Judy and I watched the unrated version of TED (2012) last night. This raunchy comedy/fantasy stars Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis and Seth MacFarlane as Ted, the living, talking, foul-mouthed teddy bear. MacFarlane also wrote and directed the film.
TED is part buddy movie, part romantic comedy and, in the third act, part action/adventure movie. There are several very funny scenes that had me laughing out-loud. The special effects are remarkable and I couldn't help but think about the misbegotten HOWARD THE DUCK film from the '80s while watching TED. If CGI technology had been available thirty years ago, maybe HOWARD THE DUCK wouldn't have been such a disaster. Perhaps it's time to consider a remake of that film, given Marvel's film making proficiency and all of the advances in special effects technology since then. After all, a CGI character would be a lot better than a short guy in an atrocious duck costume.
Saturday, December 29, 2012
I watched GANGSTER NO. 1 (2000) yesterday. This bloody British crime film stars Malcolm McDowell as an aged crime boss who, at the beginning of the film, learns that his former boss is about to released from prison. This sets McDowell down memory lane as the action moves to London, 1968 with McDowell providing voice-over narration of his past and his rise to power.
McDowell's gangster character is never given an official name. He's referred to as Gangster No. 1 in the credits (similar to Clint Eastwood's Man-With-No-Name). In the flashback sequence, he's a young thug played by Paul Bettany in the employ of a slick gangster played by David Thewlis. Gangster No. 1 quickly sets out to kill his way to the top and he does so in a series of extremely violent, highly stylized scenes. When Thewlis is sent to prison for a murder that Bettany committed, Bettany assumes full control of the organization and builds it into an empire of crime.
We come back to present day in the third act and it's McDowell, the grizzled veteran, who must face Thewlis upon his release from prison. Things don't go as planned and the ending recalls James Cagney's apocalyptic doom in WHITE HEAT.
GANGSTER NO. 1 is well-made and well-acted but it is extremely violent and laced with profanity. The British accents are a bit hard to understand at times but McDowell delivers a top-notch performance as an irredeemably evil man. If you like hard boiled crime movies, check this one out.
Belated birthday wishes to Stan Lee who turned 90 yesterday. Stan Lee is one of my personal heroes and I wish him continued health and happiness and many more birthdays to come.
Like many of my generation, I first encountered Stan in the pages of Marvel Comics in the 1960s. His effusive, bombastic style really connected with me (and millions of other readers). Stan always made it seem like he was speaking directly to the reader, like he was letting us in on something special that he had created just for us. He was a genius at creating troubled protagonists, angst-ridden superheroes with personal problems every bit as compelling and dramatic as that issues' battle with a given super villain. Lee's writing was over-the-top at times and his stories often resembled soap operas with an A-plot line running on top and a B-plot line simmering on the bottom for a couple of issues before becoming the next A-plot with a new B-plot taking its' place. His continued stories assured that we would have to buy the next issue to find out what happened next and you can bet that we did.
Stan was also smart enough to surround himself with top notch artistic, creative talent and the early Marvel bullpen featured such stalwarts as Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Don Heck, Dick Ayers, Gene Colan, John Buscema and John Romita (among others). I'm not going to go into who created what and where proper credit is due except to say that Stan had a hand in every Marvel comic book for a number of years as either the writer, editor, writer/editor and finally, publisher.
I adored Stan Lee when I was young. He made me want to become a comic book writer. I never accomplished that goal but he provided me with untold hours of entertainment and escapist pleasure. My brother used to pester me about reading comic books when I was young. He thought they were a waste of time and he used to really get under my skin by telling me that "there is no Stan Lee. That's just a made-up name."
I knew better. Each issue listed the creator credits and there was Stan's name in every issue. Eventually photos of Stan and all of the other Marvel bullpenners ran in a Marvel comic and I had even more proof of his existence as a real-live flesh and blood person. Now, thanks to his cameos in the Marvel movies and other appearances over the years, EVERYONE knows who Stan is, even people who have never read a comic book in their life. My lovely wife Judy (who shares a birth date with Stan), knows who he is and she knows he means as much to me now as he did almost fifty years ago.
'Nuff said and Excelsior!
Wednesday, December 26, 2012
For Christmas this year, I gave myself THE JUDAS COIN by Walter Simonson. Actually, I bought it and gave it to Judy for her to give to me on Christmas Eve. I sat down and read it yesterday afternoon.
THE JUDAS COIN is an original hardcover graphic novel written and illustrated by Walter Simonson, one of my favorite comic book artists. The book was published this year by DC Comics.
It's a handsomely produced volume that spans the history of the DC Universe in a unique way. A silver coin paid to Judas for his betrayal of Jesus is the through-line of the novel as the coin passes through various places along the timeline of the DC Universe from the distant past to the far future.
Six disparate characters from the rich history of DC Comics are featured in six short stories that both stand alone and advance the journey of the coin. The featured players include The Golden Gladiator, The Viking Prince, Captain Fear, Bat Lash, Batman and Two-Face and Manhunter 2070.
The real treat here is Simonson's stunning artwork. The art in his Viking Prince chapter is more clearly influenced by Jack Kirby than Joe Kubert, Simonson pays homage to Nick Cardy in his Bat Lash chapter, the Batman/Two-Face chapter is presented in three colors: black, white and red and the final Manhunter 2070 story has manga influenced art (which is an odd choice considering that Mike Sekowsky was the original artist on this character. By the way, I hate manga art.)
THE JUDAS COIN is a fun romp through the fields of the DCU and it's always a pleasure to look at Walt Simonson's art. Reading this graphic novel was a great way to pass a quiet hour on a blustery Christmas afternoon.
Friday, December 14, 2012
I watched COP OUT (2010) yesterday. This was the first Kevin Smith directed film I've ever seen and I can't say that I was blown away.
COP OUT co-stars Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan as an NYPD detective duo who, although they've been partners for nine years, continue to constantly screw things up. They get temporarily suspended from the force early in the film but work on their own to recover a stolen baseball card from a Mexican drug lord. There's gun play and slapstick and tons of foul language. I admit that I did laugh out loud a couple of times but the film is nothing to get excited about. It's pretty much a by-the-numbers buddy cop action comedy but it's nowhere near as good as such classics as Walter Hill's 48 HRS or Richard Donner's LETHAL WEAPON.
COP OUT is not the worst of this sub-genre I've ever seen. I was entertained while watching it but it's not a film I'll remember nor watch again.
Wednesday, December 12, 2012
Tuesday, December 11, 2012
Late '50s sf/horror entry from Universal-International. The one and only time I've seen this movie was on late night television many, many years ago. Gotta love scream queen Beverly Garland but the rest of the movie isn't very good. If I remember correctly, Curucu the "beast of the Amazon", turns out to be a "Scooby-Doo", you know, someone pretending to be a monster in order to accomplish some fiendish goal. "And I would have gotten away with it too, if it wasn't for those dang kids!"
Monday, December 10, 2012
I read my comic books in a funny way. First, I'll read an issue of a new comic book, say for instance, THE SAVAGE HAWKMAN #5 published by DC Comics this year and pictured above on the left. Then, I'll follow it up with a back issue from my collection of a similar title or issue featuring the same character. In this case, it's HAWKMAN #2, published by DC Comics in 1964 and pictured above on the right. I hated one of these comics. I adored the other one. Any one care to make a guess as to which is which?
The first issue of THE SAVAGE HAWKMAN was published in 2011 as part of DC's massive relaunch entitled "The New 52". In this iteration of Hawkman (and I've lost track of just how many different versions there have been of this character over the years) finds Carter Hall working as an archaeologist with a special talent for deciphering ancient languages and hieroglyphics. This of course leads to translating material of both arcane and alien origins.
There are only the vaguest hints about Thanagar (Hawkman's home planet in some versions) and no Sheira/Shayera/Hawkgirl/Hawkwoman in any of the issues I've read thus far. Hawkman's Nth metal, in addition to granting him the ability to defy gravity and fly, is now somehow organically fused within Hall's body and manifests itself as overly pointy body armor in times of stress or when Hall needs to become Hawkman.
The issue above is part of a longer story arc, as are almost all modern superhero comics these days and as such, the reader comes into an ongoing story (with little or no editorial help to bring said reader up to speed) and the reader is left with a cliffhanger ending that may or may not be resolved in the next issue. I can't believe that a casual reader, someone with absolutely no knowledge of Hawkman and his incredibly convoluted back story, could pick this issue up, read it and care one whit about ever reading another issue of this comic.
The cliffhanger ends with the reappearance of The Gentleman Ghost, a Hawkman foe who dates back to the Golden Age of comics. He's been updated and modified for this go-round and comes with a slightly new-look and new-powers. Longtime fanboys might be excited by the appearance of this villain in the "New 52" but again, a casual reader is likely to look at this plot development and wonder, wtf?
Hawkman has changed. The Gentleman Ghost has changed. But don't worry. These changes are assuredly not permanent. Once the "New 52" has run it's course (as it most certainly will), at some point in the not too distant future, we'll be treated to yet another rebooting of Hawkman and his gallery of rogues, including The Gentleman Ghost. So enjoy this one while it lasts (if you're so inclined) because I guarantee you, it won't last long.
The artwork by Philip Tan leaves much to be desired. It's dark, muddy, and unclear with unattractive figure work and a clumsy flow from panel to panel. It's hard to look at and hard to follow. Are there no art directors working at DC these days? I suppose the dark art is in keeping with making this new version of Hawkman "savage" aka "dark & gritty" but I'll be honest with you. This isn't a Hawkman I want to read about.
That Hawkman exists in the pages of HAWKMAN #2 from 1964 and yes, I own a copy. This issue sports a terrific cover and interior art by the legendary Murphy Anderson. There are two (count 'em, two) complete stories in this issue and I'm guessing both were scripted by Gardner Fox.
Anderson's art is a thing of beauty to behold. It's clean, simple yet bold, uncluttered and is always, always, always in service to the story. No "look at me, I'm drawing!" gimmicks and stunts here. Just elegant artwork that depicts two superb heroes, Hawkman and Hawkgirl, doing what they do best: fight modern day crime with ancient weapons.
The idea of two alien police officers coming to Earth to study our police methods while also battling evil was and still is a terrific idea. The fact that the Halls eschew their Thanagarian weapons and equipment and take to the skies armed with various weapons from history only adds to the appeal of this series.
Fox's scripts don't focus much on character development. They are problem driven plots in which the Halls (or Hols, to be exact) are confronted by seemingly insurmountable obstacles before utilizing both their brains and brawn to solve the problem and defeat their foes. In the lead story, the Hawks battle alien invaders from another dimension. The tide is turned by the use of sparklers (yes, sparklers!). In the second story, Hawkman fights a gang of crooks using the actual wings of Icarus from Greek mythology.
The artwork is uniformly excellent. Anderson's Hawkman is a bit beefier than the lean, sinewy crime fighter that Joe Kubert drew in earlier issues of THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD, when Hawkman was in try-out mode. Shiera Hall is lovely as is museum employee Mavis Trent and the entire issue is simply a pleasure to read.
So there you have it readers. Which comic did I prefer? Which comic would you prefer? This old geezer says, "they don't make 'em like they used to."
Friday, December 7, 2012
I watched I AM LEGEND (2007) yesterday, yet another DVD I acquired in a trade with one of my collector buddies.
The history of I AM LEGEND is long. The original novel I AM LEGEND by Richard Matheson was written and published in the 1950s. The material was first filmed in Italy as THE LAST MAN ON EARTH (1964) starring Vincent Price. The second iteration was THE OMEGA MAN (1971) starring Charlton Heston. The 2007 version, starring Will Smith, restores the original title but is in reality, more of a remake of OMEGA than a faithful adaptation of Matheson's novel.
If you've seen OMEGA MAN, you're familiar with the basic story. No major changes in LEGEND except that the location is now an abandoned New York City and our hero, Robert Neville has a very smart and loyal dog companion. The special effects are infinitely more elaborate and realistic than what was feasible in the 1970s and make LEGEND a visually interesting film. The action scenes are also ramped up and the "dark seekers", humans who have become vampires, are much stronger and faster than those seen before. There's also a lot more of them and they have vampire dogs as well.
I enjoyed the film even though there are no narrative surprises. Practically everything that happens in OMEGA MAN happens here just on a much bigger scale. It's a good movie but the definitive version of Matheson's novel remains to be made.
I finished reading ASSIGNMENT: THE CAIRO DANCERS (1965) by Edward S. Aarons yesterday. The book is one of the "Assignment" series Aarons wrote starring CIA agent Sam "Cajun" Durell. This long running series (begun in the '50s and finishing in the '80s), was published as paperback originals by Fawcett Gold Medal books.
Sam Durell works for K Section of the CIA. His boss is General McFee who assigns Durell to missions all over the world. Durell globe trots to exotic locales, encounters the requisite beautiful women and evil villains and handles everything with a tough, no-nonsense approach and no high-tech spy-gadgets. The books are tight, fast paced and well plotted. The action moves swiftly and Aarons imbues the stories with a strong sense of place, some nice turns of phrase and good characterization during the course of the adventures.
The Durell "Assignment" series was never picked up by Hollywood for either feature films or as fodder for a weekly television series. The adventures exist only in book form and I've read several of them over the past ten or so years. They're not great literature, but they're fun, quick reads which perfectly capture the Cold War era.
In ASSIGNMENT: THE CAIRO DANCERS, top scientists from many nations have gone missing. One of them is an ex-Nazi (or is he?) expert in the newly emerging laser technology. He's disappeared from Germany where he was betrayed by his daughter. Turns out the scientist is in the hands of The Cairo Dancers, a murderous secret organization that is forcing the captured scientists to construct the ultimate weapon.
The action moves from the beer halls of Munich to the Middle East with an exciting climax in a mountain-top fortress in the Sinai desert where the Dancers plan to unleash a death ray against both Egypt and Israel in an attempt to launch World War III.
ASSIGNMENT: THE CAIRO DANCERS is good, old fashioned '60s spy fiction. Thumbs up.
Wednesday, December 5, 2012
Lois and Clark share a quiet moment in the Daily Planet newsroom in this scene from one of Fleischer SUPERMAN cartoons produced for Paramount Studios in the 1940s. If you've never seen these terrific cartoons, you're really missing a treat. I love 'em!