There’s no two ways about it, superhero movies are big money. And why wouldn’t they be? Think about it. They take pre-existing characters, already storyboarded, toss in a plot that has lots of explosions, add a few big-name actors, and there you go.

People will pay their hard-earned money for this experience, regardless of quality. People demand higher standards from a McDonald’s value menu item than they do from these pictures.

Comic book movies are no new thing. Superman and Batman movies have been around for decades. But in the last fifteen years there’s been an enormous boom. Since 2001, there have been a total of 38 Spider-Man movies, 19 Iron Man movies, a dozen Thors, and so many Avengers it’s unbearable. Two, I guess. How ever many, it’s too much.

One of the more interesting effects of this phenomenon is that films based on lesser known comics are appearing that probably wouldn’t have been given the chance to make the big screen otherwise. Adaptations of Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man have grossed hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office, and garnered glowing reviews.

With this trend in mind, I have a few suggestions for some relatively obscure comic book characters that deserve to make that leap to the movie theatre. So, if you’re a big time movie producer looking for the next big hit, bear these in mind. And if you’re not, well, read them anyway I guess.

Wasp-Man

Unlike Spider-Man, who was a human bitten by a radioactive spider, Wasp-Man was a regular working-class wasp who got bitten by a radioactive human. Now he uses his super powers to fight people trying to do evil gardening, and swoops into the jam and mimosas of villains at brunch telling inane stories from their weekend so loud the entire patio has to hear them.

Corn Man

Corn Man traverses the prairies of the Midwestern United States, appearing wherever someone isn’t eating enough corn. There’s a lot of potential for stories here, because, really, do any of us eat enough corn? In one memorable plotline that would be perfect for the silver screen, Corn Man faces his most dangerous arch-nemesis, a guy who’s making a burrito and inexplicably isn’t going to put corn in it.

Clipper Girl

Wandering the breadth of the land, Clipper Girl uses her powers to clip the toenails of lazy men who neglect to do so, ensuring that their casual girlfriends’ legs won’t get scratched or cut in bed. She also devotes much of her time trying to figure out why her superhero name is “Girl,” when she’s 27 years old.

The Bechdel Test

The Bechdel Test has a pretty unique set of abilities, and maybe couldn’t support a movie on her own, but would make a great sidekick. Her main power is to appear in other superhero movies for a scene or two and talk to the one female character about something other than a man.

Single Guy

From his bachelor apartment of solitude, Single Guy fights vigilantly to assert that he’s single by choice, he could be in a relationship if he wanted to, he’s just taking time to really know himself, and besides, he just hasn’t met the right woman yet, oh, and also he’s totally not gay. It’s 2015, if he were gay he’d just be gay, he’s not trying to hide anything, he swears.

The Mopper

The Mopper pretty much just mops. He’s not really a janitor, because janitors do more than just mop, plus they get paid. He’s more of a deranged ex-university professor who cracked under the pressure of work and his wife leaving him, and now he just mops, and the guys down at the local hardware store feel pity for him, so they let him mop up at the store because he’s not doing anyone any harm. Until one day when he stabs a bunch of people in the neck with an awl. No one really saw it coming, but a lot of people, when they’re gathered at the Tim Horton’s by the highway, say they knew something like that was bound to happen. He hung himself in prison five days in. Classic supervillain.

The Guacamole Kid

Wherever a restaurant is charging extra for guacamole, The Guacamole Kid is there to help you out. He can’t really do anything about the extra charge, it’s restaurant policy, but he’ll totally spot you that fifty cents. If he’s got it on him.

 

Photo by stu_spivack via Flickr

Osheaga 2014 Gogol Bordello © Bianca Lecompte

2015 has been off to quite a busy start, but before we get too involved, let’s take one final look back at 2014.

Every year we ask our contributors to vote on the favourite two posts they wrote and the two posts they liked most from all the other contributors on the site. Then, in a not-too-scientific manner, we turn that into this list.

In no particular order, these are the top posts of 2014 on FTB:

Standing in solidarity with Ferguson by Cem Ertekin, photos Gerry Lauzon

After the grand jury decided not to indict Darren Wilson for the death of Michael Brown, Ferguson, Missouri erupted. In Montreal, the Black Students’ Network of McGill organized a vigil. Cem Ertekin was there to report and record audio and Gerry Lauzon took pictures (read the post).

Burlesque: A Naked Revolution You Can Do Too! by Cat McCarthy
Cat McCarthy on what burlesque has done for her and can do for you, too. For her, it’s a revolution of sexual liberation. (read the post).

Our first and (probably) last post about Jian Ghomeshi by Johnny Scott

We only published one post about Jian Ghomeshi this year: Johnny Scott’s satirical response to the overbearing presence of Ghomeshi images in his Facebook feed. The story is important, but do we really need to keep looking at his face? (read the post)

Electric Winter: an interview with Igloofest’s Nicolas Cournoyer by Bianca David

Did you know that Igloofest started out as a joke? Well, it did, and now it’s anything but. Find out about the fest’s origins and its future in Bianca David’s interview with founder Nicolas Cournoyer. (read the post)

Black Lives Matter - In Solidarity with Ferguson Montreal vigil (5)
From the solidarity vigil for Ferguson held in Montreal on November 25, 2014. Photo by Gerry Lauzon.

 

Solidarity with the enemy: When the oppressor wants to fight oppression by Jason C. McLean

When municipal workers took up the fight against austerity, Jason C. McLean wondered if it was possible to show solidarity with those who didn’t reciprocate. Also, would that even be a good thing? (read the post)

Channeling Energy with Brody Stevens @ OFF-JFL by Jerry Gabriel

This year, we covered Just for Laughs, OFF-JFL and Zoofest. One of the more, um, interesting performances we saw was by Brody Stevens (he had a cameo in The Hangover). Find out why it piqued our interest in this report by Jerry Gabriel. (read the post)

Ferguson – The Grand Hypocrisy: Legitimate violence, ideology and the American Dream by Niall Clapham Ricardo

How legitimate is a legal system that serves more to oppress than to protect? Niall Clapham Ricardo takes a look at the aftermath of the Ferguson Grand Jury. (read the post)

The rise of EDM at Osheaga by Jesse Anger

This year, we returned to Osheaga and Jesse Anger discovered that it was more electronic than ever. Find out why. (read the post)

 

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From November 29, 2014 Refusons l’Austerité march in Montreal. Photo by Cem Ertekin.

 

Say no to victim blaming by Bree Rockbrand

When the Montreal taxi rape story broke, Bree Rockbrand searched for stories of similar cabbie assaults. What she found lead to this post about why we need to stop victim blaming. (read the post)

Cuddles and catpuccinos: How Montréal is setting the course for cat cafés in North America by Josh Davidson

CAAAAAATS! But seriously, there are cats, plenty of them, at Montreal’s two cat cafes, the first such places in North America. Josh Davidson reports. (read the post)

Snowpiercer is a Welcome Addition to the Current Dystopia Craze by Thomas O’Connor

With the dystopia genre going the way of vampires, Thomas O’Connor takes a look at Snowpiercer. Is this a film that can buck the trend? (read the post)

SPVM officers issue a ticket for a situation they created (AUDIO) by Jason C. McLean

Lindsay Rockbrand just wanted to lay down for a few minutes on a park bench, but the SPVM wouldn’t let that happen. Even though it was before 11pm, they managed to give her a ticket for being in a park after hours (read the post and listen to the interview)

Tinder, Tinder, On The Wall… by Jules

Jules decides to try out Tinder. Wonder what will make her swipe left? Find out. (read the post)

Igloofest 2014 7 © Bianca Lecompte
Igloofest 2014. Photo by Bianca Lecompte.

 

2014 in Review: Why Feminism Still Matters by Stephanie Laughlin

It’s not usual for a year-in-review piece to make it to the list of favourite posts, but Stephanie Laughlin’s look at the events of 2014 as a reason feminism is still needed bucks that trend. Find out why. (read the post)

Some Nasty Advice: The Nasty Show @ JFL by Hannah Besseau

We didn’t like everything at this year’s JFL. While Hannah Besseau enjoyed the Nasty Show overall, she does have some advice for next year. Will those planning it listen? (read the post)

Quebec election postponed until August: Marois by Jason C. McLean

Our April Fools posts usually catch a few people (usually those just waking up) off-guard, but in 2014 we really seemed to have hit a nerve. Maybe it’s because the scenario we jokingly proposed wasn’t all that inconceivable, given the climate. (read the post)

P6 is police collaboration and I refuse to participate in it by Katie Nelson

Katie Nelson argues why, under no circumstances, people organizing a protest should comply with municipal bylaw P6. It is collaboration, pure and simple. (read the post)

Osheaga Day 3: The Green stage rules them all [PHOTOS] by Bianca Lecompte

More Osheaga! This time, it’s the Green Stage and quite a few photos by Bianca Lecompte. (read the post, check out the pics)

Petrocultures 2014: Oil Energy or Canada’s Future by Sarah Ring, photos by Jay Manafest

This year, McGill held a conference on oil and Canada’s energy future. It welcomed people with sustainable solutions to our dependence on fossil fuel and Ezra Levant. FTB’s Sarah Ring and Jay Manafest were in attendance. (read the post)

#FantasiaFest Interview with Director Leigh Janiak of Honeymoon by Pamela Fillion

No, this isn’t just in here because it mentions Ygritte from Game of Thrones, but that helps. It’s actually a pretty cool interview by Pamela Filion with Leigh Janiak, Rose Leslie’s director in Honeymoon. (read the post)

Our collective struggle: Austerity and Spring 2015 by Cem Ertekin

This piece by Cem Ertekin is a prediction of what’s to come in the Quebec student movement (SPOILER ALERT: We’re in for another Maple Spring). It’s also a great primer for anyone wanting a rundown on just what austerity is and Quebec politics for the last few years. (read the post)

So it looks like some people who have been downloading movies and TV shows illegally are going to get letters. That’s right, not even emails. Actual snail mail. Threatening snail mail at that.

Not sure if this will have any effect, given that our mail service is soon not going to be a door-to-door thing and also considering that these warnings are nothing more than that. There are no fines or jail time possible, they’re just toothless warnings.

But Canadians are, for the most part, a well-intentioned people. I’m sure we’d happily pay to support the shows we want if there was a way. That is, if there was a way that didn’t involve having to first pay for a cable service and then the content we’re looking for.

Such a thing exists south of the border, or rather it will exist soon. HBO is finally making it possible to purchase the GO platform, accessible through computers, smartphones, tablets and as an app on Smart TVs, without first having a cable subscription, but only in the US.

That’s right, all that fine HBO program… Yes, Game of Thrones, new season, because that and maybe True Detective is all we’re really after, right? The service should cost $12 a month and while that’s a pretty penny to pay for one show, it also may include quite a bit of the back catalogue, kind of like Netflix. That means Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire, old episodes of Game of Thrones, pretty good deal, if you ask me.

I would gladly pay $12 a month for HBO legally, instead of “going to a friend’s house” (cause I’d never do anything illegal… and then admit it online). A lot of time, energy, talent and money went into these shows and I’d happily support them. Unfortunately, due to my geographic situation, I can’t. Instead, I’m free to support Canadian cable conglomerates that had no hand in creating the programming I want. I have neither the will or the funds to do that.

It’s time that Canadian media companies shifted focus away from fighting hard to reinforce a system that allows them to become rich by buying then re-selling content they didn’t make, through an outdated method, and instead creating some great content of their own and distributing it through apps and streaming services that the whole world has access to.

There has never been a better opportunity for Canadian-produced media to shine globally. Sure, Canadian companies don’t have the marketing or production budgets that Hollywood does, but that can change and will change if they stop focusing on distribution, and opt for a simple model, using something like a website and an app, and instead of buying US shows, pour that money into content production and promo instead.

Hollywood has a reason to fear the internet, Toronto doesn’t. We should let the full American version of Netflix come in without people having to be clever, same for HBO GO. Who cares what Canadian company owns what? We won’t be buying shows anymore, we’ll be making them.

The internet should have no national boundaries. Not only does that democratize things for smaller content producers, it also makes it possible for national media companies that aren’t American to get a leg up.

Unfortunately, for now, it looks like our media conglomerates are clinging to the old ways so much they’ve resorted to sending letters.

But honestly, guys, if you blow this chance, THE NORTH WILL NEVER FORGET!

It would be pretty easy to cynically view Joss Whedon’s new modern dress Much Ado about Nothing movie, with its black and white, soft focus, Shakespearean dialogue and mostly unknown actors, as part of the second phase in a scheme to prove he’s actually some kind of super-humanly versatile director and that he can waltz effortlessly from big, loud summer blockbusters to quirky indie comedies. In other words, that Whedon is showing off.

I like to tout myself as the most cynical bastard on the planet because being snarky and anti-social is easier than talking to people, and normally I’d be jumping in that cynicism pie like a gaming television host whose career didn’t turn out the way she wanted, but it would be a tad harder to call Joss Whedon a showoff if Much Ado wasn’t fucking delightful.

much-ado-about-nothing-movie-posterFor those of you who aren’t familiar with Shakespeare, the story takes place at the home of the Duke of Messina, who receives his friend Don Pedro and two of his officers, Benedick and Claudio, for a weekend of what rich white people do, so basically faffing about, being passive-aggressive and drinking a lot. After Claudio professes his love for Hero, the Duke’s daughter, The Duke, Don Pedro and a few other members of the supporting cast hatch a plot to get Benedick and The Duke’s neice Beatrice, whose relationship is roughly analogous to Sony and Microsoft at E3 this year and who both think the whole marriage thing can suck a lemon, to fall in love and get married. They didn’t have HBO in Messina, this is just how they spent their time. Meanwhile, Don Jon, brother of Don Pedro, hatches a plot to basically fuck with everyone’s day and ensure as many people hate each other by the end of the play/movie because well…if you weren’t matchmaking you were just being a douchecanoe. They really didn’t have much to keep them occupied.

What will probably divide most audiences is the dialogue, which as far as I noticed hasn’t been changed at all from the original text, meaning there’s a lot of “Troth” and “Hither to” and you really really need to be paying attention, or have studied Shakespeare at some point, to follow along. Some people can handle this, some can’t, and in fact I saw at least four or so people walk out in the first ten minutes, probably for this reason.

But if you’re willing to just pay attention and think on what you’re hearing, it’s actually fairly easy to pick up on everything that’s happening, even if you are missing the usual cavalcade of puns and innuendo the Shakespeare’s plays were known for (Consider this, in Shakespeare’s day “Nothing” was actually slang for vagina. Gives the title a new meaning don’t it?).

However, the problem with Shakespearean dialogue is that if it’s really hard to understand, it’s even harder to act. Where do you put the emphasis? What intonation do you use? How do you make it sound like something a human being would actually say? Basically it’s like wrestling an angry crocodile for three acts, and while no one ends up losing any limbs, it’s obvious some of the players have a better grip of it than others. Alexis Denisov, playing Benedick, probably has the hardest time of it, given that he has the most dialogue, or near enough. He does pretty well, but occasionally veers off a little bit and starts to sound a little over done and theatrical.

Now of course there IS the argument that Shakespeare is supposed to sound theatrical and even a tad over done, but if that’s the case why are Clark Gregg (Coulson Lives!) as The Duke, Nathan Fillion (Browncoats forever!) as bumbling constable Dogberry and Reed Diamond Homicide: Life on the Street was a really good show!) as Don Pedro all take turns bending that crocodile over their knees and spanking the teeth off it? Reed Diamond especially seems to master the art of making Shakespearean dialogue seem natural, and adding the right intonation and body language cues that even if you don’t understand the words, you can almost always tell exactly what he’s saying.

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Special mention should probably go to Cabin in the Woods’ Fran Kanz as Claudio, Amy Acker in the female lead as Beatrice, and youtube sketch comedians Brian McElhaney and Nick Kocher, who basically OWN their scant 5 minutes of screen time.

And hell, if you still can’t tell what the hell’s going on, you can still appreciate the technical merits on display. The movie was shot over 12 days at Whedon’s own home using minimal equipment and on a budget that probably isn’t more than what they paid for all of Channing Tatum’s sweaty tank tops in White House Down, and yet visually it stands up with anything else out right now, if only for how amazingly spartan it is. Lots of natural light, low-key sets and costumes. It’s practically a Dogma 95 movie for how much it does with so little. And yes, I know what Dogma 95 is, just cause my normal wheelhouse is low-brow genre fare doesn’t mean I ain’t got culture.

If you’re part of Whedon’s loyal-to-the-point-of-cultism fanbase, odds are you’ve already seen this, your limited edition Puppet Angel plush cradled in your arms the whole time. However, if you’re outside that particular gaggle and aren’t quite sure what to make of this thing, give it a try. Yeah, the dialogue can be confusing as a Klingon word puzzle and maybe at times it feels a bit high on its own quirkiness, especially during that scene from the poster that seems to be going for a kind of Wes Anderson awkward charm. But if you give it a chance you’ll probably get a few laughs, leave the theater with a pleased smile and the knowledge that you’ve watched something with a bit of class to counterbalance the Larry Cohen movie you watched last night. Or maybe that last one’s just me.

Zack Snyder and Christopher Nolan. Two directors I have more than a couple problems with, coming together on a single film, one Directing, the other Producing and co-writing. And not just any ole movie, a Superman movie. Could work, I guess. Maybe the things that work for one director could work for another. Maybe as a unit they could overcome their respective flaws and become something better than the sum of their parts and finally, FINALLY make the Superman movie we’ve always wanted.

Wouldn’t THAT have been nice.

Man of Steel hit the screens last week, opening with a stellar weekend and mostly good press. Mostly good, because that’s really what it is. Mostly good. And that’s being generous. As good as Man of Steel is, it’s also weighed down by enough problems that it’s constantly threatening to crash to the ground, much like Superman himself after being exposed to that kryptonite we’re apparently not allowed to have anymore.

 man-of-steel-poster-2The first thing viewers will probably notice is that the movie is paced terribly. We start with this overly long prologue on Krypton to set up the villain and this weird, vestigial feeling genetics subplot. On this new version of Krypton, babies are born in pods (all stored in an unguarded pool that you can just swim around in if the mood strikes you), except for Kal-El, who was born the old fashioned way because Jor-El is now the Kryptonian equivalent of a hippie. He also flies around on a four winged dragon thingy, which I guess is like driving a VW Bus or something. In the span of twenty odd minutes we get Superman’s birth, Jor-El pleading to the council of people in extravagant head wear to evacuate Krypton and being told to chill out, Zod trying and failing to overthrow the council and replace it with a council of sensible head wear, Jor-El stealing the all-important plot macguffin, having a fight with Zod in which he gets stabbed and killed, and the would-be usurpers getting exiled to the Phantom Zone and the whole planet blowing up after Superman’s spaceship gets away. And if it sounds like a lot to fit into twenty minutes or so, then congrats on being perceptive.

While things calm down a bit in the second act, the whole movie still has this very, VERY Christopher Nolan vibe of trying to accomplish too much in too little time. Entire bucketfuls of exposition get dumped in our faces and what should be important, quiet moments seem glazed over and rushed, especially when it comes to characterization.

With the exceptions of Superman himself, and the main baddie General Zod, almost no one in this movie has any real character to speak of. Amy Adams, who really seemed like she would be a damn good Lois Lane, sleepwalks through the movie, stepping between the female lead tropes of tough action chick, damsel in distress, and love interest with all the grace and connectivity of Rayman doing ballet. It gets to the point that when her relationship with Superman suddenly becomes romantic at the 11th hour, it just feels weird and forced. Doesn’t help that Henry Cavill and Amy Adams have all the romantic chemistry of a pair of drugged otters.

From an aesthetics point of view, the movie is also fucking ugly at times. Krypton is officially the brownest alien planet I’ve ever seen, with characters waltzing around in over-designed, Geiger-esque power armor through hallways that look suspiciously like an alien’s fallopian tubes. When things finally get to Earth, it’s mostly a cavalcade of dull grays and blues and no really memorable visuals, with everything very faded and washed out looking.

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Now. This is the part where I take off my film critic hat and put on my comic geek hat, because as much as I’d like to wear them both, they are each six feed wide and covered in gemstones, so I have to pick one or the other.

As a Superman fan, there are things in the movie that just bug me. For example, and I admit I didn’t even notice this until a friend pointed it out, you never really see him just being Superman. After he puts the costume on for the first time and flies around, he doesn’t do anything else with it until Zod pulls up next to the planet and starts making threats through white noise broadcasts. Couldn’t we have seen him like, save a crashing plane or foil a robbery, or any of that classic Superman stuff we’ve all come to expect? The only time he really saves someone is early in the film after he joins the cast of Deadliest Catch and saves some guys on a burning oil rig while shirtless and rocking a beard.

Which brings me to another thing. As you may have heard, the levels of collateral damage in this movie are fucking INSANE. During the last fightjor-el-man-of-steel scene, Metropolis gets subjected to more widespread destruction that Neo-Tokyo at the end of Akira. Hundreds of thousands of people doubtlessly die and enough property damage is done that any real world city probably wouldn’t come back from it. And Superman almost doesn’t seem to care. He never makes any attempt to move the battle away from the city or limit collateral damage, and I mean he’s Superman for crap’s sake! His whole deal is that he puts others above him, and does literally everything within his power to ensure the safety of those around him. Whenever he gets in a fight like this, he spends half his time making sure the people caught in the crossfire are safe, and seeing him basically ignore them just feels unsettling.

There’s more I could say about Man of Steel, both from a film geek point of view and a comic geek point of view. Little things that don’t make sense, the slightly overblown ending, the fact that the only time someone says “Superman” in the movie is in this really awkward scene that I’m pretty sure was shoehorned in at the last minute when someone called bullshit on the very real concern that no one otherwise actually says the word “Superman” in the whole damn movie.

But what it all boils down to is that the film has a fair share of problems, enough to bog down the things that are legit good about it, like the action scenes, some of the characterization, and a few new twists on old relationships. If there was one less thing that bugged me about, even just one, I probably would have liked this movie WAY more than I did. But in the end, there’s enough to complain about that I can’t see the good stuff any more. It’s like how they say you can’t see the forest through the trees, but in this case it’s more like can’t see the decent film through the superfluous four-winged dragon thing. Seriously, what was the deal with that?

For a while I had decided on skipping Star Trek: Into Darkness, JJ Abrams’ sequel to the 2009 reboot. I did enjoy the last one, in spite of myself, but the prevailing sentiment I was getting about Into Darkness was that it was insanely dumb and not worth ticket price.

But eventually I thought to myself “What the hell, maybe I’ll give it a shot. There was bad press for that last Spider-Man movie and I actually enjoyed that one. Maybe if I just go in with low expectations I’ll be pleasantly surprised”.

Nnnnnnnnnnnnope.

Star Trek Into Darkness IMAX posterYou heard right. I heard right. Star Trek: Into Darkness is dumb. Hella dumb. Transformers dumb, unsurprising considering it comes courtesy of the same hack screenwriters as that infernal franchise.

I’m not normally one to write detailed descriptions or plot summaries, but I think the best way to give you an introduction as to how mindbogglingly stupid this film is is to take you through the opening scene, because it really does set you up quite beautifully for the kind of experience you’re in for.

The film opens with Kirk and Bones getting chased through an alien forest by some spear-throwing, loincloth-clad natives like Jim Carrey at the end of Ace Ventura 2. The natives, incidentally, are all the color of day old cream, almost as though someone sensed they were a hair’s width away from a massive racial shitstorm and made the natives as not black as possible. Apparently, the Enterprise was doing a routine survey of the planet and found the nearby volcano was on the brink of eruption, which would destroy the entire planet somehow, and decided to swoop in and save the day by…..and I want you to pay attention here, lower Spock on a cable from a shuttle craft into the volcano, so he can drop some kind of anti-volcano device into it. Of course, why this involved Kirk stealing the natives sacred scroll thingy, or why Kirk and Bones had to go near their village in the first place, is never explained.

Likewise, why they couldn’t just teleport the anti-volcano device INTO the volcano, in spite of the fact that they later teleport Spock out, is likewise left a mystery for the ages. This is a recurring theme, you’ll find. Apparently in the last few years transporter technology has become fussier than a videogame cartridge from 1995, and only ever works when the script calls for it. But after a few close calls, they all get safely back to the Enterprise, which has been hiding…..underwater in a nearby lake. Why is it in the lake? Why not in space, it being a space ship? How did they get it there without any of the natives seeing it? How did no one in the entire film making process think “Wait, this makes no fucking sense”? The movie seems to meet all these questions, and the many others you’ll doubtlessly have after watching the film, with a resounding “because fuck you”.

I could really spend the entire review pointing out the many, MANY logical inconsistencies, terrible decisions, lazy plot devices and general stupidity of the movie, but there are plenty of people already doing that. This IS the internet, after all. So suffice to say, the movie’s dumb. Moving on.

From that little adventure, the Enterprise crew heads back to earth, where a mysterious terrorist played by Benedict Cumberbatch is causing all kinds of havoc for the Federation bigwigs, and after Cumberbatch lures the Federation’s best and brightest into the most obvious trap in recent film history, Admiral Robocop sends Kirk and the Enterprise out to kick his ass.

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From a technical standpoint, Abrams’ usual signatures are on full display. Lens flares out the butt, shaky, unsteady camera work and selective focus during fight scenes, it’s all par for the course. When the camera is being held steady and isn’t awash with blue-white light, there isn’t anything particularly interesting to look at on display. The Enterprise in the new timeline still looks like the inside of an Apple Store, and the looks we get at various Earth cities are probably the most dull, generic looking futuristic cityscapes I’ve ever seen on film. Similarly, Federation dress uniform is now a gray tunic with a peaked officer’s cap. At least Next Generation gave its main characters a fashionable frock for formal occasions.

On the acting front, most of the characters have become more caricatures in the years since the last one. I actually really liked Karl Urban’s Deforest Kelley impersonation in the last one, but by this point it feels more like something you do to get laughs at parties than an actual performance. Simon Pegg’s Scottish antics as Scotty have similarly been dialed up a notch. For all its faults, the last movie at least had the plus of a fairly strong cast that gelled as a unit. This time around, the gel’s gone a tad moldy after too long in the fridge.

Star Trek: Into Darkness is, as we’ve covered here, a definitively dumb movie. But what’s worse, it’s not even the fun kind of dumb, the kind of dumb you can laugh at. This is the kind of dumb that just makes your soul ache at how little thought went into it and how little almost anyone involved seemed to give a shit about crafting an interesting narrative or inventive action scenes. Remember that scene in the first one where Kirk and another cast member suit up in space-suits and skydive towards a narrow target at breakneck speeds in a scene tailor made for the shitty tie-in videogame? They do the exact same scene in Into Darkness, but the big selling point this time: they’re going sideways instead of down. That’s literally the most innovation or originality you’re gonna get in this one. A scene you’ve already seen, but rotated 90 degrees.

 

If I came outta nowhere and basically caused a small cultural paradigm shift, I’d probably just put my feet up and mess around for a few years. The Washowski siblings, after unleashing The Matrix onto an unsuspecting world, took about a decade. Look, I’ll defend Reloaded and even Revolutions to a degree, but the one thing we all agree on is that like a good opium habit, the first hit from that pipe was the best.

Following driving their once proud achievement into the ground, the siblings seemed to just put their feet up and indulge themselves. A decent-ish comic-book adaptation that ultimately felt like a de-fanged but at least well-intentioned take on the source material here, a movie based on an old cartoon that felt like being trapped in a centrifuge with ten strings of Christmas tree lights there. It was all fun and ambitious in its own way.

But apparently the Wachowskis’ vacation is over, because there’s nothing “its own way” about their new (on dvd and blu-ray) pic Cloud Atlas. This sucker isn’t just plain-ole ambitious, it’s prolly the most ambitious movie of the past few years.

And yes, I know Cloud Atlas is still an adaptation but it’s still ambitious. All you need to make Speed Racer is a bunch of speed lines and a chimp. This thing took cajones to even try.

Cloud-Atlas-PosterThe basic set up is this: multiple actors including Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugo Weaving, Jim Broadbent, Jim Sturgess, Ben Wishaw and Doona Bae all play multiple characters, (often characters of different ethnic groups or genders) heavily implied to be reincarnated versions of themselves, in a series of smaller narratives taking place in different eras and story genres. One’s a 70s-set thriller with car chases and assassins and secret plots, another’s an adventure on the high seas type-thing, another is a effects-laden sci-fi Blockbuster that seems like a bastard child of that godawful Total Recall remake and that one segment in Wong Kar-Wai’s 2046, another is a post apocalyptic adventure that seemed to foreshadow After Earth and Oblivion, and there’s even one of those British “old people doing outrageous things” comedies you rent for your parents on rainy days.

The stories are all told basically at the same time, cutting from one to the other often mid-scene, and there are subtle links tying them all together, as well as recurring themes of unity, love, peace, freedom and all that other hippie bullcrap.

It’s the kind of creatively mind-boggling endeavor that doesn’t make me at ALL surprised that every major studio passed on it like a bottle of extremely expensive champagne that may explode in your face that gets passed around at one of those parties rich bored people throw.

Does it work? Yes, surprisingly it works. Does it work perfectly? No, not really.

The thing you’ve probably heard most about in connection with the movie is the political shitstorm that blew in when it became clear that Caucasian actors Hugo Weaving and Jim Sturgess would be using makeup and voice affectations to play Asian characters in of the time periods, leading to widespread accusations of “yellow-face”. Now, in principle I have no problem because one of the whole points of the movie is the idea that the differences between people, ideologically, racially and even gender…ly are not as deep as we think they are, and employing the same actors to play multiple parts in different races and genders is kind of the lynchpin of this whole idea.

However, given the massive amounts of money that the eventual German investors threw at this thing, is THIS really the best you could do? Of course people got fucking angry you idiots, they look like racial caricatures at best and horrible burn victims at worst. Christopher Lee didn’t look any better as Fu Manchu and that was fifty years ago! Are you telling me within the movie’s multiple BILLION dollar budget this is the best you could do? Some of the other effects here and there are rather nightmare inducing as well, particularly Doona Bae’s Caucasian transformation. Let THIS sucker haunt your dreams for all eternity.

cloud-atlas3And with the occasionally cartoony makeup effects comes a naggingly exaggerated feel to a lot of the stories. In some cases, this works, like the post-apocalypse one where we’re supposed to assume racial dividing lines are on the brink of utter collapse anyway so it’s fine if someone looks like you slammed three totally different ethnicities together. Other times it’s just jarring, like when Tom Hanks waltzes in in a distractingly bad wig or when someone clearly in their mid-twenties in “old person” makeup shows up or…THIS. Especially in a film trying to tell as relevant and sincere a story as this, the little distractions like this kneecap it somewhat.

Other times, one gets the sense the film is straining a tad to draw connections between one story and another. It’s all fine and good when one character reads the diary of another for poops and giggles because it was the old days and they didn’t have snarky websites yet, but Halle Berry’s random search for a record composed by Ben Whishaw’s character in another time period seems like a random aside.

There’s also a sense, especially towards the end, that the movie is trying a tad too hard to be deep and meaningful and self-important. Cite my youthful cynicism if you like, but after the third voice-over narration about fate and destiny and crap set to generically soaring music showing people doing heartwarming things in slow-motion I just wanted to tell the damn movie to get over itself.

However, for all the faults I lay at the movies feet, and there are more than a few, I can’t fault it for the sheer ambition of what its trying to do. Interwoven narratives has been done. Actors playing multiple parts has been done. Multiple time periods has been done. All at once though? And woven together with this level of intricacy? Madness, madness I say. There’s a scene in this movie where a gunfight in a futuristic skyline with wirework and lasers and shit is spliced together, almost shot by shot, with a scene straight out of Horatio Hornblower.

The narratives are all presented more or less at the same time, cut together in what had to be an editor’s nightmare, and you’d think that the movie wouldn’t be able to keep that many plates spinning but damned if they didn’t. I thought I’d have to be constantly rewinding or keep a character flow chart with me, but not only did it keep me from being confused about what was happening, it managed to keep me interested. Should win an Oscar just for that.

Part of this comes from the pace, which moves pretty damn quick for all the important stuff it has to accomplish, and even with a nearly three CLOUD ATLAShour running time, the movie still doesn’t have much time to just stop and smell the roses, though I can understand this given what they were working with.

I’ve already crossed my thousand word limit and the FTB snipers have my bald spot in their scopes, so allow me to wrap this up. Cloud Atlas is, despite its faults, a good movie, if only on the virtue that it’s testing the limits of what cinema can do. Ten years ago, they’d have called this movie unfilmable. Hell, someone probably called it unfilmable now, that’s why it took so damn long to fund the fucking thing. But the Wachowskis, rather than listen to reason, opted to try something that would either work or blow up in their faces in a firestorm of racial insensitivity, bloated and self-important storytelling, and Tom Hanks character performances.

Depending who you ask, that may indeed have happened. But from my point of view, even though what they came out with is flawed, it still is worth looking at, and the sheer audacity to even attempt a movie like this should be applauded. Hopefully the next time they try something that really pushes boundaries (probably around 2046 or so) maybe they’ll have ironed the kinks out.

Up until quite recently, the penis has enjoyed very little screen time in mainstream North American cinema. While its phallic presence can be sensed in the bulges of spandex superhero costumes or beneath carefully crumpled sheets following a romp in the sack with the buxom leading lady, its actual on-screen life is next to nil, since depictions of full frontal nudity on film are still quite taboo.  A movie can contain an atrocious amount of bloody violence and gratuitous gore but as soon as a little too much skin is shown, it risks being slapped with the dreaded NC-17 or X rating.

Most male actors are understandably wary of baring it all on screen, since they are constantly facing the scrutiny of critics and the public for every aspect of their performance. “The limp penis can never match up to the mystique that has kept it hidden from view for the last couple of centuries,” noted film studies professor Richard Dyer.

By putting it all out there, they either confirm or shatter the fantasies of their fans, who ultimately have to take what they see with a grain of salt. “It is the one part of an actor’s equipment that doesn’t answer to commands, instructions, suggestions, cajoling, or subtle fine-tuning; its range of expression is rather limited, its freedom of motion restricted,” said James Wolcott.

Once a director can get past the initial shock value of putting the penis on screen, it can be used for everything from comic relief to pure titillation:

fullfrontalgereThe Trailblazer – Richard Gere, American Gigolo

Of course it would take a film about a male prostitute catering to lonely and bored suburban housewives to bring the penis to mainstream audiences. And while Paul Schrader’s 1980 film American Gigolo featured Richard Gere in the title role, it wasn’t initially supposed to feature his manhood so prominently on display. “If I recall, [the nudity] wasn’t in the script… It was just in the natural process of making the movie,” Gere told Entertainment Weekly.

fullfrontalbaconThe Steamy Shower – Kevin Bacon, Wild Things

Perhaps the most shocking thing about seeing Kevin Bacon’s member in Wild Things is the nonchalance with which he reveals himself. Stripped of his clothes but still bearing that trademark smirk, he seems content and confident in his masculinity as he exits the shower, nabbing a towel casually thrown to him by Matt Dillon.

 

fullfrontalmcgregorThe Perpetual Pecker – Ewan McGregor, Trainspotting, Velvet Goldmine (The Pillow Book, Young Adam)

The first time I saw a penis on screen was a fleeting glimpse of Ewan McGregor’s post coital unit in Trainspotting as he was being kicked out of bed by a woman following a one-night stand. I must have rewound that part at least twenty times, so intrigued by seeing something my young eyes shouldn’t really have been seeing. I was even more impressed with his “performance” in Todd Haynes’ 1998 glam rock opus Velvet Goldmine, where he plays Curt Wild, a rockstar who takes a cue from Jim Morrison when he flashes the screaming crowd during a raucous concert. When recalling his first time baring it all before an audience, McGregor said, “I remember getting a kind of rush out of that first time, a slight feeling of power about it, you know?”

 

fullfrontalsegalThe Vulnerable Comedian – Jason Segal, Forgetting Sarah Marshall

Being dumped always makes us feel like we’re at our most vulnerable. Jason Segal takes it one step further with his comic twist on the full frontal scene in 2008’s Forgetting Sarah Marshall, where he is broken up with in the buff. As his soon-to-be ex-girlfriend urges him to put some clothes on so they can talk about it, he stubbornly refuses. “As soon as I put clothes on, it’ll all be over,” he asserts, as if staying in that naked moment is the last time he can savor the ebbing relationship.

The Awe-Inspiring – Michael Fassbender, Shame

Michael Fassbender’s turn as a sex addict in 2011’s Shame earned him plenty of accolades and praise from Hollywood elite like George Clooney and Charlize Theron. His performance was the antithesis of the title of the film, with his manhood brazenly on display for all to see.

Seriously, I could watch this all day

After watching Ang Lee grab an Oscar for best director on Sunday, I ventured into our local cinema to watch the film “Life of Pi”, even though I had read some bad reviews in The Guardian and New Yorker. I have to say as an art critic I loved the visual aspects of it, and as an atheist and writer I hated every self-congratulatory, self-righteous second of it all.

book cover-1I knew the story because my brother Siavash had read the book by the Canadian author Yann Martel and due to my badgering spilled the beans about the ambiguous ending afterwards. Yet with the film there was no ambiguity to be found in the end, and we discover that the story had been made up just to entertain, this came as a welcoming surprise because I really couldn’t stomach a lesson in religious doubt and essence of faith. Yet, Yann Martel himself stated: “I’m happy it works so well as a film. Even if the ending is not as ambiguous as the book’s, the possibility that there might be another version of Pi’s story comes at you unexpectedly and raises the same important questions about truth, perception and belief.”

The story revolves around Pi who from the start is exploring his relationship with religions and faith in God. For him confusion never ceases as he is bombarded with different ideologies from every corner. So, I guess inevitably, he decides to practice all religions and believe in mighty forces watching over him. As is always the case with these kinds of stories, our protagonist finds out that only through knowing himself he can love God. I could almost hear Deepak Chopra shouting: “Every person is a God in embryo.”

Peter Bradshaw from The Guardian writes: “the film itself, despite some lovely images and those eyepopping effects, it is a shallow and self-important shaggy-dog story – or shaggy-tiger story – and I am bemused by the saucer-eyed critical responses it’s been getting.” I agree with his description, because the film’s special effects are amazing, and digital creation of the world Pi encounters is just breathtakingly beautiful, but the story lacks the oomph it needs and the double narration, even though great in literature, doesn’t come out well on the screen.

I have to state that I’m not a big fan of 3D, and all the things that were promised to us with renaissance of the technology has faded with sales of 3D television hitting rock bottom. I get headaches every time I watch these movies in cinema, and from my experience with televisions the glasses issue has made it tremendously hard to enjoy a movie. Life of Pi catering for this market, and the fact that all the effects in the movie were designs for the 3D experience really worries me about Ang Lee’s sense of judgement. Why would any director, let alone a celebrated one like Mr Lee decide to create a movie that cannot be enjoyed on DVD? Even if they release it as a normal HD the effects won’t be the same, so why?

life of pi 2From an artistic point of view no one can fault the movie. It is beguiling, mesmerizingly beautiful example of what digital art can do. There are colours and effects that are unmatched by any other film, and you are drawn into a world so hypnotic that you forget every scene has been created using softwares. I know if we look back at it in 10 years’ time we will laugh at ourselves for being so naïve, but for now we can enjoy it as an enticing spectacle and one that should not be missed as long as it is in the cinemas.

However, again the story, apart from the ending, really brings it down in my view. Obama in 2010 wrote a letter to Yann Martel in which he described the book as “an elegant proof of God, and the power of storytelling.” Obviously President Obama is not seeking scientific proof and is happy with fiction, however I cannot deny Mr Martel his power of storytelling, because he has written a book that is sold more than 10 million copies, and the fact that this book was rejected no less than five times by publishers, gives us all unpublished writers hope. As for the movie, I would suggest bringing your earplugs and you will have an experience of a lifetime.


Lately, I’ve been listening to Montreal-based podcast Why Does It Exist. It feeds right into my professed love affair with shitty movies. So, for fun, I decided to contact podcasters Alex Rose and Dan H. G Weir to ask if I could tag along to one of their viewings and see how they go about putting together an episode. The resulting night was a “blast” and the resulting hangover lasted almost the whole week.

I made my way to the plateau where I was initiated to the process. First, Alex presented the film we were about to watch. In our case, the film was Blast(2004), starring none other than Shaggy himself where a terrorist hijacks an oil rig off the coast of California. Then myself, Dan, and Alex chitchatted about how awesomely horrible this straight-to-dvd movie sounded like it would be. The podcasters then presented the musical segment, which features local bands such as She’s Got A Habit, Cinéma L’Amour, Young Lungs, Alexeimartov, and Tyger Tyger. Next, we all went out to buy tasty sandwiches and a few cases of beer (too many).

Upon our return, we realized that we had the wrong dvd. So, we were actually going to review another film entitled Blast (1997), starring none other than Linden Ashby (Johnny Cage in Mortal Kombat) and Why Does it Exist favourite Rutger Hauer (Roy Batty in Blade Runner). The premise of this Blast also involved terrorism, however, this time based on the olympic swimming team being taken hostage by a terrorist looking to reclaim some of his terrorist ‘cred’. And so, the viewing experience began and it was… a horrible movie but a great time nonetheless. Then it was back on the air, where Alex and Dan and I discussed the film which you can hear by listening to the podcast, available for free on itunes.

 

After my guest spot, Alex and Dan took the time to answer a few of my questions:

 

Where did the idea for this podcast come from?

Alex: I originally started it as a blog because we used to work at a video store. We would get the new releases every week and I would always care more about those movies with only one copy coming out than the big blockbusters, those films with Val Kilmer and Christian Slater. I was always wondering why these films were still coming out; why do these exist? So I decided I’d talk about these. I didn’t want it to come from a hardcore film nerd point of view where we get hung up on mise-en-scène and things like that and I wanted it to be accessible to anyone. Most of these are movies that people would never devote any time to. Having seen the movie or knowing who Albert Pyun is really isn’t necessary when listening to the podcast; I’d say it’s highly discouraged. We watch these so you don’t have to.

I wrote the blog for six months and then I starting getting into podcasts. I started listening to two very important podcasts: The Flop House and How Did This Get Made. They kind of do what we do. There’s also We Hate Movies, which is also pretty major. I think we are the only ones doing movies as obscure as these. That was my point: if I want to know about these obscure movies and nobody is going to tell me about them, what should I do? I knew that Dan was moving back to Montreal. I knew him from school and work and I decided that if I was gonna do this, I was gonna do it with Dan.

Dan: Because I’m the funny one.

Alex: Because Dan hits the midpoint between being silly and knowing what he’s talking about.

Dan: Best of both worlds. Next question.

What film has been the shittiest?

Both: Year of the Comet!

Dan: By Peter Yates, which sucks because Peter Yates is the best fucking dude.

Alex: Year of the Comet is a movie about a well-loved bottle of wine.

Dan: A bottle of wine that was born during the passing of a famous comet. A giant bottle of wine. It’s got Tim Daly and who’s the girl? (ed: Penelope Ann Miller) He’s playing this Errol Flynn, dashing, Indiana-Jones style hero and it’s all about this bottle of wine and nobody gives a shit and it takes forever.

Alex: It was really bad. Sort of a North by Northwest kind of thing…  A sassy spy comedy, but it was so fucking bad.

Dan: Special mention should also go out to Hot Dogs, a Quebec-made film with porn star Harry Reems… because it owns the dubious honour of me not remembering a single thing about it.

Alex: Seven Below was also pretty bad.

What film was surprisingly okay?

Dan: The Magic Christian! One of the best finds that I’ve ever found in twenty-five years of movie watching.
Alex: The Magic Christian is amazing.

What was the worst casting decision?

Alex: I think a lot of why we watch these is based on the casting decisions. That’s often what prompts it. I think, in general, the things where they stack up a lot of C-grade actors like Michael Madsen, Tom Sizemore, Vinnie Jones, and David Carradine are the worst. It’s definitely not exponential at that point; it’s definitely working the other way. A lot of what we pick is based on a ridiculous cast and the more there are people in the ridiculous cast, the more likely we are to choose it. The movie I really wanna do is a movie called Catchfire, but I’ve already seen it and that kind of disqualifies it. It’s directed by Dennis Hopper and it stars Dennis Hopper, Jodie Foster, Vincent Price, and Bob Dylan.