Civil War Memorial

Okay, it has been a while now this Civil War was released and I watched this latest addition to the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe for those who don’t know) and I have had time to decompress and analyse the film in the grey matter that makes the rest of me move around and stuff.
Now there was a great deal of anticipation surrounding the release of this film. And while it was based on one of the most important event story lines in Marvel comics history Civil War, but it was the potential geek-fest and money maker of Spider-Man’s long awaited introduction into the MCU, the spectacle of all the heroes facing off against each other, and the Russo brothers Anthony and Joe returning to direct another Captain America film.
Every bit of news related to this film was devoured by the internet and all other media. From the casting news to the perfectly timed release of the trailers, the whole world was like a starving man at a buffet. And I was so psyched to see this film. Marvel has been going from strength to strength and the beast just keeps getting stronger.
When I finally sat down to watch this film with my popcorn and Maltesers , I was excited and nervous to the point I had to pee three times before the movie started and missed most of the coming attraction trailers. So, what was the verdict from the Monkey, you ask?
Well, it was a fun movie. It is a tent pole movie. A popcorn movie. A disposable movie.
The movie has all the things you could want in a movie of this sort. Great action sequences, amazing special effects, characters you know and love, new and interesting characters, a stellar cast and crew and humour that is genuinely funny and works in the right places (Thanks Spidey!). But that is where it ends. Seriously, I don’t want to be that trolling bitchy fanboy attacking a geek property because its gets attention, and I’ll do my best not to sound like that, but I’m about to drift into the ocean of the unsatisfied.
This is by no means slamming the talent involved, the impact the films has made, or Marvel and Disney. This is like the being of a movie you watch on DVD when it says the opinion contain within are that of the film makers and are in no way, blah blah blah. This is my opinion and how I felt. We all clear. Okay, strap in
For me, there was no real story, or at the least a very weak one for a tent pole movie. It just didn’t live you to the hype and the promise the marketing department conjured up for this movie. And for a man such as me who can find something good in any filmed story, that is saying something. I even liked Iron Man 2 and Thor: The Dark World, the two weakest entries to date in the MCU. But after leaving that movie theatre, I felt disappointed and let down by the story. I wouldn’t say I felt betrayed, but it came close. I honestly couldn’t talk to my friends I when to see the film with for hours afterwards. I felt gut punched and not because of any emotional elements of the story. This was Michael Bay/Transformers 2 pain I’m talking about here.
This movie needed a twist, an unforeseen event, or justifiable role reversal to make you care and it didn’t have it. The bucket of cold water dumped on your brain to wake you up from the fast moving primary colour and is just didn’t have it.
Some of the elements from the comic book story just weren’t successfully carried over to the film version. In the comic book story, the heroes break into two groups, one for superhero registration and one against. There was no villain accept the bureaucracy of the government politicians. The leaders of the two groups, Iron Man (Tony Stark) and Captain America (Steve Rogers), where both hero and villain within the story. They both made hard choices in the roles they took, some good and some bad and they both had repercussions that affected the outcome and those close to them. They both had defections and deserters to their causes, most notably Spider-Man who left Team Iron Man for Team Cap. The movie didn’t show the last aspect at all.
On the printed page you understood the motivations for these two titans, you understood both of their arguments and why they would not back down. In the film version of the story, this duel dynamic becomes very one sided. While Cap objects to the registration act and its possible negative repercussions and voices his views early on in the main story when taking to Stark, they never seem to be mentioned again. Cap appears to throw caution out the fifty story high rise, consequences be damned, too safe his friend, Bucky. Those blinders conveniently blocks out the millions in property damage and the lives of innocent bystanders that get caught in the crossfire, as when as international relations, something he has care about greatly in four feature films so far. Two supporting characters, that of Peter Parker / Spider-Man and T’Challa / Black Panther are given more relatable and understandable motivations in their short screen time than Cap.
Iron Man on the other hand, while he was motivated by guilt in the beginning, is given the emotional journey, the back story motivations, the emotional and psychological hurdles, and the sacrifices (both personal and professional) within the story and still fights on. With the frame work of this kind of story, is presented as the hero more so than Captain America. And as a result Cap comes off as a bit of a dick and a destructive one at that. This is all very odd, and humorous to me in a Captain America movie. This should have been an Avengers movie or Iron Man: Civil War at the very least. Cap seemed to get lost in the shuffle and over shadowed by more colourful characters in his own movie. This is one of the factors that lead to Michael Keaton vacating the role of Batman after Batman Return in 1992. Somebody should have been paying attention to that little bit of info.
And this is the part where I become that ‘guy’ waxing pretentiously about the original comic book being better than the movie. So buckle in while I try not to sound like a full twat. In the comic book story line, both men, Rogers and Stark (and be extension their respective superhero teams) are lead to re-evaluate their course(s) of action with the death of an important character in Marvel comics and The Avengers history, Goliath.
Dr Ben Foster and his superhero alter ego Goliath was the latest in a long line of size altering heroes, and arguably the most mentally stable. He was a brilliant scientist, colleague and friend to many on either team in the civil war divide, even though he chose to fight with Cap. His death at the hands of a Thor clone created by Stark and Reed Richards (Mr Fantastic) devastated many heroes fighting and troubled many in civilian life and government. This death added an emotional weight to the story for many of the characters and the readers, that in this crisis of ideology, there will be real and tragic consequences. The readers where spurred on to read and wonder will happen in this tale and what kind of world will be left in the wake of this fight at story’s end. It added an unstable element to the story of ‘anything could happen’.
In the filmed version of the story, this was absent; as too was the character of Goliath (his role of increasing his size to giant proportions was taken over by Ant-Man as he become Giant-Man for the fight scene at the airport). There were no deaths of any significance within the story, and definitely not heroes in the MCU. In fact, the only one screen death of any significance in the film was that of the villain Crossbones in the first ten minutes of the film, which was a shock to me because he has such a long and interesting arch in the comics.
But there was a point in the filmed version where the death of a major character would have given the Civil War story line and the MCU the same gravitas and emotion weight of the comic story line. In the fight scene at the airport, War Machine (Roddy Rhodes) was shot out of the sky and fell back to Earth. If he had died from his injuries then and there it would have even the story the ‘anything could happen’ uncertainty the film needed. Now I have nothing against the character of Rhodes and I love the work of the actor Don Cheadle, but the movie needed a high body count to make the story important in the MCU and relevant to the extended audience who flock twice a year to the Marvel films. As it stands, as a story, this film in the most disposable of the MCU films and just like every Michael Bay movie, misses every poignant heart string moment to make it truly memorable.
In the end, the film makers could have done better with this tale. I mean, even Henry Jackman’s score for the film was lack lustre and underperformed. This is a man who delivered amazing scores for Kick-Ass 1 & 2. X-Men: First Class, Kingsmen and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. He knows how to score a good movie and make it great and here he seems almost distracted at best, creatively knee capped at worst.
Captain America: Civil War made a butt ton of money, and is a fun movie, but in the end the Russo brothers delivered a film that was all flash and no substance. They are better than this, so are the actors, the writers and the studio that made the film. I’m hoping and praying for better when the team comes together again for the Avengers: Infinity War movies. Fingers crossed.
I think that is all for this rant. Till next time.
– Monkey


Civil War Memorial

Comic Book Man

Do you read comics? Or have you read them in the past? If you’re reading this blog or listen to podcasts like The Smoke Breakers then I’m guessing the answer is yes to one of those questions. Do you remember what drew you to comics in the first place? Was it the colourful artwork, gorgeous covers, or the stories of the fantastic on the inside?

I love reading comic books. I always have as far back as I can remember. Like many, the first time I saw a superhero was in morning cartoons on television in the early 1980s. Super Friends, Spider-Man, Masters of the Universe, Thundercats and many others where mesmerizing to me as a kid as where the superhero cartoons on the 1990s like X-Men, Fantastic Four, Iron Man and Batman The Animated Series.

I still remember the first time I bought my own comics. It was in 1990 and on my way home from school I missed my connecting bus to finish my journey. So while I waited for the next bus, I look through the toy store next to the bus stop and they had a large amount of direct comics from the states. And in that humble little shop I bought a Batman and X-Men and between sitting down at the bus stop and getting off the bus, I had read those two books three times each. And that ladies and gentlemen was that, I was hooked. I didn’t need drugs later on in life because on that day my imagination was set free and has run wild ever since. I needed to read more and find out everything I could about these characters and what other ones where out there. And as my addiction grew, I discovered so very much.

Now I had read comics before this faithful day and I knew the pages held beautiful artwork and crazy characters like Asterix and Obelix, Tin Tin, Garfield and The Phantom on their different adventures. And while I still love these books to this day, they didn’t have the impact on my young mind as the caped crusader and that band to mutants.

Maybe part of it was that I had bought them with my own money, or these characters rescued me for panic on that day, but these spandex clad heroes have been a part of my life ever since. And from them, and the writers and the artist who create them, I have learned so much. Learn as much from them as from school, parents and the ‘so called’ more important books. They have helped me to become the man I am today. And if you ask my friends and family they might say I am good and right and true, a true hero. Hey, I can dream can’t I?

I understood honor, duty, the ethics of right and wrong, philosophical dilemmas, guilt, fear, and the consequences of ones actions. A lot of what was once the purview or history text and the bible, I got from comic book superheroes. They enlighten and have opened up my mind to question and except. Maybe I am the odd one. Maybe there are others like me who learned these things from comics. But I haven’t met anyone who has admitted it.
I know they helped me because when I was a kid I was no happy. I had emotional problems, anger issues and was placed in therapy at the age of 8. But after I started reading comics, the change was so unexpected, my parents and my therapist where amazed. You could say comics saved me.

But for all my love of comic books, the graphic novel collections, the collectables and the movies and TV shows that have spawned from them, I still find myself defending them. And recently, with the movie universes of Marvel and DC gaining more and more of an impact in popular culture, I find myself defending comics more and more. One of the things I have to set people right on is the age old assumption that comics are just for kids.

Admittedly, in the 1930s when the comics craze began, the artwork, titles and stories where targeted at boys and teenagers. But those kids grew up, as kids often do, And if the publishers wanted to keep them, they had to evolved. And they did. It did take them a while to catch up but they had to contend with therapists, parents groups and right wingers attacking the industry so it wasn’t until the end of the 50s and the beginning of the 60s when the Silver Age of comics started that the comics industry redesigned and created amazing characters again did the stories begin to evolve. The 60s counter culture and the university academics began to take notice and praise the imaginative and inventive story lines as well as the political and social elements running throughout the books. This and the relaxed comics code of the 1970s helped with the tales the writers and artists wanted to tell. For the first time in decades, adults where reading comics as much as the kids, and government agencies began praising them, the same government that attacked them in the 50s, for their social commentaries, especially their anti-drug stories. What other “children’s” entertainment can boast the same?

And with this turn around, writers and artists like Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons, Brian Bolland and Frank Miller created works such as Batman: The Killing Joke, The Dark Knight Returns, V For Vendetta and The Watchmen, works of great literary importance that have been praised by critics, academics and fans alike. And even appear on many Top 100 and Best Seller Lists worldwide. These stories where not created with kids in mind. They are dark, violent, brooding works that rival classic gothic literary tales.

Superhero fiction does teach important lessons, believe it or not. From the straight forward storylines to the bizarre, to the murky water of the grey area storylines, they give examples of right versus wrong, good versus evil, and light versus dark. But I believe in my adamantium laced bones that this goes deeper. Using superheroes, their friends and relationships, the world that they live in and their interactions with the super villains (even if sometimes the villains are the heroes) we are given lessons in the virtue of truth, ethics and morality, the responsibility of doing the right thing, the responsibility of ones actions and accepting the consequences, and philosophical questions like do the ends justify the means. With the changing times, it is any surprise that people may find these lessons in superhero fiction, and not from more traditional or classical sources like the bible or classics literature.

For all those people out there who believe that people who read superhero comics and watch superhero movies and television programs are somehow illiterate or less intelligent, or are defective in some way, I say shame on you and get your head out of the ass of dust covered academia snobbery or traditional stiff upper lip, chinless boarding school teachings. Academia is starting to see comic books and not only an art form but a separate medium for telling stories. And it would surprise some people, especially those snobs with the weak chins, that many comic book creators are not only intelligent, well-read people, but many base their creations and stories on the classics these tweed lovers hail as oh so important.
Comic books, and their big brothers, the graphic novels, are no longer second class or second hand entertainments. They are out of the shadows, in the public eye, big business and no longer just for kids. They are eternal, they are important, they are life savers, they are inspirational.

Now, this rant is over.

Just go and get yourself a comic or graphic novel and fall in the realm of sci-fi / fantasy storytelling and sequential art and find out for yourself. Make up your own mind on the form and hopefully you will enjoy the experience instead of trashing a vibrant world that started with comic strips in newspapers over 100 years ago.

Quick Robin! To the Batcave!

– Monkey

Comic Book Man

Nostalgia Goggles

Smoke Breakers – 002: Total Rehash

With the release of our first Remake / Original Night podcast, it got me thinking about the effect nostalgia goggles can have on the things you used to love.

We’ve all, at one point or another, remember things fondly from our youth. Be it a cherished TV show, movie, book, or game. These memories have a magical effect on us, they transport us to a period of our life that is swimming in emotion. Nothing is sweeter than a fond memory from times gone by. First experiences shape who we become as cynical, jaded adults, they have a lasting effect on who we are.

And therein lies the problem. Almost nothing can be as good as you remembered it.

Ok that might be a bit too broad a stroke to paint, but I’m nothing if not a messy artist. But you must have experienced this. After years of fond memories you decide “hey, its been a while, and they’ve just released Transformers original cartoon series on DVD, I loved that show, I’m totally gunna watch the shit outta that again!” only to be disappointed by the weak story and bad animation of what was originally designed as an extended commercial for Hasbro to sell transforming robots. And all power to them, cause darn it if it didn’t work. But now because of the nostalgia goggles skewing your vision, you have taken a little bit of the shine off your childhood. YOU MONSTER!

Now don’t tar and feather me just yet. It’s not all bad, sometime your nostalgic tendencies can be justified. there has been many an occasion when I’ve gone back to an old classic and still had that schoolgirl glee and excitement, sometimes I’ve even appreciated it more because as an “adult” I get jokes that as a child I could not comprehend.

What I’m really trying to say is that Nostalgia Goggles can be a double edged sword, that you wear on your face, and it can be very impressive, but dangerous. Wow, that analogy got away from me there. but the point is still valid i think?

So i guess as a public service announcement i’ll just say this, If you’re going to wear double edge swords on your face, don’t be disappointed if they cut off your eyebrows.

– Moose

Nostalgia Goggles

The Controversy Awards

The Smoke Breakers episode 001 – The Gold Standard:

A little time has passed since the Oscars live telecast, and the glamour and controversy have seemed to die down for another year. But me being me, I’ve been thinking about the Oscars recently. Now what got me thinking about the Oscars again is a little odd. I was watching one of my favorite movies, John Carpenter’s They Live and I remembered something that angered me on the night, the omission of wrestler and actor Roddy Piper. While he may not have been a high profile actor in the movie business, but he did make movies from action and sci-fi, to thrillers and dramas, and some ended up cult classics. And he is, was and remains my favorite wrestler of all time and to see he was not on the In Memorandum segment really pissed my off.

So, while I was reeling in my disgust for this oversight, I started thinking about other elements of the night that I didn’t like. And the biggest thing leading up to the Oscars, the #OscarsSoWhite talking and voicing opinions and concern about the lack of actors and artists of colour nominated for awards reared up in my memory.

Now the controversy got a burst of steam after Jada Pinkett Smith, talent actress and wife of Will Smith, weighted in with her opinions after her husband Smith was overlooked for a nomination for his work in Concussion. I did see this film and I thought it was a good movie, not great, but it was entertaining. I rarely like films with a sports angle, but the medical elements where great. And Smith’s work in the film was damn good. But I am sorry to say, he has been better. The Pursuit of Happiness, Focus and even one of his earlier film The Six Degrees of Separation where much better performances and nominations should have been thrown his way then. But as a performance in the last Oscar’s year, he should have been nominated I believe, as a number of actors of various skin colour and race, but we rarely get what we wish for as fans. That’s part of being a fan and I don’t have to tell that to any Firefly fans out there, do I?

But when you look at the surface of the nominations for acting, it does look like that people of colour have been shafted, two years in a row no less. Michael B. Jordan in Creed, Idris Elba in Beasts of No Nation and everyone in Straight Outta Compton all deserved nominations in my opinion and I was blown outta my seat for every one of these films. Out of these films my favorite and my favorite performance was Jordan’s in Creed. He not only redeemed himself for the awful Fantastic Four film he was a part of, he signaled to the world he is a talent to watch as the director of the film, Ryan Cooper.

All of these films should have been given there due. And I believe part of the reason they didn’t was the Academy’s judges. They are predominantly men, overwhelmingly Caucasian and over 50. Most demographics are not represented in this body. Changes have been put into place, but concerns of race and sexes getting better representation not only in the Academy, but in film making circles, has been a point of contention since the 1950s, and much hasn’t change. So I hope this happens because there are many actors, both men and women, I believe deserve recognition for their work.

Ultimately, I know this is just an award ceremony for movies have half the world won’t watch and I know there are better problems out there then whether an actor or actress didn’t get that pat on the back from a bunch of old white dudes. There are wars, disease, famine, natural disasters, politicians, reality TV and dreams where you are naked in public. You know, the biggies.

But that being said, these awards ceremonies are glamorous, high profile, celebrated and seen around the world. If you want to see a change to do with race, gender equality and presentations of sexual orientation and religious tolerance having a fair and impartial body nominating actors and filmmakers that embody for their work on this stage is a great way to do it. The world needs to be educated, stories need to be told, and people need to be entertained, not just white America. There is a whole world out there that devours America’s products and the biggest cultural product is filmed entertainment. But having said that, the biggest problem I see is the movie business in America is the studio heads and the studios not having faith that certain stories can make money in the market place. I think studio heads and network bosses are full of shit, and scared of losing their jobs and relevance. If network, cable and subscription television can tackle things that the movie industry can’t, film’s little cousin is going to grow up and kick its last ass. Television these days tackle stories dealing with race, gender and sexual orientation where film hasn’t. They even have Black, Asian and women leads in these shows. Stuff Hollywood is hesitant to do.

And I just realised I don’t know how to finish this, what would you call it? Article? Rant?

Well, I say if you want to have a discussion, comment and let’s get talking.

– Monkey

The Controversy Awards

The Ash Tray

Hello and Welcome to the Ash Tray. The Place to come for all of your extra Smoke Breaking needs.

Here at the Ash Tray we will keep you up to date with the goings on at the Fortress of Smokitude, as well as adding extra thoughts and comments to our casts.
we hope you enjoy your stay

The Smoke Breakers

The Ash Tray