Last Spring, I started making my way through Geoff Johns’ years-long run on Green Lantern. I had heard and read so much praise for his defining work on the series, that I thought it high time to sample his stories myself.
I started with Mr. Johns’ hugely successful re-launch of the Green Lantern series (bringing back the original Green Lantern, Hal Jordan) in Green Lantern: Rebirth and his first several story-arcs on the re-started Green Lantern regular series, and then I moved on to his epic, galaxy-spanning Sinestro Corps War storyline, in which classic Green Lantern villain Sinestro creates his own corps to rival the Green Lantern corps. Whereas the Green Lanterns draw their strength from will, Sinestro’s Yellow Lanterns draw their strength from fear, and prove to be a near insurmountable foe for the GL Corps. That was a fantastic story-line, and at that point I was well and truly hooked on Mr. Johns’ stories, and eager to see where things went from there.
Green Lantern: Secret Origin – After the Sinestro Corps epic, Mr. Johns stepped back from the cosmic story he was telling to present an updated, fleshed-out version of Green Lantern’s origin. Taking a very similar approach as he did with his wonderful Superman: Secret Origin mini-series (click here for my review), Mr. Johns presents a wonderfully rich, detailed version of the hero’s classic origin story. This is very much a modern version of Green Lantern’s origin, in which three-dimensional characterizations have replaced the far more black-and-white simplistic characters seen in older versions. But it’s not a reject-everything, start-over-from-square-one story. Quite the contrary, Green Lantern: Secret Origin is steeped in the richness of the character’s complex mythology. That the story respects continuity while also presenting a fresh take on this familiar origin is the key to this story’s magic. It’s also fun to see how Mr. Johns has gone back and retroactively layered in characters and plot-lines from his current Green Lantern sagas. Hence we now see Abin Sur and Atrocitus discussing the prophecy of the “Blackest Night,” that Sinestro was first sent to Earth by Ganthet, and that William Hand (who would become the villainous Black Hand) was involved in one of Green Lantern’s first super-hero fights. It’s nice to see those stories and characters incorporated into the beginning of Hal Jordan’s story. The art by Ivan Reis and Oclair Albert is magnificent, crisp and detailed. It’s hard for me to imagine a more perfect art team on the book.
Green Lantern: Rage of the Red Lanterns – This is a fun collection, though less of a complete story than previous volumes. These stories serve more as an epilogue to events … [continued]
Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love, There Will Be Blood) returns to our cinema screens with a wonderful, perplexing yet phenomenally engaging new film: The Master. It’s a film that I’m not quite sure what to make of, but one that I’ve really been thinking about ever since seeing it. It’s a hard movie to shake, one that I found to be weirdly captivating despite it’s often stately, leisurely pacing. Without question it’s the work of a true master of cinema.
Joaquin Phoenix (appearing in his first film since 2008, not counting his weird sort-of-not-really documentary I’m Still Here) plays Freddie Quell. A navy-man during World War II, in the film’s opening section we watch Freddie repeatedly trying and failing to make a go of any sort of regular life in the years after the war. He seems to be suffering from some sort of post-traumatic stress, though the film lets us draw our own conclusions. He’s clearly unstable, an angry, intense, young man with a serious habit of heavy-drinking. Out of work, he stows away on a boat that it turns out is hosting a lengthy excursion to sea by a man named Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a self-described “writer, doctor, nuclear-physicist, and theoretical philosopher.” Despite their being complete opposites in nearly every way, Freddie and Mr. Dodd have an immediate connection. They bond over their love of the potent alcohol that Freddie likes to whip up, and while Dodd feels he can help Freddie and straighten him out, Freddie seems to find in Dodd a friend and father figure absent in his life.
As soon as one of Dodd’s followers refers to him as “master,” we know there might be another side to this charismatic writer and speaker. Indeed, as Freddie (and the audience) spends more time with Dodd and his close-knit family and followers who seem to be constantly with him, we begin to see how many in his group are following his writings and his philosophies as a complete way of life. Much has been made over whether the film is or isn’t based on L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology. I did not read the film as an attack on scientology in specific, nor did I feel the point of the film was in critiquing any religion or cult. (And please note that I am not equating the two!!) There are definitely moments when one might raise one’s eyebrows at certain things we see Dodd’s followers saying or doing. The film shows the positive power of the community of close-knit followers who surround the man they call “master,” and also the dangers of creeping, unquestioning group-think.
But it seems to me that … [continued]
It’s always a great delight to see an original sci-fi film. We were all excited for Prometheus this past summer, but while that big-budget, mega-hyped film was a dud (click here for my review), I was positively thrilled by Rian Johnson’s new film, Looper.
The year is 2044. Time travel has not yet been invented, but it will be. The mob of the future uses the outlawed technology of time-travel to dispose of people they want out of the way. They just send them back in time, where a hit-man, called a Looper, is there waiting to shoot them as soon as they appear. The Looper then disposes of the body, and all is well. Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as a Looper, Joe, whose careful life unravels when he fails to kill a target sent back from the future — who turns out to be himself, thirty years older (and played by Bruce Willis). Joe’s mob bosses will kill him if he doesn’t kill his older self (“closing his loop”), so Young Joe sets out after Old Joe, who meanwhile has a plan to make a key change to his history.
It’s a delicious set-up, one that is only enhanced by the fantastic casting of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis as different-aged versions of the same character. There’s some great prosthetic work that reshapes Mr. Gordon-Levitt’s face just slightly, to make him more resemble Bruce Willis. (It’s particularly noticeable when you see him in profile.) Both men are fantastic, and I loved watching the two of them go at it. In particular, it’s great to see Bruce Willis in a bona-fide good action movie again. The man is just awesome playing a bad-ass in an action movie, and he plays everything with just enough of a twinkle in his eye to keep the audience hooked into his performance. One of my favorite aspects of the film was the way the story keeps shifting the audience’s sympathies back and forth between Young Joe and Old Joe. It’s very clever.
Mr. Gordon-Levitt and Mr. Willis are far and away the anchors of the movie, but I was very pleasantly surprised by the high-wattage of the supporting cast. Jeff Daniels, Paul Dano, Emily Blunt, Garret Dillahunt, Piper Perabo all do fantastic work in their roles. Jeff Daniels in particular is great fun as the man sent from the future to run the Looper organization in the present-day.
For such a relatively low-budget film ($30 million dollars, from what I have read), the film looks dynamite. From the trailers I expected the film to be set in present-day, but instead the film’s present-day is 2044, with the future era (when time-travel exists) 30 … [continued]
A few weeks ago I wrote about the BBC’s excellent modern-day reinvention of Sherlock Holmes in Season One of their show Sherlock. When the credits rolled on the last episode, I quickly ordered season two from Amazon.
Season Two is of even higher quality than Season One!
With their second series of three episodes (as in Season One, each episode is an hour-and-a-half-long movie), the makers of Sherlock set the bar very high for themselves. They decided to tackle what are probably the three most famous aspects of the Sherlock Holmes mythos: the professor, the woman, and the hound.
The first episode of Season Two, “A Scandal in Belgravia” (based on the story “A Scandal in Bohemia”) focuses on the woman: that is, Irene Adler, the one woman who was Holmes’ equal. I absolutely adore the series’ version of Irene. When we first meet her, we learn that she is a dominatrix who apparently is in possession of some photographs of a member of the Royal Family in, apparently, a compromising position. But we quickly learn that there is a lot more to Ms. Adler than just being a beautiful blackmailer, and as the episode goes on we (along with Sherlock) are subjected to reversal after reversal, never quite sure where Ms. Adler’s loyalties lie. In the episode, Irene Adler is played by Lara Pulver, and she is absolutely magnificent. Yes, it’s true that I, like Holmes, might have been a bit easily smitten seeing as how the lovely Ms. Pulver performs most of her initial scenes with Holmes in the nude, but I was quickly taken by the character’s ferocious intelligence and cunning. This woman is truly Holmes’ equal, and we’re never quite sure, as the episode progresses, whether Holmes is one step ahead of Adler or whether she is one step ahead of Holmes.
“A Scandal in Belgravia” is the best episode of Season Two, and the best episode of the series so far. More than any other episode, this one takes place over a lengthy period of time (almost a year, I believe), and as such, it is densely packed with circumstances. In the opening of the episode, there’s a brilliant montage in which we watch Sherlock and Watson solve a progression of cases. It’s a terrific, fast-paced series of mystery after mystery (many of them referring to various Holmes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle) that not only serves to show that these two men have now been on many adventures together, but also to show their growing friendship (bizarre though it may be). If there’s one thing I thought might have been missing from Season One, it’s a development of the friendship between Holmes and … [continued]
Behold our first glimpse at the post-Avengers Marvel Movie Universe!
How spectacular is that trailer?
It’s visually gorgeous, and it promises a dark, things-go-really-wrong-for-our-hero vibe. Written and directed by Shane Black (go watch his magnificent film Kiss Kiss Bang Bang starring, oh, what a coincidence, Robert Downey Jr., if you want proof of his ginormous talents) I’m sure there will still be a lot of humor in this film, but I love that the trailer teases us with a grim tone.
And at last, after being deliciously teased in the first Iron Man film (and then sadly ignored in Iron Man 2), we’re getting to see Iron Man’s quintessential villain, the Mandarin, on screen! And played by Sir Ben Kingsley, no less. Phenomenal.
After the greatness of The Avengers (click here for my review), the challenge of the next Marvel movie is to not feel like a letdown. A good trailer isn’t proof of anything (exhibit A: Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace) but I am very, very excited for April.… [continued]
I’ve picked up a few of Universal’s gorgeous 100 Year Anniversary editions of their most classic films, including Born on the Fourth of July (click here for my review), The Deer Hunter (click here for my review), and Steven Spielberg’s Jaws.
What can I possibly write about Jaws that hasn’t already been written? Its reputation as a masterpiece is solidly deserved, and the film really hasn’t aged a day. Of course the film is dazzling on blu-ray, crisp and clean. But more than that, I can’t really point to a single moment in the movie that seems obviously fake or phony. The visual effects hold up because, unlike many modern blockbusters, Jaws isn’t a film about visual effects. As the often-told stories go, the mechanical shark Mr. Spielberg had on-site hardly ever worked, forcing the young director to find ingenious ways to shoot around the fake shark and find ways to depict the creature without our actually seeing it (resulting in, for example, the brilliant use of the yellow barrels as a way to suggest the shark’s menacing presence without actually showing it) and to build suspense and horror based on NOT seeing the shark.
But even more than that, Jaws holds up because, visual effects or no visual effects, there is far more to the film (whose screenplay was written by Carl Gottlieb, based on the novel by Peter Benchley) than just the shark. The film isn’t about the shark. It’s about characters. It’s the characters who leave the biggest impression on the viewer — Chief Brody, Hooper, and Quint — not the shark.
Jaws has an interesting structure. The film is basically divided into two distinct halves. The first half is set on land, as Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) gradually grows more and more concerned about the shark he believes is menacing the small, picturesque community of Amity Island, where he is the new Chief of Police. The second half of the film is an entirely different movie, set on board Quint’s raggedy old ship, the Orca, as Brody, Hooper, and Quint set out to chase down and kill the shark. The brilliance of the film — and, I think, a critical component to its success — is that both halves work equally well. I love the first half, particularly for its exploration of the many colorful characters of Amity island. I love the gradual way that we get inside Chief Brody’s head, I love the dynamic between Brody and his wife (Lorraine Gary) and son, I love every moment with Amity’s mayor (played so wonderfully by Murray Hamilton) and the other government officials, I love it all and I don’t want the film … [continued]
Arrested Development lives!! This photo of Buster from the upcoming new episodes (I’m hearing Spring 2013?) really made me laugh.
Rumblings of a Dr. Horrible sequel continue to, well, rumble. Could this actually become a reality next year? Hoping hoping hoping.
Yeahbutwha? The star of the new S.H.I.E.L.D. TV series will be the killed-off-in-The Avengers Agent Phil Coulson?? I love Clark Gregg and love the idea of him headlining a new Marvel Universe TV show, but how is this possible? Does this mean the S.H.I.E.L.D. show is set in the past? Very curious…
This is a fascinating article by screenwriter Jon Spaihts on his original ideas for Prometheus, back when the film was without-question an Alien prequel. (Mr. Spaihts apparently wrote five drafts of the film, before handing it over to Damon Lindelof for further revisions into the film that was actually shot.) Hindsight is of course twenty-twenty, but boy Mr. Spaiht’s ideas as he describes them sound far superior to the film we actually got.
I love the idea that Emily Blunt (originally in the running to play the Black Widow in Iron Man 2, and I must say I think she would have been FAR better casting that Scarlett Johansson) is rumored to now be up for a role in Avengers 2. I hope this happens.
I am fascinated by the massive HD remastering project necessary for the release of Star Trek: The Next Generation on blu-ray. (I loved the sample disc, though I haven’t yet shelled out for the complete season one, released a few months ago.) Because Next Gen was edited on videotape, each individual has had to be re-edited from the original film negatives — the scale of the endeavor just boggles my mind. Trekcore has posted a fantastic interview with the re-mastering team. Here also is an interview with the CBS producers overseeing the project.
Speaking of Star Trek: The Next Generation, last month marked the 25th anniversary of the premiere of Next Gen. Here is a fantastic interview with Ronald D. Moore (one of the key writers for Next Gen and then Deep Space Nine, and of course also the creator and show-runner of the re-launched Battlestar Galactica) on the occasion of Next Gen’s 25th anniversary.
Back in 1990, fans went crazy when they noticed an Alien skull hanging as a trophy in the Predator’s ship in Predator 2. Here is a much less-cool sort of inter-sci-fi-movie crossover. (Well, the idea does have a crazy sort of inspiration, I guess, but the problem is it just doesn’t really make any sense…)
Edgar Wright, Nick Frost, and Simon Pegg’s third film together (after … [continued]
The latest Star Trek: Enterprise novel, The Romulan War: To Brave the Storm, brings to a conclusion the finally-told story of the Earth-Romulan war that lead to the founding of the United Federation of Planets, and also serves as a finale to the series of five Star Trek: Enterprise novels written by Michael A. Martin (the first three of which were co-written by Andy Mangels). I have recently written about the last two of those books: Kobayashi Maru (click here for my review) and The Romulan War: Beneath the Raptor’s Wings (click here for my review).
To Brave the Storm is a frustrating novel. There is a lot about the book that I really enjoyed. It’s a very fast-paced read. The story is exciting and gripping, and I tore through the book’s pages at rapid speed. There are none of the digressions I complained about in Beneath the Raptor’s Wings (such as the lengthy chapters dealing with the two news-reporters Gannet Brooks and Keisha Naquase). The story is galaxy-spanning, with the stakes extremely high: nothing short of the survival of Earth and the human species itself as the Romulans’ assault intensifies and the newly-formed Coalition of Planets (the alliance formed between humans, Vulcans, Andorians, and Tellarites in the final episodes of Star Trek: Enterprise) shatters. I love how epic the story is in scope, and I appreciated that the book takes place over the span of over five years. That gives the Earth-Romulan war a believable scale. I’m glad this mysterious, much-discussed conflict in Earth’s past wasn’t depicted as having been resolved in just a few weeks.
On the other-hand, To Brave the Storm feels in many ways like the cliffs-notes version of what should have been a much-lengthier saga. I read that this book was originally planned to have been books 2 and 3 of a Romulan War trilogy, but that for reasons unknown those last two books wound up being compressed into one novel. It certainly feels that way. There’s a lot of plot in the book, but little time spent fleshing out the characters of the story and how the galactic events effect them — which should, of course, be at the heart of any good story. Why don’t we get a single scene of Captain Archer’s grief at the disappearance of his former lover Captain Erika Hernandez and the Columbia (an event — key to the trilogy Star Trek: Destiny — that seems like it happened right at the end of the events of the previous book, Beneath the Raptor’s Wing)? Why don’t we get to see Hoshi Sato’s reaction to serving on Enterprise during wartime, something which she said in … [continued]
I’ve been a fan of Ben Affleck’s ever since I first listened to his hilarious and endearing contribution to the raucous DVD commentary track for Kevin Smith’s Mallrats. (Seriously, track it down and give it a listen — it’s one of the best commentary tracks I’ve ever heard, second only to the track that same gang recorded for the original Criterion Collection DVD of Kevin Smith’s follow-up film, Chasing Amy.) I’ve always found Mr. Affleck to be an earnest, engaging performer, capable of nimbly balancing comedy and drama. Yes, he appeared in quite a number of terrible, terrible films, but that’s more a critique of his choices rather than his skills. But whereas Mr. Affleck has, in my opinion, always been a strong actor, he has proven to be a truly spectacular director. His first film, Gone Baby Gone, is a phenomenal film, one of my favorites of the last decade. I wasn’t quite as taken with The Town (click here for my review), but with the stunningly magnificent Argo, Mr. Affleck has solidified his reputation as one of the strongest directors working today. I do not believe I am exaggerating.
Based on the true story, declassified by President Clinton in the late nineties, Argo is set during the Iranian hostage crisis. Unbeknownst to the Iranians (but, to quote Spaceballs, knownst to us), six American embassy staff-members were able to escape and found refuge in the home of the Canadian ambassador. After months in hiding, the Iranians are beginning to close in on them. C.I.A. “exfil” (exfiltration) specialist Tony Mendez is brought in to find a way to safely bring the six Americans out of Iran. He concocts a loony-sounding scheme in which he will enter Iran and then help the six pose as a Canadian film crew scouting desert locations for a sci-fi film, Argo. Using their new covers, the plan is for Mendez and the six to walk, in broad daylight, right into the Iranian airport and fly out of the country to safety. It’s an crazy, insane story, all the more crazy and insane because the whole thing is true.
The film is riveting, and Mr. Affleck’s direction (ably assisted by a tight screenplay by Chris Terrio, based on a 2007 Wired article by Joshuah Bearman) is fantastic. It’s great to see Mr. Affleck moving out of the Boston location that was so central to his first two films, and I was extremely impressed with the way the he and his team were able to recreate 1970′s Iran, Washington, DC, and Hollywood.
The film’s opening immediately sets the stage for the story, and the intense tone for this true-life tale. In the opening … [continued]
“Earth One” is a series of new original graphic novels from DC Comics. The idea is to re-invent their characters from zero by re-telling their origins as if they occurred in our world, a world without other super-heroes.
They launched the series two years ago with Superman: Earth One by J. Michael Straczynski and Shane Davis. I thought it was pretty terrible.
When Batman: Earth One was announced, I had no interest. But then I read the graphic novel would be created by the team of Geoff Johns and Gary Frank, who worked together on some terrific Superman comics a few years ago, including the spectacular six-part Superman: Secret Origin. (It’s a far superior re-telling of Superman’s origin than that seen in Earth One, and I also reviewed it in the above link.) OK, I thought, let’s see what they can do with Batman.
They knocked it out of the park! Now that Christopher Nolan has completed his trilogy of Batman films, I wouldn’t be surprised if we’ll soon see a reboot of the Batman film series and another telling of Batman’s origin. In many ways, Batman: Earth One seems like a perfect pitch for an awesome new film version of Batman. I don’t know if that was the creators’ intention, but I could absolutely see this graphic novel working as a film.
Let me be clear: this story was not intended to be an “iconic” version of Batman’s origin. No, Mr. Johns and Mr. Frank have taken a very different approach, re-shaping and re-thinking aspects of the character and his origin. On the one hand, I am not exactly sure why that is something worth doing. Why bother messing with one of the simplest, most perfect origin stories in comics? Why change things that don’t really need to be changed? Why fix what isn’t broken? On the other hand, if one can let go of one’s sense of continuity and the occasional horrified “No! That’s not what’s supposed to happen!”, then this bold reinvention of Batman is very exciting and, for the most part, very successful.
I love the new version of Alfred. Physically the character looks totally different (yep, that gun-weilding dude on the cover is Alfred), and though the character’s central affection for Bruce Wayne remains, the changes are more than just physical. This is a younger, more vigorous, more virile Alfred than we’ve ever seen before. This Alfred is a military man, and in this story he becomes far more directly responsible for the training of the man who would be Batman than ever before. (Although the idea that Bruce Wayne spent years traveling the world training to become Batman is a … [continued]
After watching The Hustler (click here for my review of that 1961 film), I immediately had to watch Martin Scorsese’s The Color of Money. This has to be one of the weirdest sequels ever made. Released twenty-five years after the original film, made by a different director, shot in color as opposed to the original’s black-and-white, The Color of Money is a completely different film than The Hustler. And yet, I was impressed by how connected the two films were, mostly because of the story — which, though set years later, seems to draw a direct line from the end of The Hustler — and, of course, Paul Newman’s reprisal of his classic role as “Fast” Eddie Felson.
Like The Hustler, The Color of Money was adapted from a novel by Walter Tevis. Following the events of The Hustler, Eddie stopped being a pool shark. He seems to have made a fine (though not especially successful) life for himself, but when he sees an incredibly talented young pool player, Vincent (played by Tom Cruise), Eddie begins to hunger once again for the action. He convinces Vincent to let Eddie take him on the road, so he can teach Vincent the pool shark game and hopefully make the both of them a lot of money.
As in The Hustler, the film succeeds primarily because Paul Newman is so fantastic in the role of “Fast” Eddie. Mr. Newman may be an older man, but he’s still incredibly compelling and charismatic. You can see in the way he talks, and the way he moves, the powerful young man that “Fast” Eddie once was. As the film progresses, the narrative keeps the audience in genuine doubt as to whether Eddie still has what it takes to beat the odds and get the score, or whether he’s just a washed up old man with memories of glory. Mr. Newman’s powerful yet subtle performance allows the audience to envision both possibilities.
The beating heart of The Color of Money, of course, and the film’s whole reason for being, is the pairing of elder statesman Paul Newman with the young Tom Cruise as Vincent. Mr. Cruise is electric in the role. Vincent is brash and loud, full of energy and enthusiasm and lust for life, but totally without patience and not exactly possessing of a plethora of brains. The twenty-four year-old Cruise commands the viewer’s attention, and when he and Paul Newman share the screen (as they do for much of the film’s run-time), their chemistry is palpable and exciting. It’s a terrific dynamic, and certainly one that helps you understand why the filmmakers felt like a return to “Fast” Eddie and the world of … [continued]
In this 1961 film, adapted from the novel by Walter Tevis, Paul Newman plays “Fast” Eddie Felson, an incredibly talented pool shark. He and his partner Charlie (Myron McCormick) have been scamming their way from pool hall to pool hall, with the dream of one day taking on Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason). Fats is considered the best of the best, and Eddie hopes to beat him and win a big score. Of course, things don’t quite go as planned, and soon Eddie finds himself broke and directionless. He meets up with a beautiful but hard-drinking young woman named Sarah, and sparks fly. Will Fast Eddie try to settle down and make a life with this woman who loves him, or will he return to his hustling ways and attempt another confrontation with Minnesota Fats?
The first 45-50 minutes of The Hustler — the introduction to Eddie and Charlie and that first extended pool game with Minnesota Fats — is absolutely electric. I don’t know anything about pool, but I was riveted to every moment. Robert Rossen’s direction is superlative, and the force of personality of Paul Newman and Jackie Gleason is extraordinary. You don’t need to understand anything about pool — Mr. Rossen makes clear everything you need to know, and the sharp characters draw you in immediately. It’s marvelous.
Things slow down significantly once that big game of pool is completed. The film pauses for a significant middle section of the movie in which Eddie meets Sarah and the two fall into a relationship. After a while I did become invested in the story of these characters’ relationship, but after the high of the pool game it is quite a drop-off in intensity. (Let’s face-it — I was bored.) Things do pick up again as the film builds towards its conclusion, and Eddie and Sarah’s courtship is interrupted by events.
Piper Laurie is quite intriguing as Sarah. Her deep voice and her mannerisms create a rather unique woman. Sarah is no wallflower — she’s an independent woman who has clearly done a lot of living. I was fascinated to see how this pretty young lady who “meets cute” with Fast Eddie in a train station is gradually revealed to be as damaged and self-destructive — if not more so! — than is Eddie himself.
Watching The Hustler it is clear why Paul Newman was a super-star for such a long period of time. The man is electric — a live-wire performer. He’s incredibly handsome and charismatic, a fully-formed leading man, but not a simplistic pretty-boy. Take a look into his sharp eyes or take a listen to his fantastic voice — deep and gravelly — and layers of emotion … [continued]
Released in 1986, Frank Miller and Klaus Janson’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns is one of the most seminal Batman stories ever written, and certainly one of the finest super-hero comic-book stories ever told. The Dark Knight Returns forever changed the depiction of Batman, and it has been influencing comic book writers and artists not to mention filmmakers ever since. The dark, gothic look and tone of Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) was heavily influenced by The Dark Knight Returns, and the first hour-and-a-half of Christopher Nolan’s similarly-titled The Dark Knight Rises (in which an aging Bruce Wayne, haven not been Batman for nearly a decade, puts back on the cape and cowl, attempting to rebuild his body and then doing battle with a muscle-bound terrorist attempting to take control of Gotham City) is nearly a direct adaptation.
That’s a bit of a joke, of course, partly based on my disappointment with The Dark Knight Rises (click here for my review, though my dissatisfaction with the film has grown since I wrote that initial, mostly-positive review), but it’s certainly true that many of the major story-beats from that film were taken directly from The Dark Knight Returns. They even directly took the scene in which two cops, a veteran and a rookie, respond after first seeing Batman again on the night of his return. (“You’re slowing down?” ”Relax, kid. We’re in for a show.”)
I first read The Dark Knight Returns only a few years after it was initially published. I was WAY too young to read it, not question. I didn’t understand everything in the story (the twist about Harvey Dent’s psychosis at the end of Book one totally went right over my ten-year-old head) but I was nevertheless gripped by this dark, violent, gripping story. I have since read The Dark Knight Returns countless times, and it has lost none of its power. I’ve written about it before on this site, naming it one of my favorite graphic novels of all time.
I was thus very excited and also very nervous when it was announced that Bruce Timm & co. would be adapting this groundbreaking work as their next direct-to-DVD DC Universe animated project. This is exactly the type of comic source material that I desperately want to see Mr. Timm and his crew adapt — a classic series from the DC pantheon. But The Dark Knight Returns is so good, so beloved, that the idea of a lame, sub-par adaptation was far worse than the idea of no adaptation at all.
One of my biggest continual complaints with these DC Animated DVDs has been that they’re way too short. They all seem to be clocking … [continued]
Back in 2010, I started hearing about the BBC’s new Sherlock series. The word was overwhelmingly positive — people seemed to love this new reinvention of the Sherlock Holmes character and mythos, set in modern-day London. I was interested, but frankly having just recently seen and thoroughly enjoyed Guy Ritchie and Robert Downey Junior’s own recent reinvention of Sherlock holmes, in the film Sherlock Holmes (click here for my review), I wasn’t sure I was really all that interested in yet another version of the characters.
Well, I’m kicking myself for resisting for as long as I did, because the BBC’s Sherlock is absolutely magnificent. If you haven’t yet seen it, I strongly encourage you to seek it out!
Sherlock Season One, like most British TV series, is short. It consists of three hour-and-a-half-long episodes, each basically a movie in and of itself. Each episode adapts a different Sherlock Holmes short story. Sherlock is set in modern-day London, and I found myself continually delighted by the way the writers adapted the Holmes stories to modern-day times, while still preserving the heart of the original stories (as well as their delightful complexities). It’s great fun to see the way cell-phones, the internet, GPS tracking, and modern-day science and forensics evidence are seamlessly incorporated into Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic stories. It all works because the makers of this show are focused on preserving the core aspects of the original stories, rather than just jettisoning everything other than the character names. Instead, it’s as if the writers have asked themselves, how could Conan Doyle have written this story had he been alive today? Their answers are fiendishly clever.
The two leads are both excellent. Benedict Cumberbatch has created, in just three episodes, an absolutely iconic portrayal of the great detective. His Sherlock is an incredibly cold creature, someone who prides himself on not feeling normal emotions and, instead, seeking complete intellectual detachment from his cases. The show is not afraid to dare the audience to dislike its main character! But Mr. Cumberbatch always shows us the human heart beating beneath Sherlock’s intelligence and his often cruel demeanor. Meanwhile, Martin Freeman (Tim from the original British The Office, as well as Arthur Dent from the film adaptation of The Hitchhikers’s Guide to the Galaxy) adds another classic everyman character to his resume with his portrayal of John Watson. When we first meet him, in the opening scenes of the series, Watson has just returned from military service in Afghanistan (just as the character had in the original stories — a canny bit of serendipity), and he is emotionally lost. Of course, he eventually crosses paths with Sherlock, and a great partnership … [continued]
After re-reading Michael A. Martin & Andy Mangels’ Star Trek: Enterprise novel Kobayashi Maru (click here for my review), I started right into Michael A. Martin’s follow-up novel The Romulan War: Beneath the Raptor’s Wing. This is the first book of a duology chronicling the events of the Romulan War, a momentous event in Earth’s history referred to in the Original Series but never actually depicted on-screen. In the fourth and final season of Star Trek: Enterprise, fans grew excited that the show seemed to be planting the seeds of that conflict, but the show was cancelled before they ever got to actually show it. Luckily, the authors of Pocket Books’ Star Trek novels are here to pick up those tantalizing story threads.
Whereas Kobayashi Maru was mostly build-up, Beneath the Raptor’s Wing is “the good stuff,” so it’s not surprising that I felt this was a slightly stronger novel than the previous. I’m not sure why Mr. Martin is no longer writing with Andy Mangels (with whom he had partnered on numerous previous Star Trek books). When I saw Mr. Martin’s name alone on the book’s cover, I worried there would be a noticeable change in style, but I was pleased that this book flowed very smoothly from the previous novel.
As the novel opens, the newly-formed Coalition of Planets (the alliance between Earth, Vulcan, Andor, and Tellar) is being forced to deal with a threat to all their worlds. The Romulans’ involvement in the attacks on their ships (under the guise of the Coalition planets attacking each other, because the Romulans had discovered a way to remotely take control of Coalition ships and use them to attack others, as seen in Kobayashi Maru) has been revealed, and the coalition is now embroiled in a shooting war with their unseen enemies. Unfortunately, they still have no way to defeat the Romulans’ telecapture weapon, so the Coalition finds themselves defeated at every turn by the Romulans, who are able to turn the Coalition’s own starships into weapons against them.
Beneath the Raptor’s Wing takes place over a full year. I like how the novel is stretched over a much longer time-period than Kobayashi Maru was — it helps give an epic feel to the dramatic interstellar events being depicted. I also appreciated how one of my major complaints about Kobayashi Maru seems to have been addressed. (In my review of that previous book, I commented that all of the planets in the story — Earth, Vulcan, Chronos, etc. — seemed way too close together, with Archer and Enterprise able to zip from one center-of-government to another in just days, whereas I would have expected … [continued]