Archive for the ‘Review’ Category

Ghostbusters 2016 In Review   1 comment

Ugh, what title to use… “Ain’t Afraid Of No Reboots”?  No… “Blockbusters Make Me Feel Good”?  No…  “Who Ya Gonna-“… oh, hi there!  Sorry, wasn’t quite ready, I was… I couldn’t think of a good title.  I’m just gonna… let’s just start the review.

Ghostbusters 2016 might not have been the most anticipated film of the year, but it was definitely one of the most talked about, and a lot of that talk was negative.  Like, strongly negative.  Like, unreasonably, angrily negative.  Some of it was a bit more reasonably negative, but the whole general tone seemed to fit on a three-point scale between “They’re ruining my childhood”, “Ugh, I can’t believe that they’re trying to reboot everything”, and most infamously “Ghostbusters are supposed to be dudes!”

The fact that nearly all of the previous cast of Ghostbusters were okay with the film being led by a female cast didn’t really seem to matter.  The fact that before this movie there were other movies and that this movie wasn’t going to be like those other movies in some way was an insurmountable obstacle for many.

Having said that, my birthday was July 15th, the opening day of the film, and I wanted to see a movie as part of my birthday celebrations.  Part of me wanted to see Warcraft, but Ghostbusters felt like it’d be more enjoyable.  Then, when I checked movie times, I discovered that Warcraft had actually been out of theaters for weeks now.  Ghostbusters was inevitable (though I still wanna see Tarzan, despite all the negative reviews.  I’m a sucker for pulp fiction.)  Enough preamble: on to the show!

ghostbusters-2016-movie-trailer

Naturally, a few spoilers will follow.

First things first, this movie’s script managed to pull off a really difficult trick: they created a story that fits the Ghostbusters aesthetic without just being a rehashing of what had come before.  One of the most frequently levied criticisms of The Force Awakens was that The Force Awakens was pretty much just a beat for beat imitation of A New Hope, and many (myself included) feel that this hurt the movie.  The creators of A New Hope were trying to rekindle a lot of the feeling of the first movie to assist in bridging the gap between old and new fans, and while I think the movie was “generally good”, I think it fell short.  J. J. Abrams himself has said that he went too far with this and would probably have toned it down had he known what people’s reactions to it would have been.

This movie, on the other hand, has a lot of fun nods to the original two movies but doesn’t make its plot beholden to anything that’s come before.  Rowan North, our villain, is played by Neil Casey, and he’s someone who reminds me of Vigo the Carpathian from Ghostbusters 2, but only indirectly.  He’s the sort of person who would research people like Vigo and hope that he could imitate them.  He doesn’t have a consuming obsession with figures from the past *cough*Kylo Ren*cough* but he is *very* aware of how these sorts of things work, and seeks out methods of bringing about his own power.  The movie doesn’t really focus on if the villain is working out some prophecy, or if “The Fourth Cataclysm” is a product of his own design, but I think dwelling on that would have slowed the movie down.  He’s ultimately a mad scientist who’s tapping into supernatural forces and incorporating magic and the occult into his work.  I liked what he brought to the production, even if I felt that his acting was underplayed at times (the part of “despised genius who’s decided that the rest of society isn’t worth saving” is actually tricky to pull off, in my opinion; too much and you’re chewing scenery, and too little makes you seem drab.)  They leaned too far in the drab direction when I feel like they should’ve gone in the scenery chewing direction; there were times in the movie when he wasn’t on screen and you could only get his voice, and I think at those times he really shined as a character, and I think if he’d acted on-screen as he did when he was off-screen he could’ve been a scene stealer.

Enough about the villain, though; this movie has four main characters who did a great job.  It’s really, really, REALLY tempting to look at each character and compare them to the original four Ghostbusters, but I think such a comparison would be unfair and inaccurate.  The closest comparison that can be made is between Melissa McCarthy playing Abby Yates and Dan Akroyd’s Ray… uh, Ray… *frantically searches IMDB* Ray Stantz.  …huh.  I only remember him being called Ray in those movies.  Anyway, the closest comparison between characters is between Abby Yates and Ray Stantz in that they’re both the scientist who’s devotedly enthusiastic about exploring the supernatural, but where Ray always had a kind of oblivious “Why wouldn’t this be interesting or believable?” optimism, Abby has a sort of “The world isn’t going to believe us, but we shouldn’t stop just because of that” cynicism.  She’s been hurt by people in the past who’ve mocked her beliefs, and even feels a betrayal from her colleague Erin Gilbert, so the sunny optimism of Ray’s character has hit some darker clouds under McCarthy’s characterization.

Speaking of Erin Gilbert, this is probably the biggest departure in terms of point for point characterizations.  Erin Gilbert, played by Kristen Wiig, is arguably the film’s protagonist, and holds a position with the group similar to Peter Venkman as played by Bill Murray by being the scientist with a foot in the “real world”, but the comparison ends there.  Venkman had a detached comical side that acted as a shield between his paranormal research and how society saw him, and he was laid back enough that it wouldn’t be hard to imagine him as legitimately being a fraud or charlatan just like his opponents claimed he was.  Gilbert, on the other hand, is trying very hard to be professional and to be respected, and the fact that she used to be a paranormal researcher is a black mark that she feels could hurt her chances for becoming a tenured professor.  Actual, tangible evidence of ghosts reels her back in to the life that she abandoned, but her character keeps craving legitimacy and acceptance in the public view.  Arguably, this is the main thrust of the film: is it better to be known as legitimate, or is it better to be known as a fraud while *being* legitimate?  Gilbert’s character has to wrestle with that over the course of the film, and the question paints a well-balanced comparison to the “why can’t women be main characters in action movies?” conversation that’s been playing out over the last few decades (especially in the last few years.)

Leslie Jones plays Patty Tolan, and a comparison to Ernie Hudson’s Winston Zeddermore is hard to avoid; both characters represent a non-scientist who’s stepping into the job.  Neither character starts off knowing a lot about how ghosts work or what they represent, but they’re both more than capable of picking it up as they go.  In a way, Patty is a negative version of Winston because while Winston joined the Ghostbusters for a “steady paycheck”, Patty shows up for the fun of it, which in a way helps to ground her in reality more than any of the other characters.  She also knows New York history and architecture (which is convenient for knowing about all the biggest murders in town and best ways to drive around), and can provide a car to help mobilize the other members of the group, so she’s the catalyst that lets the Ghostbusters roll out faster and more efficiently.

Finally, we have Kate McKinnon playing Jillian Holtzmann.  She’s probably the most tempting comparison to make, but calling her “The Egon” isn’t accurate.  There’s a trend in sci-fi or action films to have a freewheeling tech-head or hyper competent hacker, and while Jillian Holtzmann is part of that trend I don’t feel like Egon was.  Egon was an almost emotionless calculator who, while not devoid of emotion, humor, or empathy, was certainly detached from much of what was happening in a way that brought a clinical acknowledgement to the bizarre.  Holtzmann is eager and more frantic, acting like she can’t make her new technology fast enough.  Also, no matter what she winds up seeing, she maintains the same aloof giddiness.  Arguably, the biggest comparison to Egon is unflappability since they both keep effectively the same attitude no matter the circumstances.  However, she also has two very real and very human moments in the film, one near the very end, and another during the transitional period between acts 2 and 3 where she sees a lot of her work being demolished.  There’s a moment of genuine panic and grief when the gadgets and guns she’s been working on are threatened, and I think that actual emotion keeps her character from being too one-note.  Ultimately, she’s the group’s mad scientist, and she plays the part well.

I don’t want to give away much of the plot or the jokes of the film, and it’s hard to say much more without that.  I will say that the movie contains a number of homages and references to the Ghostbusters franchise ranging from the subtle to the blatant, and many from the original cast (apart from Rick Moranis) had small cameo appearances that touched on the plot of events in the reboot.  The film isn’t set decades after the original movies, but it’s almost easy to believe that this is a parallel reality of sorts.  I doubt it is (at least, I doubt it is in any official, easy to get on paper fashion), but the movie is well aware of its roots, ranging from a smirking bust of a dearly departed buster to a familiar receptionist managing the front desk of a prestigious hotel.  The movie also makes a few reasonable jabs at its own impact on the fandom, with comments from YouTube thinking these Ghostbusters aren’t up for the job.  (I’m mostly unfamiliar with the whole “nice guys” and “fedoras” side of the Internet apart from hearing a few things from friends, but I thought it was interesting that the primary opponent of the Ghostbusters wore a fedora which was commented on as a “nice hat.”)  The movie treats these sorts of naysayers in, I think, a fair and reasonable light: thinking that it’s unfortunate that they have these opinions and even uncalled for when the meaner comments show up, but ultimately the Ghostbusters move on and keep doing their work without letting it get to them too much.

Speaking of negative YouTube comments, I think this movie had a shocking lack of violence, cursing, or gross-out humor.  Maybe I’m just desensitized to it, but I really didn’t notice much.  I’d even say that there was more in the original movie than in this, so having said that I’m surprised this film has a PG-13 rating.  I’d personally rate it as PG, although I come from the era when, as The Nostalgia Critic once put it, “PG actually meant something.”  I mean, yes, there are one or two gross jokes, and that’s not even counting the huge amount of slime (this is a Ghostbusters film, after all) but in addition to being a fun addition to the franchise I think it’s even appropriate for younger kids who can handle scary ghost images.

The movie isn’t without its flaws, but I think my complaints with the film amounted to less than thirty seconds if not less than twenty seconds, something I already said on Twitter.  Most of my problems were related to aesthetic taste, however.  Case in point: the opening scene has a few obvious jokes rather than being a straightforward ghost-story cold open like in the first Ghostbusters movie.  I would’ve preferred that opening scene to just be a regular horror story opening, with the humor coming later, but that’s not what happened.  Ultimately this isn’t something that made that first scene bad, it just made it an opening that I would’ve preferred to see tweaked.  Similarly, the movie includes Slimer, who is (in many ways) the franchise’s spirit animal.  At one point Slimer steals the Ecto-1 for a joyride, which I thought was brilliant; later, you see him still joy riding but with another lady Slimer who’s wearing a wig.  It was a funny idea, but didn’t quite work well for me (although seeing those two at the end of that subplot was great; the two Slimers getting along felt like an appropriate metaphor for the relationship of this film to the previous ones, one where they can coexist without really hampering each other, and both can have fun together.)

ghostbusterslarge

So, my final verdict: this is a great popcorn flick.  I hate calling it that because the term “popcorn flick” is usually synonymous with “bad”, and this isn’t a bad movie.  It’s good, really good.  It’s a fun piece of summer movie action that you can enjoy and have a great time with, and it’s got an attention to the craft of movie writing that most mindless blockbusters lack.  It’s not Citizen Kane… thank heaven it’s not Citizen Kane… but it’s not trying to be.  This is just a good fun movie.  Enjoy it in theaters and maybe, if we’re lucky, we can start reclaiming popcorn flicks that are enjoyable instead of popcorn flicks that are stale.  Enjoy your time at the movies, everyone!

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We’ve Got MOVIE SIGN!   Leave a comment

MST3K Crowdfunding Success

Just look at that.  It’s a beautiful sight.  (A beautiful sight that Twitter user Stephen P, AKA @dim_halo has allowed me to use here.  Thanks for sharing the screenshot, Stephen!)

There’s a lot of talk about this.  Most positive, some negative.  And there are worries…

I’m worried that the show will be too “polished” and won’t actually be the same slapdash performance that I like.  I’m worried that there’s some sort of behind-the-scenes issue that a lot of the old cast and crew aren’t talking about.  I’m also worried that there’s no such issue, but that fans will imagine that there is and worry about it and bug the old and new people so much that it becomes an issue.  I’m worried that it won’t be the same.  I’m also worried that it’ll be too much of the same.  Basically, I’m a neurotic Internet fan.  But not a single one of these worries are important: what really matters is that MST3K is coming BACK, baby!  I’m giddy!

And just look at what we did.  114%!  That’s major, guys.  And that 114% is of the final 5.5 million dollar goal, not the original 2 million dollar goal.  We actually raised, like… over three hundred percent!  And it stunned and delighted everyone…

Sadly, financial pressures being what they are, I had to lower my donation just a bit.  I’m still looking forward to that printable ID card, but a lot of the higher tier rewards were REALLY nice.  I especially wanted that VHS tape…

Incidentally, if you haven’t watched the Telethon, do it now!  Well… maybe not now.  Not in its entirety.  It was a multi-hour event that featured islands of really cool entertainment and information in the midst of charming awkwardness and technical problems.  But there are a lot of moments that I predict will become big parts of MSTie nostagia.  If nothing else, the look on Joel’s face when, with almost exactly a minute to spare, the totals were updated and passed the 3.6 million dollar total.  There were also moments that some liked and others didn’t (I enjoyed the Castlevania song, though I’ve heard some claim that they actively disliked it.)

Also, did I hear Felicia Day accidentally start singing Mike’s theme song for a second before correcting herself?  I could’ve sworn she almost mumbled “Way Down in Deep 13″… funny moment.

Anyway… it’s a great week to be a MSTie.  Friends, we’re not actually living in a post-MST3K world.  We’ve simply been living in the 15+ year inter-season hiatus.

And it’s almost over.

(Incidentally, I don’t mention this often on the blog, but for the record I frequent MST3K: The Discussion Board.  If you want a place to chill and discuss the show, I’m over there from time to time.  More importantly, LOTS of people are.)

Windows Ten’s Most Important Feature   Leave a comment

So, Windows 8 had one little feature that was better than Windows 10 that I’d like to mention: Windows 8 sort of let you know over time that it had downloaded updates, and gave you chances to install those updates on your own schedule, while Windows 10 (according to some friends) just springs updates on you, ready or not.  I’ve not experienced this yet on the Windows 10 side of things, but I liked that Windows 8 kept reminding me about my free Windows 10 upgrade.  I agreed to the upgrade, let it quietly download Windows 10 in the background, and last night I set it up to make the upgrade complete.  Today I had a fresh new system to try out.  My unreliable Internet connection was sketchy at best so some parts of the upgrade were held off until I could definitively be online, but all the important pieces got put in place.

Windows 10 Desktop

I never updated my background from the default on Windows 8 (just never got around to installing my image of the Ouroboros Citadel that I used on Windows 7) so it was refreshing to see a scenic island.  I may well keep it.  I, of course, did a quick check of the Start Menu and was pleased to see that it was still there.  I don’t care for a lot of the tiles and things, but that can be changed in time (especially if I dabble in third party customization options.)  While the Start menu was, for right or wrong, the most requested change to Windows 8, scrolling through it reminded me of what’s truly important about Windows:the ability to play a card game that I could just as easily play in real life.  I’m talking, of course, about Solitaire.  So when I saw Solitaire in the Start menu, I knew it had to be my first stop on the review of everything that Windows 10 does.  I mean, if Windows can’t get Solitaire right, then we know the system is doomed.

Windows Solitaire 404

So, naturally, seeing an Internet connection error right off the bat was a bit disheartening.  However, once my knee-jerk reaction was done, I determined that this was a good thing.  This wasn’t saying “Error 404, no Internet, no cards for you, does not compute Earthling, feiopfewnifpe.”  Instead it was saying “Hey, I’d like to check the news updates for this program, but they’re not really available because the Internet’s not on, sorry!”

Further examination provided a menu.  Classic Solitaire is now called Klondike apparently (I don’t know why, but I can accept it as a name for its “variant” of the game.  I’m assuming there’s some earlier version of Solitaire, so the name “Classic” would probably upset some people who play it IRL.  Or maybe they just liked the sound of Klondike.)  This game also tracks a few things like Statistics, offers daily challenges (though they require Internet access), and even rankings.  There are ways to set this up with X-Box Live and other various things (again, they require Internet) but unlike Windows 8 these things appear optional.  Sure, it was *technically* optional in Windows 8, but in Windows 8 you had to actively search to avoid messing with those things.  Here it’s just a friendly way to play, if it’s something you care to worry about.  I’ve never been a Spider Solitaire fan and didn’t want to give the other two variations a try, so naturally my first game on Windows 10 was the Classic game.  By which I mean Klondike.

Windows Solitaire First Game

Here’s my first hand!  As you can see, it was a good arrangement.  A lot of options right off the bat.  Lots of card “syngery” in play.  (Ha!)  I messed around with this for a bit, and discovered that one of my favorite features of the classic game was still intact.  Namely, the game doesn’t auto-solve.  Instead it allows me to move cards as I see fit.  So if I turn over an Ace in the draw deck, I have the option of bringing it down to put onto a Two to net myself a few extra points.  I kept playing until, alas, I was out of moves.

Windows Solitaire First Game Failure

A tragedy of the highest magnitude, to be sure.  So I took the screenshot, saved the image, and prepared to end the game… but when I came back, I noticed a gentle highlight on the three of hearts, reminding me that my game wasn’t, in fact, over.

Windows Solitaire First Game UnFailure

I was able to maneuver this into an easy victory!  The cynic in me wondered if the first game would be rigged for people for a victory, but there’s no way to test that with just my one game.  Still, it was nice to kick off Windows 10 with a win in Solitaire.  Windows has a tradition of bringing celebratory animations to successful Solitaire games, and Klondike was no exception.

Windows Solitaire Victory Butterflies

Victory butterflies sparkled around!  It was nice.  Not great, but nice.  My favorite will always be the “jumping” playing cards that create after images of other playing cards behind them.  This had a bit of an element of that, and combined it with the fireworks that would come whenever you won a game of Mahjong in Windows 7 (another game that I’d like to see in Windows Ten.  It’s probably not here, but I’ve honestly not looked.)  So, the victory celebration in Windows Ten is nothing to write home about, but it’s certainly a nice, pleasant visual.  (To whoever worked on programming this ending: I understand the pressures of making something cool and nifty that celebrates victory without overdoing it, and I think you succeeded here.  The jumping after-images tradition is just a really tough act to follow.)

After victory, I was presented with some statistics.

Windows Solitaire First Game Victory Stats

As you can see, that’s 100% victory right there.  I HAVE NEVER FAILED AT THIS GAME on Windows 10, according to this.  I’ve always had mixed feelings about statistic keeping like this.  You can only really have a three-digit success rate until you lose, and then it’s lost forever.  I thought about preserving this 100% victory forever, never again playing Solitaire… but in my heart I knew it would be meaningless, so I instantly played another game, lost it, and dropped down to 50%.  I took no screenshot, though, so you have only my say-so.  PERHAPS I STILL HAVE 100% VICTORY AND AM NEEDLESSLY LYING?!  Nope.  But it’s a fun thought.

Anyway, Solitaire on Windows Ten is a solid addition to the Windows Solitaire tradition.  I don’t play Solitaire often on Windows, but it’s always nice knowing that it’s there as an option should I ever be bored and in the mood to kill some time.  Between this and the Start Menu, I’m optimistic about how Windows Ten will unfold.

So I Finally… Watched Baby Doll   Leave a comment

Baby Doll

So, I finally watched an episode of the Batman Animated Series that a lot of people have recommended as being one of the best of the bunch.  From random friends in real life to the perpetually cantankerous-but-delightful reviews of Doug Walker’s Nostalgia Critic, Baby Doll is met with a lot of praise.  And, in truth, I’d seen the very end of this episode ages ago, and it seemed dark and poignant and surreal in all the ways that the Batman Animated Series does when it’s at its best.

It was strange seeing the episode play out, though.  I was happy to see Paul Dini’s name in the opening credits, but after that the episode twisted and felt a bit generic.  I honestly think it’s because I knew where it was going.  The ‘punchline’, as it were.

The odd part, though?  As I reached the part of the episode I’d already seen… the episode suddenly got better.  I have to wonder if that scene was the moment that the rest of the episode was built around.  It’s a beautiful ending in a lot of ways, but the build up to it just didn’t quite seem to match.

So… everyone’s hype ruined everything, except the most hypable moment? Possible, but rare.  Ultimately, though, I did enjoy the episode, and understand why it keeps winding up on everyone’s Top Ten lists.

In other news: Gen-Con 2015 sent me through a wringer that’s made it tough to get back into the swing of things (I haven’t even done a post-Gen-Con report.  Almost seems too late at this point, despite having a fun picture to use for it.)  Also, the place where I usually record my So I Finally videos on Youtube has been uncharacteristically busy of late, and as such I’ve not been filming them.  Just when I thought I was getting the hang of YouTube, too.

Anyway, thanks for stopping by, and I’ll let you know the next time I have a magical monday, or the next time I finally see something new, or just the next time I have somethin’ to talk about.  Later!

Harley Quinn’s New 52 Hardcover: Hot In The City   Leave a comment

Harley Quinn Vol 1

As a kid growing up in the late eighties and early nineties, it should come as no surprise to anyone that Harley Quinn has always been a favorite Batman character of mine.  By far the biggest breakout character from the 90s Batman Animated Series, Harley Quinn went from a one-note henchwoman who assisted The Joker on occasion to recurring villain in her own right.  Paul Dini (and the other writers) gave her the complexities that a lot of the other characters had, but since she was created on the show she wasn’t stuck to any of the archetypal frameworks that the others had.  Eventually becoming best buds with (and according to Paul Dini, an off-screen love interest for) Poison Ivy and having it revealed that she used to be The Joker’s psychiatrist at Arkham (first in the comic Mad Love, followed by an episode based on the comic), Harley demonstrated an interesting flair for making epic and unapproachable figures a bit more grounded.  Her recurring infatuation with The Joker has run the spectrum from delightfully honest and truly romantic down to terrifying, abusive, and manipulative, and her occasional attempts to not be a villain anymore have demonstrated a lot of the complexities of the real life when our own plans don’t go the way we expect them to.  She’s even gotten Batman to warm up a little since Batman knows that not everything is her fault when things go crazy around her.  All in all, she’s a great character.  Does the series hold up to the legacy, though?

Short answer: yes?  It’s honestly hard to tell where this lands.  The comic is written by Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti as a zany comedy of the day to day antics of everyone’s favorite insane clown lady villain (not counting fans of The Joker’s Daughter).  The basic plot of the story is that Harley Quinn has had her old life sorta blow up on her, but an old client of hers from the Asylum has given given her an apartment building in Coney Island.  So, she packs her bags and leaves Gotham to travel to New York.  Her building is filled with a curious assortment of tenants, but she discovers that she won’t quite have the cash to keep the building running just from her rent money.  So she gets a couple of jobs: during the day she’ll be a psychiatrist and therapist at a retirement center, and by night she’ll work as a member of a Roller Derby team.  So, her new life is off to an awesome new start!  Harley’s gonna make it after all!

Mary Tyler Moore Hat Toss

Incidentally, I love this choice.  I’ve always wanted Harley Quinn to actually do something with her psychiatry training that wasn’t in her back story, so getting a job helping people during the day sort of answers the question for me of just why we never see her using all of this training she has (even if it’s sometimes suggested that she only did the bare minimum so that she could make a fortune writing self-help books and tell-all tales of Arkham’s more colorful inmates.)  As for the Roller Derby thing, something feels “right” about it.  My knowledge of roller derbies and the surrounding culture is limited to a single episode of Psyche, but from that limited amount of training it seems like a fitting place for her to ply the skills that she gained while being a super criminal and suicide squad agent.  It’s just wild and violent enough that someone of her skill set could thrive (even if she’d be prone to breaking rules) but still legal enough for her to do it and not get in trouble for it.  Plus, the Harley Quinn themed roller derby costume on the cover/first issue makes for an interesting counterpoint to her classic streamlined Animated Series outfit.  (Sidenote: at what point exactly did DC decide that Quinn’s skin color had been permanently bleached white like The Joker’s?  Was it just a quick blink-and-you-miss-it panel in Death Of The Family?  I’m not sure when that decision was made, or if I like it.  It doesn’t really hurt the story, but every time I see it I think “Oh, right.  That’s canon now.”)

Now, her perfect life isn’t so perfect.  Apparently, someone’s put a massive amount of money on her head, and that money keeps increasing.  Bounty hunters and assassins keep arriving to collect the big bucks.  This provides some fun side stories, but I never quite feel like she’s actually in danger from any of these murderers out to kill her.  Worse, I feel like the revelation of who’s hiring the bounty hunters isn’t handled quite as well as it could be… don’t get me wrong, it’s a fun idea, but I think it could’ve been pulled off better on some level.  However, to the credit of the writers, they use the revelation of what’s sending the bounty hunters her way to exacerbate other issues in the story, and that almost makes it worth it.

That’s the main plot of the book, but it’s worth pointing out that the collection includes some things that aren’t part of that overarching plot.  There are a few one-shot side adventure issues tossed in (including the fourth-wall breaking Issue #0, a Valentine’s Day special (and who better to have a story talking about Mad Love?), and some other issues surrounding her new places of employment), and  a good portion of the middle of the story features a secondary tale where one of Harley Quinn’s patients turns out to be a former cybernetic spy who wants to enlist her help in tracking down some secret agents who’ve been living in the States for decades.  I felt a little uncomfortable at times with how zealously Syborg (the secret agent) and Harey pursued these other secret agents, but then I reminded myself that I wasn’t reading about a hero per se.  I was reading about a villain, one taught by The Joker no less.  I actually found this story more interesting than the main plot surrounding the mysterious assassins, though I’m glad that it wasn’t stretched out for much longer than it was.

Before this comic series came out, the creators talked about how they would plan on getting Harley into some different outfits since it’s unrealistic for someone to wear exactly the same clothes every day.  I spoke a little earlier about how I thought her Roller Derby outfit worked…but a lot of the other outfits don’t feel like they work as well.  Some of them do, sure.  Some of them, though, felt a little too much like they were drawn just for the purpose of having Harley wear something revealing.  Fortunately, this problem didn’t come up so often that it got in the way of everything else that was happening.

Ultimately, it was an interesting read, though I don’t think it was for me.  It’s definitely meant to be a goofier, sillier comic than most of DC’s line-up, but I was hoping for an edge of seriousness akin to Paul Dini’s Zatanna comic from a while back.  The good news is that the series is doing a great job of mixing its stories and weaving together different plot elements (and it left a lot of unresolved hooks for the future.)  I look forward to seeing more about where this series is going, but for right now I’m going to be reading them one collection at a time instead of as a monthly series.  The series is still finding its sea legs, I think, and has the potential to be awesome, but isn’t quite there yet.  Here’s hoping!

The Legend of Korra’s Fourth Season Starts Strong   Leave a comment

Legend of Korra Kuvira

The fourth and final series of The Legend Of Korra, Book 4: Balance, is off to a good start.  Premiering earlier tonight (or yesterday evening since it’s after midnight and the rest of the world disagrees with my opinion that the day should start with dawn), the beginning of the end of the series takes place three years after the events in Book 3: Change. Spoilers will be unavoidable (case in point: Korra didn’t die way back in season 1, 2, or 3, so don’t be shocked when I mention her.)  I’m gonna begin with some spoilers right off the bat, so if you still want to go watch the first three seasons (or maybe even Avatar: The Last Airbender’s three seasons before that) then you have to stop yourself from scrolling down before you get to the end of the image of Spoiler.

Spoiler

There are four things that the show assumes you know at the get go, so I’ll mention those (a list of things to know that Nickelodeon itself provided in a short clip).  First of all, at the end of Season 2, Korra opened (and chose not to close) two gates between the mortal realm and spirit world, meaning that spirits and humans can more freely interact with each other.  Second, the Earth Kingdom is in a shambles; in Season 3 it was already a powder keg of oppression and desperation, and the death of the Earth Queen made it the start of a what seemed like a full scale revolution at first, but then just turned into a sort of massive excuse for looting.  Third, the Air Nation is rebuilding; we don’t have a Last Airbender anymore, as the connection to the spirit world seems to be awakening latent air-bending abilities in random people (though that reason was never quite confirmed definitively).  Fourth and finally, Korra went above and beyond when she defended the world in Season 3, and the fight left her drained and weakened, possibly physically but definitely mentally.

Having said all that, this episode puts all the characters you’d expect onto the table, with the writers clearly positioning a lot of them like chess pieces.  Korra has been away while she recuperates, but the Air Nation’s few members have taken to wearing flight-suits and travelling the world like superheroes, using their air bending to fight for balance and such while Korra is out of commission.  The suits reminded me of flying squirrels, but not so much that it really distracted me from everything else.  Asami’s business dealings have led to Future Industries creating a train station that can connect Republic City with the Earth Kingdom, an event that has new Prince Wu in town to meet with the President.  Mako, it turns out, has been assigned to Prince Wu as a bodyguard, and is eagerly awaiting the Prince’s official coronation to Earth King so that he can get back to being a brooding detective.  Speaking of trains, Mako’s brother Bolin has a job riding the rails with Kuvira, a would-be uniter of all the different states within the Earth Kingdom.

Let’s pause for a moment: if you don’t remember Kuvira, it’s fine.  She’s the person in the picture I used at the top of the article, and a likely candidate for the season’s antagonist unless the writers are trying to pull a fast one.  She was in the Third Season, introduced as a member of the Metal Clan.  They gave her just enough lines so that many viewers would be able to pick up on her, but not enough of a presence for her to get picked up on by a more casual viewing.  In the three years since those episodes, she’s risen from the position of metal bending guard to full-on military leader.  The first real conflict of the episode (apart from establishing problems, such as air benders Kai and Opal having to fight off bandits as they raid a starving community and Mako’s issues surrounding Prince Wu’s foibles) comes from Kuvira’s attempt to unify the Earth Kingdom.  She meets with the leader of the community that Kai and Opal saved earlier, promising to lend aid, protection, and provisions.  The community leader says that he knows that Kuvira’s protection is, effectively, her way of conquering regions.  He refuses, and she leaves town, letting it be known that she’ll be at the borders for a day in case their minds change.

This gives us some of our first real character conflict.  Bolin and Opal started a relationship back in Season 3, but their jobs put them at odds with each other.  Bolin is trying to support a force for protective stability, but Opal is trying to protect the region as the people wanted it to be while they had their freedom.

I won’t go into the details of the rest of this plot, except to say that it lets us see some really nice aeroplane action (I’m a sucker for Diesel Punk, even more than I am for Steam Punk.)  This plot lets us see Kuvira for what she is: she’s a conqueror, but she conquers with politics and economics.  She only uses her weaponry for defense, and to protect those under her rule.  I don’t know if this was an intentional choice on the part of the writers, but Bolin and Opal are both playing to elemental type.  Bolin is an Earth Bender, and rocks tend to represent stability and structure, while Opal is an Air Bender (and as Tenzin said way back in Book 1, air is the element of freedom.)  Whether or not Bolin and Opal are meant to be at odds for this particular reason, the basic conflict of this bandit-plagued region is a question of whether or not people should surrender freedom for safety (or to put the opposite spin on it, surrender dangerous chaos for stability.)  Just as Season 3 was rife with constant questions about, and examples of, change in the world, I’m expecting Season 4 to be filled with background discussions about Balance.  What, exactly, is the ideal balance between safety and freedom?  This is a question that our society has been asking itself over and over for decades (some would say centuries), and The Legend of Korra is gearing up to tackle that issue head on.

But enough of my middle-school English class breakdown of the motifs of the episode, let’s get back to the plot.  Mako continues to deal with Prince Wu throughout the episode, and even saves the Prince from being attacked outside a building by angry protesters armed with… strawberry pies.  It seemed out of place to me, personally.  Were the writers originally going to put guns there, only to be told no?  Or were the protesters legitimately just attacking the Prince’s clothing since the guy seems to be a total neat freak?  I’d almost assume the latter.  The moment seemed out of place, but I still enjoyed it.  Later, Mako reveals to the chief that he’s looking forward to becoming a Detective again, but it’s revealed that he did his job so well that Prince Wu doesn’t know how he’ll live without him, and the President himself is transferring Mako to the Earth Kingdom.

Meanwhile, a ship arrives from the South Pole, and everyone’s excited to see Korra again!  Korra’s dad disembarks and greets Tenzin cheerfully, but they quickly share notes and realize that they both thought that Korra was with the other one.  We finally get to see Korra, incognito, fighting in an Earth Bending tournament and not doing very well.  She’s obviously still trying to recover, and when asked about being the Avatar by the sharp-eyed fight organizer, she denies it and walks away.

Ultimately, Season 4 is off to a strong start.  I don’t know if it’ll be up to the high standard that Season 3 set, but so far it’s doing everything properly.  If you still haven’t seen the episode yet, then… well, you probably shouldn’t have read all my thoughts on it.  Go on, you can watch it on the website for now.  After you’ve seen it, then I think you’ll agree with me that, if we liken this season to a chess game, we’re seeing the writers masterfully begin the positioning of the pieces.  I’m eagerly awaiting next week’s episode to see what their next few moves are.

Rifftrax Live’s Sharknado: Second To None!   Leave a comment

So.  Guess what movie I saw tonight?

Rifftrax has a habit of persuading me to see movies that I would otherwise never see.  Twilight, for instance, was a film that I never once considered viewing until Rifftrax released a riffing of it.  Lines like “Their relationship is based on him not killing her,” and “Badgercam!” hold special places in my heart.  Meanwhile, Sharknado was something of a media spectacle when it came out.  It was almost like no one wanted to watch it seriously.  Everyone wanted to watch it for the sake of being able to say that they couldn’t believe they watched it.  This was probably intentional on the part of the creators, as more than one character in the movie commented on just how unbelievable the situation was.  A friend of mine watched it and declared it to be the staple by which all future cinema would be judged.  “On a scale of one to five sharknados” was, I believe, what he said.

I arrived, regrettably, right on time.  This might not make sense to some viewers, but Rifftrax Live events have a habit of beginning about half an hour before the actual show starts up.  There’s usually a fake “trivia reel” filled with things that resemble riffs relating more to the state of movie making in general than to any specific film.  Attributing the line “Release the Kraken!” to Ian McKellen in the movie Schindler’s List, for instance.  However, while I missed the pre-movie festivities, I didn’t miss any of the actual content.

As was the case for most of their Rifftrax Live events, they opened with a short.  This one was a classic that fans of MST3K were already familiar with: A Case Of Spring Fever!

Coily the Spring Sprite returned in all his animated glory.  It was fun watching this short again; while part of my brain kept reciting all the lines from when the short was on MST3K, it as refreshing to see some of the new lines.  In some ways, I even enjoyed it more than I enjoyed the Rifftrax Live version of Manos: The Hands Of Fate.  (Though, to be fair, I preferred A Case Of Spring Fever to Manos on MST3K as well.  Maybe the material just lends itself more to my humor preferences?)

After the short, we were treated to two treats (such is the way of treating, after all.)  We were shown a preview of August’s upcoming riff of Godzilla, the movie that they turned to Kickstarter to fund (very successfully, I might add.)

The first of the two clips was, sadly, lacking sound (after a few moments of tense darkness.)  It’s possible they had some minor technical problems, but that didn’t stop them from Riffing, proving that we’re there more for their jokes than for the movies themselves.  I don’t know if the lines they used tonight will be used in the final showing, but it was fun.  In addition to the Godzilla preview, we also caught a glimpse of a special, never before seen trailer for Sharknado 2!  I won’t ruin what little we caught of the plot, but I WILL confirm the presence of a tornado conveying a large amount of sharks.

Ultimately, the real fun of the night came from Sharknado itself.  Before going to see this, I’d been warned that Sharknado was almost a comedy in itself and, as such, the riffing might suffer (see also: Catalina Caper.)  Fortunately, the movie took itself seriously enough that it wasn’t a problem at all.  The riffing was stellar.  While I’ve seen other Rifftrax Live’s that I’ve preferred, I feel it’s appropriate to say that this was… second to none.  …okay, that’ll make a lot more sense if you watch Sharknado.  Or the Rifftrax of it.

However, literal interpretations of statements aside, I maintain that the spirit of the comment is true.  Mike, Kevin and Bill brought their A-game to this performance.  If you were on the fence about going, I strongly suggest going to the secondary showing on July 15th (next Tuesday.)  Apart from that, it’s time to start looking forward to Rifftrax’s rendition of Godzilla in August.

Posted July 11, 2014 by John Little in Review