Monday, April 27, 2015

Oldboy, The Manga Series


I'm a huge fan of Park Chan-Wook's vengeance trilogy especially Oldboy.  I love how it turns the classic vengeance tale on its head.  Its serves up lots of great action and gritty realism and yet it shows just how awful actual vengeance really is.

About a year ago, maybe, I found out that the film was based on a Manga.  I added them all to my Amazon wish list, but they generally sell for about ten bucks a pop and I wasn't ready to blow over a hundred bucks on one story, no matter how good.  So I'd buy one here and another there.  They are super easy and fast to read.  And good.  So good.  The story is basically the same as in the film though different in all the right ways so that I never feel like its a pointless exercise reading the book.

I bought maybe five of them over the course of several months and then stopped.  I get a little mad money from things like Swagbucks and selling old movies on Amazon and I spent that on things like Mangas and DVDs.  Basically all of my fun money comes from this type of thing and not our family budget so its pretty random when I get to do some shopping of this sort.  Somewhere along the line I stopped buying Oldboys and started in on something else. 

Then we moved and the comics were packed up in boxes and I didn't want to buy anymore until we could unpack.  Then we went to McKays in Nashville on the way back from my wife's folks house and I found the rest of the collection on sale and for the cheap.

I've started working my way through them again and they are so much fun to read.  They really are super fast as the books are fairly short and mostly consist of images.  But the art is really well done - fairly stark but put together in such a way that they tell the story using few words in imaginative ways.  I'll probably zip my way through the whole story this week and love every minute.

So that's whats making me happy today.  Cool manga.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

That Spectacular Daredevil Hallway Fight


I have a long, not so spectacular relationship to comic book movies.  Growing up I never read comic books so I did not develop any sort of nostalgic relationship with comic book characters.  I enjoyed Superfriends when it was on (though it seemed to air at odd times and I rarely found it) and other super cartoons.   I liked the Christopher Reeves Superman movies (though even the pre-pubescent me knew the fourth one sucked.)  I saw all the Tim Burton Batman films and the subsequent non-Burton sequels.  But I never though any of them were that amazing.  Etc.  Comic Book Movies were something I'd watch, but never really felt were anything all that awesome once I hit about age 15 or so.

I consider myself a geek, and I love geek culture.  Comic book movies are a huge part of that culture.  In this superhero world in which we live its really rather difficult to escape these types of movies even if you are not a geek. But when you are you live in a steady stream of fanboy excitement over them.  For awhile I'd get carried up in the excitement and see all the movies, but secretly I always found myself disappointed.

Somewhere in the midst of the X-men and Sam Raimi Spiderman trilogies I came to the realization that I wasn't really a fan of comic book movies.  Then early in the onslaught of Marvel/Avengers Initiative run I decided to tune out.  I could no longer pretend to be excited or to really care.

It stayed that way for a couple of years then slowly I started getting back into it.  It was actually The Avengers that sparked my renewal.  I used to have a friend (well he's still my friend I just no longer live anywhere near him) who is happily married and has five children.  As one might imagine his life is pretty hectic and ruled by his family.  But every now and again he'd give me a call and we'd have our own little guys night out.  This usually consisted of seeing some big dumb film with a bunch of dudes punching/shooting each other. 

One of those nights out we saw The Avengers.  I think I had seen the first Iron Man at that point but none of the others.  As mentioned I was intentionally avoiding them at this point.  But my friend wanted to see it and I obliged.  I really liked it.  One of the great things about that film is how they've done away with all the typical super hero fleshing out scenes - the origin stories and all that getting to know you stuff.  That sort of thing was taken care of in each characters solo movie so that all The Avengers had to do is bring them together and watch them kick ass and wise crack. 

It also helped at this point that I had started reading some of their comic books.  Reading the stories really helps flesh out the characters and get a better understanding of all the little things that fanboys love. 

I've since gone back and watched all the solo character movies and while I can't say that I loved them all I've been able to accept them as the dumb summer popcorn flicks that they are.

Which brings us to Daredevil.  I won't say that I was excited about this new Netflix series.  I know very little about the character having only read one or two of his comics and that only because he was included in larger story arc with the X-Men or something.  But I allowed the fanboy excitement to carry over and started watching the series.

I'm still actually only two episodes in, but I wanted to talk about that spectacular fight scene to close out the second episode. 

I'm really not a fight scene guy.  Part of the subtext of this whole essay is that I've become a bit of a movie snob.  I like classic films, art-house fair, and foreign films.  I want my movies to have important themes and artistic development with panache and style.  Big action scenes tend to all look the same and they just don't do it for me anymore.

But this Daredevil scene did something fantastic with it.  Maybe a little arty too.  You can watch it in that embedded clip above, but I want to note that it skips the beginning which is really actually important.  The real beginning starts at the far end of the hall looking towards a door.  The bad buy is carrying a plate of food or something, he enters the door and we hear him speak to the kid.  The camera follows him down then backs up as he comes back out the door.  We see him go in one other door with other bad guys then out and into another door.  Then the camera turns and we see Daredevil walk into view.  Here the scene picks up in our clip.

What I love about what you can't see here is that it gives us perspective.  Its essentially walking us through the space we're about to see turn action packed.  Once the fight begins the camera essentially keeps moving up and down the hallway showing us just how tight a space it is.  Its a beautifully choreographed scene and brilliantly done.  That it takes place in a television show and not some big budget film shows just how cinematic TV has become.

So far I'm only so-so on the series, but that scene needs to be seen.

Friday, April 17, 2015

The Force Awakens



I admit that Star Wars slipped away from me some years ago.  Or perhaps I slipped away from it. 

I was a Star Wars nerd as a kid.  I can remember watching Return of the Jedi in the theatre.  Multiple times.  I would excitedly tell those around me in the lunch line how many times I'd seen a New Hope (dozens thanks to cable, though I'd just as breathlessly recount that my brother had seen it more than 20 times.)  I also have very distinct memories of renting the original trilogy on VHS when that was a very new concept.  I was rediscovering it then, having seen them before but not necessarily remembering them, but I would rush at my mother telling her how wonderful those films were.

This all gets jumbled up in my mind and I no longer remember the sequence of those events, which things I did first or later in life.  But they are all there, strong memories that make me happy.  Whenever these things occurred by the end of High School I was a full fledged nerd often citing the trilogy as my very favorite films of all time (well even then I knew Jedi wasn't great, but still we got to see Vader with his helmet off and that was SO COOL!)

I was in college when they special-editioned  the films and I caught each of them opening night.  When they announced the prequels were really getting made I could hardly contain my fan-boy squeals.  I even sat through the travesty that is Evita because I'd heard the trailers were being shown in front of it (they weren't and I'll never forgive myself for loss of two hours of my life.) 

Then the prequels came and they weren't good.  In retrospect they actually aren't as bad as they get maligned for being, they just aren't very good.  And when you've got decades of anticipation for them not very good just doesn't cut it.  But still I find myself standing up for them more often than I probably should.

Time passed and I moved on.  I discovered other movies.  I fell in love with the old classics, with art house films, with foreign movies.  Star Wars held a place in my heart, but I had to make room for so much more.  When I sat down and watched the original trilogy for the first time in probably a decade several months ago I was underwhelmed.  They are still very entertaining and I certainly understand their place in movie history and the cultural zeitgeist, but when I hold them up to something like Casablanca or The Seventh Seal there just not anything more than fun family films. 

Still when JJ Abrams got on board to do a new one I allowed myself some excitement.  It was nowhere near what I felt coming up to the prequels, but I was gearing up for something fun.  I explained it to friends like this:  the prequels pretty much destroyed the franchise so if the new ones suck its no skin off my back.  But if they are good then we can all have our faith restored.

When I saw the first trailer my skeptical excitement remained about the same.  It looked fun, it hit the right beats, but it didn't do much more than that.  But this new one, it totally does it for me.  When we scroll across that desert land that must be Tatooine and see the crashed Star Destroyer my heart skipped a beat.  Throw in a burned out Darth Vader Helmet, a Mark Hamil voice over and freaking Han Solo with Chewbacca! and I'm so there.

I can't wait for Christmas.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Better Call Saul


I'm a little late with this.  I'm a little late with any sort of post, actually.  I started this blog hoping to post more or less everyday and then I took a week off.  Turns out that after my second post my air conditioner went out.  It took a week to get it repaired, meanwhile I was crashing at my folks house and with all the chaos I wasn't able to do any writing.

I also wasn't able to watch the final episode of this seasons Better Call Saul.  Until last night that is. 

When it was announced they were doing a prequel to Breaking Bad and it was going to feature Saul Goodman I was automatically excited.  He's such a great character and Bob Odenkirk does such a brilliant job with it I knew it would be something interesting.  Of course with Vince Gilligan on board I  knew it would be great.

And it is.  Although it is not at all what I expected.  I imagined it being about Saul Goodman just a few years before he meets Walter White having hijinks as the lawyer to various criminals.  I pitched it to myself as being like the X-Files without aliens.  By which I meant I wanted it to have longer, seasonal arcs -  maybe a big criminal foe he'd have to deal with - combined with stand-alone episodes where Saul would get into ridiculous situations and have to talk himself out of them.

That's not at all where they went with it.  Instead we got the Slippin' Jimmy the low rent con man who tries to go legit and gets knocked down every chance there is.  I don't want to spoil anything but that last episode tore me up.  It says something about the show runners that I was taken completely of guard and was really rather sad that Jimmy didn't win big, even though I absolutely know he couldn't because I know how his story ends - at a Cinnabon in Ohio.

That's the power of this story.  We've seen Breaking Bad. We know Jimmy becomes Saul and yet watching it, I can't help but wish for a different outcome.

I can't wait for season 2.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Buffy the Vampire Slayer


I finished watching Buffy last night.  I began watching it sometime in 2007 so if you do the math it took me longer to watch it than it did to make and originally air it.  I tended to marathon for a season or two then move onto something else for long stretches only to come back to another marathon sometime later.

It was a frustrating show to me in many ways.  Initially I struggled with the low budgets and cheesy effects perpetuated by the monster of the week stylings of the first season.  It got better in the second and the third and fourth seasons were really compelling.  I think "Hush" is one of the greatest episodes in the history of episodic TV.  It was a bit more hit and miss after the fourth season, but I still rather enjoyed it. 

My wife is very particular about what she wants to watch.  This has become more true since our daughter entered the picture.  Sex and certain types of violence (especially sexual violence or violence against children) have become verboten in our house (at least while the wife is awake.)  This has made finding a show that we can watch together increasingly difficult.  Prestige TV tends to be dark, brooding and full of the sort of stuff the wife can no longer stomach. 

But Buffy was something we could agree on and its been a joy to periodically push our way through the series.  As much as I wouldn't consider the greatest of TV and any time I discuss my own fandom of it I have to bring out a lot of caveats, I really did enjoy its run.  It makes me very happy to have had it as a show my whole family could enjoy together. 

I think I'll start it all over again and bring in Angel this time.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

The Awesome Blog, Or What's Making Me Happy





I used to pay close attention to politics, the news and what was happening in the world today.  I felt this was important.  One needed to have a good grasp on current events so that one could make the world a better place.  Or something.

Every now and again you might come across a bumper sticker or t-shirt or some random comment on a website that says something like this:

"If you aren't angry you aren't paying attention."

Thing is, that's really the truth.  At the time I was paying a lot of attention and I was very angry.  Politicians pissed me off.  Republicans pissed me off.  Religious nuts pissed me off.  Various websites, commentators, bloggers and random Facebook posters pissed me off.

I'd find myself getting into these long, furiously angry and utterly pointless arguments on social media.  They were wrong, I was right and I'd be damned if I wasn't going to let them know about it.  This never actually changed anything.  I wasn't making the world a better place.  I wasn't changing anyone's mind.  All I was doing is making myself more angry.

I'd stew about these things all day.  Writing arguments in my mind - forming logical mountains that no one would be able to assail and topple.  Righting their wrongs, justifying my own self-righteousness.  I'd get home, I'd make my post and there would be counter arguments, names called, blood boiled. Then I'd be up half the night reforming arguments and becoming more and more angry.

About a year ago I knew it had to stop.  I was angry all the time. I'd even lost friends.  Seriously, one of my dearest friend and I had stopped talking to each other because we'd had one too many arguments over politics.  I decided it wasn't worth it.  Whatever value paying attention had, it wasn't worth losing friends and sleep over.

So I gave it up.  I stopped watching the news.  Stopped listening to NPR.  Stopped reading political blogs.  I went through my social media feeds and whenever someone talked about politics I hid them or unfriended them.

To fill that political hole I've found things that make me happy.  Music, movies, books, arts and culture now consume my life.  Beautiful things.  Lovely things.  Happy things.  My life is so much better for it.  I try (and admittedly I'm not always successful as politics and the like still have a tendency to find their way to my eyes and brain and distract) to focus on the good and the wonderful, to filter my life with passions and let all the negative things slip away.

I'm not here to say that politics and current events aren't important.  I'm not trying to say that you shouldn't be invested in those things.  I'm just hear to praise the other things, the things that bring me joy.  I started this particular blog a long time ago.  It died many years ago.  I picked up other blogs and have done other things. I decided to start it back up because I wanted a venue to talk about the things that are making me happy every day.  If I keep up regular postings I may find a new blog, but for now this will be my home.

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I will hopefully talk about The Pop Culture Happy Hour more in depth at some other time.  But for now I'll just say its one of my very favorite podcasts.  At the close of each show they go around the room stating whats making them happy at that given moments.  Its a chance for the hosts of the show to recommend various books, movies, shows, songs, etc that they are digging right then and there.  I love that.  I've found lots of interesting stuff through them and now have a note on my phone dedicated to that segment where I can jot down stuff they recommend that sounds interesting.

In a great many ways that's what I want this blog to be - my place to talk about whats making me happy.  Often it will be some piece of pop culture.  A film, book, album, or whatever that's got me excited on any given day.  There will probably be more personal things to like silly things my daughter says or a nice patch of weather, but ultimately I just want to make this a place to bring a little positivity into the blogosphere.

I hope you enjoy.