Archive for June, 2013

My thoughts on “Before Midnight” for Through The Shattered Lens website.

Through the Shattered Lens



So, this is it. You can keep your Man Of Steels, your Iron Man 3s, your Star Trek : Into Darknesses, and your Pacific Rims — fun popcorn fare some of those may be, but for me summer 2013 at the movies is all about the third installment in Richard Linklater, Ethan Hawke, and Julie Delpy’s long-running cinematic romance, Before Midnight. I won’t rehash the details of how and why this unlikeliest of indie “franchises” has meant so much to this armchair critic on a personal level over the years — hell, over the decades now! — as my reviews of Before Sunrise and Before Sunset last week covered that ground pretty damn thoroughly already, suffice to say that the chance to see Jesse and Celine living happily ever after is, at the risk of sounding hopelessly corny, a little bit of a celluloid…

View original post 875 more words


As far as these DC Universe animated flicks go, 2012’s Superman Vs. The Elite was a bit of an aberration for me since, unlike most of the others, I had no familiarity whatsoever with the comic story on which it was based. I was seeing it with “fresh eyes,” is you will,  and therefore  actually found myself to  be in the very same position most other viewers find themselves in with this stuff.

Unfortunately, the on-screen product probably wasn’t arresting enough to get me to go out and hunt down its printed-page counterpart (sorry, I know it’s bad form to give away the “final verdict” this early in a review but oh well, too late to turn back now), so for all I know maybe the issues of the pre-“New 52” Superman monthly comic this is taken from are the greatest thing since sliced bread (not that bread — sliced or otherwise — is all that exciting, but for some reason the cliches are flowing pretty easily today, please bear with me), but ya know — I kinda doubt it.


Which isn’t to say, I guess, that Superman Vs. The Elite is all that bad — it’s just kind of a bog-standard 21st-century superhero mash-up with cardboard characterization and very little depth. The basic run-down here is that Supes (here voiced by George Newbern, who’s okay in the role but no James Denton by any stretch) is confronted by the arrival on the scene of a new team of uber-beings calling themselves “The Elite” (hence the name), who hail from various corners of the world and not only show themselves to be more than willing to cross lines “Big Blue” won’t in terms of killing their adversaries, but are flat-out eager to openly show their outright disdain for his, in their view, antiquated set of ethics and morals. In other words, it’s fairly typical “meet the ruthless new blood out to take your place” sorta stuff. Youth — they’ve always been bad, don’tcha know?

Director Michael Chang does a decent enough job with the battle sequences, which are numerous briskly-arriving, but if you’re looking for anything much beyond that, there really isn’t a tremendous amount on offer to sink your teeth into. Lois Lane as voiced by Pauley Perrette (talk about a too-clever-by-half name that puts even Parker Posey or Imogen Poots to shame) is little more than career-woman window dressing, and Robin Atkin Downes as head bad guy Manchester Black (speaking of too clever by half) is all sneer and no substance, so don’t go look for anything too dramatically gripping on the vocal front, either.


Still, I guess I didn’t find this to be just over an hour of my life completely wasted — that’d be too harsh, and frankly I didn’t get the sense that anyone here was actually trying hard enough to come up with an actively lousy product. After all, that still requires effort.  This whole thing just sorta starts up, chugs along, and finishes its job on schedule. Don’t waste your time peeking around corners for surprise plot twists — there aren’t any — or hoping for complex moral arguments about the relative merits of doing things the Superman way or the Manchester Black way, since all that’s presented as a given, as well. But I guess if you’re in the mood for quick-n’-easy, shut-your-brain-off stuff, this’ll do in a pinch.


Superman Vs. The Elite is available on both DVD and Blu-Ray from Warner Premier. I got the DVD from Netflix (yes, some of us still have a disc rental plan with them), and as usual it’s a bare-bones affair with the only “bonus” material being promo stuff for other “DCU” releases. Widescreen picture and 5.1 sound mix were both pristine and unworthy of any criticism. I’m sure the Blu-Ray offers a few more goodies for the fans, but I’m not in any hurry to scrounge up a copy. All in all, this is strictly uninspired, by-the-numbers stuff, good for a single viewing if you’ve had a long day and just want to kick your feet up, but really that’s about it.



As far as the 2013 summer blockbusters go, it’s probably fair to say that, at this point, Man Of Steel has pretty much sucked all the oxygen out of the room. Oh, sure, Iron Man 3 has made more money — at least to date — but its success was essentially a given, and a nervous studio (and an at-least-as-nervous comic book publisher) didn’t really have a tremendous amount riding on its box office performance. Add  in the fact that the last Superman flick  under-performed rather drastically in comparison to its pre-release expectations, and you’ve gotta concede that plenty of “suits” over at Warner Brothers, Legendary Pictures, and DC Comics are breathing a fairly huge collective sigh of relief right now. Plus, people are talking about it. There’s a tremendous amount of internet “chatter” — good, bad, and indifferent — about both its relative artistic merits and the reasons for its breakaway box office success going on right now, all of which ramps up the likelihood that, no matter which of the already-released and/or forthcoming big-budget popcorn extravaganzas come out on top in terms of cash earned at the turnstiles, 2013 will, in all probability, go down on record as the summer where Man Of Steel ruled the roost. Or at least the interwebs.

Of course, for those of you who’ve read my own armchair musings on the film both here and over at Through The Shattered Lens, you’ll know that I found it a mixed bag at best. I appreciated its amazing visual stylings and some of the smart chances it was willing to take in terms of the character’s backstory, but by and large I felt that its reach exceeded its grasp in terms of the “uber-mythic” slant it attempted to give/graft onto the character, and the end result was a cold, emotionally distant film that tried to hide its flaws by, simply put, clobbering you over the head so hard time and again that you were either too awed (if you liked it) or worn out (if you didn’t) to notice them. Superman is a character that works best when both parts of his name — the “Super” and the “man” — strike a delicate (and admittedly tricky) balance and learn to not only co-exist with, but also complement, each other — and at the risk of repeating myself to those who did, in fact, read my Man Of Steel review, I feel it gives up on trying to establish the “man” all too quickly and goes all-in on the “Super,” ultimately to the detriment of both.

Still, what’s done is done, and we can — and probably will — debate what Man Of Steel got right, and what it didn’t, for a long time to come. Movie geeks are like that, and comic geeks, bless us one an’ all, are even more like that.



Still, if I were one of the legion of die-hard, instant Man Of Steel fans that are out there defending my new favorite movie from any and all detractors (or even semi-detractors like myself), the question I’d pose (to, uhhhmm, myself, I guess) at this point would be : “okay,hotshot, you talk in these big, high-fallutin’ terms about ‘delicate balances’ an’ all that, so name me a Superman flick that you think gets it right.”

It’s a perfectly apt question (even if I do say so myself), and fortunately you don’t even have to go too far back to find it — just a couple of years, in fact, to 2011 and the DC Universe animated feature All-Star Superman, adapted for the (small, since it was a straight-to-video release) screen from the highly-acclaimed 12-issue mini-series of the same name by writer Grant Morrison and artist Frank Quitely by the late, great Super-scribe Dwayne McDuffie and director Sam Liu.

Here we have another in a long list of  hypothetical “last Superman stories ever told” (my personal favorite still being Alan Moore and Curt Swan’s legendary “Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow?”) done with heart, humor, and intelligence — a story that embraces the admitted absurdities of 1950s/60s era single-issue Superman tales that had him (and know in advance that he only does some of these things here, but it’s the thought that counts) getting amnesia, revealing his secret identity, turning into a gorilla, or going back in time and saving Krypton from destruction (only to have all of these monumental changes immediately cancelled out by some ultra-convenient plot contrivance on the last page, naturally), translates them into a form palatable to modern, supposedly “sophisticated” audiences, and ends up reminding us just why it is that we love the character, both “Super” and “Man,” in the process.



Okay, sure, it’s not without its flaws — this is a story that definitely works better on the printed page, as a series of interconnected “one-offs,” than it does as an animated flick, where its  entire litany of plot developments — Superman gets solar radiation poisoning and learns that he’s dying, then has a big, bad confrontation with an ultra-pumped-up Parasite while trying to keep his identity a secret from Lex Luthor, then goes ahead and reveals said secret identity to Lois Lane, then gives her his powers for 24 hours as a birthday gift, then solves the Riddle of the Sphinx, then has a final, winner-take-all battle with Luthor, then has to save the sun itself and thereby the Earth in the process, perhaps at the cost of his own life — feels a bit rushed at best and disjointed at worst, but trust me — that ear-to-ear smile you’ll have from start to finish will be sending a signal to your brain that says “who cares, just go with it,” and ya know what? You will. And yeah, while I’d have preferred to see a bit more of Quitely’s unique and, heck, amazing art style translated into the animated proceedings, enough of its awe-inspiring grandeur and childlike sense of innocence and wonder survives the leap in formats for me to not have much to complain about on that front. This is, both script-wise and art-wise, a Superman who dazzles and inspires us not because he’s apart  from us, like Zack Synder and Christopher Nolan’s take on the character, but because he’s a part of us. He’s an ideal for all of us to strive for, not something too awesome, too other, too alien,  for us to ever hope to emulate.

As far as the voice casting goes, James Denton is — as always — pitch-perfect as both Superman and Clark Kent, Christina Hendricks projects secure, confident humanity as Lois Lane, Anthony LaPaglia clearly relishes the chance to “evil-genius-it-up” as Lex Luthor, and little touches such as having Edward Asner on hand as Perry White and Frances Conroy as Ma Kent show that some real thought went into this thing from top to bottom. I hesitate to use grandiose terms like “labor of love,” but this sure feels like one to this usually-too-cynical-for-his-own-good critic.



All-Star Superman is available on a few different home video iterations from Warner Premier — either as a single-disc DVD, a single-disc Blu-Ray, or a two-DVD “special edition.” The single-disc DVD contains some preview material for other “DCU” titles but is otherwise essentially a bare-bones release, while the two-disc version and the Blu-Ray feature a fairly intriguing “making-of” featurette and a handful of tangentially-related episodes from various Superman animated television series selected by Bruce Timm as bonus features. Widescreen picture and 5.1 sound are stunning no matter which option you go for.

All told, if you like myths that you can actually relate to, and you prefer your Superman to be a bit more accessible than the Godlike,  Nietzchean ideal of Snyder and Nolan, I think you’re going to find All-Star Superman  right up your alley. And hey — even if you did love Man Of Steel to pieces, I still think you’re likely to dig this populist, universal take on the character that really does bring the legend to life in a way all of us can appreciate. This is a movie that leaves you saying to yourself “gosh, that was neat” and not feeling the least bit self-conscious for doing so.



Before Glenn Beck, before Rush Limbaugh, before Sean Hannity, before Bill O’Reilly, there was Morton Downey Jr. Mort hit the TV airwaves in 1988 like a house on fire, and became an overnight sensation. He was brash, loud, obnoxious, and well to the right of Attila The Hun, politically speaking. He chain-smoked on air. He berated his guests. He stoked the fury of his studio audience into a lynch mob-like frenzy. And just as quickly as he arrived on the scene, he was gone, his shooting star going supernova and exploding right into his own face within the span of two short years.

So what happened? That’s the question the new documentary Evocateur : The Morton Downey Jr. Movie not only asks, but answers. Directors Seth Kramer, Daniel A. Miller,  and Jeremy Newberger  spend ninety minutes talking to friends, acquaintances, fans, and even enemies of the late Mr. Downey (he died of lung cancer in 2001)  and piece together a pretty fascinating portrayal of a guy who had hungered for success his entire life (his father was a famous crooner and Junior tried to follow in his footsteps for a time) but was in no way, shape, or form ready for it when it finally hit well into his fifth decade on the planet. Simply put, he still had a lot of growing up to do.


Aided by some pretty clever animated segments that keep the proceedings snappy, the filmmakers trace their subject’s steps from his short-lived singing career to his time as bored suburban house-husband to his days as one of radio’s early “shock-jocks” to his gangbusters television debut as a modern reincarnation of the equally onerous Joe Pyne to his show’s becoming “ground zero” for the notorious Tawana Brawley (falsified) rape case (you get to see a lot of vintage Al Sharpton footage here from when he was a couple hundred pounds heavier and considerably more entertaining) to his full-throated embrace of the worst show biz excesses to his crash-and-burn descent that was aided and abetted in no small part by a fake “attack” he perpetrated on himself and blamed on some Nazi skinheads no one was ever able to find (and yeah, in case you were wondering, this movie definitely answers the question as to whether or not Mort drew that sloppy-looking  pseudo-swastika on his face with his own hand). With voices as disparate as those of Pat Buchanan, Gloria Allred, and Alan Dershowitz sharing their personal reminiscences of the man, we finally are able to get a clear idea of just how — and why — a guy who hobnobbed with the Kennedys right up until the early 1980s was able to become TV’s first big right wing sensation just a few short years later.


The picture painted is hardly a pretty one — Mort wasn’t the most pleasant guy in the world even before fame went to his head, but afterwards it got exponentially worse — but in the end this is a very human story about a hopelessly flawed guy who spent decades reaching for the brass ring, only to have it slip through his fingers largely due to his own dumb mistakes. His subsequent tragic illness, also largely self-inflicted, further humanized someone who used to be more or less a walking, talking, smoking, swearing caricature, and by the time he passed away, even his most bitter critics had to concede, “ol’ Mort — he was a sonofabitch, but I’m gonna miss the guy.”

For my part, I wish today’s conservative gas bags were even half as entertaining as Downey was in his prime. You get the disturbing feeling that the likes of Limbaugh and O’Reilly actually believe the venomous shit that they’re slinging, but Mort was so over the top and off the rails that there was no way his whole shtick could have been anything other than an act. Call me deluded, stupid, or hopelelssly nostalgic, but I kinda miss that. Sadly, the ugliness and audience-baiting are pretty much the only facets of Mort’s slim “legacy” that have survived, and the folks who tread that ground today actually have the temerity to  insist that we take them seriously. If you ask me, The Right’s never been actually right, but at least in Mort’s day they he made sure they were  fun.


Evocateur : The Morton Downey Jr. Movie, which is getting some limited theatrical play on the coasts right now and is also available on demand on most major cable and satellite systems nationwide,  hews to that same “hey, it’s all just an act, anyway” ethos (wait for the awesome spoof of Rocky Horror‘s famous singing mouth as the final credits roll),  and the end result is one of the more enjoyable show business documentaries in recent memory.

My assault on the summer blockbusters continues over at Through The Shattered Lens website —

Through the Shattered Lens

New Man of Steel Poster

I know that, in this day and age, we as a society seem to get off on tearing down our myths and legends and “humanizing” them, but seriously — when did Superman develop a split personality?

Before you jump to any conclusions based on that admitted “gotcha” of an opening line, allow me to state for the record that I didn’t actively dislike Zack Snyder’s Man Of Steel, it’s just that it spends its first half or so rather half-heartedly trying to portray its title character in more human terms than we’ve seen in previous iterations before finally throwing all that out the window and deciding that it actually wants to tell a story about a God who walks (and flies) among us, and the film definitely suffers as a result of this abrupt shift in tone.

But first the “plus” side of the ledger : Man Of Steel

View original post 937 more words



I’ll start things off here with a confession — I’ve never been the world’s biggest Star Trek  fan. I don’t have anything actively against it — in any of its iterations — per se, but I never really quite figured out its appeal, and consequently the absolute devotion to it that its enormous legion of die-hard partisans displays has always felt, I dunno — kinda weird to me, somehow. Maybe even a little bit sad and/or pathetic.

Mind you, this is coming from a lifelong hard-core Doctor Who fan who once even owned a Tom Baker scarf, so not only would you be quite correct to take anything I say here with a grain of salt, you’d also be well within your rights as a sane and functional human being to wonder “who the fuck is this guy to call anyone else pathetic?”

But ya know, thanks to fellow Twin Cities area native Roger Nygard and his superb 1997 documentary Trekkies, I can honestly say I have a new-found respect for these folks who speak Klingon, give each other the Vulcan hand sign, and argue over the most pointless minutiae of each and every episode of their favorite show. I still don’t quite “get it,” true, but I’ve at least come to view it as a relatively harmless phenomenon — hell, for some, immersion in this collective fantasy world might even be a positive thing.

trekkies (1)


Okay, yeah, there’s nothing inherently normal about the idea of, say, a Trek-themed dental office, or people writing a Klingon dictionary, or the forewoman of a jury showing up in regulation Starfleet uniform, but shit — it’s not really hurting anyone, is it?

To his credit, Nygard never really loses sight of how all of this might look a little bit ( to say the least) weird to an “outsider,” but he gives an even-handed portrayal of all the various subjects he follows around, and by and large shows them to be mentally healthy, well-rounded individuals who just happen to share a mutual obsession. Choosing Star Trek : The Next Generation star Denise Crosby as his narrator was a wise move, as well, as it shows us all that the primary goal of this film is to respectfully explore, at times even celebrate, the Star Trek  universe, rather than to poke fun at it, and helps establish a “we’re on your side” tone that puts most of the film’s participants at ease — no matter which side they might take in the whole “is it ‘Trekkie’ or ‘Trekker’?” debate.



What’s perhaps most amazing to witness for someone not a part of it, though, is how admirably inclusive the whole Star Trek “thing” is. Gay or straight, black or white, male or female (or, as the photo above demonstrates, somewhere in between), it just doesn’t seem to matter — if you love Trek, those who also love it will accept you. All differences are small potatoes compared to the one thing that binds them all together. Methinks there’s a lesson to be learned there for society as a whole.

The on-camera interviews with many of the show’s stars are pretty revealing, as well, as they explain in very personal terms what their involvement with Gene Rodenberry’s fictional universe has meant to them, and how they feel it’s affected not only popular culture, but human culture as a whole, as well. Leonard Nimoy, for instance, reveals how the values espoused by Trek influenced the work of visionay “underground” cartoonist Sue Coe (of Dead Meat fame), and Nichelle Nichols relates the story of how her performance as Uhura inspired none other than Whoopi Goldberg  to pursue a career in acting. Hell, no less than Buzz Aldrin himself makes an appearance, vouching for how the show has helped to keep humanity’s dream of reaching for the stars alive and well.



All of which, I guess, is my roundabout way of saying that not only does Trekkies do a good job of laying out the territory for the “uninitiated,” but it goes further than that to show why it all actually matters, and even if you haven’t partaken of the Star Trek  Kool-Aid (metaphorically speaking), you’ll probably walk away from the film with a better understanding of those who have done so.

Yeah, okay — a Trek convention still looks like foreign territory to me, and not even one I’d be too terribly keen on exploring in person, but ya know what? If that’s your idea of a good time, you’re A-Okay in my book. Go knock yourself out.


For those of you sufficiently tempted to give Trekkies a whirl, it’s available as a bare-bones DVD from Paramount, where it’s presented full-frame with stereo sound, and at 86 minutes long it’s just enough to keep the average viewer fascinated without bludgeoning us with just too damn much — and  If I were a Trekkie (or Trekker, as the case may be), this flick would leave me feeling very satisfied, even happy, with its depiction of my world and my fellow fans. You can’t ask for a better endorsement than that. So hey, Trek fans — I may not be one of you, and I may not even want to be one of you, but live long and prosper, my friends. Live long and prosper.


My assault on the summer blockbusters continues over at Through The Shattered Lens website.

Through the Shattered Lens



Given that the always-on-the-ball Lisa Marie Bowman already beat me to the punch with this one on these virtual “pages,” I won’t waste too much of your time, dear reader, on my post-mortem analysis of the decidedly dull, wannabe-mystical-and-“empowering” mess that is Will Smith’s latest vanity project, After Earth, and instead merely remark upon some — -well, remarkable facts.

The first being that precisely two scribes here at TTSL actually saw this thing, and my best guess is that we both saw it in empty theaters because, according to box office receipts from the past weekend, nobody else went. So Sony/Columbia owes us a debt of thanks. And maybe some free passes to some future release of theirs.

Secondly, I’d like to state for the record that this film actually isn’t the abysmal and abject failure so many have quickly taken to labeling it as being so much…

View original post 552 more words