Friday, December 12, 2014

2014’s Biggest Disappointments

Come year’s end, many a movie or pop culture website will hit you with their best and worst of lists. Many will probably enjoy the latter more, as they fulfill the role of snarky bit of timewasting at work better than the former. However, I’ve found that many “Worst of” lists in any given year tend to focus on films that, well, no one in the readership actually saw. This is, of course, understandable – professional critics simply have to watch everything that’s out there. You may not think A HAUNTED HOUSE 2 looked any good and therefore avoided it, but there’s always some poor schmo out there that was paid to go and see it, resulting in it appearing on many such lists. And that’s not even taking into account all the crap that gets screened at film festivals that didn’t get distribution deals, so no one is likely to see them at all any time soon! With this in mind, here’s five of the most disappointing movies this year that you’ve probably actually seen!

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5.) GODZILLA

I actually quite like Gareth Edwards’ GODZILLA, despite some minor misgivings. However, the early trailers seemed to indicate a truly apocalyptic disaster movie, something meditating on mankind’s place on the food chain, and how a creature such as Godzilla would disrupt balance. The well-made adventure movie we got was a nice consolation prize, but it would have been cool to see someone attempt to do something in the vein of the original GOJIRA.

4.) X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST

With all the good reviews this one was getting, the amazing cast it boasted, and that one trailer that used “Come With Me” by Diddy*, I was actually pretty psyched for this movie despite the return of Mr. Bland, Bryan Singer. True to form, Singer sucked out all the energy of DOFP’s predecessor FIRST CLASS and delivered a two-and-a-half-hour classic the Singer way – awesome set piece in the middle, nothing too fancy on the sides. Watch this back to back with 12 YEARS A SLAVE if you want to see the extreme ends of the give-a-fuck scale for actors.

3.) THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2

A really cool ten minute Spider-Man short that somehow ended up two and a half hours, ASM2 wouldn’t really have been a disappointment to anyone who had seen the first ASM and knew to stay away. Unfortunately, reviews coaxed me into going by promising true hammy madness! Even more disappointing that there were a few minor actually good elements in this movie, like Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone as Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy, respectively. Spider-Man’s Times Square fight with Electro is also really exciting. Too bad the story doesn’t really go anywhere! The fetishistic build-up to the first “accurate” cinematic depiction of comics’ original girlfriend-killing without even bothering to establish an enmity between Spider-Man and the villain who kills Gwen is… unfortunate, to say the least.

2.) HERCULES

I love Dwayne Johnson and have been hoping for him to become a bonafide movie star for over a decade now. I had a lot of hopes for this one, but it was not to be. A movie populated with actors full of life undermined by a script that missed the bus by about ten years. This “realistic” take on Hercules sees the strongman as portrayed by Dwayne Johnson as the figurehead leader of a mercenary crew who greatly embellished the mythical 12 Labors. Unfortunately, Johnson cuts quite the mythical figure himself, and he is shown as very capable throughout the film (even punching out a horse at one point). So here’s a movie with a boring “real story behind the myth” angle undermined by having a main actor who sometimes does mythical stuff anyway… sort of? Either this movie should have been a full-on Greek myth fantasy extravaganza, or Johnson’s Hercules should have been a complete dimwit who relied on his old-timey pit crew for everything.

1.) CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER

A well-acted film with some pretty cool action, some humorous character moments and no major filming equipment visible on screen at any time throughout. WINTER SOLDIER squanders a potentially interesting premise regarding the need for security vs. privacy by absolving all our heroes from any wrongdoing, stating that basically only a double Nazi would be in favor of surveillance. It also squanders any fun pulpy “Who is a secret double Nazi?” potential by having literally no one of import be a traitor. If your heart wasn’t broken by the betrayal of those two guys who were introduced in this very movie and were accompanied with ominous music from the start, surely it was in pieces over those old Marvel stand-bys of “Asshole Senator from IRON MAN 2” and “Glasses Agent Who Sometimes Stood Around A Bit”. In a Phase 2 where every movie was a leap ahead of its predecessor, CAP 2 stands out like a sore bionic thumb.

You know, the actual worst movie I’ve seen in theaters this year was probably A WINTER’S TALE, but shit, who the hell saw that? Let me ruin its surprise cameo, by the way!

Whooooo! Ha-haaaaa!

*this is a joke I know of led zeppelin my friend

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Kaiju Kavalcade Special: GODZILLA: THE SERIES (1999-2000)

In anticipation of the upcoming Memories of Monster Island e-book, Wholly on the Level brings you a very special edition of Kaiju Kavalcade! Strap yourselves in chaps, it’s gonna be a bumpy yet strangely uneventful ride!

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LUCA:

My foolish, JURASSIC PARK-loving child-self of the late 90s quite liked Roland Emmerich’s GODZILLA. It had a big T-Rex and a bunch of raptors. That’s enough for a good movie, right? Combined with having grown up on the 80s Ninja Turtles cartoon and Thundercats, my brief, half-remembered glimpses of GODZILLA: THE SERIES from its airing on the BBC had me start this (sort of) rewatch with a note of optimism. Okay, it’s probably not a good sign that my vague positive memories of this show were from a time when I liked Emmerich’s movie and had good memories of the two aforementioned cartoons. But hey, Emmerich had removed so much of what made the G-man tick in his movie, replacing it with nothing, that a whole two seasons of Godzilla fighting other huge monsters surely had to have been a step in the right direction… right? Sorta! While GODZILLA: THE SERIES brings Godzilla closer to his native element, it also retains some unfortunate failings from the ’98 movie.

Picking up right where the movie left o—no wait, that’s not entirely accurate. The first episode actually starts with a really embarrassing-looking recreation of the final moments of GODZILLA 98. Not only do we get to watch a poorly animated version of the Zilla chase with the Reno-driven taxi, the resemblance to Jean Reno is… iffy. Of course, animated sequels or adaptations of live action properties aren’t obliged to be 100% faithful to the source material – that’d be boring! Artistic license man, go right ahead! In this case, however, the quality of the show just isn’t up to snuff with the comparisons it’s inevitably going to draw. Please consider something that looks so bad it just isn’t up to the quality of GODZILLA 98. G:TS has protagonist Nick Tatopolous (voiced by an amazingly terrible Ian Ziering) convince Major Hicks (actually Kevin Dunn reprising his role from the movie) to send a team to scour the tunnels under Madison Square Garden to make sure there aren’t any babyzilla eggs left. Of course THERE ARE and the last remaining babyzilla imprints upon our boy Nick like a magic vampire baby. Also, it is sterile so the extinction level event threat that the movie Godzilla posed is completely neutralized. He’s now a really big dog basically!

Nick establishes H.E.A.T., one of those classic comic book Cool Dude organizations with acronyms that are also words. Depending on the episode, it stands for either Humanitarian Ecological or Environmental Analysis Team. Who is all SUPERHEATED? Why, more GODZILLA 98 veterans, of course! There’s Elsie, the bespectacled red-headed paleontologist, and Mendel Craven, the guy who sneezed a lot (and whose actor voices him). New team members include Randy Hernandez, a slacker hip hopper metalhead surfer dude college intern. He’s pretty much whatever any episode needs him to be to desperately connect with FOX KIDS viewers! Finally, we have Monique du Pré, a French secret service agent left behind by Jean Reno to keep an eye on zeir leetle ackseedent. You can tell she’s a spy cuz she’s in all black with dark eye shadow and lipstick. I guess the belly shirt is to fit in with Americans? Hey Travis, what did you think of this MUTATION!

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TRAVIS:

Luca, we could form our own H.E.A.T. team to hunt down these kind of mutations as children's programming was lousy with them in the late 90s/early 2000s. G:TS was one of many cartoons put out by Sony to extend the freshness dates of their franchises. We were also treated to MEN IN BLACK: THE SERIES, JUMANJI: THE SERIES, ROUGHNECKS: STARSHIP TROOPERS CHRONICLES, and even EXTREME GHOSTBUSTERS with a new group of multi-ethnic, ghostbustin' teens led by Egon Spengler. You can sense that Sony really wanted to milk these properties dry, and darn it all, they're gonna shove more Zilla in your face and Saturday morning cereal bowls, and you're gonna like it! Unfortunately, those same boring humans from the 1998 movie are coming along too. Nick is given a more youthful, athletic look but retains that black hole of charisma Matthew Broderick originally brought to the role. It's made even worse because Ziering is pretty horrible at voice acting. You how word balloons in comics have embolden words in the sentences for emphasis yet it's understood that the dialogue would flow naturally? Ziering speaks as though those embolden words have to be shout enunciated in actual speech. “We have to keep GODZILLA and that giant BUG away from the WATER.” He also does it in a tough, action-y movie voice that doesn't help him. The other characters are pretty much their one adjective descriptions: sassy Elsie, nerdy Mendel, hip Randy, french Monique.

But what about the domesticated Zilla Jr.? He's pretty personality-less too (like owner, like pet), but at least the cartoon gives him back the proper radioactive breath that was absent in the movie. He'll need it too for the scores of mutations the series throws at him. G:TS is your standard “monster of the week” show with all sorts of creatures and freaks of nature that Zilla and H.E.A.T. have to deal with. None of these new foes are as memorable as Mothra or King Ghidorah, but there's a fun variety displayed throughout the run. There are standard bugs, lizards, and mammals mutated by radioactivity, as well as a few ancient, slumbering giants now woken due to pesky people. Throw in some scientific anomalies (one episode features an electrical monster that is actually the physical manifestation of an human insomniac's repressed anger!), and you've got an eclectic mix of kaiju. Heck, even the original Zilla from G'98 is revived as a cyborg under alien control!

It's that willingness to go pulpy that puts G:TS in a peculiar spot. The vapid characterization and fairly limited animation certainly didn't help Zilla become more palpable to audience's tastes. And yet, having the cartoon include things like evil aliens or redneck monster hunters shows that the people involved seemed more eager to go into “crazy kaiju” territory than the G'98 filmmakers. I doubt anyone would find this series memorable, but for a toon that had to strip off the meat from its box office turkey, it made some passable leftovers. Salvageable, pleasant enough leftovers. Even though we were quite negative about Zilla The Movie, am I being too kind to Zilla The Cartoon?

Cyber-Godzilla

LUCA:

In order to answer this in the negative, Travis, we should take a step back and consider the TV of the late 90s. In our era of streaming video on demand, binge-watching, season-long arcs and the dreaded SHOW MYTHOLOGY, we can’t really fathom picking and choosing a couple of episodes from a show and then being done with it. If you want a sampling of an American creative team trying out that old Godzilla stand-by of aliens wanting to take over the world via giant monster control, try the season 1 episode “Leviathan”, followed by the “Monster Wars” three-parter, also from the first season. If those eps please you, by all means, check them all out. The entire series is on Netflix Instant (for the moment), so there’s no one to hold you back.

If I can say anything nice about the show, it’s that the opening credits theme song is pretty catchy. I can hum it off by heart, and it’s been months since I last heard it! Like the American Godzilla itself, the monsters he faces are pretty cool-looking, ranging from giant regular animals to an actual goddamned sphinx. Speaking of the pulpiness the show dares to approach: in one episode there’s even ghosts (“The Ballad of the Gens du Marais”)! I’d recommend anyone who’s still legitimately interested in the show after seeing the episodes recommended above to just browse around, check out some synopses, and see what strikes your fancy. There’s a lot more interesting stuff out there for you to be wasting time on every single episode of this series! Like, uh… reading about Godzilla… yeah, that’s a good investment!

I agree with you on the series’ good points, Travis, and they do indeed make it stand out over the Emmerich film. They just can’t counteract the rote filler stuff that this show is padded with, even at only two seasons. The Emmerich movie doesn’t have the cool stuff the show has, but it also takes up far less of your time. Use this information how you will! I hope your brain doesn’t blow up like a N.I.G.E.L., Dr. Craven’s exploration bot who dies every episode in what seemed to me like a tip of the hat to SOUTH PARK. Only Trey Parker and Matt Stone stopped doing it eventually! The only thing GtS stopped doing was being aired – hi-yoooo!

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TRAVIS:

Ohhh Zilla burn! I'll add that if you were a fan of the Hanna-Barbera Godzilla cartoon from the 70s, you might wanna give GtS a try too since they pretty much share the same plot. Both shows have scientific teams that cruise around the world exploring monster phenomena, and sooner or later, they call upon G when they're getting their asses kicked. Heck, both groups also sail around on a fancy, schmancy sea vessel stacked with sciencey doohickeys and weapons (the Calico in the HB toon, the H.E.A.T. Seeker in GtS). They also share annoying sidekicks in the form of Godzooky (a smaller, goofier flying version of G) and N.I.G.E.L. respectively. GtS might have the edge over the HB series for fans since it crushes or blows up N.I.G.E.L. on a consistent basis, while many kaiju viewers would've gladly seen 'lil Jar-Jarzilla die in many, many violent deaths.

In pop culture these days, we've seen a lot of flash in the pan celebrities from yesteryear attempt comebacks by mocking (or even destroying) their public image so they can build it back up. You could say that Zilla himself as slowly crawled his way back into acceptance with G-fans too. Though his feature film bombed, he had a small moment of self deprecation as he was annihilated by Toho's Godzilla in FINAL WARS, and in IDW's current RULERS OF EARTH comic series, he's been reintroduced as a very lethal, vicious creature. All of this plus a not-too-bad cartoon might rehabilitate him in people's eyes. There are many poor, pathetic animals in this world; won't you take in Zilla today?

 

The theme song evokes a prehistoric monster that Emmerichzilla pointedly isn’t.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Kamala Khan As The New Spider-Man: Why Captain America 3 Should Feature Miss Marvel

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What a tumultuous time to be a comic book nerd! With studios throwing superheroes at you nearly all year round now, it can be tough to keep track of who’s living in the same universe with who. Not only do you need to know which characters are Marvel and which are DC, you also need to know which Marvel characters are Fox-Marvel, Sony-Marvel, or, well, Marvel-Marvel. In short:

Fox: X-MEN and FANTASTIC FOUR

Sony: SPIDER-MAN

Marvel: All the rest.

Before 2008, you could have said that Marvel was pretty much f’d in the a. Fox and Sony only have three heroes licensed, but they are the all-time biggies. Weird as it seems in retrospect, even Iron Man was a dopey second stringer in terms of mainstream recognition before Robert Downey Jr. made him a household name. So credit where credit’s due: Marvel Studios absolutely turned a frown into the craziest Joker-smile you could imagine over the last half decade or so. Critically as well as financially, nobody run this superhero game like Marvel Studios do.

This underdog status has been parlayed successfully by studio boss Kevin Feige into a reputation as “the studio that does it for the fans” rather than the foul bean counting sorcerers at WB who only care about their Acheronian paymasters! And whaddya know, the latest reveal from the Sony hacks seems to back that up: besides revealing that Hollywood power players have some scandalously bad e-mail etiquette, the released documents have, according to the Wall Street Journal, also made public that Marvel Studios has, in fact, reached out to the license-holders of Spider-Man’s cinematic adventures for a cross-studio team-up.

Spider-Man would have appeared in CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR, an adaptation of the 2006 Marvel event miniseries in which a superhero-related tragedy causes public outrage and drives a wedge in Marvel’s super-community. On one side there’s Tony Stark (Iron Man), who believes all superheroes should be registered and receive training, and on the other there’s Captain America, who believes that this would go against the right to privacy and vigilantism afforded every citizen of the United States.

Caught in the middle of all this was the ever-down-on-his-luck Peter Parker who took Tony’s offer of big bucks and a swanky penthouse and made his identity known to the public, saying he’d been Spider-Man since he was 15 years old. In the Civil War storyline, Peter was the everyman caught between Tony and Steve’s ideological battle.

The Everyman.

That’s been Peter Parker’s whole deal for half a century now. He tries his darnedest to please everyone in his life, but somehow always ends up with the shortest end of the stick. He’s the little guy who keeps his chin up, even though life throws every possible curvepumpkinbomb at him. Just trying to do right, you know?

It is exactly for this reason that Marvel Studios should not bother trying to get Spider-Man into their movies. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is probably the biggest thing in fandom right now. It’s what LORD OF THE RINGS was ten years ago, on an even wider scale. It’s hip! It’s happenin’! It’s everything Peter Parker isn’t.

Back in the 1960s, delinquent teens may have been a hot button issue, but a J. Jonah Jameson complaining about Spider-Man in 2014 would just make him seem brain-damaged. In a world of Darren Wilsons and Michael Browns, is there not even the tiniest bit of cognitive dissonance that may occur when you present modern-day audiences with a main character who is a handsome, physically powerful, white, straight male and then tell them his life is really, really hard?

Now, of course it is possible for a handsome, physically powerful, white, straight male to have a really hard life. But superhero comic books (and their movie adaptations) aren’t really about nuance. They’re about big, broad, colorful characters and outsized emotions and actions. What better way to illustrate the put-upon everyman than with Kamala Khan, aka Miss Marvel?

Imagine a young muslim Pakistani girl cowering, maybe in an amateurishly self-crafted supersuit, on a poster for CIVIL WAR in between Figures Of The Establishment RDJ and Chris Evans playing staredown. An image powerful enough that people might say hey, who is that girl and what’s her deal? Why is she making Cap and Tony fight?

Having a figure as iconic as Spider-Man in the middle would no doubt be even more evocative, but the point is simply that it wouldn’t be necessary. As stated before, Marvel Studios made these second stringers into billion dollar characters. Cap and Tony by themselves turn top-five-of-the-year grosses.

Fans might say, but Kamala Khan names herself Miss Marvel because she’s a Carol Danvers fangirl, and she’s an Inhuman, and both CAPTAIN MARVEL and INHUMANS are scheduled for release years after CIVIL WAR!!!

Well shit man, what can I tell ya? We got an Ultron made by Tony Stark here, we got Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver who aren’t related to Magneto, we got a Nova Corps that doesn’t really resemble any Nova Corps on the page, we got a Miami Vice goon for a Mandarin, we got Janet Van Dyne dying off-screen if reports are to be believed… what I’m saying is, adaptations happen.

There’s at least four Inhumans awakened in the MCU so far, why not make a little blu-ray One-Shot showing Kamala getting her powers and introduce her as a fait accompli in CIVIL WAR? Why not have her be a one-episode case that superpowered PI Jessica Jones encounters in her own 2015 Netflix series? You could have her be inspired by Captain Marvel even after superheroing for quite a while – how long did they call Green Arrow “the Hood” and the Flash “the Streak” on their respective CW shows?

Marvel Comics recently canceled one of their flagship titles, Fantastic Four. Rumor has it this was done to spite the upcoming Fox-produced adaptation. I’m not calling for something quite so dramatic, but it’s time Marvel realized they can say “Frankly? We no care” when it comes to Spider-Man movies.