Sunday, April 23, 2017

Television: Iron Fist (Netflix)


*Slight Spoilers*
In many ways, Iron Fist is a typical Netflix Marvel show. It has an ensemble cast, is very street-level and down-to-earth and contains a minimum of superpowers or the supernatural. While not bad, Iron Fist is the weakest of the four shows that make up Marvel Netflix Phase 1, which also includes Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage.

Finn Jones plays the title character, and this is where the mediocrity begins. Jones has virtually no Kung Fu skills (he started training weeks before shooting began), but to me this is actually not a huge deal. He’ll probably play the character for years and can learn as he goes. He just has no grit, no gravitas as an actor. He is not leading man material, as Charlie Cox is in Daredevil and Mike Colter definitely is in Luke Cage. He’s a little boy who’s probably great as a supporting actor, but is not strong enough to headline his own show.

Jessica Henwick as Colleen Wing
The good? Jessica Henwick as Colleen Wing. She’s beautiful, tough, terrific and a martial arts expert—everything Jones is not. Most of the choreography and action sequences are good, especially where Henwick is involved. When Jones is fighting, you can see what they were trying to do and it somewhat works. An experienced martial artist would have knocked those scenes out of the park. The plot wasn’t bad, as they took at least some inspiration from the source material—Danny Rand, thought dead for years, returns to America and attempts to regain his legacy. The writers deviated totally from Iron Fist’s origin and how he was thought to be lost, and this is a mistake. It was handled much better and more excitingly in the comics.

The sub-plot of the Meachum clan, New York’s most dysfunctional family, is also worth watching, mostly for the work of David Wenham as Harold Meachum. You never knew what the actor or character would do next, and that was enjoyable.

The bad? Everything else. First off, these shows go on too long. Writers put 8-10 episodes worth of story into 13 episodes. What is so magic about the number 13? Every Marvel show has dragged in the middle of the series because of not having enough story to propel the narrative. Jessica Jones probably had the best pacing, but Iron Fist would have been a lot tighter at eight episodes. The worst sin Iron Fist commits is (*spoiler*) not using a costume.

A brief aside—in around 1990, I attended a panel at the Chicago Comicon regarding the upcoming Flash TV show on CBS. The DC writers who consulted on the show addressed some of the challenges they had working with CBS network brass. CBS was uncomfortable with the Flash costume. They didn’t want the hero, Barry Allen, to wear one. “Does he have to wear a costume?” one exec asked directly. One of the DC panelists said, “I told him, if we don’t use a costume, we might as well call him ‘The Jogger.’” Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to “Iron Fist: Kung Fu Jogger.” For most of the series, Danny Rand dresses like a homeless man and has a fuzzy, unkempt beard. He really looks terrible. The comic book Iron Fist is clean-shaven and has a cool costume, which has gone through several iterations over the years. The ‘70s one is somewhat kitschy, I understand they probably couldn’t use it, but they must use the mask, it’s iconic. Today’s tracksuit costume would work and probably wouldn’t be too wince-inducing. It’s bad enough when Hollywood studios mess up costumes or refuse to use them—costumed superheroes are their source material! However, when Marvel Studios itself refuses to use costumes—what hope is there? They’re turning their back on their own stories and history!

This is Iron Fist
So Danny Rand, Kung Fu Jogger, goes through the entire series without showing the mystic part of his city, K’un L’un, without fighting the dragon that gave him his powers in the comic, and forgoes the classic and iconic Iron Fist costume. He’s just a homeless dude who whines a lot and knows a smattering of Kung Fu. Colleen Wing makes it watchable, but without her the entire series falls flat on its face.

Also acceptable as Iron Fist
For the second series, if there is one, I’d suggest replacing Finn Jones with an actor who knows Kung Fu and looks like they could kick someone’s ass (although that is unlikely to happen). Secondly, put him in his costume, even if it’s just the mask! Thirdly, turn up the supernatural aspects of Iron Fist! Show K’un L’un! Have the Iron Fist itself as smoking and steaming, not just glowing slightly. This show could be so much better with just a little tweaking, even if they kept Jones as the title character. Marvel, please stay truer to your source material.

This is not Iron Fist

Rating: *** out of 5 stars

Monday, April 17, 2017

Convention Report: Indiana Comicon


The Warriors Three - Adam, ye author & Travis
This weekend for the first time I attended the Indiana Comicon in Indianapolis. My friends Adam and Travis and I braved the wilds of Indiana in Adam’s van—a comfortable ride with plenty of room for a change. We arrived about the time the con opened, and getting in was probably easier than any other con I’ve been to. We just showed our pre-paid passes at an empty registration stand and walked in. I rarely arrive as the con starts, but I may have to start doing that.

Neal Adams with Mrs. Adams
The exhibit hall was large, typical for a downtown convention center. One of the first things I noticed was that there were already lots and lots of lovely cosplayers, but not many comics dealers. More on that later. We walked the hall and took in the breadth of exhibits. Who should be one of the first people I run into but my favorite comics artist of all time, Neal Adams! Adams had his wonderful art spread around him for sale, along with prints, books and sketches. Neal attends a lot of cons these days, I see him just about everywhere I go. I wish he didn’t charge $30 for an autograph (free with the purchase of a print), but if that’s what the market will bear, go with God, Neal.

Ace writer Gerry Conway
Next was a conversation with one of my favorite Bronze Age (the ‘70s, basically) comic writers, Gerry Conway. Conway has had an illustrious career, co-creating everything from the Punisher and Firestorm to writing the first inter-company superhero crossover between Marvel and DC, Superman vs. Spider-Man. He later got into TV writing and wrote a ton of Law & Order scripts. He’s a busy, creative guy and very enthusiastic about his work. We chatted for a moment and he signed a few comics for me.  

I had the pleasure of meeting Dan Wells, a prose author whose books I’ve enjoyed quite a bit. His John Cleaver series is a hoot—it’s about a young serial killer who is trying to fight his programming and ends up turning his “talents” on the supernatural. Sort of a Dexter who only kills demons. Start with I Am Not a Serial Killer. You’ll like them. I picked up one of his newer books, Bluescreen, which he described as “futuristic cyberpunk.” Nice guy.

Bluescreen by Dan Wells
Cary Elwes entertains a crowd
There were a few celebrities I wanted to meet, but the lines were very long. Cary Elwes was the hit of the day, his line was always hours long—too long and boring for me to stand. I did go to Elwes’s presentation, where he shared movie anecdotes and answered questions. Most of his war stories were about The Princess Bride, a true classic. He told one story about how he broke his foot the first week of shooting, showing off on Andre the Giant’s four-wheeler. He thought he would be fired, which he obviously wasn’t. His other Bride tale, about Andre’s huge fart in the middle of a take, had everyone in stitches of laughter. He couldn’t complete the take after that, not being able to keep a straight face. He then answered questions from the audience, asking each participant’s name and interacting with them. He came off as a total mensch who loved his job and was infused with energy. He left the con with a giant bag of cash.

I was very much looking forward to meeting Millie Bobby Brown, the young actress who played Eleven in Stranger Things. She cancelled Saturday at the last minute and was only there Sunday, so I missed her. Too bad, I really loved her performance in ST.

The still beautiful Nichelle Nichols
The one actress I did get to meet was the second Star Trek Original Series cast member I’ve met, Nichelle Nichols (I’ve had the pleasure to meet Shatner, detailed here). Her line was fairly long, but I took a chance and dived in. As always, to relieve the boredom I struck up conversations with other folks in line. The young couple in front of me was from Michigan. The woman’s father was a big ST fan and she was raised with the Original Series and Next Generation. Her boyfriend was dressed like a S.H.I.E.L.D. security agent, so he was into geekdom too. The couple behind me were even more entertaining. They had a gorgeous action figure of Nichols as Lt. Uhura, her character on Star Trek. The man told me, totally seriously, that he was going to ask her to sign the figure, “F--- William Shatner.” I managed to not roll my eyes, but I wanted to point out that was rude and unprofessional, and why add that negativity to the world? But who knows, maybe she did it. My gut tells me no, though. Nichols looked way too experienced to suffer fools, regardless of her relationship with Shatner.

I chose a great (and sexy) Lt. Uhura photo from Nichols’ assistant for her to sign. Her assistant put a Post-It on the photo with my name so I could have it personalized. She greeted me warmly with a smile and hearty “Hello Jerry!” I would think actors tire of discussing the same shows or characters all day, so I said, “Hello Ms. Nichols! I’m here for Snow Dogs, were you in another show before that?” She took a beat and realized I was joking, then laughed and said sarcastically, “Very funny, Jerry.” She smiled and passed the signed photo back to me.


Quick digression, Snow Dogs was a Disney comedy out around 20 years ago, with Cuba Gooding and James Coburn. Nichols played Gooding’s mother. I think she was amused by the reference—I’m sure no one else brought up that one!

Avengers #38
Then, on to the comics! My biggest criticism of the Indy Con was there were not enough comic book dealers. There were probably around 15 or so—way too few if the event is going to call itself a comicon. Celebrities, prop weapon booths and gaming booths are fine—but comicons should have comics! That said, I managed to fill several holes in my Avengers collection, then buy some ‘70s Batman and Superman books. The selection that was there was good, there just wasn’t that much to choose from. But I did manage to pick up the much elusive Avengers #38. For some reason that book is extremely hard to find, and when I do it looks like someone drove a truck over it. This one was in great condition at a reasonable price. I bought a few other old Avengers, so I just need three more books to complete a Silver Age Avengers set. Time to take a 2nd mortgage on the house!

I was a bit concerned with Adam and Travis being entertained—I’d stood in autograph lines and searched for comics for hours and the day was getting late. Turns out I had nothing to fear; they are both into board games and had found the gaming room. Everyone was busy all day. At the end of the day we headed off to see a comedy magician performing at the con, only to find they switched the times at the last minute and we missed him! Things like that happen at cons, but it was a bit disappointing, as I love up-close magic and that was this performer’s specialty.

Overall Indy was a good, but not great, con. Some things they could control, some things they couldn’t. But for Pete’s sake, get more comic dealers!

No con report would be complete without photos:

Princess Serenity from Sailor Moon

One of many Poison Ivys

Love the Original Series uniforms

Character from Homestuck

Very nice Black Canary and Matt Murdock

Cinderella

A great Bane and Mr. Freeze. The silver makeup was cool. 

Thought this was Monty Python's Black Knight. Turns out it's from a video game. 

Heroes vs. Villains



A slightly constipated Logan


?@!$%?

This Spawn must have been 8 feet tall

Savage Dragon. He got upset when someone yelled "Fish Police!"

Anime?


Make mine Ms. Marvel!

On to the Cincinnati Con in the Fall!

Monday, March 27, 2017

Comics - Thor Epic Collection Volume 1


Thor has always been a fun Marvel character. He’s not quite a B-lister, but a strong mid-seller, except for certain periods when he had an inspired creator like Walt Simonson writing his stories. This thick Epic Collection (470 pages!) reprints the first round of Thor tales, mostly by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

I’ve always liked Thor, but he’s never been an absolute favorite. I’m not sure why Stan created him, some of the early stories are so generic he could be any muscle-bound hero. But when Lee and Kirby found their groove with Thor, there has never been better galactic, heroic adventure storytelling.

Thor debuted in 1962 in Journey Into Mystery #83, “The Stone Men from Saturn!” plotted by Lee, scripted by his brother Larry Leiber and drawn by the incomparable Jack Kirby. Lame Dr. Don Blake, vacationing in Norway, stumbles into an alien invasion. Running from the aliens, he discovers a cave with a secret chamber—and in the chamber, a gnarled old walking stick. When he accidently slams that stick into the ground, it turns into the magic hammer Mjolnir and he transforms into Thor, the Norse god of Thunder! After fighting off the aliens as Thor, Blake returns to America and begins his superhero lifestyle.



Thor tests his powers

Journey Intro Mystery #84 introduces on-again off-again bad guy The Executioner, who in later years shone so brightly under Simonson’s direction. This issue also introduces Nurse Jane Foster, Blake’s romantic interest. Jane loves Blake, but constantly remarks on how handsome she finds the mighty Thor! JIM #85 is the debut of Loki, Thor’s brother and main villainous opponent. Issue #83 pits Thor against the rather bland Tomorrow Man, with Kirby tweaking Thor’s costume details and his hammer’s abilities and powers. #84 has plotter Lee going to his favorite trope in the early ‘60s—commies! Thor pounds Ivan into the ground while Jane is now actively pining for Thor, much to Dr. Blake’s dismay. #88 is the return of Loki, who is really a scoundrel in these early stories. He’s jealous of Thor and wants to humiliate as well as kill him. Well, daddy did like Thor best ...

In issue #90, Al Hartley does the art as Thor takes on the Carbon Copy Man. Does anyone under 45 know what a carbon copy is? Hartley isn’t a bad artist, but he’s no Kirby. In #91, Joe Sinnot does  a rare penciling job and it is wonderful. Loki gives powers to Sandu, Master of the Supernatural. Sandu tries to take on Thor’s hammer directly and totally underestimates it as well as its wielder. In #92, Loki takes a more direct hand in defeating his brother. This was when Thor’s hammer couldn’t be gone from his hand for more than 60 seconds or he would turn back into lame Dr. Don Blake. Lee gets a lot of mileage out of this detail and it bites Blake in the butt more than once.

JIM #93 introduces the Radioactive Man, a great villain who took on many Marvel heroes in the Silver Age, especially Iron Man and Thor. Scripting is credited to R. Burns (Robert Bernstein), who always does a sub-par job. Bernstein either looked at comics as sub-literate children’s throwaway garbage (as most of polite society did, to be fair), or he was just not a talented writer. His stories always stand out as dull and uninspired. Lee is still plotting, but Bernstein takes over dialog for a few issues and the results are lackluster stories.

In Journey Into Mystery #97, Lee is back to full scripting and Kirby returns on art, inked by Don Heck. Thor stories start getting good again. Lee turns up the soap opera (as he is wont to do) between Blake and Jane Foster, as both love the other but are afraid of expressing their feelings. This issue also begins Lee and Kirby’s “Tales of Asgard” backup stories, which squeeze an incredible amount of fun in a few pages. JIM numbers 98 and 99 introduce the Cobra and Mr. Hyde respectively, who go on to become a team that drops in to try and kill Thor regularly. With each new story Lee’s writing and Kirby’s art is getting more dynamic and epic. Issue #103 introduces another long-lasting villain team, the Executioner (from ish #84) this time in tandem with the lovely and deadly Enchantress. In the story, Loki dispatches Enchantress to steal the love of Thor from Jane Foster. It doesn’t work, but now Odin is made aware of Thor’s love for a mortal. He doesn’t approve. Issue #104 brings Odin to Earth to suss things out for himself. He and Thor end up kicking the tar out of Surtur the Fire Demon and some Storm Giants, but the all-knowing one is worried about little Thor.

Kirby's Enchantress - who says he can't draw women?

JIM numbers 105 and 106 bring back the Cobra/Mr. Hyde team. In this two-part tale, they kidnap Jane Foster, ending in Thor showing them that is a bad idea. Lee & Kirby are on a tear of creation here, introducing the Grey Gargoyle in issue #107. He is still around and up to old tricks today. In the last issue of this collection, issue #109, Thor makes a rare crossover with the X-Universe, as Magneto messes with New York and Thor tracks him down. In an exciting battle of muscles and wits, Thor is separated from his hammer too long and turns back into Don Blake. Seemingly at Magneto’s mercy, Blake actually outwits him and manages to reach Mjolnir and change back into Thor, who proceeds to wipe up Magneto’s hidden base with his body parts. Mags ends up fleeing in fear, living to fight another day. The story ends with Blake and Jane Foster looking over the NY skyline, pining for each other but afraid to say the words they both want to hear ... first-rate Stan Lee soap opera!

Delicious early Kirby art from Journey into Mystery

While this collection is a seminal Thor primer with some entertaining stories, the next few volumes will be even better. In the near future Stan really lets loose with the cosmic flavor in Asgard, and Kirby matches him artwise note for note. There are so many fun Thor stories ahead.

Rating: ****½ stars out of 5

Jack "King" Kirby. No caption needed.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Movies: Logan


*Slight Spoilers* I saw Logan last night and I’m still not exactly sure what to make of it. Logan is a fine, well made tale of the famous feral mutant Wolverine and takes place in a near future of the X-Men Universe. It features spectacular action, wonderful acting and a great script. It’s an impressive film—I’m just not convinced it’s a great Wolverine film.

We join Logan as a much older man, driving a limo to help support him, an ailing Professor Xavier and the mutant Caliban. His healing factor is beginning to fail and his body is rejecting the adamantium coating his bones. He’s aging, tired, run down and in constant pain. It’s all he can do to keep going. When a young mutant girl named Laura enters his life and needs a ride to the north for safety, he wants nothing to do with her. Some nasty, violent people are pursuing her and Logan (going by his birth name of James Howlett here, an unexpected treat for comic fans) does not want to get involved. Eventually forced to flee with Xavier and the girl, Logan fights his way north through a series of obstacles to save her.

Director James Mangold has a specific and stylish story to tell in Logan. It’s serious, violent and not necessarily hopeful. The violence is constant and visceral, as the Logan we’ve always wanted to see finally surfaces and the movie earns its hard R rating. Logan cuts and slices arms, legs, heads and other extremities from countless evil hoods who are trying to stop him and his mission. Hugh Jackman, in supposedly his last Wolverine performance, does a fantastic job channeling Wolverine’s rage into lashing out at evil men and cutting them into small pieces. The ending is not upbeat, and can be taken as hopeful or not, depending on the viewer. I didn’t love it.

I’ve been reading Wolverine comic book stories for 40 years now. My version of the character is much more of a superhero than this broken, angry animal. My Wolverine wears a costume, has funky hair and while feral and violent, keeps that part of himself in check—barely, but he does it. This serious, adult film has nothing to do with that character. This is a dark, thinking man’s action adventure. There is nothing wrong with that, but it is a far cry from my Wolverine. There is definitely room for both versions of the character, but if this is the last Hugh Jackman Wolverine movie we’re ever going to get—possibly the last Wolverine movie ever—I would have liked to see the young Wolverine, maybe a costume, perhaps some traditional comic book villains—and not an overall feeling of depression and malaise throughout the entire endeavor. Again, Logan is a fine Wolverine movie—just not my Wolverine.

Rating: ***½ out of 5 stars 

Monday, February 6, 2017

Books: The Trekker’s Guide to the Kirk Years by J.W. Braun


This thick compendium offers insight into all Star Trek series, movies and cartoons featuring the cast of the Original Series. Author Braun begins with all 69 episodes of TOS, dividing entries into episode title, grade, summary and a “Did You Know?” section. He then features the 22 episode animated series and concludes with all of the original cast films. As an extra Braun also covers “Star Trek Continues,” fan-produced episodes with new actors in the Original Series character roles.

Braun’s notes are exhaustive—summaries are clear and simple yet communicate the core of each episode. The “Did You Know?” facts are fascinating, as Spock would say. I’ve read dozens of books on the original ST, and Braun offers up many interesting details I didn’t know or hadn’t read before.

Of particular interest is Braun’s grading system for each individual episode. It’s an interesting idea, but I’m not sure it works—favorites are so personally subjective. For example, my personal favorite episode of the original series is “This Side of Paradise," where plant spores are sprayed onto the crew and they become unbelievably cheery and rather mutinous. Leonard Nimoy explores Spock’s character in a touching and humorous performance. Braun gives the episode a C, saying it is “slow moving with little action and just a middle of the pack offering for TOS.” Another absolute favorite of mine, “Balance of Terror,” gets a B+. Braun points out some minor faulty logic in the episode, but so what? I loved it! At least the horrible “And the Children Shall Lead” got the F it so richly deserves. I probably would have gone for an F-. Braun’s grades don’t always match the ones I would give, but that’s okay, everyone is entitled to their opinion. However, depending on the grade, the system may cause some raised eyebrows among loyal ST fans who disagree with the author’s summations.

Overall The Trekker’s Guide to the Kirk Years is a wonderful compendium of Star Trek information and trivia for all ST fans. Recommended.

(Full disclosure: The Trekker’s Guide to the Kirk Years includes a blurb from me regaling fans of my amusing meeting with William Shatner at a pop culture con a few years back. You can find the original story on the blog here. I was provided a complimentary copy of the book. Which I appreciate!)

Rating: **** stars out of 5

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Concert Review: Garth Brooks


At best I’m only a moderate fan of country music. I’d heard Brooks gave a great concert performance, but nothing prepared me for the entertainment atom bomb of Brooks’ live show. The man transcends any musical genre and is a phenomenon unto himself.

Brooks had two opening acts, Mitch Rossell and Karyn Rochelle. Singer-songwriter Rossell said his gig before that was playing in airports for tips. Rochelle had a sweet voice and is an extremely talented songwriter. But the audience was there to see Garth, who strutted out in a black cowboy hat and promised to play “all the old stuff.” And he did. He did sing some newer material, but continually wowed the audience with his greatest hits package, along with some album deep cuts that kept the entire US Bank Arena on its feet, screaming and applauding, for two plus hours.  

Garth began with his massive hit Rodeo, followed by Two of a Kind, Workin' on a Full House, and The Beaches of Cheyenne accompanied by some great beach video. He also did versions of The River, a very fun Two Pina Coladas, the tongue-in-cheek Papa Loved Mama, and a rockin’ Ain't Goin' Down ('Til the Sun Comes Up). Additional songs included Unanswered Prayers, The Thunder Rolls, and We Shall Be Free. He knew what the crowd wanted and gave it to them, with sugar on top.

I’ve never seen a closer bond between performer and audience. The only other performers who can compare are Elvis and Bruce Springsteen. Elvis was too shy to be that close and it’s not really Springsteen’s personality. But Brooks embraced his fans, addressing the audience personally, calling out signs and commenting directly to audience members. At one point, he would gesture to various sections of the crowd and they would cheer as if their home team had just won the Super Bowl. “I thank God that this is my gig!” he cried to the heavens.

Mid-concert Brooks was joined on stage by his wife, country star Trisha Yearwood. They sang a duet and she did several solo songs while Brooks no doubt collapsed on a couch somewhere. Brooks and Yearwood have a wonderful stage presence together, alluding to a deep love and partnership with no rivalry. If a competition exists, the audience certainly couldn’t tell.

Near the end of the show, Brooks cemented himself forever in my book as a class act. Talking to a woman and her mother near the front of the stage, Garth asked them about their sign saying the older daughter had cancer and attendance at the concert was her way of thanking her mother for helping her through. He asked her how the treatment was going and how she was doing. He wished her well and dedicated a song to her. Then Brooks asked a stagehand to bring him a Garth Brooks breast cancer baseball cap with a pink ribbon on it. Taking the hat in his hand, he drew it back to toss to the mother and daughter. Smiling at the last minute, he instead ripped off the cowboy hat he had been wearing all night, tossed it to the daughter, then flipped the baseball cap onto his head. He wished her well and went into the next song. No one in the arena auditorium had a dry eye after that. Mr. Brooks, you are my hero.

When the band took a break, Brooks read song requests off audience signs and played them on his guitar—not only his own deep cuts, but he was pleased to do a version of Don MacLean’s Starry, Starry Night as well.

When the band came back, Brooks finished with some of his most famous songs, including The Dance (in my opinion one of the finest songs ever written), and of course I’ve Got Friends in Low Places, complete with the rare naughty fourth verse.

Brooks spent over two hours jumping, laughing, singing, playing and engaging the audience like they were friends in his living room over for a jam session. For his last number, he playfully crawled over the stage to his guitar and jammed a fantastic rendition of another Don MacLean song, American Pie. The crowd shouted the lyrics with him.

The Brooks show was in my top three concerts of all time, and with perspective may end up being my favorite ever. I’ve never seen artist, band and audience in such perfect sync. This was my first Garth Brooks concert. Now I can’t wait until the next one. The man left nothing on the stage, and I think we both left exhausted.

Rating: ****** out of 5 stars

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Recent Movies


Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – I love Star Wars and I am desperately trying to like the new films. So far they are 0 for 2. Rogue One isn’t an awful film; it’s just boring. The actors are stiff and lifeless with no attention paid to character and less to the story. The characters gather in a throne room to talk, then a war room to talk, then on ships to talk ... why don’t they do something?! Actress Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso is bland and even more uninteresting than Daisy Ridley as Rey in The Force Awakens. She has no personality, no emotion and the charisma of a bag of doorknobs. It’s about the same for the crew of rebels who assist her, with the possible exception of Donnie Yen as Chirrut Îmwe. They put Zatoichi in a Star Wars movie. If you’re going to steal, steal from the best. Forest Whittaker as Saw Gerrera is at his “Look at me, I’m ACTING! Look how TORTURED I am!” best. He has given this exact same performance a hundred times. It may be time for him to report to Overactors Anonymous.   

There is nothing inherently wrong with having a diverse cast, which Rogue One does. But it gets a bit weird. The entire Rogue One Squadron, the good guys, is either female or minority—and all villains and evildoers are middle-aged white men. Um, what are you trying to tell us, Star Wars Universe?

Of course the special effects are breathtaking, as are the digital reproductions of young and deceased cast members. Darth Vader was handled well and was definitely on model. But overall Rogue One was an unnecessary tale told by a group of lackluster actors and filmmakers. The PC elements didn’t help. This drivel gives me little hope for future Star Wars installments.

Rating: ** stars out of 5


The Legend of Tarzan – Much to my delight, Hollywood is once again trying to introduce Tarzan to modern audiences. Since I read a buttload of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Jungle Lord books when I was a teenager, I’m a huge fan. Tarzan is one of my all-time favorite fictional characters and I care about getting him right. Unfortunately, this is not the film to do so.

This time around Tarzan is played by True Blood’s Alexander Skarsgård. He’s a great Tarzan, the filmmakers chose well. His wife Jane is Margot Robbie, also a great Jane. Inglorious Basterds' Christoph Waltz is a credible villain. The only misfire is Samuel L. Jackson as the whiny comic relief. This film was shot before Robbie’s breakout role in Suicide Squad, where she became a geek household name. I suppose the producers thought the film needed some star power, so they created a superfluous role for Jackson, who has no earthly reason to be in this movie.

The plot is decent; Jane is kidnapped in Africa and Tarzan has to go find her. This is the plot of 90% of ERB’s Tarzan novels and is perfectly acceptable. The execution is ... not good. It’s as if someone told someone else the story of Tarzan, then that person talked to the writers and they used that story to write the movie. Did they crack a Tarzan book? In the books, Tarzan wears an animal skin loincloth; leather, lion skin, leopard, whatever. In the movie, he wears culottes. Tarzan does not wear culottes. This took away from the classic visual of the character and just made him a muscular guy in culottes. Ugh. In the books, Tarzan never goes into the jungle without weapons, usually his bow and arrows, knife and possibly a spear. In the movie, he gets off a train and runs into the jungle with nothing. He’s following an army and trying to rescue his wife. That’s not just not following the books, it’s stupid.

When Tarzan gets off the train and goes into the jungle to rescue Jane, Sam Jackson’s character goes to follow him. Tarzan says, “I’m not going to let you slow me down.” Then Tarzan proceeds to slow from a run to a walk, then walk through the jungle rather than swinging from tree to tree, thereby letting Jackson’s character slow him down. Was anyone paying attention to their own script?

The movie did get some things right; Tarzan is a well-educated, well-spoken man. But the movie Tarzans are never as raw, as primal, as ERB’s original. The literary Tarzan was highly intelligent, compassionate and honorable. The movie Tarzans are always weak and equivocating. This movie Tarzan was a creature of the city, ashamed of his jungle heritage and reluctant to go back into the forest. The literary Tarzan, a much more interesting creature, was proud of his jungle life and always longed to visit his African holdings.

The great Tarzan film has yet to be made. 1984’s Greystoke starring Christopher Lambert was close, but no cigar. I’m still waiting, Hollywood. Please do better next time. And no culottes!

Rating: *** stars out of 5


X-Men: Apocalypse - 20th Century Fox continues to pump out X-Men movies, whether anyone wants them or not. Here, the oldest and first mutant, Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), is released from his Egyptian tomb and gathers a group of mutants to conquer the world. Bryan Singer directs, but doesn’t offer anything new to X-Men or superhero movies.

Apocalypse gathers some young mutants, including Mystique, Storm and Angel, as well as an older, disillusioned Magneto (Michael Fassbender). His efforts are fought tooth and nail by Professor X (James McAvoy) and young versions of Cyclops, Jean Grey and the Beast. The actions scenes are superior and the special effects of Apocalypse slaughtering humans and the X-Men fighting back are truly spectacular. The highlight of the movie is a terrific cameo from a feral mutant everyone has come to love. But there is just nothing new here. An evil mutant threatens the world, the X-Men team up to stop him. No one discovers something new, no one acts out of character and almost no one offers anything worth watching. Michael Fassbender is always fascinating to watch as Magneto, and he did have an interesting story arc and the most growth of any character. But that was a small part of the movie. I kept looking for something that made X-Men: Apocalypse special or unusual or stand out in any way from a crowded superhero marketplace. I suppose this film is not the worst way to pass two hours. But in the end, out of all the movies made last year, X-Men: Apocalypse was one of them.

Rating: **½ stars out of 5

Monday, January 2, 2017

Top 10 Comics of 2016

In alphabetical order:


Birthright


Bone: Coda


Future Quest


Lake of Fire


Manifest Destiny


Rachel Rising


Red Team: Double Tap, Center Mass


Rom


Stray Bullets: Sunshine and Roses



Velvet