Monday, July 30, 2007

OTR: The Masked Marvels - The Adventures of Superman

The final shows on the Radio Spirit compilation have Bud Colyer, as the voice of Superman/Clark Kent in the11-part “Batman’s Great Mystery”. It might seem that putting SUPERMAN in a set called “Masked Marvels” is out of place, but the story does feature BATMAN & ROBIN, both of whom do wear a mask & cape.

It seems funny that the Dynamic Duo never had their own radio show (as far as I know) given how popular they were. They appeared not only in several titles, but also in a movie serial. What with so many other comic characters popping up on the airwaves, I would not be surprised to learn that their appearance on SUPERMAN wasn’t a trial run for such a series.

I haven’t heard all that many of the Superman radio shows before, so it was a surprise to discover some differences in the program from what I have seen in reprints of the era’s comics. At some point Perry White had become Mayor of Metropolis, giving up his editor position, but still remaining involved in the stories Clark & Lois are working on. (I don’t know how this would work in real life? Although, I’m sure New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg still kept a firm handle on things in his media empire.)

Just as in the comics, Batman & Superman know each other’s identities, but it seems that Robin isn’t in on the fact that Clark is more than just a friend of Bruce. Speaking of Bruce & Dick they have a great relationship, although hearing Dick call Bruce “Pappy” on a number of occasions is odd. I’m not familiar enough with the ‘hip’ lingo of that era, so it might only be something akin to “Dude” or “Bud”. Anybody know if Robin used the same speech pattern in the comics of that day?

The plot features Robin seeking out Clark, after Bruce/Batman has disappeared for a number of days. It seems that someone discovered Bruce’s secret identity and used this to get him to go to an unknown location. As the Caped Crusader had left instructions for such a situation, Robin does as instructed and goes to Kent. The story becomes involved with isolationists, a phony Batman and the stealing of the Wayne fortune before it’s over.

The whole thing made me want to seek out some more of the Superman radio shows, especially the immediate follow-up to this story, “Kingdom Under the Sea.”

So what happened?

Well, I was sorry not to have been able to get down to SD even for a day this year. My plan is to try to get down for both Saturday & Sunday next year so I can see some of the Capa-Alpha folks and catch a few programs. I'm looking forward to seeing what I missed via all the blogs and the guys over at Moron Life.

I guess the best thing to do is to buy a ticket as soon as they become available and book a room early. I'm not even going to wait for the Convention rates to kick in.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

OTR: Masked Marvels, pt. 4 - The Green Hornet

The Green Hornet is probably, next to The Shadow, one of the best remembered of those ‘masked avenger’ types who filled popular entertainment in the mid-Twentieth Century. Starting in radio, the Hornet soon moved to comics and movie serials. While not a pulp attraction like many of his contemporaries, he did appear in prose form in several ‘Big/Little’ books. As with his masked relation, the prose stories of this character were penned by the prolific Fran Striker.

It’s well known to fanboys that Brett Reid (aka The Green Hornet) was the son of Dan Reid, thus making the character the grandnephew of the Masked Rider of the Plains. The same folks that created the Hornet were also responsible for the Ranger, so while the Lone Ranger is never mentioned by name it is made clear to whom Dan is related in an episode of the series (one of the ones included in this set from Radio Spirits). I found it amusing to discover that the actor who portrayed the elder Dan Reid in the radio series, John Todd, was the same actor who played Tonto on the Lone Ranger program.

Unlike his western ancestor, the Hornet was not known to the public as their protector. In fact, early in the series the character was hunted by the police and the city’s District Attorney. The Hornet was thought to be a competitor of other gangsters, and used this to gain information if not trust from members of the underworld. Also, the Hornet was not interested so much in bank robbers and burglars (though he met his share) as he was in revealing corrupt politicians and businessmen. The typical plot had Britt Reid publishing an editorial condemning a certain individual and then later using his Hornet persona to get enough information on the criminal to put him behind bars.

The episodes presented here have the Hornet being cleared of murder charges, assisting the District Attorney and revealing his identity to his father. Along the way he puts away some crooked gamblers and a blackmailing contractor.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

OTR: Masked Marvels, pt. 3 - The Lone Ranger

It would only take a quick glance at this blog, especially the links over on The Right, to know that I’m a fan of the Lone Ranger. In every medium there is something special about the Masked Rider of the Plains and his faithful Indian companion, Tonto. Riding his white horse, Silver, the Ranger is probably one of the most recognizable characters in American pop culture. Although he may disappear from the scene for years at a time it never fails that somebody will come up with yet another incarnation of the character. The Wikipedia entry (to which the above headline will bring you) will cover quite a few of these, and it’s easy to see that not all have been completely faithful to his original conception.

Of course, for me the Ranger will always be Clayton Moore, who I first saw as a kid over fifty years ago. I don’t remember if it was my grandfather or father who first sat with me on the couch to watch the television series. I have a dim recollection that it was my Dad, but I know from talks with my mother that my grandfather and I spent numerous afternoons watching westerns. By the time I was seven or eight I was spending most of Saturday morning watching the Lone Ranger, Hopalong, Gene, Roy, and any old western the local station put on.

I’m pretty sure that while growing up I must have seen most of the westerns that Republic, Columbia and the rest of the low-budget studios produced. Heck, I think I saw “The Terror of Tiny Town” a dozen times alone before I was fourteen and spending more time outside than in. (If you don’t know from this film, just know that it deserves an entry here itself one day.)

As with The Shadow and the other OTR programs, I probably didn’t hear the radio version of LR until I was in my twenties. Listening to the shows though it’s easy to see how it became so successful, spinning off into pulps, comics, films and eventually television.

The initial concept was by radio executive George W. Trendle & others and was fleshed out by the original writer of that series, Fran Striker. The show premiered on WXYZ radio in Detroit, Michigan in early 1933. In these early stories we learn that the sole surviving member of a Texas Ranger patrol that had been ambushed, vows to bring justice for his fallen comrades and punishment to those who break the law. Aided by Tonto, whom the Ranger had befriended earlier in his life, he captures and tames a wild stallion which he names Silver. Assuming a mask to hide his identity, he eventually tracks down those who left him for dead and then continues to bring justice to the people of the west.

In the six shows presented in MASKED MARVELS from Radio Spirit the Lone Ranger is played by Brace Beemer (shown above in a PR photo), originally the show’s announcer, with John Todd as Tonto (believe it or not, Todd was actually a Shakespearean actor on the stage before he began working in radio); six shows dealing with the LR finding his nephew, Dan Reid, son of his late older brother. Created for the radio program, Dan (played by Chuck Courtney) also appeared for several years in the television show, with Clayton Moore & Jay Silverheels in the lead roles. Oddly enough there are two things which connect these Lone Ranger stories with the show I talk about next time.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Captain Confederacy & Will Shetterly

Back in that other life I had a short correspondence with Will Shetterly. At that time he was already known as a writer of science fiction and had begun publishing the controversial CAPTAIN CONFEDERACY. The idea of CC was an alternative history in which the Union did not win the Civil War. Flash forward a hundred plus years and we have a very unrecognizable North America, which is divided into several different nations living in uneasy truce.

In the original comic book series every nation seemed to have its own super-heroes or rather individuals who had natural or enhanced powers and abilities. These were used by the governments of the various powers for their own purposes. Shetterly created a large cast of characters over the length of the series, sometimes forming uneasy alliances and completely at odds in other situations.

I remember some folks being upset by the book, seeing it not as another super-hero/SF comic but as Shetterly promoting a revisionist/pro-Confederacy history in which the Union was in the wrong. I always felt that Will was walking a thin line, but personally thought the quality of his writing and his research on American history (up to the point of the war itself) made the series a ‘must have’. Sadly, my copies of the books are long gone, although I believe that Elayne had them at one point, or may still.

Frankly, I hadn’t thought of the comic or Shetterly in years, until reading the latest issue of Library Journal. In the book review section there was a favorable review of Will’s latest book, THE GOSPEL OF THE KNIFE (Tor; ISBN: 978-0-312-86631-0). It took only a quick Google search to find out what Will is up to and that CC or another version of CC is still around.

A click on the headline above will take you to the Wikipedia entry on CC which will in turn present a link to Will’s CC site. You can read the latest installments of the CC storyline and learn more about the series and Will's other writing over there.

Monday, July 16, 2007

OTR: The Green Lama & The Scarlet Cloak

Unlike The Shadow, his contemporary the Green Lama began in the pulps and comics before coming to radio. While the Lama’s career in print lasted a few decades, his radio incarnation was limited to eleven episodes as a summer replacement show on CBS. Voiced by Paul Frees, who is better known to modern day fans for his long career in animation and commercials, although Frees was very busy in the days of OTR. In this set the Green Lama is represented by two shows from that short-lived series.

Jethro Dumont was your typical wealthy young man, who at some point went to Tibet for ten years to study. When he returned, having mastered many mysterious powers he dedicated his life to fighting for justice. Using martial arts the Lama didn’t resort to the use of a weapon, as did the Shadow and other pulp heroes. Also, he didn’t really cloud men’s minds but was able to confuse his enemies enough to disarm and overcome them.

Unlike many of his fellow crime fighters, Dumont was known openly as the Green Lama and made no attempt to hide his identity. The green robe with cowl that the he wore in his print adventures wasn’t used in the radio program. According to the opening narration, Dumont chose the name because in Tibet the color green represents justice.

Since he was famous it wasn’t unusual for Dumont to be called to different locales outside the U.S. to assist friends in need. In the two episodes here, “The Man Who Never Existed” takes him to an excavation in Mexico, while “The Million Dollar Chopsticks” finds him in Hong Kong.

Along with shows representing some of the better known OTR heroes we also have an unsuccessful one. The Adventures of the Scarlet Cloak was an audition tape for sponsors and stations for a show that doesn’t seem to have actually gone on the air.

Wendell Niles, who has a long career as an announcer both in radio and on television. Here he voiced the role of Brad Carver, an orphan who returns to Monterey, California twenty years later to avenge their murder. Upon renewing an acquaintance with an old family friend, Carver learns that his father was “El Diablo”, a Zorro-like masked avenger. When his enemies learn his identity they kill both he and his wife, the young Brad is rescued and sent to live with relatives in the east so that his life will be spared.

Carver takes the name Bradford to conceal both his real identity and the fact that he has taken up the scarlet cloak and sword of his father. The pilot sets up the back-story, along with revealing the mysterious man who had his parents killed as the wealthy, Don Ramon de la Torres. To complicate things and set up further conflict Carver/Bradford finds himself drawn to de la Torres’ daughter.

The audition tape says that the Scarlet Cloak was expected to be both a radio and television show, but I have no idea if a pilot was shot for that or if Niles would have also been involved in that version.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

BEGOTTEN: Because I can't forget

Every so often you'll encounter a film which stays in your mind. It might not be a classic movie, a film you enjoy or even very good. Still there is something about it which grabs hold of you as a viewer and never lets go. Such a movie was the feature film Begotten by Elias Merhige.

If you click on the headline above you'll find a link to YouTube where you can watch a trailer for this movie. Trust me it only hints at what the film itself will have in store.

The movie begins with Brainard Carey of Praxis as God Killing Himself. This is both the name of the character in the credits and what we see in the first very graphic scenes following the credits. If nothing else it lets you know that you are in for something very strange. When I first saw this at the Film Forum in Manhattan I immediately began telling everybody. It got to the point where my re-telling of the movie actually became a whole routine that I would do for anybody, even preserving it on audiotape which sadly seems to have gotten lost during one of my later moves.

I don't know that I'd ever want to sit through the movie again, since like ERASERHEAD one viewing may be enough for one lifetime, but it would be interesting to see it with fast-forward available. I'd love to write another review which I could go back and link to in the future. I think of the folks I know who read this blog, only Elayne will remember this.

OTR: Masked Marvels

Don’t let the title confuse you! It has nothing to do with characters from Marvel Comics, but rather a number of radio programs that featured mysterious heroes. While some were actually masked, all of them went by names other then their own. They also had in common the fact that they were working on the side of ‘law & order’, but not always with the thanks of the police.

As with the other Old Time Radio (OTR) sets from Radio Spirits that I’ve reviewed I’m going to split this up into several sections. I’ll talk about one or two of the programs in each, with what I know about each show and my reactions. As usual feel free to ignore any or all of this, as your mileage may vary.

The Shadow is probably one of the most famous ‘mystery men’ created for radio. He was first introduced as the host of a program that adapted stories from Street & Smith’s Detective Story magazine. He became so popular with listeners that Street & Smith decided to actually begin publishing a magazine that featured The Shadow in his own adventures. In turn the character became even more popular, so eventually the program dropped the anthology format and started doing original stories. The character appeared in several films beginning in 1937 and as well as in comics a year later.

This set has three episodes: The first, Sabotage, featuring Orson Welles in the title role and Agnes Moorehead playing his companion/love interest Margo Lane. The other two shows feature Bill Johnstone as the voice of The Shadow in The Laughing Corpse & The Phantom Voyage. It’s the first of these last two which may be of note to comics’ fans. In it the villain develops a chemical, which causes his victims to laugh themselves to death. As comics historians have discovered Bob Kane & Bill Finger used more then a few elements of The Shadow when creating their BATMAN character. The chemical used here is almost identical to that used later by The Joker in one of his early appearances.

The radio version of the Shadow didn't actually need to be in disguise as he could “cloud men’s minds” making himself invisible. Still it seems to be the hook-nosed man in black, featured on the covers of the pulps, that most folks imagine when they hear the character mentioned.

I believe that The Shadow may have been the first OTR program that I heard as an adult. I remember some local radio stations rebroadcast the show late at night, usually after midnight. It seemed that during the ‘70s every college FM station had a program showcasing OTR. It still brings a chill when you hear that famous line, “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!”

By the way, you can learn lots more about The Shadow by clicking on the headline above which will take you to the Wikipedia entry on the character.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The All-Star Game: Yeeah, baby!!

Man, that was a good game, even coming in late. I forget that being out on the Left Coast that the game was going to start at 5:00pm PT. By the time I got home it was in the 5th inning and the AL was leading.
I watched as much as I could, running in from the grill where I had some hotdogs burning. The 9th inning was, if not one for the record books, about as exciting as you could get. Bases loaded with two outs and the score AL-5 & NL 4. The AL closer was Francisco Rodriquez of the Angels, who walked two runners to load them, but fortunately his pitch to Aaron Rowand of the Phillies was hit out to right field and caught. Whew!
The rest of the season starts with both the Red Sox & the Mets leading their divisions, so things are looking good.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Popcorn for One: Fantastic Four -Rise of the Silver Surfer

I don’t have as much to say about this film as I did about 1408. Partly, because everybody else has blogged and reviewed the movie to death from every possible angle. Also, if you have already seen the movie you know how you felt about it and if you don’t want to see it I doubt I’ll change your mind.

If you are at all familiar with the Fantastic Four mythos you already know that the Silver Surfer, once Norrin Radd, became the herald for the entity known as Galactus in order to save his own planet. Endowed with cosmic power beyond imagining the Surfer seeks out planets upon which Galactus may feed. Since Mars, Venus and every other planet in the neighborhood just doesn’t have the right nutritional value the Surfer chooses our own world and this doesn’t sit right with certain people.

Naturally, the government picks one of the few people that Dr. Reed Richards doesn’t get along with to be the person to request his assistance. Adding insult to injury the government also forces Richards & Co. to work with the man who tried to kill them several times. Basically, we get several story arcs from the FF’s first few years tied together into a single movie. Not only do we get the introduction of the Surfer, but also a later plot which involved Doctor Doom stealing the Surfer’s power and board.

If you liked the first movie in this series you will absolutely love this one. If, like most folks, you felt lukewarm about the film or didn’t care for that initial entry you might be pleasantly surprised. Put me in that second category. I didn’t think the first FF was much better than the low budget & never officially released Roger Corman version that has been available on bootleg for years. I actually thought that this second film captured some of the spirit and sense of family that the best issues of the comic series always had.

I’ll not give anything away, but you probably already know that the FF win and the Earth is not destroyed. Two things happen during the closing scenes, which set up events for future films. Sadly, the worst performance in the film is once again by Julian McMahon in the role of Victor Von Doom. There just is no sense of menace and certainly he doesn’t come across as the dominant personality we see in the comics. There is already talk of a Silver Surfer movie, so that may take some of the suspense out of the movie for you.

Not saying you should run out, but I think you might enjoy this on DVD when that is released or on the premium cable stations when it pops up in a few months. Personally, I think I’dl actually pay to see a third film in the theatre as well.

Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes: Stange Visitor from Another Century

I have read so many reprints of the early adventures of the Legion of Super-Heroes and their early meetings with Superboy, that it is hard to remember when I read one of their stories for the first time. I know it was after the group began their own series of adventures and the membership was expanding beyond the first half dozen, I’m sure. Over the years my interest in the LS-H has fluctuated, often depending on the writer or story arc. It’s probably been over ten years since I was actively buying the series. Since then there appear to have been at least three or four incarnations of the group with which I’m not familiar.

As usual of late, I’ve been doing a lot of reading in Wikipedia trying to catch up on what has been going on in the DCU for the past five years. I’m still not completely filled in on the 21st century heroes, so I haven’t gotten around to checking on what happened a thousand years later. It may be time to do so, since I think I like where the current LS-H is going.

SUPERGIRL AND THE LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES: Strange Visitor from Another Century collects the issues of LS-H that brings the ‘original’ Girl of Steel to the 31st century. It’s unclear how she arrived there, following the events in Infinite Crisis, and in the early stories she doesn’t even know herself. In fact, she still believes that she’s back on Krypton and her current adventures are all part of a holographic dream. She has no memory of her arrival on Earth a thousand years before, nor what happened to her cousin Kal-El or the rest of her family. It may have something to do with a plot by the Dominators (probably the creepiest alien race found in the DCU, at least in physical appearance) to once again invade and conquer Earth.

Her appearance at this particular time causes a bit of a problem for the Legion, who have only recently settled their differences with the United Planets. Members are just learning that they may not be able to trust each other completely, especially Brainiac Five who has his own agenda (consistent with his incarnations the past decade). As somebody just getting back into the DCU I find it confusing to see several LS-H characters here, knowing that they somehow will end up in the 21st Century on the Justice League satellite during the events in COUNTDOWN.

Throw in a robot rebellion in the making, a ‘mysterious’ person recruiting non-Legion members with powers, the continuing tensions with the Science Police (another group who seem to be hiding something) and the series really has captured my interest. Not sure that I’ll be picking up every issue, but I will be on the look out for when further issues are collected in TPB format.

Mark Waid, has been in my Top Ten list of comics writers for over a decade. He hasn’t always been in the Top Five, but I’ve never been really disappointed in any title he’s written. I don’t recall coming across Tony Bedard until I picked up a few issues of COUNTDOWN, but I think he’s doing a pretty good job there, along with the other creative teams working on the series. The art on the Legion stories by Barry Kitson, Adam DeKraker, Mick Gray and others is almost consistently good, though there are some panels where faces just don’t work. However, given the large cast of characters and many crowd scenes they work with I can’t fault them a few panels here or there.

Overall I have to recommend this book, at least for those who like super-hero teams with a touch of humor and don’t need everything cleared up by the end of each issue.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Teen Titans: Titans Around the World (a DCU review)

I was never a big Teen Titans fan, although I did buy the series for a while on and off. I picked up some of stories back in the sixties when they formed, but by that time I was pretty much a Marvel Zombie (back before there was such a term). I’ve sort of followed the team, but it’s been a few years so my knowledge is second & third hand at best.

Since beginning to buy COUNTDOWN I’ve been reading reviews and synopsis of previous series and books so that I wouldn’t be totally lost. When I found that our library had this TPB I decided to check it out and overall I was pretty pleased. The book collects issues #34-41 of the current TT series, which featured a couple of story arcs. It begins with those “One Year Later” issues and leaves clues as to what had happened to the group after Infinite Wars, but I recommend you click on the link in the above headline and check out the Wikipedia article on the Titans.

The stories are all written by Geoff Johns who happens to be one of my favorite writers currently working on the DCU books. The pencils are by Tony Daniel, with the assist of a half dozen inkers (basically guys who trace what Tony has painstakingly already put on paper), and does a nice job giving all the characters enough individuality so that even when in group shots you can identify them. Both of them get high marks in my book.

We find that Vic Stone (Cyborg) has been out of action, having been injured. His systems are being rebooted and while he’s out he has become a confidant/confessor for various members of the Titans, even those whom he never met. Upon waking he is surprised to find Rose Wilson (Ravager), the daughter of Titan’s enemy Slade Wilson is now a member. Needless to say he is not happy about the situation, nor with other members of the Titans he finds at the tower. The remaining stories on the book fill in some of what happened the previous year and introduces readers to some of the fill-in Titans who came and went during that time.

The middle section deals with a newly reformed DOOM PATROL. While I wasn’t a huge fan of TT, I have loved almost every incarnation of DP, since those long-ago issues of MY GREATEST ADVENTURE back in the early 1960s. (Before you were born. Remember, kids?) While it’s great to see the old team restored, I’ve never liked how the originally noble and sympathetic Niles “The Chief” Caulder was turned into a sociopathic manipulator. For me it’s a kick in the teeth of DP creators Bob Haney, Arnold Drake & Bruno Premiani. Still Robotman, Elasti-Girl, Negative Man are back again, joined by Beast Boy (who has left the TT to be with his “parents”), Mento, Vox & Bumble Bee (the last two who were also former Titans for a while). Through in those old nasties The Brotherhood of Evil and you can’t go wrong.

The final section finds the ‘new’ Teen Titans searching for Raven and the identity of the Titan who was actually a traitor. I don’t want to give things away except that it really should not have been a surprise to anybody who has read the Titan series at all who the surprise villain behind the scenes would be. I mean you could figure it out with one eye closed. J

If you like the Titans you probably have already read the issues contained here, but if you haven’t I certainly recommend you find it at your local library or budget bin at a comic shop. However, I still think that “Titans Together” is a silly battle cry.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

DC Countdown #47- 45: I'm still clueless!

The panel I use here was also chosen as “Panel of the Week” by the guys over at Comic Book Resources. It does sum things up; at least issue #45 pretty much. We get chicks beating on each other and the back-story for Forerunner, or a Forerunner. Cover featured on the cover of #46, she really doesn't do much except smackdown Donna Troy & Jason Todd (neither of whose 'hero' names I'm clear on right now) by rushing up and blindsiding them. Wow!
In what passes for an explantion of some sort in #45, one of the Monitors (in dialogue by writer Tony Bedard) explains to us, or rather to a character that should already know her origin, that she is part of a race created by the Monitors as attack dogs. What a bunch of sweethearts, huh? It seems that this new character is going to play an important part in the story. We can only hope that's wrong, unless they really do something with this cliche warrior-babe. (Isn't the whole cutting/ripping off your ponytail or other facial hair stale by now? Oooh! How defiant!)
I have to admit that while the art by Jim Califiore is good (as are most of the artists working on this title), he and the others don’t really distinguish one Monitor from another all that well. I really shouldn’t have to keep track of whether one has a full beard or muttonchops, bald or dreads. I get the point! They are basically identical, but give me something to work with, huh? Than again maybe my eyesight isn’t what it used to be. Also, why do an occasional female or alien looking Monitor show up in the background or crowd scene and then disappear by the next panel? I wonder if everybody got the same memo?

Although Jimmy Olsen did display some powers previously in the series, it is evident that his contact with Lightray, at the time the New God seeming passed, has created some link. It was kind of cool seeing Jimmy imprisoned on The Wall, which was a nice Jack Kirby concept which I don’t think was every really utilized by him that much. I don’t know that much about current DCU continuity, but is it still gospel that Jimmy hung with the Forever People and the Newsboy Legion, etc.?

It seems that the character I identified as Star Boy in my last rant is called Star Man, at least from my reading of his entry in Wikipedia. He also apparently is aware of his fate but has decided to remain in this era. I’m expecting some of this to be cleared up eventually.

By the way, I’ve picked up a couple of TPBs of recent Teen Titan & Supergirl/Legion of Super-Hero stories that I’ll be trying to get to shortly. I hope these will clear things up a bit since they take place after Infinite Crisis. I’ll let you know what I think when I’m done.
Maybe next time out I'll be in a better mood.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Popcorn for One: 1408

If you have been reading this blog since it started I don’t have to explain the headline above. On the other hand, if you aren’t familiar with it you just need to know that PfO was the name of the review section of my old apa-zine. It was for movies I saw alone, and not with first Elayne and later Donna. I don’t know that I’ve used it since we moved from West Haven back to Brooklyn.

I hadn’t originally planned on seeing either of the two movies I attended, until they popped on DVD or on cable. Still when Donna told me that she and Kristina were heading to Las Vegas, I felt this was a good opportunity to catch a couple of films.
While multiplexes aren’t the perfect place to see movies in the opinion of some folks, I don’t have a problem with them. In fact, they are perfect for those of us just sneaky enough to want to take in two or more movies and pay one admission. I can’t tell you the number of times I've done this before, but I found it just as easy here. Frankly, I doubt that most theatres even care anymore and certainly the minimum salaried folks working the ticket booth and snack stand couldn’t care less. Who can blame them?

1408, is based on a short-story by Stephen King, which features John Cusak as writer Mike Enslin. Early on we learn that although Enslin has made his reputation searching out ‘haunted’ hotels, graveyards and other such places, he himself has no belief in any of it. In fact, Enslin feels that he has good reason even to doubt the existence of God, let alone ghosts & ghoulies. We learn as the story progresses that Enslin may indeed be justified in his non-belief, at least as he sees the situation.

I haven’t read the original story, so I can’t tell how much remains under the hands of director Mikael Hafstrom and his three credited screen writers. Visually the film is great, really giving us a sense of the claustrophobia and paranoia that begins to skim away Enslin’s cynicism. Hafstrom was the director of the Jennifer Aniston/Clive Owen film DERAILED, which also played with audience perception of events. He is definitely a filmmaker I’m going to keep my eye on if these two are an indication of what he can do.

Doing research on a new book, Enslin finds that the Dolphin Hotel in New York City has a room noted for its history of problems. Suicides, and an abnormal number of ‘natural’ deaths have led the hotel to have a policy where Room 1408 is not given to any guest. Enslin decides that no matter what he is going to stay in that room, if only to prove that the hotel is faking the entire situation to build up interest. When he arrives at the Dolphin he is met by the hotel’s manager, Gerald Olin (played nicely by Samuel L. Jackson), who tries without success to convince Enslin not to stay the night.

I’ll not give anything away that you can’t see for yourself in the trailers and promotion of the movie. Cusack is outstanding and carries a good portion of the film by himself. The effects early on are nice and there are some real scares and a feeling of menace. Unfortunately, later in the film the FX go a bit over the top and basically just bring attention to themselves rather than add to the sense of dread. It’s Cusack’s intensity that make most of the movie work. Marie McCormack has a small but pivotal role as Enslin’s wife, and one of my favorite actors Tony Shaloub has a cameo as Enslin’s editor.

I highly recommend the movie, if this is your kind of thing. It really does have some good scares. Be warned however that it takes some strange turns in the last reel. Finally, if you are going to this movie because you are a fan of Jackson, you’re going to be disappointed. I doubt that he is on screen for more than fifteen minutes at most. It’s John Cusack’s movie from beginning to end and he more than does his job well.

Next time out the movie I originally set out to see. Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer

ROBOT CHICKEN: The Star Wars Edition

Donna is NOT a big fan of animation, although she has enjoyed some of the Pixar/Disney films and will watch The Simpsons with me on occasion. Because of this I generally catch up on this stuff, either on those days I have off and she’s not here or late at night when I can’t sleep.

I’ve caught a few episodes of ROBOT CHICKEN before and loved it. However, last night I was lucky enough to see the new “Star Wars” special episode and was absolutely stunned. The fact that George Lucas and Mark Hamill actually take part, is a bonus. Lucas “as Himself” is obviously having a good time even poking fun at SW fans.
I could give away tons of great jokes, but will refrain. However, if you loved the original trilogy you will love the scene where the Emperor receives a call from Darth Vader. In some ways it reminded of those old Bob Newhart routines, where he would be on the phone with some historical character. The bigger fan of SW you are the more you will like this. Trust me!