All posts by Scott Weber

Captain America: The Winter Soldier – Movie Review

captain_america_the_winter_soldier_movie-wide

 

Spoiler Warning – to paraphrase Elvis Costello “Spoilers will happen…” I am going to blather on incessantly telling you about what goes on this movie. I’ll talk about the plot, the characters, the whiz-bang effects and maybe even the big pivotal moment (hint: probably involves a beefy dude and an explosion). If you are worried about learning something about this movie that you would rather not learn, then stop reading and skip down to the final verdict part of this post.  If you are at all concerned that I might let it slip that the Winter Soldier referenced in the title is an operative for the Cold Miser whose mission is to eliminate the Winter Warlock and put a mind control devise on Kris Kringle so that he alienates Jessica and drives her into the waiting arms of the Cold Miser, then you should have stopped reading a while ago. Anyway, spoilers may happen. You are warned.

Summary – If I need to explain who Capt America is, then you are in the wrong spot. Go see the first movie to get up to speed. Go ahead, I’ll wait. And if you haven’t seen the Avengers movie, then go watch that one to because it is relevant.

You’re back? Good. So, in this film Cap is shown to be having issues acclimatizing himself to modern life and, surprisingly, to his new job in SHIELD. His inherent goodness and boy scout demeaner is not comfortable with Nick Fury’s Nick Furyness. On a rescue mission he gets his chisled jaw out of line when Black Widow has a different objective than the rest of the team. Back home, he confronts both Black Widow and Fury, but gets no satisfaction. Meanwhile we learn that Nick Fury is keeping significant secrets and they worry him. Not to tell it all but Nick get killed (yes, comic book killed), SHIELD gets compromised, and there are lots and lots of explosions over our nation’s capital.

The Good – There were plenty of things I liked about this movie. This movie has just about the best, most realistic action sequences of any comic book movie. Now note that I did not say that the action was realistic in the absolute sense, but realistic for a comic movie. The action was believable enough to be fun and let you feel like the heroes were actually in danger (this is ignoring the Cap-escape-across-the-bridge sequence). The plot pace is very good, fast enough to keep me interested yet slow enough to actually explain what needed to be explained. I enjoyed the little touched that showed how Cap was a media figure, I just would have liked for it to play with that idea a bit more. Finally, I like the tone of this movie just like I liked the tone of the first one. It is earnest without being corny. It’s a nice change in a movie today.

The Bad – This is a comic book movie, so some of what I am going to call Bad is simply the genre. That being said, these things can be done better and until a comic book movie does them better they will still be second class cinema.

Dialog – Ugh. I can live with dialog not being meaningful, but it had at least better be quipy and delivered well. The only person who can deliver a line in this film is Nick Fury, and he seems to be refusing to do so in this film. So, we are left with Cap who cannot quip because, well, he’s Cap. We have Black Widow, who would be perfect to quip if it were not for the lifeless performance by the actress.

Black Widow – Cap could be an interesting character but it isn’t necessary. Black Widow is an interesting character, but you wouldn’t know it from this film. The weak writing is done no favors by the disinterested and clueless acting. Fail and fail.

Villian – It’s nice to see Redford still getting work and he managed not to twirl his moustache, but it was a lost cause. From the first moment you knew he was the villain. And to add to that, people in charge of govt agencies are so often the villain that you’d think that if SuperHeroes really wanted to help society they would throw a coup and put good honest people in charge. That’s the comic book movie I want to see.

The Other – I probably could have listed these in the Bad section, but while they would be bad in a normal movie, this is a comic book movie. These are America’s version of Greek Myths. They define us, our hopes and fears, our ideals and our weaknesses. They are giant metaphors told by people who have wildly varying degrees of competence. That being said, these are the things that had me scratching my head during this film.

Why would you put your the chips that control your firing systems on the most vulnerable part of the flying ships? And not have them guarded?

They built a huge, huge underground complex that can open up  in the Potomac and nobody knew about it? Thousands working down there and it’s a secret? It’s a huge ass swamp, just how well did that digging go? Where did all the dirt go?

So, a guy wearing a wing/jet pack combo capable of having him run with fighter jets can execute high G turns without blacking out? Without burning his legs off from the jets? With only goggles for protective gear?

Washington D.C. has two huge running gun battles in three days time and the streets are still open? No military swarming the streets? No checkpoints?

Final Verdict – For a me the final verdict on a movie is whether or not I an happy that I paid the money to see the film. That’s significant if you are hauling a family and springing for popcorn and drinks. For this movie, my answer is yes, this movie was worth the money. It didn’t change my life or make me consider the human condition differently, but it was entertaining without being insulting. Where does this fit in the pantheon of Marvel comics? It is below Avengers, Iron Man 1, and Cap America 1, and above the rest.

Music Blog – American Punk, the early years

American Punk

Dead Kennedys MC5 The Stooges the ramones

 

 

 

 

 

 

Punk Rock was first big in England. The hard driving, simple chord driven music was born out of the economic malaise of the ‘70s and took root with disaffected young white kids. The idealism and the promises of the ‘60’s slowly devolved into drugs and hopeless government policies. They saw the music of their parents, or older siblings, as stodgy, pretentious and commercial (the music we today call classic rock). Punk Rock was a rebellion against the culture, and against the previous rebellion against the culture. As with many things it crossed the ocean and mutated a bit.

The American economic situation was similar to the English one, but a bit less severe. The cultural situation was arguably worse. We had the disappointment at the failed promises of the ‘60s, but we also had something worse – Disco. Anti-disco sentiment turned to hard Rock as it’s salvation (eventually giving us Hair Bands, which made Disco seem like it wasn’t so bad), but Punk was there the whole time fighting the good fight against everything. Early American Punk resembled English Punk in it’s anger and ferocity, but it was flavored with surf rock and garage band influences. It is one of the few American music movements that happened on both coasts and the heartlands at the same time.

MC5 – MC5 might be the ur-American Punk band, ignoring for a moment all the surf bands. They had their time in the tainted sun from their first album in 1969 up until their dissolution in 1972. They only put out three albums, but they were as influential to American Music as the Velvet Underground. They were from Detroit and played music that was closer to rhythmic industrial noise than it was to any of the sugary pop or trippy hippy music of the day. They influences a generation of angry kids with guitars, maybe none more important than their neighbors from Ann Arbor, The Stooges.

The Stooges – Compared to MC5, the Stooges were a raging success story. Compared to the rest of the music industry, they were just raging. They played hard, experimental music that was influenced by the hippies, but rejected their peace and love message in favor of an expression of primal emotion. They were one part Velvet Underground, one part garage rock, four parts unidentifiable hazardous materials, and three parts Iggy Pop. They developed a reputation for wild, chaotic live shows involving nudity, raw meat, and self inflicted wounds. It can come as no surprise that the band’s story is one of chaos and abuse, but they held it together long enough to product some influential if challenging music.

Iggy Pop – Iggy is American Punk’s wild uncle who came back from the war a little off kilter, then shows up every few years and takes Dad for a three day adventure not unlike a Hangover movie. Iggy played in bands in high school, then he saw the Door live. He probably saw a kindred spirit in Jim Morrison, but one that just was not brave enough on stage. Iggy took it on himself to redefine what a stage show was (see the previous entry – the Stooges). When the Stooges came to one of their ends, he hooked up with David Bowie and made his two move acclaimed albums, one of which spawned the evergreen fun song “Lust for Life”.  He has spent the years floating from one style to the next, producing little hits every few years all the while making people say “He’s still alive?”.

 

Television – Dirty, dingy crime laden New York. Yes, this is the environment that spawns new music. Television was built around Richard Hell and Tom Verlaine, who had been bandmates before. Their music was punk in attitude, but the playing owed as much to the folk scene as it did to any other type of music. They were one of the very early bands to play regular gigs at CBGBs, reportedly being the ones who built the first stage. They suffered from having to many cooks (writers) and eventually Richard Hell left to form the Heartbreakers, who later became Richard Hell & the Voidoids. Their first album, Marquee Moon,  sold moderately in the US, but cracked the top 30 in much of the rest of the world.

Richard Hell & the Voidoids –  There wasn’t enough room for Richard Hell in Television, and probably not enough room on any stage for him with any band. Richard Hell was as insightful as the Dead Kennedy’s but not nearly as militant. He was more aloof, in an east coast way. He wrote wry observational or humorous songs about growing up in America, about girls, or New York. Many in the music industry picked this band to be the break out band from CBGBs. They had some success, but were quickly overshadowed by the more polished sounds of Blondie and Talking Heads. The band made several forgettable albums after their first one, then drifted into irrelevance. Richard Hell wrote a couple of books, some poetry, then drifted away.

Black Flag – Possibly America’s first hard-core Punk bank. They created the script that so many other bands would follow, knowingly or unknowingly, in the punk world. They had an anti-authority anti-consumerism, anti-conformity message that played very well to the warm malaise of suburban California life. They built their reputation as much on biting lyrics and hammering beats as on notoriety. They left a legacy of energetic performances, violent crowds, and stunning concert posters/t-shirts. Their influence is felt equally in Punk music as well as in Hair/Speed Metal.

X – X was formed in the growing years of American Punk. While they looked like a punk band with their dyed hair and multiple piercings, they played with a bit of a twang. Somewhere along the line, some rockabilly DNA mixed into the Punk soup and a new strain was the result. The band went through many record labels, with their sound always evolving. Even so, you can always count on them to play it fast, loud, and with a bit of country.

Dead Kennedys – Only America’s musical crucible, California, could have produced the Dead Kennedys. As political as the hippies, as satirical as Frank Zappa, and about four-fifths as energetic as Dick Dale, they were for many, the prototype for an American Punk band. Their history is marked by biting every hand that ever fed them, and by biting each other. They serve as an object lesson in how bands with a strong political message are not above all the things that typically befall bands – drugs, creative squabbles, money bickering. They did produce one of the finest satirical songs ever, California Uber Alles. Given today’s political climate, this cynical biting indictment of conformity might actually be considered naïve.

The Ramones – They sound like a poorly tuned, poorly recorded garage band playing surf rock, must be another California band, right? Nope. The Ramones were as New York as a slice of flat greasy pizza, as a cabbie flipping off a tourist, and as a five pound rat. They had matching black shag haircuts, matching dirty jeans, and matching black leather jackets. They played hard, happy surf riffs while they sang about mental illness, drugs, and girls. The band had modest success, but built a fanatical following by touring constantly and always giving the fans a good show. They lasted long enough to be seen as elder statesmen, a tag that would probably make them puke. They are probably the most widely known of any American Punk band.

Monday –MC5 “Kick out the Jams”, The Stooges “Search and Destroy”, Iggy Popp “Lust for Life”
Tuesday – Television “See No Evil”, Richard Hell & the Voidoids “Blank Generation”
Wednesday -Black Flag “Rise Above”, X “Johnny Hit and Run Pauline”
Thursday – Dead Kennedys “California Uber Alles” & “Holiday in Cambodia”
Friday -The Ramones “I Wanna Be Sedated”, “Sheena is a Punk Rocker”, “Blitzkrieg Pop”

“Attack On Titan” – Anime Review: Don’t Bother…

This image is as good as this series ever gets.

Attack on Titan – Anime Review

(Available on Hulu, Subtitled

Note – I reviewed the first 12 episodes of this series on Feb 3, 2014. Some of the things I say here may reference what I said there. Funny how that works. This review will be mainly for the remaining 13 episodes, but will try to sum it all up in a tidy package (note to self: remove tidy from vocabulary).

Spoiler Warning – Maybe you haven’t seen this yet and are waiting with baited breath for my pronouncement on its worthiness and entertainment value. How wise of you. But, be warned, in my review I am probably going to say some things about the characters, plot, or setting that you would rather not know about until you see it for yourself. If so, then skip to the end of this review where it says “Final Verdict”. You will be missing out on my stunning insights, careful contexting of how this fits into dystopian fiction history, and a charming little anecdote about the time we fed the neighbor’s aggressive Mastiff laxative laced burnt hamburgers. Oh, yes, those were the days. Too bad about the neighbor’s drywall though. Now, if you have seen this show and want to read yet another fawning review about how brave this was, or how innovative this was, or how this was a brilliant outward expression of the sense of hopelessness felt by many of the young people of today, then you might want to move along to some fanboy site, ‘cause I’m pissed I wasted my time watching this whole series.

Summary – (Lifted from the previous review, feel free to skip if you already read it. Also, if you did, thanks.) “Attack on Titan” is set on an earth-like world (it might be Earth) where large carnivorous creatures called Titans have caused what is left of the human race to live behind a series of walls.  The Titans are huge dumb naked humanoids without digestive systems or genitalia who seem to exist solely to eat people. This peace, humans in there concentric circles of safety and Titans on the outside, held for one-hundred years. Then a huge Titan appeared and breached the wall and the smaller Titans poured in like senior citizens at an Old Country Buffet. The story follows three survivors of the attack as they join the military and seek to beat back the Titans.

The Good – In my previous review I said there were three good points

  • The concept of humanity trapped behind walls by something they don’t understand,
  • Strong, stylized, if a bit simplistic animation,
  • the steampunky combat system that shoots out lines and then retracts them to Spiderman around the city.

I still think that last two are valid. I will add that this show didn’t do a bad job of handling a large, large cast of secondary characters. They all looked, acted, and sounded like individuals with logical, independent reasons for who they were and what they did. That doesn’t always happen in Anime.

The Bad – In the previous review I said I was liking it through episode six, and was getting frustrated by episode 12. The show was plagued by characters endlessly whining about their conflicts, taking the pace from spirited, to horse-and-buggy, then right to glacial (we still have glaciers, right? I can still use that reference? If not, look it up on Wikipedia). That problem not only persisted, but really became the whole show. The character focus loosened up a bit and several background characters were brought to the front of the stage. There they stood, took up space, and added nothing. We had the stoic young commander, the hot shot lone wolf captain, and several tortured yet doing their duty soldiers become part of the narrative without making it better. This “nothing happens but we stand around talking about what isn’t happening” is an anime problem. Naruto – Check, One-Piece – Check, it’s an epidemic. Attack on Titan does not quite offend like those two other shows, but it clearly didn’t get the free shot at the clinic when it should have.

Another fault is with logic. I bitched before that the only people left on earth were the stupidest ones because anybody could have built better defenses than they did. Well, that now applies to their military. Worst-Military-Ever. In the second half of the series they take an expedition outside the walls. The young stoic commander has devised a new scouting “formation” that will allow them to avoid the Titans and get to their goal where previous expeditions were decimated. The formation relies on a wide formation aided by signal flare guns. Different color flares have different meanings. This way they hope to avoid the Titans. We get to see the diagram of the formation maybe one hundred times and it never makes sense and clearly will not work. Then it appears that there might be a secret mission to lure a special female Titan into an area where it could be trapped, but only the commander and a few others knew about it. Rather than devising a good plan to do that, they come up with a formation sure to sacrifice as many scouts as possible. Think also, that their main mode of fighting, the 3-D devises, are suited to city fighting or maybe dense forest work, but they are travelling outside the walls across largely open plains. Did you think that maybe you should come up with some alternate form of defense? Nope. Did you think that given you don’t have a decent defense that maybe splitting your forces into smaller groups of two or three was a bad idea? Nope. Did you at least let the scouts get rid of the heavy 3-D devises so the horses would have a chance to out run the Titans? Nope, why should we, we are great 3-D fighters! Yeah there are other problems  – no chain of command structure, no roles/responsibilities, and no concept of logistical support. This crew is the equivalent of a group of drunk teenagers going to party in the old spooky abandoned house in an ‘80s slasher film. Clueless and soon to be dead.

Finally, there is no payoff on any of the concepts, and this is what really pisses me off. There were interesting concepts with great promise, but we are all left hanging. Where do the Titans come from? How do they live? What was in Eren’s cellar that was so important to his father? What did Eren’s father inject him with? How did the female Titan come to be? Why did she work with the Titans?…. there is an endless list of interesting questions and concepts begging to be answered or explored that are just left on the ground like ripe tomatoes. Left to rot, never to reach their full potential when coupled with some fresh mozzarella and aged balsamic. The plight of the tomatoes is a tragedy, but the plight of all these really cool plot points is a freaking crime against the narrative gods.

The Other – Look out there is an obsession with gore and bodily fluids that someone really needs to see a specialist about. There is also the obsession with prattling on about one’s inner issues without ever coming to a conclusion or even trying to come to a resolution. It is like reading a self-help book that leaves out the help part.

After I finished the series I sought out other points of view. This was a fairly highly regarded title from last year after all. CrunchyRoll was chock full of five star reviews and praised the plot. Funimation has glowing review after review. Anime News Network gave it an A-, saying you could “overlook its flaws and revel in its sheer overwhelming entertainment value”. I have no idea how anyone could say any of that about this huge steaming pile of plotless, over-emoting, stupid, and illogical refuse. This is not ground breaking, or deep. It is a couple of striking visual images dancing around several malnourished concepts, strung together by lazy storytelling.

Final Verdict – The best way to judge a work is to ask yourself if the artist does something else, will I be interested? Here the answer is no. A resounding no. If I ever see something that says “from the creators of Attack On Titan” I will not watch it. I might take out a billboard in LA warning others of its presence. I might write to my senators asking them to ban its importation. I may go so far as to open a portal to another world letting Kaiju roam the ocean in hopes that they will find their way to the studios and stop this from happening again. One and a half stars.

Explanation of Stars –

One Star – was not worth watching, and I wonder why I did and how I got through it

Two Stars – Had significant flaws that interfered with the entertainment. I finished it but wish I could get that time back.

Three Stars – I finished and don’t regret the time I spent. It didn’t fail on any account but it probably didn’t shine either. I might be interested in something else, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to anybody.

Four Stars – This is good with minor flaws that border on nitpicking, if they are really flaws at all. I eagerly look forward to more work.

Five Stars – A four star work that really moved me emotionally, made me think in a different way, or introduced me to concepts I had never before dreamed of. Something I am still thinking about weeks later, in a good way.

60’s Pop Music – Lost in the Shuffle

Hermans Hermits The Turtles Happy Together

In the wake of the Fab 4’s explosion onto the music scene, many, many bands with shaggy hair, strong harmonies, and sweet love songs got signed to record labels. A few of them were really good bands who happened to have the misfortune of living in The Beatles considerable shadow.

The bands and songs on this list are some of my favorites from the era. History has not been kind to most of these bands. When you think of ‘60’s music, the socially conscious, protest, and hippie stuff springs to mind first. While in retrospect, that music probably had the strongest impact on society and music, it was not necessarily the most popular music at the time. Take the top songs of 1965:

Billboard Top 10 songs of 1965
01.Wooly Bully » Sam The Sham & The Pharaohs
02. I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch) » Four Tops
03. (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction » Rolling Stones
04. You Were On My Mind » We Five
05. You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ » Righteous Brothers
06. Downtown » Petula Clark
07. Help! » Beatles
08. Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat » Herman’s Hermits
09. Crying In The Chapel » Elvis Presley
10. My Girl » Temptations

One Rolling Stones song, and one Beatles song. Petula Clark, the Four Tops, and Elvis were still very popular. This reinforces the point that while the boomer generation may want to remember the ’60’s as a time of social consciousness and musical exploration, simple pop music ruled the roost.

The following list highlights some of my favorite music from the era that history has chosen to overlook. So, hop over Youtube, Pandora or Spotify and listen to some of these bands/songs that represent the best of ’60s pop music.

The Turtles “Elenor”, “Happy Together”
The Zombies “She’s Not There”, “Tell Her No”
Herman’s Hermits “I’m into something good”, “There’s a kind of a hush”
Grass Roots “Midnight Confessions”
Tommy James & The Shondells “I Think We’re Alone Now”
The Monkees “Steppin’ Stone”, “Daydream Believer”, “You just may be the one”

attack on Titan

Attack on Titan – Anime Review, Halfway Point

attack on Titan

(Available on Hulu, subtitled)

Spoiler Alert – This review covers the first twelve episodes of the twenty-five available on Hulu. If I say something that is countered in episodes thirteen or higher, keep it to yourself. Also, as I summarize or talk about the highs and lows of this series I might let slip important details that would ruin some people’s enjoyment of the series. If you are one of those, skip down to the part titled “Final Verdict”. By doing this you will avoid me clueing you into the fact that this anime is actually a media tie-in to the movie “Remember the Titans” as well as “Clash of the Titans”. So far, the football team has made Perseus be the waterboy, and Denzel Washington is keeps reciting bible verses and looking cool in his sunglasses. I’m sure it will all make sense in the end. Anime always does.

Summary – Attack on Titan is set on an earth-like world ( it might be Earth) where large carnivorous creatures called Titans have caused what is left of the human race to live behind a series of walls.  The Titans are huge dumb naked humanoids without digestive systems or genitalia who seem to exist solely to eat people. This peace, humans in there concentric circles of safety and Titans on the outside, held for one-hundred years. Then a huge Titan appeared and breached the wall and the smaller Titans poured in like senior citizens at an Old Country Buffet. The story follows three survivors of the attack as they join the military and seek to beat back the Titans.

The Good – The story and setting concepts are pretty interesting. I’m not saying it all holds together (this is Anime afterall), but the idea of humans besieged by something they don’t understand has a lot of potential. The ecology of the Titans, how they live, what do they do outside of eating people… clearly does not make any sense and is setting us up for a big reveal of some time. I like that. There seems to be a world and a history at least sketched out, if not fleshed out.

The animation is good, to a point. They use good shading and color on the backgrounds to give the world an ok lived in look. The characters all have some type of distinguishing feature (a scar, a scarf, glasses, realistic hair…) to help you keep them straight. The action scenes are a bit weak, using the still images with lots of crosshatching rather than actual movement at times, but not so much that it detracts.

The primary mode of combat is a harness that shoots out lines then retracts quickly to propel the warrior through the air. It’s a bit like a steam-punk Spiderman set up. It is pretty interesting to watch and makes for good action sequences when they utilize it well, despite its utter implausibility.

The Bad – The humans that lived through the initial onslaught of Titans must be the dumb ones. With a little thinking they could have built much better defenses and created much more effective ways of killing the Titans than they have. Simply living underground would have saved them many of the problems they are having.

The creators of this show have an obsession with showing people’s reaction to horrible events. The camera lingers on their blank faces and open mouths as the character’s eyes,the eyeball not the whole eye, shakes up and down. This is useful once or twice, but when we are treated to every blasted character doing this over and over it gets a bit tiresome.

This show has a character problem. Actually, it has character problems, and we are privy to all of them. The viewer gets to ride along with the character’s innermost thoughts, hopes and fears. This would be good if it were just a few characters or if anybody could be concise. Neither is the case. An endless string of characters gets to inner monolog about how they are not worthy, how they are scared, or how they will overcome their fears and push on for duty. This is tiring. It is not interesting after the five of six times. It brings the story to a dead stop each time it happens. It is the perfect time to take a bathroom break and maybe get a snack.

This show started off with a good pace, moving through episodes one through six with a lot of story and character development. Then came “Attack on Trost” and this thing just stopped moving. It is not to Naruto/One Piece levels of tedium, but it is close. At episode twelve there is promise of story advancement, but I am tentative.

The Other – There is no fan service, but there is quite a bit of gore or other gross images. We get to see our hero in the stomach of a Titan, surrounded by blood and the pieces of other humans. There are a lot of battle carnage images and people getting eaten images. Yeah, no shortage of blood splatter. In a final image to be forgotten, we see that the Titans, since they don’t have digestive systems, puke up wads of people when they get too full. Pleasant.

Final Verdict – The best way to judge a work is whether or not you would watch/read another work by it’s creator. Since this review covers the first half of the series, this should be altered to “will I watch the rest of the series?” I am giving this a qualified yes. I have enough interest to watch more episodes, but if they keep just endlessly blathering on about their exaggerated feelings of inadequacy, I will bail on this series and just go read a wiki to figure out where the Titans came from. They have been warned.