Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Sky Captain and the World Of Tomorrow (Fan Art)

Fan art for the 2004 retro sci fi film 'Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow' as requested by Chicory. As always, if you have a fan art request, just leave it in the comments.

Monday, June 27, 2016

If I were casting Flash Gordon...

You know what I think would be really cool?  A modern Flash Gordon trilogy that stuck close to the source material, but treated it more like a fantasy epic then a cheesy old science fiction.  Kind of like the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but with more rocketships.  Why not have Peter Jackson direct it?  While I'm daydreaming, here's a list of actors I'd like to see play some of the main roles.  Let's start with the main antagonists.

Ming the Merciless:

Flash, Dale, and Emperor Ming
Speaking of 'Lord of the Rings' I see Hugo Weaving as perfect for this role.  He always has a sort of sophisticated menace about him, even on the rare occasion that he's playing a good guy.  Shave his head and slap a Fu Manchu mustache on that guy and you have the perfect Ming.
Hugo Weaving

Princess Aura:

Princess Aura and Flash
After 'Tron: Legacy' and 'Cowboys and Aliens' I thought Olivia Wilde was going to be a real breakout star in genre movies.  She hasn't really done anything that caught my attention since then, but I would love to see her play a villain.  Something about those wide eyed stares she's always giving the camera is simultaneously A). Really hot - and - B). Just a little bit creepy.

Olivia Wilde

Let's move on the the supporting cast shall we?

Prince Barin:

Prince Barin and the Forest Men of Mongo
One of the few things I liked about the either so-bad-it's-good or so-bad-it's-actually-really-bad 1980's Flash Gordon was former James Bond actor Timothy Dalton as Prince Barin.  There's something about that suave British-ness combined with forest swashbuckler that works so well for the character.  So who's an ex Bond actor to take up the mantel?  Answer, there really isn't one.  Pierce Brosnan would have worked, but he's a little old for Barin now.  And the tough guy thug thing Daniel Craig has going as Bond just wouldn't wok at all.  I now direct your attention to 2011's 'X-men: First Class'.  This movie brought the X-men back to the time-period the X-men were created in: Cold War era 1960s.  They were doing there absolute best to be a James Bond movie with mutants.  Michael Fassbender's take on a younger Magneto was to play him as if he were Bond.  I see him as a good fit for Baron.
Michael Fassbender

Another option would be to simply bring back Steve Bacic who was pretty fantastic as Barin in the 2007 Flash Gordon TV series.

Steve Bacic

Prince Thun:

Prince Thun and Flash Gordon

This one took a little thinking, but I think Michael Dorn of Star Trek fame would be a good match for an older and wiser take on the Prince of the Lion Men.

Michael Dorn

King Vultan:

Princess Aura and King Vultan
So I keep going back to actors from the 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy, but I could see John Rhys-Davies -Gimli - as the King of the Hawkmen.  

John Rhys-Davies
 If he proved unavailable, another Dwarf from Middle Earth comes to mind: Richard Armitage - Thorin Oakinshield - would work as well if not better.

Richard Armitage

Queen Fria:

Flash and Queen Fria

Okay, last time using a Lotr actor, I promise.  But Cate Blanchett's Lady Galadriel would be a perfect match for the icy Queen of the land of Frigia.

Cate Blanchett

So this brings us to our main cast.  And this is the hard part.

Doctor Hans Zarkov:

Dr. Zarkov

One actor comes to mind.  And yes, he was in a Peter Jackson Movie.  No. NO!  Put that cauldren of hot tar and those bags of feathers DOWN!  Down.  Good reader.  I'm talking about German actor Thomas Kretshmann, who played Captain Engelhorn in the 2005 'King Kong'.  Engelhorn was, in my opinion, one of the coolest characters in the movie.  And Zarkov is arguably the coolest in the main trio of Flash Gordon heroes.  Thomas Kretshmann also had a blink-and-you-miss-it role as Baron Strucker in Marvel's 'Avengers: Age of Ultron'.  Zarkov has a rather menacing introduction as a european Mad Scientist, and 'Age of Ultron' proves Kretshmann has that menace.

Thomas Kretshmann

So.  Now we just have...  
Flash Gordon and Dale Arden.

Flash and Dale
I've run out of ideas.  I always do when I get to this point.  In the original comic strip Flash Gordon and Dale Arden are more or less blank slate characters.  And it works.  They are our veiwpoint characters, every-man type people we can identify with and project ourselves overtop of.  They are a delivery mechanism for the fantastic world, the quirky side characters, and the adventures that happen in the story.  But that's something that's hard to adapt for a movie.  So I find myself returning again to the 2007 Flash Gordon TV show.

I'm sure Eric Johnson would be willing to return to the role of Flash.  He did it for this animated short after all.  And if we're bringing back 2007's Flash why not bring back Gina Holden as Dale too?

Eric Johnson
Gina Holden
Well, you've heard me ramble long enough.  What do you geek out about so much you daydream about future movie adaptations of?  If you have a guilty pleasure you'd like to see remade as a big budget movie, let me know about it in the comments.

Monday, June 20, 2016

On Daredevil...

"This Daredevil guy is awesome.  He's like Marvel's version of Batman!"  I've said this early on in my days as a Daredevil fan, and I'm not the first to make that comparison.  Some may even go as far as to say Daredevil is a cheap Batman knock-off!  But is this a fair accusation?  Let's take a look at some of the similarities AND differences between ol' Hornhead and the Caped Crusader.

Some background: I'm a huge fan of the Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale graphic novels, particularly their Batman work (Batman: The Long Halloween - Batman: Dark Victory) and the Color Series (Daredevil: Yellow - Spiderman: Blue - Hulk: Gray - Captain America: White) over at Marvel.  Daredevil: Yellow was my first encounter with the character.  It was a fantastic book.  Sad, funny, nostalgic, and it somehow managed to make me care about boxing.  I've never cared about boxing!  Anytime a book can convince you to be passionate about something you ordinarily couldn't care less about?  That's good writing.  After that I decided to check out the 2003 movie that everyone hates now.  I really enjoyed it at the time, and still do today as a guilty pleasure.  It's not necessarily a completely faithful adaption, but it's a fun movie, and easier to re-watch than those Fantastic Four movies they made back in the day.  It was after this that I started reading Frank Miller's Daredevil run.

We can thank Frank Miller for all of those comparisons between Batman and Daredevil.  Miller helped  reshape and redefine both characters for the generations to come back in the 80's.  Christopher Nolan's Dark Night trilogy is heavily inspired by Miller's 'Batman: Year One' as well as Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale's 'Batman: The Long Halloween' which was intended to be a direct continuation of 'Year One'.

Before Frank Miller came along, Daredevil more closely resembled Spiderman than the Dark Knight.  Let's take a look at their origin stories:  A young man gains superpowers because of an encounter with a radioactive substance: in one case a spider bite, in the other a mysterious cylinder that strikes him across the eyes.  That young man receives a great personal loss: the tragic death of a father figure.  He dons a colorful costume in order to bring justice to those responsible.  Afterwards, he begins the double life Superhero, swinging around rooftops with either his grappling-hook-billy-club combo, or using spider-webbing.

So what did Frank Miller bring to the table?

Mobsters:  Miller brought in a minor Spiderman villain, 'The Kingpin of Crime,' and turned him into Daredevil's nemesis.  It the early days ol' Hornhead fought the occasional gangster - 'The Fixer' and 'The Owl' come to mind, but Frank Miller turned it into a full time gig.  'Batman: Year One' also deals with organized crime in the form of Carmine 'The Roman' Falcone, and the Falcone crime family can be found throughout 'Batman: The Long Haloween' and it's sequel 'Batman: Dark Victory'.

Ninjas:  Frank Miller did his best to turn Daredevil into a Kung Fu movie.  The Hand, DD's mentor Stick, his crazy ex girlfriend Elektra, ect. ect.  'Batman: Year One' introduces us to a Bruce Wayne who has just returned from the far east where he has mastered the secrets of Kung Fu so he could fight corruption in Gotham city.

Femme Fatale Girlfriends:  Catwoman and Elektra.  Something about both of these heroes is that they are both into bad girls.  This here is Film Noir influence.  Frank Miller didn't create Catwoman, and frankly I'm not crazy about his take on the character in 'Year One'.  But he introduced the ninja assassin Elektra in the very first issue of Daredevil that he wrote solo.  There's something about having a love interest who operates on the other side of the law that gives our brooding hero one more thing to brood over.

So.  Are Batman and Daredevil basically interchangeable?  Yes, but also no.

Multi-Millionaire vs Every-man.  Daredevil is a little more relate-able than Batman because he has a day job.  And with that day job comes the supporting cast of a day job.  Who is Matt Murdock's best friend?  His business partner Foggy Nelson.  Who are Bruce Wayne's best friends?  His butler and his kid sidekick.  I don't have a butler for a best friend.  Suddenly I can no longer relate to Batman!  Okay, that's a little extreme.  Bruce Wayne's best friends are his surrogate family, and I can totally relate to that.

But let's get back to that day job thing.  This is important.  This is why Daredevil is just about my favorite Superhero.  Matt Murdock is a lawyer by day and a vigilante Superhero by night.  Think about that for a minute.  Daredevil is basically fighting crime 24/7.  Matt Murdock is wholeheartedly devoted to bringing criminals to justice.  I challenge you to find another Superhero who is that dedicated to doing what they do.  On the flip side, Bruce Wayne sits around Wayne Manor brooding by day, and doing the vigilante stuff at night.  Fighting for justice is more like a part time job for Batman.

So, there you have it.  As near as I can tell, those are the key similarities and differences between Batman and Daredevil.  Feel free to tell me about your favorite Superhero in the comments.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Thoughts on Heroic Sacrifice

"Have you ever seen 'Pacific Rim?'" a friend of mine asked.  "Yeah," I answered. "Good movie, but it would have been better if the hero died in the end."  I'm given a strange look, and am left wandering if I sprouted an extra head.

(This post may contain spoilers for Pacific Rim, Spiderman 2, Cowboys and Aliens, and Suckerpunch)

In the climax of Pacific Rim, our hero pilots a disabled self-destructing mech into a portal to another dimension in the bottom of the ocean.  He sent his unconscious co-pilot girlfriend back to the surface in an escape pod, and we are led to believe that he is about to go down with his ship.  At this point in the movie, I actually started to believe that our hero might not live through the story, and that's something that rarely happens.  So, when he takes a second escape pod to the surface in the ta-da nick of time, I was pretty disappointed.  If he had died, it would have been a beautiful self sacrificing moment.  Dying to save not only the love of his life, but the world as we know it.  And as the hero had lost so much over the course of the story, for example the twin brother with whom he shared a telepathic link, loosing his life felt like a satisfactory end to his story arc.

Willingness to sacrifice ones self for others is a key part of the definition of a hero.  However, that sacrifice doesn't always have to be the protagonist's life.  Take 'Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back' for example.  Han Solo spends the entire movie putting his own needs - paying off Jabba the Hutt - to the wayside in order to ensure Princess Leia's safety.

Another good example is Peter Parker in Sam Raimi's Spiderman Trilogy.  In the first movie, Peter scarifies the possibility of a future relationship with Mary Jane Watson because his secret life as Spiderman could put her life in jeopardy time and time again.  In Spiderman 2 Peter gives up the happiness of a normal life to put on the Spiderman suit again because he knows it's the right thing to do.  Spiderman 2 has a powerful line of repeated dialog that rivals "With great power comes great responsibility."  The gist of it is this: "Sometimes to do what is right we must give up what we want most; Even our dreams."  Peter isn't the only one who gets a heroic sacrifice in this story though.  The villain Doc Ock conquers his inner demons and saves New York City, atoning for his wrongdoing while giving up his life and scientific ambitions.

So, heroic sacrifice doesn't HAVE to be a character's life, but it CAN be.
In the criminally underrated movie 'Cowboys and Aliens' our heroine, Ella, is an alien who's race have been pretty much been wiped out by the same marauding aliens invading Earth.  To ensure that no other planets will be ravaged like her own had been, she makes her way to the heart of the Mothership and blows it, the invading aliens, and herself sky high.

Themes of self sacrifice can be found all throughout Zach Snyder's 2011 film Suckerpunch.  There are parallels between the lives of 3 of the characters: Babydoll, who after a failed attempt to protect her sister from an abusive stepfather is thrown into an insane asylum to keep her quiet.  Sweet Pea is equally protective of her younger sister Rocket.  In a scene that parallels the abuse scene in the beginning, Babydoll comes to Rocket's aid when she is slapped around by an abusive cook.  After this Babydoll and Sweet Pea form a bond, because they are both looking out for Rocket, who is a sister to Sweet Pea and like a sister to Baby Doll.

They, and a handful of other inmates, attempt escape the asylum, and to do so have to fight through several visually spectacular dream sequences.  Several of the girls are killed along the way, including Rocket, who dies to save her big sister Sweet Pea.  In the end only Sweet Pea and Babydoll remain.  Babydoll realizes that the only way either of them can escape is if one of them distracts the guards and is recaptured.  She doesn't even hesitate.

In the beginning of the story Babydoll's abusive stepfather bribes an orderly at the asylum to forge an order to have Babydoll lobotomized so she couldn't testify against him.  In the end of the movie Babydoll allows herself to be lobotomized.  Afterwards the doctors discover that there was a mistake, and root out the cause of the injustice.  The villains of the story fall into their own trap, all because of Babydoll's sacrifice, ending the story on a beautiful bittersweet note.

I think if you want to make your hero stand out, a little selflessness goes a long way.  A heroic sacrifice of some kind might be the way to go.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Old Dark House Mysteries - A Crash Course

 You walk towards the creepy old house (or maybe it's a crumbling castle) in a driving rain.  Thunder rolls in the background.  Perhaps your car broke down and you are seeking shelter from a storm.  Maybe you took the last ferry for the evening and cannot return to the mainland until morning.  Perhaps the bridge has washed out

Are you here as a guest?  Is an eccentric millionaire throwing a dinner party in order to lure all of his greatest enemies to the same place at the same time?  Perhaps you are in the will of your late rich uncle.

Regardless of your reason for entering the spooky old house on a dismal night such as this, you can expect the following to await you within: A collection of colorful guests with diverse reasons for being there, secret panels and passages, a lost treasure or hidden fortune that drives men to kill, and a killer on the loose (often a hooded figure to unmask or perhaps a gorilla with a taste for human flesh).

This is the 'Old Dark House' genre.  Repetitive, cliche, and oft parodied, but undeniably nostalgic.  If you've watched 'Abbot and Costello', classic 'Scooby Doo', or played the board game 'Clue' (or 'Cluedo' in Europe) you'd probably recognize an Old Dark House mystery when you saw one.

Where I live it's been a really wet spring, with rain for a solid week in May, and off and on so far in June.  There was a storm this afternoon.  It's the perfect time of year for this kind of story.

I just recently read John Willard's 1922 stage play 'The Cat and the Canary' which is said to be one of the first, and perhaps most influential, examples of the genre.  I had seen the 1927 silent film, and the 1939 version with Bob Hope, but a silent movie often has minimal dialog, and inflection is lacking.  The Bob Hope movie is a comedy, and I wanted a serious take on the story.  It never hurts to go back to the original source material.  I really enjoyed the play, reading it in a single afternoon, and would recommend reading it if you're interested.

"So, now that I've read 'Cat and the Canary' what next?" you may ask.  I'm glad you did.  I'll tell you.  Here are some Old Dark House movies that I personally enjoyed:

#1: House on Haunted Hill (1959).  This is a later Dark House movie, and I really feel like it dodges and plays around with the cliches.  Also, Vincent Prince is in this one.  'Nuff said right?

#2: And Then There Were None (1945).  Based on the Agatha Christie mystery of the same name.  This suspense story features 10 people trapped on an island.  Soon they are killed off one by one...  This movie is missing several common elements of an Old Dark House picture, such as secret passages and a killer in a mask, but it's still a very influential Old Dark House film.  The climax is different from the original book, however, giving the story your typical Hollywood happy ending.

#3: Dark and Stormy Night (2009).  An independent comedy from the creators of 'The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra'.  This movie spoofs a ton of classic Dark House movies.  Perhaps the most noticeable is 'Cat and the Canary,' because most Dark House stories take so many queues from the classic play.

#4: The Monster Walks (1932).  Been a while since I've seen this one, but it's a good Old Dark House movie of the gorilla suit variety.

#5: Horror Island (1941).  This movie is very Scooby Doo, with a get-rich-quick Sea Captain who tries to con tourists into staying at a 'Haunted' pirate castle and search for buried treasure.  Unfortunately, a 'Real' ghost shows up.

#6: Hold That Ghost (1941).  Abbot and Costello inherit a gangster's haunted house in this classic comedy.

#7: The Gorilla (1939).  Again, it's been ages since I've watched this one, so I forget the details.  But I enjoyed this comical mystery, and should watch it again in the near future.

So, there are a few suggestions for your next summer thunderstorm.  If you're already a fan of classic mysteries, and I missed your favorite Old Dark House story, be sure to tell me about it in the comments.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice - My initial reaction

I just saw Batman Vs. Superman yesterday evening with friends at our local second run theater.  It was just us guys, because two superheroes punching each other in the face was deemed as too masculine by all the girls that I hang out with.

Did I enjoy the movie?  Overall, yes.  I don't think it deserves the mixed to negative reviews it received.  And I think those negative reviews tainted my movie going experience.  For example, I was informed by everyone on the internet that BVS is a confusing muddled mess.  So every time I was just a little bit confused by what was going on, rather than waiting for the story to make sense as it progressed, I would rush to judgement and say, "I'm confused by this!  The critics were right! This movie is stupid!" Even though about 95% of the time what I found confusing was either explained later, or was something I had forgotten from "Man of Steel" which I haven't watched in well over a year.

You'd think that with all of the movies I love that have flopped at the box office I'd be immune to the opinions of critics by now.  But in the 21st century "group think" is so prevalent.  Good media and bad media are determined by the masses.  Opinion is now absolute fact.  I think if we all lived in a bubble and decided for ourselves what we did and didn't like, we'd get more out of entertainment AND be more rounded individuals.

I don't really know yet if I liked or didn't like BVS.  I would need to see it again, preferably after re-watching "Man of Steel."  But I know what I DID like.

Batman's origin.  There is a school of thought that superhero origins in movies are no longer relevant and just bog the story down.  We all know how Thomas and Martha Wayne were gunned down by a mugger outside a movie theater because you already told us about it in Batman, Batman Forever, Batman Begins, and the TV series Gotham.  But it was so well done here in BVS.  I love the way Zack Snyder weaves the mugging and Bruce's discovery of the Batcave together, all with minimal dialog while the opening credits play.  It's a beautifully done sequence, and it doesn't take any more than 5 minutes.

Batman and Alfred's interaction.  These were some of the best moments in the movie for me.  Alfred's dry humor was spot on perfect.  This is very much a grim-and-gritty-post Christopher Nolan DC comics movie, but most of the laughs this movie got from me were either from Alfred or Perry White.  As you may recall there was a great deal of internet outrage when Ben Affleck of 2003's "Daredevil" was cast as "Batffleck" but he really is terrific as Batman.  What was that I was saying earlier about popular opinion not always being right?

Wonder Woman.  I really didn't expect Diana Prince/Wonder Woman to be as cool as she was, but she has a mysterious bad girl quality in her introduction, and great action sequences in the climax.  Some people in my gang thought she hogged the spotlight too much in the climax, but if you put Wonder Woman it your movie, you do need to use her.

Lex Luthor.  The Lex of BVS is another polarizing element of this movie.  Yes, he is an obnoxious little twerp.  Some fans resent the fact that this movie turned Superman's nemesis into a twerp.  But twerpy as he may be, he is also truly menacing, and a diabolical chess-master.

Visuals/Action.  This is a no-brainer.  It's a Zack Snyder movie.  Awesome stylized visuals and great action sequences are a big part of why you watch.  Going in I knew that even if the movie was a train-wreck, it would be a truly spectacular train-wreck.

What didn't I like?

The surreal dream sequences.  Particularly that middle one, where Post Apocalyptic Batman fights Post Apocalyptic Superman in the Post Apocalypse.  This entire sequence is too long and, as near as I can tell, rather pointless.  It seems like Zack Snyder was trying to repeat "Suckerpunch" in this scene.  Now I for one like Suckerpuch.  It's in my top 10 really weird artsy movies.  But BVS isn't Suckerpunch.  It's Batman Vs. Superman.

(Spoiler Alert) WORSE than this dream sequence is the Flash cameo.  Time traveling Flash from the future pops out of Bruce Wayne's computer screen to warn Bruce about future stuff stating "Lois Lane is the Key!" and, when Bruce is just as confused as the audience, Flash states that he "Was too soon."  So.  Is this about the climax of this movie, in which Lois does play a role?  Or is it about the upcoming Justice League movie?  Because Flash wasn't in the climax of this movie, and shouldn't have known how Lois would be involved---!

So, I don't think BVS is a perfect movie, but it is an enjoyable movie if you have the intention of enjoying it going in.  Few movies are perfect.  Don't let that stop you from watching them and forming your own opinions about them.  Because if you just listen to the critics all the time you could miss a few gems.  I know I almost did.