Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Kid Brother

The Kid Brother ~ I hadn't planned on seeing this one on the TCM Classic Cruise. First, much to my shame, I had never heard of this Harold Lloyd silent classic. However, after seeing his granddaughter, film historian and preservist Suzanne Lloyd wonderfully interviewed earlier in the day by Bruce Goldstein, I was primed and ready to see it that night. Unlike Lloyd favorites of mine like Speedy and Safety Last!, this was in a rural setting, rather than urban.

Harold Lloyd plays the puny kid brother in a family of tough cowboys - a sheriff father and two rough and tumble older sons - similar to the Cinderella scenario, and owing much to an earlier Hal Roach production, The White Sheep. When a medicine show comes to town, Harold falls for the daughter of the show, Jobyna Ralston (her last as Lloyd's leading lady), while the other two showmen plot to steal money from Harold's family for the county dam. Hilarity ensues.

The Kid Brother has a solid coherent plot, and the gags keep you watching. There are no popcorn or bathroom breaks here, do it beforehand. While there are no high heights in these gags and stunts, there are still right up there with the Lloyd standard. This rarely seen and recently restored film, with newer score by Carl Davis, was Lloyd's favorite of his work, and as I recommend you seeking it out and seeing it, it will be a favorite of yours as well.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The 2016 TCM Classic Cruise

Sadly, it was with bittersweet feelings that The Bride and I attended the 2016 Turner Classic Movies Classic Cruise, as it had been announced earlier in the year that this would be the final cruise. After five previous highly successful cruises of this kind, they were ending the program. The reasons given have been diverse and full of rumor, perhaps attendance or logistics, but suffice it to say, I still had the time of my life.

This cruise took place on the Disney Fantasy for seven wonderful days at sea and at ports in the Western Caribbean. While Robert Osborne was unable to attend, other TCM hosts and regulars were there, including Ben Mankiewicz, Illeanna Douglas, new TCM host Tiffany Vazquez, trivia master Alex Trebek, Eddie Muller, Bruce Goldstein, and Randy Haberkamp. Guests included Leslie Caron, Kim Novak, Diane Baker, Michael York, Lucie Arnaz, the fabulous Dick Cavett (why isn't he a TCM host yet?), and joining the ship halfway was Jerry Lewis. Music was supplied by Jennifer Keith, and as always the Hot Sardines.

Besides the guests, and more movies than you can shake a film reel at, there were other events, like the Beaux Arts Ball, a theme night designed to bring alive the technicolorful world of An American in Paris. Also taking inspiration from films like Funny Face, Sabrina, and Midnight, the city of lights was brought to life on deck for one night of Parisian delight.

This year's week-long escape was a blast, good to see old friends from previous Cruises, and make new friends too, and I hope TCM will reconsider ending this program. Everyone who has experienced the TCM Classic Cruise absolutely loves it. In the days and weeks to come here at Welcome to Hell, I'll be featuring my reviews from the Cruise, including The Third Man, The Kid Brother, Employees' Entrance, Vertigo, Strait-Jacket, an episode or two of "The Dick Cavett Show," and The Dark Corner, just to name a few. Stay tuned!

Friday, November 18, 2016

Arrow S05 E07: Vigilante

After quite a bit of foreplay, we're finally getting Vigilante, or at least the 1980s Wolfman/Perez version of the character. When we first saw Adrian Chase, we hoped we'd see his anti-superhero identity, and not be red herringed and disappointed like we were with Kate Spencer AKA Manhunter earlier in the series. Now here it is.

We open on a white slavery ring being taken down by Vigilante, though unseen, we see through his infrared goggles. Like the Hood and the Arrow of old, he kills the bad guys, with guns rather than arrows. And he leaves two hanging outside for the police to find in the shape of a V, with Vs cut into their faces as well. If nothing else, this new killer in Star City has a demented sense of style.

The discussion with Team Arrow is not so much of another killer on the streets, as much as it is - should they stop this one that is killing bad guys? Oliver is adamant that he must be stopped, the others not so sure. After a bank robbery where Vigilante takes out some of the Spooky Crew Team Arrow is still unconvinced. Could Vigilante be a new recruit where Oliver gets outvoted?

I have to confess some disappointment in Vigilante's outfit. After seeing his comics costume look in that police sketch since the beginning of the season, I expected something slicker, less bulky, and more like the comics than what we've gotten. He's more Wild Dog than Vigilante. If they couldn't pull off the look, why use that sketch to begin with?

The final fight between Green Arrow and Vigilante is better than a lot we've seen lately. Being a Silver Age fan I dig the use of more trick arrows, and we got a few this episode. I did hate that Mr. Terrific got the worst of a beating again, and that we were faked out by the unmasking of Vigilante in the coming attractions.

In the soap opera portion of the show, Quentin offers his resignation. When Thea confronts him, he comes clean about his drinking, and his suspicious blackouts, as well as the throwing stars. She takes him to rehab, notably not telling her brother about any of it right away. I guess stubbornness is genetic.

Oliver goes on a date with Susan Williams, the nasty news reporter from channel 52. Many folks might not be aware, but she's also from the comics, a minor character from Green Lantern. She was the reporter wife of Hal Jordan's brother who believed her husband was actually the Green Lantern. On the show, it's hard to tell if she really likes Oliver (although technically it was the Human Target who charmed her) or is leading him on. She does have proof he was in Russia when he was supposed to be on a desert island.

Speaking of Russia, in Flashback Russia, as opposed to Island or Hong Kong, Oliver has a stressful dinner with Konstantin Kovar. Dolph Lundgren shows that he can still be scary after all these years. And after he beats Oliver down, our hero learns the hard truth, that Kovar and Bratva have made a deal.

Did anyone else catch the name drop of the Papp Hotel? Nice reference. George Papp was the co-creator of Green Arrow in 1941, along with Mort Weisinger. Papp was responsible for the look and design of the character, and the series artist for years. He also co-created Congo Bill and drew Superboy for a long stretch as well.

The closing stinger was a bit of a shock, but completely believable. We see Artemis meeting with Prometheus. Obviously here, just as in "Young Justice," Artemis is a double agent...

Next: Invasion!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Arrow S05 E06: So It Begins

Well, I'll give it an A for effort and dramatic effect, but the opening to this episode, with Green Arrow and Spartan walking into what may be a trap, to get a flaming message that says, "So it begins," left me kinda meh.

I've talked before about how I feel about yet another archer as the big bad when we had a perfectly good big bad in Chad L. Coleman's Tobias Church. Church was new, different, dangerous, smart, charismatic, and we barely got to delve into that interesting Charon obsession of his. He was Negan to "Arrow," and now we have just another archer.

Another problem I have with the opening is that it just has Green Arrow and Spartan, watched over by Overwatch. Oliver didn't want to involve the team because it might be a trap. This is why I didn't want Diggle back quite so soon. With no A team, the B team would be the A team, know what I'm saying? At this point they will always be on the sidelines.

The showrunners seem to be at a loss as to what to do with Quentin and Thea this season. Their subplots seem more like busy work or placeholders than anything else. Or maybe not. The same can be said to some extent regarding Felicity and her cop boyfriend Malone. Keeping secrets from a lover is one thing, but stealing evidence is a whole different arena. When Felicity tells Malone she works for the Green Arrow, he surprisingly takes it well. Knowing this show, that can't be good.

Prometheus seems to be targeting Oliver by killing people whose names are anagrams for people on The List. Is it just me, or should that be a very short list? Anagrams are easy, but to find people in the same city who names are anagrams for each other would seem so specific as to be nearly impossible, right? Those are crazy odds.

After much dissent from the team after learning Oliver was effectively a serial killer, they split up to each guard one of Prometheus' six targets. He hits the one Artemis is watching, seemingly teleporting in and bulletproof. And when Green Arrow shows up, he vanishes in a burst of flame. If nothing else, some trust is reestablished with the team. Let's see how long it lasts.

Meanwhile in the past, Konstantin Kovar has declared war on the Bratva. When Oliver's new family strikes back by trying to intervene, Kovar captures Oliver and preaches to him about unity. Konstantin is the father of Leonid Kovar AKA Red Star/Starfire, and played by Ivan Drago himself, Dolph Lundgren. We will see more of him.

The kicker at the end of the episode is that Felicity discovers that Prometheus' weapons are made from Oliver's melted down arrows, meaning he has access to SCPD. We fade on Quentin waking up with a wound and a throwing star. So he is either a split personality caused by alcoholic black outs, or he's being set up. I'm voting for option two. Could it be Malone?  Now that would hurt...

Next: Finally Vigilante!

Friday, November 11, 2016

Marvel's Doctor Strange

Marvel's Doctor Strange ~ I was first introduced to Doctor Strange during the Avengers/Defenders war in the early seventies as he was the leader of the latter superhero team. I knew he was Marvel's 'magic guy' and that he'd been around since the beginning of the Marvel Age and was created by Steve Ditko and Stan Lee, the same team that brought us Spider-Man originally, but little else.

While my impression was usually the Sal Buscema Defenders leader, as I grew older I started to read the Ditko stuff, and it was out there, very weird with outlandish villains and bizarre mindscapes. I never dreamed anything like it could be brought to the screen, and yet the previews seem to indicate it can be done. But then again, I never imagined we'd have an Avengers movie, let alone three - Marvel is just full of miracles.

Beware spoilers hereafter.

I am not a Cumberbitch. I'm comfortable enough with my sexuality that I'm not afraid to say when a man is attractive, but I have never understood what women and men see in Benedict Cumberbatch. I love "Sherlock," but he's so unlikable a character there, and let's face it, his Khan was one of the worst things about Star Trek Into Darkness. So I was not sold when I heard Cumberbatch was cast as Doctor Stephen Strange. He proved me wrong. After seeing the movie, I can't see anyone else in the role.

The story is thematically the same as the hero's first appearance from 1963's Strange Tales #110, which I had first read more than four decades ago in Stan Lee's Origins of Marvel Comics. Arrogant surgeon Stephen Strange gets in a car accident that damages his hands. Unable to continue as a surgeon, Strange searches the world for cure, eventually coming upon the Ancient One, who gives him a new vocation with magic. Long story short, of course.

All the elements are here, the desperation, the salvation, but a few things are turned on their head. I'll start with the good and move to the ugly. We get more insight on major Doctor Strange enemy Baron Mordo, fellow student of the mystic arts under the Ancient One. I really liked Chiwetel Ejiofor here, easily one of the best performances of the movie, especially as he changes in the space of the film, beginning as an ally then by the end credit sequence, more villain than the actual villain of this piece.

Let's talk about Mads Mikkelsen and the character he plays, Kaecillius. I realize now that Kaecillius is an old school Silver Age foe of Strange, although essentially a henchman of Mordo's, but until the movie I had no idea who he was, and had to look him up. Why was he chosen as our hero's first foe? I wouldn't normally mind such an unknown entity if the actor behind him was worthy, and he is - Mads is a major heavy with incredible talent, but they really do very little with him or Kaecillius here. It's all posturing and posing, no real depth. All we get is Mordo, and we really have to wait for the sequel to see his evil turn.

And then there's the Ancient One. I have nothing against Tilda Swinton or her performance, she's amazing, and funny, and ominous, and tragic. But she's white. It's her casting I still have a problem with. With Mordo, a black man was cast into the role of a white character to wonderfully add diversity to the painfully white Marvel Age of the early sixties. But the Ancient One is actually one of the few Asian characters in that same age, and the producers chose to cast a white woman in that role.

In old Hollywood, this was called whitewashing. Taking an Asian role and casting white actors to play Asian. Movies that I love, like The Mask of Fu Manchu, The Good Earth, and Mr. Wu, are stained by both this practice and the racial stereotypes depicted. Sidebar to the stereotypes, Wong, Doctor Strange's servant is treated well and as an equal if not a better to Strange in this film, gracefully and cheekily by Benedict Wong. Notably the character was also treated equally well in the often forgotten but quite good 1978 television movie/pilot of Dr. Strange. Back on point, which is worse, the color blind casting of Mordo, or the whitewashing of the Ancient One?

Rachel McAdams is merely a plot device in the film, who could have been more, but doesn't live up to potential. If they were going to use Night Nurse in this film, why not use Rosario Dawson from the Netflix Marvel Television Universe? But then again, I admit my bias toward her, but why create another Night Nurse character - isn't the comics continuity confusing enough? I would have rather had Clea, perhaps we'll get her in the sequel.

Strange's journey into the magic world is wonderfully depicted, I even dug the Inception-like special effects of turning one's surroundings into a weapon by altering its structure (up is down, shifting buildings, moving gravity, and Escher nightmares). This was one of the ways the film depicted magic, and it made the fight scenes phenomenal, something we'd never seen before. I liked that the Cloak of Levitation was like a wicked stepbrother to the Rug from Disney's Aladdin and seemed to have a fun sentience. And then there's the rings.

The concept that certain items are imbued with magic and aid in the casting of spells is a solid and revered concept. Much of the Doctor Strange comics mythos comes from this - the Cloak, the Eye, etc., and then there's the Sling Ring, created for this film. The Sling Ring helps to cast portals, and without it, a portal cannot be opened. It actually plays well in some of the fight scenes I mentioned. When Strange says, "Sling Ring, do your thing" at one point, it completely removed me from the film.

Back in the bad old days of the 1970s when there really wasn't all that much comic book superheroism on television, and what there was was changed or made silly, there was a Saturday morning cartoon called "Fred and Barney Meet the Thing." Yes, that Fred and Barney. One of the program's segments featured a teenaged Ben Grim who could transform into the Thing by bringing two rings together and saying, "Thing Ring, do your thing." It took a while to recover when that happened in the film.

While I wished that Dormammu had a bit more fire (less Zemo, more Dormammu), I loved his representation here, and even the uncredited fact Cumberbatch did his voice. The way Strange beats him is brilliant. Casting problems and Thing Rings aside, I really did enjoy this movie. Of course stay through the credits for the two extra scenes, one a set-up for Mordo, and the other a seemingly mismatched piece directed by James Gunn that prologues Thor: Ragnarok. Highly recommended, as are most of the Marvel films.