Thursday, December 18, 2014

What We Talk About When We Talk About "The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance" (aka, "Birdman")

I've seen Birdman twice now. It stars Michael Keaton as an actor best known for starring in a trilogy of superhero movies attempting a risky comeback by producing, directing and starring in a stage play adaptation of the short story  What We Talk About When We Talk About Love by Raymond Carver. The source material is a story for intellectual stuffed shirts - the summary of that tale on Wikipedia isn't particularly clear, and you don't get a grasp of what it's about from watching Birdman, either. It is definitely a movie that can be viewed in an Anthropology class, since I'm convinced it's a superhero movie that doesn't want to be a superhero movie, but follows the beats of a superhero movie...and is more satisfying to view as a superhero movie. I  think it's a shame that Fox Studios didn't think of having a tie-in "novelization" of Birdman published...and it turns out to be reprint of Raymond Carver's short stories (including  What We Talk About When We Talk About Love) behind the cover.

So how do I recommend you view Birdman? Well, it's clearly the story of an actor who's developing reality warping superpowers while under duress. He can fly, he can move objects, and he can change reality so that you can debate whether or not you saw him fly around midtown Manhattan during the morning rush hour...or was riding in a taxicab. Within this context, I think the film is like the Bruce Willis movie Unbreakable, where we didn't realize we were watching a superhero movie until the final act...and then realized a lot of opportunities were wasted that have made that film age terribly. At least Birdman has room for fun. As Ebert often wrote, "I'll leave that for you to discover." (So that I can keep this essay from going off the rails).

Which brings us to the concept of Birdman himself - he's like a mashup of three Hanna-Barbara cartoon superheroes: The Blue Falcon from Dynomutt, Harvey Birdman of Birdman and The Galaxy Trio and Harvey Birdman, Attorney At Law, and he appears to have Space Ghost's laser "power bands", which he uses to attack a monstrous robot vulture that resembles one of the Skeksis from The Dark Crystal...of course I want to see this spun-off into its own movie. Or maybe a Hawkman movie.

Anyway, go see Birdman. It's one of those films that I'm convinced works best when it's viewed on the big screen, so do give it a try. It's not as ingenious as some critics are making it out to be, but Michael Keaton is excellent in this film; it's doing what Lost In Translation did for Bill Murray - that's another film that works better when viewed on a big screen as well.

And without further ado, enjoy the gallery! :)

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Magrs Method of Reviewing Doctor Who Novels: "Doctor Who: Silhouette" by Justin Richards

Can the best Doctor Who stories be summed up in a question?

"Can the Twelfth Doctor and Clara, with help from the Paternoster Gang, solve the puzzling locked-room murders in London committed by...angry paper birds?"

Best moment for old-school Who?

All of the stories featuring Vastra, Jenny & Strax are going to have echoes of "The Talons of Weng-Chiang". And of course, this book, the first 12th Doctor novel, is the one that is deliberately meant to feel like a follow-up/nod to the first 12th Doctor adventure, "Deep Breath".

There are also nods to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Poison Belt", Ray Bradbury's "Something Wicked This Way Comes" and  maybe a tip of the hat to Hitchcock's "The Birds".

Best new thing?

The origami paper "angry birds". One paper cut is a minor inconvenience, but can you imagine a flock of paper cranes intentionally slicing away at your skin relentlessly with their wings? It's a stirring surreal visual that could work on the TV show, so...only on Who could a paper bird become a Doctor Who monster, but then again, the most popular episode of the current season ( "Flatline") featured an alien invasion lead by 2-dimensional "flat" creatures.

If this book were an old Target novelization, it  would've been titled Doctor Who and The Angry Birds.

They'd never have got away with that in the 20th Century...

I could argue for those angry origami birds, but there was the Chronivore in "The Time Monster"...this is actually an adventure that they could get away with making in the past, though they would probably replace the flock of cranes with one large crane, played by a production assistant wearing sheets of white cardboard.

Hooray for Jackie Tyler! - best guest moment?

In an elaborate ruse, seven of the Doctor's past incarnations appear in brief cameos during one sequence past the halfway mark, in an attempt to lure the Twelfth Doctor into a trap, but he coolly rebuffs them all. Justin Richards shows off his ear for dialogue, as each incarnation is easy to identify without resorting to naming names, which is impossible, since the Doctor and his companions always reffered to the Doctor as The Doctor and the numbering of each was for our own reference.

The " I love me Nan' " moment?

That would be when Silhouette (the title character), Affinity and Empath reform. The three characters are the underlings of the Master-like villain, intergalactic industrialist (that's the Doctor Who equivalent of upgrading an "evil millionaire tycoon" into an "evil billionaire tycoon") Orestes Milton, who plans to detonate a poison cloud on England that will filter out all emotions except anger, creating chaos. Once Justin establishes that Orestes hitmen are controlled by gemstones upon their person...well, all of this stuff was pretty predictable, really. If you've watched the series often, you've seen the Doctor take on the main villain by enabling their toadies to get their revenge for being put-upon once too often..or maybe there haven't been too many stories like that, but it  sounds very familiar.

What?!

Milton is a fugitive wanted by The Shadow Proclamation, the Whoniverse's vaguely-defined equivalent of the Green Lantern Corps - only their enforcers are talking alien rhinoceroses. He believes he can earn leniency for his crimes by offering his research on even nastier things he's been researching. Milton's not just insane, he's a bit stupid, but the plot implies that Richards would love it if Steven Moffat revisited the Shadow Proclamation, only to show them as being horribly corrupt...maybe his copy of Captain America: The Winter Soldier is stuck in his Blu Ray player.

Huh?!

Milton learns the Doctor is a Time Lord by taking analyzing the teacup the Doctor drank from...usually people find that out by taking x-rays of The Doctor, so this was a change of pace.

Where was I?!

The book is ok. Even if I hadn't learned that the book was written at an early stage where the only reference Richards had were a handful of scripts and paparazzi photos taken on the set, it was a good guess as to what The Twelfth Doctor's adventures are like, just lacking the spontaneity Capaldi brought, or the new depths Jenna Coleman brought to Clara, whose character was fleshed out  considerably (the Clara Oswald that appeared alongside Matt Smith's Doctor Who now looks like a random groupie he pulled out from a crowd of autograph hounds compared to who she is now). And the Milton character is clearly playing off early rumors that the Master was going to return (and yes, she did). :)

So, yeah...angry paper birds, easter egg cameos...comfort food while waiting for new episodes of the show to debut. It does the job.

Singlemost fabulous thing?

Twelve alludes to meeting King Arthur...allusions to the Arthur Legend are often attributed to the Seventh Doctor claiming he was Merlin, but can you imagine the Twelfth Doctor visiting his younger incarnation while he's mentoring the once and future king? A spoon-playing jam session will break out on the round table!

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Magrs Method of Reviewing Doctor Who Novels: "Doctor Who: Engines of War" by George Mann

I noticed Paul Magrs adopted a different line of questioning in his reviews of "Doctor Who" episodes, so I thought it would be fun to apply the same approach to reviewing a batch of recent tie-in novels:

Can the best "Doctor Who" stories be summed up in the form of a question?

Will the War Doctor be able to finally end "The Last Great Time War" after discovering the dirty secrets of both the Daleks and the Time Lords without destroying another planet caught in the crossfire?

Best moment for 'old-school' Who?

A LOT of Time Lord mythology, with callbacks to "The Five Doctors", "The Deadly Assasin", "Genesis of The Daleks", "The Invasion of Time", "The End of Time" and "The Day of The Doctor", though those last two aren't old-school, but you get the idea.

Best new thing?

The Possibility Engine - Rassilon's magic 8-Ball, only more horrific.

They'd Never Have Got Away With That In The 20th Century...

Ditto...the Possibility Engine would likely have been the smoking gun/ace in the hole Mary Whitehouse would need to get old-school Doctor Who taken off the air...imagine a Time Lord crucifix...also, you've got the Daleks planning to turn the War Doctor into a Dalek by encasing him in an iron maiden-esque chamber/Dalek casing..ouch!  

Hooray For Jackie Tyler - Best Guest Moment?

Every scene with Rassilon. If you've seen "The End of Time" and  "The  Day of The Doctor" before reading this novel (and you should), then you get to enjoy imagining the sight of actors John Hurt and  Timothy Dalton chewing the scenery as the mayfly Doctor and the Nintendo Power Glove-wielding Time Lord President, whether debating about the  right to turn the Doctor's mentor/father-figure Borusa into a horoscope-dispensing pinball machine or Rassilon casually tapping his gloved hand to thwart the War Doctor's attempt at beating up one of his sniveling  sycophants, the material casually crosses the line into high camp and says, "What line?", but it becomes the main draw of the book.

The "I love me Nan'" Moment?

Cinder..this character is clearly meant to  be an analogue for the pilot the Eighth Doctor failed to save in the minisode "Night of The Doctor", but once she's  established...she's along for the ride, and her relationship as The War Doctor's  companion is payed off with his dialogue more than anything she has to say. A lot more emotional impact is in the scenes featuring Borusa - the old-school  DW character from past Gallifrey tales who gets a sympathetic role as the truth behind Rassilon's resurrection and resurgence as Time Lord President is revealed.

What?!

The War Doctor is seen at the beginning of the book leading a fleet of 'Battle Tardises' against Dalek battleships - yet his Tardis has no weapons! He's  supposed to be the anti-hero Doctor! Couldn't he have had some weapons?

Huh?!

We learn what the 'Skaro degradations' in the Time War are - alternate mutations of the Daleks caused by repeated attempts by both sides to eliminate or recreate the origins of the Dalek species...and we get scenes depicting space battles between Time Lord Battle Tardises and Dalek warships...but I can't help thinking  George Mann missed out on something..I  recall Russell T. Davies once suggesting that the Last Great Time War involved more than space battles between CG spaceships - it was a war through time, happening backward and forward and in-between, akin to a Cold War that ended in a catastrophe..or like a large-scale  version of  "The Chase", where the Daleks are horsing around with the history of the universe to tip it in their favor, playing cat-and-mouse games with the Time Lords...and while there are hints of that...we're reading about CG Tardises shaped like BeatsPillXL players.

As for the War Doctor - he's in fine form, behaving more Docterly than anti-hero, save for moments of rebellion against his past decision-making processes, but ultimately, the point is that this Doctor was still The Doctor, and this is one of his finest hours - he thwarts the plans of Rassilon and the Daleks, saves a planet from being destroyed and helps his disgraced mentor/father-figure Borusa redeem himself. Plus, we get some scenes with the War Doctor using that neat sonic screwdriver he kept in an ammo belt in "The Day of The Doctor".

Where Was I?

Seeing as how this is likely to be the only novel set during the Last Great Time War, I was hoping it would be available in the States in hardcover, with a reversible  dust jacket that would feature an alternate cover illustration that resembled the book Clara peaked at in "Journey To The Center of The Tardis". There is a hardcover  version, but it's in the "paper-hard" hardcover style of past DW novels, and that variant is not available here, since Broadway Books, the current publisher in the States, is only offering them in paperback. Pity.

The Singlemost Fabulous Thing..

The War Doctor vs. Rassilon. Forget about the Daleks - they're kind of boring in this..the real villains in The Last Great Time War were the Time Lords leading the rotten core of Gallifrey, and that message is made abundantly clear..

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

"It's Superman's Cousin's Show! Starring Superman's Cousin!"

A live-action Supergirl TV series is in development for the CBS network, which is interesting, because her comics are a mixed bag. Rather tellingly, DC Comics never printed a Greatest Supergirl Stories Ever Told reprint collection, but they have with Batgirl, Green Lantern, even Captain Marvel (!), who can only be reffered to as Shazzam nowadays because Marvel Comics wouldn't like that. For a long time ( and I'm making a long story short ), Supergirl couldn't even be Superman's cousin! Oh, she could be the shape-shifting clone of Lana Lang who assumed the identity of an insane goth girl named Linda Danvers and later develop new powers and complications that made her "Supergirl" in name only that were relevant in the wake of pop culture trends like The X-Files and Buffy, The Vampire Slayer...but it wasn't Supergirl.

Honestly, I predict a Supergirl TV show  will ignore the comics for the most part, which I believe is the formula that's made recent series like Arrow and The Flash successful - both have very little in common with the source material at all, even Gotham, which claims to draw inspiration from bits and bobs of Batman comics, but is really evolving into a Game of Thrones-style series about the origin of Batman, his supporting cast and rogues gallery as they converge in Gotham City. And Batman is in it - as young Bruce Wayne, who is portrayed as an armchair detective of sorts. Again, there are no callbacks to any specific comics; anyone who believes so is trying to reach hard.

So I doubt Supergirl will be based on any comics. Her characterization will probably depend on whoever is cast in the role, too. A fanpage devoted to the character on Facebook characterized her as a "warrior princess"...where did THAT come from?  As for villains?  They could lean on the Superman rogues gallery for villains least-likely to appear in the films, like Livewire, The Prankster, Mr. Mxyzptlk, etc..and Reactron - the only rogue I remember from her comics. Ambush Bug might show up (because he appeared in her comic once), possibly Granny Goodness and the Furies will be big players...maybe Kara will take up roller-hockey or join a rock band, becoming a Riot Girls-esque hipster - who knows? Maybe Batgirl will show up to set up a spin-off series?

If I had to imagine a premise for this character...I would say that instead of arriving on Earth after the destruction of Krypton, her rocketship/escape pod landed on the future Earth of The Legion of Superheroes and...having spent a brief, yet significant time as a member of the Legion, time travels to present-day Earth to check up on Superman and perhaps save the Earth, but ultimately decides to stay. So...we've got a Supergirl who was a ring-bearing member of the Legion (and also a former member of the Red Lanterns) but is new to Earth. That's a sketchy outline for a pilot, but I see this character as someone who is.. a nice, but relatively aloof foreign exchange student arriving in a new place.

Meanwhile, there's cool art from fans, professional fan-favorite artists and cosplayers on the internet..I particularly like model/cosplayer Enji Night's Supergirl and the cape-hoodie combination design on one illustration...but then, I selected all of these pictures for this post, so of course I like them all! Enjoy!

Update: more details about the show have been revealed - Supergirl's civilian identity will be "Kara Danvers" and she'll have an older step-sister named Alex. They're looking for actresses between the ages of 22-26 to play 24 year-old Kara. After glancing at other websites offering suggestions, I like the idea of casting Claire Holt as Supergirl/Kara and I would suggest Alona Tal as Alex..of course, they could just go with casting unknown newcomers in both roles, as they did with The Flash and Green Arrow. The wheels are in motion in Hollywoodland..

Friday, October 3, 2014

The Apocryphal Scrooge McDuck, Part 3

In this installment, I recall Donald and His Friends, which sounds like a serviceable title for a Disney coloring book marked $1.49 at a 99 cent store, but is actually the title of an oversize, fully-illustrated storybook from 1988. I suspect this book is a reprint and the original title was "Happy Birthday, Donald Duck!" or "Donald's Amazing Birthday Party" to coincide with the character's 50th birthday a few years prior. I still own a copy of "Happy Birthday, Bugs!", an oversize storybook published to coincide with Bugs Bunny's 50th birthday, but I don't know if that was ever reprinted as "Bugs and His Friends", which would be darkly ironic, since the "surprise party" depicted in that book devolved into a revenge plot after all the guests (all made up of Bugs' antagonists) recalled the many times the Wabbit had made fools of them.

Anyway...you didn't click on this article to read about Bugs Bunny - you want to know what makes Donald and His Friends count as an "apocryphal" Scrooge McDuck duck-tale. Okay. This book was special because it featured an all-star cast of Disney characters from the films and comic books, including an unnamed character who resembles Ellsworth the crow, who is virtually unknown to audiences in the USA, but audiences overseas might've recognized him, which led me to believe this book was indeed a reprint,  yet I wasn't able to prove that when I did an online search.

The plot could've been adapted as an episode of Disney's House of Mouse. It begins with Donald alone in his house,  dozing off on the couch after completing household chores,  when a knock on the door wakes him up. The guests begin to arrive. First Daisy shows up. Huey, Dewey and Louie show up. Goofy shows up (dressed as Donald's present - less messy than jumping out of a cake, I presume), then Pluto, Mickey and Minnie Mouse arrive. Mickey's "gift" is a magic show featuring a magic top hat that functions like a backwards nesting doll - characters from the Disney films appear from inside and begin to pop out: Alice, Peter Pan, then Merlin the wizard, who magically makes an enormous gift box appear, which has a massive birthday cake inside, from which two of the Disney Princesses appear - Snow White and Cinderella. Cinderelly's gift is a pumpkin that turns into a roadster that resembles Donald's Belchfire Runabout car that Carl Barks created for the comics, but with the color scheme resembling the "flying" version used by Donald in the Paperinik/Duck Avenger stories. I particularly liked the interesting, surreal, Dr. Seuss-ian escalation in the presentation of the characters and gifts - this wouldn't have been impressive as a teensy Little Golden Book, but works better with this format, which resembles the size presented for Seuss's longer stories, like Happy Birthday To You! and And To Think I Saw It On Mulberry Street, but it's inspiration most likely came from the Disney film The Three Caballeros, which also featured a birthday celebration for Donald Duck with a similar display of flamboyant character entrances.

The tone shifts when Scrooge arrives, unfashionably late, claiming to have been mugged, his "gift" for Donald stolen. Once it appears everyone present at the party would rather believe McDuck came to wolf down some free birthday cake...the most unforgettable moment in the book happens: Scrooge throws a fit.

Actually, the book describes him flying into "a rage", but I'm inclined to believe this was Scrooge's aria: he starts to trash Donald's house! Throwing gifts and anything not nailed down! The unfortunate thing about this book is that the destructive rampage is illustrated sparingly within the space of a few pages, offering ONE tantalizing image of the destruction capturing my imagination and staying in my head from the moment I first read it...A group of party crashers wind up bearing the brunt of McDuck's quack attack...and this group is made up of a sampling of the finest representatives of evil in the Disney films: Maleficent, Mad Madam Mim, Cruella de Vil, Medusa and the queen from Snow White, who was unnamed,  but because of the Disney-owned TV series Once Upon A Time is now known as Regina Mills or Queen Regina. It is truly a beautiful illustration, which brings up the sad point that the artist and writer of this book were uncredited and are unknown.

After the crones flee, the seven dwarves entertain rhe partygoers with music. Donald dances with Snow White.  Goofy and Clarabelle Cow dance the tango. Huey, Dewey and Louie follow up on the entertainment by showing a short cartoon  about Pluto chasing Ellsworth, who leads him to a surprise party held for the dog.

Then Gladstone Gander shows up. I think this is the first of only two appearances Gladstone has made in any of the Disney storybooks - the other appearance was in Donald Duck: Some Ducks Have All The Luck, a Little Golden Book. After presenting Donald with a gift that resembles an enormous perfume bottle (with an assist from an unnamed valet bearing a canny resemblance to Timothy Mouse from "Dumbo"), Gladstone recalls the bizarre gift he received from Scrooge on his birthday: a tiny, malfunctioning hourglass.  Gladstone gets revenge by claiming the hourglass was a lucky talisman, which makes Scrooge insist on buying it back, only to learn the hard way that he'd been had by his nephew. Then Chip & Dale show up at Donald's house with a surprise: they found Scrooge's gift for Donald - the hourglass he had bought back from Gladstone!  It's not implied in the text that Scrooge might have thought twice about his re-gifting strategy while on his way to Donald's house, decided it was a bad idea and ditched the hourglass while offering the story about being mugged as a cover for showing up empty-handed, but the artist's rendition of his face immediately after the denouement could imply that was what happened.

After that punchline, Donald offers his surprise for the guests: a fireworks show in his backyard, which becomes calamitous after Goify's pants catch fire from some stray sparks and is left standing in his boxers, but otherwise the party ends with everyone enjoying the festivities and Donald looking forward to next year's birthday party.

This book stood out because it was the only original story among a series of books that featured storybook adaptations of classic Disney animated films. The endpapers of the book show Scrooge in character as Ebeneezer Scrooge in Mickey's Christmas Carol amongst a large display of Disney characters, so a book adaptation of that film was also offered at some point. I remember they were displayed on a large table at Barnes & Noble - not unlike the way books featuring Disney characters are often displayed at bookstores,  though I've never seen this book offered again, which is sad, because it was very good. The uncredited illustrator didn't take advantage of the format to do anything ambitious (perhaps there was a plan to keep this book in print on various size formats at one point), which hints this was something cranked out, albeit well done, since the uncredited writer was clearly having fun dreaming up a surreal experience. Both contributors rose to the occasion with that cameo by the Disney villains.  It's definitely worth looking out for.

Here's a clue about the next installment of The Apocryphal Scrooge McDuck:

When is a "cameo guest star" not guest-starring at all? :)