Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Where are the Blockbusters?

This is a very simple question: Where are the blockbusters, and how can we find them? It is Summer, the time of the year most notoriously known for large scale, special effect movies, however, this year seems to lack any real definitive blockbusters yet. Yes, there has been Thor and Pirates, but neither of these films have stuck, both critically and financially, to truly stand alongside the best blockbusters ever made, and even the more popular blockbusters of previous years.

It used to be that a movie was not deemed a blockbuster till after its release, after the box office gross had been summed up, but nowadays movies are deemed blockbusters before their release, due to how big their budgets are. Now in my opinion, a true blockbuster is a movie that manages to enter the cultural zeitgeist, in a way that no other movie can. One does not know whether or not a movie will impact the culture in the way of a Star Wars or Gone With the Wind till after the movie is released. How can anyone know whether or not the movie will make an impact before it is released? It isn't possible. For all of one's predictions and stat tracking, no one can predict which movie will be the most popular film of a given year.

As it is, we are in a Summer that, by today's definition, has already had a few blockbusters, but by my definition, there has not been a single blockbuster this Summer thus far. The thing is, there is a misconception that all a blockbuster needs to be successful is a big budget and grand visual effects. I would like to argue that this is not true. A true blockbuster is more than just a formula on paper that can be replicated time and time again. If everyone knew how to make the next Star Wars, then they would, but the fact of the matter is, is that every Summer there are still countless movies that fail to connect with an audience. If we are lucky, there is at least one movie per Summer that succeeds, but there have been some Summers where there were none, and some where there were many. But the bottom line, it has nothing to do with money, but more to do with the stuff that makes up a movie that money cannot buy.

Let's look at one of the first blockbusters, Star Wars, as the example. The thing that makes this movie special to so many people is not the attack on the Death Star or the trash compactor sequence, it is the characters and the greater themes inherent in the story. The characters are simple, black-and-white, but each character represented a greater idea that every human could relate to. Hope and rebellion. It tapped into those ideas that humans want to find. These ideas could be seen in nearly every image of the original Star Wars film, such as when Luke looks longingly at the twin sunset on Tatooine, or the silent desire for rebellion against the Empire when Luke sees the fried bodies of his Aunt and Uncle.

It was not the spectacle, nor a cliched Hollywood romance that made Star Wars what it was, nor was it because it had these complex characters (which it did not). It did have originality, but that still wasn't why it reached the audience. I mean, there was very little that was original about Avatar in terms of formula and character, but what made it succeed with audiences is how it tapped into those deeper ideas, same as Star Wars. As J.J. Abrams put it in the latest issue of Creative Screenwriting, anyone can recreate the shark in Jaws, but it is hard to replicate the scene where Chief Brody's son mimics his father's movements at the dinner table. That little moment is one of the most memorable of that blockbuster, and that shark was nowhere in sight.

The themes do not have to be of hope or rebellion, it can just be something simple that strengthens a relationship like that of Brody and his family in Jaws. It is the little things that are most often overlooked when these big budget ideas are put on the fast track. When these ideas are rushed, the films themselves ultimately start to run together with so many other similar movies that you don't even care.

While the Summer still has many potential blockbusters to go, I'm just disappointed in May's output so far.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

TV Review Roundup

As it is at the end of each TV season, there is always a plethora of TV shows ending all at the same time, and it just so happens that I watch enough shows that a joint post, reviewing all of the television shows I watch, feels more necessary than reviewing these shows individually. There are four shows being reviewed today: Hawaii Five-O, The Event, Castle, and Smallville.

TV Review: Hawaii Five-O - Season 1

As a viewer, I had little knowledge of the original show, but anyone could tell from the start that CBS's new iteration of Hawaii Five-O is hipper, younger, more action packed, and a whole lot of fun. Like the Star Trek film from a few years back, we get to see how the Five-O team first comes together and their relationships between one another are developed (maybe it's because this show was produced by the writers of the Trek movie). There is great success as we first get to see Steve McGarrett and Danno verbally sparring with one another, and McGarrett being a James Bond-lite in terms of physicality all season long really helps the viewer know that is not their parent's Hawaii Five-O. There is a ton of action, but also a great sense of mystery throughout the entire season as McGarrett tries to solve his father's murder, eventually leading into his mother's murder, as well. All of the characters are likable, well written, and the show itself is never boring; much like other procedural shows, there is a formula that works in telling each individual week's episode, someone's killed and Five-O must solve the murder, but it's the sheer attention to character and a greater overarching mystery, that made this first season awesome television.

I give Hawaii Five-O an A+!


TV Review: The Event - Series

NBC asked us all last Fall, what was The Event? And even after seeing the first half of the series, I had no clue what it was either. A complex story that seemed as if it was going nowhere, about conspiracy theories, aliens living among us, and treason within the White House. Lo-and-behold, it is funny how a midseason break can change an entire show. The first half was mostly forgettable, but the second half of the series propels itself forward with a momentum that only great action entertainment can produce. It felt as if the showrunners read all of the bad feedback on the first half of the show, and decided to do the complete opposite with the second half. After this point, the show no longer worried about making original characters and being the next LOST, but rather it just focused on telling a narratively intriguing story that had the viewers coming back week after week. Seeing mankind squaring off against aliens who planned to annihilate our race and replace us with their own, may not sound that original, but the realistic approach to the material really made it feel different and kind of original. While none of the characters transcend above their stock character status, it's like a soap opera, you care what happens to them, because they all fall into the archetypal role that they are meant to play. If the first half of the series was as strong as the second, perhaps we would be getting a second season. Of course, the slow lift off got this one canceled, just as it was getting interesting as another planet entered Earth's orbit, being the much lobbied Event that we had been waiting for all season. Alas, we'll never know how the story ends.

I give The Event a B+!


TV Review: Castle - Season 3

A slight come down from Season 2, our favorite mystery writer, Rick Castle (played, still with so much charm, by Nathan Fillion), kind of slipped into a complacent groove this past season, and didn't really do anything to move the story forward, even if there was never a dull moment all season long. Castle still manages to remain funny, entertaining, and at times, great drama. Stana Katic nails detective Kate Beckett, the detective that Castle shadows on all of her cases in order to get inspiration for his crime novels. As for the rest of the supporting players, they are all as lovable and charming as ever, however, the show has slipped into a formula of one shot stories (a story contained to one episode), and rarely strays from that formula to tell a story that arcs over several episodes. For myself, I would like to see more changes stick around for a few more episodes after their introduced, such as Ryan's engagement or Espisito and Laney's relationship. But it is really hard to complain when you put Nathan Fillion in anything. Rick Castle is one of the greatest characters ever created, period, making each episode a joy to watch, even if you're getting nothing more than formula.

I give Castle an A-!


TV Review: Smallville - Season 10

I am biased here, because this is my favorite show of all-time, and Smallville still holds that status with its 10th and final season. As the show about how Clark Kent becomes Superman, finally came to an end, we got to see the final steps in Clark's transformation into the Man of Steel, and they were nothing short of spectacular. As it is, Smallville still reminds the viewer that this is an alternate take on the traditional Superman mythology. Things do not happen here as they did in the comic, nor as they did in the movies, but in order for this show to last for 10 years, they boldly took steps to create their own mythology, and ultimately created the most emotionally resonant origin story for Superman ever committed to a visual medium (yes, even better than any comic I've read).

With this final season, they took Clark and Lois's relationship to the next step, with Clark revealing his secret and the two getting engaged, but it was the bold moves, such as marrying Oliver and Chloe, that really shows that Smallville still wanted to tell the story that felt most natural within the universe that they created, and it worked beautifully. The whole season showed the rise of Darkseid, an alien from another planet who brings with him Darkness, and infects people with dark thoughts. Ultimately, as Darkseid plans to bring about the Apokolips (and it is spelled right, at least that's how it's spelled in the comics), crashing a planet into Earth, only Clark can find the strength within himself to don the blue tights and bring light back to the people of Earth.

There are so many iconic moments that are truly what Superman is all about throughout this whole season. But the showrunners also brought everything back full circle, bringing back series favorites, John Schneider, Annette O'Toole, John Glover, and their own Lex Luthor, Michael Rosenbaum. They paid a great attention to the past, while propelling towards the future, and this is how Smallville managed to really fly. It is Clark's time in Smallville that turns him into Superman, he should never forget it as he moves out into the world. So as Clark rips open his shirt to reveal the Superman suit in the final shot of the series, the John Williams music blares, and the baton is passed off to all of the other iconic versions of the character. The origin is told. Now, time to let Superman fly!

I give Smallville an A+++++!!!!!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Movie Review: "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides"

Disney keeps sailing with the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, sans-Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley, but the end result does little to change some of the underlying problems to the second and third installments. While the movie manages to keep from dipping into the levels of absurdity of the third film, On Stranger Tides lacks any real energy, excitement, character focus, or for that matter, character development. Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) returns in classic Jack Sparrow action. His comedic beats still work as Jack embarks on an adventure to find the Fountain of Youth, where he runs into an old flame, Angelina (Penelope Cruz), who just so happens to be the daughter of the villainous pirate, Blackbeard (Ian McShane). As it is, this movie does not drown, but it barely stays afloat as the old characters do not go anywhere new, and the new characters are not given enough to do in the story. The potential in the relationship between Jack and Angelina was lost somewhere in the middle of the movie as we were supposed to start caring for these two new characters, a missionary and a mermaid, who just so happen to fall head over heels in love with just a few soap operaish looks to one another (I know, tough to believe). Series stalwarts, Johnny Depp and Geoffrey Rush (Captan Barbossa from the first three) phone in their performances, while Penelope Cruz and Ian McShane look as if they had fun, and I guess that is what counts. Some of the action sequences are enjoyable to watch, in particular the spectacular mermaid attack sequence, but without strong sense of character, much of the action lacks excitement, thus it is hard to care anymore.

I give Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides an F!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Death of, "The American Way?"

What is to become of Superman? The first comic book superhero, and often considered to be the most dated. When Superman was first introduced in the late '30s, he was a socialist crusader, but when World War II came around, he became the figure of democracy that we know today, standing for, "Truth, Justice, and the American Way." Superman has been a believer in freedom and America since those days, and the cynical times we live in just don't see how any literary character could be so blind to the true nature of politics and America. However, I'd like to argue the true meaning of, "The American Way," in Superman's catchphrase, and hopefully point to the direction in which the Man of Steel should go.

In the 900th issue of Action Comics, writer David Goyer penned a story in which Superman renounces his U.S. citizenship after a fallout with the U.S. government. The intentions of Goyer were to present Superman as a World hero and not simply an American one. However, the backlash to this story shows that Superman renouncing his American citizenship was not the way to go about presenting this idea (as is evidenced by the fact that DC Comics backpedaled saying that this event would not be considered part of the official canon of Superman's saga and just simply be an unrelated short story, showing a huge lack of editorial care on DC's behalf). This is concerning for two reasons. First, this type of thinking changes the character and his outlook that made him famous, and second, because Goyer is the writer of the upcoming Superman movie titled, The Man of Steel.

There have been many critics of Superman's catchphrase over the past few years, one of the biggest examples of these critics' power is when the filmmakers of Superman Returns in 2006 chose not to even say, "The American Way," in the catchphrase, leaving it simply at, "Truth," and, "Justice." There is a cynicism that most Americans harbor towards the United States nowadays (as well as most foreign countries with their anti-American views), and unfortunately our own U.S. History is to blame for this loss of innocence. I mean, no longer do Americans live in Cleaver-bliss, but in post-Vietnam, post-Watergate, post-political scandal after political scandal. Many Americans find it hard to trust in their own government nowadays, but is the government and the policies they enact what makes up, "The American Way?" No.

Back when Superman first started using this catchphrase in World War II, it was seen more as a sign of freedom and an ideal to aspire to, and not a reflection of the U.S. government or their policies. If, "The American Way," is a reflection of the U.S. government, then almost every American would flee America and renounce their citizenship, and no immigrants would be wanting to come here, from their own countries, looking for a better life. To be honest, no American is always 100% in compliance with governmental policy, but if we renounced our citizenship because we didn't trust in our government, we'd all be long gone. Get the picture. "The American Way," has nothing to do with government, but a personal ideology that people still wish to attain.

America was founded based entirely upon the ideas of freedom, the ability to let one's voice be heard, to practice whatever religion they so choose, and the ability to live their life as one wishes. This is, "The American Way." It's an ideal that almost every human being strives for. The fact that it just so happens to be deemed, "The American Way," does not mean it has anything to do with American policy, but the values upon which our country has been known for since its inception. That is what Superman stands for, he stands for the freedom and equality of all people, and if that doesn't make him an American, I don't know what does. So no, Superman should have not renounced his U.S. citizenship, but this still does not solve the problem as to how Superman can be seen as relevant in a World where the majority of the World's countries hate America.

After 9/11, America actually wanted to believe in such a thing as, "The American Way," this idea is not gone, however it has been a decade since and almost completely buried once more. What can the future be for the Big Blue Boy Scout? Relevance is not defined by the tone of the story, realism vs. fantasticism, nor is it defined by where Superman comes from. Superman was raised in America, with American values, that can never change, just how someone from Africa cannot change the fact that they grew up indoctrinated in African culture. Superman will always believe in America, but how he can be seen as a World crusader I think can be found in how the T.V. Show, Smallville portrayed the character of Clark Kent and Superman.

In Smallville, Clark Kent is an American, he believes in American ideology, but he most importantly believes in people above anything else. You see this in real life after a disaster. You see how the World truly stands as one. Whether it be the Japanese earthquake/tsunami, or the tornadoes in the South-Eastern United States, or even 9/11, it is in those times that you see the World as it should be, and as it can be. This is how Superman always sees the World. Yes, he is a U.S. citizen, and there will always be those in the World who resent him for that, but this is also what makes Superman strong. Were he raised somewhere else in the world, would Superman still believe in people above all else? I think he still would, but the fact of the matter is, he wasn't. So, does this mean the phrase, "The American Way," should be obsolete? No.

Superman will always believe in, "The American Way," because if anything, Superman is the greatest optimist the World has ever known. Smallville showed in their tenth and final season, even when the government tried to force the superheroes to register, Clark and the other members of the Justice League put their faith in the people, and the Vigilante Registration Bill was voted down by the people. That freedom and belief in people is, "The American Way." Superman's a patriot, allow him to be, but also allow him to see matters not just through an American lens, but through a Universal lens that wants the betterment for all people. If, "The American Way," gets him into trouble, tough. Superman is the strongest man alive, he can take whatever comes his way, but Superman would never forsake what he believes in, so neither should any of us.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Movie Review: "Thor"

The God of Thunder storms into theaters, starting off the 2011 Summer with some action, but not very much substance. In Thor, up and coming star, Chris Hemsworth portrays the title character as an arrogant young man, who still has much to learn before he can become king of Asgard (the realm of the Gods, where his father Odin, resides over the throne). When Thor decides to fight the evil Frost Giants, against his father's wishes, Thor is banished to Earth, and he must embark upon a quest to reclaim his mystical hammer in order to return to Asgard and stop his evil brother, Loki, who manipulated all of the events so that he could take Thor's place and become the next king of Asgard.

Hemsworth is charming in the role, and really shines in the Earthbound sequences when he plays everything straight while still acting as if he is a God amongst Men, even though he is just flesh-and-blood. However, Thor lacks any real substance. The characters are never given time to fully develop, and it is partly because the movie is constantly switching back and forth between Earth, and what is happening on Asgard.

We spend the first thirty minutes in Asgard, then Thor spends about thirty minutes on Earth with Jane Foster (played by Natalie Portman), and then about thirty minutes dealing with S.H.I.E.L.D., then he returns to Asgard for the finale to fight with Loki. The movie just had too many irons in the fire for any single character to be developed, so when director Kenneth Branagh tries to cash in and show a romance between Foster and Thor, it just does not ring true, seeing as how Thor acted like a psycho for most of the time they were together, which was ultimately just one Earth day! Not enough time to develop a star-crossed romance.

Regardless, the actors do their best and give it their all. Anthony Hopkins adds a sheen of sophistication as Odin, and Tom Hiddleston knocks Loki out of the park (even if his character is never given the time to develop fully, as it should). As well, the movie is full of Marvel Easter Eggs, such as the Cosmic Cube, and an early appearance of Hawkeye in an action sequence near the middle of the movie. Speaking of which, the action is extremely well done, and definitely scratches that itch that only a Summer movie can, but what previous Summers have proven, is that a Summer movie nowadays cannot rely on action alone and must also have a fantastic story to go along with it, and Thor often slips in that area.

It feels like a sculpture that has rough edges and still needs to be smoothed out. The story does not flow as freely as it should, with myself wondering if the story would have been better served if the entirety of the film had taken place on Earth and save Asgard for a sequel, or perhaps simply save Asgard for the finale, rather than jumping back and forth as they do. The film lacks character development and relationship development, but it manages to still tell a story that makes sense, though it doesn't necessarily feel like a smooth ride.

I give Thor a D!

Friday, May 6, 2011

"Smallvile" Top 10 - Number 1


"Reckoning" from Season 5

Smallville's 100th episode is not just the finest hour the show has ever produced, but is the finest hour of television ever produced. All of Season 5, we knew that someone close to Clark was going to have to die when he returned from the dead, via Jor-El. When the episode first aired, fans were teased with the death of a major character, and what this episode gave us was two deaths!

When Clark proposes to Lana and tells her his secret, everything seems as if it will be perfect for Clark, especially when his father wins the state senate race against Lex Luthor, but tragedy strikes soon after with Lana dying in a car wreck, and Clark not being fast enough to save her. With the help of Jor-El, Clark goes back in time to relive the day leading up to her death to save her, only to have Lana break up with him when Clark doesn't tell her his secret this time around, with the end resulting in Jonathan Kent winning the senate race and informed by Lionel Luthor shortly afterwards that Lionel knows Clark's secret. Jonathan fights Lionel, and his heart gives out, with Jonathan dying in Clark's arms. There are no third chances with Jor-El, and Jonathan is gone, forever....

This is such a powerful episode, on the levels of great Greek tragedy. No matter what Clark does, someone he loves will die; no matter if he corrects the fate of one person, fate will balance itself out. This is quite possibly the toughest lesson for our Superman to be to learn, and it hits him hard. Tom Welling delivers his best performance as Clark Kent out of the entire series in this one episode. When he sees Lana's lifeless body, the moment sends shivers down my spine, only to be consoled by John Schneider's Jonathan Kent, creating a sense of foreshadowing for the events later in the episode.

The Smallville staff just pulled out all of the stops for this one episode, and it shows each time I re-watch it. The story is tightly woven, each character serving a greater purpose than just showing up to throw in their token line of dialogue. There is a genuine sense that this was where this story, and these characters, needed to go, and perhaps it was because they had been building up this moment the entire season, as to why this moment ultimately did not feel as if it came out of left field and managed to have so much impact.

Whether you're a Smallville fan or not, I think if you watch "Reckoning" you will be moved by the sheer tour de force of the production as I am each time I watch it. The episode connects into the deeper human emotions of loss and grief, something that everyone can connect to.


So that's it! Tune in next Friday for Part 1 of my Overall Smallville Retrospective!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

"Smallvile" Top 10 - Number 2

Just one more to go, but before we reach number one, how about my second favorite episode of Smallville of All-Time!


"Lexmas" from Season 5

Smallville's grand Christmas episode is everything that a great Christmas special should be. It is heartwarming (evidenced when Clark plays Santa trying to deliver toys to underprivileged children, only to run into the real Santa Claus), and it is also a meditation on life and death, like all of the great Christmas stories of past (i.e., A Christmas Carol).

The episode gives Lex an Ebenezer Scrooge moment when he is shot and goes into a coma, having a near death experience, seeing what his life would be like if he does not decide to go down the dark path. The otherworld Lex shows the Smallville characters all smiles, best friends, and in love, with Lex married to Lana, lower middle class, but perfectly happy and content. Of course, things dip into tragedy when Lana dies in childbirth and Lex doesn't have the money to pay for the medical surgery to save her. Of course, when Lex finally awakes in reality, he chooses to go down the dark path, but it was nice to see what Lex could have been had he not become Clark's arch enemy and remained his best friend.

Of course, not only is this a great fluff episode, but it plays into the overall season arc of Lex running against Jonathan for state senate. Lex is contemplating throughout the entire episode about a decision to either drop out of the race or have a PI investigate Jonathan Kent to find a story that will ruin him in the public eye. When Lex decides at the end to try and ruin Jonathan so he can become senator, we see the evil glean in his eye, with his face half clouded in shadow.


Tomorrow, it is here! My favorite episode of Smallville!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

"Smallvile" Top 10 - Number 3

So when I first started this series revealing my 10 favorite episodes of Smallville, one a week till the Finale aired, at the time the Finale was scheduled for May the 20th. But now that it is a 2-hour-finale airing on the 13th, I've been spending the past few weeks working on how I was gonna finish this series out, and I came up with a solution. I'm gonna reveal today, my number 3 favorite episode, then tomorrow, my number 2 favorite episode, and on Friday the 6th my number 1 favorite episode, followed by part 1 of my overall series retrospective on Smallville on the 13th, then a few days after that, part 2 will follow to wrap up this 10 year journey. So without further ado, my third favorite episode of Smallville of all-time!


"Hereafter" from Season 3

"Hereafter" is an episode that is Smallville at its best. A kid named Jordan Cross starts at Smallville High, but he soon starts setting off Clark's weirdar when Jordan rescues a Coach before he is hit by a car. Clark thought that Jordan reacted as if he knew it was going to happen, later learning that Jordan has the meteor power to know when people die by merely touching them.

This episode is a clever episode that shows Clark Kent as the Big Blue Boy Scout to be, being the only person who doesn't see Jordan as a freak and takes the time to befriend him, so at the end of the episode the friendship pays off and Clark manages to save Lana and a cheerleader from certain doom, with surprising help from Jordan, who learns a thing or two about courage and heroism from Clark.

So the episode is not the deepest episode in the Smallville canon, but as far as a freak of the week episode goes, this may just be Smallville's finest hour. Not to mention, when Jordan touches Clark, he sees no end to Clark's life, just an ongoing red cape fluttering in the wind. Sheer awesomeness!


Tune in tomorrow for my second favorite episode of Smallville of All-Time!