The Dead Pit (1989)

One from the re watch pile…

The Dead Pit (1989)

Film: I’m an unadulterated fan of Re-animator; in actual fact it’s my favourite movie of all time… not just my favourite HORROR movie, but my unbeatable number one film. This film made me a lifelong Lovecraft fan (even though it’s not very Lovecraft-y) and after I first saw it, it didn’t matter what the movie was, if someone, anyone claimed ‘this film reminded me of Re-animator’ or if a magazine made a similar claim, I was all over it like water on a Deep One.

Of course, From Beyond was one of those films and so was this one, The Dead Pit.

Written and directed by Brett Leonard, who also directed the Marvel movie Man-Thing, and The Lawnmower Man and Virtuosity. It was co-written with Gimel Everett who produced this same films with Leonard.

The Dead Pit is a bizarre story, and runs along these lines…

20 years ago, a mad scientist, Dr Ramzi (Danny Gochnauer) was performing horrible experiments on the inmates at a mental asylum. He was found out and killed during the ensuing scuffle and his experiments hidden in a basement of an abandoned wing of the hospital.

Flash forward to today and we see a new inmate arrive at the hospital, named Jane Doe (Cheryl Lawson), suffering from amnesia and upon arriving at the asylum, starts suffering from nightmares and seizures, and keeps seeing a mysterious figure of a doctor with a bullet hole in his head.

As you would expect, a series of murders start at the hospital but what connection do they have with Cheryl and willRamzi’s experiments rise from the Dead Pit to create havoc?

Let’s hope so!!

The first thing you’ll notice about this film is how bad the acting is, real high-school theatre styled with heaps of over-exaggeration but the weird thing is, the soundtrack and the story are so melodramatic, it actually suits it.

It would be remiss of me not to mention the effects. The make up effects are fine, but some of the rubber heads and miniature effects are… well, really funny, which I’m not sure was the desired effect.

The highlight of the film is definitely Cheryl Lawson. She went on to become a Hollywood stuntwoman, but her performance in this is the most convincing, and her scene that combines a crazy nurse, a firehouse and a very loose white crop top t shirt may not hit the heights of Re-animators ‘head-giving-head’ sequence, but it tries.

Special mention should also go to the appearance of classic western actor Jeremy Slate, who unfortunately passed away just after this DVD was produced.

All in all, whilst this isn’t a patch on Re-animator, it is a fun ride through Mad Doctor territory, and features a nice bunch of angry zombies who will gladly dispatch all the bad over-acting stars.

Worth a spin.

Score: ****

Format: This review was performed with the Code Red uncut and uncensored, NTSC, Region 0 DVD and runs for approximately 102 minutes long. It is present is an occasional artefact-y 1.78:1 image with a clear it u spectacular Dolby Digital 2.0 audio track.

Score: ***

Extras: There’s a few pretty good extras on this disc.

Audio Commentary with Director Brett Leonard, Star Jeremy Slate and Producer/ Writer Gimel Everett is a pretty thorough commentary and is interesting throughout.

There a bunch of interviews with Leonard, Slate, Everett and star Cheryl Lawson. They are an interesting bunch of interviews with some great anecdotes and stories being shared. The only thing I found with these features was the aspect ratio was out so you might have to tweak it to get it right.

There is also the original trailer and a bunch of Code Red Trailers for Night Warning, Beyond the Door, The Unseen, The Farmer and Sole Survivor.

Score: ***1/2

WISIA: Even though it’s a pretty dumb film, I still dig it, so it gets a yearly watch.

Comic Book Confidential (1988) Review

One from the re watch pile…
Comic Book Confidential (1988)

The Australian DVD cover


Film: I am and always will be a comic fan. Sure there have been periods of time where I haven’t collection, the post-Image world of the 90s for example (I’m sorry guys, I like the old artwork, and the anime/ graffiti styled artwork of those guys never rubbed me the right way… I want my superheroes to be done by the old masters like Jack Kirby, Gil Kane, John Buscema and their ilk) and recently I’ve become disappointed with the storylines which seem to be repetitive and basically made to sell the movies. I understand it’s a business but there seems to be a creative lull, which has happened before as the history of comics is circular and fad based. Something hot today will not even be published tomorrow.

Hell, as of this review we don’t even have the cornerstone of the Marvel universe, the Fantastic Four being published, and that was once taglined as ‘The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine’.

I do still however get collections of old stuff, and I’m fascinated by the history of the art form too, and my book collection has many ‘history of comics’ books amongst it.

William Gaines


This, however, is Ron Mann’s documentary of the history of comic books and it’s a pretty concise and interesting look at how they came about, but the best thing about this doco is the absolutely essential stories from some of the old men, and young guns, of the industry.

It’s pretty special to know the history of Bill Gaines, and then hear him tell stories himself, and to actually hear my hero, Jack Kirby’s voice, is amazing. 

This doesn’t just look at the history of the art of comics, it also takes a walk down the history of comics legacy, and how it was effected by, and how it effected society. There is some great archival footage of the Senatorial Commitee on Juvenile Delinquency and some disturbing stories about court cases where artists and writers were sued for things they wrote or drew.

There is some cool presentations of classic comic covers rarely seen, but occasionally that footage is spoilt by some poorly executed, amateurish animation of the covers which was unnecessary and detracts from the amazing original art.

Harvey Kurtzman


If you want a brief history of the industry, and one that is American centric as none of the great European or Asian artists really get a look in, this is your place to go, but there is so much more to many of the stories discussed in this doco. Honestly. This doco could do with a 1988 to now sequel!

Ron, are you listening?

Score: ****

The Australian DVD menu screen


Format: This documentary was reviewed with the Australian DVD release which runs for approximately 85 minutes. The film is presented in 4:3 and has a 2.0 audio track, both of which are of various degrees of quality due to the historical nature of some of the footage and audio. It doesn’t really detract from the enjoyment of the film though.

Score: ***

Extras: There is several extra on this disc though the first couple are a bit Kevin Smith indulgent. I guess if you pay someone to turn up you take advantage of the time.

The first note is that this doco from the 80s has a new introduction by Kevin Smith, where he basically points out that even ten years later when his introduction was done, it was still relevant.

A Conversation with Kevin Smith is more ‘ a justification for reading comics by Kevin Smith’ and whilst I get the heart of where it’s coming from I don’t get why I have to justify, or convince someone that adults can read comic, the same as a cricket fan does have to justify to me why he likes it. It doesn’t matter what you dig, just respect each other, and if you think you have to justify your passion to a friend, you need new friends.

Silent Bobs Speaks is a not very funny series of questions aimed at Smith’s ‘Silent Bob’ character. Lame.

There is also a trailer for the film.

The is an interview with director Ron Mann who talks about the making of this film and his career in general.

Last there are text biographies of some of the artists featured in the doco, including Robert Crumb, Will Eisner, Frank Miller, Jaime Hernandez, Shary Flenniken, Lynda Barry, Victor Moscow, Bill Griffith, Jack Kirby (of course), William M. Gaines, Francoise Molly, Al Feldstein, Art Spiegelman, Sue Coe, Gilbert Shelton, Dan O’Neill, Stan Lee, Harvey Kurtzman, Harvey Pekar, Spain, Charles Burns and Paul Mavrides. They are single paragraph bios so don’t expect an entire indepth history of each person.

Score: ***

WISIA: I have watched this many times and will probably continue to watch it many more times.

Robert Crumb

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) Review

One from the re watch pile for Jack Kirby month…
Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

The Australian Bluray cover


Film: Captain America has always been ‘my’ superhero. When I was a early teen, which is when I really started to collect comics properly (before that I just bought them at random, rather than collect a series consistently), and that first series that I couldn’t do without was Cap’s. I remember clearly that it was issue 262, drawn my Mike Zeck and it had Cap being held aloft by a giant version of himself known as ‘The Ameridroid’. I had a great friend in high school and the two of us were ‘the comic nerds’ though he was an Iron Man guy, whilst I was all about Cap.

He was my friend regardless of his bad taste in heroes.

My father one day took me to Comic Kingdom in Sydney, and bought for me a full second run of Jack Kirby’s Captain America from the 70s (and a full run of Jack Kirby’s The Demon from DC) and I was totally enamoured by how awesome Kirby’s art was and became a lifelong fan. I did have other Kirby comics in my collection, I quickly discovered, and they became the jewels in my comic crown.

So fast forward to about 30 years later, and I hear that a ‘proper’ Captain America film was being made that would be part of a greater collective of a Cinema version of the Marvel Universe, and am stoked that the guy who was cast as Johnny Storm in a substandard Fantastic Four movie previously.

More importantly, I heard it was going to be pretty true to the comic, and the lack of an Italian Red Skull made my heart flutter.

… and boy, was I not disappointed!

The Captain (Chris Evans) is somewhat disappointed in his way effort as an entertainer.


Captain America: The First Avenger tells of a young man Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) during the Second World War who, due to a lack of physical prowess, was rejected to join the army, though he is eventually accepted to join a test program to create the perfect ‘super soldier’. 

When he proves himself not in strength or skill, but in mind and heart, he is accepted into the experimental program, overseen by Colonel Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones), Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) and scientist Dr. Erskine (Stanley Tucci). He finds that he is not the first to undergo such a procedure, and that a German soldie, Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving, who I still think would be an amazing Joker in a Batman film), went through an imperfect version of the process which caused him to become deformed with a red, skull-like visage.

Unfortunately, Dr. Erskine is killed by a German spy during the procedure and when Steve emerges as a muscular heroic figure and pursues him, he kills himself with a cyanide pill. With Erskine dead, Rogers is not used as a soldier, but instead a promoter of war bonds and a part of the war effort entertainment troupe, until he is caught up in a rescue mission which not only reunites him with his childhood friend, Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) but puts him at odds with Schmidt, and his collaborator, Arnim Zola (Toby Jones).

Will Captain America survive his first mission, or will he end up in a plane crash and be frozen for 50 years…?

Achtung, Baby! It’s the Red Skull (Hugo Weaving).


They nailed the entire creation of Jack Kirby and Joe Simon’s character in this film. The beauty of do a film set in the past is you don’t have to ‘update’ it like they did with Iron Man, who got his chest injuries differently in the comics (well, basically the same, but in a different war) so there is no part really where the comic fan might get a cringe… like the Joker killing Batman’s parents in Tim Burton’s Batman…

Sigh.

They do modernise Bucky though, as the concept of a young boy being sent to war to fight alongside men would have child endangerment groups livid, and let’s face it, the kid sidekick is a terrible idea (sorry Robin, Wonder Girl, Speedy, Aqualad, etc). Any ‘hero’ who puts kids in danger is no hero at all!

The amazing thing is that this film never really falls into the trappings of what could make it a bad movie. Captain America is seen as an icon of good, rather than a pro-America cheerleader, and that is something that could have very easily been mistakenly done. This is due to the excellent writing from Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, which never talks down, nor does it feel comic-y: it’s a war movie with a superhero in it! The only time it goes into melodramatic areas is with the Red Skull, which it has to as he is an over-the-top supervillain!

The direction is really good too. Joe Johnson didn’t just set this film in the 40s, sometimes it even is filmed like a movie of that era, and I got bits and pieces of things like Raoul Walsh’s White Heat out of the occasional visual. He didn’t copy scenes, but there is an occasional stylistic emulation, which never becomes parody which is a nice touch.

Anyway, this is a great superhero movie and a pretty good war movie too, and throw in a brief cameo of Doctor Who’s Jenna Coleman just to make the nerd in me jump up and take notice!

Score: ****

The Australian Bluray menu screen


Format: This Australian bluray copy of the film runs for approximately 124 minutes and is presented in an impeccable 2.35: 1 image with an astonishing Dolby DTS-HD 7.1.

Score: *****

Extras: Heaps of cool extras on this disc!

Commentary by Director Joe Johnson, Director Of Photography Shelley Johnson and Editor Jeffrey Ford which is a good one, insomuch as it’s informative and conversational.

Marvel One-Shot: A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Thor’s Hammer is, upon reflection, a tool to prepare us for Coulson’s character becoming a bigger part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s an entertaining short, in the vein of ‘bully gets his just deserts’ styled YouTube videos.

Next there is a bunch of really interesting featurettes:

Outfitting Cap looks at the entire design process and styling of Cap’s outfit and his shield.

Howling Commandos looks at the actors who played Cap’s platoon, the Howling Commandos, firmly placed in comic lore, though Nick Fury is absent (he was their sergeant in the comics).

Heightened Technology looks at the tech used in the film, which needed to look like ACTUAL WWII technology, but still have a scifi element to it.

The Transformation tells of the special effects needed to make ‘skinny Steve’, the pre-super soldiered Steve Rogers, on Chris Evans’ muscular body/

Behind the Skull explores the performance by Hugo Weaving and special effects of the Red Skull, Cap’s arch enemy.

Captain America’s Origin is a discussion with Captain America co-creator Joe Simon about his and Jack Kirby’s creation.

The Assembly Begins is, of course, a first look at what would become The Avengers.

Deleted Scenes has 4 deleted scenes which can be watched with a commentary by the previously mention members of the film commentary team (for some reason one doesn’t have the commentary, but you’ll have to deal with it).

There are four trailers: two for the film, one for the video game and one for the Avengers cartoon.

This version of the film also came with the film on DVD and a downloadable digital copy as well.

Score: *****

WISIA: It’s Captain America; you bet I’ll watch it again… and again…. and again….

Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) takes aim…

Marvel Masterwork: The Fantastic Four Volume 1

MARVEL MASTERWORKS: THE FANTASTIC FOUR VOLUME 1

Ask any comics fan what is the most important ‘modern’ comic, and most will say Fantastic Four issue 1. It’s the comic that put Marvel on the map and for years was known as ‘The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine’ and for years, it was!

The creation of the Fantastic Four was instigated by publisher Martin Goodman, when he heard that DC’s Justice League of America was doing well, so he asked one of his writers, Stan Lee, to create something similar. Lee’s concept was to instead of making the members ‘super-friends’, he would instead create a super-family so the connection between the members was more permanent. The one member who wasn’t ‘family’ was made to think of his powers as a disability, and stayed with the team to get a ‘cure’. Lee created this by using older characters mixed with new ideas, and comic legend Jack Kirby was called in to co-create not just the team, but what would become the Marvel Universe.

The Fantastic Four is a super hero/ adventuring group consisting of four people with extraordinary powers bestowed on them by cosmic rays that washed over them: super intelligent Reed Richards aka Mr Fantastic, who has a stretchy, malleable body, the powerful Sue Richards, aka The Invisible Woman (though in this particular collection is Invisible Girl) who can turn invisible and create invisible constructs, pilot Ben Grimm, aka the Thing, a man with a literal rocky exterior and young hothead, John Storm, the Human Torch, who can burst into flames and fly.

These four are essentially explorers (like DC’s Challengers of the Unknown, a comic Kirby worked on) but end up in situations where they have to use their powers to perform acts of heroism.

Unfortunately for Lee and Kirby’s greatest creation, the FF has been cinematically mistreated over the last few years with three films that contained some gross miscasting, bad storytelling and even just daft realisations of classic comic imagery. Actually, Galactus from Rise of the Silver Surfer is probably one of the top three badly realised comic to movie bad guys ever (he’s like a giant cosmic fart), the other’s being Green Lantern’s undulating vomitus, baby faced Parallax and Doctor Strange’s pan-dimensional burp version of Dormammu… seriously, three of comicdom’s greatest villains reduced to various excretions.

These have of course, caused Marvel to stop production of the comic after several awesome relaunches by major writing and artistic talents! For me, the Marvel universe is a lesser place without Reed, Sue, Ben and Johnny, and even though Johnny is now a member of the Inhumans and the Thing has been a Guardian of the Galaxy and an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. (well, kind of), it’s not enough. 

I impatiently await their return…

Story: Stan Lee’s writing of this period may seem hokey now, but it was revolutionary at the time. His depiction of a family in crisis as they become more than adventurers, and their subsequent battles as they get used to acting as a fighting team and become accustomed to their powers is wonderful, and the jargon is a fun read too. This collection sees the FF get their powers, and then come up against the threats of the Mole Man, Skrulls, Miracle Man, Doctor Doom, the Sub-Mariner, Kurrgo…. and many more! It’s a roller coaster of fun which has time travel and adventure of all types. The best thing about this collection is that it kept some of the little mistakes made when these comics were first published, like when the first time Sue, the Invisible Girl, becomes ‘invinsible’…

Score: ****

Art: Jack Kirby is my favourite comic artist of all time, but I prefer his work from the 70s to his sixties work. That’s not to say this isn’t amazingly detailed art, it’s just not as much for me as what he was doing in OMAC, 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Demon, which was blockier, but for me more dynamic.

Score: ****1/2

WIRIA: It where the comics we read today come from, so how could I not revisit it regularly. Revolutionary.

Fantastic 4 (2015) Review

If he had still been alive, comics legend and creative genius Jack Kirby would have been 100 this month, so to celebrate a centenary of ‘The King’, the To Watch Pile is going to commemorate his creative output with a selection of reviews of Kirby’s creations that have made it to screen.
Thank you, Jack Kirby, for the amazing characters you created or co-created: Captain America, the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Ant-Man, Etrigan the Demon, Darkseid, Groot, Kamandi, OMAC, etc etc.

The comics community became a lesser place with your passing, and we owe you everything.

One from the re watch pile…

Fantastic 4 (2015)

The Australian Bluray cover


Film: You think it wouldn’t be hard, and yet for some reason, production companies seem to find it difficult to do 100% of the time. I don’t get how writers or directors of films based on comics (or books for that matter) can have a problem making a good superhero movie, and I especially don’t understand how someone can take an established franchise like the Fantastic Four, the cornerstone of the entire Marvel Universe, part of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s literary and artistic legacy, and screw it up.

… and it’s been done by more than one creative team too. I can only imagine this means there is far too much ego involved, as what Stan and Jack created all those years ago was perfect. Sure our knowledge about science has extended so we know that travelling through ‘cosmic rays’ (do those things even exist) won’t change us into mutated heroes with the powers to stretch, turn invisible, burst into flames or become a massive stony thing, but surely with solid foundations, something strong can be built

Do I really need to go to far into the origins of the comic? Maybe a brief word: the original FF comic told of a scientist, Reed Richards, his pilot friend Ben Grimm, his girlfriend Sue Storm and her brother Johnny who steal a rocket to go into space but the experiment backfired, and the four of them end up with superpowers which they use to further their experiments, explore alternate universes and of course, fight against villains who may step in front of them, like Mole Man, Namor and Doctor Doom.

This film takes the core elements and both updates it socially and scientifically which is a great idea. In this film, Reed Richards (Miles Teller) has discovered, as a teenager, a way to send things to an alternate dimension. He and his friend Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell) enter the device in the school science fair where they are visited by Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey) and his adopted daughter Sue (Kate Mara) who take Reed as a student at his school/ think tank as he has solved a problem they had with creating a dimensional gate.

They are almost completely finished the gate, with the help of Storm’s natural son Johnny (Michael B. Jordan) and ne’er do well Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell) when the group funding the project decide to hand it over to NASA before they can send a human occupant. Johnny, Victor, Reed, who insists on bringing Ben, get drunk one night and decide to use the device first, but it has desperately horrible results.

Kate Mara as Sue Storm


First the planet in the other dimension starts to fall apart, and Doom is lost, and upon the return home, the rest of them, including Sue who is still on earth, are irradiated by the alternate dimensions energy, and they end up with powers: Sue can become invisible, Reed can stretch to impossible lengths, Johnny can set himself on fire (and is resistant to it) and Ben has become a horrible stone creature.

The government starts experiments on them and using them for secret missions, but not before Reed escapes, trying to find a cure for their ‘diseases’.

He is recaptured and they return to the other dimension where they find that Doom is now in complete control, and wants to destroy Earth…. It will the FF over come Doom’s evil scheme?

Probably.

I’d like to compliment this film on a couple of things. The production design is fantastic. The whole film looks ‘realistic’ and even the alternate dimension looks like something real, and not an over coloured, over saturated CGI experiment gone crazy, like in Doctor Strange for example.

Another thing I liked about this film was it treated a Fantastic Four story as a story about science and exploration, and not about superheroes. If the FF never had gained superpowers, they still would have been scientists and explorers, and that is the core of the group.

I liked the fact that even though this is a Marvel comics film, it’s not a Marvel Cinematic Universe film (it’s not produced by Disney, is why) which means that it doesn’t have the weight that all Marvel films have now. You miss one Marvel film and half the time you won’t know what’s going on or who some of the characters are in the next one, which is a clever way to make sure consumers inhale all your products. This you can sit down and watch and walk away from… and you probably will.

Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm


The last thing I like about it was the modernising of the family dynamics, in having Sue being a Caucasian adopted into an African American family is barely even dealt with, and that was cool. I have no real problem with characters having their ‘race’ changed if there is a story device to it, and not just for social constructs and approval. In actual fact, I don’t care about a person’s race in playing a character as long as they play it well. Did this part of the story need to be updated for today? Probably not, but it works.

A little bit of updating is fine, but another issue I have with some comic movies is the need to adapt the villain into the heroes origin. I didn’t like it in Tim Burton’s Batman, and I don’t like it here where Doctor Doom was merged into the FF’s origin, much like they felt the need to do in the previous incarnation of the characters. What is really frustrating is that with the change here with pan-dimensional travel, the door was open to use a completely different villain from the FF’s history, Annihilus, instead of retreading Doom’s ground.

The problem with this film though is the pacing. The build up should be slow and deliberate, which for either a first film in a franchise or a science fiction film is ok as the ‘physics’ of the universe in which the main characters exist needs to be established, but this build up needs to have a powerhouse payoff… unfortunately FF doesn’t only have weird pacing throughout the film, with a lot of false starts, it also just… stops. The big battle against the antagonist just finishes with no real payoff: it feels like they ran out of money or something and just said’ yeah, that’ll do, pack it up’, which is sad because there is SO much potential.

I feel this film commits the worst crime a film can commit: it’s a missed opportunity.

Score: **1/2

Fantastic 4 Australian Bluray menu screen


Format: This film was reviewed on the Australian region B Bluray, which runs for approximately 100 minutes and is presented in an impeccable 2.39:1 video with a matching DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack.

Score: *****

Extras: A few extras on this disc.

The disc opens with an auto play of a trailer of Maze Runner: The Scotch Trials, before going to the main menu.

The main extras include:

Powering Up: Superpowers of the Fantastic Four shows the effects of the powers of all the FF, and how the accident caused all their powers to manifest differently. Basically it explains outside the confines of the film why they all got different powers.

The Quantum Gates looks at the special effects development of the portal to the other dimension.

Planet Zero sees how the cats and effects people made a convincing alternate dimensional world.

The Score interviews director Josh Trank and composer Marco Beltrami about the soundtrack for the film.

There is also concept art for Planet Zero and the Quantum Gates but if I want to look at still pictures, I’ll buy a book. No sale.

Score: ***1/2

WISIA: I like the look of this film, but the pacing is all over the place and it just doesn’t sit well. If I watch it again it will be just for the production design and Kate Mara.

Miles Teller as Reed Richards

R.I.P. Joan Lee

The To Watch Pile would like to pass on our condolences to Stan Lee for the passing of his beloved wife Joanie. 
Not many people know that she was part of the inspiration to create the Fantastic Four and Spiderman as Stan was considering not doing it, but she suggested that he wants to quit comics anyway, so he may as well do what he likes, and damn the consequences. As the saying goes, behind every great man is a great woman. Stan has told this tale many times, and I myself am one of those types who owes his successes to his wife.

He, along with Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, birthed the Marvel universe around her trust in Stan’s ideas.

I may criticise Lee on my Facebook page, but it is partially tongue in cheek, and I do believe that he and his gang, along with Julie Schwartz and Carmine Infantino over at DC, rebuilt the superhero comic into what it is today. 

Joan, a former British hat model, apparently suffered with a stroke earlier this week. She is survived by Stan and their daughter, J.C.

Doctor Strange (2016) Review

One from the to watch pile…
Doctor Strange (2016) Review


Film: Disney and its Marvel movies: that unstoppable juggernaut that is telling one gigantic tale. The series of films that as they go on, people who are behind need to spend even more time attempting to catch up. The series of films that some blindly follow as if they are the ultimate form of cinematic storytelling. The series of films that will eventually implode due to either the fact that no viewer will want to accept a replacement Tony Stark or Steve Rogers (when the actors get too old to play them), that the weight of how many films you need to watch becomes inconceivable or just cinema moves on and away from superhero movies.

… and don’t think that won’t happen: it has before! Ask all those failed superhero films that fell apart, or worse, failed at the box office, after 1989’s Batman. I still to this day wish that the Plastic Man film with Paul Ruebens had been made!

To their credit, I have enjoyed most of them, but noticed some of them have been shoehorned into the series for no reason other than to introduce the character, which I feel the first Thor was like, and others have had their inclusion in the Marvel Universe forced upon us, like the ‘Falcon’ scene in Ant-man. I do have to admit to getting a minor twinge of excitement when I watch them though, having been a lifelong comics reader.

Doctor Strange was one film I was quite interested to see how it would pan out. The visual style of the early comics, especially those drawn by Steve Ditko were going to be a MAJOR part of how the film should look, but they were so way out, and so revolutionary in their art design that I couldn’t actually perceive how it would translate to cinema.


Thankfully, they managed to pull that part of the design off, but I found another few problems within the film. Much like the movies, the comic of Doctor Strange, invented by comic legend Stan Lee and the aforementioned artist Ditko, was invented to show a more mystical side of the Marvel Universe after so much had been science based, like mutations, or radiation.

Our story introduces us to pompous blowhard surgeon Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) who whilst driving, and picking and choosing which medical case he should help to further his career, has an accident which destroys his hands.

He spends his fortune on trying to get them rebuilt so they can be used again, but instead finds salvation in a place that a skeptical man of science wouldn’t: spiritualism.

He meets a man who’s irreparable backbone is seemingly fixed and he attributed it to the teachings of the citizens of Kamar-Taj, and so Strange journeys to Kathmandu hoping for a quick fix, but what he finds is that the teachings of the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) do much more for him than just fix his hands.

Strange is a quick and cheeky student and quickly is caught up in a skirmish within Kamar-Taj’s ranks when renegade student Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) steals pages from a mystical book so he can destroy the barrier between the astral planes letting the ancient being Dormammu (also played by Cumberbatch) take control.

Strange, along with disciples of the Ancient One, Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Wong (Benedict Wong) band together to try and stop Kaecilius, but will they all survive the time-bending will of this being from another dimension? Only the end of the film will know for sure!

This being a Marvel film, don’t forget to stray for two post credit sequences, one which reveals this film’s link to the rest of the Marvel films, and also a revelation as to whom may be Strange’s villain in a sequel, should it come about…

I had high hopes for this film as Strange has always been an amazing comic, so visually exciting that I couldn’t wait to see how it would be executed. The initial trailers depressed me as all I could see was a visual rip off of Inception, but I’m glad to say that those thoughts were abated by the actual film. 


There was a lot to like in this film. The cast, for the most part, play their parts well, and the production design is fantastic, and I have to say that to not have the ending being a gigantic slugfest, but instead something more cerebral was a nice change for a superhero film. The inclusion of Rachel McAdams as Christine Palmer, one of the three main characters from a brief seventies comic called Night Nurse, is pretty cool. Mads Mikkelson and Benedict Wong both deserve a mention too as their performances are excellent.

The special effects are particularly amazing. I love how Marvel films push the envelope and really explore every technical thing they can do, and can’t do yet, to get the visual comic-ness happening in the film.

My criticisms of this film lies in only one area, but it repeatedly took me out of being ‘in’ the film: Cumberbatch’s American accent. My wife used to be a big fan of the TV series House, but I couldn’t stand it for one reason: Hugh Laurie’s awful American accent, and I feel Cumberbatch’s accent is similar here. It feels like a parody of the accent rather than an ‘actual’ cinematic American accent. That may seem petty, but every time he opened his mouth I was reminded that he was a British actor playing an American, and being removed from the roller coaster ride of a film so regularly makes it difficult to enjoy. That inability to maintain my suspension of disbelief made the film somewhat of a chore to watch. That may seem petty, but it was like being repeated interupted during the film, and I just had trouble investing my full attention into it due to that.

Overall I enjoyed the story of the film, but I couldn’t get INTO it due to the accent factor I mentioned above. I like to be absorbed by a film, and this didn’t do it for me.

Score: **


Format: As one would expect from a modern film on bluray, this looks magnificent. This film was reviewed on the Australian Bluray, which runs for approximately 114 minutes and is presented in 2.39: 1 image with an outstanding DTS-HD 5.1 audio track.

Score: *****

Extras: As expected on a Marvel Studios disc, there’s more extras than you can poke a stick at!

There’s a bunch of featurettes including which explore the creation of the film: A Strange Transformation (which looks at the character of Doctor Strange himself), Strange Company (an exploration of the co-stars), The Fabric of Reality (looks at the costuming and production design of the film), Across Time and Space (more production design but now with the more dimensional aspects of the Strange world) and The Score-cerer Supreme (obviously, about the score to the film as created by Michael Giacchino). These featurettes can be watched separately or as a whole, which I think is a far better way to watch it.

Marvel Studios Phase 3 Exclusive Look explores where the Marvel films have come from, their impressive ability to make one story from different titles (which, like I mentioned, could also be there downfall), and where they are going to upon entering phase 3.

Team Thor Part 2 is an amusing look at what Thor has been doing whilst ‘off duty’ which is basically being a bum and torturing his flat mate in Australia.

Deleted and Extended Scenes features 5 scenes not seen in the film, my favourite being Strange meeting Daniel Drumm, who Marvel fans will not as being the brother of Brother Voodoo, the 70s horror character, and one time Sorcerer Supreme. Typically, none of these scenes move the story forward so the film is better or without them.

As using there is a Marvel gag reel, which is professional actors screwing around. Hilarious.

We also have a pretty cool commentary with Scott Derrickson, the director of the film, and it’s one of those interesting commentaries where the director is quite invested in the project.

Score: *****

WISIA: I’ll probably only watch it again if I binge watch the entire Marvel catalogue, otherwise, probably not.

Comic Review: Secret Avengers Volume 1: Mission to Mars

Secret Avengers 1

You’re going to get an idea of where this review is going by my very next sentence…

I REALLY wanted to like this.

This collection combines the first five issues of Secret Avengers, which is an undercover, covert Avengers group. This comic took place right after the amazing Death of Captain America storyline which really shook up the Marvel status quo, as we now had the Winter Soldier as Captain America, and Steve Rogers (Cap’s alter ego) left without that role.

The newly christened ‘The Captain’ in charge of the aforementioned group, which confusingly consisted of Black Widow, the Beast, War Machine, Nova, Valkyrie, Ant-man (not Hank, and not Scott but some other guy) and Moon Night.

In this story, the Secret Avengers find themselves on a … yep, Mission to Mars… in pursuit of the Serpent Crown, a powerful icon that would be deadly in the wrong hands. Unfortunately, something called The Shadow Council is also in pursuit, the weird thing is though, is the guy in charge looks like a certain Nick Fury… and what happens when one of the members of the Avengers turns against them…

This was written by Ed Brubaker, who wrote the Death of Cap storyline and is an amazing writer, but it seems that this comic was a massive misstep. Moon Knight and Black Widow are completely wasted and by sticking them on Mars, are outclassed., and the new Ant-man is, well, a jerk.

The art of issues 1 to 4 is by Mike Deodato Jr , and this is an artist who just gets better every time I see his work. If you look back at his early art, he seemed little more than a post-Image comics stooge whos talent lay in his ability to emulate them, with his art looking like the unwanted child of a marriage between Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld’s early work, but now it’s leaning towards the great John Buscema.

The fifth issue has art by David Aja, who is a spectacular artist who worked on the fantastic Hawkeye: My Life As A Weapon with support from Michael Lark and Stefano Gaudiano.

The reviewed copy of this comic is a really nice hardcover volume from Marvel, which in addition to the five issues has a bunch of alternate covers.

Visually this story is a treat but the mix of characters is like eating chocolate and fried cheese: by themselves nice, but together, just wrong, and the story suffers for it.

SCORE: ***

 

Book Review: Our Gods Wear Spandex

One from the To Read Pile…

OUR GODS WEAR SPANDEX

by

Christopher Knowles

with illustrations by

Joseph Michael Linsner

IMG_0690

I’ve been a comic fan my entire life, except for the first three years, and a period of about 5 years in the 90s when comic stories and art became so dire and horrible, and everything was about ‘alternate covers’ and bonus crap and every hero was covered in armour and/ or carried guns.

Some comic boffins refer to this as the ‘Chromium Age’ of comics due to the fact the very worst of comics ended up with thick awful garish metallic covers that promised to be worth a million dollars in the future, but whose content… let’s be honest, sucked.

Coincidently, this very topic is how Christopher Knowles book, Our Gods Wear Spandex begins as it discusses the highs and lows of the comics industry: how the highs usually come after a great tragedy like World War II and how the lows are generally when the industry itself becomes a parody of itself, like when every single comic, including the leaders in DC and Marvel, imitate fads like that of Rob Liefeld’s comic ‘art’ in the early 90s.

The book then goes into a quite interesting assessment of how today’s mythical gods are superheroes whom are all in some way based on ancient myths and legends and how subsequent heroes are based upon these. For me, the revelation that my idol Jack Kirby based two of his characters looks, in Thor and OMAC on that of Shazam’s Captain Marvel! (sorry DC, no matter how much you wish to refer to the Big Red Cheese as ‘Shazam’, he’ll always be Captain Marvel to me!)

The book also details the origins of some of comics big storylines and from where historically or myth0logically they are influenced. It details how everything from religious orders and secret societies, to ideas proposed by Niezche and Einstein and have sparked creative fires in the minds of everyone from Siegal and Shuster, to Lee and Kirby, and even to the aforementioned Liefeld and his Image co-conspirators, though their ideas more are borrowed from other, better comics, rather than classic literature or intellectual thought.

Not only do we have a cavalcade of mythical tales summarised within these pages, various writers from the 19th and 20th century, those at the birth of science fiction and detective stories like Poe, Lovecraft, Wells, Verne and their contemporaries are also discussed, albeit briefly.

The comparison of these myths and theories and how they influenced the character from the pulp novels like The Spider and Doc Savage, and then how they in turn influenced comic characters and stories is fascinating, but the best thing is, Christopher Knowles has made it accessible and the language in which its written is relaxed and enjoyable. The book also has really nice illustrations by Cry for Dawn’s Joe Michael Linsner, though I must say I prefer his color art to his line art. If you are a long time comic fan, and have ever thought,” where did they get that ideas from?”, this book is for you.

Nerds of Oz: Week Ending 27th January 2017

Week Ending 27th January 2017
4 comics and 2 blurays: it’s been a quiet week.

Comics


Comics were at home when I arrived Tuesday night! Stoked.

READ! Harley Quinn #12 from DC Comics. Written by Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti, with art by John Timms and Chad Hardin. It’s funny but as I had almost finally decided to dump this title, it’s gets interesting. The Joker wants to return to Harley’s life, but Red Tool (quite possibly the lamest creation in Harley’s history) has decided to meet the Joker instead and stick up for her. Harley, of course, is furious with him, but aims the majority of her anger right in the Joker’s lap… and face… and limbs…

READ! Justice League vs Suicide Squad #5 from DC Comics. Written by Joshua Williamson with art by Robson Rocha, the only way to describe this comic is crazy just got crazier. Max Lord! A possessed Justice League! Eclipse! Batman forms his own mini league with Harley Quinn, Lobo, Captain Boomerang, Killer Frost, Killer Croc and Deadshot… which is clearly now showing that a new JLA title is about to launch starring some of these characters… not sure if I’ll get used to Frost being a good guy though!

READ! Raven #4 from DC Comics. Written by Marv Wolfman with art by Diogenes Neves, this issue we see Raven trying to stop the big white thing from ‘eating’ the locals in her town but will Raven have to resort to using her father, Trigon’s, side of her genetic make up to fight it? If she does, that’s SO Raven!

READ! The Mighty Captain Marvel #1 from Marvel Comics. Written by Margaret Stohl with art by Ramon Rosanas. Wholly disappointed by this. Captain Marvel is funding Alpha Flight by allowing a Tv series called Cap’n Marvel to be made, all the while trying to save a Kree child from shapeshifting kidnappers. It’s as dumb as it sounds.

DVDs and Blurays 


Grabbed two blurays this week, Blair Witch, which is absolutely terrible, and House of 1000 Corpses, which I have on DVD but want to replace with a bluray version.