Saturday, June 25, 2011

Heading Out

Heading out for a few days to relax (I hope!) at a lake in the Poconos.  We are bringing the dog, which should be an experience.  The dog is recovering from yet another lumpectomy surgery; we should hear the biopsy results next week.  I wish him well.  I do.  I've seen too many people and pets die from cancer, and although I resent the hell out of being saddled with this animal, I do not wish him pain or suffering.

I am hoping to just sit under the trees and read and rest while he chases the chipmunks in his little Elizabethan Collar of Shame.  Watching my wife and daughter relax waterside will also be a great pleasure.  I hope these few days will recharge my batteries and give me some new things to think about, and perhaps even to share.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Green Lantern--My Review

I really wanted to wait a couple of days to digest this movie before trying to say something about it that hasn't been said, but there have been so many reviews, in so many places, that are just all over the map, that I fear that I have little new to contribute.  But I'll try my best.  So here goes:

Right off the top, I will tell you that I would give this movie a solid B.  Is it perfect?  No.  But it is great fun, and I do honestly believe that it was given short shrift by too many reviewers.  I wonder if many of them simply felt that it was time for a bad review after so many pleasant surprises this summer, with great films including Super 8, X-Men: First Class, and Thor.

As for Green Lantern:  One of my peeves with films in general today is the reliance on stables of writers, and multiple focus groups, and revision after revision after revision of a script.  I think film by committee is always going to be subpar.  One reason why Super 8 works so well is that it is the vision of one individual, J.J. Abrams.  This doesn't always translate into success; the mess that was Sucker Punch is proof enough of that.  But when a movie really, really works, it is almost always the vision of one or two individuals.  Green Lantern is a classic case of too many cooks spoiling the broth.  Words and scenes that work brilliantly on the comics page did not translate well into live action.  Green Lantern was, in my opinion, overwritten.  It tried too hard to blend the updating of the character (as done recently in the comics pages by Geoff Johns) with a more classic 1960's take on the character, and some cribbing from the Iron Man origin portion in the bargain.  So in trying to be too much it wound up being too little.

I also hate movies that make changes for the sake of making changes, as though this somehow translates into someone's personal artistic vision.  There is nothing wrong with the original costume for the character (the Hal Jordan version, not the Alan Scott) and there is nothing wrong with the original design of the Lantern power battery.  While putting Wolverine in yellow spandex would have been a disaster, I feel like a Green Lantern costume closer to the original would have been more successful.  Also, there was no need to change the origin story to the extent that they did -- they should have had Hal brought to Abin Sur's crash by the ring while he was in a flight simulator.  The idea of the simulator training machine actually taking flight is a fantastic one, and it was thrown away.  I also feel that adding all the doubt into Hal's character was a misstep; the ring chooses Hal because he is capable of overcoming great fear.  And I believe it was a mistake to change Hector Hammond's origin so drastically.  He could still have been connected to Parallax in some way -- his burgeoning telepathic power would have been enough to do it -- and he could still have been mutated by a combination of meteors, as in the original comics, albeit meteors that came down with Abin Sur's craft.  Or even meteors that BROUGHT down Abin Sur's craft.  Parallax could have been responsible.  I also saw no need to change Parallax's origin.  It is NOT a renegade Guardian; it is the universe's living embodiment of Fear.  Willpower has one as well, called Ion.  Finally, the design of Parallax itself was a disaster.  Parallax should look more like a cross between a hungry locust and the Alien from Alien, not a cloud of smoke with tentacles.  Something more like this design:




But now the good news:  Although the script was talky, and there was not enough time spent on the alien Lanterns, in space, or on planet Oa, what there was of those things was just brilliant.  Mark Strong's portrayal of Sinestro was absolutely spot on, and bodes well for a sequel, if there is one.  I thought the CGI special effects were extremely well done, and gave a good sense of how the Ring works.  I thought that Ryan Reynolds' version of Hal Jordan was great, when he wasn't fighting the clunkier parts of the script.  He did a fantastic job of portraying an average guy who is called upon to step up and, not only be all that he can be, but also find his own hidden depths to be even more.  Blake Lively's Carol Ferris was terrific, and she had great on-screen chemistry with Reynolds.  Geoffrey Rush gave phenomenal voice talent to Tomar Re, an alien Lantern who is entirely computer-generated, and really made him come alive for me.  It was how I always imagined Tomar Re would be.  And Peter Sarsgaard was fantastic, just child-molester-creepy fantastic, as villain Hector Hammond.

The movie was a lot of fun.  It was a good, solid summer popcorn movie.  I thought so, and so did both the adults and the kids in the audience.  Those who stayed for the credits cheered at the little Easter Egg button at the end.  The folks with whom I did brief impromptu interviews all said they liked the movie and would recommend it to their friends, and many planned on seeing it again.  I know I plan to as well.

So there you have it.  If you had any doubts or reservations, put them aside and go check out Green Lantern.  I honestly believe you will be pleasantly surprised.  I think the action scenes are epic enough that you should see it at least once in the theater, even if you skip the 3-D, instead of waiting for the DVD to come from NetFlix.  So this weekend, skip Cars 2 -- you know it's going to be around until Labor Day! -- and give Green Lantern a look!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Friday, June 17, 2011

OPENING TODAY, POOZERS!

Yep, today's the day!  Green Lantern opens nationwide, in select cities in 3-D!  Look for my detailed review soon, but let me just say this:  there have been a couple of really unfavorable reviews, especially from Peter Travers at Rolling Stone and less so, from Owen Gleiberman at Entertainment Weekly.  All I can say is this:  in Travers' case, he clearly wiki'd just enough Green Lantern history to show how ignorant he is of the character and his history.  Gleiberman went in expecting a very different movie than a superhero origin film aimed at younger audiences, apparently.  I don't know why he was expecting the nuances he was, but he was surely disappointed.  I place the film on a par with the first Iron Man film.  Yes, it has its flaws.  Yes, I wish there was more time in space, on Oa, and with the alien Green Lanterns.  But Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively have great on-screen chemistry.  Ryan Reynolds' characterization and portrayal of an average joe who is called upon to rise to be his best and more is SPOT ON.  Peter Sarsgaard is a great villain -- creepy without chewing the scenery.  It's a good summer popcorn flick.  It's not Citizen Kane, but it was never meant to me.  It's based on a funnybook, people!!

I think you'll have a great time!


Thursday, June 16, 2011

TOMORROW!!!

Yes, Green Lantern opens TOMORROW!  I can't wait; initial reactions from sneak preview screenings are very positive indeed!  Critics are comparing it to Iron Man 1, which I consider to be the finest superhero movie made so far.

So today we have two posters!  First off, Kilowog!  Kilowog is an alien who serves the Green Lantern Corps as their drill sergeant.  He trains new recruits in the use of the ring and has a reputation of being extremely tough on the rookies, which he calls, "poozers."




And then there's the villain of the piece, Hector Hammond.  In the comics, Hammond was an unscrupulous scientist who was Hal Jordan's rival for the affections of Carol Ferris.  Hammond discovered a form of radiation in some meteorites that had the unique property of accelerating evolution. He accidentally over-exposed himself to it and developed a huge head and brain at the expense of a withered body.  He has fantastic mental powers but is forced to live motionless, trapped in a useless husk of a body.  It'll be interesting to see how the movie portrays him:




Did I mention that the movie opens TOMORROW!?!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

TWO MORE DAYS!

Sinestro was considered to be one of the greatest Green Lanterns ever, who patrolled Space Sector 1417.  In the comics, he goes renegade after becoming a dictator on his home planet.  He figures out how to use the Yellow power of Fear with the help of the Weaponers and founds the rival Sinestro Corps!


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

IN THREE MORE DAYS!

Tomar Re is the Green Lantern next door:  he patrols sector 2813, and Earth is part of sector 2814!


Monday, June 13, 2011

Almost Summer

And the dust is settling from graduation, finally.  Olivia's MacBook came just in time to be her graduation present from Mom and Dad, and my sister came in from Philadelphia for dinner and the ceremony, which was just absolutely great.  We really had a nice evening.

Now the thank-you's have been written, and the laptop has become the toy du jour as software is loaded, tested, discarded, reloaded, and so forth.  (iTunes was a bear; it took a couple of hours to transfer all the music!)  Still, it's nice to settle into a little rhythm with my girl for one last summer before she goes away.

Do I want to be all alone after she leaves in August, with just the dog for company?  Heck, no.

But it is what it is, and there's nothing I can do about it.  I can't keep her here, and wouldn't if I could.  She needs to get out into the world and make her mark.  And I fully expect it to be an amazing mark indeed.

I guess I'm just so used to being a stay-at-home dad that I'm not sure what I'm going to do.  And I don't feel like I have the freedom to explore my new situation as long as I'm stuck with the dog.

I am already so, so over the dog.  He appears to worship the water I walk on, but I have only the slightest of sympathies towards him.  I think I will always resent his presence and what it does to limit me at a time when I most need to be free to explore myself.  My vision of a retirement spent on my laptop at Borders, sipping a vente and reading the London Times, has gone up in smoke.  There'll be no hanging out with the guys at the comic store all day on Wednesdays.  No shooting pool at the community center.  No spending the day in the woods or driving to Baltimore or Philly or DC to catch an exhibit that's caught my interest.  No, no matter where I go or what I do, I have to be home within two hours so that the dog has a chance to be walked...and doesn't therefore pee on the furniture or puke on the cream colored carpet.  (He NEVER messes on the tile or laminate floor, only on the carpet.  Go figure.  Another trait with which to endear himself to me.)

I am so angry about this I don't know where to even begin to process it.  And my wife is no help.  I love her deeply, but the transition to electronic medical records at her office has her working at least 70 hours a week.  This is not going to change any time soon.  While I feel terrible about her workload, I also can count on little or no help from her with regard to pet care.  I'm already splitting it with Olivia, and it will all fall to me once she goes to school.

Of course she loves the little thing.  I can't recall the last time she had to clean up vomit or whizz, or shampoo the carpets; she gets the affection and I get the (literally) dirty work.

Well, like I said, it is what it is.  Maybe fate will step in with something in my favor.

But I doubt it.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Proud Dad

I am extremely proud of my daughter today.  So much so that I feel the need to abandon Green Lantern this post and talk some more about her!  :)

This morning at the Unitarian Church of Harrisburg we recognized our graduating seniors, of which she's one.  The young people each gave a brief talk about how they plan to bridge the gap from students in Religious Growth and Learning classes to young adults.  Here is what Olivia had to say:


"Good morning!  My name is Olivia Hayes, and I’ve been going to church here for thirteen years.  I will be graduating from Central Dauphin High School, and will attend the University of Pittsburgh this coming fall.  I intend to study the fields of genetics and bioengineering.

"This church means more to me than I can express in words.  It’s welcoming, it doesn’t force any specific belief set on you, and it’s all about peace and love.  I am so grateful that I was able to follow my own spiritual path, change around my beliefs, and just be myself when I’m here.  I will greet the real, adult world with a free mind and open arms.  I will accept the things I cannot change, and change the things I cannot accept.

"My college choice was greatly influenced by whether or not there would be a Unitarian church nearby.  I plan to continue to see the world in different ways.  I will try to accept people as they are and, even if I can’t bring myself to love them.  And I want to keep searching for myself, too.  That’s what Unitarian Universalism means to me.  As begin I cross this bridge into the adult world, I will have this church to back me up."

That would be enough in and of itself to make me burst with pride.  But then the director of our young adult education announced that this year, for the first time, the church felt the need to acknowledge one teen (a "superstar") who had excelled in the areas of leadership, of making multi-generational connections, of community service, of taking social action, of contributing to worship at our church, and of participation above and beyond the norm in learning classes.  As soon as she announced that the winner had been a Unisinger (our church choir) I knew it had to be Olivia.  Over the years Olivia has marched in protest for Gay Marriage Equality every year since she was eleven; she raised--literally--a ton of food for the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank, she raised $2,000.00 from the congregation to help pay for the middle-schoolers' trip to Boston; she is a member of our women's group Queenspirit; she sings and plays in the church orchestra; she is a staunch supporter and defender of our church's sex education program; she has served as a Lay Liturgist; and she has performed every year in Kaleidoscope, in order to help raise funds for the church's music scholarship.

I know I'm going on and on here, reciting the litany of her accomplishments like any proud dad would do, but I can't help it.  If I have nothing else to be proud of in my entire life, I can be proud of how Olivia has turned into the most amazing young woman it's my privilege to know.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

In Defense of Hal Jordan

The character of Hal Jordan has been coming under fire for quite a while now.  (For those uninitiated in the vagaries of the DC Comics universe, Hal Jordan is to Green Lantern what Bruce Wayne is to Batman or Clark Kent is to Superman -- the secret identity.)  A while back, DC decided to reboot its second tier heroes -- Green Lantern, the Flash, etc. -- into new secret identities in the hopes of making the characters more relevant to a new generation of readers.  They did so by killing off the old heroes and having new ones pick up the mantle, or, in Hal's case, having him go insane after his home town was destroyed by an alien despot.  Hal went insane, killed off the other Green Lanterns, and became the villain Parallax.  It caused quite a hue and cry at the time, being among the first times a dyed-in-the-wool hero became a killer and a villain.  Ultimately, DC "rewarded" readers' who kept their faith in the character by having Hal come to his senses and save the Earth by reigniting the sun.  This cost him his life, but he became the Spectre, a dead soul bonded to God's Spirit of Vengeance, in hopes of rebooting that character as well.  It was a complicated mess that wasn't straightened out until writer Geoff Johns came up with the idea that Parallax is actually the living embodiment of Fear.  The Guardians of the Universe had imprisoned Parallax in their giant power battery, and it broke out through possessing Hal Jordan.  Hal was off the hook for murder, and free to become Green Lantern once again.  


I can completely understand Hal's lack of appeal to newer readers, if not some of the hostility and "get-over-it" attitude.  Many newer readers grew up with either John Stewart, the black ex-marine architect as GL, or with Kyle Rayner, the hapless artist who happened to meet the Last Guardian in an alley and was given the last GL ring.  But...

Remember that I am an older guy. Growing up in the late 1950's/early 1960's, my heroes were test pilots like Chuck Yeager, and later, the early Mercury astronauts. That's the environment Hal Jordan appeared into. All of us wanted to be pilots and astronauts, and space was magical. Hal wasn't boring; he was fearless and stoic. I guess that's what stuck with me. The appeal of the chartacter was in the fact that he was The Right Guy to become Green Lantern. He didn't have to be an orphaned billionaire or an alien or bitten by a radioactive ferret; he just had to be worthy. Anybody could be chosen...if they were worthy. As a kid, you could actually imagine yourself being Green Lantern.

By the late 1960's, Hal was already irrelevant as social issues were becoming more and more prominent in the public consciousness. Fearless and stoic became boring, and DC was clueless, taking Hal out of the test pilot profession and making him a traveling toy salesman and an insurance agent. Even writer Denny O'Neil's attempt at social relevance, as revered as those issues are today, didn't sell comics then.  O'Neil tried to tackle issues like drug abuse and racial inequality in issues so controversial that in one case the Comics Code Authority refused to sanction the issue, and DC, to their credit, went ahead and published anyway.  But sales were still very, very slow compared to DC's top-tier titles like "Superman."


So the character of Green Lantern limped into the 1980's and DC decided to reboot its second-tier characters into a "next generation of heroes."

All of which was fine. But the way they did it, for me, went beyond "good people sometimes making mistakes." Hal as previously written simply never would have cracked like that. 


It was a mistake. 

Yes, it made for some great stories, including "Emerald Twilight," but at its core the decision to turn Hal into a villain and a murderer was fatally flawed, as a story, because it was so completely and improbably out of character. Even a recent issue touched on it, with one of the Guardians kvetching about "Hal Jordan's instability." 

Hal is not unstable. Sorry. I don't buy it. I never have. 

It would be like Batman deciding to pick up a gun and going on a killing spree, or Superman letting Lois fall to her death from the roof of the Daily Planet building. Yes, those would both make great stories, but in my heart of hearts I just wouldn't believe it of those characters.  And neither, I think, would anybody else.  Green Lantern would no more "snap" than Batman would.  All the Red Kryptonite in the universe would not top Supes from saving Lois.  And no amount of tragedy would cause Hal Jordan to kill the rest of the Green Lantern Corps.

As always, this is JUST MY OPINION.  I'm not trying to convert anybody here.  Fans of John Stewart and Kyle Rayner will remain fans no matter what I say, and they should -- those are great characters and they make great Green Lanterns.  I just think Hal unnecessarily takes a beating in fandom, and I wanted to put my two cents into the mix.