Monday, August 31, 2015

Wes Craven and Fear the Walking Dead

We've lost one of the giants of the horror field this weekend, filmmaker Wes Craven. The writer/director/producer/actor passed away from complications of a long battle with brain cancer. He changed the game for horror, more than a few times, made us think about it differently, and in the process made some of the scariest movies there are. You can see more of my thoughts about the late Wes Craven and those of the staff at Biff Bam Pop! right here.

I found it ironic that I first heard of Wes Craven's passing while I was watching last night's airing of the second episode of "Fear the Walking Dead," mostly because one of the characters in the show, Tobias played by Lincoln A. Castellanos, reminded me of Craven's work. Castellanos is a young wunderkind on his own, a young actor who also writes, directs, produces, and dances - an amazing man both in front of and behind the camera, both on screen and stage. In the zombie spin-off he is Tobias, a high school student who is hip that the zombie apocalypse is coming.

Now despite the fact that the Z word does not exist in the Robert Kirkman Walking Dead universe, it doesn't take much to figure out by the second episode that the dead are coming back to life and biting on the living, continuing a cycle of infection that in turn kills and resurrects for ill intent. Tobias has it down, he knows, more than that, he is self aware of his universe. He knows what to do to survive in the zombie apocalypse. In other words, he's us.

And that's where Wes Craven comes into the equation. One of his more brilliant turns, and one that, pardon the pun, resurrected the horror genre, was Scream, a self-aware horror movie. Scream was a slasher flick inhabited by characters who were well versed in the horror genre, and knew the ins and outs of the slasher flick - just like Tobias leading the way in "Fear the Walking Dead." I like the kid, but odds are, just because of that fact, I predict his odds of survival are slim. After all, why use a knife, when you could have a sword?

Another aspect that I intimated in my last blog entry about "Fear the Walking Dead" was the Ferguson comparison. In the second episode, police brutality and protest play a huge part in the acceleration of the living turning into the walking dead. People see the police shooting citizens multiple times for apparently no reason angers the mob.

Let your inner conspiracy expert out, because the cops have special suits, are taking headshots, and are hoarding water. The powers that be know the crap is about to hit the fan, and they are prepping for it. This revelation adds a new dimension to the world we have seen in "The Walking Dead." Are the police and the military the majority of the survivors out there? We know Rick Grimes is a cop, but are all the other human monsters we've seen former authority… former good guys? That's the real horror.

And speaking of horror, rest in peace, Wes Craven, without whom, we wouldn't have much of the genre we have today. We have lost a visionary in the field. For a different view of the "Fear the Walking Dead" series, check out my friend and fellow writer Marie Gilbert's reviews over at Biff Bam Pop!.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Heroes Reborn: Dark Matters

So many television series are returning from the dead, "Twin Peaks" and "The X-Files" are probably the most high profile of them, but there are others out there, like the inexplicable "Coach," and one that should have been given a better chance, one that was mishandled and ruined by the powers-that-be... I'm talking about "Heroes."

I loved "Heroes," and so did everyone else, for the first season at least, and then it lost its way. Personally I blame Jeph Loeb, who similarly ruined the Marvel Animated Universe. I made some too-little-too-late suggestions hoping to save "Heroes," but the writing was on the wall, the show was doomed. Now it's getting a second chance. Perhaps the bad taste of the second and third seasons have been washed away, and that old magic is possible again.

"Heroes Reborn" begins five years after the start of the original series, with a special series of webisodes called "Dark Matters." This is really only fitting as the show was one of the first to be actively interactive with other media, why not ease us back into the "Heroes" universe in this way, right?

If you haven't watched yet, be warned, spoilers ahead.

Reconnecting the audience with elements that did work from the first season we meet Phoebe Frady (Canadian actress Aislinn Paul), who can 'steal light' and manipulate shadows. Like the Cheerleader, she documents her power discovery on YouTube. Unfortunately we are now in a world well aware of powers. Super-powered individuals, or EVOs, are watched carefully and discriminated against.

If you're feeling the heavy Civil War and X-Men vibe, you are not alone and it's probably on purpose to cash in. Substitute mutant or superhero for EVO, and you've got Days of Future Past and/or the Superhuman Registration Act all over again. It's pretty blatant, and as cool and engaging as Phoebe's story is, the shadow of the unoriginality of her world covers it up.

Phoebe is spurred on to show her powers by the HeroTruther, whose YouTube rants not only update the viewers on the new world status quo, but encourage those EVOs who have gone underground to show themselves. As we follow Phoebe's journey of discovery and she learns to use her powers, we learn that EVOs are being put in camps and sterilized in Russia and China, and that here in the States, some companies only hire 'humans.'

Phoebe's disappearance and reappearance in Odessa TX, at a EVO terrorist attack that destroys the city, kicks her brother into action investigating her apparent death. As it turns out, the attack was blamed on Mohinder Suresh, and the PrimaTech Paper Company now called Renautas is behind it all. HeroTruther is similarly revealed as an old friend. The story continues in "Heroes Reborn."

"Dark Matters" is available on YouTube and OnDemand, and "Heroes Reborn" premieres on NBC September 24, 2015. I'm giving it a second chance, are you?

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Unauthorized Full House Story

Full disclosure up front here, I don't think I've ever seen an entire episode of "Full House." The Bride was/is a fan, so a full episode may have been on while I was in the same room, but... it just was never my thing. I just wasn't watching all that much TV in the late 80s and early 90s, especially sitcoms.

I was aware of the show however. How could I not be, right? It was huge, even before the Olsen twins exploded. And I knew John Stamos, from "General Hospital" of course. But to me, it just seemed like another innocuous sitcom. I like sitcoms, don't get me wrong, but not the unsurprising formula ones like this - or so I've heard.

After the success of the 'unauthorized' treatment of "Saved by the Bell" by Lifetime, it seems as if this type of production will be appearing more often on the network. What's really frightening about this one is that every actor seems to be doing really bad and over the top impressions of the celebrities. But then again, earlier unauthorizeds for "Three's Company" and "The Partridge Family," among others, have done much the same.

Here's the thing though, "Full House" has something special other previous unauthorizeds did not - a unified cast currently working together on a new version of the show to comment on this movie. The cast is presently working on the new Netflix update of the show, "Fuller House." They expressed mostly disdain and disappointment. Having watched it, I'd have to agree.

So where was Alanis Morissette? Wasn't "You Oughta Know" about Dave Coulier? If there's one story from behind the scenes at "Full House" that needs to be told it's that one...

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Blunt Talk and Tunes

This past week featured the premiere of the new Starz series "Blunt Talk" starring Patrick Stewart and created by Jonathan Ames. I was looking forward to this one more for the creator than for the tenuous Star Trek connection. While it was fun to see Brent 'Data' Spiner show up in the first minute of the opening episode, I'm sure that the adventures of title character Walter Blunt, played by Stewart, may well turn off most Trek fans.

Stewart plays Blunt, a British war vet and newscaster who's come to America to do a news/opinion show, the kind that I hate so much. One drunken escapade with a transgender prostitute, and Blunt is in trouble, and continuing his downward spiral as he takes drugs and lies to his employers. This dark humor is what I tuned in for, not Star Trek.

I'm a big fan of Jonathan Ames. His novels, columns, and especially his HBO series "Bored to Death" are full of this type of sarcastic darkness, and I love it. Stewart plays well in this world, and is a comic delight to watch. One particular scene in an airport bathroom in the second episode had me in hysterics. Stewart has a real talent for physical comedy.

The real bonus for me watching the first few episodes was the song "Miss Cindy" by The High Decibels in the first one. Sort of a hip hop rockabilly, it grabbed me right away, so after Shazam-ing and SoundHound-ing it, I sample-listened to the two albums by the band on iTunes. I dug it, a lot, and bought both. Seriously, there's not a bad song in the bunch. When was the last time you bought an entire album where you liked every track, let alone two? Great stuff.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Star Trek Morning Coffee

This past Friday I had the opportunity to speak with friend, fellow writer, and TV host Kristin Battestella at the RadioVision Network on their program "Morning Coffee." The topic was Star Trek, in the movies, and on television, in all of its various incarnations.

We discussed the original series and what made it work, moved on the animated series, and into the movies. We talked about our love for (and apparently we're the only ones) for the much-maligned "Enterprise," about "The Next Generation" and its spin-offs "Deep Space Nine" and Voyager."

We also talked about the movies - how Wrath of Khan was the best, and what was right and wrong about all the others, from The Undiscovered Country to the new reboot of the series. It was a great discussion, you can check it out here. Thanks to Kristin, Morning Coffee, and the RadioVision Network.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Fear the Walking Dead

New territory. That's what AMC's "Fear the Walking Dead" is about. More than the bottom line of greed and money and cashing in on the idea of a companion series to the wildly successful "The Walking Dead," it's about unbound, source material-free storytelling.

As most folks know, "The Walking Dead" is based on the black and white Image Comic from Robert Kirkman. When he brought the series to television he made sure that it was different from the comics. While some of the characters, situations, and storylines are similar to the comics, they are not the same. Kirkman's thinking follows two lines of thinking - first, the television series is an alternate universe to the comics, and second, if the viewers knew what was going to happen, why would they watch?

Still, in AMC's "The Walking Dead," if you read the comics, you did have some idea of what to expect, whether it played out that way or not. "Fear the Walking Dead" would be a whole new game however. The series would be clearly taking place in the same universe, but be happening in Los Angeles as opposed to the Atlanta area, and would also be more of a prequel.

"Fear" would occur while Rick Grimes was in a coma in the early days of the 'zombie apocalypse,' (and yes, I know there's no Z word in this world) before the original series. We may even learn how this all started, something that has never been fully explored in the comics. New territory.

From the previews, it would seem to be a subtle and gradual zombie takeover (how long was Rick's coma anyway?) that simultaneously conjures images of both Ferguson unrest and 1970s Battle of the Planet of the Apes. We're looking at military vs. walkers and a family caught up in the transformation of mankind from top of the food chain to prey on the run, at least from the quick cuts we've seen.

I'm looking forward to seeing Kim Dickens. I loved her in "Deadwood" and "Treme," but hated her in "House of Cards" and "Sons of Anarchy," so I'm also looking forward to finding out which Kim Dickens we're getting. I've always been a Ruben Blades fan and it will be fun to see Elizabeth Rodriguez in a starring role outside of "Orange Is the New Black."

So I'm excited for some new territory with "Fear the Walking Dead," maybe some answers, and maybe better stories than we have seen the last few seasons of "The Walking Dead." The series begins tomorrow night, and Marie Gilbert will be covering it for Biff Bam Pop!, watch for it right here.

Friday, August 21, 2015

RIP Yvonne Craig

Actress Yvonne Craig, TV's Batgirl, has passed away at the age of 78 after a battle with breast cancer. This was not the kind of news I wanted to wake to a morning earlier this week, or any morning.

For many of us, boy and girl, Yvonne Craig's Batgirl was our first crush. It was never a matter of Ginger or Mary Ann, it was Batgirl or Julie Newmar's Catwoman. Hell, even today, those two women might very well be responsible for my predilection for redheads. Seeing her with Elvis in Kissin' Cousins, and later as the green-skinned slave girl from Orion on "Star Trek," cemented that crush for myself, and thousands of others.

As Batgirl on the 1960s "Batman" TV series, she was the original super-heroine role model - before Wonder Woman, before the Bionic Woman, or Electra Woman and Dyna Girl, and definitely before the Black Widow, Yvonne was kicking butt and taking names and even had her own theme song, debatably cooler than Batman's. And although there was a Bat-Girl in the comics in the 1950s, the character of Barbara Gordon as the new Batgirl was launched almost simultaneously with the TV version, many times taking her cues from Yvonne Craig's portrayal.

I met Ms. Craig once, for just a moment at a convention years ago. She still looked great, was sweet and tolerant of my gushing, and was funny and ironic. Unlike many stars folks meet at cons, she was a delight, and she will be missed.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Doctor Who Series 9 Trailer

For all of you out there shaking and twitching while waiting for your Who fix, help is finally on its way, via TARDIS, the trailer for "Doctor Who" Series 9 is finally here!

The Mistress/The Master is back, so are the Zygons, the Daleks of course, and this time with the Supreme Dalek, Gallifrey, dragons, Arya Stark(!)… and is that a Sea Devil? Loving the shades, and the guitar, and hating that Clara is still there…

The new season starts September 19th. Join me at Biff Bam Pop! for my reviews of the series, and on September 11th I'll be on Morning Coffee talking "Doctor Who" with Kristin Battestella.

Also, if you're in the South Jersey/Philadelphia area this coming Saturday, August 15th, it's Doctor Who Day 2015 at All Things Fun!, co-sponsored by Titan Comics. There will be special items from the UK and they'll be celebrating the launch of the big Four Doctors crossover event in the comics!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Fantastic Four 2015

Fantastic Four ~ As a few of my friends have mentioned, like Andy Burns at Biff Bam Pop! and Skott Stotland at The Nerd Signal, this movie wasn't as bad as a lot of folks have been saying - but that said, it is still pretty bad.

Up front, this troubled production from co-writer/director Josh Trank is not a Fantastic Four movie in the traditional sense, nor is it any kind of superhero movie either. In the same sense that his highly acclaimed Chronicle was an anti-superhero movie, so is his Fantastic Four. Taking its cues loosely from the Ultimate Fantastic Four comics rather than the Stan Lee and Jack Kirby original stories, this is a tale of Reed Richards, played by the much-hated-in-some-circles Miles Teller. This socially awkward young genius is given the resources to build his invention, a dimensional teleporter, which has consequences that eventually transform his friends and colleagues into …something else.

Just as it sounds, this is more science fiction than superhero, and there's a little bit of horror here as well with overtones of the 1980s version of The Fly thrown in for good measure. Comparing it to the comics or the characters therein is a silly exercise at this point, because let's face it, Trank didn't even go there. Any resemblance to those sources appear to have been added later by the studio. Much like Chronicle, Trank appears to have gone his own way.

The characters, save Teller's Reed, are two-dimensional, their only personality being that overlaid subconsciously by viewers who know them from the comics. They are one note and we don't care about them. Reed on the other hand fulfills his destiny as a screw-up, perhaps more blatantly here than in the comics, and really engenders no sympathy beyond that. The acting is minimal, the special effects are in places, well done and elsewhere cartoony.

I have to say I liked Kate Mara better as Sue Storm than I did Jessica Alba in 2005 and 2007, and I'm one of the few apparently that liked those movies. With all the hubbub about the character's race change, Michael B. Jordan comes off rather well, but the Human Torch special effects while invoking the comics imagery look like bad animation after a while. The Thing is an effective, yet disturbing cross between the Nome King in Return to Oz and the rock creature in Galaxy Quest. Only Toby Kebbel's Doom, before transformation, radiates any real charisma, but that gets fixed pretty quickly.

Not only does much of the cast lack charisma, they also lack chemistry. While romantic intentions are hinted at, nothing is done, nor is it advanced. While I had been following along the science fiction story for the first hour or so of the movie, there is a point where it all falls apart, and that's where Doom returns from the other world - a weak pastiche of the Negative Zone called Planet Zero. Suddenly Doom is the bad guy, unmotivated, he is just evil. Cartoon fights ensue, and I checked out.

Again, Doom is inserted into the Fantastic Four origin. And again badly. He emerged from the other world covered in metal without a mouth, an actor, one of the more likable in the flick, now unable to act. The Thing and Human Torch are given similar handicaps. I found this surprising as one of the tropes of superhero movies (of which this is not) is the constant removal of masks so the actor can emote or show off their good looks. Yeah, I'm looking at you, Tobey Maguire.

There is one nice touch, a minor Easter egg, in the movie. The antagonist in the movie other than Doom, the government suit who tries to use the FF's powers for his own bidding is named Harvey Elder. Sharp-eyed hardcore FF fans know that this is the real name of the super-villain the Mole Man. Also look for the Deadpool trailer before the film, if you're looking for more Marvel content. There's not much, even Stan Lee stayed away from this one.

Unlike other Marvel-connected movies (although it should be noted, as a Fox film, this is not part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe), there is no after-credits or mid-credits stinger. As a matter of fact, I noticed that once the movie proper was over, people could not wait to get out of the theater. I did learn one surprising thing from the credits however. Minimalist composer Philip Glass (a favorite) did some of the score. I did like it and will have to go back and listen to it some more.

Did I hate it? Certainly not as much as my friend Ray Cornwall who eviscerates it on the latest episode of The GAR! Podcast, but I didn't like it. This was not a good movie, nor was it a good superhero movie, and it was most definitely not a good Fantastic Four movie. Not recommended. Wait for Netflix or cable if you must see it.

Monday, August 10, 2015

In Like Our Man Flint

First I have to confess it's been at least four decades since I've seen either of the Derek Flint movies. When I saw they were both OnDemand (as opposed to one or the other), I decided it was time to sit down and refresh my memory.

All my life I have loved the James Bond movie series, and with that, also the numerous copycats, homages, and parodies. So I dug Flint as a kid, but I recall liking Matt Helm a lot better, and even today, Dean Martin's swaggering spy is a fave and a delight. As I got ready to watch the two Flint films, I wondered if it would change my mind.

James Coburn's Derek Flint is a retired super spy from Z.O.W.I.E. (Zonal Organization for World Intelligence and Espionage - you gotta love those 1960s acronyms) who is now living the life of a classic playboy. In the first film, 1966's Our Man Flint, he's brought out of his retirement to stop Galaxy, a cabal of evil scientists who want to rule the world.

One thing I enjoyed, and wished more movies would do this with their protagonist, is that much like Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark, we are shown and know everything we need to know about Derek Flint in the first ten minutes. He's a man of culture, of intelligence, of mad skills, has an affinity for women, a dislike for his boss, and a wry sense of humor. Speaking of his boss, the legendary Lee J. Cobb has great chemistry with Coburn and it's a delight when the two are on screen together.

There are some clever plot twists, colorful sets, cheesy 1960s effects, beautiful women, an early cool jazzy score by Jerry Goldsmith, and lots of silly spy gadgets and cliches. The flick is dated, yes, and the plot falls apart if you think too hard, but it is parody after all. Highlights include Bond wannabe Agent 0008 and a baddie named Hans Gruber, yeah, as in Die Hard like twenty years later.

If you look close you'll see Edward Mulhare from "Knight Rider," and Charmin pitchman Mr. Whipple, and if you listen close to the President's voice - yeah, that's the Green Hornet himself, Van Williams, imitating then-Prez Lyndon B. Johnson.

The sequel In Like Flint was released a little over a year later. Even though many of the same folks are involved, this tale of a spa company taking over the world and turning the patriarchy into a matriarchy (sooo sexist and dated), is a weak sister to the original. Notably not as clever, one glaring difference is the music. In Our Man, music moved along the slow parts, and here many of the slow bits go silent.

Lee J. Cobb is toothless and nothing like his character in the original, and Flint is too nice. I found myself disliking them both whereas I loved their performances in Our Man. It's like the first movie was "Batman" clever but the second was unfunny like the later Pink Panther films, trying but never quite making it. Not to be mean, but I know why there wasn't a third Flint flick. And speaking of "Batman," look for pre-Batgirl Yvonne Craig as the ballerina in this one.

After this double feature, I would have to say I still prefer Matt Helm, and I could probably wait another four decades to see these two movies again. Now I know why the only memory I have of them previously is the sound of the ring of the President's phone.

Friday, August 07, 2015

The Last Daily Show with Jon Stewart

A lot of people are going to hate me for this, but I'm not a regular viewer of "The Daily Show," not since Jon Stewart came on board sixteen years ago actually. His arrival marked a change in the show. Before, with Craig Kilborn, I kinda dug it, but when it became a news show with comedic elements as opposed to a comedy show about the news - I checked out.

The main thing that has always bothered me about this incarnation of "The Daily Show" is that there are people who think it is news. There are folks who hang on Jon Stewart's every word as if he's this generation's Walter Cronkite, and I think that's sad. Just as I think that more than half of the programming on CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, and others should have a big sign on the screen that says OPINION when they are doing that instead of reporting the news, I think "The Daily Show" should have one that says SATIRE.

The more Jon Stewart got political, and the more he took himself seriously, the less I liked what I saw. This wasn't what I was tuning in to Comedy Central for, ya know? And if I wanted to see one-sided fake news by people who think they're clever, let's face it, I'd watch Fox News. So yeah, I am neither a regular viewer nor a fan, but I did watch the final episode with Jon Stewart last night.

I enjoyed the SNL40 vibe of the returning correspondents, good to see many of them again, as those reports were something I did dig about "The Daily Show," and I am a fan of the official and unofficial spin-offs with John Oliver, Larry Wilmore, and even Stephen Colbert. And opposed to SNL40, it did not go on too long. As a fast food aficionado I have to say I loved the Arby's commercial, that was a touch of class.

So despite not liking the show, not being a fan of either Stewart or his concept of the show, I have enjoyed it from time to time, and enjoyed the final episode of his run. Even Springsteen was pretty awesome. It wasn't bad, even with the preaching about 'bullshit.' I think would have rather had them actually talk about the Republican debate, but as it stands, we all know the debate was much funnier. I look forward to a new take by incoming host Trevor Noah.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Miracles for Sale

Miracles for Sale ~ Tod Browning's final film is not only pedestrian and toothless, but also a big disappointment for this Browning fan. Miracles for Sale from 1939 is based on the mystery novel, Death from a Top Hat, by Clayton Rawson, the first in a series featuring the Great Merlini character.

Only a very young Robert Young (who plays the Amazing Morgan, inexplicably changed from Merlini) really stands out in this murder mystery wrapped up in the world of magicians, escape artists, and con men. TV's Uncle Charley from "My Three Sons," William Demarest has some fun here too as a (surprise) curmudgeon.

One would think this setting would be right up Tod Browning's alley, but he never really takes hold and makes it his own. Reminiscent of Houdini's war on frauds late in his life, only nowhere near as exciting, this one has little of that old Browning -pardon the pun- magic.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Dust Devil

Dust Devil ~ The second mainstream film from writer/director Richard Stanley has suffered several times under a merciless editor's knife. From Netflix I watched an eighty-seven minute version that I am unsure is still Stanley's version. This tale, shot entirely in Namibia, and loosely based on a real serial killer, tells the story of a shape-shifting demon. Yep, and there you go.

Dust Devil is moody, creepy, atmospheric, and barely comprehensible. I'd be lying if I didn't say this film was visually stunning. Stanley does know how to catch the eye with even the most mundane or most horrific, but I really disliked this movie a lot.

The score, by the award-winning Simon Boswell, is perfect for the film. The narration works well, but the acting and dialogue are abysmal. After sitting through this, I know why so many cut it down. Dust Devil could have been a brilliant short, unfortunately, it's about an hour too long.

Monday, August 03, 2015

RIP Roddy Piper

Friday we lost Roderick George Toombs to cardiac arrest at the age of 61. For much of his life however, and throughout his professional wrestling career, he was Rowdy Roddy Piper, frequently a villain and heel, but still beloved by audiences.

I know this is going to sound odd coming from the co-host of a podcast that is sometimes focused on wrestling, but I've never seen Rowdy Roddy Piper wrestle. What I have seen however is Roddy Piper act. And I'm not talking about Hell Comes to Frogtown, 'dance of the three snakes,' indeed! I'm talking about 1988's They Live.

They Live was an amazingly cool scifi flick from James Carpenter (script, direction, and wonderfully contagious score) with a surprisingly simple premise that could have been a rocking "Twilight Zone" episode. The people who run the world, the upper class, are all aliens who keep the humans down. And only special sunglasses allow humans to see who's who. Piper's character gets hold of a pair of these glasses and hilarity ensues.

In They Live, Roddy Piper plays a nameless drifter of few words who carries the movie, the story, and his character almost completely with facial expressions, gestures, and now legendary catchphrases. It is an acting tour de force inside a simple scifi action flick.

And the seemingly endless street fight scene (some offensive language, below) between Piper and Keith David to get to latter to put on a pair of those magic sunglasses... that's just pure brilliance, and that's what I'll remember Roddy Piper for. I'll miss you, man.