Friday, August 23, 2013

Ben Affleck is the new Batman

Uh, yeah.... right.  I have no comment at this time.  But some other people do.



Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Review: Batman '66 #2

The second issue of this retro series continues the adventure and fun begun in the first issue.  Ty Templeton's art in the issue's first two stories is even better than Jonathan Case's artwork in issue 1.  The only critique is Templeton gives Batman a pot-belly in some panels (Adam West did have a bit of a paunch, but that's something that should be overlooked in the artwork).  The two-parter features a team up of Penguin and Mr Freeze.  A little dilemma here, as George Sanders' portrayal was the definitive version, but Templeton went with the look of Otto Preminger, which seems to mesh better with the current DC.  Thankfully Freeze isn't exclaiming "Wild!" every panel.  In fact it seems writer Jeff Parker is mashing up the TV series continuity with bits and pieces of DC Comics continuity.  All in all, the Penguin-Mr Freeze two-parter was excellent.  The third story features Chandell (played by Liberace in the series' highest rated episodes) and The Siren (third season villain played by Joan Collins).  Neither of the actors' likenesses were used, due to lack of permission.  This story also features Kathy Kane as Bruce's date, and Robin sits this one out. Parker's writing for this one is weaker, and seems more like a third season type mess.  Case is back on art, and while he does a good Siren, his art overall is weaker than Templeton's.  The final panel features one-shot villain The Sandman, and third season disaster Minerva (played by Zsa Zsa Gabor -whose likeness is used by Case- in the series' finale, and one of its weakest episodes)  hinting at a bigger plot line that may stretch over several issues.  This story just wasn't as good, being too close to the type of junk that was aired on the third season.  The creative team needs to stick closer to the first season episodes when crafting this book.  The third story knocks this issue's grade to a B+.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Young Dreams: A Look At Elvis' Movies

I thought I'd give brief thoughts and reviews to Elvis Presley's movies.  There are two Q and A articles by Sheila O'Mally on her blog that goes into great detail about Elvis' worth as an actor and his movies that are must reading.

Love Me Tender (20th Century Fox, 1956) - Elvis' debut was in a well done western about the real life Reno Brothers (just one year earlier, another movie about the Reno Brothers, Rage At Dawn, was released by RKO Pictures).  Elvis' first attempt at acting is a little wooden, but he showed charisma and screen presence. Beautiful Debra Paget was the leading lady, and Elvis sang four songs that were included on an Extended Play 45 RPM soundtrack.  One of three black and white Elvis movies, and one of only three to have Elvis with his natural hair color.
Overall, story: B+, songs: B,  Elvis' performance: B-.

Loving You
Loving You (Paramount-Hal Wallis, 1957) - Elvis' first starring feature was in color and premiered Elvis' jet black dyed hair.  Loosely based on Mary Agnes Thompson's short story A Call For Mitch Miller, this musical drama with some humor showcases the early Elvis concert performances.  Elvis' band, Scotty Moore, Bill Black, and DJ Fontana, and the Jordanaires, have roles in the movie, with Black even getting some dialogue, much to Col. Tom Parker's dismay, as he saw Bill Black's on stage antics as an attempt to upstage Elvis, though Elvis himself never felt that way, and quite enjoyed Black's comedic antics on stage.  The first of two movies to have future nun Delores Hart as leading lady.   Elvis' acting is still a little wooden, but his charisma and screen presence get stronger.  Elvis' parents can be seen in the audience near the end of the film. Elvis is said never to have watched this movie again after his mother died. Monkee connection: it is said a line of dialogue in this movie inspired the name of the Monkees. At one point Deke (Elvis), in a moment of rebellion, says to his over bearing manager, "a monkey in a zoo... that's what you're selling... that's what you want." The soundtrack album contained the film songs on side A, while side B had non-film songs.
Overall, story B+, songs: A+, Elvis' performance: B.

Jailhouse Rock
Jailhouse Rock (MGM, 1957) - Elvis' first MGM movie is perhaps his most popular.  Playing a jerk, Elvis hits his stride in acting, and although a drama, he shows signs of great comedic timing. Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller were given the task of composing the entire soundtrack, and Stoller appears in the film as the piano player, with Elvis' regular band of Scotty, Bill, and DJ.  While on set, Leiber and Stoller attempted to give career advice to Elvis, encouraging him to sign on to Walk On The Wild Side with director Elia Kazan.  This outraged Col. Parker who banned Leiber and Stoller from Elvis' inner circle.  The "Jailhouse Rock" sequence is considered perhaps the very first "music video" in Rock and Roll history. The second of three films in black and white, and Elvis seems to have curly or wavy hair in this one. The leading lady, Judy Tyler, tragically died in a car accident before the film was released.  Out of respect for her, Elvis did not go to the movie's premier, and is said never to have watched the completed movie in its entirety.  Mickey Shaughnesay, who played Elvis' cellmate Hunk, prior to being cast in the film, was said to have stinging criticisms of Elvis in his night club act.  The film had six songs, five of which were on an Extended Play 45 RPM soundtrack. 
Overall, story: A, songs: A+, Elvis' performance: A+.

King Creole with Walter Mathau and Vic Morrow
King Creole (Paramount-Hal Wallis, 1958) - This was Elvis' cinematic masterpiece. Directed by Michael Curtiz, who directed Angels With Dirty Faces, Casablanca, and many others, and featuring a top notch cast including Walter Matthau, Carolyn Jones, Delores Hart, Dean Jagger and Vic Morrow. This film, based on the Harold Robbins novel A Stone For Danny Fisher, was originally slated to star James Dean.  When Elvis stepped in after Dean's death, the story was reworked for the main character being a singer instead of a boxer.  Elvis, under Curtiz's direction, hits a home run. The first movie to have a full soundtrack album.  Originally slated to be in color, Curtiz made the artistic decision to film in black and white for a gritty, moody look.  Scotty, Bill, and DJ, and the Jordanaires can be seen as members of the band at the King Creole Club.
Overall, story: A+, songs: A,  Elvis' performance: A+.

G.I. Blues (Paramount-Hal Wallis, 1960) - Elvis' first movie after the army, and his first to be directed by Norman Taurog (who would ultimately direct nine Elvis movies). This is also his funniest Paramount movie.  Elvis has great comedic timing in this one, and even gets close to doing some slapstick.  A lot is said about Elvis' acting talent being wasted and how he could have been a great actor, but I think his real calling may have been comedy.  Juliet Prowse is the leading lady. Scotty and DJ make their final on screen appearance in an Elvis film, as musicians in a German club (Bill Black left Elvis by this time).
Overall, story: B, songs: B+, Elvis' performance: A.

Flaming Star (20th Century Fox, 1960) -  Decent western of a half-breed torn in an Indian-white man war, based on Clair Huffaker's novel Flaming Lance.  Marlon Brando was originally slated to star. Leading lady is Barbara Eden. Elvis only sings two songs early in the film.
Overall, story: B, songs: title song gets a B, Cane And A High Starched Collar gets a C, Elvis' performance: B+.

Wild In The Country (20th Century Fox, 1961) -  screenplay by Clifford Odets based on J.R. Salamanca's novel The Lost Country (later renamed Wild In The Country after the movie's release).  A fitting follow up to King Creole has Elvis easily handling a dramatic role of a troubled youth, and has great chemistry with leading lady Tuesday Weld. Batman connection: Alan Napier plays a college dean. This movie did not get a soundtrack LP or EP.
Overall, story: B, songs: B, Elvis' performance: B+.

Blue Hawaii (Paramount-Hal Wallis, 1961) - loose remake of Wallis' Bing Crosby movie Waikiki Wedding.  A fun and enjoyable lightweight film with lots of scenic shots. The light script takes a dark turn when teenage Elle attempts suicide. Perhaps Elvis' biggest hit at the box office, compared to the lesser success of  Flaming Star and Wild In The Country, which cemented his fate with formula pictures.
Overall, story: C+, songs: B-, Elvis' performance: A-.

Follow That Dream
Follow That Dream (United Artists, 1962) - based on Richard P. Powell's novel Pioneer Go Home! this was Elvis' funniest comedy.  Directed by Gordon Douglas, who directed many Our Gang Comedies in the mid to late 1930s. Second of three movies where Elvis has his natural hair color. Has an Extended Play 45RPM soundtrack.
Overall, story: A, songs: B+, Elvis' performance: A+.

Kid Galahad  (United Artists, 1962) - based on the Frances Wallace novel and a remake of a 1937 movie of the same name, starring Edward G Robinson, Bette Davis, and Humphrey Bogart, and directed by Michael Curtiz.  Elvis lobbied for Curtiz to direct the remake, but Phil Karlson was tapped.  Features Charles Bronsan.  Third of three movies where Elvis has his natural hair color. Batman connection: David Lewis has a small role. Has an Extended Play 45RPM soundtrack. Overall, story: B+, songs: B+, Elvis' performance: B+.

Girls! Girls! Girls! (Paramount-Hal Wallis, 1962) - the first of what could be called the "Elvis formula" movie.  Elvis is back to dyed black hair, and the first of two movies where his hair is literally shellacked.  Elvis lost weight and is very thin in this movie.  Filmed on location in Hawaii.
Overall, story: C, songs: Girls! Girls! Girls! and Return To Sender get a B+, while the rest of the soundtrack gets a C, Elvis' performance: B-.

It Happened At The World's Fair (MGM, 1963) Elvis' first MGM movie since Jailhouse Rock seems to be an effort to imitate the Hal Wallis-Paramount formula rather than following up their own punk classic. Never the less, actually an enjoyable film. Kurt Russell, who would play Elvis in the Dick Clark produced/John Carpenter directed TV bio-movie, has a small role.  Vickie Tiu who plays little Sue Lin, nearly steals the movie, and her scenes with Elvis are very sweet. Elvis looks good in his tailored suits and is very thin.  Second of two movies with his hair shellacked. Batman connection: first of two movies with Yvonne Craig, and ironically, Olan Soule (who was the voice of Batman in cartoons from 1968 thru 1986) plays her father.  Soule also did an episode of The Monkees.
Overall, story: C+, songs: B-, Elvis' performance: B.

Fun In Acapulco (Paramount-Hal Wallis, 1963) A decent script, with Elvis' character given some emotional heft, but the songs are very weak.
Overall, story: B, songs: Bossa Nova Baby gets a B, the rest C-, Elvis' performance: B+.

Kissin' Cousins (MGM, 1963) - An average movie. Elvis plays two roles, and one can only wonder if Col. Tom Parker negotiated two paychecks for Elvis.  The movie has some funny moments and a few good sight gags.  The plot is okay, the songs are average.  The directing and editing are sloppy when both Jodie and Josh are on screen together, there is little effort to hide the fact one of them is Elvis' stand-in.  The final musical number is likewise marred by bad jump cuts. Ironically, it also has two different songs titled "Kissin' Cousins".  This is the second and last Elvis film to feature future Batgirl Yvonne Craig. MGM and NBC attempted to spin this movie into a TV series, with Edd "Kookie" Byrnes in Elvis' role, but only a pilot episode was filmed.
Overall, story: C+, songs: Kissing Cousins and Smokey Mountain Boy get a B, the rest a C, Elvis' performance: B-.

Viva Las Vegas (MGM, 1964) - One of the better formula movies with a very good soundtrack.  Elvis is a race car driver who gets involved with a swimming instructor played by Ann Margaret. The two have great on screen chemistry. Features William Demarest (Uncle Charlie on My Three Sons). Although there were enough songs for a full soundtrack LP album, RCA originally released an Extended Play 45RPM record.
Overall, story: B, songs: A-, Elvis' performance: A.

Roustabout (Paramount-Hal Wallis, 1964) - A more serious movie, with Elvis, as in Jailhouse Rock, playing an angry jerk who has to take a job at a carnival when his motorcycle is wrecked. Co-stars Barbara Stanwyck.  Monkee connection: Richard Kiel.
Overall, story: B, songs: B-, Elvis' performance: B+.

Girl Happy first of 3 movies with Shelley Fabares
Girl Happy (MGM, 1965) - Despite the unacceptable tampering of a couple of the songs being sped up (the title tune- which if you listen to the recording session, in between takes, Elvis keeps saying the tempo should be faster - and Wolf Call), this is actually a fun movie.  Probably inspired by the success of the Beatles, Elvis is cast as member of a rock group quartet (Bing's son Gary Crosby, Jimmy Hawkins,  and Joby Baker), and they romp around Ft Lauderdale Florida during spring break in a pre-Monkees kind of way.  Coincidentally, a Monkees connection with Nita Talbot, who plays a stripper in Girl Happy, and a martian in Monkees Watch Their Feet.  The first of three movies with Shelley Fabares (and said to be Elvis' favorite leading lady). The Spring Fever sequence is a precursor to the Summer Nights sequence from Grease. 
Overall, story: B+, songs: B (despite the sped up tampering), Elvis' performance: B+. 

Tickle Me with Jocelyn Lane
Tickle Me (Allied Artists, 1965) - This was a very good movie, with some good comedy.  The script was written by Three Stooges and Bowery Boys alumni Edward Bernds and Elwood Ullman, and you can pick out many Stooges gags in the film.  Elvis shows some very good comedic timing. In some ways, this movie is almost like an episode of The Monkees with some surreal humor and an Old West fantasy romp.  Unlike all other Elvis movies, no songs were written for this film, but rather excellent tracks from prior non-soundtrack albums were used.  Unfortunately, string and horn overdubs were added to the mix. Director Norman Taurog did a great job, but one can't help but wonder how Monkees director James Frawley would have handled it. Leading lady Jocelyn Lane is perhaps the most stunning of all Elvis movie actresses.
Overall, story: B,  songs: A-,  Elvis' performance: A.

Harum Scarum (MGM, 1965) - I avoided watching this movie for many years, as it has a reputation of being the worst movie Elvis ever made. But when I finally did see it, I didn't think it was quite that bad. The title makes you believe the movie is a silly comedy, but on the contrary, it is actually the closest thing to an action film Elvis ever made. It has a rather dark plot.  Elvis plays Johnny Tyrone, a Hollywood actor who gets kidnapped by middle eastern rebels who intend on forcing him to kill a king.  The So Close Yet So Far  scene is filmed in a unique and atmospheric way. 
Overall, story: C, songs: Hey Little Girl and So Close Yet So Far get a B+, the rest C-,  Elvis' performance: B-.

Frankie And Johnny (United Artists, 1966) - Very enjoyable movie based on the classic blues tune, co-starring Donna Douglas (Beverly Hillbillies) and Harry Morgan (Dragnet and M*A*S*H ). Batman connection, Nancy Kovack. 
Overall, plot: B+, songs: B, Elvis' performance: A-.

Paradise Hawaiian Style (Paramount-Hal Wallis, 1966) - Elvis is a little overweight in this one. OK plot, awful songs. Much of the movie was filmed on Hollywood soundstages, which is why many scenes look more like Gilligan's Island rather than Blue Hawaii.
Overall, plot: C, songs: Datin'  and A Dog's Life get a C+, the rest a D,  Elvis' performance: C.

Easy Come Easy Go
Spinout (MGM, 1966) - For the second time, Elvis is cast as a member of a rock group quartet, once again with Jimmy Hawkins as one of the members. Shelley Fabares is also back from Girl Happy in her second Elvis movie. In addition to echoing Girl Happy, this one also reprises the race car concept from Viva Las Vegas. The songs are slightly stronger than Girl Happy due to no tampering with the speed, but the plot is weaker.  If the producers would have brought Gary Crosby back, and made it a full fledged Girl Happy sequel, it might have fared better.  Even so, still a fun and enjoyable film. The girl dancers in this movie also appeared throughout season one of The Monkees, and during the party scene where Elvis sings "Spinout", several of the girls are wearing the same outfits they would later wear in The Monkees' episode "The Chaperone". Batman connection: Diane McBain. Overall, story: B-, songs: B, Elvis' performance: B.

Easy Come Easy Go (Paramount-Hal Wallis, 1967) - Elvis is a scuba diving treasure hunter. Elvis' final movie for Paramount-Wallis.  It also has the fewest songs of any of the Wallis films, getting an Extended Play 45RPM soundtrack.  Features Pat Harrington Jr. Batman connection: the hot rod in the movie would become the Joker-mobile.
Overall, story: C, songs: C, Elvis' performance: B-.

Double Trouble (MGM, 1967) - Average movie where Elvis gets involved with a British teenage heiress.  Set in Europe, but filmed in Hollywood. Originally, The Three Stooges were going to appear in the movie, but scheduling conflicts resulted in them dropping out and being replaced by The Weire Brothers. Monkees connection: Monty Landis and Chips Rafferty.
Overall, plot: C, songs: Long Legged Girl gets an A, the rest B-, Elvis' performance: B-.

Clambake (United Artists, 1967) - Third movie with Shelley Fabares, and the first with Bill Bixby. Good script based on the Prince and the Pauper story.  Monkees connection: Jack Good. 
Overall, plot: B, songs: B-, Elvis' performance: B.

Stay Away Joe (MGM, 1968) - Comedy with a lot of sight gags, based on the Dan Cushman novel of the same name. First movie to break the Elvis formula.  Batman connection: Burgess Meredith. No soundtrack album was released for this movie. Overall, plot: B-, songs: B-,  Elvis' performance: A-.

Speedway (MGM, 1968) - Another Viva Las Vegas style race car film, this time with Nancy Sinatra and Bill Bixby.  Monkee connection: Carl Ballantine.
Overall, plot: C, songs: Let Yourself Go gets an A, Your Time Hasn't Come Yet Baby and Your Groovy Self  get a B, the rest C,  Elvis' performance: B.

Live A Little Love A Little with Elvis' Great Dane Brutus as Albert
Live A Little Love A Little (MGM, 1968) - Funny comedy based on Dan Greenburg's novel Kiss My Firm But Pliant Lips, with Elvis, hilarious as a cranky grouch, doing great deadpan deliveries.  Albert the Great Dane was really Elvis' dog Brutus.  I wonder if Col Parker got him a bigger paycheck than Darren #2 Dick Sargent?  You know Elvis is having fun when he breaks into his old 1950s dance moves (as he also did in Spinout).  Leading lady: Michelle Carey. Director Norman Taurog's final movie. No soundtrack album was released for this movie.
Overall, plot: A-, songs: B-, Elvis' performance: A+.

Charro! (National General, 1969) - Elvis' third western, and only non-singing role, although he does perform the theme song over the opening credits.  Based on Harry Wittington's novel, which was published after the movie's release. Features Victor French (Little House On The Prairie).
Overall, plot: C, song: C+, Elvis' performance: B-.

The Trouble With Girls (MGM, 1969) - based on the novel Chautauqua by Day Keene and Dwight Babcock.  In development for nearly a decade, and originally slated to star Dick Van Dyke. Features future star Dabney Colman, John Carradine, Joyce Van Patten, and Family Affair's Anissa Jones, with Susan Olsen (The Brady Bunch) in an uncredited cameo.  Batman connection: Vincent Price. No soundtrack album was released for this movie. Overall, plot: C, songs: B, Elvis' performance: B+.

Change Of Habit
Change Of Habit (Universal, 1969) - Produced by Joe Connelly (who was Catholic) and Bob Mosher, the team that created Leave It To Beaver and The Munsters, Elvis' final acting performance is superb. Intentional or not, this movie gives us a glimpse of the chaotic years following the Second Vatican Council, when the Church seemingly lost her way, jettisoning all things spiritual and mystical while becoming utterly fixated on social justice.  This is underscored by Sister Barbara (Jane Elliot) who quits being a nun, feeling the Church is too restrictive, to become a full time social worker. Originally, this film was slated to be a starring vehicle for Mary Tyler Moore, and to air as a TV movie.  Once Elvis signed on, he got top billing, and the movie went into theatrical release (although it did air as a TV movie in some European countries). No soundtrack album was released for this movie.
Overall, plot, B+, songs, B-, Elvis' performance: A.

That's The Way It Is (MGM, 1970) - Great concert film/documentary that showcases Elvis' Vegas show.  The "special edition" version is even better than the documentary-heavy original theatrical version.

Elvis On Tour (MGM, 1972) - A slightly inferior sequel to That's The Way It Is that follows Elvis on a breakneck tour.  No soundtrack album was released for this movie.