Monday, June 20, 2011

Beware my suckage...Green Lantern bites!

I tried not to be disappointed, but I was.  Now, as for a bit of background, I only got into Green Lantern a few years ago with the Sinestro Corps saga.  I have kept up with the series to present day, and I ended up going back a couple more years with the GL/GL Corps books to catch up on what had happened since the reboot.  I found myself liking the comic more and more.  While I'm rather disappointed with Brightest Day and where the stories have gone (much like my issues with all Marvel/DC books in the recent year), the characters remained fun for me to read about.  Here in a nutshell were my issues:

1) Leading mananoma. I am going to state that I marginally tolerate Ryan Reynolds. While he did a good bit with Deadpool in the Wolverine movie, the absolute shit-tastic way they changed him in the ending (taking away the mouth, Cyclops eyes, sword arms and bamfing) ruined the entire character. From Van Wilder to Blade III to whatever, he always seems on the verge of trying to get a laugh out of an impromptu public fart, so in a sense they should simply have kept him in the Wade Wilson mode and chosen ANYONE else (cough Nathan Fillion cough) to play Hal Jordan. 

2) Too much Carol Ferris. Hot chicks who can't act with the main lead ruin these films. There was a huge Anakin/Padme "sand speech" feel to every scene they had together. Can we also get some more Tim Robbins in there since he's a Big Name Star? Angela Bassett needed to be in a fat suit because Amanda Walker was HUGE. If they're going to put Hal's lover in the flick, at least give a nod to the Star Sapphire embodiment in the comics. 

3) Let's completely fuck with the GL continuity, shall we? One thing with all the myriad GL reboots has always remained constant: Sinestro was a good guy, then he rebelled and was banished, and then found a yellow ring to fight against the Lanterns. Hal was later possessed by Parallax, then was cured and restored the Corps. Very little of the "yellow impurity" aspect of the story was maintained, understandably so. Parallax was an alien entity as old as time, NOT a corrupted Guardian, and its goal was to possess Hal Jordan because Hal had that special goodness the entity coveted and wanted to destroy. They could have kept the comic-true storyline and just worked around it. Make Parallax look like this and not like this.  You can still give it Clancy Brown's voice, but at least it would have looked cooler and not like some throwback FX cheat from Fantastic Four II. 

4) But it kinda redeems itself. Sort of.  The FX were the only thing that saved the movie, IMHO. Bugger all that crap about Hal's crisis of courage and responsibility, I enjoyed seeing the characterizations of Kilowog, Tomar-Re and the other Lanterns, not to mention the fun Hal had with all his constructs. Sinestro's makeup was horrid, and what I figured would be the easiest alien to mimic with a real actor turned into complete mauve shit. What was otherwise an excellent actor became buried in poorly-done head makeup. Henshaw was decently done, but under-utilized given his long-standing enmity with Jordan; not to mention the guy is still alive int he comics...quit killing off the villains you insipid movie bastards!

5) WTF happened to my ending? Did they somehow run out of money, because the ending was as abrupt and undeserved as any superhero movie I'd ever seen. They could have had a kick-ass ending with Jordan flying through his sector, encountering new star systems, hearing a call from the ring, and responding to something on Planet Whatchamacallit. Epic fail.

Monday, May 9, 2011


The famous quote goes, "Mother is the name for God on the lips and hearts of all children."  That is incorrect.  Mother WAS God, the creator, the divine spark, the one who should be simultaneously loved, feared, obeyed and hated.  It's why the idea of a paternal deity is so hard for me to accept, because Father, for all his power, never held as much influence as Mother.

Mother was the nurterer, she who provides sustenance, the introducer of foods, the assigner of candied beets, the Torquemada overseeing the Grand Inquisition into whether we truly loved the "cheesy broccoli surprise" or not--and woe betide he who said 'nay'.  She was the one who convinced you wholeheartedly that chicken-fried pork chops were "nutritious."  She was the one who aged her marshmallow Peeps to the right amount of crunchiness.  She made the winter snowfall into a form of ice cream which to this day makes your mouth water.

Mother was the banker. She may not have owned the keys to the coinpurse initially but sooner or later they were hers.  She was the tax collector, the county assessor who determined, without any income or bonuses of her own, with a job that only began each day but never ended, what deductions she could make from the treasury to support what SHE needed.  If Father insisted that we save more money, it was only because she allowed him to.  She made Christmases memorable because money wasn't an object, and if it cost too much well, then fiddle-dee-dee Scarlett, tomorrow is another day and she would find a way to pay for it.

Mother was the doctor, the Hippocratic Queen.  She shot Band-Aids like a six-gun pistolero, she wielded the wand of Mercurochrome with the deftness of an ancient wizard.  Baby Aspirin and Ludens Cherry Cough Drops fell from her hands like sweet ambrosia.  She was the courier of school sick days, the Watcher who remained vigilant of you were sick or hurt.

Mother was the true disciplinarian, and if Father was the Screw who wielded the billy club with harsh justice, she was the Warden whose job it was to oversee behavior modification.  Her power lay in Guilt, because the worst beating you ever received paled in comparison to the look of disappointment on her face when you realized your screw up in the most Royal of Ways.  If "we'll just see how things go when your Father gets home" was the death knell, seeing her eyes welled with tears at your spanking was the killing blow, because she knew as you one day would that wisdom is often painful.

Mother was the Principal.  Your lunches, your homework, your field trip permission slips and report cards, all handled by her with the deftness of a pit boss in Vegas.  Whether she attended PTA meetings or helped out during birthday parties, her finger was on the pulse of your education.  She didn't fully understand your algebra, but she made damn sure YOU did before you went to bed at night.  Coordination was anything from taking you hunting for leaves as part of your science project to bringing you a snack during a late night study.

But Mother was also imperfect.  She'd tell you to watch your weight but have Ding Dongs and Chocodiles always within reach.  She'd talk about church and family and the worst family fights always followed the Sunday morning worship services.  She would tend to your every need but not watch out for herself when you noticed her smoking too much.  You couldn't win these fights, for she was always very stoic, and in her mind you didn't really have a damn thing to say given how often she had given of herself over the years.

Ironically, these were her most important lessons of all, because she was imperfect, she was a human being, and the one word you could always take away from these contemplations was sacrifice.  She had her weaknesses, but sacrificed her well-being for the family.  She lacked compassion to a degree, but only because she had personally experienced it.  She would feel disappointment even if you made the same mistakes she did, but only because she wanted you to always, always do better, to take advantage of the opportunities that she never did.

Finally, Mother was and will always be Love.  She never lost sight of your dreams, never lacked pride in your accomplishments, never took a hug or a kiss for granted.  Working ceaselessly to run a well-oiled household machine, she never asked for or expected thanks, which is why I write this now.  Mom, you make the world better just for being in it, and while I know you feel my gratitude, you would never be so proud to ask for it as payment for your endless work.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Why the Will Smith Dynasty will one day rule Hollywood...

I'm not a big fan of Hollywood remakes or movie adaptations of hit TV shows from bygone eras.  The most obvious case of the former is The Day The Earth Stood Still, which while somewhat good at certain points, should have really been titled The Day Some Producer Googled "von Neumann Probes".  A case of the latter is The Flintstones in terms of animation (the upcoming Smurfs film may fall into this category), and another live-action vs. live action example is The Dukes of Hazzard.  I could go on and on about this, and in some cases Hollywood did get it right, e.g., Charlie's Angels and Mission: Impossible.  Remakes often do little more than to explain to an already jaded public that Hollywood is completely out of original ideas.

Probably one of the more difficult genres to recreate for modern audiences are the 80s films.  There was an aspect of fashion, music and culture that doesn't translate well to the 21st century.  I figure once it's had a VH1 special done about it with D-list comedians, it's time to consider it vintage.  As much as I would love to see "Savage" Steve Holland come back and do a modern-day version of Better Off Dead, the only actor who even remotely resembles John Cusack is Shia LaBeouf, and I already hate that mo-fo with the fire of a thousand suns.

Which in a roundabout way brings me to the remake of The Karate Kid.  Sure it's staged around a Chinese martial arts master this time (in which case it should have been titled "The Kung Fu Kid", but there was no way the producers would have sacrificed the name value), and yes it was an obvious vehicle for Will Smith to showcase his son Jaden (who coincidentally was in the aforementioned Day The Earth Stood Still remake), but surprisingly it worked, and I'll tell you why.

First, let's consider the original.  As a fat kid growing up in the 80s, any film where the outsider/nerd/new guy manages to kick a bully's ass was instant cinema gold to me.  That film had one fat kid in it, and he was taken out with a roundhouse kick to the gut in the first few minutes of the tournament.  So, living vicariously through an obviously good-looking 30-year-old Italian kid pretending to be a teenager was the unfortunate requirement; a much more voluptuous Elisabeth Shue helped considerably as well.  Ralph Macchio's Daniel Laruso was the veritable fish out of water, moving from his Jersey neighborhood to the suburbs of LA.  Moving in on the former girlfriend of Johnny Lawrence was mistake #1, since he was the star pupil of the local Cobra Kai dojo (creating the obvious trope that for every instructor who teaches peace and tranquility through martial arts, there's always some crazy-as-fuck sensei who just wants to beat the shit out of the world because he can).  Enter Mr. Miyagi, the unassuming apartment fix-it guy, and well, you know the rest.  Through a clever combination of chores as muscle-memory exercises and immersion in Eastern philosophy, the kid from the East Coast discovers the magic of the Far East and a friend in an old Japanese man who has his own crosses to bear.  Even as a kid, I realized Daniel-San never really seemed to click with the whole Zen aspect of things, but he goes through the motions, learns the techniques and in the end proves himself.  He finds a friend along the way, gets the girl and we get a film that generally does everything right.  William Zabka typecasts himself forevermore as the blond asshole bully and Ralph Macchio commits career suicide that finally buried the corpse after My Cousin Vinny.

So how does the remake compare and in many cases improve on the original?  For one, it was eminently more believable as a fish-out-of-water story.  While some may say that going from the East to West coast is in a cultural way almost moving to a different country, here it actually happens.  Mom gets a job in Beijing and young Dre is immersed in a culture and language where he is a complete outsider.  He falls for a cute girl, in this case a violinist who happens to have close family ties to Cheng, this film's Johnny Lawrence.  Cheng and his group of Cobra Kai toadies quickly use Dre as a punching bag, and we get to the inevitable show starter where Dre pulls one over on them, and they commence to beating the tar out of him.  Enter this film's Miyagi (Mr. Han) in a homage to the first film, taking on all the kids in a well-choreographed scene which pays additional respect to Jackie Chan's style of using his combatant and the environment to his advantage, getting the kids to actually hit each other, then using one kid's windbreaker to hog-tie a bunch of his buddies.

Again, remake mirrors original with the visit to Cheng's school, where the challenge is dropped and the training for the tournament begins.  However in this case Dre seems a bit more focused in terms of his willingness to learn the ropes.  While the film's location allowed a deeper immersion in the fundamentals of kung fu and the concept of chi by visiting the literal birthplace of Chinese martial arts (the visit to Okinawa didn't happen until the sequel with the first series, and even then Daniel's character never really "connected" with it), Jaden is infinitely more believable as a kid who realizes he's been given a unique opportunity to change his life and way of looking at things.  The training is much more believable, as Smith's fitness eventually reflects hours upon hours of training and discipline.

Here too is a deeper, more painful storyline, as Mr Han is revealed to have lost his wife and son (in this case, a boy not much younger than Dre) in a car accident during a family argument.  Chan excels at this point, showing true pain and sorrow, and we see Dre helping his mentor move past the tragedy in a way that the Daniel/Miyagi story never seemed to get right.

Fast forward to the tournament, and it pretty much plays out like the original - Chen's master doing everything he can not to be embarrassed by the upstart Dre/Han combo, Dre quickly moving up through the ranks, culminating in a signature move that wins him the tournament.  Chen is nothing more than a one-trick pony throughout the entire film, never losing his violent streak or his scowl until the very end, culminating in a moment that was much more satisfactory to the honorable teacher dynamic than in the original.

Overall, being a film I was initially skeptical about, I found this one to improve upon the original, which while still a good film, had some overall flaws.  Jackie Chan shows more range than we were used to seeing, perhaps since he wasn't playing second fiddle to the ever-annoying Chris Tucker.  Jaden Smith really shines as Dre, making him a kid I'd prefer showing as an example to my children than the Daniel character in the original.  This film is less 'mushy' than the original (which was a quintessential teen film), and my one big gripe aside from Chen's stony performance was that the romantic subplot seemed very awkward given a largely pre-teen cast.  This remake also didn't overwhelm the audience with a catchy soundtrack, given that the "You're the Best" song pretty much solidified itself as an anthem in the original film.  As with most Smith vehicles, there is some degree of rapping involved, but here it was at the end and didn't overshadow the key moments.  The cinematography of China was amazing, and scenes of the Great Wall and the monastery made the film that much more enjoyable.

So, never let it be said that a remake can't succeed and in many, many cases improve upon the original.  I'm sure this film will stand out as an exception to the rule, but if nothing else, it proved to be a more believable story with much better acting than it's kitschy, dated predecessor.

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