Monday, May 4, 2015

Esoterica XI: Comics Strangeness

Sorry for the lack of updates, outside factors have taken up most of my time.  Now then, a super-sized super special look at some weird/enjoyable comics I've gotta talk about just a little.  As George Carlin once said on one of his albums, these are the kind of thoughts that kept me out of the really good schools.*

*Actually, Chapman University is a fine institution but sometimes the comedy gods demand a sacrifice and if it means throwing a really good school under the bus, so be it.  Given that I will be paying off my student loans until I'm in my sixties, I think I can take some liberties with them if I like.

There are some franchise crossovers that make sense, some that make no sense and some that just feel right.  Teaming up Star Trek: TNG with Doctor Who (the  Matt Smith version) is just about the right blend of the two shows with the characters staying true to their portrayals and in general, quite a lot of fun moments as we not only get some fun interplay beween the characters in these franchises but also an amusing flashbhack to the crew of the original TV series meeting the Tom Baker Doctor.  It's not a perfect story, but it's a fun ride to be sure.

Not all crossovers are created equal, however.  Sometimes they get bizarre...

 What makes me chuckle here is how fairly accurate to their peronalities the SNL cast reactions to John Belushi going after a super villain in his samurai character gear are.  Dan Aykroyd is cheering him, being his best friend and all.  Jane Curtin and Gilda Radner are shocked as one would expect, as is Garrett Morris.  Laraine Newman is oddly absent, though given that she didn't like to stand out on the show this sort of works and Bill Murray... Well, I'd say that he probably saw a crazed John Belushi going nuts at least once or twice in real life so his reaction of casual interest on the cover works perfectly.  Come to think of it, he might think it's totally normal.  As for Belushi, I'd say doing this in real life might have been rather refined for him, given how nuts he could get.  I could see Aykroyd doing it too, to be honest.

The funny thing is, this one is actually a pretty decent story.
 
 The rather cheesy 80's version of The Avengers appearing on Letterman however... Not so much.

 I can only hope the new version of Star Wars from Marvel Comics has anything as brilliantly stupid/insane/awesome as this issue which has Han and Chewbacca teaming with a giant green bunny rabbit, a crazy old man who thinks he's a Jedi whose name is a pun on Don Quixote and some others. I don;t generally advocatre heavy drug use but it seemed to work well enough for comics in the seventies.

But for comics that make you realize the creators must have had access to some killer weed, you have to go back.  Way back, in fact.  We will end with one of the more bizarre stories I've ever had the chance to read.

Ah, leave it to the Silver Age of comics to come up with something that just makes you shake your head in amazement with maybe a slight tinge of disgust.  For sheer WTH entertainment, I give you "Lois Lane: The Crybaby of Metropolis".  The fact that eventually turning Lois into a baby to teach her a lesson about self control (at least I think) and more or less showing her off to his former flame Lana Lang is not the most dickish thing Superman has ever done is saying something pretty incredible and this isn't even close to being the weirdest thing this particular book did.  The story was also adapted for the daily newspaper strip that was around at the same time.

I think we've had enough for one evening.  Stay tuned for more soon.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Update

Sorry for the recent lack of content.  Updates will resume shortly.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Get Shorty (1995)

With the fantastic series Justified ending a brilliant six year run this month, I thought it would be fun to take a look at some of the adaptations of Elmore Leonard's work.  Leonard was a genius at writing darkly comic crime novels full of snappy dialogue, crazy situations and memorable characters.  For some reason, most of the adaptations of his work have not gone as well as one would prefer, due to many of the usual reasons films don't work.  Sometimes its the studio, sometimes its the script, sometimes its something else entirely.

We'll begin with the film that kicked off the real trend of good Leonard adaptations.  Before 1995,there were a few good ones but for the most part, his work had been relegated to one-off TV movies.  In 1995, however, he blasted back to prominence with this genuinely funny, entertaining comedy.

Get Shorty stars John Travolta as Chili Palmer, a loan shark who is in the middle of a petty feud with Ray Barboni (Dennis Farina) who he ends up working for.  Palmer tracks the owner of a dry cleaners who owes some money to Vegas and while he's there, he's also sent to get some money out of a B-movie producer in Hollywood.  Being a movie buff, Chili becomes enamored with the film business and the ensuing comedy is both a sly satire of the business and a perfect adaptation of the Elmore Leonard novel.

Travolta is top notch here, right in the middle of his 1994 comeback, cool and funny but also sort of tough which is perfect for the character.  Hackman is equally funny as the sort of dumb, utterly full of crap film producer and Rene Russo is fun as Karen, an actress Chili falls for.  The rest of the cast is fun too.  Dennis Farina is quite funny as Barboni, as is Delroy Lindo as a thug looking to get into the film, business as well and Danny DeVito is great as an utterly ridiculous actor.  You can tell he, along with everybody else in the movie (there are so many good character actors in this thing that to name them all would stretch this review to an unreasonable length) is having a blast.

Barry Sonnenfeld does a fine job directing things and as noted, the cast is great but what really sells the film is the script.  Scott Frank stays true to the original novel, using the dialogue and letting it have that little flair Leonard always puts into his work.  It's just plain fun and one of the best Leonard adaptations out there.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

When Nature Calls (1985)

I'm not the hugest Troma fan out there, truth be told most of their stuff bores me to tears (shock comedy tends to have this effect on me though I do kind of like the first two Toxic Avenger films) but every now and then you will find a good one.  When Nature Calls is a clever spoof of wilderness adventures in the same vein as Airplane! and The Naked Gun.  Really no actors of note except for early parts for David Strathairn and Gates McFadden of Star Trek: TNG.  She's in the second of three fake trailers that run before the movie, the other two being a Scorsese parody and a gangster film called Baby Bullets where the lead is an infant and against all odds, this ends up being pretty damn funny.

The second trailer is a visual gag involving a new gimmicks called Blind-O-Vision and the theater gags continue throughout the movie as well.  The plot is as bare bones as it can get (and in this case that's a major plus) as a typical New York family called the Van Waspishes decides they've had it with the big city and decide to live in the woods.  The usual stuff one would expect occurs with wild animals, the aforementioned David Strathairn as a friendly Indian, tons of gags that come at you a mile a minute and just an overall sense of gleeful silliness.

Charles Kaufman, brother of Troma head Lloyd wrote and directed this one and he has a nice deft touch here, firing the gags at the viewer as fast as possible so that they hit, you either laugh or don't and then there's another gag up for consideration.  It's not quite as smooth as the more notable spoofs I mentioned earlier and pretty crass in parts, but it's still pretty damn hysterical in places.  If you can find it, give it a look.  It's well worth your time.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

American Cyborg: Steel Warrior (1994)

I've covered prime Cannon era films but haven't really delved too deep into their late output.  As in what they were doing right as the doors were closing.  American Cyborg: Steel Warrior was one of their last films and in fact was their very last film to get a theatrical release.  Released in 1994, it is your basic garden variety post-apocalyptic action film about a lone warrior who must escort the last fertile woman on the planet across the wasteland while a cyborg emissary from their robot overlords tries to kill them.  It's rather frightening to think that it's entirely possible someone at the studio saw Hell Comes to Frogtown and thought "Let's cash in on that!" and then tossed in The Terminator for the hell of it.

Joe Lara plays our hero, Austin, your standard wasteland warrior who ends up protecting Mary (Nicole Hansen) from unstoppable cyborg John Ryan (not the Cannon regular known for hamming it up with relish, this is a British guy who sort of looks like him).  Their goal is to get her unborn fetus in a jar (No, I'm not making this up!  Stop looking at me like that!) to a ship bound for Europe where the after affects of World War III are slightly less crappy and really, that's about as much plot as there is.  There's a damn good reason this is a double feature post.

The bulk of the movie is given to non stop action scenes where the android fires off hundreds of rounds of ammo from his huge machine gun (where he gets all that extra ammo is a mystery that is not delved into) and the bad movie fan in me really wishes I would have seen this in the theater just so I could say I did.  I kind of feel the same way about that awful second Universal Soldier film from 1999.

We get tons of gun battles that are just as repetitious as those in the above mentioned Universal Soldier: The Return; radioactive cannibals, Joe Lara at his most blandly heroic, an odd twist where it turns out Lara is also a cyborg, this is one of those films you watch with a pizza and beer and forget as soon as you're done watching it.  While it's stupid fun (they don't release crap like this in theaters anymore), one does get the sense that at this point Cannon had just thrown up their collective hands and said "Okay, just end us!  We're ready to die!"  It's middle of the road crap with not much in the way of good acting or humor, but not in an entirely horrible way.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Enter the Dragon (1973)

There are lots of icons in action films.  In the 80's, guys like Stallone and Schwarzenegger led the way while the Chuck Norrises, van Dammes and Steven Seagals operated on the second tier of action film stardom.  In the 70's, Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds ruled the roost but aside from them, one man was making an innovative splash with martial arts films.

Bruce Lee.

Enter the Dragon is his crowning achievement.  A briskly paced, fantastically entertaining blend of spy caper and martial arts revenge film, it pits Bruce against an evil martial arts master named Han (Shih Kien)who holds a deadly tournament on his private island.  Bruce must go there, not only to extract a British undercover agent but also to get revenge as one of his henchmen (Bob Wall) is responsible for the death of his sister.  Needless to say, our hero has all the motivation he needs to tear every bad guy on that island a new orifice before the film is even twenty minutes old.

Given that the plot is awesome simplicity in itself, let';s move on to the real great stuff.  First off, the cast is top notch,.  Bruce Lee was really a hell of an action star.  Charming, good looking and utterly cool, he strides through the movie with a quiet, playful sense of confidence that leads to some nicely funny bits that also are totally badass.  Put it this way, it takes a special sort of person to dryly remark to a guy smashing a board inches from his face that "boards don't hit back".

The rest of the cast is equally cool with John Saxon turning in a fun role as an unlucky gambler who is entered in the tournament (Though it's probably a bit of a stretch that he can easily beat the crap out of the baddie played by Bloodsport's Bolo Yeung.  Even van Damme had to work for his victory a little more); Jim Kelly is pretty terrific as Williams, a cocky young fighter who of course ends up being our obligatory sacrificial lamb and Shih Kien is fin as Han, giving the villain a classy aura of menace.

While the cast is good, everybody watching this film is here for the action.  This is one of those rare occasions where every single bit of action from, the demonstration fights to the huge epics (as in Bruce going through guards like they're made of paper) is top notch.

While the fight with the guards is a marvel of cinematic violence (one of the unfortunate baddies is a young Jackie Chan) to such a degree that even the bad guy comments on how awesome it is, I think my favorite bit of business is the absolute trashing Lee gives Bob Wall.  Wall's character is, as noted above, responsible the the death of Lee's sister and I think he gets in maybe half a hit while being completely stomped (literally at the end) by our hero.  The difference between this and the typical Steven Seagal fight scene is that you actually like Lee which helps a lot when he only gets a few scratches on him during the final fight with Han.

That end fight is pretty cool too with a mirror maze sequence and some nice direction from Robert Clouse who does a fine job with the rest of the film.  Enter the Dragon is a seminal achievement in action cinema.  It's fast, funny and has some of the best action scenes caught on film.  You gotta love it.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Assassins (1995)

Sylvester Stallone goes to the "morose hitman who wants out of the business" well for the first time (and not the last) in this rather silly, overly long thriller from Richard Donner.  Assassins stars Sly as Robert Rath, the aforementioned morose hitman who just wants out but first he has to contend with rival assassin Miguel Bain (Antonio Banderas) whilst also protecting potential target Electra (Julianne Moore).

The plot is a bit too muddled and predictable for its own good with Moore possessing sensitive information on a disk; Bain trying to kill her and Rath trying to keep her alive which would be fine if the film had a better sense of pace.  For some reason, the film matches Rath's general mood: sort of mopey with occasional bursts of energy that last for a brief period and then are just gone.  There are some endearingly dumb bits like Bain surviving being blasted out of a window by an explosion that end up being muted because the movie stubbornly tries to be a serious thriller.

 Rath's contractor betrays him and hires Bain to kill him and Electra and it turns out said contractor is a Russian friend who Rath thought he had killed fifteen years previous.  The reveal isn't really too much of a shock and fails to make much of an impact since the actor really only has about two or three minutes to make an impression.  The fact that this thread is wrapped up rather quickly, after which Rath kills Bain and goes off with Electra in the span of about five minutes doesn't speak too well for the quality of the film either.

The action is okay and Stallone and Banderas have some amusing moments but what really kills the film is Richard Donner's direction.  The guy is usually pretty good (the first Superman film and the Lethal Weapon films are all varying degrees of good action movies) but for some reason he just doesn't bring his A game to this one.  Here though, we get an extended forty minute sequence at the end as Rath waits to transfer some money he and Electra will use to disappear while being stalked by Bain.  It's not terrible but when the weather in the locale is doing more to set up the tension than the actual film (three sweaty actors with Stallone probably being on a high protein diet, the lunch breaks must have stunk like hell) something has gone wrong.

It's a shame because Banderas is quite good and while he's not the best dramatic actor, Stallone doesn't embarrass himself.  Julianne Moore is... Well, she's cute.  That's about it, really.  Her character exists in the time and space of the film and is just sort of there.

Assassins came right in the middle of Stallone's comeback on the heels of Cliffhanger and Demolition Man in 1993.  He followed it up with the enjoyably awful The Specialist, Judge Dredd and this film.  Honestly, I'm not really shocked he faded out again after 1997 and Cop Land (though that film is actually quite good).  As for this film, it's a perfectly average action movie that is fine as background noise but not a really good thriller.

About Me

I've been a huge fan of action, horror and comedy for as long as I can remember.