Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Anyone Still Out There?

I realize that it has been ages since I last posted here and for that I apologize.  There never seems to be anything of import, other than an occasional film that actually warrants the time.  I find that all the comments I have can be summarized into 140 characters.  Easy enough to tweet what I have to say about the latest ARROW or Z NATION. I'm also part of dozens of groups on Facebook where discussion of comics, films and other pop culture stuff allows me to vent or rave about any particular topic.

I'm currently only getting maybe a half dozen comics any month, and only a few are titles I am getting on a regular basis.  If anyone cares they are; AFTERLIFE WITH ARCHIE, ROCKET RACOON, GUARDIANS 3000, TALES OF SABRINA and the DOCTOR WHO comic featuring the new Peter Capaldi regeneration.  I've picked up a few #1s the past few months, mostly out of curiosity but nothing that I will be adding at this point.

As you can imagine I'm watching the various live action, super-hero shows on TV.  I found MARVEL'S AGENTS OF SHIELD improving at the end of last season, but have given up on it after the first couple of episodes this season.  Throwing in an occasional super-baddie doesn't make up for the use of KAOS...er, HYDRA with the scene chewing ageless Nazi leading them.  It's like the major villain is a Fortune 500 insurance company. Scary, but not enough to keep me setting the DVR.

On the other hand, ARROW continues to be one of my favorites and I love THE FLASH.  Yeah, we get the required amount of CW romance and angst, but overall the writing and acting keep the shows entertaining.  I'm mixed on GOTHAM, wanting to enjoy the show more than I have been.  Unfortunately, Jim Gordan is not the most interesting character in the show which is supposed to be about him.  The scenes with Gordan and his partner Harvey Bullock are good, plus any scene featuring the future Penguin are generally the best in the episode whether Oswald is the primary focus or not.

I've been enjoying CONSTANTINE, which started a bit late in the season.  Only a few episodes to judge, but they have mostly been top notch, featuring characters from the book and even a story line or two.  Fascinating introducing Jim Corrigan into the show, with a bit of foreshadowing of his fate. Don't want to give anything away if you folks don't know who he is in the DC universe.

That does it for now.  Best to keep track of me on Facebook, but I may try to post a bit more frequently here.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Popcorn for One - GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (some Spoilers)

I have been excited about this film since it was first announced, as I have been a fan of the Guardians since the very, first team was introduced in an issue of MARVEL SUPER-HEROES back in 1969.  The team, created by Arnold Drake and Gene Colan was very different from the characters currently making up the GotG and appearing on the Big Screen.

I find it interesting that the only character from the original team used in the film, Yondu (played by Michael Rooker) is very, different except for skin tone and weapon from the way he was portrayed in the initial series. Then he was a 'noble savage' and apparently the last of his race, while the new Yondu isn't given a back story other than he was the one that abducted Peter Quill/Star-Lord the night that Peter's mother dies on Earth.  Other wise the team is the one put together by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning from characters they had used in Marvel's ANNIHILATION: CONQUEST company event involving a number of the companies inter-galactic heroes and worlds. A mixed bag for sure. With some new and others having appeared in slightly different fashion over the years throughout the Marvel Universe. Star-Lord (created by Steve Englehart in '76) has gone through a number of recons over the years.Rocket Raccoon (created by Bill Mantlo and Keith Giffen as 'Rocky Racoon' in tribute to the Beatles song, also in '76), as in the film Rocket was genetically modified from his actual form and his intelligence increased a great deal. Both Drax the Destroyer and Gamora have origins in the film very similar to those in the comics, with their connections (one way or the other) to Thanos.Of all the Guardians, it is probably Groot that is most different from his original characterization. Co-created by Jack Kirby, Stan Lee and Dick Ayers for a one-shot SF story in one of those pre-Marvel Age "monster comics".  Called there the "Monarch of Planet X" Groot had come to Earth to experiment on humans in order to discover how he could conquer the planet.  As always happens in those stories, Groot discovered that we humans really didn't take kindly to that sort of thing.  As with the other new GotG, Groot was made over for the ANNIHILATION: CONQUEST  series and has continued as a member since.

The film begins with in 1988, with a young Peter Quill in a hospital waiting for the expected death of his mother.  Unable to take her hand as she lay dying the grief stricken child runs out onto the lawn only to be suddenly engulfed in light from a large spaceship that appears overhead.  This is the last time that Quill will see Earth, his only memories of his past those items he had in a backpack he had when he was taken aboard by Yondru and his mercenary Ravagers.  Among those is a cassette player that holds a mix tape his mother made for him of her favorite songs.  It's those songs that provide most of the sound track of the film, and they are used perfectly, IMHO. Reflecting the action and mood of many of the scenes that take place.

Twenty plus years after his abduction, Peter, who has taken the name Star-Lord (a name his mother would call him) as a member of Yondru's crew and is in the midst of stealing an object for an unknown client when events come into play that lead Peter into conflict with the other members of what will become the Guardians.  Initially confrontational, the future heroes find themselves imprisoned by the Nova Corps, the police officers and protectors of a world that has become a target for a renegade Kree (one of a number of Marvel alien races), Ronan the Accuser who refuses to recognize a peace treaty between his race and the Nova Corp. Rocket devises an escape plan, which more or less works, allowing the group to get away.

We discover along the way that Ronan has had to ally himself with Thanos (introduced at the end of the first AVENGERS film), with the goal of getting the object Quill stole. With this Thanos has promised to give Ronan the power he needs to get his own revenge.  There is a lot of Marvel history going on here, which you can find better explained on Wikipedia, involving the Infinity gems and gauntlet that Thanos, among others, has sort for years.  The gems were first mentioned in the second THOR film, where The Collector was also introduced. Lots of battles, between individuals, armies and star ships take place and our heroes come to understand that they must unite in order to save the world and perhaps the galaxy from Ronan's obsession.

A lot of things are tied up at the end, but a number of questions remain unanswered, leading to the next film in this new franchise.  One of these may be the identity of Peter's actual father.  Personally, I can't wait since there are probably a lot more cool songs on that cassette we haven't heard yet.

The movie captured me with the opening sequence and never failed to keep me excited throughout.  As with all Marvel movies, you really need to stay for the closing credit sequence. Two in the case of this movie. The first is cute and the second might only appeal to die-hard Marvel fans, but I actually applauded and laughed while some other folks screamed out the name of the character revealed.  'Nuff said!

San Diego Comic-Con International - 2014 - There & Back Again!

Let me begin by saying that I had a great time at the convention and didn't see half the stuff that I would have liked.  Part of that was the fact that the lines for any event have become obstacle courses that wind around the place for what seems like miles. I'd stand in line for about half an hour and then decide that it just wasn't worth it, no matter how much I wanted an exclusive or to see a panel/celeb.

Now the second part of my angry old fart rant, which you can skip if you'd like.

 (Begin Rant:
Is it just me or is SDCC hiring a greater number of a**holes to work their security?  Sad that I should come away with that as my main impression of the con.  The worst part is that there seems to be overlapping security, including folks running various booths who seem to think that selling stuffed dolls also give them law enforcement cred!  Add to that the fact that one group contradicts the other when it comes to where and when you can stand still for more than thirty seconds.  I witnessed "security" telling parents they could not wait outside restrooms for their children, or stop with a stroller to feed or comfort an infant.  If you are going to allow folks into the con with babies and children you have to take into account that the required "adult supervision" might mean more than pulling the kid by the arm so he doesn't interfere with some cos-player's photo-op.
End Rant)

All that aside I had a lot of fun at the con, just as I do every year.  The fact that the thing exists and gives the fans of so many things what they want shows the dedication and planning that goes into the whole event.  Having been part of one such convention team, my fedora is off to the SDCC board and their many volunteers.  The con really has outgrown the Convention Center and takes over much of the water front and part of the Gaslamp area immediately across the trolley tracks.  Some panels and movie previews and presentations are taking place in nearby hotels and even at Petco Park. Hell, for Hollywood and television the place has become a 'red carpet' event with some of the most important stars and creators appearing to promote their latest product.

There were a number of highlights and I wish I had taken three times as many pictures as I did.  The number of cos-players (some actually paid by various companies to promote a product/film/show) seems to multiple with each convention. There were probably about a dozen running around the first SD con I attended in '75, and most of those were on Saturday night for the costume judging.  Each year the costumes become more elaborate and I can't begin to imagine the amount of time and money (let alone skills) that are necessary to make them so amazing.  It is impossible, for me at least, to tell if someone designed and made the costume themselves or it was purchased/rented from a store offering professionally made items.  You can find examples on YouTube and the 'reality show' HEROES OF COS-PLAY (on the SyFy Channel) will show you how fanatic folks can be.

For me the panel highlights were (in no particular order):

Marvel Animation's preview of up-coming shows on Disney XD. This is fun every year and often the only time I actually see the cartoons, since I already have so much stuff on my DVR that I never get around to watching.  Highlights for me were the ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN, with Spidey following an enhanced Green Goblin to various alternate Earths where they encounter different versions of Peter/Spider-Man.  Shown were 2099, Spider-Girl and a brief part of one featuring The Amazing Spider-Ham, which was a great tribute/homage to the Warner Bros. cartoons. Also, a few minutes of HULK AND THE AGENTS OF S.M.A.S.H. where the team is taken prisoner by Ronan the Accuser (who seems to have recovered from his appearance in Guardians (semi-Spoiler there)).  Best was about a minute of test footage from the up-coming GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY cartoon.  What looks to be a meeting between Rocket and Star-Lord. This I might actually have to record.  Towards the end of the panel voice-actor, Fred Tatasciore, voice of The Hulk in several Marvel cartoons, as well as the voice of dozens if not hundreds of characters throughout his career, was introduced to answer questions both as the Hulk and himself. He got quite an audience response as you can imagine.

MASTERS OF THE WEB: Comic Book Movies - Had a number of folks that review movies on YouTube and other sites.  Best part was seeing Kristian Harloff & Mark Ellis of Schmoes Know, guys I have been following since they began filming in Kristian's apartment and now have their own web channel and various podcasts.  Also, on the panel were Jeremy Jahns (YouTube), Tiffany Smith (DC All Access and sometimes co-host on the Schmoes' podcast) and others.  A cool extra was the appearance of Manu Bennett (Deathstroke on the CW's ARROW, as well being Azog, the chief Orc in the Hobbit trilogy). Bennett talked about his various roles and the expanding use of 'performance capture' in films like the Hobbit and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, as well as adding his opinion on various other films being discussed by the panel.

Two of the Saturday panels hosted by Mark Evanier are must sees and always warrant going to whatever panel precedes them so you can get a seat in Room 6 BC. Quick Draw, featuring Sergio Aragones and Scott Shaw! each year, with this year's guest Disney Legend Floyd Norman, all trying to out draw the other in response to whatever odd thing Mark comes up with to stump them.  This is always followed by the equally popular Cartoon Voices #1, also moderated by Mark.  Here he brings on over a half dozen of some the best known folks that voice the cartoons and commercials we see & hear all the time.  He asks them each about their careers, characters they portray and incidents that have occurred during recording sessions.  This is followed by the group doing a cold reading of a script they have never seen before.  This year was an adaptation of Snow White, previously I have seen them do a SUPERMAN radio show and other such programs.  Each actor generally portrays several characters, often switching roles or just being made to repeat certain scenes using a different voice. If you ever get a chance to attend SDCC on a Saturday, you should take time away from the exhibit hall for a few hours. Have a seat, grab a drink & snack and enjoy a couple of hours of genuine entertainment and laughs.

I'm sure I've forgotten some of the other things, but overall SDCC is worth the money and exhaustion (not to mention sunburn this year).  Fingers crossed that I get to do it all over again next July.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Popcorn for One _ DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (possible Spoilers)

This may contain some SPOILERS, so let's leave it at that and get on with it, shall we?

Andy Serkis owns this move from the opening scenes.  His portrayal of Caesar dominates the entire film whether he is in the scene or not.  Gary Oldman, as Dreyfus, leader of the the remaining human population of San Francisco is just fine as is Jason Clarke as Malcolm, the engineer who comes to befriend the apes.  However, Serkis' performance, hidden as it may be by the motion capture technique, remains the thing that keeps the audience riveted to the screen.  If you are familiar with his performance as Gollum in any of Peter Jackson's Tolkien films you have only seen the beginnings of what can be done. The first film in the reboot of the franchise, RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, showed the advances that had been made since the days of Gollum and this film blows those out of the water.

Close to a decade has passed since the final scenes of the first film. The virus created in the lab from which the apes escaped has wiped out a good portion of the human race.  The governments of the world and the entire infrastructures that made modern society are all but memories at this point.  Caesar and the apes he freed have created their own society in the forests outside the city of San Francisco.  There has been no contact between the species for over two years, each believing the other may have died off.  One day a group of survivors, led by Malcolm comes into the area controlled by the apes to attempt to reactivate a power station to return electricity to the city.  One of the group panics and shoots one of the apes, which brings about a confrontation.  Things look bad for the humans until Caesar intervenes.  Malcolm and Caesar come to an understanding and the humans are allowed to go about their work.

Koba, cruelly abused in medical experiments in the first film, was rescued by Caesar in that film and has become his second in command.  His feelings towards humans is understandably not as benign as his leader and as events unfold, Koba (played brilliantly by Toby Kebbell) decides that his hatred and need for revenge should be the path the apes should follow. Putting his plan into effect the inevitable face off between humans and apes comes about.

The great thing about the film is that it really doesn't follow the path you expect.  The trailer shows you some of this, but there is far more going on and the heroes & villains not as clear cut as you might think. Oldman's character is far more fine tuned than you generally find in this sort of thing.  Only a few of the characters fit the stereotypes you expect, but these are not the main actors.

Given the ending of the film, and I certainly won't spoil it for you, it does seem likely that there will be at least a third film in the current franchise.  Whether it takes place shortly after the events of DAWN or decades later, remains to be seen.  I can only hope that Andy Serkis returns, whether behind the camera or in the motion performance that he has pioneered.

If you didn't see the first film in this series, don't go in expecting the actors in heavy latex from the first franchise and the Tim Burton film from 2001.  Those days are long gone, my friends.  I highly recommend you see the film while it's still on the big screen where you can really enjoy it.

Next up, we're waiting for GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY next month.

Popcorn for One: GODZILLA (a review with some spoilers)

This was written shortly after I saw the film, but due to computer problems I haven't been able to post it until now.

I know just about everyone else has seen the film, but things have been pretty hectic around Chateau Chaput for the past few weeks.  Weddings will do that!

I guess there wasn't much of interest this past Friday, or folks were going to later showings, but the Regal/Edwards Kaleidoscope theater was pretty much empty.  There was no line at all for the ticket booth and only one guy in front of me for the concession stand.  The 12:40pm showing of GODZILLA had only one other guy in the audience, besides me.  He was several rows back so it was pretty much a private screening with my choice of seats. I generally like seeing this type of film with a bigger audience, or least I used to.  Nowadays it seems theaters are full of a**holes who have to talk through the entire feature and explain to the idiots with him (yeah, sometime it's a female, but generally it's some guy in his early twenties) what everyone can see on screen. 


I love how the opening credits are over actual/doctored "documentary" footage of post-WWII atomic bomb testing in the Pacific.  I won't give anything away, but look close at a couple of quick shots, which will be explained later in the film.

The film opens in 1999 Japan, where Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) and his wife, Sandra (Juliette Binoche) are working at a nuclear plant.  Joe believes that there are problems with seismic actvity, but no body seems to be interested.  The date is Joe's birthday and after seeing their son, Ford off to school the go to the plant.  Naturally, this is the day when Joe's concerns prove justified.  Sandra and a crew are checking out the reactor when things go badly, locking the team in when the reactor has a meltdown.  We then shift to some fifteen years later when an older Ford (played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson), now grown and a Navy demolitions expert, is returning home from active duty.  We meet his wife, Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) and his son Sam (Carson Bolde).  Unfortunately, that same evening Ford receives a phone call telling him that his father has been arrested.  It seems that Joe just can't let the past go, as his son has successfully done, and is still attempting to prove that the government(s) are hiding the actual cause of the accident, among other things.

We are also introduced to Dr. Ishioro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe), a scientist also investigating unusual phenomenon.  However, unlike Brody, Dr. Ishioro may know the true cause of the problem and this disturbs him.

We learn that the Japanese and American governments discovered a lifeform that lives off of nuclear radiation and although thought dormant has actually come to life.  They also know of a large predator that may be able to destroy these creatures before they can reproduce.  That predator has been called a 'god' of nature, Ishioro dubs him Godzilla.

The trailers have already shown us that Big "G" does eventually appear, but the other creatures dubbed MUTOS (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms), a male and fertile female.  Laying waste to part of Japan, Hawaii and Las Vegas the two eventually meet in the city of San Franciso and things really get ugly. Fortunately, there is that other giant from the sea who may be the only hope that humanity has.

I wanted to be able to give the film a solid four stars and the trailers seemed to lead me in that direction.  However, I find that the best I can do is three and a half.  The film starts out fine, but the death of one character really changes the focus of the film.  For some folks it seems to have ruined it, but I think it was more the fault of the marketing department and the film's director and writers.

Not to give anything else away, but the ending does indicate that a sequel may be coming.  At least I hope so, there is a lot more that can be done with Godzilla as we all know.


Saturday, April 12, 2014


CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER was everything you could want in a movie, whether it was comic book related or not.  There was plenty of action, decent writing, emotional moments and very, solid acting from almost everyone involved.  There may be a few SPOILERS in my review, so if you haven't seen the movie yet you might want to keep that in mind.

The film takes place perhaps months after the events of the AVENGERS film, with Steve Rogers (Captain America) trying to come to grips with his place in a modern society.  He has formed friendships, but he is also trying to keep a distance from any romantic entanglements.  His first love, Peggy Carter (played again by Hayley Atwell), is still alive but ill and older.  As the film opens Steve meets fellow veteran Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie).  Sam is now working to help other returning veterans deal with the traumas they face in daily civilian life.  He and Steve immediately bond, which later will prove helpful as the story unfolds.

Nick Fury ( Samuel L. Jackson) sends Cap and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), along with a SHIELD commando unit to rescue the crew of a SHIELD ship that was taken by pirates, led by Georges Batroc (Georges St-Pierre). If you are an older comics fan, you'll remember that Batroc The Leaper was an old Cap villain.  Nice to see him and other characters from the comics used (sometimes with just a mention of their names in later scenes. One in particular is name-dropped quickly, but it gives me hope).  Cap discovers that there was more going on than the rescue and confronts Fury upon his return.  This sets up some tension between the two of them, as well as with the Widow, whom Cap feels has lied to him.

Fury reveals a new SHIELD plan to begin launching three new heli-carriers that will be used to monitor and 'neutralize' perceived threats to the world.  The film uses this and other plot threads to point a finger (as they did in Iron Man 3) at a government willing to use methods (drones, NSA surveillance) in the name of security.  It also brings up the all too real situation where citizens are more than willing to give up their privacy in order to feel safe, even if the threat isn't real.  Into this plan comes Secretary Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) the man who had brought Fury up through the SHIELD ranks after Fury had saved some hostages by other than official methods years before.  Redford is just so good in this role and I hope the Academy folks remember it come Supporting Actor nominee time.

Tensions seem high between Pierce and other members of the SHIELD directorate over the implementation of the new security plan and Fury himself begins to have doubts.  Shortly after, Fury is attacked by men disguised as police and finally by a masked man who comes to be known as the Winter Soldier.  Wounded in the attack, Fury goes to one of the few people he can trust, namely Steve Rogers. Unfortunately, while there he is shot again and when trying to pursue the shooter, Cap encounters the Winter Solder for the first time.

I'm not going to give anything else away, but it soon develops that there is a faction within SHIELD that has its own agenda.  One with a long history that goes back to WWII and Cap's early adventures with the Howling Commandos.

There are characters in the film that we have seen in the TV show Marvel's Agents of SHIELD and also in the first CA movie. (By the way, if you are one of those folks that gave up on Agents early on you might want to think about catching up and watching again.  The show did some things that tied into both the first Avengers film and the second Thor movie, and now is closely tied into the events in this film.)  It's always cool to see Agent Hill (Cobie Smulders) in either films or the series. Now that she's free from HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER duties, I'm hoping we'll see more of her in the show.

Almost all the actors are great, with the exception of Garry Shandling (as Senator Stern) who pretty much mumbles his lines.  I generally like Shandling's comedy and loved his show, but he just seems uncomfortable here.  Pretty sure we'll be seeing Sam Wilson/The Falcon again and it wouldn't surprise me if Batroc and Agent Rollins are back in the third film, along with the Winter Soldier.

It continues to amaze me that folks are still walking out before the end credits.  The main credits are followed by a scene which resolves some points and sets up things for the next AVENGERS film, with a couple of new characters.  After the final credits there is another short scene with one of the characters that would lead into the third Cap feature.  The theater was about half full during the matinee yesterday, and maybe a dozen folks stayed for the initial teaser with five folks, besides myself, sitting through until the final reveal.

Good selection of trailers prior to the film, with both the up-coming SPIDER-MAN and X-MEN films, as well as GODZILLA.  The Scarlett Johansson SF film LUCY looks really good and shows that Hollywood is willing to gamble that she can open a feature.  I hope it does well, since the announced BLACK WIDOW movie is a sure-thing for comic's fans.

Marvel is doing a great job with their films and it's a shame that DC can't seem to get their act together. On the other hand, CW's ARROW is fantastic and I have high hopes for both FLASH and GOTHAM.