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.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

DVD Review: Green Lantern: First Flight

Perhaps you've noticed a delay, as of late, in our reviewing of direct-to-DVD features.  The Middle Room, we fear, has grown spoiled, and has adopted the attitude that movies should not, as a rule, cost more than seven dollars.  As such, we have come to hesitate when first they are released, waiting for their price to fall to more reasonable levels.

We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause our readers.

Green Lantern: First Flight, originally released in the heart of summer, is a worthy follow-up to last winter's Wonder Woman.  Both movies transform their source material into accessible stories which shy away from the tone and trappings of superheroes.

This isn't to say they abandon these traditions altogether; merely that they focus more attention on other genres.  In the case of Wonder Woman, it was a romantic comedy first, an action/fantasy second, and a superhero film third.  Likewise, Green Lantern was more a science fiction story and a cop drama than it was a superhero picture.

This revelation raised some eyebrows in The Middle Room, and the question was raised, "Who is this aimed at?"  The answer, particularly in the case of Green Lantern, is far from clear.  Dozens - if not hundreds - of characters, settings, and ideas were imported from the comic, suggesting a tip of the hat to fans.  But many of the designs and concepts were altered into something more palpable to those familiar with standard science fiction, suggesting it was intended to pull in new viewers.

Consider the rings, themselves: while the comics pay the same lip service to a super-science explanation, they are fundamentally magical devices with nearly unlimited power.  But, in the movie, they are treated as weapons.  In fights, members of the Lantern corps are defeated - in some cases killed - as a result of laser fire.  The rings are still powerful and versatile, but they feel like technological marvels in a complex universe, rather than objects rising above it.

The makers of Green Lantern: First Flight walked a perilous path between these extremes: we have seen many movies and properties fail because they could not maintain balance.  But, in this case, the film was graceful, succeeding in using the history of Green Lantern to tell a strong, modern SF story.  While it felt more like Star Wars than the Green Lantern we're used to, the movie delivered an exciting, suspenseful experience.  And there was enough of the characterization and ideas we know and love to keep us from being disappointed.

In effect, this was Green Lantern adapted for film, the way it would be done if this were being made for a theatrical release.  While this may seem obvious, we would remind you that there was no need to have followed this model.  The assumption is that the majority of those purchasing these DVD's are fans of comics: there is no expectation that these need to be accessible to others.  Justice League: New Frontier, which remains the best of these released in recent years, did not take the same path at all.  While there were certainly changes from its source material, New Frontier was very much a comic book superhero story which seldom paused to bring its viewers up to speed.

But both First Flight and Wonder Woman felt like they were attempting something different from New Frontier.  We earlier posed the question asking about the target of these movies, and we would now offer a possible answer.  More than anything else, these felt like a demonstration of what high-budget, big screen adaptations of these properties would be like.  It seems that, in some ways, these may be aimed at higher ups in Warner Bros.

This is, of course, irrelevant to discussions about the movie's quality.  And there can be little doubt that this was a very good film, though there were a few missteps.  The character of Sinestro was a bit too sinister a bit too quickly, particularly in his constant side comments about the Guardians.  Likewise, the use of a sort of miniature "Death Star" towards the end of the picture was more absurd than it was scary.  If this animation company has one weak spot, it's their reliance on incorporating CG at inopportune moments.

But the directing, writing, designs, and voice acting made up for these minor flaws.  Like most every piece of animation relating to the DC Universe these days, this was a solid movie.  If Warner Bros. ever decides to make a live-action Green Lantern movie, the blueprint has been laid out for them.  If they are to remain timid about their properties, however, we might suggest another alternative that would put their superheroes on the big screens: stop releasing these directly to DVD.  Just increase the animation budget and give these the wide release they deserve.

With the exception of Gotham Knight, any of the DC animated movies could have sustained a big screen release with minor enhancements to the quality of the animation.  We can't help but wonder if Warner Bros. is missing an opportunity here.

And so, like Hal Jordon, we come to the stars.  While it's very different than Wonder Woman, we feel it's of a similar quality.  Therefore, we shall honor First Flight in the same manner: with The Incredibles held up as a five star picture, First Flight receives three and a half.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

An Evening at the Theater

Recently, we had an opportunity to see Carrie Fisher perform her one-woman show, Wishful Drinking, in which she discusses how Star Wars helped destroy her life.

We feel we would be remiss if we didn't mention this.  We learned a great deal about the life of the woman who portrayed one of the most iconic characters in geek history, including information about her family, her relationships, her struggles with mental illness, and her experiences seeing herself merchandised.

We also learned that she's a brilliant writer.  The performance is absolutely hilarious.  Fisher is clever, insightful, and honest, as she deconstructs her life for the audience, all the while playfully mocking herself, the medium, and those watching.

If you have the opportunity, we strongly recommend seeing this.  We haven't laughed this hard in a long, long time.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Lord of the Rings: an Annual Viewing, part 3 of 3

Previously, we have looked at The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers to consider how they've held up over time. At last we come to it: The Return of the King, winner of eleven academy awards. We have always held that the Academy erred in waiting until the last movie to hand these over. All three of his films were deserving of best picture and director, and none of the trilogy's cast received the honor they were due.

But we are here to discuss other matters: we've come to look again at The Return of the King and consider it in hindsight.

On some level, when it was released, expectations for this movie were impossibly high. At the same time, there was already a sense of disappointment among fans, who were well aware that the Scouring of the Shire had been removed, and that there'd been issues and disagreements regarding Saruman's role. In the theatrical release, the fallen wizard never made an appearance, instead getting discussed briefly in a very awkward scene involving Gandalf and Treebeard.

The assumption was made that, when that scene appeared in the extended edition, all would be right with the world. Sadly, this wasn't the case. The final showdown, while at least offering some resolution, still felt forced and rushed. They tried to retain some of the death of Saruman from the book while moving it elsewhere, and the result came off as clumsy.

In some ways, this sums up the issue with the final extended edition: the majority of added scenes failed to add to the movie as a whole. Even those that did, such as Gandalf facing off with the Witch King and the scene between Eowyn and Faramir in the Houses of Healing, were less than we'd hoped. Meanwhile, Gimli was used once more for comic relief, getting drunk and alluding to bearded dwarven women. Frodo and Sam, mistaken for orcs and forced to march, was somewhat better, but even this was less than we'd hoped.

Of course, none of this detracts from the movie's many strong points. The best scene in the movie is certainly Pippin's song, sung to Denethor while the steward's son rides into battle. The scenes on Mount Doom were also excellent, and the movie's conclusion, while inviting no shortage of complaints from the public at large, earned accolades from geeks everywhere.

The battle of Pelennor Fields was an exceptionally complex and stunning scene. The siege of Gondor, the charge of the Rohirrim, and the slaying of the Witch King were handled beautifully. However, the immediate appearance of Aragorn and his army of undead made the issue somewhat moot: if he was able to save the city so easily, what was the point of the rest of it? Still, the battle hits more than enough high notes to continue to impress. Perhaps someday a film maker will make something to rival its scale, but we haven't seen anything since.

Another element is in need of addressing: Legolas's heroics. These occurred throughout the trilogy, in one form or another, culminating with him slaying an oliphant. While certainly cool, it's age has begun to show. The limitations of the CG have grown apparent at points, and the whole thing comes off as cartoonish. Similarly, scenes in Two Towers where he rides a shield and leaps onto a moving horse haven't aged particularly well.

It's important to note, however, that Jackson was never making these movies for posterity. Like Lucas with the original Star Wars, he was making these out of a love of the source material and the joy of film making. These were made for the audiences seeing them in the theater, as well as fans buying the DVD. There's little evidence that Jackson concerned himself with how the movies would be regarded a hundred years down the road.

Perhaps that's part of the reason they'll still likely be watched a century from now.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Lord of the Rings: an Annual Viewing, part 2 of 3

Last time, we considered the extended edition of The Fellowship of the Ring, a film which, through no fault of its own, has diminished over time. We watched too greedily, our hearts desiring knowledge, and we learned secrets about the filming that cannot be unlearned.

Which isn't to say we exercised caution with The Two Towers: we saw all the extras, listened to the commentaries, and looked through the production photographs, just as we did with Fellowship.

The difference is that this knowledge doesn't impact the film as directly. With Fellowship, there's a sense that every other scene contains a shot dealing with the scale of the hobbits compared to the larger characters. Learning the various ways these were accomplished makes it difficult to watch without spotting. When the Fellowship breaks apart, this becomes less significant.

The Two Towers is concerned with more personal stories and journeys. Much of the movie is dedicated to Aragorn, Theoden, and Eoywn. All are human, and their stories unfold in a believable manner.

The other major plot follows Frodo and Sam as they try to make their way towards Mordor. The technological achievement of the film, Gollum, never feels fake or out of place: the performance captured by Andy Serkis and Weta was Oscar worthy.

Much of the material added for the extended edition revolves around Treebeard, Merry, and Pippin. On first viewing, this seemed a bit anticlimactic, but the scenes have aged well. While Helm's Deep was, in many ways, overshadowed by Pelennor Fields in the last movie, it remains one of the best fantasy battle ever put on film. In some ways, it surpasses Pelennor Fields, which is forced to rely more heavily on computer imagery, while Helm's Deep is able to do more with practical effects.

Finally, the ride of the Rohirrim remains a stunning display of visual effects; quite possibly the most awe inspiring image of the trilogy - and, arguably, in film history.

While there are aspects of the movie that we'd have preferred handled differently - the Wargs hold the distinction of being the worst designed aspect of these films, and Gimli's occasional moment of comic relief relating to dwarf tossing or bearded women have always grated on our nerves - on this viewing, we were surprised to see Two Towers emerge as our favorite of the trilogy.

Come back next time, when we consider the final film, Return of the King.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Lord of the Rings: an Annual Viewing, part 1 of 3

In The Middle Room, it has become an annual event. Every year, at around this time, we watch The Lord of the Rings extended editions. It is unclear why we do so now, but such has become custom.

Of course, one does not merely watch The Lord of the Rings: one must reflect. When these aired, they set a new bar for epic film making.

Now then. How do they hold up?

It is, of course, a dangerous path to travel. Fans love these films with a religious devotion: we've heard it said some have built shrines in its honor. We would not want to invoke the anger of such a person.

Like all movies, The Lord of the Rings has aged in some ways. Oh, overall the movies are as fantastic today as when they opened, but there are a few aspects which seem different in hindsight; some for better and others for worse.

Let us start with Fellowship. For years, this was far and above our favorite of the trilogy. Largely, this was because the source material offered more diverse settings and characters than the later installments. In addition, we would argue that the material added in the extended edition of the Fellowship includes many of our favorite scenes and lines. From the added bits in the Shire to Gandalf's discussion on mithril to the gifts of Galadriel, the added material improved the film dramatically and unexpectedly.

However, over time it has grown difficult to watch this as we once did. The fault is not with the movie but the viewer: we've seen too much. We've seen all the extras, the featurettes, and commentaries; some more than once. We know how every shot was accomplished, where stilts were used, when forced perspective was employed, and where CG was utilized.

In essence, we feel like we've lost the ability to watch this movie as anything other than a technical marvel.

Fortunately, a technical marvel it remains. The beauty of the movie endures, particularly in its depiction of the Shire. Likewise, the horror of the Balrog has not lessened over time. What's more, the scene where Gandalf hands Bilbo his hat and staff remains, in our opinion, one of the most impressive illusions ever captured on film.

This remains one of our favorite movies of all time, but it is no longer our favorite of the trilogy. That, we will consider in part 2.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

An Open Letter to Disney, Regarding your Recent Purchase

Hi, Disney.  Normally we would send this to you directly, but we're fairly certain you have a vast computer network beneath Disney World which scours the web for any reference to your company.  So we presume you'll get this, anyway.

Now then.  A little while ago, you bought Marvel.  You may recall this; you may not (we have it on good authority you may have been drinking beforehand).  At any rate, if you check your back pocket, you'll likely find the lease.

We wanted to discuss this with you.

You see, right after you purchased Marvel Comics for a cool four billion (that's US dollars, by the way: we're unsure what the current exchange rate is for Disney Dollars), many of us on the internet panicked and asked - no, pleaded - with you to retain the integrity of Marvel's operations, to leave its editorial and business staff untouched to continue the work they've been doing for years.

Well, we've given the matter some thought, and we think we might have made a grave mistake.

Recently, we had an opportunity to view the new Super Hero Squad Show, Marvel's attempt at kid friendly entertainment.  We were, in a word, disgusted.  It wasn't the fact that the characters were reduced to childish caricatures: that's been done successfully elsewhere.  It's that the Super Hero Squad Show is a disgusting, obnoxious blight on the Earth, one that cheapens characters we've loved for decades and toys we've collected for years.

And the fault, is seems, cannot merely be laid at the feet of the writers.  Consider the recent Newsarama interview with Cort Lane, Marvel's director of animation development, where Lane discusses editorial involvement with the program:

"We have a lot of fart jokes, too. You can thank Joe Quesada for the fart jokes. I think Joe’s really a 4-7 year old in his heart because he really pushed for Mole Man to be gassy. I wasn’t going to argue because I knew boys were going to love that."

Now, we hear rumors that Mini-Marvels, a far more clever and artistic work, may be canceled to prevent confusion with this new program.

This logic frustrates us, in part because we can't imagine the distinction between these two projects as being clearer.  Mini-Marvels = good.  Super Hero Squad Show = bad.  You see, no one could ever get these confused.

This got us thinking about the past few years; about the destruction of Spider-Man's marriage, the deterioration of the X-Men titles, the constant barrage of event books redefining the 'status quo' of the company for precisely one year, and editorial mandates - such as a total suspension of smoking - which have upset fans.

And we asked ourselves why we were so adamant about keeping things the way they are.  So, we've given the matter some thought, and we want to revise our earlier statement.  Please.  Go nuts.

Seriously, you put some real money into this buyout: go ahead and play with your new toys.  You've got some fantastic writers and artists at Marvel; let them keep doing their thing, but why not get some new suits in the head office?  As for the Super Hero Squad Show?  Well, if you want to appeal to kids, why not mix things up with something they're already familiar with?  At first, all those drawings of Micky Mouse dressed up as Spider-Man or Wolverine were created to mock the merger.  But, you know something?  They're kind of growing on us.

In the right hands, Disneyfied versions of Marvel heroes could make a good read or a great show.  And, hey, if you're looking for talent to make such a bizarre concept work, we hear this guy's free.


The Middle Room

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Super Hero Squad

Cartoon Network has begun airing the Super Hero Squad Show, an animated series based on a comic book series based on a line of action figures sold in an attempt to duplicate the success of larger action figures which were based on comic books.

At present, we've seen the first two-thirds of the first two episodes: we couldn't find the conclusion to either on Youtube, where we typically forage for such things.  Frankly, it doesn't seem to matter.

The Middle Room has long collected Super Hero Squad action figures, and will continue to do so, despite the lackluster program.

The Super Hero Squad did not impress us.  In feel, it reminds us of animated series that were made in eighties.  Not the ones you're thinking of, but rather the ones you've forgotten.  The characters are absurdly childish; the plots painfully simplistic.

There are some who will excuse this with the explanation that it was made for children.  Such apologists should be dismissed.  It has long been - and shall continue to be - the position of The Middle Room that children are capable of appreciating intelligent entertainment.  If you doubt this, we refer you to the success of Batman: Brave and the Bold.

From the early footage, it appeared the Super Hero Squad Show would feel like children playing with toys.  But that would imply a degree of inspiration and whimsy that's entirely absent.  Rather, the show is a collection of caricatures tied together with a disconnected string of fart jokes and halfhearted voice acting.

The writers, presumably in an effort to please the longtime Marvel fans watching, have peppered the series with dozens of characters, monsters, objects, and references to comic history.  But these feel cheap and empty.  Even when Stan Lee was even brought in to voice a character, the result felt more like a forceful nudge than a loving nod.

On top of everything else, the animation is abysmal.  Perhaps over time the show might improve, though we sincerely doubt it.  In truth, we'd prefer it were put out of its misery as soon as possible, before it sullies the toy line any further.

At present, Marvel has two exceptional animated series: Spectacular Spider-Man and Wolverine and the X-Men.  With Hulk Vs. and Next Avengers, they've finally built a direct-to-DVD studio which is releasing movies worth tracking down.  And their live action movies are absolutely fantastic.

We'd hoped that, somehow, this would surprise us the way Brave and the Bold did.  But no such luck.

Oh, well.  At least it's better than the episode of Iron Man: Armored Adventures we sat through.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Summer 2009, A Retrospective

Summer of 2009 was something of an off year.  Last year was strong; too strong, in fact.  Several excellent movies in 2008 performed poorly, vanishing almost immediately from theaters.  We wonder if the studios which made Speed Racer, The Incredible Hulk, and Hellboy 2 now wish they'd held off a year to release them.  Had any of those been released this June, we have little doubt they'd have been blockbusters.

We don't mean to imply that there were no good movies this year: in fact, there were several.  Pixar's Up was the standout of the season, Star Trek was as good an action movie as any released in years, and District 9 was dark science fiction at its best.

At the beginning of the season, we offered our predictions on how various films might be received by critics.  And so, we turn now to the cold eye of impartial mathematics to judge us.  Here, then, are the results:

Movies where we predicted within 5% of actual Tomatometer: 5
Movies where we predicted between 5% and 10% of actual Tomatometer: 2
Movies where we FAILED to predict within 25% of actual Tomatometer: 7

In layman's terms, we did poorly.  Piss poorly, one might say.  Our future, it seems, lies not in fortune telling.

Let us take a moment more to reflect.  This was, first and foremost, a summer of science fiction: of the nine movies we saw in theaters, six were of that genre (seven, if you count Wolverine).  The remaining two, Up and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, were both fantasy.

Of the nine movies we saw in theaters, two had the number '9' in the title.

Three of the movies featured robots attempting to exterminate humanity.  Of those, the robots failed once, were partially successful a second time, and succeeded wiping humanity from the face of the Earth in the third.  On a similar line, an alien, seeking vengeance for the destruction of his home world,  nearly destroyed the Earth in another movie (though he wasn't a robot: perhaps this is why Kirk was able to beat him).

In fact, robots or cyborgs were at least one of the main characters in three of the movies (four if you count the dogs in Up).  Aliens were protagonists in three (note that Transformers is counted both times).
Two of these films ended with one formerly evil robotic (or cybernetic) protagonist sacrificing their life to literally give their heart to the leader destined to save the world.  Other major characters sacrificed their lives in three more, and, in a fourth, the main character sacrificed everything to stay behind so an alien father could take his son home.

Two of the movies open with the death of the main character's father (three if you count 9).  Two other movies begin with the deaths of the main character's military unit.  Another opens with the death of the main character's wife.

Two of the movies use special effects to make an old actor appear young.  A third has an old actor travel back in time to meet his younger self, now played by a new actor.

Two of the movies include literal manifestations of one or more robot's soul.  A third, while lacking a visual manifestation of a robot's spirit, is thematically about the spiritual redemption of a cyborg.

Two were live-action films, based on cartoon shows, which were based on toys.  A third was a cartoon which featured toys as the main characters.

For those of you still reading, what follows is a breakdown of every movie we discussed in our four-part "Futures Market" series, whether we saw the movie or not:


X-Men Origins: Wolverine
Actual Tomatometer: 36%
Estimated Tomatometer: 62%
Minimum Tomatometer: 35%
This is, in our opinion, hands down the worst movie we saw this summer.  Most reviewers seem to be offering that honor to Transformers - and not without reason: Transformers had the least coherence.  However, Transformers and GI Joe were both a constant barrage of bizarre entertainment.  Wolverine was simply a string of mistakes tied together with a solid cast.  If you asked us a year ago, we would have told you that, at the very least, a Wolverine movie couldn't possibly be boring.  Sadly, we were mistaken.

The Battle for Terra
Actual Tomatometer:  46%
Estimated Tomatometer: 71%
Minimum Tomatometer: 88%
Critical reaction fell well short of our expectations, so we skipped this one.  There was a time when we'd have said we'd likely catch it on DVD, but that time has passed.  No: it is unlikely we'll ever get around to this.

Star Trek
Actual Tomatometer:  95%
Estimated Tomatometer: 77%
Minimum Tomatometer: 55%
Our expectations were high for this going in, but apparently they weren't high enough.  This movie was our second favorite of the summer.  We can't wait for the sequel.

Terminator Salvation
Actual Tomatometer: 32%
Estimated Tomatometer: 80%
Minimum Tomatometer: 60%
The actual Tomatometer was barely half of our "minimum," yet we went to the theater anyway.  And, ultimately, it wasn't a complete waste: between the robots, the fight scenes, and a CG Arnold, there was a decent quantity of entertainment to be found.  Was it a good movie?  God, no.  But it was fun.

Drag Me to Hell
Actual Tomatometer:  92%
Estimated Tomatometer: 65%
Minimum Tomatometer: 90%
This is a movie that, by all indications, we should have seen.  The critical response was almost entirely positive.  But, when it was out, we just didn't feel like horror.  For what it's worth, we feel bad about it.

Actual Tomatometer:  97%
Estimated Tomatometer: 94%
Minimum Tomatometer: 40%
And so, at long last, we've reached a movie where our estimate was within the right ballpark.  Of course, it's a Pixar movie, so ANYONE could have predicted it would receive better than a 90% approval.  This was our favorite film of the summer, by the way.  As of right now, it's neck and neck with Coraline as our favorite of the year.


Land of the Lost
Actual Tomatometer: 26%
Estimated Tomatometer: 77%
Minimum Tomatometer: 85%
Didn't see it, estimates way off.  Who cares?

Dead Snow
Actual Tomatometer: 67%
Estimated Tomatometer: 79%
Minimum Tomatometer: 88%
We demand a great deal of zombie movies, and, by all indications, while this was supposed to be good, it didn't sound GREAT.  So we skipped it.

Actual Tomatometer: 80
Estimated Tomatometer: 85%
Minimum Tomatometer: 88%
This movie still intrigues us, but, at the time, we weren't interested enough to track down a theater playing it.

Year One
Actual Tomatometer: 16%
Estimated Tomatometer: 65%
Minimum Tomatometer: 85%
Sixteen percent is pitiful.  We skipped this, as well.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
Actual Tomatometer: 19%
Estimated Tomatometer: 50%
Minimum Tomatometer: 35%
Once again, we ignored our own metrics.  However, as we said at the time, there were a number of action scenes in this movie justifying the price of admission.  This was a truly awful film, but not entirely in a bad way.


Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs
Actual Tomatometer: 44%
Estimated Tomatometer: 34%
Minimum Tomatometer: 95%
This did better than we expected but not as well as we required.

Public Enemies
Actual Tomatometer: 67%
Estimated Tomatometer: 65%
Minimum Tomatometer: 85%
This did almost precisely as well as we anticipated.  Statistically, something had to, we suppose.

Actual Tomatometer: 68%
Estimated Tomatometer: 80%
Minimum Tomatometer: 95%
For us to bother, we would have needed assurance this was as good or better than Borat.  Without such assurances, we stayed at home.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Actual Tomatometer: 83%
Estimated Tomatometer: 85%
Minimum Tomatometer: 60%
This was an enjoyable afternoon at the theater.  The Harry Potter movies have really come into their own as episodic entertainment.  We will no doubt miss them when they're gone.  Also, our estimate was almost spot on.

Actual Tomatometer: 24%
Estimated Tomatometer: 45%
Minimum Tomatometer: 85%
We were not surprised to hear this was abysmal, but still The Middle Room continues to wait for the next great anthropomorphic animal adventure.  There is an opportunity here, we think.  Hollywood needs to read Mouse Guard.


GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra
Actual Tomatometer: 37%
Estimated Tomatometer: 50%
Minimum Tomatometer: 35%
At least it wasn't boring.

District 9
Actual Tomatometer: 90%
Estimated Tomatometer: 94%
Minimum Tomatometer: 85%
Our estimates were in the correct ballpark at least.  This was a great movie; one of the summer's best.

Inglorious Basterds
Actual Tomatometer: 88%
Estimated Tomatometer: 80%
Minimum Tomatometer: 90%
Our estimate wasn't far off.  This was supposed to be a good film, and we expect we will see it eventually.

Actual Tomatometer: 56%
Estimated Tomatometer: 78%
Minimum Tomatometer: 40%
This film had such potential, such promise.  But it squandered its story, and so, 9, we could only sit back and enjoy your visual environments and designs.

At this point, we assume NO ONE is still reading.  If you are, you have our sincerest of apologies.  Come back next time for something which may or may not be better, but will almost certainly be shorter.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Underrated, Part 4: Superman Returns

Today, a request was delivered to The Middle Room, post haste, asking us to revisit a film we've mentioned in the past, the underrated Superman Returns:

"...I want to see Underrated Part 4: Superman Returns. You're the only person I know who really liked it, and I've had it on my mind a lot lately."
-Jesse L.

The Middle Room is hardly alone in liking Bryan Singer's film; rather, we are one of a dwindling number who REMEMBER that they like it. When the movie came out, the response was far more favorable: its Tomatometer, to this day, stands at a respectable 76%, with many of the positive reviews gushing over the picture's brilliance and subtle beauty. The comic book community, while somewhat split, was enthusiastic overall.

Most of the animosity came later.

As we understand it, there are two principal complaints about Superman Returns. Firstly, that the movie fails to deliver the requisite action (in fact, at no point in the picture does Superman throw a punch). And secondly, that the movie served as a franchise killer: by introducing a son of Superman's, the movie effectively negates the feasibility of a sequel.

We will begin with this second complaint, as it is addressed quite easily. While there is a kernel of truth to this claim - that it would be difficult to create a follow-up to Superman Returns - the logic of holding this against Singer is faulty. Warner Bros. has never demonstrated the commitment to Superman that the character deserves: that Singer succeeded in filming one movie is more than dozens of others have managed. Fear not: by court order a sequel will be managed or they'll relaunch the series. Either way, the character is no poorer for this film.

As to the other issue, that Superman Returns failed to deliver a violent clash of gods: well, we actually would have agreed with this before seeing the picture. Going in, we wanted a story of monsters or robots from space battling Superman. Someday, we would still like to see that picture.

In fact, the last thing we wanted was to retread old ground. Yet, when we reached the theater and the movie begin, we felt a sense of joy as Singer took us back to Donner's film.

Yes, Superman Returns is a tribute. But it is one hell of a tribute, delivering on the themes of the original in a manner that is nuanced and considered. In 1978, Jor-El told his son that mankind needed only to be shown the way to realize their greatness. But it wasn't until 2006 that this promise was fulfilled, when Lois Lane and her fiance risk their lives to rescue Superman.

And, while there was little in the way of combat, the scenes where Superman protects Metropolis from destruction are awe-inspiring. The use of his heat vision, in particular, is incredible to behold. Lex Luthor is likewise a success; a near-perfect facsimile of Gene Hackman's character, taken to his darkest extreme. He is still comical, but now he is truly frightening, as his scheme - itself a clever reworking of the 1978 plot - is unveiled. When he takes his vengeance upon Superman, it is brutal and horrific.

Superman Returns is not the movie we thought we wanted: it is instead the movie that won us over. It is a carefully constructed drama, a brilliant work of religious symbolism, and a loving sequel to the movie which defined the genre. It is far superior, in fact, to the overrated Superman II, a film who's potential greatness was squandered by studio interference and a replacement director lacking the vision to see it through.

Don't mistake us: Superman II is still a good picture, but it is unable to honor the original. It took decades for a director to accomplish that.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

DVD Review: Hulk Vs.

Hulk Vs. is a direct-to-DVD project, released last January, which we've been meaning to see for some time. The DVD differs from prior Marvel offering in a few respects. Firstly, rather than contain a single, full length feature, it contains two miniature films.

Secondly, unlike prior direct-to-DVD releases from Marvel it is really, really good. "How good?" you may ask. "DC good," we would answer.

Yes, it has taken seventeen years, but Marvel has finally released an animated picture that rivals the quality of what DC has been making since Batman: The Animated Series came out in 1992. That isn't to say that Hulk Vs. is as good as the BEST of DC's work, but it stands up to the average.

As has already been stated, Hulk Vs. represents two separate films: Hulk Vs. Thor and Hulk Vs. Wolverine. Both titles, we should add, are intrinsically misleading. The Middle Room applauds the makers of these pictures for upholding this tradition from the comics.

Hulk Vs. Thor, while intriguing, is the less of the two movies. Focusing on Asgard, the film is largely a fantasy, and it lacks the strength of design to pull this off. That said, many of the characters are enjoyable to watch. In particular, Loki succeeds in his greatest ploy yet, effectively stealing the show.

The second feature, Hulk Vs. Wolverine, is the shorter of the two. Almost immediately, it moves into slapstick and maintains that tone for most of the movie. Rather than come off as cloying, however, the comedy is absolutely hilarious. It helps, perhaps, that the slapstick involves bone crushing blows, brutal stabbing, and violent dismemberment. It's all in good fun, though.

In a sense, the middle third of this movie serves as a dissertation, explaining in painstaking detail why so many comic book fans love Deadpool. Prior to watching this film, his popularity has always baffled us. But now, we understand.

In addition to the comedy, the film somehow had time to delve into Weapon X and the origins of Wolverine. In a few scant minutes, they accomplished this to far better effect than X-Men Origins: Wolverine did in its entire run time (our memories are a tad hazy, but after careful debate, we believe that movie was somewhere around four hours in length).

Hulk Vs. Wolverine should also be commended on its animation, which involves a complex style blending elements of anime, comic books, and traditional animation. The resulting style is exciting and visually appealing. In addition, both this and the Thor segment contained impressive voice acting, good scoring, and strong directing.

The genre of superhero comedy is a strange one, including such underrated pictures as Mystery-Men, last year's Wonder Woman, and Sky High. Hulk Vs. is a worthy addition to this list.

The epitome of superhero animation thus far is of course The Incredibles, and that's the yard stick we've held others to. Against that, we award Hulk Vs. the same distinction we gave to Wonder Woman: three and a half stars.

While we've enjoyed some of Marvel's previous offerings - namely Dr. Strange and Next Avengers - this is far and above the best of their direct-to-DVD features. Between this and their current line-up of animated programs, they've become an impressive force in animation.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Movie Review: 9

Expectations for 9 were quite high. The original short video, easily found on YouTube, is breathtaking to behold. The promise of a full length version was enticing, to say the least. Of course, it is a bit of an exaggeration to describe 9 as "a full length film": at under an hour and a half, it goes by faster than we might like.

The good news is that the experience 9 offers is a good one. For all its faults - and sadly, there are several - this is a movie that understands the importance of tone and setting. There are lighter moments, from time to time, but there is no slapstick or the like: it works hard to construct a mood, and it never betrays it.

This is, as advertised, a post-apocalyptic animated film about stitchpunk creations battling horrors of science and war. Further, from all indications, the apocalyptic war which created this world seems to have occurred in the 1940's. The technological horrors are, by today's standards, antiques, as are the toys. As such, this is more War of the Worlds than The Matrix, though there are echoes of both in 9.

The setting is intriguing; equal parts beautiful and terrifying. It is the sort of environment many of us have imagined but never thought we'd see on film (at least not an American film). For this, the filmmakers deserve commendation. Likewise, the monsters, unliving creations of forgotten science fiction and dark power, are incredible to behold. And the heroes, when willing to turn and fight, match them with savage precision: these battles are nothing short of awesome.

If only there had been a decent plot. Instead, 9 follows a story we know too well: we've played through such tales back on the Nintendo Entertainment System, before advancements in video game technology necessitated more intricate stories.

In a less fascinating environment, such a fault would feel less significant. But the world of 9 demands depth and meaning beyond what its story can deliver. A pity. This could have been something spectacular; instead it is merely good.

But do not despair: it is still good. It is a joy to watch its wonders and cringe at its terrors, even if it never really transcends the level of eye-candy.

Rather than scale this against Nightmare Before Christmas or Coraline, we are reminded instead of Miyazaki, the true master of tone and setting in post-apocalyptic animation. If the pinnacles of his work represents five star pictures, then we see 9 as deserving of three. The artists behind 9 share Miyazaki's talent for building worlds; it's a pity they lacked his ability to craft a nuanced story, as well.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


This isn't news. No, in the distant past - yesterday morning perhaps - this may have been news, but now it is old. Nowhere will you find someone unaware that Marvel has been bought by Disney.

What to make of such a union? Some are fearful; others are jubilant. Is this the end of Marvel comics as we know them or the opening door to a better world?

The concern is that Marvel will become moralized; altered so as not to offend the young. Of course, there is a sense in which that happened anyway, years ago, when the company outlawed smoking in their books. Can Disney really top that edict?

More so, why would they? Interfering with Marvel's day to day operations, at least in the short term, would have little purpose. It would irritate the medium's fans without any major gain: the comic business is rather trivial, anyway. No, this sale likely had little to do with comics, at all. This was about other mediums.

The most obvious, of course, being live-action film. As every online news outlet is quick to point out, however, most of Marvel's characters are tied up for years - if not indefinitely - in agreements with other studios. Eventually, however, many of the characters will revert to Disney.

But this is only a fraction of the situation. Disney's more immediate gain will be felt on television. If that means more seasons of Spectacular Spider-Man, it's hard to complain.

Yet the area most of interest lies in a middle ground: what are the possibilities for theatrically released animated productions? Apparently, there has been discussion of Pixar becoming involved with Marvel characters. The possibility of directors like Brad Bird working on animated Marvel properties for the big screen is a real possibility, provided there aren't issues with existing arrangements.

And therein lies an interesting question which has yet to be answered: do Disney's agreements with Fox, Sony, and others apply to theatrical releases or merely to live action films? If it's the later, this news is of particular significance. Could Marvel compete with Fox's X-Men franchise by offering films of their own? If so, is it possible Fox may eventually just sell the rights back to Marvel and Disney?

It's of course far too early to speculate on such things, but, after Wolverine, we find it hard not to dream about a better world.