Friday, August 19, 2016

Review: Three Stooges #1

This one flew under the radar.  I had no idea a new Three Stooges comic book series, published by American Mythology, was coming out until I saw it at the store.  So, of course I had to pick it up.  But what's more confusing is, after I got it I did some online research, and it appears this will be a series of one-shots, all labeled as #1.  So, I think I did see the second issue at the store, and according to the website it should be out now, but I didn't pick it up because it was labeled as issue #1 and I thought it was just another variant cover.  So I will have to pick that one up next time - the second issue #1, which is really issue #2, but since this is a series on one-shots, all issues will be issue #1.  Huh?  I think I got it.  Maybe. I think this may actually be a test run for DC's next reboot.  Make every issue a #1.

So anyway, on to this issue, the first issue #1 (not to be confused with the second issue #1, which is really issue #2, which may also be out as I write this). Oh, look!  On the inside front cover, it lists this issue as "The Three Stooges: The Boys are Back" #1. It contains three stories.  The first is "Triple Knuckleheader" written by S.A. Check and art by Bill Galavan. The art is very good, very reminiscent of Norman Maurer's artwork on the original Three Stooges comics of the 1940s and 50s.  The story, however, seems to be heavily influenced by the mediocre Farrelly Brothers movie.  It puts the boys in a modern setting with modern references to T-shirt cannons and Johnny Depp pirate movies. It's basically a comic strip's worth of material padded out to 8 pages.  Then there is a fake add for "Stooge-Monkeys".  They misspelled Monkees. The second story, "The Big Nyuk, Nyuk, Nyuk" fares much better. Written by J.C. Vaughn with art by Brendon and Brian Fraim, this story is inspired by the original two-reelers.  A film noir detective story where a beautiful dame hires the boys to get some photos back from a gangster. The art is very good, capturing the Stooges' likenesses and establishing the right tone for the story.  Next is a "Stooges Fun Fact" article that is little more than a cut and paste from Wikipedia. The final story is a reprint from "Dell Four Color" #1170, from 1961 (misidentified as 1942, although that's the year the "Dell Four Color" series started). "Midway Madness" written by Jerry Belson with art by Sparky Moore, features Joe DeRita as the third Stooge. The art is pretty bad and crude, but the story is decent, perhaps better than the lead off story in this issue. But what I find amazing is there is more plot in this 8 page story from 1961 than there is in the other two stories combined... dare I say more plot than a typical issue of a current DC comic. Overall, this issue earns a B and is a must have never-the-less.

Friday, August 12, 2016

A kind of, sort of, Shazam movie update

A few months after Hiram Garcia offered a barely existent update on the Shazam! movie, his sister Dany Garcia, ex-wife of Dwayne Johnson, and manager of both Johnson and Henry Cavill, offered a similar not-much-of-an-update update as an "Exclusive!" to Newsweek.

Regarding the perceived failure of the DCEU thus far, she says, Shazam! is to live in the same world [as the other films] but we have incredible autonomy over this brand and franchise. We are working with a different team, different producers, directors… it’s a different set-up. We don’t feel fettered by, or constrained by, the successes or failures and challenges of the other projects. That was a key component to our participation—that we be able to control the tone and the voice, and do it the way we want to. It needs to be of the world. You’ve got Justice League, Wonder Woman with a different director, so you’re going to see different points of view. I think by the time we land with [Shazam!] we’ll fit nicely within the world that’s been created, but not such a shorthand relationship. [It’ll be] enough that people say, ‘Oh, this is within the family,’ but the culture will be a little different.”

Regarding the on-going development of the film, she says, “We’re getting [script] drafts in… it’s important to make sure we get the tone right for Black Adam, which is Dwayne’s part. We don’t mind taking our time. We’re being very careful with each act and scene to go back and layer in as much as possible. We’ve got so many wonderful superhero franchises out there… we don’t need to run away from them and say ‘we can’t be that,’ but it’s important to understand what are the best aspects of a Batman [movie] versus Avengers versus Deadpool? What are the elements people are responding to? We want to move the needle.”

It can be interpreted that previously announced script writer Darren Lemke may be off the project, considering she implies they are getting multiple script drafts in, presumably from different writers, in a lottery to choose the best script. Or perhaps Lemke's script needs tremendous rewrites, again possibly from various and different writers or script doctors. What is also telling is it seems the number one priority is to get the Black Adam character perfect, with everything else allegedly taking a back seat.  Not exactly something a Captain Marvel fan wants to hear, but I bet Geoff Johns is tickled pink.

Friday, August 5, 2016

movie review: SUICIDE SQUAD

Let me preface this review by saying I was never a fan of Harley Quinn. I always thought she was a one-joke character, kind of a parody of the interchangeable molls that used to accompany Cesar Romero on the Batman TV series.  I also thought she was a rip-off of Prank, The Trickster's (played by Mark Hamill, no less) moll from the short lived Flash TV series from 1990.  For whatever reason, Harley found favor with the producers of Batman The Animated Series. They kept using her over and over until the fan base got brainwashed into loving her. When she got so popular and DC incorporated her into the proper continuity, my reaction was, "Really?  We need this?"

Let me also say I was an early supporter of Margot Robbie being cast as Beautia in the upcoming Captain Marvel movie.  She was on my short list of top 2 or 3 choices.  When it was announced she was cast as Harley Quinn instead, my reaction was, "Really? We need this?"

So, after watching Suicide Squad my overall impression is that Margot Robbie was the highlight of the movie and she made me a Harley Quinn fan (or more accurately, a "Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn" fan). Her scenes are the most interesting of the film, and when she is on screen, no matter who the focus of the scene is, she commands the viewer's attention.  The bad part is, Margot Robbie is not the star of this movie.

The main characters are clearly Deadshot and Rick Flagg.  Joel Kinnaman plays Flagg with the right amount of sympathy and charisma.  Will Smith does a great job playing Deadshot, making the character more than a one-dimensional villain, although at times it seems like there is too much Will Smith at the expense of the other characters. Jay Hernandez as Diablo is the other character that stands out with an intriguing story arc. Captain Boomerang, Killer Croc, and Katana are portrayed as background characters, each with a moment or two to shine, but otherwise just there to fill out the ranks. Slipknot is there just to be killed off, showcasing the bomb-injected-in-the-neck gimmick of Amanda Waller's.  Speaking of Waller, she is played by Viola Davis, who does a decent job, but... OK, I'm going to get politically incorrect here. Amanda Waller in the comics is a big fat Mabel King type of woman. Of all the live action versions of Waller, from Smallville to Green Lantern to Arrow to this movie, we have yet to see such a Mabel King type actress given the role to shine in.

The script is very straightforward, unlike Batman v Superman, where the first two reels we are introduced to the characters with some background flashbacks (including cameos by The Batman and The Flash, and for the true Harley fan, her original animated costume), while setting up the motivation for creating Task Force X.  Carla Delevingne's June Moon/Enchantress goes rogue and the Suicide Squad have to bring her down.  There is a dominate soundtrack to the film, which didn't really bother me.  In fact, without it, I think the film would have dragged in spots. David Ayer's directing brought the right balance of humor, which Zack Snyder's efforts lack, and a full color pallet, again unlike Snyder's muted colors. Overall somewhat better than Batman v Superman in certain ways, but not nearly as epic.

And then there's Jared Leto's Joker.  All the promotion and trailers for the movie mislead us into thinking the Joker will be a major force in this movie.  Not quite.  It's little more than a glorified cameo.  He gets just slightly more screen time than Batman, which is odd considering Leto gets second billing in the credits. Perhaps Leto's best scene is where a gangster kisses the Joker's ring, and Joker's response. According to new reports, the majority of Leto's scenes were left on the cutting room floor.  I know of at least one scene I saw BTS clips of where Joker is confronting Dr Quinzel on a street, at one point putting a gun to his own head, when a trucker enters the scene and Harleen grabs the gun from Joker's hand and kills the trucker. It's not in the final cut. Because of this, I really can't judge Leto's performance as the Joker.  The things that really stood out to me was his physical appearance- a cross between Billy Idol and David Bowie in a pimp's wardrobe, with punk rock green hair, heavy metal tattoos, and a rapper's grill. The other thing is that the Joker comes off as a love sick puppy chasing after Harley, while Harley is the dominate member of the coupling--essentially the opposite of the original dynamic from Batman The Animated Series. Another odd thing is that it seemed Harley has more chemistry with Deadshot than with the Joker.

But for me, although Margot Robbie didn't get the most screen time, this was her world and everyone else was just living in it.  I would have liked to have seen more scenes with her (and Joker), perhaps a little less of Deadshot. Of the DCEU to date, Cavill's Superman was lackluster, Affleck's Batman has potential, Gadot's Wonder Woman was a surprising delight, but it's Ms Robbie's Harley Quinn that really brings the A game.

If you consider Man of Steel is a strike, Batman v Superman is a foul, then Suicide Squad is a base hit.  Depending on how Wonder Woman does, the future of the DCEU in order to salvage it, may have to be centered on Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn. Now, that's a laugh and a half.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Review: Batman '66 meets Steed and Mrs Peel #2

This issue picks up right where issue 1 left off. The Cybernaughts are trying to abduct Catwoman from the Gotham City Jail. We see there is a mystery woman controlling them. Batman and Steed are successful in thwarting the abduction of Catwoman. Using a can of Bat-Rust (and a call back to a line from Batman Forever) the heroes capture one of the Cybernaughts. Lord Marmaduke Ffogg is revealed to be working with the mystery woman, and uses his Ffogg pipe to help the other Cybernaughts escape. Back at Gordon's office, they interrogate Catwoman, and the heroes get a report that Michaela Gough, who appeared at the beginning of the first issue, was kidnapped.  Could she be the mystery woman calling the shots?  Steed and Peel explain to Batman and Robin the origin of the Cybernaughts. There is a lot of dialogue in this issue. In a way, it captures the spirit of 1960s adventure shows, which tended to be more talk than action due to budget restraints. The heroes head to the Batcave, after putting Steed and Peel under the effect of Bat-Gas, to study the captured Cybernaught, but several more Cybernaughts have trailed them to the Batcave.  How could Batman not know that a homing device was incorporated in the Cybernaught... or does he know?  Writer Ian Edginton's script is dialogue heavy, but captures the tone of both shows perfectly. Once again, the highlight is Matthew Dow Smith's art. If only the regular run of Batman '66 had such amazing art instead of the weak lampoonish art that it suffered with for too many issues. Issue 2 earns another A-.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Review: Batman '66 meets Steed and Mrs Peel #1

The latest Batman '66 miniseries teams up the Dynamic Duo with the British Avengers, in the form of John Steed and Emma Peel, British secret intelligence agents. The script, by Ian Edginton, is rather simple and straight forward, despite having Alfred suit up as Batman and having a couple call backs to the Tim Burton Batman films. It serves as an introduction to the characters and sets up the premise by having Catwoman, during a routine robbery, foiled by Steed and Peel before Robin and Batfred get to the scene. After she is put into a holding tank at Gotham Police Headquarters, she becomes the object of a prison break kidnap attempt by mysterious Cybernaughts.  The real piece de resistance is the artwork by Matthew Dow Smith. Where as I often complained about the artwork from the Batman '66 franchise taking on a Mad Magazine satire look, Matthew Dow Smith's artwork is exactly what I wanted to see in this franchise. It is stylized, specifically in the backgrounds, while still exhibiting a photo-realism.  It can be described as an epic, big budget version of the artwork from the Batman View-Master booklet. This is some of the best illustrations in this franchise. Kudos to Matthew Dow Smith. This issue earns an A-.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Scotty Moore, R.I.P.

We have lost a legend.  Scotty Moore, one of the inventors of Rock 'n Roll, and Elvis Presley's guitar player, passed away on June 28th 2016, at the age of 84. Scotty, an inventive guitar player, virtually invented Rockabilly licks, helped to create Rock 'n Roll, and helped make Elvis the King.

Winfield Scott Moore III was born Dec. 27, 1931, and began playing guitar at the age of 8.  After a stint in the Navy, and taking a gig in a Country Swing band called the Starlight Wranglers, Sun Records owner Sam Phillips assigned Scotty to evaluate a new kid named Elvis Presley.  Together with Starlight Wranglers' bassist Bill Black, the trio created history by recording "That's All Right".   Scotty remained an integral part of Elvis' band throughout the 50s and 60s, even appearing in some of Elvis' movies.  In Jailhouse Rock when Elvis is by the swimming pool singing "(You're so Square) Baby I Don't Care", you can see Scotty in the background playing guitar, with his sunglasses disappearing and reappearing between different camera angles, a continuity error Scotty got a big kick out of.

After Elvis' 1968 Comeback Special, Scotty retired from Elvis' band, and started a second career as a recording engineer. But he would also often dust off the Gibson to perform on various records and concerts for the rest of his life, often in conjunction with Elvis drummer DJ Fontana and the Jordanaires.  One of Scotty's last appearances was with DJ on the TV series Larry's Country Diner on RFD-TV in 2015.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, let perpetual light shine upon him, may he rest in peace.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Review: The Monkees "Good Times!"

My track by track review of The Monkees' new album, Good Times! produced by Adam Schlesinger. It is the group's 12th studio album, and 3rd for the Rhino label.

"Good Times" - The album kicks off in a unique way. An old demo by the late Harry Nilsson, produced by Mike Nesmith (who also plays rhythm guitar on the track) is layered with new vocals by Micky, and a new lead guitar instrumental.  The curious choice of letting Nilsson sing the second verse solo instead of limiting his vocal to harmony with Micky might be seen as questionable to those fans who feel the late Davy Jones should have had a bigger presence on the album. But overall, this funky tune gets the album off to a great start.

"You Bring The Summer" - This song, written by Andy Partridge, if you go by the lyrics, seems like it would be more appropriate for the Beach Boys than the Monkees. But musically, it sounds nothing like a Beach Boys song. Sung by Micky with backing vocals by Mike and Peter, the first part of the song is a good example of what Micky refers to as "jangle pop". But then the second part of the song delves into a psychedelic fade out reminiscent of  "Auntie's Municipal Court", a Monkees track from 1968. This is a great Summer hummer and should become an annual Summer anthem.

"She Makes Me Laugh" - Written by Rivers Cuomo, this was the first song to be released from the album. To be 100% honest, the first time I heard it, I thought "it's OK... not great, but not a disaster".  But then I listened to it a second time, and a third.  I began to like it more with each listen. I began to take notice of the lyrics... something about them.  Could the song really be about a father and his daughter, rather than a typical boy-girl song? Others began coming to the same conclusion.  I read some on line stories of men with daughters who began to get choked up listening to the song, remembering the good times they shared. This song could very well end up becoming one of the most requested songs at father-daughter dances. Micky's vocal is spot on, and it's so great to hear Mike's harmony with him (which actually gave me goosebumps!).  Peter also pitches in on backing vocals and contributes the banjo on the track. The track also includes an electric 12 string guitar riff, something that has become synonymous with The Monkees, even though in reality, the classic riffs from "Last Train To Clarksville", "Mary Mary", "Pleasant Valley Sunday", and others, were actually played on a 6 string with added reverb.

"Our Own World" - Written by the album's producer Adam Schlesinger (who, by the way, was responsible for "That Thing You Do" from the Tom Hanks movie of the same name), this song has more of a 1970s flavor, somewhat reminiscent of  Sheena Easton's "Morning Train". Micky sings lead with Peter and Mike on backing vocals, and Peter on keyboards. Great song.

"Gotta Give It Time" - Like the title tune, this one is more on the funky end. Written by Jeff Barry and Joey Levine, it features an old, unfinished backing track augmented with some new instrumentation and lead vocal by Micky with Mike and Peter on backing vocals. Another great track.

"Me & Magdalena" - This song, written by Ben Gibbard and sung by Mike with Micky on harmony, slows the pace and changes the tone of the album by being a more reflective song. A kind of slow tempo, bare bones country number, it has received rave reviews by many people.  I'm not as enthused by it as some other fans, but it's still a good album track. Perhaps it could have used some Headquarters type pedal steel guitar accents. (Note: I heard version 2 of this song, which has a stronger, driving beat and fuller instrumentation. I kind of like it better than version 1. I would have put version 2 on the album as it seems to be a better fit with the other songs, and I would have released version 1 as a single intended for country radio airplay.)

"Whatever's Right" - This initially unfinished Tommy Boyce-Bobby Hart tune is a real gem.  Micky brings the goods with his vocal, with killer background vocals by Mike, Micky's sister Coco and Bobby Hart, and Peter contributing some soulful keyboard work. The bridge is nearly identical to the bridge of "Apples, Peaches, Bananas, and Pears". One of the album's highlights, and that's saying something considering how high quality the whole album is.

"Love to Love" - I have to say this might be the album's weakest track. I understand the need to include a track representing the late Davy Jones. I would expect there should be one. But I think "Love to Love" was the wrong track. Not exactly an unreleased track, various mixes have been issued since the 1980s. In fact, the only difference in this mix is Davy's vocal was not doubled as in the other mixes, and Micky and Peter provide some minimal backing vocals. Although it was written by Neil Diamond, and I suspect that is the main reason it was included, it is a weak offering.  What I would have preferred (and perhaps this could be done for the next album) is to take Davy's vocal of "My Share of The Sidewalk", a tune written for him by Mike Nesmith, and remix it to include the breezier and more sweeping backing track from the Instant Replay Super Deluxe box set. Or, for a more innovative idea, take Davy's long forgotten 1970s solo cover of Gilbert O'Sullivan's "Who Was It" and build on that.

"Little Girl" - A completely different song than the Dolenz penned version from the 1969 album The Monkees Present.  This one, written and sung by Peter is kind of bluesy with a mixed tempo/beat. Peter, who is known for not really being the best vocalist of the group, turns in an excellent performance. Supposedly, Peter says he wrote this song back in the 1960s for Davy as a sequel to "I Wanna Be Free", although lyrically it doesn't seem to follow the earlier song's story line.

"Birth of an Accidental Hipster" - Many have stated this Noel Gallagher-Paul Weller penned song is the album's masterpiece. Sung by Mike with Micky and his sister Coco on harmony backing vocals, it starts out a lot like "Sweet Young Thing", but then evolves into something very reminiscent of the Beatles/Sgt Pepper/Magical Mystery Tour in sound and spirit only to again fade out with the "Sweet Young Thing" type rhythm. An amazing track.

"Wasn't Born to Follow" - This Carol King-Gerry Goffin track is another unfinished backing track from the 60s, with Peter adding banjo and his vocal. Great soulful performance by Peter, who has a long history with this song. Apparently he recorded a version with his post-Monkees band Release to be used in the movie Easy Rider (produced by Raybert, the creators-producers of The Monkees), but the version by The Byrds ended up being used instead.

"I Know What I Know" - Wow.  This track, written and sung by Mike is simply beautiful. The lyrics and melody transcends rock 'n roll or pop music and goes to a whole new level, right up there with Cole Porter or Irving Berlin. One of the best tracks on the album.

"I Was There (And I'm Told I Had a Good Time)" - The closer is a song written by Micky with Adam Schlesinger based on a one-liner Micky has been using for several years. Like "Hipster", this song seems to have more of a Beatles influence, and could be seen as a novelty track (although it's no "Gonna Buy Me A Dog" or even my pick for a Monkees novelty track, "The Curly Shuffle"). Micky plays drums on this bluesy number and exclaims at the end he dropped his stick. A great way to end a fantastic album.  I can't wait for the next Monkees album!

There are three other bonus tracks I should briefly mention.  The best of the three is "Terrifying", a jangle pop tune written by Zach Rogue and sung by Micky, that is almost as good as all the other songs. I wish it would have been included on the album proper. Initially, it was listed as being on the album, but it was later dropped. On the other hand, Peter's "A Better World", written by his brother Nick, is a pleasant enough song, but has a "We Are The World" complex.  Perhaps the weakest of the three is "Love Is What I Want". It has a good production and vocal from Micky, but the problem is with Andy Partridge's lyrics and tune, which has too much of a nursery rhyme sound and cadence to it. The chorus sounds like a rip off of "Red Rubber Ball" by The Cyrcle. Micky singing his classic "Randy Scouse Git" during the fade out is priceless though.