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2007 – The Year In Geekdome (Part 2)

11

Dec

Posted by Steve

With 2006 behind us having given us a 14 disc Superman collector’s DVD set, Pirates of the Carribean 2, Superman Returns, and Peter Parker outing himself to the world, 2007 kind of started off with a whimper offering us THE INVINCIBLE IRON MAN in a straight to DVD release.  Things were looking bleak. 

Fortunately, in the straight to DVD market, we weren’t left floundering about.   Marvel’s next release of the year came several months later in the form of DR. STRANGE.  

I was never a big fan of Dr. Strange in the comic books.  That is not to say that I didn’t like the character, just that I only knew him from guest appearances here and there.  In fact, the most exposure I ever had to Strange was in the short lived Defenders reboot in the late nineties.   In the title, he, The Silver Surfer, Namor, and the Hulk were bound by a curse to not be able to break up the team.   In the end, they brought out the darkest side of themselves and set up rule on the Earth to ultimately defeat the being that was behind the curse.  (I think that’s why they did that.)

Having little knowledge of the Dr. Strange mythology, I sat down to watch the DVD with little or no expectations and as the credits came up on my television screen, I was glad that I had picked up the DVD.   DR. STRANGE gave us a true hero’s journey complete with a great final confrontation and room for a sequel.  Things were looking up in the straight to DVD market and DC was getting ready to throw their hat into the ring with SUPERMAN: DOOMSDAY.

You can read my complete review of SUPERMAN: DOOMSDAY here.  Suffice to say that I really enjoyed it.   While Doomsday wasn’t really the centerpiece of the story, the movie itself was good.   It was a smart move on the part of the promotional team to use the words “inspired by” rather than “based on” the best selling graphic novel of all time.  For, while the Death and Return of Superman took place, very little else resembled the story from the comics.  However, it was a Superman movie, and it was good enough (to me) to watch more than once.

In the theatres, things went a little better than they did on the DVD shelf.  Not at first, but they got there.

The first comic book adaptation of the year was GHOST RIDER.  Ghost Rider is another character I was never really into.  Unlike Dr. Strange, though, I really never liked the character.  Visually he’s interesting and he makes a good guest appearance, but I never thought he was strong enough to carry his own book.  To carry his own film, he was gonna need more than Nicolas Cage.  A lot of work went into the Ghost Rider film.  It’s easy to forget that sometimes when something falls flat.  However, if you dig on the net a little, or watch the special features on the DVD, you’ll learn that the effects guys worked hard to make fire effects that wouldn’t look fake, stunt people worked hard and dangerously to accomplish some great stunts, and the heart of the director was in the right place.

Sadly, Ghost Rider couldn’t do what Blade accomplished so well in his first outing on the big screen.   I saw this movie in a packed theatre.  If nothing else, the promotion machine for the film did it’s job.  People bought into the visuals and funny bits from the trailers that flooded movie theatres and televisions. 

Honestly, Nic Cage wasn’t bad in the movie.  I don’t generally like him in much, but I enjoyed his role in this film and it gave me the great moment of “You’re walking all over Karen.”  The problem came down to trying to make Ghost Rider too funny.  There didn’t seem to be enough trust in the character as he’s written in comics, and anytime a movie maker chooses not to do that, the movie itself suffers.

I left the theatre not feeling like I’d wasted money on the movie, but disappointed that it wasn’t what I knew it could have been…the surprise hit of the year.  However, my disappointment wouldn’t last long.

While on television, Heroes was rushing to learn to stop an exploding man and Smallville was (again, in my opinion) stumbling it’s way toward one of the best season finales the show has ever had, Leonidas and his 300 were defending Greece against an onslaught of Persians.  I had never read 300.  In fact, (I’m a bit embarassed to admit) I didn’t know that Frank Miller’s graphic novel was a fantastic interpretation of an actual historical event.  

What I did know, though, was that Frank Miller’s unique stylized art was wonderfully reproduced in moving picture form.  That alone was enough to bring me to theatre to see this film.  When the movie was over, I walked out of the theatre hoping someone would oppress me just so I could KICK THEIR…ahem…so I could rise up and defeat them. 

Everything about 300 was amazing.  I wasn’t bothered at all by the slow motion to quick motion fight scenes.  I reveled in David Wenham’s portrayal of Dilios and his ability to tell the story of 300 and make us feel like he was truly standing before 10,000 Greeks getting them pumped for the battle ahead.  In fact, I was totally caught up in all of the characters.  I hated who I was supposed to hate, loved who I was supposed to love, and found myself profoundly sad for and proud of the men who gave their lives in the name of stopping tyrrany in it’s tracks.  Suddenly, as far as movies went, 2007 was looking up. 

However, we still had a long way to go.  People were buzzing over Venom, preparing for The Surfer’s rise, arguing over flames on Optimus, bemoaning the fact that John McClane was going to be PG-13, anticipating Harry’s induction into the Order of the Phoenix, and awaiting the return of Jack Sparrow.   Yes, 2007 was a long way from over.

2007 – The Year in Geekdom (part 1)

5

Dec

Posted by Steve

Here we are at the end of 2007, and it’s time for a look back. 

Before we look back though, I have to be honest and say that there are a few movies that I haven’t seen and some that I am looking forward to seeing before the year is over.

Top among those are I AM LEGEND starring Will Smith.  I would probably see this movie simply because Will Smith is in it.  As it stands though, it looks promising as far as the story goes (I’ve never read the graphic novel.).   Smith has come a loooong way since his “Take it from me, parents just don’t understand” days alongside Jazzy Jeff.  He has solidified himself as one of the better actors of our time.  Even though I still have friends who can’t get past the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, after his work in films like ALI and THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS, it cannot be denied that Will Smith is a wonderful actor.  So, I am looking forward to a movie that is going to push his acting by having him and him alone on screen for a large chunk of the film.

Also, I haven’t seen BEOWULF yet.  However, I still intend to.  I am intrigued by the motion capture animation style of the film, and I have been intrigued by the story of Beowulf since I first read it in my lit class in high school.

Then there’s ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS.  I sat GARFIELD out.  Mainly because of Odie.  I didn’t like the look of Odie as they presented him on the big screen and I wasn’t too keen on another live action cartoon.  Every trailer I’ve seen of ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS has made me laugh though, so I will probably spring a matinee fee to go see it.

Ultimately, 2007 was across the board a decent year for geeks on several levels.

In the world of books and literature, we were treated to HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS.  I actually didn’t read any of the Harry Potter books until this year. It all started when I was at my house one day just doing some cleaning and ABC Family was running the first three movies back to back to back in anticipation of their premiere of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (I think).  I was flipping channels and I saw some kids run through a wall to a train station on the other side and I thought, “That’s pretty neat.”  Before I knew it, I was sucked in to the story of Harry Potter via the first film.  I had seen PRISONER OF AZKABAN with a friend who just wanted someone to go watch it with her, so I wasn’t unfamiliar with the characters or anything, I just wasn’t into the whole Harry Potter phenomenon.   Now, though, I went out and bought each book as finished the previous one.  I was blown away by J.K. Rowlings ability to write teen angst without making me roll my eyes and think the kids were all too stupid to continue to invest in.  (Yes, I ended a sentence with a preposition…sue me.)  The problem was that I finished HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF BLOOD PRINCE months before DEATHLY HALLOWS was released.   So I got caught up in all the speculation and discussions about what would happen and who would die.  

When I finally got my hands on the seventh and final book in the series, I devoured it.   I was totally invested in Hermione’s and Ron’s relationship with each other.  I got choked up when Ron came back to the trio after leaving so angrily.  I nearly got mad when, during a break in chapters, I thought for a split second that Hagrid had died.  I was thrilled when Mrs.  Weasly finally broke loose and showed just how tough she was.  I absolutely cheered when Harry finally faced down his Lord Voldemort and defeated evil.  I was a kid again.   In fact, every single book took me to that place that I think everyone has inside of them.   That place of childhood wonder at the world around you.

In comics, things are a bit more complicated.

In DC comics, 52 ended and the Countdown begun, thus proving that you can’t make magic happen intentionally, and lightning doesn’t strike the same place twice.  What do I mean by that?  Well, DC pulled off something successful, innovative, and very well-received in the form of 52.   However, to immediately follow that up with a series that is released the same way as 52 without the apparent detail to timing and continuity shows that the DC higher ups saw a dollar figure more than another creative oppurtunity.  

DC also took a step toward a more Silver Age feel in their books.  This could be good…this could be bad.  So far, it’s been both.  It depends largely on who’s writing and what they’ve been given and green lit to write.  Hopefully, DC will answer continuity questions and settle into a long term status quo with their books in Final Crisis.  This whole year for DC has seemed very hit and miss in terms of quality.  Further, it seems that DC has no real sense of where it’s headed or why. 

That’s not to say there hasn’t been some good stuff realeased by DC.   There has been some stuff that I wish I was collecting and some stuff that I have bit the bullet and picked up whether my budget can handle the strain or not.  Truthfully, ’08 has more potential for DC to get things on a great track more than Marvel.

In Marvel comics, 2007 saw Civil War end, The Hulk wage war, Captain America die, and Skrulls rear their ugly heads again.  While Civil War is an interesting concept, the end result left things so open ended and in disarray that many people are scratching their heads wondering if Marvel can get things back on track for themselves without God (as portrayed by Jack Kirby) wiping the slate clean and starting over. 

This is not to say that Civil War wasn’t compelling, interesting, or good, only that it may have been too much.  

Then there’s the death of Captain America.   This event has been handled pretty well by the Marvel Bullpen.  While Captain America will be back, (and most likely Steve Rogers as well one day) his death has been treated like the event it should be.

While I really enjoyed everything I got to read on the World War Hulk front, the story wasn’t the Earth-shattering event it promised to be in the months leading up to the Green Goliath’s return to Earth.  Sentinel continues to be a poor shadow of what Superman is in DC comics, and the question of how the Hulk will go back to being simply hounded by the military while Bruce Banner hides and finds a cure is yet to be seen.

Skrulls are back, and while I thought the first appearance of a Skrull in the Avengers title was supposed to signal an invasion of sorts, I haven’t seen or heard anything major happening yet.  

Marvel, through 2007, showed that (in their comics) they continue to tell great stories that start big and just kind of fizzle out at the end.   I think it’s time to go back to what works for them and get centered.   Quit messing around too much in your heroes lives and get back to some good old fashioned hero vs. villain action for a while. 

Both companies have gone the way of writing for the trades and killing us with crossovers.  Remember when you could collect one book and know what was going on with that character or team fairly consistently? 

There were a few straight to DVD releases this year that I picked up.

In January, Marvel continued it’s line of animated titles with THE INVINCIBLE IRON MAN.  The DVD came out the week of my birthday, so I picked it up as a present to myself.   I should have grabbed an ice cream cake from Dairy Queen instead.   The movie just didn’t pop with me.  There was never the moment that made me say, “This is worth the price of admission.”  Ultimate Avengers had it, when Captain America goes in to fight the Hulk, I was on the edge of my seat thinking, “Holy monkey spit! They’re gonna fight!” Ultimate Avengers 2 didn’t really have that moment, but it was still more watchable, in my opinion, that THE INVINCIBLE IRON MAN.  

As far as Super Heroes in any type of feature, that was the first one of the year, so things got off to not so hot a start in ’07 for our super powered friends.  In my mind, I had to wonder, “Would things get better?”

SUPERMAN: DOOMSDAY Reviewed

25

Sep

Posted by Steve

I wasn’t able to pick up SUPERMAN: DOOMSDAY last Tuesday on it’s release day.  I had to choose earlier in the month between picking up that and one other title at the same time, or picking up Smallville Season 6.  I went the Smallville route. 

Luckily, my good friend and future contributor to the Geek Out Loud podcast, Big B stepped in with a copy he purchased and we had a viewing at The Fortress of Solitude South (My house) the Thursday after release day.

My thoughts?  Weeellllll…..I’ve watched it three times now.  Once with commentary.  Bruce Timm and the gang didn’t fully sell me on it.  I liked it, but I didn’t love it.  I didn’t like it too much, but I didn’t absolutely hate it.  I thought it was great…but not that great.  I thought it was bad…but not THAT bad.  “Why so schizo?” you ask?  Let’s begin with a recap of the film.  Spoilers abound, so if you haven’t seen the movie yet, you may not want to read on til you do.

The movie opens with a monologue about who Superman is to Lex Luthor.  Lex refers to him (and not for the last time) as a god among men who, rather than rule, has chosen to serve and protect…to save humanity. 

Clark is dealt with pretty quickly after our initial introduction to Perry White and Lois Lane.  Apparently, Clark is going to be the Planet’s foreign correspondent in Afghanistan.  I read someone complaining about this country as a choice to place a foreign correspondent, but the truth is it makes sense and could end up contributing to the timelessness of the movie.   News companies still have foreign correspondents there even if the big news is Iraq.  Why?  Because no matter if we forget or not, there are still things going down in Afghanistan.  It’s still a dangerous place, but not so dangerous that someone like Clark couldn’t make it there as his first assignment as a foreign correspondent.  Ultimately, this is just a way to keep from having to answer the question of Clark hiding his identity throughout the events that follow in the movie.

Lex is drilling deep into the Earth to harness radiation to be used as a power source.  Of course, he’s not doing it himself, I should say that Lexcorp is funding the drilling.  The workers unearth an ancient spacecraft that houses Doomsday in suspended animation.  As the workers disturb the ship, it opens, or is punctured, and Doomsday wakes up and begins his killing ways.

He plows a path of destruction that leads him to Metropolis.  

While all of this is going down, Superman and Lois are enjoying some time together in the Fortress of Solitude – North (Superman’s home…not mine.)  While there, they have their first fight.  They have been dating for six months, and Superman won’t reveal his secret identity to Lois.  She’s pretty much got it figured out though.  Just as they are making up, Superman’s robot alerts him to the trouble brewing in Metropolis and a Superman rushes headlong in to a battle to his death.  Well, to steal a line from THE PRINCESS BRIDE “he’s just mostly dead.”

In the days that follow the funeral, Lois goes to see Martha Kent, she reveals that she knew that Clark and Superman were one and the same and has come to Martha to share her grief with the only other person on Earth who loved Superman in as personal a way as Lois did.

Suddenly, emo Toy Man appears with a giant spider and a bus load of children in danger.  Lois jumps in to help the kids, but before she can save the last little girl, Toy Man catches her and snaps.  He uses his giant toy spider to rip the bus to pieces and throw it over the side of a building. 

At Superman’s grave, a fist smashes through the ground.  Superman returns (so to speak) to save the day.  But it’s not REALLY Superman, it’s a clone developed by Lex Luthor, who has stolen the body of Superman and used his DNA to begin building an army of Supermen that will be subservient to him.

This pseudo-Superman sees himself as Metropolis’ protector, but he lacks the moral center of the real Superman.  He’s not evil.  He’s not Bizarro.  He’s just edgy, dark, and misguided.  After seeing a report that Toy Man escaped from jail and killed a little girl, Superman kills Toy Man.  He is now wanted and the National Guard is called in to take him down.

It should be mentioned at this point that the robot from the Fortress took the real Superman’s body from Lex and brought him to the Fortress to revive him and help him regain his strength.  As I said, Superman wasn’t dead, he was mostly dead.

The fake Superman nearly kills Lex, and dismantles the army sent to take him in.   It is now that the real Superman shows up to stop him.  A fight ensues and the fake Superman dies in the arms of the real Superman, and hope lives anew in Metropolis.

If you notice, I spent more time on the events surrounding the fake Superman than I did those surrounding Doomsday…that’s because the movie did too.  Therein lies my first problem with the movie…..The Doomsday fight wasn’t long enough.  I know that the creators didn’t want a fight that dragged on and on, but at least give us a fight that lasts longer than a few minutes.   The fight in the comics went on for three or four issues.   It has to be epic.  It has to feel more deadly than it did.  One little shot of blood spattering on Lois’ face and Superman coughing up blood doesn’t do it.   The fight is brutal.  It is cool to watch, it just seems abbreviated.  I feel like there could be more.  But I like what we got.

In fact, both of the major fights in the movie are very cool.   When Superman is fighting Doomsday, the animators do a great job toward the end of showing Superman stumble when he throws a punch because he’s so weak.  During the Doomsday fight, there is some great punching and throwing.  DOOMSDAY POWER BOMBS SUPERMAN!  There is an homage to Superman 2 when Superman and Non fight under the street and it causes the whole place to shake.   That happens here too.

When Superman fights fake Superman, there is a cool moment when fake Superman gets thrown into a building.  Instead of crashing into it, he stops himself and lands gently on the building’s side, but then with force enough to crack the wall, he pushes himself off and lunges at Superman. 

Cool, cool fights.

James Marsters was a perfect choice for the voice of Lex Luthor.  The design of Lex Luthor was great.  I prefer it to the design of Lex in Superman: The Animated Series.  He looks like a classic villian.  He is positively evil, make no mistake.  He finds cures to diseases and has his scientist figure out a way to stretch the cures into treatments so that people pay for them their entire lives and Lexcorp reaps the profit again and again.

The only thing I didn’t like about Lex was the wierd way he dealt with Superman’s death.  Not the clone, but the fact that he used his clone as a punching bag to let out his feelings about Superman dying.  It seemed…well…it was just wierd.

Many people have very positive things to say about the music for this movie.  My favorite musical moment is when Superman has grabbed Doomsday and flown with him into space only to push him back into Earth so as to finally end his rampage.   The music is awesome at this moment and fits perfectly into what is happening and what is coming. 

I didn’t like the theme though.  Well, I liked it, but it seemed like something that belonged in a Star Trek movie…not a movie where Superman is going to give his life in an epic battle and risk it in another.  It carried too much a feel of discovery and not enough of adventure.  So it didn’t hit just the right emotional note with me when Superman comes back and the theme is playing in the background.

Here’s the problem…it’s not John Williams.  Let’s face it, no one will ever be able to write a Superman theme that compares and it is Williams’ theme to which every theme written will be compared. 

If for no other reason than two great fights and a cameo by Kevin Smith, (which, by the way, to completely understand you need to watch this. The language is quite coarse, so if you are esily offended don’t click this link. this movie is worth watching.  The question is, “Is it worth buying?” I’m going with  a definite yes.  If you want to watch some cool Superman fight scenes, you can pop this in a watch anytime. 

Also, there is a great documentary on the original storyline in the comics.  It’s not a featurette, it’s a full fledged documentary featuring the writers who worked together to write the death and return story.  It is a wonderful insight into not only breaking a story, but the passion that these people have for the characters they write.  It’s worth the price of admission so to speak.

While the movie isn’t what I would have hoped, or even what I would have tried to do with the subject matter, it is a good Superman movie.  Check it out, and don’t forget to throw your two cents worth in by commenting or E-mailing me.

Also, don’t forget we’re a few days away from the launch of Geek Out Loud, the official podcast of Geek Out Online.