Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Film Review: Frozen


A big problem Disney has always had was luring little boys to movies about princesses. In this film, I think they quit trying. Two princesses! Each one fiercely independent in the post-Beauty and the Beast mold. And they sing Broadway-calibre songs about self-determination.

The heinie of my 6-year-old boy was squirming for sure. It wasn't until a giant fierce snow monster showed up later in the film did things get interesting for him.

That being said, things start getting really good with a third act twist, and after that the climax kept him glued to his seat.

The characters speak in modern vernacular, but the humor isn't simply making modern-day references. And thank god Olaf, the comic relief snowman doesn't speak in jive.

The animation is astonishing, the CGI just gets better and better.

By all means take a date, take your daughter, but ask yourself how patient your son is with musicals featuring princesses before taking him.

Actually, go see it if only to see the short it opens with, "Get a Horse." It blends 1929 animation with CGI and "The Purple Rose of Cairo." And you get to hear Walt Disney do the voice of Mickey Mouse. I'm telling you this guy has a future as a cartoon voice artist.

ADDENDUM:

The movie's apparently the biggest hit Disney Animation has had in years, and it's still running, so I don't feel bad about adding to my review.

I was surprised by the lack of peril, or urgency in the story. The key plot line in the movie is: "I have to get my sister."

And I'm thinking, "Why?"

I'm not giving any spoilers but, the sister has the powers of Frozone from the Incredibles, or if you want to get real nerdy, Polar Boy from the Legion of Substitute Heroes. She inadvertently freezes over her kingdom, then runs away to live in an ice castle of her own making.

And the protagonist says, "I have to get my sister."

Why? It has not been established the sister can melt the kingdom. Once she finds her sister the movie has no direction to take. If the sister says "yes, I'll come back," nothing will change. If the sister says, "No, I won't go back," nothing will change. The kingdom will still be frozen over, which seems like a major inconvenience, but not fatal.

I'm standing by my original review, by all means, see it, but take your little girls, not necessarily little boys, but from a story construction point of view, the heroine's quest doesn't really seem necessary.


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Old timey movie review: "Lawyer Man"


This is another film in the Forbidden Hollywood series. I was expecting sex and nudity but instead got only big city corruption. Oh well.

William Powell starts out as a lawyer from the poor side of town, gets recruited by a law firm from the rich side of town, gets framed in a shady case, his new rich friends turn their back on him, he scrapes his way back to the top, gets recruited by the mob/city to be assistant DA where he bites the hand that feeds him by prosecuting one of their own. Then he gives a big speech (one of several) and goes back - with his long suffering secretary Joan Blondell - back to the poor side of town.

All this in slightly over an hour. And without a single courtroom scene.

Let's think about this for a second. The film is called "Lawyer Man," (a terrible title), the film centers on 2 or 3 important trials, William Powell gives 2 or 3 long speeches...and none of this happens in a court room! There's some forced comedy about an Italian immigrant trying to talk his way into the courtroom for an important case, but the guard won't let him, nor the audience inside.

Imagine what Sydney Lumet and Al Pacino could do with this.

Powell gets his revenge on those who wronged him, but we never see it. It would dull the enjoyment of any revenge movie.


Warner Bros. is treading Dashiell Hammett territory, the movie looks like the Cliffs Notes version of "The Glass Key." There's lots of big city corruption, but unlike the protagonist in "The Glass Key," William Powell is never in any danger.

Anything with Powell though is worth watching, it's just unusual to see him unable  to breathe little more motivation into this character.






Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Web film review "Star Trek: Of Gods and Men



Back in the 70s, Star Trek fan fiction was spread around by mimeograph sheets (ask your grandparents). Now, the fans make $100,000 semi-pro movies with actual cast members, all funded by internet donations. It's crazy! And often very good.

I inadvertently stumbled upon the fan film "Gods and Men," and after a clunky beginning, it got better. It's an alternate timeline story, the type of which we've seen before, and it has the dream mash-up of (spoiler) Charlie X and Gary Mitchell beating each other up! A fan's dream come true. It also features the destruction of Vulcan two years before the rebooted Star Trek film did it.

Trek veterans Walter Keonig, Nichelle Nichols, Garrett Wang, Alan Ruck, Grace Lee Whitney, Tim Russ (and a few red shirt-types) all reprise their roles. Charlie X and Gary Mitchell are played by character actors who both do exceptional jobs.

In the alternate timeline, Chekov is leading rebels in a takeover of the Enterprise now led by an evil Starfleet. It's Mirror Mirror, mixed with Space Seed, Wrath of Khan, and a bunch of other episodes. At the end there's a colossal spaceship battle which is awfully cool. Definitely a fan fantasy.

The drawbacks: The aforementioned clunky beginning. Clunky dialogue, clunky acting, clunky setup. (stick with it though). We need a 20 year moratorium on time travel, and the phrase "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few." Both have been way overused. (That being said, it was good to see the Time Guardian again). Also a major character has an unexplained change of heart which shifts everything.

I thought Charlie X had been retconned to be a member of the Q continuity. No difference, but Roddenberry did have a frequent reliance on god-like omnipotent characters.

The web pages of the creators say they're trying to make a pilot, I say CBS should pick it up, and make Alan Ruck the captain.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The thinking man's hottie


I'm watching an old episode of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" and can't get over what a hottie Gena Rowlands was. And she was  comfortable in both TV work that paid the bills, and the big dramas that earned her acclaim.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Blondie's still good.

I always thought that once a comic strip's creator dies, the strip should end also. My exception to this rule is Blondie. The sandwich jokes are getting tired, but every once in a while it hits me with a curveball and I laugh out loud. This is one of those curveballs.


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The team-up that never was


One of the great annual events for DC Comics readers in the '60s and '70s was the  JLA-JSA team up.

These issues were historically the best selling of the year. Furthermore, the parallel earths concept intrigued DC readers to no end and left a limitless source of ideas for the writers (Power Girl! Robin as an adult! Huntress! Infinity Inc,! Earth 3 villains, etc.). This idea was so popular with the readers that DC of course had to sh!# on it. So they gave us the Crisis on Infinite Earths, better known as the Continuity Disaster that Keeps Giving.

Enough bitterness.

Anyway, as the years went on, the writers wanted to bring in more super teams. DC had been on a buying spree as other comic book companies went out of business, so there were plenty of characters to go around.

But just like the original JLA-JSA team-up, they needed a reason why the characters hadn't run into each other earlier

For Gardner Fox and Julius Schwartz, this wasn't a crisis (excuse the pun), it was an opportunity!  The answer: Parallel universes. Brilliant!

 Len Wein teamed up the JLA, JSA, and the National Comics heroes who'd pretty much been in limbo: The Seven Soldiers of Victory (Shining Knight, Vigilante, Crimson Avenger)

Their absentee excuse: They were said to have been stuck in a time loop for years (when in reality, they were pretty lame).

For another year, someone remembered that DC owned the rights to the Quality Comics characters, of which only Plastic Man and The Blackhawks were used. This left Doll Man, The Ray, Black Condor, Phantom Lady, and one of the lamest ideas for a super hero, Uncle Sam.

Their story: They were on Earth Q, where they lost World War II. Roy Thomas would later ret-con this to make them originally inhabitants of Earth 2, who moved to Earth Q to help the war effort. They failed. (He even killed Plastic Man, which really didn't make any sense, because he had his own DC titles off and on in the 60s and 70s which took place on Earth 1…which means, was a Quality Comics character from the 1940s the first DC Comics Earth 1 character?)

After decades, DC finally got ownership of the Fawcett characters, so they were put in the rotation. Where had they been? Earth S (for Shazam, of course.)

By the 80s, this left one set of characters DC had recently purchased: The Charlton "Action Heroes."  (Charlton, like National Comics were somehow opposed to super-powered super heroes. They were also opposed to team books. Any 8-year-old comic book reader can pretty much tell you his favorite books are superhero books, and super team books. The Charlton guys never grasped this. This is probably two of the reasons we don't have Charlton Comics today).

Unfortunatley, the purchase of these characters came too close to the "Crisis on Infinite Earths." As a result, we never saw the JLA-Action Heroes team up. We saw the Charlton characters integrated in the new merged DC universe after the Crisis, but no team-up beforehand.

I'm throwing the idea out there to either a DC Comics pro, or a fan fiction writer: The unbefore-told tale of the JLA-JSA-Earth C Action Hero team up.

Run with it!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

CD review: Paul McCartney, "New"


Billy Joel said the hardest job in the world is being Paul McCartney. Imagine every album you put out getting compared to "Sgt. Pepper's" or "The White Album."

Yet, it's still his best album in years, and stands up to the others. The standout is "Queenie Eye," a (I hate to say it) Lennon-esque rocker based on a children's game chant. Sounds crazy, but "Helter Skelter" was a song about a sliding board.

"Queenie Eye" is so good it makes me wonder why the title track was the first single/video release. "New" is good but it's the most Beatley, it could easily have been the B-side of "Penny Lane."

"Early Days" is his rebuttal to historians who claim to have a better account of the Beatles' early days than Paul. He sings it in an old man voice though, but once you get over that it's very good.

It closes with the Robert Johnson-ish Blues number "Get Me Out of Here." This is what the Beatles and Paul have always done, write homages to genres they loved that are just as good as the source material.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Nick Cardy RIP

Just an amazing artist. The first dozen comics I ever bought had his covers, so I do have this nostalgic love for his work. But still,. beautiful women, beautiful design. Imagine my disappointment when he was replaced as DC cover artist by Mike Grell, Ernie Chan, and Jose Garcia Lopez. All great artists, but...when it came to covers, Cardy is still the best.






Sunday, October 13, 2013

More on Perry Mason


I can't believe I'm writing a second post about Perry Mason, I never even watched this show. But, there's a marathon on the Hallmark Movie channel, so I have it on in the background.

A pleasure in watching old shows is the parade of familiar character actors. Perry Mason though goes so far back I don't even recognize most of the guest stars (though I did catch a very young Louise Fletcher. Who knew she was a hottie at one point?)

Two things common in every episode, Perry always gets the killer to confess on the stand, and the last five minutes is Perry, Della, and one of the police detectives sitting back in Perry's office and explaining everything to the audience. The Denoument.

The killer confessing on the stand thing though is of course thoroughly crazy, killers rarely ever confess and if they do, they never confess on the stand. Ever ever.

So for Perry Mason to grill a suspect and make him confess on the stand, I suppose is OK for '60s audiences. But something like that would never get by modern audiences.


um, nevermind.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Guilty pleasure theater: Murder, She Wrote


The Hallmark Movie Channel is showing a "Murder, She Wrote" marathon, and like a boob, I'm catching as much of it as I can.

It's a guilty pleasure and here's why:

The bad:

It's so bland: The dialogue, the characters, Angela Lansbury. Would it have killed them to throw a few witty quips in there? Yes, it would have; I think the whole point of the show show was to be background noise as you folded laundry.

(Yes, I know it's supposed to be a "cozy," and by the very definition of cozy it's not supposed to be too challenging.)

Think of another Levinson and Link detective show: Columbo! A show with a captivating, hilariously disorganized detective battling wits with extremely handsome, intelligent and charming murderers. Angela Lansbury is too bland-grandma.

Allegedly Jean Stapleton turned down the role of Jessica Fletcher. Imagine what she would have done with it. I can see her putting an edge to this character.

Overuse of the Universal back lot: Watch a few episodes in a row and you keep seeing these familiar sets and outdoor scenes where Cabot Cove signs are posted. I like the stock footage New York City establishing shots that cut to Universal's New York City street set. Also look out for terrible rear-screen projection driving scenes.

The good:

If you stop folding laundry and pay attention, the clues are there and you have a chance to solve the mystery. That's the fun part. A lot of mysteries pull clues of nowhere when the detective explains everything at the end.  MSW always gave the viewer a fighting chance.

The guest stars: So many comfortable faces. Character actors whose names you never knew, though you've seen them in hundreds of TV shows, or old movie stars lured out of retirement for a quick check. And a lot of the better-known character actors turn up as different characters 2, 3 times.

Random thoughts:

Len Cariou was a frequent guest star (playing the same character), and it's interesting to think that he and Lansbury were the stars of "Sweeney Todd," on Broadway. The stars of Broadway's edgiest musical reunited for TV's blandest show.

In interviews with co-creator William Link, he said he was proud of the fact that there was very little gunplay, no chases scenes, and the lead was a middle-aged woman, not a 22-year-old blonde. I see his points, but, some of those things might have made things a little more interesting.

And speaking of middle-aged women, you have to give CBS credit, up until a few years ago, they never had any qualms about casting old people. The other networks see a 36-year-old actress and cast her as grandma (see Martha Plimpton in 'Raising Hope"). CBS didn't care about luring the kids. (at least not until "Two and a Half Men.")

I wish for once they had hired an Indie director like John Sayles to write and direct, and bring in his repertory players.

Keep an eye on the "bookend" episodes toward the end of the run. After you get to be a big TV star, you can put it in your contract that you don't even have to show up for work (see Johnny Carson). In several episodes toward the end, the show would begin with Jessica Fletcher gardening and holding a letter in her hand, and she'd speak directly to the camera and say, "I got a letter from a friend of mine today, it seems he's solving his own mystery..." Then we cut to a lead character we never met before solving a mystery. Then after it's over, we cut back to Jessica gardening again. "Wasn't that interesting?"

Man...that's just lazy!

(The entire cast of "Gunsmoke" didn't even bother to show up for that show's last episode. Can you imagine doing that today? Bryan Cranston not showing up for the finale of "Breaking Bad," or the cast of "Cheers" not showing up for their finale?)

(There was a bookend episode starring a young Bill Mahr though which was actually kind of funny. If it were a backdoor pilot, CBS should have picked it up.)

The show ended two ways, a freeze-frame of Jessica smiling, or a freeze-frame of Jessica frowning. I like the frowning ones better because in the smiling ones, the funny comment someone makes to make her smile is never that funny.

Watch for a lot of '80s poodle perms.

One episode did require a lot of work though. They reunited the cast of a 1950s Universal pictures B noir (I can't remember the title) and made a sequel to it, interspersing clips from the old movie into the new episode. How clever is that? So I will give them a little credit.

Anyway, another thing the show had going for it was it's a whodunit, a genre we don't have anymore on TV. It was an homage to  the mystery series of the 40s and 50s, like Charlie Chan, and Miss Marple. Done on the cheap, but a lot of fun.






Thursday, September 26, 2013

Quick Review: Agents of Shield


A lot of fun, this is Joss Whedon's most accessible TV show since Buffy. Like Buffy, it's a team of misfits tracking down the supernatural. All with great dialogue and exciting fights.

The standout oddly enough is Clark Gregg's Phil Coulson, as equal parts insurance salesman/badass. He glibly explains away his death in "The Avengers," but then other characters drop the "He doesn't know, does he?" which is of course one of those perfect Whedon teases. I haven't read any other review, but I'm going to bet on him being a clone and/or robot. Then again Whedon never takes the easy route so we'll see.

As far as being accessible, you have to admit it's less complicated than "Dollhouse" or "Firefly." You don't even have to be a Marvel Comics geek to enjoy it.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Mindy's second season


I have high hopes for the second season. I watched all of the first season in a matter of days and though the show was very funny, the plotting and casting were all over the place. Mindy had seven sexual partners! That's more than Carrie Bradshaw had in all six seasons of "Sex and the City." And that show was called "SEX and the City." The episodes where she raps, and the one where they hit a frat party were both head-scratching misses.

I'm glad they finally settled on a cast. Once again, in the first season all kinds of characters who were supposed to be regulars just came and went with little to no explanation. (What happened to the doctor whose name is on the practice they all work at, what about the Italian secretary, what about the best blonde friend? on and on).

They had written themselves into a corner with the first season finale, and for this season's first episode they're kind of pretending  it never happened and they want a fresh start. That's fine with me, a lot of TV shows don't get good until their second or third season (Simpsons, Cheers, Murphy Brown...)

I think they've finally worked out the bugs, this could wind up as one of the best shows this season.

Monday, August 19, 2013

All kinds of funny


This strip is consistently funny. One of the reasons is it's subversive. Another reason is it's not afraid to make fun of comic strips which have long outlived their expiration date.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Characters who are a mystery to me, part 1


I never understood Eddie Mekka's character in "Laverne & Shirley." Carmine Ragusa was supposed to be Shirley's boyfriend, yet, he wasn't her boyfriend. He was supposed to be a tough guy but he was also a song and dance man.

Jimmy Cagney was a tough guy who was also a song and dance man, but never in the same movie!

What were the writers thinking? They initially thought Shirley needed a boyfriend, but then almost immediately decided she didn't need a boyfriend. They initially wanted a Fonzie character because, heck Fonzie was the hottest character on TV at the time, but for some reason they gave him song and dance numbers because ... why did they give him song and dance numbers? He was a good singer and dancer, but they always seemed tacked-on in the context of the episode.


(A sidenote: Later, when Penny Marshall directed "A League of Their Own," she cast Mekka as the guy who dances with Madonna when the girls go nightclubbing.)




Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Actresses who use a higher-pitched voice for a character


I'm watching Sam & Cat on Nick (and once again, I'm blaming my 5-year-old) and Ariana Grande, the actress who plays Cat, is speaking in a higher-than-normal pitched voice and at first it's a little distracting, then you get used to it, then, it's kind of sexy! (She's 20 now, I'm allowed to say this.) I found an interview online, and that is not her normal speaking voice. Many other actress have done this, Mira Sorvino in "Mighty Aphrodite," springs to mind, and it had the same effect.



The opposite of this would by Missi Pyle who was hilarious speaking in a low register as the stern German flight attendant in the Broadway revival of "Boeing Boeing." Once again, distracting at first, then sexy.

Monday, July 29, 2013

A very funny line


I was watching the Justice League with my son, and Hawkwoman and Dr. Fate were duking it out over some misunderstanding (why can't superheroes ask simple questions first before beating each other up?), and Hawkwoman is charging at Dr. Fate with her hammer, and she says, "I want hear what that bell on your head sounds like."

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Film Review: Turbo


While watching this, I kept thinking of "Robots," another charmless CGI cartoon made up of pieces of other, better CGI films. We got some "Ratatouille," some "Cars," and the premise of "The Incredible Mr. Limpett."

A snail who dreams of being a speed demon gets sucked into a nitrous oxygen tank which instead of killing him instantly, makes him super speedy. He then hooks up with the owners of the shops at a down-on-its-luck mini mall who put their money together so he can race at the Indianapolis 500. And there's lots of talk of believing in your dreams.

It was just so by the numbers, I was nodding off early on.

The line that sums it all up: "There's nothing in the rule book that says a snail can't race in the Indianapolis 500."


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Film review: Despicable Me 2


A little early in "Despicable Me 2," the head of a spy agency asks Gru to find a villain by going undercover in a mall.

Undercover in a mall?! I audibly slapped my forehead. Is this the best plot they could think of? In the first movie he stole the moon! Man, talk about diminished ambitions.

The film really suffers from comparisons to its predecessor, an endlessly inventive adventure with great oddball characters set in the world of James-Bond-global-takeover villainy. It started in Egypt and ended in outer space.

Most of this movie takes place in a mall!

I don't want to give it a bad review. The minions are always good for a laugh, most of the sequences were funny. But whereas every sequence in the first film was a home run, every sequence here is pretty much a single.

And his partner/love interest Lucy kind of confused me. She looks exactly like Helen Mirren, yet, Helen Mirren isn't doing her voice. Instead it's Kristen Wiig whom I'm still sore with after the run-every-joke-into-the-ground "Bridesmaids."

And the oldest daughter has a subplot about a crush on a cute boy and Gru's attempts to keep them apart. This is borrowed from the lesser "Hotel Transylvania" and doesn't even have a real resolution.

Go see it, but bring a kid.


Old-timey film review: The Canary Murder Case

Watch this 1929 Philo Vance Mystery and compare it to 1933's "The Kennel Murder Case" and you'll be amazed at how much film improved over 4 years. "Canary" is pretty static, the camera never moves, the acting is bad, and there's only one scene outside. In Kennel, the camera moves and swishes, a better line of actors come in and the dialogue moves better too.

Is it because the first was done at Paramount as a cheapie, and the other for Warner Bros.? "Kennel" was directed by Michael Curtiz, who would later direct "Casablanca" and a ton of other classics for Warners. Was it simply because he was a more gifted director?

Either way, "Canary" has 'early talky' all over it. Hollywood still didn't know how to overdub, so no music, and a scene in a crowded theater becomes comical when you hear only ten people clapping when you should hear thousands.

Maltin says this was originally filmed as a silent, then scenes were reshot and dialogue dubbed to make it a talky. This is really obvious. Further, the print I watched on YouTube was terrible, hopefully there's a restored DVD out there. Also, "Singing in the Rain" would have you believe that some actors from the silents never made it to the talkies because their voices were shrill. No, after watching this film it's obvious they didn't make it because they just couldn't act.

The plot: We meet the soon-to-be murder victim, a shrewd showgirl nicknamed "The Canary." She spends the first ten minutes of the film on the phone shaking down would-be murder suspects. She calls like a half-dozen guys, and you can't help but think of that season of "Dallas" where every conversation with JR ended with someone gritting his/her teeth and saying, "I'm going to kill that JR!" (A less cost-conscious film would have her shake them down in person, but that would have cost thousands in new sets, and days of shooting).

After she's murdered, all the suspects are taken in to the police headquarters where a detective interviews them one at a time at the detective's desk.. without legal representation. Think of any episode of "Law and Order" where the detectives interview the suspects in their houses and people walk around a little. It gets a little claustrophobic here.

Then Philo Vance plays poker with the suspects and determines who the killer is not by some slip of the tongue in the course of the game, but through how each suspect plays poker!

He could do this with every case.

Like "Kennel," the murder and solving the murder are preposterous. I have to read the books to see how much was carried over. Unlike "Kennel" William Powell lacks the charm and charisma he'd develop later, especially in the "Thin Man" films.

(A misstep in an otherwise well-intentioned film: A hotel clerk is a stammering negro used for comic effect. Not blatantly racist, but neither is it a proud moment for blacks in cinema.)

So, certainly worth watching as a curiosity. It can't be unnoticed that the whodunnit structure is there. We meet the characters and the detective, the soon-to-be victim pisses everyone off, s/he is murdered in a seemingly foolproof manner, and the detective talks to each suspect until someone slips, then the detective finds the apparatus, or method to how the murder was committed. It applies to a 1929 Philo Vance mystery, any episode of "Murder She Wrote," or "Law and Order."

What makes them watchable is the detective really. William Powell and Myrna Loy in the "Thin Man," Peter Falk in "Columbo," Hugh Lurie in "House." If you don't find the detective interesting, forget it, it's never going to work. William Powell was just getting up to speed.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Free HBO weekend film review: Casino Royale (1967)


A caveat, I've never seen the whole thing from beginning to end, but has anyone? This is a movie so unwatchable, I can't imagine anyone sitting through the whole thing. You can hear the directors say, "The imbeciles will laugh at this...speed up the film, imbeciles always like that. It's the 60s, make this scene psychedelic."

A true piece of shit for our time.



Some minor positives. It's cool to watch David Niven in a role he came very close to playing. This isn't news but Ursula Andress and Jacqueline Bissett were astonishingly beautiful.
But what is so horrible is the colossal waste of colossal talent. Orson Welles, David Niven, Woody Allen, John Huston, William Holden. Criminal!

For the talent and money they should have kept Niven as Bond, Welles as LeChiffre, and made it serious.

At no point during the making of this did they not see it for the piece of crap it was?

It brings up a good game of 'What if?' What if the rights to a James Bond novel fell in your lap somehow (Not as impossible as it sounds, the rights to Casino Royale and Thunderball have been bouncing around for decades). Whom would you cast if you were to make the film in the 60s? 70s? Today? The only rule is you can't cast someone exclusive to the Broccoli family in the decade you're making the film.


Friday, June 7, 2013

Beetle Bailey's futile search for relevance



It would be very easy to be negative all the time, but I think it's important to be positive in my posts. There's usually something positive in everything.

But...

This Beetle Bailey doesn't work at all. The Mort Walker team is trying to be hip and modern, and it's like those Bob Hope specials from the 60s where he and Joey Heatherton dressed like hippies. Just sad really.

The Walker team thinks it's funny that Killer took a picture of Miss Buxley and instantly posted it on his Facebook page.

How is that funny?

That's what people do.

It's like if they thought it would be funny if Beetle hopped in a Jeep...then drove somewhere.

And why is Killer's head shaking?

This is precisely why Bill Watterson was right to quit after ten years.






Monday, May 27, 2013

Ethical dilemma


Is it wrong I watch Hawaii Five-O with the volume off, and only look up from the computer to watch Grace Park? I didn't think so.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Review: Thin Man TV series


The boxed set of the "Thin Man" films contains an episode of the late '50s TV version with Peter Lawford and Phyllis Kirk playing Nick and Nora Charles. Based on that and the clips available on YouTube, here's some thoughts.

Bad:

Too short: If we learned anything from Jessica Fletcher, it's that you need an hour to make a proper whodunnit. Columbo only had one suspect and his show was two hours! This show would have a half dozen suspects all crammed into 30 minutes. Let's get to know these people.

Phyllis Kirk: She wasn't playing Myrna Loy, she was playing Lucy Ricardo, and it sucked. In the book and films Nora didn't know about detective work, but no way was she stupid. She knew her way around men, the city and its bars. She was fascinated by Nick's past life as a detective and always wanted to know more. The TV show portrayed her as a half-wit accidentally handcuffing herself, or getting entangled in police tape, always reliant on Nick to bail her out. Dreadful!

Greenwich Village: Why in the world would this rich couple live in a tiny apartment in Greenwich Village? Their home base was San Francisco, among high society. This is what made the contrast with Nick's rough-and-tumble past so enjoyable.

Good:

Peter Lawford as Nick. He didn't take the subtle comic approach of William Powell, but he made up for it with cool. There's a scene in the episode in the box set where he's interviewing a suspect and half way through the interview he takes out, and lights up a cigarette. You could tell this wasn't in the script, Peter Lawford just needed a cigarette at that moment.

With Lawford's super cool and good looks, an hour length, a San Francisco setting, and a better Nora (Julie Newmar springs to mind), instead of being a forgotten footnote to Thin Man lore, this could have been a series that ran in  reruns well into the 60s and 70s.

An update:

The antenna station GetTV has been showing all of the episodes of this show lately, and having seen several more episodes, I can't say my review of the one episode was wrong in anyway. I still stand by my critique.

The only change I would make is: I was too easy on Phyllis Kirk. She's terrible, and every episode made me hate her more. The actress has passed away now, so I can safely say: She was scary looking! And she applied her lipstick with a paint roller. And she had no charm. It's so hard for me to believe they couldn't find an attractive 25 year old on the Broadway stage who could act. Phyllis Kirk was the best they could do? Crazy.


Sunday, May 12, 2013

Film review: Iron Man 3


A problem with writing superhero stories is sometimes, they're just too powerful. This is why they invented kryptonite. In most of the Star Trek films (and some episodes) the ship is somewhat disabled. (They make a joke of this in Star Trek: VI, where the ship is ordered to a destination the crew wants to delay, and to their dismay, the ship works fine.) And this is why through most of Iron Man 3, Tony Stark's Iron Man getup is only semi-functional. And not only that, but Tony Stark himself is suffering from crippling anxiety attacks. Part of me is thinking these are arbitrary hurdles, the other part thinks, well, you have to do it or the hero is just too powerful to be interesting.

He also spends a lot of time out of the gear, at one point when he and Don Cheadle are invading a villain's lair, it looks like a buddy cop movie.

That being said, it's a great summer movie, full of excitement and action. It might start off a little too slow for me. I kind of expected a James Bond-type thriller cold opening, so I was a little disappointed at that. I will say there's a jaw-dropping second act twist which should earn Ben Kingsley an Oscar. It won't, but it's worth it to see his performance.

Once again with the Marvel movies, there's a "cookie" surprise at the tail end of the credits. It was cute, but not worth sitting through the thousands of names in the credits.

A film geek note: If you read a review, this won't be a spoiler, but a nerd whom the hero dismisses at the beginning of the film, returns years later to be a villain. The Incredibles did the same thing.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Coming soon


Seriously, I've been writing this novel off and on for almost 20 years. I kept it set in the mid-90s because only one person in the book owning a cell phone is a major plot point.

Anyway, a one-time film intern tries to track down stolen film footage from a movie he worked on in the 80s. Tracking down all his college friends who were also interns exposes a lot of skeletons. There's lots of 80s nostalgia, lots of tawdry sex, and one murder!

It should be available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble this week.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Film review: Jewel Robbery


William Powell is a dashing rogue jewelry thief bent on seducing and abducting bored baroness Kay Francis. When she tells him over dinner in his luxurious hideout that she wants to be forced to do things, he picks her up and throws her in bed, and at that moment I thought: I get it, it's a Harlequinn Romance ... Mommy Porn!

And it is. Look at the titles of most of the Kindle/Nook self-published books: The Billionaire's Mistress, The Billionaire's Secret Lover, Stuck on an Island with a Billionaire. Forgetting for a moment that the economy is in such a bad way that housewives are no longer interested in being whisked away by a lowly millionaire, all these books and Harlequin romances have one thing in common: Seduction at the hands of a Dashing Rogue! Women being forced to do things that deep down, they want to do.

This pre-code film gets some points for being racy. Francis is married after all, and some of the clothes she and her best friend wear are cut very low. It's kind of wasted though because both the actresses are disturbingly flat chested. It's like watching 12 year old girls at a pre-teen beauty dress-up pageant.

There's also some limp comedy around some peripheral characters getting giddy from smoking pot.

We'll see this plot in cinema again and again, the most obvious example being Hitchcock's "To Catch a Thief." Hitchcock had the right idea though, money was spent! Instead of a fake French Riviera, Hitchcock went to the real one. Whereas this film's Vienna is as phony as they come.

I also kept thinking of "The Thomas Crown Affair."

It starts with a lot of exposition about how bored Kay Francis is. Things pick up considerably when William Powell shows up, some 15 minutes into the film. And of course he's amazing as the dashing rogue.  It's all very short though, it needed a couple more heists perhaps, and a little more romance.


Friday, April 5, 2013

RIP: Carmine Infantino







Another childhood idol gone. I saw him at a comic convention in Philly. He was signing his book. Why in the world did I not pick up the book and get him to sign mine?

Oh well.

He had an interesting career. He drew for DC in the '40s, '50s, '60s, mostly the golden age Flash and various JSA members, then the silver age Flash and Batman. By the '70s, DC made him publisher. He wasn't drawing as much, but I enjoyed his reprints in the 100 Page Super Spectaculars.

In the mid-70s DC gave him the boot and replaced him with some woman in her 20s with no comic book or artistic experience at all. Talk about adding insult to injury.

Anyway, imagine my surprise later on when I instantly recognized his work on the cover of Nova, a Marvel book. Holy cow!  He also did the interiors and that was pretty much the only Marvel book I bought regularly. Then of course there was Star Wars and Spider-Woman.



Then the big surprise. He went back to DC for the Flash. Once again, for a comic geek like myself, this was nirvana. I spent hours comparing his '60s and '80s art. The style looser, but still dynamic. Characters seemed to jump off the page.

Pick up Justice League of America #200 for a real treat. Golden Age greats Infantino, Joe Kubert and Gil Kane return to draw the Flash, Elongated Man, Hawkman, Green Lantern and the Atom.




Thursday, March 28, 2013

Review: Zatanna Shades of the Past TPB


Holy crap what a good read!

This is the exact opposite of everything I don't like about trade paperbacks:

It's a collection of (very clever or scary or funny) standalone stories, not a giant epic mess of retcon madness which is just a smaller part of a larger retcon madness.

The art is beautiful and consistent on every page, there's only one chapter that has more than one penciller.

A working knowledge of DC magic characters from the past helps the reader, but is not mandatory.

I would like to say no loose strings, but Brother Night pops up in the background, leading you to think he'll be there for the finish. He isn't, but it doesn't take away from the enjoyability of the book.

Some details:

This collects Zatanna 7-16

The stories: Shades by Adam Beechen and Chad Hardin. Magicians' relics come alive to cause trouble. Cool idea, very good art.

Pupaphobia by Paul Dini and Cliff Chiang. A multi-part thriller about a marionette who may or may not be evil. Twists and turns and the art goes from very good to beautiful.

Symmetry by Matthew Sturges and Stephane Roux. How freaking clever. Everyone knows Zatanna and Zatara cast their spells by speaking backwards, but in the 75 years of this conceit, writer Sturges was the first to ask, "How does this apply to palindromes?" Brilliant! Once again some sexy, compelling art and great facial expressions.

Brace Yourself by Adam Beechen and Jama Ingle. Zatanna gets the Li'l Archie treatment.  A story of Zatanna as an awkward tween. Really an homage to the great back-up stories from the 60s and 70s where a writer could take the heroes out of continuity and focus on character. I was thinking of The Private Life of Clark Kent stories from Superman and Action in the 70s, or the Elongated Man's mini-mysteries in the back of Detective. Great work by Igle.

The Cat with the Crystal Ball Eye by Dini and Igle. The book's lone non-standalone story. The Spectre, Brother Night, and Dale Colton all show up in  a story that finishes somewhere, but not in this volume. Take this chapter out and run it in a volume with that story.

Wingman by Beechen and Igle and Travis Moore. Cute story about a night out with Zatanna and her irresponsible cousin Zachary. I'm not crazy about changing pencillers in midstream, but there's no change in quality, just style. Igle's work is traditional with some good facial expressions, Moore's work is reminiscent of Gene Colan's (faces in shadows, simply drawn) (in a good way).

Witch Hunt by Derek Fridolfs and Igle. A pack of witch hunters hunts down Zatanna. The action starts on page 2 and doesn't let up til the last page. And a clever resolution to boot.

The Sorceress' Apprentice by Beechen and Victor Ibanez. More great art in a book full of great art. (check out the library!). Zatanna chases an extra-dimensional imp. Not heavy, but a lot of fun.

And then there's the painted covers by Adam Hughes. This artist is of course amazing. His women just define pin-up sexuality. The covers alone are worth the price of admission.

Finally, it occurred to me about half-way through why I was enjoying this book as much as I was. It was like the 70s all over again and I was reading - no, not reading - getting sucked into a DC 100 Page Super-Spetacular. In all my posts in which I complain about DC today, the underlying complaint is they don't make them like the used to. This is how they used to make them.


Monday, March 25, 2013

Book review: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?


I've never seen The Office, I saw only a few minutes of the Mindy Kaling Project, but I picked up the book after reading some good reviews, and the reviewers were on target. It's a funny, funny book. A critic said it was like chatting with a very chatty girlfriend and he/she was right.

Coming so close on the heels of Tina Fey's "Bossypants," there's going to be some comparisons. It's pretty much laid out the same way: stories of an awkward childhood, breaking into comedy small time, breaking into comedy big time. But whereas Fey's book had a few serious moments, Kaling keeps things light through the whole book.

Favorite lines: Some people say living well is the best revenge, I say it's acid in the face!

There has ceased to be a difference between my awake clothes and my asleep clothes.

Hilarious stuff.

Pick it up, it's a lot of fun.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Book review: Schulz


A cartoonist plays out his mid-life crises in his cartoons. Every fight Linus or Charlie Brown had with Lucy turns out to mirror whatever disagreement he was having with his wife.

And then came the girlfriends, and then the new, younger wife, who was married when they met.

The book seems to skip the 80s. We get the marriage turmoil and remarriage of the late 60s, early 70s, and  next thing we know, he's on his death bed.

The writer tells us a lot about the skating rink Schulz built with his millions, but it never mentions if it's still in operation. Is it?

Otherwise, a good read about a man who only on the surface seems uncomplicated.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Film review "The Lonely Wives"


This isn't so much  a review as some random comments.

Edward Everett Horton plays a womanizer. I'll stop right there. This is the actor who invented the gay best friend role, so this was unusual for him. I was struck by how handsome he was as a young man though.

Anyway, it's a pre-code bedroom farce in which EEH uses a double to fill in for him so he can chase skirts and the double can stay home with the mother-in-law. Then, the wife shows up unexpectedly!

Shakespeare used lookalikes all the time and I'm sure the conceit preceded him by a few thousand years. I was just surprised to see it done (so well) in a film from 1931. It's a trick as old as film itself, long before Hayley Mills and Patty Duke were doing it. I wonder though, in this age of digital effects which film was the *last* to do it through film trickery.

It's all very stagey and for good reason, it was based on a play. It opens with a lot of clunky exposition. Most of the action takes place in the main living room where there are several doors, like in any stage farce. I look at films like this and think if I were to direct the remake, I'd take a couple scenes outside.

I also wonder if the script for the 30s play even exists anymore. Film historians have made a lot of noise about films that have been lost forever through disintegration of film stock. But what about Broadway scripts? What happens to them? Is there a big warehouse, or museum with scripts from the 1930s, once big hits, now forgotten?

Bottom line: It didn't age all that well, and a lot of the comedy was forced. Early in the film he's hitting on a secretary in his house, all the while the mother-in-law being in the next room. Everyone else knows she's going to walk in, why doesn't EEH?

The best line, the Margaret DuMontish mother-in-law upon seeing the maid kiss EEH: "I knew she was French, but I made allowances!"

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Whom to cast in Westworld remake

Yul Bryner in "Magnificent Seven"
Yul Bryner in "Westworld"

When they made "Westworld" in the mid-70s, for the robot gunslinger they used Yul Bryner, who dressed like his character from "The Magnificent Seven." This would be shorthand casting, casting an iconic cowboy actor to play a cowboy robot. In the '70s, they had a few hundred cowboy actors to choose from. But, if they were to remake "Westworld" today, whom could they get to play the character? How many iconic Western actors do we have left?

Clint Eastwood springs to mind, but he might be getting a little old.
Kevin Coster has been in a couple westerns over the past 20 years.
Robert Duvall?
Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer?

Is that it?

It's amazing how a once-ubiquitous genre has all but disappeared.

There's always Arnold Schwarzenegger but that would be shorthand casting for a killer robot character.

Ghost Story Story


In 1981, they made "Ghost Story," a cool movie about four old men with a terrible secret. It was a horror movie but instead of teenagers getting killed it was old men. Think about it, there's never been a movie like it since. All horror movies are teenage driven.

But let's look at the casting. Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Fred Astaire, Melvyn Douglas and John Houseman.  All but Houseman were major movie stars from the 30s, some 50 years earlier.

Hollywood ultimately remakes everything. If it were to remake "Ghost Story" today, who would they get? Let's see. Fifty years ago was 1963. Which young movie stars from 1963 would they get?

It's easy to say Jack Nicholson and Clint Eastwood, but they're still  major movie stars. Astaire at the time was voicing TV holiday specials and Fairbanks was on the "Love Boat." Only Douglas was making major Hollywood motion pictures (see "Being There").

OK, so we want major movie stars from the 60s, who are not movie stars now (i.e. affordable). This rule would exclude Sean Connery.

Michael Caine
Roger Moore
George Hamilton
Christopher Plummer
Frank Langella
Albert Finney
Peter Fonda
Burt Reynolds

Who am I missing?




Saturday, March 2, 2013

Comedies with plots: A Fish Called Wanda



I've been bemoaning the lack of plots in modern comedies. This was spurred by "Bridesmaids," whose plot was "woman upset best friend is getting new best friend." And this was then padded with set pieces (Kristen Wiig drunk on an airplane, Kristen Wiig throws tantrum, everyone gets diarrhea.)

I was thinking today of "A Fish Called Wanda." A diamond caper goes hilariously off the rails. Great performances, characters with motivation, twists and turns, subplots! No padding, and, no diarrhea.

If you haven't seen it, do yourself a favor.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Flying Down to Rio and mental illness in the '30s


As I've posted before, I'm a sucker for movies from the 30s. TCM was showing "Flying Down to Rio," and I was stunned by the climax in which chorus girls are shown dancing on the wings of biplanes.

This is insane!

The girls would dance, then they'd cut to the ground where people would ooh and ahh.

Of course it was all done with rear-screen projection, but you'd have to be insane to even come up with an idea like that.

Then it gets better: Under the planes are trapezes, and two trapeze artists are tossing a girl back and forth. And they drop one! But it's OK, she lands on then wing of another plane. They gives a thumbs up to the crowd, and everyone claps.

Truly the work of maniacs!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

DC Comics Presents #56


And what makes this book so special? The story is OK, (Superman, Power Girl meet, pre-Crisis, without crossing over dimensional border!), art is not spectacular, yet it makes two little moments of history.
a) the cover will parallel the cover for Crisis on Infinite Earths #7 (the only difference being Supergirl would stay dead longer.)
b) It's the first/only time Power Girl would be drawn by Curt Swan, making her officially a member of the Superman family. Now, if they could only have gotten Kurt Shaffenberger and Jim Mooney to draw some Power Girl stories, how cool would that have been?