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Heavyweight Champions of 2014: Life Itself

Biographies are hard. They’re hard to get into and they’re hard to make. And especially, they’re hard to make compelling. It all depends entirely on the material you have, whether the […]

Biographies are hard. They’re hard to get into and they’re hard to make. And especially, they’re hard to make compelling. It all depends entirely on the material you have, whether the person was prominent on their own or not and more importantly, whether the person had any history worth getting into. Filmed biographies are especially complicated due to the talking head format, where you have to select carefully the people you want and the questions you want to ask in order to create the portrait you want to come out. You also always run the risk of subjectivity in your portrait. All portraits are inherently subjective, of course, but you still want to create something that fully conveys the nature of the person you are representing to the spectator.

In Life Itself, Steve James challenges himself to obtain a portrayal that comes close to Roger Ebert’s autobiography. Not only does he succeed, he manages to immortalize Roger in his beloved art form in a way that was probably beyond his wildest dreams. Ebert is probably already one of the most beloved icons of the film industry, an achievement that is made more staggering by the fact that the man himself was almost never involved in the making of movies himself. But Ebert made up for this in sheer passion for what movies were, what they could be and his significant contributions towards bridging the gap between those two places.

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Heavy Weight Champions of 2014: True Detective

The season-anthology format pioneered by American Horror Story is probably one of the most refreshing injections of energy into Television in the last few years. Sadly, while Murphy decided to […]

The season-anthology format pioneered by American Horror Story is probably one of the most refreshing injections of energy into Television in the last few years. Sadly, while Murphy decided to turn AHS into a playground for his extremely unique talent for disjointed storytelling filled with over the top “Oh shit, that happened on a TV show?”-ness not many other options flourished after its immediate announcement. Of course, it could just be because producers everywhere were holding their breath to see if Asylum turned out to be economically unsuccessful. And even if I’m not his biggest fan, I will say, major kudos to Murphy in crafting what is easily the most insane, utterly out of control TV show in recent memory. It’s a shame that that anarchic energy does not translate into entertainment for me, for reasons not worth getting into.

However, what did entertain me during 2014 was seeing how many other shows took the idea of “One season, one story” and ran with it. Especially January’s first big surprise: Nic Pizzolatto’s True Detective. Told as a sequence of flashbacks framed by a police interrogation of two former police detectives, True Detective is the story of Rustin “Rust” Cohle and Martin “Marty” Hart, the detectives in charge of the “King In Yellow” case, as their case is being revised by the Missouri police because they believe they have found a new victim and a new lead.

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Foxcatcher; A hunt for the Gold.

Walking into the theater, I hadn’t known what to expect of this film other than that it was about two brothers and wrestling. From the trailers and brief glimpses of […]

Walking into the theater, I hadn’t known what to expect of this film other than that it was about two brothers and wrestling. From the trailers and brief glimpses of hype I perused before seeing the film, I had come to expect a movie about triumph, about two brothers pushing themselves harder and winning gold for their nation. The haunting tale of depression, failing families, and utter mental lapse was not what I expected to find.

Feeling jaded at the way his country has spurned him, at the shadow hanging over him Mark Schultz (played by Channing Tatum) falls easy prey to the wise words from John E Du Pont (portrayed by Steve Carell) . He’s quick to find a kindred soul in Du Pont over the fact that he echoes the same thoughts. Their nation is in trouble and they need to save it, a very brave statement from an Olympic wrestler and one of the wealthiest men in America.  The hunt is on but instead of hunting for the fox, Du Pont is setting the hounds for the gold medal in the 1988 Olympics.

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D.C. Comics’ Best Book Takes Us Back To School: Gotham Academy

I have to give it to DC. For a time I was dismissing the entire company as they dedicated themselvesy to representing every outdated and depressing idea about superhero comics […]

I have to give it to DC. For a time I was dismissing the entire company as they dedicated themselvesy to representing every outdated and depressing idea about superhero comics that exist. While stand-outs like Scott Snyder’s Batman and Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. existed and showed why DC’s world is still a great one, the majority were made of sexist tripe for fourteen-year-old boys like Red Hood and The Outlaws, dull attempts at relevancy like I, Vampire, and the utter void of interest that was the rebooted Justice League. There are still numerous problems with the company as shown by things like their year-long Future’s End event, but they’ve been making strides to create books that everyone can follow. That doesn’t mean there aren’t heaps of problems, but effort should still be noted, especially when that effort results in my favorite new comic of the year: Gotham Academy.

One of the aphorisms people love to throw around about Gotham City is that it’s just as much a character as Robin or The Joker. Of course, a city like Gotham with its gothic architecture mixed with super scientific labs and villains couldn’t exist in the real world, but it’s the perfect settting for its extreme characters. With such an extreme city and locales, why should the schools be any different? Gotham Academy is a private high school that could only exist in Gotham city. Gotham Academy is a school filled with spooky halls, ancient buildings, teachers that wouldn’t look out of place at Hogwarts, and of course, A Dark Secret.

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Black Widow steals Marvel’s best #1 of the year

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2014 was a good year for Marvel’s women – certainly betters than ‘13.  Their flagship female-led title, Captain Marvel, was relaunched to consistently good reviews; Ms. Marvel was an instant critical and commercial darling, X-Men continued despite Brian Wood’s necessary departure and will soon be getting a new writer from Ms. Marvel’s G. Willow Wilson, and Storm, Elekrtra, Spider-Woman, and She-Hulk received titles of their own as well.  Not all of those titles are good, and some may be cancelled, but they were still there.

Black Widow was particularly notable as it was considered long overdue.  Natasha Romanov should have gotten her newest solo title two years ago when she played a crucial and beloved role in the third-highest-grossing movie of all time. Why it took so long, I don’t know.  But when it dropped, Black Widow #1 was outstanding.  Below, now edited, were my thoughts when I first read it in January, and they hold up twelve months later.

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Barry Allen Is Happy To Be The Flash And I’m Happy To Watch The Best Show Of 2014

The Flash hasn’t been the first superhero TV show I’ve gone into with a heavy amount of good will. This year alone I worked my best to give Constantine and […]

The Flash hasn’t been the first superhero TV show I’ve gone into with a heavy amount of good will. This year alone I worked my best to give Constantine and Gotham the benefit of the doubt only to get a generic supernatural procedural and a weird attempt to marry Nolan’s vision of Batman with Adam West’s. I went in excited for Joss Whedon’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and came out rethinking any positive thing I’ve ever said about Whedon. Even after that when you factor in shows like Smallville, Birds of Prey, The Cape, The Greatest American Superhero, Lois and Clark, and numerous others that have come and gone, there’s plenty of reason not to give American TV shows the benefit of the doubt. There have been shows like Buffy, Xena, and Doctor Who that have drawn heavily on the conventions of superheroes but fans of those shows would be quick to object to anyone daring to call them such a dirty thing as a superhero show.

Then the Flash came along. Flash isn’t just a good show. Flash isn’t just a great show or even just the best show the CW has ever had. (A claim that sounds like damning with faint praise if a claim ever did) Hell, it’s not even just the best TV show airing right now.The Flash is all of those and the best argument for superheroes being a long-standing, engaging, and even accessible platform. The Flash is one of the comic bookiest characters out there. Maybe some of Kirby’s New Gods outdo him, but the Flash stands as a character with a godlike superpower that can be used in various means to solve various ridiculous problems. The Flash as a show takes the premise and takes us in new and exciting places each time. In our time with Flash, he’s reversed a tornado, ran up a wall, and even walked on water. Not only does this make the show feel imaginative but it makes the action always feel new and exciting. Rather than nervously inching into the realm of superheroics like many more timid shows the Flash dives into the far reaches of superheroics and revels in it. It’s still a little surreal to think the first episode of the show confirmed the upcoming appearance of Flash’s arch-nemesis Gorilla Grodd.

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Heavy Weight Champions of 2014: Gone Girl

David Fincher is probably Hollywood’s most high-brow mercenary. A new Fincher movie is exciting because regardless of the script-work, we’re always going to get some highly beautiful aesthetic work on […]

David Fincher is probably Hollywood’s most high-brow mercenary. A new Fincher movie is exciting because regardless of the script-work, we’re always going to get some highly beautiful aesthetic work on all fronts. Unfortunately, Fincher’s last two projects before Gone Girl were disappointing because of the material he chose. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and The Social Network are succesful movies, but they felt weak and overeliant on Fincher’s aesthetic work to carry out stories that most of the time felt generic and whenever they veered out of generic territory, they went into outright insulting and bizarre territory. This is especially jarring in the light of the fact that Zodiac proved to be a highlight in Fincher’s career.

So, when Gone Girl was released, I was apprehensive. On the one hand, this was another adaptation, not unlike Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, and I had serious issues with the book in terms of its characterization of its two main leads, which by the end of the book felt less like people and more like plot devices in constant contradiction. On the other hand, Gillian Flynn’s structure really fit the flights of narrative fancy that distinguished Fight Club and Se7en from the pack. And it’s important to remember that Fight Club was also a barely-above average book before Fincher turned it into a turn-of-the-millenium grenade of a cult film.

And then we had the final product. Gone Girl is probably the strongest Fincher release in a career filled with modern thriller classics and it’s all due to the fact that when it comes to Gillian Flynn’s script, Fincher understands that while her characters could be strong and compelling in the page, they do not come across as humans unless someone imbues them with life. Cue Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike, taking both roles and turning them from simulacra into living, breathing individuals. Pike, in particular, is a complete stand-out as Amy Dunne, switching from kind and sweet to conniving and menacing in the blink of an eye, she’s the ultimate femme fatale, taking her cue from the Lauren Bacalls and Veronica Lakes of old Hollywood and then ultimately giving them the chance to redeem themselves outside of the narcissist and misogynist narratives that defined them and blossom as the forces of nature they were meant to be.

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On Run The Jewels, The Greatest Hip Hop Act of 2014

2014 has been a mediocre year for hip hop. 2014 has mostly been home to expectations, such as Doomtree’s or Kendrick’s spectacular singles. Both of these announced new albums for […]

2014 has been a mediocre year for hip hop. 2014 has mostly been home to expectations, such as Doomtree’s or Kendrick’s spectacular singles. Both of these announced new albums for 2015. But, sadly, hip hop’s luminaries went in hiding for 2014. The average Jewel Runner would tell you that it was because a certain Jaime “El-P” Meline and a certain Michael “Killer Mike” Render announced Run The Jewels 2, the sequel to their critically acclaimed mixtape for 2013.

Yet, for me it wasn’t just the album release in 2014, a dry year for hip hop in general, what finally converted me to El-P and Killer Mike’s virtues as artists. It was their complete dedication to the idea of what their joint act could be. Run The Jewels 2 is the best album of 2014 and El-P and Killer Mike crafted the best musical act of 2014, but make no mistake, if they were faced with the Kanyes and Kendricks of the world, they’d still win.

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Whiplash: Greatness, At Any Cost

Whiplash starts the only way a movie about jazz drumming can; with a drum-only fanfare. It accelerates, it goes from a slow, foreboding rhythm to a disorienting heart-pounding drum solo. […]

Whiplash starts the only way a movie about jazz drumming can; with a drum-only fanfare. It accelerates, it goes from a slow, foreboding rhythm to a disorienting heart-pounding drum solo. From the moment Whiplash unleashes that fanfare to the very last frame, it doesn’t let up. Every single scene explodes, and if it doesn’t explode, it seems primed to explode in a way very reminiscent of Hitchcockian suspense. It’s as brutal as it gets, and like a hungry beast, it’s only out for one thing: your throat.

The movie follows the journey of one Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller), a 19 year old jazz drummer at a fictional musical academy that somehow manages to wow Terrence Fletcher (JK Simmons) into accepting Neyman into his jazz band, known to many as the first step towards a jazz career. Of course, then it follows that Fletcher and Neyman would build a close relationship where Fletcher molds Neyman into the next Buddy Rich.

But there’s a twist, of course; and it’s that Fletcher is an abusive mentor. Someone who takes his students and tries them by fire. Not the fire of practice, but the fire of fear. Through physical and emotional abuse, he hopes to inspire the next Charlie Parker (who, as the myth often goes, became “Bird” when his band leader threw a cymbal at his face. So he decided to go home and practice until he became a true legend) the question the movie then offers is the idea of whether Fletcher is even close to reasonable or justifiable if he succeeds once.

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November Spooktacular! You Should (Not) Be Playing: Horror Games popurri

Hello and welcome back the Brain On Airwaves podcast. It’s been quite a while since me and Jerry could sit down and talk about things and stuff but we were […]

Hello and welcome back the Brain On Airwaves podcast. It’s been quite a while since me and Jerry could sit down and talk about things and stuff but we were constrained by Real Life, the cruelest of all mistresses.  Either way, we managed to sit down and talk about one of our very favorite topics: horror design in video games. And we got a special guest, Liz!, to join us and hear our shouting about things.

Hope you have a nice sunday and, of course, that you don’t stop being spooky because of a silly date in the calendar.

(download)

(Twitter: Juan: @JuanConde11 | Jerry: @sonofaether | Liz: @deusexignis)

(Tumblr: Juan: thehermesofverses | Jerry: thedrunkenminstrel | Liz: greatjeangrey)

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