Screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely
Based on “Captain America” created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby
Before we get into the review, please indulge me for a minute…hit it:
I had hopes that when Jon Favreau snuck in the 1960’s Iron Man theme song, they’d find a way to do it in other movies based on Marvel superheroes.Such was not the case.“Star-Spangled Man” was okay, but it can’t beat this song.Maybe in the sequel.And I have no doubt that there will be a sequel as CAPTAIN AMERICA is in my head, fighting “Iron Man” and “Thor” as the best Marvel superhero movie made to date.Joe Johnston doesn’t get a single thing wrong in this movie which is actually two movies in one: it’s not only a superhero movie but it’s a World War II movie as well and never to the two elements clash with each other.
4F Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) tries time and time again to enlist in the U.S. Army as he desperately wants to do his part and fight the Nazis.But his list of physical aliments prevents that until chance puts him in the path of Professor Erskine (Stanley Tucci).The professor left Germany to willingly work for the United States on his greatest experiment: The Super Soldier Serum which can transform a man into the perfect human.Erskine wants to try his serum on Steve as he is impressed with the man’s heart and compassion.
Colonel Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) the head of the Super Soldier Project isn’t so sure this scrawny specimen is the right man.But Agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) of the Strategic Scientific Reserve agrees with Erskine and the experiment goes ahead.Steve is endowed with enhanced strength, reflexes, heightened senses and a metabolism that heals him at a faster rate than normal.Tragedy dims the success of the project and as a result Steve is regulated to being used a mere publicity tool to sell war bonds, going on USO tours as ‘Captain America’ dressed in a gaudy red, white and blue costume.
But over in Europe, the war isn’t waiting for Steve. Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving) is the head of HYDRA, a separate organization within the Nazi party dedicated to developing advanced weaponry for its own purposes.Schmidt is also known as The Red Skull, due to an unfortunate side effect of Erskine’s Super Soldier Serum which he took himself.Along with his chief scientist Arnim Zola (Toby Jones) The Red Skull has his own plan of world domination that doesn’t involve Hitler.
Things really kick into high gear when Steve, fed up with being treated as a joke, goes on a one-man rescue mission behind enemies lines to rescue his best friend James Buchanan ‘Bucky’ Barnes (Sebastian Stan) and over four hundred prisoners of war, including a bunch of fightin’ fools known as The Howling Commandos (Neil McDonough, Derek Luke, Kenneth Choi, Bruno Ricci and J.J. Field).
Captain America, now a front line soldier with Bucky and The Howling Commandos backing him up as well as a new protective uniform and shield developed by genius inventor/industrialist/futurist Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) is regarded as a genuine real American hero.His battles are rapidly becoming the stuff of legend.But it’s a legend that may be cut short when he finally confronts The Red Skull…
There are so many things that CAPTAIN AMERICA gets right I could easily take about an hour listing them.Elements of the origin are moved around but the spirit of the character is intact.Chris Evans finds exactly the right note for Steve Rogers/Captain America and never strays from it.Just like when he played Johnny Storm/The Human Torch in the two “Fantastic Four” movies, I get the impression that he took the time to read the comics.
The only problem I have with Tommy Lee Jones is that his character wasn’t named “Happy Sam” Sawyer since to me that’s who he’s playing.Neil McDonough is absolutely scary in how much he looks like “Dum Dum” Dugan.And he sounds exactly like I always heard Dugan’s voice in my head while reading those “Sgt. Fury” comic books.The changes in the relationship between Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes is one I thought made that relationship even stronger.I really liked how Tony Stark’s dad got in on a lot of the action and we get to see a lot of where Tony gets his swagger from.Hugo Weaving and Toby Jones make for an effective pair of bad guys and Hayley Atwell steals every scene she’s in as Peggy Carter, a woman definitely ahead of her time.
But the star behind the scenes is Joe Johnston who I’ve been telling you folks for years now is a genius.Hopefully the success of CAPTAIN AMERICA will cause people to finally acknowledge “The Rocketeer” as the masterpiece it is.And “Jurassic Park III” and “The Wolfman” ain’t bad either.
So should you see CAPTAIN AMERICA?Are you kidding me?What are you waiting for?
Produced by Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof, Roberto Orci, Scott Mitchell Rosenberg
Screenplay by Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby
Story by Steve Oedekerk
Based on the graphic novel “Cowboys & Aliens” created by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg, written by Fred Van Lente and Andrew Foley with pencils by Luciana Lima
I’ll tell you right up front so if you don’t want to be bothered reading the rest of the review, you don’t have to.I enjoyed COWBOYS & ALIENS a lot.It’s a very well made movie with performances I enjoyed and an entertaining premise.However, I have to say this: the parts of the movie with the cowboys are so entertaining that when I got to the parts of the movie with the aliens, I was wishing I was back with the cowboys.
A man with no memory (Daniel Craig) waked up in the desert with no idea of how he got there.He does have a picture of a beautiful woman and a strange metal bracelet on his arm he can’t remove.The man makes his way to the boom town of Absolution which has gone bust.The town is so bust it depends on the cattle baron Colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford).Which means suffering the drunken tantrums of his son Percy (Paul Dano)
The man runs afoul of Percy, attracting the attention of Sheriff John Taggert (Keith Carradine) who identifies the man as Jake Lonergan, notorious outlaw.Taggert intends to ship Lonergan off to federal prison along with Percy when Dolarhyde shows up.His intentions are simple: he wants his son back and he wants Lonergan as well.Seems as if Lonergan has been helping himself to Dolarhyde’s gold.Dolarhyde means to shoot up the town if his wishes aren’t met.But he’s beaten to the punch by alien spacecraft that not only blow the town to splinters but kidnap a sizeable number of citizens.
Dolarhyde aims to go after the varmints who took his son and he needs Lonergan because the bracelet on his wrist turns out to be an extraordinarily powerful weapon.The town doctor/bartender Doc (Sam Rockwell) wants to get his wife back.Also going along is the grandson of the sheriff (Noah Ringer) Nat Colorado (Adam Beach) Dolarhyde’s right hand man and the town preacher (Clancy Brown) Rounding out this crew is the mysterious Ella (Olivia Wilde) who packs a mean shootin’ iron of her own and knows way more about the aliens than anybody else.
The road to the alien camp is one that made me wish that Jon Favreau was doing a straight-up western.If Daniel Craig keeps making westerns I don’t give two hoots if he never makes another James Bond movie again.Both he and Olivia Wilde look right at home in the genre.And this is the best performance Harrison Ford has given since I dunno when.In fact, I don’t think there was a performance in this movie I didn’t enjoy.
And Jon Favreau knows that even in an action movie you need moments where an audience can catch their breath and maybe get to know the characters a little bit better.He’s good enough to do that and he’s also good enough to know how to rev the action back up to 11 after a slowdown.My respect for him as a director continues to grow with every movie he makes.
So should you see COWBOYS & ALIENS?I say yes.It’s got truth in advertising as if has Cowboys and it has Aliens.It’s not going to become known as a classic of the genre but it’s good, solid entertainment with a cast that knows what they’re doing and a director working at the top of his game.Enjoy.
AIRSHIP DAEDALUSspins an exciting tale of two-fisted pulp adventure, set against the backdrop of 1920s exploration, science, mysticism and derring-do. Written by Todd Downing (Ordinary Angels) and drawn by Brian Beardsley (The Devil’s Own), Airship Daedalus follows the adventures of Captain “Stratosphere” Jack McGraw (ace pilot) and his crew: Dorothy “Doc” Starr (medic & occult expert), Carl “Rivets” Holloway (mechanic), Edward “Duke” Willis (comms & munitions), and Charlie “Deadeye” Dalton (sharpshooter). Sometimes aided by Stede Bonnet and his Sky Pirates, Captain Stratosphere scours the globe in search of rare artifacts to keep from falling into the hands of the devious Aleister Crowley and his Astrum Argentinium. Crowley’s primary weapon in his quest for world domination is the mega-Zeppelin Luftpanzer, commanded by his right hand gal, Maria Blutig. With powerful magic and fanatic followers on their side, the Astrum Argentinium and the Luftpanzer pose a major threat to the natural order, thus a secretive organization founded by scientists and industrialists has set the Daedalus II on its course to be the “Shield Against the Darkness”.
A lot of times I’ll get asked can a superhero be a pulp hero and vice versa. And I say sure. Take Batman. To me, he’s a pulp character who happens to inhabit a superhero universe. Or the Challengers of The Unknown who to me are also pulp characters. The lines can get blurry, especially with guys like Thor who is both a legitimate epic fantasy character (or at least he used to be back in the day) and well as being a superhero. Now guys like Spider-Man, Superman and The Flash, I call them straight up superheroes.
What does all of this have to do with THE IMPOSTOR #0: “Suiting Up” by Richard Lee Byers? Not much, to be honest with you. But it was thoughts like that bouncing around in my melon of a head while I read the story. There’s a lot of New Pulp as well as Classic Pulp for that matter that can also classified as prose superhero fiction. When it’s done well, it can be just as much fun and as satisfying as a well-drawn or well-written comic book.
The story is as uncomplicated as a glass of milk: Working stiff Matt Brown is on his way home after a hard day of labor when the Earth is invaded by aliens. But Matt’s Earth is protected by superheroes who valiantly throw themselves into the defense of their planet. Not all of them survive and Matt himself is captured by the aliens. He manages to escape and in the process, acquires some of the equipment and powers of the slain superheroes. Now it’s all up to Matt to take on the invaders.
That’s it. But considering that it’s an origin story, how much more do you need? Mr. Byers sets up his character and the premise of the series in a neat, tight bundle that I found highly enjoyable Old School superheroics with a fine Silver Age DC feel to it. While reading the story I was visualizing the action as if it were drawn by the 60’s Gil Kane. I dunno if that was the vibe Mr. Byers was going for but that’s the one I got. And I liked it.
Should you read THE IMPOSTOR #0: “Suiting Up”? I don’t see why not. Certainly the price is right. You can find it here for free. That’s right, I said, free. And at 23 pages it makes for a quick, exciting read, just the way all good pulp should go down. Mr. Byers has promised further adventures of his hero and I’m looking forward to them.
Not being an historian I’m not sure if Edgar Rice Burroughs created the Planetary Romance genre.But I am certain that he refined it into something so unique and special that all anybody has to do is say “John Carter” or “Dejah Thoris” or “Barsoom” and most everybody even remotely acquainted with Pulp will know what you’re talking about.Planetary Romance or Sword and Planet as some like to call it is a wildly popular genre in its own right.Burroughs having struck great success with his Mars books pulled off the same trick with his Carson of Venus books.In the 1980’s I discovered other books/series in the genre written by Lin Carter, Michael Moorcock, Alan Burke Akers and even…sigh, the “Gor” books written by John Norman.
Suffice it to say without going into detail that some of them I enjoyed and others I shook my head in downright disbelief that they ever got published.I can happily say that DIRE PLANET by Joel Jenkins is one that I’m glad got published as it’s a wonderful example of what New Pulp is about.Joel embraces the conventions of Burroughsian Planetary Romance but it does it with a modern day eye.As a result it’s a book that at once feels familiar and fresh.Just when you think you know which way the plot is going to go, Joel manages to find another fork in the road that takes you someplace else.
The Earthman taken from his native world to the planet Mars this time around is Garvey Dire and he doesn’t get there by mystical means.He gets there by spaceship, the NASA Mars Orbiter.Garvey Dire’s mission is not just one of exploration and discovery.His mission is one of vital importance to the continued security and safety of The United States.China wants to establish their own base on Mars.And so the race is on.
It’s a race that ends in disaster when Garvey’s ship crash lands on Mars.With his leg broken, losing air and blood, it seems as if Garvey’s story is over.But that all changes when he sees the image of a gorgeous green skinned swordswoman in armor. And it’s because of that image his life is saved as he’s transported 50,000 years back into the past and to a Mars unlike any he’s ever dreamed of.
It’s all here; flashing swords against ancient super science.Hideous beasts and their even more hideous masters.Noble warriors battling against grotesque humanoid creatures of astounding cruelty.Captures.Chases.Escapes.Fates worse than death.And romance.Garvey Dire finds it all on ancient Mars.
But what really makes DIRE PLANET a cut above other Burroughs inspired Sword and Planet stories is the political element.Once Garvey gets hurtled back to ancient Mars, Joel doesn’t forget the U.S./China conflict and indeed, the way he cuts back and forth between the two time periods is in true Burroughs tradition as he was expert at juggling two sets of characters, leaving one set in a nail-biting cliffhanger at the end of a chapter then bouncing over to the other set of characters for a chapter then leaving them in a inescapable trap then going back and-
Well, you get the idea.It’s a good technique that never failed to work for Burroughs because it’s a surefire way of keeping the story going.Joel even manages to resolve the conflicts in both time periods in a manner that while it’s clever it also involved just a little too much bouncing back and forth through time for my taste.Not that I’m opposed to time travel, mind you.But I think that Joel figured that the only way out was to pinball various characters back and forth between the two time periods.It’s a little bit dizzying but hey, if you’ve hung on with Garvey Dire all that way, you’re going to go on to the end and you won’t be disappointed.
I can’t finish this review without mentioning two of my favorite bits in the book; Number one is the revelation of who The President of The United States. And number two is that Joel apparently is psychic because he predicted one of the most popular devices in use today way back in 2005 when this book was first published.
So should you read DIRE PLANET?You certainly should.If you’ve never read anything by Joel Jenkins this is the perfect place to start.Joel has been writing what we’re now calling New Pulp as long as I’ve known him and we’re talking roughly around 15 years.And in all that time he’s built up quite the respectable amount of work.DIRE PLANET is one of his best.
For more information about Joel Jenkins please visit:
Written by Basil Dickey, Ella O’Neill, George H. Plympton
Based on the comic strip by Alex Raymond
Say whatever you want about The Internet.It’s done all right by me so far.It’s a never ending source of delight to me that I can find and rediscover movies, books, comics and old TV shows that I thought I’d never see or experience again.But it’s all out there and thanks to the wonderful technology we now have, it’s a joy to be able to relive some of my childhood pleasures.This is one of ‘em.
Set The Wayback Machine for pre-Netflix days, Sherman. (I’m talking about the 70’s and 80’s, folks) when the only way I could see cliffhanger serials from the 30’s and 40’s was to either borrow them from the library and hope the VHS tape hadn’t been dubbed from a poor copy or wait until they were shown on PBS.Usually during the summer PBS would have a Saturday night marathon showing of “Spy Smasher” “Perils of Nyoka” “The Masked Marvel” or “Manhunt of Mystery Island” in their original form.Much more common were the edited versions of cliffhangers that Channel 9 or Channel 11 here in New York would show on Saturday afternoons.15 chapters were edited down into 90 minutes.It gave you a good flavor of what cliffhangers were like but that was all.
But now we’ve got Netflix and it was while accidentally finding they had “King of The Rocketmen” available, I hunted up some other serials as well.Including what is probably the best known and best loved cliffhanger serial of all; FLASH GORDON starring Larry “Buster” Crabbe.The man was known as The King of The Serials due to his playing in serials arguably the three most popular comic strip heroes at that time: Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon and Tarzan.Talk about your hat tricks.
But there’s a reason why Mr. Crabbe got to play such heroes.The cat looks like a hero.He had the genuine square chin, steely eyes and a build most guys would give ten years off their life for.But I think that Buster Crabbe’s real appeal in this serial lay in his Everyman quality.His Flash Gordon isn’t the smartest guy in the room.And he’s okay with that.He’s more than happy to let Dr. Zarkov be the brains of the outfit while he does the dirty work.He’s clever and resourceful.He’s got morals and compassion for the little guy.And when it comes to kicking ass all over Mongo, just step back and give Flash some fightin’ room.
By now, the story is legend.The planet Mongo is hurtling toward Earth on what appears to be a collision course.Earth’s weather is going crazy as well as the populace.Flash Gordon is on one of the last cross country flights as he wishes to be with his scientist father when the end comes.Also on the plane is Dale Arden (Jean Rogers).Due to the severity of the weather, Flash and Dale are forced to bail out by parachute and happen to land right near the spaceship of Dr. Hans Zarkov (Frank Shannon) who talks them into a suicide mission to fly through space to the planet Mongo and somehow stop it from crashing into Earth.
Flash and Dale agree to go along and our intrepid heroes successfully make it to Mongo where they are promptly captured by Captain Torch (Earl Askam) who takes them to his Emperor: Ming The Merciless (Charles Middleton) who rules Mongo by fear and terror.Ming and Flash take an instant dislike to each other.However, Ming’s daughter Princess Aura (Priscilla Lawson) falls immediately in love with Flash and tries to save him when her daddy throws Flash in the Arena of Death with three brutal ape men.Now mind you, this is just the first chapter and I didn’t even describe half of what happens.
The next 12 chapters are a goofy blizzard of classic space opera pulp adventure as Flash and his friends are chased, captured, enslaved, escape, battle and struggle against Ming while making friends and allies with Vultan (John Lipson) King of The Hawkmen, Prince Barin (Richard Alexander) the rightful ruler of Mongo and Prince Thun (James Pierce) of The Lionmen.
First off let me say up front that you have to have a love of this kind of thing from Jump Street or at least be curious to learn more about this genre.This entire serial was made for less than a million bucks which today wouldn’t even pay for the catering for some of today’s movie.So we’re talking about production values that are downright laughable by today’s standards.The acting is nothing to brag about.But it is sincere.Buster Crabbe sells it with all his heart.When he’s up there on screen he convinces you that he’s in the deadliest of peril even while fighting the most obvious rubber octopus in the history of movies.And the rest of the cast follow suit.Especially John Lipson as Vultan who I was afraid would belly laugh himself a hernia, that’s how much he’s enjoying playing the Falstaffian King of The Hawkmen.
Jean Rogers as Dale Arden is kinda blah, even for this material.She mostly just stands around looking gorgeous in her flowing, gossamer robes.Mongo must really be hard up for women since everybody who meets Dale wants to marry her.Her contribution to the story consists of either fainting or screaming at least once every chapter.I gotta give her props, though.Not many actresses even today could give so many inflections to one line; “What have you done with Flash?” which is usually all she gets to say.
Princess Aura is much more fun to watch as she’s the real woman of action here.She’s always pulling a ray gun on someone, even on her own father to rescue Flash.Something she does a surprising number of times.There’s even a scene where Aura tells Dale that if Dale really cared about Flash, she’d do something and not just stand there cramming her fist in her mouth to hold back yet another scream.Whenever she hears Flash has been captured yet again, Aura grabsthe nearest ray gun, holds up her dress so as not to trip and runs off in her marvelously high heels to save him.
Frank Shannon is amazing as Dr. Hans Zarkov, one of the greatest Mad Scientists in fiction.There’s a scene in the spaceship that made me laugh out loud:Our Heroes are heading for Mongo when Flash asks Zarkov if he’s ever done this before.Zarkov admits that he hasn’t but he’s tested with models.“What happened to them?” Flash asks.“They never came back,” Zarkov sheepishly admits.If you watch this serial, check out the expression on Flash’s face.Priceless.
And while I’m sure that Mr. Crabbe didn’t mind having to wear shorts through the whole production, I would think Frank Shannon and Richard Alexander did since they don’t have the legs to pull that look off.At least Charles Middleton didn’t have to.He doesn’t have the fabulous wardrobe Max Von Sydow sported in the 1980 movie but he does have the sufficient gravitas to make us take Ming seriously.Flash Gordon vs Ming The Merciless is one of the most celebrated hero/villain pairings in heroic fiction and I believe it’s largely due to the work Mr. Crabbe and Mr. Middleton do in this serial as well as the two sequels.They are never less than convincing and in their best moments they make us forget the cheapness of the production.
So should you see the 1936 serial version of FLASH GORDON?It depends.Are you just looking for a casual Friday or Saturday night movie? Thengo Netflix the 1980 version starring Sam J. Jones as Flash and Max Von Sydow as Ming with the absolutely kickass Queen soundtrack.
But if you consider yourself a student of pulp fiction, of heroic fiction in film, of the cliffhanger serial or of the science fiction movie genre or of just plain movies then I say that there is no way you can call yourself a student of any/all those genres and not watch the 1936 FLASH GORDON at least once.It’s the great-grandfather of 90% of filmic space opera that came after it and need I remind you that the major reason George Lucas created “Star Wars” is because he couldn’t get the rights to do FLASH GORDON, which is really what he wanted to do.If things had turned out different we might have been watching Flash Gordon, Prince Thun and Prince Barin wielding those lightsabers.
Ideally you should do it the right way and watch one chapter a week on Saturday to get the real effect of watching Saturday morning cliffhangers but I’m a greedy bastard and watched it all in one day with 15 minutes breaks in between.No, it’s not the same but I kinda think that after the first two of three chapters, you’re gonna keep watching.
Taken as a cultural artifact it is a superior example of a style of film storytelling that isn’t done anymore.As a gateway drug into pulp in general and as cliffhanger serials in particular, there are few better examples than FLASH GORDON.Load it up on Netflix and enjoy.
FLASH GORDON has no rating but be advised that it is a culturally and racial insensitive movie by our standard today.If you’re willing to overlook that and understand it was made in a less socially enlightened time, fine.If not, give it a pass.