Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2009 Reviewed

There are traditions governing the passage of the old year into the new, the most significant of which is the 'best of' list.  Once, it is said, such lists were inscribed in print.  They called such things "newspaper articles" or "magazine reviews," and they were popular, if memory serves, in Ancient Rome and other fallen empires.

While these publications died out centuries ago, we still honor their tradition here in this sea of knowledge and madness that men call "The Internet."

In this spirit, The Middle Room has set out to build a list of our own: the twenty best movies we saw this year in theaters.  But, as is so often the case, our best laid plans fell apart: alas, we've only been to the theater eighteen times since January.

Instead, we've decided to offer something more complete.  A list, from least to most favorite of every movie we've seen this year.  You may recall that we attempted a similar feat a year and a half ago, when we analyzed a summer's worth of films.  But this is an expansion, incorporating a year of films at once.

Let us begin:

The Disappointing: A year ago, looking forward, we were sure this was going to be the year of science fiction, and there were a few solid movies.  But the list of disappointments focuses on the SF.  A lot of films that we've been watching and eagerly awaiting fell flat, at least in some regards.

18. X-Men Origins: Wolverine
Our apologies in advance to those of you who liked this picture.  Aside from some decent performances, there is nothing redeeming in this movie.  Any enjoyment we took from viewing this film was at the movie's expense.  It was somewhat entertaining to witness just how horribly the filmmakers mangled this character and story.  It's not hard to understand how a Wolverine movie could be bad, but it boggles the mind that anyone could produce a Wolverine story this boring.

17. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
If we took this list less seriously, we might display this and the next two movies as a tie: indeed, our feelings shift and change.  But that would be cowardly.  So, we won't round the decimal point.  While we were wowed by the effects and action in Transformers, the story and dialogue was simply too bad to ignore.  And, as much as we loved Jetfire, the twins drag down the movie.  If it weren't for those two, this would have beaten GI Joe and Terminator easily.

16. GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra
Once again, this is movie with positives and negatives.  The first third of the film is slow, the second third is fantastic, but the ending is a huge disappointment.  Several of the villains were handled well, but the heroes - with the exception of Snake Eyes, who would be perfect if it weren't for the awful lips on his costume - were abysmal.  The main characters, if we may speak frankly, were portrayed as geeks when they should have been written as jocks.

15. Terminator: Salvation
Once more, the interplay between writing and effects comes into play.  Overall, the visuals in Terminator: Salvation were fantastic, but the story failed to convey any force or power.  There were a few good twists here and there, but the movie fell far short of the first two installments.

The Enjoyable: You may breath a sigh of relief, if you like: we've passed a boundary.  The worst is behind us now: we move on instead to movies that may not have been world-changing, but were solid nonetheless:

14. Underworld: Rise of the Lycans
Good?  No, of course not.  But Underworld: Rise of the Lycans was even more fun than the first two.  Oozing with melodrama and self-importance, it evokes B fantasy movies from the 80's.  Sit back and enjoy.

13. Monsters Vs. Aliens
Dreamworks Animation is trying, and, in some ways, they're even finding some success.  We're still waiting for them to produce something exceptional, but until then we'll make do with films that are good.  Monsters Vs. Aliens worked more often than it didn't, though it could have benefited from a lesson in subtlety.  The characters were likable, the action was good, and enough jokes worked to offset those that didn't.

12. 9
It's astonishing that no one told the writers they needed to do better.  While the visuals are breathtaking and the tone is refreshingly consistent, the story is hollow and simplistic.  This could easily have been a major achievement in science fiction, but there's just not enough thought here.  We look at this movie as something of a consolation prize: an awesome action movie when we were hoping for ground breaking SF.

11. Zombieland
Zombieland is very much a good movie that neither crosses nor approaches excellence.  But it does exactly what it sets out to do: it provides a solid, enjoyable diversion that's part comedy and part horror.  In a perfect world, where such a format wasn't frowned upon, this should have been released direct-to-DVD, where it will work far better.

The Impressive: We did not intend a break to fall at number 10, but perhaps it is fitting.  From here on in, we are considering movies that we either deeply respect, love, or both.

10. The Fantastic Mr. Fox
This is a great work of film, though, like Zombieland, it will make a better DVD than a movie.  The Fantastic Mr. Fox demands multiple viewings: this is an elaborate and complex picture.  We felt at times that it was better than we were giving it credit for, though there were a few elements that seemed awkward and forced.  Our advice remains the same: wait until this is released on DVD, buy it, and watch it a dozen times.  It's far more cost-effective than going to the theater these days.

9. Avatar
We've reached the middle of our list and have come to Avatar, the most recent film we've seen.  We spent some time considering this, toying with placing it as high as number 7 and as low as 11.  Like most science fiction movies released this year, this one was balanced between the awe of its spectacle and the weakness of its script.  Fortunately for Avatar, the spectacle was particularly impressive, more an experience than a mere film.  And the problems in the script added a touch of unintentional comedy.  Even so, Avatar couldn't elicit the sort of emotional response and connection to characters we'd hope for.

8. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
It's reached the point where we almost take this series for granted.  They come out like clockwork and are always solidly enjoyable.  While not particularly memorable in itself, the consistency Warner Bros. has shown in these film is admirable, and we always enjoy the movies.

7. District 9
A great deal of our admiration for District 9 is because of the movie's budget.  For a fraction of the cost of a Hollywood production, its makers crafted something that surpasses all but a handful of the big-budget films released this year.  The story wasn't amazing, but the realism of the movie was astonishing.

6. Watchmen
A guilty pleasure, perhaps.  We do not claim that Watchmen is better than District 9 - or Harry Potter, for that matter - merely that we enjoyed the experience more.  With the exception of a few scenes, the movie failed to recreate the feel of the comic, but they offered us the next best thing: a world where superheroes were imposed on our history and culture.  For the duration we were in the theater, they felt real.

The Excellent (Top 5): As we mentioned earlier, at the start of the year we anticipated a year of science fiction.  But looking back, we see instead a year of film for or about children.  Four of our top five movies fit this bill:

5. The Princess and the Frog
We have our reservations about this picture, as we discussed in depth, but that doesn't change the fact that it's a joy to watch.  That it represents a return to hand drawn animation, a style we deeply respect, is also reason to celebrate.

4. Star Trek
The only non-children's film in the top 5, Star Trek was by far the best big-budget live action picture of the summer.  A brilliantly crafted epic, Star Trek is simply an incredible experience.  Some long-time fans were disappointed by the movie's focus on style over substance and the deliberate choice to model its pacing more on Star Wars than its own origins.  While we sympathize with such criticism, we found the movie immensely enjoyable.

3. Coraline
The line between the top three movies was razor thin this year: we could easily have given any the top spot.  Coraline was a fantastic film that raised the bar on stop motion.  Further, by telling a compelling story and carefully controlling tone, they've done what few have managed: they've offered real competition for Pixar.  Between this, Up, The Princess and the Frog, and The Fantastic Mr. Fox, the academy award for animated picture might actually be interesting for once.

2. Where the Wild Things Are
An absolutely glorious film, Where the Wild Things Are offers a portrayal of childhood that's starkly realistic and uncompromising.  By using its source more as inspiration than anything else, the movie is free to honor it better than we'd have ever thought possible.  This movie is dark, tragic, and riveting from start to finish.

1. Up

We know it's anticlimactic, but the simple fact is this was the best film of the year and we cried like infants throughout.  A perfect mixture of whimsy and melancholy, Up again reaffirmed that Pixar is the single most consistently brilliant production company in the history of film.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Specials You Haven't Been Watching, Parts 3 - 8

We'd hoped to consider more Christmas specials, as we considered A Muppet Family Christmas and The Snowman.  We'd planned to give each of the below their own article, but it was not to be.  Other matters distracted us.  What matters, you may ask?  Why, the publication of a novel, itself related to the holidays.
Even so, we wanted to devote a little time to some of the Christmas specials we meant to get to.  Perhaps we'll have more time next year to delve further into these titles:

Prep and Landing
The newest of the specials we're discussing, this demonstrates, once again, why Disney is now in good hands.  For all intents and purposes a Pixar production, Prep and Landing combines the spirit of Rudolph with the Christmas cheer of Die Hard.  These elves are specialists, professionals trained to operate in harsh conditions and armed with tech that makes James Bond look like a caveman.  They are ninja, secret agents working in dangerous environments, risking their lives to ensure the path is ready for St. Nick.  Sweet enough for young children and exciting enough for fans of action, this is for everyone.

You can watch Prep and Landing on Hulu for another week.

Emmet Otter's Jug Band Christmas
Debatably, Emmet Otter's Jug Band Christmas doesn't belong on this list.  This is, in many ways, a list mirroring our series on underrated films, and, of everything on here, this is the most established, the most widely recognized as a classic.  Still, it has faded from public memory, and we felt it deserved to be remembered.  Made in 1977, this marks a noted shift in Muppet history.  It marks the first time we are aware of where Henson used Muppetry to create a world.  Utilizing elaborate sets, animatronics, and fantastic music, this opened the door for The Dark Crystal and other such productions.  Its influence can still be felt in films like The Fantastic Mr. Fox.  This didn't just affect Muppets: it showed the world that three-dimensional fantasy environments were possible years before the advent of CG.

The Life & Adventures of Santa Claus
While certainly significant, "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" is not alone in shaping our conception of St. Nicholas.  In fact, the version most of us are familiar with seems to owe more to the 1902 book by L. Frank Baum.  Before Rankin/Bass adapted this special directly, they integrate elements and ideas into their earlier specials.  The bizarre world Santa Claus inhabits, as well as his association with fairytales and fantasy, is deeply rooted in Baum's work and sequels.  The abduction of Santa Claus first occurs in his work, and in later stories he meets Jack Pumpkinhead from the Oz franchise.  Nightmare Before Christmas, we suspect, was born from these tales.

The Rankin Bass special is a fairly good adaptation, though it does drag in parts.  While we'd hesitate to recommend it to everyone, fans of stop motion and anyone interested in the history of Santa Claus will find it as intriguing as we do.

The Tick Loves Santa
While every episode of The Tick animated series is worth watching, the Christmas one is particularly inspired.  Here, The Tick confronts Multiple Santa, a thief dressed as Santa Claus with the power to duplicate himself.  But, as in all great art, The Tick's real struggle is internal: can he bring himself to fight Santa?  To put things in perspective, "The streets will flow red with Santas," does not make the top ten list of the episode's best lines.  Like almost everything else ever made, this can be found on youtube.

Christmas with the Joker/Holiday Knights/Comfort and Joy
The importance of Batman: The Animated Series and its successors cannot be overstated, nor can the quality of these shows.  Over the years, the show devoted two episodes of Batman and one of Justice League to the holidays.  It is ill advised to let the holidays pass without viewing all at least once.

Christmas with the Joker occupies a special place in our hearts.  It was this episode, seen so many years ago, that first drew us to the series.  It was one of the show's first, and, as such, there are moments when the animation falters or a scene stops making sense.  But it portrays the Joker with a psychotic and murderous whimsy one can't help but love, and it's impossible not to be drawn in by the episode's sincerity.

The second episode, Holiday Knights, came years later.  It features a series of short vignettes about the holidays.  The stories vary in tone, from the ridiculous absurdity of Poison Ivy and Harly Quinn's holiday shopping spree to Gordon's solemn New Year's tradition.

The final episode, Comfort and Joy, is similarly structured.  The story follows various members of the Justice League as they celebrate Christmas.  While aspects are, perhaps, unnecessarily zany, it's a lot of fun and surprisingly heartwarming.

Christmas Eve on Sesame Street
The opening of this special from 1979 is a tad underwhelming, featuring ice-skaters dressed as characters from Sesame Street.  Stick with it, though: once you're through the introduction, the show improves quickly.  Vintage Sesame Street is absolutely incredible: the area looks and feels like Queens, NY.  The streets are dirty, there's trash everywhere, and the cast even hops on a subway car at one point.  With this, we throw down the gauntlet.  Watch this special from start to finish, look us in the eye, and try to tell us it doesn't warm your heart.  Go ahead.  Try.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Movie Review: Avatar

If you are to consider it a movie, in the traditional sense, Avatar is best described as a cross between Dances with Wolves and Fern Gully: The Last Rainforest.  Alternatively, it bears some resemblance to some of the surreal fantasy animation of the 70's, such as Wizards.

This is a movie, we suspect, that Ralph Bakshi would enjoy.  And why not: interspersed throughout the two and a half hour movie, there are, perhaps, thirty minutes or forty minutes of live-action footage.  The rest of the film, for all intents and purposes, is animated.  The live-action sequences feel somewhat out of place and tend not to work as well with the 3D technology.  The CG, meanwhile, is gorgeous.

We draw such comparisons not to insult Avatar, a movie we greatly enjoyed, but rather to attempt the Herculean feat of describing the indescribable.  It isn't that Avatar is unlike anything you've ever seen: on the contrary, it's exactly like many things you've seen.  It's just completely different.

Perhaps the best approach is to analyze Avatar in its component parts.  In our estimation, Avatar is approximately 45% National Geographic documentary, 25% mindless action, 15% plot, and 15% political commentary.

For those of you counting, that means 70% of Avatar is quite good.  The remaining 30% is still worthwhile, but not for the intended reasons.

Let us begin with the Natural Geographic aspect of the film.  A surprisingly large portion of the movie is spent exploring the alien world of... Pandora... in slow, methodical detail.  It's almost as if the "making of" DVD extra were incorporated into the film, complete with narration courtesy of a bizarre plot device.

Shockingly, all of this is incredibly interesting.  While it's hard not to laugh at the absurdity of it all, the world of... ugh... Pandora... is breathtaking, and its inhabitants, plant, and wildlife, are incredible to behold.  Most movies would ignore this detail to focus instead on character or plot, but Avatar wisely pushes those elements to the background.  Instead, it uses its time to explore the creatures: the dracomoths, raptolisks, and hippo-hammer-head-opotami that live among the dense jungles of fiber-opti-trees (yes, we know that Cameron has given these other names, but we like ours better).

About a quarter of the movie is spent on action: most of this is concentrated in the finale.  These scenes, while not quite as inspired as we might have hoped, are still intriguing, brutal, and beautiful.

Tragically, a full 15% of the movie is wasted on plot and characters, the only elements the glasses can't turn three-dimensional.  The story is about a group of warmongering space marines who seek to exploit the peaceful blue cat-indians of... Pandora.  The dialogue passes beyond bad, traveling into that realm of joyous, unintentional comedy.  As major characters die and face the consequences of their actions; as they shed tears and morn their dead, it is nearly impossible to keep from laughing.  Don't think us callous: the audience we were with was snickering throughout.  The characters are too simplistic and their problems are too blatantly contrived for anything to carry weight.

Likewise, the political message of the movie is less subtle than the director's cut of The Abyss.  The exploitation of Native People is wrong: we know.  Fighting terrorism with terror is neither a sustainable nor effective strategy: we're aware.  Corporate greed is bad: yes, we've heard that already - it was conveyed FAR more effectively in Aliens.

This is a film sewn together with cliche after cliche, and yet... Avatar would have been less effective without them.  Somehow, these cliches hold the picture together and keep it interesting.  Sure, we're laughing at the movie more than we're laughing with it, but we're still laughing.

If this is a movie, it is surely not a good one.  But, despite itself, it is somehow a brilliant one.  This can't quite match the absurdist madness of The Chronicles of Riddick, and yet it comes as close as anything we've seen in years.  On a scale of one to five, where five is Vin Diesel's epitome of space operatic zaniness, Avatar receives four and a half glowing bio-luminescent stars.

We wish all bad movies were this good.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Movie Review: The Princess and the Frog

Let's get this out of the way: The Princess and the Frog is, among other things, a triumph of animation, a beautifully crafted film, and a return to an art form many feared dead.

But so was The Little Mermaid, and we've little interest in seeing that again.  Sure, this is the best 2D Disney animated movie since The Lion King, but there hasn't been much competition in the meantime.

The question was never whether this would be a good movie: the question is, "How good was it?"  And the answer is somewhat complicated.

The Princess and the Frog was created to accomplish two interconnected goals: to create a "classic" Disney-princess movie, and to do so with a black princess, the first in the company's history.

It was a noble aspiration.  Not quite as noble as it would have been in, say, 1950, but better late (even very late) than never.  Unfortunately, the film's portrayal of race was clumsy and awkward.  It doesn't so much come off as racist (as some have suggested) as it seems... timid.

The movie exerted a great deal of effort informing us that Tiana, its lead, has overcome a great deal of adversity.  But, frankly, we never see that adversity (at least not in a mundane, non-magical form).  With the exception of a pair of bankers, every white character in the film is respectful, compassionate, and friendly towards Tiana.  While the wealthiest characters are white (not to mention stupid), they aren't cruel or dismissive.  The black characters are, overall, less affluent, but they seem content.  What's particularly problematic is that there's no acknowledgment that there might be a reason for the economic disparity.  This is, frankly, a troubling omission that could easily be misinterpreted.

Similarly, the movie's attempts at feminism come off as double-edged.  While it's nice finally having Disney princesses who are allowed to fight their own battles, the relationship between the prince and Tianna has troubling implications.  Self-obsessed princes are nothing new - not even to Disney movies - but this one is a hedonistic womanizer.  We're not entirely comfortable with a generation of girls being told they should find such men and expect them to change.

Even so, the movie did an admirable job of developing his character over time.  Messages aside, by the end of the movie there's little question as to why Tiana falls in love with her prince, even in frog form.

Enough about political implications and messages: let us consider the movie underneath.

As we said at the start, it is an excellent picture.  There are some pacing issues, as well as a sequence or two which does nothing to move the plot (but we're seven decades late to start complaining about THOSE in Disney films).

We do want to draw particular attention to a pair of characters: the alligator and the firefly.  From the trailers, we expected to hate these two.  On the contrary, they made the movie.  While these were evocative of Disney characters from the 70's, the hand of Pixar could be felt guiding them to greatness.  The alligator and firefly are the heart and soul of the movie, respectively.  And, make no mistake, they shine brightly.

The music was strong; if anything, some of the songs could have been a little longer and more developed.  The one exception to this was the drivel playing over the gorgeously animated closing credits.

Some have complained that the villain, Dr. Facilier, represents a negative stereotype.  While there's certainly a case to be made, this is still one of Disney's best villains in decades.  Voodoo doctors may not be historically or politically correct, but there's no denying they are awesome.  While it's FAR too early to compare him to the level of Cruella De Vil, he makes Jafar look dull and flat.

And we like Jafar.

We also feel a need to tip our hat to the movie's use of one, particular Disney archetype: the wishing star.  At the start of the movie, Tiana's father warns her that such things can only take her so far, and the movie never abandons this idea.  The movie explores what's become almost a cliche of the genre, and it does so in surprising and refreshing depth.

In fact, there's a sense in which the movie is less a classic Disney movie than it is a movie ABOUT classic Disney.  In many ways, The Princess and the Frog feels more like a follow-up to Enchanted than Snow White.

While this makes for a better movie, it is a little troubling that Disney's first black princess appears in a movie about Disney-princess movies rather than a "traditional" Disney-princess movie of her own.

But, then again, we may be over thinking this.

Against the five stars of Sleeping Beauty - the greatest of this genre - The Princess and the Frog receives four.  While we may have minor issues and complaints, there's no denying it feels good to see a fantastic hand-drawn Disney animated feature once more.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Christmas Specials You Haven't Been Watching, Part 2: Raymond Briggs' The Snowman

Comparisons between this British animated special and Frosty the Snowman are as inevitable as they are absurd.  Reduced to a sentence, the stories are more or less the same: a child builds a snowman which comes to life and together they travel to meet Santa Claus.

Indeed, imagine Frosty if it were silent, save for a hauntingly beautiful score.  Imagine if it were animated with love and inspiration, using hand drawn animation to explore a three dimensional world.  Imagine if Frosty the Snowman was about the magic and wonder of childhood and the tragedy of its loss.

The Snowman isn't a complicated work, but it is a brilliant one.  It is a dream-like fantasy that explores the power of animation in a manner you've likely never seen.

Versions can be found on Youtube, though we suggest picking up the DVD to fully appreciate the depth of the animation.

Also, be aware there are multiple introductions which have been made for different releases.  With all due respect to David Bowie, be sure you get the original which was done by Raymond Briggs.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Alderaan Effect

In our continuing efforts to explore and enlighten - this blog is, if nothing else, intended first and foremost as source of education - we wanted to discuss a phenomenon of some intrigue.

We call it the Alderaan Effect.

Existing primarily in science fiction and fantasy works, the Alderaan Effect refers to a carefully constructed scenario in which an entire world, culture, or civilization is annihilated without disrupting the upbeat, action-packed flow of the story.

This little understood and largely unstudied phenomenon is of course named for Leia Organa's home world, destroyed in Star Wars with only a few moments of reflection.  Fundamentally, the action had no major emotional effect on the audience, nor was it meant to.  Instead, it was done to make the villains seem more villainous.

Of course, this single act of destruction makes conventional genocide seem civil in comparison: the death of a world should, by rights, be horrific beyond belief.  To play this down in a manner that doesn't enrage or disgust the viewer requires care and balance.

We saw this more recently in last summer's Star Trek reboot.  If you've yet to see this film, you should be aware that spoilers follow.

At any rate, the movie involved the destruction of Vulcan and the deaths of untold billions.  The movie wasted little time grieving, instead moving on to further adventure and excitement.  While there was some sorrow at the loss of Spock's mother, the primary emotions displayed were rage and determination.

It occurs to us that this seems relatively consistent in applications of the Alderaan Effect.  If we are shown the pain that would doubtlessly be caused by such a horrific loss of life, we would likely dwell on that.  If we are instead shown righteous rage, we can instead sit back and enjoy the show.  In addition, there are barriers between the audience and those who perish.  The citizens of Alderaan are never shown, and the Vulcans who die are, by and large, emotionless beings we can disassociate with.

And, in both cases, those responsible get their comeuppance.

Variations of the Alderaan Effect exist in countless movies, such as Independence Day, Zombieland, and even Galaxy Quest, where we learn in a side note that the peace-loving aliens we've been following are the last of their race.  We expect a similar strategy is employed in 2012, but we haven't enough interest in the movie to go find out.

On some level, the Alderaan Effect is deeply troubling, reflecting our ability to overlook the horrors that are just beyond our perspective.  On the other hand, it makes for good movies.

And besides, the films we've discussed have nothing on DC Comics' Crisis on Infinite Earths....

Saturday, November 28, 2009


Those in The Middle Room have never seen Twilight, nor have we any intention of doing so.  It should come as little surprise to hear that we have no interest in its sequel, either.  While we consider ourselves open-minded when it comes to one's interpretation of vampire mythos, we draw the line at glitter.  Even if we were willing to watch Twilight, we could not do so - imagine the consequences if we liked it.  Too horrible to imagine.

But we have not gathered to mock New Moon, nor have we come to attack it.  We are here, in fact, to congratulate it.

New Moon had the largest opening day in the history of film, as well as the third largest opening weekend.  And it accomplished this, no less, in the fall, when attendance is supposed to be all but dead.  You can find more on the matter, along with an interview with Joseph Laycock, by clicking here.  Feel free to skip the parts that Joe isn't in.

While the producers are likely celebrating, we hope it's a bitter victory.  The two-hundred million New Moon has so far made is a pittance compared to the money Hollywood has lost over the years.

Not only did New Moon make absurd amounts of money, it did so without the help of its beloved target demographic.  And while the Twilight saga may be less than fine cinema, men have no cause to boast: no matter how idiotic New Moon may be, it seems unlikely it's any worse than this year's previous record holder, a guilty pleasure which needed little help from the fairer sex to make its millions.  Indeed, those of us in Cybertronian houses should not throw stones.

There are two lessons Hollywood should take from New Moon's performance.  The first is that the public's appetite for major movies is not limited to three months in summer and the week before Christmas.  The other is that, contrary to popular belief, half the population is female.

And that half, apparently, was eager to see a genre movie geared towards them.

Imagine how much they might have made if they'd made a GOOD movie for a female audience....

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Movie Review: The Fantastic Mr. Fox

If has been a long time since we saw Chicken Run, but we thought of it while watching The Fantastic Mr. Fox.  The similarities were, at best, superficial, but it offers context and a place to start.  At the very least, the setting and tone are in some ways alike.

Unlike Chicken Run, the main characters aren't herbivores: when Mr. Fox steals a chicken, he breaks its neck with a bite.  As you may have guessed, the theme isn't overly concerned with animal rights.  Rather, this is a picture about survival; particularly during an economic downturn.

Yes, this is an animated family film about the recession.

It's also a holiday movie, albeit an unusual type.  This seems to be a Thanksgiving movie, suggesting that elements of the holiday have survived the assault by Christmas.

This is a nuanced and complex picture.  The comedy is clever but subtle.  As such, we spent much of the film adjusting to the tone.  Repeat viewings will no doubt offer entirely new experiences, but the first was a bit underwhelming.  This isn't so much a flaw as a trade-off, one common enough in art-house pictures but almost unheard of in animated movies marketed to a family audience.

By and large, the cast is instantly recognizable.  In most cases, this is problematic, but the voice acting and direction are so good it's impossible to mind.  In fact, the casting here feels spot-on.

By design, the animation is less smooth than what we're used to in big budget stop motion.  It's as though the movie doesn't want you to forget that it was made with real materials and not with CG.  In the trailers this came off as odd, but in the movie it feels right.

The tone of this movie is startlingly consistent.  It is, for lack of a better word, offbeat and quirky.  It's also a touch darker than we'd anticipated.  This isn't to say it's more disturbing - overall, it's not - simply a bit more grown up in its portrayal of danger and tragedy.  The strongest scenes are those dealing with relationships, which come off as incredibly real.  One scene, in particular, between Mr. and Ms. Fox managed to outdo The Incredibles in exploring the marital problems of animated characters.

Should you see it?  Definitely.  But it's our opinion you should consider waiting for DVD, when you can watch it several times without having to spend $11 every time you want to start it again.  The animation is artistic and intriguing, but not awe-inspiring.  You will not lose much viewing it on a smaller screen.

In terms of rating, we will compare this to Coraline and award it three and a half stars, though it's possible repeat viewing will raise that.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Crisis on Infinte Turtle Shells

It has been surmised that the world rests on the back of a turtle shell.  If so, then there may be other turtles than this and other worlds that rest upon their back.

Metaphorically speaking, this idea was explored in the recent made-for-TV movie, "Turtles Forever," in which three iterations of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had to team up to protect the future of all universes, or at least those which contained mutant turtles.

Before the property shifts to Nickelodeon, 4-Kids Entertainment had an opportunity to bid the franchise farewell.  What they made was undeniably the best Turtles story to appear on film since the 1990 movie.  In fact, it may surpass even that.

The movie effectively concludes the animated series that has been running on Saturday mornings since 2003.  While we haven't watched religiously, we've likely seen more episodes than we've missed, at least from the first three seasons.  While there were several missteps, this version of the cartoon series got more right than wrong.  The writers somehow incorporated scores of aliens, inter-dimensional beings, super-science, and ancient mystical artifacts into a universe that sometimes made sense.

Unfortunately, there were some poor decisions, including a generic knock-off of the Justice League, a tedious season spent in the future, and one of most obnoxious androids to ever appear animated.  None of the above intruded on the movie, however it did retain another faux-paus from the series.

New viewers may be confused why the modern Shredder is portrayed as a small, pink alien squid.  They will not realize that they've been spared the horrors of the digital Shredder, the spirit Shredder, and the Dragon Shredder.

Fundamentally, the movie is a comedy, juxtaposing the modern team with their less serious 80's equivalents.  It is, of course, zany, but not appreciably more so than the famous "Justice Guild" episode of Justice League.  Does this feel somewhat derivative of that?  Of course.  Is this a problem?  Not in the least.

The highpoint of the movie occurs later, when the aforementioned teams meet a third group of turtles.  If all worlds are built atop the shell of a turtle, it reasons that the multiverse could be controlled by the one who overthrows the progenitor of all other turtles.

Well, that makes sense in comic-logic, which seems to be what they're using.  This is, indeed, Crisis on Infinite Earths, down to the white border that erases all.  Again, derivative, but not in a bad way.  Because, if Shredder wants to combat the originals, that means an opportunity to see them animated.

And we were not disappointed.  Black and white, sadistic, and ready to kill, the designs which appeared in Eastman and Laird's original comic have, after 25 years, finally been put on a screen.  That they shared screen time with their goofy, pizza-eating relatives, as well as the modern, Timm-influenced team, was icing on the cake.

Or, if you prefer, cheese on the pie.  Either way, this was an inspired celebration of the heroes in a half-shell.  If you've ever been a fan of the Turtles and you missed Turtles Forever this weekend, make a point of tracking it down.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Christmas Specials You Haven't Been Watching, Part 1: The Muppets Family Christmas

Every year we hear someone utter the phrase, "Christmas starts earlier every year," a little earlier.  This year, we began hearing people complain about the appearance of decorations even before Halloween.  Should this trend continue, we expect the whining will start even before stores start selling holiday merchandise in August.

In order to keep up with consumer demand, The Middle Room is starting a new series on Christmas specials.  Rather than astound you with descriptions of those specials you already watch five times in December, we thought we would instead consider exceptional specials you've never seen or, perhaps, haven't seen in a long time.

Sure, we love "It's Christmas, Charlie Brown" and "Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer" as much as the next conglomerate of geeks, but there are benefits to exploring less traveled paths.

The first installment will not be the only time we discuss the Muppets in this series, but we consider it the best of the Muppet specials.  Occurring in the home of Fozzie's mother, A Muppet Family Christmas is fundamentally the essence of whimsy and joy condensed into a hour-long television special.

Like Secret Wars and Crisis on Infinite Earths, A Muppet Family Christmas is a massive crossover event, incorporating the casts of The Muppet Show, Sesame Street, and Fraggle Rock.  As any geek knows, the success of any crossover is primarily a factor of how well the characters are portrayed.  Despite the massive cast, the integrity of the characters is consistently maintained.  The attention to detail is as stunning as the special is clever.

From Sprocket and Rowlf's untranslated discussion to the brilliantly arranged medley at the end, this is a work of astonishing care.  But the high point of the special is a showdown of sorts between the Swedish Chef and Big Bird that plays out precisely the way it should.

Various versions of this special have been made available on DVD, though you'll be hard pressed to find one that hasn't been truncated due to copyright issues.  Fortunately, there exists a solution.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Going Green

And so it begins.

Last month, we drew your attention to our government's preemptive attack on the lunar surface and the dangers that entailed.  The findings of that action have now come to light.

There is water, it seems, buried beneath the moon's cold surface.

Next, we suspect, the scientists and politicians will seek to exploit this discovery.  Already, stage one is in discussion: the construction of a permanent moon base.

But that is only the start.  It is only a matter of time, we fear, before the terraforming of the moon's surface begins.  Giant domes will soon be constructed, in which we'll use the newly found water to start growing crops in the lunar soil.

Before long, the tranquility of the moon will be interrupted with the viral green plantation of Earth.  When this occurs, the unique environmental conditions of the moon will be lost, buried beneath our alien plants.  Eventually, the moon will be but a mirror of the ball it orbits, losing all individuality and distinguishing features in the spreading sea of our biological pollution.

As environmentalists, we cannot permit this.  The nul-ecosystem of the lunar surface has remained in balance for million of years, cared for and protected by the sublunarean Moon Men dwelling deep beneath the ground.  To introduce living, growing things into this rich environment will destroy what makes it special.

It will also likely further enrage the Moon Men, who have shown remarkable restraint in the wake of last month's attack.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Movie Review: Zombieland

It is impossible to coherently discuss the movie Zombieland without spoilers; therefore this review will be entirely incoherent.

Comparisons to Shaun of the Dead are inevitable, as that has set the bar for contemporary zombie-comedy films.  Indeed, we will come back to Shaun in time, but it is not where we intend to start.

Zombies aside, we detected a hint of Fight Club in the first third of this movie.  In addition to the use of text digitally embedded in the world, the two main characters here were more than a little reminiscent of Tyler Durden and the narrator in Fight Club.

This isn't a criticism, by the way, merely an observation.  Both Woody Harrelson and Jesse Eisenberg were hilarious, and we found their characters intrinsically likeable.  But aspects were certainly familiar.

You should also be aware that this movie does not shy away from gore.  These are not a breed of sanitary, dry undead: these are viral zombies, seemingly alive.  Their wounds bleed, they vomit, and they tear into the living like starved animals.  This may be a comedy at heart, but it isn't afraid to rip that heart out and hold it up to the camera, so long as it's in a lighthearted way.

We have heard that the concept behind Zombieland was originally intended for television.  Despite the violence and language, we have no problem believing this: ultimately, Zombieland felt more like the first three episodes of a very good TV show than it did a full movie.

It also felt like each of those episodes was written and directed by someone different.  This isn't to say any of the movie was bad - as a point of fact, the opposite was true - it was simply inconsistent.  This may require a bit of clarification, as Shaun of the Dead utilized dramatically different tones at different points, as well.  But Shaun of the Dead used an evolving tone to gradually move the genre from comedy to horror, before snapping back at the last minute.  It was intentional and methodical.

Zombieland doesn't feel so thought out.  It's as though there were separate visions for different parts of the movie, and these were never integrated or reconciled.  This doesn't ruin the experience, though it does give the movie less weight than it otherwise could have had.

The ending also feels more TV than film, lacking gravitas or effect.  When all is said and done, the theme is more or less that of a kid's movie, and its attempts to develop any kind of existential point are undermined by a lack of consistency.

We must also pause to discuss a scene that, due to it's nature, can't be discussed.  It is a scene featuring an actor playing a character.  To describe this in more depth, apparently, would be to spoil the movie.  Every review or article we've seen has implied this to be the spoiler of the century and, while we don't personally feel it's quite that significant, far be it from us to break the embargo.

The scene in question, which we cannot discuss, occurs around the center of the movie.  We've seen it referred to as a cameo, though it feels more like a guest star: again, more TV than film.

The odd thing is, from the standpoint of narrative, the scene should not be in the movie.  It completely erodes the already faltering tone, and the behavior of the characters is completely irrational.  From a logical perspective, it shouldn't be here.  However, it's doubtlessly the high point of the film.  On some level, that encapsulates our opinion of this movie: the whole may be less than the sum of its parts, but at least the parts are a hell of a lot of fun.

If you're already at the theater and are trying to choose a movie to see, Zombieland is certainly a good option; not as good as Where the Wild Things Are, but then few movies are.  But we would hesitate to recommend going out of your way to see it.  This is the kind of movie that seems like it was destined to be a DVD.  We have high hopes for the extras, and we suspect it will hold up to repeat viewings.  But at an hour and a half with only seven credited cast members, it feels light for the big screen.

We considered holding this movie against Fight Club or Shaun of the Dead, but Zombieland chose its own muse.  We can't actually tell you what we're rating this against - that would be a spoiler - but we can tell you it scores three and a half stars against the epitome of what it's trying to be.  It owes a lot to that film, actually.  Kudos to Zombieland for finding an opportunity to thank it directly.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Star Wars and Lord of the Rings

As of late, we've spent some time discussing both Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.  In the process, we've come to reflect on these epics and the odd relationship they share.

Just as Lucas defined theatergoers' expectations with Star Wars, Peter Jackson provided the standard for a new generation of geeks when he made The Lord of the Rings. The Middle Room stands somewhat between these generations. Perhaps that is why this is The MIDDLE Room.

No, our mistake: it's because we are situated between the front and back rooms.

We realize there are those who would pit these series against each other, as Kevin Smith has done in jest in Clerks 2, but there is no real animosity here. In truth, these have had a symbiotic relationship: neither would exist in its current form without the other. Lucas, when crafting his movies, was influenced by Tolkien's books, just as Peter Jackson was influenced by the Star Wars films.

Consider, if you will, the ending of The Empire Strikes Back. Han Solo is captured and taken to Jabba the Hutt, a scene reminiscent of Frodo's capture at the end of Tolkien's The Two Towers. In both cases, there is a great deal of ambiguity as to whether the hero is living or dead. Incidentally, this same cliffhanger occurs, in one form or another, in The Matrix Reloaded, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, Chronicles of Riddick (though it's unclear if we'll ever receive the conclusion to that), Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan, and X-Men 2.

In Peter Jackson's Return of the King, during a scene not in the book, Eowyn kneels beside the mortally wounded Theoden. "I'm going to save you," she tells him. "You already did," he assures her, paraphrasing Luke and Vader at the end of Return of the Jedi, whose title is almost certainly a reference to Tolkien's Return of the King.

Would Obi Wan have fallen to Vader if Gandalf hadn't to the Balrog? Did Tolkien's description of Sauron influence the look of Darth Vader? Did Vader then influence the design on Sauron in the movie?

From a more practical standpoint, it's unlikely New Line would have authorized funding for the Lord of the Rings trilogy without the precedent laid down by Star Wars. And one has to wonder if Fox would have laid down the money for Star Wars if it weren't for the existing fantasy and science fiction fan base Tolkien helped establish.

We could go on, but the point, we think, is made. These two trilogies are part of the same tradition, two towering beacons which help define the genre and, perhaps, each other.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Movie Review: Where the Wild Things Are

Spike Jonze has created a film that truly captures the essence of youth.  You will spend the hour and a half reminiscing about your own childhood: the things you did, the way the world seemed, and the way you were treated.

If you think this will somehow translate into an experience heartwarming or magical, then you've forgotten what the experience was actually like.

That's okay.  Where the Wild Things Are will remind you.

It is, above all, honest.  Children are a violent and self centered lot.  Jonze's portrayal of youth is akin to J.M. Barrie's.  Lacking the perspective to understand the needs of others, children are trapped in an almost solipsistic reality in which they are driven mad by the universe's refusal to bend to their will.  There is a tragedy to innocence: children are ultimately alone in their own world.

Where the Wild Things Are explores this fearlessly.  It is also one of the most somber films we've ever seen, delving into its characters' pain and confusion.  The Wild Things are as dangerous and cruel as children themselves.  But, like Peter Pan, they won't grow up.  They are trapped forever; confused, angry, and alone.  And in pain.

You will feel for them.

Maurice Sendak has made some comments recently in which he brutally attacked critics of this film.  We assumed, as is only natural, that such attacks were motivated by his authorship of the book.  Now we know better: it is the only rational reaction we can imagine to criticism of this picture.  Apparently, more than thirty percent of critics disagree.

What is truly remarkable is how different Jonze's vision of this world is to what we've imagined.  We remember the book as a primal fantasy, but nothing about this movie feels like fantasy, at all.  Everything that happens, no matter how surreal or bizarre, is real.  There is no magic here, only emotion and pain.  Yet, somehow, this comes across as far more beautiful than anything we could have imagined.

It is a stellar film, a new classic "children's" movie.  It defies comparison: it is unlike any movie we can think of.  It is reminiscent of children's films which have dared cross genres and delve into difficult themes.  Watership Down.  Spirited Away.  The Last Unicorn.  Coraline.  These are, of course, all animated, and, in a sense, Where the Wild Things Are is as well: most of the movie revolves around puppets and digital effects.  But, in another sense, there is nothing animated here at all.  This is a work or realism, which incorporates monsters and impossibilities.  These are only tools, however: even before Max leaves for the island we were entranced by the world Jonze created.  Max's irritation at school, the fights with his family, and the intricacies of his life were no less fascinating than the monsters he went on to befriend.

This movie has no real comparison, which often creates problems for us when rating.  Not this time, however.  This time it's easy.

Five stars.

Sunday, October 11, 2009


By our accounting, there are two types of people on this world: those who believe in the existence of Moon Men and those who do not.

We find ourselves wondering which of these groups authorized military action against the moon.

On one hand, it seems obvious that only someone who does not believe in the existence of such beings would dare to strike the moon as we have.  On the other, why else would we have bothered?

The cover story for the attack relates to water, also known as dihydrogen monoxide.  The significance of this compound is obvious: its presence could suggest the possibility that the moon could support life.

But life, as we know, tends to grow angry when provoked.

If indeed there are Moon Men, what can we expect?  Through use of the internet, we have prepared some information which may prove invaluable to our readers.

Apparently, there is evidence that Moon Men may have ventured here in primitive times, as posited in the science fiction classic, Hercules Vs. the Moon Men.  If so, it seems likely these Moon Men may have been involved in the building of the pyramids and Stone Henge.  They may also have utilized some sort of time machine to travel to the future, than returned to inform the Mayans that the Earth was going to end in 2012.

If course, this was merely a trick, so we wouldn't expect their retaliation, which will likely occur within the month.  Be wary of the advice of Moon Men: they are a deceitful lot.

And Commando Cody is no longer around to protect us.

Friday, October 9, 2009


To many, Friday is a prince among the days of the week.  And, above all else, Friday night is a time of celebration; a symbol, a shining beacon of freedom and joy.  But to the geek, Friday night has a darker connotation, as well.

It is a time of death.

There are many shows we could name.  Hundreds, perhaps, have gone into that cold time slot.  Always there is hope: perhaps this will be another X-Files; perhaps it will escape.

But, in time, it is always the same.  Always the screens are black.  Always there is the same silence.  And then the sound of an ax falling.  And then nothing.

Nine o'clock at night.  You know it; it is the witching hour, when the TV executives stalk the shadows.  Pity the show that stumbles into their path.

We remember.  You know what we speak of: the show that transcended description, the program that rose above the limitations of mere television and stood as something... something more.

We speak of Firefly.  We speak of a television show that came as close to perfection as any ever has.  But it flew too high, too close to the sun.  And there were those who were jealous.  They could not abide something so brilliant, so they sent it into the abyss of Friday night.  Nine o'clock.  Eight central.

And it was gone.

We thought we would never love television again.  Then Dollhouse appeared, a show overseen by Joss Whedon.  In the same time slot, it was placed, sent to die, we assumed.

But Joss was wily.  He knew the slot hunted the greatest shows that wandered in, so he made the first season flawed.  And so it escaped, barely, to grow into a second season.

We have seen the first episodes of this new season, and we are scared.  Because its flaws have been beaten, its errors corrected.  Now, it has become a thing of intrigue and power.

And, like a storm, the dismal ratings are in.  Already, we can hear the sounds of gnashing teeth and the sharpening of the ax.  The curse is descending.  Can it be stopped?  Can it be undone?

We don't know.  But we will hope.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Juvenile Behavior

Disney's claim that the Toy Story double feature is "Two movies for the price of one" is somewhat misleading: since the films are being shown in 3D, you are actually receiving two movies for the price of one and a half.

But these are Pixar movies, so it is still a good deal.

Reviewing a pair of movies which came out years ago seems like a waste of our talents.  The experience is akin to that of watching two Pixar films.  In 3D.  The 3D is better in Toy Story 2 than the original, but then almost everything about Toy Story 2 is an improvement over the first film.  The original remains an excellent picture which invented a new form of storytelling, but the sequel may well be the movie that first mastered that form.

In many ways, Jessie's lament in Toy Story 2 paved the way for the dramatic moments which have since become the company's signature.  It would not retain its title as the best Pixar movie long - Monsters Inc. came out a few years later, with Finding Nemo and The Incredibles close behind, but it remains the best CG sequel ever made - possibly the best animated sequel to date.

All of this is academic, though.  These are fantastic films further enhanced by 3D technology.  That isn't what we're here to discuss.  We've come to discuss the audience.

In an effort to minimize the effect of seeing the movies in a audience of children, we selected a later screening, assuming that most parents would hesitate before bringing their young to a show ending at 10:30 on a Sunday night.

It seems we overestimated the average parent's concern for their childrens' education.  The theater was packed, emanating with the sounds of the young.  Whispered questions, cries, and shrill laughter echoed around us.

And, on the whole, it wasn't so bad.  The children surrounding us seemed relatively polite.  They were far from silent, but, overall, they did not detract from the films.

No, that was something solely accomplished by their parents.  There has been, as of late, a trend among audiences to ignore the request to deactivate cell phones and similar devices at the start of a picture.  We have witnessed, with both confusion and aggravation, audience members ignore the movie before them and turn to text messages and games.

But we've never before seen it in such numbers.  Perhaps these people have seen these movies so often they no longer care what's on the screen.  Perhaps it has yet to enter their minds that every time they check their email, those on either side of them - and indeed for dozens of rows back - are blinded by the sudden light.

Or maybe they simply shrug these implications under the logic that it's become common practice.  That such juvenile behavior comes from adults is discouraging, but perhaps not surprising.

We strongly believe that the experience of seeing these movies is well worth the effort, though we advocate waiting a few days and finding a theater playing these as late as possible.

Hopefully, it will be enough.

In the meantime, we would like to take this opportunity to call on our elected representatives: the request made at the start of movies is not enough.  Without legal consequences, there is little hope this behavior will change.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Art of War

Recently, Ain't It Cool News ran a contest, challenging readers to write a short piece explaining how they would contend with a Balrog, were they in Gandalf's shoes in the mines of Moria.  I entered this competition, devoting a whole hour toward composing a battle strategy.

The grand prize was an object with more worth than all of the Shire: two tickets to see the score of The Fellowship of Ring performed live.

Someone else won that.

However, unless there is another Erin Snyder in Astoria, NY who entered this contest, I came in a respectable second.  So, without further ado, here is my entry:


First things first - I’d need a little time to work.  I mean, there’s a good quarter mile or so between myself and the bridge of Khazad-dum, and, since I don’t personally serve the secret fire or wield the flame of Anor, I’ve got some prep work to take care of.  That means I have to buy some time to do this right.

So.  What are my assets?  I’ve got Aragorn and Boromir, both of whom are a tad too eager to cut down anything in their way: fine in most circumstances, but swords are no more use here.  I’ve got Legolas, who can apparently neuter a fly at a quarter mile: again, impressive… but not much help.  And there’s Gimli, who’s still pissed about the extermination of all the bearded men and women in Moria.

The thing is, those guys are all going to be useful down the road.  I need something expendable; something we’re not going to need to wrap up the trilogy.

What’s this?  I’ve also got four hobbits.  Let’s stop and think for a moment.  All right, we’re definitely going to need one hobbit to hurl the One Ring into the fires of Mount Doom, and it’s good to have a spare halfling in case you lose one to giant spiders, orcs, or a hungry house cat or something… but FOUR hobbits?  Come on; who are we kidding?  This fellowship is supposed to represent the unity of the diverse peoples of Middle Earth.  Hobbits account for what?  Maybe zero-point-two percent of the world’s population - even less if you measure by biomass.  Why do they make up nearly half the damn fellowship?  You think we couldn’t use a few more elven archers here?  Or what about one of Beorn’s descendants?  Come on: which is going to take out more orcs: a hobbit or a freaking were-bear?

Unfortunately, when the details were getting ironed out in Rivendell, Elrond was half-assing it.  Not too surprising, since he’s getting ready to retire to a nice gated community in the west.  You could see it on his smug face: “Three more spots on the fellowship?  Yeah, the hobbits will do.  Why the hell not?  I’m leaving, anyway!”

But that’s in the past.  Here we are now, with an army of orcs in wait and a demon of shadow and fire bearing down on us.  I know it’s harsh; I know it’s cold, but a leader’s got to know how to make sacrifices.  That’s why I need Pippin to run down a side tunnel screaming, “I’ve got the ring, I’ve got the ring!”

Don’t look at me that way: if the pipsqueak had kept his hands to himself, we’d have avoided this mess altogether.

Where was I?  Oh yes, while Pippin’s luring the Balrog away, that gives the rest of us some time to heroically survive crumbling staircases, dodge orcish arrows, and dart over the thin bridge.  At this point, we’d have plenty of time to escape while the Balrog’s roasting the Took like a marshmallow over a campfire, only… well… I just don’t feel right about leaving.

Besides, if we don’t avenge Pippin’s death, the other three halflings are going to be bitching about it all the way to Mordor.

So.  Time for Gimli to earn his keep.  The bridge of Khazad-dum isn’t the most structurally stable piece of engineering in the best of times; beneath the weight of a Balrog, it’s got to be on the verge of going on its own.

All I need Gimli to do is help it along.  A few well placed swings with his ax, and he should have a crack going.  Then I’d get everyone across and wait for old Durin’s Bane to show his face.

Now this is the important part: I’m not going anywhere near that damn bridge.  Not within ten feet.  Why?  Because the Balrog’s got a goddamned whip!

No, I’d keep a good distance from the bridge and shout insults across.  “Hey, we got a call from King Minos, and he wants you back in your maze!”  He takes a step, the bridge falls out from under him, and down he goes, tumbling end over end until he hits the bottom.

Not good enough?  He might still survive?  Fine.  Then I take up a collection of spare change from the fellowship and toss the coins over the edge.  If a quarter dropped by a construction worker can dent my Chevy from twenty stories, these things should be a damned meteor shower by the time they reach the bottom.  And, if not, no big deal: that Balrog isn’t climbing back up anytime this week.

So, with a little common sense, I could get eight out of nine members of the fellowship through all right, as well as rid us of some comic relief.  I just have to remember to tell Treebeard to take a stroll by Isengard, and I’ll need some other way of lighting the Beacons of Gondor.  That shouldn’t be too difficult: after all, they keep the fire burning right above the fuel.  I could probably knock it over with a rock or something.

All in all, not too shabby.


The Middle Room offers our sincere apologies to fans of Pippin and Billy Boyd.  And to the first place winner, we offer our congratulations... and our scorn.

Friday, October 2, 2009

DVD Review: Superman/Batman Public Enemies

Superman Batman Public Enemies, The new DC animated direct-to-DVD feature is based on a comic arc that was, for all intents and purposes, written to be as theatrical as possible.  It was already a movie, at least in spirit.

Unfortunately, as is often the case with remakes, the original was better.  Even more unfortunate is the sad truth that the original wasn't all that amazing itself.

There were, however, moments of the comic that were brilliant.  Most of these were cut from the DVD, and those that were present were watered down to the point we could only point and say, "That was really cool in the comic."

The issue at hand is one of mediums.  Comics offer room for narrative exposition, allowing the simultaneous thoughts of Batman and Superman to appear beside each other.  In the comic, this was used to both humorous and at times profound effect.  We assumed the makers of the DVD would find a way to adapt this.

Instead, they dropped it completely.  This created an awkward situation, where scenes appearing in the film lacked any of the original's depth.  The scene of Batman checking on Captain Marvel after knocking him down is unimportant: what matters are his thoughts.

This isn't to say that the movie was entirely bad: the fight with Metallo was excellent and was far better integrated into the story than in the comic.  Likewise, elements of the ending were well executed, though overall it still came off as awkward and badly planned.

While the animation was underwhelming - we're not the biggest fans of the original artwork, either - the voice acting remains topnotch.  This is largely due to the casting and voice direction done by Andrea Romano.  If you aren't familiar with her work, simply think of your favorite animated program from the last twenty years and check the list.  It's there, isn't it?

As a side note, we also want to say a word about the film's PG-13 rating.  After the brutality in some of the previous films, we were a bit surprised to see how restrained this was.  While we certainly don't require copious amounts of blood and violence in all of our films, we found the rating to be somewhat misleading.  If this was PG-13, so was every episode of Batman Beyond.

Public Enemies isn't bad, per se, but it's nothing we haven't seen before.  The Luthor presidency here was better alluded to during his candidacy in Justice League Unlimited, as was his madness and Superman's choice.

The fights never match the intensity of the best in the animated series or Superman/Doomsday.  The relationship between Batman and Superman, which is developed well here, has been done before, throughout the animated series.  We've seen Batman make the same choices, and Superman perform the same miracles.

This simply tows too close to its source.  It's bogged down by all the comic's problems without managing to duplicate its strengths.  While it's good for a viewing, particularly if you can see it free, it's not worth owning.

Fortunately, Green Lantern: First Flight, Wonder Woman, and Justice League: New Frontier are still available.  Buy those: you'll watch them again and again.  Against such superior animated fare, we'll offer Public Enemies two and a half stars and accept its thanks for not comparing it with The Incredibles as we often do.

Monday, September 28, 2009


We mark an auspicious occasion with this post, for this is our 200th anniversary.  This may confuse many of you, as a cursory glance at the sidebar will reveal, accurately, that the Middle Room was officially founded on March 9, 2008.

This is indeed the case.  However, here in The Middle Room, we have numerous methods of time travel at our disposal, which we've used to travel the multiverse and explore alternate time-lines and possibilities.  For two centuries now, we've explored rising machines and nanotechnology, the psychology of superheroes and villains, and now we've returned, to this time, to carry on as we always have.

To you, dear reader, no doubt stuck in a three-dimensional existence, we offer a strange happenstance:

This is also, by complete coincidence, our two hundredth post.  At least in this time and this reality (we're still on 189 on Earth-3).  Granted, many of these were nothing more than notifications of toy reviews going up in The Clearance Bin, a policy we stopped after our infamous falling out with their editorial staff.

At any rate, in celebration we thought to look back at The Middle Room so far, at where we've come from and where we hope to go.  We have been to the future, and we assure you it is indeed bright (mainly due to the detonation of plasma bombs occurring in our forthcoming war against the machines, but its still a pleasant metaphor if you don't think it through).

We begin with a glance at our favorite pictures posted over the years.  As is customary in this era, we will select our 10 favorites, rather than the "Top 8", favored by the cold logic of the mechanical minds which rule many of our possible (and likely) futures:

10. Our first picture hails from Faster Than a Speeding Bullet, posted February 13, 2009:

9. Next, we present a picture from the classic post, Who Reviews the Reviewers?, first published on March 8 in the year of our lord, 2008:

8.  We believe the quality of photographs has grown, as of late, as evidenced by the following, from An Evening at the Theater, posted September 26 of this year:

7.  Let it not be said that The Middle is unwilling to engage in social commentary.  This was posted as part of The Spirit of the Holidays, posted on November 29, 2008:

6.  The following first appeared with The Time Before, published on October 1, 2008:

5.  On July 18, 2008, The Middle Room had little choice but to take the British to task over their unforgivable attack on Black Canary in The Values We Hold:

4.  Another recent addition, the following accompanied DVD Review: Hulk Vs. on September 13, 2009:

3.  This was used to introduce Movie Review: Coraline on February 7, 2009:

2.  The Middle Room remembered Gary Gygax in Final Respects, posted on April 9, 2009:

1.  Finally, one of our most recent images may be our best.  This accompanied The Lord of the Rings: an Annual Viewing, part 3 of 3, posted September 25:

We leave you with this, a re-post of our very first post, which explains who we are: 

The Cool Kids Sit Elsewhere
(originally posted March 9, 2008)

Welcome to the middle room. We have plenty of chairs here, plenty of seats, and all are of course welcome to join us. But before you do, know this: ours is a strange path, and there are many who would choose to avoid it. If your love is for sports or shoes, then you may want to press on to other stops in the vast abyss that men call... the internet.

For here you shall find none of those things. Here, there is only the geek. The oddity. The icosahedron lies within, and it is ever turning. Do you dare gaze into its many faces? If not, deer reader (or elk reader: all Cervidae are equally welcome), do not venture further.

There are other things here, as well. Stories of those who are more than human. Stories of Gods, proudly clad in spandex armor, lie within. Stories of beasts, a hundred feet tall, with nuclear breath shall likewise be considered.

And, should they fight, who amongst us to claim to guess at the winner?

Join us, if you would. Pull up a seat at our table, or one of the other nearby tables, if ours is already full. But know this: this is neither the front room, nor is it the back.

You have entered the middle room. It lies between the other two, and the cool kids sit elsewhere.