Monday, January 30, 2012

80s Music Video of the Week: Lullaby

The Cure was one of the more overrated bands of the 80s, in my opinion, but when they were good, well... they were very, very good. This song is phenomenal:

Game of Thrones: Season 1

If I hadn't already read (and reread) the original series of novels by George R. R. Martin on which this series was based, may have just gone ahead and called this the best TV show of all time. However, I have read -- and loved -- those novels, so I've already experienced this story, remembered most of the dialogue, and knew where the plots were going and the eventual fates of main characters. I also knew that as brilliant as this first season was, the novels are even better and have a depth and richness to them that even the most wonderful adaptation could never match.

However, if you've never read the books -- and maybe even if you have -- you've never seen anything like this before on television. While I may not be calling it the best TV series of all time, it's pretty damn close.

The series is called Game of Thrones, even though that's just the title of the first novel in an overall series known as "A Song of Ice and Fire." All things considered, Game of Thrones probably works better as the title of a TV series. The series is an epic fantasy that is very loosely based on the real life War of the Roses, with various houses and families all vying for control of the kingdom. What makes the series so great, however, isn't just the overall plot, but all of the characters as well. There are no real heroes or villains in these novels, just authentic characters who could be labeled either way depending on every other character's point of view. There's no Gandalf the Grey here, striding around on a pure white horse as he battles against angry orcs. Some of the people in these stories border on the supernatural, sure, but even then they are still layered in shades of grey that keep them grounded and feeling real. And don't get too attached to anybody, since as the series goes on nobody is safe, but then again once somebody is dead there's no guarantee they'll stay that way either.

Basically what I'm saying is that you've never experience fantasy that feels as real as this series, either in novel or television form. This is high fantasy on a grand scale that will please fans of the genre, but so original and gritty that even people who don't like fantasy will also be won over by the characters and epic plots.

As adaptations go, I've maybe never seen one as faithful to the original source material as this was. Some things were changed, of course, and other stuff deleted, but nothing felt wrong and the heart and soul of the story stayed pure. I'm the kind of guy who gets annoyed at things that are changed either for no reason, or seemingly because the original work was misunderstood by the people making the adaptation. (Peter Jackson, I'm looking at you.) But this was wonderful, and perfectly matched the scenes and locations envisioned in my imagination. This was clearly made as a labor of love by people who respected the novels and wanted to bring them to the screen, not by people who either wanted to fix things that weren't broken or place their own stamp on the work of another writer. This was Game of Thrones, albeit in a slightly truncated, slimmed down form.

Live action adaptations are able to shine brighter than novels in one main area, however: Casting. My mind can conjure up special effects better than a million ILM artists and envision locations better than even the most detailed matte painting, but watching a cast of truly great actors reciting dialogue is something a novel can't always match, and the cast in this series is pretty damn good. Sean Bean is probably the most well known of the lot, cast in what I guess is the closest thing to the starring role the series has, the well intentioned but misguided hero Eddard Stark. Other notable and well known actors also appear, like Mark Addy as the king, Lena Heady as his queen, Julian Glover, Charles Dance, Iain Glen, and Peter Dinklage, who won an Emmy for best supporting actor on this series.

Just as good are the newcomers, whose names I don't know now, but at least of few of whom are sure to become stars after this series wraps. It's just a great cast doing great work as some great characters.

Anyway, that's Game of Thrones. Watch the series, or just read the books, since it's one of the best stories you'll ever experience. It's epic fantasy that is grounded in a history that feels real with characters that are rich and authentic, but be warned: This is a very violent show full of graphic imagery and lots of nudity and sex. But the action is great and everybody is really good looking so I'm not complaining, I just letting you know. Oh, and if you do watch the show and marvel at the sets and branching plot lines and epic cast of characters, just make sure you remember that everything you're seeing was dreamt up by one man, George R. R. Martin, and it took a team of actors and writers and directors and crew members to bring to life what he already wrote. And maybe someday he'll actually finish his frickin' series.

Check it out.

Thursday, January 26, 2012


I used to go to the comic store every Wednesday, since that is when new issues are delivered. I can't say how much I used to spend on comics per month, but as the prices on the cover went up and the quality in the interiors went down, I started to buy less and less until I all but stopped going. I still make the occasional visit to the comic shop, but usually now only when there is a specific book I want to buy, usually some B.P.R.D. title, since those are really the only things I read any more, but I'll sometimes pick up some other books that look interesting, fun, or exciting.

So when I was at my local shop yesterday and noticed that Rob Liefeld has a new comic out, I picked it up. I'm not bragging... I just couldn't resist. I didn't necessarilly buy it because I thought it would be good, but maybe because I hoped it might be cool. Or maybe I just wondered how bad could it be? The answer is... It's as bad as any Rob Liefeld comic has ever been.

If you've didn't grow up reading comics in the mid 90s, you might not get the whole concept of Rob Liefeld, or even of Image Comics as a whole, the company he founded in order to spread his unholy influence across the entire industry. Liefed was basically the comic book artist equivalent of a Britney Spears: That is to say, it's all flash with no substance, giving you something superficially nice to look at at first glance, but completely falls apart when you really delve in and start to look at things closely. Spears had a few god hooks and a nice body, so you could overlook the fact that her voice was insipid and grating. Liefeld drew big guns and big muscles, so you could overlook the fact that all of his characters stood in the same poses and had no hands or feet. The guy had talent, of course, just as Spears did, but most of it was potential that was never realized to any true degree. He boasted often about how he was self-taught and needed no further education or editorial guidance, so when he became too famous too quickly for his own good, his star eclipsed and his celebrity faded until he became mostly remembered as a joke.

But I always liked the guy's art, even though I always knew it was pretty terrible. Let me put it in this way: Roadhouse is no Citizen Kane, but I enjoy both and I'll watch either one whenever they come on TV. Entertainment is entertainment, and I'll freely admit I get a marginal amount of things that probably don't deserve my attention. Welcome to society. 

So I bought Infinite #1 because I kind of like Liefeld's art and out of a sense of nostalgia because his work always brings me back to my childhood (or, at least, my teenhood) when things were simpler and comics were still larger than life and exciting. I also pick up the occasional Liefeld book every few years to see if he has finally become the great artist that he is capable of becoming (with some hard work, a critical look at his flaws, and dedication to improving). So far... no deal. But he still draws characters with big guns and big muscles, so the teen version of myself is mostly happy.

Infinite is your typical Image comic book, since the art is mostly based on pin ups, with any expository scenes being awkward and seeming rushed, as though they are just stick figured in front of a minimal (or often nonexistent) background. I mean, seriously, look at this panel and try to tell me it isn't the worst thing you've ever seen:

So, no, he hasn't gotten any better, but shame on me for thinking he ever would. He's not helped much by the story, which was written by Robert Kirkman and was every bit as appalling as the art. Robert Kirkman, of course, is the celebrated writer of The Walking Dead fame, who's inexplicable success is due to being the first person to rip-off George Romero in the world of comics instead of just in the world of film. He's also written a bunch of other comics that have sold well, but I couldn't tell you why because they're terrible. He has an editorial at the end of this comic where he talks about how his lifelong dream has been to work with Rob Liefeld, which may be hype, but judging from the quality of his writing and immaturity of his plots, it's probably true. Then again, if Liefeld called me up and asked me to write for him, I'd say... sure! Then again, I'm not as rich and successful as Robert Kirkman.

The story is about... I dunno. Some badguy in the future used time travel to take over the world, so some resistance fighter goes back in time and teams up with his past self in order to take down this villain before he takes over the world. Does that sound awesome or incredibly dumb? The 15 year old me might've thought it was awesome, but the 34 year old me thinks it's incredibly dumb. Incredibly dumb can still be fun, of course, if it's pulled off well or shows some spark of originality, creativity, or wit. Infinite has none of that. It's just a dumb concept that is poorly written and terribly drawn.

So it's a great Image Comic! Check it out if any of that sounds the least bit appealing. I have no regrets about picking it up since it was absolutely what I expected, and now I don't have to buy another Liefeld comic for at least another five years.

UPDATE: In the grand tradition of Image Comics, Infinite has already been cancelled. Read all about it here.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

80s Music Video of the Week: Loverboy

No, not the band Loverboy, but the song by Billy Ocean. This isn't my favorite Billy Ocean song, but this video is so epic in its weirdness that it has to be seen to be believed. Also, it's a pretty cool song too. Billy Ocean is the man:

Monday, January 23, 2012

Miami Vice: Season 1

Miami Vice was one of the biggest TV shows of my childhood, and I don't just mean in terms of my life, but in terms of the entire 1980s. The show's look, style, and cutting edge storytelling defined the era and all but single-handedly changed TV forever. While I understand the program's historical significance, I remember very little about the program itself, other than that I loved it and tuned in every week along with my siblings and probably the rest of America. I recently picked up a used copy of the first season on DVD for ten bucks. I figured, why not? How bad could it be?

I'm happy to report that it doesn't just hold up, but that it still stands tall as one of the coolest, most entertaining, and best done shows in TV history. It's a bit rough around the edges, sure, and some of the styles and hair dues appear a little dated, but I'll be damned if the Italian suits worn by the two leads aren't still hot as hell. I wouldn't totally dress like these guys if I could, and so would you. The stories might not pack the same kind of intensity or shock value as they did when they first appeared, but that's only because the show was so influential that everybody started doing what they had already done, and, in most cases, did better. And I don't care what anybody says, Don Johnson is a fantastic actor and this was the defining work of his career. He was nominated for an Emmy, but the only major acting award for the show went to the astoundingly good Edward James Olsmos. Philip Michael Thomas also appears, and he's a likable guy.

Anyway, long story short, this show still kicks ass and remains as entertaining and enthralling and sexy as when it first appeared. Go check it out.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

80s Music Video of the Week: Cry

Still a great song and a great video. Here's Cry by Godley and Creme:

Monday, January 16, 2012

Glory: I Love the 54th Scene

In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, here's one of the best and most inspiring scenes in the history of film:

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Monday, January 9, 2012

If I Were a Rich Man

Let's have some fun. I love Me some Fiddler on the Roof, be it the movie, the Broadway show, or just listening to the music from the soundtrack as performed by... whomever. Anyway, here are a bunch of performances by whomever of If I Were a Rich Man, maybe the most fun song from the production. Why? Why not?

Here is the great Zero Mostel, who originated the role of Tevye on Broadway. This isn't from Broadway, but from the Tony Awards. Anyway, it's great:

Thursday, January 5, 2012

80s Music Video of the Week: Hello

Hello by Lionel Richie is one of the most beautiful songs I've ever heard. It's poignant and moving and can be appreciated by anybody who's ever been in love with somebody who didn't love them back. So how did they screw it up so bad by pairing it with one of the weirdest and creepiest videos of all time?

Still... great song:

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Spielberg Double Feature

Steven Spielberg is my favorite film director, and I was lucky enough see two of his films over the weekend. It's a testament to Spielberg's power as a film icon that he was able to release two films in the same week (the week of Christmas, no less!), and a testament to his talent that both films are so different from one another.

Anyway, let's get to it:

War Horse

I probably wouldn't have seen this film had Spielberg's name not been mentioned in the trailer. It looked like a nice movie and all, but I don't really like horses and I rarely see family films. However, this wasn't really a family film or a film about horses, so much as Spielberg's first attempt at a World War I epic. And boy do I like those.

Actually, this film kind of defies description. It's not really about horses, since the story focuses on war and the effects it has on people. It's not really a family film since there is so much death and destruction. And it's not really a WWI film since very little about the war is actually explained, and if you don't already know what's happening -- or even which war is being fought at all -- you're not going to learn anything. If I had to describe it in a single sentence, I might say it's a picaresque story about one horse's journey though a world torn about by war.

And I'll be the first to admit that that doesn't sound like it would be a very good movie. But boy would I be wrong, since this was just about as brilliant a film as Spielberg has ever directed. It's not his best or even close to being his most entertaining, but it was definitely brilliant: brilliantly conceived, executed, and realized, and pretty close to being as perfect a film as he's ever done. Visually, it was amazing and as stylish and interesting to look at as anything he has ever made. The acting, by a group of mostly unknowns, was as great as you'd expect from any Spielberg film.

All things considered, a war film told from the point of view of a horse turned out to be one of the most honest way to convey the horror of battle. The horse doesn't know what is happening or why anybody is fighting, so when he is pulled from side to side, the sides themselves stop mattering and all we see are humans fighting against each other. Anyway... I liked it. Go see it.

The Adventures of Tin Tin

Remember when Spielberg followed up Jurassic Park with Schindler's List? Well, same deal here. While War Horse was a thoughtful, melancholy, look at war and man's inhumanity to his fellow man, Tin Tin was just a mad capped, over the top, rousing adventure story.

Oh, and it's also the best film Spielberg has made in almost ten years.

I'm the perfect audience member for a film based on Tin Tin. I love comic books and I used to live in Europe, so I know of the comics and have read several, but never to such an extent that I can get annoyed or mad by any changes Spielberg made or infidelity his film showed to the comics. I like Tin Tin, but I'm not a fanatic, so I was able to enjoy how well the character was brought to the screen, even if I was only able to pick up on very few of the in-jokes and references. This seemed to be the same Tin Tin character I've seen in the comics, and that's a good thing, since Tin Tin is one of the best and most beloved comics in the entire world. Outside of America, of course, since nobody here knows who he is.

I'm still not entirely convinced that motion-captured CG was the best way to adapt the character, however, since the Tin Tin from the comics was a cartoony character running around a hyper realistic enviornment. If original aritst Herge had wanted Tin Tin to look like an actual human, he would've drawn him that way. The character still looked like Tin Tin, of course, but like a strange, oddly human version, sort of like if somebody made a version of Bart Simpson that looked too realistic. But I can't complain too much since even though I think the film should've been in hand drawn 2D, this was without a doubt the best looking and animated film I've seen. Oh, and the 3D was pretty superb as well.

But even forgetting the original comics and the visual design of the film, this was just a great story that was as entertaining as anything I've ever seen in the theater. It was a great, globe-trotter adventure full of thrills, excitement, and some of the best chase sequences ever put on film. It was also moving, funny, uplifting, scary, and awe-inspiring. The only thing it didn't have was any pretty girls, but then again, maybe the original comic didn't either. Just because it was European doesn't mean it had lots of naked chicks.

I'll admit that I had my reservations going in, since the film didn't really look like Tin Tin, and I wasn't sure how Spielberg would fair as a director of an animated film. It turns out Spielberg's wild imagination and visual style is perfectly suited to the world of animation, since he was literally able to bring anything to life and place his camera wherever he wanted. There is one stand out set piece involving a battle between two clipper ships that was just about the coolest sequence I've ever seen, and I'm not exaggerating at all.

Anyway, Tin Tin. It was one of the best films I've ever seen by my all time favorite director. Not a bad way to start the new year. Go see it.