Mighty Max

05-Nov-07 12:01 AM by
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All good things must come to an end — but as sad as it is to see our favorite casts and crews disperse, it gives them and their fans new opportunities. Yet it's the old collaborations that seem to generate the most excitement, heralding a return to the golden days of yore; observe the success that is RiffTrax, born of the genius that brought us Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Another such project featuring the talents of Michael J Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett is Max the Hero, a 12-minute animated cartoon currently playing online and at various festivals. Though all three actors lend their voice talents to this short, most comical is Bill Corbett playing the title character with the same blasé arrogance that made Crow T. Robot so irascibly lovable. Once Max's main plot starts to play out, there are some good lampoons of superheroes and fanboys, making the crude animation and somewhat crass opening sequence worth getting through.

Tip of the hat to deep ape, an all-MST3K, all-the-time blog. Surf over there, and to Satellite News, for news of other recent projects, revivals, and spin-offs featuring the stars and characters of Mystery Science Theater 3000 — including one that goes live today!

Clash of the Titans

30-Oct-07 6:59 AM by
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Most comic book movies have been adaptations of concept rather than of story. What we've seen have not been translations plot-for-plot from one medium to another, but instead familiar characters and situations being used to invent new adventures for a new audience. Such is the case with the recent direct-to-DVD release Superman: Doomsday.

Despite being animated, this movie is not wholly based on the previous cartoon series, either. The voice cast is all-new, including Adam Baldwin, James Marsters, and Anne Heche. The animation style is slightly different — a bit darker and more detailed (the lines on Superman's face suggest an older, more pessimistic character; whereas Luthor looks leaner and younger). And the story's tone is markedly different from anything that's come before.

The movie's first half-hour is based on the 1993 landmark event: the death of Superman at the hands of the alien Doomsday. And the team responsible for this adaptation has done a fantastic job portraying that titular villain, for Doomsday as a mindless organic killing machine has been captured in all his animalistic and fearsome glory. In all his frenetic action sequences, I never once got the impression that he was angry or vengeful or in any other way emotional, but just a mindless automaton. The closest we get to expression is when Superman is the first to not fall to a single punch: Doomsday cocks his head, intrigued or confused as a dog might be — before quickly resuming the fight. Probably the most humanity exhibited in this entire sequence was by the audience at the fight's climax; Superman (particularly Christopher Reeve) is one of my heroes, and to see his death in any medium is distressing.

And that's an accurate word for this cartoon, which is far more violent than its predecessors. Though the film is judicious in exactly what gets shown, the aggression is nonetheless apparent. In one scene, the camera focuses on a soldier's head disappearing into Doomsday's gigantic fist; the screen pans up to Doomsday's face before we see the muscles of his arm twisting and a sickening crunch sounding. We may not have witnessed the murder, but it certainly leaves little to the imagination. Doomsday isn't the only heartless killer; we also see Luthor economically dispose of one of his hirelings. This is all in vast contrast to the Saturday morning cartoon. As far as I know, there was only one death in Superman: The Animated Series's entire five-year span, and that was the bloodless vaporization of Dan Turpin.

For a story about the death of Superman, this escalation was both necessary and appropriate — and it's still probably less violent than the graphic novels. Yet I was still shocked, being unaccustomed to seeing such slaughter in any Superman vehicle. Shock is a good thing, though; when a character or story becomes predictable is when it loses me as a viewer.

It was this captivating and extended opening sequence that kept me through the rest, though I found the follow-up a bit disappointing. It's not just that the parallels to the comic book inspiration disappear after Superman's death; fitting the entire "Death of Superman" / "Funeral For a Friend" / "Reign of the Superman" story, which originally took more than a year of weekly comics to tell, into a 75-minute movie would be a herculean task. But the original story they've crafted to follow the Doomsday blitzkrieg doesn't strike any chords of emotion or intrigue. It's instead a rather mundane plot with no surprise heroes, villains, appearances, or twists — something I'd expect to find in another episode of a Saturday morning cartoon, if I haven't already, and not in a once-in-a-lifetime comic book epic.

Even if the circumstances of Superman's death and return are not wholly true to the source material, they needn't be; this is a different story, in a different medium. The parts that are done well are done extremely well and make the entire package worth viewing, if not owning.

By Your Powers Combined…

27-Jun-07 3:49 PM by
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My belated report on Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer is that it's a better film than I expected — yet ironically, that may be because I wasn't expecting much.

I've previously written how disappointed I was in the first film, which I saw only a few scant months after watching the canned 1994 flick of the same name. Even now, I'm challenged to keep the two straight — not that it matters, as they were comparable in quality. I was disappointed by the goofy antics of the Fantastic Four, especially after the roller-coaster rides of action and drama that were the first Spider-Man and X-Men films. Since I've specialized in in DC comics, not Marvel, I didn't know any better. Maybe the dynamic duo times two have always been this silly.

This sequel is much the same, with gratuitous acts of wanton stretchiness and laughably bad dialogue. But this time around, I knew what I was getting myself into, so I accepted such comical romps as this film's definition of "fun". Contributing to its entertainment value were that Julian McMahon did a better job as Victor Von Doom than he did in the previous film, though he did seem to be trying too hard to channel Kevin Spacey as Lex Luthor. Laurence Fishburne was wonderfully, stereotypically mysterious and melancholy as the voice of the Silver Surfer. And Stan Lee's cameos, unlike Hitchcock's and King's in their horror films, are getting just too obvious.

Regardless of my perception, Rise of the Silver Surfer actually was superior to its predecessor — the action, characterization, and conflicts were all a bit more complex than before. But this time, it was okay that those elements were not on par with their more successful comic book kin. Let this comic book be comical; for anything more, I have the first two Spider-Man and X-Men.

A Great Big Bang-Up

10-May-07 3:53 PM by
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Spider-Man 3 was to fans like honey to flies. Having contributed to that success, I now offer this perspective on a film that I very much enjoyed, but nowhere near as much as I did its predecessors.

I skimped on the previews for this third adaptation of the Marvel superhero: trailers are unnecessary selling points for a movie that had me at "hello". I'm glad I abstained, as the trailers contained multiple spoilers, including the presence of a major character whom I did not expect to see in this movie (despite all the clues being there). It was fun to watch all these icons come to life and duke it out, even if the first fight was my favorite and the rest seemed too frenetic and CGI-ish to follow.

But ultimately, that character's appearance contributed to the film's greatest flaw. I didn't have to see Batman & Robin to know that it was a victim to (among other things) its own ambition: introducing Poison Ivy, Mr. Freeze, Bane, and Batgirl was too much for one film to handle. Spider-Man 3 suffers similarly (if perhaps not as severely). Who will Spider-Man fight next: Sandman? The son of the Green Goblin? Or the black suit? Is he preoccupied by reliving the night his uncle was killed, not giving Maryjane the attention she deserves? Is she the love interest, or is Gwen Stacy?

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What Makes Heroes Tick?

06-May-07 5:48 PM by
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Two great superhero shows are coming to DVD in August: on August 28th, Season 1 of Heroes; and on August 7th, Season 2 of The Tick.

I love The Tick (the cartoon, not the live series — ugh), finding its dry wit comparable to Earthworm Jim or Freakazoid, and thought the Season 1 DVD set was one of my best video purchases of 2006. Heroes I've seen only the pilot of on NBC's Web site (per an earlier comment on this blog) and was intrigued enough to warrant interest in the DVD's release.

It should be a great way to end the summer and segue into a new season of superhero television!


See also:

Truth, Justice — All That Stuff

21-Apr-07 9:19 PM by
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Whether it's my Superman dogtag or my Superman keychain or the contents of my bookshelf or the films I show in my classroom, it's not hard to discern my admiration for Superman and his embodiments. So it was inevitable, despite any lack of affection for Ben Affleck, that I see Hollywoodland.

I knew only that this film dramatized the death of actor George Reeves, who played Superman on the 1950s television show that I grew up watching. I did not know how Hollywoodland would do so, or if it would do so tastefully. As it turns out, the film is structured to parallel George Reeves' life with that of a fictional private detective, played by a famous actor I'd never heard of, Adrien Brody. The movie opens with Reeves' death and follows Brody's investigation into same, but also alternates with following Reeves' life from years before he was cast as Superman. The movie thus also ends with his death.

It's that past tense half of the film that the producers claim to be historically accurate, and while Brody is nonexistent, the facts he reveals and personalities he encounters are supposed to be true as well. Brody starts the show as a quiet mumbling type (which ironically is the kind of actor his character criticizes), but as the movie develops, so does Brody. We learn more about how he struggles with love, family, and self-identity, much as Reeves did. Though Superman may be the subject of the film, Brody is the star.

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Knight Life

15-Mar-07 8:30 AM by
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I'm a fan of Batman in all his incarnations, from comics to television to film, but some formats and actors represent the Dark Knight better than others. Looking at his silver screen appearances, it's clear to me who the superior actor is. Forget Val Kilmer, George Clooney, or Christian Bale; give me Kevin Conroy anyday. His portrayal of Batman in the 1993 film Mask of the Phantasm (as well as Mark Hamill's as The Joker) helped establish the movie as the most realistic and authentic adventure of the Caped Crusader yet.

Phantasm was based on the animated television series that premiered in 1992. Unfortunately, the show's style, both in animation and characterization, became much simpler in 1997 when the show was rechristened The New Batman Adventures. It's this style that was employed by the show's last hurrah, the 2003 direct-to-video film Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman, which I finally watched last night.

It'd been awhile since I'd seen its predecessor, the 1998 direct-to-video Batman & Mr. Freeze: Sub-Zero, but I remember not liking what they did with the characters, and the juxtaposition of hand-drawn and computer-generated animation being disconcerting. Fortunately, Mystery of the Batwoman has a smoother appearance. There are some really great animated sequences, and though these are inconsistent, the animation is always at least average — albeit still in that simpler style. The sound effects are also contributive to the experience; there is a particular fight scene between Batwoman and two nameless bunny girls that demonstrates excellent audio and choreography.

I was also surprised by the plot, which I expected to be a no-brainer to anyone familiar with the No Man's Land story arc from the Batman comics in 1999. Instead, rather than mangling the characters we know and love, this film introduces three new characters. But ultimately, the titular enigma is akin to badly-written murder-mystery, where ALL the clues are red herrings.

Like Sub-Zero, this film ends on an exploding boat, and all the loose ends are neatly tied up. By comparison, Mask of the Phantasm bucked that trend with a resolution that could hardly be called happy — and that was before Bruce Wayne adopted his darker, more uniform, and more boring presentation. Mystery of the Batwoman felt more like a prolonged episode that didn't develop our established heroes much. But taken more lightly, it was a fun prolonged episode, and one I appreciated all the more for not having seen any new animated Batman adventures in many years.