Daily Archives: August 10, 2015

Fantastic 4 Review: Now with random outbursts of anger!

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OPENING RANT

There’s no emoticon for what I’m feeling!

What’s the opposite of “Excelsior”? That’s probably what poor Stan Lee is thinking, as his first family of heroes is, once again, given the shaft on the big screen. In an era where Thor–THOR!–is made into a viable movie franchise, with barely any compromise in what made him a great comic character, Fox still struggles to make Reed Richards into a viable hero. Forget Thor…

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…these guys starred in the number one movie of last year, in a film that proudly embraced the insanity.

But here’s Fox, still living in the 90’s, thinking that comic book movies should be stupid movies first, badly made movies second, and barely resembling the source material third.

This movie is a dour, plot-hole ridden mess of a film, having none of the whimsy, none of the zany universe and none of the pure fun that comes with the comic book franchise of the same name.

I don’t even know if I have the grammatical capability to describe how horribly made this movie is!

Literally two-thirds of the film is set-up, too much of the film occurs in a single indoor location (and not in the cool, “Reservoir Dogs” sort of way), and it ruined (again) the best villain in all of Marvel’s roster.

I can’t even shift gears to talk about what worked, because absolutely everything that worked at some point in the movie ended up failing to work later on in such a remarkable fashion that it undid any goodwill it may have built up for itself. I mean, honestly, the first hour of the film was shaping up to be, potentially, a very good superhero movie. It was on track to even be a pretty good Fantastic 4 movie. Sure, it was still too gritty, too muted compared to Marvel Studios’ “embrace the comics” approach, but it was not a trainwreck. It was something.

An hour into the film, however, there is a (MINOR SPOILER) “one year later” tag and essentially from then until the end this sucker just goes off the rails.

It was gloomy! The most whimsical and light-hearted franchise in the Marvel universe was more downbeat than The Dark Knight!

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SO LETS BACK UP

In the mid-80’s Marvel was on the brink of bankruptcy. Comic sales were down across the board and the company was faced with either closing its doors, making some serious cuts to its business or taking drastic steps to stay afloat. They decided to sell off the motion picture rights to every major character they could get rid of. Most of these ended up being unused and reverted back to Marvel, a few of them were never able to be sold (which is why we get to enjoy The Avengers in cinemas every year), and some of them—the heavy-hitters—were scooped up by production companies with the intent to do something with them. Sony ended up with Spider-Man and Fox (eventually) landed Fantastic Four (along with X-Men, DareDevil, the Silver Surfer, and a few other tangential properties).

Not long after a little movie called “Batman” opened in theaters and even though it was very different from the source material it was a huge hit. Studios immediately started looking through their arsenals for comic book movies they could release. Spider-Man sat in “developmental hell” for a decade, until Sony finally released it in the early 2000’s to great box office numbers and good reviews. Fox’s X-Men also got off the ground with good box office numbers and great reviews.

In 2005 Fox released their next Marvel franchise: Fantastic Four. Directed by Tim Story, the movie was not as warmly received as Bryan Singer’s two X-Men movies. It had problems in tone and with the acting, but it made over $300 million and was considering enough of a hit for Fox to release a sequel, hoping to right the wrongs from the previous outing. The result was Fantastic Four 2: Rise of the Silver Surfer. It was…just as bad. Most notably was the decision to change the main villain, Galactus. Instead of portraying him as he is in the comics (an awesome god-like tyrant who basically drains whole planets of their energy for breakfast), the decision was made to turn him into a giant cloud thingy. They made him a cloud.

They made him a cloud!

The movie bombed in theaters and Fox shelved the property (they had planned on a third movie and a spinoff featuring the Silver Surfer). A few years later Marvel launched their own film-making studio with a little movie called Iron Man. With it came the promise of a shared universe that would lead to an epic crossover event: The Avengers. Unlike Fox’s franchises, which always seemed embarrassed of their comic book roots, Marvel was embracing the color and fun and making big money. Fox pressed on with X-Men movies, but when they saw that the rights to Fantastic 4 were soon to revert to Marvel, they scrambled to make another film.

You see, if Fox doesn’t make a Fantastic 4 film within seven years, then the property switches back home to Marvel. Not wanting to see a good movie they can ruin go to waste, Fox quickly announced production of a new F4 movie. Josh Trank, a one-hit wonder if ever there was one, was given the nod to direct. His only other movie was the low budget but highly acclaimed film “Chronicle” that was basically a take on what would happen if ordinary teenagers (from stoner to emo) developed superpowers. It was a great film with a tight screenplay, the final draft of which was written by Max Landis (and if you believe the reports, the movie was pretty much ghost-directed by him too).

Landis deserved the credit for Chronicle’s success but it fell to Trank, and with it he was given the reigns of Fantastic 4, and soon after was announced as the director of an upcoming Star Wars film. Production of this movie, however, was a disaster from the word “go.”

To start with, it is blatantly obvious that Fox has no clue-

I mean I could just stop right there, but I’ll continue.

Fox has no clue why Marvel Studios’ movies are working like gangbusters and why all their attempts to make a comic book movie have failed with the exception of the Singer-directed X-Men movies, and the Matthew Vaughn-directed X-Men First Class. Singer’s movies succeeded on the strength of the screenplays, the popularity of Wolverine and a pretty stellar casting job across the spectrum. Vaughn’s First Class succeeded due to some great acting and a bright, comic-bookey look that Marvel is using to great success.

On the other hand Fox’s DareDevil was pathetic. Their X-Men origin movies have been horrid. Electra was a bad joke. Their (bright and colorful) F4 movies were not “fun” but instead were “hammy” and “cheap.” Their non-Singer directed X3 (helmed by Bret Ratner the hack) was one of the most insulting comic book adaptations I’d ever seen up until a couple nights ago when I watched the newest Fantastic 4 movie.

Fox has no clue what to do with this property. They don’t respect comic books (despite all the GOBS of money that Disney is making right now doing just that), they don’t respect comic book stories, and they don’t respect comic book fans. They are still living in the 90’s, in an era where comic book movies were either dark and gritty with little association to the source material, or were campy and stupid with little association to the source material. They are in the stone age while Disney/Marvel is living in the future.

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MISC BURSTS OF ANGER WITH SPOILERS!

I’ll come back to Fox and the production of this movie in a bit, but I want to actually take a minute to discuss what is wrong with this movie itself. A lot went on behind the scenes but there still was produced a 90+ minute movie. Is it really that bad? Let’s run through it, quick-hits style:

Fox did that thing where they flashed the “F” in “FOX” during the opening fanfare, like they do with the “X” in X-Men movies. That’s cute.

I hate this company.

“My hero Eli Manning” is one of the first lines spoken in the film.

My hero Eli Manning
–Said no one ever.

The rumors were true, The Thing’s famous loveable catchphrase “It’s clobbering time!” was, in this abomination of a movie, taught to young Ben Grimm by his brother, who used to say it before beating him up. That’s good. That sends a great message. Way to go Fox.

I hate you so much.

Young Richard Reed’s teleporting(?) prototype is a sophisticated, dimensional warping device that is powered by spare parts from a car junk yard, a Macintosh 6100 and an N64. That thing couldn’t even handle Final Fantasy VII but it’s going to warp you to the Negative Zone?

I gotta be honest, the first half of this movie is not horrible. The acting is good, there’s good chemistry between the characters, it’s well-shot. If I didn’t know better I’d think I was sitting through “not a bad movie” with just a few minor quibbles here and there.

Victor Von Doom is his actual name. We had been told leading up to the release of the film that the characters name would be Victor Domashev, and that he would be a computer hacker with the code name “Doom.” Lookit, if you’re going to do anything, changing the name is one thing I’m cool with. I mean, you don’t name your kid “Ralphie McBadGuy” and expect him to just stumble into a life of crime. I’m cool with “Doom” being a nickname or something. But did they really have to change his character so much? This being Fox I guess the answer is I hate this company.

What’s worse is they apparently wrote and filmed him as the hacker Victor Domashev and then edited all of that out, dubbed in the characters calling him “Victor Von Doom” and took out all mention of his being a hacker. So now, Fox didn’t just change him, they changed him, then cut the changes and replaced it with nothing, leaving him an empty shell of a nothing character. He has nothing to his name. No real motivation. No purpose. He’s just there. He’s nothing.

He’s just an angsty World of Warcraft player with angst and angst and stuff.

There’s a weird chronology going on in this movie that I don’t get. Like the movie starts with Reed and Ben as kids, say around 10 years old, then jumps “seven years” into the future, and they are at a science fair…with a bunch of other kids…looking like adults. I don’t know how old anyone is. Are they like teenagers played by adults or are they adults who are treated like teenagers? I mean Reed still has acne for crying out loud. I have no idea.

I can’t get over the fact that the goober from O Brother Where Art Thou is featured (heavily) in this movie as the sniveling, cliched military man looking to exploit the scientist for wars and stuff. I can totally buy that this movie would lean on that horrible cliche, but having freaking Delmar from the Soggy Bottom Boys playing the role is just a bridge too far for me.

The monkey they send into the negative zone is so horribly CGI’d. They couldn’t use a real monkey? Was Andy Serkis not available?

Ben Grimm, in this movie, is a nice guy who has no real talent other than handing Reed things as a kid. Reed goes off to be brilliant and such and Ben is left home on the junk yard doing nothing. But when it’s time to go into an inter-dimensional transport, well why not call him up! There is literally NO logical reason he should have been on that mission, other than plot contrivance in order for him to transform into The Thing.

What the unholy heck kind of a Fantastic 4 movie is this where you need a plot contrivance in order to get Ben Grimm to turn into The Thing?!

And then there’s Sue, who doesn’t even GO into the Negative Zone (which was inexplicably overdubbed to be called “Planet Zero” in post-production), but she ends up superpowered anyway. The whole thing is such a betrayal of half the team’s backstory.

It is so typical of Americans though, to land on foreign soil and immediately plant our flag.

The scene where the four discover their powers is like a great scene from a cool movie that got accidentally inserted into this travesty. And yet…we’re three movies in and Fox STILL can’t give us a Thing that has the big unibrow.

AND WHERE ARE HIS PANTS?!

Reed Richards is the “dad” in this makeshift family of heroes. He’s the brilliant guy with a heart just a big as his brain. He’s the true blue hero. But in this movie he abandons his friends and goes into hiding for a year while they get experimented on and turned into pawns of the evil government. Great job. Great characterization. Really nailing the whole “hero” part of the “superhero.”

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Everything up until this point has been “not a bad but not a great” superhero movie. There are a lot of little problems I mentioned but it wouldn’t have killed the movie as long as it was able to stick the landing. Everything after they get their powers, and we jump forward to “one year later” is where the movie fails. It doesn’t just not stick the landing, it crashes and burns in a field somewhere over Nebraska, killing hundreds of baby deer.

Seriously, I repeat: 70% of this movie is in a bunker. This is like that Breaking Bad episode where Walt and Jesse spend an hour in the lab trying to kill that one fly. Except that episode was awesome and I will fight you if you disagree. This is just…

So they’ve been looking for Reed for a year and Sue is able to do it in ten minutes. lolokay.

Who made the decision and why was it made to just CUT the entire middle of this movie out? They took the opening act, which should have covered the introductions of Reed and Grim all the way up until they discover their powers, and stretched it from a reasonable 30 minutes to an hour. They then removed the entire second act, which would have seen them learning their powers, struggling as a team, getting their first taste of defeat, and jumped straight to the third act, which blazed through a final thirty minutes and just ended without any learning or growth or development of any kind.

Wayward Pines: What was great and what left me frustrated

Warning: Spoilers ahead if you haven’t watched Wayward Pines.

Now that Wayward Pines, Fox’s surprise hit show of the summer, is over, fans are left wondering about where the story goes next. Actually, at the time of this writing, they’re wondering if there will even be a future for the show. After all, the show, which was developed by M. Night Shyamalan and Chad Hodge, was intended to be only a one season show to cover the events in Blake Crouch’s original trilogy of books that the show was based on.

However, if the show was meant to be a self-contained ten-episode series of only one season, then the show’s creators should really give us an explanation for the show’s ending. The show ended with more questions than answers and definitely seemed to allude to a second season, yet, at the time of this writing, Fox still hasn’t made any announcement about whether or not the show will go on to a second season.

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I decided to check out Wayward Pines after seeing M. Night Shyamalan tweet about it for several months before the show came out. I’ve been a fan of Shyamalan ever since The Sixth Sense, though I’ll admit that I haven’t seen any of his movies after The Happening. I thought it might be interesting to see a show developed for television by M. Night Shyamalan, so I decided to give it a try.

The beginning of the series introduces us to U.S. Secret Service Agent Ethan Burke, who wakes up in a hospital in the strange town of Wayward Pines after a car accident. He’s separated from his family and he discovers that one of his fellow agents, Kate Hewson, who he was sent to find, has been living in Wayward Pines for several years. Ethan can’t contact the outside world and he’s quickly making enemies. People in Wayward Pines are forbidden to discuss their past lives before they came to Wayward Pines, and Ethan is surprised to discover that anyone who asks about their past is reckoned, or executed, in front of the entire town.

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I have to admit that after watching the first episode, I was only mildly intrigued and wasn’t sure if I was ready to commit to watching all ten episodes. But I came back, and the second episode was pretty good. Ethan discovers more mysteries about the town and about his partner Bill Evans, who is lying dead in a shed on the outskirts of town. Somehow the times that people have been in Wayward Pines, or at least believe they’ve been in Wayward Pines, don’t seem to add up. Beverly, the waitress played by Juliette Lewis who tries to help Ethan, believes it is the year 2000 when it’s actually the year 2015. She’s desperate to escape to see her daughter again, but dies tragically at the end of episode two for mentioning that little detail of her past.

Beverly’s death and the fact that a character who seemed to be important could die so early in the series intrigued me more. Episode three saw another character death, but it was the mysterious creature from outside the walls of Wayward Pines that dragged Sheriff Pope’s body out that made this seem to be more than just a show about a strange town. What exactly is outside the high walls of Wayward Pines?

Ethan’s family finds him in Wayward Pines, so it seems that there is a way into the town, but once you’re in, you’re there to stay. The high walls are a curious element of the town, especially when it seems like Ethan’s wife and son just drove into town, yet there doesn’t seem to be a way to drive into town.

Episode 5 was the game changer. As Ethan travels outside the town’s walls and his son sits through orientation at the academy, they simultaneously learn the truth about Wayward Pines, and I have to say I didn’t expect it. M. Night Shyamalan is known for surprising twists in his movies, but this show is based off the books by Blake Crouch, so it’s actually Crouch’s twist. Wayward Pines and the people who live there are the last remnant of humanity. The creatures outside the town are what humanity devolved into over the last two thousand years. It is the year 4023 and the citizens of Wayward Pines were frozen for the last two thousand years before they were woken up and introduced into the society of Wayward Pines.

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That episode was the clincher for me. I knew I’d finish the rest of the series because I needed to know what would happen to this town that housed the only remaining humans on Earth. The rest of the season was a power struggle between those who believe they’ve been trapped in Wayward Pines and just want to escape back to their regular lives and those who know that there are no regular lives outside of Wayward Pines anymore.

The season finale revealed who the real good guys are and who the real bad guys are in the show, and it’s plenty surprising. I won’t give away the ending, but I will say that it ended openly. There’s clearly more to the story.

And that’s the frustrating part. If the show would have ended with a clear wrap-up of everything that was setup in the first several episodes of the show, I would’ve been happy. But it didn’t end that way. It ended leaning forward. You might say that it didn’t even end. If the show’s creators intended for it to be a one-season show, why end it in a way that seems to promise a second season?

Maybe they were hoping Fox would give them a second season. Plenty of people want to see the story go on. But until Fox gives the word, we’re left with a show that has no clear ending.

Overall, Wayward Pines was a solid storytelling effort. The narrative pace was quick, but it suited the story well. The cast was excellent as well. As M. Night Shyamalan’s first foray into television, this was undoubtedly a success. Here’s to hoping the series continues.

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Wayward Pines: What was great and what left me frustrated

[GadgeTell] Lowepro waterproof camera bag review

Lowepro DryZone BP40L Waterproof camera bag

Lowepro DryZone BP40L Waterproof camera bag

Cameras and water don’t mix but a waterproof camera bag makes it possible to protect cameras on rivers, lakes, or the ocean. On a recent rafting trip of the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in Idaho, I was thankful that I had the Lowepro BP 40L backpack to keep my camera equipment dry along the 90-plus miles of whitewater splashing into the boat on the 6-day ROW adventures expedition. Despite class IV and V rapids, the Lowepro backpack never let a single drop of water come in contact with my equipment.

The BP 40L is similar to a dry day bag used on river trips but is outfitted to work as a light backpack with a cushioned insert for cameras and lenses. Its adjustable padded shoulder straps, and back cushioning made it comfortable to take the day hikes up steep trails. The back cushioning wicked sweat away from my body, and a waist strap transferred the weight of the cameras to my hips.

Waterproof camera bag is like a dry bag

Like a dry bag, the top is rolled three or more times, then fastened on the sides using an adjustable plastic buckle to keep the water out. The sturdy strips along the top make it easier to roll the bag, however Lowepro didn’t allow for enough material above the first strip. This made it harder to line up the strips and roll the bag. Another 1/2 to 1-inch would have been perfect. In calmer waters I could unroll the bag (while it remained strapped to the boat seat), and reach in for my camera to take a few shots. Putting the camera back into the bag and closing the bag to be water tight was difficult (but not impossible) due to the limited material.

Despite this slight inconvenience, it did keep the bag sealed. I used a strap threaded through the lash points on the front of the dry camera bag to hold it securely onto the boat. Our trip had the boat dropping into rapids, and relentless deep “wave trains” splashing so high that one wave washed out my contact lens. The bag was pounded by waves yet it held secure, and no water got inside.

Along with the lash points, there are two loop straps on the bottom of the backpack. The loops were somewhat useful when attaching a water bottle or other accessory with a carabiner. Otherwise, the straps aren’t adjustable and couldn’t hold a tripod or anything else I had with me.loweproBP40L

Padded camera bag insert

Cameras and equipment are protected by a cushioned camera bag insert that fits into the bottom of the BP 40L. The camera bag includes velcro dividers that can be positioned to hold camera(s) and lenses in place. A zipper top ensures that the cameras don’t come out of the insert inside the bag. (As the insert can be removed, I’ve been able to use it in another backpack that doesn’t have padded dividers.) The insert can accommodate one or two crop-sensor cameras and a couple lenses. It can fit a Canon full-frame DSLR camera with 70-200mm telephoto and possibly one or two small lenses. While the size will suit most photographer’s needs, it was a challenge for me to carry my Canon with telephoto, plus the Nikon D-810 full frame DSLR with a 24-70mm lens. I had to create other padding with lens cases and other accessories to keep the equipment from banging against each other.

Along with the insert, the DryZone bag is large enough to stuff with a jacket, hat, gloves or other needs for your day on the water.

This bag endured all I threw at it, including hanging from is top loop from a carabiner attached to a tree branch. It was convenient, comfortable, and protected my equipment. The Lowepro DryZone BP 40L

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