Friday, July 27, 2012


So while vacationing in San Diego the other week, I had the fortune of going to the San Diego Zoo, which was downright fantastic. I loved it, had a great time, and started planning for my retirement. Figure since I'm ginger I'll fit right in in the orangutan cage. On that note, you all need to spread the word that this blog is awesome so that I can make more money off it and retire and move to San Diego. You got that? Good.

Now while at the zoo, I was brought to a dead stop by a very strange sight.

Up on stage I saw a group of robots playing music.

Upon closer inspection, they were musical actors with obvious backgrounds in theatre performance and miming, cause damn were they good!

This band was Steam Powered Giraffe.

What is Steam Powered Giraffe? 

The band is comprised of the Spine, Rabbit, and the John, and their act is one part music, one part stand up comedy, all in the guise of 3 lovable, malfunctioning 'musical automatons'.

The band formed in 2008 and has been performing Southern California venues like the San Diego county fair and the (where I saw them) San Diego zoo. The band members, the Bennet twins and Jon Sprague met while studying Theatre arts (explaining not just the makeup and performance, but the diction). Originally the friends started street busking as 'quirky robot personalities' that eventually developed into the current incarnation of the show.

On their website their fictional backstory is explained. The three robots were invented by Colonel P. A. Walter in 1896 and kept in the family over the years as the 8th 1/2 Wonder of the World. The name was derived from Walter's first invention, a giant mechanical giraffe.

At the same time they have surprisingly dark histories, including involvement in Vietnam.

Now the instant I returned to my hotel room I spammed my friends (they do exist, I swear), I showed them to all my friends, to which one of them said, "This is a band you would listen to." I don't know if that was meant as an insult or not. Can never tell with her.

But the truth is ... it is. Simple as that. I'm a theatre major with a minor in creative writing who blogs. I'm a Whedonite and a Whovian, and these guys caught my eye in seconds. I was in love. Their music is simple, but charming and catchy, and their skill at physically portraying their characters is quite impressive.

So I don't have a lot else to really say about them. There is only so many ways one can sing praise, so I'll remain concise.

But come on! These guys are sooooo cool!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


In the infamous words of Yahtzee Croshaw of Zero Punctuation, "Nobody likes me when I'm being nice, so let's talk shittiness!"

I will admit that my excitement for the Dark Knight Rises was a paltry comparison to my excitement for the Dark Knight. I couldn't have told you precisely what was prompting this reservation, but it was certainly there. I think that after Inception, I was beginning to see the grizzly underside of Christopher Nolan's shortcomings as a storyteller, which had clouded my view on all his previous work. Also, Terminator Salvation shook a lot of my faith in Christian Bale's abilities as an actor. 

Also, with Bane as the lead villain, I only imagined that whatever dialogue the two characters exchanged would sound like a rockslide yelling at itself, which it kinda did. 

But first let's focus on the head honcho, the big cheese, the one and only (out of half a dozen) Bruce Wayne. I was actually impressed with what Nolan did with Bruce Wayne. Taking inspiration from the Dark Knight Returns comic by Frank Miller, we see a seven years retired Bruce Wayne who is feelings the weakness of age and the loss of both the Batman persona and Rachel. He feels vulnerable, and by the time he dons the cowl, we are as fearful for him as we are excited. 

Nolan works very hard over the course of the film to break Bruce Wayne as a person, taking everything away from him. He loses Wayne Enterprises, Bane ransacks the R&D department, taking Tumblers and other various technology, and he is physically broken (Identical to the same events in the Knightfall comic, although nowhere near as severe). He also has to watch during his recovery as Bane sends Gotham descending into chaos. 

This all refers back to the title and Batman's inevitable rise. It was a nice change to see Bruce Wayne as an equally developed character for once.

Anne Hathaway received a ton of backlash upon her casting as Selina Kyle. I found myself in multiple arguments with people, friends even, about her talents as an actress, citing her performance in Love and Other Drugs alongside Jake Gyllenhaal. I was not disappointed and thought she did a fantastic job. I must take a moment though, and point out that one of the friends I argued with said that 'Halle Berry' was the quintessential Catwoman, so I must admit ... some of my friends have the inner brain capabilities of a cherry turnover.

Although never referred to by her title, usually referred to just as 'the Cat' as she is indeed a cat burglar, it was not the Selina Kyle I knew from either comics or films, but in the context of the Dark Knight Rises, I had no issue. Stylistically and thematically, this portrayal belongs completely to Nolan. The line "So that's what that feels like," from Batman when Selina Kyle disappears off a roof, according to what IMDB tells me, is lifted directly from the Kingdom Come comic. 

Also ... she looked damn good in the outfit. I'm jush sayin'.

Onward to an interesting introduction. To counterbalance both Bruce's retirement and Gordon's age, we are introduced to a young 'hothead' police officer, John Blake, played perfectly by the ever talented Joseph Gordon-Levitt. I loved Blake and what he was there for. There isn't a whole lot that I can really say other than he was a refreshing new face though ... which kinda makes me sad, cause I love Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and anyone who's seen Brick will know why.

And finally onto the other big guy, Bane. My opinions of this character and his portrayal are divided. The script, for the most part, seemed in line with the comics, the design of the face-mask was interesting, and Tom Hardy's physical presence was imposing but ... and here it comes, he sounded like Darth Vader mixed with Sean Connery. I understand that they wanted to create a "a contradiction between the voice and the body" but it came across as ... at times, incredibly hokey, and at others merely incomprehensible.

I understand that actor Tom Hardy was inspired by Barley Gorman, the Irish-grypsy-bare-knuckle boxer. Still, even though I understand the idea behind it... the execution was ultimately questionable.

The film also brought back the lineup of old faces, including Lucius Fox and Comissioner Gordon, played perfectly by Morgan Freeman and Gary Oldman respectfully. Both characters are as much a part of Nolan's Batman universe as any. Michael Caine's Alfred had a mildly absent role in this film, in line with the theme of breaking Bruce Wayne by taking everything away from him, so even in his absence his presence was felt. Lastly, we had Cillian Murphy return for a brief cameo that I couldn't decide if I liked or ... if it really bothered me. It was fun to see Dr. Crane again, but it felt forced, in a way.

Also Marion Cotillard, while ever beautiful, still fails to wow me in a Nolan film. I enjoyed her in Big Fish, but since then, I've never connected with her performances. Maybe that's just me.

The story of the Dark Knight Rises draws heavily on three distinct Batman comics. We have Knightfall, which introduces the character of Bane, who, in the comics, nearly paralyzes Batman, breaking his back, we have the Dark Knight Returns, where an aged Bruce Wayne comes out of retirement to save his city, and we have No Man's Land, where Gotham is rocked by an earthquake, and quarantined, and divided up by the rouges gallery.

This leads to Nolan walking a fine line, and honestly, moments in the film feel oddly paced as he goes from one bit to the next. It ultimately works, and fits, but it's still odd. Large portions of the film are just ... there, and honestly, I don't recall Batman being that memorable in this film. Where Bruce Wayne excelled, Batman felt ... lessened. At time this worked, especially when Bane comments on Bruce's fighting being akin to a younger man's, with nothing held back. We see Bruce Wayne in the suit for once, but for a film with the 'Dark Knight' in the title, we still don't see much of the Batman, and his rise seems to be rather fast.

Whereas everything in the beginning was meticulously planned out, that damn climax felt majorly rushed, at least to me. The final fight between Bane and Batman was, in my mind, cut short, and could have used more emotional beats to truly be satisfying.

The reasoning, I can only assume is the reveal that Miranda (Cotillard) was in fact Talia al Ghul. Now, the point of a false antagonist, in my mind, is to replace them with someone of greater interest. Now I liked the reveal of Talia ... saw it a mile away, but that's because I still read comics. What I didn't like was that the moment she showed up (and a little bit before) Bane was suddenly unimportant, and ... apparently in love with her? That whole bit had no bearing on the story, and hell, I can think of a few ways it could have been improved upon.

Bruce destroys Ra's al Ghul in Batman Begins. League of Shadows disorganizes, Talia steps in with mercenary Bane as her muscle. Strict business transaction. She wants to destroy Gotham like her father before her and Bane gets to do his whole terrorist bit. There, much simpler, less betrayal of the source material. Everyone is happy.

Also, Bane's death was too fast. As was (shocker) Batman's. Both these are violent, brutal characters that deserved a fight that could only be described as epic. Batman and Bane are physical titans, and their final confrontation should have shaken mountaintops. Instead, Selina shoots him with the batpod in an incredibly anti-climactic moment followed by a cheesy one-liner. And so dies (off-camera) an un-sung villain with a funny voice.

So they catch Talia and cannot stop the bomb that is going to level Gotham. Batman has a flying Bat machine (that is pretty cool, but ... I still preferred the Tumbler in Batman Begins) and flies the bomb out over the bay, where it detonates and kills the Batman. This is established earlier in the film that Fox has not been able to perfect the auto-pilot on the damn thing.

Oh-kay. If there is one thing filmmakers need to learn is that Nuking the Hero is a bad idea. Fans reacted so badly when Indiana Jones did it, they came up with a term for it, Nuking the Fridge. Batman just did that. I have to quote my brother here, "That ending was really gay."
And it was. It was so BIG and FLASHY that it forgot what makes Batman so cool. When Batman fights, even if he's losing, he gives it his all. He isn't a man, he's an idea, a symbol. He does not compromise. He does not quit. AND HE SURE AS HELL DON'T GET NUKED.

That said, it was a twist. He's not really dead. He auto-piloted the Bat out there. He faked his death.

But again, going back to the the themes of Batman, he did something similar in the Dark Knight Returns comic, and it was so much cooler, simply because it was Batman going toe-to-toe with Superman, mano-a-mano, getting bloody, hurt, and beaten up, but still fighting a fight he cannot possibly win (not that Batman couldn't totally kick Superman's ass).

So the cowl goes onto John Blake, the cop. This is why it's hard for me to talk about Blake. He was Dick Grayson, no two ways about it. (Although how he learned of Batman's identity was utterly half-assed). But as a character, he felt like Dick Grayson. And the conversation he had with Bruce about "The batman is a symbol. He could be anyone," my suspicions were confirmed. The cowl would pass on to Dick--I mean Robin--I mean Blake. Which also leads me to the 'You should use your birth name, Robin,' bit was ... I dunno, at the least incredibly predictable.

Also, there was no way they'd end the film on any other note than Alfred's fantasy about seeing Bruce across the restaurant with a wife. NO WAY once that line was said that it *could* end any other way. So Talia, Alfred, and Blake, those three things were blatantly predictable. Now I will not say they were bad, just predictable. There is a difference. The Robin John Blake was a nice touch. Talia was a nice way to wrap-around plots from the first film with the League of Shadows and have Bruce confront his origins. But the Alfred bit ... I don't know. Any comic aficionado should have trouble with the idea of Bruce Wayne leaving Gotham behind. Perchance it's just my love of Batman Beyond that colors my opinion here. Bruce was trained by ninjas. Blake is a cop. Blake is gonna get his ass kicked, is all I'm saying.

Okay, so now that I have rambled incessantly (you guys remember when these reviews were relatively short?) 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


In the wake of the Dark Knight Rises release has prompted me to admit that once again I've fallen behind in my posts, so here we go with my 2nd retro review, Marc Webb's series reboot, The Amazing Spider-Man. This film met with some harsh resistance in the wake of Sam Raimi's original trilogy which starred Tobey Maguire simply due to it's proximity to the last films. In all honesty, we didn't need a Spider-man reboot, but Sony did, and considering the franchise is probably Sony's biggest cash-cow, artistic integrity probably didn't factor into rebooting the series at all. Batman Begins, on the other hand, probably did.

This is a 'gritty' reboot, and in some ways more in touch with the source comics, although more in line with the Ultimate series of Spider-man. No matter. For me, anything that wasn't the originals is good in my books. I retain a nostalgic soft spot for at least the first two X-Men films. Spider-man, not so much. Not even Willem Dafoe's terrifying visage could save that film.

But instead of ripping on Maguire, the padded costume, horrible dialogue, and what strikes me as Raimi's inability to produce quality, let's focus on the good and shitty about the new film.

From my understanding, Garfield did the majority of
his own stunts.
It's first problem out of the gate is that it is rebooting a story that we already know. If you notice, they shorten, condense, and shine the light in different areas to tell the same story. Orphan-Peter, spider-bite, uncle Ben; all these events play out as expected, with little deviation, other than to hasten the process. They focus more on Peter being an orphan, and how that effects him growing up, as well as the struggles every teenager has with the adults of their lives. 

Now is as good a time as any to espouse Andrew Garfield as an actor. He does a fantastic job. He captures that on-edge feel that most of us have when we're deep into our teenage years, where everything is just a little heightened and tense emotionally. As someone who, within the last year, lost a father figure to pancreatic cancer, I related very much to his journey and his performance. 

It was also refreshing that Peter Parker was established as an outsider ... not a dweeb. This is the age of the nerd, as I talked about in my Avengers review, and he had to still reflect that outsider status that most if not all teenagers feel. I can actually point at Peter Parker now and go, "That. That is what I was like in High School....actually I think I own that jacket."

Seriously, the flirty scene with Gwen, I think I once had, just in my case the girl did not reciprocate, so there is that. 

Yeah, that scene ...
And lastly, what was seriously lacking in the other films was Parker's trademark wittiscm. I mean, half the reason his villains hated him so much in the comics is that he would beat them up and make fun of them. He really comes across, in this film, as an internet troll. Peter Parker gains the power of anonymity via the suit, and it shows. 

Ifans did in fact do all his own stunts while wearing
a ridiculous Lizard motion capture suit.
I can't say I was wowed by the Lizard, although I thought that Rhys Ifans did a fantastic job, the character seems a bit of a rehash of other villains, especially Doc Ock's "I'm going to better mankind," nuttiness. But it was done sincerely, which from Spider-man, is all I ask. The effects were fantastic.

Also, not bothered by the removal of the Lizard's snout. I preferred retaining a vestige of Ifans' face in the performance. Twas good.

Emma Stone was enjoyable, although I find myself hard pressed to find much more to say. She ... kinda played a similar character to the one she always does. Some might call her distinct, but well, I just kinda see her. Perchance this is a personal problem. The character worked in the context of the film, so that's all that matters. She's still inherently charming, with quite the girl-next-door vibe. More so than Kirsten Dunst did, at least in my opinion.

There are minor nitpicks I have overall, but I'll save them for my Brand New SPOILER SECTION!

But before I get to that, I wanna comment on how cool the suit looked. It had the look of something made at home, it was slim, and awesome. I loved it. I also loved that they took the middle ground with the web-shooters. It's such a classic bit of Spidey-lore that the Raimi films ... understandably opted out of. Well, Marc Webb, of (500) Days of Summer infamy, found a delightful middle ground. Parker didn't invent the technology, just modified it to his needs. It gives him the wiz-kid cred without making him Tony Stark.

Sally Field and Martin Sheen did a splendid job as Aunt May and Uncle Ben respectively, this film again playing the orphan-family dynamic more than the others, and impressing me with the weight placed on Aunt May after Uncle Ben's death. Also, I enjoyed Parker's vendetta in looking for the guy who did it. It gives his early period as Spider-man a less than altruistic angle, which works for an angry, hurt teenager.

Garfield worked to incorporate Spider-man's style of movements even when not in the suit.

Some, not a lot, but I do have to say that near the ending, the cheese factor got laid on Chicago Deepdish style and it was unbearable. In Raimi's film, we have Spider-man dangling from a web holding onto a cable to a tram-car with a bunch of kids in it, with Mary Jane. Goblin comes swinging around on his glider to finish our trapped hero once and for all. Then New Yorkers start barraging the Goblin with garbage, wrenches, and random debris. From what I recall, this is stereotypical New Yorker behavior anyways.

In Marc Webb's, Spider-man is shot in the leg, and half-a-dozen crane operators all the way to OsCorpe tower happen to be ignoring the evacuation warning so that they can reposition the cranes so that Spider-man can get his injured pussy-ass to the final fight.

For me, it was too big. It was too ... staged. It felt like the screen-writer was like, "Okay, we need something big and inspirational," and slapped this scene on us. Just too much for me, I was drowning in cheese.

Now the scene that immediately preceded it, was gold, where Parker get's tazed while swinging and then downs a group of cops before facing off with his girlfriend's father, Denis Leary--I mean, Captain Stacy. Now that scene worked. If anything, I thought Captain Stacy letting Spider-man go was enough of a small, inspirational moment for the character. Oh well.

Also, the Lizard's redemption moment was tacky as well. Oh look you're just saved the kid who can stick to f***ing walls that you've been trying to kill for half the film. Also, the bit with his learning Parker's identity was 'meh' in my mind. Although, the school fight was very well done, and Stan Lee's cameo did garner a laugh from me.


Anyone else thinking of the damage the moon
would do were it that close?
So, overall, was the film amazing? No. But it was damn good, and might more internally consistent than say Prometheus was, in my mind. There were just little moments that made me honestly shake my head. They had to pander to an audience that already knew the story and felt like they were hitting their marks with -- I dunno. The film ultimately suffered by just being so close to the others, even if it was infinitely improved. I think the film will improve with age, if anything.