far back as the dawn of comic books themselves, we've had comic book movies and TV shows. Even before Adam West donned the cowl, one could watch the Dark Knight's adventures portrayed by Lewis Wilson and Robert Lowrey in the 1940's. Before Chris Evans even knew what a shield was, Dick Purcell had already battled evil as Captain America in 1944. And before Samuel L. Jackson had even been considered to play the famed director of S.H.I.E.L.D., the role had already been tackled in 1998 by David Hasselhoff know what, let's actually forget I mentioned that last one.

Marvel and DC have both seen vast success in the realms of movies and television, but there's definitely a pattern of success that both companies should note: Marvel has claimed a clear victory at the movies, but DC has an undeniable lead on television. 

The Avengers (2012)
How Marvel conquered the Big Screen:
Comic book movies have been around for decades, but in 2008, Marvel changed the game. They finally stopped licensing their characters, and took a crack at making movies themselves. Iron Man blasted into theaters, and saw a good amount of box office success while he was at it. The movie was good, but it was what came after the movie that changed comic book cinema as we know it. A figure enshrouded by shadows emerged towards Tony Stark and spoke those wonderful words: "I'm here to talk to you about the Avengers Initiative." Comic book fans were stunned. Marvel was taking things in a whole new direction, and the "Marvel Cinematic Universe" was born. Marvel had it's best foot forward and later that year saw the release of The Incredible Hulk, and another saliva-inducing after credits teaser. Two years later, Iron Man 2. The next year, Thor and Captain America. And finally, the shining jewel that is The Avengers. We're a little over halfway through Marvel's "Phase 2" of movies, and as it stands, Marvel Studio's Kevin Feige admitted earlier this year that Marvel has movies planned as far ahead as 2028. If that isn't overkill, I don't know what is, but still, they know what they're doing. Even with different directors, writers, etc. there is obvious consistency throughout their movies. The various directors and writers work together to guarantee continuity, with Joss Whedon confidently (and rightfully) ruling the Marvel movie throne. Marvel did it right in that they chose a fantastic set of directors, locked them in the world's most comfortable prison, and catered to their every whim until they walked out with pure solid gold, as opposed to rushing them all for a quick buck. My former mistrust that comic book movies should still even continue being made has been quelled after Iron Man 3, Thor 2, and Cap 2's shining examples that skillful repetition is actually possible.

Plus y'know, Disney can give them more money than God to make their there's that.

Avengers: Disk Wars...*sigh*
How Marvel botched the small screen:
Imagine if tomorrow MGM announced a weekly James Bond television show, but it didn't follow 007, instead it followed Moneypenny. Sure, people would watch because they know that Bond is going to show up for an episode or two, but after a few weeks when 007 doesn't show up, you're just stuck with the receptionist. This is the problem with Marvel's biggest TV show, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Casual viewers assumed they'd be seeing Thor, Cap, Iron Man, at the very least Hawkeye or Black Widow once every few episodes but all they got for the entire season was the back-ups, with a thirty second cameo by Nick Fury. There's only so many times the viewer can say "Oh! They mentioned (insert character)! Cool!" without actually seeing anyone, before it gets old. This was painfully obvious, as Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s ratings plummeted, losing one third of its viewership in one week. You'd think that this would be a strong indicator that they need more big names, but we'll have to wait and see with season two.

I've always felt that comic books are best represented on TV in the form of cartoons, which Marvel hasn't been terribly successful with either. In 2010, Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes premiered on the Disney channel, sporting two seasons based heavily on existing comic book plots, including "Secret Invasion." But the animation was lackluster, and the tone couldn't decide whether it was a kids show, or aimed more at a young adult audience. Then in 2013, it was replaced by Avengers Assemble! which, while still running today, has met with worse reviews, and fans wishing the previous show would return. Marvel's small screen failings seem to come from their lack of dedication. Spider-Man alone has had no less than 8 different television shows of his own, the X-Men have had at least 4, and the Avengers at least 3. Unfortunately, now that Disney has it's cold clammy hands on Marvel's rights, we can expect to see plenty of cash-in ideas. One such idea is Japanese Pokemon/Digimon ripoff, Avengers: Disk Wars in which kids collect disks infused with the powers of members of Marvel comics, and summon them a la Pokemon. There really are no words for that one...

How DC's movies have gone wrong:

Now please do not misunderstand. Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy was phenomenal, and the box office numbers will attest to that. But since the release of Batman Begins, there was never any lasting hope for a Justice League movie, or even any tie-ins at all with other DC properties throughout the trilogy.

Fast forward to 2013, which saw the release of Man of Steel, and at Comic Con 2013, DC blew the roof off when the Batman/Superman logos appeared together on screen. Finally in April 2014, Justice League was confirmed as a movie with a 2016 release date. But is it too little too late? Marvel did something fantastic with it's movies: It told individual stories in such a way that even non-comic readers were able to learn about the characters, and a universe was established over five years. On the opposite end, let's take a look at the confirmed character roster for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice: Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Cyborg, Lex Luthor, Aquaman, Green Lantern, along with rumors of Martian Manhunter, Doomsday, Joker, Catwoman, Green Arrow, Amanda Woller, and on and on... It's pretty obvious that if you want to break records in the box office, you'll need more than just comic book readers to come to your movies, so for a 2 to 2.5 hour long movie, isn't this a bit of information and character overload?! DC is jumping into a race that Marvel won six years ago.

In this case, Marvel is Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps: we all know that whatever they do will be successful, and make us proud to be fans, whereas DC is a fresh high school grad who chugged one too many energy drinks and suddenly thinks he can swim the English channel just to get our attention.

The Flash (premiering this fall on CW)
How DC has dominated television:
DC has ruled over television for well over a decade. In 2001, the live action adaptation of Superman demolished ratings with Smallville. Meanwhile that same year, the Justice League cartoon was scoring big on Cartoon Network, with a clear political/super hero tone that knew it's intended young adult audience and struck big, along with fantastic animation, and engaging plots. Both of these ran their time with huge success, but it seemed like DC started to slip. That is until 2012 saw the release of Arrow, a show not about a grunt, or a c-list character, but a card carrying comic book Justice League member. Between the first two seasons, ratings have gone nowhere but up. Clearly aware of the success, DC is taking full advantage and rolling out three more live action TV shows with a similar action/drama/peppered with comedy tone. This fall will see the rise of The Flash, Gotham, and Constantine. With this, it seems that DC has the chance to sweep Marvel's momentum right out from under them. They have the chance to build and sustain a cinematic universe on a weekly basis, whereas Marvel's movies can take years to make, market, and release, television shows work at a quicker pace, and keep viewers engaged for longer. If DC played their cards right, they could build a Justice League TV series that crushes Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. into the dirt.

What happens next:
Due to the entertainment industry as a whole becoming a cash-in, money making machine, what I'm about to suggest will probably never come anywhere near happening, but I can dream. That said, here is my recipe for success for both of these companies: 

Marvel, stop making TV shows. That ship is sinking. Actually, it has never really been afloat. On the other hand, your movie yacht is cruising just fine. Focus solely on movies, and not only could you make more faster, but with better quality. Oh and by the way, whose idea was it that the Punisher would transfer well into anime?!

DC, you lost in the movies. Trying to amass every character you can into one or two behemoth movies could backfire in one of a thousand different ways. That said, you clearly have some aptitude with television shows, so take a page from Marvel's playbook and build a consistent universe on TV, but you need to walk away from movies. You are years too late.