Friday Fisticuffs: The Green Hornet (2011)

I had zero expectations for The Green Hornet. I was intrigued by Seth Rogen’s attempt to be an action star as well as Michel Gondry’s involvement, but it wasn’t the kind of course material that I’m either familiar with or nostalgic about. I questioned what the point of bringing back a character that hasn’t been in the spotlight for 40 years and assuming he’d have any kind of cache with audiences. But hey, that’s what Hollywood does.

We’ve actually had this DVD sitting around from Netflix for longer than I care to admit (or can remember, but it’s been awhile). Originally the missus and I were going to watch it, but with more and more passing weeks and our recent downgrade from two discs at a time to one, I wanted to get some new blood in my player.

Oh man, did I have fun with this flick. For some reason, I had assumed that Rogen’s Britt Reid was actually some kind of legacy, that he was picking up the Green Hornet mantle from his father who had passed away, but that’s not the case. Reid’s dad does die, but he wasn’t GH. After a day of hanging out with his father’s mechanic/genius/martial arts expert Kato, Britt and him wind up doing something stupid that leads to them becoming heroes. From there it’s a matter of Reid’s fortune supplying Kato with what he needs to build their supercar the Black Beauty and come up with the Hornet’s gas gun.

I know there have been several movies lately about what it would be like for a real person to become a hero, but I haven’t seen them. I refuse to watch Kick Ass and just haven’t gotten around to seeing the others. I know from reviews and source material that they focus on the potential hero getting the ever loving shit kicked out of them before they get to be worthwhile protectors of peace and justice. I’m glad they skipped over most of that stuff with this movie. Kato’s got the Green Hornet’s back, so you don’t really have to worry about him for the most part. There’s a few close calls, but overall Reid handles himself alright. There are real life like events, like a few killings, that reflect the seriousness of the situation, but overall, Rogen’s quips keep things light and had me laughing a lot. It did seem like a lot of them were ADRed in which got to be a little distracting and reminded me of Patton Oswalt’s routine about writing jokes for movies that had already been written.

But that’s a minor problem and one that you only really notice if you watch too many movies like me. The real question from a Friday Fisticuffs perspective is: how were the fights? Pretty cool. I know there was some hesitation online about Gondry’s way of showing how fast Kato moves and thinks (it was called something, but I can’t remember what), but I thought it came off pretty cool looking if not very video gamey. He essentially scans the entire area, notes weapons and sometimes targets in red and then does a series of moves to take them all out. There’s also a kind of stretching effect here and there that reminds me of some of the effects used in Flash comics. Had it been overused, the effect would have quickly become annoying, but Gondry used it sparingly, so it was fun to watch. Plus, Jay Chou’s got pretty good moves for a pop star.

There weren’t that many hand to hand fights, but the ones that were, using Gondry’s method were a lot of fun to watch. You don’t often see people thinking of new ways to actually show fights and it’s a heck of a lot better than that quick-cutting, hand held camera work that has become so popular. The other action scenes were pretty great, especially the huge epic fight that lead into a chase and then into yet another fight at the very end.

Overall, I’d recommend The Green Hornet to pretty much anyone. There’s enough comedy in there to keep non-action fans entertained as well as something of a love story. The movie also did something that I didn’t think was possible: made me more interested in the Green Hornet. I kinda want to check out the original old time radio show as well as the TV series (though Bruce Lee’s involvement as always intrigued me) and even the Kevin Smith comic based on the screenplay he wrote a while back. So, I guess the movie did it’s job. Well, it could have done better at the box office, but it did it’s artistic job by being entertaining, fun, innovative and intriguing.

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Blogging Big Bang Theory S5 “The Pulled Groin Extrapolation”

As I mentioned in my gigantic TV post for last week, I caught the first two Big Bang Theory episodes of the fifth season while on vacation, but didn’t take any notes or blog about them. Here’s how the story broke down: Sheldon gets obsessed with toy trains especially the small ones, Bernadette tries living with Howard at his mother’s house and Leonard and Amy wind up hanging out and going to a wedding together.I gotta say, I wasn’t really a fan of tonight’s episode because I think they went a little too broad and goofy with most of the characters. The Sheldon stuff started off fairly normal–normal for Sheldon at least–but got a little obsessive and weird. However, he saved the episode for himself when he karate chopped Leonard. The Howard and Bernadette stuff was the worst for me, which I hate saying because I really like them together and as their own characters. See, Howard assumed he and Bernadette would move in with his mother after they got married. After arguing about this, Bernadette agrees to a trial weekend staying there. I could buy into the idea for a little while, but when Howard says his mom cuts his meat for him I was out. I know that it’s a comedy and they’re going for hyperbole to get laughs, but you lose me when it gets super lame. Plus, I have a thing about people who aren’t independent. Even so, there was a moment towards the end of their arc where Bernadette and Howard’s mother are talk-yelling to each other that’s hauntingly funny. On the other hand, I did like seeing Amy and Leonard hanging out. It’s not nearly as funny as the early episodes when just Penny and Sheldon were alone, but fun enough. There’s a whole different dynamic with these characters, yet it’s familiar because Amy’s not too far off from Sheldon. Seeing them together at a wedding together and doing the funky chicken was a nice treat. Even better was seeing Sheldon get threatened by Leonard after he mentioned his injured groin obliquely and its relation to Amy and karate chop his roommate in the neck. From the nerd side of things, you got to see some new or at least not regularly seen angles of Sheldon and Leonard’s apartment as well as a few new things in Howard’s room. I think I saw a DC New Frontier poster in the apartment and a bunch of posters and statues I hadn’t noticed before in Howard’s place like a movie Silk Spectre bust and a Mirror’s Edge poster among other things. The one thing that really stumped me though was Leonard’s shirt in the beginning of the episode. It’s yellow with what looks like a superhero wearing a red costume of some kind. It looked almost like Captain Marvel or Magnus Robot Fighter, but I couldn’t get a good look at it. So, overall it wasn’t a great episode, though anyone that relegates Sheldon and Penny to B and C plots tends to get that way for me. Even in the plots I thought were too much there were moments that had me laughing pretty hard, so they’re doing something right, I’d just like to see things a little more focused.

Revisiting Beast Wars Season 1

Anytime I go back and watch a cartoon from my childhood, I’m wary. You never know if the show was actually good or you didn’t know any better and just thought all the bright colors and explosions were cool. Unlike some of the classics I watched as a little kid like Masters Of The Universe, Transformers or M.A.S.K., I was a bit more discerning when Beast Wars came on in 1996. I was 13 of course and I really dug this show.

And thankfully, I enjoyed it again after watching Shout Factory’s collection of the whole series. When I wrote about M.A.S.K. I noted that I was surprised that it was still pretty funny, but overall really goofy, for the most part though Beast Wars is just plain good. The set-up is like this, thousands of years in the future (same continuity as the 80s toon), Decepticons have evolved into Predacons while Autobots are now Maximals. Megatron (not the same one) takes off in a spaceship with Optimus Primal and his crew giving chase. They hit a space/time warp that crashes them on a planet inhabited by animals. There’s a ton of Energon around which is bad for Transformers apparently, so they wrap themselves in animal or insect bodies. From there it’s what you might expect, the Predacons are bad and the Maximals are doing what’s right and keeping them from spreading their terror across the galaxy.

But, it’s not all that simple, thankfully. Sure, you’ve got some pretty basic cartoon plots like “all the good guys go blind!” or “the good guy in the bad guy’s headquarters!” but the creators also did a lot of new and unexpected things. As soon as the Predacons land and get their alternate forms, Dinobot starts giving Megatron a bunch of shit for being incompetent. You think this is pretty general Starscream territory and are kind of waiting for it to be over and then Dinobot just bounces and becomes a Maximal. Better yet, he stays one (at least through the first season, I can’t remember what happens in 2, 3 and Beast Machines). That’s not the kind of thing you’d see in a cartoon from the 80s, something like that would last an episode and wind up coming off as super corny.

There’s also a pretty clever plot device where, before crashing, a bunch of protoforms were released. Theses are basically blank Transformer bodies waiting to be booted up. I believe they’re Maximals, but we see pretty quickly that Predacons can reprogram them, which raises a lot of philosophical questions that I’m going to tackle in another post. This not only gives them something to do other than fight over Energon and also gives the potential for new characters for either side. As much as I dug the main characters (from Cheetor who reminds me of my cat and I like how he pronounces his name “Cheater” most of the time to Terrorsaur who screams “Terrorize” like he’s in a black medal band), it’s always fun to see what new TFormers will be coming up and which side they’ll be on. Really fun stuff.

The most practical praise I can give this set of DVDs is that I watched all four discs of the first season in relatively quick time. After getting through the first disc of the M.A.S.K. set, I enjoyed the experience, but figured I could take a break before moving on since there’s no real through line to the episodes. With Beast Wars, though, I was always interested in what was going to happen next. What’s happening with the Energon? Are they going to get off planet? What’s with that strange floating island? Who’s going to get the next protoform? There’s a lot going on and I’m excited to move on to the next season. Not only that, but it got me interested in watching the Transformers animated movie again, which I haven’t seen since I was a kid, as well as the G1 animated series. I’ve got Transformers fever, gang!

Real World Watcher: San Diego Episode 1 “First Impressions’

These Real World season premieres are always a little hard to write about because we’re all on the same footing when it comes to know who these folks are and trying to figure them out. It didn’t help that there was some pretty fast cutting between roommate meet-ups in the beginning of the episode. Now that I think about it, I kind of liked that aspect. Seeing people at home or in their audition tapes can skew your view of them. Experiencing them as their roommates are doing is kind of interesting. Puts us ALL on the same footing.

Anyway, here’s a quick run down. Priscilla’s 19 and lives in San Diego. She’s a total momma’s girl and seemingly dense. Nate looks like your party time goober stereotype, but he’s actually studying nuclear engineering in school. Alexandra went to Stanford, was born in Zimbabwe, has a boyfriend names Byron and comes off as very naive. Frank, who is bi, is in love with Alexandra and hates that she has a boyfriend. He seems to have pretty intense issues with love and is borderline obsessed with Alexandra. Sam’s a lesbian who dressed like a boy. She comes off as the 14 year old version of one. Zach’s a big dude from a conservative town, that’s about all we got from him, a lot of uncomfortable looks. Ashley’s the pretty blonde who is also a model. She likes Zach. I think that’s about it. Nate and Frank are in the same room as are Sam and Zach. The other three girls are in another room. As you’d expect, the place is pretty amazing looking.

Most of the episode focuses on the cast members getting to know each other, but there are a few moments of interest, most of which revolve around Frank in one way or another. His obsession with Alexandra includes grabbing the phone while she’s on it with her boyfriend and telling him how beautiful she is. Alexandra thinks these are just nice compliments (head slap). Later they’re all at a club and she’s talking to some dude about tattoos and Frank comes up and starts giving her trouble about it. After that some girl who was drinking their hooch calls him the F word (the longer one) which sets him off. Back at the house Frank has a mini meltdown asking Alexandra if it’s because he’s not cute enough. She explains that she’s got a boyfriend and it’s not happening. Dude’s borderline obsessed, seriously.

Frank also got involved with Priscilla and Nate. See, one night everyone but the two of them went out to get liquor but wound up hitting up a club. They were talking in bed and the next thing we know, he’s on top of her and they’re making out. The next day, Priscilla tells Frank that he went for the downstairs bonanza and she asked him to stop, which we did see and he did. But Frank took this as a big affront or something and proceeded to tell Alexandra and then confront Nate about it. Nate thanks him for checking him and apparently they’re all good. As Alexandra points out, it’s difficult to know peoples’ boundaries so early. Good point. Mind you, on the very first day, Frank jumped in a shower that Sam, Ashley and Priscilla were in to spray off after a round of hot tubbing completely naked much to Sam’s chagrin.

So, it looks like Frank’s going to be the emotional powder keg of the group, which will be interesting. I must be getting old, though, because I’m not as interested in seeing the fireworks it’ll cause, but in him getting the kind of counseling help he seems to need. There’s also hinting at Nate having a drinking problem and maybe a few fights here and there. No one really stands out as being particularly interesting, they all seem to be trying a little too hard. Where’s the artist soul like my brother from another mother and influence Jason from Boston. Sigh.

Trade Post: Astro City The Dark Age 2

ASTRO CITY: THE DARK AGE 2 (Wildstorm/DC)
Written by Kurt Busiek, drawn by Brent Anderson
Collects Astro City The Dark Ages Book Three & Four #1-4

I had problems with Astro City: The Dark Age 1. As I mentioned in my review of the earlier AC volume Tarnished Angel, I didn’t like constant back and forth nature of the thought boxes. I thought it was cheesy and annoying, a lot like some of the more schmaltzy Superman/Batman issues written by Jeph Loeb. Unfortunately, I didn’t remember much more than that when reading the second volume while on vacation last week. See, even though I didn’t have fond memories of the first book, I know that Kurt Busiek is one of the more solid writers around and that I want to learn more about the world of Astro City, so I’m always interested in reading more about it.

Even without refreshing my memory, I did remember that the book focused on a pair of non-superpowered brothers, one who went down the criminal path, the other who was a cop. They’re both obsessed with finding the man who killed their parents. That’s pretty much what the whole second book focuses on, now that the brothers have enough experience, technology and firepower to actually go after him. While that’s going on, we also get to see the Silver Agent appear a pair of times, several heroes from the 80s and no shortage of superhero action all of which leads to one focal point that makes for a pretty great battle.

I really liked how subtly Busiek handled the 80s comic trope of grim and gritty. I actually didn’t even think about it at first. He introduced the story as being set in the 80s and then eventually showed that a few heroes had gotten a little more violent. It wasn’t like in the first few panels he showed a Batman-like character snapping a bad guy’s neck, which is about as subtle as some other similar references. The metaphor also worked for the brothers who had gotten more and more grim as the story progressed.

Dark Age 2 probably wouldn’t be the best Astro City book to pick up if you’d never read anything, but I bet you could probably enjoy it. There’s enough familiar territory for superhero fans to understand the basics right off the bat. There’s also the question of Anderson’s art, which really turns some people off. It’s not the crispest art in the world, but I don’t have any problems with it. While figures can be muddy at times, he kills it on the faces, so it balances out for me. Oh, by the way, there’s a reveal at the end of this book, which closes out the Dark Age storyline altogether as far as I know, that explains away the dialog boxes that bugged me in the first collection. I guess this is a SPOILER of sorts, so skip along if you want nothing revealed. We find out at the end that the narration was actually being done by the brothers in modern times to a writer, which was such an obvious explanation I was disappointed in myself for not thinking about it. It’s actually a pretty cool trick that Busiek played by making long time comic book fans think one thing about the boxes and then revealing them to be something else. It’s a trick that can only really be pulled in this format and it was fun.

Overall, I really liked this collection and it made me want to read the first book again, so that’s a pretty good post-reading experience, right? It also made me want to snatch up the rest of the AC books I don’t have yet. I think it’s time to compare what’s on my shelf and in the longboxes to see what I do and don’t have. I love what Busiek’s done with this world and can’t wait to see what he does with it moving forward.

Adventures In Freelancing: I Had It Good

Any of you who read my photo diary entries–which have been moved over to their own site The Monkee Diaries–will remember that I did a pretty long phone interview with a pair of creators during my vacation last week. This might seem like a crazy thing to do to some, but it wound up being not only the perfect opportunity to do a lengthy phone interview without our darling daughter screaming partway through, but also served as a reminder of just how good I used to have it.

I don’t mean this in a negative way. I’m not saying I prefer the time I had before Lucy came along. What I mean is that I used to think this whole freelance writer/interviewer gig was tough before a baby came into our world, when in reality it’s a lot more stressful now.

For the most part, the creators I deal with prefer to do email interviews. It gives them an opportunity to go over what they say and refine their answers. I’ve talked to plenty of folks who prefer this so they don’t come off as rambling in interviews. I know in my pop culture journalist’s heart that live interviews (either in person or on the phone) are the best, but you just can’t beat the ease of an email interview. You send out the questions, they send back the answers, then all you have to do is read through for any errors or differences in style (let’s say they capitalize their titles when the place you’re writing for prefers them in quotes, for instance) and write a headline, subhed and intro. These are still pretty easy to handle with Lucy, but they take way, way longer for me to put together. For example, I just whipped one up in about 20 minutes. I’m going to read it over tomorrow and it should be ready to turn in.

On the other hand, phone interviews are a lot more involved. You schedule a time with your subject, come up with a list of questions, talk to them and then transcribe which can take a long time. Every time I have a long interview, I wind up spending a bunch of time looking online for any programs or hardware I can get to help convert voices to text. If you know of one, let me know. I’ve always been intimidated by phoners. It doesn’t matter who the subject is, it can be someone I’ve talked to several times, but I still get butterflies. So, you’ve got all that on a good day. Then add in the eternal wild card known as baby.

Luckily, I’ve been able to schedule my phoners (that’s what I call them, I have no idea if it’s a widely used writers term) for times when Em gets home from work which either means in the evening or during one of her flex days (when she gets home by 1PM). It works out okay, but I still get stressed about the whole thing. I like to think I’m dealing pretty well, but I get these nagging thoughts that won’t leave my head when I’m figuring out my schedule, who to contact and trying to remember who prefers email interviews. For what it’s worth, I was only slightly nervous when I did my interview last week. I think watching a baby every day puts things in a whole different perspective. I know I’ll get to a place where Lucy will be able to entertain herself and I’ll be able to talk to someone on the phone again, but in the meantime, I’ll just have to control my nervousness and keep up my scheduling kung-fu.