Monday, September 29, 2008

On Bewilderment

There is something odd about the news that Kenneth Branagh (iD&Di: .32) may be directing Thor. Before we continue, we want to state for the record that in no way are we disappointed or upset: we in The Middle Room have nothing but respect for Kenneth Branagh, and we eagerly await this movie's release.
Our confusion may simply be tied to Branagh's associations with Shakespeare. And, at least in our humble opinion, there is very little Shakespearean about The Mighty Thor.
Thor is a fusion, equal parts action hero, super hero, epic hero, and god. Now, as faithful readers of this blog are well aware, there is room for deep philosophy in such films.

But certainly there are Marvel characters far more Shakespearean in nature. There is an element of the immortal bard in the X-Men, for instance, particularly in The Dark Phoenix Saga.
Likewise, characters such as Spiderman, Ant-Man, and certainly Iron Man all have stories driven by human weakness and frailty: are these not the cornerstones of drama? Yet Thor is a god: we hardly see the parallels.
Of course, there are a great deal of comics we've yet to read: in truth, we've barely touched the vast libraries of comics featuring the wielder of Mjolnir. There may indeed be stories greatly reminiscent of Shakespeare for all we know.
And then, it may be that Branagh is tired of iambic pentameter and seeks a project that deviates from his norm.

Whatever the reason, we have little doubt that Thor will be an excellent film. While we may be somewhat perplexed by Branagh's involvement, we are not disappointed. We're curious to see where he takes the property, and we've every intention of catching the movie on its opening day.

Toy Review: Wall-E and Eve

Not one but two toy reviews are now up over at The Clearance Bin. You can take a look at U-Repair Wall-E here, then visit his beloved iPod, Search and Protect Eve here.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Middle Room Presents

The Middle Room is proud to present The Clearance Bin, a site dedicated to action figures and toys of all kinds. Well, most kinds.

Our first review is of NECA's Conan: The Barbarian action figure. Stop by and take a gander.

Be aware that all reviews, articles, and opinions on The Clearance Bin are offered 'as is'. No refunds or exchanges of any kind.

Thursday, September 18, 2008


There is nothing we in The Middle Room enjoy more than sharing good news with our readers. Absolutely nothing.

But the universe is intrinsically rational, quantum mechanics notwithstanding, and as such it should come as little surprise that we abhor delivering bad news.  Yet some pain is best borne quickly: there is an old adage about band-aids which comes to mind, but let us move on - we've waisted time enough on such trifles.

Brett Ratner (iD&Di: .51) is to direct the next Conan movie.

There it is, plain and simple.  We are sorry that you had to hear it from us.

Longtime fans of The Middle Room, of which there are none, may recall that we've spoken of Ratner before.  Those words are truer today than the day we wrote them: the property Ratner holds now is dear to our hearts, indeed.

Is it possible that we will be pleasantly surprised?  Our contention is that this is unlikely, though not impossible.  Ratner is not without ability, but he has yet to prove he can make a good movie, let alone a great one.  His failure on X-Men 3 is a bitter cloud above his head, and he has much to atone for.

Here he may have a chance to show his metal or prove his harshest critics right.

Unless, of course, the project falls through, like so many others before.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

A Touch of the Theatrical

While we've discussed film to no end, we've not devoted much space to theater.  Mainly, this is because theater tends to shy away from those geek elements that inspire and intrigue us.  Even the plays we've seen and loved have little content fitting this forum.

But today we've witnessed a play which embraces the geek.  It is a science fiction piece titled "there will come soft rains", and if you're in New York, there remains one more scheduled performance.

The piece actually consists of three short plays, each adapted from a different science fiction story.

The first is a story we in The Middle Room are very familiar with: "How the World Was Saved", by Stanislaw Lem, is taken from The Cyberiad, our single favorite science fiction work.  We have long held out hope that some clever director would purchase the rights to produce an animated version of this work, but we never expected to see our favorite robotic constructors, Trurl and Klaupacius, adapted for stage.  Of the three shorts, this was by far our favorite.  There was ample opportunity to ruin this piece, but at every turn, the creators revealed a deep appreciation for the source material - including the artwork - as well as ingenuity and inspiration.  Puppets were used for the robots, while the great nihilistic machine at the story's heart was played by a troop of actors.

"On the Nature of Time", by Bill Pronzini and Barry N. Malzberg, is the only story of the three we've never read.  This was a solo performance about time travel made possible by projections, allowing the same actor to exist in different places at once.  The effect is impressive, particularly as the cyclical nature of time is explored.

The final piece is the best known.  "There Will Come Soft Rains", by Ray Bradbury, is considered a classic.  The piece was interpreted through pantomime, shadow puppets, and simple props.  It was highly enjoyable, though perhaps a little long.  Still, the trio of actresses performing this piece kept this interesting as they convincingly created the impression of a set from the simplest of props and, as is only appropriate to the work, crafted a character from that phantom set.

The three plays, while seemingly unrelated, formed a trilogy of sorts.  The first piece was a sort of creation myth, the second a tale of recurrence, and the final an apocalyptic tale.  There was a great deal of thought placed into the play, and we found ourselves entertained, intrigued, and most of all, impressed.

If you've nothing else to do this Wednesday evening, you may want to consider seeing if tickets are available.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

A Ray of Light

We have made no secret regarding our affections for The Chronicles of Riddick, but have long known that a sequel would require a miracle. Well, dear reader, it seems that a miracle may be in the works.

The Chronicles of Riddick is a glorious film. Half of the movie works in its own right, succeeding in the creation of a dark universe well deserving of the term "bad ass". But it is the other half, the half that fails miserably, which truly makes the movie shine. Planets such as 'Crematoria', where the sunrise brings a tide of fire, or the villainous Necromongers, partially dead gothic centurions who behave like unsupervised first graders: these are the elements that make The Chronicles of Riddick endure.

Dare we say: these are what make it a classic.

The Chronicles of Riddick is a phenomenon. Aspects of the movie are actually quite good. And there are elements which are astonishingly stupid. But the latter do not detract from the film at all. Instead, they elevate the movie to new heights.

Most importantly, there is an element of Wolverine in the character of Riddick which makes the movie appealing to the twelve year old inside us all. This is not a movie for the child in us, but rather the juvenile adolescent. Consider this the dark reflection of Zathura if you like.

This is, after all, the movie where Vin Diesel convinced Judi Dench to play Dungeons & Dragons in order to better appreciate her character.

In the film she plays an air elemental.

As much as we enjoy Pitch Black, The Chronicles of Riddick is so much more than its predecessor. Pitch Black was merely good, while Riddick is simultaneously great and awful at the same time. It is a delightful marriage of flavors with one seemingly insurmountable flaw.

The ending, one of the best cliffhangers ever used to close a motion picture, seemed destined to never be continued.

We are thrilled that there is a chance - however small - for this to be rectified.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Summer 2008, A Retrospective

The summer draws to a close, and with the season gone, we must bid farewell to the films that came in its wake.

What a year it was.

Never before have we seen so many superhero movies of such high caliber released so close together. In terms of comic book movies, the past four months cannot be compared with past summers or even past years. You need to look at decades. We can say with neither hyperbole nor irony that the past four months saw a greater number of exceptional comic book films than either the 1980's or 1990's. Really.

And that was only half of it. We've seen fantasy, science fiction, and animation, as well as a few films that defy description. This has been an amazing summer.

Rating these films has been trying to say the least. We saw no fewer than twelve movies at the theater this summer. Some we saw more than once.

Of course, as is always the case, as time passes our opinions change with it. So, in celebration of the season that's passed, we would like to revisit these twelve films and reminisce. Rather than arrange them arbitrarily or by date, we'll count down to our favorite film of the summer:

12. The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor
While we saw no movies this summer that left us with nothing positive to report, this came the closest. There were certainly impressive visual elements about the film, but the awful script prevented it from leaving any real impression.

11. Prince Caspian
This was a bit mixed. There was actually a great deal to enjoy here, and the absurdity of watching children slaughter their foes on the field of battle made for an enjoyable evening. But fine cinema this was not.

10: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
By most metrics, this was a far superior movie to the two that preceded it - and perhaps several that follow. Even so, this came very close to getting stuck behind Caspian: in fact, we entertained the thought of declaring it our least favorite of the year, behind even The Mummy. Why were we so venomous? It is a question of expectations and legacy. We expect a great deal from an Indiana Jones movie, and this did not deliver. While other movies we've seen may have been worse, this was easily the largest disappointment. Still, there were enough exceptional moments that we were forced to confess we liked it better than the last two films.

9. Wanted
At this point we've crossed a line. Beginning with Wanted, every movie that follows is one we really enjoyed. Of these, we've placed Wanted at the BACK of that line. Why? Because after seeing the movie, we read the comic. While the source material is far from perfect, it is a much more intelligent work than the film, and the movie suffers in comparison. Nevertheless, this was still fun to watch.

8. Kung Fu Panda
We initially described this as 'likable,' and there is no reason to alter that appraisal now. Kung Fu Panda was highly likable, but not much more. We'd have liked more, of course, but we were content with what we received.

7. Tropic Thunder
Had we compiled this list immediately after seeing Tropic Thunder, we may have placed this at number eight. But Tropic Thunder improves with time: there is a lot here to reflect on and enjoy. This wasn't a movie we'd planned on seeing at the start of the summer: indeed, we hadn't even known of its existence. But every summer needs at least one surprise, and this was 2008's. If you miss this in the theaters, be sure to rent it when it hits dvd.

6. The Incredible Hulk
Here things grow truly difficult. From here on in, every film is one which achieved greatness. That The Incredible Hulk is in sixth place reflects only the strength of the summer: had this been released last year, it would have easily made our top three.

5. The Dark Knight
Before you grow upset, let us say this: were this a list of the BEST movies of the summer, this would have easily claimed the #2 spot. But this is a list of our FAVORITE movies, and, while we certainly enjoyed The Dark Knight, we have too many points of contention to place it higher. We understand why we're in the minority here, we appreciate why others have elevated this movie to the level it's achieved, and respect the movie for what it was. It is an amazing film and a cultural phenomenon, and we wish it could have beaten Titanic as the highest grossing movie of all time (it was stopped, we suspect, only because dvds have become a more popular method of viewing films). But, simply put, there were movies we enjoyed more.

4. Iron Man
This is an example of a comic book movie that was done right. Those making the movie understood why the character worked. They understood the world they were playing with, and they put together a film that was both completely enjoyable and fascinating at the same time.

3. Hellboy II: The Golden Army
Everything we just said about Iron Man applies to Hellboy II, only more so. This was immensely enjoyable to watch. What's more, as we mentioned in our review, it bodes very well for The Hobbit. As much as we enjoyed the first Hellboy, this puts it to shame. This is an incredible sequel.

2. Speed Racer
In the interest of full disclosure, we are forced to admit there is a chance Speed Racer's placement was influenced by the negative response it received from most critics - we are occasionally rebellious and enjoy being contrary. But make no mistake, we absolutely loved every minute of this movie. There is nothing else like it in existence, and that is a tragedy. To anyone who couldn't appreciate Pops Racer's line about the "non-ja"... you've our sincere sympathy. This movie may not have been for everyone, but it was absolutely for us.

1. Wall*E
What else could it be? Wall*E is undeniably the best movie of the year so far. It is also our favorite. While we still consider it slightly beneath Finding Nemo and The Incredibles, it is still one of Pixar's best. We've seen this twice already, and when the dvd comes out, we'll watch it a dozen more times.