Just forget the words and sing along

Monday, October 31, 2011

Movie Review -- Batman: Year One

Hey!  Another DC Comics direct-to-DVD animated film came out a couple of weeks ago.  And I finally had a chance to sit down and watch it.  So let's get to my review of....

Batman:  Year One

Directed by Sam Liu and Lauren Montgomery

Starring the voices of Ben McKenzie, Bryan Cranston, Eliza Dushku, Katee Sackhoff, Alex Rocco, Jon Polito, Jeff Bennet, Steve Blum, and Grey DeLisle.

Backstory:  I tend to repeat myself whenever one of these DC animated films comes along, and that is, I'm getting very disappointed in their choice to just focus on Superman and Batman.  There's so many great "lower A-list" and "upper B-list" characters that could sustain a film, but apparently, Superman and Batman are the only ones with enough "mainstream appeal" to make this project profitable.  And, my disappointment reached new heights when it was announced that they'd be doing Batman: Year One, Frank Miller's legendary retelling/updating of Batman's origin tale.  Seriously, so much of Batman: Year One inspired Batman Begins that how could you do a Year One adaptation without it seeming like a Batman Begins rehash?  Well, my copy arrived from Amazon.ca a few days ago, so let's pop it in and find out.

Plot:  Lieutenant James Gordon, still recovering from a police scandal in Chicago, arrives in Gotham City for a new posting with the GCPD and a chance at starting over.  Meanwhile, after 12 years of traveling the world, billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne finally returns to Gotham City.  Wayne, himself, has been working on his own plan to help clean up the streets of Gotham, and he seems ready to enact it.  Gordon soon finds himself quickly being the only honest cop in a police force that's corrupt to the core, and he's soon put to work on a special task force to bring in this vigilante that the press has dubbed "The Batman."  Can Gordon remain the only honest cop in Gotham City?  Will Bruce Wayne's plan succeed?  Will these two be able to strike up a partnership and bring hope to this troubled city?  

What I Liked:  This is an incredibly faithful adaptation of the original graphic novel.  I'm glad that the story's action centerpiece -- a tense standoff between Batman the Gotham SWAT team in a burnt-out apartment building -- survived unscathed.  Probably the best voice acting in this film comes from Dushku as Selina Kyle/Catwoman and Sackhoff as Detective Sarah Essen, Gordon's partner.  They really put emotion into their roles.  And the animation, as always, is of very high quality.

What I Didn't Like:  The voice acting of our two leads -- McKenzie as Batman and Cranston as Gordon -- is...not the best.  They both sound really sleepy in their roles.  This being a Frank Miller comic, when they do wake up, they seem to take their acting cues from Sin City.  In fact, in most of his scenes, McKenzie seems to be playing Batman as though he's Dwight McCarthy, or at least Clive Owen's portrayal of him in Sin City.  

Final Verdict:  Meh.  It's OK, but it could have been better.  And, surprisingly, it didn't feel like a Batman Begins rehash.

2.5 Nibs

Bonus Features:  There's an interview with the current creative team working on the Batman comics, a running commentary with film`s directors and producers, a featurette about returning Batman to his dark roots, a preview of the next direct-to-DVD film, Justice League:  Doom, 2 bonus episodes of Batman: The Animated Series, and they resurrect the DC Showcase concept to bring us an all-new short film all about Catwoman

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Targ Returns!

U62: The Targ -- My podcast

Well, I think we've reached that time...it's time to bring back U62: The Targ for another season!

In Episode 5.01: What, This Again?, I take the time to explain where I've been and why it was time to bring it back, I recap the superhero movies of the summer, and I disclose my podcast's secret origins.

Give it a listen!

Click here to go download it!

Head here to subscribe in iTunes!

Be a fan in Facebook!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

2 Famous Sleuths

Hey, look, we have a new trailer for Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

Actually, I'm just posting this because it gives me an excuse to blog about some movie news I've been wanting to blog about but have been putting off.

News broke a couple of weeks ago that, for his next franchise, Robert Downey Jr is looking to resurrect another famous sleuth for the big screen...none other than the legendary crusading defense attorney, Perry Mason.

Perry Mason, created by Earle Stanley Gardner in a series of mystery novels back in the 1930s and 40s, and elevated to mythic status thanks to the legendary TV series starring Raymond Burr.

For the new spin, they're going to go all the way back to the beginning, and set the film in the 1930s...where the character first made his appearance and the time in which the first stories are set.

There's absolutely no word on when or if this'll ever hit theatres.  All I know it is it could be pretty neat.  I have a minor fascination with Perry Mason, ever since I read a newspaper article in my teen years chronicling how the character has developed a Trekkie-like following.

All I know is, if the movie ever comes to be, they've got to remember to work Park Avenue Beat into the soundtrack.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Latest from the Master

We are very blessed this holiday season.  We are not getting one, but two new movies from the guy who is generally considered to be the greatest living director today, Steven Spielberg!

First up, the one that's been bigger on my radar, The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn.  As the legend goes, Spielberg became a fan of the legendary comic strip back in 1981, when a European film critic called Raiders of the Lost Ark "the greatest Tintin movie ever made."  Spielberg sought out the comic, instantly became a fan, contacted Herge, and acquired the movies rights.  Spielberg has then been trying for the past 30 years to try to get a Tintin movie off the ground.

A few years back, Spielberg took a "now or never" approach to it.  He contacted Weta Digital about doing a CGI Snowy (Tintin's faithful dog and sidekick).  Peter Jackson, who brought us The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the owner of Weta, and a huge Tintin fan himself, immediately called Spielberg and convinced him to do the whole film with performance capture.  Because, you know, a few years ago, before Mars Needs Moms tanked at the box office, we were all told that performance capture was going to be the future of filmmaking.

So, Spielberg and Jackson joined forces to finally bring Tintin to the big screen.  Spielberg is directing and Jackson is producing.  They will switch roles should this be successful enough for a sequel.  For the script, they drafted a trio of phenomenal Brits:  Steven Moffat, the current showrunner on Doctor Who, Edgar Wright, director of the much-beloved (be geeks) Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, and Joe Cornish, director of the critically acclaimed Attack the Block.  The story is an amalgam of three classic Tintin storylines:  The Secret of the Unicorn, the Crab With the Golden Claws, and Red Rackham's Treasure.

For our cast, Jamie Bell, still best remembered as Billy Elliot, is Tintin, Andy Serkis, best remembered as Gollum in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, is Tintin's longtime friend and sidekick, the salty sea Captain Haddock, Edgar Wright film regulars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are the identical detectives Thomson and Thompson, and James Bond himself, Daniel Craig, is the villainous pirate Red Rackham. 

It had its first press screening in Tintin's homeland of Belgium a couple of weeks ago and has been getting really good reviews.  It comes out in the UK at the end of the month, and it hits North American theatres on December 21.

But wait!  There's more!  Turns out Spielberg had another movie on the go that was under my radar.  While waiting for the animation to be finished on Tintin, Spielberg went and made another movie, War Horse.  

Based on the classic children's novel of the same name, War Horse follows the adventures of Joey, a horse who is sold to the army and made to serve in the cavalry during World War I.  Albert Narracot, Joey's young owner, can't bear to be separated from his beloved horse, so he lies about his age, joins the army, and the two are soon on a quest to be reunited with each other in the trenches of World War I.

The book was turned into a critically acclaimed play a couple of years ago.  Spielberg saw the play, instantly fell in love with the story, and set out to bring the tale to the big screen.

As I said, this one was below my radar, but when I saw the trailer, I knew it was classic Spielberg, from the lavishly filmed sunsets to the John Williams score.  War Horse hits theatres on Christmas Day. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Just Wait 6 - 8 Weeks

One thing I miss about childhood are all the great mail-away offers.  You remember the ones, right?  With just 3 proofs of purchase and $5.99 shipping and handling, you could get some kind of really nifty thingamabob.  There was just something about the anticipation of waiting for it, the exclusivity of the thing you were sending away for, and just the novelty of getting mail.  Not just a letter or a birthday card from Grandma, but a full-blown parcel!

Of course, growing up with G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, it was something that became ingrained in you.  G.I. Joe was great for this, as each and every G.I. Joe toy had "Flag Points" on the back.  The Flag Points were your proofs-of-purchase, which you used to mail away for all the exclusive action figures.  My brother and I diligently collected all our Flag Points for a good three or four years, and then, when he was 12 and I was 10, we finally figured it was time to cash in.  Man o man, that was a great summer and a good portion of the fall.  Just about every two weeks we were getting another package from Hasbro with more rare G.I. Joe toys.  And it was all such legendary G.I. Joe mail away exclusives like the Manta Windsurfer, hooded Cobra Commander, and the one that started it all, the Steel Brigade customized figure.  For your six Flag Points and $5.99,  you could get a G.I. Joe whose code name was one that you chose, and whose real name was your name!  My brother was always nuts for aircraft and had just about every G.I. Joe airplane and helicopter...he got his Steel Brigade figure (code name:  Hi-Fi) so he could finally pilot all those planes.

When I grew up and started going to high school and college, I still sent away for the occasional thing.  When I was writing my epic series of entries about all the times I bought Star Wars, I mentioned that you could get a VHS tape of the TV special The Making of Star Wars, with two proofs-of-purchase from Froot Loops and $4.99.  I've still got that tape and watch it every once in a while...I'll probably be watching it less now seeing as to how The Making of Star Wars was included as a bonus feature on the new Star Wars Blu-Rays.  For more Star Wars stuff, I remember when the Special Editions hit theatres.  You could get an exclusive "Spirit of Obi-Wan" action figures from Lay's Potato Chips for three proofs-of-purchase and $4.99.  I got that, too, and it's still a nice addition to my action figure collection.

But my favourite had to be the hockey pennants.  Back in high school, I was eating a lot of Pop Tarts, and they had the promotion where they were giving away miniature hockey pennants...nothing fancy, just a three-inch strip of felt with the logo of an NHL team on it.  They were neat, but no matter how many Pop Tarts I ate, I kept getting the Chicago Blackhawks.  No offense to that fine organization, but after getting two dozen pennants, that's when you start getting a little frustrated.

That's when I read the side panel of the box, and discovered that for two proofs-of-purchase and $6.99 shipping and handling, you could send away for the complete set of pennants, plus a special board to mount and display them on.  So that's exactly what I did.  And, 6 - 8 weeks later, I got my complete set of pennants.  The mounting board was all laid out in the proper conferences and divisions...I remember it was the final season where the conferences and divisions were named after people (eg. the Whales Conference and the Campbell Conference instead of the Eastern Conference and the Western Conference).  I checked the sports section of the newspaper to make sure I got all the teams in their right divisions, and then hung it on my wall.  Some where between my teen years and my adult years, I misplaced that.  I kind of miss it...I'm sure there must be some kind of sports memorabilia collection who might pay a couple of bucks for it.

But now that I'm a responsible adult, I just don't do stuff like that anymore.  Walk down any grocery store aisle, and you'll see that there aren't really a lot of companies doing stuff like that anymore.  Granted, I do buy a lot of crap online, but that's just not the same.

So, back in the early summer, I was perusing the snack aisle, looking for some snacks to feast upon during another quiet, lonely night at home watching DVDs, when a fancy-looking Pringles can caught my eye.  Pringles was having a special mail away offer!  For 4 proofs-of-purchase and...nothing shipping and handling, you could send away for a gadget that turned a Pringles can into a speaker.  My curiosity was piqued.  So, I bought a can of Pringles for my movie-time snacks, and for the next few weeks until I had my four proofs-of-purchase.  I tossed my four proofs-of-purchase in the mail, and began waiting the 6 - 8 weeks.  Actually, 10 - 12 weeks, according to the package.

And then, late last week, I got a package in the mail from Pringles.

A red box with a picture of a speaker in middle, and with the title Pringle Amplified Speaker

Woo hoo!  My speaker had arrived.  So, of course, I had to open it up and try it out.  I was a little stunned that it was an amplified speaker...the original order form didn't say that.

The speaker gadget, 3 AAA batteries, and the instructions

In the box was the speaker gadget, three AAA batteries (Yes!  Batteries are included!) and the instructions.  So, of course, I had to fire it up and try it out.  The instructions are pretty simple:  put the batteries in, snap it into the top of a Pringles can, plug it into an MP3 player, turn it on, and enjoy some tunes!

So, what is the sound quality like from a speaker made out of a Pringles can?  Well, I made a video demonstrating it.

As I say in the video, the sound quality is a little tinny, and you occasionally get this weird metallic echo when you're listening to a podcast.  Other than that, it's pretty neat.  It'll find a place in my kitchen for listening to the radio when doing dishes.

It was a nice trip down memory lane, to once again send away for something like this.  However, I'm not as thrilled as I once was when I was a kid.  When I was a kid, I was all like, "Wow!  It's finally here!"  But now, I'm all like, "Oh, it's here."  Maybe my sense of childhood wonder had finally dissipated.  Maybe it's clinical depression.  All I know is, I have a really neat speaker. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Marvel's The Avengers Trailer

Holy moly.  When all the superhero adaptations, this is one folks thought they'd never see.

It was always a bit of a pipe dream about five years ago when Marvel announced that they were forming Marvel Studios with the intent of producing their own films based on their own properties.  Cuz hey, they owned all the rights to the characters, so why not?

But still, no one was expecting that fateful day in 2008, when Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk both became big hits at the box office, and Marvel made the announcement that they were building towards this.  The plan:  Iron Man 2 and Thor in 2010, and Captain America and The Avengers in 2011.

Well, various production delays caused the schedule to be juggled around, and it soon changed to Iron Man 2 in 2010, Thor and Captain America in 2011, and The Avengers in 2012.

For those who've never followed the comics, The Avengers is Marvel's supergroup, of which Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and the Hulk are all members.  And the fact that they got all the same actors from all the previous films to come back...well, it's stunning, really.

So, once again, we get to see:

  • Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark/Iron Man
  • Chris Evans as Steve Rogers/Captain America
  • Chris Hemsworth as Thor
  • Scarlett Johannson as the Black Widow
  • Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye
  • and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, and he finally gets to do more than wave after the end credits.
Marvel and Edward Norton had a bit of a falling out, so Mark Ruffalo takes over as Bruce Banner/the Hulk.  Following the original comic book origins of the team, these heroes first come together to battle Thor's brother Loki, who's launching an all-out assault on Earth.  (Tom Hiddleston is back as Loki.)  Some rumors even say that Loki has assembled an army of those perpetual Earth invaders, the Skrulls.

The man who Marvel tapped to bring all these characters together is fan favourite Joss Whedon, creator of such cult classic TV series as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly.  In fact, the only other big screen directorial credit Whedon has under his belt of the movie version of Firefly, Serenity.  But most have faith in the Whedon.

The first trailer came out today, and I have to admit, it looks pretty damn sweet.

Marvel's The Avengers (we have to call it that to avoid confusion with the classic TV series of the same name) hits theatres May 4, 2012.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

On the Passing of Steve Jobs

Like a lot of folks last night, I was shocked and saddened when I read about the loss of Steve Jobs.  Jobs, who founded Apple Computers in his parents' garage, went on to become one of the first true IT billionaires, and pretty much shaped the way we view and use technology, dead at the age of 56.  The cause of his death hasn't been publicized yet, but he'd been battling pancreatic cancer for the past seven years.

I saw lots of folks online saying, "Thanks for my iPhone, iPad, etc," and suchforth.   Wanting to be a little different, I posted this:

"Let's not forget his biggest contribution to movies.  Back in 1986, he bought ILM's computer animation R&D lab and turned into Pixar."

Yup.  That's true.  Because of that, he has an executive producer credit on Toy Story.  When Disney and Pixar merged 5 years ago, he became Disney's biggest shareholder.  I highly recommend you check out a documentary called The Pixar Story, which is all about the history of Pixar.  It was released on disc 2 of the 2-disc special edition of WALL-E, so it's easy to come by.  Jobs is interviewed quite a bit in it, and I'll never forget something he said in that documentary.  Even though Toy Story was a massive hit, Jobs wasn't too excited about it.  Said Jobs about his lack of enthusiasm....

"Yeah, but see, I invented the Apple II, which was considered the best success in the history of home computers.  And I followed that up with the Apple III, which is still considered one of the biggest disasters in home computers.  So I wasn't going to get excited until our second success.  That's when I'd be confident that we were on to something." 

As I was lying in bed last night, thinking about all those "Thanks for my iPad" posts, I started thinking about the little ways in which he changed computing.

The year was 1998.  I was still in college, and hanging out with a lot of computer science majors.  Jobs had just made his triumphant return to Apple, and the first product under his renewed leadership was just announced:  the iMac.  Chilling out in the dorms one night, I overheard my computer science friends picking apart the iMac's specs....

"I don't believe it."


"It's got nothing but USB ports."

"You can't be serious."

"I am!  Look.  No printer port, no serial port...just USB ports!"

"Who the fuck uses USB ports?"

"You can't get anything that plugs in with USB ports!  Why would he come up with a computer that you can't plug anything into?" 

Here we are now, 13 years later, and how is your keyboard plugged in to your computer?  That's right, Jobs pretty much made USB ports the industry standard. 

It might finally be time to seek out the movie Pirates of Silicon Valley.  I've always wanted to see it.  An HBO original movie, it chronicled and compared the rises to power of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.  ER's Noah Wyle played Jobs.  Jobs was so impressed with Wyle's performance that he actually got Wyle to impersonate him at one of those famous Apple product launches to see if anyone would notice the difference.  Anyway, the film opens with Jobs (as played by Wyle) speaking directly into the camera, laying out his personal philosophies and what he wants to accomplish with computers.

The camera angle changes and we that Jobs is actually talking to legendary film director Ridley Scott as they're about to film Apple's legendary 1984 commercial, and he's telling Scott the vision he wants to get across in this commercial.


That spot, by the way, pretty much accredited with creating the modern-day concept of the Super Bowl ad.

So, yeah.  We lost a man who truly changed the world yesterday.