Tagged: sequel

REVIEW: Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey

REVIEW: Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey

CMS1_ beautyshot_01We’ve been wondering about the stars since the first intelligent biped stared into the night sky.  Personally, I find the possibilities beyond our atmosphere fascinating and wish I had the mind to absorb the hard science. I took Astronomy in college and when I struggled with the math involved I went to the professor who asked if it was part of my major. When told no, he told me to drop the course. A year later, PBS aired Cosmos: A Personal Journey, Carl Sagan’s lauded and beloved miniseries about the stars. Being in college at the time, I missed watching it or reading the gorgeous companion volume but know it had a major impact on society.

Among those influenced by the show was Neil deGrasse Tyson who recently concluded a thirteen episode sequel, Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, which is now available ion a handsome four disc Blu-ray set from 20th Century Home Entertainment. It comes at a time when America relies on Russia for engines to reach orbit and a recent analysis declares we don’t have the budget or political wherewithal to reach Mars anytime soon. We still have members of Congress automatically pooh-pooh any sort of scientific warning about our climate or evolution or the value of exploring the universe.

They should all watch this. We’re reminded of the awe-inspiring vistas of stars, solar systems, and galaxies. Credit goes to Renaissance-man Seth MacFarlane for producing this series, using his clout to get this funded and on the air. Among the executive producers is Brannon Braga, known better for mangling science fiction than embracing science but his presence here is a welcome one. Tyson partnered with Sagan’s widow Ann Druyan to write the series and collects images culled from telescopes and satellites representing a true international collective.

While Sagan was a scientist-poet, Tyson is more of an everyman but still inspires us with his wondrous tour of the cosmos. He honors his predecessor, showing what we’ve learned since the original series and builds on what was presented then. With his own version of a starship, we tour the stars and the intent was to bring a cinematic sweep to the smaller screen and it works beautifully.

The Blu-ray transfer is just shy of perfection with photography and stunning CGI recreations. The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is more than match for the visuals so watching this again and again will be a pleasure.

Each of the four discs comes with Special Features such as:

Disc One:

“Standing Up in the Milky Way” Commentary from Druyan, Mitchell Cannolo, Braga, Jason Clark and Kara Vallow.

Disc Two:

Celebrating Carl Sagan: A Selection from the Library of Congress Dedication (34:37) . Credit goes to MacFarlane for getting Sagan’s papers delivered to the people’s Library.

Disc Three:

Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey at Comic-Con 2013 (40:13) shows that much as we love our spaced fantasy, we’re also geeks for the real thing.

Disc Four:

Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey – The Voyage Continues (41:20) shows how the first miniseries informed and inspired the second.

Interactive Cosmic Calendar: Druyan hosts a timeline accessible from any given cosmic “month”.

Do We Need To Talk About Spider-Man? And Other Superhero Movies Too?
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Do We Need To Talk About Spider-Man? And Other Superhero Movies Too?

Criminy. Devin Faraci sitsus down for “the talk”. Is this simple sequel fatigue and diminishing returns, or is it possible that we might be seeing the first superhero movie domino fall?

Suddenly, a lot more seems to be riding on X-Men: Days Of Future Past this weekend…
Box Office Democracy: “Godzilla”

Box Office Democracy: “Godzilla”

I needed Godzilla to give me more monster fights.  Not monsters destroying cities or people running from monsters but monsters fighting monsters.  They knew that’s what I wanted too because sequences would build to those moments where two kaiju would look at each other, screech, and charge at each other only for the camera to cut away to some human doing some dumb thing or another.  I know that this movie already cost $160 million and that’s with almost no money spent on cast so I have to assume they put all the special effects in that they could but this movie made almost $200 million in its first weekend and I assure you I do not care what the humans are doing in Godzilla, not even a little bit.

The monsters look fantastic.  I tried to parse exactly how they made them through studying the credits and it seems to be some alchemical combination of digital effects and performance capture and I can’t stress enough how perfect and plausible they look.  It probably helps that they are usually in dark smoky environments but it works better than any attempt I’ve seen with the possible exception of Pacific Rim and this is certainly trying for a grittier, more realistic look than Rim was going for.  The climactic fights are over-the-top brutal but all the way through I was impressed at how it looked like these massive creatures had actual weight and interacted with their environment in consistently plausible ways.  A sequel has already been greenlit and I’m beyond excited to see where they go with these monsters.

The humans are another matter entirely.  I mean, I guess they always look like they have weight and they interact with their environment in a plausible manner but I’m not sure they ever really affect the story.  You could take the actions of every human being out of this movie and it would affect the outcome not at all.  Nothing the humans do to stop the rampaging monsters is successful on any level.  In fact, the climactic actions of the main human character, Lieutenant Ford Brody, only serve to save people from a mistake the humans made earlier in the film.  Godzilla is the title character and he solves the problem all by himself.  I never quite got invested in the drama they tried to insert with Brody and his wife or Brody and his son or Brody and some strange other child.  I completely failed to care at all about the faceless, practically nameless, other military operatives.  I only cared a little about Dr. Serizawa because Ken Wantanabe played him and I honestly can’t tell you what happened to that character in the third act.  Everyone just sort of fades away in the backdrop of better monster action.  As much as I want to see them expand on the monster action I want them to throw all the other characters in this movie and start over with every entry.

A common lament about film in the last decade or so is that every film is either a remake or a sequel and no one is willing to try new things.  While there is undeniable truth to this, Godzilla is proof that there are plenty of new ideas and good movies to be made from old properties.  This is as different from the original film as is possible with only passing similarity to what came before.  It would be a huge mistake for anyone to dismiss this as creatively bankrupt when it’s such a fresh take on a property that was honestly run in to the ground by The Toho Company some time ago.  This is a fantastic action movie and one worthy of praise no matter what its origins are.

 

Jen Krueger: Permanent Pop Culture

Jen Krueger: Permanent Pop Culture

My friend Dave has decided to get a tattoo of a Recognizer from Tron. It’ll be his first (and probably only) tattoo, and I wasn’t at all surprised that’s what he wanted when finally making the plunge into getting ink. But while it’s far from the first time I’ve encountered the idea of a pop culture tattoo, Dave’s Recognizer is the first instance of a pop culture tattoo that hasn’t made me cringe a little bit.

Don’t get me wrong, I love tattoos. It’s just that, oxymoronic as it may sound, I’m kind of traditional when it comes to them. I dig the old maritime culture of tattoo designs that are like badges of particular skills or experiences, and while I don’t have anything against the idea of getting ink just for fun or decorative adornment, I tend to look at tattoos today more as an opportunity to represent something meaningful and personal. So no matter how well done the tattoos themselves are, whenever I’ve seen photos of Marvel back pieces, Disney sleeves, or Nintendo chest pieces, my first reaction tends to be an assumption that they’ll one day be regretted. As much as I may love certain comics, movies, or games, I’ve found it hard to imagine someone would really want the Avengers, a collection of princesses, or a bunch of video game bosses on them forever.

That being said, I didn’t bat an eyelash when my friend James decided on a Fahrenheit 451 tattoo. Ray Bradbury is his favorite author, and Fahrenheit 451 his favorite Bradbury work, so the burning paper man illustration from one of the Fahrenheit 451 covers struck me as the perfect choice for James when it came to putting an image permanently on his body. But if it’s this easy for me to understand getting a tattoo that references a book, shouldn’t a tattoo referencing a comic, movie, or game be just as easy for me to understand? After all, they’re all pieces of entertainment, and I’m sure there are people who love the Hulk or Ariel or Mario just as much as James loves Bradbury. If I cringe at the idea of a pop culture tattoo but like the idea of a literary one, am I being a snob?

I don’t think so. Because I don’t think it really has anything to do with the content at all. It’s actually about the relationship to the content, and how likely that relationship is to change.

Get me talking about Doctor Who and it’s immediately apparent I’m a huge fan. It’s definitely my favorite show, has been for a number of years at this point, and I’d even go so far as to say the Doctor is one of the best television characters I’ve ever encountered. But no matter how much I love Doctor Who, I’d never consider getting a Who tattoo. Even though I’ll likely always love the episodes I do at this moment, the still-evolving state of the franchise means I can’t be sure I’ll always love the show as a whole. If I put a TARDIS on my arm today and next season goes in a direction I hate, I not only get disappointed by a show I love, I also get a permanent reminder of that disappointment. Comics and video games go through the same amount of (if not more) evolution as TV shows, and though non-franchise movies are less likely to be subjected to it, the popularity of the reboot is high enough that I’d be hard-pressed to be positive a movie I love won’t end up mangled in the future with a remake or sequel.

Books, on the other hand, are obviously much less fluid. Sure, a series of novels can go through as much evolution as a TV show, comic, movie franchise, or game franchise, but with fewer hands at the helm of a series of novels than tend to be involved in most other forms of entertainment, I find it easier to assume I’ll like the next book in a series than I do to assume I’ll like the next offering of something I’ve previously enjoyed in one of these other fields. Shift the focus to stand-alone novels, and I can say with certainty that whenever my feelings about a book have changed, they’ve only become more positive over time. If there was an obvious and simple visual to be pulled from my favorite book, I probably would’ve gotten a tattoo of it years ago because I can be so confident my love for it is a lifelong love.

So what was it about Dave’s Recognizer tattoo idea that kept me from cringing? Knowing that for him, the tattoo is about more than Tron. His love for the movie stems not just from the film itself, but also from the fact that his first experience with it was special because of who shared it with him. This kind of love for a piece of entertainment is the caveat I was overlooking in the past when considering pop culture tattoos, and it’s made me realize there may have been more meaning to some ink I’ve seen and assumed wasn’t very personal. From now on, I’ll look a little harder for the story behind these kind of tattoos. But if there isn’t one to be found, I won’t feel bad about reverting to a cringe.

REVIEW: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

THE_HOBBIT_THE_DESOLATION_OF_SMAUG_BLU-RAY_thumb_I first read The Hobbit back in high school, during the tail end of J.R.R. Tolkien’s renaissance, sparked by the Ballantine Books editions that first popped up in the 1960s. I later learned Tolkien wrote this as a children’s tale and when asked for a sequel went away for a decade and came up with the adult Lord of the Rings. A few thoughts come to mind starting with how far children’s literature has fallen since this debuted in 1937 so thinner and lesser works are now receiving acclaim.

msddrag-pa002-h-1It was lighter and sprightlier than its follow-up but in the hands of Peter Jackson, it has been uncomfortably shoe-horned into a cinematic continuity where it has struggled to find its way. In order to flesh things out, Jackson and his initial collaborator Guillermo Del Toro turned to the appendices to find supplemental story material, which worked out fine with the first trilogy. But the tone and approach to this children’s story has grown darker and certainly designed to act as a prequel trilogy to the more substantive LOTR. As a result, it’s almost impossible to judge the Hobbit films against the source material. The first, released in 2012, was maybe 60% from the novel and now The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, out on disc now from Warner Home Entertainment, is even less so.

the-desolation-of-smaugLooking at the second installment as a film and not an adaptation, it works wonderfully well, a stronger middle chapter, much as The Empire Strikes Back deepened the early Star Wars universe. Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) continues heading for the Lonely Mountain and its protector, the giant dragon Smaug. He is there to help the brotherhood of dwarves and honor his commitments, emboldened by the experiences in An Unexpected Journey. As is his wont, Gandalf (Ian McKellen) has gone off with Radagast the Brown (Sylvester McCoy), seeking to learn more of the dangers he senses, all prelude to the following trilogy.

The-Hobbit-The-Desolation-of-SmaugThis film is really less about our hobbit and far more about the coming of age, as it were, of Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage). While there are some thrills as they encounter Beorn (Mikael Persbrandt) and an army of giant spiders in Mirkwood, his major test comes when the band is captured by a darker, more malevolent elf Legolas (Orlando Bloom), accompanied by Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly). By inserting Legolas here feels odd since at no time in the LOTR trilogy does he comment at all about having met Bilbo since the notion hadn’t yet occurred to Jackson but bothered me. And while the diehard loyalists decry the whole cloth creation of a female elf, she works just fine for the purposes of the story. As the captured dwarves are delivered to Elvenking Thranduil (Lee Pace), we finally get to see Bilbo uses the One Ring to affect a nifty recuse. The characterization that both helped and bogged down the opening chapter is lessened here, which is keenly felt at times.

1881268230_1359899548Finally, our merry band arrives at Esgaroth, setting up the confrontation with the amazing CGI creation of Smaug, voiced perfectly by Benedict Cumberbatch. Just like that, 2:40 slide by and you’re left with a cliffhanger that had fans stunned last December. This is a far stronger film than the first and feels justified as part of a trilogy, avoiding the sag many middle films suffer from.

As expected, the film transfer is gorgeous and glorious to look at from the couch. The sound is equally strong so you’re in good hands here.

What you have to decide now is whether or not having this version is all you need or should you wait for the extended cut edition no doubt coming next fall. The current set comes with the film on Blu-ray and DVD along with an Ultraviolet copy plus a Blu-ray disc of extra features. You get Peter Jackson Invites You to Set (40:36), four Production Videos (36:41), Live Event: In the Cutting Room (37:52), New Zealand: Home of Middle-earth, Part 2 (7:11), and a Music Video for “I See Fire” by Ed Sheeran (5:42).

John Ostrander: Sequels and Prequels and Remakes, Oh My!

Fox Movies has announced the possibility of re-making the musical West Side Story because Steven Spielberg has evidently expressed an interest in doing so. A part of me, a large part of me, wonders if that’s a good idea. The original won ten Oscars and is considered a movie classic. So – why? Why do a remake? It might be different but will it be better? How likely is that?

It puts me in mind of Gus Van Sant’s shot by shot re-make of Psycho. Why did he bother other than as an artistic exercise? Why did the studio okay it? One of the justifications I heard is the younger generation won’t go to the original because it’s in black and white. Seriously? They can’t be that shallow.

At one point there was talk of doing a re-make of Casablanca as a film. That was fortuitously abandoned. There was a TV prequel to it in 1983 that lasted about a season. There was also a TV remake of Going My Way which starred Gene Kelly in the Bing Crosby role and Leo G. Carroll in the Barry Fitzgerald part. This one actually had a large impact on me; I was in the 8th grade at that point and it made me want to be a priest. My “vocation” lasted only a little longer than the series. But the TV series was my first experience with the material and so the TV series was always my “real” Going My Way.

Famously, there was the Godfather sequel that was better than the first film. Less fortunately, there was another sequel which was lesser than either of the previous two films. Likewise, the sequel to the first Star Wars film was, by most peoples’ account, the best film of the series while the third one was far from that. Then Lucas, in his supreme wisdom, went back and did a prequel to the original trilogy. The technology certainly was superior but the story – not so much. For myself, I wanted to know what happened next – which was the basis for the Star Wars: Legacy comic book series that Jan Duursema and I did. Disney, having bought the franchise, will do a bit of both – they’ll push on to Episode VII, set thirty years after Return of the Jedi, but they’re also developing stand alone films about young Han Solo and young Boba Fett. So they’re looking forward and backwards. That could make you dizzy.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with a sequel, prequel or remake. It depends on the reason you’re making it and/or the story you have to tell. Sometimes you look at your earlier work and you see the flaws and think, “Man, I’d love another shot at that.” You feel you’re better at what you do, you’ve deepened as a person, you have more to bring to the material. The danger, of course, is that you could “improve” it to death.

Perhaps the remake is an existing property that you didn’t create. Me, I’d love a shot at The Shadow. Love it or hate it, Howard Chaykin achieved his own vision of the character when he took it on, as did Andy Helfer with artists Bill Sienkiewicz and Kyle Baker. Not traditional and perhaps neither were MY vision of the character but they were interesting and valid and reflected its creators.

I’ve done my own fair share of prequels, sequels, and remakes. Some have worked, some haven’t but in each case I tried to get down the essential concept of the book or character. My run on DC’s Suicide Squad was partly a continuation but mostly it was a re-make. The big question should always be – what story do I have to tell? Is it worth telling? Is it worth the reader’s time and money?

When you get right down to it, those are the same questions for any story you tell – new or remake. The story should always be its own justification.

Photo by nickstone333

Dennis O’Neil: Veronica

Well, my friends, here we are, home after a weekend of adventure down south in horse country.

That’s a lie.

We intended to spend the weekend in Lexington, Kentucky, but we never got there.  Friday/travel day, we got up at the crack of eight a.m., which for us is pretty early, and arrived at the Westchester airfield on time.  The line in front of U.S. Air’s counter seemed unusually long and, after a fidgety while, we were facing an airline employee and learning the reason for the long wait: the flight had been cancelled and no other flights to our destination would be leaving that day.  The best the very accommodating agent could do would require us to drive through New York traffic to another airport, change planes somewhere in the journey, and arrive in Lexington after the con had closed.  We didn’t know about travel the following day, but assuming it was possible, we wouldn’t arrive until the con was, in all likelihood, mostly history.  So I made one of those snap decisions we often regret and cancelled the whole trip. Then I spent much of the ensuing three days wishing I’d pushed harder, tried harder, mostly to assuage my conscience. I hate not doing what I’ve said I’ll do – would I have succeeded in politics? – and I felt I owed the Kentuckians something, which is a long story not to be told here.

So, instead of enjoying the bluegrass turf, we came home and eventually did a movies-on-demand viewing of Veronica Mars. I used to call Veronica’s television show a guilty pleasure.  But why guilty?  It was, in retrospect. a perfectly acceptable mass entertainment, maybe a cut or two above most of its kind. I didn’t miss the explosions or car chases – there were none – and the violence was well-choreographed, but fairly mild, and not overused.  The plot was multi-layered and reasonably complex, but again, is this something we want to complain about?  The ending left the sequel door wide open, but hey – this is the twenty first century media and am I not contemplating a sequel to my grocery list?  (Bet there’ll be one, too.)

Which brings us to today.  March 17. St. Patrick’s Day. Our annual bacchanalia.  The first bacchanalia was begun in early history to honor the god bacchus.  Our version is, as I type, being celebrated about 25 miles to the south, in Manhattan, among many other places, and presumably exists to honor a Christian saint named Patrick who allegedly evicted the snakes from Ireland, though a skeptic might say that the snakes symbolized the so-called pagans.  That might include some of you, but not to worry: you almost certainly don’t live in fifth-century Ireland.

If you live in twenty first century Manhattan, well…maybe being a pagan is the least of your worries.

Box Office Democracy: “Mr. Peabody & Sherman”

I was a big fan of The Rocky & Bullwinkle Show as a child and while I enjoyed almost all of the segments “Peabody’s Improbable History” was a particular favorite.  I don’t know what it is but time travel and know-it-alls have always appealed to me.  It was because of this fandom and the horrific earlier attempts to make films out of the Jay Ward cartoons that made me approach Mr. Peabody & Sherman with particular trepidation.  I’m happy to report that these fears were unfounded and that Mr. Peabody & Sherman is a generally delightful movie.

After perhaps a bit too much exposition (the original cartoon never seemed to need much more than talking dog, pet boy, time machine) Mr. Peabody & Sherman gets right into a trip to Revolutionary France that plays like a more action-packed version of an old-school Peabody short.  It even closes with a pun.  From there the movie packs on a rather stunning amount of plot when all I really wanted was more of the classic formula.

This is the peril of the modern reboot movie; they often lose the fun in favor of a more modern approach to storytelling.  I don’t care about Sherman being bullied for having a father that’s a dog, I don’t care about irrationally angry school counselors that want to involve Child Protective Services, I only care about Mr. Peabody hosting a dinner party because the characters attending are voiced by Stephen Colbert and Leslie Mann, and I don’t really need Mr. Peabody to learn a lesson about being a good father.  I just want time travel and jokes and for a good percentage of those jokes to be terrible puns.  I don’t think that’s too much to ask and the movie delivers on this frequently but I left the theater wanting more.

Mr. Peabody & Sherman is better than it is bad and I enthusiastically await a sequel (it seems on pace for those kind of numbers assuming the rights aren’t a mess) but there are so many tiny flaws holding this one back from the excellence that was in its grasp.  I’ve seen enough terrible kids movies the last two years that very good is more than enough for me but if I were Rob Minkoff and I had directed this and The Lion King I would feel like this one could have been a bigger deal.

John Ostrander: Short Form and Long Form Storytelling

My favorite new show on TV this year is The Blacklist. It’s on opposite another show I enjoy a lot, Castle, which is now in its sixth season. Assuming it makes it (and I certainly do hope it’s renewed). I wonder if I’ll still love The Blacklist five years from now.

The new trend in American TV appears to be serial anthology shows such as American Horror Story and True Detective. Both take a season to tell a complete story and then the following season tells a different story but in the same genre. American Horror Story often keeps most of the same actors but then casts them in different parts. You tell the story and then you move on, giving a complete beginning, middle, and end.

There’s a lot to be said for that. The BBC series, Broadchurch, told a good story – so much so that I wonder how they’re going to do a sequel as they evidently plan to do.

With a long running series, you have to find ways to keep it fresh if you want to keep the viewers coming back and the reasons for continuing the show are often financial and economic ones rather than creative ones. (more…)

The Point Radio: Getting 300 Back On The Big Screen

Building a sequel to the hit film 300 wasn’t an easy task, and Zack Snyder talks about the choices he made to get RISE OF AN EMPIRE on the big screen and Lena Headey shares what it’s like to play another tough (but flawed) character. Plus CONSTANTINE gets a cast and Marvel gears up for their 75th.

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