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NYCC 2011: Retrospective

Posted by admin On August - 12 - 2012

Rock Stars: Annual Walking Dead panel continues to grow at NYCC but no longer the sole headliner as the Avengers and a rash of video games previewed have transformed the largest purist con into a state fair of geek buffet.

NYCC 2011 Retrospective Part 1: Times are a Changing by Ronald H. Pollock

Every morning at 0715 at Midtown comics, I stand with 4 middle aged men of various successful professions discuss comics. We don’t know anything of each other. We only discuss comics. It’s our unwritten rule. The days of purists are over as “Comic Cons” have become less and less about comics and more of a modern state fair. It’s a reflection of the times, geeks are hybrids of hobbies. Is it better direction? Perhaps for the survival of Comic Con it is but every movement has consequences.

Are video games the key to adapting comic book arcs for purists? If Batman Arkham Asylum series is any indication, it’s the key to the introduction and survival of American story-telling for a new generation.

As NYCC grows and grows, 2011 Comic Convention noticeably shifted more towards media entertainment. The massive billboards, banners, and sets for the franchises of Mass Effect, Max Payne, Uncharted, and Star Wars respectively overshadowed the comic book industry on the main floor like the Towers from Lord of the Rings. Indicative of the times changing. What are Comic Cons today and what does that mean for fans new and old? Is it all bad for the comic book industry or is there something mutually beneficial?

There is No School like the Old School:

The comic book equivalent of Detroit’s Big Three in the American Auto Industry, Marvel and DC resumed their annual dominance, jockeying for position during their expose’ panels. For the 2nd year in row, DC acknowledged and addressed their solution to problems in an industry that has noticeable age lines and receding hair. Fortunately nerds and geeks have maintained their affinity for the elderly who still have stories to tell.

Double Dragons: Jim Lee (left) & Geoff Johns (right) architects of the DCU relaunch new 52 that once again, one upped Marvel comics in creating buzz, controversy, and dissension amongst fans.

In 2010 at NYCC DC addressed rising cost of comic books and launched their “hold the line” campaign. At the cost of 2 pages of pay per issue, all DC titles were kept to $2.99 in an effort to increase or maintain # of units sold. To build on top of “Hold the Line” DC followed up in 2012 with new 52 relaunch. Citing problems with new readers finding it extremely hard to afford a library of knowledge built on stories harkening back to their grandfather, the new 52 relaunch was a call to shorter arcs, less dialogue driven and more artist oriented visual language, and new entry way points with a tweaked characterization that a new facet could be constructed. Most importantly the new 52 gave comic shops the option of refunding certain titles if their sales dipped below a set market value. Unfortunately I found roughly 12 of initial 52 titles to be new reader friendly: Action Comics, Aquaman, Animal Man, Batman, Batman & Robin, The Flash, Green Lantern, Justice League Dark, I Vampire, OMAC, Swamp Thing, and Wonder Woman. Many of the titles suffered from opaque writing styles that either tried too hard to reinvent the wheel or were just plain ugly. Regardless overall sentiment from the fans was positive. While such a bold move, won’t stop collectors from hording free copies like pigs at a trough when the floor opens in the morning each day at Comic Con, I appreciated that DC recognized the elephant in the room.

On the other hand, like a MAC Expo Marvel continued to push forward their new products without blinking or bowing to negativity. They accentuated on the positives, most notably the success of Marvel Studios, the fresh take on a biracial Spider-man and its implications on the industry, and its next releases without any concern over their rising cost or books and products. The excess seemed clear to me, Marvel believed kids have no less disposable income than before. I couldn’t disagree with their methods. Marvel’s business model “Give the fans whatever they want, they’ll spend their money” hasn’t shown to be faulty by their sales records. If Venom or the Scarlet Spider sells 5 times more than secondary character driven titles, why would any businessman deny an addict their methadone in print? The only consequence being, older fans like myself who have collected comics over 30 years felt a little alienated by all the sudden, whimsical changes for the sake of movies that have no consideration for continuity. Their methodology was abrasive but poignant. Counting down to NYCC 2012, once again Marvel boldly shakes up the team rosters of both Avengers and X-men titles. Will this rude shake up detract collectors or their loyalty? Don’t count on it.

What me worry? Quietly, Robert Kirkman and Image comics continues to be the most progressive comic book company in the business, proving the business model you don’t have to draw the largest % of the market but the most loyal.

Lost in the shuffle for who can over saturate the market with Batman and/or Spider-man titles, Image Comics continues to be the most unsung progressive comic book publisher operating today. In 2010 Image comics pushed the envelope with more strong female protagonists in their line of comics. The additions of Hack and Slash and Shinku complimented the heroines in the Walking Dead, Bomb Queen, and Morning Glories. In 2011, Blair Butler crossed the lines of journalism to help promote the freedom of owner driven comics with Heart. The additions of Scott Snyder’s (Batman) Severed, Nick Spencer (Thunder AGENTS) and Kirkman’s (Walking Dead) Thief of Thieves, Johnathan Hickman’s (Fantastic Four) Manhattan Projects and Teeth, and Ed Brubaker’s (Criminal, Captain America) Fatale and upcoming Grant Morrison project will make 2012 Image panel to arguably be the most star studded since the company began more than 20 years ago.

Amazing Spider-man

Posted by admin On August - 12 - 2012

A Beautiful Mind: Andrew Garfield is Peter Parker, a troubled young genius trying to do right during a difficult time in his life.

In the repetitious competitive theme of superhero orphans, the 2nd most renown has to be Peter Parker but it’s only in the Amazing Spider-man do we have a definitive sense of what kind of stock he came from. Most people on the planet know the story of how Spider-man’s unique talents emerged but few know the story about his parents. Director of 500 Days of Summer Marc Webb explored extensively the psyche of Peter Parker to answer the questions concerning where his inquisitive/instinctive scientific mind was derived from, how his emotional attachment and sarcasm was expressed by his internalized expression of anger. Director Marc Webb gave us insight into the young man behind the mask and Spider-man is an after thought until the last third of the film.

 

Actor Andrew Garfield was the latest actor who wore the Spider-man mask. His Peter Parker was more of a sullen, downtrodden young Travis Bickle until his love interest Gwen Stacy played by Emma Stone channeled the complexity of a Marc Webb script that relied heavily on awkward situations, subtle body language, and timing. Their chemistry in the second act epitomized the strengths of Webb’s talents that being young love.

 

The flaws of the film began to cascade once Garfield suited up in the third act to battle the lizard. The leaping transition from a self centered angst ridden teenager bent on revenge to selfless humanitarian outlaw, risking his life wasn’t as secure a grasp for Webb. The Lizard’s clunky plot didn’t make a lick of sense especially after he left Oscorp to set up an open lab in the NY sewer. Webb tried to flex that super hero/NY urban myth camp in that scene but it came off as tacked on. Peter’s compelling need to be the better man was  implied expression of the infamous “With Great power comes great responsibility” line. What was distilled from the equation was the fun of being Spider-man. The swinging became monotonous. Every scene seemed mandatory to get to the end.

 

By the end, The Amazing Spider-man was an improvement over its Raimi predecessor as a Peter Parker origin not as a Spider-man origin. That will hopefully elicit itself in the second film where we’ll finally find out what the Oscorp minion in the limo was going to tell a dying Norman Osborn.

 

The Amazing Spider-man rates a pint of dark beer that isn’t guzzled but rather nursed along in intervals.

Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter

Posted by admin On August - 12 - 2012

Clear and Present Danger: Before he healed the nation, Abraham Lincoln was an axe wielding sociopath by night that paved his way to law school.

Review coming soon…

Prometheus

Posted by admin On August - 12 - 2012

Scream Queen: Noomi Rapace as Dr. Elizabeth Shaw searches the cosmos for a metaphysical connection to God and finds something entirely different from what she was hoping for.

 

Like the Depeche Mode song Black Celebration, human beings search the stars for the scientific explanation of God and paid a horrific price in Ridley Scott’s Prometheus.

 

Not a direct sequel to Alien, Scott created a stunning look to a very average story running congruent to its franchise cousin, alien. In this film, the story revolved around the Space Jockey race that left an iconic space crypt in the famous scene in Alien that left lingering questions for the next 25 yrs. While Scott answers some of the questions of the Jockey’s purpose, it’s writer Damon Lindelof, famous for Lost and Star Trek that adds more questions to the list. How far you’re willing to search for your answers may lead to arguing with your friends regarding the film’s interpretation of genetic recombination and evolution of organic technology. All roads seemed to point to life as the ultimate biological weapon that the Jockeys wielded like gods but what happens when God fails?

 

That’s where the movie switched tracks and the horror element felt forced and pedestrian at best. After 45 minutes of the most intriguing components of space exploration, the trigger that excelerated the film to its third act was nothing more than an act of stupidity none of which was convincing. Alas what came after was elementary.

 

The heart and soul of Prometheus is the theories where science and faith intertwine. Similar territory in Contact but with much more dire consequences.

 

Noomi Rapace

The Avengers

Posted by admin On August - 11 - 2012

The A-team: When the going gets tough, Robert Downey Jr & company get going in the Avengers.

The Avengers Review by Ronald H. Pollock
When the Norse god of thunder’s mis-behaving step-brother Loki, god of mischief returns to Earth armed with a mind control infinity gem, a ruthless alien army, and swipes an artifact of immearsurable power, the hand of a American super spy Nick Fury, director of SHIELD was forced to assemble a freaky Homeland Security version of neighborhood watch, called the Avengers.

The movie itself wasn’t far from the initial concept that Marvel sold for 12 cents back in 1963. Discovering a new way to market some of their landmark characters from various titles by creating an All-Star team to boost sales even further. That business model hasn’t changed a bit today. Marvel studios produced individual character driven films starring Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America to construct/develop this fantastical comic book world of heroes. The Avengers is the culmination of all these character driven films, now under one roof.

In the past studios, fans and the media have always talked about a super hero team movie but it has been very hard to fathom this possibility because technology, character introduction and development, story, and tone always seemed to be a bridge too far. For long suffering comic book fans ages 35+ a “good” super hero team film was a difficult have faith because of a long history of misfires and horrific attempts. So it’s no surprise that there was an underlying feeling of skepticism.

Director Joss Whedon credited as the father of fan driven TV shows such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, and Dollhouse did arguably the best job any director could have done. He captured the tone without cheesy winks to the camera, gave all the headliners their due while getting the most out of secondary characters such as the Black Widow, made the third actor to play Hulk relevant, and placed his faith in Tom Hiddelson as Loki to serve as the chain, grease, and spit to all of these moving parts.

For a thirty year comic book collector, the Avengers is the pinnacle of super hero movie making in terms of capturing the qualities of a comic book that being action, imagination and merging it with themes in more serious dramas such as empathy, acceptance, dysfunction, and emotion. It’s the emotional residual of differences put aside to serve a higher cause that inspires both comic book and non-comic book fans alike. That is a more difficult task than it looks. Nonetheless, Marvel has done what many would have said, was impossible.

The Avengers rates a fine wine of 5 yrs for fond memories, punch, and good laughs with friends.

 

The Hunger Games

Posted by admin On August - 11 - 2012

The Hunter or Hunted? Jennifer Lawrence plays the girl on fire and the eye of affection of potentially 2 suitors.

Take the military draft, TV reality game shows blender them together with sprinkles of films like Logan’s Run,  Running Man and out pours this purée called the Hunger Games.  Its been often said, its not whether or not you win or lose but how you play the game. In The Hunger Games how you play the game, translates to how you win or survive. A dystopian future that suppressed hope and change through social media culture and more importantly made a statement about how the public perceives things juxtaposed against the realities of this world.

 

Since her father died Katniss Everdeen, the film’s main patriarch developed a tom boy attitude and a temper to match. A fancy name for a not so fancy girl played by Jennifer Lawrence lived in District 10, a mining town that more closely resembled a shanty town. When her younger sister was drafted into the Olympics of death more affectionately referred to as the Hunger Games Katniss volunteered, hoping it would give her sister a chance for a longer life than hers.

 

As with any youthful, angst ridden vehicle, there must be a male foil. In the Hunger Games there are two.  One is Peeta, a bakery’s son of untapped talent and strength. He’s both Katniss’ foil and her more even keeled emotionally balanced equal. There’s nothing in the film to indicate how the son of a baker was never as Naive as Katniss about the Hunger Games in terms of how the games are won.

 

 

 

Not having Katniss’ inner thoughts.

 

The flaws of the Hunger games was never more apparent than Peeta who is supposed to be a living chameleon of personality.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Posted by sean On August - 26 - 2011

Poor Bumblebee is at a loss as to how a beloved franchise came to this.

The walking, talking junkyards, the Transformers, grace us with their return in the threequal, Transformers: Dark of the Moon.  While many have been waiting with anticipation for their next battle, all of the explosions and crashing metal fail to sugar-coat this desecrated property.

 

Michael Bay’s latest orgasm of destruction follows the Autobots’ struggle to save Earth yet again from the Decepticons, pulling in Sam Witwicky (Shia Lebeouf) and his Victoria-Secret-model girlfriend, Carly (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley) as their new fight stems from a cover-up involving the moon landing and the plan to revive the dead planet of Cybertron.

 

The plot lacks the abundant number of gaping holes that littered the previous entry, but it’s nowhere near perfect.  It’s still farfetched, even for a movie with giant robots, with the motives behind the choices of both hero and villain inconsistent and illogical, such as the Decepticons wiping humanity out despite their plan to enslave them and the Autobots allowing thousands to perish to prove a point.  However, before the film even gets to the story, Bay opens with thirty minutes of plot-irrelevant, brain-numbing humor that desperately forces you to laugh with silly gags involving cameos from John Malkovich and Ken Jeong.  On top of that, the director treats the first act like the spawn of a car and lingerie commercial, throwing in sweeping images of hot rods and zooming so closely on Huntington-Whiteley’s ass, you’re afraid the director might perform a colonoscopy.  While these are trademarks of his, it leaves little time to make Sam and Carly’s relationship seem genuine outside of him being jealous of her boss (Patrick Dempsey).

 

Of course, Bay is renowned for his expert hand at special effects, and Dark of the Moon is no different.  The CGI hits an all-time high in detail.  The robots bear a realistic gleam in their parts as well as the dents and scratches they suffer in combat, all of which blends extremely well with the on-location shots and live detonations.  At times, it is a bit difficult to take in all the work that went into the animation with the action moving at a swift pace and so much cluttered into a single frame, especially during the climactic battle, but when things slow down long enough, you can fully absorb the visuals.

 

But just like the leading lady, unfortunately, the Transformers are portrayed as just something pretty to look at.  Little depth is given to support the amazing graphics, a crime against those who put in the countless hours creating them.  Optimus Prime is at least given an arc throughout the story involving his mentor, but his companions rely on what the audience knows from the previous films to get any sympathy from them.  Even Bumblebee, whose friendship with Sam played a huge role in first film, has little to do, and when the Autobots are an inch away from death, their lack of background snuffs out any sense of dread for their demise.  Any new characters introduced are left as caricatures that depend on the viewer’s familiarity with stereotypes, such as a vulgar Irish robot.  Unlike the controversial Mudflaps and Skids from Revenge of the Fallen, they’re not on screen long enough to be as annoying.

 

Transformers: Dark of the Moon is like going to the dentist to get your tooth pulled only to have the Novocain wear off.  For all of its flare and no substance, Dark of the Moon is a bitter, flat beer that fails to numb the pain of what you have just witnessed.

-Sean

Season of the Witch

Posted by ron On July - 6 - 2011

Now showing Blair Witch 3 Crusader's march of fools.

Innocent blood spilled, two knights of the Crusade abandoned their posts as merchants of death in the name of God only to find that they have begun a journey through plague ravaged towns that could lead them to redemption or eternal damnation. Season of the Witch starring Nicolas Cage and directed by Dominic Sena won’t challenge Lord of the Rings or Army of Darkness for cult status because it’s not trying to be anything more than a straight forward tale that has been told in one form or another.

This film was about how faith can screw with your moral compass. However it takes itself as seriously as a morning cartoon. It romanticized the endless battles of the Crusade to near comical levels. The two main characters are having an entire conversation as they swung swords wildly with CGI in the background. Do they even suffer a scratch? Does it really matter now that Nicolas Cage will say yes to any project in order to pay his debt off? No.

Perhaps the biggest plot hole in the entire story revolved around why Cage as Behmen decided to abandon his quest for God. Seemed implausible that a man who slaughtered hundreds of Moors would finally wake up after the death of just one innocent. Yet, after the death of a few traveling strangers he’s ready to kill what may be an innocent girl who may or may not be a witch.

Fortunately, Ron Perlman has a lot of experience in playing second fiddle to stiffer leads. His performance brought the lowbrow fun as the first Crusader to drop F-bombs in the 13th century. As Felson, his devil may care personality desensitized the audience to its predictable discourse. The other components of the cast stayed within the skeleton of a thin plot.

It didn’t take long to figure out whether or not the girl was a witch and while Season of the Witch wasn’t a bad film, its crime was not being terribly memorable. However as a late night 3am alternative on Netflix streaming or Cable TV, it’s the perfect multi-tasking distraction in the background.

Season of the Witch rated as a decent cheap beer so long as it doesn’t cost you anything it shouldn’t hurt you very much.

Cheers,
Ron

Piping hot filth!!!!

The Rocketeer

Posted by Jose On June - 14 - 2011

We’re a month away from the release of Captain America: The First Avenger and currently in the middle of a comic book adaptation renaissance. And if fortune couldn’t smile upon us comic fans any further, we have a rare opportunity to look back at a time when adaptations weren’t money in the bank. It’s time to take a look back at a time when director Joe Johnston directed a movie based on a comic hero taking on the Nazi menace that wasn’t Captain America. Today we  look  at his first effort… The Rocketeer. Does it hold up today? Does it honor the comic it was based on? Does looking at this make you feel confident about his next film?

The film centers around Cliff Secord, a stunt pilot who relies on his best friend/mechanic Peevy and his girlfriend Jenny to get him through the day, that is until he finds an experimental rocket pack.

Half the fun of this movie is seeing Cliff learn how to use the rocket pack. A pilot by trade, Cliff’s expertise is learning to control a piece of machinery to fly through the air. Once he puts on the rocket pack he is the machine. And through the use of visual effects and the score by James Horner, when Cliff puts on the rocket and first takes flight, you believe it even when he crash lands in mud.

The other fun half of this movie? The villains. Where as a film of this nature would give you one villain for our hero to overcome, this film gives you three! We have Eddie Valentine played by Paul Sorivino. Valentine’s a mobster whose gang is hired to steal the experimental rocket pack. As world famous actor of the silver screen, Timothy Dalton plays Neville Sinclair who is, in reality, a Nazi. Aiding his boss’ agenda is the deformed henchman Lothar. While Valentine and his goons seem to be a Maguffin simply to get the rocket to where Cliff is, both Sinclair and Lothar all the more enjoyable by the fact they’re based in some reality. Neville Sinclair’s character is a nod to the rumor that  Errol Flynn, star of stage and screen might have had ties to the Nazi party. Lothar’s physical appearance is a loving tribute to Rondo Hatton, B-movie star.

Like most movies at the time, the superhero alter-ego was usually saved for one big battle towards the end, and this film is no exception. The name “Rocketeer” is an invention of the newspapers when Cliff first puts on the helmet to save a friend in an air show earlier in the film. As the film progresses and Cliff realizes the importance of keeping the rocket out of the Nazi’s hands and eventually the Rocketeer comes through.

The cast is pretty good considering it was a lesser known character. You buy Billy Campbell as a young man who has the best of intentions but keeps screwing up. Alan Arkin as Peevy is very much an Alfred/Q character but the friendship he has with Cliff seems genuine, almost fatherly. Of course Jennifer Connelly is a knockout in this film as Cliff’s girlfriend Jenny. In a role that could’ve been nothing more than a damsel in distress, Connelly gives Jenny ambition. She’s a college girl with aspirations of becoming an actress.  But Timothy Dalton steals the show. His portrayal of a suave, charming actor hiding a dangerous secret is so hammy and over the top you can’t help but love it.

Before Jennifer Connelly set the record for playing females with issues, she was just a damsel in distress

Sadly, the film is considered to be something of a punch line considering how badly it bombed against expectations. It had to compete with Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, City Slickers and of course, Terminator 2: Judgment Day; given the competition, it was no wonder the film didn’t perform as well as Disney would have hoped. And this is the biggest tragedy of this film. It’s so fun you wish it would have done better to see the story continue.

Another problem the film has is that it was part of a wave of failed pulp hero films that tried to start franchises. With the success of Tim Burton’s Batman, everyone wanted to try the superhero bandwagon. But with effects being what they were at the time and licensed characters being harder and harder to come by due to legal issues, Hollywood started mining lesser known characters. It started with The Rocketeer and continued with films like The Shadow, The Phantom and finally The Mask of Zorro. Although, to be fair, Zorro’s film made money and was a moderate success. All of these movies were fun films to see with the family, but sadly not enough families went to see them.

Strangely, twenty years after The Rocketeer, director Joe Johnston will release another film about a young man who dawns a costume to take on the Nazi menace. Okay, so instead of calling them Nazi’s it’s Hydra and instead of a rocket pack, the main hero has a shield, but the coincidence is staggering. Looking at The Rocketeer, it gives The Captain America film more of a hopeful vibe. Johnston knows how to incorporate action and a sense of wonder to the nineteen-thirties setting. This time he has a bigger budget and a more well known character, so time will tell if it’s a bomb or not. But, when July hits and you go to the theatre to see Captain America: The First Avenger, why not check out his first attempt to tackle the superhero genre. In fact, do it as a double feature. You’ll be pleased with the results.

The Rite

Posted by ron On May - 30 - 2011

Forgive me father, for I have sinned. I mailed in yet another performance for a buck.

The son of an Undertaker tried to scam the clergy for free education but ended up getting more than he bargained for when he interned with an exorcist. The Rite was the perfect cinematic instrument of faith that served as an entertaining commercial for joining the ministry of faith. While it was based off a true story, battling demons had little to do with one’s relationship with God but it most certainly sold an entertaining lifestyle of traveling to Rome, taking classes in the apple store looking Vatican classrooms, and fighting demons under the Tuscan sun.

As the reluctant protagonist, Actor Colin O’Donoghue was more form than function. Taking the cloth to the GQ extreme, his pretty boy cynicism was an easy sell but he undersold the transition to a reluctant believer. Hiring established thespians, Anthony Hopkins, Rutger Hauer, and Toby Jones to serve, as lynchpins didn’t hurt either in trying to make the film more appealable. However, their roles are foreplay to the center of the story, which has to little do with faith and has more in common with the prequel to the Exorcist.

Converting the cynic is nothing new but the story telling and acting was fresher in 1408.

Jan Mikael Håfström, director of 1408, tried to tell a tale about the trouble in men’s souls but there’s just too much eye candy between O’Donoghue and Alica Braga. Like any story based off truth, too many distractions from Michael Kovak’s relationship with his father ended up making the story cliché on top of being formulaic. The camerawork repetitive and effects nothing of the extraordinary. In essence, there’s just not enough material in the Rite to substantiate it as a movie. Hence, there’s not enough to write about the Rite.

The Rite rates as a beer with no defining characteristics that would make you want to order another any time soon.

Cheers,

Where's my straw goddam it?

Ron

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Thoughts on Cinema is dedicated to film reviews. An uncompromising opinion on the intellectual, artistic, and entertainment value to the consumer. With rising ticket prices, we dedicate ourselves to present to you content regarding what you should or should not be viewing. -Ronald H. Pollock Founder and Editor in Chief

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