Friday, April 4, 2014

movie review: CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER

As good as the first Captain America movie was, this one is even better.  Having two directors, brothers Anthony and Joe Russo, was not a case of too many cooks ruining the broth.  The plot for the movie is quite intricate and complex, a political thriller, that I won't attempt to paraphrase here.  An excellent script by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. Suffice to say, at the heart of the movie is political intrigue, lots of superb action scenes, and two best friends who find themselves on opposing sides.  This movie will also have far reaching consequences for all the other Marvel Studios movies (not to mention the Agents of SHIELD TV series), as SHIELD is severely compromised.

The opening action sequence uses Cap's comic book villain Batroc.  Cap's partner from the 1970s, The Falcon, played by Anthony Mackie, is introduced in a very well crafted role.  Also introduced from the comics is SHIELD agent 13 (payed by Emily Van Camp).  The Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson) co-stars from The Avengers, in a very well written role.  The film also features Robert Redford, one of the biggest movie stars (although not necessarily the best actor) to ever appear in a superhero movie (along with Brando and Nicholson).  Samuel L Jackson reprises his role as Nick Fury, in what is without a doubt, that character's best written role out of all the Marvel movies Fury has appeared in. Of course, Chris Evans returns as Steve Rogers.  It's hard to imagine less than a decade ago, he was doing a Chris O'Donnell imitation as The Human Torch.  As Steve Rogers, he brought to the role multiple layers, such as courage, integrity, humor, and vulnerability.  When Steve goes to the Smithsonian Institute to look at the Captain America exhibit because he feels lost in the present, it is both heartbreaking and humorous.  It is no secret the Winter Soldier is Bucky Barnes (played by Sebastian Stan).  When Captain America realises it's Bucky, Evans plays it well, not going over the top, but giving it just enough emotion.

The action sequences are very well crafted. The opening scene with Batroc. The Nick Fury car chase. The elevator scene. Cap vs the Winter Soldier. The movie is almost like an action highlight reel. In contrast, Man of Steel seemed too loud, too numbing, too much. In regards to action scenes, Winter Soldier is the true successor to The Dark Knight.

Curiously, Evan's costume from The Avengers was not used at all, perhaps because it looked a little too much like a throwback to Christopher Reeve era tights.  Instead, for the first part of the movie, Cap has an almost all navy blue SHIELD version of his costume.  In the middle part of the movie, he's in civvies, and for the end, he goes back to his World War II era combat fatigues costume (featuring another cameo by Stan Lee).

Captain America: The Winter Soldier, plain and simple, is a great movie, and blew Man of Steel and  The Dark Knight Rises out of the water.  With Evans, the Russo bothers, and Markus & McFeely set to return, and Captain America 3 slated to be released on the same day as Man of Steel 2 aka Batman Vs Superman, I think Warner Brothers and Zack Snyder have good reason to be worried.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Review: Batman '66 #9


The first story in this issue features Zelda the Great, from the first season of the TV show.  Writer Jeff Parker does a nice format change, by starting the story with the cliffhanger (Batman and Robin buried to the neck in sand with scorpions approaching them), then flashes back to how the Dynamic Duo got there.  Bruce and Kathy Kane are chaperoning Dick's date with Haley, at a magic performance by The Great Griselda, whom Bruce and Dick instantly deduce is really Zelda the Great. Haley volunteers to be Zelda's assistant as Bruce and Dick slip away to become Batman and Robin.  The audience thinks the Dynamic Duo are part of the show, but once overpowered, they end up in the cliffhanger.  Young Haley seems quite enamored with Zelda's dangerous and exciting lifestyle.  Batman uses throat singing to repel the scorpions.  Zelda puts the Duo in another death trap, but as she continues to lecture Haley on the thrills of being a super villain, the Duo escape and capture Zelda and her henchmen.  But young Haley runs off, apparently determined to become a glamorous super villain.  The story by Parker is good, but he misses the mark on Zelda's character.  In the TV episode, she was bound by her Illusion Specialist Technician, Eivol Ekdal, to rob banks to pay his fee for helping her become the greatest magician since Houdini.  She really wasn't evil, rather she was forced to be a criminal.  Here, Eivol is no where to be found, and Parker makes Zelda evil, and quite happy to corrupt a teenage girl to join the criminal underworld.  The art by Craig Rousseau is a little mundane, yet has a charming anime quality to it. Since Parker really seems to be hit or miss with the scripts, I'd like to see Andy Fish brought in as a writer, as he really understands what made the first season episodes so great, and why the second and third season episodes went downhill.

 
The second story is a quick and enjoyable character piece featuring Alfred's lookalike cousin, Egbert (last seen in The Joker's Provokers episode, where he was on the take from the Joker).  The story opens with Egbert being released from the Wayne Foundation Halfway House For The Halfway Corrupt. Alfred picks him up, and he quickly knocks Alfred out to switch places, and purloin the Wayne fortune.  After Egbert answers the Bat-Phone, nearly exposing our heroes' secret identities, Batman and Robin figure out Egbert switched places with Alfred.  They take Egbert on a wild urban jungle obstacle course, which results in him admitting he's not Alfred.  He leads the Duo to where Alfred is, and Alfred proceeds to punch out his cousin.  Writer Tom Peyer does a good job with the script, and the art by Chris Sprouse is much better than the art in the lead story.  Overall, this issue earns a B-.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Review: Batman '66 #8

This issue features King Tut, perhaps the most successful of the made-for-TV villains, no doubt due to Victor Buono's over-the-top, and highly comedic performance.  Written by Jeff Parker, the story starts off very strong.  Tut apparently has legitimately acquired a fortune, and plans to take over Gotham by simply buying it.  Batman and Robin shadow Tut, and that's where things go a little south.  Tut has found a time barrier which allows him to go back in time to ancient Egypt, where he obtains gold by selling the Pharaoh some modern chocolate bars.  Batman and Robin, who have followed Tut into the past, observe this, as well as one of Tut's men drinking an ancient serum that will give him super powers. The Dynamic Duo race back through the time barrier, to head Tut and his gang off when they return to the present.  They capture Tut and his gang, but the one who drank the serum, Waylon, gets away and presumably will become the 1966 universe version of Croc.  I wasn't too keen on the whole time travel scenario, but since Parker did it, I find it more disappointing that he didn't work in a cameo of the Wizard Shazam, since Captain Marvel does exist in the 1966 universe, at least if you go by the Legends of the Superheroes TV specials (if you use those specials as a common denominator, it could be argued the live-action Filmation Shazam! TV series is part of the 1966 continuity... note to DC: think about a Batman-Captain Marvel crossover!).  I also noticed a continuity gaffe if this series takes place right after season 3.  In the second to last Tut episode, Tut had figured out Batman is Bruce Wayne, and in the final Tut episode, he confirmed it by accidentally tunneling into the Batcave. At the end of the episode, rocks fell on his head, reverting him back to Professor McElroy, and losing memory of Batman's secret identity.  But in this issue, Tut says he faked reverting back to McElroy, which means he should still know Batman is Bruce Wayne. The artwork is by Ruban Procopio, and is good, even if it has that same Mad Magazine quality that has persisted throughout most of this series.  He captures Victor Buono's likeness and mannerisms perfectly, while Parker seems to have toned down the character slightly from the TV show.

The second story features Shame, by the same creative team, but Procopio's art is in a totally different style, in what looks like painted watercolors.  The story is good, even if Parker tries a little too hard to rationalize Shame's Western motif.  It's fun to see Batman and Robin in cowboy hats, and on horses.  It's also nice to see Robin being the one to rescue Batman.

Overall this issue earns a B.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

BATMAN DVD News and Review: Batman '66 #7

Before I get to the review of issue 7, the blockbuster announcement that has been eminent for a year has been made. The 1966 Batman TV series will be released in a DVD box set later this year, just in time for Christmas.  Early reports are that HD transfers made from pristine 35mm prints are being done, and Adam West and Burt Ward will be heading into a recording studio to do audio commentaries.  Hopefully, other bonus features, like Adam West appearing in full costume on shows like Hollywood Palace, will be included.


On to the review.  Jeff Parker returns as writer, and he brings False Face with him.  The story is very good and clever, where False Face impersonates Bruce Wayne, framing him.  Parker brings back Blaze and two of FF's original henchmen from the episode, a first, I think, for this comic book. The story also introduces the Bat Jet, looking just like it would had it been used on the TV show.  My one critique is that FF impersonates the president... Lyndon B. Johnson. Part of the longevity of the original series is that it was timeless.  They rarely mentioned the year, or anything too topical, at least in the first two seasons.  Season three, with all its other shortcomings, is also guilty of being too topical, with references to hippies, mods, surfers, and all other fads of the day.  The LBJ appearance is the second, at the least, reference establishing this comic book being set in the 1960s.  I would prefer it if they avoided that pitfall of season three, and followed the example of the first two seasons by keeping it timeless.  The art by Christopher Jones is excellent, although in a couple panels, as most artists on the series have done, he gives Batman a large gut.  Something else I wish would be dropped from this series.

The second story features the Joker and is written by Tom Peyer with art by Derec Donovan.  Peyer captures the Joker much better than Parker did in issue 3.  This time, I can actually picture Cesar Romero, instead of a generic insane DC Joker.  This may be the best of the short second stories.  Perhaps Peyer should write all of them, and let Parker handle the longer lead stories.  Donovan's art, however, is average, and his Batman looks more like Jack Webb than Adam West.  I wish Donovan drew the lackluster issue 3, while Joe Quinones' superb artwork graced this issue's Joker story. Overall, this is a great issue, and it earns an A-.

Finally, this week also saw the release of the trade paperback, BATMAN: THE TV STORIES, collecting about half of the original comic book stories that were adapted into TV episodes.  This book is a must have, and there has to be a volume 2 planned to collect the remaining stories.  May I also add the cover, by Amanda Conner, is spectacular, and I would love to see her draw an issue or five of BATMAN '66.

For the record, here are the stories that should be included in Volume 2:
"The Menace of False Face" (BATMAN #113 - adapted as "True or False Face/Holy Rat Race")
"The Mental Giant of Gotham City" (DETECTIVE #217 - adapted as "An Egg Grows in Gotham/The Yegg Foes of Gotham")
"The New Crimes of the Mad Hatter" (DETECTIVE #230 - aspects of this story were used in both Mad Hatter episodes)
"The Penguin's Nest" (BATMAN #36 - adapted as "The Penguin's Nest/The Bird's Last Jest")
"Batman's Deadly Birthday" (BATMAN #130 - aspects of this story were used in "Batman's Anniversary/A Riddling Controversy")
and to round out the edition, they can also include
"The Eraser Who Tried To Rub Out Batman" (BATMAN #188, the only comic book story to copy the TV series)
"Mr Freeze's Chilling Deathtrap" (DETECTIVE #373, the first story to use the TV show's Mr Freeze in lieu of the comics' Mr Zero, and to use the TV show's surname Cooper for Aunt Harriet
"Catwoman Sets Her Claws For Batman"(BATMAN #197, the first appearance of Catwoman in the Julie Newmar costume).

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The best Elvis songs you've never heard.

As we celebrate Elvis' birthday, I thought I'd take this opportunity to put a spotlight on Elvis' best overlooked and under appreciated recordings, similar to my previous Monkees post. 
 
Many of the songs on this list will be from Elvis' movies, often dismissed, yet the source for some real gems.
 
 
 
 
Baby Let's Play House is one of Elvis' earliest tracks from the Sun Records era, and if ever there was a very definition of "Rock and Roll", it would be this song.
 
My Baby's Gone is a slow blues tune recorded at Sun that Sam Phillips felt was a little too bluesy, so it was never released. It was remade as an up tempo Rockabilly number under the alternate title I'm Left, You're Right, She's Gone.  But it's the original blues version that's the winner.
 
Mean Woman Blues is a highlight from the movie Loving You and became a Rock and Roll standard covered by many other artists, but it's Elvis' original that set the standard.
  
Tell Me Why is a blues ballad that showcases Elvis' vocal range in his early years.
 
A Fool Such As I  is a great example of how Elvis could take a slow, Country song (originally recorded by Hank Snow) and turn it into a breezy, swinging rocker.
 
Fame And Fortune is a great do-wop ballad with Elvis in great form.  It was the b-side of his first single after getting out of the army, and first true stereo release.
 
Like A Baby is one of Elvis' best tracks off one of his best albums, Elvis Is Back! (1960). A blues number that fits Elvis' pleading vocal performance perfectly and is proof that he was one of the best blues singer of all time.
 
Summer Kisses Winter Tears is a nice Western ballad that was cut from the movie Flaming Star but went on to be released as a single.
 
That's Someone You Never Forget is a hauntingly beautiful ballad.  It is one of a very few songs Elvis co-wrote when he tried songwriting in the early 1960s with his Memphis Mafioso Red West (tracks from the 1950s that gave Elvis songwriting credit were due to his song arrangements and occasional lyric revisions, the main exception being the four Love Me Tender soundtrack songs, which were essentially a form of "payola"). It's too bad Elvis didn't have the interest to continue with songwriting, as this track proves, in time, he could have been a major songwriting talent.
 
She's Not You is the result of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller teaming up with Doc Pomus, to form a songwriting supergroup.  While not the hard rocking track one would expect from such a collaboration, it is never-the-less, a nice mid-tempo pop tune.
 
What A Wonderful Life is a swinging, bouncy number from the movie Follow That Dream and in a way, perfectly captures the essence of the "Elvis Presley movie franchise".
 
King of The Whole Wide World is a bouncy rocker from Kid Galahad.
 
A Mess of Blues is just what the title says, and has since become something of a blues standard.
 
Long Lonely Highway is song that urges one to go on even though things aren't very good. Very good track that was later incorporated (with horn overdubs) into the movie Tickle Me
 
Kiss Me Quick is a cute and fun pop track that shows how musically versatile Elvis could be.
 
C'mon Everybody is a fantastic rocker from the movie "Viva Las Vegas", not to be confused with the Eddie Cochran song with the same title. The official released version was mono, but seeking out the alternate stereo mix is worth the effort, as it really rocks.
 
The Meanest Girl In Town is a rocker from the movie Girl Happy that was so good, Bill Haley and His Comets recorded it days after Elvis under the alternate title Yeah She's Evil, and rushed its release before Elvis' version with the hopes of reviving the Comets' career.
 

Spinout is a bluesy, up tempo soul number, kind of a counterpoint to the soul classic Expressway To Your Heart. With its driving bass line, and some killer Hammond organ riffs this is an overlooked gem that would fit in perfectly at dream cruises and classic car shows.  Elvis must have liked the song, too, since when he performs it in the movie of the same name, he breaks into some of his old 1950s dance moves, something he only did in the 1960s when he was really having fun.

Hard Luck from the movie Frankie & Johnny is a great blues tune with some wailing harmonica playing by Charlie McCoy.

Hey Little Girl is a fun and cute rocker from Harum Scarum that really should have been a major hit.

Long Legged Girl (With The Short Dress On) is a short but fun rocker from the movie Double Trouble. With the Jordanaires' old-school doo-wop backing vocals, and Elvis singing great lyrics like "walk in stilts in ten foot leaps" looking for the elusive title character, it is impossible not to like this song.

Too Much Monkey Business is a cover of the Chuck Berry classic Elvis recorded with Jerry Reed providing the guitar work.  Recorded at the same session that included Guitar Man, Big Boss Man, Hi-Heel Sneakers, U.S. Male (arguably an early precursor of rap), and Stay Away Joe, each of these songs are gems and reignited Elvis' creativity after years of soundtrack albums, and was the first step of his "Comeback".  An interesting footnote:  in the 1960s, Elvis was always lambasted by critics for being "out of touch" with the world around him, living in his own protected bubble.  Yet, in this song, Elvis alters Berry's original lyric to include a reference to the Vietnam war.  Maybe Elvis wasn't as out of touch as everyone was led to believe.

Let Yourself Go from the movie Speedway is such a great song that Elvis remade it for his 1968 Comeback special.

All I Needed Was The Rain is a down on your luck blues tune from Stay Away Joe with some great harmonica and resonator guitar.

Wearin' That Loved On Look is a Soul-Rhythm & Blues track from another of Elvis' best albums, From Elvis In Memphis (1969). The entire album is excellent and is, unfortunately, the only all-out Soul/R&B album Elvis ever made.  This song was the first track, and set the pace for the album.

If You Talk In Your Sleep is a funky 1970s track, co-written by Red West, with a "Blues Brothers" style horn arrangement. For most of the 1970s, Elvis' recordings tended to be on the Country-rock side.  So, in the final couple years of his life, when he began to record funky, bluesier numbers like this and Way Down, and treaded into 1950s nostalgia tracks like Pledging My Love and Hurt, it kind of gives you an idea of where Elvis would have gone musically had he lived into the 1980s.

Any one of these songs, if reissued today, would be a number one hit, much like A Little Less Conversation, another lesser known movie soundtrack song, was when it was remixed and reissued in 2002.  I may have to do a "Part 2" to this article sometime.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Captain Marvel/Shazam movie officially dead implies Peter Segal

It has been a long time since we heard anything about the Captain Marvel/Shazam movie.  Now it appears director Peter Segal has implied the film is officially dead, in an interview with ComingSoon.net.

CS: Speaking of superheroes, you were developing a DC Comics property a few years and a film was being planned called "Billy Batson and the Legend of Shazam." Whatever happened to that?
Segal: The thing is, Shazam has always lived this tortured life going against Superman. This dates back to the 1930s. Because Captain Marvel had similar powers to Superman, the DC folks back then sued what was the most popular comic book on the stands at that time. Years later, they bought it and it became a DC property but, as long as Superman stays hot in the market place, there seems like a little bit of a crossover between the two characters. After Bryan Singer's "Superman Returns," it seemed like there was a moment in time where Shazam was going to see the light of day. That's when you heard those stories. Now that Superman is being invigorated and going up against Batman, I think it's difficult for DC to figure out how to launch this character in the wake of Superman's resurgence.

CS: It sounded like your approach was a bit more kid-friendly.
Segal: Well, it wasn't. I was working with Geoff Johns. At its core, it's a lot like Superman. There's this boy trapped inside of a superhero's body. He's still a boy inside, so there's this opportunity to play a lot of humor with the action. Originally, Stan Lee brought me "Fantastic Four" a number of years for that very reason. I always have the question when people bring me superhero properties, "Why me?" With Stan, he said, "It's because there's a sense of humor within all Marvel characters." These characters are flawed and, within those flaws, there is humor. When Toby Emmerich came to me with Shazam, it was because of those same reasons. To draw from that humor and to mix it with great action and pathos. I've always loved Shazam, but I don't know if it's going to see the light of day anytime soon.


This puts to rest a project that had been in development for over a decade. It seems the project's best chance at getting made was in 2003 through 2005, when attempts at reviving the Superman franchise were being shot down left and right, and it looked like DC may have lost the rights to the character in a lawsuit with the estates of Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.  But once all that got settled, and Superman Returns began filming, it seemed all was lost for the Big Red Cheese, even though the project continued to limp along for several more years, and Captain Marvel was getting more mainstream attention through animated projects like Batman: The Brave & The Bold, Superman/Shazam: The Return of Black Adam, and Young Justice.  Personally, I think the project will eventually get made, but not as a live action movie, but a Pixar style CGI animated film.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Review: Batman '66 #6

This issue changes thing up, with a new writer, Tom Peyer.  His script, featuring the Bookworm, is above average with some clever moments, such as the opening sequence where Robin is giving a lecture on literacy at the Gotham Chamber of Currency, chaired by millionaire Bruce Wayne.  The overall plot has to do with Bookworm compiling an Encyclopedia of Batman, in an attempt to deduce his secret identity. While Peyer's script is no masterpiece, the artwork by Ty Templeton certainly is.  He is clearly the best artist to work on this series.  His drawings perfectly capture the TV show likenesses while still embracing typical comic book grandness.  Only two critiques: his action panels are not quite as well laid out or as epic as Jonathan Case's, and he tends to give Batman a pronounced pot belly in some panels.

Jeff Parker is back writing the issue's second story, with art by Ted Naifeh.  As usual with most of these short second stories, its kind of a mess, reminiscent of bad third season episodes.  This one features Olga Queen of the Cossacks, in a lame plot to try to marry Batman, kind of a rehash of the TV show's Marsha Queen of Diamonds episode.  The art is OK but a little sloppy.  There is a non sequitur with Barbara Gordon hinting at a continuing storyline.  Overall the second story is weak.  Clearly, excellent short comic book stories can be done, as that was the norm of comics pre-1970, but today's creative talent can't seem to grasp it.  I'd rather see DC end the short second story, and have well done book length stories instead.  This issue earns a B, mostly due to Ty Templeton's excellent artwork.