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Friday at the Movies

by  in Comic News Comment
Friday at the Movies

Wolverine, Planet of the Apes, the Lone Ranger…. and other various and sundry things.

* * * * *

What We Do Isn’t Very Nice: Look, there’s all kinds of reviews on X-Men Origins: Wolverine already from comics geeks all over the internet and most of them are pretty unforgiving.

Haven’t seen it myself, and I don’t actually care that much, so I don’t really have a horse in this race. But I thought, just as a change of pace, it would be fun to consult my own personal X-pert X-geek on the matter. Someone perhaps a little less jaded than the usual internet reviewer.

Anyway, my 14-year-old former student and occasional TA, Rachel, sent along a review and I thought it was too much fun not to share, especially since it came with an illustration.

So here’s Rachel:

Here is my official review/general opinion of X-Men Origins: Wolverine. I’m not giving out spoilers.

As you may have guessed, I’m such a die-hard X-Men/Wolverine/Hugh Jackman fan girl that it’s hard for me to critique this movie, but I’ll do my best.

Even if this movie HAD been crappy (which it turned out not to be, in my opinion), it would’ve still been worth seeing because Hugh Jackman was born to be Wolverine. He’s so good at it that nobody even cares that he’s around 6 feet and not 5″1′ ish like we all know Wolverine is supposed to be. He and Liev Schreiber (Sabretooth), both played their parts very well.

Okay, one thing this movie had was ACTION. Although there was not much blood to a point that it was unrealistic (probably to maintain the PG-13 rating, I’m guessing) there was a lot more INTENSE and well-choreographed fight sequences, explosions, and hardcore battles than there were in any of the other X-Men movies. Basically, if any viewers had any doubts that Wolverine WASN’T a badass in any previous X-movies, it was proved here that he was.

Speaking of action, the opening title sequence to Wolverine was definitely one of the highlights of the movie. It moved smoothly through scenes of World War I, II, and Vietnam with Wolverine and Sabretooth in the midst of it all in roughly five minutes, and was really cool to watch.

AND I finally got to see the entire Wolverine-being-adamantium-filled process, which was DEFINITELY a scene I’ve been waiting to watch for a long time.

I think one thing a lot of people might have trouble with, though, is how far this movie goes from the original story in the comics. I mean, I’ve read enough X-Men books to know that the movies have warped a lot of things. It’s almost like they’re inventing a whole new story, even with the same characters. I mean, Wolverine and Sabretooth are brothers. Since I’m definitely NOT the best expert on Wolverine comic trivia, it was interesting for me to see what they were going to do with the new material, rather than agonizing about how they were twisting the original X-Men plots, but I know there will be some complaints from the comic geeks.

Although Wolverine is undoubtedly one of my favorite characters, it just surprises me how he’s changed over the years, from the much-disliked ratlike villain who appeared in The Incredible Hulk, to the X-Men favorite who is dominating the movies and now has his own Origins movie.

I’m looking forward to the upcoming X-Men Origins: Magneto and X-Men: First Class movies, but both mainly depend on the success of Wolverine’s movie. And I have to say…I’m very curious on how they’re going to do X-Men: First Class. According to the movies, Iceman was not an original student, Beast is a government official who is an old friend of Xavier, and Angel is the son of the leader of the mutant cure program who wanders into the Xavier’s Institute for Gifted Youngsters after escaping. If there even is a First Class movie, it’s definitely not going to be the same Cyclops/Marvel Girl/Beast/Iceman/Angel lineup that we’re all used to.

It was nice to see some new X-Men cameos. Although Gambit was slightly lacking on his awesome Lousiana accent, (the X-movies have a bad habit of making accents vanish…Colossus, for example) Taylor Kitsch did a very good job of portraying him. The Blob provided some comic relief to the movie. Although Cyclops didn’t have much screen time (I personally think he was only in the movie to add some more well-known X-names to the roster), it was cool seeing him in another X-movie (after he was so brutally killed off by Jean in X-3 so James Marsden could go work on Superman). He was played by a new actor, but I’d say Tim Pocock didn’t play him any worse than James Marsden had. There were a few other new X-characters that hadn’t appeared in other movies – but I don’t want to spoil any surprises. 🙂

There were only a few things I didn’t like about this movie. The pacing was very fast, and it was definitely more action than dialogue. I don’t know who wrote the screenplay, but there were occasionally very cheesy lines injected into the script. For example, while Logan is talking to Kayla (his love interest in the movie) he just randomly says, “I’m the best there is at what I do, and what I do isn’t very nice.” It’s a great line, but very awkward to watch someone saying it in casual conversation.

But probably one of the things that most bugged me was how poorly the CGI on Wolverine’s claws was done. It made it painfully obvious how animated and FAKE
they were. You’d think that with such a high-budget movie, they’d be able to afford better effects on one of the most important details of the film: Wolverine’s signature claws.

And, compared to the other X-movies, this one definitely didn’t have as much humor or thoughtfulness, or —  dare I say– character development, as the other three. It was more of a watch-Wolverine-slash-em-up and see-some-X-cameos-from-the-comics kind of thing. It was definitely good, but because the whole film was centered on Wolverine (and Sabretooth), there wasn’t as much focus on the other characters, and it was hard to connect with them when one was injured or killed, because you hadn’t known much about them to begin with.

But as you know, I am such a fan that these flaws didn’t phase me…too much. Overall, I enjoyed this movie, and I think it’s doing pretty well in the box office (despite the Internet leak and the bad reviews it’s been getting). Besides, just going into a theater to sit and watch Hugh Jackman tear up the screen (and various people) for 107 action-packed minutes made it an incredible experience.

-Rachel

Note: There are two bonus scenes at the end of the movie, one near the beginning of the credits, and one at the VERY end of all credits. So you should all stay to the very end if you are going to see it.

There you have it.

Rachel continues to work on her own stuff. She also sent along a drawing of her own character, Midnight, that was likewise too much fun not to share, so here it is.

My student, the Bad-Girl artist. Watch your back, Jim Balent!

* * * * *

Nerdity on DVD: I may not be as into the X-Men as I used to be, but I have my own things that I get geeky about.

One of those is the original Planet of the Apes series. I’m very fond of all five of the original movies as well as the short-lived television series, and a couple of weeks ago we finally acquired the DVD set of all the episodes from the 1975 Saturday morning cartoon series, as well.

For a long time the only way to get these episodes on DVD was to invest in the gigantic mega-set that includes all the other films and TV shows, and there was no way we were doing that since we already had all of those. Thankfully, the studio got smart and put out a separate release of just the cartoons that is actually a little better the second time around, with the episodes remastered and presented in the right order. There aren’t any extras to speak of, but on the other hand it only cost us eight dollars for thirteen episodes.

This was one of those little nerd itches I’d been trying to scratch for thirty-some years, because I’d only seen a few episodes here and there when the show originally aired, and they were all chapters in a multi-part arc.

So I never did get a chance to find out about how Bill escaped from Ape City, or how they got Judy away from the mutant underdwellers, or any of that stuff.

I can’t really say it was worth the wait. The years have not been kind to these cartoons.

In part it was the times. Just generally, the state of animated adventure stories on American television in 1975 was a sad thing to behold. Network censors had decreed that there could be no blood, no violence of any kind; characters were not even allowed to throw a punch. There was a lot of grabbing people by the bicep, some pushing, and villains did a lot of smack-talking while they were tying the heroes up or tossing them in dungeons, but that was about it.

Return to the Planet of the Apes suffers from this enforced bloodlessness. It’s hard to generate a lot of suspense under those restrictions, though this series did a better job than others. Additionally, the animation is very limited — to the point where it almost looks like one of those ‘motion comics’ we’ve been seeing come out on DVD the last couple of years. Again, that was just how things were in 1975. It was right at the end of the era of U.S.-produced animation for television, before most stateside studios gave up and started sending everything overseas.

On the plus side, the art itself is breathtaking to look at, even if it doesn’t move very much. This show was produced and designed by the great Doug Wildey, who also gave us Jonny Quest and Rio, and his craftsmanship is evident everywhere. (Even my wife was struck by this– when we were screening it Julie said, “I remember this show now! I used to watch it just for the art when I was little.”)

But I’m not an art guy, I’m a story guy; and I have to admit that although the stories are pretty smart and moderately engaging, they don’t hold up all that well for an adult audience. As far as the premise and individual plots are concerned it’s all a sort of mishmash of the first two movies and the later live-action TV series. Our three astronaut heroes, Bill, Jeff, and Judy, go through the familiar motions of discovering they’re really on a future earth, that apes are now the dominant species and humans are mute primitives, that there is a secret society of mutated human telepaths living underground, etc. (I did enjoy seeing a version of James Franciscus’ character Brent from Beneath the Planet of the Apes turn up in later episodes, that was a nice little fan-service thing.)

This is one of those shows that, in the final analysis, is better appreciated if you’ve got a bright kid to watch it with. But at least I got to see how it all turned out, and the Doug Wildey art is gorgeous (and with all this show’s faults, I still like it better than the recent Tim Burton remake, so there’s that.)

For eight bucks I can’t complain. But that’s definitely the way to go. This isn’t something I’d recommend you rush out and buy new, but if you see it on sale for cheap and you’re an Apes fan who wants to introduce your nine-year-old to the series, this might be fun for you.

* * * * *

On the other hand, another thing I’m pretty nerdy over is the Lone Ranger, and Rhino’s new Best of The Lone Ranger DVD collection has had me swooning with delight here the last couple of weeks.

If you like the old Clayton Moore series and want it on DVD, shopping for it can be a frustrating experience, because there are at least half-a-dozen different crappy releases out there of the public domain material, which is to say the first sixteen black-and-white episodes of the series from 1949.

This is not one of those sets. This is a selection of fifteen episodes from the final season, the one in color, from 1956-57. These are the shows that local stations used to rerun on Saturday and Sunday afternoons when I was growing up during the sixties and seventies, and it’s great fun to see them again. They’re so much better than I remembered.

Producer Jack Wrather not only decided to pay for filming in color — something that didn’t happen that often for TV in 1956 — but he also paid for location shooting and took the show outdoors. The locations they chose are terrifically atmospheric and visual, especially the ones in the canyons and mesas around Kanab, Utah. (Here’s a link to a vacation guide gallery — it’s still beautiful country today.)

Moreover, the shows themselves are just plain good. By this season, everyone involved had been doing it a while and knew how to get it right, and so they were taking more artistic chances than in earlier years. Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels got to stretch themselves a bit as actors, often going undercover in various disguises. I especially enjoyed Silverheels’ turn as the homicidal Red Dog in “Outlaw Masquerade,” where Tonto has to go undercover in a prison to try and find the location of some hidden loot.

(Moore also got a nice little role as Red Dog’s scarred confederate Stark, but Silverheels owns that episode.) The riding and stunt work also got kicked up a notch, and almost every show features a magnificent old-school cowboy brawl.

But what is so amazing and awesome to me is how ahead of its time the show’s moral center was in this season.

There have been many complaints over the years about The Lone Ranger television show’s characterization of minorities, but honestly, I think those folks are missing the point. Yeah, Tonto speaks in pidgin English, but he’s tough and brave and always has the Ranger’s back, he’s never presented as inferior or stupid. Likewise, what always strikes me about these shows is that — unlike many Western films of the same period that are revered as classics today — the Indians are almost never presented as villains. They are most often shown as honorable warriors doing the best they can, usually struggling with poverty and prejudice and “white man’s law.”

There are many episodes that center on the Ranger and Tonto fighting for Indian tribal rights, trying to make sure treaties are honored and that war is averted. There are stories about the ugliness of racial prejudice, and the dangers of mob mentality. Against that, the pidgin-English complaints just seem petty.

And it’s not just the Indians. One of my favorites on the set so far is “The Letter Bride,” where the race-baiting residents of Morgan’s Flat kidnap the mail-order bride of a Chinese laundryman and decide to tar and feather the prospective groom, as well. “Pretty soon we’ll be overrun with ’em,” growls one surly cowboy. “Takin’ all our jobs, workin’ for rice wages.”

There’s a great scene where the Ranger confronts an angry mob of citizens (all masked with bandannas) as they are taking poor Lee Po out to lynch him. “Why you wearin’ a mask?” someone asks the Ranger, as someone always does.

“This mask stands for justice,” snarls the Ranger. “Why are you wearing yours?”

“Can’t you see we’re just goin’ to teach this here Chinee a lesson?” (said by a young Slim Pickens, incidentally.)

“I see a bunch of hooligans about to commit a cowardly crime!” And the Ranger grabs the tarred paddle out of the bucket and starts whacking Pickens and the others with it. It’s about twelve-to-one odds and he doesn’t care, he’s going to kick all their asses. And they back off.

What raises this scene to the level of an AWESOME! HELL YEAH! moment is Clayton Moore’s delivery. He absolutely means it. He is so enraged at the sheer pettiness and injustice of these people that he is going to beat the shit out of every last one of them, and they believe he can do it.

I love that, and I love that Moore says what he says with such total commitment and conviction. There was never any winking at the audience from Clayton Moore’s Lone Ranger, not one Adam West-style moment where he smirked or came off like he was doing parody. The Ranger was about justice and fairness and decency to all men, no matter their race, creed, or color and somehow it never comes off as preachy, no matter how corny the lines might sound sometimes. We believe in it because Moore clearly believes in it.

I can never resist that stuff. Even in this post-Watchmen, post-Dark Knight landscape, my favorite adventure heroes are still the heroes, not the anti-heroes. The guys doing the right thing just because it’s the right thing. No matter the era — whether it’s old-school Captain America or the Jack Knight Starman or John Doe from Potter’s Field, I think there’s still a place for those guys in pulp adventure stories, and that heroic archetype probably found one of its purest expressions in Clayton Moore’s Lone Ranger.

And did I mention that this scene where the Lone Ranger is facing down a mob about to lynch an Asian over his race was shot in 1956, people? Just a year and a half or so past the McCarthy hearings and HUAC? Three years after the Korean War?

…Sorry, I’m getting carried away. Suffice it to say these are a lot of fun, as well as generally uplifting, and there’s even extras — a couple of nice interviews with Clayton Moore’s daughter Dawn and best friend Rand Brooks, as well as one with the stuntwoman who trained and boarded the horses Silver and Scout. I recommend the set unreservedly. Maybe if it does well enough, they’ll give us the rest of the season.

* * * * *

The Howlers on DVD!: Speaking of politically incorrect…. let’s talk about the Sgt. Fury movie that came out in 1943.

Well, okay, not really, but still, it’s pretty damn close. Close enough that I have always wondered if Stan lifted the concept of Sgt. Fury and the Howling Commandos from this particular film.

Let’s refresh everyone’s memory. Here’s Fury and his boys.

The Sarge, tough-talking, cigar-chompin’ Nick Fury, and his Howlers — Irishman Dum Dum Dugan, Gabe Jones ( a black man integrated into Fury’s unit despite the Army’s policy at the time), southerner Rebel Ralston, the clearly-Jewish Izzy Cohen, youthful Junior Juniper (killed in action shortly on), Italian Dino Manelli, and British Percival Pinkerton (who replaced Junior.)

Sure, there were echoes there of the equally international Blackhawks… but I can also see another, more obvious predecessor from 1940’s cinema.

Specifically, I never can see this particular film without thinking, “Damn. That’s totally the Howling Commandos movie.”

Which movie? Sahara, with Humphrey Bogart.

Here’s a plot summary:

An M3 Lee tank, commanded by U.S. Army Sergeant Joe Gunn (Humphrey Bogart) and nicknamed Lulubelle, becomes separated from its unit during a general retreat from Rommel’s forces. At a bombed-out field hospital, the crew picks up a motley collection of stragglers, among them a British doctor, four assorted Commonwealth troops, and a Free French corporal (Louis Mercier). Later, they pick up a Sudanese sergeant major (Rex Ingram) and his Italian prisoner (J. Carrol Naish), who volunteeers to lead them to a well at Hassan Barani. En route, a Luftwaffe pilot (Kurt Kreuger) strafes the tank, killing one of the British soldiers, but is shot down and captured.

Running out of water, they are forced to detour to a desert well marked on Gunn’s map. They find it, but it is almost empty, providing only a trickle of water. A German halftrack arrives soon afterwards and Gunn’s group ambushes it. Gunn finds out from the two survivors of its crew that a German battalion, desperate for water, is following close behind. He decides to make a stand to delay the Germans any way he can, while he sends one of his men away in the captured German vehicle in search of help.

Or, to simplify it… tough-talking, cigarette-smokin’ Sergeant Joe Gunn and his motley crew — Jimmy, Waco, Frenchy, Tambul, Pete, Marty, Giuseppe, and the Professor — are singlehandedly holding off five hundred Nazis.

How is that not a typical Howlers tale?

At any rate, despite all the blatant Allied propaganda, this is a terrific movie for anyone…. but if you remember the original Sgt. Fury and the Howling Commandos, well, here they are on film, pretty much.

* * * * *

I was going to take a little time to talk about our ongoing effort to strip down our comics library to just the stuff we want, but this has gone on long enough. Besides, I promised my bride we’d be at a certain premiere tonight.

So if you’ll excuse me, we’re off to Date Night (in IMAX!) and I’ll see you next week.

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