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Trek Into Darkness

by on May.19, 2013, under family, movies, parenthood

Being a fan of various shows and movies in the Star Trek franchise, especially it’s more recent phoenix-like rebirth, it would be an understatement to say I was eager to see the latest installment in J.J. Abrams treatment of the movie series. I attempted to rally the family around it (my wife and daughter were already on board, but my son seemed to need some persuasion), but when my son (probably wisely) proved too reluctant to endure the sound and fury of the theater despite how exciting the trailer looked. So my wife opted out to stay with Grasshopper while just Cricket and I made a go of it. While the movie left us with warm feelings of contentment, our post-movie conversation left me alone with a cold quiver down my spine.

As any parent can appreciate, drawing a detailed opinion out of a child (at least when it is wanted) is like drawing blood from a stone with ADD. So I’ve learned to ask more pointed questions than simple “What did you think of the movie?” Today’s Q&A went something like this:

Me: So which character did you like the best?
Her: Uhh…that’s hard to say…
Me: Okay, if you could be any character from the movie, who would you be?
Her: OH! I’d be Spock!
Me: Okay, how about if you could go out to dinner and spend time with any character from the movie, who would it be?
Her: You mean if none of the drama and stuff was happening?
Me: Yeah, just you and that person hanging out, no drama.
Her: Ooh – definitely the bad guy!
Me: Why the bad guy??
Her: I don’t know. I just like the idea of going out with the bad guy.

I had trouble coming up with any more questions after that.

My daughter has impressed me on numerous occasions with the characters that she has opted to adhere to in the media she watches. For instance last fall when we opted to go spend some of her allowance at the comic book store (her choice), she ended up deliberating at length between two POP! bobble-head hero toys. Her top choices were Nick Fury and Robin. She settled on Nick Fury and when I asked her afterward why those characters, it was because she saw them as leaders – Fury of the Avengers and Robin of the Young Justice team (based on watching the Young Justice cartoon that we until recently enjoyed watching on Cartoon Network). In this instance, it seemed no different with regard to the first question – she saw Spock as a logical and heroic character unafraid to take charge and act intelligently.

As for the second question, that one just felt too much like the kind of foreshadowing that I could easily have lived without. I love Cricket and enjoy that so far at her young age of 9 boy-related issues are limited to fleeting crushes. And I’ve told myself since she was a baby that I would try my best to be open and accepting of what teenagehood would one day bring. But there have already been touches of temperamental behavior that I can only assume will be exacerbated by puberty. So if there is also the possibility that she will also be a bad-boy chaser, I’m worried for my own resolve in the years to come.

Hopefully I’m reading too much into the statement and she just legitimately thought he would be the most interesting person to hang out with disregarding the potential evil streak. Perhaps like my wife she was captivated by his deep British voice that supposedly sounds like a jaguar trapped in a violin. Or maybe he seemed the safest bet as most of the rest of the characters had quite a handful of scrapes with death in the course of the movie – him comparatively the least often. Or perhaps I should just read less into the whimsical commentary of a 9-year-old and just continue to nurture the right skills and judgment in her until such fears either come to inevitable fruition or fizzle out as a vestige of an unrealized time-line.

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The Rise of the Comic Book Movies: Some Marvelous, Some Don’t Cut It

by on Jul.09, 2011, under comics, movies

Though I haven’t written a movie review here in some time (partially due to a lull in actual theatrical visits to anything worth reviewing), most who know me are aware that I am a movie aficionado – comic-book themed movies being high on my list of favorites.  Time was that these types of movies were few and far between, and for each one that was well done there were a half a dozen that were half-baked or overcooked.  Lately though, this genre seems have evolved both into a talent-draw and the blockbuster formula.  I for one can’t find much reason to complain so long as the end results are worth watching.

This genre has been tackled from numerous directions by numerous players.  DC has been playing this field for decades now, but most of their attempts to continue something successful has only come back to bite them (e.g., the Superman, and Batman movies prior to Batman Begins).  Marvel has also attempted to plant their flag and, at least I think, has succeeded in doing what Douglas Adams is famous for stating we as humans are capable of but nearly always fail to do – learn from the mistakes of others.  After hitting some snags letting other studios mung things up, they’ve taken the reins back and brought to the big screen what has always made their comics great – continuity.

Not to say that DC can’t get it right – Batman Begins & The Dark Knight are clear evidence that they can.  But their big screen floundering with any reasonable Superman reboot/continuation hasn’t been confidence building, nor has their 180 on bringing Wonder Woman back to the small screen.  Unlike seemingly most of the critical world, I greatly enjoyed the recent Green Lantern movie … up until the mid-credit bonus scene ruined it (I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t seen it, but honestly the only way that scene makes sense is as a teaser trailer for the next film, otherwise it goes against the relational dynamics and apparent character stances they built throughout the movie).  And outside of those properties I haven’t seen much to indicate they are putting any significant efforts into any other properties, which is disheartening given that I think they have a pretty deep bench from which to pull.

I also would be remiss to say that Marvel has been pitch perfect.  Clearly they have had faults in the not too distant past (e.g., X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Spider-man 3).  But their recent efforts with Iron Man and the converging storyline with other future members of the Avengers have been spectacular.  Not only have the stories themselves stood on their own, but the semi-subtle use of character cameos and post-credit bonus scenes give them even more dimension.  As a result, each of these have been movies that can easily be enjoyed by both hardcore fans and the uninitiated.

So far I’ve caught all of the comic-book genre pics released this season and I have yet to be significantly disappointed.  If you are interested in my grading of these, here is the report card:

  • Thor B – I enjoyed the complexity of this story arc and how they were able to give the characters more depth than I’d anticipated.  Though I have to deduct points on behalf of my kids who found the villains a bit too scary (especially in 3D), and the delayed hero-gratification off-putting.
  • Green LanternB- – As I said, I really enjoyed this take on this origin story.  Aside from a few flat supporting characters, it was as true to canon as would have been believable and staged things for strong potential continuation of the title (aside from the ruinous mid-credit scene).
  • X-Men: First ClassA+ – This proved to be much better than I had expected and depicted an intriguing starting point for the eventual path of Profession Xavier and his long-time nemesis and friend, Magneto.  I really felt the characters were well developed and depicted and that the film did an excellent job of retconning itself into our own historical events.  I look forward to any future development of this franchise.
  • Captain America: the First AvengerA? – Obviously I cannot grade a movie I haven’t seen yet, but if the previews and my own speculations on the gaps based on canonical knowledge are any indication, this one is going to be a winner.  I have a feeling, though, that following this movie (or more likely, during) I will have to explain some of the historical context to my daughter.
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Temporarily Single Dad

by on Sep.29, 2009, under family, home & stuff, Internet, movies, parenthood, video games

For the past 5 days, I’ve been Mr. Mom.  My wife went away to a blogging conference in Asheville, NC and left me in charge of managing our 2 kids.  Being actively involved with my kids on a regular basis, this was not a daunting task, per se.  The hard part was not paying attention to work for that period of time – especially since my shine, new iPhone would chirp every few minutes telling me I have some new email to read.  But eventually I turned off that notification and got to the serious business of responsibly entertaining my posse.

First priority – getting them to school on time.  Grasshopper only just started going to daycare (2 days a week) and already being without his Mommy, he was very reluctant to go (though apparently his tears ended within minutes of Cricket and I leaving him there).  Cricket just started Kindergarten this year and has been loving every minute of it, but with the possibility of being able to stay home and play Lego Star Wars with Daddy she suddenly was on the fence about going as well.  But I got them there, they did there time, and got them safely home (all perfectly according to schedule).  But outside of that, it was play time – we went to the park almost every day, we went to a play place for the better part of one cloudy afternoon, and we spent a fair share of time watching a couple of movies and playing Lego Star Wars.

By the end of the long weekend, I was ready for reinforcements.  I love my kids, but I can only be jumped on so many times before needing to tag out.  I only took advantage of the in-laws once for a break (which I spent cleaning).  And I actually made semi-nutritious meals for them for all but 2 meals (pancakes are good for you, right?).  So all in all I think I did okay.  And today it was back to work … to deal with my other batch of kids.  Maybe I should go to a conference.

P.S. – Mywife (who now has 2 blogs) went to a blogging conference, but didn’t post anything the entire time.  Ironic.

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Journey to the Center of My Lack of Suspended Disbelief

by on Aug.11, 2009, under movies, TV

It is sad what you will resort to watching when you are bored.  For instance, this weekend I found myself watching the recent production of Journey to the Center of the Earth.  In theory, all the necessary elements are there:  science-fiction – check; action/adventure – check; semi-respectable actor who could be believable in such a role – check; reasonably hot actress to co-star – check; script loosely based on a popular novel – check.  So what exactly didn’t I like about this movie?  Oh yeah – it sucked.

Granted, the only reason I started watching it was because I was up, bored, and recently enjoying HBO & Cinemax for free for 3 months (thank you FiOS!).  But in hindsight, unlocking a few more levels and extras in Lego Batman would have been a more enjoyable use of my time.   And yet as much as my summary review is that this movie was not even worth what I paid for it (time counts), I still found myself watching it to completion – which suggests there was something redeeming about it … somewhere.

I missed the intro due to timing of my channel surfing and came into it with Brendan Fraser and his nephew already introducing themselves to their near-future travel companion.  Luckily it was not hard to get up to speed.  The action was compelling, some of the humor was mildly witty, and the underground world was certainly a spectacle.  But I think what made this movie more pyrite than gold was that it was merely beyond belief.  Sure, I expect a certain level of hard-to-swallow in a sci-fi flick – it goes without saying.  But there are levels and costs and I think there should be a point system setup to pre-determine whether such a film will succeed.

For example, the latest Indiana Jones movie was not nearly the best in the series – quite possibly the worst.  But I personally was able to overlook a lot of its flaws due to the franchise to which it is associated (as were many other fans).  But I couldn’t  do the same for a film with no street cred.  The Matrix had no street cred, but was so compelling it almost pulled off a hat trick (then managed to trip and fall on its face).  Journey has a minute amount of cred due to the book association, but not enough to forgive the lack of a believeable plot.  An unknown world filled with unusual and long extinct creatures miles below the surface of the Earth – expected and acceptable.  Falling into/flying out of said realm at break-neck speeds and landing in a pool of water/hillside vineyard without, um, dying – not so likely.

Anyway, bottom line is that I need some new hobbies and to learn not to rubberneck when it comes to movies.  Besides, I’m sure there was something equally badly written with way more redeeming qualities at that hour on one of the Cinemax channels.  But sometimes curiosity can get the best of me – and you know what they say about that.

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Transformers: Rise of the Fallen

by on Jun.24, 2009, under movies

transformers-poster-big

I did something I don’t tend to do – I went to a midnight showing of a new movie – the Transformers sequel. While I greatly enjoyed it and I’m glad I went, a movie of nearly 3 hours in length is a tough mid-week pill to swallow. Though my boss was sympathetic to my late arrival at work since he was at the theater with me last night. Anyway, I’d seen the trailers and I’d heard some musings about who or what things were supposed to be in this movie, but I try to leave all that baggage at the door with these types of things and let the movie stand on its own. And it did – big-time. From start to finish there was not a dull moment. While I’m generally not a big fan of pointless action, this never felt like that type of movie – all the suspense seemed appropriate in measure.

Comparisons: Michael Bay’s second outing with this franchise definitely got into robot-based action much sooner. Within the first minutes of the film there were Autobots chasing Decepticons through the streets of Shanghai. And while in the first movie much of the dramatic tension (and comic relief) was among the human characters, in this chapter the robots offered more of the drama and comedy. The one thing that seemed a bit like a departure from the first film, though, was that the Transformers seemed a little less impervious – while I expect bot-on-bot carnage, the military arm involved seemed to be taking down a lot more targets on there own this time. Perhaps it went unspoken that the troops involved were defaultly equipped with more effective weaponry. But all-in-all, this was a solid sequel to the first and carries the story forward well.

Contrasts to the Source: While I was a huge Transformers fan as a kid and looked forward to these movies like a fanboy, I’m not a purist. In truth, adapting the cartoon as it was to a movie would have been cheesy and lacked realism in a lot of areas (e.g., scale issues with several of the transformers, body styles that were a bit too dependent on the vehicle forms). But for you purists out there (assuming you are even interested after the first movie), this movie deviates even further from the canon. For instance, there are several new members introduced with names from the show but that had little resemblance in shape or personality to their source. It was clear that the writers used the source material very loosely and in some cases only included recognizable names to give fanboys a momentary grin. But given how well the story is written, I have no issue with that whatsoever.

Things to Know Before You Go: (1) This movie is around 2 hours and 45 minutes long – so be sure you and anyone in your party are prepared for that kind of sitting. (2) While there are definitely elements in the movie geared towards a younger audience (such as a comical pair of Autobots referred to as ‘the twins’) younger is really teen/tween. I will not likely be taking my 5 year-old to see this (though she has seen the first) – I might let her see it on DVD when it comes out, but the immersive nature of a cinema multiplies all the violence and drama to a level that could be too much for the grade school crowd (plus at home you can pause for potty breaks). Plus there are some sensual elements that they wouldn’t likely get and don’t need to see plastered across a huge screen. (3) Unless you and your SO are into these types of movies, I wouldn’t call it a date movie. When my cohorts suggested the showing, a thought that didn’t cross my mind was ‘should I pass and see if my wife wants to see this with me?’ She was never into the Transformers as a kid, she only mildly enjoyed the first movie, and oddly isn’t nearly as aroused by Megan Fox as I am. And I think that Bay knew his audience was mostly male as he did include in the middle of some major melee some Baywatch-esque slow-motion running scenes with Megan and Shia (at least I assume he was in those scenes).

Those are my two cents. I hope they help. By the way, if you were expecting a book review today (a) you obviously didn’t read all of last weeks book review and (b) I’m sorry to disappoint. I DID get the 11th Dresden Files book as a Father’s Day gift and I’m about 120 pages through it already. If I finish before next week, you will have your review. But most likely it will be the following week or later. I will do my best to fill in the gaps. Thanks for reading.

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