Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Wind Rises

The Wind Rises ~ Also known as Kaze Tachinu, written and directed by the great Hayao Miyazaki, is a masterpiece of phenomenal artisanship and brilliance, but it's also a pretty hard film to like.

While I recall hearing of Miyazaki's love of aircraft and flight, it had never occurred to me that he'd make not just a film about it, but also a fairly historical film about it - and specifically about the creation of the Japanese Zero, a plane that destroyed Pearl Harbor and plunged the United States into World War II with only the skeleton of a functional navy. As an American whose father served in the Pacific theater in WWII, I found it both hard and frightening to sit still during this movie, beautifully animated, and wonderfully presented - or not.

Released by Toho in Japan, and Disney in the United States, The Wind Rises is a fictionalized biography of Jiro Horikoshi, an aviation and engineering genius, who eventually designed what would become the dreaded Japanese Zero. This award winning film was based on Miyazaki's manga, which in turn was based on the 1937 short story by Tatsuo Hori.

While slow in places, it is a compelling tale of love, passion, dedication, and dreams, all wrapped up in a love of aviation and engineering. It's really quite brilliant and well done. I cannot decry the quality and achievement of this piece, but I am still left of two minds on it. This is a wonderfully realized film, definitely worth seeing.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Black Cauldron

The Black Cauldron ~ Disney's The Black Cauldron from 1985 signaled a jump from the Don Bluth era at the company to the more accessible and successful Little Mermaid and beyond era. For a while there, they didn't know what to do with the animation department, so they did this, and it almost killed animation at Disney.

The Black Cauldron is based on the "Chronicles of Prydain" by Lloyd Alexander, loosely based, if you will, specifically on the first two books but pulling in details from the entire series. There's this fantasy weapon of mass destruction called the Black Cauldron that the big bad, the Horned King, wants. With it he can raise an army of the undead to conquer the world. And there's a pig, an oracular pig, who can find it for him. Guarding the pig is Taran, a little bit like Wart from Sword in the Stone, he's a kid and wannabe hero. King seeks pig, hilarity ensues, quests abound, companions gathered, eventually good guys win - you know the drill.

All things considered, this is not a good film. When I saw it back in the day when it was in theaters, I remember the hubbub about it being too scary and not for kids, and the outrage about how dare Disney put out such a movie. Granted, they were trying for something a bit darker, a bit edgier, but man oh man, this was over the top. By today's standards the Horned King might be too scary. He is perhaps the most frightening Disney villain ever. We are talking definitely a baddie of the effed up "The Walking Dead" zombie monster type. Yeah, I can just imagine this gave some kids nightmares.

There's some blood, some violence, and no end to disturbing images. It's more adult than usual (there are even boob jokes), and it's just not a pretty animated film. Even comic relief characters like Creeper, the villain's jester-like underling is a little scary. The animation is a cross between Don Bluth and Ralph Bakshi after a night of drunken excess. Very blurry, moody, and it seems like it's always nighttime. I think there was more daylight in Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy.

The best part for is one of the friends Taran makes out in the world, a sort of a weird cross between Lady (from Lady and the Tramp) and Stitch (from Lilo and Stitch) called Gurgi. His mumblings about 'munches and crunches' are addictive. You'll be doing it for days afterward. The rest of the movie is not so great however. Just when you think there are enough secondary characters in the flick, they add more. And just when you think the Horned King has gone far enough packing kids' pants with fudge, it gets scarier.

The voice cast is impressive and satisfactory. Notables include John Huston as narrator, Nigel Hawthorne, John Byner, a post-Caligula John Hurt as the Horned King himself, and if you listen close, you'll hear Witchipoo (from "H.R. Pufnstuf"), Billie Hayes, as one of the witches. She was fun.

I watched this with The Bride in anticipation of podcasting about it. I gotta say when you start riffing on a flick MST3k style just a few minutes in, it's not a good sign. The Black Cauldron is an interesting if dated time capsule of what Disney did wrong, before they did it right, worth seeing at least once. And if you want hear more of my thoughts, and The Bride's, please check out the special Black Cauldron episode of The Make Mine Magic Podcast.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

BoJack Horseman

Most Netflix TV series get a lot of publicity like "House of Cards," "Orange Is the New Black," or the recent tragic but wonderful conclusion to AMC's aborted "The Killing," but sometimes there are shows that just slide under the radar that are just as good. "BoJack Horseman" is one of them.

"BoJack Horseman" is an animated Netflix original from some of the same folks who do the Adult Swim programming on the Cartoon Network. It's about a washed up actor, who happens to be a horse, in a world full of both humans and anthropomorphic animals. The title character used to be in a wildly successful 1990s sitcom and is trying to make a comeback while having his memoirs ghost written by a rival's girlfriend.

Speaking of comebacks, it actually does remind me of HBO's brilliant "The Comeback," which is ironically coming back later this year. Aaron Paul of "Breaking Bad" is an executive producer and voices Todd, BoJack's friend/roommate/slacker/squatter. Will Arnett is in the title role, with other characters voiced by Alison Brie, Paul F. Tomkins, and Amy Sedaris.

I know the critics haven't been kind to it so far, but I love it. It's clever and fun, and hates Hollywood. And it does something that most network sitcoms don't do, it makes me laugh out loud. Give "BoJack Horseman" a shot, you might dig it too.

Monday, August 25, 2014

RIP Richard Attenborough

Award winning actor, director, and producer Richard Attenborough died yesterday. He was only a few days short of his 91st birthday.

Most people may know him from his acting roles, as in Jurassic Park, The Great Escape, Doctor Doolittle, the most recent version of Miracle on 34th Street, The Sand Pebbles, and one of my personal favorites, the original Flight of the Phoenix. But the truth, and his real talent was as the man behind such great films as Gandhi, A Chorus Line, Chaplin, and Cry Freedom.

We have lost one of the shining lights of both the British cinema and Hollywood. Lord Richard Attenborough will be missed.

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

I came late to the party, or at least it seemed that way. By the time I first saw the Rankin-Bass version of "The Hobbit" on television, which I learned about from posters in the English classrooms at school, many of my friends were already into JRR Tolkien. I really enjoyed the animated film and later sought the book out, which I also dug.

Then I moved on to the Lord of the Rings trilogy. This was dense and not written in the light manner of "The Hobbit." I got through "Fellowship" and started "Two Towers," then gave up on it. I put Tolkien in the same category as H.P. Lovecraft and George Lucas, great conceptualists, but lousy on the follow through. Over the next quarter century I did finish the trilogy and even re-read it, but Tolkien's style was not for me.

I did enjoy the LotR movies by Peter Jackson however, but I wasn't gaga over it. My brother-in-law was. He convinced me to watch the ten-hour DVD set of it, and it was all right, once. He also got me to watch The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which I was a bit more excited for. Until the middle of the film, it seemed to go on forever. However once it got rolling it was pretty good, the bits with Gollum, and the Orcs on their trail had my interest.

I recently got a chance to finally see the second installment of The Hobbit, The Desolation of Smaug. First, three parts? Really? This couldn't be one, or two at most? This one had the same problem as the first, it dragged, was even boring in parts. I know Peter Jackson, and a majority of his fan base are in love with Middle-Earth, but it's gotta end some time, and you can't make other people love by making these movies longer.

Has anyone thought of possibly making a TV series, new adventures set in Middle-Earth, to possibly fill this need? Will Jackson be filming "The Silmarillion" or "Tom Bombadil" and making them six to nine hours long? There has to be a stop point, folks. I could see new tales (and there's been a little of that here), but stretching one book to match the trilogy made from three?

Lord of the Rings is a major problem here too, even though those events happen almost a century after The Hobbit. So much is put into setting up LotR that this is more like parts 1-3 of Star Wars rather than The Hobbit. All the bits with Legolas and Sauron, were they really needed, or was this continuity minutiae like what Roy Thomas did with World War II in the All-Star Squadron comic book series?

That said, the Legolas fight scenes were among the best in the movie even though none of it occurred in the book. It also occurs to me why isn't Orlando Bloom in a Marvel movie yet? He is action hero material, and he would be heaven sent casting as Quicksilver, even though that ship has left the dock. I also liked Smaug as voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch. He was very good, except for when he was filling LotR continuity holes. I also disliked the weird love triangle, what the hell was that about?

I liked the movie okay, and it had slow spots as well, giving me a few quick cat naps. I look forward to the third and hopefully final Hobbit film, but I'm not sure I'll see it in the theater, after all, I waited nine months for this one. Your mileage may vary.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Captivated: The Trials of Pamela Smart

Captivated: The Trials of Pamela Smart ~ Before CourtTV, before O.J. Simpson, this was the trial that in the age of tabloid television started it all. There's To Die For, Anatomy of a Murder, and my favorite with Helen Hunt and Chad Allen, Murder in New Hampshire: The Pamela Smart Story. At least three films before this, numerous books, and dozens of TV shows - Pamela Smart is the godmother of television murder trials, and one could say it was almost by design.

Pamela Smart was a media teacher at her local high school, who conned her fifteen year old student boyfriend to murder her husband of less than a year. When the media storm started, before she was a suspect, Smart was the fashionable victim, always looking good for the camera, sometimes even directing the interviews. She was a natural, until she was caught, and then for the camera at least, she went from predator to prey. The media devoured her.

This is the aspect that filmmaker Jeremiah Zagar takes on in his HBO documentary Captivated: The Trials of Pamela Smart, how the media covered this super tabloid circus, and how it reflects on us today. He also contends that the sensationalism of the coverage decided the trial's outcome in the public eye no matter what occurred in the courtroom. This is done with the help of interviews with many involved, including Pamela Smart.

This is not a bad documentary, very watchable for folks who both know the story and those who weren't around when it was happening. My only complaint is that Zagar drives home his thesis like jackhammer in the early morning. It gets old and annoying very quickly. I don't think there's any doubt that Pamela Smart had her husband murdered, or that she was given a fair trial, but there you go.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

G.I. Joe: Retaliation

Well now, this was a surprise. I don't recall being all that impressed with the first G.I. Joe movie. And my connection to Joe is more 1970s Adventure Team than the 1980s Yo Joe anti-terrorists. I felt that the first movie was meant only for folks into the 80s toys and didn't care if it left everyone else behind. I expected more of the same with G.I. Joe: Retaliation. I was pleasantly surprised.

In the aftermath of that first movie the big bads, Cobra, swore revenge. Not only did they get it, but as this film begins, they have already won. The President has been compromised, he is held prisoner as Cobra operative Zartan masquerades as PotUS. An air strike takes out all of the Joes except for a handful who must rebuild and take back a country that now finances and iodizes Cobra as heroes and hates the Joes as villains.

I'm not a fan of Channing Tatum. He's never impressed me much, but here, in the precious little time he's on screen, his chemistry with The Rock is enough so that you miss him and you really almost feel the pain when he dies. Yeah, it's that good. The Rock, as Roadblock, brings his comrades home to the hood to regroup. The Rock equally is good.

The leftovers go to the original G.I. Joe, Bruce Willis, for help. He's fun as the tough old crotchety know-it-all with the heart of gold and a wisecrack for every occasion. The cast is rounded out by David E. Kelley pilot Wonder Woman Adrianne Palicki (who has also just been cast as Mockingbird in "Agents of SHIELD," wow, somebody wants to be a superhero bad) and D.J. Cotrona who is basically Channing Tatum lite.

In between the interesting scenes with The Rock, Bruno and company, there are ninja interludes featuring characters with names like Snake Eyes, Storm Shadow, and Jinx. I didn't have any emotional connection or even knowledge of them, so I just enjoyed them for the James Bond/Shaw Brothers wannabes they were. Fun but hollow.

All in all, while a bit dark in places, G.I. Joe: Retaliation was a fun action flick with more warmth and depth than I ever would have expected. If you're looking for a better than average actioner, this is it. You might be just as surprised as I was.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

RIP Don Pardo

I saw "Saturday Night Live" for the first time in June of 1976. I remember recognizing the voice of announcer Don Pardo right away. I can't rightly say where I knew it from but I knew it. The show has been on the air for almost four decades and he was there for all but one misguided season. The powers that be corrected that mistake quickly.

When the last new show of the current season aired, I actually thought of Don and how long he's been at this, Googled his age and was surprised. I loved the man, and loved his sense of humor, and his ability to deadpan a joke when needed. He did this to great effect in "Weird" Al Yankovic's "I Lost on Jeopardy" and when his usual announcement that "guests of Saturday Night Live stay at the Marriott's Essex House" became part of a bit. He did it with the same finesse as always.

Don Pardo passed away yesterday, quietly in his sleep at the age of 96. SNL is probably what he was known for most even though his golden voice has graced many other shows, games and news, with the same warmth and professionalism. The man and his voice are legend, and I know "Saturday Night Live" will ever be the same again.

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Hobbit 1966

I was surprised to find this treasure on YouTube as I had never heard of such a thing before. This twelve-minute short from 1966 is indeed the first animated version, predating the Rankin-Bass film by eleven years. Rumor has it the producer, William L. Snyder, had to make a movie before selling off the rights. By making a short, Snyder walked off with quite a profit, and then made more from the rights sale.

This version directed by Gene Dietch, while using rather primitive animation and designs by Adolf Born, is actually quite watchable. Gandalf is Gandalf but Bilbo is a bit like David Tennant with hairy feet, it's fun. The narration by Herbert Lass is somber and appropriate, almost like a serious Edward Everett Horton from "Fractured Fairy Tales." I like him, it's like velvet.

The only thing that may stop viewers in their tracks is a previous knowledge of the JRR Tolkien story. Snyder has irrationally changed character names, streamlined events, and eliminated a few dwarves and details along the way. It seems just fine to the uninitiated however.

I am reminded of HBO's "Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child." This is fun, and an oddity for the Tolkien fans, worth checking out.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Brewster's Millions 1945

The 1985 version of Brewster's Millions with Richard Pryor and John Candy is one of my favorite guilty pleasure films. It's silly, it's funny, it's predictable, but the talent involved elevates the movie to a new level. I'll watch it whenever it's on, and laugh every time.

Brewster's Millions is an old idea however. Previous to Richard Pryor's updating, there was a 1945 film, one of a total of ten movie versions, radio dramas, stage plays on and off Broadway, a musical, and numerous adaptations for TV either veiled or obvious. It's been done in cartoons, to music, and even in Bollywood. The story of a man forced to spend money to learn the value of money is resilient. Old ideas get around.

As I recently watched it again, today I'll be talking about the 1945 film. Like all versions of the story, it's based on the 1902 novel by Richard Greaves AKA George Barr McCutcheon, author of the now largely forgotten Graustark book series. There are also elements of the stage play in this. Each version features updates to the times, though originally a stockbroker, here Brewster is a GI returning home from the war.

Here's the gist. Penniless Monty Brewster comes home from the war to find he's inherited eight million dollars, but in order to get it, he must first spend a million dollars in sixty days, with no assets, and not let anyone know why he's doing it. His dead uncle wanted him to hate spending money.

Dennis O'Keefe is in the title role, with Helen Walker as his fiancée, both serviceable. Look for Neil Hamilton, Commissioner Gordon from "Batman." Eddie 'Rochester' Anderson plays the family servant (for lack of a better word, butler maybe? later he's a majordomo) and is by far the best part of the movie. The actor, best known from "The Jack Benny Show," gets all the best lines, the best laughs, and steals the movie. Notably, a sign of its times, the film was banned in Memphis because his character was portrayed and treated too well.

There is care, and comedy, in the style of the decade depicted, but no one on screen approaches the charisma level of Eddie Anderson. I think I would have really dug the movie more had he been cast as Brewster. Still, it's a pleasant entertaining film, and I was happy to see it again. See it if you get the chance.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Gay Purr-ee

Gay Purr-ee ~ At a time when most animated features were made by Disney, this non-Disney entry is largely forgotten. Written by Chuck Jones and his wife, who was moonlighting on his regular gig with Warner Bros., Gay Pur-ee is the rather simple tale of a country cat who comes to the big city, Paris in 1890.

An animated musical, it stars Robert Goulet in his big screen debut and Judy Garland during one of her final comebacks. Uninspired songs, complex fine art inspired backgrounds, and failure to capture the imagination of either adults or children led to its unfortunate sweeping under the rug.

As a kid I remember being bored by it, but even then recognizing the later Chuck Jones style, and that I disliked it. As an adult, I do appreciate the backgrounds a bit more, but they do little to enhance the subpar Jones characters, mannerisms, gimmicks, and inadequate pacing. Red Buttons is annoying here, and the talents of Hermione Gingold are sadly wasted.

Judy Garland had moderate success with "Paris Is A Lonely Town," but truth be told, she could sing the phone book on her worst day and make it sound wonderful. The music here is not good, and none of the songs memorable. As opposed to today, the characters didn't even resemble the actors. Gay Purr-ee is nice to see maybe once, but perhaps otherwise best forgotten.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

RIP Lauren Bacall

Award winning actress of the stage and screen, as well as model and Hollywood legend, Lauren Bacall has passed away. She was 89.

Ms. Bacall first made the scene as a model but soon swept the world, and Humphrey Bogart, off its feet with her film debut in 1944's To Have and Have Not. She continued her film noir journey in Hollywood with beau and eventual husband Bogart in Key Largo, Dark Passage, and The Big Sleep. She continued to model, and act on the screen and on the stage for decades.

Watching her interact and play against Humphrey Bogart was one of the great delights in film history. Their chemistry was undeniable any time they worked together. Lauren Bacall was one of the last queens of the Golden Age of Hollywood, and she will be missed.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

All Things Fun! for Best Comics Shop

Let's talk about comic book shops, shall we? When most folks think about comic book shops, the first thought that comes to mind is The Android's Dungeon, the place run by Comic Book Guy on "The Simpsons" and while there are places like that, they are not the norm. The next thing people think of is the comic book shop on "Big Bang Theory" which is a bit more reality-based, but still not an appetizing place to shop.

And there's All Things Fun! in West Berlin NJ, with a second store at McGuire Air Force Base. Both are run by the wonderful Ed and Dina Evans. The store is (and I admit I'm biased, but the truth is the truth) the best place for comics, games, and toys in the South Jersey/Philadelphia area. All Things Fun! is (like the name says) fun, inviting, and family friendly. Ed and Dina, and the entire staff are some of the coolest folks around, and they love what they do, are knowledgeable about the products, and just plain good people.

Today writer Gail Simone was talking on her Twitter about comic book shops and said the following: "Comic shops that are inviting and inclusive change not just their readership, but actually create communities and acceptance." This is exactly what All Things Fun! is about. I walk into the store, and I know I'll find friends either behind the counter or in front of it that will share my interests.

If you read further on Gail Simone's Twitter, you will find the discussion turning toward how comics shops treat female customers. Many are not very good at it, much like the "Simpsons" and "Big Bang Theory" examples cited at the start of this article, but ATF! is one of the best, not only is it female-friendly, it's also family-friendly.

All Things Fun! is where I met Allison Eckel who's a friend, fellow writer and sometime co-conspirator. With Allison, I write the All Things Fun! Blog, and for years we hosted, with ATF! owner Ed, the All Things Fun! New Comics Vidcast, which on a weekly basis talked about new comics, and even featured kid comics segments for younger readers.

Honestly I can't think of any other comics shop that even comes close to ATF!, it's simply the best place for comics in this area. If you've experienced the store, the staff, and the community of All Things Fun!, maybe you might think about voting for them in the Philly Hot List for Best Comic Book Shop. You can vote here. And vote or not, you're not changing my mind, All Things Fun! is still the best comics shop in the area.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Remembering Robin Williams

Robin Williams is no longer with us as of this afternoon. Authorities are suggesting it was apparently suicide, perhaps brought on by years of fighting depression and addiction. Williams was 63.

The multiple award-winning actor, comedian, voice actor, and writer was a star of film, television, and the stage, and his work influenced generations who followed him. I first became aware of him as most of America did as the star of "Mork and Mindy." First appearing on the megahit "Happy Days" to study Richie and duel the Fonz, Robin's character Mork was quickly spun off into his on series. Fondly remembered, it still holds up somewhat today. One of my favorite things about the show was Robin bringing his idol Jonathan Winters onto the series to play his son.

His road to superstardom was almost supersonic. There was a moment during "Mork and Mindy" in the late 1970s when the man was just everywhere. His comedy album Reality… What A Concept cemented him as a stand-up comedian in the world's eyes, and eventually led to his charity work with such organizations like Comic Relief. He continued to work with many charities until his death.

Williams initially jumped into film as a lead actor in the live-action musical comedy Popeye in 1980, followed two years later by his wonderful turn in The World According to Garp. His role and film choices have gone up and down in quality since then. I have not always been a fan of him or his work, but there is no denying the man's talent, and when he gave a truly brilliant performance. I loved him in The Fisher King, Insomnia, Death to Smoochy, and Dead Poet Society, and he was also good in Good Morning Vietnam, Awakenings, Hook, Aladdin, and Good Will Hunting. He won an Oscar for that last one, but I think his best acting role was in the extremely creepy One Hour Photo. Robin was funny as hell, but man, could he ever play subtle menace.

There are things he did that are amazing in hindsight, such as his appearances on "The Richard Pryor Show" and the failed revival of "Laugh-In." He was quite busy voice acting in many videogames as well, and a big role-playing game enthusiast. Of course he was. And this past television season he was making a serious comeback in "The Crazy Ones." I still remember however the Friday in school after "Mork and Mindy" debuted the night before, everyone was quoting Robin Williams lines the next day. He just had that effect.

I know we'll see him one more time on the screen this Christmas with the third Night at the Museum film, but we won't ever see him as the Riddler, or in the Mrs. Doubtfire sequel. Perhaps his passing will bring attention to the all too common threat of depression. I would hope so. Robin Williams was a great talent, and he will be missed. To you, Robin, I say, in my ninth grade imitation of you, "Fly, be free!"

Friday, August 08, 2014

Garfunkel and Oates

I love the comedy team of Garfunkel and Oates. I dug their digital show on HBO a few years back, and was delighted to hear they were getting a full-time series on IFC. There's no doubt that Riki Lindhome and Kate Micucci are talented and funny, but the question in my mind was could they fill a half-hour on their own?

There were some shaky moments with bad acting and weird pacing that could very well be planned to be awkward examples of cringe humor, but it's hard to tell. About ten minutes in, I was wondering if they could do it or not, having only previously experienced two minute songs and five minute episodes. I really shouldn't have worried. By the end of the first episode, I was convinced, happy, and ready for the next one.

This is a show about them, or fictional versions of them, in the stand-up comedy world, and yes, the hilarious not-safe-for-family-or-work songs are there - they couldn't leave out the best part, could they? This series has the raw absurdity of "Louie" and the real brutality of "Seinfeld." I'm all in, you should be too. "Garfunkel and Oates" airs Thursday nights on IFC.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Planes: Fire & Rescue

Planes: Fire & Rescue ~ I saw this one as part of a double feature at one of the state's only surviving drive-ins, the Delsea Drive-In in Vineland NJ. It was paired up with Guardians of the Galaxy, which was the second time in two days The Bride and I had seen that. If I'm being honest, I think the drive-in experience itself was far more interesting than the Planes flick.

Let's be honest, Planes: Fire & Rescue is a sequel to a sequel/spin-off that was meant only for DVD release but got pushed into theaters because of the success of its forefather, Cars and its official sequel Cars 2. We're seriously treading on King Kong Lives territory here. This can only be so good, and from what I saw, it's serviceable.

To be fair, I have to say we came in late as the folks at Delsea had to search our car to make sure we didn't bring in any outside food contraband, so we missed the first five to ten minutes of the movie. It's the same old story, old plane teaches a new plane new tricks, and learns a lesson himself as well. Dane Cook, Ed Harris, Julie Bowen, Wes Studi, and Patrick Warburton are fun as the voice cast.

I enjoyed the original trailer for this flick as it didn't betray right away that it was either animated or part of the Cars world right away. I kinda wish the movie had taken some of that tact. I liked the use of AC/DC's "Thunderstruck" here, a nice touch. I did doze off a couple times, and while I could blame that on being tired, it should be noted that I did not blink during Guardians of the Galaxy.

I also have to admit that the viewing of any movie happening in the Cars universe bothers me somewhat as I wonder what happened to the people. I highly suspect that this world exists in the aftermath of Stephen King's "Trucks" short story, and is sorta hinted at in Jon Negroni's Pixar Theory. I also can't help but wonder if Thomas the Tank Engine is also part of this world... brrrrr...

Wednesday, August 06, 2014


Maleficent ~ Disney has done a handful of live action versions, or reversions, of their classic animated features that have provided extra details to the original source material and/or presented more adult re-imaginings of those tales that might be more palatable for newer generations or older audiences. Maleficent, spinning off 1959's Sleeping Beauty, is one of these.

Anticipation for this film in particular stems mostly from the inspired casting of Angelina Jolie. I'm not a fan. I loved her as Lara Croft, probably because I never had that much invested in the Tomb Raider videogame, and she was absolutely the fo-shizzle as the Nick Fury wannabe in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. Other than that, I don't have much use for her, but this, well, Angelina Jolie was born to play Maleficent.

Angelina Jolie has the look down, until you get close. What is up with the weird angular bone structure of her fave? Maleficent may have been faerie or sorceress or demon, but she always looked human at least. I also resent the changing of names just for the sake of changing them. It seems as though many of the changes were done for that reason - just cuz.

There is also something to be said of the brilliance of this being her side of the story. It is almost done like the book "The Vampire Lestat" by Anne Rice, in which the villain is the unreliable narrator of the piece, and you don't know he's lying until it's far too late. This film could have played with that concept, compared it with the original Disney classic openly, and been done quite done. They don't go down that route, and the film pays for it.

I was disappointed. I loved most of the visuals, especially the scene where Princess Aurora is cursed, almost a perfect reproduction of the original, but as an entire movie, it disappoints. For more of my thoughts, and The Bride's as well, I'll direct you to the special Maleficent episode of The Make Mine Magic Podcast, you can listen to it here.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Lost Hits of the New Wave #33

The "Quincy" Punk Rock Episode

Back in the day you knew when a trend hit prime time drama, it was over, so over. You knew Satanism was over when "Starsky and Hutch" had to deal with it, and when they did their disco episode... it was clear disco was dead. And then there's the infamous "Quincy" punk rock episode.

"Next Stop Nowhere" first aired on Sunday night, December 1, 1982, in the eighth and final season of "Quincy M.E." I never really watched the show but caught the faux punk band Mayhem as I was popping through channels (there were only a few if them in those pre-cable days). The point of the show was star Jack Klugman fighting against this music that not only promoted violence, but also killed!

Now the silliness of this episode has been skewered and beaten to death by many better than me, like Opie and Anthony (when they were still called Opie and Anthony, that is), so I won't go into that, but there is one more memory of the episode.

The same night it aired, the deejay on WXPN's Yesterday's Now Music Today had taped the two Mayhem songs from the TV, and played them on the show that night. I think that left more of a memory than the episode itself.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy ~ First things first, there will be spoilers for the movie, so if you're looking for a spoiler-free review of Guardians of the Galaxy, that review can be found at Biff Bam Pop! right here, and really, what are you waiting for already? See the movie!

I should confess that these aren't my Guardians of the Galaxy in the movie. I first encountered the Guardians of the Galaxy back in the 1970s at the Berlin Auction, or the Berlin Farmers Market for the folks from Cherry Hill, at one of those newsstands where they would tear the tops of the covers off of comics and sell them three for a quarter. Sometimes the pickings would be sparse, and instead of a Flash or Justice League, you would end up getting something different that you didn't necessarily want. This is how stuff like Lois Lane or Tarzan Family or Daredevil would end up in your collection, ready to be traded at school for something you thought was better.

One of those books that I actually enjoyed and didn't trade was Marvel Presents #3, featuring the original Guardians of the Galaxy. I loved this book. Here the original and somewhat redesigned members of the team - Charlie-27 of Jupiter, Martinex of Pluto, Yondu of Alpha Centauri, and Vance Astro of Earth - were teamed with the cosmic-powered Starhawk to finish off the alien invaders, the Badoon, who had enslaved mankind. This was in the 30th century, and I was well aware of Marvel trying to parallel DC Comics' Legion of Super-Heroes, but I didn't care, this was cool. These heroes bounced around different titles throughout the 1970s before scoring their own series in the 1980s, before disappearing.

These new Guardians of the Galaxy were born in the fires of the Marvel Comics crossover event called Annihilation and its spin-offs and sequels. This event brainstormed by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning took almost all of Marvel's space and cosmic heroes and wove all of their mythologies into one coherent continuity. And that is really what is so amazing about the movie. All of these characters have such continuity-heavy backgrounds in the comics, but in the film are presented with just what you need to know to enjoy the flick. It's magic, and serious props should go to James Gunn and Nicole Perlman.

Star-Lord and Rocket Raccoon were pretty much, to my knowledge at least, one-shot characters from the late 1970s. Thanos, Drax the Destroyer, Lady Gamora, Nebula and that bunch were all part of that weird 1970s cosmic epic involving Captain Mar-Vell and Adam Warlock by Jim Starlin before that. And Groot, well, Groot predates Marvel, going waaay back to Atlas Comics when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were doing giant monster and alien invasion stories in the 1950s. Annihilation brought them together as a team before they came to the big screen. That's that, but as I said, everything you need to know about these characters is on the screen.

There are Easter eggs and tidbits from earlier Marvel movies in here, and it's a major bonus if you know about them, but you don't need to know anything to see and enjoy Guardians of the Galaxy. This could very well be the first Marvel movie for all the background needed. In other words, the fanboy and the fangirl can bring their significant others to this flick and they will enjoy it just as much as their partner.

You'll meet Star-Lord, played by Chris Pratt, playing his charm and charisma for all its worth. He's a funny leading man who will make you blow raspberries at that Robert Downey Jr. guy. He is the default leader of the rogues who become the Guardians. Zoe Saldana plays living weapon Gamora, with wrestler Dave Bautista (or is it Batista?  I've seen it spelled both ways) as the literal-minded Drax the Destroyer. The personality quirks of these two characters mixed with Star-Lord are part of what makes this flick so much fun.

The real fun with characters and interaction come from the two CGI entries Rocket and Groot. Rocket is a genetically engineered raccoon (but don't call him that) who's as handy with tech as he is with big guns. Voiced by Oscar-nominated actor Bradley Cooper, Rocket and his bodyguard/partner Groot are the breakout characters here. Groot, whose vocabulary consists of three words, "I am Groot" (voiced by Vin Diesel), is a huge tree creature of many different abilities. Both of them are lots of fun.

These characters go from hating each other to making a Great Escape break out to eventually saving the galaxy - I'm sure that's not a spoiler or surprise, but their bonding is at the core of the flick. Real plot details involve big bads everywhere, including James Brolin's Thanos, Benicio del Toro as The Collector, former "Doctor Who"companion Karen Gillan as Nebula, Michael Rooker of "The Walking Dead" as Yondu, and the wonderfully designed Ronan the Accuser as played by Lee Pace.

As far as cameos go there is of course Stan Lee, but also look for Glenn Close, John C. Reilly, Troma's Lloyd Kaufman, and the voices of Nathan Fillion, Rob Zombie, and in the after-credits sequence, Seth Green as Howard the Duck. Yeah, that's right, Howard the Duck. Perhaps this more character-correct (although it's only one line) version can help erase the George Lucas abomination from 1986, and of course now that Disney owns Marvel, Howard can go pantless. Also, as this movie proves that Rocket Raccoon can be done believably, maybe we can get a real Howard film in the future…

One of the best parts of Guardians of the Galaxy is the soundtrack, not the terrific score by Tyler Bates, but the songs featured throughout. Star-Lord has a cassette tape of 1970s hits that play throughout the film, and it is almost as important as the characters to the film, because the movie wouldn't be the same without it. The 1970s vibe rocks the movie and makes it special.

It is not all good however. We get precious little of Thanos, and the Collector's scenes are more than a bit disappointing (although we get to see a Celestial!), although I did dig that his home was inside the dead skull of a Celestial. I would have liked to have seen more use of Nebula, as would most "Doctor Who" fans coming to the flick. I am sure however we will see her again, as well as her father as I believe Thanos plays heavily in Avengers 3, and of course Guardians 2 is a go as well.

If wanting more is my only complaint, how bad could the flick really be? In fact, I think this is one of the best of the marvel movies, right up there with Iron Man, Captain America, and Avengers, and that's high praise indeed. If you want a bit more of my thoughts (and The Bride's), you can check out our special Guardians of the Galaxy episode of The Make Mine Magic Podcast.