Wednesday, May 28, 2014

DVD Doppelgängers: Alien Uprising Vs. Hancock

Last week I was in a video store and saw this DVD of Alien Uprising.

Something about this cover seems awfully familiar, but I can't quite put my finger on where I've seen it before...

Oh yeah. Now I remember.

Jesus, look at those two covers. They're virtually identical! The same extreme closeup filling the space, the same grizzled skin texture, even the same gold-lensed eye gear with a cityscape reflected in them. Hell, it would have been easier if the designer had just xeroxed the Hancock cover and called it a day.

There's no way you can convince me that this wasn't intentional. Go on, try it. Try and convince me. You can't do it, I say.

In addition to the swiped layout, I'm a bit puzzled by the title as well. The film concerns a group of friends whose night of partying is interrupted by extraterrestrials attacking the Earth. An uprising is an act of resistance or rebellion. Aliens coming from the sky is an invasion. Wouldn't Alien Invasion have made more sense? It's called a dictionary, guys. They're free all over the interwebs.

Also, that prominent "and Jean-Claude Van Damme" callout is a bit suspicious. I've not seen the film, but I'm betting this is one of those deals where they can only afford to hire a name actor for one day, and shoot all of his scenes in that short time. I'd be very surprised if he's in the film for more than twenty minutes, tops.

It Came From The Cineplex: X-Men: Days Of Future Past

X-Men: Days Of Future Past was directed by Bryan Singer, and written by Singer along with Simon Kinberg, Lauren Shuler Donner and Hutch Parker. It's (very) loosely based on the X-men comic book storyline by Chris Claremont and John Byrne.

It's no secret that the X-Men / Wolverine movie continuity is hopelessly hosed, and has been for quite some time. Characters meet in the past but don't recognize one another in the future, events from one film are forgotten or revised by the next, and certain characters change radically between movies (sometimes even changing their race!). Some even die and then get better (with no explanation) by the next outing.

Director Bryan Singer promised that this film would take care of these problems and weave everything into one coherent continuity. It does absolutely no such thing. They made a valiant effort, but this "solution" raises more questions then it answers and makes things even more vague and uncertain than before.

Despite all this, if you can manage to ignore the continuity issues, it's a pretty solid movie.


The Plot:
In the far off post-apocalyptic future of 2023, robotic Sentinels are targeting mutants and humans alike. Professor X, Magneto and a handful of mutants are all that's left of the X-Men. They've determined that their hellish world was caused by a single event-- Mystique assassinating industrialist Bolivar Trask in the year 1973. 

Professor X hatches a desperate plan to send Wolverine back to 1973 in order to stop Mystique and prevent the future from happening.

• I'm amazed at the sheer number of original cast members they were able to talk into reprising their roles-- often for just a few seconds of screen time. Kelsey Grammer even came back for a two second cameo as Beast!

• Kudos to the producers for the cool opening scene pitting the remnants of the X-Men against the unstoppable Sentinels. I loved seeing Colossus finally able to cut loose, and the inclusion of Sunfire and Bishop was a welcome one. I especially liked Blink, even though it was sometimes hard to follow just what she was doing with her portal power.

• Kitty Pride's super power has always been intangibility, allowing her to walk through walls. Yet suddenly in this film she can also send people's minds back in time. When did she develop that amazing ability? Apparently it's none of our concern, as it's never addressed.

By the way, HOW the hell did she ever discover she had this power? Walking through walls I could see. One day she was probably texting on her phone and not looking where she was going and walked right through a wall. But discovering she can do something as incredibly specific as send someone's mind back in time? Wha...? Did she one day think, "You know, I bet if I could get someone to lie down calmly on a slab, I could cup their head in my hands, shoot blue energy rays into their temples and cause their consciousness to travel back into their younger bodies! I'm gonna try it right now!"

• In a similar vaguely defined vein, Professor X died in X-Men 3, yet here in the future he's alive and well. 

We last saw him as the end of 2013's The Wolverine. In that film, an astonished Wolverine asked him how it was possible he was still alive, and Professor X cryptically answered, "You're not the only one with gifts." It was an amazing tease, and a surefire way to drum up interest in this film. And then they didn't even attempt to explain his resurrection.

Yes, I know Professor X's mind jumped into the body of a comatose patient at the end of X-Men 3, but that doesn't explain why he still looks like Patrick Stewart and is crippled once again.

I'm not one of these people who needs to have every little detail spelled out for me. That said, these two issues are pretty major, not to mention integral to the plot, and deserved at least a line or two of explanation.

• Apparently in an effort to clear up various dangling plot threads, Fox and director Bryan Singer have stated in various interviews that they feel X-Men 3 and the X-Men Origins: Wolverine were both so subpar that they're pretending they never happened, and suggest we all do the same.

Oh really?

If that's really Fox's official stance then they need to issue refunds to everyone who saw those movies, stat! We all pumped several hundred million dollars into their coffers, so if they're saying those movies don't count then we should all get our money back. You can send my refund check to me care of my blog, thanks.

• In the comic book it was Kitty Pride whose mind was sent back in time, not Wolverine. Many fans (including comic artist / writer John Byrne) are upset about this.

A couple things here. The film industry is a business that, like it or not, is concerned more with the bottom line than with artistic integrity. To that end, which character do you think would bring in more ticket sales? Kitty Pride (which maybe fifteen percent of the audience has ever heard of) or Wolverine?

Second, the time travel in this film is mental, not physical. Whoever is sent back to 1973 had to be alive in that year. Movie Kitty Pride was probably born sometime in the 1990s. There was no way they could have used her as the protagonist in this film.

• When Wolverine gets back to 1973, he tracks down Professor X, and is shocked to see he can walk again. Apparently Hank McCoy invented a serum that gives the Professor the use of his legs (at the cost of his powers though).

Eh, no reason to share a cure for paralysis with the rest of the world, Hank. I'm sure no one else could have possibly benefitted from it.

• When Wolverine tries to enlist Professor X's help, he refuses by saying, "Let me respond with what you told me when I once asked you for help: F*ck off."

I would be remiss if I didn't point out that that's not quite what Wolverine said. He actually said, "Go f*ck yourself."

• Bolivar Trask, the inventor of the Sentinels, appeared in X-Men 3. In that film though, he was a black man of normal height, played by actor Bill Duke. Suddenly in this film he's not only switched races, but is three feet tall. Whoops!

Director Bryan Singer says that in X-Men 3 Duke played a character simply named Trask, who was a completely different person from the Bolivar Trask who appears in this film. Nice try, but nope.

• Mystique's powers truly are amazing. Not only can she change her appearance, but she can apparently scrunch herself down to Peter Dinklage size. Seems like that would get a bit uncomfortable, what with her internal organs getting all squeezed together as she shrinks.

Most amazing of all is that her duplicating ability even extends to fingerprints! When she enters Trask's office disguised as him, she places her thumb on a fingerprint scanner and it actually opens for her.

OK, I can suspend my disbelief enough to buy the fact that Mystique can look like anyone she sees. But how the hell can she duplicate a person's fingerprints? Ouch! My disbelief just got stretched past its breaking point.

I could maybe buy it if she got some kind of highly detailed scan from touching a person, but as far as I know she never had any physical contact with Trask. Does she have some kind of microscopic vision that can see fingerprints?

• So Trask invents the mutant-hunting Sentinels in 1973. So why didn't we see any sign of them in X-Men 1 through 3? Whoops again!

• I'm not sure how Trask was able to use Mystique's DNA to design more efficient robots, but there you go. Maybe the Sentinels have biomechanical parts?

• A few months before the film came out, Fox released a photo of Quicksilver in his costume. Predictably all of nerddom went ballistic, universally denouncing his ridiculous looking costume (the ill-advised Hardees commercials didn't help). Ironically, Quicksilver turned out to be the best thing about the movie. He still looked goofy as hell, but boy was he cool. There's a lesson here somewhere. Something about books and covers?

• Wolverine enlists Quicksilver to help spring Magneto from a super ultra maximum security cell under the Pentagon. Quicksilver uses his super speed to easily free him.

Afterwards, Professor X thanks Quicksilver for his help and then dismisses him, basically saying, "OK, Thanks for your help. Now go on, get out of the movie. That's it, keep going! Bye!"

What. The. Hell? Quicksilver could have solved every subsequent plot point in seconds, with a minimum of effort. Why the hell would you NOT utilize such a resource? Wolverine didn't even know how long he'd be able to stay in the past. You'd think he'd want to wrap things up as quickly as possible.

• During the Pentagon break out, Quicksilver uses his super speed to neutralize a roomful of security guards. He does so while listening to Jim Croce's Time In A Bottle on his Walkman (which didn't exist until 1979-- Whoops!). Um... if he's moving so fast that people can't even see him, how is he listening to tape-recorded music? The Walkman wouldn't speed up with him. Wouldn't it sound like a slurred, slowed-down recording?

• When Quicksilver finds out Magneto can control metal, he says, "My mom used to know a guy who could do that." This is obviously a not-so-subtle call out to the comics, where Magneto is the father of both Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch.

• By the way, concerning Magneto being sprung from prison-- why the hell did they bother?

Professor X, I can see. Not only is he a powerful telepath, but he grew up with Mystique and could talk her into changing her mind. But why'd they need Magneto? From the moment they released him all he did was cause trouble, trying to push his own personal mutant agenda. Wolverine could have saved himself a lot of headaches-- and finished his mission early-- by leaving Magneto in stir.

• We find out that the reason Magneto's been imprisoned under the Pentagon for the past ten years is because he assassinated President Kennedy. Several things here:

First of all, Professor X claims that Magneto used his powers to divert one of Oswald's shots, which explains the "magic bullet" theory. This was a very cool way to tie the movie and Magneto into actual historical events.

Second, Magneto insists he's innocent, saying he actually tried to divert the bullet because Kennedy was "one of them." Does that mean if Magneto had left the bullet alone, it would have missed? And I wonder what mutant power Kennedy had? Super wealth? The ability to look good on TV? Rapid speech?

Thirdly, X-Men First Class takes place in late 1962. The Kennedy assassination was in November 1963. That means Magneto was incarcerated just a year after First Class, and has been in prison until this film. 

• OK, the entire time travel plot revolves around preventing Mystique from killing Trask. This is quite literally the turning point in history. The exact date and time of this event is even known. So why does Kitty send Wolverine a day at most before this momentous event? They're barely able to stop Mystique in time. If they'd been delayed even five more seconds, she would have killed Trask and the whole thing would have been over.

Why not send Wolverine back a week earlier? Or a month? For that matter, why not go back to the 1940s or 1950s or whenever she was born and kill her when she's a baby? Cold, yes, but it would have been safer.

• The actor who played Richard Nixon looked amazingly like Robert Barrone from Everybody Loves Raymond.

• This film is set in 1973, and features fully-realized robotic Sentinels. Yet The Wolverine is set in the present, and at the end of it Logan watches a commercial implying that Trask industries is just getting around to developing primitive Sentinel models. Whoops!

• Trask, who is a little person, creates an army of gigantic robots that tower over normal-sized citizens. In effect he's given the rest of the world a taste of what his existence is like. I don't know if that was intentional or not, but if it was, hats off to the screenwriters.

• The movie features some cool and innovative uses of the characters' various superpowers. I specifically liked Magneto weaving train rails into the joints and innards of the Sentinels so he could control them.

• Was Jennifer Lawrence wearing her leftover American Hustle wardrobe in this film? Both movies are set in the 1970s...

• Well, I guess that's that! This film just wiped out the first three X-Men movies, along with the first and possibly second Wolverine films. Everyone's now living in this shiny, happy new timeline, and only Wolverine remembers the way things used to be.

• Anna Paquin, who plays Rogue, gets seventh billing in this film. Yet she appears for just over three seconds. She must have one hell of an agent!

Yes, yes, I'm aware that her part was drastically trimmed in the final cut. So shouldn't her billing reflect that? If I was a big Anna Paquin fan and saw how prominently she was featured in the credits, I'd be mightily pissed when I found out she was in one blink-and-you'll-miss-her scene.

• This has nothing to do with this film, but I thought I'd mention it anyway. In the past few years I've heard fans and reviewers likening Professor X and Magento to Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. Except with mutants instead of blacks.

I can see how people would think this-- there are actually some parallels between Professor X, who wants to affect change through peaceful means, and Malcolm X, whose methods were a bit more radical. 

That said, I absolutely guarantee you that Stan Lee didn't have any of that in mind when he created the two characters. All he was thinking about was coming up with a storyline before that month's deadline. If the two characters parallel famous civil rights leaders, it's nothing more than a coincidence.

This also goes for liberal arts professors who say Bewitched was really about interracial marriage and The Munsters was about minorities moving into white neighborhoods. Interesting theories after the fact, but nowhere near what the creators were thinking when they created the shows.

• I'm starting to sense a pattern in all these superhero movie posters...

• At the end of the film, Mystique, disguised as Stryker, rescues Wolverine. If you'll recall, Stryker was the person responsible for creating Wolverine, giving him his adamantium skeleton and claws. So does this mean Wolverine no longer went through that ordeal in this new timeline? So many questions...

The best X-Men movie in many a year, Days Of Future Past tries to make sense of the series' fractured continuity, but fails spectacularly. Despite its many problems, I couldn't help but like the film. I give it an A-.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Overheard At Work: Celebrity Wedding

I work in a typical office, surrounded by many other workers in cubicles. Although I'm grateful to have a job I like, sometimes the vocal din from the surrounding coworkers is a bit overwhelming. Not to mention odd. Thank the gods old and new for headphones and Pandora.

The following is a 100% true actual conversation I Overheard At Work:

Woman: I couldn't possibly care less about Kim and Kanye's wedding. It's all so stupid; that's all the news sites have been talking about all day. Who cares what designer dress Kim wore... (several hundred words omitted for brevity) ...and who all was there and how much the wedding cost and..."
In fact she cares so little about the affair that she spoke about it for at least twenty straight minutes.

Minor kudos to her, I suppose, for saying "couldn't care less" instead of the bone-headedly wrong "could care less."

If You Have To Ask...

I saw this on the interwebs this morning: a hard-hitting news piece asking if flossing is necessary.

Note that it's from You know, BBC as in England. Pip-pip, tally ho, wot's all this then? That BBC.

Man, the jokes are writin' themselves today.

Friday, May 23, 2014

It Came From The Cineplex: Godzilla (2014)

Godzilla (2014) was directed by Gareth Edwards and written by Max Borenstein (with uncredited input from from David Callaham, David S. Goyer, Drew Pearce and Frank Darabont).

Edwards also wrote and directed 2010's Monsters, which, as the title suggests, is also about rampaging giant creatures (and not a bad little film). If you need to make a movie about oversized monsters, Gareth Edwards is apparently your man.

So what's the verdict? Is this second attempt at making an American Godzilla film any good? Eh, yes and no. It's definitely better than the execrable 1998 version (how could it be worse?). But I wouldn't exactly call it good either.

Unfortunately Godzilla (2014) suffers from the same condition plaguing many current sci-fi and fantasy films-- it's just no fun

Whether they were trying to replicate the serious tone of the 1955 original, or this is the only way to get a modern cynical audience to accept such an outlandish premise, I have no idea. All I know is it's a well-made but joyless affair. That's really too bad, because most of the Godzilla films I grew up with reveled in their insanity and goofiness.

I had the same problem with the Christopher Nolan Batman, er, excuse me, Dark Knight trilogy. Slickly produced, grounded in reality films that were absolutely no fun.


The Plot:
It's a Godzilla movie, with the usual plot. Lots of scenes of scientists wringing their hands with worry, giant monsters knocking down various buildings, humanity powerless to stop them, and Godzilla saving the day by defeating a monster worse than himself. Oh, and there's a lot of talk about man vs. nature and nuclear powers and all that.

OK, OK, I can do a little better. Years ago Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) and his wife worked at a nuclear plant in Japan. An accident at the plant kills his wife, and Joe becomes obsessed with finding out what really happened.

Cut to the present, where Joe's son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) meets his father in Japan to convince him to come home with him. While there, two massive creatures dubbed MUTOs attack the city. Joe is killed and Ford spends the rest of the film avoiding giant monsters in an effort to get back home to San Francisco and reunite with his wife and son.

Scientists and the military are at a loss as to how to stop the giant monsters. Eventually Godzilla arrives on the scene to put nature back in balance and destroys the MUTOs, saving humanity and the planet.

• So is this a remake or sequel? We see quick shots of Godzilla's back spines during the opening credits, indicating he was around before the movie begins. Also, Ken Watanabe plays Dr. Serizawa, and there was a character with the same name in the original 1954 film. 

Dr. Serizawa states that Godzilla was first spotted in 1954, which is the year the original movie premiered. Dr. Serizawa and his team find some sort of egg sac or pod inside the skeletal remains of a massive creature. 

These elements all suggest that Godzilla existed prior to this film. So I'm leaning toward sequel.

• The CGI Godzilla looked OK I suppose, but I still miss the "man-in-suit" version from the older films. Part of the charm of these movies was always seeing a man in a suit stomp around miniature sets while battling a giant moth on a string. I know, I know, things were better in the olden days; get off my lawn.

I was especially dismayed to see that once again that every single monster battle occurred at night. Surely CGI technology has advanced to the point where we no longer have to rely on darkness to hide the seams (so to speak)? Would it kill them to show the damn monsters in daylight for once? Last year's Pacific Rim had this same problem. Ah well. At least it wasn't raining in every scene in this film (as seen in Pacific Rim and the 1998 Godzilla).

• Bryan Cranston seemed to be wearing a rather obvious wig. I wonder if he still had his Walter White shaved head when filming began?

• Despite the fact that Cranston is in virtually every scene in the trailers, his character dies about twenty minutes into the film. That was certainly a surprise, but unfortunately not a pleasant one.

Killing off his character was a misfire, in my opinion. He's a terrific actor and brought a much needed level of intensity and passion to his small role. Once he exited the film it definitely suffered for it. Aaron Taylor-Johnson was way too bland and just couldn't carry the movie by himself.

• Speaking of Aaron Taylor-Johnson, what the heck happened to him? In last year's Kick-Ass 2 he looked like he was 18 if he was a day. Suddenly in this film he looks like he's in his late twenties.

• One last thing about Aaron Taylor-Johnson. He and Elizabeth Olsen star in this film. The two of them are also going to be in the upcoming Avengers 2. Apparently Congress has passed a new law requiring them to be in all blockbuster films from now on.

By the way, I swear by the old gods and new that I thought Elizabeth Olsen was one of the Olsen twins. She's actually their younger sister.

• The film has a frustrating tendency to cut away from things just when they're getting good. We see Godzilla's first battle with one of the MUTOs after the fact, filtered through cable news coverage on a TV in the background. That's too bad, because what we can see of the fight looked pretty cool.

Later when Ford's wife Elle is running into a bomb shelter, we see Godzilla lunge at a MUTO in the background right as the blast doors close, obscuring our view. Apparently the titanic battle happening outside was none of the audience's concern.

We finally get to see a proper monster a monster battle in the third act, but by then you may no longer care.

• Ford is ostensibly the hero of the film, but he doesn't really do anything all that heroic. In most kaiju films the hero is determined to stop the monsters at all costs. Here Ford's sole motivation is to get back to his family. Admirable, but not really heroic. He's buffeted randomly from set piece to set piece by the random winds of the plot.

He eventually offers his bomb-diffusing services to the military, but not out of any sense of duty-- he only does so in exchange for transport back home!

He does destroy a nest full of MUTO eggs, but only because he accidentally stumbled onto them and saw a convenient way to do so.

It's not until the very end, when he tries to diffuse the nuke and save San Francisco, that he finally does something halfway heroic. 

• I'm happy to report that this film continues the long, rich kaiju movie tradition of containing preposterous science.

For example, we're told that the atomic bomb tests of the 1950s were not designed to try out new weapons, but were instead meant to kill Godzilla (!). 

Later Dr. Serizawa explains that in the past the Earth was "naturally" far more radioactive than it is now, which spawned giant creatures that fed on radiation. As the level of radioactivity faded over time, the creatures burrowed deep underground where the radiation was still prevalent. Now that's science!

Of course no one brings up the point that skyscraper-sized monsters could never possibly exist-- in any era.

• The scene in which Godzilla's atomic breath powers up and is released was quite awesome. Kudos to the effects team. 

That said, they totally botched Godzilla's trademark roar. It starts out sounding kind of like the old school shriek, but there was so much bass added that the characteristic groaning tones were completely obliterated.

• Godzilla fights the MUTOS to a standstill a few times in an effort to pad the run time, before finally deciding to fire up his atomic breath and incinerate them. So why the hell didn't he do that in the first place and get it over with?

It reminded me of every episode of Power Rangers. They fiddle around for most of the episode fighting the monster of the week to a standstill, before finally jumping into their MegaZords and summoning the Power Sword which defeats it. If they'd just skip right to that step first...

• OK, I'm not an expert on electromagnetic pulses, but the way they're handled in this film doesn't seem quite right to me. 

The MUTOs can generate EMPs which disrupt all nearby electronic equipment. So far so good. But it's always been my understanding that such a pulse would permanently fry an electrical system. 

There's at least one instance in the film in which a system that was fried starts up again later. I don't think that's the way it works. If there are any electrical engineers out there who deal with this sort of thing, feel free to chime in.

• Several times in the film the MUTOs seek out nuclear bombs and other sources of radiation and feed on them. There's even one scene showing a MUTO happily chomping away on a nuclear missile. Some have wondered why this didn't cause the bomb to explode in the MUTOs mouth. 

I don't think this is a mistake. Nukes don't go off just because they're handled roughly. I'm pretty sure they need some kind of detonator to set them off.

• After Godzilla defeats the MUTOs, the danger isn't over. The last remaining nuke is on a boat in San Francisco bay, threatening the entire city. Ford jumps onto the boat and tries to diffuse the bomb but can't. Note that the timer on the bomb reads around five minutes. He then somehow starts the boat and sets it on a (very slow) course away from the city.

The next thing he knows he's on a rescue helicopter and being hauled away to safety, as the nuke explodes in the background. Do I need to say that there didn't seem to be time to do all that before the bomb went off?

• Amazingly this film made nearly a $100 million dollars in its opening weekend. I'm frankly astonished by this. I figured the stench of the 1990 film still tainted the Godzilla brand, and expected it to be a colossal flop. 
I guess the public really does have a short memory these days.

It's been such a success that Warner Bros. has already green lit a sequel. I wonder where they'll go with a follow up film? With the "grounded in reality" tone I can't imagine they'd go the Mechagodzilla route, or pit Godzilla against giant killer moths or three headed dragons. We'll find out in three years I suppose.

Godzilla (2014) is better than the previous attempt at bringing the creature to American shores, but the effort to ground the film in reality renders it dreary and just plain no fun. Offing Bryan Cranston's character early on didn't help matters either. I give it a B-.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Case Of Batman V Superman

In nerd news today, Warner Bros. released the official title of their upcoming Superman 2 film: Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice. Whew! What a mouthful. I feel like I need to sit down after saying it.

As I made clear last year, I was less than impressed with Man Of Steel -- aw, who am I kidding, I absolutely hated it. So I have little or no interest in anything to do with this follow up. They can call this one Dark Knightman Clashes Against Hopeman and it won't be any skin off my nose.

I do think the odd wording is kind of amusing though. You know, using "v" instead of the usual "vs." abbreviation. It looks for all the world like Batman is suing Superman.
All rise! The Gotham City Municipal Court is now in session. Case #105, Batman v Superman. The honorable Judge Morris Mendelbaum presiding. Please be seated.
Obviously the subtitle is hinting at a future Justice League Of America movie. Marvel's The Avengers movie grossed an astonishing $1.5 BILLION dollars worldwide, so Warner Bros. wants some of that sweet, sweet super team crossover money. Never mind that Marvel slowly, carefully and deliberately spent five years setting up a cinematic universe before releasing their super team opus. Warner ain't got time for that; they want that dough now, world-building be damned.

And how messed up is it that the sequel to Man Of Steel gives Batman top billing? Jesus, I see people standing on street corners holding "Will Work For Food" signs who could probably handle this film series with more competence. I don't see any hope for this franchise. Even if that's what the symbol on Superman's chest stands for.

Thinking Inside The Box

If you've logged onto the information superhighway at all this week, you've no doubt noticed that every news outlet in the free world is buzzing about McDonald's new Happy Meal mascot.

Without fail, every single news story I've seen has described the new mascot, with its wild-eyed leer and uncanny valley dentures, as "terrifying." Eh, I'm not seeing it. Off-putting and poorly designed, yes. But terrifying? Maybe if you're one of those goats that faints when startled, but otherwise, nope.

The new spokes-box is imaginatively named "Happy," and I can't help but wonder how many millions of dollars some lucky marketing agency fleeced from McDonald's coffers for this concept. Whatever amount it was, it was too much. It looks like thirty seconds worth of work, tops.

When I was art school, the professors drilled into our heads on a daily basis that taking a product and humanizing it (by giving it a face and appendages) was not only lazy, but the lowest form of graphic design possible. I'd have flunked out of school if I'd come up with something like this. 

In fact one day a fellow student turned in a concept not unlike this one, and I witnessed the professor pretty much throw him out of class, telling him in no uncertain terms that he was washed up before he even started and to find a new major. And yet here's a multi-billion dollar corporation doing the exact same thing. 

It's patently obvious that McDonald's is trying to copy the look and feel of these goddamned things in a transparent attempt to appeal to kids. No amount of denials or money will ever convince me otherwise. 

I mean look at them. Just look! Same basic proportions, same horrifically bulging eyeballs, even the exact same mouth, complete with disturbingly realistic human teeth and lolling tongue. McDonald's might as well just get it over with and call their new mascot a minion.

That said, the new mascot's still nowhere near as creepy as Willard Scott's original Ronald McDonald.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

What's In A Name?

Are you curious as to what was the most popular boy's name in America in 2013? Eh, me either. Just play along, OK?

The map above shows last year's most popular male name in each state, if you can believe Social Security and The Huffington Post. The most popular name in my home state of Indiana: Liam.

Jesus Christ, are you kidding me? Liam? What century is this? I wasn't aware I'd accidentally time travelled and was living in 10th Century Ireland.

It's not just Indiana that's fallen in love with this archaic moniker. Somehow Liam is the most popular male name in eighteen of the fifty states. 

I can't speak for the entire country, but as far as Indiana goes this is nothing but a load of hogswallop. Based on my own observations (which admittedly may be spotty), the most popular male name in Indiana is Bubbie

I hear it spoken (make that screeched) on a daily basis. Everywhere I go it's "C'mon, Bubbie, we gotta git home so's I kin fix Daddy's supper" and "Bubbie! What'd I tell you about whoppin' yer sister?" or "Bubbie! Fetch me my beatin' switch!" and so on. 

Who knew there were so many jews in Indiana?

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Marvel's Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 1, Episode 22: Beginning Of The End

And so ends Season One of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. It's been a slow, long and sometimes painful journey, but we're definitely in a better place now than we were at the beginning of the season.

It took forever for the show to finally find and settle on a tone, but once it did, it improved dramatically. Plus the Captain America: The Winter Soldier tie-in brought major changes to the series, which seemed to energize the writing and plotting. Too bad that didn't occur sooner. 

Let's hope that now that they have an idea of what does and doesn't work, that Season Two will avoid those pitfalls and hit the ground running.


The Plot:
Most of the dangling plot lines are resolved as the Team confronts and defeats Garrett, FitzSimmons are rescued by a very special guest star, May gives Ward a well-deserved beat down, Deathlok goes on walkabout, Coulson gets promoted but may not be totally back to normal.

• Last week's episode ended on a cliffhanger with Coulson and Co. surrounded by an army of glowy-eyed super soldiers. Ruh Roh! But this week the Team dispatches these enhanced killing machines without even breaking a sweat, like they were an old lady spoon band. 

They were defeated pretty much singlehandedly by May, who grabbed a Dark Elf berserker staff (from a previous episode) from one and literally brought the house down on top of them. That was certainly a convenient! I'm assuming that pesky TV budget got in the way again, and they just didn't have the money (or time) to properly resolve this situation.

Amazingly after crushing the super soldiers, May tosses the berserker staff into the rubble. Might as well, May. I'm sure there's no way a magical super weapon like that would ever come in handy again in the future.

• Hey, ABC, I said it last week, and I'll say it again-- your surprise guest appearances would probably be more of a surprise if you didn't, you know, list the actors in the opening credits. I get that it's probably some SAG regulation, but it kind of ruins the fun.

This reminds me of the BattleStar Galactica remake a few years back. Each week at the end of the opening credits, this tribal drum beat would start up and they'd show rapid-fire images from the episode you were about to watch. Quite often the images would contain major spoilers. Why they did this, I have no idea, but I used to close my eyes during the drums so I wouldn't be see any spoilers. In a similar vein I try to ignore the actor credits at the beginning of most TV episodes, but it doesn't always work. Like this time.

• I was expecting Nick Fury to show up for thirty seconds at the end of the episode, so it was a nice surprise when he stuck around for much longer. That said, it was pretty obvious during his confrontation with Garrett that Samuel L. Jackson and Bill Paxton weren't on the set at the same time. I'm assuming this was due to actor availability.

One last thing about Fury-- when he appears he's not wearing his trademark eye patch and leather duster. Instead he's in "incognito mode," dressed very much the way I imagine Samuel L. Jackson looks on a daily basis. In fact I would not be at all surprised if those were Jackson's own clothes, and he just walked onto the set, said, "Let's film this mother*cker" and started emoting.

• So everyone on the Team believes Nick Fury is dead, killed during the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D. Then he shows up out of the blue and everyone acts incredibly nonchalant about it. You'd think we'd have gotten at least one "B-but you're supposed to be d-d-dead!" or "It's a g-g-g-ghost!" line of dialog, but no.

Maybe they read the opening credits?

• The May vs Ward fight was very brutal and very well done. I guess the lesson we should all take away from this is do NOT ever betray Melinda May. She will come after your ass with power tools! When she's not swinging a circular saw at your head, she's nailing your foot to the floor.

• Glad to see that Ward didn't heroically redeem himself in the finale. I was a bit afraid they might go that route, and would have been extremely disappointed if they had. He killed far too many people in the past couple of months for all to be forgiven with the wave of a hand. 

I was kind of expecting him to have a last minute change of heart and sacrifice himself to either kill Garrett or save Skye or both. But, being thrown in the slammer and tortured is good too. Maybe they're saving this for Season 2?

So I guess this means he really did kill Buddy the dog (see last week).

• Fury tosses the Destroyer Gun to Coulson so he can finish off Garrett. If you're a fan of The Avengers you'll recognize this gun as the one Coulson used against Loki, right before he was killed. A very cool callback to the movie.

• I just realized that Ruth Negga, the actress who plays Raina-- was also in World War Z. Along with Peter Capaldi (left), the new Doctor on Doctor Who. Cool! 

None of this has anything to do with this episode, but I just thought I'd throw it out there.

• After their rescue, Fury tells Simmons that Fitz is in critical condition, as his brain was "without oxygen for a very long time." 

We saw Simmons swim to the surface with Fitz, and it didn't seem like it took all that long. It looked like it took twenty seconds, thirty at the most. Maybe it really took longer and they didn't show us the entire trip to the surface?

By the way, my guess for Season 2: now that Fitz confessed his incredibly obvious feelings for Simmons, his brain injury will cause him to forget he ever loved her, but she'll now have feelings for him. 

• Darn, I was loving seeing Garrett transform into Super Deathlok, and then POOF! He's blown up seemingly for good. Ah well, they probably took the character about as far as they could anyway.

You know, that whole Super Deathlok transformation scene looked about a hundred times better than Anakin Skywalker being turned into Darth Vader in Revenge Of The Sith-- and on a TV budget, yet. Kudos to the effects team.

That said, I'm a little fuzzy on the chain of events here. Deathlok predictably turns on Garrett and seemingly stomps on his head (offscreen). A little later we see Garrett, head intact, being loaded into a coffin or some kind of container and being carried off by... some guys in uniforms. Later still, we see Garrett painfully haul himself into the patented Deathlok Transformation Chair and hit the button.

First of all, who were those guys who carted off Garrett in the coffin? They can't be S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, because there ain't no more S.H.I.E.L.D. Are they police? One of those Home Damage Repair agencies? 

Secondly, did they just haul the coffin into the secret Deathlok makin' room and leave it? Or did Garrett come back to life, burst out of the coffin and hobble to that room? As I said, it was all pretty vague.

• Overall I enjoyed this episode and thought it was very well done, with the exception of one major problem. Ever since Coulson found out that Fury forcibly resurrected him, his hurt and anger toward his boss has been simmering to a boil. He finally gets a chance to confront Fury about the horrific things he did to him, and… it's over in ten seconds. In fact the writers apparently didn't even think it was important enough to show us the entire scene, as we only get to see the tail end of Coulson's smack down. 

Fury counters Coulson's rage by giving him a glowing review, telling him he considers him one of the Avengers, and promoting him to director. And that's that!

I don't know… if I died and my boss had me painfully and horrifically brought back to life, then gave me selective amnesia to forget I'd died and been brought back, and then assigned handlers all around me to make sure I didn't go a little nutty, I think I'd be a little more upset than Coulson.

Surely there was a better way to have resolved this major plot line?

• Agent Koenig is back! Woohoo! Did not see that one coming. So are the Koenig brothers twins? Or are they, as most fans suspect, Life Model Decoys (lifelike robots from the comics)?

• So what's with the alien hieroglyphics that Garrett and Coulson were doodling? I'm guessing since they were both injected with alien Kree blood, that it has something to do with the upcoming Guardians Of The Galaxy movie. Especially since everything in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is connected.

• The best part about the season finale? I can finally stop writing the tough to type "S.H.I.E.L.D." acronym for a few months. 

Friday, May 9, 2014

I'm A Grown Man And I Bought This: Catwoman Classic Batman Action FIgure

It's been nearly five decades since the Batman TV series premiered on ABC in 1966, and toys based on the show are just now starting to trickle out.

Several companies have begun releasing Batman action figures in various scales. Neca got the rights to make 18" figures and Hot Toys is releasing high end 12" figures later this year (huzzah!). 

Mattel secured the 6" license. Last year they released several Batman TV Series figures, including Batman, The Joker, The Riddler, The Penguin and Surf's Up Batman, which I reviewed here. They also made a Robin figure, that you can only get in a special two pack with Batman (a blatant marketing move) and a pretty nice Batmobile scaled to the figures.

And now finally they've released the much anticipated Catwoman figure, to complete the line. Why Catwoman wasn't released with the rest of the figures, I have no idea.

At first I thought maybe they were planning to produce less of her to artificially drive up demand so they could charge more for her (which toy companies do all the time), but she cost the same as the other figures. It's a mystery.

Obviously this is the Julie Newmar version of Catwoman, from the first two seasons of the series. As likenesses go, this is a pretty good one. It's definitely Julie Newmar we're looking at here. They even got her odd trifurcated eyebrows down (Really, spell check? You don't flag "trifurcated?"). 

By the way, Lee Meriwether portrayed Catwoman in the Batman movie, and Earth Kitt played her in the show's third season.

I remember watching the show back in the day and absolutely hating Eartha Kitt. Not because she was black, mind you, but simply because she wasn't Julie Newmar. I was a kid and didn't cotton to change. As an adult I've come to appreciate Kitt's performance though.

Actually the show was pretty progressive and probably quite provocative for the 1960s. There was always a degree of sexual tension between Catwoman and Batman, and I'll bet the sight of a black woman aggressively flirting with a white man-- on a kid's show yet-- raised more than a few eyebrows (trifurcated as well as normal).

Catwoman comes dressed in her traditional slinky, form-hugging suit, which in reality was quite a feat of engineering. Kudos to whoever designed it. I have a feeling the amount of dads who watched the show increased dramatically when Catwoman guest-starred.

Her necklace is sculpted into her body rather than being a separate piece, which is probably a good idea. It won't get lost in the shag carpeting that way.

Note that she's also wearing her cat ears, as is only natural for someone who calls herself "Catwoman." You hear that, Christopher Nolan, and your movie in which your no-fun version of Catwoman doesn't wear cat ears, and you don't even call her "Catwoman" in dialog?

I don't really have anything to say about this photo. Let's just sit quietly and enjoy the view, shall we?

I naturally assumed that since Catwoman's wearing heels that she'd never be able to stand by herself. Imagine my surprise when I found out she not only can stand, but is pretty darned stable. It's like a miracle.

Female action figures are typically shorter than their male counterparts, but Catwoman appears to be the same height as Batman. I don't think that's a mistake on Mattel's part. Adam West is reportedly 6' 2," while Newmar is a whopping 5' 11!" Now that's a big gal!

Catwoman is quite flexible and posable, just like the real thing.

Like all the figures in the line, Catwoman comes with a stand featuring one of the sound effect title screens from the show.

And now we come to the mystery of the cards. Each figure came with a photo card, which when laid out formed an image of the Batcave. 

Unfortunately I couldn't figure out how the cards from the first five figures were supposed to line up.

No matter how I arranged them, they just didn't work.

I finally figured out why. I was missing the Catwoman card. Derp! Once she was finally released, the cards fit together perfectly. Mystery solved!

Here's the other side of the cards, featuring paintings of each of the characters. It was nice of Mattel to include these I supposed, but I have no idea what to do with them and honestly they're probably going to go in a drawer.

I'm very happy Mattel gave us a Catwoman-- many times toy companies skip the female characters, as they think young boys won't want to play with a dumb ol' girl toy. I think they realized that this line was only going to appeal to people "of a certain age" though, and that's no doubt why they included her.

And it only took fifty years to get a line of decent Batman TV toys. Bring on Wave 2!
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