Posts Tagged ‘comedy’

Up, Up and Straight Up My Ass – Thor: ODINSLEEP

May 24, 2011

Somewhere along the line during the last decade, Marvel realized that they were one of the most powerful players in Hollywood. Spider-Man was earning the kind of money comic book movies hadn’t seen since Tim Burton’s Batman, Bryan Singer’s X-Men had actually given superheroes a bit of class and critical respect, plus it seemed the public’s interest in superhero movies was like a cockroach, unfazed even after countless disasters like Daredevil, Elektra, X-Men: The Last Stand, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, The Punisher and Ghost Rider. (Spider-Man 3 was good, shut up.) Maybe it’s because Marvel got a boost from the titanic success of DC’s The Dark Knight, hinting that perhaps superhero movies weren’t played out yet, they just needed, y’know, quality in order to keep people’s interest.

Whatever the reason for Marvel’s Tinseltown clout, it had it, and it made it a desirable commodity. Disney purchased it and folded it into its diabolically diverse portfolio of entertainment companies, like Pixar, ESPN and ABC. Was it this new source of cash that gave Marvel the cojones to finally form its own production company? I don’t know, I’m no Hollywood insider! But that’s exactly what they did, charting a course beginning with 2008’s Iron Man to create an actual cohesive movie universe, with recurring characters and an ongoing storyline and everything. Finally, comic book movies would be as interconnected and impenetrable as actual comic books!

And so Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, and, er, Iron Man 2 started to build up to… something! And that something is coming in 2012: The Avengers, Marvel’s version of the Justice League. But before that could happen, even more major players would have to be introduced, namely Thor and Captain America, staples of the superhero team. So now Marvel has the gall to ask America to pay $16 a piece (you want to watch them in IMAX 3D, right?!) for what are essentially prologues to the main event. Does Thor have any meat on its bones or is it a skinny shrimp?

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Grump Talk – The Grump Who Came In From the Cold

February 4, 2011

Oh god, grumpeteers, where have I been? The short of it is: not here. The long answer is that I’ve been embroiled in the final year of my post-graduate education, trying to finish my counseling psychology degree, which involves completing an internship. I won’t bore you with all the gory details, but currently I’m having to help out with a drug addiction recovery group, work four days a week at a homeless shelter, and devoting my Saturdays to working a doomed (dooooomed) group in an inpatient mental ward at a hospital.

That hasn’t left a lot of free time to devote to making snide comments about A Troll in Central Park.

And that’s my fault. Luckily, Tim has been keeping Grump Factory FLUSH with content in the meantime, which I knew would be an advantage to sharing the blog with another esteemed author. So kudos to him!

So what have I been doing in the meantime, besides slowly killing myself in pursuit of a degree? Same as always: watchin’ movies, TV and playin’ games! Let’s see if I can quickly touch on the stuff I’ve seen and am not planning on writing up in greater detail:

House: No, not the “Holmes in a hospital” weekly procedural; I mean the 1970s psychedelic Japanese horror comedy. The first feature film of a visionary experimental film director, House is about a group of Japanese schoolgirl archetypes that visit an old woman’s country house during summer vacation, where they’re preyed upon by the woman’s ghost who feeds on them to rejuvenate herself. It’s an absolute scream of a movie (pun intended!), full of carnivorous pianos, flying decapitated heads and wacky special effects flourishes. Everyone should check out Criterion’s superb DVD and Blu-Ray release of it.

Tangled: Disney’s return to 3D after the quick two-dimensional detour of The Princess and the Frog. An adaptation of the Rapunzel fairy tale, it’s a slight letdown after its gorgeous, charming, hilarious predecessor. Is that to say that the movie is awful? Helllll no, it’s still a giant leap from classic Disney misfires such as The Aristocats, The Hunchback of Notre Dame or Pocahontas. Where the movie really shines are the hilarious and endearing sidekicks and secondary characters. Rapunzel and Flynn Rider are genial enough, but a little unmemorable. Where the real weaknesses lie are in the lack of memorable musical numbers and the weak villain. An overbearing mother figure? Ehhhh. Glad the movie wasn’t a trainwreck, but The Princess and the Frog raised my expectations for Disney’s releases from hereon out.

The Decalogue: From the director of the sublime The Double Life of Veronique came a ten-part series of short films focusing on the everyday, but compelling, moral difficulties faced by the residents of a Polish apartment complex. I’ve only seen parts 1-3 so far, and the results are… interesting, even if it confirms some of the American stereotypes about foreign movies. Often bleak, frustratingly vague and slow as molasses, there’s still an intriguing core to the exercise that I’m excited to see revisited in the other seven parts I have ahead of me.

Enslaved: An action/adventure title that slipped under just about everyone’s radar, Enslaved (along with Heavy Rain) rekindles my interest in Western gaming. Yeah, it has the typical God of War-inspired combat and upgradeable weaponry and skills and blah blah blah… What really makes this game special is the amount of care that got put into the story that the game hangs off of. Loosely inspired by the classic Asian story Journey to the West, Enslaved features a man named Monkey who escapes from slavers with a plucky young woman named Tripp, whom forces him to help her get back home by enslaving him with a headband that can kill him with the push of a button. It’s wonderfully told and acted in exquisitely-animated cutscenes, which really make you empathize with the characters. It was a bit of a financial flop, so finding it on the cheap should be easy.

Valkyria Chronicles II: The follow-up to my personal favorite PS3 game, Valkyria Chronicles II had a lot to live up to, and already had a few strikes against it for being downgraded to a portable system and for changing the setting to a military training high school. Even though the characters are not even half has likable as the original crew, there’s still a spark in some of the designs and the gameplay largely translated to the portable system, albeit with much smaller combat areas, due to memory restraints. With new units, unit specialization trees and a tighter focus on short and sweet skirmishes, it’s still a fine S-RPG, and one of the most unique on the market.

Kirby’s Epic Yarn: Kirby games typically come out late in a system’s life and are typically fantastic. Even though this didn’t start out as a Kirby game, this one keeps up the tradition by being an effortlessly charming platformer, full of inventive ways of making the player go “Awwww!!” and little twists on the simple platforming that spice up the very easy gameplay. It’s a perfect choice to just chill out and relax to, and it may well be one of the most gorgeous games ever released on the Wii.

Comic Jumper – And I Thought My Jokes Were Bad

October 21, 2010

WHOOOOAAAOAAAOAAAAOAAAAAA

One of the best things about this current generation of video games is the ability to download games directly to a console via XBLA, PSN or Wii, and consequently this is the first real time independent games have gained mainstream recognition. Braid, Cave Story, VVVVVV, Charles Barkley Shut Up and Jam Gaiden, La Mulana — just a few of the good, sometimes brilliant, unique games we got thanks to convenient online connectivity and the larger indie scene as a result.

…And then there’s the Comic Jumper!

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Grumplet – Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: vs. Audience Indifference

August 18, 2010

I will be honest. I’ve sort of actively disdained the Scott Pilgrim franchise pretty much ever since I saw the cover to Volume 3 parody the Super Mario Bros. 3 cover. But the recent media blitz promoting the movie (and game!!) has left me practically frothing at the mouth. Look everyone! It’s indie bands and chiptunes and sly 8-bit game references and Beck!!! It has all the stuff you like!

I hate when I realize I’m being pandered to. It’s like it robs me of any enjoyment I could’ve gotten out of the experience without knowing. I don’t think anyone should be pandered to. It doesn’t help that a Scott Pilgrim movie feels about 7 or 8 years too late to feel thematically fresh. The advent of webcomics inundated the Internet with the quasi-wit of Generation Y slackers that grew up on the NES and the Streamline dub of Akira. Hey guys, the sprites from Final Fantasy are talking about Ranma 1/2! Isn’t that just the geekiest?

Scott Pilgrim, penned and illustrated by Brian Lee O’Malley became the poster child for this vein of storytelling. Geek culture-addled Scott Pilgrim has to fight the seven evil exes of too-cool-for-school Ramona Flowers if he wants to date her. These battles take on a video game-like progression of difficulty, complete with the exes exploding into coins, etc. This EPIC TALE proved so irresistible to the Hollywood graphic novel adaptation mill that the film rights were snapped up by Universal and Edgar Wright, keen pop culture satirist, tapped to direct.

I will admit, Edgar Wright was the ONLY reason I saw this movie. The creative force behind Shaun of the Dead and the much-funnier, much-less-seen Hot Fuzz, has proven to me by now that he has an eye for genre bending, humor, and doing justice to the subject matter he simultaneously lampoons. Hot Fuzz was not only a comedy about the ridiculous nature of action movies, it was also one of the best action movies in recent years.

Why am I harshing on Scott Pilgrim: The Franchise?! Because it’s like we have nothing to say to each other. Scott Pilgrim touches on River City Ransom, Ninja Gaiden (the original), Mega Man, A Link to the Past, the NES and SNES and many other things I never owned or played. Yet I’m still a gamer! I grew up with a Genesis! I played Sonic! I think there were two Genesis allusions the whole movie. And as for anime and music? It references Akira in one of the chapter titles, Scott wears a t-shirt with Astro Boy on it and the character’s name is from a song from some indie band I’ve never heard of. He’s like that guy at a party you try to start up a conversation with, and he’s like, “Yeah, I game. Ever heard of Final Fantasy II for the SNES?” “Oh, you mean Final Fantasy IV?” “No, pretty sure it was Final Fantasy II.” Awkward silence. I mean, it’ll resonate for a lot of 20-somethings out there, but it’s awfully specific in its aim.

So you’re probably expecting me to hate the movie. But I didn’t! Why?! Mostly because that pop culture divide is largely irrelevant when it comes to enjoying the movie. Will you get more out of it if you’ve played DDR or beat ’em ups? Sure. But the searing eye candy Edgar Wright coughed up is enough to entertain any movie goer who appreciates fast-paced film making. And this movie is nearly at Baz Luhrman levels of frenzy. Shots are cut at a blistering pace. CG embellishments make the actors look like comic book characters brought to life. Seriously, this is the first movie that seems like it took a few plays out of the Speed Racer handbook of visual vocabulary. (There’s that made-up term again!) And it’s not just visuals that delight. The dialogue is actually clever and delivered with comic timing for a change.

The music is actually pretty well done for the most part, too. Beck actually composes all of the music for the fictional band Sex Bob-omb and the score is composed by alt-rock superproducer Nigel Godrich, who’s worked with stars like Beck and Radiohead on some of their landmark albums. The soundtrack is loaded with indie acts and garage rock riffs, and totally fits the misfit tone of the movie.

It’s just too bad being good didn’t guarantee success. Limping out of the gate with a paltry $10 million when estimates put the movie at around $60 million, Wright’s most expensive movie to date, certainly makes eyebrows raise. Why would a movie that seemed like such a cultural zeitgeist flop so badly? It hasn’t been through lack of marketing that Scott Pilgrim failed, that’s for sure. It’s proooooobably because its target audience isn’t known for paying for anything. Teens and twentysomethings these days get their nostalgia gaming kick not by dusting off the NES or SNES, but by downloading ROMs and emulators. They peer-to-peer share their music collections. Plus they’re a notoriously poor demographic. They probably would rather see a cam rip of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World than fork over the $10 per person to go to the theater and see it legitimately. Then there was the aforementioned rather limited scope of the appeal. Maybe not as many people have fond memories of Clash at Demonhead or listen to chiptune albums as they thought. At any rate, a perfectly entertaining movie suffered because of it. For shame, readers!

Grump Talk: Horny Nun and Summer Fun

July 22, 2010

Hello, grumpeteers! How’s your summer going? Mine is like grains of sand slipping through my bony fingers. While I still go to graduate school in the summer, it’s a lighter season for me, so I’m trying hard to make headway in my various hobbies while I still have the (guilt-free) spare time.

I haven’t forgotten about Saturn! I’ve been playing Panzer Dragoon Saga for a while and hope to finish it up and post my thoughts on it within a month. It’s not that it’s a particularly long game, but its graphics are migraine-inducing and it still has some of those pesky hallmarks of a late-90s JRPG, such as inconvenient save point placement and boss gauntlets that make me want to punch someone. I also allowed myself to become distracted by other games whose graphics don’t cause me to get headaches, such as FFXIII and Demon’s Souls. Enough digital ink has been spilled describing both of them, so I doubt they’ll ever get a proper treatment here. I’ll just say that FFXIII is the huge disappointment I thought it would probably be and that Demon’s Souls is engrossing and totally Vagrant Story 2.

On another front, I saw Micmacs in the theater and was totally planning on writing it up when Inception came and jizzed all over my face. So plans changed! Really, Micmacs is charming if you like the sort of quirky, old-school humor that Jean Pierre Jeunet, director of Amélie and City of the Lost Children, specializes in. It almost channels silent comedy of old at some points. It wears a bit thin in the middle, but the climax is pretty satisfying, so I don’t feel anyone inclined toward such an experience would leave feeling their time was wasted. If you like movies about misfits banding together to destroy arms manufacturers, you should check it out!

I also saw a vintage flick that survived through the decades to still engross, mesmerize and thrill. Black Narcissus is a story about a group of nuns who take on the task of renovating an Indian general’s old palace into a school/medical clinic for the poor, farming villagers. The atmosphere of the valley the movie is set in seems to start affecting them, however, and soon all manner of crises, both physical and metaphysical, envelope them. If I’m not mistaken, the film won an Oscar for Best Cinematography back in the day, and it’s totally deserved. The film starts out relatively demurely, but soon vivid Technicolor threatens to overwhelm the drab habits of the nuns and the final half an hour of the film is some top-notch suspense that even Hitchcock could envy. Black Narcissus also has some of the best non-horror (or is it?!) makeup I’ve ever seen. If you watch it, you’ll know what I mean. And no, I’m not talking about all the white people they painted brown. Criterion Collection recently put out a new, remastered version on DVD and Blu-Ray and I’m considering picking it up, but I also went a little spend-crazy over the weekend with some other Criterion titles since they were all on sale. So we’ll see! At any rate, if you love furtive stares from nuns you won’t want to miss this one!

Toy Story 3: Sobbing Man-Children

July 8, 2010

It’s difficult to remember what theatrical animation was like before Pixar. I remember that a Disney movie would come out every year or so and I’d beg my parents to take me and that’d be about it. I wasn’t stupid enough to go see a Don Bluth movie in the theater, at least. And pretty much all the animation was 2D! I remember when it was a giant fucking deal that Aladdin had 3D CG mixed in. I remember when people’s jaws were dropping during the ballroom scene in Beauty and the Beast. You’d occasionally see a 3D CG animated short on Nickelodeon (especially on Thanksgiving), but other than those, that was about it. Computer graphics were a delicacy, like caviar for the developing eyes of a cartoon-addled child. This was back when 3D viewing was still considered retro and gimmicky, too!

But then it was 1995. Disney was quickly losing their shit (Pocahontas? HUNCHBACK?) and no one was stepping up to take the doddering king’s place. Except for one studio who dared to look toward the future, and saw the potential in the shiny, plastic-looking aesthetic of computer animation. And Disney still had enough sense left in them to see the potential, as well, and released Pixar’s film Toy Story into theaters. And it was a success! The rare non-Disney animated feature to garner universal acclaim and commercial success! Combining heartfelt storytelling with sly, inventive humor, Pixar created a franchise.

A franchise that’s never quite sat well with me.

I mean, I liked Toy Story well enough. I could appreciate it for the way it pioneered a whole new medium and for the relative sophistication it had compared to other offerings. Even as a child, it seemed a bit sharper than the competition. But the movie’s aesthetic just didn’t age very well (see: any human in the film) and then there was John Lasseter’s unhealthy taste in Randy Newman. It just didn’t resonate with me the same way Aladdin or other films did. And seeing Toy Story 2 years later, when it was rereleased in 3D, I can see why people consider it a marked improvement. The added characters actually ADD to the proceedings rather than detract and it explored some interesting aspects of toy culture. But it still wasn’t yanking me like I wanted it to. Was it the indifference to stars Tom Hanks and Tim Allen?  The still-uncanny-valley human characters? The seemingly recycled bit where the gang has to deal with another fresh-out-of-the-box Buzz Lightyear? The world may never know.

So it was with some chagrin that I learned that Pixar was going back to the well again with Toy Story 3. I mean, I’m not surprised. Aside from Cars, it’s probably their most profitable property. It also has that nostalgic glimmer of being their first feature animation, and enough time has gone by that super-fans of the original might have kids of their own to take to a sequel. Canny Disney thinking at work, there. So after enduring months of breathless Toy Story fans spazzing out over the idea of a threequel and the outpouring of praise from the rest of the press, I decided to go see it to give it a fair shake. If anything, I probably wouldn’t hate it.

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