Tagged: movie

Review: Star Wars: The Phantom Menace: The Expanded Visual Dictionary

Review: Star Wars: The Phantom Menace: The Expanded Visual Dictionary

Star Wars: The Phantom Menace: The Expanded Visual Dictionary
By Jason Fry
DK Publishing, 104 pages, $19.99

Timed for the 3-D release of the most reviled movie in the six film set, it might be appropriate to take this opportunity to reassess the first installment in the modern era trilogy. Jason Fry, a DK veteran, updates and, well, expands the original edition of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace: The Visual Dictionary, originally written by David West Reynolds. Obviously, this edition can now put the characters and settings into context since the subsequent two films are now part of the public consciousness while the 1999 edition could only cover what was seen in this first part.

In keeping with the format, we get two page looks at people, places and things, providing details with large color pictures and cutaways. The opening spread sets the stage and explains what the Phantom Menace is, the galactic politics at the time and the threat posed by Darth Maul and his acolyte.

Of course, over the course of the four dozen entries, we get our favorite characters, droids, hardware, spacecraft, and other elements. It’s a feast for the eyes and the writing is clear and sharp, making it easily comprehendible for young readers on up.

It’s the visual designs that cause us to reconsider. Yes, the story was lacking, the acting flat, and Jar Jar Binks is just plain annoying. I’ll stipulate to all of that so we can note that George Lucas and his design team really took advantage to bring these alien worlds, races, and tools to life. Of late, Lucas has made much of the compromises he had to make on the initial movie where the budget and production realities of the mid-1970s couldn’t possibly bring his vision to reality.

The alien makeups and designs, such as Yarael Poof of the Jedi High Council, or even the winged Watto show a universe far more diverse than anything possible in the first movie. There’s a scope to Coruscant that couldn’t be found on Tatooine. Where Lucas may have gone too far was in high polished everything appears here compared with the more worn look of the worlds visited in the original (and still superior) trilogy.

Where this book could have been stronger was in its organization since there are no chapters or design elements, we go from a handful of Jedi to an invasion force to battle droids and so on. It therefore has a hodgepodge feel that takes away from the overall useful of the volume. As a result, any time you need an entry, you have to go back to the Table of Contents.

There’s just enough information and detail here to tell you what you really need to know and let the real diehard fans and researchers find more data in the various compendia from DelRey Books’ line. If you’re a longtime fan or are just discovering this far, far away galaxy, this is a great primer.


MARC ALAN FISHMAN: Fantastic Flop – How I’d Reboot Marvel’s First Family

So I found myself with a bit of time to kill while my wife and mother-in-law went out and about for lunch. My week-old son and I decided it was time to enjoy a bit of cable TV goodness. A quick surf left with me few options. Food Network was showing yet-another cupcake show… USA was playing that episode of Everybody Loves Raymond where his wife is a shrew and his mother annoys him, and TBS was on Tyler Perry’s Black People Watch Everything I Put Out, Not That It’s Good. And FX? Callooh-Callay! They had on the Fantastic Four movie from a few years back. Given that I was still sporting half a nerd-boner for the Super Bowl Avengers spot, and the recent web-release of The Amazing Spider-Man trailer, FF seemed like the perfect way to wet my whistle for a bit of comic goodness.

Granted, I’ve seen the movie a few times. Saw it opening weekend, and didn’t hate it. Didn’t love it either, but somehow, it was one of those guilty “Hey, if it’s on, it’s really not that bad is it?” pleasures. A few hours later, my favorite ladies returned to a house with both their boys rife with a case of the cranky pants. I’m pretty sure my son Bennett had pooped himself. I didn’t have a mess in my trousers, but I had a tear in my eye. Seems I crossed that threshold where the movie stopped being “worth” the free cable viewing, and slid right into “Good lord, people paid money for this crap?” zone.

I could spend the remainder of this column dissecting how putrid the FF movie ended up being. But it’s old-hat, right? So, why not make this a turn for the positive. I’d like to outline four things Marvel can do to reboot the familial franchise into something… dare I say… more fantastic.

1. Explore the emotional origins as well as the basic plot points. We all know the bullet points by now, don’t we? On an outer space adventure… they got hit by cosmic rays. And that moment changed forever… in the most fantastic ways. No need to fear, their here… just call the four! Sorry, it was a damn catchy theme song. Suffice to say, the rocket ride with Kirby dots isn’t ALL that the origin of the FF is. You have romance between Sue and Reed. You have Ben, the stalwart pilot. Johnny, the joker, and comic relief. While these points were hit on in the last iteration, we miss the history. Use flashbacks (ala Batman Begins) to enhance our emotional ties to the characters. It’s not a race to the whiz-bang-special effects, when you have solid characterization. And each of the Four present a solid opportunity for fun beats.

2. Ditch the “We’re learning to use our powers until it matters at the end” montage. Face it. What killed Green Lantern (OK, one of the things that killed it…) was the age-old power development plot line. A solid 45 minutes of the last FF movie spent time building the revolvers it would later shoot at the movie’s climax. It’s just not needed. When you cross over into the sci-fi, plausibility takes a backseat to adventure. If we took time to dissect the fact that Luke Skywalker was able to get a shot into a teeny hole on a battle station that decimated nearly all of his backup (who were all far more experienced fighter pilots)… we’d go mad. Once you accept that “Comic Rays” can turn one man into a walking pilot light, and another into silly putty, you don’t need to spend an hour back-peddling to make us “believe” they’ll know what to do when it’s clobbering time.

3. The big villain? Mole Man. Follow me down the rabbit hole if you will. Batman Begins took a venerable B-Lister in Ra’s Al Ghul as its first antagonist. It was a smart choice. As Nolan said in countless interviews, the villain suits the arc the hero takes across the movie. In Spider-Man 2 (easily the best of Raimi’s Marvel contributions), we got a brilliant update on a pretty mort-worthy villain. And because Peter was learning to have balance in his life during the course of the movie, Doc Oc was a perfect foil. The Fantastic Four have a pretty decent rogues gallery. It’s easy to want to jump immediately to Doom or Galactus. But the first in a franchise needn’t aim so high. In both cases, those villains would outshine the stars of the film. First and foremost, it’s the FF that people should be ooohing and aaahing over. With Mole Man you have an obvious foe who will test the Four and their ability to become this odd family unit of world-savers. The villain fits the arc, as it were. Plus, it gives us a chance to recreate that iconic first issue cover on the big screen. And you know that’d be the bee’s knees.

4. Casting. Most every comic book film lands an amazing cast… even if they don’t get utilized properly. I didn’t hate anyone in the last FF iteration per say, but let’s be honest – Ioan Gruffudd looked OK but lacked the cockiness-by-way-of-supreme-intelligence. Jessica Alba was there for eye-candy only. Chris Evans stole the show, Michael Chiklis looked the part, but had no Yancy Street swagger. Ole’ Blue Eyes needs have a definitive balance between boisterous banter and tragic pathos. Some of this could easily be the scripting, but let’s say I was a casting agent? I’d cast accordingly: Jon Hamm as Mr. Fantastic. Uma Thurman as Sue Storm. Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul as Johnny Storm. And Brendan Fraser as Ben Grimm. Hamm can pull off “the smartest man in the room, with ease. Thurman is equally weighted when on screen (and can pull off shorter hair, and heroic). Paul can sling insults, and certainly could look the part… And Fraser, who I know most would say is a stretch, is built big, can pull off a New York accent, and has more potential than most nerds give him credit for. And as my Mole Man? Paul Giamatti. He’s damn good in everything.

So there you have it. I know a new FF movie is already in the works… here’s hoping someone over at Marvel is trolling my articles, and a few of my hopes and dreams gets swept into the pre-production fracas. What do you think? Voice your opinion below, true believers!

SUNDAY: John Ostrander


Arcana Joins With Benderspink To Launch Comics Line / R&D Lab

ArcanaContinuing the tradition of movie studios teaming up with comics companies to create properties that can be turned into movies (see: Disney/Marvel, WB/DC, Universal/Dark Horse, Legendary/Legendary, etc./etc.) we have the latest entry…

Benderspink and Sean Patrick O’Reilly’s Arcana Comics are launching ArcanaBenderspink Comics, a label that will publish under the Arcana brand. The idea: hatch comics that can be turned into movie and TV properties. The partnership comes out of JC Spink and Sean O’Reilly’s strong relationship after setting up the Arcana comic book Continuum at New Line. “What I thought made this a great partnership was that Sean not only knows how to make a great comic but he’s actually produced movies,” Spink said. “I don’t know any comic publishers that have his producing experience.” Benderspink partner Jake Weiner said that the comics label is a byproduct of the company’s increased focus on generating intellectual properties. “This is one of five IP creation deals we are entering into along with deals in mobile content/apps, Y/A publishing, videogames, and toys.”

Benderspink has already been tapping comics for films, as the company has percolating Y The Last Man at New Line, Area 52 at Summit, The Mighty at Paramount, Ghouly Boys at Mandate, and Undying Love at Warners. “Jake, JC, Sean, and I are looking to partner with other producers and then start shopping these projects to studios in the next few weeks,” Chris Bender said. “What we wanted to do differently was have studios option the projects inexpensively and then hire writers as the studio helps us develop the comic. I think this makes it a no lose proposition for everyone.”

Arcana founder Sean O’Reilly said the venture was a good fit because Benderspink is so steeped in comics. “And they produced one of what I think is the top 3 comic book movies ever with A History of Violence,” O’Reilly said.

via Benderspink, Arcana Launch Film-Friendly Comics Line – Deadline.com. Go there to read the concepts they already have movie posters for. (Comics? Finished comics? Hey, we can sell the concept just based on the movie poster of the comic… remember how well that worked for Cowboys and Aliens?)

A Petition to Nicolas Cage: Support Ghost Rider’s Creator Even If Marvel Won’t

A Petition to Nicolas Cage: Support Ghost Rider’s Creator Even If Marvel Won’t

Cover of "Ghost Rider (Extended Cut) [Blu...Karalyn Johnson has started the following petition:

Dear Nicolas Cage,

I have read that you are very dedicated to making Ghost Rider II a success, so much so that you have taken a hefty pay cut in order to get this film made. Unfortunately Marvel Enterprises has won a settlement of $17,000 from artist Gary Friedrich (I am sure you know Mr. Friedrich is one of the creators of the Ghost Rider character).

Marvel winning a lawsuit against a financially destitute and unemployed senior citizen who helped create the iconic character that is the subject of the movie you care so deeply about has created a distinct antipathy toward your project. The negative effect Marvel’s lawsuit has caused is perhaps far greater than you know. Facebook and Twitter are aflame with negative comments, petitions and people urging others not to see your film solely because of Marvel’s treatment of Mr. Friedrich. You stand to lose millions because of the public relations disaster Marvel has caused.

Mr. Cage, I know how you can personally overcome this PR nightmare, save your movie and make yourself a true hero in the eyes of the comics and movie-going public. Do you want that and more positive publicity than you have ever had? All it would take for you to be a true hero to millions of people is $17,000. That’s less than the price of a car. Give $17,000 to Mr. Friedrich so that he can pay Marvel. Save your movie by saving Mr. Friedrich.

My best regards to you, Mr. Cage. I hope to see you at the movies.

Sincerely, Karalyn Johnson

ComicMix supports this wholeheartedly. As Marvel would put it themselves, ‘Nuff Said. (And now Marvel can sue us too.)


REVIEW: A Trio from Hitchcock — “Notorious”, “Spellbound”, and “Rebecca”

Alfred Hitchcock is today best known for his work in the 1950s and 1960s, thanks to Universal and Warner Bros. steady stream of restored re-releases on Blu-ray but recently, 20th Century Home Entertainment reminded us that the master director wasn’t exactly idle in the years before. A trio of his 1940s works – Notorious, Spellbound, and Rebecca – are now out on Blu-ray for the first time and it begs a fresh look at his black and white thrillers.

Hitchcock began his stormy relationship with MGM producer David O. Selznick with 1940’s Rebecca, a psychological drama which is noteworthy as the director’s first American film. Adapted from Daphne du Maurier’s bestseller, it featured Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine, and Judith Anderson. Being a gothic tale of loss, while gently questioning whether or not Olivier killed his first wife, it was a good fit for Hitchcock, introducing him to the American way of shooting a feature film. Clearly it worked since it went on to win a Best Picture Oscar. (more…)

REVIEWS: “Annie Hall” and “Manhattan”

20th Century Home Entertainment continues to explore their library, releasing Blu-ray editions of popular and important films. Recently, two of Woody Allen’s best films were released and are worth a second look.

Allen as a comedian was a witty, smart writer and performer, coming from a literate line of humor that was in rapid decline by the 1960s. In some ways, he was the bridge between that era and today when men like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert carry the mantle. His early films were very funny and as a director, he was learning the ropes, figuring out what worked while entertaining the masses.

That culminated in Annie Hall, his 1977 serious comedy featuring his then-paramour Diane Keaton. The movie was a quantum leap in sophistication, partially from the smart script co-written with Marshall Brickman, but a most self-assured hand behind the camera. Allen shows a maturity as a filmmaker that proved to audiences and critics alike he was more than just a funny and funny-looking guy. The movie went on to earn four Academy Awards including Best Picture (besting Star Wars), Best Actress, Best Directing and Best Screenplay. (more…)

REVIEW: “In Time”

in-time-300x367-8536441Andrew Niccol is an English teacher’s dream, presenting visually compelling dystopia in movies that feature pretty people in dire straits. While his 1997 debut, Gattaca, got us all interested in him as a visionary, he has offered up precious few films since and the most recent one, In Time, was more hard-scratching than captivating.

The Justin Timberlake action movie came and went fairly quickly in the fall and was released this past week by 20th Century Home Entertainment. In a near-future, man has figured out how to alter our genetics so on our 25th birthday, our body is locked in place and our body clock begins to countdown. If I understand it right, they have a year to live without additional time being obtained which has led to a society of the immortal haves versus the time-starved have-nots. District 1 is at the bottom of the social ladder, a slum-like environment in an unnamed portion of the United States and there, factory worker Timberlake fights back, becoming the rebel a society had been waiting for. Along the way, he falls for heiress Amanda Seyfried, who has her eyes opened to the inequity largely controlled by her billionaire father (Vincent Kartheiser). Timberlake is hunted down by a Time Keeper (Cillian Murphy) for breaking the fuzzy law.

Everything is fuzzy about the movie. The world’s economy has shifted from cash and oil to time and it can be bought, sold, traded, and stored. How that works and how the genetics work are never clearly explained. Nor is the society and why is has been divided into a dozen distinct districts (Suzanne Collins does a better job of this in her Hunger Games trilogy). The power stems from the prime district called appropriately enough New Greenwich. (more…)

MINDY NEWELL: Great Books! And 1 Movie!

So what are you reading?

Fellow ComicMixer Bob Greenberger recently talked about To Kill A Mockingbird a couple days ago as he prepares to teach his class. To Kill A Mockingbird is, as I expect all of you to know, a masterpiece of American literature concerning the racial tensions and bigotries of a small town in Alabama during the Depression – but more important, it is a study of the nature of good and evil, of both the morality and immorality inherent in all of us.

Starring Gregory Peck as the lawyer Atticus Finch who defends the black man accused of raping a white woman, the movie is a landmark picture, and – in my opinion – a touchstone for how to adapt a brilliant novel to the screen. Also my opinion: Peck’s greatest role.

But don’t just watch the movie. Read the book itself. One of the things that just driiivvvess meeee crrrrrazzzzy is when I ask someone, “did you read….” and what I get back in response is, “I saw the movie.”


Here’re some books that have been turned into movies. Some good, some bad, some just “eh.” But do yourself a favor – read the book. You might learn something.

Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind: Yes, it’s one of the greatest movies ever made. Yes, adjusted for inflation it’s made more than any other movie. Yes, Vivien Leigh, Olivia DeHavilland, Hattie MacDonald Clark Gable, Leslie Howard, are the living embodiments of Mitchell’s characters. In fact, it’s about the most perfect casting ever, in my opinion. But Scarlett is not just the selfish bitch that the movie portrays.

In fact, as you read Gone With The Wind, you realize that Scarlett Katie O’Hara embodies both the Old and New South, the gentry who will not dirty their hands and the hard-scrabbling immigrant who will. Even her mother and father represent this coming battle, with Ellen O’Hara a symbol of the old landed gentry who live by rituals and rules, and Gerald O’Hara the hard-scrabbling immigrant who will do anything to succeed. And her men are symbols, too, as she clings to Ashley as a representation of an idealized world of chivalry and manners, and of the pampered childhood she has lost, while simultaneously being drawn to Rhett, the realist, the adult, the symbol of the “New South” and the future. Every main character in Gone With The Wind are the embodiments of the Civil War, of the battle between yesterday and today, of what was and what can be. Melanie is not just the selfless and perfect Lady of the antebellum South. Rhett is more than a lusting hedonist who marries Scarlett because he can’t have any other way. Ashley is more than just a beaten Confederate. Mitchell’s characters within the book come alive because they are all, well, alive.

The Mists of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley. Okay, technically this wasn’t a movie; it was a mini-series on TNT starring Julianne Margulies and Angelica Huston. It was promoted as the story of Camelot from the “women’s side.” The mini-series was a disaster. I could understand if no one’s curiosity was piqued enough to read the book. But do it anyway. But it’s so much more.

It’s the story of the introduction of Christianity into Celtic Britain, of how one great religion was usurped and demonized by another. It’s a story, again, of the fall of one civilization and the rise of another. Of choices, of the roles between women and men, of what is good and what is evil and what is in-between. Of what is magic and what is faith, of what is real and what is not. All, as I said, set against the backdrop of one of the most romantic and glorious legend of all, King Arthur, Lancelot, Guinevere, Morgan Le Fay, Mordred, Merlin, and the Round Table.

Giant, by Edna Ferber. Ferber was a brilliant novelist whose historical fictions also criticized the social mores and woes of America. Giant deals with the struggle for power between the great cattle barons and the growing oil industry in Texas from the 1920s to the 1950s. It’s the story of cultures at struggle against themselves and each other: Leslie Lynton Benedict, from the East, against her husband, Jordan “Bick” Benedict, born and bred in the Southwest. It’s about of racism and bigotry, of how both the cattle barons and the oil tycoons built their empires on the back of Mexican-Americans… sadly, still an incredibly relevant story today, as illegal immigration continues to be at the forefront of our politics. (Hello, Arizona!) It’s even about the role of women in a society, as Leslie, raised to think for herself, fights to retain her individuality in a society where women are sidelined and controlled by men. Most of all, it’s a story of generational war, as the old must give way to the young.

Okay, Kelly Clarkson just sang the Star Spangled Banner. I gotta go.

But just in case you think I’m a total book snob, there is one movie that totally exceeds its origins. That’s The Godfather, parts I and II. Read the book. It’s good…but the movies are better.

Kelly’s done. The game is on. Go Big Blue!

TUESDAY: Michael Davis… or Gold writes about hockey. One or the other.

MARTHA THOMASES: George Lucas, Black History, and African-American Comics

In the hopes of beating the Black History Month rush, I went to see Red Tails last weekend. George Lucas had been making the interview rounds and he discussed how difficult it was for him to get this film made. He ended up paying for it himself, but then couldn’t find a studio to distribute or market it. Apparently, they felt there was no profitable market for a film with no white actors in the leads.

That is so offensive that I had to prove them wrong. However, I missed opening weekend, and therefore probably contributed to the studio’s bigotry. And, if the truth be known, I don’t particularly like going to movies that draw crowds because I find most audiences unspeakably rude. However, in this case, I would suck it up. And also, I went at one o’clock in the afternoon on a Sunday.

There weren’t a lot of people there, with maybe half the seats filled. The audience seemed to be mostly white and mostly male. The trailer that got the best response was for the Farrelly Brothers Three Stooges. Yes, that surprised me, too.

Lucas said he wanted Red Tails to feel like a movie made in 1944 that was just released this year. That’s a good description. To me, it felt like a Blackhawk comic or a Sgt. Rock comic brought to life. It was Shrapnel as a movie. Awesome fight scenes, clear enemies (Nazis! Racists!), noble sacrifice and really entertaining characters. Screenwriters John Ridley and Aaron McGruder wrote an effective and economical (in terms of words, not budget) script. Yes, that’s Aaron McGruder of Boondocks fame.

On what planet would this movie be ghettoized? Oh, right. This one.

Which brings me to the comics portion of this column. I was lucky enough to get a review copy of African-American Classics from Eureka Productions. This anthology, edited by Tom Pomplum and Lance Tooks, takes the works of amazing writers like Langston Hughes, W. E. B. DuBois, Zora Neale Hurston and others and turns them into graphic story with artists that include Kyle Baker, Trevor von Eeden, Lance Tooks and more.

Like most anthologies, this one has stories I like and stories I don’t. In general, the ones I don’t like don’t have much story. They are instead mood pieces. My bias is against the genre, not the specifics here. In fact, if I’m going to read an illustrated mood piece, I’d prefer to read one with the unusual (to me) use of language here, and the vivid artwork.

I suspect this book will stay in print forever, a way to entice reluctant readers to seek out other works by these authors. It’s a great book to have on your shelves all year round, not just February.

SATURDAY: Big Daddy Marc Alan Fishman

New Documentary on first Tarzan Movie! And More!

Tarzan Swings Again in Louisiana

New film documents Louisiana’s first blockbuster production, 1918’s “Tarzan of the Apes.”
January 18, 2012 ~ Bossier City, LA-  Believe it or not, Tarzan turns 100 years old this year.

In August of 1917 an eclectic band of filmmakers, actors and circus acrobats fought malaria, unbearable heat and the swamp of the Louisiana Atchafalaya River Basin to bring to the silver screen the best-selling book “Tarzan of the Apes” by Edgar Rice Burroughs.  It was an instant hit with audiences, considered one of the top six motion pictures of the silent era, and one of the first 10 films to earn over one million dollars at the box office.  The film was shot in Morgan City, Louisiana.

The character of Tarzan turns 100 years old this year.  In celebration of that milestone,  Bossier City’s Al Bohl and his daughter, filmmaker Allison Bohl now of Lafayette have teamed up to produce a feature-length documentary entitled, “Tarzan: Lord of the Louisiana Jungle.”
“My interest was first peaked when I was told many years ago that after making the movie the monkeys and apes refused to get back in the cages, so they left them,” said Bohl.  “After research, I found out that the making of the film was as amazing as the movie itself.”
Over a period of four years, Al and his daughter combed through hundreds of photos and documents and videotaped up to seventy hours of interviews and locations.  They interviewed scholars, authors, historians, fans, experts in merchandise, actors, an expert in primates, the curator of the Burroughs’ collection and the family of Edgar Rice Burroughs.  Their travels in Louisiana included Morgan City, New Orleans, Patterson and Baton Rouge.  They also gathered interviews in Los Angeles and Tarzana, California.  More footage was taped in Ohio, Kentucky and Chicago, Illinois. 
Bohl said, “Besides the ape question, our documentary investigates many things such as the claims of the killing of a lion on screen, the use of African Americans as natives and the life of Edgar Rice Burroughs who many feel is the father or grandfather of American science fiction.”
In addition, the Bohls re-edited the original “Tarzan of the Apes” silent film and added an entirely new orchestral musical score written by Kermit Poling of Shreveport.
The documentary and new version of the silent Tarzan film will be premiered on April 13 and 14, 2012 in Morgan City during the first Tarzan Festival in the character’s history.  For more information on the festival contact: www.cajuncoast.com.
The Louisiana State Museum in Patterson, LA opens a year-long exhibition entitled “Tarzan: Lord of the Louisiana Jungle.” It features a wide variety of Tarzan memorabilia from the last one hundred years.  
“Tarzan continues to be famous on an international scale,” said Bohl, “I believe people will be absolutely amazed by the very large display of Tarzan books and merchandise in this exhibition.”  One item of note is an actual painting done by the chimpanzee that died recently who was believed to be the oldest living “Cheetah” from the Tarzan movies. For more information about the exhibition contact:: www.louisianatravel.com/louisiana-state-museum-patterson.