Monday, November 08, 2010

CATFISH stinks

I saw the movie CATFISH the other day. You know, “the other Facebook movie” (besides THE SOCIAL NETWORK). I went in with a little bit of knowledge about it: Guy meets girl online, travels to meet her, drama unfolds. I knew that it was being presented as a documentary, but for some reason I had it in my head that it might’ve been bullshit. Maybe it was the ├╝ber-dramatic tone of the commercials in contrast with the predictable outcome of the setup. Maybe it was something I’d heard or read. Or maybe I just have a really good bullshit detector.

Because I am utterly convinced that this movie is at least 90% bullshit.

In a spoilerish nutshell, CATFISH is about Yaniv “Nev” Schulman, a New York photographer who shares a studio with his filmmaker brother Ariel and their friend Henry Joost. When one of Nev’s photographs is published in a newspaper, he receives a painting of the photo from a little Midwestern girl named Abby. Nev develops a long distance, mostly virtual friendship with the girl and her family, including mother Angela and 19 year old sister, Megan. Through Facebook, Nev and Megan develop a long-distance relationship, but when Nev and his pals drop by the family’s house in Michigan, they discover that the entire interaction has been a lie concocted by Angela, who did the paintings herself, posed as Megan and does not live the kind of life she presented to Nev.

From the very outset, this whole thing felt staged. There’s no real reason given to the impetus for filming Nev’s life other than his brother finds him “interesting” (well, that makes one person). The dialogue… er, conversations of the three protagonists feels as forced as anything in a Kevin Smith movie. Leaps in logic abound: Especially for a movie about how modern technology has altered our interactions with other people, it’s a bit of a stretch to imagine Nev didn’t immediately Google the supposed 8-year old artistic prodigy and debunk Angela’s story. A postcard with a smashed penny attached is mailed to Megan for no reason whatsoever other than to serve as an unlikely callback prop later in the film. Lines like “Your voice is not at all what I expected” are pure setup. And a final monologue from Angela’s clueless husband that gives the film its title is so unbelievable I actually laughed out loud.

There are two possibilities here. One is that three douchebag (I’m sorry, Nev has a tribal trampstamp; No non-douchebags get tribal trampstamps) wannabe actors / filmmakers set out to create a BLAIR WITCH PROJECT about the internet and recruit people to be a part of it.

The second, more likely possibility is some kind of mixture of reality and fiction. Perhaps Nev really did receive a painting in the mail from Angela claiming (for whatever reason) to be a small girl. And then maybe (unlike in the movie) the media-savvy Nev quickly (and easily) used the internet to debunk her story. Maybe Angela really is a somewhat sad, mildly disturbed, struggling artist who lives with her husband and his two severely retarded teenage boys (one of whom died shortly after the film was shot) and kinda wishes her life had turned out differently. And maybe Nev and his pals decided to exploit that and craft a “documentary” exposing this sad woman in the guise of making a revealing statement about social media and our culture (for those of you who weren’t paying attention for the past decade).

If that’s the case, then Nev, Ariel and Henry are more than just annoying douchebags: They’re pure evil: Narcissistic, self-serving, manipulative, exploitative, soulless assholes.

I’m all for stirring shit up. I’m also okay with elaborate media hoaxes if they’re entertaining and artful. Andy Kaufman was a genius (Joaquin Phonenix, not so much). I actually liked THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, I thought it made amazing use of its economy of imagery and believed the performances (for better or worse, Heather Donahue reminded me of someone I used to know). But that film was very much a product of its time. I doubt it would or could work as believably today. The internet has made it nearly impossible for anyone to keep the wool pulled over anyone’s eyes for more than the time it takes to do a Google search.

The bottom line is, regardless of which scenario is true (the only possibility I refuse to accept is that the story unfolded as presented), CATFISH is not a good movie. There are a few interesting visual touches (such as using Google Earth to depict the distances between the boys and their quarry) that are going to age as nice time capsules, but that’s certainly not enough to recommend the film. At the end, I stood up and asked aloud, “Did ANYONE buy that for a second?” but not one person answered me. Whether it was because they disagreed or were just scared of the agitated guy barking in a Manhattan movie theater, I have no idea.

Which is why, in order to get my distaste for CATFISH off my chest, I turn to the internet. And as soon as this is posted, I’ll link to it on Facebook. Ooh, maybe I’ll see if Nev wants to be friends with me.

Nah, probably not.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Wonder Woman conspiracy theory and some casting suggestions

I realize that this glob is fast becoming "Karl Talks About Superhero Movies and TV Shows," but here's another Starpulse link to a piece I wrote giving some casting suggestions for David E. Kelley's announced new WONDER WOMAN TV show. As my pal John pointed out, Kelley's not exactly known for casting Amazonian female leads, so it remains to be seen whether or not Diana will be a Hollipop.

But it did get me thinking about Jim Lee's Wonder Woman costume revamp from earlier this year. DC Comics is notorious for altering their comics to fit media adaptations. In the 1970s, Billy Batston started tooling around in an RV with Uncle Dudley in a weird echo of Filmation's SHAZAM! TV series and Green Lantern John Stewart's costume was changed to fit the JUSTICE LEAGUE cartoon version, just to name a few examples (at least Batman never got rubber nipples).

About a year ago, Warner Bros. (DC Comics' parent company) formed DC Entertainment in an attempt to bring more superhero synergy and catch up to Marvel Comics' success rate on the big screen. In the year since, there's been much restructuring at DC and the future of the company is anybody's guess (although I think their recent move to lower comic book prices was a good one.... one of the big things keeping me away from the comic stores was a $5.00 price tag on a regular comic).

But I'm cynical enough to wonder if maybe the whole costume change for everybody's favorite Amazon Princess happened because DC knew that in a few months there was going to be a public announcement of a new WW TV show. It's easy to imagine a production company saying they were interested in bringing the character back to television, but (like Joss Whedon when he was writing his ill-fated Wonder Woman movie some years ago), didn't want to use the red, white and blue spandex. DC knows that when you mess around with someone as iconic as Wonder Woman, any alteration is bound to be controversial (while bringing about the no-such-thing-as-bad publicity). The last time Diana's costume had a major makeover was 1982, when the eagle she'd sported on her chest since 1941 was replaced with an easier-to-trademark stylized WW. Even that subtle alteration caused ripples with the fans (although of course, not as much as when she gave up her powers altogether in the early 1970s to become a martial-arts wielding Emma Peel type). But to radically alter the look of one of the so-called DC Trinity because of a TV show would not go over too well with the fanboys.

But if the costume were changed in the comics FIRST and then later used on TV? Well, who could cry foul at that?

Just a theory. Let's wait and see. But JESUS, that's an ugly costume.


Sunday, October 03, 2010

SMALLVILLE Season 10 Recaps

I'm doing the Starpulse recaps for the tenth season of SMALLVILLE, a show that started out okay, got stronger, then lost its steam as its success forced the overlong delay of bringing the story to its foregone conclusion.

When SMALLVILLE premiered in 2001, the concept of a young Clark Kent discovering his nascent powers and learning of his Kryptonian heritage was a novel take on the oft-visited character of Superman. Tom Welling’s sensitive masculinity was a perfect fit for the would-be Man of Steel and while the show took some time to find its voice, by the second season, it had blossomed into a solid addition to the Superman legacy.

By the ninth season however, SMALLVILLE had overstayed its welcome, and not just because of the crippling loss of Michael Rosenbaum as Lex Luthor in season 7. From the outset, SMALLVILLE was a finite story, the ending of which everyone knows: Clark Kent becomes a reporter for the Metropolis Daily Planet and dons the red, blue and yellow costume of Superman. Since Clark was a junior in high school when the show started, that left about six years worth of stories to tell, including the opportunity to deal with Clark’s college years, something rarely tackled in any medium (aside from the best-forgotten syndicated ‘80s SUPERBOY series).

But despite a show-guiding edict of “no flights, no tights,” the producers quickly began to prematurely integrate elements of SuperMAN’s world. The first danger sign came when Metropolis was transplanted from its traditional east coast locale to Kansas, within spitting distance of the Kent farm. By the fourth season, Lois Lane was on board. In season 5, Clark met fellow DC Comics heroes Aquaman, Cyborg and Impulse (many more have followed, including series regular Green Arrow). Soon characters were getting married and, astoundingly, most seemed to breeze through college in about a year, with barely a nod to that most transitional stage of life. Season 7 introduced Clark’s Kryptonian cousin Kara, aka Supergirl, and by the 8th season, Clark and Lois were working alongside each other at the Daily Planet.

The problem is that after nine years, Clark Kent is an adult (Welling is 32!), and while our hero (known as “the Blur” due to his super-speed obscured presence) sports a black trenchcoat covering a silver “S” shield T-shirt, he’s still not Superman. While earlier seasons had Clark struggle with what he thought was a despotic Kryptonian destiny, by now, especially with so many other superheroes around, Clark should be Superman. He’s supposed to be an inspiration, not a derivation. By dragging out the story, SMALLVILLE had become kryptonite to the spirit of the character of Superman.

Now that they've come to the final season, the march towards finally putting Clark Kent into the Superman suit is under way. Darkseid is going to be the major villain, attempting to keep Clark from fully coming into the light (and bringing the rest of the Justice Leaguers and Society members along with him). I'm not going to post the full Starpulse recaps on Pops, but here are the links for the first two recaps (obviously laden with spoilers).

Season 10, Episode 1: LAZARUS 
Season 10, Episode 2: SHIELD

Monday, September 20, 2010

Avengers Assembled!

For comic book fans, one of the highlights of last month’s Comic-Con was the panel that brought together, for the first time in public, the entire roster of The Avengers, the Marvel Comics super-team headed for the big screen in 2012. Since the end of 2008’s Iron Man, in which Nick Fury approached Tony Stark to discuss “the Avengers initiative,” fanboys have been teased with hints and cameos in almost every Marvel superhero film. After next summer’s one-two punch of Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger, all the individual pieces will be in place to launch what could be the most epic comic book adaptation of all.

All those costumes in one film could be overwhelming for those who can’t tell a Kree from a Skrull, so we thought we’d give you a primer on who’ll be fighting for the best room in Avengers Mansion (yes, they have a mansion).

CAPTAIN AMERICA
(Chris Evans)
Cap’s solo film (currently filming under the direction of Joe Johnston) uses the comic’s World War II origin story, in which a frail, 4F army volunteer becomes the sole recipient of a super soldier serum, turning him into a perfect human specimen. While official images have been sparse so far, a Comic-Con photo of a standee picturing Cap’s red-white-and-blue shield encased in ice would indicate The Avengers movie is going to adapt Stan Lee’s deus-ex-machina of a suspended-animation Cap being unfrozen decades after WWII by his would-be-teammates (to say how he got there would probably spoil the end of Captain America’s first flick).

IRON MAN (Robert Downey Jr.)
Following two successful Iron Man films, as well as an Oscar nomination for his turn in Tropic Thunder, you’d think Robert Downey Jr. wouldn’t be crazy about the notion of being part of an ensemble superhero film. Then again, the Iron Man role is primarily responsible for his career resurrection, and Downey still seems to be having a blas tplaying the part. Besides, his brash, likeable armored Avenger is likely to be the film’s biggest drawing point (at least as of now). As far as his role in the Avengers, besides those repulsor rays, the team relies mostly on Stark’s more human power: his vast wealth subsidizes the super team.

WAR MACHINE (Don Cheadle)
Downey’s going to have some familiar faces on set… Don Cheadle is reprising his role as the ultra-weaponized Iron Man counterpart, War Machine, who, in the comics was a member of the West Coast Avengers, a subsidiary of the super team that fought crime when they weren’t taking meetings with publicists and surfing (or so we assume).

THE BLACK WIDOW (Scarlett Johansson)
Although never referred to as such, Black Widow was Scarlett Johansson’s character’s code-name in Iron Man 2. In the comics, the Russian counter-spy has slinked all around the Marvel universe, as an Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., partner of Daredevil, member and even leader of the Avengers as well as the B-list supergroup the Champions. It should be interesting to see how / if The Avengers tackles the Widow’s stormy romance with our next superhero…

HAWKEYE (Jeremy Renner)
Marvel Comics’ answer to DC’s Green Arrow, the master archer has been a minor character in the Marvel Universe since the 1960s, and a major player in the Avengers for most of its existence. The Hurt Locker’s Jeremy Renner seems like a glove-fit to play the brash bowman, currently the only major hero who’ll be introduced in The Avengers rather than his own film first. One thing seems certain, though… the character’s onscreen costume will probably bear little resemblance to the ridiculous purple suit he wears in the comics.

THOR (Chris Hemsworth) and LOKI (Tom Hiddleston)
The Asgardian Gods of Thunder and Mischief respectively, brothers Thor and Loki square off in next summer’s Kenneth Branagh epic, but with Hiddleston listed in the cast for the Avengers, perhaps by the end of Thor, they will have punched and made up (at least to form an uneasy alliance in The Avengers)? It’s more likely that Loki will take part in whatever massive evil requires a team of super powered heroes to conquer. In any case, how the movie balances the grit of Iron Man with the fantasy of Thor will be interesting to see.

THE HULK (Mark Ruffalo)
After Ang Lee’s overly introspective HULK and Louis Letterier’s video-gamey reboot, hopefully third time will be the charm for Marvel’s grumpy green giant. Mark Ruffalo takes over the role of Bruce Banner from the departing Edward Norton. Since the 2008 film established Banner’s transformation as a gone-wrong attempt at recreating Captain America’s super-soldier serum, we can assume that plot point will play in The Avengers. There is speculation that the impetus for the team’s initial formation is to capture (and recruit?) an out-of-control Hulk.

AGENT PHIL COULSON (Clark Gregg)
In addition to handling exposition, perhaps Coulson will do chores that the computer butler Jarvis cannot (in the comics, Tony Stark’s butler is a human who does double duty as major-domo to the Avengers).

NICK FURY (Samuel L. Jackson)
The glue holding together the cinematic Marvel Universe isn’t Stan Lee (although an Avengers cameo feels guaranteed), but Sam Jackson’s leader of the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division (S.H.I.E.L.D.). It’s been reported that in the film, Fury, and not Captain America will be the leader of the Avengers, which could lead to some conflict of styles and ideals perfectly suited to the angsty, clashing Marvel Universe.

At this point, the plot is a tightly guarded secret (The Infinity Gauntlet, a jewel-encrusted glove that grants the bearer control of the universe could come into play). The selection of Joss Whedon as director should please fanboys, as his Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly showed he’s adept at balancing action and characterization.

So now it’s hurry up and wait. If both Captain America and Thor’s films turn out to be duds at the box office, that could put a serious damper on the excitement for The Avengers… with the mainstream audience, that is. As for the fanboys, nothing short of recasting David Hasselhoff as Nick Fury could keep them away.
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NOTE: This piece originally appeared on STARPULSE on August 8, 2010.

TV's 6 Most Satisfying TV Finales

While ABC’s claim that Sunday’s LOST finale is “the Television Event of the Decade” may be a bit hyperbolic, there’s no denying the excitement... and anxiety… that surrounds the final episode of a beloved TV show. Rabid fans of any series demand not just closure, but emotional resonance. After all, we’re saying goodbye to good friends here, not just clearing space off the DVR schedule. With that in mind, here’s our list of the Six Most Satisfying TV Finales of All Time.

SEINFELD “The Finale” (1998)
Granted, the much-maligned two-part ending to the legendary show about nothing is not the funniest episode of the series, despite the return of co-creator Larry David. But the finale is ultimately satisfying because it’s an unflinching, unsentimental reminder that, despite the immense popularity of these characters, Jerry, George, Kramer and Elaine are perfectly horrible human beings: Self-absorbed, vain, immature narcissists, really. Avoiding a cuddly M*A*S*Hification (in which antagonists become good guys) of its anti-heroes, Seinfeld stuck to its “No hugging, no learning” edict to the very end, making it finale manna for misanthropes everywhere. Anyone who expected or wanted Jerry and Elaine to get engaged at the end had this show confused with FRIENDS.

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER “The Gift” (2001)
We’re cheating a bit here, as this intended closer of the seminal teen vampire series turned out not to be, when UPN picked up the show from the WB for two more seasons. But as finales go, this one packed a wallop, especially coming on the heels of the heartbreaking episode, “The Body,” which dealt with death as powerfully as any drama (with or without demons). In “The Gift,” Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) sacrifices herself in place of her sister Dawn by throwing herself into, and thus closing a portal opened by the evil Glorificus that will merge all dimensions and literally unleash Hell on Earth. For fans of the Scoobies, the final shot of Buffy’s tombstone, reading “She Saved the World. A Lot” carries far more resonance than the actual 2003 finale, in which Buffy becomes just one of many Slayers presumably headed to Cleveland (no, really).

STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION “All Good Things” (1994)
While sci-fi fans were robbed of a proper finale for the original Star Trek series (unless the 1991 film “Star Trek VI: the Undiscovered Country” counts), the crew of the Enterprise NCC-1701-D got a proper send-off in this two-parter pitting Captain Picard against his arch-nemesis Q in a final battle to determine the worth of us pitiful humans. Picard’s time-shifting leaps will now feel familiar to LOST fans, and while the series had suffered a politically correct softening over the years, this resonant finale is a grand testament to Gene Roddenberry’s humanistic, optimistic vision of the future (and a much better sendoff to these characters than the tepid 2002 film, “Star Trek: Nemesis”).

SIX FEET UNDER “Everyone’s Waiting” (2005)
It’s no surprise that a show about mortality would end its five-year run with a heart-tugging finale (even after killing off its main character three episodes earlier), but nobody was prepared for the emotional wallop of Six Feet Under’s final six minutes.  As Claire (Lauren Ambrose) pulls out of the Fisher Funeral Home driveway to begin her 3000 mile trek to New York, we flash forward to red letter days good and bad for the family, including the deaths of every major character, cramming about 80 years of story into six minutes that defy even the casual viewer to keep away from the box of Kleenex. And speaking of said tissue product…

THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW “The Last Show” (1977)
One of the greatest sitcoms of all time was one of the first to make its finale a true event, and its storyline proved to be prescient. In the episode, station WJM is sold to a new company that streamlines the news operation by firing solid workhorses Lou, Mary and Murray, while keeping the incompetent anchor, Ted. In the final scene, everyone gathers in the newsroom for a tearjerking group hug punctuated by a hilarious huddled shuffle to grab a box of Kleenex off of Mary’s desk. This is a prime example of a show going out on top (Mary killed the show, not CBS), and it set the precedent for all finales to follow.


THE SOPRANOS “Made in America” (2007)
Okay, haters, pay attention. Tony Soprano was not killed at Holsten’s while munching onion rings and rocking to Journey in the final episode of The Sopranos. Nor was Carmela. AJ or Meadow. Oh, someone was most definitely whacked, but it wasn’t anyone onscreen; it was us. The startling conclusion of one of the greatest shows in television history made the audience a part of the story with its final act. Confirming Bobby Baccala’s theory earlier that season that when you get killed, “you never see it coming,” rapt Sopranos viewers were so focused on every seemingly innocuous person and activity in that final scene (Who are those guys? Why can’t Meadow parallel park? Did that man look at Tony?) that when the screen abruptly cut to black, we never saw it coming. Anyone who moans about the lack of a neat little bow tied on The Sopranos really wasn’t paying attention for those six brilliant seasons. But for those who reveled in David Chase’s gloriously gray microcosm of pursuing the American Dream at the dawn of the 21st century, “Made in America” was as delicious as those onion rings.

Honorable Mentions go to THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW, NEWHART, THE FUGITIVE, CHEERS, JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED, GILMORE GIRLS and THE WIRE. But we refuse to put the saccharine-sweet FRIENDS finale or that overblown M*A*S*H ending on this list.

How will LOST’s farewell fare? Only time (travel) will tell, but we have a feeling that people who hated The Sopranos’ finale will again be angry. LOST has always been about bending the mind and leaving more questions than answers… and that’s not a bad thing.
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NOTE: This piece was originally posted on STARPULSE on May 20, 2010