Review: Jupiter Ascending

Napoleon Dynamite: This is pretty much the worst video ever made.
Kip: Napoleon, like anyone can even know that.

With that quote to set the tone, let me say that Jupiter Ascending is pretty much the worst movie ever made.

jupiter_ascending_movie_poster_2

OK, OK, clearly it’s not the worst. There are a ton of other terrible movies out there, many way worse than this one. But here’s the thing: when you have experienced film makers with near complete creative control over the movie (The Wachowskis wrote, directed, and produced this thing), big name actors, and a massive $175 MILLION budget, I’m less forgiving when confronted with such a hot mess. It would be one thing if this was a low-budget Asylum “mockbuster,” or made by some flash-in-the-pan YouTube celebrity of the month, but come on!

But since I’m too lazy to write out a proper critique (and honestly, this movie just doesn’t rate such expenditure of energy), I’d like to present my review in the same disorganized spirit as this messy, incoherent, choppy movie.

The short version is that Jupiter Ascending falls way short of the mark at every. single. discipline. of film making: plot, script, dialogue, acting, direction, character design, special effects, makeup, pacing/editing, fight choreography, etc. ad infinitum.

Classic science fiction franchises like Star Wars, Alien, Star Trek, and yes, even the Matrix trilogy, have imbedded themselves in the fabric of popular culture for many reasons, but certainly one of the strongest factors is a clear and coherent design aesthetic to their worlds. You can look at space ship or costume or a monster and instantly place it within its respective universe. It’s what separates them from other franchises which may be entertaining and well liked, but are relegated to the “mid-list” echelon, like Stargate or the Riddick films. Even the 2013 Tom Cruise film Oblivion, financially successful, yet ultimately forgettable, displayed a very cohesive design palette in its approach to technology, architecture, and vehicles.

At least Oblivion tried.

At least Oblivion tried.

By Contrast, Jupiter Ascending’s visual look is an overblown, hodge-podge, derivative mess. Sure, the multimillion dollar budget is on full display, but with all the class of a recent lottery winner upgrading from their trailer home to the gaudiest Beverly Hills mansion imaginable. Every video game spaceship design you’ve ever seen, every generic science fiction book cover depicting a futuristic metropolis ever painted, is chopped, dissected, and pasted into this movie. The Verge puts is perfectly: “none of it may be particularly original, but it’s a wonderful screensaver of a movie.”

Similarly, the action sequences are overblown, too-long, and in perhaps the worst sin of all, are too blurry and choppy to actually see what’s happening. Remember the gorgeous slow-mo fight scenes in The Matrix? Yeah, these are the exact opposite of those. There’s a 10 minute flying chase scene between the skyscrapers of Chicago where you pretty much can’t tell what the hell is happening, other than some things are flying fast and some other things are shooting lasers. Pew. Pew.

Channing Tatum:

Channing Tatum: Space Elf Emo Goth Soldier

There’s no rhyme or reason to any of the artistic decisions made in the making of this film. The space cops have random pits of plastic-y looking “tech” literally glued to their faces. Because futuristic, I guess? It’s not enough that Channing Tatum is a bad-ass space cop, but he also has his DNA spliced with that of “something like a wolf.” Because Wolverine, I guess? It’s not enough that Channing Tatum is a bad-ass space cop with wolf DNA, but he also has a brand on his neck. Because slavery is bad, I guess? It’s not enough that Channing Tatum is a bad-ass space cop with wolf DNA and a brand, but he also used to have wings, except they they were cut off his back. Because X-Men reference, I guess?

Channing Tatum: Space Elf Emo Goth Speed Skater

Channing Tatum: Space Elf Emo Goth Back-To-The-Future Hover Speed Skater

Eddie Redmayne’s nails-on-a-chalkboard, incomprehensible gravely whisper makes Bane’s mumbling in The Dark Knight Rises sound like The King’s Speech. Sean bean has a daughter, who leaves to get supplies and coughs suspiciously, as though sick, worrying her father. What was that all about? Who knows, because we never see her again! Mila Kunis is going to sell her eggs at a fertility clinic so her cousin can use the money to…I don’t even know what, buy an XBox, I think? It’s just one of dozens of unnecessary plot threads introduced and abandoned.

For the love of all that's holy, Eddie, just speak in a normal voice.

For the love of all that’s holy, Eddie, just speak in a normal voice.

The plot is needlessly convoluted. The basic premise of humans as essentially cattle in a vast intergalactic corporations holdings is pretty solid. But then the Wachowskis go and throw a half dozen other half-baked and non-relevant ideas into the mix, which not only don’t add anything to the movie, but make it overly long. Bees were genetically bred to recognize space queens. WTF? Why? Who cares, because it’s irrelevant to the story.

There are at least 15 scenes in this movie where Mila Kunis s falling off of something. No lie.

There are at least 15 scenes in this movie where Mila Kunis s falling off of something. No lie.

The dialogue is atrocious. There’s a particularly cringe-worthy scene where Mila Kunis professes her attraction to Space Elf Emo Goth Soldier through some metaphor about her compass needle always pointing towards the wrong guy, or some such crap, along the lines of that terrible poetry you tried to write in junior high. I’m telling you, that scene will make you squirm in your seat, embarrassed for everyone involved in making it, even the innocent gaffer or key grip.

Sean Bean is an apiarist (beekeeper). His name is Stinger Apini!!!

There’s an elephant-headed alien co-pilot. His name is Nesh. (Nesh! Get it?!)

I could go on and on, but what’s the point.

Deadspin summarizes it succinctly with “It’s just a sad, lonely trip to nowhere.”

Of spoons and goat riders…

After the write-up I did of the horrible 90s “parody” publisher Spoof Comics in this post, I was left with a few unused comic covers. So here for your reading enjoyment (torture) is a look at conflicts, Spoof-style. First up, Spoon vs Batbabe::

spoon_vs_batbabe

See, Spoon is just like Spawn, except she has a bunch of spoons tacked on to her costume! Isn’t that clever? Isn’t that just devilishly humorous?

And next, Goat Rider vs. Moobius:

goatrider_vs_moobius

I don’t know, maybe it’s just me, but with a name like Goat Rider, it would have made more sense to have the character ride a flaming goat, instead of the same motorcycle Ghost Rider rides. At least that would present some potentially funny visuals. But that’s just me. Man, and that cow humor never gets old, eh?

Good job, Spoof Comics. You’ve once again proved why you only existed during the terrible 90s, the Dark Age of comics.

Worst movie ever, or Republican campaign ad?

(I originally posted a version of this to my Ferret Press blog back in November, 2010…but given that election season is once again upon us, I think it’s worth revisiting)

So I was flipping through the channels, and I come across American Ninja 4: The Annihilation.

Americanninja4

Now, with a title like that, I’m sure you can guess just how bad it was, but let me just share the synopsis that popped up on the TV listing:

An ex-ninja must save commandos and the world from a mad sheik and his ninja army.

Yes, you read that right: an Arab sheik and his ninjas!

I watched about 15 minutes of it, and was thoroughly impressed by how they managed to insult Muslims, Arabs, women, Africans, the Japanese, the British, and, oddly enough, extras from the Mad Max movies, all in just that short amount of time. But I digress…

What I wanted to say was I believe this 1990 movie is actually the perfect propaganda campaign ad for Republicans today. Think about it, what’s scarier than Evil Muslims (TM) who are planning to bomb New York with a suitcase nuke? Evil Muslims (TM) who are planning to bomb New York with a suitcase nuke + their ninja army!

Forget about the illegal Mexican children, or African Ebola. Stir up your conservative base by appealing to their fear of Muslim ninjas!

You’re welcome, Republican Party.

Spoof Comics: 90s dreck at its best (worst)

Recently, while looking for comic covers to post as part of the Indie Cover Spotlight feature, I ran across several books from a publisher called Spoof Comics. You may remember them from their oh-so-clever Wolverbroad vs. Hobo book, or Spider-femme vs. Denim.

swolverbroad_vs_hobo

sspider-femme_vs_denim1

I’m just kidding. Nobody remembers Spoof Comics.

Well, I’m here to tell you that judging by the covers of their other books, it’s a testament to the strength (and insanity) of the 90s era speculative market that they lasted as long as they did. Again, I’ll be the first to admit I haven’t read a single one of these comics, but honestly, I can’t imagine any of them actually being funny. For example, we’ve got O-X: Cow O’ War:

sox

Because nothing’s funnier than recasting Valiant’s successful X-O: Man O’ War as a cow. Cow’s have udders, which are funny, right? Ugh.

Or how about The Punish-her Score Journal:

Punish-her

First of all, the character’s name doesn’t even make sense, other than it’s the best they could come up with that would somewhat rhyme with Punisher. I don’t even want to know how they wove in the theme of dating and sex and “punishment,” because I have a feeling it’s a bunch of frat house juvenile humor. But hey, check out the early Dave Johnson cover. At least he went on to bigger and better things.

And speaking of great cover artists, the folks at Spoof Comics were at least smart enough to know they’d have a better chance of selling their books if they put some recognizable talent on the covers. My guess is the interiors of these comics were drawn by hungry, naive young artists with way more enthusiasm to “break in” than actual talent. You know, the Bluewater model. So if you can get some nice looking covers, you may at least trick some unsuspecting souls into buying your crap comics.

Case in point, Swamp Thang:

SwampThang

Oh, Kelley Jones, you must have had a car payment to cover that month. But at least it’s a really good cover.

And then there’s Spider-femme:

Spider-femme

That’s right, despite the normal looking (and sized) breasts, that’s pinup artist extraordinaire, Adam Hughes. Incidentally, the above cover is from their anthology series Spoof Comics Presents, which, get this, lasted 19 issues! And in that year and a half of publication, they gave us such gems as Daredame:

Daredame

…Vertigo parodies like Dame Patrol:

Dame_Patrol

…and the super-innuendo of Green Lanterns:

green_lanterns

(by the way, I’m pretty sure that’s a Cully Hamner cover on GL)

…and so many other comedy classics, from Justice Broads to Wet Shirts. I’m telling you, Spoof Comics was a veritable (un)funny factory, churning out not just comic book spoofs, but also those of celebrity rock bands. Behold, Kisses:

Kisses

But even in the early stages of their careers, guys like Adam Hughes and Kelley Jones probably charged too much for a cover (and by too much, I mean “not free,” which seems to have been Spoof Comics’ payment standard), so their other books looked more like this:

Youngspud

That’s right, Youngspud. What’s funnier than a parody of Rob Liefeld’s Youngblood book, than a bunch of potato superheroes? God, I can just imagine all the funny lines in that book: the heroes drink a lot to get “mashed,” or maybe they fight a French supervillain team called Les Frites?

Well, I’m afraid that’s about as much as I can stand to write on this topic. But before I go, I’ll leave you with the best of the bunch. Behold teh funny of Soul Trek:

Soultrek

I don’t even want to know.

(A version of this post originally appeared on my Ferret Press blog, April, 2011)

Good Show, Sir!

Good Show Sir is a British blog celebrating “Only the worst Sci-fi/Fantasy book covers.” You can submit your own, and rate the ones already on the site.

Here are a few of my faves:

Oh god, her eyes...her eyes!

Oh god, her eyes…her eyes!

They don't look to be "beneath the streets" at all.

They don’t look to be “beneath the streets” at all.

300 riveting pages chronicling the adventures of space door-to-door salesmen selling old timey women's bras.

300 pages chronicling the adventures of space door-to-door salesmen selling old timey women’s bras.

WTF?

WTF?

Look at his tiny, tiny legs. OK, who am I kidding, I just posted this for the bewbs.

Look at his tiny, tiny legs. OK, who am I kidding, I just posted this for the bewbs.

So Hollywood wants to make a movie from your comic book property

I love behind-the-scenes type posts from pros. On his blog, British writer Pat Mills (co-creator of Marshal Law, amongst many others) talks about some of his misadventures in Hollywood. Here’s a snippet:

“Then there was the boss of a media company that’s a household name who ‘definitely’ wanted to do a whole range of projects featuring my characters, including Marshal Law. They were ‘very, very serious’. This time there was ‘definitely no bullshit’. Lots of time-consuming meetings and presentations ensued. This was followed by sending me some really expensive and impressive state of the art gear. It would be relevant for the projects they had in mind for me. So that made me think, wow, they must be serious! Six months went by with no news and no response to my emails and I finally realised it was dead. But I think I won on that one. I got a good price for all that gear at Cash Converters.”

ml-005

Review: The Losers (movie)


Zoe Saldana!
Chris Evans!
Idris Elba!
Jeffrey Dean Morgan!

All good actors. All very likeable and popular actors. None of them a stranger to genre films, especially comic book-based ones. All doing a good job with the script they were handed.

And therein lies the problem. It’s a terrible script, full of suck.

Thank goodness I borrowed this film from the library, because while I ended up wasting my time, at least I didn’t waste any money on it. Based on the Vertigo series of the same name by Andy Diggle and Jock, it was a flop at the theaters, and I’m here to tell you there’s a good reason for it.

It sucks.

And not in that “they changed it so much from the source material” way that usually makes comic nerds upset. No, in the “wholly unoriginal, cliche-filled turd” way.

God, what a horrible waste of money and talent. If you were going to make a shitty mid-80s action flick with bullshit macho dialogue, an unbelievably over-the-top evil bad guy, and an ending that’s the biggest “f*** you” to the audience who invested their money and time in this thing, why even waste a penny “optioning” a property? Just make your shitty movie, call it Extreme Patriots or Double Cross in Bolivia or Gunfight in L.A., release it straight to DVD, and save yourself the embarrassment, not to mention about $20 million off the budget.

The-Losers-Team

I should have stopped watching, when in the first 20 minutes of the movie, the bad guy, CIA insider “Max”, proves he’s indeed bad by a) asking our CIA covert ops protagonists go ahead with the bombing of a drug dealer’s compound, even after they find out he has 25 innocent kids on the premises, b) having a US jet fighter shoot down a US helicopter evacuating said 25 innocent children, killing them all, and c) thinking he’s killed our heroes, who have been serving their country selflessly. But wait, there’s more! As if that wasn’t enough to convince you he’s really, really bad, there’s a scene where he’s walking on a beach, and has an attractive female assistant carrying an umbrella to shade him from the sun. But when a gust of wind blows the umbrella away for just a split second, and the assistant apologizes instantly, Max grabs a gun and shoots her! Because, you see, he’s a bad guy. A real bad guy.

But wait, there’s even more! So the entire point of the movie is that our heroes are on a quest for revenge, trying to expose Max’s slimy, evil ways, and restoring their good names so they can get their old lives back, but…

SPOILER ALERT (not that you care)
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Max gets away in the end. There is no closure. It’s just one huge, open-ended, “let’s set it up for a sequel” ending.

As in: “f*** you, audience, for expecting a resolution.”

So in that same spirit, a hearty f*** you to Peter Berg and James Vanderbilt, who wrote the bullshit screenplay for this movie, and all the assholes involved in greenlighting and making this movie.

What a complete waste.

(A version of this review appeared on my old Ferret Press blog on January 12, 2011)

When is a parody not a parody?

When it’s the real thing.

So I just accidentally came across the kind of ultra-conservative, homophobic, xenophobic, right wing diatribe that you typically only see as a parody. I mean, I know actual people write hateful and ignorant stuff like this, but I’ve mostly shied away from the source material, preferring the Daily Show satirical version. So anyway, I was doing a Google News search on YALSA (the Young Adult Library Services Association) and this dude’s “editorial” and was the second hit (today, at least).

It’s on a “news” site claiming to be non-agenda, non-partisan, even though they also say “We believe in God and our Lord Jesus Christ the Savior of mankind.” I’m not going to link to it, but he was ranting against a multiple award winning YA novel called “Boy Meets Boy.” I’m sure you can guess why. Here’s a choice quote from him:

“It seems there are a lot of adults who think it a desirable thing for your 14-year-old son to be engaged in homosexuality.

And Jerry Sandusky is sitting in jail because…?”

No, I’ll wait. I know your brain is hemorrhaging, trying to figure out how to process that statement. Compared to that, this next one is just plain pedestrian:

“Christians, I say, have a duty to pull their children out of the homosexual-proselytizing public schools…”

Then there’s a jab at illegal immigrants for no good reason. The end.

Faith in humanity: -1

PS. this self-identified “former newspaper reporter and editor, small businessman, teacher, and horror novelist” also wrote the phrase “…just another agent of Big Sodomy.”

PPS. Someone should do a documentary expose on the illicit and perverted relationship between Big Sodomy, Big Hollywood, Big Data, and Big Pharma.

PPPS. If I ever started a death metal band, I’d call it Big Sodomy.

When Kickstarter jumps the (Veronica Mars) shark

I try to keep things generally positive on my blog, but something about this story really irks me, so…

Let me begin this rant by saying that I like the idea of Kickstarter, the crowd funding site. I’ve supported many projects on it, and most recently had one of my own funded via the site. But I’m sorry, I have to call bullshit on this one.

Veronica_Mars_season_3

Are you kidding me? A major movie studio (Warner Bros.) basically asking their audience to fund their movie, to the tune of $2 million! Of course, fanboys/nerds/genre geeks (whatever you want to call them, and I do include myself in the group) being who they are, have gladly shelled over $3.5 million so far to fund a giant corporation’s movie. And there’s still 26 days to go, so who knows how many more millions they’ll fork over.

OK, yes, I know it’s a democratic process and nobody is forcing these people to fund the project. They’re doing it because of their love of the property, and their desire to see more of it. I get that. But still, it feels very, very wrong to me.

Crowd funding sites came about to help *CREATORS* fund their projects, not subsidize some multinational mega-corporation.

And there’s another aspect to this Kickstarter campaign that I think the folks rushing to throw money at it haven’t really thought about: accountability. From Kickstarter’s own FAQ page:

Who is responsible for completing a project as promised?

It’s the project creator’s responsibility to complete their project. Kickstarter is not involved in the development of the projects themselves.

Kickstarter does not guarantee projects or investigate a creator’s ability to complete their project.

Now, I’m not saying that the owner of this particular project, Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas, is undependable or has no intention of following through with his plan to make the movie. Far from it, it’s obvious that he’s passionate and energetic and fully committed to making this movie. But here’s the thing: when all’s said and done, he has no power whatsoever to follow through on his goal, genuine as that may be.

Ultimately, Warner Bros. gets to make that call. And guess what? They’re not the Kickstarter project owner, and have zero responsibility and zero obligations.

Here are Rob’s words, from the Kickstarter intro:

“Of course, Warner Bros. still owns Veronica Mars and we would need their blessing and cooperation to pull this off. Kristen and I met with the Warner Bros. brass, and they agreed to allow us to take this shot.”

First of all, allow me to congratulate Warner Bros. for being so incredibly generous to “allow” people to give them free money, with absolutely zero risk to the studio. What great movie making folks they are. And secondly, if the phrases “met with the Warner Bros. brass” and “they agreed to allow us to take this shot” make you feel confident that the movie studio is obligated, ethically and legally, to make this movie, then you’re either the world’s biggest optimist, or stupidest investor. Seriously.

It’s not like it’s a strictly guarded movie business secret. Everyone knows that the promise of a movie being made is worth absolutely zero, even if there are reams of contracts and dozens of signatures involved. Movies get optioned, talked about, promised, worked on, only to be ultimately abandoned with no rhyme or reason, and no accountability. Hell, movies get made and then shelved/abandoned, never to be seen. What makes these folks think this case is going to be different?

(Aside: on the topic of Kickstarter and accountability, I made the following comment in the discussion thread of this same topic on Facebook, and thought it would be worthwhile to share it here as well: If I (as an individual creator) fail to meet the obligations of my Kickstarter project, the damage to my personal reputation would be great, and it’s conceivable that the 88 backers of my project could collectively or individually take legal action against me. As a single individual, the threat of having to defend myself against such action is considerable, hence there’s immense incentive for me to meet my obligation. I don’t think the same incentive exists for a massive movie studio, because frankly they don’t give a damn about their “reputation,” and they have an army of lawyers at their disposal. I don’t even think they would suffer any repercussions down the road. I can pretty much guarantee the same fans who may bitch and moan about boycotting Warner Bros. should this Kickstarter campaign get scuttled, will still be first in line for the next Batman movie, or whatever genre flick the studio releases in the future.)

But again, I realize that people like what they like, and if Warner Bros. (and Rob Thomas) can convince folks to throw money at a potential movie project with a high risk of never coming to fruition, then I guess more power to them. That’s capitalism in action.

For me, personally, it leaves a sour taste in my mouth, and feels like a terrible precedent being set.

I can’t wait for the comic book industry to capitalize on this trend next. I can just see it: Marvel will start a Kickstarter campaign to have the fans fund the publication of a Doop solo title, so the company won’t have to take on the risk. You’re DC and want to further develop your Creature Commandos characters for pitching to Hollywood, but know the comic won’t sustain itself? No problem, have the fans fund your business venture for you.

doop-speaks2 creaturecommandos_wwt093_01

Oh, and by the way, for their generous subsidy to the corporate coffers, the fans will get partial ownership in those intellectual properties, as well as royalty on the sales of the comics, and residuals if those properties are ever translated into successful movies or TV shows.

Oh, no, wait. They won’t get jack shit.

But you will get to consume more of some property you have an affinity for, and isn’t that what fandom is all about?

Not even digital comics are safe…

…from the abuses born out of print comics. Case in point: Archaia Publishing (which I should point out is a critically acclaimed, high end publishers of quality graphic novels) is launching a re-imagining of manga pioneer Shotaro Ishinomori’s Cyborg 009 in graphic novel form. They are also teaming up with the leading digital comics platform/distributor Comixology to offer the digital version of the book, and here’s where things get ugly:

It also includes what Archaia’s EIC Stephen Christy tells us is the “First Ever Truly Digital Variant Cover”

Did you catch that? Variant covers, the bane of comics, which helped usher in the 90s demise of the business, and are currently rearing their ugly head at all the print publishers once more, are coming to digital comics.

Unbelievable.

GraphicAudio: comics without the art

So, but I came across this a while back and still don’t know what to make of it: GraphicAudio.

What is it? Well, their tagline is “A movie in your mind” and they describe themselves like this:

“GraphicAudio is a unique audio entertainment experience that features a full cast of actors, sound effects and cinematic music.”

So basically they’re audio books, except…well, they have a whole series of DC Comics.

In MP3 format.

I’ll let that sink in a bit.

dccoie

See, I get the appeal of “books on tape” or whatever you want to call them. But what I don’t get is giving the same treatment to a comic book. You know, a storytelling medium in which the visual aspect is half the package.

dcbmnml1

So it’s like a comic book, except there’s no cool artwork. Or it’s like a movie, except there’s no…um, movie. Sort of like listening only to the audio track of one the DC Universe animated movies.

dc521

I’m completely baffled by this whole concept. I’m not even sure how exactly they adapt a comic book story into an audio-only format. I mean, with a prose book, the voice actor simply reads the book. But with a comic, you have so much of the story that’s communicated without words, through the sequential art. Does the narrator describe the action? “And then Superman punches Darkseid in the face,” or something like that? It seems…awkward, at best.

Anyway, go have a look for yourself if you’re curious. The DC ones are around 6-7 hours in length each, and will cost you $13 for a downloadable MP3, or $20 for 6 CDs.