Thursday, October 23, 2014

Fall TV

At this point, the TV season has returned in full. These are the shows I'm watching and what I think about them so far this season.

Returning Shows

Agents of SHIELD
It's... good. I can't say I'm terribly excited to see it every week, but it's enjoyable enough that I keep going back to it. It's unfortunate that the first season was so bland that most discussion about the show now consists of "well, it's better than the first season" and "I think the show is good now."

It's three episodes into season 3 as of tonight and it's really good. Arrow has been doing a great job of walking a comfortable line between silly fun and legitimately good drama, having an over-the-top comic book fight scene one minute (motorcycle archery duel!) and then killing off a main character the next. Whether it's to just have fun or to see where the story's going next, I'm always looking forward to Arrow.

The 100
The 100 started off last season almost as "Lost with teenagers," but it quickly ended up being "Lost and Battlestar Galactica, with all the drama of both." Honestly, it's almost shocking how good the show is. It's not very uplifting, per se, but it's certainly gripping.

The Legend of Korra
This is the last season for Korra, and although it's sad to see it go, these last episodes are among the best.

New Shows

I didn't expect to like Gotham as much as I do. That said, I still have a lot of problems with the show, largely because of the premise.
Gotham is really two stories: one focused on Jim Gordon working his way through the corrupt GCPD system, and the other being a neverending series of winks and nods toward the proper Batman storyline. "Oh look, here's Poison Ivy/The Riddler/Catwoman/The Penguin when they were younger." "Oh look, here's ten-year-old Bruce Wayne being weird."
I like the Jim Gordon stuff, but the simple fact is that you really can't "set up" the Gotham super-villains before they're actually supposed to be super-villains. It's almost getting into Smallville territory, where every character had shown up and been important before the main hero ever put on the suit.
So... it's good, I just have reservations about it.

The Flash
This. Show. Is. AWESOME.
Seriously, this is so much fun it's ridiculous. Unlike Gotham, Smallville, and most other modern live-action comic book shows out there, The Flash doesn't hold back on what it's doing. This is a straight-up SUPERHERO show, with no comic book character off-limits. Arrow has been doing a similar thing with the street-level characters like Green Arrow, Deathstroke, and Huntress, but The Flash has... well, the Flash. With plenty more heroes and villains on their way.
What's better is that The Flash is a fun show that's genuinely uplifting. None of that grim/gritty nonsense. But it's not devoid of drama, either. There's a genuine heartfelt element to The Flash that's all-too-rare in superheroes these days.
This is my favorite show on TV right now; I love it.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

iTunes Radio - The Princess Dilemma

iTunes Radio has a Disney Princess station. When I discovered this, I was elated. Then I realized that I already own the vast majority of songs in the playlist.

Oh well.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014


So I just got around to seeing Maleficent.

I'm a really big fan of the original animated Sleeping Beauty, so I was really excited to see it brought to live-action. As it happens, it wasn't really the same story at all.

I really liked the movie overall, but I do have some big problems with it. I'm gonna go into crazy spoiler territory here, so if you haven't seen the movie yet (and it is worth seeing), don't read any further.

In Disney's Sleeping Beauty, the baby Princess Aurora is cursed by by Maleficent, "the mistress of all evil," who decrees that on her 16th birthday, Aurora will prick her finger on a spinning wheel and die. In order to protect Aurora, the Three Good Fairies are able to slightly alter the curse so that Aurora will not die, but rather fall into a permanent sleep. Additionally, the fairies take Aurora deep into the woods and raise her as their own daughter, hiding her away from Maleficent's gaze. As Aurora's 16th birthday nears, she meets and immediately falls in love with Prince Phillip. Meanwhile, Maleficent finally discovers where Aurora has been hidden, and the curse is finally fulfilled. Prince Phillip, with the aid of the Good Fairies, is able to slay Maleficent. Aurora is still comatose, but awakens when Phillip kisses her.

Maleficent is much more complicated, and I don't want to summarize the entire thing here. But essentially, in this new movie, Maleficent replaces Three Good Fairies and Prince Phillip. Those characters still exist in Maleficent, but they're entirely useless. The Three Fairies completely fail in their task in every conceivable way; they add absolutely nothing to the story. Aurora herself seems to not even care that they exist. Where Prince Phillip's romantic kiss broke the spell in the original movie, Maleficent's change of heart and motherly love broke it in this one. Maleficent takes on the motherly traits of the fairies as well as the heroic traits of Phillip, meaning that those characters are rendered worthless. Even Aurora herself isn't much of a character, though that's not much of a change from the original. And in order to make Maleficent an anti-hero rather than a full villain, there must be someone even more evil than she is. King Stefan takes on that role, being nearly as all-consumingly evil as Maleficent was in the original film.

Where the animated film had somewhat of an ensemble cast, with no single protagonist but a group of heroes united against a villain, Maleficent is singularly focused on Maleficent, giving her every role at once: hero, villain, mother, victim. It actually reaches the point where Maleficent herself doesn't at all resemble the original villain—the single greatest villain in all of Disney history, I might add.

This movie isn't about Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty; it's about a completely different character that merely looks and sounds similar. Such a complete reinvention isn't an intrinsically bad thing, of course, except that the movie itself is clearly a modern commentary on the original. It even ends with a voiceover saying, "this is how the story really happened..."
And that's the thing: if it wanted to be an original story, it shouldn't have bent over backwards to constantly reference the older movie. And on the other hand, if it wanted to caringly revisit that story, why did it effectively crap all over everything that actually worked about it?

Sleeping Beauty had a light-and-dark moral tale, with clearly defined heroes and villains. It's often criticized for being too simplistic, but it works. Maleficent is a story that tries so hard to rework Maleficent into a positive character that every other character in the story is either evil or useless.

Now, I did say that I really liked the movie, and overall I did. I just don't like some of the plot choices that were made. Maleficent's story works on its own, even if it's just odd in comparison to the original.

I think I'm gonna watch the animated movie tonight, and I'll definitely watch Maleficent again when it comes out on blu-ray.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014


I saw Transformers: Age of Extinction on Friday.

I've had kind of a weird history with the Transformers movies. Every time I've walked out of a Transformers movie, I've been happy with it.

Despite the stupidity of the first movie, getting to see actual photorealistic transformers on the big screen was too much of a dream come true for me to not be happy. Every time I've seen it since, I've liked it less and less. Last time I watched it (which was last week,) I realized that a good 70% of the movie does not matter. Literally, you could cut out most of the movie and the story would still work.

With the second movie, my expectations were so incredibly low (I'd read early reviews) that *anything* good in that movie would have pleasantly surprised me. Also, I walked in thinking, "all I want is to see giant robots smashing each other, and for Optimus Prime to have one awesome fight scene." And both of those things happened on an EXTREME level, so I was incredibly pleased. Then I saw the movie again and thought, " this the same movie I saw last week? This is seriously bad..."

The third movie I think is the only one that, on some level, actually succeeds as a Transformers movie. The action works, there's less stupidity, and it focuses primarily on the transformers themselves rather than the humans. Upon repeat viewings I've liked it far less, but I still don't hate the movie. It has some big problems, but I do still like it to a mild degree.

And then we have this new movie. Transformers: Age of Extinction. I'm really not sure why they didn't just title it Trans4mers, or Tr4nsformers, or Transformers: 4ge of Extinction, or T4: Judgment Day, but whatever.

So here's the way T4 is laid out:
After the gigantic battle in Chicago in the last movie, all transformers—including the Autobots—are now pariahs from humanity. A bounty hunter transformer, Lockdown, who is neither Autobot nor Decepticon, is aiding the CIA in hunting down the remaining transformers on Earth. When we find Optimus Prime, he's wounded, barely alive, and rightly pissed at humanity for betraying him. He's seen his allies slaughtered and their bodies used for scrap metal; he's completely done with his mantra of, "we must protect humanity at all costs." That storyline is incredibly cool. It's not dumb, it's done well, and it's a legitimately great new idea for Transformers. But that only goes so far.

At some point in the movie (really it's when the rest of the Autobots are introduced into the story), the story takes a nosedive back into the cartoony, ridiculous nonsense that plagued the first three movies. Now, this movie doesn't have any of the absolutely horrendous things from the old movies. There's nothing in Age of Extinction even approaching the level of racism and stupidity from the Twins in Revenge of the Fallen. There's no robot testicles like in Revenge of the Fallen. While there is a "hot girl" in the movie, she's nowhere near as molested-by-the-camera as Megan Fox or Rosie Huntington-Whitely were. What this movie does have in the negative category, though, is length. This movie is almost three hours long. And it honestly only needed to be maybe an hour and forty minutes. There's so much unnecessary fluff in T4 that it's sickening. It's like no one hired an editor. Toward the end of the movie, I was sitting there wanting to scream at the screen. I wanted all the robots to die, not for story reasons, but just because I wanted the movie to end. Ironically, the lack of goofiness in the movie only hurt it—without the campy nonsense to lighten the mood, a long Transformers movie is a complete chore to get through.

And then there was one last fight scene at the end—not over-the-top, well-choreographed, and all in all very well done. It actually made me a little bit bitter at the movie. It started off with a really great premise, worked well up to a point, then went sour for an hour and a half. And then it ended with a great fight scene that only seemed to remind us how good the movie could have been.

And that's the thing, really. I've seen tons of movies that let me down as a fan of the story: Superman Returns, The Last Airbender, Man of Steel... and this one. I don't put the other Transformers movies on that list primarily because they didn't exactly disappoint me. I've never been 100% certain that a live-action Transformers movie could work the way it does in animation and comics. But here, for the first time, we got a glimpse into a world where Transformers movies were good. And it was squashed in that same movie. Age of Extinction is the Icarus of Transformers movies.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

X-Men: Days of Future Past

As I write this, I'm sitting in the movie theater about to see X-Men: Days of Future Past. I'm pretty excited. I adored the first two X-Men movies as a kid (both directed by Bryan Singer), and Singer is back to direct this one. It looks good, and I can't wait.



So happy right now. Ever since the day I sat in Grapevine Mills Theater in May of 2003 to see X-Men 2, I've waited for this movie. Actually, lemme back up a bit here.

When I was twelve, I saw a short scene from the first X-Men movie on TV. The film had come out a couple of years prior, but I was ten at the time, so of course I didn't see it then. I'd seen maybe two minutes of the X-Men animated series, but otherwise this was my first exposure to X-Men. It was the scene where Logan and Rogue are in the trailer crash. Logan flies through the windshield, skids across the snow, then slowly stands up as the wounds on his face heal up.

That was about all I saw; I decided I wanted to see the entire thing from the beginning, so I stopped watching then. But what little I saw completely gripped me. It was... dark, but not Batman dark. It was gritty, but not stupidly gritty like so many other movies and comics from the 90s. I'd seen plenty of superhero movies where bullets bounced off Superman or nearly missed Batman, but the idea of a character with a healing factor—someone who would bleed, but heal in seconds—that was fascinating. And it perfectly represented X-Men's appeal. It had both feet firmly planted in the real world, but it was so mesmerizingly... strange.

The following months were very X-Men-heavy for me. After watching the entire first movie, I immediately started watching X-Men: Evolution, the then-current X-Men animated series (which I still love to this day), and got really excited to see X-Men 2 (fully titled X2: X-Men United) in theaters the next year.

I still remember the Sunday afternoon I sat in the movie theater with family and friends to see X2. To this day, it's one of my favorite moviegoing experiences. I'd become a hardcore X-Men fan over the year since seeing the first movie, and I was not disappointed. In fact, I was overjoyed at just how good the movie was. To say that it was satisfying is an understatement. When the DVD came out, I immediately bought it and played the opening title scene over and over again just to hear that awesome theme by John Ottman.

X2 ended with the promise of epic stories yet to come. I spent months and years waiting to see the next chapter. And yet, ultimately, it never really came. I never got to hear that John Ottman X-Men theme again.

As the years passed, lots of things happened with the X-Men. Bryan Singer left the X-franchise to direct Superman Returns (which didn't go so well), and the X-Men movies suffered as a result. The one-two punch of X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine were not only bad X-Men movies, but bad X-Men movies that also ruined the storyline of X2, taking it in stupid directions that didn't make any sense. Then there was X-Men: First Class, which wasn't bad, but somehow I didn't like much at all. Something about it just seemed hollow and frustratingly sub-par for something as epic as X-Men. The Wolverine, which only came out last year, was pretty decent. I liked it. But at best, it's a good Wolverine movie, not a good X-Men movie.

Another weird thing happened in all that time: I became aware that apparently, the first X-Men movie is not held in super-high regard. It's still liked more than disliked among geeks, but it's also known as being very flawed and problematic. And yet, X-Men 2 is still regarded as one of the best comic book movies of all time. That's still the X-Men gold standard: the childhood love of mine that's always stayed solid.

Now we have X-Men: Days of Future Past, the triumphant return of Bryan Singer to the franchise he made great. And for the first time since 2003, I feel that same sense of satisfaction. This is, in essence, the true return of X-Men. The true sequel to X2. And I couldn't be happier about it.

Oh, and what's this? Playing over the end credits of Days of Future Past?

The John Ottman X-Men theme.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Looking Forward: 2014 in Movies

2014 has a ton of movies that I'm looking forward to, a few of which have already been released. Here's a quick list of everything I want to see (and a few I've already seen):

The Lego Movie - February 7th

I saw it. It was indeed awesome.

RoboCop - February 12th

This was fine. Not on the level of the original, but fine. I'm looking forward to seeing it again on blu-ray.

Veronica Mars - March 7th

This was really just a reunion episode for the TV series, but it was a really fun episode at that. I'm looking forward to seeing how the franchise continues.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier - April 4th


The Amazing Spider-Man 2 - May 2

I wasn't a big fan of the first Amazing Spider-Man, but this one looks like it's solved all of the first one's problems. It also looks so perfectly spot-on to my favorite version of Spider-Man that it's seriously a dream come true for me.

X-Men: Days of Future Past - May 23

I was a huge fan of the first two X-Men movies, and the director of those is back for this one. It looks epic.

Maleficent - May 30

This is about as close as we've ever gotten to seeing a classic Disney animated movie in live-action. I'm really excited to see it.

Guardians of the Galaxy - August 1

So GOTG is a comic that I haven't gotten into yet and don't know a ton about, but the idea of an epic space action comedy is pretty appealing to me.

Big Hero 6 - November 7th

It's the next movie from Disney Animation, based on a little-known Asian-inspired Marvel comic series. Almost nothing is known about it yet, but Disney Animation is on a roll at the moment, so this is likely to be good.

The Hobbit: There and Back Again - December 17th
Because LOTR. Duh.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Lyrical Epic

This just happened between me and a stranger on a mutual friend's Facebook wall post. Play the song below while you read the image text.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Favorite Shows

This is a list of every TV show I have ever thought of as "my favorite show," arranged in chronological order by age. I'm going purely off memory here, so the age ranges may be inaccurate.

Age 4-5: Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman
This was where my Superman... thing... started. (interest/fandom/obsession?)

Age 5-6: Star Trek: The Next Generation
I'm a third-generation Star Trek fan on both sides of my family; I think it's fair to say Trek is in my blood. TNG was fascinating for me as a five-year-old, being deep enough to be interesting and simple enough to follow.

Age 7: Mighty Ducks
In another dimension, mutant ducks live on Puckworld, a planet named for the ducks' love of hockey. When the evil reptilian Lord Dragaunus and his minions invade and conquer Puckworld, a lone strike team of ducks retaliates, chasing Dragaunus to our planet. Now trapped on Earth, Dragaunus and his goons hide somewhere in Anaheim, California, while the team of ducks search for him from their secret base directly underneath Anaheim Stadium, where the ducks have become The Mighty Ducks, Anaheim's official hockey team.
To say that I loved this show as a kid is a severe understatement. I had a ton of the toys, I watched every one of its 26 episodes with glee, and to this day I get excited when I hear the (cheesy? silly? AMAZINGLY BADASS?) theme song.

Age 8-10: The New Batman-Superman Adventures
This was where I discovered Batman, basically. And modern good superhero storytelling. Still the best superhero stories out there, IMO.

Age 11-16: Star Trek: Voyager
Right as Voyager was ending, I started to rediscover Star Trek. I watched as many reruns of Voyager as I could, only stopped by the fact that network TV simply stopped airing it.

Age 12-13: Smallville (tied with Voyager I guess?)
When I was twelve, Smallville was pretty much the greatest thing I'd ever seen. A show for teenagers but with the epicness of the Superman mythos? A TV series with Hollywood-level production values?  It was pretty great. I only stopped watching it because my mom wanted to watch 24 at the same time, so she made up a thing about me not being old enough to watch it anyhow.

Age 16-17: Fullmetal Alchemist (2003 series)
This was my first exposure to anime outside of Pokémon. And it's considered one of the greatest anime of all time, so I guess I started things off right. To say that FMA is amazing doesn't even cover it. It's an incredibly deep, dramatic series with an awesome sense of humor and charm to match. It diverges from the original manga storyline and has a... rather bizarre ending, but the journey is worth it nonetheless. They eventually did a new version of the series (subtitled Brotherhood), which follows the manga exactly, but it lacks the original series' amazing production value and dramatic strength. The 2003 series is up on Netflix right now, so please go watch it (in Japanese with English subtitles, because otherwise it's just wrong). Then go watch the movie sequel/finale, Conqueror of Shamballa.

Age 18: Bleach
I don't quite remember why I started watching this. I think I'd heard good things about it and started watching it on a whim because all the episodes at the time were on Youtube. I spent countless hours watching Bleach during my breaks in-between classes at school. There's a lot of great things about Bleach: its sense of humor, its unique fantasy mythology, its action, et cetera. Maybe the coolest thing about the show, though, is its modern stylistic sense, with its heavy influences from Japanese youth and music culture. A little like The Matrix, it's a fantasy anime made for the modern day.

Age 20: Legend of the Seeker
I wrote about Legend of the Seeker awhile back, and I think my old comments are still accurate.

Age 22: The Legend of Korra
The first season ("book") of The Legend of Korra was one of the best seasons of any show I've ever seen. Easily the best action/drama animated season of all time, in my opinion. And it was only twelve episodes.

Age 24: Video Game High School
VGHS is a web series rooted deeply in a love of video games and 80s pop culture. I can honestly say that no movie or TV series has ever captured the "heart" at the core of video gaming like VGHS. It started off a bit rocky in its early episodes, but by the end of the first season I was completely in love with it. Can't wait for Season 3.

Age 24: Arrow
The first season of Arrow walked the line between cheesy CW teen drama and serialized comic book action drama. Which is to say that it was a little bit... bleh. It was mildly fun and just deep enough to keep watching. The season 1 finale, however, was really strong, to the point where it felt like it became a totally different show. The normal storytelling tropes that CW teen shows rely upon were thrown out the window, and in its place we suddenly had a competent action drama series in the ever-fun DC Comics universe. Season 2 has thus far been tons of fun, while largely keeping up the higher standard of quality. I look forward to every episode of Arrow the way I used to look forward to new episodes of Batman in 1997.