Friday, June 10, 2022

Black Adam trailer

After years... decades... of waiting, the Black Adam trailer is finally here.

My thoughts? It's basic.  As basic as basic can be. It's Dwayne Johnson cosplaying as Black Adam. I am so glad I no longer care about New Line's botched Captain Marvel franchise, because this trailer is very underwhelming, and I would have been disappointed.  But now, I'll just wait for a proper reboot of the Captain Marvel franchise.

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Review: Batman '89 #5

Just when you thought DC was giving the All Star Batman and Robin treatment to Batman '89 ... you know, something so unbearably awful, they abandon it in the middle of the run... along comes issue 5.  

It opens on Harvey Dent, now decked out in his Two-Face costume, negotiating with a certain Mr. Karp to take over the so-called "Joker gang" that has been running rampant in Gotham.  Commissioner Gordon questions his daughter if she knows where Harvey is.  She says she doesn't, but she has a note from him asking her to meet him at Gotham Park.  Jim mentions he's put in his resignation.  Batman and Drake in the Batmobile lead a police car on a seemingly needless and pointless chase, only to have the police car abandon the chase to go after something more serious.  Four subway tunnels collapse and there is a gas leak all near Police HQ. Police Captain Ramirez is shot on live TV during a new interview. The Joker gang invades the streets.  It's all a diversion so Dent can get inside the evidence room at Police HQ.  Gordon gets to the roof to light the Bat-Signal.  Batman arrives in time to save Gordon from a couple Joker gang goons, and they get down to the evidence room where Gordon says 31 Million Dollars from the Lincoln Savings Job is being held.  As they get there, they encounter Dent, who shoots Bullock, and evades Batman while kidnapping Gordon.  Dent gives out the money to the poor and needy.  Dent then meets up with Barbara at the park.  She arrests Dent but he tells her he has her father.  Catwoman jumps from the shadows, knocking Barbara unconscious and tells Dent to run.  Catwoman then orders Drake to follow Dent.  Dent gets back to his hideout, and Gordon goads Dent into shooting him.  Batman arrives.

The extra time it took to put out this issue may have been worth it, as it is the best issue of the run.  But then again, that's not saying much.  Never the less, this issue has better pacing, plot points, and some suspense.  A clear improvement in script quality by Sam Hamm.  Joe Quinones' art is excellent this issue, with the likenesses to the actors more definitive than previous issues.  This issue earns a B.

Thursday, March 3, 2022

review: THE BATMAN

Matt Reeves' The Batman, in many ways, is a bookend to Todd Phillip's Joker.  Both have a similar tone, style, and presentation.  Both films take a germ of the source material from the comics, and build their own mythologies, sometimes in complete opposition to the source comics. And although to date, nothing has been made official, I can certainly see both films part of the same universe. But The Batman, despite all this, is not quite the film Joker was. At nearly three hours, the film is somewhat bloated, and a tighter edit cutting out about half an hour would have made the movie better.  Something else lacking in the movie is anything colorful or fun from the comics.  Much like the Christopher Nolan trilogy, this movie takes itself a little too seriously. There are really only two major action scenes- the Batmobile car chase with the Penguin, and the finale when the Riddler's bombs explode.  There are a lot of great fight scenes, but very little actual action sequences.  Also sorely missing is Batman escaping from a typical death trap.  But on the positive side, this film probably has the best detective aspect of any previous Batman movie even if there are a few times Batman gets things seemingly wrong. I mean come on, the clue is a "rat with wings", and Batman deduces stool pigeon instead of a bat??  Also, this is the first time since the Adam West TV franchise that Batman is on screen in full costume for nearly the entire time, with very few Bruce Wayne scenes.

The simple, yet complex plot has Batman, in his second year of activity (Batman's narration clearly states that for the viewer), encountering the mysterious Riddler who starts knocking off corrupted political and police figures, and it's up to Batman and Jim Gordon, assisted by Selina Kyle who has her own tangent to the case, to figure out the connection. It leads to a revelation about Thomas and Martha Wayne (again, somewhat dovetailing into the portrayal of Thomas Wayne in Joker). It was this kind of deconstructionist attitude that kind of turned me off to the movie at its reveal about at the half way mark. I'm done with this type of "let's see how we can screw up superheroes the most" agenda, and would love to get back to a more truly heroic presentation.

One thing I really noticed about the movie is how there are so many scenes that are homages or recreations of previous Bat-Film moments.  The first fight between Batman and Selina is just like the scene in Batman Returns. Batman's "flying" escape is similar to scenes from both Batman Returns and Batman Begins. The scene where Batman goes into Penguin's Iceberg Night Club is clearly a homage to the "What A Way To Go Go" scene from the pilot episode of the 1966 TV series.  There's a shot of Batman crashing through a skylight that looks similar to shots from both Batman '89 and Batman Forever. When Batman visits Riddler at Arkham Asylum, it echos Batman's interrogation of the Joker in The Dark Knight. There's a shot of Batman hanging from a structure by one arm that looks like a mirror image of a shot from Batman '89. In that respect, this movie plays almost like a "Batman's Greatest Hits" collection.

Robert Pattinson does an excellent job as Batman, much better than I thought he would. Thankfully, he avoids the ridiculous bullfrog voice used by Christian Bale, or the electronically adjusted voice used by Ben Affleck. Instead he speaks in a harsh whisper along the lines of both Michael Keaton and Kevin Conroy.  And after Affleck's serial killer Batman, it's refreshing to have a Batman with a moral code against killing. The Batman cowl really suits Pattinson's face well.  The rest of the costume, though, while better than Bale's motocross style outfit, isn't as good as the Keaton or Affleck costumes.  One thing I hate about the more recent Batman costumes is that the capes have a regular straight edge on the bottom. Why don't they give the capes the bat-points across the bottom anymore?  It's like with Superman, his capes never have the yellow S shield on the back. Pattinson's cape has a Dracula inspired collar, but no bat-points.  Pattinson's Bruce isn't as good as his Batman, having too much of an Edward Scissorhands quality with a sort of Shemp Howard haircut. But thankfully, his Bruce doesn't get much screen time at all.

Paul Dano's Riddler looks more like Hush from the comics than The Riddler.  His performance is fine, but he really doesn't start to shine until the last act after he is unmasked, at which point he starts to act a little more like a classic Riddler, even mimicking Frank Gorshin's dialogue delivery style of raising the volume and getting higher pitched with certain lines.

Jeffery Wright does an okay job as Jim Gordon, but lacks charisma.  If Gordon were more of a background character this wouldn't be a problem, but Gordon is really the film's 2nd lead, so Wright seems a bit flat.  Speaking of background characters, that's what Andy Serkis' Alfred is.  I think you need to go all the way back to the 1949 serial to get an Alfred with less screen time than Serkis.  Colin Farrell, who I always thought would have been a great choice to play Batman, hams it up as the Penguin, getting the film's only humorous lines.  Despite being covered in prosthetics and make up, he still doesn't look like the Penguin, just a heavy, balding, generic gangster.  His role seems quite similar to the position the character had in the Gotham TV series. Zoe Kravitz, much like Pattinson, defied low expectations, and delivered an excellent performance as Selina Kyle, giving the character great range and good chemistry with Pattinson. 


In relation to other Warner Brothers Batman movies, I'd rank this one in the top four:  Batman '89, Batman Returns, The Dark Knight, The Batman. It's far from perfect, it's certainly not the definitive Batman, but for what it is, it's very well done.

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Review: Superman '78 #6

The final issues picks up with the fight scene from the previous issue.  In perhaps this series' most un-movie like sequence, but a typical comic book trope, Superman and Brainaic trade off lots of exposition dialogue while fighting. Superman points out Brandon, er, pardon me, Brainiac uses science as a weapon to control people. But perhaps the best dialogue is as Superman seemingly defeats Brainiac, he screams "you are just a man!" to which Superman replies "I'm Superman."  After Brainaic's defeat, his ship starts to self destruct. Superman gathers up all the bottle cities. However with the destruction of the ship, Metropolis begins to fall back to earth, as Luthor observes from his hot air balloon. Superman flies around to the bottom of the city and struggles to guide it down safely.  Then there is a wrap up scene at the Daily Planet (featuring another Easter Egg from Superman III), and the story ends with Superman at his Fortress with the various bottle cities, telling his parents he will search for a way to free them.


I'm repeating myself from the previous issues, but writer Robert Venditti and artist Wilfredo Torres turned in an excellent mini-series that really captures the tone of the Christopher Reeve movies. This issue earns another A, giving it a clean sweep of A's, and the mini-series, or its upcoming collected hardcover edition, is strongly recommended. And I wouldn't mind seeing Venditti become a writer on one of the main Superman titles.

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Review: Superman '78 #5

This issue picks up with the excision of Metropolis by Brainiac.  In the bottle city of Kandor, Jor-El re-attunes Luthor's device so that Superman can return to his normal size.  Superman says good bye to his parents as Brainiac begins the miniaturization of Metropolis. (On page 6, could that be a cameo of Richard Pryor's Gus Gorman from Superman III?) Luthor takes off in a balloon, and Superman returns to stop Brainiac's machine.  The rest of the issue is a fight scene between Superman and Brainiac and his robots, ending on a cliffhanger.

What can I say that I haven't already said in my reviews of the previous issues.  This creative team gets it, and excels.  This issue earns another A.  Looks like it'll be a sweep of A's for this mini-series.  We'll find out with the final issue next time.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

review: SPIDER-MAN NO WAY HOME

 

Even though it was DC Comics that essentially made the concept of a multiverse a corner stone of superhero folk lore, the MCU beats them to the punch cinematicly before The Flash next year, with Spider-Man: No Way Home directed by Jon Watts and starring Tom Holland and Benedict Cumberbatch.

Picking up right where Far From Home left off, Peter and his friends deal with the world knowing Spider-Man's true identity.  With him being looked at by the public as both a celebrity and a menace, he turns to Dr. Strange to cast a spell to make everyone forget his secret identity. As Strange composes the spell, Peter keeps chiming in with exceptions he wants added to the spell, causing Strange to abandon the now corrupted spell. However, a ripple effect causes people from other parallel earths who know Spider-Man's true identity in their own timelines, to end up on the main MCU earth.  Showing up are villains Dr. Octopus, Green Goblin, Electro, Sandman, and the Lizard to cause chaos as they try to destroy this earth's Spider-Man. Peter and Strange hatch a plan to send them back to their own earths, but Peter has second thoughts when he learns he may be sending them to their deaths. To stall for time, he traps Strange in a mirror dimension, and works to figure out a way to spare the villains' lives.  The rogues betray Peter, and Aunt May dies as a consequence. Meanwhile, Ned Leeds discovers he can open portals, and uses that to try to find the grief stricken Peter, only to end up finding the two Parkers from the alternate timelines. Ultimately the three Peter Parkers bond like brothers, and unite to cure the villains of their powers which would, in theory, spare them from death when the spell casts them back to their own worlds. But this brings up all kind of other questions, like the events from the previous franchises are now changed?  Also, a complication caused by Green Goblin causes the multiverse to start to tear, and the only way to stop it is for Strange to add a spell that wipes Peter Parker out of everyone's memory.  Now totally forgotten by everyone who ever knew him, with his whole history seemingly erased from the main MCU timeline, Parker starts his life over, no longer with a Stark Industries tech-suit, but a home made costume.

The first half of the movie plays like a Marvel Team Up of Spider-Man and Dr. Strange, but the second half, when Strange is mostly absent due to being in the mirror dimension, is when the movie does a great job of incorporating the previous Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield franchises, folding them (and presumably all pre-MCU Marvel movies, like The Fantastic Four and X-Men franchises) into it's multiverse.  It's the villains from the older movies, all played by the original actors, who really get the most screen time, while Maguire and Garfield join in only for the last act.  But once they are there, the brotherly bond between the 3 Spider-Men is handled very well. Maguire, who has physically aged the most, comes off as the elder statesman (even a gag referring to him having a bad back, slyly referencing not only his age, but the controversy that almost had him prematurely leave the Spider-Man role).  Garfield plays like the middle brother with self-esteem issues (again slyly referencing that his movies were the least liked by fans), and ironically plays the role better here than he did in his own two Amazing Spider-Man movies. I dare say he almost outshines Maguire.  I wonder if there were efforts to do a scene with Nicholas Hammond. 

One complaint I have, is that if you read my reviews of the previous two MCU Spider-Man movies, Betty Brant, played by Angourie Rice, is my favorite character, but she only has a small cameo in this one.  As with Far From Home, there was a little too much Zendaya, but at least this one didn't have that Disney Channel sit-com tone.  There is a cameo by Matt Murdoch (Daredevil) as Peter's lawyer, and as established in the previous movie's last scene, J.K. Simmons returns as the MCU J. Jonah Jameson, who is more of a Keith Olbermann/Don Lemon type.  However, he does not reprise the version from the Maguire films.

All in all, this movie is a notch above Far From Home, and really excels in the nostalgia factor for the previous franchises, but as a DC guy, it is kind of frustrating to see the MCU again pull the rug from under DC. And don't even get me started on how DC squandered its Crisis on Infinite Earths IP as a poorly made, Greg Berlanti produced TV project.

Sunday, December 12, 2021

Michael Nesmith Tribute

With the tragic passing of Mike Nesmith, I thought I would share some of my favorite tracks and give some thoughts. I will not duplicate any of the songs I listed on my Best Monkees Songs You've Never Heard post, even though every one of the songs on that list that was either written or sung by Mike deserves to be here.

Different Drum  Of course we have to start with this song.  There have been several versions, including the first, 1966 folksy dirge version by the Greenbrair Boys, the 1967 pop classic by Linda Ronstadt and the Stone Poneys, and Mike's own mostly acoustic 1972 version.  However, my favorite version is the earlier, originally unreleased alternate take from 1970, with a Western Swing beat and some great steel guitar work from the amazing Red Rhodes.  This is my go-to version by Mike, and it rivals the Stone Poneys' version.

Get Out of My Life Woman  A previously unreleased funky, bluesy track from Mike's pre-Monkees "Michael Blessing" Colpix days.

Sunny Girlfriend  A Monkees song from the Headquarters album. A fun tune that at first seems like a typical teenage love song about a great girl, but the last line which says "she doesn't really care" changes the whole perspective to unrequited love. This history behind this song is The Monkees, in their earliest concerts, performed She's So Far Out, She's In, with Mike on lead vocals, and it was the first song they attempted at the Headquarters recording sessions. Coming to light recently is that Mike also recorded an unreleased version in 1965/66 as part of his pre-Monkees "Michael Blessing" Colpix deal. At some point, Mike decided to write his own version of the concept, while copying the intro to the Rolling Stones' It's All Over Now, and thus was created Sunny Girlfriend.

You Told Me  The lead track to Headquarters with a count in that was meant to parody the Beatles' Tax Man, and has what Peter Tork described as the most Rock 'n Roll use of a banjo.

Good Clean Fun  A song Mike wrote when a record exec told him he needs to write more songs that are good clean fun. This song has become something of an anthem for the final years of the Mike and Micky concerts.

Naked Persimmon  From The Monkees' 1969 TV Special, this song cleverly recaps the whole situation with Don Kirshner. The accompanying video is also great ("Wanted for Fraud").

Little Red Rider  Mike comes into his own post-Monkees with his First National Band.

Propinquity  Love song, Nesmith style.  Great lyric is "I've seen you make a look of love from just an icy stare".

I Fall To Pieces  Mike's cover of a Patsy Cline classic.

Thanx For The Ride  Apparently, this song was Mike's formal statement saying goodbye to his band mates in The Monkees. But if you listen to the lyrics, it works just as well as his final goodbye to all of us.

Hollywood  Similarly, this song was his lament on the California show biz culture he experienced while being a Monkee.

Some of Shelly's Blues  Other than Different Drum, this was perhaps his most covered song, with versions by Linda Ronstadt, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, The Continental Drifters and Earl Scruggs.

Wax Minute  Perhaps my favorite Mike song from his solo years.  Although it was written by Richard Stekol, it is very much in a Mike Nesmith style.

Mama Rocker  This Chuck Berry influenced song apparently was about Marrianne Faithful. 

I'll Go Somewhere and Cry  This is perhaps the most obscure song on the list.  It is actually the very first song Mike wrote to be professionally recorded and released (1964). The Elvis Presley style vocals are by Denny Ezba, with Mike on guitar and doing the whistling. This catchy tune is highlighted by the contrast of lyrics expressing a heartbroken guy wanting to go somewhere and cry juxtaposed with rather happy whistling. Speaking of Elvis, if there was only one question I could have asked Mike, it would have been "When you were on RCA Records in the early 1970s, being produced by Felton Jarvis, who was also Elvis' producer at the time, were there any efforts made to submit songs to Elvis?"  I think an Elvis-Nez collaboration in the  '70s would have been amazing.

Rio  The song that Mike essentially invented the modern music video for. Perhaps his most famous and popular solo track.

Magic  Another early trailblazing music video.  The retro 1950s sound makes it a favorite of mine.

Cruisin'  The third in the trilogy of groundbreaking music videos.  By the way, contrary to popular belief, that is not a young Hulk Hogan in the video, but a different pro-wrestler named Steve Strong.

Yellow Butterfly  A kind of dreamy song from his 1992 "comeback" album  ...tropical campfires...

Laugh Kills Lonesome  A song that celebrates the classic singing cowboys of the golden age of movies.

I Know What I Know  From the Monkees album Good Times. 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.