Quick Movie Review: The Lone Ranger (2013)

lone-ranger-banner

I’ve long given up on trying to figure out why certain films kill at the box office and others don’t. Take The Lone Ranger for instance. Much like it’s filmic cousin, Pirates Of The Caribbean, this film stars Johnny Depp as an offbeat character, was directed by Gore Verbinski and features a ton of fun action set pieces. And yet 2011’s POTC: At World’s End made over $1 billion worldwide and Lone Ranger pulled in a mere $206.5 million. At the end of the day, as a viewer, these things don’t matter to me aside from the fact that a poor performance in the real world will kill franchise potential which is too bad because I did like this film.

I was never a Lone Ranger fan. I remember the reruns being on the Disney Channel when I was a kid, but I avoided them (Zorro was more of my jam back then). I did read the first arc or so of Dynamite’s initial comic series which was solid, but that’s about where my experience ends. So, I went into this without many expectations and was pleasantly surprised by what I was presented with which was a big, fun popcorn movie featuring Armie Hammer developing into the Lone Ranger persona with the help of Tonto (Depp) while running afoul of the always-fantastic William Fichtner.

Sure, the film probably could have been a little shorter — it clocks in around the 2.5 hour mark as it is — but I didn’t find it lagging, personally. There’s a solid mix of character as Hammer’s John Reid moves from the law abiding district attorney he is at the beginning of the film to the masked vigilante at the very end. We even learn interesting things about why Tonto’s so crazy and get looks at a lot of interesting character as well as a bevy of train and shoot-out based action scenes that are always fun.

My one complaint about this film is that they went with the origin story. Much like with comic book films, I think that screenwriters, directors and producers fall into this trap when they’re making films based on existing properties and that is this desire to devote the first film to the character’s earliest days learning to be a hero. I’m personally much more in favor of the Die Hard method of action film storytelling in which you just show the lead being awesome and give details about their past as they’re needed. I wonder if a full-on Lone Ranger film would have done better than the story of the guy who becomes the Lone Ranger. Still, I enjoyed the movie, think it got a bad wrap and would suggest spending a lazy Saturday or Sunday giving it a watch.

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Toy Commercial Tuesday: Legends Of Batman Part 2

If you guys are fans of vintage toys, I highly recommend following @KennerToys, an account that posts several images a day from the toy company’s long history of making many of the toys a lot of us grew up on. While scrolling through some recent posts, I was reminded of the epic Legends Of Batman line that I did a previous TCT on back in 2012. Well, it seemed like a good enough time to dip back into that well and I came up with a pretty killer bail of liquid, toy commercial gold.

There are three crazy things about this 30 second spot. First, you’ve got the action figures which include Samurai, Silver Knight and Flight Pack varieties of Batman along with the Riddler figure, the last of which I think I owned. These three figures take the theme of the line — Elseworlds versions of Batman — and run with it perfectly. Heck, that Flight Pack Bats is actually pretty rad and I kind of wish I owned him.

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And then there’s the CGI. Wow. Sure it looks very Reboot or Beast Wars to our eyes now, but that would have blown me away as a kid (I don’t ever remember seeing this ad, for what it’s worth). But, for me, the craziest part of this commercial is how they tried to make it look like that Silver Knight Batman comic was a real thing. As a huge fan of the Bat books of this era, I saw immediately that they just overlaid the CGI version of the medieval Dark Knight on top of the existing cover of Detective Comics #682. This was an important issue (you could tell because it was embossed) because it it introduced Batman’s all black costume. For reference, compare the cover to the image seen around the 5 second mark of the commercial.

Ex Libris Trade Post: Sin City Booze, Broads & Bullets

sin city booze, broads and bullets Sin City was the first trade paperback I went into my comic book shop and purchased. I’d picked up trades with gift certificates to book stores like Barnes & Noble or our local book store Thackery’s. One week, though, my comic load was super light, I saw that stark red, black and white cover with Marv are beaten up and decided to give it a shot. I want to says I’d read Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns by that point and had read plenty about him and Sin City in Wizard so it seemed like a good purchase.

I remember being quite taken with the kinetic black and white pages therein along with the hyper-everything, violence, language, characters, actions, cars, driving, etc. I realize in hindsight that Sin City comics — I went on to get all seven trades — were my main entryway into the world of hardboiled crime fiction. I realize now that some of those characters and comics would seem ridiculous outside the pages of Sin City, but I still think they fit perfectly when surrounded by Miller’s perfectly suited pencils and inks.

Anyway, with the second film on the way, I decided to dig into my trade collection once again and pull out a few lesser known Sin City offerings starting with the short story and one-shot collection Booze, Broads and Bullets. I should note here that I have the normal sized trades put out by Dark Horse in the 90s, not the digest versions that appeared around the time of the first film. I’m not a huge fan of that smaller format, especially when it comes to an artist like Miller whose pages deserve to be put on as big of a screen as possible.

This book works as a kind of sampler for all things Sin City. It’s got tough guys Marv and Dwight, deadly little Miho and verbose killers Klump and Shlubb. More than that, though, these tales give the reader a feel for the terrible kind of place Basin City really is, the kind of place where you can be driving along, meet a beautiful woman, hook up with her in the tar pits and wind up getting murdered because she’s an assassin and has mistake you for her mark. It also sets up the way Miller builds these stories in a way that just throws the reader in. There were times where I wasn’t sure if I was reading a well known character or a new one. Dwight’s a hard one to keep tabs on thanks not only to Miller’s less-than-clear style (which perfectly first this series) but also that pesky surgery of his.

Because of all this, I realized while reading through this collection that it’s actually a great place to start for new Sin City readers. Along with everything I mentioned above, it also teaches the reader to keep their eyes peeled for recurring characters. Instead of telling the reader when a story takes place, Miller uses characters as a kind of timeline. Is Marv in this story? Then it must take place before (most of) the first volume which was later named The Hard Goodbye. I haven’t really dug into it yet, but I believe there are even Rosencrantz and Guildenstern-like moments where we’re seeing the same scene in different stories from different angles based on which characters we’re following that time around, which is something found in the larger narrative as well.

Computer Movies: Arcade (1993)

arcade poster After watching Cyborg again fairly recently, I fell down the rabbit hole that is director Albert Pyun’s filmography. While poking around, I spied a film called Arcade that sounded like something I wanted to check out. I actually had this disc from Netflix on hand when I watched Evolver last week, but the disc was cracked and I couldn’t watch it until they sent me a new one.

Before getting into the plot of this movie, I’ve got to talk about it’s pedigree a bit. Not only is Arcade directed by 90s straight-to-video maestro Pyun who did a lot with not much all the time back then, but also features a script penned by David S. Goyer and Charles Band who also acted as producer. You’ll recognize Goyer’s name from little films like Batman Begins and Man Of Steel. And then you’ve got the cast which includes Megan Ward (Dark SkiesEncino Man), Seth Green (Buffy, Dads), Peter Billingsley (Christmas Story) and even Don Stark (That 70s Show). Needless to say, I got more and more excited as the credits rolled on this film I knew almost nothing about.

Plotwise, this film follows Alex (Ward) and Nick (Billingsley) as they try to figure out what’s going on as the terribly named new virtual reality arcade game Arcade and it’s console cousin seem to be absorbing or destroying their friends. Much like Evolver, the kids wind up heading to the game company — good thing they live in California, I guess — and then using that knowledge to confront the game and save their friends and family.

It would be pretty easy to write this movie off as another Charles Band cash grab, but I’ve got to say, I found it pretty absorbing. I liked how the main kids all seemed like they could be in high school and were outsiders, but not complete degenerates. Even though you don’t see them together a ton, you get the feeling that there’s a lot of history in their crew. I also thought the plot itself was solid and included some pretty heavy elements. The movie opens with Alex remembering when she found her mom post-suicide and we eventually learn that the video game company used the brain cells of a murdered boy to help create the game’s villain. Plus, how great is it to see one of these kids-against-something-crazy movies with a female lead?

As it turns out, Band and Pyun weren’t happy with the first batch of CGI special effects and had everything redone. Those results can be seen in the trailer posted above while the original graphics can be seen below.

All in all, even though the CGI is pretty distracting for the modern audience, I had a really good time with this imaginative, sometimes scary adventure story revolving around the rad world of video games. I’ve also got to admit that I was relieved by the plot of this film because I’ve been kicking around an arcade-based story idea that is not similar to this at all. It’s always relieving to find out your not accidentally treading old ground.

Ex Libris Trade Post: The Highwaymen

highwaymen I’ve been reading comics for about 22 years now and, for the most part, that time has been spent reading and absorbing new material, either newly released or new-to-me. When I was actively collecting single issues, it never even occurred to me to go back, dig out a bunch of my carefully organized collection and give them another read. It wasn’t until college that the idea popped in my head and I gave series’ like JSA and 100 Bullets another look.

Around that same time, I got more fully into the idea of collecting trade paperbacks. Since then, the trade has taken over as my main delivery system for comics and I feel like I’ve built a pretty solid library of objectively good comics mixed with some personal favorites. But like my comic collection, I’ve been mainly adding to the trade library without using it as a source of material. Well, apparently I’ve been feeling nostalgic lately what with my recent return to the first volume of The Runaways and a few other ongoing reading projects, so the newly minted Ex Libris titles seemed appropriate.

One of the less well known trades in my collection is a WildStorm/DC joint called The Highwaymen co-written by Marc Bernardin and Adam Freeman with art by Lee Garbett that collects the five issue miniseries of the same name that bowed in 2007. I was reminded of this series I discovered back in my Wizard days as it was coming out when I listened to Kevin Smith and Bernardin’s Batman Forever commentary on a pair of Fat Man on Batman episodes. I dug it at the time and added it to my library when I scored a copy of the trade from somebody’s comps later on down the line. I remembered it as a cool, taut thrill ride set a few decades in the future with some funny moments and a bit of sci-fi.

And I was dead on. The book kicks off with a shadowy government group accidentally setting off a long dormant protocol that alerts a man named McQueen to a threat he’s tasked with stopping along with his former partner Able Monroe. The duo used to be known as The Highwaymen, a pair of black ops guys who became famous. They’ve got to find a young woman named Grace and keep her alive because she’s actually one of the last survivors of government experiments shut down by Bill Clinton when he was president.

I had as good a time reading this book the second time as I remember having when it debuted seven years ago. Garbett does a killer job conveying the huge Bernardin and Freeman-penned action scenes in the book which cover everything from basic gun fights and driving sequences to cyborgs and cars driving out of planes. He also does a lot with facial expressions that convey the quieter moments of the book. Actually, now that I think about it, I don’t usually like car stuff in comics but Garbett does a great job making them seem as visceral as they do on the big screen.

At the end of the day, I enjoyed this comic book in the same way that I love a great, fun action movie from the 80s or 90s. There’s an over-the-top nature to it, but it still always feels grounded, even when it literally leaves the surface, which is no easy balance to achieve. This one not only gets a thumb’s up, but will be going right back on the shelf.

Geek Doc Double Feature: Journey To Planet X (2012) & The American Scream (2012)

journey to planet x poster A few weeks back, a friend asked for geeky Netflix documentary suggestions. I rattled off several including King Of Kong, Chasing Ghosts and The Rock-afire Explosion only to find out that they’re not actually on the streaming service any more. Heck, you can’t even get a DVD copy of the latter two. Anyway, I wanted to check out a few newer geek doc offerings and recently knocked out two, one I’d never heard of and one that’s gotten a lot of praise from the horror community.

First up, we’ve got Journey To Planet X, a film that follows two guys named Troy Bernier (left on the poster) and Eric Swain who have joined forces to create a sci-fi short film. Directed by Myles Kane and Joshua Koury, this doc gets into both men’s filmmaking background which revolves around Swain creating short sci-fi and fantasy films on a homemade green screen. Eventually he made friends with Bernier who joined in first as an actor and later as a creative partner. The main thrust of this film follows the pair as they work on a longer form sci-fi film that would not only include a larger cast and longer run time, but alsoutilize better technology and use more practical locations when possible.

I enjoyed this film on several levels. On one hand, you’ve got this story about two guys trying to make an ambitious film. It’s a  different take on things like Son of Rambow and Raiders! both of which I loved. That desire to create something and putting in the work to make it happen is something I can relate to, but also find incredibly admirable.

And then there’s the dynamics between Swain and Bernier that I find fascinating. Swain was pretty happy doing things the way he had done them for years until Bernier came in and wanted to up their game. There’s definitely some friction there that isn’t a huge part of the film, but is certainly there. As the film progresses, Bernier becomes a more and more interesting character to me. He takes the project very seriously, which makes sense, but he seems to become more obsessed as it progresses. There’s something of a disconnect for me in this because he’s making a film with some wooden acting and CGI effects that look straight out of an early 90s PC game. But he doesn’t see any of that and considers this film to be a calling card that will move him on into a new realm of success and filmmaking. On one hand, that attitude was probably necessary to get the film finished, shown at a viewing party where it got a lot of unintentional laughs and even a festival appearance, but at a certain point you wonder how connected to reality he is.

Ultimately, though, it doesn’t really matter though, does it? These guys got what they wanted and made a movie that got shown to people. That’s something I wish I could do and will maybe actually make happen in the next few years if I can tap into some portion of Bernier’s passion or obsession or whatever you want to call it. As far as I’m concerned, though, there’s a lot more personal value in Koury and Kane’s documentary about these guys than their movie. Showcasing the struggles of creativity, bringing a film to life and doing their damndest to make it happen is a lot more engaging to me than watching the results of all that. It’s that whole, “life’s a journey not a destination” trip. Plus, the doc filmmakers were clearly working with better cameras than the filmmakers because this film looks fantastic.

The American Scream I decided to watch The American Scream, Michael Stephenson’s doc about three families in a Massachusetts town that build huge haunts in the yards for Halloween because I’d heard a lot about it, but it actually made a solid double feature with Journey because both movies showcase people pursuing their particular arts with varying levels of obsession.

The three Fairhaven-based stars include Victor, a dad who’s something of a haunt perfectionist, father and son team Richard and Matthew and Manny who does it because he knows the people in his neighborhood love it. Manny’s pretty straightforward and seems to do it for the love of the game which means he’s not featured nearly as much as the others. Matthew and Richard have some friction between them which garners more attention, but Victor’s the real star of the show.

Not only does Victor have the most detailed and complex haunt of the group, but he’s also got the most drama surrounding him. Of his two daughters, one’s really into the whole thing and the other isn’t. But there’s some sadness because dad’s desire to keep the yard clear for Halloween lead to them not getting the swing set they wanted. Meanwhile, his wife is very supportive of this whole thing, but it definitely sounds like there’s some rationalization going on there with how much money he spends on this whole thing — we see him drop $200 on a coffin — especially in light of the revelation that he knows he’s getting laid off. I had a real problem with him at this point because that just seems like burying your head in the sand and ignoring your impending problems in favor of doing something you love. But by the end there’s some vindication. I won’t get into it, but I actually gasped when they went back to him after Halloween and revealed his post-lay off plans.

Stephenson not only starred in Troll 2, but went on to create the documentary based on that film called Best Worst Movie. He does a great job of capturing and presenting real scenes without laying any kind of judgement over them. You can argue all day long that the way a doc is edited may or may not convey a certain mission statement from the director in order to present a certain kind of story, but to me it felt like he was just telling this tale and letting the audience judge. Personally, I found myself wishing these guys could figure out a more consistent outlet for their artistic creativity that happens more than once a year, but that probably misses the point to some extent. 

On a personal note, this movie brought back a lot of memories from my trick r treating days. When I was growing up, my neighbor Denny who’s probably 8 or so years older than me used to decorate his garage and get his pals to dress up like various movie slashers. I think the first time I ever saw a version of Leatherface was his friend running out from behind a set of hedges with a chainless chainsaw. Even though I’d watch them prepare, there was still no way I’d go in there. I don’t like being scared in real life and I’m not even that big of a candy fan. No thanks. There was another house further away that I remember coming upon a time or two as well that made an even bigger show of things with items (maybe people) coming down from the trees in the yard.

Batman Trade Post: Batman The Black Mirror & Joker Clown Prince Of Crime

batman the black mirror Batman: The Black Mirror (DC)
Written by Scott Snyder, drawn by Jock & Francesco Francavilla
Collects Detective Comics #871-881

After reading the first three volumes of Scott Snyder’s Batman, I’m firmly and solidly hooked. I can’t wait to see where that story goes as it makes its way to trade over time and even more slowly finds its way into my collection. But, while waiting, I figured it would make sense to go back and read the writer’s first attempt at playing in Gotham. Snyder wrote the main feature and back-ups of Detective Comics leading up to New 52. This story features Dick Grayson as Batman, but takes place after Bruce came back in The Return Of Bruce Wayne.

There’s a lot going on in this book which finds art chores split between Jock and Francavilla. You’ve got Dick investigating a long-running black market auction for evil objects held in places where terrible things happened as well as the ongoing mystery of exactly who or what Commissioner Gordon’s son James is. All of that is mixed with what’s considered more “comic booky” elements like massive sea animals and a car-filled deathtrap. The two artists have wildly different styles, but they both fit the story so well from Jock’s chaotic lines to Francavilla’s more solid, thick-lined take. Sometimes when artists change in a book like this it can be super distracting, but in each case, they seem perfectly suited for the twists and turns Snyder threw at them and us.

I absolutely loved going on this journey. For me, it’s got a lot of connections to Year One, which I read for the first time in years recently. The thing that struck me about Year One when I gave it a re-read was how much of a Jim Gordon story it is. He’s really the main character and I’d say that’s the case with the majority of these issues as well. I don’t know how he did it or if I’m just pre-disposed to get on Gordon’s side, but I was completely taken and absorbed with the story revolving around his son. I gasped while reading a few times and got uncomfortable at others. It took me several weeks to read this book the first time for various reasons, but I’m hoping the next time I crack it open, I’ll be able to take it in in a much shorter period of time because it really feels like a complete epic that utilizes the history of Batman while also blazing new trials in a similar way that Geoff Johns did with books like JSA, Flash and Green Lantern.

joker clown prince of crime The Joker: The Clown Prince Of Crime (DC)
Written by Denis O’Neil, Elliot S! Maggin & Martin Pasko, drawn by Irv Novick, Dick Giordano, Jose Louis Garcia-Lopez, Ernie Chen, Vince Colletta, Tex Blaisdell & Frank McLaughlin
Collects Joker #1-9

I’d love to say that I chose to read this collection of the Joker’s solo comic from the 70s for deep thematic reasons like the fact that it’s another Bat-book that Bruce Wayne has nothing to do with, but in reality, I just wanted to give it a read. I appreciate that DC’s still reprinting these older tales even though they’re pretty much negated everything about them thanks to the New 52.

These issues debuted between 1975 and 1976 and feature the Clown Prince of Crime going on a variety of adventures that either feature his fellow Rogues Gallery members like Two-Face or Scarecrow or pit him against heroes like Creeper or Green Arrow. There are some attempts to connect these stories like the continued appearance of henchmen Tooth and Southpaw as well as repeated appearances by Benny and Marvin, a pair of former Arkham Guards who repeatedly run into Joker. But, for the most part, this is a monster/her/team-up/crime of the issue type of comic thanks to the mix of writers and artists on board each issue.

Tone-wise, this is an interesting book. When it was coming out you had the more realistic take on the Caped Crusader going on thanks to Denny O’Neil, Neal Adams and company. This book reflects some of that, especially in the art style,as we see Joker murdering a few people here and there, but also carries a comedic tone that presents itself in many ways. Heck, Joker gets out of Arkham with a giant balloon in the first issue and goes on to build a secret base under his cell in the asylum so he can commit crimes more easily. There’s a whole issue where Lex Luthor and Joker accidentally switch personalities and an incredibly complicated way of doing a modern-day Sherlock Holmes story that feels like the kind of longform joke Andy Kaufman would try to pull off, so there’s still plenty of humor.

I do have to say one thing that got under my skin while reading this book was the fact that they referred to Joker’s hideout as the Ha-Hacienda, which is a funny idea, but it should be the Ha-Ha-Hacienda, right? Aside from that, I had a lot of fun reading through this book. I don’t always go in for comics from this era because they’re not super well regarded or original, but this hit a lot of my buttons, including the huge Creeper one hiding in the depths of my comic-loving brain.