Scary Movie Monday – Cloverfield

ScaryMovieMonday

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No theme to the Halloween coverage this year. I’ll be lucky just to get through it. Also, there won’t be many screencaps in this one, because the shaky-cam nature of the film makes good frames really hard to come by.

In 1999, Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez made a ton of money with a super-low-budget film they’d made titled The Blair Witch Project. It made so much money thanks to two gimmicks that worked in synergy to propel audience interest.

  1. They used the concept of “found footage,” using a gimmick from horror stories dating back to “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar” by Edgar Allan Poe, making it seem as if the story had really happened.
  2. They created a promotional campaign centered on a website that described the backstory of the movie, again as if it had really happened. It was one of the first really successful viral marketing campaigns and built huge, fervent anticipation for the film.

Audience reactions on seeing the final film were decidedly mixed, some saying it was an exercise in absolute terror, others saying it was a mediocre low-budget indie in which nothing much happened with the added gimmick of inducing motion sickness in the audience.

Whether people loved or hated it, one thing was indisputable: it made a ton of profit, therefore guaranteeing that other films would follow in its wake. One of those attempts to imitate the Blair Witch formula was Cloverfield, a 2008 film that took the basic elements of the earlier film’s success–found footage technique combined with viral internet marketing–and combined them with a HUGE budget, incredible production values, and state-of-the-art visual effects. And motion sickness.

Directed by Matt Reeves from a script by Drew Goddard and produced by J.J. Abrams’s Bad Robot, Cloverfield begins at a going away party for Rob Hawkins (Michael Stahl-David), who has landed a job in Japan. The found footage gimmick in this case is that one of the partygoers, Hud (T.J. Miller), has been tasked with “documenting the night”  and recording people’s good luck wishes to Rob. One brilliant bit of scripting here is that Hud is not too bright, so when he is tasked with documenting the night, he takes it really seriously and keeps recording things long after the party has been forgotten.

The important things to note here are that Rob is having girl problems–he has recently slept with best friend Beth (Odette Yustman), then broke things off because he didn’t want to deal with a long-distance relationship while he was in Japan–and Hud has a huge crush on Marlena (Lizzy Caplan), who barely acknowledges his existence. And things are tense between Rob’s brother Jason (Mike Vogel) and his girlfriend Lily (Jessica Lucas) who organized the party.

But in the middle of all the celebration and break-up drama, there’s an earthquake… or something. Everyone rushes to the roof to see something explode out toward the ocean. They run panicked down to the street, where Hud films something huge moving in the distance. Something flies at them and smashes to a stop in the street.

It’s the mangled head of the Statue of Liberty.

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One of the most brilliant moments in the film right here, as the jaded New Yorkers immediately forget the terror and danger just long enough to mill around the head and take pictures with their phones.

Rob, Hud, Marlena, Jason, and Lily decide to get out of Manhattan immediately, and of course, many things go wrong, not least among them when Beth calls Rob to say that she’s trapped in her apartment and begs him to come save her. Of course, along the way, our heroes die one by one and in the process manage to have several close encounters with the kaiju that’s terrorizing Manhattan.

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Between the shaky cam and the smoke and debris, we never see the creature quite as clearly as we’d like, but it is huge and alien and terrifying.

One interesting bit is that we never get any explanation of what the creature is. The viral marketing campaign hinted at a connection between the creature and Slusho!, a popular drink made from a secret ingredient called Seabed’s Nectar, which is obliquely referenced in the film when Hud mentions that the creature may have risen from deep beneath the sea. The Slusho! material also references a satellite falling from orbit (which can be briefly glimpsed in a flashback shot at the end of the film), and someone briefly mentions that the creature may come from space.

And of course, the most disgusting bit is the fact that every time the monster appears, people mention slime that seems to have come off it, which doesn’t mean much by itself, except that the viral material makes it seem apparent that the creature’s first appearance was to destroy an oil rig run by Slusho’s parent company, Tagruato. The wreckage of the oil rig was covered by oil and Seabed’s Nectar. In other words, that secret drink ingredient may have been slime they were harvesting off the creature itself as it slumbered under the ocean.

But none of this is in the movie itself. The movie quite admirably, but also frustratingly, sticks to the limited perspectives of its somewhat shallow and not very bright characters as they try to save Beth then escape intact. Of course, the fact that the footage is identified in the very beginning as having been found in the area formerly known as Central Park lets you know that things aren’t going to go well for our heroes. The movie is pretty ruthless in dispatching characters one by one, although there are some moments that make oyu roll your eyes.

There are also some bits that strain suspension of disbelief and might drop you out of the movie momentarily, like the way Hud is able to use the light on the camera for apparently hours of hiking through subway tunnels without running down the battery, or the fact that the footage is identified in the beginning as having come off a SD memory card, when the movie itself keeps referring to (and acting like) a video tape.

And of course, although the filmmakers apparently used a special kind of camera rig to minimize the shaking and keep the experience viewable, I still got a monster headache from watching this movie in the theater.

Still, I do recommend the movie if you’re a fan of giant monster movies, but to get the entire experience, you should also visit the tie-in websites which are surprisingly still active.

Tagruato Corp.

Slusho!

Now I want to hunt down 10 Cloverfield Lane and see what it’s about.

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Scary Movie Monday – Fire City: End of Days

ScaryMovieMonday

 

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It’s October, which means it’s time to start with the scary stuff. First up is something I chose on the spur of the moment, because I just finished playing a long tabletop RPG campaign featuring demon hunters in a West Coast city, so when I saw a movie about urban demons, I figured I’d give it a shot.

Fire City: End of Days is a one of those low-budget straight-to-video features that manages to be slightly notable for the fact that it was the feature directorial debut of Tom Woodruff, Jr., an effects make-up guy with a long career going back to the original Terminator.

It is a story about demons in a modern-day city (which is recognizable as, but never named as, Los Angeles), who live in a disgusting tenement also inhabited by some truly wretched humans. From what I gather (because the movie is told in a rather roundabout fashion without a lot in the way of concrete exposition), the people living in the tenement are so horrid and miserable because the demons exert an influence to make them that way (and then feed off the misery).

Until a demon oracle posing as a storefront psychic receives a message that something big and portentous is coming. She warns our protagonist, a demon named Vine, to be on the lookout for anything unusual.

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The demon make-ups are pretty good, thanks to the director being an expert and all. But if you’re wondering why there aren’t a lot of screencaps in this one, it’s because visually, it’s a kind of boring movie. There are a few decent shots, but most of the movie is this kind of underlit wanna-be noir with people glowering under inches of prosthetics.

Anyway, despite a promising moment at the open showing Vine in silhouette texting someone else in the building that makes it look as if this movie might feature an amusing juxtaposition of ancient demons with modern technology, turns out this joke isn’t really a joke. The entire movie is ponderous and deadly serious and super hard-to-follow as far as who’s doing what and why.

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The upshot is that Vine performs an act of mercy, saving a young girl in the building from being raped by her mom’s shacked-up boyfriend, which apparently causes some sort of demon infection that makes the people in the building happy or something. They suddenly just ignore their own pain and fear and guilt (and magically kick their addictions) and turn their lives around to become productive citizens. Which means the demons are starving.

There is some gory violence, but not as much as you might expect. The closest the movie comes to humor is one scene where a demon prostitute, visiting a human couple to find out what’s going on with them, suddenly breaks into a strip dance right in the middle of the room (I’m thinking maybe she feeds on lust instead of misery or something), but rather than shock or embarrassment or lechery, all they give her for the entire performance is this kind of befuddled non-reaction. In another scene, the woman says she is finally becoming “truly human,” by apparently losing all connection to human emotion. Seriously, it’s like “truly human” actually means “Vulcan.”

It all wraps up in this really nonsensical conclusion where it was all a dream, maybe, because it somehow happened, but didn’t happen, and Vine becomes a kind of demon Batman, protecting and avenging humans from demonkind or something. I don’t really get it, and it’s not worth watching again to try and decipher it.

Oh wait, there is one more sort-of joke in the movie. In the scenes where the demons are visiting the human inhabitants to see what’s up with them, one demon visits an apartment inhabited by this guy and his wife.

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That guy is Bob Burns, a fairly well known collector of movie memorabilia (now that Forry Ackerman’s dead, Burns apparently has the title of world’s largest collection of movie memorabilia). Burns got his start in Hollywood as a gorilla guy, back in the days when there were just a few, like three guys with gorilla suits who would get hired whenever a movie or TV show needed a gorilla. Starlog magazine did a long profile of Burns centered on hte elaborate Halloween productions he would set up with his special effects buddies in his yard and garage (one year, it was a time traveller routine, featuring the actual Time Machine from the George Pal movie, another year it was an Exorcist show, another year it was War of the Worlds with an alien capsule apparently crashed right through the wall of his garage).

So yeah, there’s a Halloween connection here, but other than the one cameo from Burns and his wife and some well-done demon make-ups, there’s not much to see here.

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Super Movie Monday – Ghost in the Shell (1995)

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Another under-the-wire entry. I decided to hold off on The Amazing Spider-Man 2 until after Halloween, since I only have this one week before we get into October. So here is a quick look back at the cyberpunk classic, Ghost in the Shell.

Directed by Mamoru Oshii from a screenplay by Kazunori Ito adapting the manga by Masamune Shirow, Ghost in the Shell is a meditation on the nature of humanity and our relationship to the technology that enhances our capabilities so much that it seems to be changing us into entirely different beings. The story centers on special agent Motoko Kusanagi.

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She works for Section 9, a special government agency that seems to be into black operations. To this end, she has been given an almost entirely cyborg body. The only parts of her that can still be said to be human are a few brain cells and perhaps her soul (referred to in the movie as a “ghost”).

Problems arise when Section 9 runs afoul of a hacker known as the Puppet Master, who can actually hack a person’s ghost, giving them false memories and manipulating them into doing his bidding without realizing they’re working for him. Like this guy with the awesome submachine gun, who we are first led to believe may be the Puppet Master.

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The film ends up going back and forth between some genuinely brilliant action scenes, long stretches of barely-comprehensible exposition combined with philosophizing on the nature of memory and humanity, and a couple of long stretches just letting us dig on the awesome setting design and music by Kenji Kawai.

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It feels a lot slower-moving now than it did twenty years ago, but it’s still gorgeous. The second half of the movie picks up some momentum as it turns into one long sequence tying together the two separate strands introduced in the first half. There’s an exciting and visually impressive climax which features Kusanagi facing off against a spider-like tank and literally tearing her own body apart trying to get into it.

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But she’s a cyborg, so this is far from the end. I don’t know that I love the film as much as I did back when it was new, but I do love the original far more than the half-assed “2.0” special edition that was put out in 2008.

If you have Hulu, as of now, you can watch both versions to compare and contrast.

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New Videos Added – Captain Marvel, Batman

So I added a new video today about the history of Captain Marvel. There are actually several excellent videos out there explaining various aspects of the characters history in more depth than I go into, but I think mine is a good overview with an interesting thematic perspective.

But I also realize that I forgot to post about last week’s video, an overview of Batman’s history focusing on two major influential moments and why that 1966 series maybe doesn’t deserve all the hate.

Enjoy.

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Super Movie Monday – Wizards

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Coming in late today with a non-Spider-man film because The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is being shipped here as you read this. By amazing coincidence, I happened to find a copy of this film for five bucks at Wal-Mart, and I hadn’t seen it for probably 20 years, so I thought I’d check it out. And it’s an amazing example of how much has changed, both technologically and culturally.

Wizards, directed by Ralph Bakshi, is just about the most 70’s film I’ve seen in years, and more uniquely, a film that marries two very different strains of 70’s cinema. On the one hand, it’s a typical 70’s sci-fi/fantasy picture, made toward the end of that particular period in the late 60’s/early 70’s in which SF and fantasy were often blended, the theory being that modern audiences simply could not buy into a story of elves and dragons unless you gave some sort of technical explanation for why they existed (see, for instance, the Dragonriders of Pern series).

On the other hand, it exhibits the influence of that group of so-called New Hollywood filmmakers from the 70’s, people like Martin Scorsese and John Cassavetes and Brian De Palma and Bob Fosse and Sidney Lumet, giving it a bluntly depressing urban sensibility completely at odds with the more mythic subject matter.

The opening titles (seen above) are written in a typical 70’s “futuristic” font over a typical synthesizer-heavy score, after which the story begins in more-or-less Disney fashion with a 4 minute prologue told via storybook-type illustrations.

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Except notice that the storybook illustrations look more like comic book drawings (they were done by the brilliant Mike Ploog) with limited animation effects and occasional live-action effects like smoke and lightning composited in the background. And the picture above can’t convey the effect of Susan Tyrell’s narration. She has a very distinctive style, but between the gravel in her voice and her general low-key demeanor, it sounds as if the story is being told by someone who stayed up all night smoking and drinking bourbon in some dive in lower Manhattan.

The story, such as it is, involves two twins born under very mysterious circumstances who grow into rival wizards, the good wizard Avatar and the bad wizard Blackwolf. Magic and fairies and elves have come back to the world in the wake of an atomic holocaust which wiped out civilization. Blackwolf and Avatar fight after their mother’s death, and Blackwolf is driven out into the radioactive wastelands, populated by mutants and monsters, vowing his revenge.

The actual story begins with Blackwolf setting his revenge in motion, sending out three assassins from his fortress in the land of Scortch. The main one we’re interested in is this guy, Nekron 99.

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I’m not going to get into the whole issue of how much Bakshi might have plagiarized from Vaughn Bode in the creation of Avatar and Nekron specifically, but Nekron is probably the most striking and visually consistent character in the movie. His nearly single-color design and brooding presence make him stand out. He looks especially good in the shot above, in front of an amazingly detailed background by famed artist Ian Miller (Miller did all the Scortch backgrounds).

That shot above brings up one of the love-it-or-hate-it aspects of Wizards, which is its visual inconsistency (or visual variety, I guess, if you’re in the love-it camp). It’s often hard to tell if Bakshi’s films are so visually inconsistent by design or because of budget problems, but according to commentaries and interviews, Bakshi is said to prefer using a variety of visual approaches for emotional and artistic effect. For instance, all the backgrounds in Scortch are rendered in that very stylized pen-and-ink manner seen above, while in Montagar, the land of the good fairies, the backgrounds are rendered in softer watercolors with black lines over top for definition.

Similarly, characters like Avatar and sexy magic student, the fairy Princess Elinore, are rendered like classic American animation characters ( animated almost exclusively by old-school MGM animator Irven Spence)…

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While the massive battle scenes feature lots of very impressionistic rotoscoped figures from old movies done in a very high-contrast style, with some occasional details like glowing red eyes or bat wings added after the fact.

wizardsrotoThis was done partly to finish the film very cheaply when 20th Century Fox refused to pony up more funds to finish the film (Bakshi tells the story that he and Lucas were turned down for extra funding on the same day). Also partly to prove that Bakshi could produce massive battle scenes on a budget, an important consideration for someone who was planning to adapt The Lord of the Rings as his next project.

The problem is that, while I can appreciate the underlying reasoning behind the approach, in practice, the effect is very jarring. Bakshi did not have a large staff, and while he did have some talented people who produced the occasional beautiful shot, the mixture of silly comedy relief Avatar with Ploog-styled comic book elves with Terrytoons-style cloying fairies with underground-comics-style comedy stormtroopers with psychedelic rotoscoped armies over backgrounds that are variously drawn or painted or live-action is very jarring. Not to mention the fact that often, the goals seem to be undercut by cut-rate, inconsistent animation of even the main characters (there are only five animators credited with only three assistants(!) and no time or budget for pencil tests, so clean-up and quality control were almost nonexistent).

And all of this is overlaid with a thick layer of mid-70’s cynical New York ick. Like these fairy prositutes.

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I haven’t even gotten into the meat of the story, which is that Blackwolf has uncovered a secret weapon from the ancient world which will motivate his mutant armies to conquer the world. So Avatar, Elinore, elf warrior Weehawk and reformed robot assassin Nekron (now renamed Peace, with the typical subtlety exhibited by Bakshi’s script) set out for Scortch to destroy the weapon. And what is the weapon?

Nazi propaganda films, making this the first of two SF/fantasy films released by 20th Century Fox in 1977 to be inspired in part by Triumph of the Will.

The quest itself is surprisingly brief (not too shocking for a film with an 80-minute run time), but it feels a lot longer than it is. The group ends up in a long side quest featuring cute fairies who turn a lot less cuddly when one of their leaders (voiced by Luke Skywalker himself, Mark Hamill, credited as “Mark Hamil”) is shot.

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Notice again the jarring combination of elements: a beautiful background painting with psychedelic colors (is their moon a blacklight?), cute dead fairy in a puddle of blood in the foreground, live-action smoke and lightning effects visible through the trees. Beautiful, but depressing, and not nearly as emotionally affecting as Bakshi clearly intended it to be.

The group escapes the fairies, gets lost in the snow, crosses into a desert where they meet up with this film’s version of Aragorn, ginning up a force to attack the gates of Mordor, er, Scortch, while Avatar’s group plan to continue their mission to destroy the one movie projector to rule them all. Elinore has a face-heel turn which is clearly meant to echo the episode of Pippin and the Palantir in Lord of the Rings, but is so abrupt and out-of-the-blue that any emotional weight it might have held is lost.

Setting us up for the final battle, the simultaneous conflict between armies on the battlefield and wizard brothers in the fortress. The wizard conflict is abrupt and surprising and for me on first viewing, completely unsatisfying. One reviewer I read years ago described it as a kick in the balls, and I completely agree. Years later and much older, I can appreciate the fact that Bakshi was subverting a trope here–I get the joke, and I can even laugh at it sometimes–but it still disappoints on some level. The movie has spent over an hour setting up this titanic battle of wizards, only to spit in your face at the end.

Meanwhile, the final battle is more of what we’ve seen before, only even more graphic.

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If one shot can really sum up this movie’s approach, this is it. Live-action explosions in the background, a pile of heavily-stylized demon bodies in impressionistic colors, a Frazetta-style action elf attacking a cartoonish comedy-relief stormtrooper, WHOSE BRAINS ARE SPILLING OUT OF HIS HEAD WOUND.

And understand some context here that I haven’t mentioned before now. Bakshi had spent the last few years making very dark, very adult animated films featuring graphic violence, sex, drug use, profanity, odd digressions into leaden comedy blackouts–equal parts Borscht-Belt corny and ethnically offensive–or “artistic” Greek chorus-style commentary, organized crime, disorganized crime, racist and sexist stereotypes in ham-fisted attempts to subvert and condemn those stereotypes, all in a typically bleak and blighted New York setting. His previous film, Coonskin, had been driven out of theaters by protests from black advocacy groups, and his next project, Hey Good Lookin’, had had its funding pulled by the studio. This was Bakshi’s attempt at rehabilitating his animation career by making a family-friendly film, a movie for kids that would be more “honest” than what Disney was making.

That, up there, is Bakshi’s version of a movie for kids, and he proudly believes he succeeded.

And the weird thing is that, in one sense, he’s right. I saw it on its first release in my mid-teens, and I liked a lot of it. You have to understand, when I say this is a very 70’s movie, this is exactly what I’m talking about. Most movies, especially before Star Wars exploded into theaters later that year and changed the industry forever, depicted a world that was generally depressing and awful. Even the feel-good movies were awful. The urban blight and despair that run through Rocky and Saturday Night Fever. Wacky comedies like The Bad News Bears featuring foul-mouthed latchkey kids playing baseball for an alcoholic coach, and even a screwball homage like What’s Up, Doc? has a nasty grungy undertone in several scenes.

Wizards, as horrifying as it was for the several people I watched it with last week, was actually pretty average on the depressing, grungy scale of the mid-70’s. It is remembered fondly by many fans (most of whom probably haven’t seen it for decades, admittedly). It was Wizards which not only made a decent profit on its miniscule budget, but convinced J.R.R. Tolkien’s daughter to give Bakshi permission to adapt The Lord of the Rings to animation. The two works do have similar themes regarding technology versus love and magic, no matter how tin-eared and clumsy Bakshi is in expressing them.

The other thing you have to understand is that, in those days before the Internet, before the widespread penetration of VHS, before all but the most badly dubbed and butchered-for-kids anime, and most importantly, before it was popularized and made socially acceptable by the unprecedented success of Star Wars, science fiction and fantasy were a ghetto in popular culture. You took what you could get, and most of the time, it was low-budget, badly-written and acted schlock, but it scratched that itch you couldn’t get scratched any other way.

So you had to pan for gold, look for the good moments in mostly bad films. Rollerball is a serious drama that is tremendously boring for much of its running time; Logan’s Run is juvenile schlock for the most part. But both are fondly remembered as classics in the pre-Star Wars era, because they had enough good parts to pick out of the bad. The bad was constant. The bad was a given, always. Hard as it may be to see from a modern perspective, Wizards had enough good parts that it, too, is remembered by many as a classic.

And while it’s not, really, it still has a place in my heart all the same.

I’ll probably revisit some of this in a video next month.

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Super Movie Monday – The Amazing Spider-Man, Part 3

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Continuing our look back at The Amazing Spider-Man, the reboot of the Spider-Man series directed by Marc Webb and starring Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone. Two-thirds of the way through, the movie is a mixed bag. The attempt to update Peter Parker as a skateboarding slacker feels odd, but I think there are a lot of things that work about it. Garfield has great chemistry with Stone as Gwen Stacy. Martin Sheen and Sally Field make a pretty decent Uncle Ben and Aunt May. The costume is not classic Spider-Man, but it works okay.

On the other hand, the attempts at visual flash don’t always work well. The dark lighting makes some of the action hard to follow. It’s interesting that they’ve dug deeper into Spider-Man’s rogues’ gallery for this film’s villain, but so far, the Lizard has only been barely glimpsed and we haven’t seen what his endgame is.

However, that’s about to change now that Dr. Connors knows that Peter Parker is Spider-Man.

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The Lizard bursts up through the floor into the school bathroom. Peter changes into Spider-Man and fights the Lizard through the halls of the school. The fight is not bad, with Spider-Man having to try increasingly desperate gambits to try to stop a villain who is essentially a scaly Hulk with claws. Detachable tail optional.

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We also get one of the funniest Stan Lee cameos ever, with Lee playing a man so lost in appreciation of fine music that he doesn’t notice the battle raging right behind him.

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But even though there are several entertaining bits in the battle, like Peter telling Gwen he’s going to throw her out the window right before he throws her out the window, overall the fight is underwhelming. The Lizard is a bit one-note as a villain, and though Peter is clever and inventive, the emphasis on Peter’s fast reflexes makes the rhythm off-kilter.

The Lizard disappears as soon as he hears police sirens approaching, making the entire episode kind of pointless. It seemed like he was there to kill Spider-Man, but he takes off without a word, even though nothing Spider-Man did seemed to hurt him.

Peter follows him into the sewers and calls Gwen to ask her to make an antidote to the serum at Oscorp. Not long after, he finds the Lizard’s secret lab, where he has helpfully left an animated graphic looping on a computer monitor illustrating his plan to use the MacGuffin device introduced earlier in the movie to dose the entire city with Lizard serum. Kind of a double danger signal. Not only is this obviously a blatant ploy to get the plot moving, but it’s kind of a stupid plot. The Lizard can only stay a lizard for a few hours at a time. Dosing the city with the serum might cause pandemonium, but it will be a very a short-lived pandemonium.

So the Lizard sets out for Oscorp with Spider-Man on his tail (heh), but the cops attack Spidey and zap him with some kind of taser dart that puts him down for the count.

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Captain Stacy rips off his mask, and though Peter tries to keep his face hidden as he fights his way free, the Captain discovers his secret. Peter tells him that Gwen is in danger, and Captain Stacy lets him go, but another cop shoots Peter in the leg.

Meanwhile, Gwen has ignored Peter’s phoned plea to escape, because the antidote only has a few minutes left before it’s ready. The Lizard bursts into the lab, seeking the dispersal device, which Gwen is hiding with. The Lizard sniffs her out with his tongue and takes the device, but doesn’t bother hurting her.

Peter’s leg wound is really hurting, and it looks like he might not make it in time. But it turns out that the guy whose son he saved on the Williamsburg Bridge is a crane operator, and he calls all the other crane operators on Sixth Avenue and has them line up their crane arms so Spider-Man will have a clear path.

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This scene comes in for a lot of ridicule, and I can see why. I see what they were going for, wanting something like that heartwarming moment where the crowd takes Spider-Man’s side against Green Goblin in the first Raimi film, but there are a bunch of small sillinesses all adding up to a big ridiculousness.

First, there’s the idea that Spider-Man even needs the cranes at all, when we’ve clearly seen that he has no problem swinging from building to building. Then there’s the fact that this one guy can easily get all these guys to ignore an evacuation order. Then there’s the fact that there are like six or seven cranes more or less evenly spaced along this small stretch of street. Then there’s the fact that Spider-Man sprays a web bandage over his bullet wound and suddenly he’s fine again with barely a limp after two or three steps.

Captain Stacy reaches the Oscorp building and meets Gwen coming out with the antidote. He tells Gwen he knows Peter’s secret and she gives him the antidote for Peter to use on the Lizard.

Upstairs, Peter fights his final battle against the Lizard, but Connors is just too big and strong and invulnerable. Until Captain Stacy appears and uses a shotgun to shoot a canister of liquid nitrogen, which weakens the Lizard’s cold-blooded metabolism and also makes his body brittle and easily shattered. The Lizard is on the ropes.

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Captain Stacy gives Peter the antidote, but instead of injecting Connors with it, Peter decides to put it in the dispersal device. Meanwhile, the suspiciously large number of liquid nitrogen canisters on the roof (exactly why do they need so much liquid nitrogen up there, anyway? To supercool their cellular phone tower or something?) runs out and the Lizard is able to regenerate his shattered limbs and kill Captain Stacy.

He leaps up to stop Peter from disabling his device, but Peter is able to switch out the antidote at the last moment, and we can see the horror in Dr. Connor’s eyes as he begins to change back to human.

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There’s a little bit of random destruction, and Dr. Connors saves Peter from falling to his death. Captain Stacy dies from his wounds, but not before making Peter promise to stay away from Gwen for her safety, which makes for a dour last few minutes, until in the last moments, Peter implies that he has no intention of keeping that promise. Happy ending, I guess!

So I come out of the movie feeling definitely ambivalent. There are a lot of things the film does well, and I do really like the different interpretation that Andrew Garfield brings to the role. But as they say, a movie is only as good as its villain, and the Lizard ends up being one-note and kind of boring. Also, the movie’s strongest dramatic moments are in the early parts and the middle, where we see Peter working out his anger and see the chemistry develop between Peter and Gwen. Once the action starts, it seems to get progressively duller.

But it does get the iconic Spider-Man poses right. So a mixed success, I’d say. Very flawed but watchable. I’m almost afraid to revisit the sequel now, considering how much vilification it gets now. I guess we’ll see, although it might not be next week. I have a vacation coming up.

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Super Movie Monday – The Amazing Spider-Man, Part 2

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Continuing our in-depth recap of Marc Webb’s 2012 reboot of Spider-Man, starring Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone. When we left off, Peter Parker had learned two things: that his spider-enhanced abilities gave him a unique ability to get justice (or revenge) on the man who killed his Uncle Ben, and that it might be a good idea to cover his face during his nightly escapades.

At first, he goes out in normal street clothes with a mask he has designed with lenses that cover his eyes.

AmazingSpiderManFirstMask

Over time, Spider-Man begins to develop a reputation as a vigilante, getting onto the radar of Police Captain Stacy (Gwen’s father, played by Denis Leary) once he starts delivering webbed-up criminals directly to police headquarters. At school, Gwen Stacy also notices Peter’s knuckles are scraped like hes been fighting.

Then he starts getting more creative, ordering a racing suit worn by lugers (this film’s apparent explanation for the whole costume bit is barely hinted at sideways in a scene where a couple of nerds talk about the speed at which a pendulum swings being determined in part by wind resistance, hence the luge suit), and silk-screening a spider emblem onto it. The other, more controversial thing he does is mail-order a bunch of Oscorp Biocable (the stuff being produced by the spiders in the lab, including the one that bit him), hundreds of miles of spider-silk in tiny canisters. Peter designs a special wrist-worn web-shooter that enables him to deploy it quickly and precisely, after a couple of false starts.

AmazingSpiderManWebBlowUp

While I appreciate the full-circle-ness of Peter perfecting a product originally developed by his father (who bred the spiders), it opens up so many questions in terms of both the police and Oscorp potentially being able to track down Spider-Man once they realize he’s using Oscorp Biocable. The questions are never really addressed, except in one throwaway line where Dr. Connors later recognizes the webbing as an Oscorp product.

Finally, once the costume is completely finished, Peter catches a car thief in a scene which contains so many things which I like and dislike almost in equal measure. The good: I like Peter’s cockiness and sense of humor. One thing the Raimi films never quite nailed was Spider-Man’s tendency to wisecrack in costume. Tobey Maguire tries, but even when he’s cracking wise, he just sounds so Magiure-ly earnest and soft-spoken. Garfield nails the attitude, even when the lines he’s saying are kind of stupid (yelling “CROTCH!” before leaping up and wrapping his legs around the crook’s head, for instance).

I kind of like Spidey’s weirdly angular body language in this, but also kind of hate it. It gives him a strangeness factor that really works in moments like the one when he has the crook trapped and then moves in to check for the tattoo. But other times, you just want to smack him and say “stand up straight!”

The bad: in their efforts to make Spider-Man come off as cool and super, they have him appear and disappear in ways that are physically impossible unless he can literally dematerialize and walk through walls. Also, the editing of theaction is too fast and off-rhythm. I get that they’re trying to emphasize his freaky-fast speed and reflexes, but the dark lighting and the spotty editing frustrate me more than excite me.

All that said, the close-up when Spidey goes quiet and we move in on that eyeless face is genuinely a little disturbing. This is the effect that Batman is always trying to achieve on-screen, and never quite hitting, mainly because you can see his eyes.

AmazingSpiderManFinalMask

The cops show up and try to arrest Spider-Man, so he has to flee. But the cops are nothing next to Aunt May, who is waiting up when he gets home and is horrified to see his banged-up face. I’m not a huge fan of Sally Field, but she plays Aunt May’s horror and frustration at what Peter is doing to himself really well here.

Back at Oscorp, Dr. Connors’s boss is impressed by the rat’s regrown leg and wants to try the serum out on humans.  He proposes giving “vitamin supplement” shots to veterans. Connors refuses, and the boss tells him he’s fired, since the corporation owns the serum anyway. Connors panics, injects himself with his own serum and passes out, Dr. Jekyll style.  At school,Gwen asks Peter to dinner at her house.

Later, Dr. Connors awakes with a new, not-quite-fully-finished arm.

AmazingSpiderManFreshArm

At Gwen’s place, Peter has dinner with her, her parents and her brothers. Captain Stacy starts talking about how this spider-vigilante is an amateur and a menace who needs to be taken off the streets. Peter disagrees and an argument starts that Gwen defuses by taking Peter to the roof where he demonstrates his secret to her by webbing her butt and yanking her into his arms.

AmazingSpiderManWebbedGwen

But they are interrupted, first by Gwen’s mom, and then by sirens. Turns out that Dr. Connors, in trying to catch his boss who is on his way to a veteran’s hospital, has turned into a giant lizard-man and is terrorizing the Williamsburg Bridge.

AmazingSpiderManFirstLizard

Peter uses his webs to stop several cars from plunging into the water and then saves a young boy who is trapped in one of the cars. It’s a good scene in which Peter takes off his mask to establish a rapport with the boy and also in which Peter realizes that there’s more he can do with his powers than just hunt down the guy who shot Uncle Ben (who is still not caught and will be forgotten from now on).

Peter goes to visit Dr. Connors (who is now human and one-armed again) to see if he can help figure out how to stop the Lizard (Connors apparently managed to kill his boss before he could turn in that ‘Dr. Connors is fired’ paperwork). Peter starts to suspect something is wrong because one, Connors is acting super-sketchy, two, he has a weird scaly patch of skin on his neck, and three, Freddie the rat has turned into a super-strong lizard Muto-Rat who has broken out of his cage, killed and eaten his fellow rats.

AmazingSpiderManMutantFreddie

Connors heads down to build a secret lab in the sewer. Peter goes to Captain Stacy to report Dr. Connors, but he sounds like a crazy man because it’s a crazy story. As he’s leaving the station, Peter sees lizards heading into a sewer grate, so he goes down into the sewer in costume and spins a web. His plan is to catch photos of the Lizard with a camera he has rigged to shoot when the web is tripped. He is discovered by the Lizard, and the two fight. Spider-Man barely escapes with his life.

AmazingSpiderManSewerFight

Peter goes to Gwen’s to get help with his wounds. The Lizard discovers the automatic camera with “Property of Peter Parker” on the back. He now knows Spider-Man’s secret identity. That’s not good.

Got to say, so far, I kind of like the reboot. There are things I miss about Sam Raimi’s version, but there are things I think this version actually does better.  If this movie can stick the landing, it will be a respectable contender.

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New Video Posted: Superman/Batman Criss-Cross

So the latest video is up. I have been trying to keep a buffer of between one and two weeks between the time I finish the video and the time it goes up on Youtube. However, this latest video ate up all that buffer.

Part of the problem is just that it was so long, around twice as long as my shortest videos, so it took longer to edit together. Also, there’s just a lot more subject to cover, so I had to gather a lot of reference material.

But there were two reasons above all why it took so long. First, I decided to ask my work buddy Sam Carrico, who also has a Youtube channel (and whose youthful enthusiasm for his led me to take mine up again), to interview some of his friends on camera to illustrate the point I wanted to make, and having just started school again, it took him a while to find the time to do it. And once I got the footage from him, it was a completely different kind of challenge to find a way to boil almost 20 minutes of interviews into a minute-and-a-half of comprehensible information. I think it works really well in the finished video, but it took a lot of work.

And second, I decided to add animation to the videos. I had been wanting to do this for a long time, but finally found a way I could afford that could give good results. I had considered springing for the $20-a-month Adobe After Effects subscription, but then I discovered that Blackmagic (the company that makes the awesome free editor I use, Davinci Resolve) also had a video compositing/special effects program called Fusion.

Learning Fusion from scratch was its own special kind of hell, but I ended up making six different animated bits, from a simple custom transition to a fairly elaborate (for a beginner, at least) main title animation. I’m really happy with the results, but once again, a lot of extra work.

So here’s the video, which features the phrase “Trump in a cape” not once, but twice. I hope you enjoy it. I don’t know what I’m doing for next week. I know what video I want to make, but I don’t want to rush it too much, and I really want that buffer back. We’ll see.

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Monday Cancelled on Tuesday

So it’s Tuesday, and I missed updating Super Movie Monday yesterday. I tweeted that it would probably be going up today, but there’s just no way. I didn’t think my ambitions for this Friday’s “Hero Go Home Presents…” video were too high, but I WAY underestimated the amount of work needed to make this thing. When you see it, I hope you understand. Interviews, animations, custom wipes: I’m throwing the kitchen sink at this thing trying to bring it up to a fairly professional level. I’m not planning on making anything else quite this elaborate for a while, but it’s a great learning experience. However, it is also crowding out the considerable amount of time I need to do screen grabs and write Super Movie Monday. So with luck, I’ll be done editing the video tomorrow, and I can get Super Movie Monday back on track by next Monday. Thanks for your understanding.

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New Video Posted: The Superman Continuum

Hey guys, guess what? It’s a new video to close out my unofficial Superman month on the Youtube channel. This time, I’m addressing the idea that many of the things people know about Superman originated not in the comics, but in other media, and that most of the media depictions of Superman are based on three basic sources.

Hope you enjoy it. Next week, we’ll be talking about Superman and Batman, and there will be some enhancements that I hope you’ll like. Working hard on improving these videos every time until I get a really professional-looking product.

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