Saturday, January 19, 2013

Stark Raven Mad

On this day in 1809, poet and master of the macabre, Edgar Allan Poe was born. If he had not suffered an early and mysterious death in 1849, then today he would have been. . . well, dead anyway, obviously.
For your entertainment, here is one master of the macabre being interpreted by another: Vincent Price.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Movie Guy: Once More Unto the Breach

Hey, gang, it's movie time again. Today I'm going to feature seven films I've watched (or re-watched) recently that are sequels, prequels, reboots, and retreads of familiar (and less familiar) material. Some are pretty successful in my opinion, some . . . less so.
So let's jump right in, shall we?

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
"Who's Bill Hicks?"
I was more than a little surprised to see that Spider-Man was getting a big-screen re-boot just five years after Spider-Man 3, especially when there are so many Marvel comics book characters who haven't made it to the screen yet: Doctor Strange, comes immediately to mind. However, that's not how it works for the movies these days. Sony owns the movie rights to Spider-Man, not Marvel, and the only other superhero Sony has is Ghost Rider. Since most of the major players had moved on (or had been moved on) from the previous Spider-Man series, and the third film had been so savaged by critics and fans alike (I liked it), a reboot seemed the best way to go, I guess.
I'd say it paid off pretty well, and not just at the box office. I'm a big fan of Emma Stone, and her Gwen Stacy is written far above your typical comic book damsel-in-distress. I also like Denis Leary much better as an actor than as a stand-up comedian ripping off Bill Hicks jokes. The film is well-made, well-acted, and the story evokes (similar to Spider-Man 2) the truth that always made Spider-Man my favorite comic book hero: at the end of the day, he's just a kid trying to do the right thing.
If you want to read about my theories on the shadowy figure in the after-credits scene, go here.

Dredd (2012)
"This helmet smells funny."
This is the second attempt to bring the ultra-violent comic book character Judge Dredd to the big screen, the first being the 1995 Sylvester Stallone version: Judge Dredd. This one more accurately conveys the feel of the comic book (garnering it an R rating). For those who've never read the comic or seen the 1995 version, it might be a little confusing, since the film starts without much explanation about what the Judges are, where and when the story takes place, or who Dredd is in the context of this world. However, that confusion would likely subside quickly as viewers are drawn into this gritty, nigh-anarchistic, dystopian future.
The effects are incredible. The violence is disturbing. (As it should be, right?) It is a curious choice, cinematically, to have Karl Urban, as Dredd, never remove his helmet throughout the film, but it is certainly accurate to the comic book. Thankfully, the writers got rid of the lovely Olivia Thirlby's helmet right away. (And she's more than lovely. She's very good in this.)
Good film, but not not not for the kiddies.

Men In Black 3 (2012)
"Make another 'dick-tation' joke. I bloody dare you."
So, what do you do when you have a sci-fi action-movie franchise you want to revive after 10 years but the elder of the two leads (Tommy Lee Jones) is now in his sixties? Concoct a time-travel story that takes the younger partner (Will Smith) back in time for an adventure with a younger version of his elder (Josh Brolin). I confess that I dismissed this sequel as gimmicky and unnecessary, and I really had no plans to see it anytime soon. However, upon the recommendation of a friend whose opinion I value, and with the discovery that this movie would feature one of my favorite English lasses (Alice Eve), I decided to give it a look.
It may be the best of the series.

The Expendables 2 (2012)
". . . and for a flaky crust, add a dash of apple cider
vinegar to the pie dough."
If you saw the first one, and you liked the first one, I cannot imagine that you will not also like this one. Testosterone-driven action sequences, lots of one-liners, extended cameos aplenty from classic action stars, and a sneering, evil villain (Van Damme): this is a near-perfect tribute to the high-octane action films of the 80s - perhaps even more so than its predecessor. It's just fun.
Bruce Willis gets all of the best quips, and he nails every one of them.

Underworld: Rise Of The Lycans (2009)
"Whichever of you is humming 'Darth Vader's Theme':
. . . louder."
This is the third Underworld film, but takes place well before the others. It takes the Vampires vs. Werewolves story into swashbuckling territory and explores an earlier story between Lucian (Michael Sheen), leader of the howlers, and Viktor (Bill Nighy), commander of the bloodsuckers. This chapter's main purpose seems to be to further muddy the waters about who are the good guys and who are the bad guys in this series, and I'm still undecided about whether that's a good  idea or a bad idea. Shakespeare it is not, but it is entertaining and, at times, moving. If you haven't seen any of the Underworld films but want to, do keep this one in the third position for viewing order. Even though it's a prequel, it really requires the context of the first two films, in my opinion, and could even give unwanted spoilers.

The Bourne Legacy (2012)
"Thicker than a Magnum,
Ace of Spades. . ."
The reasons for this semi-sequel without Matt Damon or director Paul Greengrass are as convoluted as the Bourne conspiracies of the stories. Basically, it looks to me like the studio wanted to make another Bourne film, wanted to find another movie vehicle for Jeremy Renner, and decided to kill two birds with one stone. So now we have a separate but parallel rogue agent from a separate but parallel black ops organization running for his life - at the same time as many of the events in The Bourne Ultimatum. I should really be annoyed that this film even exists, but I'm not. I really like Jeremy Renner, and his Aaron Cross is different enough from Damon's Matthew Bourne to avoid accusations of copycatting. In fact, this adds to the intrigue of the earlier films, and has me anxious for a "Bourne Conclusion" in which Bourne and Cross meet. I liked it. I have heard Matt Damon's criticism's of it, and I don't agree.

The Quatermass Conclusion (1979)
"This is a picture of my grand-daughter:
Blurry Quatermass."
Professor Bernard Quatermass was a British science fiction hero of the 1950s. Created by Nigel Kneale for the BBC, Quatermass protected the Earth against hostile alien threats again and again. Most of the  films and serials depicting Professor Q's exploits are next to impossible to find, but the 1979 revival/conclusion serial is available on DVD. This film is a 100-minute edited-down version of the four-part serial, in which a now elderly Quatermass is trying to find his missing granddaughter in a dystopian near-future London. The youth of the world have become either thugs or flower children cultists who worship some unknown force that they believe will carry them away to another planet. Professor Quatermass begins to suspect that what's happening is far more sinister.
The serial plodded along a bit at times, but the shorter movie skips over what I feel were fairly important plot elements, so it is difficult for me to recommend one version over the other. both have strengths and weaknesses. Sir John Mills is compelling as Quatermass and Simon MacCorkindale as astronomer Joe Kapp becomes his able sidekick - before his performance devolves into complete melodrama. I can recommend this - either the serial or the film - as more than just a curiosity, but . . . not much more.
As always, feel free to let me know what you think.

By the way, congratulations to Yale Stewart on the 100th strip of his brilliant comic JL8 (nee Little League) that imagines the Justice League as eight-year-olds. If you haven't checked it out yet, you really must. It's on Tumblr here.

And, for your listening pleasure, I found this live acoustic version of "Gifts and Curses" by Yellowcard. The original version was featured on the Spider-Man 2 soundtrack and is sung from Peter Parker's perspective. (It's a favorite of mine.)

Friday, January 4, 2013

She's a Wonder

Yesterday's blog described my reticence at a Justice League movie - at least one slotted for 2015 that would attempt to incorporate the current incarnations of Batman and Green Lantern and would include Wonder Woman and Flash without a thorough cinematic introduction to the characters.
However, I realize that Wonder Woman has proven problematic to bring to the screen. Joss Whedon was supposedly working on a version for a while before abandoning it over - I assume - differences with the studio.
A pilot proposal was shopped around and rejected several times until NBC decided to finance one featuring Adrianne Palicki. Then they passed on it.
Warner Bros. produced an animated film featuring the voices of Keri Russell and Nathan Fillion that I very much liked, but I don't know they should expect that potential audiences for their live-action Justice League film will have seen it. Nor should they assume that the Justice League animated series was seen by all.
I think that a live-action Wonder Woman movie needs to be made before she is introduced in a team film. Do I have some thoughts on how this could happen? Yes. Yes, I do.

For me, Wonder Woman has to be tall. Really tall. She's an Amazon. Five-foot-eight just isn't going to cut it. Unfortunately, this eliminates my first choice to play the Amazon princess: 5'8" Gina Carano, mixed martial artist and star of 2011's Haywire. Now, I know, I know. There's so much that can be done with cinematography to make actors look taller. For years, Hollywood had us believing that Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger were over six feet tall, and that Tom Cruise and Michael J. Fox were at least the same height as their leggy leading ladies. And, of course, we all saw 5'6" Meryl Streep play 6'2" Julia Child in Julie & Julia. (We did all see that, didn't we? Dude, go see it. It's good. Made me hungry.) Still, I'm reluctant to cast a shorter actress in the role. Besides, we need to throw a bone to the taller ladies out there who can't get cast opposite Tom Cruise, Mark Wahlberg, Jason Statham, and Robert Downey, Jr.
Among those taller ladies, here are 4 suggestions:
Adrianne Palicki.
She was cast in the role once already, and I expect that the failure of the pilot rested more on the story and tone of the show rather than upon Palicki's statuesque shoulders. I haven't seen it, though. (But I'd like to. Hook me up, internet.)

Blake Lively.
She may have to be precluded for continuity reasons due to her involvement with the Green Lantern movie, unless they decide to do a re-boot. Like Ryan Reynolds, I don't think she is to blame for how bad that movie was.

Rachel Nichols.
Remember her as Scarlett in the 1st G.I. Joe movie? Of course you do.

Phoebe Tonkin
Who? She is an Australian actress, and - while I haven't seen much of what she's done so far - I've liked what I've seen. She is close to being an unknown, which, really, may be the best way to go with the role. Cast an unknown in the titular role (it means "title," you animals), and fill out the supporting cast with the big names.

Now, I won't say that I don't care who plays Steve Trevor. Of course I care, I just don't think that it will be as hard to find a good-looking, charming actor to play the slightly cocky, unintentionally chauvinistic Steve Trevor. (see how I threw in character notes there?) I do think he should be shorter than Wonder Woman, but not comically so. You know what? Speaking of Julie & Julia, I really like Chris Messina for the part.

As for Diana/Wonder Woman's mother, Hippolyta? Too easy. Famke Janssen. Or Saffron Burrows. Or  Lucy Lawless. Or. . . well, let's just say there are several options.

What would be the story line? Well, try this:
Billionaire Maxwell Lord (John Cusack) is working with the military on developing a genetically-modified companion animal to sniff out bombs, perform reconnaissance, and even take out human targets using the DNA of jungle felines. Colonel Steve Trevor is returning from a mission to retrieve DNA samples from an exotic breed of panther when his transport plane malfunctions and he crashes in the ocean, washing up on the shores of Themyscara: Island of the Amazons.
Deciding not to kill this male intruder, the Amazons elect to return him to the world of man accompanied by an escort who will be chosen through a contest of combat. (This is a common element in many of the Wonder Woman origin stories.) Diana competes in disguise - against the wishes of her mother - and wins the right to be the emissary/escort.
Back in America, we learn that Maxwell Lord's actual plan is to create a new breed of feral super soldiers he intended to market to the highest bidder, and he was using the military resources to accomplish this. Steve was very close to discovering this, so Lord had sabotaged his plane.
When Steve and Diana, arrive in Washington, DC, they are followed, and Diana thwarts an attempt on Steve's life. This brings her into the media spotlight before Steve has figured out exactly how to introduce this super-powered Amazon princess to the state department.
And, hey, we know that the media will treat a tall, beautiful, strong woman with the utmost of respect and decorum, right? Amid some social commentary and a few fish-out-of-water amusements, the Maxwell Lord plot thickens, and this ultimately leads to a confrontation between Steve, Lord, Diana, and Lord's first successful human/feline hybrid, his chief geneticist Dr. Barbara Ann Minerva aka the Cheetah (Paula Patton).

Cheetah is an awesome villain, by the way.

Now, that's just an outline, but I think that there is great potential here for an exciting action story with a strong female lead and an underlying commentary on how we as a society prioritize the qualities of women.
okay, now the costume - perhaps the trickiest part of the movie - I like the idea (which was used in the animated film) that a costume is designed that incorporates the emblems on Steve's flightsuit - the wings and the flag - into a traditional Amazonian warrior garb.
What you'd get is something like what blogger and artist Sam Tung designed a couple of years ago:

I also found this in the comments section of a Comic Vine article about Wonder Woman's costume, but I don't know who it belongs to, I'm afraid. A Cobie Smulders fan with some Photoshop skills, apparently.

The design could be modified at the end of the movie into something more functional along the lines of the comic book redesign or the NBC pilot.

Anyway, if I can come up with this on a blog and with a few minutes of internet searching, I imagine that the people at Warner Bros. who do this for a living could put together a great Wonder Woman film that I and so many others would be thrilled to come and see - probably twice.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

A League of Their Own

"Hol, look at the camera! Jordan, stop making a face! Okay, everybody, say: ' Spandex!'"
The internet (or, at least, some corners of it) have been abuzz the last couple of days with rumors about the upcoming (two or more years from now) Justice League movie. Of course, the rumors (provided by Cosmic Book News) aren't exactly earth-shattering:
The team will consist of Superman (the version from the coming Man of Steel film), Wonder Woman, the Flash, the Martian Manhunter, Green Lantern (a revamped version from the eponymous but ill-received 2011 movie), and Batman. Aquaman will also figure into the film as the King of Atlantis. Alfred Pennyworth and Lois Lane will have cameos, and the bad guy is Darkseid - or at least his elite underlings.
Given the huge critical and financial success of Joss Whedon's Avengers movie, it makes sense that Warner Bros. would be anxious to get DC's super team into theaters as quickly as possible.
I'm just not sure that - if there is any validity to the rumors above - they're going about it in quite the right way.
What made The Avengers work - really work - was the fact that audience members were familiar with these characters in their big screen versions already. There had been two movies familiarizing everyone with why and how Tony Stark became Iron Man, one origin film for the Hulk and one tying the character more solidly into the Marvel universe (and traditional comic-action-film storytelling), Thor and Captain America each had their own origin stories, and Black Widow and Hawkeye's assets to the team had already been demonstrated in Iron Man 2 and Thor, respectively. Nick Fury and Phil Coulson had made cameos across many of the films, Dr. Selvig was introduced in Thor, and Pepper Potts was principal support in the Iron Man franchise. Even the villain of the film, Loki, was carried over from Thor.
Honestly, this was all the character background I needed.
There was a little bit of exposition to catch folks up or somewhat clarify things for the uninitiated, but the fact that the film didn't need to establish in-depth character biographies and motivations for all of the major players before getting into the action, made this team film work where others have failed.
Background on all of the team members probably wouldn't have been necessary, but - if audiences didn't already know Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, Bruce Banner, and the God of Thunder's stories at least,  The Avengers would have been a very superficial film, in my opinion, and only comic book geeks like myself would have been invested in the characters.
It would still be enjoyable, and I know a few people who hadn't seen any of the preceding films who still enjoyed it. However, I really don't think that was an enormous part of the audience.
Really, this costume was even pushing
it a little. Not that I'm complaining...
It sounds like Zack Snyder's earlier assertion that The Man of Steel would exist in its own universe has been amended somewhat to allow for Superman's inclusion into the proposed 2015 Justice League film, but Christopher Nolan's Batman franchise was intentionally so grounded in reality that it is mostly only allegorical to the Batman mythos, and it is difficult to imagine a man in red spandex who can run at the speed of light existing in the same world as The Dark Knight. Besides, the conclusion of The Dark Knight Rises leaves "Batman" in such a way that incorporating him into a new team movie would probably not work very well. For more on that: check out this spoiler-heavy article on
What does that leave us with, then: A Superman that we've only seen for a few seconds in a couple trailers and a Green Lantern that not many people liked? (And, according to analysts, severely underperformed at the box office.)
I re-watched the introductory movie for the 2001 Justice League animated series to refresh my memory on how that team was introduced. The first act of the alien invasion story utilized Batman and Superman almost exclusively, with cameos from Flash (whom we had met previously in an episode of The Adventures of Superman animated series) and Diana-soon-to-become-Wonder-Woman. J'onn J'onzz a.k.a the Martian Manhunter was revealed at the end of the first act as tangential to the alien invasion, and we get his origin story. The two remaining members of the team - the John Stewart Green Lantern and Hawkgirl - were introduced unceremoniously at the beginning of the second act with Stewart apologizing to Superman for being late so that we know he and the Big S have already met. Hawkgirl's introduction to the audience occurs by Superman exclaiming something to the effect of "Hey, what's Hawkgirl doing here?" This way we know that he at least knows who she is. Wonder Woman (who isn't called that by anyone in this episode) shows up, explains who she is to the assembled heroes, and states that she wants to help. And that's it.
Now, this speedy exposition only works for a few reasons:
"And if you threw a party, i-i-nvited everyone you knew, you
would see, the biggest gift would be from me, and the card
attached would sa-a-ay . . ."
1) The Batman and Superman of this universe, at this point, had each had long-running cartoon series in which they encountered many super-powered villains and heroes and had even crossed over into one another's storylines. We know that this Batman and this Superman exist in the same universe and that this universe has heroes we haven't met yet.
2) It's a series. We know we will get the details about these newly-introduced characters somewhere further down the line. As for their motivations? Earth is under attack by aliens. The rest is just details.
3) It's a cartoon. Audience expectations are lower. (So is the production expense.)
I don't think the Justice League movie is going to actually happen in 2015. In fact, I actually hope it doesn't happen. I think it will be bad - messily bad - without a bit more prelude, and especially so, if it attempts to incorporate the world of the Nolan Batman.
I think they could get away with rebooting Batman in the Justice League movie, provided that they follow-up that reboot with a stand-alone Batman film. (And, that may be the plan as there are some rumors of a 2016 Batman reboot.) However, I feel they're going to have to do at least a partial reboot of Green Lantern as well - even if they choose to keep Ryan Reynolds in the mask. (I'd be okay with that. He wasn't what was wrong with that movie.) They might also get away with a "quickie" origin story for Wonder Woman and the Martian Manhunter as in the animated series, but that hinged upon an alien invasion story, which is a little too similar to The Avengers. This still leaves the Flash and Aquaman as unknown quantities in this new movie's universe, and, while I and the other comic book geeks will be able to follow along just fine, if Warner Bros. wants to make their money back, they've got to reach a wider audience.
"No cagarla. No cagarla. No cagarla...
So, here's my wholly unsolicited advice:
1) Move Justice League to 2016. Do it now. Man of Steel is still an unknown. Warner Bros. thought Green Lantern would be a slam dunk, and Green Lantern costumes were on the discount rack this Halloween.
"In my satin tights,
Fightin' for my rights,
And the old red, white, and blu-u-ue..."
2) Dig a little deeper into the Justice League roster. The Avengers movie only used three of the five actual founding members from the comic book. Warner Bros. might want to consider leaving Batman and Superman off the main roster. If Man of Steel cleans up, then Superman can have a small, but significant cameo. That's often how he was utilized in the animated series. Superman has a way of making others' super powers redundant. Speaking of redundant, you don't really need Superman if you've got the Martian Manhunter. Batman can be a presence in the film, but he's not really a team player anyway. While we're at it, let's leave Green Lantern in outer space as well - at least the Hal Jordan version. Think about characters like Black Canary, The Atom, and Hawkman or Hawkgirl (but not both).
3) Make a Flash movie. (Not a flash movie, a Flash movie.) Off-hand, I'd say give the Wachowskis a crack at it. Make a Wonder Woman movie. (J.J. Abrams, Simon West, Curtis Hanson, Kathryn Bigelow, Joe Wright, Renny Harlin?) I don't know precisely what was behind the failure of the 2011 Wonder Woman pilot because I never saw it, but I'd be willing to bet it wasn't Adrianne Palicki's fault.
If audiences respond to the Flash and Wonder Woman, then you've got a strong foundation for a team film, and give Sylvain White another shot. The Losers is a highly under-rated film.

But, that's just one man's opinion.

"The Ballad of Barry Allen" by Jim's Big Ego: