My Problems with UltraViolet

ultraviolet_BIGMy first introduction to UltraViolet came through Vudu. Before I picked up my Apple TV, I would often use Vudu to rent digital movies and watch them through my PS3. Once, while searching through new rentals on Vudu’s site, they advertised a program called Disc-to-Digital. I read into it out of curiosity, and here’s what has to be done.

1. Create a Vudu account. Okay, already have one. Also need an UltraViolet account and need the two linked. Umm…okay?

2. Create a movie list of DVDs and/or Blu-rays you want to convert. You can only “convert” movies that UltraViolet has the rights to stream.

3. Take your list and the DVDs you want to convert to your local Wal-Mart. They will mark the disc indicating that it’s been converted (so you can’t loan it to a buddy and have him convert it) and unlock access for the movie through Vudu/UltraViolet.

4. The service costs $2 to “convert” DVDs/Blu-rays and $5 to “upgrade” from SD to HD quality.

So this whole “conversion” thing is not actually a “conversion” at all. I understand paying to upgrade from SD to HD, but paying to get the exact same movie with the exact same quality? This, to me, seems like buying a new DVD player and then having to pay a fee in order to play your DVDs on the new player. For someone like me, who has a collection of around 800 movies, you’re looking at around $1600 in order to have access to the movies I already own.

You’ve got to hand it to the folks behind UltraViolet, Vudu, and Disc-to-Digital: they’re finding creative ways to get you to pay for something you already own with a minimum of work on their part.

Many movies these days come with digital download codes, which is very good. These codes should be included with every movie purchase. But some movies are now locking users into the UltraViolet model, which is very, very bad.

The argument I’m going to make today is similar to the argument I made about ComiXology several months back—if you make obtaining and accessing content legally more difficult than it is to obtain them illegally, people will choose the illegal route. And in this day and age when piracy, especially movie piracy, is a real problem, then the last thing you want to do is to make piracy an attractive option for people.

When I got my first iPod, I didn’t need to pay to put all the CDs I owned onto my computer. I still don’t, I can pop a CD into my optical drive and iTunes will copy it to my computer. But according to the DMCA, I can’t do this with movies. With music, it’s legal. With movies, it’s illegal. And why? Simply because the movie studios were paid up with the right politicians. That’s the only reason.

If I have to jump through hoops in order to convert my library or to get the movie I want on the platform I want, why would I waste all my time with that when I can just head on over to a torrent site and have an HD-quality movie downloaded in a fraction of the time it takes to fill out all these damn forms and registration and verifications and whatnot?

There are a few things studios need to do in order to make things easier for the consumer, and I’m positive the vast majority of consumers will happily play ball and have less reason to complain:

1. If a movie costs the same on Blu-ray as it does on iTunes or Vudu or wherever, it should be the exact same product. That means all the same extras, same quality, everything.

2. Disc releases with digital codes should be redeemable in all formats, not just UltraViolet. I should be able to access all my movies on one device with one account, I shouldn’t need to sell my Apple TV and lose the purchases made there in order to buy an UltraViolet-compatible device.

3. Enough with this DRM and copy protection crap. Backing up your movie collection either on discs or on hard drives should not be illegal. What should be illegal is distributing them. Besides, do some research. You can’t swing a dead cat on the Internet without hitting a site offering DRM circumvention software. Some of it costs money, some of it is free. And, given that movies ripped from DRM-protected DVDs and Blu-rays are still showing up on the torrent sites, it’s plainly obvious that DRM provides zero hindrance to criminals and only serves to frustrate honest customers.

Nothing is going to stop piracy for good. Movie piracy and bootlegs existed long before the Internet. You cannot stop it, you can only take steps to minimize its impact. But the more loops you make the honest customers jump through, the more attractive you make piracy look.

Advertisements

What’s in a name? Musings on Frankenstein’s Monster

Halloween is coming around, and as is usually the case, that means I’m watching far more horror movies than I would under normal circumstances. Among those I’ve watched lately are two recent adaptations of one of my favorite books, Frankenstein. Both shared the same title as the novel and both were made-for-TV productions, and both came out in 2004. One was a USA adaptation based on a concept from Dean Koontz (that he developed into a series of novels), which featured both the doctor and his creation alive in modern-day New Orleans. The doctor is up to his old tricks again, except this time he’s killing people and harvesting their organs. And the monster, taking on the name Deucalion (the son of Prometheus in Greek mythology, and Shelley’s novel originally carried the subtitle of The Modern Prometheus), teams up with a police detective to stop his creator. It was intended to be the pilot for a new TV series with Vincent Perez (The Crow: City of Angels) as Deucalion, but that fell through. I’ve never read the books, but it was an interesting take on the mythos.

The other was also in 2004, a mini-series that was an adaptation of the novel for the Hallmark Channel. It was a pretty faithful adaptation, albeit a bit slow in parts (the total runtime was around three hours). Luke Goss (Blade II) played the monster and William Hurt and Donald Sutherland also had supporting roles.

Anyway, I got to thinking about the creature’s name. Of course, anyone who has read the book and most adaptations of the novel know that Frankenstein was the doctor’s name and the monster had no name. I’ve heard that Shelley referred to the creature as Adam in some readings of the book and the creature refers to himself as the Adam of Frankenstein’s labors. But for the most part, as far as the text is concerned, the creature is nameless. Over time, the monster has come to be known as Frankenstein in the public consciousness, which has become a sticking point for some who feel the need to issue a correction.

This got me thinking…who’s to say the creature isn’t Frankenstein?

I think of this for two reasons. For one, the creature refers to Frankenstein as his father, so in that instance, Frankenstein could be considered the creature’s surname as well as Victor’s. In that case, it’s only a first name that the creature lacks (although you could make an argument for Adam to be his first name, and there have been works that use the creature and refer to him as Adam).

If you don’t want to think of the creature as Victor’s son, you could also make an alternate argument. A painting is sometimes referred to by using the creator’s name as shorthand, like a Rembrandt or a Monet. In this convention, Frankenstein’s Monster could be referred to as a Frankenstein.

I think the best argument is really that the creature is Victor’s son. He’s a very human character in the book, not at all a lumbering, monosyllabic buffoon like he’s sometimes portrayed. No, the creature is actually very intelligent and well-spoken. So personally, I don’t see anything wrong with humanizing him a bit further and referring to him as Frankenstein, since he is Frankenstein’s son.

Now if you were to refer to the monster as Victor Frankenstein, we’d have to have a talk…

ComiXology and the future of digital

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a fan of digital. There are a few reasons for this. One is convenience — having everything at your fingertips as opposed to digging through boxes or shelves makes it a lot easier to find what you’re looking for or just to browse. Another is space. As I mentioned when I talked about digitizing my movie library, I live in Japan and as such, space is a premium. While my area tends to have a lower cost of living than what most people think of Japan, space is still difficult to come by and your chances of finding a big house if you aren’t rolling in cash is pretty slim. A third reason is security. Say you have a ton of books and your house burns down — those books are gone. But if you have digital books, you can back them up in a cloud.

Now this brings us to the point of this post and that’s digital comics. ComiXology is the big dog in terms of digital comics and they have a pretty nice looking app and the guided viewing mode is very cool, zooming in on different panels one at a time.

There is a big problem with digital comics, and digital movies for that matter. The issue of digital rights management or DRM. When you go down to the store and buy a comic book, that comic book is yours. You own it. When you pay the same amount for the same comic on the ComiXology app, you do not own the comic. What you have bought is a license. And it’s a license ComiXology reserves the right to revoke at any time for any reason.

So you’ve paid the same amount of money for the same product, the only difference is the method in which it’s presented. And in one case, you own it. In another, you’ve just paid for a right to view the material, you do not own it. What happens if ComiXology goes out of business? You’ve lost your money and the product you paid for.

Not too long ago, someone created a script that would allow people to back up their ComiXology purchases to CBR or CBZ (archive files that can be read with a comic book reading program). It was posted on Reddit and ComiXology asked for it to be removed. Which they have a right to do. But the problem here is that ComiXology is basically telling me, “you may have bought our product, but it’s not yours. We still own it. All you’ve bought is our permission to look at it, and we can revoke that permission at any time. Without giving you a refund.”

Imagine if you went into a store and the cashier told you, “by the way, we can come into your house at any time and take this back. We don’t have to warn you in advance and we don’t have to give you a refund, because you do not technically own this product.”

Seems pretty draconian to me.

I get that piracy is a big problem. I understand the argument to fight piracy, but my belief is one of the primary reasons people resort to piracy is because it’s just more convenient. When Napster came out on the scene, iTunes didn’t exist. And when iTunes came along, there was still lots of stuff that couldn’t be found. So, people who would have been willing to pay, but they found it easier to just steal.

I’m a humanist, I believe people are mostly good. I think if you give a person the ability to steal something or to pay for it and both options are easy, then most people will pay for it (yes, you’ll get people who will steal, but I do believe these are the minority).

And in the case of ComiXology, it’s not like going digital created comic book piracy. It was around before then in the form of scanners. And a vast majority of comic book piracy is still old-fashioned scanning.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying piracy is right. What I am saying is that imposing draconian restrictions and basically telling your customers, “we own these products and once you’ve paid for them, all you’ve paid for is our permission to use them. You cannot resell them. You cannot keep them. They are ours, not yours.” It’s another way of screwing the consumer.

I basically stopped reading comics when I came to Japan and aside from a few select titles, I’ve more or less stayed gone. I don’t want to get invested in these things only to have them taken away at a moment’s notice. If I can’t have a way to back them up, what good are they?

The Dark Knight Rises

So here we are, the final big superhero movie of the summer (at least if you live outside Japan, but I’ve bitched enough about the four month wait for The Avengers). Not only does The Dark Knight Rises round out the summer trilogy of big superhero movies, but it also rounds out Nolan’s Batman trilogy that began with Batman Begins. When Batman next appears on the big screen, it will be a different actor under the cowl with a different director at the helm, and in a different universe (Warner Bros. has already confirmed they will reboot Batman following The Dark Knight Rises, and I’ll get to that later).

I am a bit sad to see this series end, especially Christian Bale’s role as Bruce Wayne/Batman. Ever since I saw American Psycho, I was telling anyone who’d listen that Bale is the perfect actor to play the Caped Crusader. So when he was actually cast, you can imagine how quickly I flipped. Three movies later, I’m still happy about this choice. There are certain actors who were just born to play certain characters — Christopher Reeve/Superman, Robert Downey Jr./Iron Man, Patrick Stewart/Professor X, and I added Christian Bale/Batman to that list seconds after Batman Begins.

Nolan and Bale brought Batman into the modern superhero cinematic family with Batman Begins and proved that even after the disastrous Batman & Robin, the Caped Crusader can still be a contender. And then Nolan raised the bar for superhero movies everywhere with The Dark Knight. Not only was it a good superhero movie, but The Dark Knight was a game-changer. Now, even the snootiest of film snobs was taking another look at superheroes. And The Dark Knight, in my opinion, didn’t really do anything that hadn’t been done in superhero films before — I think HulkX-MenX2, Iron Man, and Batman Begins all did similar things as well — but the execution of it in The Dark Knight was just better (helped in no small part by Heath Ledger’s stunning performance as the Joker).

But enough on all that. This is supposed to be a review of The Dark Knight Rises so let’s get on that. Spoilers are after the jump.

Continue reading

My new theory on The Dark Knight Rises

There’s been a lot of speculation on The Dark Knight Rises. While it comes out this weekend in the States, here in Japan we’ll have to wait until next week to see it. I’m not too disappointed about that, because generally Japan tends to get movies a lot later than the rest of the world (we’ve still got another month before The Avengers comes out in theaters here, and yes, I’m still pissed about that). Ever since we started hearing about this movie, rumors were flying about what “The Legend Ends” tagline really means. The commonly-accepted theory (I’m not sure who first came up with it, but I first read about it on Cracked) is that Bruce Wayne will die but Batman will live on, potentially in the form of Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character, John Blake, taking up the mantle.

One of the major hints to this is in Batman Begins when both Ducard/Ra’s al Ghul and Bruce talk about how a man can be destroyed, but a symbol — a legend — can live on. And in the trailers, Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) tells Batman (Christian Bale) that he’s given them everything. Batman responds with, “not everything, not yet.” That certainly lends credence to the theory.

But the more I think about it, the more I’m suspicious about this theory. It makes a whole lot of sense. In fact, it makes too much sense. It makes so much sense that it’s almost obvious. And Christopher Nolan is a crafty bastard.

What if, instead of dying, Batman rises with some help? As in, the form of a partner? Now here’s where people will chime in and say that Nolan specifically said Robin won’t appear because he doesn’t feel Robin is compatible with the world he’s created. And Bale has said if Robin appears, then Bale won’t be in that film.

Notice some clever wordplay here, though. Bale and Nolan have said that Robin won’t appear. Robin is just an identity, and one that’s been adopted by numerous characters in the history of DC Comics. Dick Grayson was the first and most-famous. Jason Todd was his successor, who was killed by the Joker. Then came Tim Drake, who was later succeeded by his girlfriend, Stephanie Brown. And Batman’s son, Damian Wayne, is the current Robin. In Frank Miller’s acclaimed graphic novel, The Dark Knight Returns, a girl named Carrie Kelly became Robin in a future where Batman comes out of retirement.

So Robin won’t appear, and here’s what leads me to my current theory. While Dick is famously known as Robin, that was only his first costumed identity. He’s also taken up the Batman mantle a few times (both in continuity stories and in alternate universe tales). But Dick has another identity — those who are familiar either with the Batman comics or The New Batman Adventures or the current Young Justice cartoons know that Dick Grayson eventually adopts the costumed identity of Nightwing.

Check out this image from The Dark Knight Rises trailer, when Blake draws a symbol in chalk:

In the trailer, this shot is accompanied by a clip where a kid asks Blake if Batman will come back and Blake says, “I don’t know.” Now, it seems at first glance that this is nothing more than a simplified version of Batman’s famous insignia.

But then I recently noticed this:


That’s Dick in his Nightwing identity. Pay close attention to the symbol on his chest. Now compare it to the above symbol from The Dark Knight Rises. The two seem pretty similar, don’t they?

The Dark Knight Rises takes place eight years after the events of The Dark Knight and Bruce has stopped being Batman. Maybe when Bane first appears, there is no Batman — and that leads Blake to adopting a costumed identity of his own, inspired by Batman. Perhaps “John Blake” is just a false identity Dick has assumed for reasons as-yet unknown. Maybe Dick is initially a plant by the League of Shadows (we know there will be connections to Batman Begins in this film) and that’s where the John Blake identity comes in. Maybe he sets the stage for Bane’s initial strike and, horrified at how he’s been misled, turns on Bane and the League and becomes Nightwing. He takes on Bane, gets defeated, and his defeat leads Bruce to picking up the Batman mantle again — the Dark Knight Rises once more. And this time around, he’s got back-up.

That’s just one theory. I could be way off-base, though.

NOTE: If you have seen the movie, please do me a favor and do not confirm nor deny any of this post! I want to find out for myself whether or not my theory proves accurate and as I said, I won’t get a chance to watch the movie until at least next weekend. As I mentioned in my review of The Avengers, I already had the mid-credits reveal spoiled by some asshole and I don’t want that to happen again. Once I’ve seen the movie, I will post my own review, which will discuss my theory once again.

Bane vs. Bain

Normally, I don’t talk politics on this blog. I do my best to keep my political views separate from my professional writing because I’m just a pulp fiction writer. I’m not trying to push my political views through my writing or to make any statements in my work about politics (if any such statements are made, it’s 100% unintentional). I just write action stories, period. And I avoid political statements because they really don’t need to be made, and I have no interest in alienating potential readers who might be interested in my stories but are turned off by my personal politics.

But sometimes, something comes along in the world of politics that’s just so ridiculous, it deserves to be commented on. So first, full disclosure: I’m Perry, I’m a liberal. And now, I’ll ask you a simple question:

What do these men have in common?

In case you’ve been living under a rock lately, the guy on the left is Bane, the villain from The Dark Knight Rises (played by actor Tom Hardy). The guy on the right is Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee for President. And the question, as you can see in the caption, is a simple one: what do these two men have in common?

If your answer was “absolutely nothing,” then you’d be correct. Congratulations on being a sane individual. But if you’re professional blowhard and successful human/swine hybrid Rush Limbaugh, you believe that The Dark Knight Rises is propaganda against Romney:

Do you know the name of the villain in this movie? Bane. The villain in the Dark Knight Rises is named Bane. B-A-N-E. What is the name of the venture capital firm that Romney ran, and around which there’s now this make-believe controversy? Bain…The movie has been in the works for a a long time, the release date’s been known, summer 2012 for a long time. Do you think that it is accidental, that the name of the really vicious, fire-breathing, four-eyed whatever-it-is villain in this movie is named Bain…This evil villain in the new Batman movie is named Bane. And there’s now discussion out there as to whether or not this was purposeful, and whether or not it will influence voters…It’s going to have a lot of people. This movie, the audience is going to be huge, lot of people are going to see the movie. And it’s a lot of brain-dead people, entertainment, the pop-culture crowd. And they’re going to hear Bane in the movie, and they are going to associate Bain, and the thought is that when they start paying attention to the campaign later in the year, and Obama, the Democrats keep talking about Bain, not Bain Capital, but Bain, Romney and Bain, that these people will think back to the Batman movie — “Oh yeah, I know who that is” That’s — there are some people who think it will work.

Source

So, to be clear, Limbaugh’s thesis is that The Dark Knight Rises uses a villain called Bane in order to create propaganda against Romney because of the ongoing story regarding his ties to his former company, Bain Capital (if you don’t know what the situation is with Bain Capital, feel free to research it yourself, I really have no desire to comment on it). This movie has, as Limbaugh himself admits, been in the works for a while. And it overlooks a number of crucial facts:

  • The term “bane” is defined as “a cause of great stress or annoyance” and an archaic meaning is “a thing that causes death.” That’s what the character was named after.
  • Bane was created by Chuck Dixon, Graham Nolan, and Dough Moench in 1993 for DC Comics’ “Knightfall” story running through the Batman books. Since then, he’s appeared in other media as well, including Batman: The Animated SeriesBatman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Arkham City video games, and, I’m sorry to remind you all, Batman & Robin, the film which almost killed the Batman franchise.
  • I can only theorize, but there seems to be a lot of social unrest and upheaval caused by Bane in Gotham, with his partner(?) Selina Kyle (Catwoman) telling Bruce Wayne that he and his kind have been lording over the masses for far too long. If you want to draw a political message, it seems more like Bruce/Batman represents the 1% and Bane represents the 99%. You’d think that’d be reason for conservatives to start claiming The Dark Knight Rises as a pro-conservative movie. After all…
  • In 2008, conservative commentators were hailing the previous film in this series, The Dark Knight, as justification of George W. Bush’s policies and tactics during the War on Terror. Both The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises were directed by Christopher Nolan.
  • Both Chuck Dixon and Graham Nolan are lifelong conservatives. As Dixon said, “[Bane]’s far more akin to an Occupy Wall Street type if you’re looking to cast him politically. And if there ever was a Bruce Wayne running for the White House it would have to be Romney.”

In order for Limbaugh’s theory to make any sense, we have to assume that Barack Obama, Christopher Nolan, Chuck Dixon, Graham Nolan (zoinks, same last name, must be a connection!), and Doug Moench all conspired in 1993 to create a Batman villain named after Romney’s company in preparation to eventually make a movie that would smear Romney and prevent him from defeating Barack Obama in a second-term election (and both Dixon and G. Nolan would had to have betrayed their own political beliefs).

Or what’s more likely is that it’s simply coincidental and people should stop looking for political statements in a freaking Batman movie and just sit back and enjoy it.

These are the kinds of conspiracy theories that make other conspiracy theorists shake their head in embarrassment.

The Amazing Spider-Man

Back when it was first announced that Sam Raimi would not be directing Spider-Man 4, you’d think Sony collectively torched the comic collection of every single Spidey fan, because the Internet exploded with rage. Funnily enough, some of the same people coming out of the woodwork to defend Raimi were also raking him over the coals just a few short years ago when Spider-Man 3 came out — damned if you do, damned if you don’t, I guess.

Then came the news that Sony would not continue with the existing franchise — instead, they were going to reboot it and keep the films with Peter Parker in high school. More nerdrage followed. The casting of Andrew Garfield in the title role, again met with hatred and disdain. When the first images of the slight redesign of Spidey’s classic red and blue costume, my god, you couldn’t swing a dead cat without hitting someone who was bitching about how this movie would completely ruin Spider-Man. People even complained about the freaking texture of the suit, saying it looked too much like a basketball and that this meant Spalding must be a sponsor on the movie (which I thought was particularly amusing, because the texture is pretty much identical to the texture of the suit worn by Tobey Maguire in the original films).

Throughout all of this, my comment was the same as it is about every comic book movie that hasn’t even come out yet — you’re being premature. Just wait until you get the chance to actually see the movie before you start hailing it as a harbinger of the end times. It’s something that I’ve found increasingly annoying about the fan culture — particularly comic book fan culture — and it’s why I’ve pretty much backed away from the comic book forums I once frequented (and in one case, even worked for). In the past (and I’m not an old guy, mind you), comic book fans were people who loved comic books. Today, comic book fandom seems composed of people who hate comics, but can’t stop buying them. I don’t get it, because it’s not as if Marvel and DC lace the pages of their comics with opiates (although that would be one way to boost sales — if anyone from Disney or Time-Warner is reading this, I’ve got a patent on opiate-laced comics but a price can be negotiated if you wish to use it).

What was I talking about? Oh yes, The Amazing Spider-Man. Well, I’ve finally gotten the chance to see it (for once, Japan gets a movie slightly early as opposed to getting it a few weeks before it’s due for a DVD release in all other countries — we’ve still got about another month before Avengers comes out here). And I don’t want to say I told you so, but… I freaking told you so!

This movie improves on the Spider-Man franchise in virtually every single way — the only place it falls short is the exclusion of J.  Jonah Jameson (and if they do have Jonah in the inevitable sequel, I hope they get J.K. Simmons to reprise the role, because I doubt anyone else could do it). My major criticism of Tobey Maguire in the first three films is that he made a great Peter Parker, but he could not handle Spider-Man. Maguire is a great actor and he plays the nerdy aspect of Parker extremely well. But when it comes to the sarcasm and the wit of Spidey, Maguire looks like a poor amateur at a stand-up open mic night. Pretty much every joke he attempts to deliver in those movies falls flat on its face.

Garfield, however, completely embodies every aspect of the character. He’s got the teen angst thing going for him, he’s got the shy awkwardness, he’s got the slight selfish streak that Peter’s been known to display, and he’s also got the sharp, witty tongue. When Garfield makes a joke or a witty comeback, it’s actually funny. Cliff Robertson’s Uncle Ben was one of the best things about the first Spider-Man, so that would be a difficult role to top. But when you’ve got the great Martin Sheen, you’re on the right track. I wouldn’t say Sheen is better, because he plays a slightly different Uncle Ben than Robertson. He’s a lot more stern and gruff and it’s a great way to handle it. Sally Field’s Aunt May is also a bit more stern, but we don’t get to see enough of her in this film, so it’s a bit hard to compare her to Rosemary Harris.

The rest of the supporting cast is similarly on-point. Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy is pitch-perfect casting. I’ve loved Stone ever since I saw her in Easy A. And if there’s one person who can keep up with Garfield’s wit, it’s Stone. The two have wonderful chemistry together. And unlike Kirsten Dunst, who fell into the screeching damsel role in the first three films (and I say screeching because that’s virtually all she did — I do not like Dunst at all, it was the one time when I rooted for the villain to kill the damsel), Stone’s Gwen is actually capable in her own way. She doesn’t play the damsel role, she’s proactive and helps out. Whereas Maguire and Dunst’s interactions were driven by cheesy dialogue and overdone melodrama (try watching those movies again and not cringing whenever these two have a heart to heart), Garfield and Stone feel like real people when they interact. Even when they’re talking about the strange circumstances they find themselves in, they still feel real.

Denis Leary plays her father, Captain Stacy, and Leary is always a joy to watch. And now we come to the bad guy — Rhys Ifans as Curt Connors/the Lizard. He plays both roles perfectly, going between friendly and good-intentioned Connors to the vicious and twisted Lizard. Plus there are definite openings for sequels, which I’ll get to shortly. Even Flash Thompson, played by Chris Zylka, gets more development here than he got in Spider-Man. Whereas in Spider-Man he was just a meathead bully, he gets a little bit more here. After Uncle Ben’s death (that’s not a spoiler, everyone knows Uncle Ben always has to die), Flash has an interaction with Peter in the school and you think it’s going to be another bullying incident — but it turns out not to be. That one scene gives Flash more depth than he had the last time he appeared in this franchise and it hints to the future of the characters in the comics where they eventually become close friends.

The way Spidey moves in this movie reminds me a lot more of the Spidey from the comics. He’s quick and agile and no contortion is too difficult. He’s got very insect-like movements and it’s thrilling, especially on the big screen and in 3D. They’ve also got an interesting way of linking his back-story between the past and present by having his father a former scientist at Oscorp. I thought Oscorp would just be used as a nod to the comics, but we do get a bit more insight into Norman Osborn, although he remains an off-screen presence.

And now, to get into some spoiler territory. Continue on to read the rest.

Continue reading

The Avengers

Before I get into the spoilerific spoilers of this review (of which there will be plenty, of spoilers that is), let me tell you some things right up front: yes, The Avengers is the greatest superhero movie ever made. Yes, I have seen The Dark Knight and yes, The Avengers is better. I’ll get to why a little later in the review. So if you’re reading this to get an idea of whether or not you should see this movie, then I’ll save you the spoiler risks—go see it right this goddamn instant.

This is the part of the review where I warn you, those who have not yet seen the movie, that what follows will spoil it for you. So if you do not want to read any spoilers, please stop reading right now before you are spoiled. I’ve now bolded some variation of spoiler several times, so if you are not yet aware that spoilers will follow, you hereby revoke any rights to bitch and moan for having accidentally read spoilers. You have been warned. Many times.

Continue reading

The House of the Devil

Where The House of the Devil gets it right, it gets it really right. From the opening credits to the music to the general style of it, if you didn’t know any better, you could easily be fooled into thinking this was a film from the late 70s or early 80s as opposed to 2009.

College student Samantha Hughes (Jocelin Donahue) has found the perfect apartment near campus to get away from her slob of a roommate who’s always having sex with whomever (it’s implied in one brief scene with her that it’s more than one person). The landlady has a good feeling about Samantha and offers to waive the security deposit and just needs the first month’s rent. The problem is Samantha can’t afford it, so she answers an ad for a baby-sitter for the Ulmans (Tom Noonan and Mary Woronov). Mr. Ulman seems a bit strange, but Samantha needs the money and takes the job, against the wishes of her best friend, Megan (Greta Gerwig). When she arrives at the house, Mr. Ulman informs Samantha that he lied and the position isn’t to watch their child, but rather Mrs. Ulman’s mother. Although initially suspicious, Samantha still agrees to stay after Mr. Ulman agrees to pay her four hundred dollars for the night.

As I said at the beginning, when the film gets it right, it really gets it right. Director Ti West proves that he’s an absolute master of the slow-burn suspense-build. Nothing really happens throughout most of the movie, but West does such a great job of slowly building up to things and Donahue is great at conveying her fear and uncertainty at being in this old, large house that I was on the edge of my seat the entire time. This film works perfectly, both as a throwback to classic horror films and as a horror film that can stand on its own.

Unfortunately, when the film reaches the climax, things get a little shaky. As far as direction goes, it’s handled great. Effectively creepy with incredible visuals. But the logic of the characters just makes no sense from what we’ve seen of them up to this point. The villains of this movie are devil-worshippers, I don’t think I’m giving away anything by saying that. But some of the logic they use just seems inconsistent and wonky at best, to the point that I found myself sitting there thinking, “wait a minute…why would they even DO that?” during scenes where I should have been thinking, “ohshitohshitohshitohshit!” Their behavior completely took me out of the flow of the movie and broke the momentum that West had spent all this time building up. And the movie doesn’t hinge on the villains behaving like morons, so with just some rewriting, this could have easily been fixed.

If you’re going to watch this movie, and if you’re a fan of classic horror I recommend you do, then just be warned. Don’t think about the logical holes of the villains, because it will rob you of the scares to be had in the climax.

X-Men: First Class Review

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t dreading this film. Ever since news of it first broke, it seemed 20th Century Fox just didn’t really put the proper effort into planning this. Depending on who in the production you talk to, First Class is either a prequel or a reboot. No one seems to really know. And there are logistical problems in both.

A reboot would be fine—but if you’re going to do a reboot, why not use the five of the original X-Men instead of only one? And if it’s a prequel, then why set it in the 60s, which sets up logical inconsistencies with the existing films? Why not just set it ten years or so before the events of X-Men, with Cyclops, Jean, Storm and Beast as the original team (which is what we’re led to believe was the first class in the original three films).

I’ll get to  more logical inconsistencies later. Suffice it to say, this review will be laden with spoilers! DO NOT READ ANY FURTHER IF YOU DO NOT WANT CRUCIAL PLOT DETAILS REVEALED!

As you’re no doubt aware, X-Men: First Class takes place against the backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) is in Cambridge, using his telepathic powers to guess what drink hot girls want and then hits on them by talking about how their hair color or eye color is an incredible mutation. This is much to the chagrin of his childhood friend, Raven (Jennifer Lawrence), a shapeshifter who he introduces as his sister but who clearly is interested in Charles as something more. Charles, however, has a problem with the fact that Raven’s true form consists of blue skin, bright red hair, yellow eyes and some scaly formations over her naughty bits.

So right off the bat, we’ve got a Charles Xavier who acts like a shallow frat boy. Way to go, Fox.

In another part of Europe, Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender) is tracking down Nazi war criminals. The primary man on his hit list is Klaus Schmidt, the man who killed his mother and told Erik he was part of a new master race because of his powers of magnetism.

Schmidt however, has a new name these days—Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon). He and his Hellfire Club, which consists of Emma Frost (January Jones), Azazel (Jason Flemyng) and Riptide (Alex Gonzalez) are manipulating the United States and the Soviet Union into inching closer towards all-out nuclear war. The reason behind this is as retarded as can be imagined—Shaw believes nuclear winter will wipe out humanity but will leave mutants in tact. Apparently, now being a mutant means you’re completely immune to a nuclear explosion.

I won’t even get into how this plot is completely contrary to the motivations of the comic version of Shaw, who is simply a power-hungry opportunist. Nor will I get into the bizarre way that they adapted Shaw’s powers into absorbing all kinds of energy and redirecting it as well. It’ll just make me mad. All X-Men fans really need to know about this Shaw is that he’s some sort of bizarre amalgamation of Apocalypse and Bishop.

CIA agent Moira MacTaggert (Rose Byrne, and don’t ask me how Moira went from being a Scottish geneticist to an American secret agent) stumbles upon this plot and witnesses the Hellfire Club’s powers in action. She finds Charles Xavier in record time (recently graduated, he’s apparently already an expert in his field as just a few minutes earlier, he was still working on his thesis) and after reading her mind, Xavier finds out he and Raven aren’t the only mutants out there. Through Moira, they meet the Man in Black (Oliver Platt). It sounds like he should be mysterious, but he’s not. He’s just never given a name. Why couldn’t they have just called him Fred Duncan (maybe only hardcore X-Men fans will recognize that name), since that’s basically who he’s playing?

During an attack on Shaw, Xavier meets Erik and the two join forces. From there, we see them recruit several young mutants to their cause—Alex Summers/Havok (Lucas Till), Hank McCoy/Beast (Nicholas Hoult), Sean Cassidy/Banshee (Caleb Landry Jones), Armando Munoz/Darwin (Edi Gathegi), and Angel Salvadore (Zoe Kravitz).

From there, the film is pretty by the numbers. You have an attack where Darwin is killed off for no reason (just had to kill the token black guy, didn’t you?) and Angel switches sides. Now operating independently, Xavier and Erik train the young mutants in the use of their powers in preparation for the final battle with the Hellfire Club against the backdrop of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

I don’t want it to be said that this film is completely bad. It is far superior to X-Men Origins: Wolverine (and Hugh Jackman makes a cameo in this film which is honestly the greatest part of the movie). I’d say it’s about on par with X-Men: The Last Stand. The direction in First Class is far superior, but the story in The Last Stand is, I’m actually ashamed to admit, better. Mainly because of how completely retarded Shaw’s master plan really is.

Michael Fassbender steals the show as Magneto. He’s got the character down and he’s got the same kind of gravitas that Ian McKellen had. The beginning of the film, when he’s Mr. Nazi Hunter, is awesome. I now want to see Vaughn direct a Cold War Bond film starring Fassbender in the title role. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were both doing this as an audition tape for how they could tackle Bond.

The same can’t really said of McAvoy, who just comes off as a pretentious ass. Hoult gives a decent performance, but completely lacks Beast’s trademark wit and humor. Again, this is a far cry from Kelsey Grammar’s portrayal, who was managed to get across both dry wit and intelligence. In comparison, Hoult is just playing a stereotypical shy geek. Kravitz is gorgeous to look at but has little else going on. Lawrence’s Mystique spends half the movie whining and the other half chasing after almost every guy on the team. Jones and Till have a few good moments as Banshee and Havok and they do serviceable jobs in their roles. But they ultimately have nothing to work with.

Of all the First Class, Darwin is probably the most interesting, and unfortunately, his only purpose is to serve as the sacrificial lamb.

As far as the Hellfire Club goes, I just can’t buy Kevin Bacon as Sebastian Shaw. He doesn’t have the right presence for a character like that and when he’s wearing that helmet like he does through half the movie, he just looks ridiculous. Don’t get me wrong, I think Bacon’s a great actor. But he’s not a right fit for any version of Shaw, let alone one this badly written.

January Jones…oh god, she’s terrible. Easily the worst performance of the film. Her only role is to look good in lingerie (which she does). Great body but what a bad actress. Her diamond form also looks really bad, almost two-dimensional. And as for Flemyng and Gonzalez, they really serve no purpose in this film other than for action scenes.

And the costumes. While fanboys were bitching about the X-Men wearing black leather in the original movies, I was in favor of it. I agreed that putting the X-Men in blue and yellow costumes may look cool in the comics (and even that is somewhat up for debate), but it doesn’t work on film. And First Class proved I was right. The costumes looked garish and absolutely terrible. If they had to go with something that resembled the original costumes, they should have used a pale yellow and black instead of blue. But as it stands, they just look ridiculous. Especially in bright sunlight.

There was also some really wasted potential in the setting. The original point of putting this film in the 60s was supposedly because of the similarities to the Civil Rights Movement. Yet the only real element of the 60s is the Cold War (and Xavier’s forced utterings of the word “groovy,” which just made me cringe).

Again, there are good elements—Vaughn definitely knows what he’s doing behind the camera and there are some decent to outright great performances. But the story is just ridiculous. And it’s obvious Fox didn’t pay much attention to what they’ve done before with these films.

Look, I’m not a continuity nut. It doesn’t bother me that film adaptations of comic books aren’t 100% accurate. I know they’re not and I know they can’t be. And to anyone who points to situations like Sin City, self-contained graphic novels are nowhere near the same as a comic series which has been running monthly for decades, has numerous spin-offs, and has heavy ties to a shared universe that you can’t touch on because of different studios holding different rights. It can’t be accurate, changes have to be made.

But when you start violating the internal continuity and logistics of the film universe you’ve set up, that shows you really just don’t give a shit. And that’s what pisses me off. Even in badly-done movies like Fantastic Four or Ghost Rider, I still got the sense that the filmmakers cared about what they were doing, they just couldn’t do it well. Here, what’s so irritating is that these filmmakers are capable of doing it well, yet they just don’t seem to care.

Here are some examples of the inconsistencies in the X-Men movieverse that First Class causes:

-In X-Men and X2, it’s made very clear that Xavier and Magneto built Cerebro together. In First Class, Beast has Cerebro already built before he even meets Xavier and Magneto.

-In X-Men, Xavier says Scott, Jean and Storm were his first students. They’re not present in First Class.

-In The Last Stand and Wolverine, we see Xavier in the past, played by Patrick Stewart, walking. In First Class, he becomes crippled when he’s much younger.

-In The Last Stand, Xavier and Magneto are seen, played again by Stewart and McKellen, recruiting a young Jean Grey. In First Class, they part ways when they’re much younger.

-In The Last Stand, Moira is portrayed as a Scottish geneticist. In First Class, she’s portrayed as an American secret agent whose memories of the X-Men are wiped clean.

-According to First Class, in the 1960s, Emma Frost is a member of the Hellfire Club. But according to Wolverine, in the 1970s, she’s younger and the sister of Silver Fox.

-In X-Men, Xavier is surprised when Magneto has a helmet that can block his telepathy. Yet in First Class, Xavier clearly knows Magneto stole the helmet from Shaw.

Of course, that’s all assuming this is a prequel, which is what Singer has said. Now if you take this film as a reboot, as other people involved have said, these aren’t problems. But then you have the question of if you’re going to make this a reboot, why are you using obscure characters like Angel Salvadore and Darwin to round out the X-Men instead of using classic characters like Cyclops and Jean?

Again, there are good elements here and it’s not really a bad film. But it just doesn’t work for me. Too many inconsistencies with the established film continuity and a ridiculous story just pulled me right out of it.