Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man film: What Went Wrong (No spoilers here)

Image from The Amazing Spider-Man film. Garfield looks uncannily like the Peter Parker from the 1960's and 1970's comic book. At least as much as anyone can resemble a fictitious character.

The Amazing Spider-Man fails in more areas than it succeeds. The inherent problem is that the emotional foundation of the film is flimsy. While Peter Parker learns about responsiblity from the harrowing experience of rescuing innocent bystanders, he does not learn the same lesson from Uncle Ben. This is signifcant because not only are his first lessons as a masked vigiliante learned as a revenge-seeker, but because Uncle Ben, one of three paternal authority figures in the movie, does not quite have the proper impact on the teeanger.

That would be excusable if the film did not also riff on the Ultimate Spider-Man comic, slightly altering Spidey's origin, his first foray as Spider-Man, and omitting the inclusion of the Daily Bugle and the figure of J. Jonah Jameson from the picture, literally. Where the movie works is in the action sequences. This brilliantly-kinetically-depicted Spidey births classic comic imagery onscreen and looks arguably far more real than Sam Raimi's Spider-Man. Examples of iconic scenes include Parker reluctantly removing the mask and Spider-Man fighting underwater in the sewers.

To elaborate on my comment on the problem with the emotional fundament, I wasn't quite convinced that Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) would fall in love with Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield). It's a shame. Stone is a radiant actress of Zombieland and Crazy Stupid Love fame, but she has little to do here. At first she is a strong female protagonist, until she and Garfield reverse roles about halfway through Amazing and she becomes a wet nurse and errand runner. Garfield's egregious quirks and ticks become grating. Or, as my close friend exclaimed afterward - "Most introverted guys are quiet and awkward around girls; he was a four year old!" In essence, Garfield's portrayal is too frantic, which undermines any believablity in his rapport with Stone's character. Who would go for a guy who spun around and displays nervous tics every 10 seconds?

The plot is also too busy, blending several elements that, combined, taste bad - the mystery of Parker's parents desertion when he was an itsy-bitsy pre-Spider, the rise of the latest villain, the thorny relationship with Captain Stacy (Dennis Leary, not the pipe-smoking, white-haired, suit-with-the-patched-elbows Captain of the 1960s and 1970's comic). The inherent flaw here, as in Spider-Man 3, is combining too many storylines on top of - it bears repeating - a weak emotional core. The story of Parker's parents was a several-issue narrative in the comic and his romance with Stacey even longer, spanning several years, alongside the development of his friendship with the overly curious Captain Stacey. Back then, Stacey was a sort of an NYPD Sherlock Holmes in the comic and not the very funny Leary portrayal.

I really wanted to like this film, but such an unsuccssful mix made this like a friend who just goes too far. You want to be there for them, but once they perform that one imcomprehensible and illicit act, you can't.

Of course, I readily admit that I found most of the action scenes invigorating and easy to follow. Another good friend, however, took issue with the good people of New York trying to help out just a little too much -and he was bent over with laughter for the duration of that moment of the film (once again- no spoilers).

In the end, Amazing deserves a DVD rental if only for the adrenaline-stoked acrobatics of Spider-Man leaping around. I also found the charcter development of the bully character, Flash Thomspon, quite interesting. This is one of the few elements that stayed utterly true to the four-colour version of Spidery, albeit it in two hours and not over the span of several years and dozens of comics. As a closing note, Garfield as Spider-Man is far funnier, with quick-witted wisecracks and retorts, than Tobey Maguire's version, who was all business once he put on the super-hero suit. Also, director Marc Webb can, admittedly, shoot great 3-D sequences.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

To summarize - some good, bad and neutral Marvel animated shows

To summarize:
Good Marvel. Good.

The Spectacular Spider-Man: The Complete First Season. Thank you, Marvel, for compiling it all in one set, unlike the second season, which is sold separately as four - count 'em, true believers - four disc sets. Cancelled after two seasons for the reboot below.

Oh . . . bad Marvel. Very bad. I don't know why Spidey is listening to a little angel or a little devil. Perhaps one is trying to convince him the show is good and the other making the case for the show being bad. While the animation is solid and unlike the Anime style of Spectacular (think characters with overly large, round eyes), Ultimate Spider-Man is too plain silly. It is full of slapstick and asides to the viewer, and lacks that Marvel balance of humour, character, and pacing.
                                         Image from Ultimate Spider-Man T.V. show

Again, good Marvel. Very, very good. And, I might add, available as a single collection, Earth's Mightiest Heroes: The Complete First Season. While Blu-ray is readily available, finding this set on DVD is proving to be a challenge. Alas, Marvel also cancelled this series after two seasons in order to start the reboot depicted below.
Image from the Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes T.V. show

I dunno', Marvel. Could be good or bad, although it looks very much like a cover for the Ultimates Avengers comic book.drawn by the talented Bryan Hitch and penned by the delightfully feisty Mark Millar.
Image from the upcoming Avengers Assemble T.V show

Open Letter to Marvel Entertainment

Axel Alonso
Marvel Entertainment, LLC
135 W. 50th Street, 7th Floor
New York, NY 10020

July 19, 2012

Dear Axel Alonso:

Oops - you did it again, Marvel Comics. You took a great premise, that of Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes, transformed it into a successful T.V. show for two great seasons, and then canned it.

We viewers and fans alike would really, really like it if you stopped. It's just not healthy for our relationship. And it just keeps on happening.

You see, it happened before with The Spectacular Spider-Man series that debuted in 2008.

Like SSM, Avengers took great characters, along with lesser known minor characters, and built up the stories over time, developed the heroes' personalities, and worked in classical and contemporary story arcs from the titular comic books. For Spidey, you introduced Peter Parker's romance with Gwen Stacey, but also a grab-bag of origin and confrontations that included such great rogues as Venom and the Green Goblin. For the Avengers, you introduced the Kree-Skrull war as well as less-exposed characters including Power Man and Iron Fist. Pacing, writing and humour were crucial in the success of both shows.

Also, at 22 minutes a pop, the shows suited the serial nature of 22-page comic books nicely and eased their adaptation into animated series. The shows both contain hidden delights and funny moments. For example, Spidey called the Vulture "Beaky" simply to jilt him. Thor threw his hammer in a villain's face just to shut them up in mid-threat. Thus, that Marvel sensibility was abviously at play here, along with Spider Sense. It should be noted that all of Saim Raimi's Spider-man films had humour; however, when Parker suited up, Spider-Man was all business, not the wise-cracking hero of Marvel lore. While the webhead's story arcs built over two seasons, so did the Avengers.

All this is to say that these animated shows were Marvel at its finest. Both did an admirable job of mimicking the slow-burning story arcs of particular comic book storylines.

But you cancelled the webhead's vehicle and now you halted the Avengers' first credible foray into television.

O, why, great House of Ideas? To paraphrase Sally Field, you make us like you, you really do, and then you pick up all your toys and go home.

And, to make things worse, while Spectacular Spider-Man Season 1 is available on a two-disc set for a reasonable price, not so for the second season, which is interspersed on four differents DVD sets. At least you learned, though, that fans want the whole enchilada; you did, after all, release Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes The Complete First Season few months back.

Now, I know you will say that you are rebooting the Avengers as a new show called Avengers Assemble, and that Spidey has been reminted as Ultimate Spider-Man. But Ultimate is too much pratfall and Ferris Bueller-esque asides to the viewers, and not enough Dito/Lee/House of Ideas Marvel character chemistry magic. As mentioned the Avengers had never been a show before this attempt - and still you want to end a good thing.

For our part, we must say: Why, o why now, when you finally hit your mark, have you forsaken us?
And what shall we do with you now?
I know that Avengers film was great - slightly imperfect, but great. Granted, fans were relieved. But even so, perhaps you should have a time-out to consider what you are doing to us youngish Marvelites who are just happy to see you finally make good. It is like dating someone for a few months, just enough to get hung up on them, only to hear them say - "It's not working out. I'm not having any fun. How about I introduce you to my second-cousin? They're single - and they're waiting outside in the car."

Ah, yes, the second cousin that is Ultimate Spider-Man.



Sunday, July 15, 2012

Capsule TPB review, Beasts of Burden Vol. 1: Animal Rites

Jill Thompson's beautiful artwork and Evan Dorkin's script are irresistible. The writing is reminiscent of Neil Gaiman's treatment of felines in the Sandman opus, in particular Sandman # 18 entitled "A Dream of a Thousand Cats". As for Thompson's illustrations, you can just stare at a particular panel for a while, without any outside illicit stimulation. The resut of this witch's brew is a series of interlocking and compelling supernatural stories as seen through the eyes of dogs and cats. If it sounds weird, it is weird, but Beasts works. Think Kolchak The Night Stalker meets its illegitimate son, The X-Files, meets Watership Down. The animals become the unofficial guardians of Burden Hill, ferreting out mysteries, monsters, and developing as characters as well as in any other good fiction. Thompson is also know for the Scary Godmother children's books.

Capsule review, Blacksad TPB 1, Quelque part entre les ombres

In the French graphic novel Blacksad, Juan Díaz Canales takes the familiar tropes of the film noir detective and adds a twist - the sleuth in question is a cat named Blacksad. By anthropomorphizing (assigning human characteristics to animals), Canales imbues the form with a new life. Juanjo Guarnido's beautiful artwork doesn't hurt, either.

En tout cas/In any case, this French murder mystery is worth reading and enjoying more than once.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Praise for Older Brothers, Roger Waters in concert, Syd Barrett

It's always interesting to return to works of art that so captivated one in their youthful, impressionable years.

When I was 18, I discovered Pink Floyd's The Wall, both the concept album and, shortly afterward, the film. This was in thanks mainly to my close friend at the time. His older brother had left a pile of vinyl records behind when he moved out. Older brothers be praised. I also made several other worthy discoveries this way. These were not mere albums, but infusions into my pop music mediocrity of high school in the late 1980's and early 1990's. My discoveries included Kiss' Destroyer, The Dire Straits' Brothers in Arms, The Police's Synchronicity, Men at Work's Business as Usual and Sheik Yerbouti by Frank Zappa, to name a few.

As for Pink Floyd's The Wall, to my younger self, the idea of a character enduring a complete emotional breakdown was very appealing. This is the whole concept of The Wall.  However, now that I am not 18 (let's go with youngish instead), and know of Syd Barrett's history with Pink Floyd, the appeal has lessened signifcantly for me. For the uninformed, Barrett was a founder of Pink Floyd who dabbled way too much with LSD. He was also a paranoid schizophrenic, a condition exacerabated by his overuse of acid.

The Telegraph has an enlightening 2006 obituary about Syd Barrett here:
You can also find an amazing British documentary on youtube if you search for Syd Barrett.

Another Pink Floyd founder, Roger Waters, was once quoted in an interview as saying that a lot of The Wall film was about Barrett - in particular, the scene where the protagonist shaves his head, face, and eyebrows and organizes the entire minutiae of his life in obsessively-compulsive order. Obviously, Waters liked to ponder Barrett's schizophrenia through Pink Floyd's music. The band has also readily admitted that Wish You Were Here was a  tribute to Barrett. They also emulated his psychadelic lyrical style in Dark Side of the Moon

That said, The Wall is still a brilliant concept album. I remember camping in a provincial park with my close friend and another of his brothers and their wife. His wife remarked that she thought my best friend and I liked The Wall because of lyrics of "We don't need no education" and that this anti-academic theme appealed to us. Actually, it was the whole bloody album that knocked us back.

I guess the difference is that when you are older, The Wall is a little more discomforting if you are familiar with the source material. Admittedly, the idea of a character being deconstructed was one of my peccadilloes, particular Frank Miller's "Born Again" story arc in the Daredevil comic book, and the Superman exiled-in-space narrative that appeared in the late 1980's and crossed over into all the monthly Supeman titles.

I say all this because  my friend and I saw Roger Waters in concert on Mon, June 23. Waters re-uses the album concept, including much animation from the film and plentfiul anti-war imagery, such as photos of casualties of war - and not merely soldiers.

My close friend was actually very uncomfortable with Water's anti-everything stance (anti-war, anti-authority, anti-bomb-making, anit-government, anti-people-who-have-more-than-12-items-in-the-express-aisle-at-the-supermarket - this last one was my addition, neither my friend's, nor Waters' - etc.). To me, this seems a logical leftist progression for Waters. However, I could undersand such misigivings. It ain't entirely the same concept as the original album and movie. Whether Waters has modified his whole performance to suit current times or whether he is against so many things (although his ibomb, and ilearn gimmick, in which he flashes the itunes logo along with such slogans on a giant screen, was very clever) or is simply making a very, very good living off the anti-everything posturing is another question.

The Ottawa Citizen also has a more mainstream review of said concert, that is gushing to say the least.