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The Pop Culture Wing of Hot Corner Harbor

Friday, December 26, 2014

The Contrasting Cases of Guardians of the Galaxy and John Carter

Over the course of Christmas Day, I was watching movies with my family. And by some chance, we decided to cover a double feature of two recent science fiction blockbusters, namely Guardian of the Galaxy and John Carter. I had seen both before (in fact, I wrote my thoughts about Guardians here), but watching them back-to-back gave me a reason to compare and contrast the two.

Obviously, the two films enjoyed vastly different levels of success. While Guardians just became the highest grossing film of the year, John Carter barely made back its budget, likely ending any chance at a franchise. What exactly caused such a

Well, there probably isn’t one simple answer. Or rather, there is: Guardians is just a better victory overall. But that’s not too helpful unless we break it down into the minutiae. And while there are several reasons that Guardians is better, I’d like to focus specifically on one specific storytelling aspect.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

How I Would Adapt Avatar: The Last Airbender (Book One)

One of the greatest shows on television is coming to an end this week, and for the second time. And yes, even though Legend of Korra is a cartoon, I will firmly defend its and prequel series Avatar: The Last Airbender’s collective spot as the greatest show on television (I realize I haven’t not seen every show on television, but bear with this hyperbole for a moment).

For that reason, I wanted to write something about the show. I couldn’t think of anything for the current episodes, though. Which is when I turned my thoughts towards the future of the franchise, including possible adaptations.

I realize that the M. Night Shyamalan film exists, and is a large failure. I haven’t seen it myself, but I have reason to avoid it, though. However, I don’t think the failure was on the part of the source material based on its quality, and I am of the opinion that anything could work as a movie if you do it correctly.

So yes, I think a Last Airbender movie could work; however, you would have to do it pragmatically. Something like the Scott Pilgrim movie (the gold standard for adaptations, in my mind; the movie stands out just as much as the source graphic novel) could work, where the changes are all necessary to fit the medium, but make sense in the context of the story just as well. It lost a lot of the detail of the comic, but still made for a fantastic movie by just simplifying a lot of the plot in sensible ways.

With that in mind, what would be essential in a pragmatic adaptation of The Last Airbender? What if we wanted to reduce Book One to a single movie (that was longer than 100 minutes), or possibly even a two-part film? Well, in season one at least, we have these episodes:

Monday, December 15, 2014

Some Belated Thoughts on Big Hero 6 and Interstellar

It took me a while to see these two movies, and even longer to write down my thoughts on them, but I may as well do it. I’ll mark spoilers when I get to them.

It seems weird to think of these two movies as related; they’re about as different as you can get. They were released on the same day, and that’s about it (unless you want to count the fact that I saw them close together as another relation, in case you think my viewing pattern makes them more similar in some way). But I feel like these movies are so different that they almost represent polar opposites in some way.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Setting a "Replacement Level" for Music

Joe Posnanski wrote about a fun concept the other day in a mailbag-type piece. One of the questions dealt with Bruce Springsteen (Poz’s favorite rock star) and jokingly asked for his WAR. For those who don’t know baseball, WAR is a newer stat called Wins Above Replacement that tries to measure the overall contribution of a player. Since this is a pop culture spin-off of a baseball site written by a huge music fan, this seemed like something I should write about.

I love this concept as a thought experiment, but Joe touches on a good point: what is this hypothetical replacement-level musical artist? In baseball, the hypothetical replacement player is the type of player you could just find anywhere in the minor leagues. Your Aaron Mileses*, your Joe McEwings, and what have you. Can the concept hold through in popular music?

*No idea if I pluralized that correctly.

I mean, in theory, it could. There are tons of bands just playing music, filling bars and concert venues across the US and world every single night. Maybe that’s our hypothetical replacement? And it would make sense, to some extent; as in, the replacement band is just your average, run-of-the-mill Beatles/Led Zeppelin/whoever cover band, and you work your way up from there.

But that’s less fun, to just set the bar at some level where there isn’t a famous example to point to. Let’s look for a more notable band to use as a yardstick. Start with Joe’s choices, for instance. He picks Hootie and the Blowfish and Huey Lewis (presumably with the News) as his hypothetical “Replacement Bands”.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Comic Book Taxonomy: A Look at the Idea of Tiers of Superheroes

Are there tiers of superheroes? It’s a pretty common theory, and it’s hard to dispute. People regularly refer to the big names as A-listers, while Guardians of the Galaxy was constantly referred to as a bunch of C- or D-listers when describing how risky the project was (which is partly what inspired me to examine this more closely).

Where you tend to get the real discussion, though, is when you try and categorize the non-obvious ones. No one will argue that Batman is a big name, or that Star Lord isn’t. But what about characters like Iron Man and Thor, pre-movies? Is there a way to be a little more hard-and-fast with the rankings?

Well, I decided to try it either way. What follows is my attempt to define a superhero notoriety. I’ll start by looking at it from circa-2000, to make it interesting. The recent boom in comic book movies has made the landscape very different, but once I have my framework laid out, it becomes very easy to re-apply it 2014.

My rankings are very heavily based on presence in media. That may seem a little weird on the surface, to be basing how famous a comic book character is without any reference to the comics themselves. But it makes a lot of sense if you think about it; comics, while popular, are hardly a good way to get a sense of how much a character permeates the public consciousness, given how little of the public consciousness in turn comes from comics.

Friday, August 15, 2014

I Enjoyed Boneshaker; Plus, What It Taught Me About the Zombie Apocalypse

I recently finished Cherie Priest’s novel Boneshaker. This article won’t be a review of it, but I did enjoy it a lot and want to give a quick appraisal in case anyone is interested. The book is essentially three main ideas combined into a single narrative: An American alternate history story (1), which grants the setting a Steampunk (2) version of technology, which in turns causes a zombie outbreak (3). If you’re a fan of any of those three genres, you will probably like it. It’s not particularly groundbreaking in its use of any of those three genres, but it does all of them well. I ticked off two of those boxes, so that was more than enough to sway me.

If you aren’t a fan of those three genres, you might still want to consider giving it a chance. It takes a while to get in to, but once it does, the pace starts rolling right along. The characters aren’t as interesting as others that I’ve read (the two leads are fine, which is really the most important part, but the supporting cast isn’t as fleshed out as in other works), but the setting is more than interesting enough to make up for that lack. It also deserves props for centering around a middle-aged woman rather than the more standard younger man protagonist (her son is also a major character, but he’s still on the younger side of things than is usual). And like I said, if the premise is enough to hook you, it’s worth reading.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Thoughts on Guardians of the Galaxy: An Oddity of a Comic Book Movie

I saw Guardians of the Galaxy last weekend (I’ve been a little busy since then), and it might be my favorite movie of the year. There’s still a lot of time left, and I’d need more reflection on the matter to be certain, possibly even another viewing, but I think that gives an idea of how much I liked it.

I had a lot of different thoughts about the movie, and my original article was just going to be those different points just sort of conglomerated under one umbrella post. However, looking over them, I think I noticed a common thread of sorts on the things I wanted to comment on: a lot of Guardians runs counter to the other superhero movies of today, Marvel or otherwise.

One of the first things is just how straightforward everything is. Mind you, there’s a lot going on, a lot of characters, and so on, but everything is pretty much exactly as you would think. There are no hidden motivations, betrayals, badly concealed secrets for the purpose of drama, or anything of the sort. It’s actually a little refreshing, especially in a time when superhero movies and other blockbusters (and heck, even Disney movies) regularly come with surprise twists in their narratives. Think Iron Man 3’s secret mastermind, or Captain America: The Winter Soldier’s political backstabbing, or in less well-executed cases, Amazing Spider-Man 2’s Oscorp that secretly controls everything it isn’t trying to backstab (to keep it to just comic book movies).

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Adaptations and Quality, Part 2

Last week, I wrote about adaptations and how faithfulness is second to quality. Since then, I’ve been thinking about my stance more and more. Which is good; part of the reason I write about these things is to reflect on my opinions and see if they hold up.

And in reflection, I feel like I might draw the line somewhere. I mean, it would be one thing to change the origin of a character to better fit in different take on an adapted universe. For Christopher Nolan’s Batman films; the more fantastic elements of Batman are gone (a super-drug that grants strength? Or a hole in the ground that resurrects people?). Or, see last week’s Iron Man example; gone is the traditional Mandarin, with ten magic space rings that don’t particularly fit in to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (not even getting into the unfortunate racial implications of the character, since he started as something of a stereotype).

But we have to draw the line somewhere, right? It might be unlikely, but let’s pose a hypothetical: since I’m a Spider-Man fan, let’s say Sony decides to scrap the Amazing movies and move in a totally new direction. Gone is the awkward-yet-well-meaning teen inventor Peter Parker; in his place is a violent gun-wielding 30-year-old vigilante defecting from a gang known as “The Spiders” who intends to clean up their crime ring.

Now, let’s ignore how bad that idea sounds (to be fair, that took me all of two minutes to come up with) and pretend that it becomes an actually good movie. Like I said, it’s always important to make a good movie first and an adaptation second. I stand by that; if you’re going to go through the trouble of creating anything, you might as well make it something good.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Adaptations, Comic Book Movies, and Quality, as Seen in Iron Man 3 Versus X-Men 3

We just passed the one-year mark on the release of Iron Man 3, and it’s still generating strong opinions on the internet. IGN just ran this (spoiler-laden) interview with one of the film’s stars, Guy Pearce, about the major change to the Iron Man mythos the film made.

If you’ve seen the film, I probably don’t have to tell you this, but just on the off-chance that I do: in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Mandarin, classic Iron Man foe for decades, doesn’t exist. Well, technically, he does; he’s just, a fictional character drawn up by Pearce’s Aldrich Killian to use as a front for his terrorist schemes.

I actually loved this plot twist. It genuinely surprised me, something that I can’t say about many adaptations where I know the plot (to some extent) going in. What I haven’t loved is the reaction that the twist has inspired. By which I mean: it’s almost impossible to have a serious conversation about how good of a comic book movie Iron Man 3 is, and for reasons that I think are ridiculous. The two big ones that I see are: 1) Tony didn’t spend enough time in the Iron Man suit, and 2) the film “ruined” the Mandarin.

I just can’t take these complaints seriously, because they just didn’t affect the quality of the movie in any tangible way for me. However, to some, it apparently “ruined the movie”, and I just can’t comprehend this.

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Edge of Tomorrow, Deus Ex Machinas, and Death (Spoilers)

I’m still not totally positive what all I’m going to cover, subject-wise, with Out of Left Field, but I’ve been seeing movies lately, so it looks like we’re getting another movie post.

I saw Edge of Tomorrow this past weekend, and it reminded me a lot of Pacific Rim from last year. And I mean that in the best way, as I really liked Pacific Rim; both are rather dark yet exhilarating war films about alien foes with specials powers (time travel versus being absolutely ginormous) wishing to conquer earth, and the humans who match that power to fight them off. Or, you could go with the Groundhog Day if Punxsutawney was the site of first contact with hostile aliens. Either works.

But one thing I want to focus on was the ending. Despite the rather dark tone of the film, the ending seems especially “Hollywood”-esque. For those who haven’t seen it and don’t mind spoilers:

Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 Is...Amazingly Confusing (Spoilers)

I finally broke down and saw Amazing Spider-Man 2. I had been avoiding it due to negative press and low expectations, but in the end, my huge love of Spider-Man as a character won out. I have to say that I was almost pleasantly surprised.

And then it broke down exactly how and when I expected it to. The best way to summarize my thoughts on the matter are this: it feels like almost one and a half Spider-Man movies crammed into a single one, with several failed attempts to make it into a single cohesive story.

Let me start with the good things, but let me throw out that I am a huge Spider-Man fan, so maybe I’m overselling the good things in a failed attempt to like the movie more. First, the main cast is great. I love Andrew Garfield as both Peter Parker and Spider-Man. I feel like he gets some flack for his Peter, but I actually very much enjoy it. Garfield and Emma Stone make for a compelling couple; I actually felt like they were a couple (which, I know they are in real life, but it translates well to film, which isn’t always a given). Stone’s Gwen Stacy is a refreshing take on the character; she feels defined, like she’s more than just “the love interest”, and I much prefer her over the original trilogy’s Kristen Dunst. New members Dane DeHaan and Jamie Foxx make solid additions. DeHaan’s Harry Osborn connects well with Peter, and please note that I am only referencing his performance as Harry and not certain alter-egos. Meanwhile, Foxx brings something new to the super villain role, and his Max Dillon is uncomfortable to watch in a good way, oozing uncomfortableness.

Marc Webb (I love that someone named Marc Webb directs Spider-Man films) is also solid. I’ve never seen his (500) Days of Summer, but seeing his romantic Peter-Gwen scenes very much makes me want to; the man seems to have a way with Romantic Comedies. Let me put it this way: Marvel Studios has said that their goal with the Avengers is for each superhero to explore fully different genres to keep the genre from becoming stale (you know, Iron Man 3 was a buddy cop movie, Captain America 2 is a political espionage/thriller, etc.). I wish they had the rights to Spider-Man so that they could have Webb direct a Spider-Man movie that is one part superhero movie and one part romantic comedy (preferably starring Garfield and Stone, but really, I would just be interested in seeing what he turns out with a little more freedom). Most of the other stuff is good too, particularly the soundtrack; it definitely added to the film.

Also, this actually feels like a Spider-Man movie. The action is so fluid, Spider-Man quips while swinging through the city, and everything is wonderful. And let me even add that I am much less critical of the choice of subplots than most. I always love seeing other artists’ take on established characters; if Webb et al choose to explore Peter’s parents, more power to them if they do it well. I can’t say it doesn’t makes sense on some level, and as long as it seems justified on some level, why not? If they want to make it so that his dad worked on the Super Spider formula? Again, sure, fine. I am first and foremost concerned with a good story, and I think you can make those ideas part of a good Spider-Man story. The characters and ideas are still recognizable, and as long as that’s okay, I grant a lot of leeway in the narrative.

Good, all the positives are out of the way, so I can now precede into rant.