One of the new DC comics I started reading following the DCU’s line-wide relaunch (called “The New 52″) was Geoff Johns’ Green Lantern. I’ve been really enjoying it, so I decided to go back and catch up on the saga Mr. Johns has been weaving in the Green Lantern books for the past several years. Click here for part one. The next collected edition I picked up reprinted the big cross-over event The Sinestro Corps War, which took place over several months in the two main Green Lantern comics (Green Lantern and the Green Lantern Corps).
The Sinestro Corps War – This was a fantastic story-line, my favorite since Rebirth. I loved Green Lantern: Rebirth, but my interest wasn’t quite as captured by the three subsequent collections of Mr. John’s run on the re-launched Green Lantern regular comic. But The Sinestro Corps War kicks things back up into high gear. The story is hugely epic, containing galaxy-spanning interstellar conflict featuring hundreds of characters, but it is also deeply personal, centered on the individual characters and story-arcs of Hal Jordan, Kyle Rayner, and a few other characters. In many ways, this feels like the direct sequel to Rebirth, as the Parallax fear-creature returns (this time taking possession of Green Lantern Kyle Rayner), and the resurrected Sinestro steps back into the fore as Hal Jordan’s greatest nemesis. This story is HUGE, a fact driven home by the splash page at the end of the Sinestro Corps Special (the issue that kicked off this crossover) in which Sinestro’s allies are revealed as the Cyborg Superman, Superboy Prime, and the Anti-Monitor. This story is neck-deep in the intricacies of DCU continuity, but that didn’t prove an impediment to me, even though I’m not nearly as well-versed in the DC Universe as I am in the Marvel Universe. I’ve read enough of the big DC crossovers over the years to recognize all three of those characters, even if I don’t quite understand, for example, Superboy Prime’s back-story, or how exactly the Anti-Monitor was returned to life after Crisis on Infinite Earths. But in the context of this story, it doesn’t matter — Geoff Johns gives us just enough information to ground the motivations of all three villains, and together they set the stakes extraordinarily high, posing a threat that it seems impossible for our heroes to overcome. I loved that we get to see other DC heroes involved in the story’s climax — which makes sense when the Earth and the Universe was facing such danger — and I was pleased that we saw just enough of Superman, etc., while the story stayed sharply focused on Hal Jordan and the other Green … [continued]
After enjoying the newly-released complete soundtrack to Star Trek: First Contact, I decided to re-watch the film itself. Star Trek: First Contact terribly disappointed me when it was first released (I can’t believe that was over fifteen ago!!). It’s grown on me in the years since, and I think it’s probably the strongest of the Next Gen films. (Which indicates the low quality, over-all, of the four Next Gen films. What a tragic failure of a film franchise. But I digress.)
When First Contact was originally announced, I was overjoyed. A big-screen feature film focusing on the Borg seemed to promise the type of epic confrontation with that great group of villains that we’d never gotten to see on the small screen. (After the amazing two-parter, “The Best of Both Worlds,” we only got a few more glimpses of the Borg on Star Trek: The Next Generation, and they always seemed disappointingly small-scale.) But now, at last, we’d be getting a great Federation-versus-the-Borg story that I’d always wanted to see. (Something on-screen to match the amazing Federation-versus-the-Borg story I’d already read, in Peter David’s magnificent Star Trek novel Vendetta.)
But that’s not at all what we got with First Contact. Yes, there’s a big battle with the Borg, but it’s just two-minutes long and is quickly dispensed with at the very start of the film. Instead, the film turns into a time travel story, in which the defeated Borg try to destroy humanity by traveling back in time and disrupting the beginning of humanity’s journey to the stars and the eventual founding of the Federation: Zephram Cochrane’s first warp-flight.
Not only is that a pretty naked attempt on the part of the producers to smush together two previously-popular Star Trek story-devices, the Borg and time-travel, but it is totally contrary to the whole idea of the Borg. The Borg are great villains because they are merciless and unstoppable. They don’t strategize, they don’t scheme, they just roll over you like a bulldozer. If one Borg cube is destroyed, they wouldn’t then use a time-travel plot to destroy humans. They’d just come back with another cube, and another, and another, until the humans are defeated.
So the whole story of First Contact never made any sense to me, and always seemed like a big-cop out to the fact that, as created, the Borg really were pretty unstoppable bad-guys.
If I can put that aside, which is hard to do, there’s a lot to enjoy about First Contact. There are some great sequences of mounting terror as the Borg gradually assimilate the Enterprise, and I love the idea of the familiar Enterprise turning into a dangerous house of horrors. (Those … [continued]
There have been some very exciting Star Trek soundtrack releases over the past few months! Recently I have written about the complete soundtrack for Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, and the complete soundtrack for Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. I also recently picked up GNP Crescendo’s complete soundtrack for Star Trek: First Contact, composed and conducted by Jerry Goldsmith. I think that First Contact has the strongest score of all the Next Generation movies (with Generations coming in a close second), so I was very excited to finally have the complete soundtrack on CD.
First Contact is Jerry Goldsmith’s third of five Star Trek film scores. He inaugurated the Trek film series with Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and then returned with Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. (Click here for my thoughts on Mr. Goldman’s score for Star Trek V.) Before First Contact, Jerry Goldsmith had never written music for The Next Generation, although actually in a way he had, since his main title music for Star Trek: The Motion Picture was used as the opening credits music for all seven seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation. According to the wonderful-as-usual liner notes (by Jeff Bond & John Takis), Rick Berman, who oversaw all of the 24th century-set Star Trek TV shows as well as the four Next Gen movies, got connected with Jerry Goldsmith when Mr. Berman hired Goldsmith to compose the main title music for Star Trek: Voyager. Though Mr. Goldsmith had often proven to be too expensive for the low-budgeted Star Trek films, Mr. Berman and director Jonathan Frakes were set on bringing Mr. Goldsmith in to score their film. According to the liner notes, Jonathan Frakes recalled that “They made sure there was a line item in the budget to pay Jerry’s fee — that was part of the original budget of First Contact and I remember that specifically. That was how strongly Rick felt about it and I certainly shared that feeling.”
Thank goodness for that, because much of the flavor of First Contact is given to the film by the rich and epic score by Jerry Goldsmith, who was assisted by his son Joel in the score’s creation. Though I enjoy the heroic bombast of Mr. Goldsmith’s score for Star Trek V, I tend to find myself more drawn to the darker Trek scores such as James Horner’s work on Star Trek II (probably my very favorite Star Trek score) and Star Trek III, and Cliff Eidelman’s score for Star Trek VI. What’s so wonderful about Mr. Goldsmith’s work on First Contact is that it weaves together the epic and the ominous, the dark and … [continued]
It’s been ten years since the last Men in Black film. (Men in Black 2 came out in 2o02, and the first Men in Black came out back in 1997.) That’s a long, long time for a movie series to lie fallow. Is there an example of a sequel to a film franchise being released after such a long dry spell in which the new sequel was any good? I’m hard-pressed to think of one, though I can think of many examples where the opposite was true, and the long-awaited sequel disappointed fans terribly. The Godfather Part III. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
It’s been a long time since I’ve seen either of the first two Men in Black films. I remember quite liking the first one, and being disappointed by the second. I was excited by the prospect of a third film being made, because I definitely feel the concept still has plenty of juice, but I was dubious as to whether they could capture lighting in a bottle after so much time. Well, to summarize, Men in Black 3 isn’t nearly as good as I had hoped, but it’s not as bad as I had feared (or as I’d heard it was). It’s an entertaining film, though a frustrating one. The concept of the film is solid, and with that story idea and these performers, there is a great film in there somewhere. Men in Black 3 isn’t it, though.
As I just wrote, the central concept of the film is strong, and I can see why this story lured all the major players (stars Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones and director Barry Sonnenfeld) back to the table. A vicious bad-guy who Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) had put away forty years previously breaks out of prison and uses a time machine to go back in time and kill K in the past. Agent J (Will Smith) must travel back to 1969 to save the life of the young Agent K, played in the past by Josh Brolin.
The problem (well, there are many problems with the film, but let’s start with this one) is that the first section of the film, set in the present day, is absolutely terrible.
Let’s start with the prologue, in which Boris the Animal breaks out of the MIB’s prison on the moon, and begins his plan for vengeance against Agent K. Director Barry Sonnenfeld doesn’t seem to have any idea how to stage this sequence. It has a weird, goofy tone. In my opinion, if the filmmakers wanted to set up Boris as a real threat to our … [continued]
Earlier this month, the Alamo Drafthouse held an event I wish desperately I could’ve been at: as part of their Summer of 1982 series of events, they screened a 35 mm print of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. (This past June 4th was the thirtieth anniversary of the release of Khan — can you believe that??) One of the writers for Badassdigest.com, Meredith Borders, had never seen Wrath of Khan before attending that screening. She’s written a marvelous love-letter to the film that encapsulates all of the reason why Khan is not only my favorite Star Trek film, but one of my all-time favorite films. (It’s definitely in my top five.) Here’s an excerpt:
I saw Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan for the first time last weekend…. It was a tremendous way to experience this movie for the first time, and I feel incredibly lucky. And holy shit, you guys. That movie destroyed me.
Here’s the thing: the only Star Trek material I’d ever seen before Khan was the J.J. Abrams movie which I quite liked. I knew these characters by their names and actors, but certainly not by who they are or what they represent. And I thought I didn’t care. So many people had recommended this film to me in the past, but none of them said the one thing I needed to hear to be convinced:
It doesn’t matter if you know anything about the Star Trek universe. The Wrath of Khan is an extraordinary movie on its own.
Well, now I know.
Here’s more from Meredith:
The action is stunning, and the effects are imaginative and aesthetically pleasing despite a limited budget. The plot is so brilliantly structured; each of the several acts builds and climaxes and resolves before seamlessly transitioning into the next act, and I was riveted until the very end. There is no fat on this movie. Every scene, every line feels crucial. But not only crucial for character development or plot advancement – every moment is entertaining. That balance of enthralling yet necessary is almost impossible to manage, and I cannot believe how well the writers and director accomplished it.
I have written about Star Trek II quite a lot on this site. Click here and here for my thoughts on the film’s blu-ray release. Click here for my series of cartoons having fun with Wrath of Khan.
Or, better yet, just go watch Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and experience one of the great action-adventure movies ever made, never mind the Star Trek label. That’s … [continued]
When DC Comics rebooted their comic book universe with “The New 52″ initiative, I was interested enough to pick up several new DC books that I hadn’t been previously reading. (For my initial thoughts on The New 52, click here and here.) Now that we’re about ten months later, though, I’m pretty much back to just reading the DC books I was following before the relaunch. With two exceptions: I’m still reading and enjoying Brian Azzarello’s Wonder Woman and Geoff Johns’ Green Lantern.
I of course know all about the work that Geoff Johns has been doing , since 2004, to revitalize the Green Lantern franchise. Under his guidance, Green Lantern has become one of the central books of the DCU, and events from that title have often spun-out into company-wide events (such as “Blackest Night.”). I’ve been interested in what Mr. Johns has been doing, but I never read any of his work on Green Lantern. In fact, before The New 52, I don’t think I’ve ever purchased an issue of Green Lantern ever! (Maybe one or two crossover issues back during the Death of Superman/Reign of the Supermen days).
It’s not that Green Lantern holds no interest for me. I’ve certainly enjoyed the GL-based DC Animated DVDs (click here for my review of Emerald Knights), and I was very excited (though ultimately very let-down) by the prospect of a Green Lantern movie. But I grew up a Marvel fan, and I just never found myself drawn to Green Lantern’s comic book stories.
However, something about the cosmic mythology that Geoff Johns has been building up over the last number of years did interest me. And since I’ve found myself really enjoying the post-relaunch Green Lantern series (which doesn’t appear to be relaunched at all — it seems to be picking up directly from where the pre-New 52 Green Lantern comics left off), I decided the time had come for me to sample more of Mr. Johns’ work on Green Lantern. So I picked up a number of trade paperbacks, and dove in.
Green Lantern: Rebirth — I decided to go back to the beginning: Mr. John’s attempt to unravel the past decade’s worth of Green Lantern stories that had seen Hal Jordan become a mass-murdering psychopath, then eventually die and have his spirit bound to The Spectre, the DCU’s spirit of vengeance. Mr. Johns’ goal was to somehow bring Hal Jordan back into the center stage as the heroic Green Lantern once more. Rebirth is quite an extraordinary piece of work. What I loved about it was that Mr. Johns didn’t disregard any of the GL stories that had come before. He didn’t invalidate them, taking … [continued]
Sigh. I guess I’m just never going to see another good Alien movie, am I?
Who’d have thought it would be so hard? Ridley Scott’s 1979 original seemed ripe for further exploration, not one of those movies that would be impossible to ever sequelize. And let’s not forget, A GREAT ALIEN SEQUEL HAS ALREADY BEEN MADE! I’m speaking, of course, of the very first sequel to Alien: James Cameron’s magnificent Aliens. That film happens to be one of the very best sequels ever made, and it’s so good that to this day people debate which is better: Alien or Aliens.
But since then, it’s been strike-out after strike-out. (One of the very first posts I wrote for this site contained my lamentations at the way the Alien franchise had gone off the rails.) I had high hopes for Ridley Scott’s return to the Alien universe, Prometheus. (And make no mistake, despite all the perplexing statements in the press by Ridley Scott, writer Damon Lindeloff, and other members of their team in which they claim that Prometheus is NOT an Alien prequel, from the film’s very first trailer it was obvious that it was.) I mean, surely Ridley Scott, one of the finest filmmakers of our time, and the man who directed the original Alien back in 1979, could finally craft another worthy follow-up to that film?
Sorry, my friends, such is not the case.
Prometheus is jaw droppingly gorgeous. The film is a real work of art, the stunning product of a brilliant director who has the visual effects tools to create anything he can imagine, and the complete mastery of how to use those tools to greatest effect. Plenty of other directors with budgets far larger than that of Prometheus have used CGI effects in garish and ugly ways, but Prometheus is staggeringly beautiful. The other space effects, the look of the Prometheus itself, the realization of the Engineer’s lair that Dr. Shaw and her teammates discover, image after gorgeous image unfold, each more mysterious and beautiful than the next.
Too bad, then, that the story of the film is so maddeningly incomprehensible.
OK, SPOILERS AHEAD so please beware.
I repeat: SPOILERS.
The original Alien has a simplicity that is impressive. In the first half of the film, the crew of the Nostromo answer a beacon and investigate the extra-terrestrial space-ship they discover. In the second half, they are mercilessly hunted by the Alien creature they unwittingly unleash, and try to survive. That’s it, that’s the film. And for all that the Alien is, let’s face it, made-up sci-fi hogwash, there’s still a simplicity to the life-cycle of the creature that is elegant and easily understood … [continued]
I have never read any of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels. But I was hooked relatively quickly into HBO’s first season of Game of Thrones, and the masterfully crafted second-season, which just concluded, was equally enthralling. (I am a bit torn, now, having enjoyed the show so much, as to whether I should start reading the novels. Part of me thinks I definitely should — since I’m loving the adaptation so much, why not dig into the actual source material? But on the other hand, I am having so much fun discovering the story through the show that I am reluctant to lose that thrill. Game of Thrones is a story where anything can happen and no character is safe. I’m LOVING the thrill of not knowing what is ahead for any of the characters, and I’m not sure I want to give that up…)
The first season of Game of Thrones was very strong, and it really built up a head of steam as the ten episodes progressed. The last three-to-four episodes of that first season were absolute dynamite. There’s no moment in season two that ever quite equaled, for me, that “Oh my god I am in LOVE with this show” moment of the shocking character death in the penultimate episode of season one, but that’s hardly surprising. There’s a thrill of discovery that is hard to equal as a TV show goes on. But I adored season two of Game of Thrones, and as TV fantasy spectacle goes, the Battle of Blackwater in the second season’s penultimate episode, “Blackwater,” was pretty extraordinary.
Make that VERY extraordinary. That episode was an amazing achievement, capturing a huge-scale fantasy battle at sea and on land that was viscerally exciting and gripping and epic in scope. It looked gorgeous, but more importantly than that, the show sold the life-or-death stakes for the characters, resulting in a nail-biting hour that was everything I’d hoped it would be. This one is going to be hard to top.
The cast of Game of Thrones dramatically expanded in the second season. Even though the show is fearless in knocking off major characters left and right, season two was still jam-packed with people and places. It’s a huge ensemble, and the quality of the performances across the board is phenomenal.
While Ned Stark was clearly the main character in season one, season two belonged to Tyrion Lannister, played by the spectacular Peter Dinklage. Mr. Dinklage does absolutely extraordinary work in the role, and Tyrion has already become one of the great, iconic TV characters of all time. It helps that the writing for Tyrion always crackles — he always … [continued]
In his new film The Dictator, Sacha Baron Cohen plays Admiral General Aladeen, the deranged dictator of the made-up country of Wadiya. Aladeen has unparalleled levels of wealth and power, but a power-striggle with his trusted uncle and advisor Tamir (Sir Ben Kingsley) leaves him stranded like a homeless bum on the streets of New York. He’s befriended by a hippie named Zoey (Anna Faris). Will she be able to help him regain his throne? Does she want to?
It’s hard to imagine Sacha Baron Cohen being able to continue making films like Borat or Bruno indefinitely. He’s too well known now, I think, to be able to take people by surprise and get honest reactions from them in the same way. But I’ve never been that worried about seeing Mr. Baron Cohen move into more scripted fare. Two of my very favorite performances of his came in scripted movies: Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby and Hugo.
With his new film The Dictator being a more traditionally-scripted comedy, I was eager to see how Mr. Cohen did as the star of this more conventionally-made film. (Though I wonder how scripted the movie truly was. Seeing as how the script is credited to three of the key creative minds behind the plotted-but-not-scripted Curb Your Enthusiasm, Alec Berg, David Mandel, and Jeff Schaffer, I’d imagine the script for The Dictator left a lot of room for improvisation.)
However, despite the involvement of those three very funny writers (who also worked on Seinfeld) and another Seinfeld vet, director Larry Charles (who also directed Borat and Bruno as well as Religulous), The Dictator never succeeds quite as much as I had hoped.
It is very funny at times, no doubt. There are some absolutely laugh-out-loud moments. The sequence in which Aladeen (Sacha Baron Cohen)and his partner Nadal (Jason Mantzoukas) take a helicopter tour of New York City and absolutely freak out the midwestern couple with them is a riot. And I adored the scenes late in the film when we see how Aladeen has used his skills as a fascist dictator to remodel Zoey’s hippie grocery into a far more efficient store. (I really laughed when you first hear one of the employees refer to him as “Supreme Grocer.”)
My favorite moment in the movie is hard to describe on paper. OK, it takes place in Kathryn Hahn’s uterus. I will say no more!
But the film is all over the place. I usually admire films that are ferocious about pursuing jokes. There definitely are some great movies that don’t really concern themselves with plot, but rather focus on just moving from the funniest possible line or moment to the next. … [continued]
I really enjoyed the Brad Bird-directed fourth installment in Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible series (click here for my review), and that made me want to go back and watch the third installment. I’d really enjoyed Mission Impossible III back when it was released, and it was great fun to re-watch.
I have some issues with the first Mission: Impossible film, but overall I think it’s pretty successful. I think the first 40-45 minutes of Mission: Impossible II are pretty great, but then the whole thing collapses into a big awful mess. The third and fourth M:I films have been far more successful than the first two, in my opinion — J. J. Abrams and Brad Bird have crafted films that are much closer to what I’d like these Mission: Impossible films to be.
Mission: Impossible III represents J. J. Abrams’ theatrical directorial debut, but you’d never know it by watching the film. The movie looks amazing, and is directed with incredible confidence and grace by Mr. Abrams. His camera is constantly active — not to the degree that you’re distracted by it, but in a way that throws the audience right into the middle of the visceral action.
And boy is this film action-packed. I had forgotten just how many spectacular action set-pieces there are in the film. There’s that helicopter chase through a field of wind-powered turbines. There’s the complex break-in and kidnapping staged in the middle of the Vatican. There’s the brutal helicopter and drone attack on the IMF convoy traveling across a bridge. There’s the death-defying break-in to the skyscraper in Shanghai. I could go on! Each of those sequences could be the centerpiece of another action movie, they’re that good. Each sequence is a delight of twists and suspense, marvelously well-orchestrated by Mr. Abrams and his team.
Although there’s plenty of super-spy craziness in the film, all of the action in Mission: Impossible III feels far more gritty and grounded than that in the first two films. J.nJ. and his team make clear, right from the start, that they have set out to create a different type of M:I film. I love the very scary and very intense scene that opens the film (in which we see Ethan Hunt captured and tied to a chair, while Philip Seymour Hoffman counts down ten seconds before he says he will execute Ethan’s wife in front of him). It’s a terrifying moment, and also a very simple one — just three people and a gun in a darkened room. It’s not at all the way I’d expect this big-budget, fantasy super-spy movie to open.
The other strength of Mission: Impossible III is that, for the first time … [continued]