Saturday, June 29, 2013

Continuity, Schmontinuity

Disney/Pixar's Monsters University premiered in theaters last week. It's a prequel to Monsters, Inc., telling the tale of how Mike and Sully first met in college.

Hmm... college you say? Let's roll some footage from Monsters, Inc., shall we?


Ehh, who cares about continuity when there's half a billion dollars in box office receipts to be made?

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Why Do They Call Them Comics: B.C.

Apparently when Peter wears a top hat it creates an airtight, hermetic seal around his head.

It Came From The Cineplex: Man Of Steel

Man Of Steel is Hollywood's latest attempt at making a Superman movie, written by Christopher Nolan (writer and director of Inception and The Prestige) and David S. Goyer (writer of Dark City and Blade) and directed by Zack Snyder (director of 300 and Watchmen). With a pedigree like that, this should have been the greatest Superman film of all time. It ain't.

I still think 1978's Superman The Movie is the best Superman film ever made and one of the best superhero films in general. It isn't perfect of course, but it gets far more right than wrong and those filmmakers obviously understood the character and treated him seriously.

Man of Steel was made by people who are quite obviously embarrassed by the source material. They're embarrassed by the mythology, they're definitely embarrassed by the costume and they're even embarrassed by the name Superman (he's only called that once in the entire film). So why even make the film then? Let people who know and love the character make a Superman film.

The trailer raised some red flags in my mind months before I ever saw the film. Pa Kent telling young Clark he should let people die to protect his secret, the horrible looking Superman costume and the interrogation scene in which Lois Lane is interrupted before she can give Clark the name "Superman" all worried me. The fact that it was co-written by Christopher Nolan (who directed all three no-fun Dark Knight movies) didn't fill me with much hope either. Sadly, my intuition was right.

I could forgive the film its many, many flaws if they'd have just gotten Superman right, but they totally missed the point of the character. Superman is a hero and a protector. He always does the right thing for the right reason. He's someone the common man can look up to. He's not a tortured, brooding mope as he's portrayed here.

It's definitely a good looking film and there's plenty of action, but this is not a Superman movie. It might have been better if the film had been called Dooperman and told the story of a brand new superhero. It still wouldn't have been particularly good, but at least it wouldn't have been the complete failure that it is now.


The Plot:
The film opens with a video game cut scene depicting the planet Krypton. Scientist Jor-El discovers the planet is about to explode and decides to put his infant son Kal-El into a rocket and send him to Earth to save him. The plot needed more complications though, so he somehow stuffs the Codex (which is the DNA of the entire Kryptonian race, or something) into baby Kal-El. Before the rocket takes off though, General Zod appears and demands Jor-El hand over the Codex. Jor-El refuses and Zod kills him, sending ripples of dismay and anger throughout fandom. Zod and his followers are placed inside giant dildos and banished to the Phantom Zone. Jor-El's wife Lara then sends Kal-El off into space and Krypton explodes.

Cut to Clark Kent traveling the world as an aimless drifter, trying to "find himself" while occasionally saving people and posing shirtless. Every time he looks at anything we get a flashback to his childhood and see Pa Kent telling him to always hide his amazing powers lest the public find out he's an alien. He very coincidentally finds an 18,000 year old Kryptonian scout ship hidden under the Arctic ice. He meets reporter Lois Lane while they're both coincidentally snooping around inside the ship. Inside the ship, a hologram of Jor-El answers all his questions and coincidentally gives him a pair of Kryptonian long johns to wear.

The ship sends out a distress call which attracts the attention of General Zod, who, to no one's surprise, has escaped the Phantom Zone. He heads to Earth and demands Clark hand over the Codex, or something. The two engage in some incredibly destructive battles which kill thousands of innocent people. Finally, after Metropolis has been virtually flattened, Clark/Superman decides to save the day by snapping Zod's neck. Everyone's saved! Except for the thousands that were killed during the battle. Now that I think about it, it probably would have been better if Superman never came to Earth at all.

At the end of the film Clark Kent decides to adopt the secret identity of Clark Kent (though it seems too late for that at this point) and gets a high-stress job in a dying industry.

• The actors are all well cast and do the best they can with what they have to work with. Russell Crowe in particular does a great job as Jor-El.

Michael Shannon makes an incredible Zod as well. Zod even looks like a comic book character come to life, like someone Jack Kirby would draw.

Henry Cavill does a decent job as Superman, but he's no Christopher Reeve. It'll be a long time before any Superman actor will ever own the role the way Reeve did.

• Once Superman tries on his off-putting new costume, he goes through a (very) brief learning period in which he makes a few super-powered leaps before finally learning to fly. We see his face beaming with sheer joy as he soars through the sky. Enjoy this scene while it lasts, because it's the last time he'll display anything remotely resembling happiness for the rest of the movie. This isn't your father's Superman, laws no. This is a grim, gritty and angsty Man Of Steel who takes no joy in his powers.

• The film is pretty much a loose remake of Superman The Movie and Superman II. Why is it so hard to come up with an original Superman story? If they need inspiration there are 75 years worth of comics from which to draw. I guess we should count ourselves lucky we didn't get another rehash of the "Lex Luthor Real Estate Scam" plot, which has already been done twice.

• Nolan and Goyer have needlessly complicated a very simple story. Kal-El is sent to Earth as Krypton explodes. Under Earth's yellow sun he gains super powers and becomes Superman. That's pretty much all we need to know. 

Here though we've got all kinds of stuff about a Codex, Superman carrying the DNA of the entire Kryptonian race in his genes, an ancient Kryptonian scout ship, Zod wanting to restart his race and terraform Earth… there's just way too much troweled on.

And hey screenwriters, I agree that "codex" sounds like a cool and mysterious alien term. But you do know that it's a real word that just means "book," right?

• We're told that Kryptonians are genetically engineered for specific roles in their society. Zod was bred to be a warrior. Jor-El was presumably bred to be a scientist. Shov-El was born to be a ditch digger. OK, I made up that last one. But despite the fact that he was bred for book learnin,' Jor-El somehow beats the ever-living crap out of Zod in hand to hand combat.

• Zod kills Jor-El before the destruction of Krypton. This is a huge deviation from the comic, as traditionally Jor-El and Lara have tearfully watched their infant son fly to safety and then died in one another's arms. This change totally destroys the "God sending us his only Son" metaphor and robs the film of some much needed emotion. 

The only reason I can think of for the change is so Superman will have a personal grudge against Zod, which wasn't necessary. He just needs to stop Zod, he doesn't need the old "this time it's personal" motivation.

• When the Kryptonian Council sentences Zod and his followers to the Phantom Zone, they encase them in capsules that look shockingly like gigantic black dildos. Giant flying black dildos. Just look at those things! They're freakin' x-rated! They couldn't possibly look more like giant penises if they tried! It's like they pulled images out of a sex toy catalog. I can't believe that not one single person on the set looked at these props and said, "Um… is there another design we can use here?"

Additionally when Clark is wandering around in the abandoned Kryptonian ship, all the doorways look suspiciously like giant vaginas. Apparently the fact that Kryptonians no longer give birth naturally has turned them all into a bunch of sexually-repressed pervs.

• The filmmakers decided to show us Clark's childhood through flashbacks instead of a normal linear narrative. We're given very little info as to how his foster parents found him and decided to raise him as their own son. It's almost like they're banking on the audience's knowledge of previous versions of the story to fill in the blanks. Bad form! Saying "Eh, you already know this part, let's skip ahead a bit" is lazy writing.

• The government finds a Kryptonian scout ship that's been buried in the Arctic for 18,000 years. Clark sneaks on board and activates a hologram of Jor-El, which gives him a lesson in Kryptonian history that lasts two minutes but feels like it goes on for fifteen. When you need Russell Crowe to stand in front of a screen and infodump the plot to the audience, that's probably a sign you've made your storyline too complicated.

• At the end of the history lesson, Fake Jor-El provides Clark with a suit that just happens to have their family crest on the chest. Whaaaaa? How the hell did that happen? Why would a ship that crashed on Earth centuries before Jor-El was even born contain a suit with his name on it? I suppose I can be generous here and say Fake Jor-El used the ship's replicator or something to make a suit for his son. Or maybe he's handy with a needle and thread.

• The filmmakers have been apologizing for this dark and dingy new Superman costume ever since the first images of it leaked online. I already expressed my dislike and distaste for it earlier, so I won't go into it again except to say I hate everything about it.

Superman's traditional red trunks in particular seemed to give them fits, as they said they weren't realistic and couldn't justify including them. Because a man who can fly and bounce bullets off his chest is perfectly reasonable, but a man who wears red trunks over his tights-- well that would be absurd. 

They seemed determined to come up with a reason for the suit to exist at all. In fact I get the feeling they'd just have soon had him wear jeans and a t-shirt. Why they're so obsessed with explaining this particular part of the mythos and no other, I have no idea. They don't try to explain why he can fly or fire heat rays from his eyes. But why he wears a costume-- gods yes, that must be justified, and it minute detail!

Their "brilliant" explanation for why he wears the costume? It's a traditional Kryptonian undergarment that all Kryptonians wear beneath their armor or robes. So basically Superman is wearing long underwear. Wearing red trunks over his suit was ridiculous, but wearing long johns in public apparently makes perfect sense.

• Now and then we cut to the Daily Planet, where we see that editor in chief Perry White is now a black man, played by Laurence Fishburn. Hey, why not? Let's update everything for the new millennium! Why should Perry White always be portrayed as a bloated old white man? Now he can be a bloated old black man! Progress! 

"Don't you EVER let me catch you using your powers to save anyone, Clark! You let those weak assholes drown just like they deserve to!"
• In flashbacks, Pa Kent constantly warns young Clark to never reveal his powers to the world. He even bitches at him for saving a school bus full of kids from drowning, saying that "maybe" he should have let them all die rather than risk exposing his alien origins.

What. The. Hell.

This is definitely not the Pa Kent I know. He's supposed to be Clark's moral compass, the person who instilled his values into him. The one who taught him to always do the right thing. Now he's telling him he should let innocent victims die? Worst. Role. Model. Ever! 

Pa fears that if the public finds out Clark's an alien it'll change the world. Bull hockey. It wouldn't change a thing. If tomorrow morning CNN announced unequivocal proof of the existence of aliens, the public would pay attention to the story for about ten minutes before going back to the drudgery of their dull lives. Most people already believe in aliens, so I don't see how Clark's existence would cause any kind of upheaval.

Pa Kent feels so strongly about this that he lets himself be killed by a tornado rather than allow Clark to save him and reveal his powers. This was without a doubt the stupidest scene in the entire film. There was absolutely no reason for him to die as there were at least a dozen ways Clark could have saved him. Hell, Clark could have zipped out from under the overpass, grabbed him and zipped him back to safety while any witnesses were blinking. I'm sure Pa's death was meant to be a heart-wrenching, tragic scene, but the sheer stupidity of it negated any sense of emotion it might have had. Instead of feeling sad that he died, we're left thinking about what a complete and utter idiot he is.

In Superman The Movie Glenn Ford memorably plays Pa Kent in a couple of brief scenes. In that film Pa dies of a simple heart attack and Clark, even with all his powers, is helpless to save him. There's about a thousand times more honesty and emotion in that scene than in this entire film.

• I'm not sure, but I think I might possibly have picked up on some very subtle Christ imagery in this film. Jor-El pontificates that he's sending his only son to Earth, where he'll save humanity. Clark Kent shows up at a church, backlit by a glowing stained glass window. When Superman is on Zod's ship, Fake Jor-El tells him he can "save us all," as Superman spreads his arms wide in a beatific pose and floats majestically out into space. Clark is 33 years old when he becomes Superman. I'm sure there're more instances but I probably missed them while rolling my eyes so hard I sprained them.

• Clark and Lois have absolutely zero chemistry in this film. Are they even supposed to be in love here? If so I surely didn't get that impression. They seemed more like brother and sister to me, or maybe even third cousins. Snyder is good at action and blowing things up, but he's sorely lacking at directing emotional scenes.

• Great confusion surrounds the effect that Earth's environment has on Zod and his minions. In past movies, Earth's yellow sun gives Kryptonians super strength, pure and easy. Of course it can't be that simple in this film. Here it seems that sometimes they have super powers and sometimes not, depending on the whim of the writers.

Earth's atmosphere is poisonous to Kryptonians so they wear special masks in order to breathe. The masks also seem to keep our yellow sun from supercharging their sense of sight and hearing and overwhelming them with input. Yet Zod and his posse seem to possess super strength even when wearing their masks. So I guess their suits allow the yellow sun rays to get through, but not air? Your guess is as good as mine.

• Zod deploys two "world engines," whatever the hell those are, to terraform Earth into a new Krypton. One engine is located directly above downtown Metropolis while the other hovers over the Indian Ocean. The Indian Ocean that's devoid of human life. Guess which one Superman attempts to destroy first? The one over the heavily-populated Metropolis, right? Lord no! That would be stupid! He goes after the one over the ocean, miles from any populated area. Meanwhile the engine over Metropolis violently destroys several city blocks and kills tens of thousands of people. 

The film offers a very weak and vague explanation for this, having something to do with the Army attempting to shoot Superman's bomb-rigged baby crib/spaceship (don't ask) at the Metropolis engine while he goes after the other one, but… it seems like there had to be a better way here.

• Why does Zod want to terraform Earth into a copy of Krypton anyway? On Earth a Kryptonian has the powers of a god. The atmosphere isn't compatible with their lungs, but they can obviously adapt to it over time as Superman did. Given the choice I think I'd leave Earth as is and keep my superpowers.

• Unintentionally hilarious moment: After a truly epic and destructive battle in downtown Metropolis, Superman defeats Zod and his rogue Kryptonians. One of the characters says, "Superman saved us!" In the background we see the decimated ruins of Metropolis, which look like the aftermath of a thousand 9-11s. Bravo, Superman!

• Once we stop laughing at the unintentional hilarity, Zod gets his second wind and starts up the fight again, as he and Superman battle over the city and cause several billion dollars in property damage. 

At least I think that's what happened. Half the time I couldn't tell what the hell was going on during the battle. The characters were zipping around the screen so fast I couldn't tell who was punching who. Snyder's patented Shakey-Cam™ didn't help matters any.

Superman fought Zod way back in 1980's Superman II and although those filmmakers did they best they could with the technology they had at the time, the battle scenes were somewhat lacking. Still, I'll take them over these new scenes any day. At least in the old movie I could tell what I was looking at. I know, I know, things were better in the olden days. Get off my lawn!

• Zod pauses during the battle and says, "There's only one way this ends, Kal-El. Either you die or I do." Um… I don't know how they do things on Krypton, but here on Earth that's two ways.

• Not really cons, but observations: During a battle at a construction site, Zod throws Superman into a sign that says "It's Been 143 Days Since Our Last Accident." As Superman hits the sign the numbers fall off it so that it reads "0" days. Com-O-Dee! Kind of odd to go for some comedy relief during a battle that costs the lives of thousands of innocents, but what do I know?

At one point Zod throws a LexCorp tanker truck into Superman, indicating that Lex Luthor apparently exists in this world (and is no doubt hard at work on a real estate scam).

Superman and Zod briefly take their battle into space, where they slam into an orbiting satellite that says Wayne Enterprises on the side. So apparently Batman exists in this world as well. I can't wait for he and Superman to team up in some future movie. Two mopey heroes for the price of one!

• This battle, while truly epic in scope, underscores one of the biggest flaws in the film: this version of Superman is not a superhero. He accidentally calls Zod and his minions to Earth. He fights them in a battle that wipes out his hometown of Smallville. His battle with Zod completely destroys Metropolis. Thousands of people die as a result of his actions. And to top it all off he murders his nemesis. He's a complete and utter failure as a hero. Superman is supposed to be the protector of Earth. People are supposed to look up to him, to feel safe when he's around. This Superman is a public menace. Earth would have been far better off if he'd never arrived.

Hey, but he saved Lois a couple times, so all is forgiven!

• At one point in the battle Zod gives a heartfelt speech saying he was bred to be a warrior and he does the unpleasant things he does to protect the Kryptonian race. A race which he loves and for which he would die. I actually felt bad for Zod here and almost came around to his point of view. It's never a good sign when the audience starts siding with the villain of your movie.

• At the end of their battle Zod lies defeated. He makes a last attempt at revenge by attempting to kill an innocent family with his heat vision. Superman grabs Zod's head and holds it in place to try and keep the heat beams from reaching the family. Zod must really be exhausted at this point, because he apparently forgets that he can simply move his eyes. All he has to do is glance slightly to the right and he'd be able to fry the family.

Superman is also apparently tired because it never occurs to him to maybe cover Zod's eyes. Or to even blind him. Would his heat vision still work if he was blinded? Or even better, how about simply flying away with him?

• Now we come to the most infamous and divisive part of the film. Seeing no alternative, Superman snaps Zod's neck in order to end his threat. This is the point where the movie totally lost me. I wasn't crazy about the film up to that point but thought it was at least somewhat tolerable. Sadly, the killing scene completely turned me against it.

Superman does not kill. At least the Superman I know and love doesn't kill. I don't want to know a Superman who kills.

And I know someone's going to point out that Superman has indeed killed in the comics before. I am aware of that. He did it in the early, formative days of the character before his personality had been fleshed out and I'm sure he's done it recently in today's rape and blood-soaked comics. But for many, many decades he swore to never take a life. That's the Superman I want to read about. A Superman who kills is just plain wrong. He's got the powers of a god. It's like a kid stomping on an anthill. What kind of a hero kills people who are helpless to defend themselves against him?

"Oh my god, I've just murdered another being. What kind of monster have I become? Hey look, it's lunchtime!

To their slight credit, the filmmakers do have Superman howl in anguish at what he's done. But then thirty seconds later he's back to normal, the whole unpleasant (and game-changing) business forgotten.

Supposedly Zack Snyder says the reasoning for this scene is that Superman needs to understand how it feels to kill so that he can then vow to never take a life. Jesus Jet-skiing Christ! Did he really just say that? Please tell me he doesn't really believe that!  I guess the lesson here for the kids out there is that killing is wrong, but you can't understand just how wrong until you experience if for yourself. And do drugs too kids, so you'll know how bad they are before you give 'em up! 

• At the end of the film Superman destroys an unmanned drone that the government was using to spy on him. Army General Swanwick asks how humanity is supposed to trust him if it can't keep a watchful eye on him (which isn't an unreasonable question, considering what he's done). Superman says, "General, I grew up in Kansas," which I guess is supposed to imply that he stands for Truth, Justice and the American Way.

Whoops! So he doesn't want the government spying on him, but he just told them where he grew up. He might as well have given them his Zip Code and Social Security Number while he was at it. Apparently super-intellect isn't one of his powers.

• There's time for Clark to have one more soft-focus flashback before the film ends. He remembers back to when he was a kid and tied a red towel around his neck and ran around his yard like he was flying. Just who the hell was he pretending to be here? It's implied very strongly that Superman's the first superhero in this world-- so he can't be imitating anyone else. Somehow he's pretending to be a persona he won't discover for another twenty years or more.

• At the end of the film Clark takes a job as a reporter (wearing glasses!) at the Daily Planet so he'll have access to dangerous situations without arousing suspicion. 

That is until six months from now when the corporation that owns the Planet lays off 65% of their workforce in order to placate the shareholders. Could he have picked an occupation that was any more doomed? I know he's traditionally always been a reporter, but this is one part of the mythos that's due for a change. TV reporter, blogger or something. Anything but a newspaper reporter.

Additionally no mention is made of the widespread destruction Superman allowed/caused, nor acknowledgement of the hundreds of thousands of innocent victims. Who cares about that? It's a brand new day!

• Why the hell does Clark wait until the end of the movie to finally adopt a secret identity? He's been walking around as Clark Kent his entire life with no attempt at wearing a disguise or hiding his identity. He then appears to the world as Superman, also with no disguise. It shouldn't be too awfully hard for anyone to realize Clark and Superman are the same person. Pretty much anyone with at least one eye could do so. Lois obviously knows who he is. If Perry White has any sense he'd know too, as he saw Superman up close. Pete Ross back in Smallville knows. Probably the entire town of Smallville knows (if anyone's still alive there after the battle). Why bother with a secret identity now? The horse is not only out of the barn, it's down the road and into the next county.

A dark and dour Superman movie that's ashamed to be a Superman movie. Allowing him to kill was the final nail in the coffin for me. Excuse me while I go watch Superman The Movie again to get the taste of this one out of my mouth. I give it a C.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Four Years Cable Free!

Me: "Hi, my name's Bob and I'm Cable Free."

Cable Anonymous: "Hi, Bob!"

Me: "It's been four years since I've watched a show on cable TV."


Yep, today's the fourth anniversary of the day I finally decided to ditch cable TV!

There's not much more to say that I haven't covered in the previous three years, other than I'm glad I did it, I haven't missed a thing and if you've ever thought about cutting the cord yourself I encourage you to do so.

Please don't get the idea that I'm some kind of Luddite or one of those hipsters with a weird beard who rides a Penny Farthing bicycle and still uses a typewriter. Nothing could be further from the truth. 

I still watch TV, but I do so on my terms. I've got a big ol' pile of DVDs to watch and I also occasionally watch things online, like Doctor Who and The Walking Dead. So now I can watch what I want, when I want and I don't have to sit through twelve minutes of Flo trying to sell me insurance during a half hour show.

I've been hearing good things about the Roku box lately and I've been seriously thinking about getting one. I don't know though... I have a lot more free time now that I stopped suckling at the teat of Cable TV. I'm afraid all that extra time will evaporate if I'm suddenly given hundreds of viewing options again. I'll have to think it over.

In the meantime, I'll say once again that if you've ever entertained the idea of getting rid of cable your own self, go for it! You probably think that you'll be missing something, but I guarantee you, you won't. The Pawn Stars and Duck Dynasty guys will get along just fine without you.

Begun, This Marriage Has

This past weekend a radiantly jubilant George Lucas married his longtime girlfriend Mellody Hobson. The ceremony was held at Lucas' Skywalker Ranch north of San Francisco, and close friends report he couldn't be more effervescently ecstatic about the event.

It's the second marriage for the positively giddy Lucas, 69, and the first for Hobson, 44.

Something tells me the ebulliently mirthful Lucas has a good feeling about this!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Man In Black

No, not Johnny Cash. It's the other type of Man In Black. The one with the aliens and the spying and the black helicopters and the flyable (say it like Jerry Lewis).

Not sure if he's using his ray gun to wipe someone's memory, or eliminate some witnesses, if you know what I mean.

I deliberately made all the colors here very pale and washed out, and then made the ray gun very bright and vibrant so it would pop. Why? Um... because stop asking questions, that's why.

Here's the original pen and ink sketchbook doodle.

And here's the tighter digital sketch. It's pretty close to the final drawing, with the two exceptions. In the final drawing I changed the angle of the ray gun so it's more level, and I enlarged his head quite a bit because the proportions were bugging me. That's one of the advantages of working digitally!

The Man in Black was drawn in Photoshop on the graphic tablet.

Secret Supervillain Lair?

It would seem I've stumbled across something I wasn't meant to see-- a local super villain constructing his ultra secret lair. The dastardly evildoer appears to be building some sort of spherical time machine inside the building. Thank goodness I found it in time, so I can report it to the proper authorities.

I'm sure it has to be a time machine. What else could it be, right? It's the only thing that makes sense.

Or perhaps it's some sort of teleportation chamber? One he can use to materialize the contents of bank vaults into? Or dinosaurs! He may be using it to teleport dinosaurs from the past, so he can turn them loose on the city and then use the resulting chaos as a distraction so he can rob the various vaults around the city!

Oh Jesus. I just accidentally wrote the Man Of Steel sequel. Sorry, guys.


"Welcome to our fine establishment. Now get the hell out!"

Take a close look at this door. Closer. Closer still. Even closer! Notice anything missing? How about the complete lack of a handle, knob or any other means of prying it open? There aren't even any visible hinges!

Maybe it's like one of those puzzle boxes. They want to keep the riffraff out and only those smart enough to figure out how to open the featureless door can get in?

Spotted at the riverboat casino here in town. No, I do not frequent the casino, as I don't have any money to spare to flush down the crapper while playing craps. It's next to the trail I walk every weekend that winds through town.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

It Came From The Cineplex: This Is The End

This Is The End is a new comedy written and directed by Seth Rogen and his frequent collaborator Evan Goldberg. This was the first time in the director's chair for them both.

This is the third collaboration between Rogen and Goldberg; the two previously wrote Superbad and Pineapple Express.

I'm pretty sure we're witnessing movie history here. Many actors have made cameo appearances as themselves before, but I don't think there's ever been a film in which the ENTIRE cast has played themselves.

It occurred to me while watching the film that, fan of them or not, these guys are Hollywood's new Rat Pack. Rogen and Franco are Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, Jonah Hill is Joey Bishop, Craig Robinson is Sammy Davis Jr. and Jay Baruchel is Peter Lawford. There's even Emma Watson as Shirley MacLaine!

Funny how there are currently two movies in the cineplex in which a group of people are holed up in their homes in order to avoid chaos and death outside. The Purge came first and is a miserable and unqualified failure. Fortunately This Is The End came out much better.


The Plot:

Actor Jay Baruchel (played by Jay Baruchel) comes to L.A. to visit his old friend, actor Seth Rogen (played by Seth Rogen). The two go to a riotous house-warming party thrown by actor James Franco (played by James Franco) at his palatial new home. 

During the party the biblical Apocalypse begins, signaling the end of the world. Only a handful of the actors survive, holing up inside Franco's home waiting for rescue that never comes. Eventually they're forced to flee the home and have to figure out a way to get themselves Raptured before it's too late.


This Is The End is a novel idea in filmmaking-- a comedy that's actually funny. Hollywood oughta try that more often (I'm lookin' at you, Hangover trilogy!).

• I was pleasantly surprised that they skipped the done-to-death zombie outbreak and alien invasion routes and went with the biblical apocalypse. That's something you don't often see in mainstream Hollywood films.

• Some fun surprise cameos that I won't spoil here.

• There's kind of a Ghostbusters feel to various demons and monsters in the film. That's a good thing.

• Kudos to the actors for having the guts to poke fun at their images (much to their various managers' horror, I'm sure). It's a risky move on their parts. They're all playing exaggerated versions of themselves, but the general public won't know that and will likely think this is exactly how they really act.

Danny McBride deserves special credit for allowing himself to be portrayed as a complete asshole and the villain of the piece.


• Drags a bit in the middle.

• I'm definitely no biblical scholar, but it seemed awfully easy for the guys to get Raptured up into Heaven at the end. Apparently just one selfless act during the Tribulation is all it takes to make up for a lifetime of sin.

• At one point the gang runs out of water and they attempt to chisel through the floor of Franco's home to reach a supply in the basement. Um… maybe I missed something, but don't most homes have a interior door that leads down to the basement?

Franco did say he designed the house, so maybe this is an example of his architectural handiwork.

• Missed opportunity: at the end of the film James Franco is captured and eaten by cannibals. There should have been a scene in which one of the cannibals tears off Franco's right arm and waves it around, while Seth Rogen says, "Ooh, that's ironic."

• Giant devil penis.

A fun concept that makes for an actually funny comedy, something pretty rare these days. I give it a B.

Out Of Context Mary Tyler Moore Moment

So I'm watching the Mary Tyler Moore show today and this happened:


Boundaries, Mary, boundaries! This is the workplace after all. You're making poor Murray uncomfortable and creating a hostile work environment.


Great, now the whole newsroom's gonna have to go down to Human Resources and spend the day in a seminar.

This post gets a rating of four Disapproving Mary Tyler Moore Show Ladies. That's bad, by the way.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Super, Man

Look, up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's Superman! And he's wearing proper red trunks like he's supposed to!

This illustration had a long and tortuous journey from my mind to the screen. I first sketched it out about four or five years ago, then stuck it in a folder and promptly forgot about it. With this year being the 75th Anniversary of Superman plus the new movie coming out, I dusted it off and finally finished it.

Originally this was going to be a generic superhero rather than Superman. He was wearing a red suit with a yellow cape and trunks. I hated that color combo though and went through dozens of others without success. Finally I decided I was working so hard to not make him look like Superman that it would be far easier to just give in and go for it. So now he's Superman.

The clouds were kind of a happy accident. Originally the background was just gonna be clear blue sky, but I thought that looked too plain and bare. So I decided to add some clouds. I figured it would take me all day to draw decent looking ones but I started doodling around with a fuzzy brush and miraculously got them right on the first go. It was a Fonzie moment-- I looked at them, realized I couldn't improve them, spread my hands thumbs up and said, "Ayyyyyyyy." OK, so I didn't really do that, but I thought about it.

I tried to draw and paint more loosely here than usual and let the brush strokes show. For some reason that's a big struggle for me-- I tend to draw everything tight and precise. It's looser than normal here but I still don't think it's loose enough. I need to keep at it.

Lastly I meant for it to appear as if the viewer is on the ground looking up as Superman flies overhead. Hopefully it reads that way and doesn't look like a side view.

Supes went through many looks until I finally settled on one I could live with. The one on the left was the original digital sketch I did. The middle one is the more detailed and fleshed out digital sketch. As you can see he was looking a bit chunky here. The image on the right is the color version, based on the middle sketch.

I was about 90% finished with this version when I decided I hated it. I don't know if it was the doughy proportions or what, but I just couldn't stand it. So i started over.
I did a few more digital sketches and finally settled on this one. He's quite a bit sllimmer here.

I tried some different lighting effects in this illustration as I really wanted to make it look like the sun was filtering through his red cape. I had no idea how to paint that though, so I did something rare for me-- I took some reference photos. I actually went outside on a sunny day and shot some photos of a Superman action figure to see how his cloth cape looked in the sun.

My attempt to capture that effect came out OK, but it's not perfect. I can live with it for now though.

Superman was drawn in Photoshop on the graphic tablet.

It Came From The Cineplex: The Purge

So far Summer Movie Season 2013 is a big bust as far as I'm concerned. Big budget blockbusters are premiering every weekend but as yet none have succeeded in connecting with me. Sadly, The Purge continues that trend.

The Purge was written and directed by James DeMonaco, the writer of Skinwalkers, Assault On Precinct 13 (the remake) and Jack (the one where Robin Williams is ten years old but looks like Robin Williams). Now that's an eclectic resume. Not a good one by any means, but boy is it eclectic! 

The basic concept of the Purge-- a society in which all crime is legal for one night a year-- is an intriguing one. Sadly the idea is wasted on a bland and pedestrian home invasion story. Imagine if instead of the script we got we'd have followed a group of characters trying to find shelter in a city during the Purge. Then maybe we'd have had something.

We get little or no information as to the origins of the Purge and precious few of the rules, as if the director isn't interested in how this world works or how it got this way.

The only real rules we're told is that the use of weaponry above Class 4 is prohibited and Level 10 government officials are off limits. I assume that means no using nukes against the President.

What the hell is this film? A satire? A black comedy? Horror film? It seemingly tries to be all of these, but doesn't go far enough in any category. It could have been a scathing commentary on our society-- the One Percent vs. The Poor or the Tea Party Taking Over, but instead it's just a dull, listless film that doesn't mean a thing.

The Purge had a budget of just $3 million dollars, less than what some movies spend on their craft service. Maybe they should have spent a little more and sprung for a decent script. It definitely looks like a low budget film; there are few if any special effects and no prosthetic makeup to speak of. In fact the whole thing seems like a SyFy movie that was released to the theater by mistake.

Hollywood loves these low budget blockbusters (think the interminable Paranormal Activity series) because they make an incredible profit on them. Don't be surprised if Universal greenlights The Purge 2 soon.


The Plot:
The year is 2022. One night a year America celebrates The Purge-- an event in which any and all crime is legal for a period of twelve hours. 

On the night of The Purge, the Sandin family is hunkering down inside their spacious and secure home. Their idiot son deactivates their security system to give shelter to a Homeless Man. Later a group of young psychopaths who were hunting the Homeless Man show up, demanding the Sandins turn him over. Chaos ensues, there's lots of blood and death and little sense.


• Honestly, I got nothin.'

• The entire concept of The Purge brings up so many questions. We're told that all emergency services are suspended during the event. So if your appendix bursts or you have a heart attack, I guess you're just sh*t out of luck. What if your house catches fire for non-Purge reasons? Or you're in an auto wreck? Too bad for you!

Think of the millions in property damage that would occur as a result of The Purge. Broken windows, vandalized cars and homes, arson-- it would take months to clean it up and sort it all out.

I can only imagine the hundreds of thousands of lawsuits that would arise from such a situation. Or would Purge-related lawsuits be prohibited? We'll never know, as the screenwriter couldn't care less about the specifics of his own concept.

• So all crime is legal during The Purge, but the movie ignores every illegal act except for murder, which of course is the least interesting thing it could do.

Think of all the things they could have touched on that would have been way more interesting. What about embezzlement? Hack into your bank, transfer millions into your account and boom! You're rich and no one can prosecute you. Or steal a new car from the auto dealership. You could rape, pillage and burn with no consequences whatsoever. You could even illegally download all the music you wanted!

• As The Purge begins we see the Sandlin family cowering inside their home, hoping to wait out the event in safety and seclusion. Why risk it? Why not just pack up and leave the country during The Purge? The Sandlins are obviously rich, surely they could afford four plane tickets to Paris.

Or is The Purge a world-wide event? I doubt it, as all the newscasts keep saying it's the brainchild of "our New Founding Fathers." Are American citizens allowed to leave the country in 2022?

• The Purge is a nationwide event, but once it begins we're stuck inside the Sandlin home. Keeping the film locked down inside one location becomes absolutely claustrophobic after a while, and a waste of the entire concept.

• This is one of those movies that can only work if every character acts like a complete and utter idiot. If everyone had displayed even an ounce of common sense here's no way the plot would have been able to proceed.

First there's daughter Zoey's boyfriend Henry. Zoey's father James has forbidden her from seeing her boyfriend because he's a couple of years older. Henry's solution to this dilemma is to shoot James during The Purge. Did he even once think this plan through? "There ya go, Baby! I fixed everything. Now we can see each other all we want! Do you still love me now that I killed your father?"

Then there's the Sandlin's weirdo son Charlie. He watches the video monitors and sees a Homeless Man being chased down their street and decides to deactivate the goddamned security system to let him in. Let me repeat that: During an event in which the public is encouraged to kill one another, he lifts the steel doors and windows protecting them to let a complete stranger into their home.

I must say when James finds out what his son did he takes it better than I would have. I'd have lifted the security doors one more time-- to throw son Charlie outside on his ass.

Then there's daughter Zoey. After her father kills her psycho boyfriend Henry, she runs off and hides somewhere in the darkened home, putting herself at risk of accidentally being shot by her parents.

It's honestly hard to feel anything for these characters when they act so ridiculously stupid. I was on the verge of rooting for them to die.

• After the Sandlins let the Homeless Man inside their house, a group of young masked psychos shows up. It seems they were hunting the man and are quite put out that the Sandlins are sheltering their "prey." The Psychos give them an hour to release the Homeless Man or they'll breach the Sandlin home and kill everyone inside.

So the Sandlins took away the Psychos' "prey." Big deal! Go find another homeless guy to kill. Surely there's more than one in this city? 

• James Sandlin's occupation is selling advanced home security systems designed to withstand The Purge. Unfortunately for his customers and for James himself, his security systems are laughably inept.

First of all, the Psychos cut the power to the Sandlin home. Not much of a security system if it can be disabled by cutting the electrical line leading to your house. The security system still works (on batteries!) but it seems like the regular power should be protected somehow as well.

Then when the Sandlins fail to release the Homeless Man, the Psychos get a truck and somehow tie a chain to the front door and pull it off the house, allowing them to enter. As part of the security system, the front door was covered by a thick steel door. It had a couple of window slits in it, but was otherwise perfectly smooth. There was no doorknob, hinges or protrusions. So how'd the Psychos attach a chain to it?

• The director fails miserably at giving us a sense of the space of the house. I have no idea how many rooms there were or where they were in relation to one another. This may not seem like that big a deal, but compare it to a film like When A Stranger Calls. The director of that movie was very careful to give you a complete sense of the layout of that home. You knew exactly where you were and what rooms were around you at all times.

• Late in the film the Sandlin's neighbors show up to kill them. The neighbor characters all seem like they're in a completely different movie, acting in a very broad and satirical manner. It makes it hard to take the movie seriously when the characters aren't.

When you've got a premise as unlikely as this one, your actors need to play it absolutely straight in order to sell the reality of it. Letting them go over the top as they do turns the whole thing into a farce. 

• The neighbors' motivation for wanting to kill the Sandlins was a little sketchy as well. They're jealous that James has enough money to build a new wing on his house. That's it. That's apparently reason enough to murder an entire family. Damn, what would they do they do if they let their grass get too high, draw and quarter them?

I get that the neighbors feel James got rich by preying on their Purge fears and selling them all high-priced security systems, but big deal. He didn't force them to buy, did he?
• Did anyone NOT foresee the Homeless Man coming back to save the Sandlins?

But why would he? Earlier in the film they came very close to handing him over to the Psychos and Mrs. Sandlin even stuck a letter opener into his open wound to torture him!

• We're told several times that one of the benefits of The Purge is that it lets citizens release their frustrations. What frustrations? I get that the poor would have plenty, but other than the Homeless Guy we never see anyone from that side of the tracks. All we see are a bunch of rich and privileged white people who live in expensive homes and shouldn't have any reason to feel frustrated.

• The film tells us that in 2022 unemployment is at an impossibly low 1%. This is due to the rich surviving The Purge because they can afford to protect themselves behind reinforced doors, while the poor become prey. Apparently the screenwriter believes the solution to the unemployment problem is to "decrease the surplus population." Just like Scrooge said!

Trouble is our society needs the poor in order to function. Without low-paying service jobs, who's going to serve us our McBurgers? Pick up the trash? Stock our shelves? Sweep up school kids' vomit with red sawdust?

I think the screenwriter has a fuzzy idea (at best!) of economics.

An intriguing concept that's absolutely wasted. Muddled, confused and claustrophobic. I give it a D+.
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