Star Wars: the Last Jedi, a review of the third second Star Wars movie…

It was worse than Empire Strikes Back and better than Attack of the Clones…”

“Well, duh … name one sequel that doesn’t fit between those movies.”

Godfather 2.”

“Well, of course, …”

Star Trek, the Wrath of Khan.”

“I said one sequel…”

“And on the other end, Matrix 2, Speed 2, Stayin’ Alive…”

“Shut up.”

***

Star Wars: the Last Jedi has wonderful professional reviews but was raked on Facebook and other media by fans. Perhaps they are a very loud minority, or perhaps Rotten Tomatoes is not a reliable source for the quality of a movie…

Wikipedia has a fine plot synopsis. I will include it here with my thoughts in italics, which contain no spoilers.

The Wikipedia summary (in regular type) contains SPOILERS, so if that bothers you, just read the italics…

***

Resistance fighters led by General Leia Organa evacuate their base when a First Order fleet arrives.

Oh, god, here we go again, I thought at the time … SW: The Force Awakens was a (albeit good) retelling of Star Wars (and yes I said Star Wars, not Episode 3, a New blahblahblah … and now we have the same plot opening as Empire …?). Fortunately, the comparison stopped there …

Following an effective but costly counterattack led by Poe Dameron, the Resistance vessels jump into hyperspace to escape, but the First Order pursues them using a tracking device. Kylo Ren, Leia’s son, destroys the Resistance support fighters, but hesitates to fire at the lead Resistance ship after sensing his mother’s presence.

Ren’s evolution in this movie is a highlight. In Force Awakens, he was a typical brooding slacker. This point of the movie was an interesting development – he did not hesitate to kill his father, but did not fire on his mother (although never mentioned again). This was a consistent theme throughout the movie: could Kylo Ren be redeemed? He gravitates between redemption and the Dark Side. At no point do we cheer him on, but (even up to that certain point we are sure he made his decision with finality) we aren’t sure how his struggle with good and evil will eventually end!

TIE fighters destroy the bridge of the ship, killing several Resistance leaders and incapacitating Leia, leaving Vice Admiral Holdo in command. Disapproving of Holdo’s passive strategy, Poe, Finn, BB-8, and mechanic Rose Tico embark on a secret plan to disable the tracking device.

Fin, the co-star of Force Awakens its POV character, has a much smaller role in this movie – that is, smaller in terms of import and impact in the plot. In fact, his role is almost incidental and could have easily been cut.  His dramatic moment at the end of the movie was well-done, in character, and late in coming.

Meanwhile, Rey has arrived on remote Ahch-To …

Gesundheit

… with Chewbacca and R2-D2 aboard the Millennium Falcon to recruit Luke Skywalker to the Resistance. Disillusioned by the failures of the Jedi, Luke initially refuses, even after learning of Han Solo’s death.

Mark Hamill has recently told the press of his dislike of this Luke Skywalker. I found his nihilistic views very MUCH in character and one of the quieter – and more effective – parts of the movie! I cared more for Luke’s redemption than Kylo Ren’s…

Unbeknownst to Luke, Rey and Kylo begin communicating with each other through telepathic visions.

This developed an emotional link between Rey and Kylo that showed us the battle of the Light and Dark within Kylo. Any battle with the Dark Side within Rey eluded me. Despite Kylo assurances, I could not see Rey turning to the Dark Side, even at the important juncture (no spoilers) in which we the viewers were not supposed to be sure … that part of the movie failed, in my opinion. At no time did we think Rey would turn.

BUT it DID give us insight as to Kylo. Until his final decision, the viewer had no idea what it would be!

Prompted by R2-D2, Luke eventually agrees to teach Rey the ways of the Force. Luke and Kylo give Rey differing accounts of the incident that turned Kylo to the dark side, with Luke confessing that he momentarily contemplated killing Kylo upon sensing that Supreme Leader Snoke had corrupted him, causing Kylo to destroy Luke’s emergent Jedi Order in retaliation.

Adam Driver did a wonderful job showing the scared little boy within Kylo in this scene.

Convinced that Kylo can still be redeemed, Rey leaves Ahch-To …

Gesundheit

… to confront Kylo without Luke. Luke prepares to burn down the Ahch-To …

Take some Claritin, will ya?

… Jedi temple and library, but he encounters Yoda’s Force ghost, who destroys the temple himself and encourages Luke to learn from his failure.

Holdo reveals her plan to discreetly evacuate the remaining Resistance members using small transports. Believing her actions to be cowardly and risky, Poe instigates a mutiny.

Holdo, played by Laura Dern, is another character whose loyalties are unknown until the “very end” – that is, when we are shown her choice. Is she on the side of the First Order or the Resistance or someone else? Is she on the side of the angels?Readers of the Star Wars novels will have no doubt as to her stance, but the rest of us remained unsure until near the end.

Finn, Rose and BB-8 travel to Canto Bight and acquire the help of the hacker DJ, who says he is able to help them disable the tracking device.

This is, to me, the weakest part of the movie. I am still unsure if the hacker that accompanied them was the hacker they were looking for. They found the hacker playing craps with lovely ladies on his arms (they were looking for a man with a certain flower in his lapel) – the hacker they took with them was a fellow prisoner. Was he the real hacker all along? If not, he was VERY good at what he did … did they establish this in the movie? Did I miss it? I had a piece of popcorn husk stuck between my lower left molars since the previews, was it THAT distracting? Marvel Comics will release a comic about Canto Bight that promises to explain things…

Also, the long escape scene was too long. Although Finn and Rose planted the seeds of rebellion in some of the child laborers, and we learn a bit of about Rose’s past and her hatred of this gambling planet … this entre subplot seems tacked on, overlong and unnecessary.

They infiltrate Snoke’s ship, but are captured by Captain Phasma, though BB-8 manages to escape. Meanwhile, Rey lands on the ship, and Kylo brings her to Snoke, who reveals that he controlled the mental connection between her and Kylo as part of a plan to destroy Luke. Ordered to kill Rey, Kylo instead kills Snoke and works together with Rey to kill Snoke’s guards. Kylo invites Rey to rule the galaxy with him, but Rey refuses. Using the Force, they struggle for possession of Anakin Skywalker’s lightsaber, which splits in two.

A recovered Leia stuns Poe, allowing the evacuation to begin. Holdo remains on the ship to mislead Snoke’s fleet as all others attempt to flee to a nearby old Rebel Alliance base on Crait. DJ reveals the Resistance’s plan to the First Order, and the evacuation transports are targeted with heavy losses; Holdo sacrifices herself by ramming Snoke’s fleet at lightspeed to stop the barrage.

The most incredible scene of the film. I was in awe.

Rey escapes in the chaos, while Kylo declares himself new Supreme Leader. BB-8 frees Finn and Rose, who escape after defeating Captain Phasma, and join the survivors of the evacuation on Crait.

As with the beginning of the movie, comparisons in these scenes to the Battle of Hoth in Empire is unavoidable – by placing this base on a “salt” planet the producers once again asked for the Empire comparisons they should be avoiding…

When the First Order arrives, Poe, Finn, and Rose lead a charge with old speeders. Rey draws the TIE fighters away with the Falcon, while Rose saves Finn from a suicide run against the main enemy cannon, which blasts a hole in the Resistance fortress.

Luke appears and confronts Kylo alone so that the surviving Resistance fighters can escape. Kylo orders the First Order forces to fire on Luke to no effect, then engages Luke in battle himself. Kylo strikes Luke with his lightsaber, only to learn that he has been fighting Luke’s Force projection.

Another failed scene, in my opinion, I guessed Luke’s appearance faster than the “secret” of Sixth Sense. That being said, Luke’s reaction after the barrage of fire on him was laugh-out-loud fun.

Luke defiantly tells Kylo that he will not be the last Jedi, while Rey uses the Force to help the remaining Resistance fighters escape via the Falcon. Back on Ahch-To …

Geshun … oh, never mind.

… an exhausted Luke peacefully dies and becomes one with the Force. Leia reassures everyone that the rebellion has all that is needed to rise again. On Canto Bight, one of the children that helped Finn and Rose escape grabs a broom with the Force and gazes hopefully up into space.

***

END OF SPOILERS

***

Sadness permeates this movie – as opposed to hopelessness and bleakness, which is why most fanboys probably didn’t like it. Every scene with Leia reminds us of the death of Carrie Fisher. Leia may or may not die on screen in this movie, but we know it will be the character’s swan song.

Seeing an older and more cynical Luke Skywalker reminds us of the death of Han Solo – which tells us that any character from the old films might not make it to the end. Will this be Mark Hamill’s swan song, too, as Force Awakens was Harrison Ford’s? The question was pending throughout his every scene.

Last Jedi did a wonderful job hiding the ultimate fate of its grey-shaded characters – particularly Holdo and Kylo Ren. Until the very end, we were unaware of which way they would turn (compared to, say, Darth Vader’s overlong and obvious redemption in Return of the Jedi).

And, by the way, the annoying bits (such as the obviously marketable Porgs) were not onscreen enough to be really annoying (c.f. Ewoks and JarJar), despite some eye-rolling moments – although the scene in which Chewbacca tried to eat one gave me a smirk in the midst of the bleakness.

Speaking of bleakness: Empire Strikes Back was, that is very true; but it also held onto the original movie’s sense of wonder and excitement. Last Jedi was bleak and sad, with no hint of the joy and giddiness of Force Awakens.

For all Last Jedi’s exciting fight scenes, wonderful special effects and well-placed bits of humor, it still had a gauze of sadness and despair. For all the dialogue espousing hope, there was not much feeling of it, even at the end.

It made for a quiet movie, despite the flashy lights and epic soundtrack.

Ye gods, Rogue One was filled with hopelessness, but at least in that movie the victory wasn’t Pyrrhic (and we all know what eventually happened). Here the number of surviving victors could fit into the sitting room of a very-well-known piece of junk.

“We will rebuild the Rebellion,” they vow.

“Will you, really?” we ask at the end.

So, as with Empire, the good guys barely got away and will live to fight in a third movie. When the good guys win (which they will eventually … it’s Star Wars after all) it will be a relief rather than a celebration due to the bleak and desparattion-laden sadness of Last Jedi.

It may be a tough sell …

 

 

“Caddy Shack 2!’

“Shut. Up!”

***

About the author: Michael Curry is the author of the Brave & Bold: From Silent Knight to Dark Knight, The Day John F Kennedy Met the Beatles and the award-winning Abby’s Road, the Long and Winding Road to Adoption and How Facebook, Aquaman and Theodore Roosevelt Helped.  Check his website for more releases! Thanks for reading!

Copyright 2017 Michael G Curry

 

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A disjointed review of Justice League …

Only in America can a movie that has made over 200 billion dollars in profit be considered a box-office bomb.

I liked Justice League.

I didn’t love it with giddy glee nor did I hate it so much I demanded of God my 2+ hours back. But I liked it. I might even get the DVD when it comes out.

I saw it over this past weekend (as usual several weeks since it was released) after most of the professional and fanboy reviews were in.

I struggled for some days with this review – I just couldn’t put my finger on what I liked and disliked about it. I think that is because the movie couldn’t decide what it was either.

Justice League suffered from bearing the burden of being both a capstone and a touchstone.

A capstone: the finale of the first phase of the DC Cinematic Universe (DCCU) – giving us a conclusion to all that came before it. On that level, it worked: it reconciled the cliffhangers from Batman vs Superman: Superman’s death, Wonder Woman’s place in the DCCU, etc.

And to compare Justice League with the original Avengers movie is an unfair as it is inevitable: Avengers was the capstone of Marvel’s cinematic universe, but did so in a thrilling way – fans (and even non-fans – therein lies the key) were excited by a fun plot with fun characters.

The DCCU has hardly been fun.

Expectations were low for the movie – most assuming it would be the usual fest of ultra-violence and brooding sociopaths with no redemption or hope. A typical Zach Snyder film. (He left the movie after the suicide of his daughter – something that is unimaginable and my deepest sympathies and condolences go to him and his family. I can’t imagine his sadness and am very sorry for his loss. But his movies are still shit.).

Then Joss Whedon “took over” and word spread the tone was lightened and (gasp) bits of humor were injected. By this time Batman vs Superman made only the darkest basement-dwellers look forward to Justice League; while Wonder Woman gave the rest of us comic book fans cautious optimism.

DC’s capstone was satisfying, but only just. There is no avoiding the feeling that DC is struggling in Marvel’s shadow and is constantly in a state of catching up (which it has with rare exception since the 1960s).

Familiar and “new” heroes get together and fight off an alien menace. Sound familiar?

“Yes, but it’s Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman! People will flock to see it!”

Fans will, to be sure. But the rest of us? Are you willing to risk $300 million on that?

It had its great moments: the only shining point of the big battle amongst our heroes was watching Superman’s eye follow the Flash as he approached and the ensuing superspeed slugfest. You just have to see it to understand what that is going on, I won’t spoil it. We know exactly what is going through Flash’s mind at that moment. “Oh shit” was left unspoken and hardly touches how Flash must have felt.

And kudos to the secondary cast – particular Amy Adams as Lois Lane, Diane Lane as Martha Kent, JK Simmons as Commissioner Gordon and Jeremy Irons (stealing ever scene) as Alfred.

***

Justice League is also the touchstone of the future DCCU. From here would spring an Aquaman movie, a Flash movie, and a more-in-tune-DCCU-Batman and Superman franchise reboot.

Herein lies the problem – DC is again copying Marvel with Avengers Age of Ulton. It was also a lynchpin, but it spent too much time being a lynchpin and forgot it was supposed to be an enjoyable movie.

Admirably, Justice League avoided some of the problems with Age of Ultron. Time and background was given to the newbies: Aquaman, Flash and Cyborg. But was it enough to make us anticipate their movies? With the large scope of the movie, it may have gotten lost. As with the comics, the stories of the smaller characters are lost compared to the big three. Still, Justice League showed us as much of Aquaman and Flash as Civil War did of Spider-Man, which lead to Homecoming; a success

Another problem with the Flash is the parallel with the excellent handling of the CW Flash. My very first thought when I saw the trailer introducing the Speedster was, “Why not Grant Gustin?” Leave it to DC: not only are they plagued by their failures, but also their successes.

(and by the way, the DCCU is the Spock-with-a-beard universe compared to DC-CW. Gustin’s Flash – even another actor with a comparable personality – would have been an ill-fit. To his credit, Ezra Miller did a great job – he’d have made a great Peter Parker.)

Justice League had other good moments. Batman giving Flash advice: save one person at a time. I wish the movie would have continued with the theme: Flash’s rescue of the Russian family should have reminded us of that.

There’s more: some of the humor was well-placed and in character (a problem that notably plagued Thor: Ragnarok). The only real awkward/ill-placed bit of funny was in the aforesaid rescue of the Russian family. Anyone who knows the name Dostoyevsky probably knows it is not Russian for “Goodbye”.

But DC is not really known for their comedy.  Over the past few decades, they’re not really known for their comic books either…

A disjointed and mixed review for a disjointed and mixed movie. I’d like to discuss it further, would you?

Copyright 2017 Michael Curry

DC’s Legends of Tomorrow – a look back on Season Two

DC’s Legends of Tomorrow just completed Season Two. And it will have a Season Three – something that was in doubt this time last year.

Season One was savaged by the critics and all but the most trollish of DC trolls. I liked it, I did. But I wasn’t as giddy about its first season as I was about the first season of Arrow or Flash … read my review by clicking on the link above.

This second season was better, per the critics and the trolls. And indeed it was.

I liked Season Two as well, but I still didn’t love it.

Why?

I have a hard time putting my finger on the why. And I figured out why while writing this review – which was partly my goal.

It was a better show than the prior season– they pruned the cast; the remaining members grew and the new ones were allowed more depth (a smaller cast allows that). They had a variety of Big Bads instead of one. The stories were fair despite the Pez-dispenser-like lessons of history.

Maybe it is unfair to compare it to the joy of watching Flash and Supergirl, where the glee (pardon the pun) of the cast and writers warm the viewers like the sun in spring. However, the show is better than the brooding and plodding Season Five of Arrow, which unfortunately followed its brooding and plodding Season Four.

Put it this way: I watch Flash and Supergirl as soon as I can (I tivo all my shows and watch them later) – usually the next day; with LoT I sometimes wait until the weekend; Arrow and some others (Agents of Shield, as another example) are watched in bundles of two or three episodes at a time because of their glacial story progression.

So LoT came in a distant third this year. The other CW shows have about six more episodes this season, so it is possible for them to blow it and make LoT look like the Mary Tyler Moore Show, but that is doubtful.

Let’s look at the hows and whys this season was better – or worse – than the first:

The cast was trimmed this season. Hawkgirl is gone.  Too bad. Perhaps with this “new” setting of Season Two the character would have been able to do more than mourn the death of Carter Hall and be the constant captive of Vandal Savage. The actress Ciara Renée deserved better.

Arthur Darvill had other commitments during the season so Rip Hunter was written out of most of the show. I thought it would be the death knell but it actually helped. Sara Lance grew into the role of the captain of our crew. Rip’s eventual return just showed us how crowded the cast was – we and Rip realized he was … well … not needed anymore. I hope he pops up from time to time.

The loss of Wentworth Miller as Leonard Snart/Captain Cold was also a blow, or so I thought. Here was the best character of Season One (Mick Rory, now no longer Snart’s sidekick, steals every scene like the thief he is. The only good thing about Wentworth Miller leaving the show was Dominic Purcell’s ascendancy. He is wonderful – Rory was meant to be two-dimensional and ends up being the most well-rounded character of the show!).

Snart, Hunter and Hawkgirl were replaced by Steel and Vixen – two characters who started off in comics of the 1970s but did not really come into their own popularity until the 1980s. They helped provide some missing muscle and exposition (Steel was an historian and Vixen knew where to find this Season’s MacGuffin). They began a more believable romance than last year’s Atom-Hawkgirl coupling.

The Season starts out promising: the Legends’ job is to find time aberrations and set things straight: zombies in the Civil War, Albert Einstein kidnapped by Nazis. They confront the Justice Society (the handling of their roster caused quite a kerfuffle amongst the DC purists). Then the Big Bads and this season’s major MacGuffin are introduced:

The Legion of Doom consists of past bad guys from the Arrowverse – Eobard Thawn, trying to save his existence from being destroyed; Malcolm Merlyn – John Barrowman sleepwalking through this worn-out character; Damien Darhke, the Big Bad from Arrow Season 4, again played by Neal McDonough who smirked and smarmed as thoroughly as he did in Arrow. After 20 episodes there and 10 here, I think the audience has been sated with Darkhe, thank you. Wentworth Miller was touted as a member of the Legion, but he was only in the last three episodes or so.

legends-of-tomorrow-season-2-episode-8-the-chicago-way

The MacGuffin was the Spear of Destiny – a major prop in the DC comic book universe and a nice addition here – the spear the Roman soldier used to pierce the side of Jesus. In the comics, whosoever held the spear would rule the world. Hitler possessed it and prevented Superman and the other Justice Society members from going to Europe and kicking his ass (hence the reasoning behind why Superman, Dr. Fate, Green Lantern and others didn’t simply … go to Europe and kick his ass).

In LoT the Spear of Destiny can alter reality – Thawne wants it to create a universe in which his ancestor lived and thus he continued to exist. The Justice Society took the Spear and hid it throughout history. Thus creating the plot thread throughout the rest of the show, leading to a final big battle at the season’s end.

The season finale seemed almost tacked on. They go back to a previous adventure in World War One to change their eventual defeat that allows the Legion to take the spear – thus breaking the #1 temporal law – don’t go back and meet yourself (which some of the members had already done in Season One, but I assume, like Star Trek 5, we are to pretend that never happened).

Odd that Season Two only lasted 17 episodes instead of the usual 22 or 23, which may explain why the season finale seemed so “tacked on” – now that I bring it up, this plot thread could have been completed two or three shows before even that … heaven forfend they do some done-in-one episodes as filler. Subtract the obvious filler – the Jonah Hex redo and the cross-over with the other Arrowverse shows and we have only 15 episodes. Couldn’t the other 7 shows simply be well-done stand-alone episodes to finish out the season and prepare us for any changes in Season Three?

They COULD have done some fun single-episode time-travel shows. In my primer (the link is above) I mentioned they were entering into Doctor Who territory: going to different times and meeting the famous and infamous. They did that (George Washington, etc.), but it didn’t quite click.

The budget is tight on the show, I know. Which is why Firestorm rarely appears (and why wasn’t Victor Garber given more to do? After he revealed his daughter as a time aberration and turned over command to Sara Lance, he practically disappeared. Fortunately, he was excellent in the Flash’s musical episode!).

Brandon Routh was demoted from the eccentric he played in Flash down to the flightiness of last season to now being an idiotic man-child. Brandon Routh and Ray Palmer deserve better. He and Stein should be the geniuses of the series; like Cisco and Winn, creating the weekly MacGuffins to help defeat the bad guy.

On the other hand, Franz Drameh’s Jefferson Jackson was promoted from last season’s wise-ass kid to the engineer. He should be helping the geniuses Palmer and Stein with the mechanical side of the MacGuffin-making.

***

OK, so what was it about Season Two that I did not like? While I still haven’t quite put my finger on it, I do have some ideas to heal the show’s ills:

The Berlanti method is growing thin. After five seasons of Arrow, three in Flash, and one in LoT, the Season-long Big Bad story arc is an idea whose time is over. Do what is being done in Supergirl and make the Big Bad only a major recurring (not constant) villain – as they did with Lillian Luthor/Argus and Rhea (Mon-El’s mother). Weren’t you tired of Thawne snatching victory away from the Legends at the end of every episode?

Go back to fixing time aberrations. Not just on earth but through the universe. If you are going to emulate a TV show, you can do worse than Doctor Who. Introduce Kanjar Ro as an intergalactic tyrant. Introduce Krona as a time-meddler (he would make a good Big Bad AND be a nice way to FINALLY introduce the Green Lantern Corps into the Arrowverse)

Make “small” story arcs. The only good thing Agents of Shield has done in three years is having two separate story arcs this season – Ghost Rider for the fall and LMD for the spring.

And although the budget is not huge, PLEASE hire an historian. A real one. Nothing ruins a good story when you know the very premise is wrong. I realize this isn’t PBS, but stop using a paragraph or two from Wikipedia to get the gist of your background material.

For example: In one episode they had to find JRR Tolkien in the trenches of World War One. Tolkien knew a possible location to the tomb of Sir Gawain that could lead the Legends to a vial of the Jesus’ blood which could be used to destroy the Spear of Destiny … that lived in the house that Jack built. The Legends knew this because of a book Tolkien wrote about Sir Gawain. No such book exists – he wrote a translation of a lay of Sir Gawain, but not a treatise. And not during/before WWII…

While searching for him, they overheard a sergeant yelled “Fool of a Tolkien” to a sick soldier. Aha! This must be JRR! And sure enough …

The line was an homage to the line “Fool of a Took!” from Fellowship of the Ring. I bristled when I heard the line. It took away from Tolkien’s ability as a writer. It implied that he did not create the line – he just used what other people did. He did not. That is wrong.

“Lighten up,” you might say, “it was just a fun line.”

No it wasn’t. It was disrespectful. Same as when the Legends met George Lucas and the characters ended up in a pre-replica of the trash compactor scene. As with the Tolkien quotes, it diminished the genius and the originality of Lucas’ idea – a young lad and some friends are whisked away from their home by a quirky wizard to go fight a dark lord and his minions who are bent on ruling the … oh…

Never mind …

But it insults our intelligence as it insults the creativity of the historical guests (this is the same problem I have with Forest Gump or the “Marvin Berry” scene in Back to the Future).

Knock it off. It turns idols into thieves and it’s a short-cut by piss-pour writers for a cheap laugh.

***legends-of-tomorrow-season-2-aruba-slice-600x200

As I hoped, writing this little opinion piece has revealed what nags me about the show: if Legends of Tomorrow weren’t connected to the comic book characters I read and loved as a kid, I would not be interested in watching this show.

Compare that to, say, the superb first season of Arrow. I’d have loved that season even without the superhero lineage.

(Whereas Flash and Supergirl are too inextractibly linked to their comic books to say that. Were anyone to make those two shows renaming their leads they would face a copyright lawsuit faster than you can say “Shazam”. That’s a great line if you know the history of comic book litigation…)

But I repeat – I would likely not watch LoT if not for the DC roster. The stories and characters may not be great – but it’s the Atom! And the Justice Society! It may insult my intelligence – but there’s Jonah Hex!

***

So I still like the show. Perhaps the reason it gets under my skin so is that with some really simple (and inexpensive) tweaks it could be so much better. Instead of being fun in a frat-boy-“that-was-cool-wasn’t-it” way it could be fun AND thrilling. Season Two was an improvement over Season One. Season Three could be better still!

I cheer for the show – I really am rooting for it to do well; to be better! Stop emulating the storytelling-style of Arrow and Flash. You don’t need to. Do shorter story arcs! Do solo stories focusing on only one or two characters! When they meet real life legends – let them remain legends, not accidents.

Don’t emulate others. Be different.

Most legends are…

 

Original Material Copyright 2017 Michael Curry

 

Characters mentioned and their images are copyright their respective holders.  Thanks to DC Comics, the CW Network and Berlanti Productions and the actors portrayed for the use of their images.

 

I also thank the original creators of all characters mentioned, whether or not they have been properly compensated (gratmens during the credits aside).

 

 

A Befuddled Father Goes to See Beauty & the Beast

The first movie I saw in the theaters was Walt Disney’s “Robin Hood”.  I’ve been a devotee of the theater experience ever since. Nothing beats a dark theater and a wide screen showing a film you hope will let you escape from the real world.

Sometimes with popcorn; and nowadays a full-fledged dinner and alcoholic drink. Although I miss the days of sneaking in a six-pack …

… or two …

… and I miss drive-ins, too (which is itself a whole other topic)

My daughter is seven years old. This past weekend we took her to HER first movie in a theater. We have been to movie night at the library and have watched movies at home at her own pace. But this was her first real movie experience – popcorn, soda, etc.

It, too, was a Disney movie – the non-animated (I hesitate to use the word “live” with all the CGI in it) version of Beauty & the Beast. For my princess-loving princess, this was a canny choice. She has seen the original many times and will watch anything Disney-princess-related. Sophia the First runs many times on our living room flatscreen.

My wife is also a big fan the original – having many Belle-related dolls in a display cabinet. It’s one of her favorite movies.

Aside #1: my wife’s first movie, by the way, was “Star Wars” which is NOW a Disney movie as well…

Aside #2: the fact that a child’s first movie was made by Disney – especially in the 1960s and ‘70s, is not all that surprising…

When Disney first announced B&B as their next live-action remake, my wife said she wanted to see it. This is a bigger deal than it sounds, as she is not as thrilled by movie-going as I am. And this would be our daughter’s first movie in a theater.

I joked that they could drop me off at the nearest pub on their way. Later I said I would sneak into another movie at the multiplex and meet them in the lobby when it was over.

I kid. I wanted to see it too, grudgingly. Beauty and the Beast was Disney’s masterpiece. I saw it upon release with my mother and sister. I, along with everyone else, fell in love with it. Roger Ebert said, “Beauty and the Beast reaches back to an older and healthier Hollywood tradition in which the best writers, musicians and filmmakers are gathered for a project on the assumption that a family audience deserves great entertainment, too.”  He gave it 4 out of 4 stars – for Ebert, this was a unique grade for a movie that did not show a woman’s nipples.

It was the first animated movie to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture. It is also the only animated movie to ever be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture because the bastards at the Academy changed the rules, saying cartoons would no longer be nominated for Best Picture. And the Academy wonders why they are becoming as relevant as the slide rule …

Beauty and the Beast was a fun movie and did not disappoint. It was not without its flaws, and that is only because of comparisons with the original. Granted, it is not fair to compare ANY movie with the original, but a remake is asking for it.

The new version is Jan to the original’s Marsha. Comparisons are inevitable, expected and never in Jan’s favor. Marsha, Marsha, Marsha.

Were there no original, this version would have been more highly touted.

It. Was. A. Good. Movie.

But when the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra performs Mozart, it may be beautiful. Its majesty may bring tears to my eyes.

But it’s not Mozart performing Mozart.

Emma Watson made a pretty Belle, and captured her independence and strength. It was good casting. And that WAS her singing throughout – she has a lovely voice. But it lacked the operatic quality of the opening number (“Belle” – NOT the opening number of the remake) by Paige O’Hara that made one swoon. I fell in love with Belle at that song’s break (“Oh, isn’t this amazing…”). Emma Watson’s singing voice – as marvelous as the rest of her performance was – didn’t have that reach.

During an interview, Ewan McGregor said he did not see the original. His loss. His reasoning was that, therefore, he would not even subconsciously base Lumiere on the performance by Jerry Orbach. Our loss. And his mistake – Jerry’s version outshown Ewan’s in every frame. It was not McGregor’s fault, but how could he possibly compete? First Alec Guinness, now Jerry Orbach …  Marsha Marsha Marsha.

Imagine a clip in this movie where Chip looks up into a cupboard to an older teapot and says, “Good night, Grandma” and the teapot (the voice of Angela Landsbury) says “Good night, Luv.” It would have taken five seconds and audiences would have broken into tears. Did Ms. Landsbury refuse to have any part in the movie (doubtful)? Did the producers not want any part of the original (likely)? It would only have helped – a blessing from the original cast would have helped us purists not be such … purists.

And what harm could have come to allow David Ogden Stiers (Cogsworth in the original) to have just one line … one? Not that Sir Ian McKellen did a bad job. He was a highlight!

BUT – when Cogsworth was on the steps of the entrance and the villagers approached? Just a quick “you shall not pass”?

“Daddy, sit down. Stop clapping.”

Mordant bleu! Even Wesley Eure and Kathy Coleman were given cameos (albeit they are still on the cutting-room floor) in that god-awful Land of the Lost remake vomited upon us some years ago … so shame on you Disney.

My main issue with the remake is simply … why?

BUT … go see it and enjoy it. We did. Then go home and watch the DVD of the original and enjoy that, too

We did.

Marsha Marsha Marsha!!

 

It was 10:00 am on a Saturday morning. 10:00am? Weird time for a movie. But Beauty and the Beast is a huge hit and odd movie-times are not unusual for a hit. As we walked down the hallway of the multiplex to Theater 1 I noticed a sign saying this was a Sensory-Friendly showing.

A what?

 

to be continued …

Copyright 2017 by Michael Curry

***

About the blogger:

Michael is an author of fiction and non-fiction, including  …

toddler-tv-cover

Toddler TV: A Befuddled Father’s Guide to What the Kids are Watching

https://michaelgcurry.com/toddler-tv/

Marvel Novel Series #9: a Marvel Superheroes anthology

#9: Stan Lee Presents: the Marvel Superheroes edited by Len Wein and Marv Wolfman

This is the most unique paperback of the series for several reasons:

  1. It is the only anthology of the series.
  2. It contains the only story that was originally in a comic book before being novelized (the Hulk tale)
  3. It contains the only story that was later adapted to a comic book (the Avengers tale)
  4. It ties with #10 for the longest book (208 pages, but is second in actual text pages)
  5. It is the only book of the series with a story written by a woman.
  6. (more personally) it was the only book I owned of the series at the time they were originally published. It was also the first time I read about the X-Men (I would flip over to the cover while reading to guess which character was which), Daredevil, Man-Thing and Ultron.

It says something about the quality of this book that I still remember most of it 37 years later: Tony Stark‘s techno-fear (he shivers and the temperature in the lab is automatically raised – what if Ulton is in control?), the Wasp’s disgust at the shade of green in Moondragon’s costume, the other Avengers calling Vision “Vizh” – as a kid I was fascinated at this use of phonetic dialogue, etc. (I already had some stories under my belt), Man-Thing smothering the Hulk, Nightcrawler, when told to teleport into an unknown cylinder asking, “What if it is solid?”.

 

The book was published on August 1, 1979 and contains 208 pages; the first story beginning on page 9.

Delineation pages divide the stories – a blank page, a title page with an illustration of the protagonists (or some of them in the case of the Avengers and X-Men) and another blank page before the new story begins. This only leaves 188 pages of actual text, making it actually the second-longest book of the series.

The cover art is by the late Dave Cockrum, co-creator (at least) of Nightcrawler, Colossus and Storm. His work with the Legion of Superheroes and the X-Men has achieved cult status.

Co-edited and compiled by Len Wein and Marv Wolfman. Marv Wolfman is known for his excellent run on Tomb of Dracula. Within a few years of this novel he would write for one of the best comics ever created – Night Force – and co-create the New Teen Titans.  Len Wein is introduced in the section reviewing his Hulk story …

***

The Avengers, “This Evil Undying” by James Shooter.

Speaking of the Legion of Superheroes … “Big” Jim Shooter began writing professional stories of the Legion beginning at age 14. He created Karate Kid, Princess Projectra, the Fatal Five and the Parasite (the Superman foe). He was Marvel’s editor-in-chief for nine years beginning in 1978 during the publication of this book series.

Through a post-hypnotic suggestion during their last battle, Iron Man revives Ultron. Ultron was last destroyed by the Scarlet Witch’s hex powers.

Iron Man, suspecting he might be manipulated, left a tracer for the other Avengers to find him in case he is controlled again. Good thinking. Iron Man WAS controlled and kidnapped the Witch, taking her to Ultron’s new lair.

The remaining Avengers – Captain America, Thor, Vision and Hawkeye – gave chase. The Wasp also joins in the fight- following Iron Man and the Scarlet Witch in her own way.

The final battle with Ultron is joined!

An excellent and fun story – one of the best of this series! It was adapted in comic book form in Avengers 201-202.

But the story wasn’t perfect- Hawkeye’s juvenile dialogue was grating even when I read it in 1979 – and I was the perfect age at which this story was aimed. Given more pages, his character could have been fleshed out. The “I am the weakest member which explains my sophomoric bravado” shtick (used a lot during the “Cap’s Kooky Quartet” days of the Avengers) was only touched on. He redeemed himself, of course, and showed him to be as heroic as any of the other more powerful Avengers, but by then I was sick of the shtick…

Captain America barked some commands and threw his Mighty Shield, but little else. The book focused on the members of the Avengers who hadn’t gotten their own novel yet … with one exception …

I wish there would have been more Thor!

Talk about hands-on management: Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter could still kick out a wonderful and readable tale! This could have easily been made into a full-length story with more action added (going after Ultron’s mechanical robotic “army” – two, count ‘em – with more time spent on Hawkeye, Cap and Thor). Why wasn’t it?

***

Daredevil, “Blind Justice” by Kyle Christopher.

Christopher is the pen name for Martin Pasko, an Emmy-award winning writer known by us Bronze Age fans as a writer of Superman family of stories and the Swamp Thing revival. His origin reboot of Dr. Fate is still considered canon.  He also wrote Bronze Age Wonder Woman and the World’s Greatest Superheroes comic strip.

Comic book scribe Mark Waid (Kingdom Come, Flash) lists this story as one of “the five most underrated Daredevil stories you must read” (http://13thdimension.com/the-five-most-underrated-daredevil-stories-you-must-read-by-mark-waid/) and with good reason!

A man and woman are put in witness protection after finking on the local mafia. They are treated so improperly by the government they come out of hiding and hire Nelson and Murdock to sue. The mob, headed by the Owl, go after the couple (and Foggy) with lethal force. Daredevil discovers a mob informant within their circle of office staff and friends (that’s as close as I can get without spoiling). Daredevil’s origin is also recapped.

The story is secondary compared to the parts detailing Daredevil’s abilities. His ability to “see” even though blind is superbly explained throughout the short story. He can read emotions by hearing pulse rates and heart beats; he determines body language by sensing air currents. He can read newsprint due to the shape of the ink on the paper. Describing these details in prose is handled better than when tried in comic book form – at least when Pasko is writing it.

***

The X-Men, “Children of the Atom” by Mary Jo Duffy.

This would have been among Duffy’s first work in the industry. Her first Marvel stories were in 1979: the start of her long run on Power Man/Iron Fist, an excellent story of Obi-Wan Kenobi and the Old Republic in Star Wars #26 (a personal favorite) and issues of Defenders and Marvel Two-in-One.

She gives us an excellent story that serves as a great primer for the X-Men. Considering the complex weave of the franchise over the past few decades, it is tempting to call the story simplistic, but it is not. It is a wonderful short story.

For ten pages we are introduced to Salem Center and Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, Professor X and six of his students: Cyclops, Nightcrawler, Wolverine, Banshee, Storm and Colossus.

American and Soviet missiles are straying from their projected paths during an international test. Professor X deduces they are affected by a magnetic anomaly barely traceable at the Arctic Circle.

Who could be behind it? (I know! I know! Ooo! Ooo! Mr. Kotter!)

The X-Men go to the magnetic anomaly and find the stronghold of the supervillain of the piece … a mutant named …

No, not the Toad!

***

The Incredible Hulk, “Museum Piece” by Len Wein.

Len Wein is the co-creator of Marvel’s Wolverine as well as being the one who joined him with Nightcrawler, Storm and Colossus as the All-New X-Men he also co-created DC’s Swamp Thing. Here he writes of the Hulk meeting Marvel’s version of the muck-encrusted mockery of a man. In a literary sense, Len Wein shows us his Man-Thing.

This is the only story in the Marvel Novel Series what was a comic book first – a prose story adapted from Incredible Hulk #s 197-198 (also written by Len Wein).

The Hulk battles local Florida police and ends up carried by a helicopter to the everglades. After battling alligators and snakes, the Hulk finally rests and changes back to Banner. Bruce finds a small, mute, grey-colored man and befriends him just as they are attacked by pirates. Yes, pirates.

Turning into the Hulk, he dispatches the pirates quickly but then confronts their master – the Collector! The Collector turns the grey man into the Golem and orders it to attack Hulk.

The Collector also has Man-Thing in his sway, and orders Man-Thing to attack Hulk, too.

Hulk and his two friends are locked in a pod and kept docile by ankle-bracelets. Turning back into Banner, he easily slips through the ankle-bracelets; Golem and Man-Thing then slip through their bracelets easily due to their powers.

Hulk befriends Scheherazade and eventually confronts the Collector and his minions: alien warriors, soldiers from history, etc. Man-Thing and the Golem join in.

It’s a Monster Mash and an incredibly fun story! It was a good comic book, too!

 

Original Material Copyright 2016 Michael Curry

 

Characters mentioned are copyright their respective holders. Thanks to Marvel Comics and Pocket Books for the use of their images. Cover image was taken by the author.

I also thank the original creators of all characters mentioned, whether or not they have been properly compensated or credited.

Marvel Novel Series #8 – The Amazing Spider-Man: Crime Campaign by Paul Kupperberg

#8: The Amazing Spider-Man: Crime Campaign by Paul Kupperberg

Paul Kupperberg is the creator of Arion Lord of Atlantis and Checkmate. He is the author of the “Death of Archie” storyline. He currently has a Kickstarter campaign for Kupperberg Komics: Secret Romances and Super Gorillas at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/394056054/kupperberg-komics-secret-romances-and-super-gorill?ref=user_menu

The book is 192 pages long, but begins on page 9 – making it the longest novel of the series so far. There are Spider-Man illustrations at the beginning of each chapter (with no credit for the artists). There are no Pocket Book house ads. It was published July 1, 1979.

Cover is signed by Bob Larkin, known for his painted covers of Marvel magazines.

The book is “packaged and edited by Len Wein and Marv Wolfman.”  Len Wein is the co-creator of DC’s Swamp Thing and Marvel’s Wolverine as well as joining him with Nightcrawler, Storm and Colossus as the All-New X-Men. Marv Wolfman is known for his excellent run on Tomb of Dracula. Within a few years of this novel he would write for one of the best comics ever created – Night Force – and co-create the New Teen Titans

 

National newsman Ian Forester announces his candidacy for mayor of New York. He is expected to win the primary due to his popularity, beating the unnamed incumbent.

But all is not as it appears – the Kingpin has kidnapped Forester’s daughter to force him into the campaign. Kingpin gathers the other crime lords of the city – including his only real competitor Silvermane – and asks them to join forces. With the mayor in his pocket, they will all make fortunes skimming off the city’s coffers; graft that no one will discover for decades. They will make Tammany Hall look like a Presbyterian sewing circle!

Peter Parker teases J Jonah Jameson into also running for mayor. Cindy Sayers, JJJ’s niece, introduces herself to Peter. JJJ orders Peter to teach her the fine art of journalistic photography; Peter obviously bristles at the idea of a tagalong. He suspects Cindy is more than she seems – is she here only to spy on Peter? Does JJJ suspect he is really Spider-Man?

Imagine Peter’s surprise when, during a press conference, Forester is threatened by … Spider-Man! Peter ditches Cindy, changes into his union suit, and battles his doppleganger. The fake Spider-Man, using a poison gas, gets away.

Forester goes to Silvermane and asks his help to rescue his daughter, thus betraying Kingpin. Silvermane agrees. Spidey finds and rescues Forester’s daughter just as Silvermane’s and Kingpin’s forces do battle!

 

Paul Kupperberg weaves an excellent story with twists and turns and betrayals with every chapter. What is Kingpin’s REAL motive? What about Silvermane’s “betrayal”? Is Cindy Sayer spying for her uncle? Joe “Robbie” Robertson’s tells Peter that JJJ was an only child. How, then, can he have a niece? Who is she? Who is the fake Spider-Man?

Rather than “just” a comic book in prose, Kupperberg gives us a genuine crime thriller/mystery!

Cindy Sayers is a great note of continuity in the novel series. In Book 1: Mayhem in Manhattan JJJ mentions her and says she wants to learn about photography. Here she and Peter kindle a romance, even as Peter suspects she might not be who she says she is.

Speaking of old JJJ, Paul keeps him down to tolerable levels in this novel (can you tell I am not a fan of Jameson? haha).  Jameson is not the eternally obnoxious blowhard of Mayhem in Manhattan and in the comic books. Here he is a bossy bully, but not the cliché caricature.  Unlike in Mayhem, JJJ is not given a few paragraphs justifying the way he is and giving the reader a reason to give him some grudging respect. It is not needed in Crime Campaign. Because the reader does not dislike JJJ here – he is kept on a short leash. Well done.

Very well done!

 

Original Material Copyright 2016 Michael Curry

 

Characters mentioned are copyright their respective holders. Thanks to Marvel Comics and Pocket Books for the use of their images. Cover image was taken by the author.

I also thank the original creators of all characters mentioned, whether or not they have been properly compensated or credited.

 

Iron Man: and Call my Killer … Modok! Marvel Novel series #6

#6: Iron Man: and Call my Killer … Modok! by William Rotsler.

The author is a four-time Hugo Award winner for his art and the author of many Star Trek novels as well as the author of the novelizations of the movies Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger and Futureworld. He died in 1997.

By now the cover artist signs his work: Bob Larkin, cover artist for many Marvel magazines.

The book is “packaged and edited by Len Wein and Marv Wolfman.”  Len Wein is the co-creator of DC’s Swamp Thing and Marvel’s Wolverine as well as joining him with Nightcrawler, Storm and Colossus as the All-New X-Men. Marv Wolfman is known for his excellent run on Tomb of Dracula. Within a few years of this novel he would write for one of the best comics ever created – Night Force – and co-create the New Teen Titans

Released May 1, 1979; the book is 189 pages long, although the story begins at page 9.

Gratman: Evanier Electronics is mentioned as a business. Mark Evanier? He had no connection to Iron Man and at the time of this paperback, he worked mainly with DC Comics. However, the next book, #7’s Dr. Strange, Master of the Mystic Arts: Nightmare is dedicated to him, so it is likely.

***

AIM (Advanced Idea Mechanics, a science-based terrorist group) attacks Tony Stark during a college lecture. Stark, as Iron Man, fights them off successfully but still sustains some harm to his already-damaged heart. Cue origin recap.

One of the sergeants in charge of the failed kidnapping faced AIM’s mysterious leader (we comic book fans – and those who remember the title of the book – have a pretty solid idea who the leader is). The kidnapping having failed, the leader thinks up another cunning plan – he shall create an army of Iron Man suits!

He activates two of his sleeper agents in Stark International to create a diversion to successfully steal the Iron Man armor blueprints.

Modok tries to sell the blueprints to the highest bidder, but Stark outmaneuvers Modok by auctioning off the Iron Man suit directly. At auction, it is bought by an Arabic businessman. Modok kidnaps the businessman and his suit.

Surprise! The suit is really Iron Man himself! He is defeated by Modok and unmasked as Tony Stark.  Stark is then forced to create a new Iron Man suit for Modok’s #1 henchman.

Meanwhile, Happy and Nick Fury & Shield find Modok’s hiding place and attack. Iron Man and the henchman in the new suit duke it out. Ol’ Shellhead then sets his sights squarely on Modok!

***

The author does an excellent job of juggling the superhero action and the “civilian” moments of Tony Stark, Happy Hogan, Pepper Potts and employees of Stark International – we even read moments with the AIM sleepers and soldiers. It makes the novel more … grown up.

It would have made a nice juxtaposition to show Stark creating the original Iron Man suit in Viet Nam with the new suit he was creating for Modok. It would have put the origin flashback near the end of the book, which may have been a drawback being too close to the big finish.

Speaking of that, twenty pages is spent recapping Iron Man’s origins in the jungles of Viet Nam. It is excellently done! The author tells us how Tony met and hired Happy Hogan in a later 15-page flashback. Modok’s origin takes about five pages. More than 20% of the novel is flashback.

Interestingly, I tried to listen to Tony Stark/Iron Man speak in Robert Downey Jr’s voice but could not. Despite his (deservedly) owning the role in the recent spate of movies, and being able to hear his voice in the recent comic books and animated TV shows (where such an imitation is likely done intentionally), I can’t hear Downey speak these lines. Only when he is Modok’s captive and Stark’s dialogue is more smart-alecky and defiant does the current version of Iron Man seep through.

And the author does a wonderful job, despite the sometimes comic-booky dialogue. It does not happen often, but when it does, it is jarring; especially considering how wonderfully the rest of the dialogue is written.

Examples: “Iron Man swears it!” and (I am not kidding you) “I, Modok, knew at once how he hoped to trick me. Me, Modok, he tried to trick!”

Yoda-speak this reads like does…

 

Original Material Copyright 2016 Michael Curry

 

Characters mentioned are copyright their respective holders. Thanks to Marvel Comics and Pocket Books for the use of their images. Cover image was taken by the author.

I also thank the original creators of all characters mentioned, whether or not they have been properly compensated or credited.