Things That I Loved This Week!

MOVIES

Prisoners

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Gripping, tragic, devastating. I can think of few other words to describe the plot and performances of ‘Prisoners’. Hugh Jackman delivers the performance of his career as a father in ruins, while Jake Gyllenhal absolutely nails his role as a small town police detective tasked with investigating the disappearance of two young girls. Maria Bello, Paul Dano, Melissa Leo, Terrance Howard and Viola Davis deliver strong-and often powerful-performances that round out an all star cast of characters. Upon reading a synopsis about a father who takes the law into his own hands when his daughter does missing, you may be left unenthused, but it is oh-so-much more than that. There are many scenes that will leave you conflicted, maybe even uncomfortable. Just when you think that you know where the clues are leading-and even if you have it figured out-there will still be moments of shock and awe. Though you may be left with an emotional weight on your mind and heart afterwards, I recommend that you add this movie to your “must watch” list immediately.

COMICS

Marvel Original Sin #0

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In what proves to be a brilliant series, Original Sin #0 starts strong right out of the gate. An Origin story about the elusive cosmic entity ‘The Watcher’, this issue finds the young superhero ‘Nova’ seeking for answers-and finding ones that he did not expect-on a personal and cosmic level. I anticipate-and hope- that ‘The Watcher’ is worked into the ever-expanding Marvel cinematic universe, as his role in the last few decades of comics has been consistent and very vital. With the coming introduction of the Guardians of the Galaxy, Thanos and the like, I anticipate that The Watcher will have an inevitable role to play as the events become more universal. With clever dialogue, clean and vibrant artwork and fantastic, emotional storytelling, ‘Original Sin #0’ is a series worth getting in to and sticking behind.

Other recommendations:

Elektra #1

What If? Age of Ultron #4

ART

Jason Palmer Studios

I was fortunate enough to spend my Saturday at the Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo, where I walked nearly seven kilometers around Artist Alley and a land of toys, posters and people. This being my second year at the event, I made it a point to lay my eyes on everything that I could possibly see before the day was through. The one artist that grabbed my attention over his peers was Mr. Jason Palmer. The sheer volume of realism in his collection is breathtaking, and his attention to detail is exceptional. Not only is his body of work at the top of his profession, but his passion speaks to his maturity, love and enthusiasm for his work. It is infectious.

I proudly took home a Professor Xavier and Phoenix print!

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Follow him on Facebook, you won’t regret it!

MUSIC

Phantogram

I first came across Phantogram at last years XFest lineup in Calgary, where the pair put on a hypnotic performance of electronic, alternative rock bliss. I recently came across their studio album ‘Voices’ and have had it in my regular rotation ever since. Check out Black Out Days, Bad Dreams and I Don’t Blame You.

The Damned Things

The Damned Things is a collaboration of members of several beloved punk, rock and hardcore bands that decided to go back to basics. Their music is a modern day adaptation of one classic theme: sex, drugs and rock. With infectious choruses, catchy beats and classic rock lyrics, this music is nearly impossible to resist. For those who might be skeptical, fear not, because the vocals of Keith Buckley (of Every Time I Die fame) give these party rock anthems a modern edge and appeal that will draw in an unlikely crowd of followers.

Check out: Friday Night, Little Darling and Broken Heart

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Wonderful and Woeful Watches: April 22nd 2014

I have so much free time lately that I’ve started to indulge in new television shows and an occasional movie here and there to keep me amused and to keep my brain moving. TV is my “jam”, so to speak, and I generally always side with it when given the option. Thankfully, this week I discovered a few new shows that have the potential to be quite fantastic!

House of Lies

Sex, money, management consulting. Not the most sensual lineup, no?

The only reason that I took a chance on this show is because of the cast. Kristen Bell is the woman of my heterosexual dreams, and I just haven’t seen enough of her work. Don Cheadle in a comedic role sounded just dandy after his turn as “War Machine/Iron Patriot” in Iron Man 3, and hey, Jean-Ralphio, from Parks and Recreation! As annoying as his character is, my god is he funny. Case in point.

The show is quite cocky,along with its main characters, so the humanity element has yet to be revealed. It is what I imagine ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ to be like in television form (Note: I have not seen this particular film….sorry). There is plenty of boobs, narcissism, money and ‘in your face’ speeches, but they haven’t quite drawn in the emotional folks such as myself. I want to see some humility! Hence, I will continue to watch, because there is some great potential.

Franklin and Bash

Two words: Breckin Meyer. If I wasn’t in love with his before, I am now.

Women everywhere squirm at the thought of Zack Morris in a suit for 40 minutes a week, and with good reason. Swoon. Both of these guys have charisma, great comedic timing and chemistry. Its not the most original story in the world (two arrogant 30-something lawyers who have no familes live together in between winning cases with their unconventional methods and arrogant lawyer charm), BUT I can forgive a lack of originality when it is this enjoyable. It doesn’t try to be pretentious and it doesn’t ‘reach’ too far for laughs. It is just a good time.

Now for the bad news….

Spring Breakers

I really wanted to steer clear of negativity on this blog, but I just hated this movie.

Firstly, I was VERY offput from about five minutes in because I didn’t realize that it written by one of the guys responsible for ‘Kids’, the movie that first taught me what being uncomfortable really was when I was eight. I sincerely thought this was going to be a rom com.

Putting that aside, however, this movie was just downright STRANGE. The music choices are bizarre. The constantly looping dialogue throughout, along with the recurring scenes was a poor attempt at being “noir”. The story was a huge reach and the characters are so unbelievably unrelatable that I didn’t know what to do with myself while watching this. The sexuality is SO forced that it isn’t remotely sexy at all. It is just plain disturbing. The main characters all have stripper names, and the overly sexual way that they interact with one another is just beyond my understanding. The only way that I can describe it is “an old white mans wet dream”. I was waiting for a naked pillow fight to break out. James Franco’s character ‘Alien’ is entirely ridiculous, to the point where even Franco’s dedication to the role could not save it. Every single thing that he said had no value or realism to it, even for a guy who was probably on drugs half the time.

It tried so hard to be deep and edgy, and it just ended up being empty and meaningless. I can’t explain how uncomfortable and ludicrous this movie was, but I absolutely would not watch it again. Sorry, folks.

3 Episodes of The Office (US) That Will Improve Your Day, if Not Your Life

When it comes to therapy, television is one of my favourite vices to get me out of an emotional funk. There are few shows that have the ability to provide genuine insight into real world situations and truly authentic emotions. The Office is one of those unique sitcoms that feels so realistic that you get wrapped up in its characters like they were your own circle of friends. It also makes very intelligent social commentary that cannot truly be seen for what it is without a little humour to accent it. I have cried many tears, many times over and had many epiphanies from episodes such as the following, which I can nearly guarantee will change your mood, if not your entire perspective on life. 

1. Boys and Girls

In this second season episode, Jan comes down from Corporate to hold a “Women in the Workplace” meeting with the ladies of Dunder Mifflin Scranton. To start with, the episode blatantly displays sexism in the workplace and how commonplace it truly is,because unlike this show, in the real world nobody is saying it out loud. Dwight states that he feels uncomfortable with all of the women in the same room because their periods might sync up. Whilst trying to fend off Michaels many interruptions, the ladies get down to some very real conversations about how women perceive themselves, and each other.

In one scene that is typical Angela, she puts down Jan’s clothing after the women are told to dress “for the job that you want” by saying “I just think it’s insulting that Jan thinks we need this. And apparently, judging from her outfit, Jan aspires to be a whore.” Kelly makes it a point to bring up Jan’s sex life in order to humiliate her and display a dominance over her. Both actions are forward examples of the way that women put each other down in order to feel some twisted sense of power of one another. In another scene, Jan asks the women to say, out loud, one thing that they’re good at. They can’t even get through one round of answers without one woman putting down another ones answers, or trying to humiliate one another.

The single most important moment in this episode-and the one that always turns on a lightbulb in my mind-is the scene where Pam opens up about wanting to be an artist. While you can see the immediate shame that feels, Jan immediately begins to encourage her, and says the single most important line that Jan’s character ever has a chance to speak:

“Theres always a million reasons not to do something”

That powerful sentiment connects with Pam. In a very relatable scene, she confronts her fiance and expresses her interest in an art program, but is immediately convinced that her dream is a waste of time. It goes to show how easy it is to be shamed out of your passion by people who just don’t understand it.

2. The Injury

In one of the single greatest episodes of the entire series, this season two episode finds Michael Scott with a burnt foot because of his George Foreman grill. He spends the entire episode obnoxiously seeking out attention and sympathy, exaggerating his condition as much as humanly possible for effect. In the midst of his dramatic displays, Dwight receives a concussion while trying to leave the office to help Michael get to work. Of course, in true Michael fashion, he tries his darnedest to prove that his injury is still far more important.

There isn’t a whole lot to say about the message of this episode that isn’t obvious. The reason that it makes this list is simply because it is ludicrous, hilarious and aggravating. If I were to show any single episode to someone that hadn’t seen the show, this would be it. Michael is at the peak of his narcissistic arrogance, but somehow he still manages to be lovable. 

And therein lies the real brilliance of The Office. 

3. Gay Witch Hunt

This one was an obvious choice, simply because of how relevant it still is. Michael is confronted by HR for using the word “faggy”, and learns that one of his own employees is gay. Instead of exercising discretion, he makes it his personal mission to make as big a deal of the situation as possible, as he does with every other awkward situation.

The sheer volume of “ahh” moments in this episode is endless. The reactions of Oscar’s coworkers and peers showcase a wide range of realistic and comical scenarios, from Kevin’s immature laughter, to Angela’s disgust, to Creeds creepy understanding, to Michaels defensive ignorance.  

 “Maybe we could go out for a beer sometime and you can tell me how you do that to another dude”

This is one of those episodes that speaks to something much bigger than a television show joke. It serves as a reality check for all the ignorant Angelas, Kevins and Michaels of the world who think that being gay is wrong, disgusting, threatening or funny. 

Most importantly, I think, is that it puts all the cards on the table with no intention of being politically correct or guarded about the subject. This happens to people in professional and non-professional situations, and can be easily applied to anyone who ‘comes out’ as a vegetarian, a Christian, a divorcee, or a childless adult. If you are different in any way, there will be people who disagree in a vocal way or people who just make it a point to project their discomfort onto you in subtle and obvious ways. 

In the end, can’t we all just get along?

Now, get on Netflix and watch this entire show. You will not be sorry!

Things That I Loved This Week!

Movies:

The new X Men: Days of Future Past trailer!

Previous trailers for this movie were focused on character features and REALLY cliche one liners, seemingly cut and pasted from actual dialogue in the film for dramatic effect.  In the final draft, we were finally treated to a trailer that offered a solid and thoughtful explanation of the plot of the film. No more dramatic background music underneath cheesy quips like “I know what I have to do” followed by the entire cast showing off their best serious faces. There are moments of humour and loads of action, creating a much more tantalizing offering for salivating nerds such as myself. I am extremely excited for this movie, but my personal tastes sway more towards the marketing and promotions that they utilized in the first few months of campaigning, such as the posters below. Simple, yet oh no effective. I am slightly concerned that the movie is becoming TOO hyped and it may be swaying expectations. However, the X Men are always a win in my books, and the collaboration of old and new cast is very, very exciting.

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Watch the old trailer, and then the latest one, and you too will see and hear a HUGE difference in quality.

Transcendence

Going into this movie, I had not really read or heard anything about it, but I was very intrigued by the idea. I ended up being quite impressed by its ideas and scared by its insight. I know that there will be many people who pick it apart for plot holes, timing issues etc, but I do think that the film (by famed Cinematographer of Christopher Nolan, Wally Pfister) achieved what it set out to do. It made you think, it made you afraid and it made you become a part of the moral conflict that the characters were going through. As you would expect from a Cinematographer behind such films as ‘The Dark Knight’ trilogy and ‘Inception’, the visuals were really outstanding.

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I have seen some feedback of the film since viewing it, and it isn’t very good, but I do think that it is worth a watch for yourself. Your perception of a movie is affected heavily by your predetermined expectations, and more importantly, you can’t always believe the general public!

Besides, if you don’t like it, I have an alternate ‘fan fiction’ theory that involves Paul Bettanys character ‘plugging in’. Thats right, its a J.A.R.V.I.S origin story. If things go sideways, I might write it one day.

Television

Game of Thrones: Season 4, Episode 2

Folks, as a member of the cable-less community, I am a strong advocate for concealing the details of television shows for as long as possible so as to not spoil it for late viewers, like myself. So, having said that, DID YOU SEE EPISODE 2???

I have such a love/hate relationship with this show, in that I love and appreciate its glorious and elaborate storytelling and I applaud its audacity, BUT I take issue with the very watered down and cliche dialogue. Granted, when you are following a series of fantastic novels you likely want to stay away from adding in too much additional dialogue so as to not affect the story. So, I’ll give it a pass, because most of the dialogue that they rip right from the books is generally very powerful.

The reason that I keep coming back to this show is because of crazy episodes like this one. The tension that they are able to build, the hatred that they can instil in a viewer towards its characters and the surprises that it can spring on you are just intoxicating.

Although I can see that the events of last weeks episode are going to open a whole new can of medieval worms, all l that I can say is, HALLELUJAH!

Art

Station Studios/Christpher Uminga

I first met Christopher Uminga-and his work-at the 2012 Saskatchewan Expo, and which point I purchased at least 2 prints, went home and followed him on Facebook and Instagram, and started spreading the word. He seemed to be a very cool, down to earth fellow, and his work is very unique, eclectic and playful. His drawings of Batman villains, television characters and famous video game characters make his body of work a nerdvana of modern art. I chose to talk about him today because the incredible work that has been posted in the last few months is some of his best so far. At least once a week I gaze upon a new character piece and exclaim “TAKE MY MONEY!!” Art like his has made having Instagram a whole lot more exciting.

Exhibit #1,2 and 3:

           


If you follow him on Facebook, you should also follow Station Studios, a band of uber talented artists of which he is a part. Together, they are touring the Convention circuit and spilling their wealth of talent all over North America. I can only hope that they make their way to Western Canada again this year. If not, I’ll see you guys at SDCC!

My Journey Between The Panels aka How Comics Have Changed My Life

My relationship with comics is a loyal and lifelong friendship.

I was a huge geek from my earliest recollection. I would sit on the floor at my great grandmas house and steal the newspaper just so that I could peruse the Sunday morning “funnies” section in the back. I fell in love with Calvin and Hobbes, Snoopy and Garfield, and although I couldn’t read the speech bubbles, among the rainbow chip cookie crumbs I was dropping, I was pouring over the pictures trying to piece together the jokes. One fateful day, on top of my usual strawberry Yop, I asked my mom to buy me a colorful comic book while waiting in the grocery aisle. That Archie comic was the biggest catalyst in my learning to read and learning how much fun that it could be. I collected hundreds of the comics over time, obsessively reading them in every corner and every seat of the house until I was in my late teens. To this day, I can glance at a strip and know immediately whether or not I’ve read it before.

From all the way back to my first Catwoman Halloween costume, I blame my present day nerdiness entirely on my dad, who always watched X Men: The Animated Series, Batman: The Animated Series and Spiderman when I was around, not to mention the infamous ‘Lois and Clark’. That’s right folks, Dean Cain was my first Superman.

We also watched a lot of WWF wrestling, but that’s in the past. I got over that phase just in time.

It was also my dad who started bringing quarters to the corner store every time that we went so that I could buy Marvel cards from the vending machine. I became obsessed with those cards and still keep them close by to this day. I would pull them out and read the artist notes from time to time and obsess over the amazing artwork, even though I barely knew who most of the characters were at the time. In those days, I barely knew who Stan Lee was, let alone who the heck ‘Spiderman 2099’ was.

Note to self: find out who the heck ‘Spiderman 2099’ is.

In the year 2000, when I was only 12, Bryan Singers ‘X Men’ came out and changed my world. Never before had I been so enthralled with a superhero movie and so impressed by its quality. These were characters that I recognized, but ones who’s stories I was unfamiliar with, so to see it play out in a very realistic way was a whole new perspective for a younger me. They were not simply fighting aliens, robots or each other, like in the cartoons, but they were fighting a very real world that believed that they should not exist. Being barely a teenager, the thought of these amazing people coping with things that I was, like loneliness, being outcast and trying to find a safe place in the world struck a cord inside of my psyche.

I would also like to point out that before this movie came out, I looked at my Professor X card one day and said “He looks like the guy from Star Trek!”. Just saying, I called it and I was only 11.

I went through a tough period of time where for a few years I barely touched a comic book or watched a superhero movie, or thought about them at all. There was a lull in quality productions, when the only movies coming out where Spiderman, The Hulk, Fantastic 4 and Iron Man 2 (ugh) and I was rather turned off by the whole situation. Instead I was marathon watching everything from ‘Scrubs’ to ‘The Sopranos’ to keep myself sane. From that grew a passionate love affair with television, so, some good did come from the situation after all.

Over the years, comic adaptations have taken a dramatic turn towards mainstream popularity, meaning that it is increasingly less unique to be a comic book nerd, which is breaking down the stigma a bit. It also means that we have plentiful material to enjoy, from the brilliant ‘Dark Knight Rises’ series to the ever growing universe of Marvel movies. There is no shortage of joy in my life because there is always a new comic, a new movie, TV show or beautiful artists rendition to get excited about. Luckily, the movies eventually starting rolling in by the boatload. Iron Man is now my absolute favorite movie of all time. The Avengers is my go-to movie if I need a pick-me-up. Loki is my wallpaper on my phone. I am constantly impressed by the new stories, casting choices and costume variations that are being brought forth and salivate over every one of them, no matter how bad they may turn out.

Comic books and superheroes, to many people, are simply children’s literature. Pointless. A waste of time. Juvenile. In reality, these stories and these characters are no different from mythological characters and “wives tales” that many generations have come to love and refer to for their lessons and wisdom. Sure, they are fictional and they are often obtuse,but under every hero and villain is a story. Every hero has an aspiration, a burden or a desire that we can see within ourselves that makes us passionate about their journey. Even the non-hero comic characters, like Charlie Brown, ‘Calvin and Hobbes or ‘Foxtrot’ have a way of bridging the gap between adolescence and adulthood by pinpointing our deepest and most subtle inner thoughts, bringing them to light in a playful way. That tender feeling of nostalgia is a beautiful thing. For me, comics are an escape and an indulgence of the mind. Comic book characters average people just like you and I, but in extraordinary circumstances. They can be innocent, evil, funny, brave and fragile. Their history, relationships and burdens draw you in and their persona attaches to an emotional place inside of you, like friends that you have never met. Friends who are invincible and immortal. Anyone from the ages of 5-50 in any walk of life can appreciate a comic strip in the Sunday paper, or a movie about a scientist who turns in a big green rage monster when he gets mad. That kind of universal appeal can only be considered an art.

I feel about comics the same way that I feel about art, because that it precisely what they are. They are full of beauty, humanity and fun. To me, its about the way that I felt when I see an actor in their superhero costume for the first time. Its about how enthralling it is to see a new interpretation of a character in a drawing. Its about the overwhelming sense of anxiety that I felt when I was squirming in my seat waiting to find out what would happen in the final Batman movie. And more and more over time, it is about the beautiful feeling of nostalgia when I pull out my Marvel cards or watch my old favorite shows.

These are the reason why I love comics, and I don’t care who knows.

Things That I’ve Loved This Week

Movies: Captain America:The Winter Soldier

‘The Winter Soldier’ succeeded on many levels, but the most important of all is that it made me a fan of Captain America and Black Widow. I liked them well enough in their previous movie appearances, but this movie finally gave them an opportunity to shine as people and as heroes. The storyline is solid, the dialogue is smart and witty with plenty of fan-centric humour, and for once, there is ACTION! Captain America: The First Avenger was-in my opinion-undoubtedly the weakest Marvel movie of Phase 1, and the serious lack of excitement and action was one of its biggest downfalls. The same cannot be said for ‘The Winter Solider’, as it boasts several dynamic action sequences that looked…dare I say…realistic? Steve Rogers has finally come to grips with his present day, and his modern makeover is evident in everything from his mannerisms to his relaxed vernacular. Chris Evans finally has the chance to show range in the character, while still staying true to the old fashioned values of Cap.

The cast is filled with lovable characters from The Avengers and beyond, and with a few new additions to the cast, including the down to earth ‘Falcon’, there is never a dull moment. One of the best qualities of the movie is that it is cheeky and self aware, poking fun at itself before you have a chance to do so.

‘The Winter Soldier’ is a fantastic Marvel movie, action movie and just a roaring good time. Go see it!

Music: Alt J

I am not normally a fan of electronic music, but it is growing on me because of artists like Alt J. His sound is an eclectic mix of stoner rock, pop, dance and electronic, and is a perfect soundtrack to a night in with friends or a night time drive through the city. His vocals are very strange, but serve as a complimentary instrument to the layers of music that is accompanies. That infectious bass and the ethereal sounds of triangle and rainsticks mixed with synthetic sounds of modern technology make Alt J a great find as we head into warm summer nights, where good music is often necessary. Check out the song Taro, from ‘An Awesome Wave’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S3fTw_D3l10

Games: South Park: The Stick of Truth

I’m still fairly new to being a ‘gamer’ but I am a South Park veteran, and the coming together of the two is nothing short of glorious. This game is absolutely perfect for fans of the show in every way possible. There are references to the show every which way, down to the most minute of details. The map itself is comprehensive but fairly small, helping to keep the game from feeling overwhelming or confusing. The total play time to complete the main storyline is rather short, but if you take the time to complete the side missions and try your hand at getting trophies and achievements, you can safely invest at least 10 hours into the game and have a roaring good time the whole way through. The jokes and plot are slightly altered based on your choice of character (Thief, Mage, Jew, Fighter) with hilarious accessories to further ridicule your character.

Immature to the nines, hilarious and damn fun, this game is a South Parks fans dream come true. Play it ME-YAW!

Technology: Googles Chrome Cast

Not on my own whim, our household now owns *two* Chrome Casts. Basically, it is a Wifi dongle that plugs into your HDMI port in the back of your TV. The device then uses wireless internet to connect to your other household devices, like your cell phone and computer, and allows you to stream and control what it showing on the TV right from the source. For example, if you are hooked up to the Chrome Cast using your Android phone, you can watch You Tube and any other media that you have right on the television, but all controlled by your phone.

The coolest part, however, is combining the device with a little program called ‘Plex’. ‘Plex’ is a paid app in the Android market and a free program to install to your home computer. Using the app, you can sit in your living room and use your phone to navigate the media that is stored on your computer, streaming it through the TV. It is basically like having Netflix, but the library consists of only videos that you have acquired and chosen yourself. ‘Plex’ takes your large inventory of mistitled files and uses its magic to sort them into appropriate categories, organizing everything with covers, photos, descriptions, plot summaries, and it PLAYS THE THEME SONG TO THE SHOW THAT YOU ARE BROWSING THROUGH WHILE YOU ARE BROWSING THROUGH IT. Technology is just plain glorious.