Even as a pretty huge He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe fan growing up, I somehow missed the whole Horde thing. I remember Hordak and his robots, but not so much the rest of the villains that came along with him. I scored a Grizzlor and Hordak from this time in the past few years at a flea market, but that’s about it. It might be for the best, because, had kid-me known there was another MOTU playset out there along with a bad guy who could turn into a motorcycle (Dragstor) and a double robot with swap-out parts (Multi-Bot), I would very well might have lost my mind. It’s just funny how you think you had such a good handle on something when you were a kid, but there was this whole other part that you completely missed. I guess that won’t happen anymore these days thanks to the internet.
Towards the end of last week I was looking through my Netflix Instant queue and realized that a whole bunch of movies I wanted to watch were going to leave the streaming service on July 1st. That day has come and gone and I got to watch three out of 20 films, which is just about what I expected to get done.
One of those movies was Tom Savini’s 1990 remake of George A. Romero’s Night Of The Living Dead. I realized as I was cueing the movie up that this was actually my first foray into the world of Romero’s films (even if tangentially) and very well might have been my first straight-ahead zombie film. I remember getting the movie from my beloved Family Video and taking it over to my buddy Andy’s house for an overnight movie marathon. I didn’t remember too much, but that scene where Johnnie gets tackled into the grave stone has stuck with me forever because it came out of nowhere and looked so damn real.
This time around I might have been able to see some of the movie magic involved in that particular scene, I was actually much more taken with the plot of this film. I’m not saying that the remake will ever take the place of the original in my heart, but there is a whole lot to like in this version which goes a few different places the original doesn’t. Those differences are important and, as far as I’m concerned, the only reason to do a remake. You’ve got to have something new to say or do, otherwise, what’s the point?
The set-up of this film is the same as the original in that Barbara (Patricia Tallman) and her brother Johnnie (Bill Moseley) heading way out in the middle of nowhere to put flowers on their mom’s grave. While there they encounter their first zombie. Barbara escapes and runs to a farm house where she meets fellow survivor Ben (Tony Todd), basement dwellers Harry (Tom Towles), Helen (McKee Anderson) and Sarah Cooper (Heather Mazur) and young couple Tom (William Butler) and Judy Rose (Katie Finneran).The group must not only deal with the oncoming hordes of the undead, but their differing opinions on how to stay alive.
I won’t get into all the differences between the films because, honestly, my memory isn’t solid enough to do that without watching the original right after the remake and I had Death Wish sequels to watch, so that’s not happening. Plus, since I saw this one first, the details stick in my head more than the original even though I’ve seen that one far more times. But, the main difference that makes me think this remake has its own value comes in the form of Barbara. While the original version of the character is a screaming mess throughout most of the film, this new version goes through a fantastic metamorphosis that starts where the original character began and changes her into an incredibly capable, bad ass character.
I noticed while watching this time that her evolution can be documented by the clothing changes she makes throughout the film. In the beginning she’s wearing a dress. Not long after she meets Ben, she’s putting on socks and boots. Later she pulls pants on under her dress and eventually she ditches that garment altogether and rolls with just a white tank top. With each wardrobe change, you get the feeling that she’s adapting more and more to this crazy new world she’s a part of. Some people might read this as a kind of “man-ification,” but I saw the changes are coming from a place of pure practicality, but then again, I hate gender-based labels.
So, if you’re a Romero fan who shies away from the many (MANY) remakes of his films or just someone who missed out on this 1990 offering, I’d say give it a shot. Maybe wait until the original isn’t so fresh in your mind, but try to go in with an open mind and look for the good changes within. Plus, this being a Savini joint, it’s got some rad gore effects and actually looks really great all around. I wonder why he doesn’t direct more.
Given our current situation as parents of a very active toddler and a born-early infant, my wife and I don’t find a lot of time where we’re just hanging out in an evening with enough time to watch a feature film. Well, one night a few weekends back we were in that rarified air on a Saturday night and decided to give Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s 21 Jump Street a look.
The basic concept is that Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Jenko (Channing Tatum) were high school adversaries who both wound up being less-than-well-balanced police academy students who got over their past to become good friends. They also get assigned to the re-opened 21 Jump Street program which takes young-looking cops and puts them into high schools to help solve crimes (the basic plot of the Fox series of the same name, of course). Their first mission puts them in a school where a new drug is making the rounds and it’s their job to bust it up. As they get to school, though, the jocky Jenko comes to realize that his ways aren’t cool anymore while Schmidt quickly gets in with the popular kids, relishing ever minute of his newfound acceptance.
This movie won me over in the first 10 minutes or so when they quickly got past the bullying stuff and got right to these guys becoming real, good friends. It reminded me a little of Hill’s similar relationship with Michael Cera’s character in Superbad because it feels honest, especially when it hits snags as the film progresses. Beyond that, it’s just a damn funny movie. I laughed so hard throughout the entire film that my throat was a little sore afterwards.
In addition to the big name leads, the film includes plenty of great cameos — including one by original series star Johnny Depp! — and the leads were fantastic, but Dave Franco really stole the show for me personally. Nothing against his brother, but I think the younger Franco might be even more charismatic. He’s captivating, plain and simple.
As far as relating back to the original material, I wasn’t a 21 Jump Street fan when the show was on. For a long time, it was a reference I’d hear, but only vaguely understood. But I did watch at least the first season on Netflix a few years back and had fun with it. So, with some knowledge going in, I’d say that Lord and Miller used the concept of the series as a spring board for something much bigger and funnier, but without making fun of the original too much.
Batman: The Man Who Laughs (DC)
Written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Doug Mahnke & Patrick Zircher
Collects Batman: The Man Who Laughs, Detective Comics #784-786
I’ve gone a little crazy requesting trades from my local library network. It’s been a lot of fun searching for all kinds of books I may have missed over the years or haven’t read in a while. Batman: The Man Who Laughs actually combines both of these because I somehow missed Ed Brubaker’s take on the Joker in the 2005 Man Who Laughs one-shot, but did read the three issue run on Detective Comics from 2003 also included in this collection.
I remember Man Who Laughs being a pretty big deal when I started working at Wizard in 2005. The prestige format book had come out before I got there and Brubaker’s star was definitely on the rise. A few of the guys on staff were huge fans of Gotham Central, which Bru co-wrote with Greg Rucka and so there was a lot of buzz about his then-new Captain America run and his other projects including the excellent Sleeper. Because of this, Man Who Laughs was a tough book to get your hands on in the Wizard library as people were constantly asking about it. Plus, one book like this can be very difficult to find in a huge, fairly unorganized library like that.
Basically, MWL is a story about the first meeting between Batman and the Joker. It acts as a nice sister story to Batman: Year One because, up to this point, the Dark Knight has only really faced off against mobsters, criminals and street thugs, but the appearance of the Joker takes things to a whole new psychotic level. In true Joker fashion, he comes on the scene like a bomb, presents rules for a game that he has no intention of following and eventually finds out exactly what kind of adversary he has in the form of Batman. Like I said when I wrote about the Lex Luthor-centric run of Action Comics recently, this is one of those stories that helps define a hero by the villains he attracts. Plus, as I’ve said in many a Books Of Oa post, Doug Mahnke is just the best and should draw everything ever.His Joker is waaaay creepy.
After that you’ve got a three issue arc from Detective Comics that teamed a pair of Gotham’s protectors up to solve a series of murders with roots back in the post-WWII era. Green Lantern Alan Scott tried to find a serial killer back in the day who carved “Made of Wood” into his victims. When a new killer with the same MO pops up in modern times, he joins forces with Batman to figure out what’s going on. This is a pretty straightforward whodunnit with a retired Jim Gordon working the case from a different angle. This is the kind of crime solving tale Bru became known for in Gotham Central, but with the added flare of seeing a par of superheroes working the case that makes stories like this set in a shared superhero universe fun.
I got pretty nostalgic reading these issues of Detective Comics because they came out when I was in college. I would come home for a break and my mom or dad would have my pull list waiting for me. I’d spend a good deal of time organizing everything and then putting them in a desired reading order before diving in. These comics reading experiences were much further and farther between than I was used to, but they were a lot more intense because it was such an immersive, deep-dive experience. When we get into a house one of the many things I’m looking forward to is getting my comic collection all in one place so I can go back, re-read books like this and see what’s worth keeping.
Occasionally, when I was a kid I was given a certain amount of money and allowed to spend it however I wanted at the toy store. This will certainly age me, but I used to be able to take a $20 into the action figure aisle and walk out with four or more toys. My grandma would do this sometimes when I’d stay with her over the summer and one time I came away with some Bots Masters toys. I didn’t know anything about the cartoon or the fact that the robots joined up like the Constructacons. I just knew that the main character kid looked cool, the bad guy pumped blood through his protruding heart and there was a robot with a bat. If memory serves, these guys were on clearance, so I got a good deal. Anyway, I was thinking about these toys recently, did a little Googling around and figured out what they were actually called. What a super-duper 90s concept what with all the neon, 3D and radicalness.
Last week when I wrote about Romancing The Stone, I included it in a list of movies that used to be fairly ubiquitous in my younger days thanks to cable channels like USA, TNT and TBS. Another franchise that easily made that list, though I forgot to mention for some reason, was Back To The Future. I’m a huge fan of this series, yes even the third one, so it was a little surprising even for me when I realized I’d never owned it in any form. Then, just before Father’s Day, the Blu-ray set went on sale on Amazon, I passed the link to my wife and now that oversight has been remedied!
Not long after, I popped the original film in and had a wonderful time watching it again. This Robert Zemeckis film — hey, he directed Romancing The Stone too — is a masterpiece from beginning to end. It’s a fantastic adventure film, it’s a wonderful comedy and it’s also one of the best time travel movies of all time.
But, if you’re not familiar, I’ll lay down the plot. This kid Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) hangs out with a scientist named Dr. Emmett Brown (Christopher Lloyd) who built a time machine out of an old DeLorean. McFly needs to jump inside to escape some trouble and winds up back in 1955. His presence there winds up screwing the time stream up a bit because his parents — played by Lea Thompson and Crispin Glover — don’t get together when they should. At the same time, Marty gets into trouble with local bully — and future jerkwad — Biff Tannen (Thomas F. Wilson). So, Marty not only needs to get his parents together, but also convince a younger Doc that he’s a time traveler so he can get back home.
I think I might actually remember the first time I watched Back To The Future, which is incredibly rare because, like I said, these movies all just seemed to exist on TV at random times and you’d occasionally catch bits and pieces on the weekends. Anyway, my aunt and uncle used to live in an apartment building. I don’t remember many details, but I have a vague memory of being over there with my parents and all of us enjoying the movie. That family togetherness centered around a movie still sticks with me, much like my memories of E.T.
I wish I could accurately put into words just how charming and lovable Fox is, specifically in this era. We’re talking Family Ties, Teen Wolf and The Secret Of My Success MJF when he was at his prime. Few people pull off the slightly exasperated, good natured hustler better than Fox. Plus, the rest of the cast is so on-point the whole time. Lloyd is the epitome of non-evil mad scientists while Thompson and Glover both pull triple duty, adding greatness to each version of their characters.
One of the best things about Back To The Future is how deep the world goes, especially in regards to the time travel elements. I watched this movie a lot of times during my childhood and only here and there after that, but one day I spent a lot of time reading through the movie’s IMDb trivia page which chronicles a lot of the film’s smaller moments, like the change from Twin Pines Mall to Lone Pines Mall. So brilliant. It’s the kind of movie that actually gets better the more you learn about it, which isn’t always the case.
I’ve mentioned this before in regards to Star Wars and the Indiana Jones movies, but when I was a kid there were certain movies that just seemed to be on cable all the time. You’d be flipping around channels, land on one of them and just start watching wherever the movie happened to be. While the previously mentioned franchises might be huge deals these days, one movie and its sequel that were also on a lot happened to be the Michael Douglas/Kathleen Turner/Danny DeVito outings Romancing The Stone and Jewel Of The Nile. It’s been probably 20 years since I watched either of these movies, but I still got jazzed when I saw them pop up on Netflix Instant.
As it turns out, Romancing The Stone is a pretty fun movie. Some people say the Robert Zemeckis film rips off the Indy movies a bit, but I don’t think so. The plot follows romance writer Joan Wilder (Turner) as she heads to Colombia with a map to trade for her kidnapped sister’s life. She’s being trailed by a super cop called Zolo (Manuel Ojeda) as well as one of the two kidnappers (DeVito) and eventually finds herself crossing paths with Jack T. Colton (Douglas). She hires him to get her where she needs to go and the two go on a fairly epic journey in order to save her sister.
Romancing The Stone is a fun comedy-adventure that plays that great trick of making things feel safe, but also just dangerous enough to keep the plot running along. Turner and Douglas really shine in the film. Turner has the biggest metaphorical journey on screen as she goes from a clueless-to-the-real-world, sheltered person who invents adventures to one who’s able to handle herself pretty well. Meanwhile, Douglas does get to fill the role of swashbuckling, roguish hero. He had more of a Han Solo vibe to me than an Indiana Jones one if we’re talking Harrison Ford characters. Oh, and seeing DeVito in these roles he used to play that equally mix his trademark exasperated temperament with some physical comedy was a lot of fun.
I wouldn’t say that Romancing The Stone is a really solid movie, but it doesn’t topple other Zemeckis films like the Back To The Future movies or Who Framed Roger Rabbit? but it is probably one that more people should give another shot.