Friday, October 31, 2014

Arrow S03 E03: "Corto Maltese"

Corto Maltese was originally the name of a late sixties European comics series by Italian creator Hugo Pratt about a sailor adventurer named Corto Maltese. Writer/artist Frank Miller liked it so much he used the name for an embattled South American island nation in his classic The Dark Knight Returns. Later in homage to that, it appears in the photography of Vicki Vale in 1989's Batman film. It was later brought into the DC Universe proper and was even mentioned on TV's "Smallville."

In the Arrowverse, Corto Maltese was first brought up waaay back in the first season episode "Lone Gunmen" as a place Deadshot was operating. Here, it is where Malcolm Merlyn has brought Thea Queen for training. Oliver is obsessed with finding her and is off to Corto Maltese, with Roy and Diggle in tow. Diggle has a second mission while he's down there however, checking on an operative named Mark Shaw who had gone dark.

Yes, the DCU is alive and well in this episode of "Arrow." Mark Shaw is just one of the people who has gone under the name Manhunter. Another would be Kate Spencer, who, still alive and active as Manhunter in the comics, died at the hands of one of Deathstroke's soldiers in last season's "Streets of Fire." Here Mark Shaw is not quite as heroic as in the comics, and ambushes Diggle. Anyone who knows Shaw's earlier Star Tsar and Privateer background, this shouldn't be a surprise.

While Diggle and Oliver are off playing spy with Mark Shaw, Roy does what they actually came to Corto Maltese for, he talks to Thea. He seems to get through to a little, but then Oliver tries his brand of pseudo-truth, which of course he tells her everything but. Just when you think Oliver has changed, has learned something... it becomes apparent he's the same guy he was years ago.

We also meet a very young Ted Grant, better known in the comics as Wildcat, Golden Age superhero and Justice Society member. Notably he taught many heroes to fight including Batman, Catwoman, and yeah, the Black Canary. Laurel comes to his boxing gym looking for a Tom Bronson, who in the comics is his son, his namesake, and a were-panther... but I don't think we're going there... Where we are going should be obvious however, Laurel will at last become the Black Canary.

Thea's training seems awful Batman-ish, but what can you do. John Barrowman is the perfect melding of father, mentor, and sociopath as Malcolm Merlyn, it is hard to dislike him. I want him to be Captain Jack, but I'm relishing him as Malcolm. In a nod to the comics, and the second Speedy, Thea is called Mia. Finally. I like it.

Shaw is making a deal with the ARGUS intel he stole with a man named Armitage. Sharp viewers will remember that Armitage supplied Malcolm Merlyn with the Markov device back in "Tremors." I love that Oliver was able to fashion bows and arrows from stuff in their hotel room. I wonder how much they'll be charging his credit card?

In the end, we get no real resolution to the Mark Shaw storyline. Does he go free? Go to jail? Extradited to ARGUS? If the answer was there, I missed it. Thea comes home with the boys, but Malcolm says he'll see her soon. Felicity takes some time off to go over to "The Flash" this past week, and Ray Palmer discovers Queen Consolidated was making high tech weapons. Laurel begins her training with Ted Grant after Oliver refuses to help her. And Nyssa drops by the Arrowcave looking for Sara.

Other DC Comics references include the executive assistant Ray Palmer assigns to Felicity, Jerry Conway. Gerry Conway was the creator of Firestorm, a character and comic that both "Arrow" and "The Flash" reference constantly, and also longtime writer of Justice League of America, a comic that regularly featured Green Arrow, Black Canary, and the Atom. There's also Coast City, home city of Green Lantern and Ferris Aircraft.

Next: The Magician!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Origins of Dillon

Folks who read my stuff know that I'm not fond of origin stories. Oh, I like to know the origin of my heroes but I would rather not be beaten over the head with them. I dislike reboots for this reason, inevitably we're going to have to go through the origin all over again for the umpteenth time.

Remember the superheroes of the movie serials? You would get one line about where the hero came from, and then it was off into the action and the meat of the story. That's all you really need. Remember the origin of Batman in the 1966 TV series? It was there, done just like that, in one line of dialogue. Heck, they did it with the man of steel in under thirty seconds in the opening of every episode of "The Adventures of Superman."

Similarly I feel the same way about the training of heroes. I was soured on "Smallville" fairly early and it's pretty much how I feel about Fox's "Gotham" for this same reason. I don't want to see the hero learning to be the hero, I want to see the hero be the hero. This is why I approached two recent books featuring one of my favorite pulp heroes, Derrick Ferguson's Dillon, with great trepidation.

Derrick has purposely been vague about the origins of his hero Dillon, telling us just what we needed to know about his mysterious beginnings, and leaving the details in the shadows. I expected to be bored quite honestly learning the finer details of his origin. I was wrong. In Young Dillon in the Halls of Shamballah, a novel meant specifically for a young adult audience (but I notably enjoyed it as much as I have all the 'adult' Dillon novels), we meet the hero as a child, and are walked through the details of what we had been told vaguely, and I dug it.

Derrick knows the secret. He wasn't telling us the origin of Dillon even though it's in there, or at least parts of it are - he was telling us a story. This is key for beginning writers. I run into so many folks, especially in the NaNoWriMo, that have a great idea, a cool concept, some intriguing characters - but what they don't have is a story. DF pulls me happily through an origin story I didn't want with a compelling story I did want. Thumbs up.

The second part of Dillon's origin did more than give me a compelling story, it introduced me to classic pulp character I was heretofore unaware of, and a writer whose work I'm now a fan of. The Vril Agenda, written by Derrick Ferguson and Joshua Reynolds, stars a slightly older Dillon in search of training as a hero, and the adventurer known as the Super-Detective, Jim Anthony.

This novel was everything I could have wanted, and never could have imagined I wanted in a pseudo-origin story/pulp adventure. The only thing I could have wanted more of would be, well, more. The Vril Agenda has a story told in two timelines, ancient secret societies, secret empires, mad villains, brave heroes, Nazis, and pulp, so much pulp. I loved this book, and I highly recommend it, along with Young Dillon. If you crave adventure, origin or not, new pulp is calling you.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Doctor Who S08 E10: In the Forest of the Night

"The forest is in all those stories that kept you awake at night. The forest is mankind's nightmare."

As we open this episode The Doctor allows a little girl, Maebh Arden, to wander into the TARDIS. At first I thought, oh no, not another little girl, and then when I saw the terrific chemistry Peter Capaldi had with her... my mind began to wander. Forget Clara, perhaps this is the kind of companion this Doctor needs - either a child or someone with a child's mind? These two worked well together, so much better than Clara and The Doctor, I thought. I'd watch this team.

Apparently the Earth has been covered in vegetation overnight. The TARDIS is in the middle of London, along with Clara, Danny Pink, their class of 'special' kids, and The Doctor - and yet they are all engulfed in a thick forest. When all the kids are in the TARDIS of course, it becomes apparent that one kid equals good, more than one equals "Get off my lawn!"

Later on, it gets a bit silly with a psychic Little Red Riding Hood, wolves, a solar flare, trees saving the planet, and Danny Pink mesmerizing a tiger, but it's still a fairly good episode, better than some this season. Again, Clara is the whiny voice of conscience and clarity, and with this Doctor, that may be the last thing he needs. Boo hiss, let Maebh be a companion.

Peter Capaldi is at his manic and mean best here. Even if the stories are failing "Doctor Who," Capaldi is not. After this one and "Flatline," I am finally liking Peter Capaldi. It may have taken nine or ten episodes, but he's finally grown into The Doctor.

Next: The Finale Begins!

Don't forget to follow my weekly reviews of "Doctor Who" at Biff Bam Pop!, and check out David S. Ward's thoughts on this episode here. Special thanks to David for covering for me while I was on vacation!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. S02 E05: "A Hen in the Wolf House"

What I have always said about "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.," even during the dark days when no one was watching it, was that it was great espionage television, and it's been a long time since we've had such a thing. This week's episode was full of all the things the genre cool - enemy agents, independent agents, and double agents.

Palicki in the costume that debuts tonight.
And speaking of double agents, this episode features the debut of Bobbi Morse, as played by Adrianne Palicki, who was previously Wonder Woman in the unaired pilot by David E. Kelley. In the comics she's better known as Mockingbird. If you're looking for a blonde double agent with an attraction to archers, and you can't afford the Black Widow, and don't own Black Canary, Mockingbird is the next best thing.

Her codename is never mentioned, her hair is not blonde (although it's later referenced that it once was), and her outfit looks like she raided the leftover Cylon reject wardrobe of "Battlestar Galactica," but she is still kicking ass and taking names with her trademark battle staves. There's no mention of on again/off again husband Hawkeye, but she's mercenary Lance Hunter's ex-wife.

Bobbi saves Jemma Simmons from the clutches of Hydra when her cover is blown. Hopefully her time with the enemy will provide valuable information, and her presence help balance her old partner Fitz. I'm also glad to see Bobbi join the team, but hope her super-badassery will not dilute Agent May's only human badassery.

Skye almost gets to meet her dad, and it seems as we've been told, he's an alien monster in human form, killing indiscriminately. Kyle MacLachlan plays this to the hilt with appropriate weirdness. The bad news is that he's aligned himself with Kraken and Hydra. Dear old Dad also says the Obelisk is called The Diviner in its native language.

Speaking of which, Skye also has made progress translating the alien language. She says it's a map. A map perhaps to the Kree homeworld Hala? Time will tell.

In the meantime, please don't forget to check out my friend and fellow Biff Bam Pop! columnist J.P. Fallavollita for his review of this episode along with a few of his theories on the alien language, and my regular reviews of the "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." series here. Thanks again, J.P.!

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Flash S01 E03: "Things You Can't Outrun"

The Mist is The Flash's adversary this time out. I don't really like the villain ratio so far. The Flash has the coolest rogues gallery this side of Spider-Man, Batman, and Dick Tracy, yet in three outings he's faced a Firestorm foe, a Starman foe, and the brother of one of his own enemies. I'm not liking this record.

Those who know their comics know that The Mist is the archenemy of Starman, a generational villain that has plagued the Knight family superhero legacy for several decades. Some time ago there was a TV series in the works for the Jack Knight Starman, I wonder if any of the new spins on The Mist were recycled from that?

On a movie theater marquee we see Blue Devil II - Hell to Pay and The Rita Farr Story, and a crime on Waid Boulevard! So many wonderful comics references before we barely even get started with this episode, and I loved the meta-nerd ecstasy of the STAR team when figuring out how The Mist does what he does.

In the excitement of repurposing the particle accelerator into a makeshift metahuman prison, we get a flashback to the accident nine months ago, and our first glimpse of Ronnie Raymond. Caitlin's fiancée, played by Robbie Amell (Stephen's cousin), eventually becomes half of Firestorm in the comics. Speaking of the comics, Caitlin, who later becomes Killer Frost is considerably warmer with him around.

We get the brief outlines of the origin of Firestorm, sans Professor Martin Stein, in the flashback death of Ronnie. We also see that Wells was not only watching Barry's accident, but knew it was going to happen. I also kinda dug how Barry blurred his face Golden Age Flash style to keep his dad from recognizing him. Vibrating through walls can't be far behind. This episode had spectacular visual effects and is still my favorite show on TV right now, and it can only get better.

Next: Captain Cold! Finally.

Be sure to check out my regular weekly reviews of "The Flash" over at Biff Bam Pop! here, and check out my friend and colleague Jim Knipp's thoughts on this same episode here. He was cool enough to pinch hit for me while I was on vacation, thanks, Jim!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Death Bed - The Play

You all know what a fan of Patton Oswalt I am, and if you know the man's stand-up work, you've heard about one of the worst movies ever made - Death Bed. And just like Patton says, it's real.

If you have heard his routine about Death Bed, you know what an accomplishment it is. Now, Death Bed moves higher into the pinnacle of success, it's now a play. Written by Gwenyfer Rohler, and directed by Steve Vernon, "Death Bed: The Play" is for real.

This coming week, October 23 through November 2, Big Dawg Productions presents "Death Bed: The Play" at The Cape Far Play House during Big Dawg's Halloween Horror Theatre Festival. Check out the website for more information here.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Arrow S03 E02: "Sara"

We open just moments after we left off last episode. Our Canary is dead, murdered by three arrows in the chest from an unseen (by the viewers) assailant. Laurel brings her to the Arrowcave.

Who did it? Sara knew her killer, and asked what they were doing there. My guesses are Malcolm or Thea (longshots) or someone from the League of Assassins or even Ras Al Ghul himself. Despite this being a show about Green Arrow, there aren't as many archer suspects as one might think. Huntress? Nah. Oliver himself says there are ten he knows of. My money is on Ras, directly or indirectly.

To complicate matters, Lance calls in the Arrow to bring in a new archer in town who's killing people. This was one of the bugaboos of the Golden Age and Silver Age Green Arrow stories. Why does everyone in a costume in Star City seem to want to use a bow and arrows as their weapon of choice? Is there something in the water?

The archer terrorizing the city is one from the comics who goes by the name Komodo. In the comics, Simon Lacroix was a protege of Oliver's father who was obsessed with an 'arrow totem' that supposedly provided enlightenment. He killed Oliver's father for it, and when he didn't find it, became the masked Komodo and vowed to destroy Green Arrow.

In the show however, Komodo appears to be simply another bow-toting assassin. The motorcycle duel between the archers would have been much cooler had it been lighted better, and we had more than just barely different colored helmets to identify the characters. I mean really, a red helmet could have just as easily been Roy/Speedy/Arsenal, right?

When Komodo crashes Ray Palmer's party, and Arrow and Roy follow suit to stop him, all I could think is what all the party goers must have thought - wow, that's a lot of guys with bows and arrows. And it turns out just like we thought - Komodo is not on the suspect list for Sara's death.

Ray Palmer continues to pursue Felicity on a seriously creepy stalker level. And maybe it's the writing or the behavior, but he is nowhere near as charming or charismatic as he was last week. After Superman Returns and his creepy Ray Palmer here, I think Brandon Routh should try a full-on stalker role, he might be good at it, definitely better than the way he plays heroes. And how is it Ray Palmer us so rich on TV but not in the comics?

Laurel continues her instability from last season, but at least she's not annoying about it this time. She's playing a little rough and crazy, edging her closer to putting on Sara's leather as the new Canary. The fact that Dad doesn't want her taking risks pretty much telegraphs that she will. Of course, things don't always go as we think they do, right? How many of us at the beginning of this ride thought Tommy Merlyn would become Merlyn the Magician? More on Tommy later.

One Easter egg I actually missed last episode was from the flashback sequences. Oliver was being held in Hong Kong by an Asian man, who in turn was being made to follow the orders of Amanda Waller. She threatened his family if he didn't, and his family? The little girl who in the comics grows up to become the Outsider known as Katana.

Speaking of flashbacks, surprisingly, Tommy Merlyn has come to Hong Kong looking for Oliver, lured by the aborted email last week. Just like "The Sopranos," just because a character is dead doesn't mean they are off the show. Way to go, Colin Donnell. Not much of a return, but still worth seeing him.

Namedrops this episode include Qurac, Amazons, Bludhaven, and Corto Maltese where we see Malcolm training Thea. Sara's death and Oliver's refusal to mourn deepens the gorge between him and Felicity. Roy suspects Thea isn't where she says she is. Without Oliver's mom, the soap opera has lessened, but it hasn't disappeared. And was anyone else creeped out that Team Arrow buried Sara for real in her fake grave??

Next: Corto Maltese!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Arrow S03 E01: "The Calm"

Quite a few changes occurred in the season two finale of "Arrow." Roy got better and was promoted to masked vigilante, still no codename, but if I had to bet, it would be Arsenal not Speedy or Red Arrow. Speaking of Speedy, Mia is now with her birth father, Malcolm Merlin. Sara has returned to the League of Assassins, and Laurel was let in on the secret of Team Arrow. And oh yeah, our new flashback destination is Hong Kong with Oliver working for Amanda Waller.

We open on Team Arrow acting smooth unison taking down a character I swear was a baddie from "Wiseguy," but what do I know? The episode title adequately describes the team here, peaceful and happy. Diggle and Lyla having a baby, Oliver and Felicity pseudo-dating, all friends united for a common cause. Roy is a little rough, but then he's always been a little rough, probably just missing Mia.

We are five months later, Laurel is a little bit blonder (closer to becoming a Canary herself), her dad has a cane and an illness keeping him from fieldwork, and the anti-vigilante task force has been disbanded. Arrow is finally a hero, or at least not hunted by the police. With crime at an all time low, and the police cooperating with the Arrow, it's hard times for the underworld, don't worry, nature abhors a vacuum.

Someone has to step up to organize the baddies against Arrow. That someone has an accent and has modified the drug called Vertigo to show its user/victim their greatest fear. Well, it's a bit more Scarecrow than Count Vertigo, but this series has never shied away from the shadows of the Bat-universe. His name is Werner Zytle, in the comics, he is appropriately enough the second Count Vertigo. And I love his Prokofiev whistle.

Felicity has been working at a tech support job in the time since last season. It begs the question of who's paying for dinner on this big date between her and Oliver. Obviously, she is. One customer takes an interest in her, suspiciously looking like a deadbeat dad super-stalker. Yeah, it's Brandon Routh, only this time he's playing a superhero other than Superman. This time he's Ray Palmer, who is probably not yet the Atom.

Ray Palmer is sharp, quirky, and charismatic. If Routh had been this much fun as the man of steel, I might have liked Superman Returns more. He wants to take over Queen Consolidated, and turn the old brutalized Starling City into the new and improved (and closer to the comics version) Star City. Not only is Routh entertaining as heck, he also wants a piece of Felicity as well.

The date, the date many of us have been waiting for for years now, Felicity and Oliver. Having exhausted any topic that could have talked about on a first date, Oliver decides to conveniently tell Felicity about Hong Kong. And not for the first time nor for the last time, I need to mention that Felicity cleans up really nice. Emily Bett Rickards is super hot. Too bad our villain cuts in to the date with a rocket launcher. Soooo... why does Oliver take the bleeding unconscious Felicity to the Arrowcave instead of a hospital??

As happy as I was to see Canary come to the rescue when Arrow goes after the new Vertigo, I was once again disappointed in the recent trend in superhero stories - why can't the hero win on their own? I mean, isn't that why they are the hero? As for Sara Lance, our first Black Canary, I wish I could say we'd be seeing her again.

As we know who this season's big bad is - Ras Al Ghul - it's not hard to guess who took her out. If it's not him, he gave the order. The real question is... how long before Laurel puts on the leather looking for revenge?

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Scratching the Surface of the New Season

This is just a taste, not intensive reviews, of my impressions of some of what the new television season has to offer.

"Selfie" - Against all my better judgment, I kinda dig this one. The premise, a modern updating of "Pygmalion," only holds so much water and can only last as long as the story does, is just not the usual fodder for a sitcom. Sitcoms like status quo, and by its nature, this is not. Fan fave Karen Gillan ("Doctor Who," Guardians of the Galaxy) is a social media obsessed woman whose straight laced co-worker, the criminally underused John Cho (Star Trek, the Harold & Kumar movies), tries to help her to better herself. This was fun, I don't know how long it will, or can, last, but it was fun.

"Scorpion" - While some folks have laid into this series for its casting, I think I will stick with other critics and trash the series as a whole. I could not stand this thing. Its good points are that it is as manipulative and predictable as a 1980s popcorn flick. Its bad points are that anyone with common sense or has been on the internet at all will be bleeding from the eyes ten minutes in. CBS, what used to be called the old people network, is trying to get its title back. Because, 'inspired by true events' or not, the only people who believe this 'high tech' hokum are folks who think a pager is cutting edge and are still living in the 1990s where hacking is magic. This made my head hurt.

"Castle" - The more I think about this one, the more I think this series has outstayed its welcome. I loved it so much when it first appeared. What was not to like? An old school TV mystery series with a writer at its center? I'm sold. I loved the poker games with real writers from the first season, too bad they vanished. Last season, the stories seemed to suffer from faulty logic that wasn't there the first few seasons. I loved the characters so I hung in there. Then, as a cliffhanger, they had the main character kidnapped just before the wedding. Yeah, a bit cliché, but I remained a loyal viewer. With the new season premiere, we have entered bad soap opera territory with amnesia. I am sure that this show has worn out its welcome and should have ending with a happy ending wedding last season.

"American Horror Story: Freak Show" - I tried this anthology series in its first season, was bored to tears, and fell away rather quickly. Since then it's gotten a lot of hype. When this season's 'freak show' theme was announced, being a fan of Tod Browning's Freaks and HBO's "Carnivale," I had to give it another chance. I was pleasantly surprised. This hot mess is a campy concoction of many genres thrown into a bloody food processor, including "True Blood," "Dark Shadows," Stephen King, John Waters, and Brian DePalma. Love it, so far at least. You can check out my friend and fellow writer Marie Gilbert's reviews of the series here at Biff Bam Pop!.

Speaking of Biff Bam Pop!, you can read my review of the pilot episode of "The Flash" here, my ongoing reviews of "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." here, my review of "Gotham" here at Welcome to Hell, and my thoughts on the new season of "Arrow" begin right here on this blog starting tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Half Baked

When "The Dave Chappelle Show" debuted on Comedy Central, I loved it, and I laughed and laughed. I became an instant fan. I had never known however where he came from. He couldn't have just appeared as a full-blown superstar overnight, right?

His claim to fame was a movie called Half Baked, one that as a stoner comedy was never on my radar. Shrugs. You win some, you lose some. When I found out about it, and saw it also starred another actor I like a lot, Guillermo Diaz, I decided it was probably time to see it. The next time it came around in rotation on IFC, I DVRed it.

Also in the cast are Jim Breuer and Harland Williams, and along with Diaz, and Chappelle, who also co-wrote it, and whose character narrates it - these are our four main stoners, I mean characters. You can plainly see the genius already in Chappelle, and the others follow suit. Stoned since ninth grade, these four grow up to be not just stoners but slackers too. When Williams go to jail, the other three come up with a pot-selling scheme to raise bail.

While the flick can easily be dismissed as a stoner comedy, it's also interesting to watch the early evolution of Chapelle. Diaz is very different from his current "Scandal" incarnation. He certainly made a transformation over the years. Williams has always been goofy, and Breuer has made a career of looking at least perpetually stoned. Steven Wright is also fun in his minor role.

Half Baked is also directed by Tamra Davis who previously worked in music video and now works in television, but along the way has done some really innovative stuff like Guncrazy. Her cred puts the movie in a higher bracket than the average stoner comedy.

There are some cool cameos by Willie Nelson, Snoop Dogg, Jon Stewart, Janeane Garofolo, Tracy Morgan, Bob Saget, Stephen Baldwin, and Tommy Chong. Co-writer Neal Brennan also shows up. He would later co-create and co-write Dave Chapelle's Comedy Central show.

For the most part, it's a fun flick, only slowed down by an actual plot and subplots. It's much better with just the stoner humor without trying to be a real movie. And of course I bet it's a lot funnier if you watch it while high.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Twin Peaks Returns

Today it was announced that "Twin Peaks" would be returning to television. The groundbreaking series that stunned America more than two decades ago has had a tumultuous ride, with me at least.

"Twin Peaks" was one of the first TV shows I obsessively taped with my new VCR. Everyone was talking about when it first aired, from other television outlets to talk radio, it was perhaps one of the earliest of the water cooler shows. It wasn't just me, the entire viewing audience was obsessed. And then it kinda sadly faded away.

Two years ago, my friend and editor-in-chief at Biff Bam Pop!, Andy Burns, got me to write a look back at the show, after not seeing it for twenty-odd years. I did a rewatch thanks to Netflix, and was unimpressed. For me, the show had lost its gloss, its wonder. While certainly influencing many of the shows that came after it, for me, it just wasn't the phenomenon it was back in the day. You can read that 2012 article here.

Now here's the thing. Besides being a great friend, and a cool editor, Andy is also probably one of the foremost experts on "Twin Peaks." He is to "Twin Peaks" what I am to Avengers. Yeah, I said it, he's the man. So much the man, he's writing a book about "Twin Peaks" for ECW Press that will see print in 2015. I've had the opportunity to read much of it, and I have to tell you, Andy changed my way of thinking. A monument to his skill at writing and explaining the phenomenon, "Wrapped in Plastic: Twin Peaks" by Andy Burns has reaffirmed my love of "Twin Peaks."

If you had told me that "Twin Peaks" was coming back after I wrote that article and did that rewatch… I probably would have groaned. Now, after reading much of Andy's book, I am so psyched for this return to greatness of one television's classic groundbreaking series.

"Twin Peaks" will be returning to television on Showtime in 2016, co-written by David Lynch and Mark Frost, directed by Lynch, and with most of the cast, including Kyle MacLachlan as Agent Cooper. Showtime will be airing the entire original series before the new one begins. For more on "Wrapped n Plastic: Twin Peaks" by Andy Burns, click here, and for more about the return, click here.

Friday, October 03, 2014

The Most Dangerous Game

This 1932 thriller is based on the award-winning short story of the same name by Richard Connell, and has been remade dozens of times in film and television. People are marooned on an island where an eccentric lives. He is a big game hunter and has always wanted to hunt the most dangerous game of all - man. Yes, it's an old story, but this is the first time it was done.

An RKO film produced by Merian C. Cooper, The Most Dangerous Game was shot concurrently with King Kong, easy to do as both settings are jungle islands. This flick even stars Robert Armstrong and Fay Wray, and also features an original score by Max Steiner. The cast also includes Joel McCrea, Noble Johnson, Leslie Banks as the villainous Count Zaroff, and Buster Crabbe in an uncredited role.

While there's no big gorilla in this one, it's full of atmospheric thrills and horror. The castle's door knocker alone is enough to give one nightmares, and Zaroff's Cossack manservant Ivan (Johnson) is pretty fearsome as well. The use of shadow reminds me of later Val Lewton work, perhaps inspired by the German silents.

Fay Wray's character here is a bit more sophisticated than Kong's Ann Darrow, and Robert Armstrong is the comic relief as a drunken delight. I always liked him best in this kind of role. McCrea and Banks are quite suited to the black and white hero and villain. And it's fun watching them tromp through the same sets from Kong.

I love the old horrors from the 1930s from RKO and Universal, and King Kong is one of my favorite films, so this is a great companion piece to that. Recommended.

Thursday, October 02, 2014


Swordfish ~ I never saw Swordfish in the theaters, or even on tape or disc since. I knew it only for its legendary topless scene with Halle Berry, and that was it. Flipping through the channels the other day I caught John Travolta's monologue on Dog Day Afternoon and cinema in the beginning, and just from that, knew I had to see this. I checked the next time it was on (so I could see it in its entirety) and DVRred it.

When I sat down to watch, that intriguing opening scene became a tense hostage situation and then into an explosive conclusion. I liked it and wanted more - only to be hit with the caption "4 DAYS EARLIER" - sigh. Now don't get me wrong, I like in media res when it's done well, but when I have to watch a lot if boring bits to get back to the interesting scene we started with? I'm not a fan of that. I think I would have much rather started at "4 DAYS EARLIER."

That is not to say what came after was not good, it is. Hugh Jackman and Halle Berry, both fresh from the first X-Men movie, are really good, as is Don Cheadle, but then again Don is always good. Travolta is still feeding off his crazy cool vibe from Pulp Fiction and Broken Arrow, and Vinnie Jones exudes appropriate subtle menace. The problem is, the opening never leaves my mind. I know what's coming and it sours the set-up.

Here's the gist. Travolta is a mad anti-terrorist terrorist who wants to rob a bank to finance war, yeah, just war, to protect the freedoms Americans take for granted. To do this he recruits super hacker Jackman, and Berry, who unknown to him is a DEA agent. Beyond that it gets cloudy. There are lots of gunfights, car chases, and explosions - all the good stuff that makes for a good heist thriller. It's good if you don't think about it too much.

Another problem of Swordfish is the same that shows up in any hacking movie from WarGames to Hackers, the technology and the methodology are usually outdated by the time the flick hits the theaters, and in the case of old men like me watching it fourteen years later, it's positively ancient and unbelievable. And when the film comes full circle back to the present of the opening, it's very sloppy. Not worth it at all.

The anti-Dog Day Afternoon ending is intriguing, and makes me wonder if what writer Skip Woods and director Domenic Sena really wanted to do was remake that movie. Or Sugarland Express. The airborne bus sequence is freaking amazing, and unbelievable, but it's so cool and visually stunning, you just roll with it.

At the end of the film Travolta says, "not everything ends the way you think it should, besides, audiences love happy endings," and earlier he praises the work of Harry Houdini with misdirection. Is it any wonder this movie has an alternate ending? In Swordfish's alternate ending, depending on your perspective everyone gets a happy ending, or the good guys win. You pick. I kinda like it.

And yes, Halle Berry's all too brief topless scene is spectacular and worth the price of admission.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

The Perils of Twitter

This is a review of a book brought to my attention on Twitter. I am not going to name it. Saying this is a review, that's not quite right. It's a review of how that book got into my hands and how the author got my attention and how it made me feel. This is a tale of the perils of Twitter. In other words, you wanted my attention, and now, you have it. Be careful what you wish for.

Many authors and writers use Twitter for self-promotion. Many sometimes go a little overboard. I do it myself sometimes. I forget to balance promotion with interaction, conversation, entertainment, and humor. I understand, sometimes you can get carried away.

This author, who will remain unnamed, got carried away. There were times I suspected his Twitter was a bot. It began to post the same message over and over again, minute after minute, promoting the above named book. The only difference in the messages were the hashtags. Sometimes it was #Avengers, sometimes #HarryPotter, or #Stargate, #StarTrek, #LordoftheRings, or simple things like #Scifi or #Fantasy. Really? This book was comparable to all of those things? Or do you not know how to properly use hashtags? And every minute??

I replied to one of the constant Tweets, was it really like Avengers and Harry Potter? And would I need to read Parts 1-3 to understand Part 4? My Tweets went unanswered. Hmmm... not unheard of but kinda rude, especially when I was considering buying his book. Readers pay you when you're an author, remember. When the constant Tweets continued through the next day, I unFollowed him, sending an additional Tweet to him saying that perhaps his account had been hacked and he should check it out. Again, no answer.

But still, for good or ill, I got the book. I wish I hadn't. It begins with chapter twenty-three, with no sense of place, time, or explanation of who any of the characters are. Zero effort is spent giving the reader any backstory whatsoever. Pages drag by explaining the concept of a holographic ship's doctor, just like on "Star Trek Voyager." Well, okay, now I get the #StarTrek hashtag, where's #HarryPotter and the #Avengers?

There are numerous typos, contradictory details (how many different home planets does this captain have anyway?), more than a page spent ordering coffee, and absolutely nothing that resembles the #Avengers at all. This was a hard read, and because the author never tells us anything about the more than half-dozen characters inhabiting these pages, it's even harder to care about them.

I would hope that there might be some backstory in parts 1-3, but I'll never know. I won't buy them or read them. Had the author had the courtesy to tell me I was coming into it in the middle of the story, or not annoyed me with his Twitter, I might have had a different perspective. Now aren't you glad you got my attention?

Maybe I didn't get it. Maybe this "thought provoking fantasy scifi for enquiring minds" is just too intellectual for me. Maybe I'm just not smart enough to get it. I don't think that's it though. I know what this is, it's a couple hours of my life I'm never going to get back, and it most certainly is not #Avengers...