Archive for the ‘Movies made from comics’ Category

Who You Gonna Call?   3 comments

Last night I finally got to see the Avengers, my most hotly anticipated film since Conan.  I enjoyed it.  The action scenes and the special effects were outstanding–Academy Award outstanding.  The acting was superb.  The scriptwriters and director gave good lines and plenty of screen time to all the major characters.  I suppose I should stop and give a well done bit of applause to all the members of the cast.  Here’s a few of them as listed at IMDB.com.

Cast overview, first billed only:
Robert Downey Jr. Robert Downey Jr.
Chris Evans Chris Evans
Mark Ruffalo Mark Ruffalo
Chris Hemsworth Chris Hemsworth
Scarlett Johansson Scarlett Johansson
Jeremy Renner Jeremy Renner
Tom Hiddleston Tom Hiddleston
Clark Gregg Clark Gregg
Cobie Smulders Cobie Smulders
Stellan Skarsgård Stellan Skarsgård
Samuel L. Jackson Samuel L. Jackson
Gwyneth Paltrow Gwyneth Paltrow

I am not a Hollywood groupie, and I don’t keep track of movie stars in my daily life.  I have seen Robert Downey and Gwynneth Paltrow enough in other films to recognize their names.  I still remember the terrific performances turned in by Chris Evans as Captain America and Chris Helmsworth as Thor, but if you had asked me last night before the film who played Cap and Thor in those movies, I couldn’t have told you.  Of course everyone in America knows Samuel Jackson from lots of different films–he does the Nick Fury, leader of S.H.I.E.L.D. routine.  However, I thought the actors were very good, even the ones in throwaway bit parts.  Tom Hiddleston as Loki really carried the movie.  Super heroes require super villains, and he was great, combining arrogance, cunning, and sheer mad egotism in a bravura performance.  I think there is a tendency to overlook the bad guys in hero action films, but we members of the audience should give those actors more credit.  Without them the heroes have no reason to exist, and nothing to emote against.  Think about it.  There was one real bad guy in the film–Loki.  He took on Thor, Iron Man, the Hulk, Captain America, Hawkeye, the Black Widow, and Nick Fury and gave them all they could handle.  One vs. seven. I’m not giving away any secrets if I tell you they beat him in the end, but think of the odds.  Hero stories are usually stacked the other way–more bad guys than good guys, and in a sense this was since Loki had an army of formidable aliens to back him up, but they were just extras.  Loki, and for 2/3 of the movie, Hawkeye who had been mind-controlled by Loki, were the only real bad guys.

The plot can be summarized easily enough.  Loki and his army of alien monsters decide to conquer the Earth.  Loki’s main problem is in bringing his troops to Earth from their outer space/other dimesnional homeworld.  Nick Fury and his agents of SHIELD, including the group he pulls together as the Avengers have to stop him.  Lots of combat and property destruction ensue.  Much of the conflict occurs on a personal level.  Marvel characters are all people first, heroes second.  They have their own motivations and lives, and often resent being forced to protect the world from one threat or another, but because they are good guys at heart–at least most of them are–they get over their greivances and cooperate to save the day.  Take out all the character vs. character petty antagonisms and the movie is half as long.

I don’t know why the publicity departments for these films always choose the least interesting photos.

The movie really starts with the theft of the Tesseract (also known as the Cosmic Cube in the comics) from a SHIELD base somewhere.  Loki takes on the whole base, beats it, and gets away with the maguffin.  But it only gets interesting when we switch to the Black Widow, in her crimson underwear, tied to a chair, and being interrogated by an evil Russian general arms dealer.  She gets a call from SHIELD saying they need her to “come in” and this leads to an escape featuring the most incredible display of chair fu ever filmed.  Jackie Chan would be so proud.  That’s the scene I want a picture of, not her in a black rubber suit pointing a pistol.

The two Chrisses. Blondes rule when it comes to street-fighting in New York.

Thor and Captain America, although no dummies, spend most of their time kicking butt and looking hunky.  I suppose the beefcake is for the ladies in the audience, but there is a lot of barely concealed homoeroticism in superhero comics.  These guys are just so damn pretty.  I like it better when they’re kicking butt.

Nick Fury, Director of SHIELD, is a hands-on kind of guy. He does his own dirty jobs, and butt-kicking. Does he look like a mastermind to you? He doesn’t to me, but appearances can be deceiving. You can never trust a cyclops.

In the course of the film we learn that SHIELD is really run by a secret cabal who are utterly ruthless.  I guess having it just be an arm of the United Nations or the U.S. government isn’t enough any more.  We need conspiracies.  And the government looks evil enough to the American public without the movies making it worse.  Far better to have secret leaders who can’t be traced back to the Republicans or the Democrats or the Communists pulling the strings.  Fury is shown to be a devious bastard, but still a man with heart who does his best to protect people.

Alpha-males never get along when they meet each other. Give them a common foe, and they can certainly cooperate, but social situations are just plain nasty.

Thor and Iron Man go head to head in combat about half way through the movie.  I didn’t buy it.  No matter how good Stark’s technology is, Thor’s hammer should have blasted through it like it was tissue paper.  He’s a god.  So, suspend your disbelief for this part and just enjoy the smashing and bashing.

Loki has the best costumes, the best lines, and the best smile in the movie.

Remember that building in the background from the Ghostbusters? When there’s someting bad in the neighborhood, who you gonna call? Bad doesn’t come much worse than Loki on a power trip.

Who ya gonna call? Iron Man, I guess. I like Iron Man–he’s witty, smart, courageous, lecherous, and rich–just like me. Heh. Well, I can match him in one of those characteristics, and it isn’t the rich one.

The movie ends in an epic battle scene.  All of our Avenging heroes fight like heroes.  Hulk and Thor do the heavy hitting.  The rest take on the alien storm troopers who are quite bad enough to give any normal human being fits.  This is the part of the movie I liked best.  Bring it on!  Take out one gigantic space dragon.  Not bad.  Here’s ten more of them.  Now what are you gonna do, Hulk?

I liked the Avengers and give it 4 stars out of 5. ****  If you like superheroes at all, don’t miss it.

One more thing:  my personal rant–People are so hypercritical of the movies these days.  The Avengers is an amazing achievement as a movie.  Can you nitpick it?  Yes you could.  I’m not going to.  Try to see the terrific acting, the great storyline, the amazing special effects (even if it was all done with computer animation), and skip over the implausibilities and impossibilities that glare out of the movie at you.  It’s a comic book world, bearing a heavy resemblance to our world, but it isn’t our world.  It’s a wilder place than our own universe, and wilder things happen.  Accept them!  Enjoy them!

Biggest surprise for me: Joss Whedon had his name all over the credits.  Wow!  He must be on top of the world right now.  He is, imnsho, the best storyteller in Hollywood, perhaps in the world.  Didn’t know he was a Marvel fan, but I stand in awe of his achievements.

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If you have anything to say about the Avengers, the Ghostbusters, or Joss Whedon, please leave a comment.

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Conan the Barbarian   1 comment

I went to see the new Conan the Barbarian movie on Sunday.  I had been looking forward to seeing Robert E. Howard’s epic hero on the big screen again for months, hoping and praying that Hollywood wouldn’t ruin it.  I was not disappointed, although I take it from the reviews that many movie critics were.  I’m not surprised.  Movie critics never get the point of fantasy or science fiction movies.  They use the wrong set of guidelines to judge the movie, and thus they fail to see the real virtues of such films.

I am not going to talk about the plot of the story.  If you want to know that stuff, go see the movie.  It is, in my humble opinion, worth the $7 it will cost you to get in.  I’d go see the ordinary 2D version–the special effects are good, but not so good that you need to see them bursting out of the screen at you.  Maybe the tentacles scene would be worth it (grin).

Critics like to see character development.  Conan isn’t about character development–the personalities of the main characters are pretty much static.  The bad guys stay bad, the tough guys stay tough, the sexy women stay sexy–and that is a good thing in a movie like this.  Critics like to see complex story lines.  Conan doesn’t do complex stories.  Conan stories, for the most part, are simple and direct–like a sword thrust to the gut.  But there is a story in this movie–a pretty strong story, even though it has been often told before.  A sorcerous threat to the world arises–a hero emerges to defeat it.  In a way, the movie has the same plot as the first Schwarzanegger movie back in 1982–bad guy destroys Conan’s family and tribe while Conan is a child.  Many years later, Conan gets his vengeance.  Same plot–different events and characters equals different story.

Let’s talk about the things that make this picture good–very good in my opinion–i give it 4 stars out of 5.  First, there is the acting.  Considering how ridiculous the fantasy is compared to the real world, the fact that the actors all really got into their parts, and portrayed all the villainy, lust, terror, courage, love that the characters in the movie were feeling really impressed me.  When you watch the movie, you believe it.  The acting isn’t wooden or hoaky–it’s real.  The less important the actor in the film, the better the acting was.  Conan the kid was fantastic.  So was Ron Perlman as his father–the blacksmith chieftain of the Cimmerian tribe.

With his village in flames, Conan as a boy is full of fight and determination.

 
Conan is renowned for his ability as a fighter.  Jason Momoa, or his stuntman, does a great job portraying a fighter.  Conan is fearless and deadly.  The critics complain that the movie is one blood-soaked battle after another.  In fact, that is what it is supposed to be.  And the battles are great–cinematic, exciting, fast.  No two fights are alike.  After reading what the critics said about bloody mess, I was kind of disappointed.  There wasn’t that much blood.  All too often the killing stroke was not shown–they were often left to the imagination of the viewer.  I was expecting great gushing fountains of blood such as you get in Japanese Samurai movies, but we never got any fountains of gore–just a stain, or a cut here and there.  So, no, the movie isn’t as gore-spattered as the critics might lead one to believe.  Use of blood was actually rather tastefully done.  But the battles were great.
 

Conan does now what Conan does best.

 
 
Another great thing about the movie was the scenery.  Much of Conan was shot on location in Eastern Europe–looks like Romania or the Carpathian Mountains.  Beautiful, wild, exciting terrain.  It looks like a primal world.  Some of it was Hollywood special effects magic–no doubt about it–but the real parts were magnificent in their own right.  Again, I think the critics fail to take into consideration the sheer beauty of the movie–the attention to detail, the splendor of the settings.   We moviegoers are so jaded.  We take the settings for granted in our films–and yet hundreds of people worked hard to make those settings believable and real for us.  They deserve some credit for doing great jobs.  A movie that looks good is not an accident, and deserves some consideration.
 

Giant tentacles are the quintessence of movie monsters!

 
Although sorcery is at the heart of the plot, the movie is a bit light on actual magic.  And there weren’t as many monsters as you would find in your average fantasy role-playing session.  No elves, dwarves, or orcs.  No dragons or trolls.  But there were some marvelous sand warriors, and there was a gigantic tentacled horror that no hero could possibly defeat.  (I have to admit that the tentacled monstrosity didn’t make much sense, but it sure was fun to watch.)  Conan lives in a world of men.  Men are enough.
 
And the movie also had what all Conan movies need–beautiful women.  I like beautiful women for their own sake–I love them in my fantasy escapist fare.  I was not unhappy with the women in the Conan movie–from the bare-breasted wenches in the beginning to the kinky evil witch to the beautiful fighting heroine–they were all great.
 

This witch girl has grown into one of the nastiest villainesses ever, but all she really wants is her father's love.

 

Marique offers herself to her father--this is kinky and could have gotten pornographic very easily. It didn't.

 
Lastly, there is a veiled element of eroticism in this and all Conan movies.  The handsome half-naked hero is attractive to both men and women–there is a homoerotic element to the movie that most people simply refuse to see.  The picture above clearly shows a kind of perverted love interest.  The beautiful women that appear all through the film are there for those of us who are straight, and also for women who like women.  Every sexual taste is subtly acknowledged and catered to in Conan the Barbarian.  You won’t see critics deigning to mention or even talk about that, but at least half of the fantasy element is these movies is the sexual fantasy part.  Sex and Death are always connected.  Conan the Barbarian carries the sexual parts of the fantasy very well.  It is erotic without ever becoming pornographic.  I say it was well done.
 
Those are the things I really liked about Conan the Barbarian.  Let me talk about the weaknesses just a little bit.  First, the story was not that original–basically the same story that they used for Arnold’s first movie–the names and places and events were different, but the plot and result were the same.  I half expected Conan to confront the villain at some point and say, “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya.  You killed my father.  Prepare to die!”  Well, he would have said Conan, not Inigo Montoya, but you know what I mean.  Second, the movie has the usual Hollywood ending–the villain’s fortress collapses and more or less explodes around the heroes at the end.  There was no need for that.  Third, they played fast and loose with the geography of the Hyborian world.  Only a dyed-in-the-wool Conan purist fan like me would notice such things.  Those things are quibbles.  The movie isn’t about revenge, or fortresses, or geography.  It is about being Conan the Barbarian in a barbaric world.
 
The movie contains one line that is pure Robert E. Howard–kudos to the script-writers for getting it in there.  Tamara asks Conan if he believes the gods have a purpose for everthing.  He answers “I know not and I care not.  I live, I love, I slay, and I am content.”  As moviegoers we get to watch him live, love, and slay, and we should be content with that.  I am.
 
 
 
 
Tell me how you liked the Conan movie or didn’t in your comments.
 
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Forgive me, Father, for I have . . .   1 comment

 
You’d better not make a mistake!

spent way too much money to go see Priest on Saturday night.  It was one of the grimmest motion pictures I can remember seeing, and yet, I had a hard time taking it seriously.  Maybe it was because the hero . . .Paul Bettany as the Priest . . . looks too much like Tommy Smothers.  What do you think?

Mom always liked you best!

The critics at Rottentomatoes.com only gave Priest an 18%.  They are harsh.  I thought it was at least twice that good–snurk.

Synopsis: after the Vampire Scourge had been defeated by the superhuman Priests of the Church, the world was a wasteland except for the giant armed cities ruled and protected by the Church.  The slaughter of a family of wasteland farmers and the abduction of a teen girl bring Priest out of retirement to track down the Vampires that did it and rescue her–if possible–or slay her if necessary.

What seemed comment worthy to me about the movie was how many other things it reminded me of–not directly but in a sideways manner.  When I saw Priest and his lawman buddy taking off into the wasteland, I immediately thought of Judge Dredd.

Judge Dredd on Lawmaster motorcycle.

 
 

Priest on cycle tearing through desert wasteland.

Priest is a kind of steampunk western.  Another thing it reminded me of was Clint Eastood westerns about the Man with No Name–things like The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.  Certainly that title could have been used for Priest.  The main villain is only called Black Hat.  Does he remind you of someone?

Can you hear that strange whistling noise?

 

I hear a strange whistling noise.

 
Then there was the martial arts aspect of the movie.  Priest and his fellow vampire killers were all fabulous martial artists.  They do incredible leaps and major hand to hand damage.  This part of the movie comes straight from the antics of Bruce Lee.
 
It’s hard to find a good picture of Priest in action-  Photographer prefer the still shots, but here’s what I could find to indicate the kind of action in the movie.
 

The fight is about to start.

 

The fight is about to start.

 
These similarities are not exact, but they were close enough in style and tone so that while I was watching Priest, I was remembering all these other movies (that I watched and enjoyed long ago.).
Critics might not like this sort of thing, but the more I think about it, the more I think I do like it.  Priest was its own movie, but it reminded me of Judge Dredd, The Good the Bad and the Ugly, and Enter the Dragon.  They were all great fun, and in retrospect I think Priest deserves to be classed as great fun also.  I’m going to revise my movie rating froma 36% to an 85%.  This dark action thriller made me think of a lot of other dark action thrillers that I’ve seen, and I’ve decided that it’s good enough.  Go see it, and tell me what YOU think.
 
–end

Most Movie Critics Don’t Get It   5 comments

If I had a hammer . . . then I might be truly worthy.

I saw Thor on Sunday afternoon May 15–in a small theater, no 3D or anything fancy.  I liked it.  It was a simple plot.  Thor defies Odin’s will, almost causes a war between Asgard and the Frost Giants, and gets banished to Earth (Midgard, really) as a human being where he must stay until he learns a bit of humility and the true meaning of service and sacrifice.  Meanwhile, in Asgard, Loki, who has always been secretly jealous of Thor (and with good cause, I think) takes advantage of Thor’s absence and Odin’s sudden collapse to take the throne.

Thor isn’t stupid, but he isn’t subtle either.  Whatever he wants he goes after directly.  When he learns that his hammer is only a few miles away, he goes straight after it, in spite of the fact that it’s being guarded  and researched by the forces of SHIELD.  Penetrating the security of the world’s greatest espionage outfit as if was hardly there, Thor makes it to where Mjolnir is embedded in a stone (shades of Excalibur!), and confidently tries to pick it up, only to find he can’t move it either.  Only at that moment does he realize that he is unworthy of the power of Thor, and it breaks his heart.

The movie isn’t deep, but it moves right along.  The actors all play their parts well.  The special effects are outstanding and brilliant, although audiences are so jaded by special effects extravaganzas now that everything is taken for granted and nothing impresses anyone any more.  The movie has some flaws–others have documented them, so I won’t bother.  Yes, I saw the problems that the critics have mentioned–they didn’t bother me.  It’s nitpicking to denigrate a movie because it’s set in an imaginary town in New Mexico–because Jane Foster is an unbelievable astro-physicist instead of a humble nurse.

THAT ISN’T WHAT THE STORY IS ABOUT!!!

The story is about the grownth of Thor’s character–how he loses his arrogance and learns the true meaning of friendship.  The story is about sibling rivalry.  Loki is motivated to villainy because he envies Thor, the favored son.  The story is about friendship–and what friends will do for each other.  Thor has four great friends in Asgard.  They are the warriors three, Fandral, Hogun, and Volstaag along with warrior goddess Sif.  He also gains three great friends on Earth–Jane Foster, Darby, and Eric Selveig (spelling?).  Seven great friends–it’s the magic number, O my readers!  Director Kenneth Brannagh is playing with mythic archtypes here.  I suspect that is why he took the job–because he could say something about the nature of godhood and mythology itself–lay it between the lines, and have fun doing it.

This is a movie for comic book fans, and a great one for them.  The inclusion of the Warriors Three made the movie for me.  When they accompanied Thor to attack Jotunheim on their own, it was pure delight to see them battling their way through wave after wave of Frost Giants.  And Sif!  I’m in love with Sir!  She has always been my favorite character in the Marvel Thor mythos.  Comic fans know that she is the goddess who truly loves the God of Thunder, and destined to be his bride.  Then they brought in the Destroyer–a minor villain in Marvel’s pantheon of threats, but such a delight to be recognized by the true comic fans in the audience.  And there was the cameo appearance of Stan Lee.  I think he was on screen for all of 2 seconds, and if you blinked, you missed it, but it was a comic high spot in the early movie.  Stan is always great–it could be asserted that he is the Odin Allfather of contemporary superhero comics.  At any rate, he is a great man, and I, along with millions of other comic fans old and young, admire him tremendously.

The critics are divided.  Some have given Thor 4 stars, some only 2.  Movie fans are divided.  But comics fans are delighted with Thor.  It was a blast to see how the scriptwriters played with the Marvel version of Thor, retaining some old elements, and incorporating new ones.  It was a laugh when Thor wound up wearing physician Donald Blake’s old clothing, and when Dr. Selveig rescued him from Shield by trying to pass him off as Don Blake.  You have to be an old comics fan, or a dedicated student of the past, to understand how important Don Blake and Jane Foster were to  the early history of Thor in Marvel comics.  The average movie-goer isn’t going to get the injoke.  The comic fans will.

I don’t know if Thor is a good movie or not.  I enjoyed it.  It is a FUN movie.  It is a MORAL movie.  It is all about character growth wrapped in special effects.  It is warriors and wizards.  It’s about FAMILY.  When it comes to Family, the gods and goddesses of Asgard are all too human.

One thing the nitpickers might consider, Thor is a particular version of Jack Kirby’s original conception of Thor as a superhero.  It has been brought into the 21st century Marvel universe.  This version of Thor might not jive with your version of Thor, or your concept of what makes a good movie, but it’s just as valid.

Oh, and stay till the end of the credits.  If you don’t stay, you’ll miss an important clue to the next movie in this progression of movies about the Marvel heroes.  Sit through the endless scrolling of names.  Enjoy the music.  And see the kicker at the end.    It is so worth it.

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