Friday, 27 March 2015

404 - Post Not Found


Hello there internet and welcome to my pitiful excuse for why I haven't written a blog post for this week.

Essentially I had writer's block for most of the week and couldn't think of anything to write on until I came up with something to write about a couple of days ago.

However, because of life stuff like actually going out and interacting with people in the real world, and since the topic I've decided to write about is one that deserves some time and research into it so I didn't want to bash it out slapdash in a couple of hours or something, I decided to put off writing it until next week.

I know you're all bitterly disappointed in me. I know, I am too. I'm the worst. Like, literally the worst. Sorry about that, I guess. But I really didn't want to do an half-arsed job on the topic I came up with. I would much prefer doing a full-arsed job like I usually do.

I hope you can all wait patiently for next week but considering this is the internet that is probably impossible and naught but an idle fantasy.

But there will be post next week and it will be well-researched with lots of shiny flashing lights so look out for that and remember, if you want to lynch me for not meeting my weekly deadline, I'm pretty busy but I could probably squeeze you in for Monday afternoon.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Saga: Romeo & Juliet In Narnian Star Wars

Saga is a comic by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples. It tells the tale of two literally star-crossed lovers from warring alien species, who have a child together and are pursued across the galaxy by both sides of an intergalactic war, each side viewing them as traitors to their race.

It is also simply amazing. A fully realised fictional universe with interesting and relatable characters who feel real despite the fact they have horns on their heads or wings on their backs. The story is a simple one at the core but with enough layers and subplots to keep it dynamic. Also, it has moments of cuteness among all the drama, action, pathos, inventiveness, and humour.

Cuteness like this little guy and his walruscamel.

Look at that little guy! He's so cute with his warm beady black eyes, adorable mouth and whiskers, and yellow overalls. He's this otter-like thing in yellow overalls. Yellow overalls! Oh, the cuteness is almost tangible. And this in a story that starts with the messy bloody wonder of childbirth and features numerous characters exploding bloods and guts everywhere on occasion. But yellow overalls!

And I think this is what is really striking about Saga, beyond its compelling storytelling, strong characters, and wonderfully unique feel due to Fiona Staples' stunning artwork, is just how fricking inventive and imaginative it is.

From the lively and lived in universe which feels vast and as though it has a real history and weight to it, to the depiction of magic and futuristic technology, to the simply brilliant and diverse designs for everything, of characters and spaceships, of worlds and locations, Saga is so amazingly inventive it's just impressive.

The fact we never see these guys again yet they have no heads, tongues in their belly button, and wield pink dildos as batons is more than one can bear.

They look like the tales of men with their faces on their torso told by 14th century explorers like John Mandeville (who may or may not have existed) which indicates the range of Brian K. Vaughan's inspiration and how it isn't purely limited to modern sci-fi or fantasy.

And how inspired his inspiration is. Taking the basic concept of lovers from families who hate each other from Romeo & Juliet and putting into an interstellar conflict spanning the galaxy, moving past the emo-y teenage drama of Shakespeare's play to a story about adults who have a child together was a great move.

Something that gripes about Romeo & Juliet is that they sacrifice everything for love, and you know, kill themselves because they're dumb teenagers who couldn't wait to check that the other person was actually dead before offing themselves.

Yeah, dude she's totally dead. No reason to check why you can feel her breath on your neck.
Yep, nothing to do but kill yourself since there'll be another love like this girl you met a couple of days ago.

Alana and Marko in Saga on the other hand, sacrifice everything not only for love, but for family. That is, their new family together and their child. Their drive is not to kill themselves if the other dies but to survive and look after their child at all costs. And while their courtship might have been brief, unlike Romeo and Juliet who we never see getting to know each other and only seem to love each other because they think the other is really hot or something, we actually get to see Alana and Marko interact and share interests.

This shows the roots of their relationship and why they would be willing to sacrifice everything for each other, they share a connection they don't feel with anyone else. That is powerful. That feeling that this other person understands you and makes you feel less alone can be a wonderful thing. And Brian K. Vaughan shows this in only a few select flashback panels.

Also, they talk like real people, not only without literary talk with flowery language, but also Vaughan is not afraid to allow his characters to be coarse or colloquial in their language and talk about things people actually talk about.

She means being more careful about having sex without a condom, not cumming like a dump truck.
Just in case anyone was confused.

But aside from its engaging story and joyfully real characters, where I was originally trying to go with how Saga stands out in its inventiveness is with the design of its characters and technology. Fiona Staples disliked to draw technological spaceships so Brian K. Vaughan comes up with the idea of a treehouse spaceship. Brilliant.

Not only do all the different alien species have an interesting and original look, every significant character has an unique feel and is personalised in clever ways. I love the mixture of science fiction and fantasy. Half the characters look like they stepped out of Star Wars while characters like Marko look Mr Tumnus from The Chronicles of Narnia. There is just so much thought and effort in creating a vibrant and visually stimulating fictional world populated by a vast cast of distinct looking characters.

Remember how several posts ago I lamented that the Green Lantern movie wasted a wonderful opportunity to showcase a wide spectrum of alien races and tell a truly intergalactic epic most superhero movies can't? Well, Saga makes the absolutefucking most out of that opportunity to tell a space opera with a full kaleidoscope of eye-catching alien races.

This is Prince Robot IV. That seriously is his name and yes, he does have an old timey television for a head.

And this pure unbridled imagination is why I love comic books so much. Since comic books seem to allow for that wild abandon with flights of fantasy that are sometimes hard to come by in other media. Essentially Saga reminds me why I love comics and I love Saga for it.

I could go on and on about how the conflict between science and magic is used to distinguish the two sides of the intergalactic war, or how organic the technology looks and how effective the magic is conveyed. I didn't discussed how funny the dialogue is or the wonderful dynamic between the characters or how there's a character called Lying Cat who dislikes it when people lies.

I should have spoken more about how beautiful the colouring and artwork is, or even how warm the lettering feels... but I think I'll just end with Saga reminds me why I love comics and I love Saga for it.


References:

Brian K. Vaughan Wikipedia page

Fiona Staples Wikipedia page

Saga (comic book) Wikipedia page

Graphic Books Best Sellers: Fiona Staples Talks About ‘Saga’


‘Saga’: Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples Bring a Stellar Sci-Fi Comic Into the World [Interview]


Friday, 13 March 2015

Fantastic Mr. Fox Is Fantastically Foxy

Wes Anderson is a director who was always destined to make an animated film. It was inevitable, like the rising of the sun in the morning or the deadly adorable cat video apocalypse which will engulf us all. He is a director whose sensibilities are uniquely suited for the minutia and attention to detail required in a animated movie.

The fact he made a stop motion animated movie doesn't surprise me in the least since it totally fits in the staged nature of his previous and subsequent films, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Now, Wes Anderson has a pretty specific cinematic vision and his filmography is comprised of quirky offbeat movies with quirky offbeat characters doing offbeat quirky things.

Look how offbeat they are, shaving together. Quirky.

But even more so than the quirky offbeatness of his character, the fictional worlds in Wes Anderson's films feel like they only could exist inside the shared fictional universe of Wes Anderson's films.

Each film's narrative has a strong storybook feel divided into chapters with a story, that ostentatiously following a typical three-act structure, often has scenes which exist solely for the characters to interact and create some sort of dramatic or humorous altercation rather than move the plot forward.

Okay, so I noted his films follow the typical three-act structure, but that is only in the sense that there is a situation the protagonist is introduced to, the conflict he has to deal with, and a climax in which the conflict is ultimately resolved.

Conflict!

However, because of the different chapters, the mundane nature of the situation his protagonists typically face, and the aforementioned focus on character interaction, not to mention often laconic pacing, his narratives often just waffle along, taking their time.

The chapters themselves serve to punctuate the narrative by introducing a new element to the plot or for the characters to come in contact with, whether it is the arrival of a new character, a change of the season, some plot device, or the fallout from the interaction between characters in the previous chapter.

This kinda breaks the narrative up, making it seem less tied to a three-act structure and more like a book than a movie.

The fact his movies often have characters reading from books with the same title as the movie is pure coincidence though.

So it makes sense that he would make a film adaptation of Roald Dahl's beloved children's book considering how much his movies feel like books with their storybook narratives. Also, their use of literary framing devices such as omniscient narrators and chapters mean that his cinematic sensibilities are uniquely suited to adapt one of the most storybook books ever storied in a book.

Fantastic Mr. Fox is one of the first books I ever remember feeling proud to have read when I was a child. That was because I was around 7 or 8 years old when I read it and it was supposedly for a higher reading level than my age at the time, so I felt smart having read it then.

Today, I no longer feel smart for having read it but that's only because I've read Alan Moore's From Hell since then and I'm still trying to figure out everything that goes on in that tome of a comic.

You see, the Masonic architecture of London directly relates to the Jack the Ripper killings... for some reason.

Another reason why Anderson needed to adapt Fantastic Mr. Fox is purely for the director's own benefit. For his movies are heavily stylised, which led to criticisms that his films were a bit standoffish, more concerned with seeming cool and detached than creating relatable characters or a compelling story. And while there might be some merit to that criticism, I have to respectfully say anyone who makes that criticism is silly. Like, really silly but I digress.

That said, what was great about Fantastic Mr. Fox is that is a warm book. Its story is so homespun and welcoming, it's as though it was expressively written for fathers or mothers to read to their children at bedtime. Furthermore, its characters are so memorable and full of personality, lending a real charm to the story

While they may be simple characters that simplicity isn't because they're one dimensional. Rather it's because they are distilled to their basic characteristics in order to resonate with children, and in that regard they completely succeed.

Not to mention the villains have the catchiest bad guy theme song ever.

The fact these characters are already so warm, no one could accuse Anderson of writing cool or detached characters. In fact, Anderson had the utmost respect for Dahl's creations and took those basic characteristics, added his signature witty dialogue and snappy remarks, and fleshed out the characters while still being utterly faithful to their personalities.

The result is that film is littered with a group of critters and individuals you want to spend more time with and really hope they succeed. For example, Mr. Fox is incredibly clever and can think a way out of any situation, but he seems to be going through a mid-life crisis, allowing his own arrogance and cleverness to get him in the situations he find himself in.

So it makes all the sense that he is voice by George Clooney. Clooney has the most debonair and confident voice, all sophistication and flirtation. He literally has the perfect inflection in his voice to get across the somewhat overly confident, near arrogant, yet playful tone needed to convey a character like Mr. Fox.

It's like he already was a (silver) fox.

Now, the thing that really made Anderson a director that always seemed destined to make an animated film is his relentless perfection and precise attention to detail. Anderson always frames his film expertly and delicately, with everything in the frame perfect.

Everything in the mis-en-scene (which is pretentious for "stuff in the shot") is meant to be exactly where it is. Most stills from his films look like staged photographs they're so precise. Nothing is out of place or off-centre. Everything is used to frame the characters in an almost dollhouse-like environment.

Sometimes it totally is a dollhouse, like this scene where Bill Murray's character Steve Zissou tells you about his boat.


That glorious tracking shot, coupled with the voice over narration by Murray, perfectly illustrate why this man was the most perfect choice to direct a stop motion animated movie based on Roald Dahl's Fantastic Mr. Fox. His sense of framing and place are superb, characters move in and out of shot on cue, each set is exquisitely precise and detailed, nothing is left to chance.

Also, it feels two dimensional in a way, and that is not a criticism. Actually in this context, it's an absolute compliment. He really seems to be going for that storybook feel, not only in his whimsical chapter ridden narratives, but also in the visual aesthetic of his films.

Which again is why deciding to do a stop motion animated version of Dahl's book makes so much goddamn sense I actually used the word goddamn. Of course, Anderson would make it stop motion so he had control over every minute detail down to a tee.

But also so he could pretend he was a giant and yell, "Now dance for me, my puppets. Dance!"

I haven't even got into the inventive fictional game Whack-Bat which is like baseball, but you know, amazing (any game is improved by adding a flaming pine-cone) or the interesting rivalry between Mr. Fox's son, Ash (voiced to sarcastic perfection by Jason Schwartzman), and his cousin Kristofferson, or the fact Bill Murray is a badger.

Yes, Bill Murray is a badger in this movie. What are you still doing reading this? Go watch it already.


References:

Wes Anderson Wikipedia page

Rushmore (film) Wikipedia page

Mis-en-scene and Cinematography in The Royal Tenebaums

Mise En Scène & The Visual Themes of Wes Anderson

Fantastic Mr. Fox Wikipedia page

Fantastic Mr. Fox Rotten Tomatoes page

Friday, 6 March 2015

Fallout: Marvel Civil War

Last month it was announced that Spider-Man will be incorporated into the Marvel Cinematic Universe and is apparently supposed to appear in the upcoming Captain America: Civil War. I love Spider-Man. He's been my favourite superhero since I've been aware superheroes were a thing that exists.

I've written about how all of Spider-Man's villains are animal based and why The Amazing Spider-Man 2: Rise of the Failed Franchise could have been the best Spider-Man movie ever if they had only let it be a Sipder-Man movie. Instead they used the movie to try to set up a dozen spin-off movies with a bazillion sub-plots and constant winks to the audience just in case they didn't catch the split-second shot of Doctor Octopus' tentacle arms.

"This never would have happen if we didn't have to have that subplot about your comb-over. I hope you're happy."

And while I love Spider-Man, to be honest, I've never really seen him as "team hero". Like, it makes sense to have him interact with the other members in the Marvel universe and to do team ups with Daredevil or the Fantastic Four on occasion, but I never really saw him as a member of a team. This is not to say I don't think her deserves to be on a team like the Avengers or that he can't do well within a team context since with the right writer he definitely can.

For example, I liked him as a member of the Avengers during Brian Michael Bendis run on the comic, since Bendis really understands the voice of Spider-Man and he interjected some needed wise-cracks and levity into a pretty serious team. However, I suppose I see Spider-Man as primarily a solitary superhero, far more so than Batman, who despite his reputation as a loner has a whole Bat-family of sidekicks and supporting characters.

The Batcave gets quite crowded during family gatherings.

A large part of the appeal of Spider-Man is due to the fact that he's a bit of an outsider, often considered a menace by the city he protects, not working in any official capacity with limited resources. Meanwhile more respected heroes like Iron Man and Captain America have either all the money or the backing of S.H.I.E.L.D behind them.

Even the X-Men, although considered outcasts themselves, have the financial resources of Professor X at their disposal, live together in a mansion, and have a freaking jet to take them where they need to be. Spidey can barely afford the thread needed to fix his costume when he tears it fighting Doctor Octopus.

Spider-Man was always a hero who seemed ideally suited to face dilemmas or adversity on his own. His best stories were always those which pitted him against a single villain who threatened the lives of his loved ones and had them face off in an intimate one-on-one climax. The Death of Gwen Stacy storyline with the Green Goblin comes to mind.

It's also why I would say that Venom so quickly became one of Spider-Man's greatest enemies. A villain with the same powers as Spider-Man but stronger and with the knowledge of his secret identity, knowing just how to get target those Spidet-Man loved if he so wished. He essentially is the perfect Spider-Man villain in a sense, since their encounters, rather than being epic sprawling tales, were rather quite insular and contained to just the two of them.

Also having Venom as Spider-Man's dark opposite helps too.

Now, how this relates to Spider-Man being injected into the Marvel Cinematic Universe is that after two solo franchises, he is suddenly going to be put into a superhero megafranchise that specialises in grand big epic stories with multiple superheros, alien invasions, objects of unlimited power, and climatic battles that often level cities. And while in the comics, Spider-Man is allowed to have his own street level adventures within that universe, this new cinematic Spider-Man hasn't yet.

This creates a situation where it seems as though Marvel and Sony might try to shoehorn Spidey into movies he was never planned to be in. If Spider-Man is going to be in the new Captain America movie and possibly have a pivotal role in the story like he did in the Civil War storyline in the comic, how much weight would he even have?

We haven't spent two or three movies getting to know the Marvel Cinematic Universe Spider-Man, so aside from the "holy shit, Spider-Man is chilling with the Avengers!!!" geek out moment, I don't know his presence would add any dramatic tension to the story since we just don't know the dude.

"Sorry, who are you again? Arachno-boy?" - Iron Man

Also, it raises some puzzling questions, like if this isn't an origin story (and please, sweet merciful Buddha, don't let it be a origin story), how long has Spider-Man been operating? For years? If so, what the hell was he doing when aliens attack New York? If he's new, then same thing I said above, he doesn't really add to the story unless he's already been established which they can't do since that would mean giving him a solo movie... which is only going to come out after Captain America: Civil War.

I actually thought the upcoming movie version of Marvel's Civil War storyline was gonna be so much better precisely because Spider-Man wasn't going to be in it. Although, Spider-Man injected a much needed every-man perspective on the event, his flip flopping between the two sides was kinda dumb, especially in light of the fact he flip flopped to the wrong side since Iron Man was right.

Here he is being right as he punches Captain America in the face.

There is also the concern that having Spider-Man in the movie will introduce secret identities to the Marvel Cinematic universe. I hope that's not the case because that would be stupid. Now, I'm not usually so blunt in my analysis or opinions but I really don't think that would be a smart idea. Only kinda sorta because the fact superheroes don't have secret identities and everyone knows Tony Stark is Iron Man in the movies makes way more sense than having secret identities, like I've talked about before.

And the fact that in the comic book Civil War, Spidey revealed his secret identity to the world was not a good move, especially when you consider that it lead to one of the worst creative decisions ever made for Spider-Man. I'm of course referring to that time he gave up his marriage to Mary-Jane in order save his dying Aunt May's life, in a deal which also had the bonus effect of having his secret identity restored. A deal he made with the devil*... yeah, that was a terrible decision.

Bad Spider-Man, bad. No life-long happiness with your wife for you.

Taking out the secret identity element of the story means it could focus more on issues of liberty vs security, sorta like Captain America: The Winter Soldier did, since in all honesty, of course superheroes should be registered. It's not really a debate about whether they should be but rather how and whether that registration could jeopardise their heroics by putting them on a database, stifling their ability to do good with legal bureaucracy and due process.

But let's back track to the point about Spider-Man revealing his secret identity only to make a deal with the devil to then reverse that decision. Remember how not smart that was? Well, that is the problem with the Civil War crossover, most of the things that happened in the story line, like with most huge comic books crossover events, were immediately reversed after the event itself ended.

Spider-Man got his secret identity back but lost his marriage since apparently he is not allowed to grow as a character but has to be a perpetually angsty single guy. However, Iron Man was set up as the head of S.H.I.E.L.D for a while before he had to go on the run when Norman "I'm the freaking Green Goblin and batshit crazy" Osborn took over S.H.I.E.L.D because comic book logic.

Aside from the fact that his grin screams evil, how could you ever trust a man with hair like that?

While Iron Man is on the lamb, in an actually fantastic storyline by Matt Fraction, he steadily deletes his memories to avoid Norman Osborn getting the information of other superheros' secret identities if he gets caught. He can do this since at this point he has merged with his tech so much that his brain is essentially a computer and he can deleting his memories like deleting a file on your laptop because comic book logic.

In a lovely touch, as he deletes his mind files, his brain increasingly loses intelligence and he has to downgrade his armour since he's no longer smart enough to use the more advanced technology. He eventually ends up in his original suit once his Trash Bin is nearly full and he had dumb down to the point where he couldn't use digital anymore.

Well, the retro look is in this year.

Of course, by the end of that story arc, after his memory has been deleted, he luckily had his memories stored but not the events of Civil War, which means that Iron Man can't remember ever being the bad guy in a massive crossover event. Essentially, the crossover event was so bad, Iron Man literally wiped it from his mind.

And that's the problem with comics and crossover events which are poorly thought out or don't resonate with the fans, they are just retconned out and there are very little to no lasting consequences. However, Marvel has shown they are wiling to have some lasting consequences and actually shake up things in their cinematic universe.

This was evident at the end of Captain America: Winter Soldier, where S.H.I.E.L.D was dismantled after the events of that movie. That was a significant consequence which has wider ramifications for the following movies in the franchise which seems to be felt in the anticipated Avengers movie judging by the lack of S.H.I.E.L.D in the trailer and the fact that Nick Fury says something like there's only them left while giving an overly motivational speech that was overly motivational.

"I'm sick of these motherfucking villains on this motherfucking planet"

Which is a very good thing. There need to be consequences for the actions taken by the hero or the events of the film otherwise it cheapens the dramatic impetus of the story and undermines those actions. That's because if they have no consequence, they have no weight and ultimately don't matter. Also, if there are no consequences for what the hero does, they can never learn and grow from them therefore having no character development, remaining in stasis, which gets boring.

On the note of character, can we spare a moment to shed a tear for the departure of Andrew Garfield? Like I've written before, I loved Garfield as Spider-Man, for although he was a little bit of a creeper and somewhat of a dick, he nailed the voice of Spider-Man like very few have.

Aw, yeah. A geeky science major who's endearingly awkward and rather handsome yet still somehow an outsider?
Nailed it.

People tend to forget that Peter Parker can be a bit of an asshole and rather selfish at times, but Garfield realised that aspect of Peter and brought it to his performance while his Spider-Man cracked with the wise just like he should. Now, while I thought Toby Maguire made a decent Spider-Man but a better Peter Parker, Garfield embodied both. He really was Spider-Man.

So here's to poor Andrew Garfield. I always thought he was a great Spider-Man in not very good Spider-Man movies. Hopefully, his loss won't be in vain and Spidey will be awesome in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.


Footnote:

About Me

My photo

This introduction is supposed to let you know that you have found the correct Caleb. 

I am here to tell that your search is over. I am indeed the correct Caleb for any given situation. Parties, hunter-gatherings, long walks on the beach, shindigs, guest appearances, and so much more. I am an multi-purpose Caleb guaranteed to impress friends and influence your uncle.

I also write stuff online.