Tuesday, September 30, 2014


Folks who are regular listeners to The GAR! Podcast already know some of my feelings on Fox's new pre-Batman series "Gotham," or at least the first episode, and if you haven't heard, you check it out here. I hate to say it, but after viewing the second episode, my feelings haven't changed much.

"Gotham" tells the tale of Jim Gordon (Ben McKenzie) joining the Gotham City police force and finding every bit of the department, as well as the city, completely corrupt. Partnered with Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue), he weaves his way through early versions of Batman's rogues gallery as he tries to solve the murder of Bruce Wayne's parents. So it's a lofty goal we know our hero will never obtain. Batman finds the Waynes' killer, every comics fan knows this, so we know from the get-go that the hero of this piece can not even win.

The worst part of "Gotham" is the part that one might think all of the fanboys and fangirls want - the winks and nudges from the comics. Oh, look, it's Catwoman, and Penguin, and Riddler, oh and that must be the Joker. The problem is they beat these references like a dead horse and they take away from the parts of the show that actually are good. "Gotham" is a pretty good police drama, and I said it on the podcast, and I'll say it again here, it would be a great police drama without all the Batman stuff.

This is a new production, and yes, I should look at it as completely new, but it's hard when I already know all the players. The creators of "Gotham" have played with the timelines so that chronology is off. Montoya and Allen, as well as Bullock, are contemporaries of Gordon as opposed to younger employees of the older Gordon. And then of course there's the concept that all of Batman's enemies are at least a decade older than he is. It's a hard concept to get one's head around after reading thousands of comics.

The casting is wonderful. I love Donal Logue, no matter what he's in, and the casting of the various Bat-villains is inspired. Robin Lord Taylor is a perfect Penguin, if not in shape, in performance, mannerisms, and behavior. Camren Bicondova is almost a young Michelle Pfeiffer stunt and face double. Cory Michael Smith is the perfect Riddler in the same way Taylor is to Penguin.

Standing head and shoulders above the rest of the cast is Jada Pinkett-Smith as Fish Mooney, the one character who has no counterpart in the comics. Every other character when you meet them, as a comics reader, you already now what to expect. You have some idea of what they are like before they open their mouth or do anything. Fish Mooney is the wild card, the unpredictable element that makes "Gotham" fun. The show needs more of those, and less of the Batman stuff.

I may hang in for a few more episodes, but I can't see myself, or the series itself, holding on much longer.

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story

Full disclosure first. I have never seen more than a few fleeting moments of any episode of "Saved by the Bell." I know it was a sitcom about high school, I could probably pick the guy who played Screech out if a line up, and I know one of the girls from the show eventually starred in Showgirls, but that's about it. I am virtually a "Saved by the Bell" virgin.

So why am I watching this Lifetime drama about the show? You could say I'm a masochist, or a glutton for punishment, or, like testing weird potato chip flavors over at French Fry Diary, I do it so you won't have to.

"Saved by the Bell" was a sitcom, sort of, on Saturday mornings. It began on the Disney Channel as a show about a teacher played by Hayley Mills, when it turned out viewers were watching more for the kids, it was turned into "Saved by the Bell" on NBC on Saturday mornings. The kids were basically templates of the Archie kids, with an African-American girl added for diversity.

This all seems very cookie cutter and formulaic on the surface, but it worked. Today, we're up to two spin-off sequels, two TV movies, at least two unauthorized musicals, and this movie, based on the book "Behind the Bell" by Dustin Diamond, the actor who played Screech. Later, Diamond would recant much of the blaming his ghost writer for making up some of the juicier bits. With Diamond as an executive producer, I wonder how much of the juicy stuff made it into this flick?

For me, with no real background in the show, I actually kinda enjoyed it. Perhaps unencumbered by facts this was a good movie, and that's about as left handed as I can get about it. I liked the breaking the fourth wall storytelling of the young Dustin Diamond character, and being a child of the eighties, I liked the soundtrack, even though none of the songs matched the years.

Again, I can't say whether it's true or not, but it was fairly entertaining, even if there were a lot of subplots left unresolved. A pleasant pass of two hours, even if I had to sit through ads for the new Brittany Murphy movie fifty times.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Houdini on History

The big new television event this last Labor Day weekend was the two-part Houdini mini-series on The History Channel. I love Houdini. I love movies and documentaries and books about Houdini. I even love the surviving fragments of his movie serials. The man was awesome. This mini-series was... a great illusion.

Adrien Brody is in the title role and it's one that fits him well. Not only does he look like Harry Houdini both facially and in body type, he has that mysterious air about him. Despite his miscasting in Peter Jackson's King Kong, he's perfect here. Kristen Connolly is pretty fair in the role of Bess, and even though it's a cameo, it is always good to see Barry from "EastEnders."

The soundtrack, a lively rocking score by John Debney, is one of the best I've heard in some time. I'm looking forward to finding it somewhere soon. This score fits the quick cut flashy MTV way this was filmed. It's not a complaint, but a compliment. Stylistically this is an amazing piece of work, style it has, it's the other areas where it lacks.

The mini-series takes us from the magician's childhood to Harry and Bess Houdini's days on the road before he became famous to his death on stage in 1926. There is both truth and fiction here as with all Houdini stories. This version even takes into account Houdini's supposed service to the US government as a spy. And then there's a lot more iffy stuff here for a program that aired on The History Channel.

History's Houdini was keen on showing us how many stunts and tricks were done, but what it wasn't good at was telling the truth. The facts elude the movie event like the real Houdini escaping chains and cages. The Wild About Harry website had a lot to say about how far from the truth this mini-series strayed, and it's not pretty.

Now the 1960s Tony Curtis film and the 1970s Paul Michael Glaser telemovie weren't that great on the facts either, and I loved them. And I admit to liking this one as well, but in its four hours it lacks the heart the other two had in half the time. Recommended for those who aren't depending on facts or looking for more than a story that barely touches the surface.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Castle in the Sky

Castle in the Sky ~ When I first saw this movie way back in the late 1980s at Philadelphia's Roxy Screening Room, It was called Laputa: Castle in the Sky. As it's been passed around from different distribution companies with vaious translations and dubs, it's also been known as Island in the Sky, City in the Sky, and Laputa: The Flying Island. I know that I searched for a copy for decades, and was thrilled when Disney finally released it as part of their Studio Ghibli line in 1998. It is my favorite of those films, and my favorite by Hayao Miyazaki, who wrote, directed, and produced it.

The film focuses on a young girl and her new friend running from fascist government spies and military, as well as air pirates, as all pursue a mythical city in the sky called Laputa. As it turns out, she is the long lost princess of Laputa and only her pendant can find the city and release its secrets, which include, not only a treasure, but also a weapon of mass destruction. The legends are pulled from not only Jonathan Swift's book "Gulliver's Travels" but also the Hindu epic "The Ramayana" as well with its Indra's arrow.

The characters are wonderfully Miyazaki originals, coming across like a weird hybrid of both Max Fleisher and "Speed Racer." There is some terrific design work that both conjures a Welsh mining town that Miyazaki once visited, his love of airplanes (as evidenced in The Wind Rises), and a firm foundation in all things steampink. The Goliath and Tiger Moth airships, and the amazing flaptors of Dola's air pirates are excellent examples of that.

I love the chase sequences, and the battling airships. This is a steampunk pulp fan's wet dream, high adventure at its finest. The characters are fun, you can love them, you can hate them, and most of all root for them and fear for them. There are characters in live action 'real' movies that are not as three dimensional as these folks. The Disney dub boasts a voice cast that includes Anna Paquin, James Van Der Beek, Mandy Patinkin, Andy Dick, and absolutely stellar performances by Cloris Leachman as Dola and Mark Hamill as the evil Muska.

I love this film, and it's easily in my top ten or twenty favorite films of all time. If you like anime, or adventure, or steampunk - this is absolutely must see, but really I think everyone will enjoy Castle in the Sky.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Z Nation

If there's anything better than a movie by The Asylum, it would have to be a TV series by The Asylum, and "Z Nation," their first does not disappoint.

The Asylum is perhaps best known for their low budget 'homages' to current blockbusters currently in theaters. They have also earned the term 'mockbusters.' They have treated us to such great flicks as Abraham Lincoln Vs. Zombies, Snakes on a Train, and, ahem, Atlantic Rim. And of course they have also been responsible for Mega Python Vs. Gatoroid, Nazis at the Center of the Earth, and the absolute classic Sharknado.

Now, The Asylum joins SyFy in producing a TV series determined to cash in on another current mega trend, zombies, and perhaps more specifically, AMC's "The Walking Dead." Their version is called "Z Nation," and it's set three years after the zombie apocalypse. The world has been ravaged by a virus that turns the recently dead into zombies, and unlike "TWD," more like 28 Days Later, these buggers can run rather than shamble. The threat level is raised considerably.

Much like "The Walking Dead," this is a road trip adventure, but this one has an objective, one more specific than simple survival. Here what remains of military order must get a survivor whose blood may contain a vaccine cure from New York to the last viral lab in California. This added hopeful endgame gives "Z Nation" an edge that unfortunately "The Walking Dead" doesn't have.

The cast is surprising. Harold Perrineau in an action lead role (shame he's only in the first episode), DJ Qualls in a fairly serious role, at least at first, ditto for Tom Everett Scott, and all are indeed very impressive. It's almost enough to make us forget this is an Asylum production. I was very impressed, this show is good. The only thing I didn't like about it was the inclusion of a baby in the first episode, but even that exceeded expectations.

And on another note, also like "TWD," the term 'zombie' is rarely if ever used. Instead of walkers or biters, the undead on "Z Nation" are called Zs. Short but sweet. And worse than just being fast, they're smart, they think, they plan. "Z Nation" does not fool around. This is much better than anyone expected it to be. Worth watching for fans of the genre.

And if you'd like more of "The Walking Dead," check out my friend Marie Gilbert's reviews of the series here at Biff Bam Pop!, and more on "Z Nation" over at The Nerd Signal.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Beware the Batman: "Nexus"

Regular readers of my work at Biff Bam Pop! know that I recently wrote an overview of the most recent Batman animated series - "Beware the Batman." The show continues to air at the ungodly hour of 2:30 AM on the Cartoon Network late Saturday nights/early Sunday mornings. Thank goodness for DVRs.

A couple weeks back Batman finished a large story arc where he faced off against Ras Al Ghul and an odd assemblage of his foes
from the series. Circumstances of the conflict caused Alfred to leave, so now Batman and Katana are on their own. Onto this relatively clean slate we get the introduction of a classic Batman character and future villain, District Attorney Harvey Dent, who in the comics, after an unfortunate encounter with acid, becomes the sinister split personality Two-Face.

Here, in what is possibly the best episode of the series so far, "Nexus," Dent is the adversary and the force behind capturing the masked vigilante Batman. So simple, so pure, and so back to basics, I liked this a lot. Batman and Katana are working well as partners, Gordon is finally in place as Police Commissioner, the Bat-Signal is in use, and Dent is anti-Batman.

Speaking of the anti-Batman, Anarky is also here to play. Originally, in the comics, Anarky was a potential Robin, but here in "Beware the Batman," he is more like a subtle version of the Joker, with a bit less insanity, and wearing a cross between Batman's traditional costume and Moon Knight's.

This is an awesome episode, and a great introduction to the series if you're coming in late. And of course, you'll have to be coming in late because that when Cartoon Network airs it. Good stuff is coming, Metamorpho returns this weekend, and then, the Paul Kirk Manhunter!

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Joan Rivers 1933-2014

We lost Joan Rivers today. The award winning actress, producer, writer, director, hostess, and comedienne was 81. The star of stage, film, and television will be missed.

Joan Rivers has been around as long as I can remember. While still fairly young she first started showing up on Johnny Carson's "The Tonight Show" around the time I was born. She was always a hit, always hilarious. Later as the show entered its guest host phase, when Johnny would take weeks off at a time and they would have a fill-in for a week at a time, Joan rose to prominence.

I loved her stand-up and she interacted with guests almost as easily as Johnny. She was almost the designated guest host throughout most of the seventies and early eighties. Joan was always funny, sometimes later mean and funny, but always funny. Most of her jokes revolved around her husband Edgar, and her star shined bright.

Sadly her career turn a bad turn when she chose to go against Johnny as his competitor on the fledgling Fox network. The show, which eventually fell into the hands of Arsenio Hall, was not a good move. It's even been said that the stress of the show may have killed her husband. Joan drifted after that, falling into crazed and botched plastic surgery and hosting home shopping shows before she found a new career on the red carpet with the E! network.

Joan's meanness had tamed, and her face was nearly unrecognizable, but her presence and humor shone through as she, along with her daughter Melissa, interviewed celebrities on the entertainment channel.

I will still remember sneaking downstairs at 11:35 PM weeknights to see Joan's monologue on "The Tonight Show" as I also did with Johnny, and David Brenner, and Jerry Seinfeld, etc. I'll remember how much everyone wanted to see her movie Rabbit Test in eighth grade, and how bad it actually was. Joan was funny, and yes, she'll be missed.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

La Jetee

La Jetee ~ This is an interesting little film, and by little, I mean it. It's just under a half-hour long. Written and directed by Chris Marker, it was apparently the inspiration for 1995's 12 Monkeys. This is how I first encountered it. When 12 Monkeys was in theaters, I was working in a video rental store and everyone wanted to see the inspiration for the flick. Needless to say, there were not a lot of customers who were happy with this award-winning twenty-eight minute black and white art film from 1962. That's not to say its not good, let's just say it's different, and not what they expected.

La Jetee is almost exactly the stereotype we mainstream American movie goers think of when we think of a French film. It's arty, subtitled or dubbed (from two different languages), avant garde, hard to understand, and makes 1980s jeans commercials seem to have more depth. And then there's the weirdness of it not actually being a 'motion picture' at all - it's composed of all still shots with voiceover.

Want to give an unsophisticated American Brad Pitt and Bruce Willis fan a headache? Here you go, all in one half-hour package. I remember I had several customers raise a stink not wanting to pay for the rentals for reasons ranging from 'it's not a real movie' to the more direct 'it sucks.' Sorry, no refunds, even for this.

Not being what one would expect is not necessarily bad. La Jetee is just different, very different from 12 Monkeys, but thematically so however. We're still dealing with time travel, just not traditionally so, like its American cousin. In post-nuclear World War III Paris, scientists are trying to send people to the past and to the future in order to save their present, prevent the war, and save civilization. Paradoxes occur and our hero is on the run, haunted by a childhood memory, but eventually things come full circle in an ending that would make O. Henry smile.

If you remove 12 Monkeys from the equation and from your head, La Jetee can be quite compelling and you'll forget all the obstacles that may at first seem hard to get over. The twenty-eight minutes fly by as you're pulled into this world and this man's journey. Marker blends striking imagery with an intriguing storytelling style to create a startling vision. Worth seeing, those long ago video store customers didn't know what they were talking about.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

The Eye of the Tiger

Jimi Jamison, the lead singer of Survivor, a mainstay of the eighties pop/rock scene, died yesterday of a heart attack at the age of 64.

While many who weren't there, listening to the radio or watching MTV, might believe Survivor was a one-hit wonder with their biggest hit, "Eye of the Tiger," the song of the summer of 1982 and the musical vibe of Rocky III, that just wouldn't be true. Several hits from Survivor came and went, unfortunately now unremembered, in the 1980s, like "High on You," "Burning Heart" (from Rocky IV), "I Can't Hold Back," "American Heartbeat," and "The Search Is Over."

After breaking up at the end of the decade, the band reunited four years later and continued on for quite some time. Jamison left the band, was replaced, and then returned later that same year of 2012. Survivor continues from then on with two lead singers.

Jimi was also the lead singer of Cobra before joining Survivor, and was also noted for writing the theme song of "Baywatch."