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Jose’s Fun/Disappointing ’10

Posted by Jose On December - 31 - 2010

Seems like everyone does a “Best of/Worst of” around this time of year. Those are fun, but often there is the sense that people are going with the crowd rather than giving you their own opinion. With that in mind, I wanted to do something different; add my own flare, if you will. Here is what I felt, in my own opinion, to be the three most fun and the three most disappointing aspects in entertainment of 2010.

Most Fun Show: Doctor Who Series/Season 5

It’s not easy to live up to the precedent set by previous seasons/series of Doctor Who. Already going against it was the memorable 2-part finale The End of Time which saw the exit  of head writer and front runner of the new series, Russell T. Davies and David Tennant as The Doctor . To say the show had a lot to live up to would be an understatement. Fans loved Tennant’s portrayal of the Tenth Doctor and to accept someone new as the Eleventh Doctor seemed like an uphill climb indeed.

Thankfully the fifth series/season accomplished so much in its short time that all of these worries were unfounded. Writer of many fan favorite episodes, Steven Moffat was named the new head writer. Playing the new companion was Scottish actress Karen Gillan. And stepping into the TARDIS and the shoes of the Eleventh Doctor was Matt Smith; a trinity that weathered a tough fan-storm and became the foundation for a fantastic series.

Moffat’s scripts were witty and well-told, maintaining a fairy-tale tone he set out to do since the first episode. Minus the “I’m the last of my race, I’m alone” pathos of the previous two Doctors, Matt Smith plays the Doctor as someone with a zest for life who loves a good mystery. Karen Gillan is outstanding as Amy Pond, a character who, unlike previous companions isn’t bogged down by  love for the Doctor.  Rather,  she’s a woman who has waited fourteen years for her “imaginary friend” and is now learning patience has its virtues.

This could have been a disaster of a series considering what it had to live up to from last year, but rather than lowering the bar, they raised it to a different but fun level. Yes, pathos and tragic stories are engaging to watch, but sometimes you have to have fun, too. And that’s the best word I can use to summarize why, in my opinion, this was not only the best show of 2010 but also one of my favorite series/seasons of the show: fun.

Most Fun Comic: Chew

I discovered Image Comics’ Chew early last year. I picked up the first trade, which was conveniently $10 and found a world where chicken was outlawed, the FDA is akin to the FBI, and a man named Tony Chu can see the history of any food he eats. Once they put him on murder cases, I was hooked.

John Layman and Rob Guillory have created a strange, funny and absolutely creative world. I remember the day after I finished the first trade, I rushed to the comic store to pick up any issues I was missing so I would be caught up. I remember being so excited because I had found a comic that managed to be both creative and funny as hell. In every issue I find something that always impresses me. Whether it’s a creative turn in the story like a chef who can only communicate through his cooking, or fun little side jokes like two cops sitting in a bar and the pictures on the wall are all photos from buddy-cop movies, to an assassin rooster named Poyo. Even during the so-called “down time” issues, you can tell these guys are having fun.

That’s the appeal of Chew. Its creators are very much fans of comics like we are, and they go the extra mile to entertain us. They still do letters pages at the end of the comic—a practice I haven’t seen in years—they showcase fan art and letters, and if a book is late, they’ll let you know and apologize in advance. It’s very accessible to the reader. Some people come for the art, some come for the writing, some come for the crazy plots and some come for fan interaction. Either way, you’re going to be happy. And judging from sales and the announcement of a TV show in the future, I can safely say Chew was the best comic series I’ve read throughout 2010

Most Fun Movie: The Expendables

In a year mired by superheroes, wizards, gritty westerns and sci-fi special effects films, you often get caught up in which movies you feel everyone else loves and go with public opinion. That could have easily been Inception, True Grit, Tron: Legacy or Scott Pilgrim Vs The World, but when I think back to what movie I enjoyed the most this year, it boils down to The Expendables.

Growing up in the 80’s and 90’s, I was bombarded with action movies. Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Willis, you name them and I saw them. When I heard there would be an action movie written and directed by Stallone but also starred a plethora of action movie stars from A-List to D-List, I was skeptical. Man, am I glad I was wrong!

The movie centers on a group of mercenaries set up to taken down a dictator in the country of Villena. It’s your standard action movie formula, but why does this work over similar films such as The A-Team, The Losers and RED? It’s all in the fact that it wasn’t played tongue-in-cheek. While it’s not common to say this for an action movie, it was played very straight. This movie wasn’t about parody or pastiche. This isn’t a movie that constantly winks to the audience and revels in how meta it’s being.

To me, it’s the best movie of the year because it does what it sets out to do and tells a simple story: good guys fight bad guys, shots are fired, shit gets blown up and somewhere along the line Stallone’s character earns his soul. I had a great time watching this movie with my buddies and talked about it for weeks. When the DVD came out, I had to own it. It may not be oscar-worthy or have nerd-cred, but at the end of the day I loved the hell out of this movie.

Disappointing Game: (Tie) Dark Void / Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II

It’s hard to narrow down just which game I was disappointed by this year. There weren’t too many I could say were the worst ever, as I don’t play a lot of games, but two I was really looking forward to utterly fell flat on their faces. One fell down to execution and one for length.

Dark Void was a game that hit all the right spots when I saw it advertised: a game that takes you to the Bermuda Triangle where inter-dimensional alien robots in flying saucer-like ships try to come into our world and only a rogue pilot with a jet pack can stop them. Sounds like a fun premise, right? Yeah, well too bad Dark Void loses a lot of that fun with its annoying quick pace and down right boring story. What makes the game disappointing is the fact it feels rushed. When text between loading sessions has to explain key plot points, that’s when you know you have a problem. The game play is all right but controls are sometimes stiffer than an old man on Viagra and you find yourself feeling as though several key scenes were cut for time. There were some solid ideas for a great adventure but in its stead we got a generic video game.

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II has a similar, yet different problem. I loved playing as Starkiller, Darth Vader’s secret apprentice in the first game. With the sequel, and the small setback that Starkiller seemingly died at the end of the first game, expectations were high. We were treated to a story of a clone of Starkiller as he tried to break free of Vader’s control and find his love Juno Eclipse. An engaging story that had me wondering if this so-called clone was actually Starkiller under Vader’s control. So, what made this disappointing, exactly? The length! Folks, just when the game is getting good, just when it’s hitting it’s zenith of intrigue…the game ends! Not only does it end, but it has the balls to leave questions hanging: Are you a clone or are you actually Starkiller? With Vader captured, how does he escape? Will Boba Fett find Starkiller? Normally, I don’t mind leaving things open for another game, but this felt like you got half of a whole story. The game cost $60 and much like everyone else who bought it, we were disappointed to see it end at the point that it did. It felt like everything that preceded whichever ending you chose (Light Side or Dark Side) meant nothing. You went on a journey and halfway through it just stops. All that for nothing.

It’s not a hard thing to please me when it comes to video games, but looking forward to these games this past year and realizing they weren’t living up to their potential makes them a tie for the most disappointing game of 2010.

Dissapointing Comic: DC’s First Wave Line

Oh, DC. You started off with a solid concept: A line of comics putting popular pulp characters from the 30’s and 40’s with early incarnations of DC Comics characters? Waitress, give me some coffee to go with this slice of heaven! This was right up my alley as I’m a fan of heroes from that era, especially the ones they were going to use ; Doc Savage and his amazing five, The Avenger, Rima the Jungle Girl and even The Spirit. DC was going to make me very happy! Sadly, that was not the case. It began with the world shatteringly “Meh” one-shot Batman/Doc Savage, which felt like a dull teaser of what was to come. And while three titles were to spin out of that one-shot (First Wave, The Spirit and Doc Savage) you know what it resulted in? Very little! It’s taken about a year to get 5 issues of First Wave out, Doc Savage is unreadable (with an honorable mention to the just-okay Avenger Co-Feature) and while I love The Spirit, the black and white back-ups are annoying.

What’s most tragic is the fact people were actually excited about First Wave # 1. It got a lot of buzz and gave me hope that a concept like this could work.  Sadly, the six issue mini-series was constantly off-schedule. As I said, it’s been almost a year and we’re just now getting to issue # 5. You’re probably wondering why it’s such a big deal when they have two other books in the line to keep it afloat while First Wave tries to get back on schedule. Here’s the thing…FIRST WAVE IS THE MAIN STORY! You can’t expect people to gain or maintain interest in a story when you don’t release it on time. While Doc Savage and The Spirit have kept their schedules, their books aren’t the main story; their satellite books to showcase the characters that are in First Wave. It’s like having a those annoying direct to DVD mini-movies that come with movies like Shrek and Despicable Me constantly thrown at you because the makers of the main movie couldn’t finish the feature on time; sure, they’re nice and all, but they’re ancillary to the major story. This line had so much potential to be good, but because the publishers couldn’t get the main title out on time, you have to ask one important question: why should I care when you obviously don’t?

Dissapointing Show: True Blood Season 3

Yeah, that’s right, I watch True Blood! I started last December and absorbed the first two seasons. It’s not a bad show. It takes all the trappings of Twilight and adds a nice horror element to boot. I was all caught up and ready for the third season. And yeah, you wanna talk about a case of “The bad outweighs the good.” …look no further than season three of True Blood!

The biggest problem with this season was too many stories going on at once. We had the forced and boring love triangle between Bill, Sookie and Eric. We had Hillbilly Werewolves. Jason Stackhouse wanted to be a cop and fell in love with a Werepanther. Sam finds an annoying half-brother.  Tara, still getting over her grief of losing a man she knew for like a week ends up being the unwilling hostage to a psychotic vampire who just wants to be loved. And so on with these characters. All this and we were introduced to two words fans wished they’d never hear again…Hippy Fairy! Yep, our main character, Sookie is a descendant of a race of Fairies. Yes, folks, it’s HBO!

The sad thing is, there was one great thing about True Blood this season, and that was Denis O’Hare as Russell Edgington, the Vampire King of Louisiana. At first, you think he’s just some silly camp-villain, but once someone he loves is murdered…you do NOT want to mess with him. And if anyone saw the ending to the ninth episode will tell you, this is a man who is not to be provoked. But, even an interesting character such as he could not save the show from dull storylines and improbable decisions made by characters…and yes I’m well aware I just used the word “Improbable” when referring to a show about vampires, werewolves and hippy fairies.

It’s disappointing because there were chances to do something really special this season: there was a chance to do something about the Vampire hierarchy. There were chances to do more with the werewolves. There were some great flashbacks involving the character of Eric. All of this potential was washed away with dull character sub-plots and the need to force drama where there was none. This is the folly of True Blood.

And that, in a nutshell are what I consider to be the most fun and most disappointing bits of entertainment of 2010.  Here’s hoping the next year will lift you up more than it will knock you down!

- Jose

The Social Network

Posted by ron On September - 29 - 2010


Within a Harvard dorm, two college friends will embark on a journey that will ultimately define their relationship and lead to a discovery worth billions.

How much equity is in popularity contests? Apparently, the answer is in the neighborhood of 15 billion. The Social Network was a snarky dialogue driven film allegedly based on the two principle co-founders of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin. When Zuckerberg’s jealous rage and obsession with college fraternities got out of control, academic probation led to the creation of Facebook, a networking website that later established Zuckerberg as the world’s youngest billionaire. Unfortunately, his ascension wasn’t without a few casualties in friendship. Zuckerberg may have redefined networking but in the process alienated every one around him including his best friend, Eduardo Saverin.

Directed by David Fincher, the characters in the Social Network were reduced to personalities within one long internalized dialogue written by Aaron Sorkin. The seamless dialogue was delivered so that words flowed from one person to the next as if one character finished the other person’s thought. Jesse Eisenberg epitomized Zuckerberg’s one track mind and his propensity to act without fear of consequence. He was every bit as convincing as a hopelessly jaded Jewish kid whose explosive insecurities needlessly damaged his relationships. It was hard to empathize with Zuckerberg. He wanted to be sociable. He just wasn’t any good at it. Eisenberg was more than effective at making that point. Perhaps not every thing in life such as popularity can or should be rationalized. Andrew Garfield played the film’s protagonist, suave ambitious business oriented co-founder Eduardo Saverin. It’s extremely difficult to believe what really happened to Saverin and Zuckerberg’s friendship. Garfield depicted Saverin with naive loving nature for his friend, so much that it ultimately was his downfall. Can the viewer buy that he was this naive the entire time? Difficult to say. It was Saverin’s equation that served as Facebook’s search engine. Unlike Zuckerberg, Saverin believed in the idea of beating the odds in life with the terms placed upon them. He jumped into the monotonous games of sororities. Saverin also had something Zuckerberg desired, money. Enter the flamboyant and opportunistic Sean Parker played by Justin Timberlake. No stretch of the imagination, Timberlake played a rock star. He tipped the scales in the favor of leaving the East Coast with the powerful seductive financial strategy: get rich now. Only problem, hedge funds required Zuckerberg to do something very underhanded. The movie needed no visual aids for the ensuing blood bath of scathing insults. By the end of the settlement, neither Zuckerberg nor Saverin could look at each other after all the emotional damage they inflicted upon each other.

Director David Fincher’s direction, camerawork, and Trent Reznor’s incredible soundtrack encapsulated this fantastical story from the cold Harvard dorms to the warmth of the California sunshine that ultimately ended in the cold unfeeling glass room for the settlement. It was a seductive, powerful fairytale and yet, by the end the audience almost felt betrayed by an unfulfilled promise that left one wanting more. What was the real motivation behind Facebook? It’s up to you to decide.

In my never ending tribute to George Thorogood’s One Bourbon, One Scotch, and One beer I am giving the Social Network a very satisfying bourbon because the intelligent aggressive dialogue, the precision and execution by the actors, and the flawless direction to captivate this bizarre tale of one young man’s ride to billions.

Cheers,
Ron

Animal Kingdom

Posted by ron On September - 26 - 2010


Mother knows best in Australian crime film, Animal Kingdom

When an orphaned boy was fed to a dysfunctional family of criminals trapped by their own devices, it’s live to survive in the Australian crime film Animal Kingdom. Meet the Cody family, a narcissistic group of thuggish thieves who pulled off a bank heist so heinous that the corrupt Australian police department has made them out to be more dangerous than the Gotti family. When a random cop crossed the line and drew first blood, the stakes are raised as these criminals caged like animals within their homes plotted retribution that resulted in an all out war between hoods and cops.

Stuck in the middle of this escalating war was Joshua Cody played by James Frecheville, a precocious teenage boy whose mother died from a heroin overdose. Orphaned by his mother, he was taken in by his grandmother played by Jaki Weaver who delivered a surreal performance as a manipulative mother figure. A mixture between past TV characters Mrs. Garret and Livia Soprano, she was both nurturing and ruthless in the face of self-preservation. Guy Pierce lent his star power in a supporting role of a good cop in a bad town. He delivered his best impersonation of Commissioner Gordon. Within this family full of alpha males, Ben Mendelsohn was the Pope, Andrew Cody who was not only the architect of the bank heist but also the revenge plot gone bad main. His paranoia over his actions led to irrational antagonist behavior for most of the tension in the film.

Animal Kingdom didn’t offer any surprises. It’s literally the crime film that followed “An Offer you cannot refuse” to the letter. You can easily draw your own conclusions from the moment a Cody member was killed in cold blood. The acting wasn’t especially memorable and the movie struggled to find to end on some meaningful note. However, it is the one crime film where you never the money or hear the amount taken that every cop in Australia was after. This also might be the first crime film where the criminals did absolutely nothing but sit in their living room watching television and playing Playstation video games for almost a good 2/3rds of the film. In one scene, the young man Joshua left the living room of the Cody family to meet with his girlfriend and her younger brother was playing Playstation as well. If you’re a voracious Tea Party supporter, this film could come in handy to denounce socialist programs because from this film every one seemed to be sitting at home doing nothing.

Animal Kingdom delivered nothing but a predictable plot, uneventful performances, and a contrived ending. In my never ending tribute to George Thorogood’s One Bourbon, One Scotch, and one beer I rated Animal Kingdom a flat warm unsatisfying beer.

Cheers,
Ron

The Exploding Girl

Posted by ron On September - 17 - 2010


All eyes are on Zoe Kazan who played Ivy, a young college girl who is about to learn a tough lesson in being young with a fragile heart.

The Exploding Girl chronicled the events of a epileptic naive college girl headed towards her first major heartbreak during Spring Break in Ithaca, NY. Writer/director Bradley Rust Gray captured the sensitivity of emotionally confused youth without laying a thick coating of cream cheese dysfunctional family syndrome, an exhausted trope ever since American Beauty commanded Oscar gold.

At the center of this character study, Zoe Kazan played Ivy with cute curious complexity. There’s nothing to divulge her thoughts when she was alone but her obsessive cell phone checks. At the same time, her soulmate Al played by Mark Randall doing his best impression of Seth Green needed a place to stay after getting kicked out of his parents’ home in NYC. Young men don’t come as uncomplicated as Al. His role was served as just to advance the character and be there for her till the end. As one might have guessed by now, the man who can’t appreciate Ivy by cheating on her will ultimately nudge her to see her best friend in s new light as a committed lover who will be there for her when she’s in sickness or health.

Romantic films similar to the plot in Exploding never seem to progress beyond the cliche’ difficulty communicating feelings between young people. Even through the marvels of modern technology, the ability to reach someone always leads to yet another cliche’ way to ignore someone and yet, they can’t seem to notice what a jerk one person was over another until the 90 minute mark. In the film’s most therapeutic scene on a secluded NYC rooftop at Dawn, the Ivy finally unleashed a meltdown of tears as pigeons in formation fly around them. Its a sweet release to a tender story about two aimless young hearts finally acknowledging that the best person for them was right in front of them all this time.

In an era where romantic films accentuate career and distractions, this film kept it simple and in some ways it was easier to get through. However, the acting performances were extremely limited by the lack of content to work with. Hence, a beautifully shot and contemplative climax never goes beyond the superficiality of a story that was nonetheless predictable.

In my ode to George Thorogood’s One bourbon, one scotch, one beer I am rating the Exploding Girl a modest beer that is easy and smooth but not anything complex or full of richness.

Cheers,
Ron

Scott Pilgrim Vs the World

Posted by ron On August - 16 - 2010


More than just an exercise in T-shirt culture, Scott Pilgrim might be in over his head if he can’t find a way to defeat all of Ramona’s evil Ex-lovers.

Whether or not you are a gamer, every one can relate to love as a game. Scott Pilgrim vs the world was the 7th level of a no holds barred fight to the finish for the girl you love. Director Edgar Wright took the best elements of Bryan Lee O’Malley’s 6 book series by emphasizing the video game spoofs and clever visual language. For all intents and purposes, the adaptation worked on the cinematic stage.

In a similar set up to Shaun of the Dead, the main protagonist was a slacker, content to simply exist in his small fish bowl world until a crisis threatened to take away the one thing he desperately loved more than garlic bread. Not much of a stretch for Michael Cera to play a self absorbed amoral puppy who often took the path of least resistance when it came to his prior relationships. Cera’s comedic limitations were identified in the scene where his character was so desperate to get dumped, he resorted to racial insults. Without the right comedic timing, the delivery felt awkward. Pilgrim’s love interest played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead captured Ramona Flowers’ reserved, mysterious beauty with poker faced emotionally withdrawn expressions. Is she concealing her emotions for Scott or is she emotionally immune to his charms? The ambiguous nature of her character was necessary to convince us that a reckless young man’s pursuit to capture what was deemed unattainable seemed logical and convincing between two young people.

The more enjoyable super hero movies are attributed to great acting performances by the villains. Have no fear, the performances delivered by each evil ex exhibited their best characteristics and most fun in the film. Balancing the theatrical dialogue with the physical demands, each fight scene was brilliantly choreographed and executed. Even if the viewers didn’t catch all the homages to specific old school video games, they certainly enjoyed the vibrant colors, stunts, and camerawork.

In my never ending homage to George Thorogood’s One bourbon, one scotch, one beer I am giving Scott Pilgrim vs. the World a rating of a great tasting bourbon that provided good times, action, adventure, and a righteous score for the good guys.

Cheers,
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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