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Archive for the ‘Comic strips/Super heroes’ Category

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Thursday, September 9th, 2021

Believe it or not, I kinda consider myself kind of a Shang-Chi guy. As in, I dig that comic book character, before there was a movie. That’s definitely overstating it, because I don’t know that much more about his history than the next guy, but I’m attached to him because of my fascination with the period that created him, just a couple years before I was born, when American pop culture was catching on to the existence of kung fu and kung fu movies, and trying to cash in.

Shortly after Luke Cage debuted in June 1972 as a super hero response to SHAFT (both SUPER FLY and the coinage of the term “Blaxploitation” happened a few months later), Shang-Chi was conceived as the Marvel Comics version of the hit TV show Kung Fu, and he debuted in the midst of ENTER THE DRAGON mania. He showed up one month in Special Marvel Edition, and two issues later it was retitled The Hands of Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu. I can’t resist titles like that – that’s why I also know about the DC character Richard Dragon, Kung Fu Fighter (as seen in BATMAN: SOUL OF THE DRAGON) and why I was introduced to Shang-Chi by buying back issues of The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu.

That’s a ‘70s Marvel Magazine, the type you know is gonna include a full page ad for a “complete audiovisual home study course in dynamic KUNG FU & KARATE” for less than 16¢ a lesson with a 10 day no risk money back guarantee. But it’s mainly black-and-white comics about martial arts characters including Shang-Chi, Iron Fist and The Sons of the Tiger interspersed with crude martial arts-related articles. In issue #1, writer J. David Warner visits the Fred Hamilton All-Dojo Martial Arts Tournament, reviews THE CHINESE MECHANIC starring Barry Chan, and has a news column previewing upcoming Shaw Brothers and Golden Harvest releases, as well as western movies with co-stars from Asian cinema, like YAKUZA, STONER and PAPER TIGER. It also mentions WHEN TAEKWONDO STRIKES, GOYOKIN, and Ken Russell “preparing for production” of a martial arts movie called KARATE IS A THING OF THE SPIRIT. (If that had gotten off the ground I’d probly obsess over it the way people do THE DEVILS.) (read the rest of this shit…)

The Suicide Squad

Wednesday, August 11th, 2021

THE SUICIDE SQUAD, from writer/director James Gunn (SLITHER, SUPER, writer of TROMEO & JULIET and DAWN OF THE DEAD) is kind of miraculous as far as these big ol’ corporate franchise movies go. Imagine the odds against a director starting out as a writer at Troma, making some well-liked-but-not-super-successful hard-R comedies, then going mainstream with two beloved Marvel hits, then being temporarily fired by Disney due to right wing trolls feigning offense at his old tweets, and spending his time off going over to a different comic book universe to make a super gory and death-filled but heartfelt sequel to someone else’s widely-hated part 1, building off of his horror comedy past, the skills he built on his GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY movies, and what was fun about that first SUICIDE SQUAD movie, to make something really special?

Though I didn’t hate David Ayer’s 2016 SUICIDE SQUAD the way most seem to have, I had many complaints. I suspect he had a more sensible version before the studio literally hired the trailer company to re-edit it, but even in its present form I think the movie deserves praise for establishing a rowdy, cartoony take on the DC Universe that BIRDS OF PREY and now this were able to riff on and use as a jumping off point. And of course even bigger than that is its casting of Margot Robbie (THE LEGEND OF TARZAN) as Harley Quinn, as close to a universally beloved character and portrayal as has ever come out of such a widely hated movie. (read the rest of this shit…)

Black Widow

Thursday, July 22nd, 2021

Poor Scarlett Johansson. After 8 movies appearing as Natasha “Black Widow” Romanoff in a supporting or cameo role, across 11 years (lengthened by global catastrophe related delays), her Marvel super spy character finally gets to star in her own movie… and it’s only okay. I mean I enjoyed watching it and I’ll say some nice things about it, but I can’t deny it lacks the kick of most Marvel movies without being different enough from them to feel like its own thing. Maybe this would’ve been cool if it was the one they made early on with plans to improve on the formula in subsequent adventures, but instead they made it after the character has been killed off and Johansson is presumably ready to move on with her life. If this is all she gets in the end I almost wish Emily Blunt had stuck with the role (she was cast but couldn’t get out of GULLIVER’S TRAVELS!) so Scarlett would’ve had more time to do her more adventurous roles like UNDER THE SKIN, LUCY, MARRIAGE STORY, JOJO RABBIT and hell, I’ll even say GHOST IN THE SHELL. More problematic, but more interesting.

The good news for people who like Marvel but get overwhelmed keeping track of all the shit is that this one is low on continuity and tie-ins. It references the basic Black Widow backstory and I don’t remember what that’s all about, but I didn’t feel like I missed anything important. It takes place however many movies ago when she’s been set up and is on the run, so that eliminates most “what does this mean for the larger Marvel universe?” concerns. (It also makes me realize how much more attached I am to Star Wars than the MCU: Star Wars makes me say, “Ah, this must be not long after Order 66, interesting,” and the MCU makes me say, “It’s after CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR – who gives a shit?” I treat Marvel more like the serials Star Wars was emulating – on to the next chapter, no time to look back. But I’m sure there’s a whole generation who feel differently.) (read the rest of this shit…)

Rurouni Kenshin Part II: Kyoto Inferno

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2021

“Avow Life and Be True”

RUROUNI KENSHIN PART II: KYOTO INFERNO (2014) is an epic sequel that builds on everything I loved about the first one (trust me – check that out if you haven’t!) and expands on this idea of a post-war world where various veterans either try to bring back the violence or maintain (and enjoy) the new order. Our hero is so badass and yet so against killing that he wanders around with a “reverse blade” – a sword sharpened only on the back side – to whoop ass and take names but not lives.

Played by one-time Kamen Rider (and co-star of my beloved SAMURAI MARATHON) Takeru Satoh, Kenshin is younger and prettier than I usually prefer in an action hero. But he makes it almost a badass juxtaposition, and he’s such a cool character – he’s seen shit you never dreamed of, but doesn’t use it as an excuse to brood. He’s quiet but not exactly stoic – he smiles and seems content during peace time, even laughs when he sees himself parodied in a play. Everywhere he goes people seem to recognize him as Battousai, the name he went by when he was a legendary killsword (the government’s teenage super-murdering-the-fuck-out-of-everybody assassin). But his friends call him Kenshin, the name he took after abandoning his bloody sword at the Battle of Toba-Fushimi. The real him.

Admittedly he sounds a little dorky later when he angrily growls the villain’s name to show that he’s had it, but I forgive him. I appreciate that we don’t see that side of him very often. (read the rest of this shit…)

Blind Warrior

Thursday, June 3rd, 2021

Previously on Vern Tries To Learn About Indonesian Super Heroes:

The 2019 film GUNDALA caused me to read up a little bit on the other Indonesian comic book characters who will be part of an MCU-inspired franchise called the Bumilangit Cinematic Universe. It turned out some of them had been in movies before, and I was able to find THE DEVIL’S SWORD, about a character named Mandala who will be played by Joe Taslim in the BCU.

The character that sounded coolest, though, was Barda Mandrawata, The Blind Man From the Ghost Cave, a.k.a. Si Buta (“The Blind” or “The Blind Man”). I was intrigued partly because he’s a warrior who poked out his own eyes to learn how to defeat his blind enemy, partly because he has a pet monkey, and partly because his new movie is to be written and directed by Timo Tjahjanto (HEADSHOT, THE NIGHT COMES FOR US).

I was able to find two ’80s movies about Si Buta. The first was THE WARRIOR AND THE BLIND SWORDSMAN (1983), in which the character crosses over into part 2 of a trilogy starring THE DEVIL’S SWORD’s Barry Prima as a different character. The blind swordsman was cool looking, but I didn’t get very into the story and didn’t have enough to say about it to write a review. (read the rest of this shit…)

Rurouni Kenshin Part I: Origins

Friday, April 16th, 2021

I know Rurouni Kenshin was a ‘90s anime series (sometimes called Samurai X) based on a manga and all that. I don’t usually pay much attention to that sort of thing, but also I knew there was a series of live action movies starting in 2012 with this one, RUROUNI KENSHIN I: ORIGINS. And I’ve been hearing for a long time that it has some really good sword fighting in it, so I’ve been meaning to see it.

But man, if I knew what it was about, I wouldn’t have waited so long! It’s true that it has some good sword fighting and other fun samurai shit in it, but also this is that most rare and beautiful type of action movie: the type that fits lots of fun action into a story that preaches against violence. It shows that nothing could be more badass than a guy who can kill a whole mob of people on his own but chooses to prove it to them while not doing it.

To put it another way, the hero Kenshin (Takeru Satoh, SAMURAI MARATHON) was such a scary motherfucker killing people for the government in his teens that everybody knew him as “Battosai the Killsword,” but now he’s so against killing that he travels around with a sword that is only sharpened on the back side of the blade.

So yeah, don’t worry, he’ll still be sword fighting. He’ll just be whapping them instead of slashing them. (read the rest of this shit…)

Shrunken Heads

Thursday, April 8th, 2021

Richard Elfman is the son of novelist Clare Elfman. He grew up in L.A., then worked as an Afro-Latin percussionist in the San Francisco musical theater troupe The Cockettes before moving to Paris to perform, and later returning to form the “commedia dell’arte ensemble” or “surrealist street theatre troupe” The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo. They performed Cab Calloway covers and Russian ballet songs in whiteface, won an episode of The Gong Show, released a doo wop song about the kidnapping of Patty Hearst, and played demons in a hallucination scene in I NEVER PROMISED YOU A ROSE GARDEN. In the late ‘70s Elfman turned filmmaker, directing the Mystic Knights’ black and white cult musical FORBIDDEN ZONE (released in 1982).

It’s a pretty obnoxious and completely amazing movie, filmed on theatrical sets beautifully designed in a German expressionist/Max Fleischer cartoon style (and sometimes noticeably made of paper). It’s a short but unrelenting burlesque nightmare of tap dancing frogs and skeletons, adults dressed as children and/or only wearing underwear, lots of Mickey Mouse ears, fezzes and boobs, every single character (and there are tons of them) a weirdo or a grotesque caricature. They move bizarrely and at fast speed, lip sync to old timey big band jazz tunes, simulate humping. It stylishly switches to animation as they plummet to Hell or through the intestine shaped tunnel from the Hercules family’s basement to the Sixth Dimension, which is ruled by Susan Tyrrell as the Cruella-meets-drag-queen Queen Doris, and Herve Villechaize as her cheating husband King Fausto.

Elfman’s younger brother Danny made some great songs for it and has a scene as Satan, singing “Minnie the Moocher” with a band of hooded, lumpy ghouls. Joe Spinnell shows up as a sleazy, drunk sailor. To me it’s soiled by its use of historical racist imagery – I know this is vintage hipster irony or some shit, but opening with a blackface pimp character looking for his heroin is a problem. And you also have to be patient with the inside joke art school forced weirdness nonsense humor ethos that thinks it’s hilarious to have  a main character named “Squeezit Henderson,” who has a twin sister played by the same actor, who is credited as “Toshiro Boloney.” (That’s actually Matthew Bright, better known for directing FREEWAY. His well-meaning drama TIPTOES, which infamously co-stars Gary Oldman as a little person, was inspired by the director’s friendship with Villechaize.)

Around that time Richard passed the creative direction of the Mystic Knights to Danny, who soon decided to ditch all the theatrics and strip down to the rock band Oingo Boingo. They became very popular and had songs on movies ranging from WEIRD SCIENCE to TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2. And during this time, of course, Tim Burton convinced Danny to score PEE-WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE, which led to other scores, and all the sudden he was an A-list film composer.

Meanwhile, Richard directed a few of the band’s videos, but didn’t make any more movies until 1993, when he resurfaced with a silly but pretty straight forward Mimi Lesseos b-action vehicle I’ve already reviewed called STREETS OF RAGE. For that he was credited as “Aristide Sumatra,” which is the name of a character in his third movie, SHRUNKEN HEADS. Released in 1994, SHRUNKEN HEADS was written by Elfman’s old friend Bright (pre-FREEWAY) and produced by Charles Band and his company Full Moon Entertainment. So you better believe it has some tiny little guys in it. Shrunken, like the title says. (read the rest of this shit…)

Zack Snyder’s Justice League

Wednesday, March 24th, 2021

PROLOGUE

Well, it really happened. When last we saw the movie JUSTICE LEAGUE, it was credited to director Zack Snyder – who had left the movie unfinished due to a family tragedy, and amid creative battles with the studio – but was known to have been heavily rewritten and reshot by SPEED script doctor Joss Whedon. Although I called it a “perfectly watchable, okay super hero romp” it was poorly reviewed and did not do the gangbusters business Warner Brothers had hoped for. The studio continued with related characters in AQUAMAN, BIRDS OF PREY and WONDER WOMAN 1984, but seemed to abandon hopes for their own AVENGERS.

Meanwhile, a group of Snyder Riders petitioned, hash-tagged, billboarded and sky-wrote for the company to “release the Snyder Cut,” the fabled vastly different pre-reshoots director’s cut of the film. As time went on, the movement seemed increasingly pestering and delusional, but it persisted until somebody at AT&T or somewhere got the notion that the corporation could promote their new streaming service HBOMax by releasing this Snyder Cut thing on it.

One small complication: it didn’t exist. Snyder had left before he was able to finish the movie, as had been reported all along. So they invested a reported $70 million (more than the entire budget of Marvel’s THE NEW MUTANTS) for Snyder to complete the FX and the edit, add a couple new things and a new score. And since who gives a fuck anymore they let him pretty much do what he wanted this time, and what he wanted was to make it 4 hours long (about 14 minutes longer than LAWRENCE OF ARABIA) and in a 4:3 aspect ratio as an homage to MID90S and MEEK’S CUTOFF. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Devil’s Sword

Wednesday, March 10th, 2021

A few weeks ago I reviewed a 2019 movie I was really excited about called GUNDALA. It’s a pretty great Indonesian martial arts movie directed by Joko Anwar, based on a comic book (also Indonesian) that started in the ‘60s, and it’s supposed to launch an MCU-inspired movie franchise called the Bumilangit Cinematic Universe.

When I read up on the BCU for that review I learned a little bit about the other characters they’ll be making movies about, and some of them have already appeared in movies. IMDb listings of Indonesian films are not very complete, but based on my research I think there’s a 1981 version of GUNDALA; a 1954 version of SRI ASIH; seven (give or take a few erroneous double listings) about Barda Mandrawata – The Blind Man From the Ghost Cave, an incredible sounding character whose new movie is to be directed by Timo Tjahjanto (THE NIGHT COMES FOR US); and three about a wandering warrior named Mandala.

Out of all of those titles I could only locate three, and the first I’ve gotten my hands on is THE DEVIL’S SWORD (1984) starring Barry Prima as Mandala. This character is supposed to be played by Joe Taslim (THE RAID) in the BCU’s MANDALA: THE DEVIL’S SWORD, and if that’s like a slicker, more modern version of this, I can’t wait. This version is directed by Ratno Timoer (who both directed and starred in some of those Barda Mandrawata movies) and it’s kind of a cross between a CONAN THE BARBARIAN wannabe and a low budget kung fu movie (complete with wirework), plus some sexploitation thrown in for flavoring.

(read the rest of this shit…)

Gundala

Wednesday, February 17th, 2021

I gotta admit, I barely knew Indonesian cinema existed until I saw MERANTAU and THE RAID. We all loved THE RAID and THE RAID 2 and then THE NIGHT COMES FOR US came along and that was arguably even more impressive. It was directed by Timo Tjahjanto, who’d already done another Iko Uwais martial arts movie I loved called HEADSHOT with his long-time collaborator Kimo Stamboel. They also did a horror one called KILLERS that I had to turn off in the opening scene because it was too much for me at the time. Some day I’m gonna get up the guts to go back. These days Stamboel has a heavily hyped horror movie called THE QUEEN OF BLACK MAGIC, written by Joko Anwar. Anwar is the guy who directed SATAN’S SLAVES (which I enjoyed) and IMPETIGORE (which I haven’t seen yet but it was on some best of the year lists).

So clearly there are healthy action and horror scenes over there, and those are my primary interests. But did you know they also have a local answer to the Marvel Cinematic Universe? The aforementioned Anwar wrote and directed the 2019 film GUNDALA, based on an Indonesian comic book character created in 1969, and will be overseeing a series called the Bumilangit Cinematic Universe (BCU), with seven more films planned in Volume 1.

I knew there’d be something interesting about an Indonesian take on modern super hero movies, but once again I was caught off guard because you guys, this movie is really good. It certainly takes some inspiration from the Marvel films, and there’s a costumed hero with some powers and some colorful super villains, but mostly it’s a legit martial arts movie with lots of really well directed fights. And it’s interesting to see how a character like this compares and contrasts to the ones that have caught on here. The main difference is that his life has been way harder than any of our guys. (read the rest of this shit…)