Thursday, May 21, 2015

A Fond and Tearful (But Not At All Cynical) Farewell to Mad Men

After seven rather brilliant seasons, AMC's Mad Men takes its final bow this week, with what may be the best damn finale in television history - as well as the perfect way to end such a show. For those who have not yet seen the final episode, and wish to spend their time, spoiler free, then you should probably go somewhere else until you have seen the episode. Ye have been warned. For all those still with me, wasn't that the perfect ending!? Yes it was Kevyn, is the only correct response to that query.

Matthew Weiner's groundbreaking (yes, groundbreaking!) period drama, spanning the entirety of the 1960's (even spilling over into the opening year of the seventies) has always been about one thing. Yes, the show tackled everything from the dangers of smoking to the inherent sexism of the period, but over all of that, mad men was about consumerism. Good old fashioned consumerism. Some say that consumerism has taken over our lives in more modern times. Some may be correct. Sure, without consumerism, our economy would tank (even worse than it has), and therefore it is a necessary thing. Some people are just overly sensitive to the seemingly all-encompassing modern day consumerism. Ads are everywhere now, even in places like gas pumps and taxi cabs, and yes, it can all be a bit daunting. but, alas, it is something our economy needs, in order to survive. Sure, we probably don't need it to the near-omnipresent state that we now have it, but we do need it. And with this need for consumerism, we also need advertising, and in turn, those people who are the creative forces behind these ads. This brings us to Mad Men. I knew I'd get there eventually.

Back in the early days of the advertising boom that followed the economic boom of the 1950's, Mad Men takes a look at these ad men...and yes, these were ad MEN in 1960. By the end of the show's run, in 1970, there were a few women who made their way up the ladder. One made it there on her back, but then went on to prove herself more than worthy of the position of power she found herself in. The other began as a mere secretary (the show's first episode is this character's first day at the ad firm of Sterling-Cooper) and later became one of those aforementioned creative forces behind some of the best ads of the times. One can claim that this character, Peggy Olsen (my favourite of the show btw - forget Betty or Joan, it was Peggy who stole my heart), is as much the star of the show as Don Draper ever was, but let's face facts - this was the story of Don Draper, and how he changed both the advertising world, and himself - the latter part literally, as he stole another man's identity. But hey, if you are still reading this, then you are most likely a Mad Men fan, and have no need for any sort of attempt at a series synopses. So let's get on with things and talk about that ending. That fantastic, near-perfect series finale. Yes, the final episode, as a whole may not have been one of the better episodes, but that last scene, those final few moments, were pure, unadulterated Mad men bliss.

After a Kerouacian journey to find out just who he is (Don Draper? Dick Whitman? Somebody else altogether?), and just what and where is his place in this world, Don Draper ends up on a commune on the coast of California. About as far away from Madison Avenue as one could get. Having failed at relationship after relationship, and then it ends with that knowing smirk, and then that iconic Coke ad. Seriously, it has been four days now, and that damn song is still in my head. But anyhoo, back to that ending, that finale. Some have whined that it was an easy out to end the series (some even claim it was a cynical finale), but in my not so humble opinion, it was the perfect coda for a show about consumerism - and not at all cynical. Sure, it does have a taste of ambiguity (did he really go back and create that ad or was it just an empty coda to the story, and Don really did find himself in the California sun), but however one looks at it, the show could not have ended any other way - and it should not have ended any other way. But enough of my gushing and rambling. Mad Men was one of my favourite shows (and may be the best drama ever on television) and it will be missed. That's it gang. See ya 'round the web. Now let's finish on a different note. Here's my darling Peggy, in the third from final episode, being the rock star she was always meant to be.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Worst to Best: The Stanley Kubrick Filmography

Hello and welcome to a brand new regular series here on the ole blog. In this second episode of this new regular series, I take a look at all thirteen of Stanley Kubrick's feature films. He's my all-time fave director, and five of his films are in my personal top 100 films (more than any other director) and the guy never made a bad film, so the term worst is merely relative. So here we go. Have at 'em!

13. Spartacus (1960) - As I stated in my intro, Stanley Kubrick never made a bad film, but if any of his films comes close, it's Spartacus. Just the filmmaker's fifth film, this big budget studio pic was also the one film Kubrick had little to no control over. Sure, it's a good film, and better than your average studio pic of the era, but when compared to the rest of Kubrick's oeuvre, this is the one that doesn't quite fit. Not a bad film (we've already established the man never made a bad film) but not a great film either. Now, as for the auteur's other dozen works...

12. Killer's Kiss (1955) - This was Kubrick's second feature. I never saw the damn thing until about five years ago though. Shameful, huh? Anyhoo, this was yet another film the young Kubrick did not like. He had already pulled his first film (Fear and Desire - see #10) from circulation due to not liking the final product, and when United Artists demanded he give this film a happy ending, he denounced this one too.

11. Eyes Wide Shut (1999) - Although he had already began pre-production work on A.I. when he passed away (finished by Spielberg, after his death), Eyes Wide Shut would be the auteur's final film. Released four months after Kubrick's passing (the director had shown his final cut to the studio just days before he died), Eyes Wide Shut, with its sexual politics, was the director's most controversial film, or at least his most controversial since 1971's A Clockwork Orange. But anyone who can make a great film around Tom Cruise, is pretty talented indeed.

10. Fear and Desire (1953) - Kubrick had already made a pair of short films, but this film, also rather short-ish at 62 minutes, would be his first actual feature. Kubrick was not all that happy with the final product (then again, the perfectionist in him rarely was ever happy with his final products) and it was not a box office success at all, but it did garner critical praise. Eventually, the film (mostly) disappeared from public view, only to be found and restored just a few years back.

9. Full Metal Jacket (1987) - By the time Full Metal Jacket was released, it had been seven years since Kubrick's last film (and would be another 12 until his next). Basically, this was Kubrick's answer to Apocalypse Now and the slew of war film wannabes that came after. Both visceral and ethereal, this is probably the least analyzed of Kubrick's films (save for the director's first two films), and therefore is not given the credit films like 2001 and Strangelove and Clockwork get.

8. Barry Lyndon (1975) - When people think about Kubrick, they think cerebral visions and dark humour. Barry Lyndon is probably the least like this image of any of the auteur's films, yet beneath the period costumes and so-called proper dialogue, it is still as much a Kubrickian nightmare vision as anything the director has ever put out there.

7. Dr. Strangelove (1964) - Outside of some funny moments in Full Metal Jacket and even A Clockwork Orange, this hilarious film is Kubrick's one true comedy - and one hell of a comedy it is. Politically charged (of course), Strangelove was an out-and-out hit, becoming Kubrick's first Best Picture nominee (Clockwork and Barry Lyndon would also receive BP nods), and is one of the best damn satires the cinema has ever seen. So there.

6. The Shining (1980) - Many of my fellow critics would probably put this film a bit lower down on their respective lists, and that is a shame. Never getting the respect it deserves, this Stephen King adaptation is one of my all-time favourite horror films. The same cannot be said for Stephen King's thoughts on the film, as he and Kubrick fought over most things the director was doing. Eventually, the film became less and less King's and more and more Kubrick's.

5. Lolita (1962) - Due to the time period and the studio system (which, granted, was pretty much defunct by this time, but still had some sway) there was no way Kubrick would have been able to make a true adaptation of Nabokov's classic novel. This, of course, did not stop the auteur from making one of the finest, if not wholly accurate, literary adaptations ever made. The book was adapted again in the 1990's, but nothing can top Kubrick's vision of the book.

4. Paths of Glory (1957) - This may be one of the strangest war films ever made, and that is part of why it is so great. Yeah, the crisper than crisp black and white cinematography is more than stunning, and Kirk Douglas' performance is one of the best of his career, but is Kubrick's strangeness that makes this war film work as well as it does. A true creature of beauty is this strange little film.

3. The Killing (1956) - This is another one of those Kubrick films that never gets its proper due. A film noir masterpiece, starring Sterling Hayden, The Killing is a brilliant film, full of twists and turns. Its fractured storyline and Rashomon-esque dis-jointed perspectives, have been a major influence on many modern filmmakers, most notably Quentin Tarantino, who called this film a significant influence on his first feature, Reservoir Dogs.

2. A Clockwork Orange (1971) - One of only two X-rated films to be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar, this infamous adaptation of the equally infamous Anthony Burgess novel, is the kind of film that one either hates or loves. many cannot even watch the damn thing without becoming sickened and/or disturbed. That's kind of what I like about the film. It may not be an easy watch for some (overly sensitive dandies that they are) but goddammit, it's a fucking fantastic work of art!

1. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) - And here we are at the best. This was the first film I ever bought on DVD, as well as the first I ever bought on Blu-ray. As with most of Kubrick's films, I have been lucky enough to see this on the big screen (Barry Lyndon and Paths of Glory are the only two I have not...yet) and damn if it ain't one of the most gorgeous things you will ever see up there. This is actually my second favourite film of all-time (second only to The Red Shoes) and a film every person should be made to watch. Yeah, I know, they say that 2001 isn't for everyone, but screw that. Watch it!

That's it gang. See ya 'round the web. Please enjoy this shot from the beginning of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Heavenly Body of the Week: Aura, Planet of the Vampires

Anyone who knows anything about classic cinema, already knows how great Mario Bava is, was, and always will be. For those who do not know, you better hurry up and get to knowing, because you are missing some of the best horror films of all-time. For today's lesson, I give you the 1965 film, Planet of the Vampires. The story is pretty basic. A couple of spaceships from Earth, land on the uncharted planet called Aura, after receiving a mysterious distress call. Once they land...well, I'm guessing you can figure out who and what they find there.

This film is a rather pretty cool cult classic, and a huge influence, both in narrative and visually, on Ridley Scott's Alien. Granted, Scott has claimed he had not seen Planet of the Vampires before making Alien, but that's got to be a lie, or at the very least, a misremembrance of the director's past. Yeah, Scott got a lot from HR Giger, but he also got a lot from here. Bava, especially for not being all that well known outside of cinephiliac circles these days, was actually a big influence on many of today's directors. Everyone from Carpenter and Cronenberg to Tim Burton and Tarantino, were influenced by Bava. Even Scorsese's oeuvre has a bit of the ole Bava in it. I am sure Scott had seen Planet of the Vampires when he was younger. Perhaps he saw so many films (the guy is a cinephile after all) that he forgot this one. Anyhoo, this classic pulp magazine-esque B-movie is one ya'll should see. It is sexy and campy and a delicious work of cinema, indeed. Visually, this is one fantastic looking heavenly body. Although we should probably call this one a Hellish body, huh? However ya'll look at it, you should watch it. You are welcome for the recommendation.

That's it gang. See ya 'round the web.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Universal Monsters Poll: The Scary Results

So here we are, at the end of our Universal Monster Poll. Your job? To pick and choose your favourite of the classic Universal Monsters. You had about six weeks to do this, so hopefully you got your vote in while it still counted. If you didn't? Oh well, it's too late now, because here come the results.

This was actually a pretty close race. Well, for some of the contestants. Out of the eight official Universal Monsters in our poll, four of them were battling it out for the top spot, while another one (a certain lovely lady monster) tried valiantly to make it a five way race. But let's start at the bottom, and work our way up, shall we? Evidently, no one really likes the Phantom of the Opera all that much, as the poor schmuck received just 3 votes - and this was out of a total of 111 votes cast. And one could also say that the Invisible Man was kind of invisible as well, garnering just 8 votes, for a seventh place finish. then, in sixth place, with just 11 votes, was The Mummy. This is where things began to get interesting. As I had alluded to earlier, The Bride of Frankenstein tried to make this a five way race, but in the end, the lone female combatant could not keep up (sexism!!) and the lovely lady with the stand-up hair (gotta love that do!) ended up in fifth place, with 15 votes, many of these gathered in the final few days of the poll. But you other guys. That's where it all was.

The vampire, the monster, the lupine, and the creature. Now that was a race. At one point, each of them had the lead all to themselves, only to have it yanked away, time and time again. Like I said, a real battle royale. Seriously, this was one of the closest polls we've had yet. But who won the damn thing!? Yeah yeah, I'm getting to that. Chillax homeskillet. So, coming in fourth place was the wouldbe hubby of that aforementioned bride. Frankenstein's Monster (and not Frankenstein, as that was his creator, and a real big pet peeve of mine) garnered 17 votes. Then in third place came the hairiest of our monsters, as The Wolf man beat the monster by just one vote. That would be 18 votes for those unable to do basic math. And then came the second place finisher, which I thought was the biggest surprise of 'em all - but a welcome surprise if ya ask me. With 19 votes, The Creature From the Black Lagoon takes home the silver medal. Way to go tall, green, and scaly. But alas, in what many probably saw as a forgone conclusion, the so-called king of the monsters, master of the night, and all around baddass dude, Count Dracula, took home the top prize, garnering a total of 21 votes. So suck on that! See what I did there?

So that's it for our Classic Universal Monster Poll. This is usually the part where I announce the new poll, theoretically starting up today, but as I have no new poll ready at the moment, we are going to have to hold off on that one. But not to worry true believers, for a brand spankin' new poll is just right around the corner, and you will be the first, or at least one of the first, to know all about it. For now, that's it gang. See ya 'round the web.

Monday, May 11, 2015

All Things Kevyn Proudly & Defiantly Presents the All Things Kevyn Phonetic Alphabet 2.0 (a Replacement for the Tired NATO Version)

So, everyone knows about the tired old NATO Phonetic Alphabet, right? You know the one. It goes Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, Echo, Foxtrot, yada yada yada. Yeah, that one. They made it back in the 1950's, in order to unify all the world's code speakers into a catch-all of sorts. My name would be spelled Kilo Echo Victor Yankee November. Kinda cool, huh? Anyhoo, the damn thing has been around for sixty some years now, and is getting a little boring. So, I went and did the only reasonable thing. I created my own version of the alphabet. A Phonetic 2.0, if you will. So far I have not heard back from NATO (or any other official source) as to when they are going to adopt my new version. I'm sure I will hear back soon, though. Oh, and before I publicly unveil my all-new, all-better phonetic alphabet, to the right is the original version for comparison.

And so, without further ado, here is the official All Things Kevyn Phonetic Alphabet 2.0.

We should probably start out with a rather positive, even affirmative, first letter. You know, to get everything started on the right note. Yeah, atta boy (or girl).

Sure, anyone can use an umbrella, but it's much cooler if you use a bumbershoot instead.

In the words of Cookie Monster, "Me want cookie!" Yeah, I like cookies, what's it to ya!?

Anyone who knows me personally, or even anyone who is a regular reader here, knows damn well that my pet name for the little missus is Doodlebug. 'nuff said.

 Be it a snowy one or a Chinese one or an Eastern Reef one, or even an Intermediate one, the Egret is the greatest of the looney birds.

Boy, I say, Boy! Yes, the coolest rooster this side of Cock-a-Doodle-Doo made the cut.

The home world of the Time Lords and everybody's favourite Doctor. And bow ties are cool.

Yeah, this is a reference to both A Clockwork Orange and Rocky Horror. So there!

As in, it's probably pretty iffy that NATO (or whoever is in charge of such things) is going to actually accept and use the new and improved 2.0 Alphabet. The bastards!

With J, you can go mean or yummy. Player's choice.

Come on! Look at the name of the blog. Like I could do this without throwing my name into the ring.

Boy, I say, Boy! Yes, the rooster has a last name too.

Here's a little shout out to all the fine folks over at Seinfeld. If you get it, you're aces in my book.

This one goes out to the late great Robin Williams. If you do not know the connection, then shame on you.

The term A-OK should have always been A-Okey Dokey. 'nuff said.

What some peeps may not know about me (and I am sure all my faithful readers know) is that I collect Pez dispensers. The collection currently stands at 2,505 dispensers.

Okay, so who said all the words had to be easy words to say. Okay, maybe that would be the smarter way to go, but dammit, I don't care!

 And this one's for all my Norsemen and Viking homies.

 How could a smiley-face not make a, Plus there's the existence of the great comic book series, Smiley-Face Land Adventures. Yeah, you should really check that out.

The original list had India on it, so I thought the 2.0 version needed a country as well, so why not the tiniest little island on the edge of Polynesia?

At first it sounds kinda dirty, until you realize it's just that dangly thing in the back of your throat.

I firmly believe in the power of the onomatopoeia. Vroom Vroom, indeed.

I saw Star Wars upon its initial release back in '77. I was ten and I was hooked. So yeah, I had to include someone or something from the Star Wars Universe, and who better than a Wookiee?

I could have gone with the X-Men themselves, but decided their founder would be more appropriate.

I didn't go with Bigfoot for B, nor Sasquatch for S, so here we are at Yeti for Y.

And last, but certainly not least, the name of the coolest cat (aka, feline) you will ever know. My pet cat, Zooey. The Zoo-Meister. Zoo-Dog. Hong Kong Zooey. Zoo-Dingo! Zoo-Man-du!! Oh, and J.D. Salinger used the name too, but we don't want to get sued, so forget I even mentioned that part.

And check it out, now my name is spelled Kevyn Egret Vroom Vroom Yeti Nanu Nanu. Pretty coolio, huh?

That's it gang. See ya 'round the web. Now, here are some pop art pineapples, just because.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Film Review: Avengers: Age of Ultron

So here we go again. Another superhero movie. Another Avengers movie. Another box office boffo opening weekend, and another franchise builder. All-in-all, it's just another typical weekend in Hollywood USA. The thing here though, as opposed to many of the more generic blockbuster franchise fodder that gets thrust upon audiences these days, is that this is a fun movie. Just like the first Avengers movie, Avengers: Age of Ultron is a fun fun movie, full of tons of great geeky stuff to keep us comic book nerds happy happy happy. Is it the second coming of Citizen Kane? Of course not, but then it was never meant to be. Is Joss Whedon the fan boy equivalent of Orson Welles or Stanley Kubrick? Of course not. That's J.J. Abrams. I kid (sorta), but seriously, Avengers: Age of Ultron is a blast of a movie, a fun time for any action movie aficionado, and an added second blast for all the comic book fans who "get" all the quick asides and in-jokes and Easter eggs galore.

For those not in the know, and if you are not in the know, you probably don't care about this film, and therefore are not reading this review, but for those who may squeak in there without great knowledge of what The Avengers movies are all about, here's a little background for you. The Avengers are a superhero group ensconced within the Marvel Universe. Created in 1963 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, The Avengers have had many members lo these fifty plus years. In the cinematic version, the team consists of Captain America (Chris Evans), Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), and the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo, with a little help from the CGI team). In the first movie, we saw the team come together (just like how the original comic brought together characters from other comics, the film version brings together characters from various precursor solo films), and do some major ass-kicking against Loki and his brood of alien invaders. Here, in the second film, we see the team more organized, and now taking on the robotic Ultron (voiced by James Spader), a character actually created by Tony Stark (Iron Man, for the initiated) and Bruce Banner (The Hulk's alter ego). Originally, Ultron was supposed to be a tool for peace, but you know how things go. Now he is set on human destruction, along with his unaware minions, Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor Johnson) and The Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). That's basically the story here, folks. To say anything else would give away important plot points and twists and turns and such.

As a comic book nerd from waaay back (after discovering the X-Men at nine, The Avengers were the next big thing in my young comic book reading world) there are a lot of fun, interesting bon mots throughout the film, that those only familiar with the Marvel Cinematic Universe (as opposed to the comic book world) may not get. The banter between the characters, the quippy inside jokes, the hidden gems. A wonderfully giddy (at least I was giddy) off-duty scene involving all the heroes trying to lift Thor's hammer. And no, that is not a euphemism. The freakin' Hulkbuster armor! It's all here in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Everything happening in this film, just like in all other MCU films, is laying the groundwork for the next phase of Marvel films. It is truly an al-encompassing cinematic universe that is trying to be created here. Granted, Joss Whedon has announced he will not be back for the third and fourth Avengers films (Avengers: Infinity War, parts I and II), and after you watch the film, you will see that many of the stars and characters will not be back either, but with the seemingly seamless array of changing characters (upcoming will be Black Panther, Captain Marvel, Doctor Strange, Ant-Man, and even Spider-Man in a Sony/Disney crossover event) is what makes these films work as well as they do. And we haven't even discussed the TV version of the MCU (Daredevil, Luke Cage, and others) yet.

But hey, this is a review of Avengers: Age of Ultron (not that a movie like this can really be properly reviewed and/or critiqued), so let me just finish by saying that it may not be quite as good as the first film (though certain individual parts are better, but not an overall greater film) but damn it is a fun movie. Yes, the film does suffer from a bout of oft-criticized sexism, which runs through most Hollywood movies, and not just here (bigger picture problems there), and some sub plots never really go anywhere of interest, instead just act as wonton character development that also never goes anywhere of interest (more Hawkeye, more Black Widow!), If I were to rank the the MCU movies, this one would not rate in the same company as the first Avengers, nor either Captain America film, the first Iron Man, nor Guardians of the Galaxy, the latter of which may just be the best of 'em all so far. Still though, especially for this comic book nerd from waaay back, it's an enjoyable romp.That's it gang. See ya 'round the web.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Heavenly Body of the Week: Abuda-3

So, in honour of International Star Wars Day on  Monday (May the Fourth be With You), and coinciding with the opening weekend of Marvel's Avengers: Age of Ultron, we here at All Things Kevyn (aka, me me me) thought it would be a good time to include a planet from Marvel's Star Wars comic series from the 1970's/1980's. Which brings us to issue #8 of the Bronze Age series. Once the original film adaptation was over with issue #6, the story moved onto new planets and new perils. A couple issues later, and Han and Chewie found themselves teamed up with six fellow rogues and rapscallions. Maybe even a scruffy nerfherder or two. This new story arc also brought this gang to the planet, the heavenly body, if you will, called Abuda-3. Yeah, not a very sexy name, but then this storyline is often thought of as one of the low-lights in the Star Wars Expanded Universe. Personally, I remember really enjoying the story back when it first came out in early 1978 - especially the six foot tall green rabbit. Then again, I was just turning ten years old at the time, so what the hell did I know!?

Sure, Disney has since rendered much of the Expanded Universe stuff null and void, including this old Marvel series, but that doesn't mean we can't discuss it here. I mean, it's not like we are talking about those supposed prequel things everyone is talking about. I personally don't think they actually exist, but I digress. I honestly don't remember much of this story arc, other than Jaxxon, the aforementioned  big green rabbit, some porcupine-like dude, and some kick-ass chick in a fluffy pink and red bikini (those just burgeoning preteen hormones, ya know), but I'm sure it was quite good. Or maybe not. Who knows. All I know is I remember enjoying it, even if I don't remember what happened. There was a heavenly body though, and that's all that matters here and now.

That's it gang. See ya 'round the web.