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.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Leonard Cohen 1934-2016


Like many of my friends, and fellow fans and music lovers, I have no words.



Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Coast to Coast AM Election Night

Today is Election Day, the beginning or the end of a dark age, depending on who you want to win. I'll stay away from the election and politics and direct my anger at a more convenient, and for regular readers, a more familiar target. I'm talking about George Noory, the current host of Coast to Coast AM.

I've taken aim at George before, for his ruining one of my favorite radio programs and for his complete lack of interviewing style. You can read about that here, here, and here. I've got yet another bone to pick with old George.

Tonight, Election Night, George has extended Coast to Coast AM another hour for election coverage. Election coverage. It's almost as if George has no idea what the show he's hosted for over a decade is supposed to be about. Coast to Coast is a show about the paranormal. I can hear the news, or the election on every station on the dial. I tune into Coast for something special, something specific. Unless we're electing a reptilian alien, and I'm pretty sure we're not, despite what you've heard, that's not in Coast's wheelhouse.

This is one week after a catastrophic Ghost to Ghost show. Coming once a year, a decades long tradition on Coast, this is a night-long show where callers phone in and tell ghost stories, and it rocks... until recently. The last few years George has cut it down by hours. Last week we barely got an hour and a half. That's what we waited a year for?? Why couldn't the Ghost to Ghost show have been extended???

Ghosts and the paranormal are what the show's about. It even says so on their website, nothing but news about UFOs and ghosts and Bigfoot. Or is the website too hard for someone who needs to have Uber and Instagram explained to him? It's not like George's interviewing skills could be improved (well, actually they could, a little research beforehand, not napping while a guest talks, and maybe a follow-up question once in a while...), but you could give us more ghosts and less election!

It's November, we are all sick of politics, but most of us who love Coast to Coast AM are tuning in for the paranormal. So if you're listening tonight, and can actually get through the call screeners, ask George when the real Coast to Coast AM is coming back. If we can't get the leader we want, at least give us the radio we want!

Monday, November 07, 2016

Arrow S05 E05: Human Target

When we left "Arrow" last week, Wild Dog had been captured by Charon, Tobias Church, and torture had begun, and continues as we open this week. Even though Team Arrow is on the hunt, and eventually find Wild Dog, it's too late. He broke, and told Church that the Green Arrow is actually Oliver Queen.

This is a curious turn. First, it happens offscreen and second, it seems too easy. As Rene is digging his own grave at gunpoint, he does get some vital information out of Church - why he's in Star City. Being a port city with water access Church can get drugs into and out of the country easily, perfect base of operations. As we go to commercial break, I couldn't help but wonder if this was all part of Oliver's plan. It would not be the first time we viewers were the last to know something like this.

We also know that Church is working for Prometheus, supposedly this season's big bad. I don't know who this television version of Prometheus is but I have to say I'm distressed that it's another archer. Really, another archer? It's like speedsters on "The Flash," what is it about Green Arrow that attracts so many archers?

In the comics, Prometheus was created by writer Grant Morrison as an anti-Batman (and there's the other recurring "Arrow" theme - everything Batman). He fought the Justice League using a database of fighting techniques, strategies, and information on his potential enemies that could be downloaded directly into his brain. Above and beyond defeating both the Justice League and the Teen Titans, he blew up much of Star City. In the end, Green Arrow ended him with an arrow through the head, long story short.

There were two other villains who called themselves Prometheus in the DC Universe. One was a henchman of Doctor Alchemy who gained super powers from an industrial accident at Kord Industries, went on to fight the Teen Titans, and died in one of Roulette's fight clubs. Notably, Roulette, who recently clashed with Supergirl on the CW, also in the comics believes her grandfather to be the Terry Sloane Mr. Terrific. The other Prometheus was an imposter disguised as the first one I talked about above, an inferior pretender.

Of course speculation on who this television version of Prometheus is a game for another day. This episode is about something else - someone else. And for comics readers, the title of the episode alone spoils any surprises that may occur within the show. For the uninitiated, the Human Target is a comics character with a very specific skill set and modus operandi.

Christopher Chance is a master of disguise who used to appear in the back-up slot of 1970s Action Comics. Created by writer Len Wein, Chance would assume the identity of a person marked for murder until the killer was captured. Oftentimes Chance would appear to be murdered, making it easier to find the killer, thus the name, the Human Target. Earlier in the episode, he is namelessly referenced as John's old friend.

Here on "Arrow," Chance is played by Wil Traval, no stranger to comics television as he played Will Simpson on "Marvel's Jessica Jones" on Netflix, a character who in the comics becomes the powered psychopath Nuke. The Human Target has had two other TV incarnations, the first was a limited run in 1992 with Rick Springfield, and two seasons played by Mark Valley in 2009. So, as I was saying, when Oliver is shot dead, no comics fans were surprised.

The ending of the episode seems incredibly rushed. The threat of Tobias Church is ended prematurely, a dangerous complex criminal exited in favor of yet another nearly invincible mystery archer. Boo, hiss. Chad L. Coleman is wasted if this is his run on "Arrow," and furthermore Wild Dog not getting a proper shot at payback is just as bad. Before dying at his hands, Church gives up the secret of Green Arrow's identity to Prometheus, eliminating the problem of Church telling everyone in prison.

It's all too easy, too convenient, and rushed as if the showrunners wanted the Charon storyline over as soon as possible. If so, then they know how we all felt about Damien Darhk all last season. And then they throw a real monkey wrench on the trashfire. Chance saved Oliver's life in the Bratva flashbacks, unknown to Oliver, but now known to the pesky reporter Thea has been clashing with. One manufactured plot point, made to order, why was Oliver in Russia when he was supposed to be on a deserted island?

There were a few good points this episode, among them the return of Spartan, and John and Rene bonding. Oliver did actually have a few moments of sanity and normality, but unfortunately it turns out that was really Christopher Chance. Although, the writers must have been confused because Oliver continues to act human with Felicity, saying they should both move on romantically.

One hope for this wholesale shoveling away of prior storylines should be that perhaps we'll have a clean slate to start from. Also I hope having Spartan back won't overshadow the new Team Arrow recruits who I'm really starting to like, more than Oliver, but then again, that's not all that difficult. And I wish we'd seen more of Scimitar, named only in the credits, Church's masked freak bodyguard. That was a quick cameo.

Next: So It Begins!


Friday, November 04, 2016

Konga

Konga ~ Now I've written a little bit about this movie before over at Biff Bam Pop! as part of my review of the Charlton Comics monsters, all of which were originally from film. Konga as a comic lasted over five years and included art by the amazing Steve Ditko, co-creator of Spider-Man and Doctor Strange, among many others.

The movie, also tragically known as I Was a Teenage Gorilla, was made in 1961. Konga stars a young Michael Gough, who folks probably know better as Alfred in the 1990s Batman film franchise. He brings a proper English elegance to what is pretty obvious crap, and even manages decorum while stark raving mad. He's good and the movie is bad. Konga is even filmed in "SpectaMation," a made up gimmick to lure folks into theaters.

Here's the gist: an explorer brings a baby gorilla and some man-eating plants back from the Ugandan jungle, then goes a little mad. He uses a serum from the plants to grow the chimp, Konga, to man size, then commands him to kill his enemies. Then later, after a super dose of the serum, Konga grows to giant size for some real (and cheap, even by kaiju eiga standards) monster action and rampage in London.

Besides the cheaper than usual effects, there are a couple things that set Konga apart from its Japanese cousins. The English crowds, rather than run from the monster, politely stand and watch. Also when the police are alerted to the presence of a giant monster ape, they immediately believe, and call the war department. That's a far cry from flicks like The Blob and other teenage scifi flicks of the decade previous.

Gough carries the film despite a cast that tries very hard. He remains interesting even while the titular ape takes the screen, something unusual for this genre. The giant monster scenes are sad, due to the ridiculous gorilla suit, but it's worth seeing for Gough. Although watch out for the disturbing cat scene early on. The comics are much better.

Thursday, November 03, 2016

Zootopia

Zootopia ~ As with a few other recent Disney features, Brave immediately comes to mind, this flick is not at all like what it first appears to be. Initial trailers depicted a world of funny anthropomorphic animals, highlighted by the sloooow sloth at the DMV, but once in the theater watching the film one learns the movie has other agendas. Not as much a comedy as it is a buddy cop film, but one that holds a dark secret - that it never forgets what it is really about.

Zootopia, the city from which the film takes its title is a special place, as is its world. An evolution has happened that turned savage beasts into tamed civilized creatures that can live peacefully together, predators and prey, side by side. Zootopia never forgets its world, and even as Nick Wilde the fox and Judy Hopps the bunny struggle to work together, the predator/prey vibe is always in the subtext. When this case they're working on moves into the territory of predators going savage, it's gets a bit close to home.

This movie is about a lot of things - sexism, racism, prejudice, stereotypes, and power, and sloths too. It's a lot of fun, but it's also very serious, and it's must-see. Not what you expect, and highly recommended.

You can also listen to me, and The Bride, chat about the film here on The Make Mine Magic Podcast, and don't forget to check out our Biff Bam Pop! Podcast Network partners, Gobbledygeek, with their take on Zootopia right here.

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Ghostbusters II

Ghostbusters II ~ We've talked about how much I love Ghostbusters, and even the recent remake, but back in the day, we all wanted to like the sequel, we really wanted to, and most of us were disappointed. Although, in hindsight, that just might be questionable. In light of friend Derrick Ferguson's positive review of the film and recent TV viewings, I might have changed my mind. Go read it now, and all his other reviews, he rocks. 

I remember distinctly however the moment when I started to doubt the sequel. Run DMC covered the title theme song, and I was a huge fan of theirs and always loved the tune (seriously who didn't, and doesn't?), but the cover was a disappointment, no one's favorite Run DMC song, delivering none of what could have been so cool, just a meh version. This was the first omen.

Then came the movie. I remember even before I saw it, much like recent DC Comics movie releases like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad, the word was bad even before it was released. Despite warnings I was there first night to see it, and first impressions, it was not good. As I recall, it did not last in theaters for very long, nowhere near the blockbuster the first movie was.

There was much reference given to the successful cartoon based on the original movie, so all the characters had to appear, and Slimer was given special preference for screen time against folks who more deserved it. More than lip service was given to the slime that was too integral to this plot, but only funny in the original in one line. Worse than that, it led to the bad special effects of the Statue of Liberty ending that made audiences groan when it was supposed to make them cheer and sing along.

More screen time was given to the 'nerd love' subplot with Rick Moranis and Annie Potts, and of course the biggest drain was Bill Murray (not as enthusiastic, or as funny, this time) and Sigourney Weaver romance/non-romance and baby. Notably the original film was almost flawless, but the only slow parts were with these two I thought. To build on that was a mistake.

All that said, the rest of the film is not bad, and actually a good follow-up to the original. We get a viable and evil-looking villain (Vigo's visage alone, especially in a picture that may or not move is the stuff of nightmares), and a patsy comparable to Weaver and Moranis played by the underappreciated Peter MacNicol who still makes me laugh with that accent (definitely in agreement with Derrick on this). I especially loved the connection to the first film and homage to Son of Kong as the Ghostbusters are put out of business by property damage lawsuits.

As I said, upon re-watching and reading the above-mentioned review, I may have changed my mind. Derrick might be right.  I think it's bad, but not that bad. Unfortunately the experience may have soured much of the cast on doing a third one, but happily on not cameo-ing in the new film. This is not necessarily a recommendation, but maybe give this one another look with an open mind.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Daredevil S02 E03: New York's Finest

The first episode of "Daredevil" Season Two ended with our hero shot in the head, and the second with his radar sense failing and the Punisher closing in. When the police arrive seconds later, both combatants are gone. So far, the cliffhangers are hot. But where did Daredevil and the Punisher go? Something tells me I don't want to know.

As we open in the pre-credits scene, Matt is hallucinating from his Catholic upbringing, until he slowly awakens in chains on a rooftop with the Punisher. This apparently right from the comics, from Garth Ennis' Punisher #3, but I can't comment much, having never read the issue before, but it's been praised for the philosophical discussion between these two protagonists. Daredevil's compromised position forcing him to engage his foe verbally as opposed to with his fists.

So I dug up the comic in question, and found it to be much what I expected, and worse. Garth Ennis is an extremely talented writer, but with one serious flaw, especially when working in the world of comic books - he hates superheroes. Unlike other comic book writers who hate superheroes, like Frank Miller, Ennis doesn't usually write superheroes, unless they're twisted parodies like The Boys or dark anti-heroes like Preacher, John Constantine, or, the Punisher.

In this dark and dreary world of Ennis' Punisher, no one is happy, as masterfully illustrated by the late Steve Dillon, rest in peace. Punisher lives in a skewed vision of our world where misery reigns, where he is the twisted mirror of heroism, and Daredevil is a clown that must be shown the error of his ways. On the rooftop chains of the comic book source material, the Punisher must remake Daredevil in his own image. If it wasn't so ridiculous, it would be horrifying.

I read comic books for escape from the real world, to see heroism as it should be, to be inspired to be a better person. Superhero comic books are supposed to make you want to be the hero and change the world. Reading Punisher #3 made me depressed, and most of all, it made me hate the Punisher more than I had before I opened that damned miserable comic. I do appreciate the talent and skill it takes to evoke such a reaction from a reader, but trust me, it will be a very long time before I ever read another Punisher comic.

But that was the comic, I hope the Netflix episode that is aping it can do better. Here it is also, as I described, a philosophical discussion between the two protagonists, but a far more sensible one. While the Punisher goes about his business, Daredevil (or Red as he calls him) remains in chains talking the shades of gray in what they do. It's a difficult chat, each exchange like pulling teeth, and even though they vehemently disagree with the other's method, there is a hint of hatred-tinged bromance at work. I get the feeling that under different circumstances Frank and Red could be friends.

There is some prime acting here, and while Charlie Cox's Daredevil plays a very good counter to Jon Bernthal's Punisher, but the latter is the star here. His performance is spellbinding, saying volumes with an economy of words and gestures. I wasn't impressed when I'd heard Shane from "The Walking Dead" was going to play the Punisher, but he is amazing in the role. The only thing Shane and Frank have in common are we love to hate them both. Serious props.

The bottom line of the debate is killing. Frank will and Red won't. The difference is when Daredevil hits a bad guy they get back up, maybe come back, and when the Punisher hits 'em, they don't. Simple as that. Daredevil's reluctance to kill makes him a "half-measure," a coward who won't finish the job he started. And then it all turns to sh!t, as the ghost of Garth Ennis ruins everything.

The Punisher duct tapes a gun into Daredevil's hand then produces Grotto, beating the man senseless until he confesses to the murder of an innocent. The terms of this ridiculous trap - Daredevil must 'man up' and kill the Punisher before he kills Grotto, and at this moment is when I really started to hate this show. Where are the Owl, Gladiator, and the Stilt-Man when you need them? I really hate what comics and their related media have become...

In a world where Captain America knows that the Winter Soldier murdered Tony Stark's parents, I guess it shouldn't surprise anyone that Daredevil is too late to save Grotto. The nearly six-minute fight sequence that follows as Daredevil battles his way down several flights of stairs against the Dogs of Hell motorcycle gang with a gun taped to one hand and a chain around the other is phenomenal and spectacular - topping the hallway fight from last season even - but it in no way makes up for how this turn of events made me feel.

Meanwhile back in the real world, Karen and Foggy bring the only real light and hope to this dismal situation. As Karen fights the very different evil of District Attorney Reyes and learns more about the Punisher's past, Foggy has a heart-to-heart with Night Nurse and breaks up a gang fight in an already insane emergency room. Both are more heroic than the two 'superheroes' we watched for most of the episode.

I always love seeing Rosario Dawson, and Jon Bernthal deserves serious accolades for his performance, and that stairway fight sequence is one of the most amazing I've seen - but I still hated this episode. I may have to take a break before I come back to the second season of "Daredevil." This was rough.