Just over a week ago, the U.S. Northeast was hit by a blizzard after a relatively mild winter so far. “Nemo,” as some dubbed it, dumped about two feet of snow on Boston between 8 and 9 February 2013. Fortunately, we had ample warning, and Janice and I were able to work from home on that Friday.
It took several rounds of shoveling to clear our patio and cars, especially since Janice’s car got buried in the 12-foot-tall pile at the end of a row in our apartment complex’s parking lot. Still, hardy New Englanders were back to work on the following Monday, even if my face-to-facetabletop role-playing game was postponed again because of narrowed roads and difficulty getting quorum.
On Friday, 15 February 2013, Janice and I traveled to Chicago for the wedding of a daughter of one of my maternal cousins. We had visited them a few years ago. At Logan Airport, we had breakfast at Potbelly Sandwich Shop. Janice and I had an uneventful flight, picked up our rental car, and checked into the Hyatt Place in Hoffman Estates, Illinois.
We then joined my parents and my brother’s family for a filling lunch at the Lucky Monk brewpub. After a brief rest (since large gatherings usually involve eating), we went to Margie & Joe’s wedding rehearsal and the rehearsal dinner at Bankok House & Shanghai Restaurant in downtown Elgin, Ill.
We ate, conversed with fellow guests and family members, and danced (even if we didn’t join the younger folks for “Gagnam Style“). The partying went on late into the evening, and a good time was had by all in Chicago. I’ll try to share some photos when they get uploaded.
Our return to Boston was delayed by only an hour by the latest snow. I finished reading Redshirts, which I enjoyed — it’s similar to the movie Galaxy Quest as a loving riff onStar Trek, but it was a little meta for my taste. On the way home, Janice and I got sandwiches at Charcoal Guido’s, a new eatery on Moody Street in Waltham, Mass., for “linner” (lunch+dinner).
After a few weeks’ interruption, the games resumed last night with Jason’s “Barsoomian Adventures: the Tenth Ray of Mars.” I’ll try to post an update for the planetary romance session soon.
Tonight, I’m meeting some former co-workers for dinner at Little India and the latest “Escapists” book club meeting. We’ll be discussing the magical realist graphic novel Daytripper, which I enjoyed. So much to do, so little time!
On the Marvel side, I’ve already mourned the departure of the fun Spectacular Spider-Man and movie precursor Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Disney XD’s Ultimate Spider-Man is decent, but I still prefer “DC Nation’s” interstitial shorts to the “Marvel Mashups.”
Tron: Uprising is also rumored to be canceled after being moved to various time slots. Not only did that show expand on the setting and designs of the live-action movies, but it also built its own strong plots. At least Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles seems to be doing well, both in terms of writing, voice, and art as well as ratings.
I still need to catch up on direct-to-video releases, including Superman vs. the Elite and Batman: the Dark Knight Returns, and I’ve enjoyed the occasional episodes that I’ve caught of Futurama, Archer, Metalocalypse, and Motor City.
Janice and I also like the Seinfeld-styleLooney Tunes Show, even if we long ago stopped watching Fox’s Sunday night comedies, such as The Simpsons or Family Guy. In addition, there are other popular franchises I haven’t kept up with, including G.I. Joe, Transformers, Ben 10, or Adventure Time. I have caught the cute Lego Star Wars one-shots, of not Ninjago.
Speaking of Star Wars, the Clone Wars has also featured impressive character development, spectacular settings, and a gathering darkness, remedying many of the flaws in the live-action prequel trilogy. If the show gets renewed, it will likely move from Cartoon Network to Disney XD following the Mouse House’s purchase of Lucasfilm.
I’m not especially optimistic that the upcomingBeware the Batman, Teen Titans Go, Avengers Assemble, and Hulk and the Agents of SMASH will be as good as the departing Young Justice, Green Lantern, or Tron. Enjoy them while they last, or catch up on the best of recent cartoons on video!
These seasonal superheroes find themselves fighting the Boogeyman and his nightmares to defend the hopes and dreams of children everywhere. Sure, we’ve seen all of the elements before, but how they’re represented and mixed is a feast for the eyes. In terms of computer animation, I’d put Rise of the Guardians very close to Disney/Pixar’s Brave (its rival for awards), as well as to the How to Train Your Dragon franchise.
The voice casting is pretty good, with Star Trek‘s Chris Pine as Jack Frost, The Shadow‘s Alec Baldwin as Santa, Isla Fisher as the lead Tooth Fairy, X-Men‘s Hugh Jackman as the Easter Bunny, and Jude Law as Pitch Black, the Boogeyman.
On Sunday, 26 August 2012, Janice and I screened ParaNorman. We enjoyed the stop-motion-animated horror/comedy. Like Coraline, the movie uses familiar archetypes and genre tropes but has a better-than-average script, clever allusions, and a decent emotional heft.
ParaNorman’s all-star voice cast is unobtrusive, and the zombies may be a bit intense for younger viewers. The writers were clearly familiar with the Salem witch trials and how the town has become a tourist destination in Massachusetts.
Without giving away any “spoilers,” I liked some of ParaNorman‘s role reversals and the revelation of the witch’s identity. I could also easily see the story as an RPG scenario using School Daze. I’d give ParaNorman, which is rated PG, an 8 out of 10, three out of five stars, or a B+.
This coming weekend, I look forward to joining Thomas K.Y. & Kai-Yin H., college chum Stuart C.G., and Stu’s family during his visit to the Boston area.
Cast:Bale is a decent Bruce Wayne, a tortured soul masquerading as a billionaire playboy. He’s not as fun as Adam West (who once called me “chum”), as slick as Val Kilmer or George Clooney, or as initially odd a choice as Michael Keaton was for the costumed vigilante.
Bale is again ably supported by older character actors in The Dark Knight Rises. Michael Caine is Wayne’s cockney and concerned butler Alfred, Morgan Freeman adds mischievous gravitas as technologist Lucius Fox, and chameleon Gary Oldman is the embattled Commissioner James Gordon.
Newcomers to this cinematic version of Gotham City include Marion Cotillard as mysterious executive Miranda Tate, Tom Hardy as brutal assassin Bane, and Joseph Gordon-Leavitt as idealistic police officer John Blake. Blake becomes the audience surrogate in hoping for things to improve, even as the police as a whole are outmaneuvered.
They all did well in their roles — even if Hardy was sometimes hard to understand through his face mask — but Anne Hathaway deserves special mention for her performance as Selina Kyle/Catwoman.
I had some doubts about the young actress, but Hathaway was properly slinky and cunning as the (never-named) cat burglar and con artist. She was believable in navigating Gotham’s seamy underbelly and its glittering galas, and she brought much-needed femininity and light to Nolan’s grim and gritty universe.
Plot:Batman Begins showed how an orphan could become an anonymous champion of justice, and The Dark Knight depicted Batman fighting grotesque villains (Aaron Eckhart’s Two-Face and the late Heath Ledger’s unparalleled Joker). The Dark Knight Risesexpands on both those themes and is Wagnerian in showing Batman fighting Bane and a conspiracy for the very survival of Gotham City.
Nolan tries to make the plot a complicated puzzle, but even the trailers for the movie telegraphed some of the resolution. Anyone who has read the comic bookstorylines of Batman: Year One, The Killing Joke, Son of the Demon, Cataclysm, No Man’s Land, and Nightfall knows what to expect.
Rich felt that Nolan’s Batman isn’t as majestic or as much of a loner as he prefers, but I agree that the amount of time that passes for the desperate citizens of Gotham (and the audience) is on the long side.
I thought that The Dark Knight Rises‘ political subtext was muddled. Following Joseph Campbell’s hero pattern, the aristocratic hero must wander, reject his father figure, be humbled, triumph over his dark reflection, and then walk away or die. Other than a bus full of orphans, we see very few of the 12 million ordinary citizens whom Batman is supposedly fighting to protect.
On the other hand, there’s a populist “99%” strain to Bane’s Robespierre-style demagoguery — even if he’s just a tool of the League of Shadows. The military and police are shown as impotent, implicitly endorsing vigilantism. Granted, dressing upas a bat to fight crime doesn’t always make sense, but why bring up those points if you’re not going to fully show both sides?
Visual effects: From the opening scene of a daring aerial hijacking, The Dark Knight Rises‘ set-piece scenes were clearly inspired by the James Bond movies, which Nolan also paid tribute to in Inception. The battles of The Avengers were more cosmic and colorful, but Batman’s gadgetry and vehicles are still impressive.
Soundtrack: Hans Zimmer’s score is appropriately operatic, if not especially memorable. Unlike the Marvel Universe, whose movies include relatively recent popular music, it seems fitting that DC’s iconic heroes such as Batman stick with classical.
Spoilers and ratings: Note that some of the articles I’ve linked to contain “spoilers” about the plot, but I’ll try to avoid giving anything away directly here. I can see a few ways for how Nolan’s version could have continued, but I’m also content with his conclusion to Bruce Wayne’s story.