Wednesday, July 31, 2013

It Came From The Cineplex: The Wolverine

Finally, a decent movie comes out of Summer Of Duds 2013.

The Wolverine is a vast improvement over 2009's X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which I admit is damning it with faint praise. Although the movie is firmly set in the X-Men universe, Wolverine is most definitely on his own here, having little interaction with his fellow mutants. Maybe that helped set the film above its predecessor.

It's got an impressive pedigree, as it was written by Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual SuspectsJack Reacher) and directed by James Mangold (Cop LandWalk The Line and 3:10 To Yuma). The film was delayed several times, most notably when original director Darren Aronofsky bowed out and also due to the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, where much of the movie was shot.

This marks the nineteenth time Huge Ackman has played the clawed superhero, and… hold on… I'm being told that this is the sixth time he's played him, counting the cameo in X-Men: First Class. I guess it just seems like nineteen times.

The film is based more or less on the 1982 Wolverine miniseries, written by Chris Claremont and drawn by Frank Miller. One major difference between the two-- in the comic Wolverine was well versed in Japan and its culture, while in the movie he's much more of an outsider. I'm assuming they did this for expository reasons-- so the characters could explain things to Wolverine, and therefore to the audience as well.

There's supposedly some controversy over Famke Janssen's cameo appearance as Wolverine's deceased old flame, Jean Grey. Critics are saying the scenes with Grey, clad in naught but her lingerie, are gratuitous and unnecessary. Jesus Christ, people.

First of all, every time he "saw" her he was in bed dreaming that she was with him. What the hell else should she wear in bed?

Second, America's suffering from racial tension, a government that's blatantly spying on its citizens and a major city in bankruptcy, and people are wringing their hands because Jean Grey's wearing a goddamned nightie. Pick your battles, people.

Kudos to whoever designed the movie poster. It's nice to see a poster featuring actual art for a change, instead of the usual Photoshop cut & paste disasters.

By the way, if you see the film be sure to stick around for a few minutes after the ending for the awesome mid-credits scene. You won't be disappointed! 

Speaking of after credits scenes: why is it that 99% of the audience flees the theater the instant the film ends and misses these scenes? Every week I see people crouch down like runners against the starting block and the second "The End" flashes on the screen they bolt out of the theater like sprinters! What the hell's the hurry? Is there a helicopter in the parking lot waiting to whisk you away to Washington so you can discuss the state of the economy with the President? Sit the hell down for five minutes!

Make of this what you will, but at the showing I attended, 90% of the audience was female. Mature females who didn't seem like the type that would normally enjoy a super hero action film. I have to assume they were there to see Huge Ackman's dreamy abs.

SLASHING SPOILERS AHEAD!

The Plot:
In 1945, Wolverine is being held in a prisoner of war camp in Nagasaki. As the Americans drop the atomic bomb, he saves the life of a young officer named Yashida by shielding him from the blast with his own body.

Cut to the present day where Wolverine is hiding out in Alaska. He's tracked down by Yukio, an employee of his old friend Yashida, who's now CEO of one of the biggest corporations in the world. Traveling to Japan, Wolverine learns that Yashida is dying. Before he goes though, Yashida offers to remove Wolverine's mutant healing power, giving him a chance at a normal life and an eventual death. Wolverine turns him down.

Wolverine then meets Mariko, Yashida's granddaughter. Mariko's father Shingen is enraged that Yashida is leaving his entire fortune and the corporation to her. Shingen kidnaps Mariko and Wolverine vows to rescue her. However, his healing power has mysteriously vanished, leaving him to face hoards of ninjas and super powered mutants without it.

Wolverine eventually recovers his powers, but in order to save Mariko he has to get past the Silver Samurai, a gigantic cyborg made of indestructible adamantium.

Pros:
• Huge Ackman IS Wolverine. He's become the character every bit as much as Robert Downey Jr. is Tony Stark/Iron Man. I can't imagine anyone else playing the role.

• It was interesting to see Wolverine reacting to the loss of his healing powers. In particular I liked his surprise when, after chopping up a tree, he gets tired for the first time in his life.

• I liked the Yukio character (the badass Japanese ninja girl with red hair) quite a bit. I'm sure it won't happen, but I wouldn't mind seeing her stick around for the next film.

• We've seen train-top fights many times before (just a few weeks ago in The Lone Ranger in fact), but I don't think we've ever seen one on top of a bullet train traveling two hundred miles an hour. Some have denounced the scene as hokey and subpar, but I thought it was pretty cool.

• Nice to see a film take some chances with the main character for a change. Wolverine gets his metal claws hacked off, leaving him with his original (sub par) bone claws. I'm sure he'll get the metal claws back at some point, but it was a bold move on the part of the studio (in a time when studios are generally afraid to take any chances at all).

• LOVED the mid-credits scene! I won't spoil it here, except to say it's awesome and works to great effect. Fox is apparently taking a cue from Marvel Films and using the credits to set up the next film.

I will point out one little detail-- while waiting in line at airport security, Wolverine sees a TV commercial for Trask Industries, advertising their recent advancements in technology while showing an animation of a robotic hand. As readers of the X-Men comics well know, Trask Industries invented the Sentinels, giant robots that hunt down and kill mutants. A very cool little touch. And no doubt a harbinger of the Big Bad in the next X-Men film.

Cons:
• "The Wolverine" has got to be one of the worst movie titles in recent memory. When it comes to awful titles, I think only the Fast & Furious films come close (THE Fast And The Furious, 2 Fast 2 Furious, and the incredibly original title Fast & Furious).

• No Stan Lee cameo! Maybe he's only doing them for Marvel Studios these days?

• When we first meet Yashida, he's a young army officer in a 1945 prisoner of war camp in Nagasaki. As American planes drop the atomic bomb he helps evacuate the camp, even setting the prisoners free (!).

That was certainly considerate of Yashida, but not bloody likely. The Japanese of that era were not well known for their hospitable treatment of prisoners. Read The Rape Of Nanking sometime.

• In the present day, Wolverine goes to Japan to visit Yashida, who's now dying. Old Yashida rests in a sophisticated medical lab, lying on what appears to be a high tech bed of nails. Parts of the bed rise and fall to help him hold up his head and arms. It looked really cool, but I have to wonder how comfortable it could possibly be.

• Yashida has somehow deduced that Wolverine is weary of his immortality and offers to help "end his suffering," offering him a normal lifespan and eventual death.

First of all, when did we all decide that Wolverine is immortal? Long-lived, yes. Immortal? That's news to me. Maybe I need to watch the previous movie again.

Second, Yashida hopes to remove Wolverine's healing factor and secretly make it his own. He apparently believes immortality is like a baton in a relay race, to be handed off to the next runner. I don't think it works quite like that.

• One last thing about Yashida. How the hell does Wolverine remember him? Didn't he get shot in the head and lose his memory in the previous film?

There's a story going around the interwebs that Huge Ackman and 20th Century Fox realize that X-Men Origins: Wolverine kind of... oh, what's the word... sucked! In fact they believe it sucked so badly that they're pretending it never happened, and want the audience to do the same. I have to assume that's how Wolverine is able to remember Yashida here.

Well guess what, Fox-- you released the movie, you promoted it, you sold it to the public three times (in theaters, on DVD and Blu-Ray) and you happily pocketed whatever money it generated. So it exists and it counts, whether you like it or not.

• Another action movie with the patented Shaky Cam™ fight scenes. Half the time I couldn't tell what the hell was going on or even who was fighting who. Who thinks this filming style is a good thing?

• Once Wolverine's healing power is suppressed, why aren't his hands a constant bloody mess? Every time he uses his claws they pierce his skin as they slide out between his fingers. Normally his healing factor would seal the wounds almost instantly, but now he has no such power. He oughta have three bloody, gaping wounds on each hand. I never once saw a drop of blood on either hand the whole time his power was suppressed. 

Speaking of blood and claws, for a movie about a guy with knives in his hands who mercilessly claws at people, it's surprisingly bloodless. Almost chaste in its bloodlessness. Damn you, PG-13 rating!!!

• I've often wondered why no one ever shows Wolverine's claws working properly. Whenever he slashes at something it's usually simply cut in two. That doesn't make any sense. He has three claws on each hand. If he slashed at something, like say a lead pipe, it wouldn't be cut into two halves. There'd be FOUR pieces.

• This movie should have been called Wolverine: The Ringing Of The Swords. EVERY time someone picks up a sword, dagger or even a penknife, a high pitched tuning fork sound issues from it.

This has been going on in films for many years now (I'm lookin' at you, Lord Of The Rings trilogy), but it's especially over the top here.

In fact it's so prevalent that it probably seems wrong if someone picks up a sword in a movie these days and it doesn't ring!

• At the end of the battle with Silver Samurai, Wolverine pops out his bone claws. The way it's filmed suggests this is supposed to be a big reveal, but he had the bone claws at the beginning of the film when he was trying to climb out of the prisoner of war pit. He also had them in the previous film before he got his adamantium injections. Maybe I just imagined the big reveal part.

• Speaking of bone claws… they're a natural part of Wolverine's mutant body. His metal claws are just the bone claws coated with indestructible adamantium. However, his bone claws are thick and lumpy, while his metal claws are smooth, razor thin blades of machined adamantium. Apparently we're supposed to believe that those thick, knobby, bony claws are somehow housed inside the sleek metal claws. Nope!

I also don't get how bone claws would be a formidable weapon. Wouldn't they just shatter the first time he tried to cut anything with them? Bones snap all the time.

I can't blame the movie for this one though. This cockamamie idea first sprang up in the X-Men comics back in the 1990s. During the Dark Times. It was a stupid idea then, and time hasn't mellowed it any.

• So Wolverine's claws and his skeleton are made of adamantium, a metallic substance that's supposed to be indestructible and unbreakable. Except, apparently, by more adamantium. Silver Samurai slices off Wolverine's claws with a sword made of super-heated adamantium. I guess it makes sense, but I thought it was worth pointing out.

• After Wolverine defeats Silver Samurai, he rips off the cyborg's helmet to reveal his old friend Yashida inside. Yashida says, "Don't look so surprised, Logan." Indeed! Did anyone NOT see that one coming? The second I saw that Silver Samurai had a face-obscuring helmet I knew Yashida would be inside. It's Superhero Movies 101.

A surprisingly decent outing and a vast improvement over the previous film. I give it a B.

Skin Deep

Saw this guy, freshly out of his old skin, resting on my garage door this morning.

Fortunately I've only seen three of four of them around here this summer. No "Seventeen Year Cicada Invasion Force" consisting of literally millions of them like some areas of the country experienced recently.

I don't know if you can see it in the photo, but his shed husk consists of the body, the six intricately jointed legs... and the eyes! I get all the body and legs part, but how the hell do you shed the skin on your eyes?

And before you bring it up, I'm aware that my garage door frame needs painted. What can I say, my duties here as CEO of Bob Canada's BlogWorld keep me very busy.

I'm A Grown Man And I Bought This: Pacific Rim Action Figures

Straight from the new movie of the same name, it's Pacific Rim action figures!

They're made by NECA, a company who's been tearing it up lately when it comes to movie-based toys. Their stuff is always very well sculpted, actually resembles the source material, is painted well and is reasonably articulated.

The only real complaint I have about them is the price, but that's a problem shared by all action figures today. The days of figures costing five bucks a pop (as they did in the mid 1990s) are long gone.

Wave 1 consists of two Jaegers and one Kaiju. A second wave will be released later in the year if sales are good.

First up is Gipsy Danger, the main Jaeger (pronounced "Yay-ger, which according to the film is German for hunter) in the film. Gipsy Danger is the American Jaeger.

Then there's Crimson Typhoon, the Jaeger from China (Heh, the robot's from China and the figure's no doubt made in China as well. Com-O-Dee!).

And lastly, the Kaiju codenamed Knifehead (for obvious reasons). "Kaiju" is Japanese for strange or giant beast.

One thing before I open them. The way they spell "Gypsy" here is bugging me no end. 

There's no way I can look at that spelling and not pronounce it "Ghip-see," as in rhymes with "Nipsey." This isn't a typo either; it's spelled this way on every piece of promotional material I've seen and even on viewscreens in the movie!.

And yes, I'm aware that "gipsy" is the preferred spelling in England, which makes perfect sense since this is the American Jaeger.

Anyhow, here's Gipsy Danger freed from its plastic prison. The sculpting looks pretty accurate to the film. As near as I can tell, that is.

This is how you're most likely used to seeing the Jaegers, courtesy of Photoshop.

In the film, every single one of the Jaeger vs. Kaiju battles takes place at night, in the pouring rain. I can only assume they did this because they were counting on the rain to obscure the CGI and make it look better, a trick first used way back in the 1999 American Godzilla movie. I'd have thought we'd have advanced beyond the need for such crutches by now, but apparently not.

One thing I wish they'd done is add a little bit of wear to the paint job. In the film these weren't brand new giant robots that just rolled off the assembly line, they'd been around for years and seen many battles. That's a minor gripe though. I could probably scuff them up myself if I had the time and the inclination.

By the way, good luck to anyone who ever decides to cosplay as Gipsy Danger, what with its legs that are longer than its torso. You'll have to have your leg bones lengthened!

Overall it's not a bad figure, but the articulation is a bit lacking. The head seems like it's supposed to turn, but I can't for the life of me get it to do so because of the "hood" thing on the back. The shoulders are ball jointed (good) but the pin-joint elbows move about a grand total of three degrees, if that (bad). Why even bother if that's all they're going to move? The wrists turn too (good).

One strike against this and all the figures: They come with absolutely zero accessories. It wouold have been nice if they'd included an interchangeable "wrist cannon" hand like the one in the movie. Or the chain sword! Why the hell didn't it come with a chain sword? That sword's a pretty big deal in the film.

The hips are ball jointed, the knees bend adequately, and the feet bend and twist. He's got a waist joint too, so he can turn from side to side.

Be careful when posing these figures, especially the Jaegers. The arms and legs have an alarming tendency to pop right off. Fortunately they pop right back on again. 

A light up feature in the chest would have been nice, but these things were expensive enough without adding electronics to the mix, so never mind.

Here's Gipsy Danger in the obligatory "Bigfoot walking" pose.

There's supposedly an 18" version of Gipsy Danger coming out later this year. Cool, but god knows how much that'll cost.

Next is Crimson Typhoon. In the film the Jaegers are so massive (I don't know if they ever said exactly how tall, but they're the size of skyscrapers) that it takes two people to pilot them. Crimson Typhoon here is manned by three pilots, triplet brothers from China. Hence the third arm.

I read on the internet (so you know it's true!) that NECA used the actual CGI files from the film to model the figures, so I suppose the accuracy is spot on. It's hard to tell though, because Crimson Typhoon didn't get a lot of screen time in the movie.

It's got pretty much the same articulation as Gipsy Danger, but with a few extra joints in the satyr-like legs. Oh, and his head moves around quite freely.

Watch that rear right arm though-- on mine it pops off very easily.

Last up is Knifehead, one of the Kaiju from the first battle we see in the film. 

I had no idea that Knifehead had four arms or a tail until I saw this figure. Unfortunately you don't get a very good look at him in the film, due to the aforementioned darkness and downpour in the fight scenes. I'll have to take NECA's word for it that he actually looks like this. 

Most of the Kaiju in the film were designed by Wayne Barlowe, who's been drawing bizarre but oddly plausible aliens for decades now. Track down a copy of Barlowe's Guide To Extraterrestrials sometime. You'll be glad you did!

Knifehead's kind of become the official Kaiju of the movie, the one featured on most prominently in the promotional materials. I kind of wonder if he's an homage to Guiron here, from Gamera vs. Guiron? That's a knife head if I ever saw one!

Sadly, poor Knifehead has the worst articulation of the lot. The shoulders and elbows on his upper arms move, but his smaller lower arms are forever frozen in place. His hips and knees move a bit too.

He's got a bendy tail as well, that doesn't really bend all that much. It's got a wire inside, but it doesn't seem to hold poses very well. Mostly I think it's there to keep him from falling over backwards.

Knifehead has one more point of articulation-- his jaw. It opens and closes slightly so you can make him bite the crap out of your Jaegers.
 
Seems to me like the bifurcated forearm would just make his limbs weaker, but what do I know about interdimensional evolution?
 
"I say there, Knifehead old boy, prepare yourself for a good drubbing!"
 
It's Jaeger vs. Kaiju Wrestling! Here we see Gipsy Danger, pinned by Knifehead, trying to tag out!

Overall they're good looking figures, if a little lacking in the articulation and accessories departments. You'll have to decide for yourself if the $17 to $20 pricetag (depending on where you buy them) is worth it.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

And They Were Never Seen Or Heard From Again...

Welcome to And They Were Never Seen Or Heard From Again, where we'll examine the phenomenon in which a TV series introduces a new character who's befriended by the main cast, becomes very important to them and then vanishes forever without a trace the moment the episode ends. It happens more often than you think.

Today we'll take a look at the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode The Bonding.

The episode opens as Lt. Worf, the show's token Klingon, is leading an Away Team on a seemingly deserted planet. We don't actually get to see any of this; instead we get to watch Captain Picard, safe and sound aboard the Enterprise, listening tensely to Worf's running monologue of the mission.

Suddenly Picard and Co. hear a loud explosion over the loudspeaker. Realizing that's probably not a good thing, he orders the Away Team to be beamed directly to sickbay.

So if the transporter room can beam anyone to any part of the ship, why don't they do that all the time? Why do they always beam the Captain up to the transporter room so he then has to walk a mile to the bridge? But I digress...

Worf and company, looking mighty disheveled, materialize in the middle of sickbay.

Dr. Crusher, modeling her smart teal lab coat, springs into action!

It seems the Away Team accidentally set off an ancient mine which killed Lt. Marla Aster, a character who naturally we've never seen or heard of before. 

Despite the fact that Dr. Crusher has cured dead people many times before, she takes one look at Marla, shrugs and says, "THIS is an ex-lieutenant."

This is a Next Generation episode so that means there's kids on board the ship. Yep, you guessed it, Marla was a single mom with a twelve year old son named Jeremy.

Before Jeremy can speak in class today, Picard and Counselor Troi sit him down and tell him his mom's dead and he's all alone in the world. Jeremy does his best to not stare at Troi's, ehh... communicator.

After telling him he's an orphan, they leave him completely alone in his cabin. Chew on that, kid!

A little later, Jeremy gets a visit from a guilt-stricken Worf. Jeremy visibly shrinks away from the Klingon, unsure whether he's there to console him or kick his ass.

Wait a minute... I thought this was the touchy-feely, walk-hand-in-hand-singing-Kum-Ba-Yah 24th Century? I thought everyone had moved past prejudice and racial profiling. So why's Jeremy acting all "You're in the wrong neighborhood" toward Worf?

Anyhow, Worf barges on in and says, "Hey kid, sorry your mom's dead and you're all alone, but I just wanted you to know she died... with honor!" Needless to say this concept is somewhat lost on a twelve year old. An honorable death is all well and good, Worf, but who's gonna pour Jeremy's cereal at breakfast now? You?

Worf finally leaves and Jeremy sits and watches home movies on his iPad (which seemed futuristic back in 1989, but is perilously close to becoming dated today).

But what's this? Jeremy hears a familiar voice. He turns to look and sees... Marla, his dead mom, now looking 100% less dead!

Jeremy promptly soils his 24th Century jumpsuit. Is he hallucinating? Is he dreaming? Is it a g-g-g-ghost?

Nope, none of those. It's Jeremy's mom Marla, somehow brought back to life. Everything's fine again! She's come back to take care of him so they can be together forever, and ever, and ever, and...

Well, not really. It seems the planet below was originally home to two different races. One was a mean old physical race like us who wiped themselves out with the wars and the killing and the hurting. 

The other was a race of energy beings who are peaceful, benevolent and very full of themselves. One of these energy beings has flown through the side of the ship and decided to take the form of Jeremy's mother and take care of him so he won't have icky bad feelings.

This Fake Marla even used magic to transform their cabin into their home back on Earth, complete with a copy of Jeremy's cat Patches.

Actually I'm not sure why Fake Marla went to all the trouble of transforming their cabin. The second she does so, she tells Jeremy she wants to take him down to the planet so he can live there with her and she'll cater to his every need. Apparently she was just showing off with the room makeover.

She tries to get Jeremy to go to the transporter room so he can beam down to the planet with her. You'd think that an energy being that can take the form of a dead human and magically transform a starship cabin into a luxury Earth condo could just, oh I don't know, zap the kid down to the planet, but what do I know. Of course if she did that the episode would have only been twenty minutes long (would that she'd have done so).

Lt. Worf pops up again and is still feeling guilty about Marla dying on his watch and wants to take responsibility for Jeremy. Worf wants to perform the Klingon R'uustai ritual, which will make Jeremy his brother. Troi tells Worf to tone down the Klingon schtick a notch or twelve. And to stop staring at her, ehh... communicator.

Captain Picard and Counselor Troi get wind of Fake Marla's plan and don't like it one bit. They've decided that Jeremy isn't feeling properly bad about his maw dying, because dealing with death is part of the "human condition" or some such pretentious hooey. 

Two factions are now battling over Lil' Jeremy's soul: Fake Marla who wants him to be happy, and Real Picard who wants to see a kid cry. Oddly enough, no one ever thinks to ask Jeremy what he wants to do.

The  late 1980s new-age psychobabble reaches a fever pitch, and Fake Marla finally realizes that the Enterprise crew has Jeremy's best interests at heart and gracefully bows out.

With Fake Marla gone, Jeremy's finally forced to be sad.

Cut to some weird bluescreen room, where we see Worf and Jeremy undergoing the R'uustai, which officially makes them brothers for all time.

It's a great honor and a part of Klingon culture that most humans will never see or experience. Jeremy will never be alone again, as he's now officially part of Worf's family.

AND HE WAS NEVER SEEN OR HEARD FROM AGAIN...

Seriously Worf? You're the one always going on about honor and family being the most important thing there is. So you feel guilty for letting a kid's mom die and adopt him and he promptly disappears from the universe.

If I was Commander Riker I'd be asking you some hard questions. "By the way Worf, how's your little brother? You know, the one you adopted into your family? Skinny human boy? Twelve years old? You let his mother die? Told him you'd take care of him from now on? Whatever happened to that kid? Ever hear from him? Do I need to contact the authorities? Or the coroner?"
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