Saturday, March 22, 2014

Union College's Daniel Campini scores against Colgate in 2014 ECAC Championship

Union College's #17 junior forward Daniel Campini scores against Colgate in the 2014 ECAC Championship en route to a THREEPEAT! this was the third goal of the game and technically the game-winning and championship-winning goal as the final score was 5-2 Union.
3/22/14 in Lake Placid, NY.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Movie review: Comic Book: The Movie (2004)

CBTMposterNOTE: This is a review I wrote back in 2004 when this film was originally released on DVD.

Comic Book: The Movie is a movie every comic book lover has wanted to make himself. Mark Hamill has been one of the geeks for years, but has kept it pretty quiet from the mainstream. He's a comic book and movie fanatic and feels the same ways others do when they see their beloved stories terribly retooled by Hollywood. In response to that he wrote, directed, co-produced and starred in this wholly original film that's not quite a mockumentary, but far too clever to be just another comedy.

The story centers around Don Swan (Hamill), a middle-aged high school teacher and comics aficionado from Wisconsin who owns his own comic book store and even publishes a fanzine about the Golden Age of comics. He's invited by a Hollywood film studio to be a technical consultant on a movie based on a comic, which in turn was based on a Golden Age comic he's loved since childhood. It's his insight Timely Studios wants to help make a good movie... or at least that's what HE thinks.

The fictional comic in question is "Commander Courage," a WWII-era superhero who is a composite of every legendary, patriotic superhero ever (Superman, Captain America, the Lone Ranger, etc.). He's got super powers, wears a mask, has a boy sidekick and fights the Nazis. This character eventually faded away but was resurrected as "Codename: Courage" after 9/11. The new version is updated for the times, but to Don's chagrin, perhaps a little too modern. This new guy embodies every cliche of the mysterious loner/badass-to-the-extreme/tough-as-nails government assassin-type "superhero" to come out of comics in the last 15 years. Or, imagine every action movie character ever played by Stallone, Van Damme, Segal and Schwarzenegger all rolled into one. Now imagine what a movie company would like to do with a character like that!

CBTM3Poor Don, he thinks he can actually persuade the studio execs to keep the Courage character close to his original conception and not ignore his 60-year history. Lori Alan and Roger Rose co-star as the vain, uptight, greedy movie moguls who are just using Don to endorse the film at the hugely popular San Diego Comic Con where over 60,000 other geeks are hoping for a sneak peek. After all, no word of mouth endorsements or condemnations travel faster than at the speed of geek. They even provide Don with a Tommy Chong-esque cameraman named Ricky (Jess Harnell) to document everything as a DVD bonus feature.

As is the case with most mockumentaries, there isn't really a plot to "Comic Book: The Movie," it's more of a meandering story of Don's journey to Hollywood and then to the comic book convention and his feeble attempt to convince the world the original, wholesome character would make a better movie than the gritty one.

CBTM2Don is so committed to his quest he even has a Commander Courage costume professionally made and hires an actor to wear it at the convention (Daran Norris is sublime as the clueless patsy). Don's work on his fanzine manages to get him some pretty big contacts in Los Angeles too, most notably filmmaker Kevin Smith, Playboy publisher Hugh Hefner, and cult movie star Bruce Campbell. All three are genuinely interested in Don's mission to keep the movie from becoming another lame potboiler. Voice actor extraordanaire Billy West (best known for Fry on Futurama) co-stars as Leo, the long-lost grandson of Commander Courage's creator who has no idea of the royalties he's entitled to. Leo's very shy and not too bright, but over the course of a few days will be seduced by the Hollywood scene and the way he changes is hilarious.

The film was shot entirely on video with hand held cameras to make it look as if you were watching a TV news magazine, or, dare I say it - MTV. It's an original way to tell the story since the majority of the film takes place at the giant convention with thousands of people walking around. Shooting it this way makes it more believable when we see people standing around watching the main characters talk and even getting in on the action too.

The only problem I had was that sometimes it's difficult to tell where Comic Book: The Movie ends and the movie-within-the-movie begins. We occasionally see the "real" movie's camera crew through Ricky's camera, but unlike Ricky, these guys are never acknowledged. I didn't feel this was a wink at the camera in-joke, but more of a sloppy filmming technique. It probably would have worked better had the actual movie been shot on film with Ricky's video footage intercut when necessary instead of at random. The constant back and forth and the appearance of boom mikes is disorienting and confusing.
CBTM1Although the photography is a little weird, the fantastic performances and original storyline supersede any flaws. No specific screenplay was written for the film (just a story a la The Blair Witch Project), so everything that comes out of the actors' mouths is purely improvisation and they're always on point. Hamill is totally convincing as the average joe who loves comics and is quick with the factoids, but still says stuff like, "When exactly the Silver Age starts is for the scholars to decide." Jess Harnell's "Ricky" is one of the funniest characters I've seen in years. He has terrific timing and his stoner-like observations, philsophies, one-liners and impressions never get old.

What's also remarkable is that a slew of comic book creators and voice actors provide cameos as themselves or as bit parts. I was astounded at the authenticity of the non-actors' dialogue when they talk about Commander Courage in the most minute detail. Simply being themselves sells the story and it's very funny. Hollywood could start making comedies like this for a fraction of what they spend on one actor's salary.

The last act morphs into something of a regular comedy by actually having a conflict to overcome, as well as some wacky/suspenseful moments. Thankfully, it's quickly paced and the atmosphere still stays nice and lighthearted so that even cheesy lines like, "You can't fire the human spirit" work.
Obviously, Comic Book: The Movie is targeted at a specific audience, and being part of that demographic I couldn't help but enjoy it. To the non-comics fan it might come across as silly, but there's really a lot of intelligent satire to be found here.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Union College's Daniel Carr scores a penalty shot against Dartmouth

Union College senior forward #9 Daniel Carr scores on a penalty shot against Dartmouth College. NCAA college hockey Division I
ECAC Hockey 2014 quarterfinals. Messa Rink at Achilles Center. Schenectady, NY.
March 14, 2014

Check out my Union hockey playlist here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL66D7B34FDFF79FF4

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Batman Beyond (complete series review)

BatmanflyingBack in December, I wrote a blog about Batman: The Animated Series, wherein I mentioned I had watched every episode and vlogged about them on my YouTube channel. Beginning on January 1, I started the same process for Batman Beyond. This series only ran half as long as the original and was set in the future with almost completely different characters.

I had never watched Batman Beyond when it originally aired from 1999-2001. In fact, I knew very little about the show before I decided to view it in its entirety. I had mistakenly believed that it had nothing to do with the Batman canon, so I’d never been all that interested in it, even as a hardcore Batman collector. And while it isn’t canon to the original DC universe, the fact the character Bruce Wayne is one of the main protagonists definitely gives old school Batman fans like me a reason to watch.

batman-beyond-return-joker-1As the title implies, this show takes place in the fairly distant future. The first episode explains how an aging Bruce Wayne finally hit a point where he just couldn’t be Batman anymore. We then flash forward even further into the future where 17-year-old Terry McGinnis dons the Batman costume after much persuasion of a highly reluctant Bruce Wayne. This is all established in the two-part pilot episode, which is actually one of the best episodes of the series as it’s treated more like a movie. After that, the show becomes a pretty typical, if formulaic, animated superhero series.

I was skeptical going into Batman Beyond, and while I don’t think it was nearly as good as Batman: The Animated Series, it was still a pretty fun show to watch. It’s aimed at a younger audience, whereas the original had a more serious, mature approach to its stories and tone. I’ve heard interviews with Paul Dini and Bruce Timm explain that in the late 1990s, kids wanted to see superheroes they could relate to, so they had to make a much younger Batman for this incarnation. So this may be a show for children, but it’s not intended to be silly or wacky like the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon.

Here’s some observations I had while watching this series:

This Batman is closer to Superman

Terry wears a hi-tech suit that looks quite different from the classic Batman costume we’ve seen in the comics for nearly a century now. There’s no cape, yet Terry can sprout wings and glide, or straight up fly due to jets in his shoes. He does a lot of flying in this show and also does a lot of falling from great heights. He is repeatedly thrown through walls and beaten badly by villains, yet he never breaks a bone or suffers much of any damage other than an occasional cut or scratch (and only when that benefits the plot). The whole point of the Batman character is that he’s a normal human being without any superpowers. And while this is clearly in the sci-fi/fantasy genre, I think they made this character entirely too powerful and invulnerable.

Terry has no training, yet he’s well-skilled in everything

batman-beyond-return-of-the-joker-batman-terry
The premise of having a “kid Batman” is basically what the Robin character has always been for. And while Bruce Wayne is still the same brooding, serious, analytical, stodgy character he’s always been, he never really trains Terry on how to do much of anything. Whenever Terry puts on the Batman costume he can fight his way out of any situation. He’s also pretty intelligent for a teenager still in high school. Not that he or any of the other teenage characters actually act like teenagers, though (they’re much more like college kids). There is an episode towards the end of the series wherein Bruce sends Terry to a martial arts school for training and Terry is easily beaten by the other students. Shouldn’t that have been one of the first episodes?!

Few of the villains are interesting

What’s always made Batman such a great character for great stories is his rogues gallery. This Batman doesn’t have much of a rogues gallery as there are only a few villains with multiple appearances, and those that do re-appear are quite annoying. The “Shriek” character being the best example of this, followed closely by “Inque.”

CurareBecause this Batman is so powerful, he rarely goes up against an enemy that’s a true adversary. There is one exception, however – Curare – a female ninja who gets away every time. The problem is she’s just an assassin and she never talks, so there’s not much depth to the character other than the fact she’s simply a “bad guy.” I also enjoyed the “Stalker,” another worthy opponent who actually returns to team-up with Batman to fight a common enemy.

There’s never a dull moment, but there’s not much mystery

Batman Beyond is definitely an action-oriented show. And while there’s always been plenty of action in the Batman comics, movies and previous animated series, the action is the driving force for nearly the entire series. Every episode has at least three major action scenes at the opening, halfway point and climax (whereas the B:TAS had only one or two per show).

jokerz

On one hand, this makes the show consistently entertaining, fast-paced and fun to watch. On the other hand, it sacrifices the heart of the Batman character – the detective. It’s quite rare there’s a mystery to be solved, or at least one that’s a mystery to the characters as well as the viewer. Whenever something needs to be investigated, Bruce Wayne is always in the Batcave manning the Batcomputer which does all the research and forensics lickety-split.

The animation is very anime-like

It’s quite obvious that Batman Beyond is inspired by the Japanese style of “anime,” which is quite a departure from previous shows. Since this is a fast-paced series with plenty of action, the approach works well. It’s not completely anime in every facet, though, but to the casual American viewer it should look a little different than what you’re used to. This was quite a bold choice for the time as anime was still a relatively unknown, niche genre. It’s still not mainstream today, but the hybrid style still looks really good well over a decade later.


I’ll admit I have a lot of criticisms of Batman Beyond, but all faults aside, I do think the show as a whole is pretty good. To an adult it’ll seem rather dated, but I could see this being entertaining and fun for children to watch today and probably well into the near future. It’s definitely worth a look because it’s so much different than most Batman cartoons, so its uniqueness alone is quite appealing. Give it a look if you get the chance.