Usually around the end of a year I take some time to go through my favorite albums of the year and I still might do that, but I also felt like looking back at my favorite horror experiences of 2015. Thanks to Netflix, the library and a gaggle of fun freelance assignments around Halloween I got to see a good mix of old and new films this year that I wanted to look back on one more time before moving on to the new year. Read more…
Here’s a statement I don’t often make, but I was super excited when the documentary Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story Of Cannon Films popped up on Netflix Instant not long ago. Now, I love a good geeky documentary, but I usually stumble across them while looking around instead of knowing about them ahead of time. But, Electric Boogaloo comes from Mark Hartley, the same guy who made Not Quite Hollywood and Machete Maidens, the former of which is a masterpiece and the latter of which is highly entertaining.
Back in the late 70s and early 80s, Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, cousins, bought a US film company called Cannon Films that would go on to make some of the best and worst action and sci-fi movies of the next few decades. They particularly dealt with stars like Charles Bronson and Chuck Norris, but also made movies like Cyborg, Superman IV, Masters Of The Universe, Texas Chainsaw Massacre II and more than I can even count.
The doc itself tells the story of how these two guys hustled, begged, borrowed and even stole their way to Hollywood success by making more movies than anyone could keep track of. Unfortunately (for them and audiences paying good money for a ticket) the movies tended to be pretty bad, but a goldmine for fans of less-than-perfect cinema like me and a lot of my friends.
Told at a breakneck pace, Electric Boogaloo feels like an open and honest recounting of a company that was neither. Everyone from producers and directors to editors and stars appeared on the film to talk about the slap-dash way some of their projects were put together and presented to the world in general. Ultimately, it’s a story of how quickly these two men and their company could rise and how fiery they eventually fell. The only downside is that Golam and Globus, who are both still alive, refused to appear in this film in order to do their own doc called The Go-Go Boys, which doesn’t seem to be available on Netflix. Actually, there’s one other downside: there’s no mention of James Cameron’s Spider-Man film which was set up there for a while. I’d like to have seen them talk about that, then again, maybe there’s a full doc in the works for that. I hope.
Superman: Secret Origin (DC)
Written by Geoff Johns, drawn by Gary Frank
Collects Superman: Secret Origin #1-6
When I started reading Superman comics, the character was about six years out from his post-Crisis reboot which de-powered him a bit and made a conscientious effort to make him the last Kryptonian (hence a clone Superboy and extra-dimensional shape-shifting Supergirl). Another major tenet of those days was that Superman because Superman as an adult. This was the Superman I knew, though I also understood that the Golden and Silver Age were jam packed with elements that didn’t fit into that rubric. I try my best to keep an open mind for Superman stories that don’t fit into that mold, but sometimes they throw me for a loop. Luckily, I didn’t have that problem with Geoff Johns’ retelling of the Man of Steel’s life in Secret Origin.
Johns worked with the amazing Gary Frank on this miniseries after they teamed up on Action Comics a few times. Essentially, this is the definitive origin story for the post-Infinite Crisis DCU which has since gone the way of those aforementioned older ages. Still, there’s plenty of Superman-fueled goodness in here for people to dig into.
The first issue is set in Clark’s earlier days when his parents reveal his alien origins to him. He’s mad about the whole thing, but still uses his abilities to help people when he can. We also find that Lex Luthor grew up in Smallville too and even encountered Clark. My favorite part? Young Clark doesn’t like the Superboy costume his mom made him, which makes perfect sense when you think of a modern teenager running around with his underwear on the outside. In the next issue, Clark heads to the future to hang out with the Legion. I wish Frank could draw a thousand issues of Legion comics, I really do, he’s perfect for them.
The last four issues follow Clark as he gets to Metropolis and working at the Daily Planet while also revealing himself to be a hero. One of the interesting things that Johns does in this book is take some of the classic elements and making them make sense in more modern times. The costume thing is part of that, but so is the fact that the Daily Planet is still a paper that exists (instead of all the ones that have closed down in the past decade). For my money, that’s one of Johns’ strongest talents, integrating old craziness and making it work even in a world where aliens come to Earth and save the day all the time. I even like what he did with Metallo and Parasite, though I’m not a fan of the former’s design this time around (you can’t like everything, right?).
So, no, this isn’t MY Superman (everyone has their own) but it still tells a great Superman story that’s not unrecognizable. One of the problems I’ve had trying to read the New 52 Superman books is that he just doesn’t seem like Superman to me. This is still on point and fits in with what I like about the character: he’s the ultimate orphan who still wants to fight for his larger family, humanity.
Superman: Secret Identity (DC)
Written by Kurt Busiek, drawn by Stuart Immonen
Collects Superman: Secret Identity #1-4
Superman: Secret Identity is one of those books that everyone loves and I just never got around to reading. I actually have the last three issues in a box out in the garage, but wasn’t going to fully skip the first issue. Luckily, the library had a copy, so I dove in right after Secret Origins.
This story by Kurt Busiek and Stuart Immonen is actually about a person named Clark Kent who’s in a version of our world. His parents named him that as a joke because everyone knows about the comic book and pop culture icon. But, after a mysterious meteor hits nearby, Clark gets Superman-like powers and starts experiencing some of the fictional hero’s ups and downs.
In a way, this book reminds me of Paul Cornell’s Action Comics story “The Black Ring” in that you find yourself learning about Superman by comparing him to the character you find yourself reading. This version of Clark follows some of the fictional version’s path, but he also finds himself living in a simpler world than the one in the comics, but still one filled with a certain amount of danger for him and his eventual family. He also deals with concepts like secret identities in ways that feel more realistic than some of the ways they are dealt with in ongoing comic book series’ that not only try to keep things interesting year in and year out, but also come from a variety of different minds and voices.
As it is, Secret Identity is a wonderful take on Superman from two very distinct, but complimentary voices in Busiek and Immonen. I was familiar with the artist’s work on books like Adventures Of Superman, but here he keeps his figures smaller and more realistic, while playing more with darkness and shadows than I remember him doing in the the mainstream superhero work. Together he and Busiek nail that real-person-dealing-with-the-unreal idea that the writer has become famous for in his comic book career.
My wife and I are love watching classic Christmas movies this time of year, but even with a set list of go-tos like Holiday Inn, White Christmas and Miracle On 34th Street, we keep an eye out for new ones to watch. Enter: Christmas In Connecticut, a film neither of us had ever seen before. We popped it on last weekend and gave it a watch in the glow of our Christmas tree, but also with two very noisy children so we didn’t quite catch everything.
In fact, I completely missed the set-up while getting something for my daughter and my wife missed other parts so we had to fill each other in, but here are the basic details of this madcap holiday comedy. Like a lot of the movies that came out around this time, this one starts out in WWII as a wounded soldier named Jones (Dennis Morgan) flirts with a nurse in an attempt to get better food in the hospital. The plan works, but backfires when she falls for him and wants to get married. He says he’s not the marrying type so she writes a letter to magazine publisher Mr. Yardley (Sydney Greenstreet) to ask if Elizabeth Lane (Barbara Stanwyck), an advice column writer who lives on a farm with her husband and baby will put the soldier up during the holidays so he can get a true sense of home.
The problem? Elizabeth is actually a single woman living in New York City, but if Yardley finds that out, she and her editor will get fired for lying to him and the public. So, she agrees to marry this dude who’s been after here for years that also happens to have a farm. They get engaged and almost get married several times, but then Elizabeth meets Jones and clearly they have chemistry. Oh and Yardley shows up to make matters even worse.
My wife and I basically spent the whole movie wondering how Elizabeth would get out of the various holes she kept digging for herself thanks to fill-in babies, burgeoning romances and other wacky conflicts. I don’t think CIC will oust any of the other favorites, but it makes a great addition to the line-up!
While looking around Google for the above poster, I also discovered a 1992 TV movie version of CIC starring Dyan Cannon, Kris Kristofferson, Richard Roundtree and Tony Curtis! Even crazier? It’s directed by Arnold Schwarzenegger! I don’t think I’ll have time to get that one from Netflix before Christmas actually hits, but here’s hoping I remember to add it to the top of the ol’ queue next season because that thing sounds BONKERS.
Batman Vol. 5: Zero Year – Dark City (DC)
Written by Scott Snyder, drawn by Greg Capullo
Collects Batman #25-27, 29-33
I continue to fully enjoy Scott Snyder’s run on Batman for DC’s New 52 initiative. A while back I briefly talked about reading the first entry in the Zero Year story. I get that diehard Batfans don’t like how much he and artist Greg Capullo are straying from the origins laid down by Frank Miller in Year One, but I heard an interview with him somewhere where he said that he was equally freaked out by the idea, but was encouraged by editorial to blaze a bold new trail for a new universe. Thus was born Batman’s earliest adventures in a flooded Gotham City run completely by the Riddler.
While the previous volume felt a little more straightforward, I really enjoyed how Snyder played out the mystery of who Dr. Death is (and why he does what he does) while also laying down Riddler’s plans for keeping Gothamites docile. I appreciated that this story felt somewhat familiar — like No Man’s Land or Dark Knight Rises — but also blazed its own trail, kind of like a jazz solo in the middle of a standard (or maybe a familiar tune in the middle of a crazy jazz composition).
I also appreciate how Snyder disseminated the information throughout these issues, though I fully admit that they would have been lost on me had I read this book in monthly issues. All those little bits and pieces about how Dr. Death ties back to Bruce Wayne were super neat and compelling, but I doubt I’d be able to remember them over the span of eight months or so. This is why I love trades.
You also can’t talk about Batman without talking about Greg Capullo. I never read his Spawn stuff, but he just seems so perfect for Batman. I’m glad he and Snyder have been able to keep this run going together because it lends such a specific visual to this new take on Batman. They remind me of one another and pair so well that it feels like a complete thing made by two creators at the top of their game. The colors by FCO Plascencia are also off the wall in the best way possible. So bright and crazy at times and so subdued at others.
Batman Vol. 6: Graveyard Shift (DC)
Written & drawn by a lot of folks including Scott Snyder & Greg Capullo
Collects Batman #0, 18-20, 28, 34, Annual #2
While the previous five volumes of this collection all tell an increasingly c0mplex and cohesive story, Graveyard Shift brings together a variety of tales told in that time and during Batman Eternal, a weekly comic that was set in the present while “Zero Year” took us back to Batman’s earlier days. So, as you might expect, this book doesn’t have the feel of the previous one (especially because Snyder’s joined by a series of other writers and different pencilers plying their craft).
Even so, it’s impressive that this all still feels like part of the larger Gotham City Snyder and Capullo have been working on so far. In that way, it feels a bit like an anthology whereas the others are part of a sequential story. Oh, also, many of these stories take place after the much publicized death of Damian Wayne, which I haven’t read yet, but obviously knew about.
Personal highlights include Bruce Wayne testing his Batarangs in a flashback on the roof before Gordon pops up to ask him some questions, more Harper Row, Clayface drawn by Capullo, the nod to the Batman Beyond armor, Superman’s appearance, Mateo Scalera’s art and Batman’s new accomplice inside Arkham.
My only complaint about this collection comes from my weird need to know where every story actually comes from. They’re all credited as they begin, but they skip over which issues they first appeared in. That’s a pet peeve of mine (as is a trade filled with non-consecutive stories/skipping stories as they were originally published) but I still enjoyed the experience of looking at Gotham from a different angle, something I’m also experiencing in my re-through of Batman Eternal.
Stung was actually a bonus tossed in the box without warning. At first I wasn’t super interested because it sounded like a bit of Syfy or Asylum craziness with a plot revolving around giant wasps attacking an upscale garden party. But this Benni Diez-directed, Adam Aresty-written film is actually pretty damn delightful.
Our heroes are the owner of a catering company and her slacker employee who can barely handle himself when she switches from one shirt into another on the way to the event. He’s a bit too much of a goofball for my personal tastes (haven’t we seen enough of this character?) but he gets tangled up in the craziness of the events around him and starts adapting in the process.
Anyway, they wind up working some local bigwig’s party when these insane wasps start attacking. The stings are bad enough, but they also make their targets transform into gigantic wasps. Our heroes are joined in their drive to survive by Clifton Collins Jr. (who starred in Capote) and friggin’ Lance Henriksen, both of whom play against type a bit and also last much longer than you might expect.
I give Stung a lot of credit for not only featuring some impressive special effects (yes, there’s a lot of CGI, plus a fair amount of practical grossness) but also playing with expectations with what many would assume is stunt casting. I also thought it worked quite well as a nature-run-amok movie along the lines of Frogs. My own personal scare factor was boosted because I’ve been dealing with wasps under our siding all summer and hate those damn things. Whether you have wasps diving bombing your table or not, I highly recommend checking out Stung. It just went up on Netflix Instant, so it’s even easier!
I also gave The Return Of Count Yorga a watch. I feel like I’ve always known about these movies (or at least the original one from 1970), but just never got around to watching either of them. I think I saw part of the first on Netflix a while back, but who can remember?
Anyway, in this film, Yorga (Robert Quarry) makes his come back because of the Santa Anna winds (sure, why not) and he soon gets to work turning the gorgeous Cynthia — played by Mariette Hartley — into a fellow undead minion. Along the way his vampire brides also turn an orphan boy who then leads them to Cynthia’s family. Soon enough everyone in the family is turned aside from a deaf woman. She goes to the police about the attack, but no one believes her because the vamps cleaned up the mess and the kid is on their side.
As I mentioned, Hartley is just captivating, but so is Quarry. When he’s just hanging out in slick guy mode — at a costume party no less — he’s mesmerizing. But when he’s in vamp mode? It’s a bit laughable. Instead of sneaking up on his victims, he puts both arms straight out and just charges at them (complete with white pancake makeup). Even with that, though, there are some pretty scary moments, though they mostly revolve around people telling the truth and not being believed or voices coming from nowhere potentially driving folks crazy.
So, yeah, it’s a little goofy at times, but there’s also enough cool in this movie for me to recommend it if you dig on early 70s movies with some psychological scares and great actors.
Unfortunately, toy commercials have become less fun for me over the past year or so. I still love combing through YouTube looking for oldies, but goodies to share here on the site, but modern days ones have become a hassle. Why, you ask? Well, I have a four year old who segued from the nearly commercial-free Disney Channel and PBS to Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network which are packed with spots. With each one comes the inevitable chime of “I want that.” It can be exhausting.
But then we both saw the spot for this fantastic looking Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Giant Leonardo transforming playset and my faith in toy commercials was restored (for about 30 seconds). Just look at this amazing thing. It would be cool if it was simply a giant Ninja Turtle, but with a few flips and snaps you find yourself rolling down a skateboard ramp, avoiding sewer traps and locking up bad guys in jail!
As a kid, I loved and coveted all of the TMNT playsets from the sewer one to the Technodrome because they always looked rad and came packed with action features like that. It’s nice to see Playmates carry on that legacy. The downside? Now I want to not only buy this bad boy, but a ton of modern TMNT action figures to go along with it!