Monday, September 30, 2013

Avengers: Age of Ultron

With Carl Potts arriving tomorrow, the following seemed pretty appropriate to post about.  I should hope that most of you are aware that there is in fact an Avengers movie franchise, brought to us by Marvel Studios.  This franchise has brought us three Iron Man films, one Thor film with another shortly on the way (October 30), one Hulk film, one Captain America film with another on the horizon, and of course the huge blockbuster that was the Avengers last summer.  

The Avengers grossed $1.5 billion dollars worldwide in Summer 2012.  This gave it the title of "Most Successful Week of All Time" and places it third for "All Time Box Office" (behind James Cameron's Avatar and Titanic).  I personally saw this film 3 times in theaters, which I don't often do.  With the intense box office numbers, it came as no surprise when Marvel Studios announced in July that there would be a sequel to The Avengers and it would be titled "The Avengers: Age of Ultron".  

At the end of The Avengers, there is a short teaser that features Marvel villain, Thanos (see right).  
With the announcement of Age of Ultron, the rumors and speculation that Thanos would be the next villain for The Avengers 2 were readily abandoned and speculation as to who would play Ultron immediately commenced.  As of the end of August, Marvel Studios announced that James Spader would play the role of Ultron. Spader has most recently been in the spotlight for his new show, The Blacklist, which scored top ratings for its time slot last Monday evening.  Spader has just recently sat down with Joss Whedon, the director of Avengers, and his also gotten his entire body scanned to assist with CGI and the creation of Ultron (Spader and Ultron below).

For Spader there will be a fair amount of travel involved if The Blacklist sees itself renewed, as the Avengers sequel is being shot at Shepperton Studios in England (and The Blacklist is of course shot in LA).  

The other recent tidbit announced for this movie comes directly from director Joss Whedon, who has promised that the Avengers sequel will feature even more of Black Widow.  He recently said the following:

"Natasha is a huge part of the sequel because you do want to concentrate on the people who don't have their own franchises. Although she in 'Cap 2,' [and] she's great. She was the most fun for me because she's not a hero, you know, and it's something that I read—and I feel bad that I can't remember who wrote the book—but it's in one of the books explaining, 'These guys are heroes, you are a spy. It's a different thing—it's a different skill set—and you don't have their moral high ground or any of that good stuff.' And that just makes her so interesting to me. So yeah, the stuff I've got going on with her in the second one is killer."

Many fans have been calling for a prequel for Black Widow and Hawk Eye, as they allude far too often to "Budapest" in the first Avengers film.  It seems that the origin story of them meeting may wind up to be something Marvel is too greedy to pass up. 
Overall I would say I am incredibly excited to see what Marvel is going to be producing not just from Age of Ultron, but other projects as well.  

Friday, September 27, 2013


"It's Elementary, my dear Watson."

It's Elementary indeed. Now, we've all heard the name and a majority of us have probably read the stories but not enough of us have had the opportunity to give this show a chance. Returning for its second season this week, Elementary comes back to a television near you. 

Sure, Sherlock has been done before: with Robert Downey Jr., Benedict Cumberbatch, Arthur Wontner, Basil Rathbone and too many more to list. Yet, Jonny Lee Miller brings a whole new level to Holmes that I've yet to see properly developed in any other version before. 

The Story

Elementary puts a new twist on the classic story, in more ways than one. Sherlock is a recovering cocaine addict who has just gotten out of rehab (having already left his infamous job across the pond with Scotland Yard) and is being monitored by a sober companion (hired by his father) who comes to life in one Dr. Joan Watson. Yes, I said Joan.

CBS sets the bar, introducing their version of Holmes's prototypical companion in a very non-traditional way. At first glance, I was immediately put off. I thought, "Watson as a woman? What?" But, I've never been more satisfied to eat my own words.

Joan is every bit a Watson as the many predecessors before her. And in this story, she is someone who falls into the crazy antics that follow Sherlock Holmes while trying keep her job together. It's old meets new, in the borough of Manhattan as Sherlock and Watson strive to work out their differences and maybe solve a few crimes along the way.

The Relationship

I could not be anymore happy with the executive producers (Doherty, Timberman, Beverly, and Coles) and their take on the relationship between Watson and Holmes. For once, someone understands that you can have two different gendered leads, without having any romantic tension between them. 

In all honesty, romance is lazy writing. You want a sappy love story about a guy and a girl, go google it. You'll get thousands of options that will more than likely fill every kink and need in your little black book. 

Romance is such an easy way out, especially for a story with a male and female lead. I'm not saying romance can't be done and shouldn't be done, but if your idea can be googled with over one-thousand search results you need to spice it up. 

Love is a singularity in the grand scheme of events that happen in a person's life. People weep, they laugh, they shout, and they do a lot more than just fall in love. And that's what I love about Elementary (or what I love about what they don't do). They don't take the easy route and pair up their characters, they give them separate yet intertwining plots that develop them as people.

And they respect each other. When Watson tells Sherlock to do something, instead of being pompous and depreciative, he does it. She knows when he's getting out of hand and instead of coming off as the pushy, bossy female, she deals with it with as much grace as she knows. She understand how he works so she understands how to handle him. Likewise, he understands that she is her own individual with her own skill set that deserves to be accepted. She also respects that while he maybe him, he does understand a little bit about humanity. He can see her potential even when she refuses to belief it herself.

And they provide each other with a very interesting balance. No one becomes sub-plot. They are a partnership not a couple.

The Characters

In a show that could have so easily belittled its female lead and forced her into a submissive role, Elementary's Watson comes out guns-a-blazing. She goes toe-to-toe with Sherlock and the fantastic thing is that he recognizes and acknowledges that. He takes her for what she is, an equal who has just as much talent as he does in her own right. 

And where she could've come off as a very two-dimensional prop to boost Sherlock's own woes and sympathies, she explodes into this wonderful character who's snarky, smart, and more than capable of handling herself. She can embrace being a woman without being called out on it. And in no way, does her womanhood become the punchline of any joke. She makes a very blunt and very powerful point to establish that. All the hats off to the writing team for finally having a period joke without it being a period joke. She's not afraid to tell Sherlock he's being a jerk, and he's not too full of himself to ignore that he is being one. It not only calls out the ingrained misogyny of our society but makes for actual good-written humor.

Coming from being a huge fan of the BBC's own version of Sherlock, I had very strong opinions on who Sherlock was and how he acted. And Elementary not only punched that in the gut, but shoved it off a building. Sherlock was not a cold-shouldered, intellectual with no social graces. He was human. And boy is that refreshing to see. In a name so household, Sherlock was always this divine, god-like genius to me.

But that was never realistic. I always thought, a man is a man no matter how much fame is put to his name. So why couldn't Sherlock be what he was? 

Here, we see a man who is not only talented and intellectual but a man who has demons and emotions like us. He's not perfect and he certainly doesn't notice everything. Where BBC had Sherlock come off as a more highbrow outsider, CBS brings him as close to mankind as he could get. He's just the right balance of Downey's eccentric and Cumberbatch's aloofness. 

He's the most relatable Sherlock in the generations of screen adaptions that I've come across. He's lonely, he's quirky, he's eccentric, he's human. And he understands that. He knows what social norms are, and while he may choose to disregard them, he has a very endearing affinity towards humanity and falling into those if that means it will help someone. Yet, he doesn't understand everything and he doesn't have this superhuman power for deducing clues.

Sometimes, he builds a dinosaur out of molecules and falls asleep on the floor. So Watson has to pick up the pieces and continue where Sherlock leaves off. Watson deduces because Watson is just as much as a detective as Sherlock is.

They're two people who've managed to find a friend who makes them whole without taking anything away from their character.

Even the side-characters are strong players in their own ways. You've got the NYPD, who for once are not your brainless, can't solve a thing without Holmes, bumbling bunch of fools. With Captain Gregson and Detective Bell, you've got two characters that not only offer their own respects to Holmes (and Watson's) prowess, but get it in return. They provide such a powerful insight into the workings of Holmes: that he once again acknowledges that he does not know everything and sometimes needs others to point out what he cannot see.

The Writing

Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu take the characters and give them more essence than I've seen done. They click and play off each other in such a powerful way that if the plot doesn't keep you coming back, their banter will.

The story is one of the most organically written things I've had the pleasure to watch in quite a while. My biggest fear when I had finally buckled down and threw myself into this world, was that it would fall into all the cliched stereotypes of modern-day television.

But it doesn't.

Even though the episodes can be slow-paced, the dialogue is incredible: giving us small things, like Sherlock's ringtone for Watson, that speak volumes of words. It's a nice mix of comedy, drama, and sass. It has a sort of wit that is refreshing amongst the slap-stick comedy of our generation. It's realistic and definitive of who these characters are, and what they've become.

Even on the more serious topics, the writing exceeds expectations. We don't really ever forget about Joan's troubled past, nor do we forget Sherlock's. His drug addiction is never put to the side (as it wouldn't in real life). It comes back to him at the worst moments and it haunts him at his best. It's something that brings him crashing down to earth and keeps him grounded.

Even Watson gets her own story, to herself, that deals with the very real side effects of being in a position where someone's life is on the line. She shows us that good people can mess up, but it doesn't make them bad. Wherever you stand, Watson has her own ghosts that creep up in the most unexpected places. Yet, through the help of each other they deal with it. Their words, their actions, their unmitigated respect for each other pulls them through.

The Look

Artistically, Elementary is a visual banquet. From the clothing department to the dusty old apartments, I have to give a shout-out to everyone who has put their all into creating this entrancing world. It really pulls us into this universe and takes us along with this iconic duo as they try and make their way through a very complicated life.

Even the camerawork on this show is not something to be overlooked. It really adds character to the scenes and puts us right into the moments of action. It's one of my favorite television openings because it's so simple yet it takes notes from other title sequences, and puts its together in something that really sets the mood of the entire series.

It really drives home the point of the show and the legacy of its characters: that it's about a crime-solving duo out to navigate a complicated and complex world full of many twists and turns.

The Diversity

It has a wonderful cast of individuals (Watson, Detective Bell, Ms. Hudson), that represent so many forms and tropes of life and really set the stage that the world is (not surprisingly) diverse. Where you can have an Asian woman, an African-American detective, even a transgendered woman without any of that defining their characters or their arcs.

You could argue that the show is trying "too hard" to be inclusive with its characters and its plots, but then I'd like to see your definition of the world. It is not full of one person: there are powerful woman, vulnerable men, people of color, people of different identities, people who are addicted, people who kill, and people who try their best to prevent that.

If your main complaint with Elementary is that it's not the Sherlock you've grown up with, then go watch the one you've grown up with. This doesn't owe you any semblance of familiarity or orthodox. It sets a new standard, one that I hope future producers and studios will pick up on.

My Point

If there was any show that I'd wholeheartedly encourage you to catch up on, and jump into, it's this one. It'll make you laugh, think, and surprise you in the most unexpected ways. Even without its iconic foundation, Elementary is a strong example of ingenuity in a seemingly endless ocean of stereotypical and flat television. 

Shock of 65th Emmy Awards

Award Season has finally kicked off! The Emmy Awards were this weekend and they were quite different from years before. Check it out.

Neil Patrick Harris was the host this year so expectations were high, not only because he has quite the experience with hosting big award shows like the Tonys, but also because he is the main character of the funny sit-com How I Met Your Mother.  However, perhaps my expectations were too high.  The grand entrance of an original musical number, specially choreographed to the Emmys for our excitement and to keep us wanting to watch more was none other than disappointing.  Mostly because there wasn’t one.  Instead it was like most previous openings where other celebrities are in some way trying to tell him how to host a show and what he is doing wrong, as well as him taking a few jabs at other celebrities in the audience.  The opening of the show was quite sad, much like the rest of the show.
This year the show seemed more to me as a funeral reception more than anything.  Like Ken Levine, a hollywood comedic writer, put it, “it was one long funeral interspersed with production numbers.” There were individual tributes, musical tributes, presidential tributes, and they even felt it necessary to show Lee Harvey Oswald get shot again. I was very confused by all of this. Especially by Elton Johns tribute to Liberace.  Its been over 25 years, I didn’t get it but maybe im just missing something, I don’t know.  Regardless, I did not see the relevance most of that had to do with the actual Emmy awards.

To kick off one of the big shocks of the night. Merrit Wever, from Nurse Jackie, won the Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series. She out-won Anna Chlumsky from Veep, Jane Krakowski from 30 Rock, Jane Lynch from Glee, Mayim Bialik from The Big Bang Theory, Sofia Vergara in Modern Family, and two-time consecutive Emmy winner, Julie Bowen, from Modern Family. I definitely didn’t see that one coming. And perhaps what was even more unexpected was her speech.  A short and humorous “ Thank you so much. I gotta go. Bye” was all she said in response to her new piece of gold.  Maybe she was afraid of the getting cut off by the music cue in the middle of an important acknowledgment like every other winning actor and actress of the night. Either way it was actually pretty fun to watch since it was not at all what I was expecting to happen.

The other major shock of the night was when Jeff Daniels, as Will McAvoy, in the show The Newsroom, was the winner for Outstanding Lead Actor in Drama Series.  He beat out John Hamm as Don Draper in Mad Men,  Hugh Bonneville  for Downton Abbey, Damian Lewis for Homeland,   Kevin Spacey for House of Cards, and Bryan Cranston as the infamous Walter White of Breaking Bad.   My mouth dropped to say the least. I definitely would have lost a bet on this one.  All of these actors do tremendous work, however I firmly believe Breaking Bad would not be the show it is without Bryan Cranston.  His performances are incredible and very much worth of the acknowledgement. 

 On a different note, The mid-show performance referencing all of the shows for best TV drama was really cool to watch. The choreography was spectacular in the way that every move correlated to the different themes of the shows and what they represent.  It was by far my favorite part of the entire show.  Besides when Tina Fey and Amy Poehler decided to crawl up the stage. That was priceless.

The Emmy awards are always something I look forward to watching around this time of year.  However this year was a miss in terms of entertainment for me so I hope for the Oscars and Golden Globes to make up for it in the next few months.                             

Recurring Developments

The other day I stumbled across a website called "Recurring Developments". This website, amazingly enough, maps out the entire thread of inside jokes within the popular TV show Arrested Development. This map shows the inside joke, which episode those jokes happen, as well as the description of the jokes, and fun facts of the episode.

For those of you who haven't seen the show, Arrested Development has a whole slew of inside jokes that the characters mention during not only the show, but during the whole series. This is one of my favorite parts of this show because it ties the whole show together. It makes even the most mundane of moments in the show funny because the character pulls out a joke that is just as funny the 10th time you hear it.

The website is so fascinating to me because it shows the level of thought that this show puts into each and every episode. The attention to detail is just inspiring. Each joke is woven into episodes and the process of doing so seems so effortless. All of the jokes work in each episode and they never seem out of place. My personal favorites are the jokes about Ann and the jokes about Tobias being a never nude.

I also found the mapping of the inside jokes to be quite impressive as well. There was a lot of detail in that mapping and you could tell that the people who made it knew their Arrested Development. I love that this show fosters so much interactivity of the viewers. Many viewers don't just watch the show. They go to websites like this to look more into the show and they become participants in the show by blogging or sharing their ideas. This show definitely promotes a cross-platform interactivity because viewers just can't get enough of it!

South Park Premiere: Season 17?

Just this past week, South Park aired it's premiere to it's 17th season, Let Go, Let Gov. It's was your typical episode with offensive terms, crude humor, and overall makes a relevant message at the end. The two main story themes that we're taking place in this episode was Eric Cartman trying to take down the NSA via social media and Butters thinking that when Eric says "the government is always watching him" that he meant the government is a god like entity watching over the world. Two very clever spins on the whole NSA thing.

In Eric's story he infiltrated the NSA and was trying to bring them down from the inside. While he's talking to the main guy in charge, investigators keep coming up telling them about leads based off tweets and texts about things like "going to the movies," "Do we need milk?" and other daily unimportant things. I think this is hilarious because it makes you think about all of the pointless stupid things people put up on the internet who are also worried that their precious tweets are being spied on. This is further emphasized when Eric discovers a new form of social media that directly broadcasts your thoughts to the internet called "shitter." Through Eric's investigations we discover that the NSA is using Santa Clause's power of watching over all the good and bad children to locate who are the bad people they should be keeping an eye on. Writing like this is what I think makes South Park so successful.

Now in the other half of the episode you have Butters who believes that the internet is a holy spirit/god like entity. I think this is a really clever spin on the paranoia of the government watching over people all the time. He starts confessing his sins at the DMV and slowly starts gathering followers. He even converts a pair of door-to-door Jehova Witnesses to open up their heart to Barack Obama. In the end Butters has turned the DMV into a happy place. I really enjoy Butter's character because in some episodes they have him make these beautifully profound dialogues. Things that you would never expect to hear from a show as vulgar and crude as South Park. In other episodes he discusses how feeling sad is a part of being alive which allows you to feel happy as well as how bullying only tells people that the bully has a miserably sad life.

When I see shows like this, that have been around for 17 years, it just blows my mind. I mean this show is 4 years younger than I am. How do you create and maintain something for that long as well as have it do well? From looking at it, they do have good characters and they keep it focused on recent events. It's also weird to me how these characters have developed because all of the character's personalities are definitely different from their first season yet the same. It's impressive actually because these boys have been 12 years old for 17 years now but the writers have found ways to have them develop without aging them that much. It's even more shocking that they've made it 17 seasons being as offensive as they are but they've definitely developed this untouchable kind of enigma. Also I'm sure after 17 successful seasons they have enough money for some pretty good defense lawyers.

Overall I love this show because it does make very intelligent opinions on current events in the most vulgar and offensive ways possible.

Why the "Frozen" Trailer Means Nothing

I'm about as big a Disney fan as you can get. My first year of college, I brought my entire Disney VHS collection for my viewing pleasure. I've read books analyzing Disney's current business model, articles exposing Disney as an evil corporation (which I don't agree with), and biographies on Walt himself. Whether you, like Disney or hate Disney, I feel like they've earned some respect at the very least. 
In recent years, I've become especially intrigued by Disney Animation Studios. After Disney's decision to dissolve their hand-drawn animation studios, and then subsequent re-instate them under the tutelage of John Lasseter and Bob Iger, Disney has produced some good  movies. The Princess and the Frog was at least commendable, and a solid return for the studio. They followed up with "Tangled", a computer generated film which was critically acclaimed and became the 19th highest grossing animated film. That was followed by another computer generated film, "Wreck it Ralph", which was indisputably enjoyable. These three films, perhaps specifically "Wreck it Ralph" and "Tangled", were solid additions to the classic Disney canon, and a great shift from the films that come out during the bulk of the first decade of the 21st century. 

I think Disney is headed in the right direction with their animation, especially given the apparent decrease in Pixar quality (even though Brave and Monsters University had their own merits) (Also, Cars 2 should be destroyed). That's why I've been so excited for full trailer for Disney's new animated film, "Frozen". The trailer was released on Thursday, and to be totally fair, I was underwhelmed. 

The trailer although mildly engaging, seemed juvenile at times, relying largely on comedic relief from the Olaf character, the snowman. Following the "Wreck it Ralph" trailer, which is spectacular, this trailer seemed very two dimensional, and somewhat devoid of any emotional depth, save the blatant emotional hand-holding when Olaf says, "Some people are worth melting for". 

To be fair though, I remember having a similar feeling when the "Tangled" trailer was released. That seemed to ignore a large amount of the depth and charm that the movie had, exchanged for cheap laughs. 

These reductive tendencies in Disney trailers is perhaps a ploy to engage their main demographic, children. Most of the things that a person like myself would find exciting about the movie may go over the heads of their target demographic. The trailer, perhaps, is not indicative of the true movie quality. 

The point is, even though this trailer was "eh" at very best, I'm still excited for the film, given the recent success of Disney Animation. 

Lucasfilm Predicts the Future

There have always been three stages to the filmmaking process: pre-production, production, and post-production. These three components rely on each other to create a polished final product. Regardless of being a documentary, a promotional video, or feature film, all film productions require these three steps. 

"Over the next decade video game engines will be used in film-making, with the two disciplines combining to eliminate the movie post-production process."

This is the ambitious claim made by Lucasfilm, the production company behind the Star Wars franchise. 

Speaking at the Technology Strategy Board event at BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts), the company’s chief technology strategy officer, Kim Libreri, introduced a new style of filming: 

As you can see, the company has figured out a way to implement special effects in real-time, moving a large amount of post-production work into the pre-production and production phase. Although Lucasfilm is able to show off this technology now, it is still more of a future concept and calling it a complete replacement to post-production is laughable. As you can see from the video, the graphics are not exactly feature-film quality. But this is, more then anything, is a sign of things to come. It could also be considered an advanced style of storyboarding, enabling special effects artists to see their work before actually implementing it.  

All of the effects in the video have been possible in the past, except before you had to process, tweak, and render the footage. Now they are able to do it incredibly faster to the point where it's instantaneous. In movie making time is money, so what this means is that films will be able to implement special effects on a much smaller budget. I know some people favor practical effects so this may not be an entirely good thing... but I'm very interested to see what happens when high-end graphics become assessable to a very wide audience.

Oh... and speaking of the future. Check out this cool film I found that interviews Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Martin Scorsese. They ask them about the future of movies... but in year 1990. Quite the interesting perspective.