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Do not fear FEAR THE WALKING DEAD

I was way behind. Life got in the way, and the DVR stacked up the second half of season 3 of FEAR THE WALKING DEAD. Last night I finished...

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Do not fear FEAR THE WALKING DEAD


I was way behind. Life got in the way, and the DVR stacked up the second half of season 3 of FEAR THE WALKING DEAD. Last night I finished season 3, and I am here to say that FEAR may have started out with a deadly dull season 1, but in seasons 2 and 3 they have turned the show into what may very well be a better show than the flagship THE WALKING DEAD.

Yes. I said it.

TWD has been under fire for a while. First the Glen under a dumpster move, followed by Negan's play by play arrival right off the panels of the comics, then any number of bitchy fans who tune in weekly just so they can go online the next morning and declare: "I'm done with this show." Every week. Every episode.

Now, my fandom must function differently, since it is my love of characters and their journey that keeps me tuning in. Sure, the longer TWD goes, and the bigger the world and cast become, the more unbalanced and top heavy it feels. And with each passing season, the feeling that they have to make bigger moves puts the producers in a tough spot. How do you keep a show about the dead, alive and fresh, and keep outdoing yourself?



Of course, I remember fans bitching about season 2 being too slow on the farm.

I have complained about the habit TWD established in seasons 4, 5, 6 and 7 of having something big happen, split the characters up, and then spend whole episodes with just a few characters, and not move the story forward for weeks upon weeks. It is inconceivable that they would think it was smart to have 3 episodes without Rick, or Daryl, or Carol, etc.  They too often slowed things down, to only build up to a season cliff hanger. Some folks joked that they could watch episodes 1, 8, 9 and 16 of each season, and it wouldn't matter because the producers chose to use all the episodes in between to just guild the lily and spin their wheels.



It is a fair criticism. And in the world of binge watching, it is easier to just wait and blast through a whole season in a weekend. And, it would seem that the show is being catered to that binge approach. Try it. The show is still good. Just not with having to wait weeks between episodes.



Enter FEAR. Season 3 has ended, and episode for episode, beat for beat, they have told 5 seasons worth of TWD story in two less seasons. In fact, it is mind-boggling - given what we're used to - to think about how much ground FEAR has covered in only 3 seasons.

From the dragged out season 1 in Los Angeles at the breakout of the zombie plague, to the high seas for season 2's first half, then the resort hotel for the second half, the to ranch and the dam in season 3. That's 5 major tent pole moments compared to TWD's Altanta, to Farm, to prison in 4 seasons.

The pacing of FEAR is fiercer, and the tensions are higher than they have been on TWD for some time. It is more satisfying too.



At first I hated the cast of FEAR. They just didn't seem to click with me. Nick was awful in season 1. In season 2 he was amazing. Daniel was as much a loathsome pain in the ass as Hershel, when he first joined the show. Now he's one of my favorites. (I loved Hershel after the farm was ripped from him too). Madison is every bit as badass as Rick or Daryl. Alicia is one of my favorite characters because her character was 17 years old at the outset, and is further along her journey than Carl, who was only 10 at the start, and had some awkward growing pains to become the cool character he has become. Strand is one of my favorite characters on all of TV. The smooth con man, who fails forward at all turns.

How did this cast become so much better than TWD?

Well, TWD was at its best, some say, when they were still in the early stages of the outbreak, and still learning and a bit shell shocked by the experience. That's great tension and serves up great storytelling.  Now TWD are perhaps too seasoned and too comfortable in the uncomfortable world they inhabit. And we the audience are too used to it. Rick is great, but we can predict how he will react to every situation. Daryl has ceased any and all character growth since Beth died, and he is pretty much an invulnerable super hero redneck now. Carol is still a badass, but her recent flip to being anti-violence and back again, was just pointless and exhausting. How many times can every single character have a 180 change of heart for half a season, then back again? Feels like that's happening a lot.



Keep in mind, I still love TWD. It is still better than most shows. And I hold it much higher than the more beloved darling GAME OF THRONES, which I find to be watchable though tedious and gratuitous for the sake of being gratuitous. TWD still tries to keep the human condition front and center.

FEAR has the luxury of still being within the first 6 months of the outbreak, and even though that was the major thing that held it back in season 1, the journeys of seasons 2 and 3 felt fresh and exciting. The writing is edgier and unencumbered from having to follow (though slightly) the comic book series that gave it rise.

I know that some folks only watched season 1, then dropped it, but I implore them to go and binge watch seasons 2 and 3. If you are used to TWD pacing, binging FEAR will melt your minds. You may have to take some breaks to catch your breath.

As I finally finished season 3, it was episodes 12 and 13 that grabbed me in a way I haven't been grabbed by TWD in some time. Consequences and stakes felt more urgent than I expected. Spite, revenge, anger, trust, fear and paranoia propel the characters as they react to and step up to the challenges before them.

FEAR also isn't afraid to maim or kill characters you don't expect. And they do it sometimes as casually as one would expect of an un-named Stormtrooper in STAR WARS.

Maybe because they really didn't kill anyone we liked for a long time. And when they did kill some major characters it was ones you either didn't really like, or actually wanted to see dead.


Season 3 ended with an epic run of deaths that were almost dizzying. In fact, there's only one character that we can say for certain even survived the massive finale, where the human drama and tension still out did the special effects extravaganza final moments.

In fact, the show looks like it costs more than TWD does. But, watching behind the scenes bits, shows that the team behind the show are just smart and clever with how they are doing it. Genius film making at every turn. And excellent writing, acting and direction.

Also, if you were a fan of DEADWOOD back in the day, Kim Dickens (Madison) is giving a star turn here that amazes. Also several DEADWOOD alum have made their way onto the show.



Frank Dillane as Nick is a frustratingly appealing character, struggling with drug addiction in the world of zombies, and finding that he can feel more alive covered in zombie guts and walking among them than with people. Alycia Debnam Carey's Alicia is excellent, as I stated before. Reuben Blades was an unexpected addition to the cast as a former death squad killer turned barber, who is pulled back into his previous vocation's skill set. Blades is great, and his character, Daniel, is one badass killing machine when it is called for. He smolders on screen. Mercedes Mason's Ofelia, Daniel Sharman's Troy, Sam Underwood's Jake and Michael Greyeyes Chacka all added to the great tapestry of the show. But the MVP standout is the perplexing Strand, as played by Colman Domingo.



Instantly he grabbed me. His twists and turns as a character were unexpected, baffling, and inspiring to watch at times.

Of course, the show has also had Cliff Curtis as the moral core of the family unit and Lorenzo Henry as his dipshit son Chris, who just frustrated everyone. And a great array of guest stars showing up from Dougray Scott to Jesse McCartney and Dayton Callie.

Top to bottom, the cast is exceptional. And unlike TWD, you feel a constant fear for the fates of these people. At any moment, any one of them may be next!



Of course, we know that season 4 will bring a TWD regular to FEAR in the form of Lennie James's Morgan. How? Well, I am interested to see how they thread this needle.

We saw Morgan in Episode 1 of TWD, then near the end of season 3 when he had lost it in the episode "Clear." About a year and a half (maybe) had passed.

Fear is currently up to maybe the end of season one of TWD in chronology, since FEAR went back to the beginning of the outbreak. We've been told that Rick wakes from his coma about a month into the outbreak, so I'm basing it on that. Then I'm using the birth of Judith in season 3 as a time stamp, since that was at least 9 months from TWD episode 1. Then "Clear" was maybe 6 months later. At the most. Maybe less.

So, for Morgan to be on FEAR, he would have to leave Atlanta, head West, hook up with FEAR, then make it back to Atlanta within a year, and go bonkers. Or does his son die before he leaves Atlanta, and he's bonkers in FEAR when he pops up? Of all characters to blend into FEAR, Morgan is perhaps the most problematic. Abraham, Eugene and Rosita make much more sense, since they started out in Houston to being with, and it looks like FEAR could end up making its way East soon. And for Morgan to appear in season 4 episode 1, makes it even harder to imagine, since we know where they are at the end of season 3, and it is still in Mexico.

Maybe a time jump or something. But again, Morgan's on a tight time schedule here, so they can't jump too far ahead.

Maybe we will find out if Madison's maiden name was Dixon or Grimes and that could help tied things together.



And, if you are following the comics, apparently Nick may be in #175, which just came out last week. At least that's a theory:

http://comicbook.com/thewalkingdead/2018/01/05/fear-walking-dead-nick-clark-comic-crossover-/

I trust the team behind FEAR, and know that they will make it work, and make it interesting.

Already, we've added another DEADWOOD alum with Garrett Dillahunt joining the cast next season. As well, Jena Elfman is a series regular in season 4. Interesting.



Of course, they pretty much killed everyone in the supporting cast by the end of season 3. Maybe more. So they need some new characters fast!

Well, unless you count this spoiler-rific photo from a table read featuring Lennie James and three cast members who are unaccounted for at the end of season 3:



And I hope that the audiences continue to support the show. It is something of a redheaded stepchild in the Walking Dead world. But it deserves better recognition. In fact, if fans are tired of TWD, they should switch over to FEAR. I think what they complain they are missing in TWD is there in abundance in FEAR.

And wouldn't it be interesting if TWD's end in a few years, gives way to FEAR taking over and keeping going. If Nick is indeed in TWD's comic plotline currently, that puts FEAR eventually crossing into TWD's world, and they could pick it up and run with it from there.

The weird dream sequence in FEAR's final season 3 episode gave us an unseen baby that growled at Madison like a walker, which could foreshadow a theory that I've had. Well sort of anyway:

I think that Judith is the key to a cure. Now, how they get that cure is a whole new problem, but I think that she is going to be the major plot turning point in the final season, maybe sooner.

My theory is that anyone born after the outbreak is immune. Only those alive when it happened are infected. Thus, the show would become about repopulating and the older generations fighting to give a new human race the chance to rise and survive.

I also think that the major "ah-ha!" moment could come if Maggie's baby is either still born or dies at birth. Everyone will be tense that it will turn, but then it doesn't, which is like a bombshell being dropped.

Maybe Negan even knows this already. That's why he has a harem of wives and we had that scene dealing with Dwight's wife thinking she might be pregnant with Negan's child. Negan could have already seen evidence that a baby born after the outbreak didn't turn, and one of his twisted notions is to father as many babies as he can to further his lineage. Or some such delusion.

The writer in me thinks about these things. So, if anyone on TWD or FEAR reads this, I will write for cheap! Hire me. I can help!

In the meantime, however, if you are a TWD fan and have avoided or abandoned FEAR, I'm here to tell you that its time to come back over and dive in. The show is amazing, and you're missing out if you aren't watching!



Friday, January 5, 2018

More Fantastic Four please


I've never been a big Marvel guy. It just never clicked for me. Sure, in the heyday of the 1980s, I picked up X-Men for a while, and X-Factor. I liked Dark Phoenix and other tales, but it was never the religion to me it was to others. I wanted to like other Marvel books, but Hulk just didn't interest me, nor did Iron Man, Spiderman, Alpha Flight or Avengers. Captain America was a dull and unappealing concept to me.

I know I missed out on some great stuff by ignoring Marvel so much. I missed Frank Miller's epic Daredevil run, much to my regret. I didn't find The Punisher all that appealing, and didn't pick up those now-valuable minis and regular series runs.

But I did love the Fantastic Four. It was the only Marvel book I got regularly (outside of Star Wars, which I never missed).

Over at DC I was addicted to The Legion of Super Heroes (that was my religion), and I dug The New Teen Titans, lived for the massive Justice League crossovers with Justice Society and others. I knew the DC universe inside out. And despite trying to get into Marvel's Secret Wars and Contest of Champions, I just found it hard to get excited.



What was it about FF? Maybe their bold claim on the cover that they were the world's "greatest comic magazine" or maybe the great artwork by John Byrne pulled me in. I also liked the less super heroic approach. They were more a family than a super team, and the dynamic was somehow less grandiose than most other books. I liked that.

I also admit that I had a massive crush on Sue Storm. Massive.



This can, perhaps be explained in comparisons to my other super heroine crush, Saturn Girl from the Legion:



And later, Black Canary:



Yes, it would seem that my teenage self had a type.

For a while there Sue Storm was my favorite though. She was perhaps the first MILF to catch my eye. (I do not apologize for that comment, since I was in massive puberty at the time)

My love for FF continued, even though after Byrne left the book in the 80s, so did I. Once they came back in the 90s, I got back in, and have started collecting with every reboot since. In the most recent years, I gave up before the runs ended on most of them though, as they all sort of ran out of steam. And, of course, Marvel spitefully cancelled what should be their flagship book in an alleged attempt to do harm to the most recent movie. (Which was self-harming, so they didn't need to bother).

It s a crime that the FF are not on shelves now. And it seems like a no brainer for Marvel to bring them back. Of course, if you follow the news, Marvel may be working under the "no-brainer" banner these days as the company's publishing has fallen off a cliff. Or perhaps driven off it like Thelma and Louise. (Spoiler)

In recent months my love of the FF starting to bubble again. I've been on a path to collect nice hardcover and omnibus editions that have become a new rage. I managed to add the two Byrne FF Ominbuses to my collection, and they are incredible.



It's like being a kid again, flipping through those pages. I still have many original issues in bags and boxes, but it is nice to have a first class presentation in hardcover.

I was skeptical when I saw a new issue on stands last month. It was under the title: Marvel Legacy Fate of the Four part 1, Marvel 2 in One, The Thing and the Human Torch. (Marvel needs to hire someone to help them with titling books, I think).



I ignored it for a week as it sat there on stands. Marvel's attempt to "fix" their recent sins with the whole "Legacy" approach felt tired and too on the nose. The old trope of returning to original numbering was only confusing to me. Why do any of us need to know it is Black Panther #157 or Moonknight #138 if you counted up all the previous issues and combined them. With Captain America's #695 and Iron Man #593, it looks embarrassing to see lower numbers on some of those books, doesn't it? Legacy of what?

And with Action Comics rolling up on #1000, it only looks less impressive. Maybe that's just me.

Maybe Marvel should focus on telling better stories. Like DC has with Rebirth. Not that DC didn't slip and fail repeatedly in recent years, before course correcting. DC You anyone? Convergence? And where's the freaking Legion of Super Heroes and JSA, DC?

Still, I could not resist the temptation that perhaps Marvel was sneaking the FF back into the line up. I knew the Sue Storm had appeared in an Agents of SHIELD comic a while back, and apparently The Thing ran with Guardians of The Galaxy for a while there. But who can keep up and chase scant appearances by the characters in other titles?

During a couple days of vacationing at the beach after Christmas, I did what I typically do in a vacation setting: I google "comic shops near me" and I seek them out.

I found Coastal Comics in Myrtle Beach ( https://www.facebook.com/coastal.comics/ ) and dropped in to check them out. Lovely store, with a lot of back issues and a huge array of current titles. And there it was again. The Marvel 2 in One thing. Now, I have a pull list at Pastimes ( https://www.facebook.com/pastimescomicsandgames/ )  in Asheville (which I've had for about 30 years now), so I had to resist picking up Doomsday Clock #2 and other titles. But I did have to get something, right? So I picked it up.

And I am very encouraged with the story and direction it seems to be headed. And the last page cliffhanger was a major gut punch of emotion that will help propel the tale forward.

I have not been this excited about a Marvel Comic in ages. Here's hoping they bring back the FF and keep the great momentum going that has been set up here!

CBR has a great breakdown of the issue:

https://www.cbr.com/marvel-2-in-one-fantastic-four-return/

And there's a peak at second issue and some more details from Comicbook.com

http://comicbook.com/marvel/2017/12/20/marvel-two-in-one-fantastic-four/



Here are the details of #1:

MARVEL 2-IN-ONE #1

  • CHIP ZDARSKY (W) • JIM CHEUNG (A/C)
  • Variant Cover by ALEX ROSS
  • VARIANT COVER BY ARTHUR ADAMS
  • LEGACY HEADSHOT VARIANT COVER BY MIKE MCKONE
  • REMASTERED VARIANT BY JOHN BYRNE
  • LH Variant Cover by JON MALIN
  • 1965 T-Shirt Variant by JACK KIRBY
  • Kirby 100th Anniversary Variant Cover by JACK KIRBY
  • Trading Card Variant Cover by JOHN TYLER CHRISTOPHER
  • The Fate of the Four Part 1
  • THE FOUR ARE NO MORE, SO TWO MUST DO! Something is very wrong with THE HUMAN TORCH and only THE THING can help him! It’s the Marvel Universe reunion you’ve all been waiting for (well, HALF of it, at least!). Plus: What monumental secret has DOOM been hiding since the end of SECRET WARS, and how will it completely change the lives of Johnny Storm and Ben Grimm? PLUS: Includes 3 bonus MARVEL PRIMER PAGES!
  • 32 PGS./Rated T …$3.99

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

LAST JEDI a second (and third) look



I have now seen STAR WARS THE LAST JEDI 3 times. After a tepid take on the first viewing and several off-base moments that felt decidedly un-Star Wars, I found the film much more enjoyable the second time, and I was able to find a deeper emotional core on the third viewing.

Now, as I said before, it should not take multiple viewings to "get" a Star Wars film, but there it is.

In the plus column:

Daisy Ridley is an amazing actresses, and she gives this film (much like The Force Awakens) its emotional foundation. This is her story, and her journey to becoming a powerful Jedi  (well, unless JJ Abrams does the same degree of about facing that Rian Johnson did to him. More on that later).



Mark Hamill gives a great performance as the hermit Luke who is more like Yoda in Empire than Obi Wan, which is actually great. He's cranky, and likes to have some fun at the expense of his young apprentice. His final scenes in the film are among the best for him among all the films.

Carrie Fisher gets some nice moments and nice send off, despite a horrible FU to fans who are still morning her death.

The hyperdrive scene with Holdo taking down the First Order ships is awesome!

Resistance Bomber run sequence was among one of the best, most tense in all of Star Wars.

Rey stealing the Jedi books and hiding them on the Falcon is great. Or did Luke put them there when he went on board? Either way, the hidden Jedi books was a nice little moment. Personally, I think Rey stole them.

Throne room fight was among the best of the entire saga. Breaking the lightsaber was a great bit of symbolism. It calls to Rey, but Kylo wants it and has legitimate bloodline connections to it. Still, it seems to be more hers than his. Perhaps because of the light side balance that she represents over his dark.

Kylo killing Snoke was a cool move (but I could have done without the overly telegraphed way it was filmed. It would have been more of a surprise for the audience to have not seen it coming).

I'll get on board with the Force linking that Rey and Kylo do. Seems like a natural extension to the Force. Much like how Obi Wan or Yoda have appeared previously and in this movie (Yoda).

Yoda's appearance and look were nice to see, and gave some nice closure to the old Jedi Order.

Luke's stand off with Kylo was every bit as badass as it needed to be, and perhaps even more so because Luke held true to his promise to not leave Ack To, while still being there to save the day. I have a feeling we'll see Luke again, in Force Ghost glory. And wouldn't it be nice to see Rey being visited by Luke, Obi Wan, Yoda, Qui Gon and even Anakin. Perhaps when they reveal to her the real truth of who she is.

Still in the minus column:

I heard someone relate the moments of Luke chucking the lightsaber over his shoulder, and the Poe and Hux "phone" call scene in the beginning, as being too much like sketches on the MTV Movie Awards show than a Star Wars film. I have to agree. Though I liken those two moments in particular to those Billy Crystal sketches at the top of the Oscars when he hosted. Also, flying Leia feels like that too, only more ridiculous.



Speaking of which: It was a solid gut punch to see Leia being blown out into space, not at the hands of her son, who debates but chickens out. Rather, his wingman does the deed. This was a devastating moment for the audience, and should have been for Kylo.

Therein lies the problem. Kylo had a moment of horror, then he seems to forget about it. As well, there's no way that he could ever know that she survived, nor does he ever acknowledge it again. Shame.

Having Leia survive that moment is even more unforgivable, if only for having "killed" her off in that way to start with. Why orchestrate such a moment, then take it back. Especially after Carrie Fisher's real death last year? The emotional weight of taking her away like that - and the pitch perfect look on her face as she greeted death - made this the most powerful way to send her out. (And motivation for Luke to get off his ass and back in the fight).

It just feels wrong and cheap to have her survive in such a way, with the whole audience knowing that she is really dead and won't be in Episode 9. Fisher's real death gave Johnson a chance to really give weight to that moment (which was obviously filmed previously - which seems insane too).

So casually killing of Admiral Ackbar felt wrong too.

And what happened to Snaps Wexley? He survived Force Awakens. Doe he only work with JJ?



Flying Leia, Lightsaber chucking Luke and "I'll hold" Poe were the 3 things that I felt were the most wrong in the film.

I could have done without the whole Canto Bight diversion. Why couldn't Finn and Rose do the sabotage job without having to leave the slow speed chase, go half way across the galaxy and back to the slow speed chase? The DJ character was fun, and Benicio Del Torro was great in it, but that whole sequence felt like too much for the film. Poe could have gone with them, and BB-8 could have been the code breaker role. Especially since we see a BB unit working for the First Order.

Yes, we needed a Lando stand in moment to mirror EMPIRE (which Johnson did, even if people are applauding him for not).

Having Poe tag along on the mission and striking the whole Holdo/mutiny plot line would have been a much better way to go. Poe had precious little to do in the film other than be a pain in the ass to command, and seeing him in action helping Finn and Rose would have been very satisfying.



If we had to go to Canto Bight (to meet the kids for the coda moment) why not have Lando thrown in there in a cameo. Maybe with Lobot still as his pal. Maybe Lobot wearing the pin that indicated the master code breaker. Lando and Lobot as high rollers would have been fun, and could have been a mere moment that would have excited the entire fan base.



Did we have to meet those kids to still make the final moment work? I don't think so. And while I agree with Rian Johnson's clear politics on display in that sequence, I still think it needlessly bloated the film.

I think Rose should have died saving Finn in the end. If they weren't going to let Finn sacrifice himself (which would have been amazing!) then having Rose die to save him would have been a great new character wrinkle for him. (I won't even quibble over the fact that Johnson healed Finn and ignored a major injury that could have also altered Finn's character.)

I also think that it felt too much like Rian Johnson was simply being defiant to JJ Abrams and The Force Awakens. It was as if he was giving JJ the finger by doing things like ignoring the story of Snoke, Rey's parents, and even destroying Kylo's helmet.

It IS important who Snoke is. How did he gain such power to reunite the Empire into the First Order over 30 years? Is he a powerful Sith Lord? Is he a fallen Jedi? He clearly has Force powers that rival The Emperor, Yoda and Luke. That makes who he is pretty important. To ignore it was an FU to JJ and the fans.



It IS important who Rey is. She has such incredible Force ability that both Luke and Snoke recognize that she is a game changer. Kylo certainly could have lied to her about her parents. He lied to Hux about Snoke's death. He is in it for his own gain, and will lie to achieve that.

I think Rey could be a manifestation of the Force, like Anakin. She was created by the Force to bring back balance after the birth of Ben Solo established a threat to that balance.

On that front: was Snoke partly responsible for Ben Solo being bad? Did he manipulate the Force while Ben was in the womb to make sure he could control Ben and turn him once he came of age? (A mirror of Palpatine when he meets young Anakin in PHANTOM MENACE?)

I enjoyed the film. It was entertaining. But I feel that Rian Johnson was not serving a master plan for the trilogy, but rather being a dick to JJ Abrams for all he established and handed off to Johnson to further or resolve. In a way it was also a dick move toward fans who were strongly invested in the questions of who Snoke and Rey are and how they fit into the grand tapestry.

Again, those two things in particular ARE important details.

I have high hopes that Abrams course corrects a few of those details upon his return.

It was a mistake to not have the full trilogy planned out before going in. The round robin approach feeling is what did not sit well with fans who took issue with Last Jedi. Sure, sure, Lucas may not have had a master plan in the original trilogy. Otherwise we need to get him help for making Luke and Leia kiss. But that was back when there were only a few stories in existence. Now there's 40 years of legacy that has to be kept in mind. You can't just change the way the Force works or alter major established dogma on such a whimsical way.

Again, I enjoyed the movie much more on the second and third viewing.

I'm not signing any petitions to strike the film from canon. Though I think it would be awesome to start a petition to ban all the "fans" who signed that petition from being allowed to see any future Star Wars movies. Wouldn't that be fun?

Fandom has become bitchdom on almost all fronts. We've seen the DC comic movies get the brunt of this, and now Disney is getting some of the sting back that they are used to chortling about as it falls on others.

I am typically an unabashed apologist for these types of movies. I may be less so with Star Wars because it hits closer to home for me. I did make excuses for the prequel trilogy, which is nowhere near as bad as some would lead you to believe (again, bitchdom). Phantom Menace suffers many problems just like Last Jedi. Last Jedi is infinitely more entertaining though. Attack of The Clones is not a bad movie, and Revenge of The Sith is actually as excellent film with a lot of amazing stuff happening in it. I defy anyone to decry the opera house scene with Ian McDiarmid winning Anakin over. McDiarmid was the MVP of the prequels.

I fully expect JJ Abrams to "fix" the flaws left behind by Rian Johnson, and Episode 9 to be a spectacular conclusion. I also wonder if Lucasfilm have second thoughts about the Johnson trilogy that they previously announced. I can see him working on some stand alone films, but I don't know about a full trilogy. In fact, if they do a 10, 11 and 12, I think they need to have it plotted and planned before they start. This on-the-fly thing is part of what created the pushback on this film.

More than my two cents. This was my roll of pennies worth of opinion.


Friday, December 15, 2017

LAST JEDI first viewing. I'll need another



I saw The Last Jedi this morning.

I'll need to see it again.

I will reserve a fuller review for later, and will avoid spoilers here, but I have to be honest that I was jarred a little by it. While a solid action, sci-fi/fantasy film with all the elements you need to have a popcorn chewing good time, I am not 100% sure it felt like STAR WARS enough for me.

The film felt like a really good story arc from a comic book, novel, or fan fiction of STAR WARS. At least that was my take away from the first viewing. It was as if Rian Johnson had a little too much freedom in the telling of the story, and could have used some writing assist from Lawrence Kasdan, whose tone and dialogue made The Force Awakens feel seamless in the STAR WARS world. This time it felt like Johnson was the fanboy who made up the whole "what happens next" story that won the prize and was adapted to the next film, rather than a well-planned follow up.

Some of the comedy is too on the nose and tonally too far out of STAR WARS realm of humor.

There are a few choices that he made that I outright disagree with, especially given the powerful emotional weight of the final frames of TFA, the next moments through the Rian Johnson lens squander that powerful moment for a cheap visual gag. No spoilers though.

Johnson hits all the beats, but they never quite land with the impact they should have, save a handful of times. And Johnson's lack of a better adherence to the classic 3 act structure makes it feel out of balance (with the Force of STAR WARS storytelling.)

Laura Dern's character and the whole minor subplot that pops up around her in the middle of the movie is filler and needless on almost every level, and could have been streamlined to trim about 15 minutes out of the movie. Had that beat been left out, the final act of the movie would not have felt like it was just a bit too much in an already stuffed movie.

Princess Leia has a Force using moment that is WAY off base from everything we know about the Force and those who can use it.



In fact, Johnson plays fast a loose with the Force in ways that felt like they needed to be reigned in. Its a whole new take on the Force that feels too much like it comes from a playground scenario I would have had at age 9 with friends as we all speculated the next movie.

I guess it sounds like I'm not a fan of Rian Johnson's take on STAR WARS, doesn't it? Well, I think that is correct. While delivering a technically great movie that has plenty of flash and flare, I don't think he "gets" the deeper soul of STAR WARS, but understands the surface of it incredibly well. This is a surface STAR WARS movie. It lacks true depth and misses the chance to leave the viewer as shocked as we all were with EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, or as dazzled as we were with A NEW HOPE.

It does leave us and the characters in a darker place that they must overcome against all odds in the next film. But there was no real "holy crap" moment that left me feeling like I am on pins and needles to see how the next movie plays out. The stakes are high, but don't feel as significant as they should.

Perhaps upon a further viewing, I will feel differently. But it should not take a second viewing to "get it" when it comes to a STAR WARS movie.

My current ranking of the films lands this one in the middle of the pack:

EMPIRE STRIKES BACK
A NEW HOPE
THE FORCE AWAKENS
RETURN OF THE JEDI
ROGUE ONE
THE LAST JEDI
REVENGE OF THE SITH
ATTACK OF THE CLONES
THE PHANTOM MENACE

It did make me feel one thing very strongly: I can't wait to see the Lawrence Kasdan scripted SOLO in May. Kasdan is a master and Johnson should beg him with the persistence of Rey to Luke, so that he might learn at the feet of the master.

I know it is popular to hate on TFA now, and decry it for being too formulaic and too much a NEW HOPE homage/rip off. But JJ Abrams was far better at tapping into the right tone and energy. He and Kasdan understood how to continue the universe while also recharging it. The task they had with that film was epic, and they succeeded on every level, in my opinion. Johnson simply furthers the plot a mere few paces, when he could have and should have taken it light years.


Thursday, November 30, 2017

The CW hits the jackpot with Crisis on Earth X


I've seen it everywhere online, including from good friends (my old pal Donald messaged me one episode in to proclaim his love for it) that the CW crossover event, CRISIS ON EARTH X was a fun, comic book romp.

Mark Waid (comic writer/creator) took to Twitter to declare that it was perhaps his favorite comic book to film ever.

And I am happy to see such outpouring of love. This 4 part crossover was nothing short of pure joy to watch, start to finish. It was a comic book crossover come to life. No wonder they used the old JLA/JSA crossover concept to sell the event in the months leading up:



I used to love those regular team ups from across the multi-verse to tackle ultimate evil that only a collection of super teams could accomplish.

The CW likes doing these team ups each year, starting several years back with Arrow and The Flash, then continuing with The Flash and Supergirl, then last year with a (mostly) 4 show crossover with Legends of Tomorrow joining the fun. However, last year's INVASION felt a little smallish for such a big event. (Kind of like how empty that airport looked in CAPTAIN AMERICA CIVIL WAR in comparison to how it should have, and wanted to look and feel).

And how could you not love the idea of mad Nazis from a dark world getting punched and slain by super heroes?

Everything was perfect this time around. The humor was great, the action was choreographed to a cinematic scale, and the gravity of the situation was right out of the pages of classic comics.

Also, the emotional weight of several subplots threaded their way perfectly through the episodes without taking away from the overarching tale being told.

To have pulled this off on a TV budget is nothing short of miraculous. Of course, to save some money, they confined some actors and set pieces to the sidelines or to their own shows. The Atom, Steel, Black Canary, Mr Terrific, Wild Dog and others didn't get to come out and fully play for the whole crossover, but when they did arrive it made sense and they made it count.

In many ways I can't imagine how they could have done it any better. The bar has been raised, and the potential of them taking it even higher next season (and beyond) has me very excited.

Sure, it took me a few years to get used to the reality of the DC TV U, which is quite different from the comics or the movie worlds. But like the comics, once you embrace the TV U as its own thing, and stop looking for continuity that fits into the other worlds, it is a great ride. They have created quite a fun universe to play in, and they are holding true to it and building on it with interesting layers.

I have finally given up my discomfort with Oliver and Felicity, and stopped waiting for the Arrow and Canary to find their way together. I have finally realized that Booster and Beetle won't show up on Legends, because The Atom and Steel are essentially those personalities (with Rory as Guy Gardner). I have committed myself to not judging too harshly the unfolding Legion story on Supergirl, since they OBVIOUSLY are deviating wildly from what we have known and loved. But it is Earth 38 that Kara is on. So, we can all have our own versions secure in our hearts and let these also play out.

Plus, its all made up stuff anyway. Let it be what it is, and enjoy it as such.

Major kudos to William Katt (The Greatest American Hero) for a tiny role as the priest on the crossover, and it was a great little hint that has Legion fans going nuts to see what they think could be XS as a waitress at the wedding. (She is a 31st century relative of Barry Allen who is part of the reboot Legion). Clearly she has more to do, since they cast Jessica Parker Kennedy of Black Sails in the role, and it seems like there's something going on with her deliberate interaction with Barry.

Let me take some time to also commend the creative forces behind the shows for continuing to be pro-LGBT and to approach it without a heavy hand. The Sarah and Alex hook up and ripples from it were deftly done. As was the arrival of The Ray in a concentration camp for being gay on Earth X, and his relationship with a decidedly delightful turn on Captain Cold.

Everyone got to shine during the run of episodes, including Iris and Felicity teaming up as the non-hero girlfriends who have to fend off the baddies.

And who doesn't love the good guys turned evil from another world takes that Stephen Amell and Melissa Benoist got to deliver as dark Arrow and Ubergirl! Plus we get Tom Cavennagh back as Reverse Flash.



A major character death and the fallout from it in the final episode was heart-wrenching, and packed more of a punch than you might have expected as well.

All in all, this was simply the most fun time you could want to have with these super heroes. They were all at their finest and the fact that the actors clearly relished the material and brought their A games to it helped to make this a comic book fan's dream come true.

Now, if only the shows will still be airing in 2024, when they have hinted at:



Final seasons for The Flash and Supergirl, no doubt. Well, if they stick to continuity....

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Justice for Justice League


I saw Justice League today. I really, really liked it. Yes. I really did.

Did I love it? No. But I don't "love" a lot of movies. Of course it was not perfect. It is hard to find a movie that is.

First, here are a couple of quibbles:

The 2 hour run time made it feel like there were some things left out that we would have benefited from seeing. (I'm eager to see an Extended Cut release)

The world felt small, and for a world shattering event like the one unfolding, there was very little sense of the outside world and its reaction to what was going on. This was disappointing, as the world wide peril would have been massive, and the initial minutes of the movie set a perfect tone to propel this notion. I can only imagine that it was due to trimming and tone changes between the more earthy Snyder and the more airy Whedon.

SPOILER: Bringing back Superman felt odd and lacked some serious set up and it felt like it was kind of shoe-horned into the whole thing.

Joss Whedon's ham-fisted humor landed with thud more often than it hit. Sure, the Flash quips worked, but what was up with that odd dude reporter who randomly interrupts Lois and Martha to talk about basically nothing for a minute of valuable screen time that could have been better used elsewhere.

The Russian family and their little journey under the Steppenwolf dome was useless to the overall script and story.

Martha Kent, Commissioner Gordon and Mera felt like thow away roles.

Ben Affleck seemed to be too self-aware in his acting at times, as if he were really tense about fan reaction and timid to do anything that would draw their hair-triggered ire.

Surfer dude Aquaman takes some getting used to, but was not something that made or broke the film for me. And the Atlanteans felt like they were way undersold in the film. Maybe saving for the solo outing.

Now, for the positives:

The opening 10 minutes were fantastic. The tone and the street level perspective gives this movie something that Marvel movies miss (a sense of what real people feel and see in the shadow of super heroes)

Despite its variation to the real origin story, Barry/The Flash was a nice bit of youthful levity amid the more stoic proceedings. I was ready to hate him because of my affection for the TV Barry, but Ezra Miller made it his own, and made it feel right in the mix.

Wonder Woman continues to bring smiles.

The drama between Bruce and Diana and their growing friendship and trust felt really sincere and solid. I believe in the relationship, and in their struggle with Superman's death and its aftermath. The writing was spot on in the moments where there was needed emotional weight between them, as well as Lois and Clark (except for a handful of dumbass Whedon jokes wedged in there awkwardly).

The Amazons continue to kick ass.

Cyborg and Flash bonding was nice, though Cyborg did feel under-used overall.


All in all, this movie was a great joy to watch. The bonus scene of The Flash wanting to race Superman was perfect fan service, while fitting for their characters. The Luthor and Deathstroke bonus scene, hinting at The Legion Of Doom, was awesome. And it should be a priority for DC to make THAT the next JL movie. And they should do all they can do the get Affleck to stay on for one more or two more flicks. JL 2: Legion of Doom and JL 3: Darkseid.

There is no reason that Justice League should not be a massive hit, and secure a long and healthy future for DC's heroes. This movie out classes many of the Marvel movies easily. It is better than Avengers 2, both of the first two Thor movies, Iron Man 2, Civil War (yes, I said it), and it can't be compared evenly with Ant Man, Guardians or Doctor Stange (which are all in their own separate kind of movie spaces). I liked BvS a bit better (thanks to its more consistent tone and storytelling) and I think JL does a good job following Wonder Woman. I hated Suicide Squad after a promising first half hour. (So I'm not in the bag for DC, lest anyone wants to accuse.)

However, I do think that DC and Warner's (like Affleck in the role of Batman) were WAY too self-conscious about the so-called critical backlash to BvS, and they allowed that to get into their heads too much. Forcing quips and jokes and tone shifts into the movie in several places just distracted and stood out to me. It was like they were trying too hard to say "hey, look, we're doing what you all say you want, and want you to love us and give us credit for catering to your whims and sacrificing our overall story at the alter of your fanboy outrage and bitchery." But I digress.

In fact, long-whispered rumors that some sort of thumbs on the scales fix was in with Rotten Tomatoes and other outlets, reared its head over the weekend, when several prominent critics noted that they were being cited on Rotten Tomatoes site as negative reviews, when in fact they had not given negative reviews.

Petty Disney and Marvel attempts to somehow hobble DC and Warner's seem to be closer to being proven true, which is really disappointing.

Add to that, the notion that nearing $100 million domestically is somehow a failure, and I think there is a conspiracy of some sort to taint the DC movie Universe and sow some sort of dissent that derails them from making that Legion Of Doom movie.

There is enough room for both. And notions that somehow "fans" will chose to not see JL just because they saw Thor 2 weeks ago, or that they are going to only stay home to watch Punisher on Netflix, is offensive to me and other fans who CAN do more than one thing in the course of their daily and weekly lives as geeks and fans.

It is saddening and sickening that Executives who don't know jack shit or give a shit about fans and fandom in general, think so little of the very people they are "selling" product to.

Sadder still is that I see too many "fans" fall for their corporate talking points and believe that one product is inferior to the other because they have been told so by a website that suddenly has god-level powers to raise up or condemn a film on a whim.

The Rotten Tomatoes "fix" was in a full day before general audiences even saw the movie. It was already declared to be somehow lesser before folks could make up their own minds. And some of the weaker of those minds bought it without finding out for themselves.

Shame on them. All of them. Shame on deceivers and on those who are all too easily willing to be deceived.

Justice League is a good movie. It would have been better had they trusted themselves to tell the story they wanted to tell.  DC is on a good path. Wonder Woman broke new ground. JL held that ground, and the universe is established. Let's hope they don't throw it away based on all the odd little deceptions that are at play trying to sew seeds of doubt.

I'll see it again, in theatres. Half out of spite to the whole suspicious thing going on around it.

I hope to see Affleck back in a couple year in JL 2. I look forward to Wonder Woman 2, The Flash, Aquman, and whatever else comes from this shared universe. It is worth keeping going.

And Justice League IS worth seeing. Go. You may have fun. You may like it. But for goodness sake, don't let someone or some site that thinks you're a gullible geek in your mom's basement keep you from at least finding out for yourself.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

NC Comicon Bull City Con wrap up

I needed that. Yes, I did. I needed the lone road trip to get my batteries recharged creatively. I love taking road trips. Load up the Ipod and hit the road. I spend a lot of time in my head, and use the drive as a meditative experience.

I also needed the nurturing I got at NC Comicon's Bull City Con over this past weekend!



First, I was pleased to see that it was not too big, as Cons go. It was small enough, but had more than enough guests and dealers to be perfect. Of course, I was there to meet the one and only Howard Chaykin (see my previous blog post about that) and get a couple of head sketches and hopefully a good chat out of him.



Mission accomplished. And Chaykin could not have been nicer. Sure, he's not one to censor himself. He tells you what he thinks and is not shy about it. But the notion that he is a grouch or overly cranky is greatly exaggerated. He is warm and welcoming at his table, inviting folks to come close and treat it like a pub, where we're all hanging out chatting it up. There's no shortage of tales to tell, and opinions to share. He's a natural performer and he loves his audience.

To say that I enjoyed meeting him is understatement. I am very happy to have met him.



My old high school pal Donald, who lives in Durham, planned to join me at the Con on Saturday. We had gone to Heroes Cons together in the late 1980s, and we both cut our teeth on Chaykin's American Flagg! back in the day.

I think it is safe to say that Donald and I were both very pleasantly surprised, and honored to spend time with Chaykin as he held court. In fact, we both felt like he kept us at his table extra long, because he was enjoying the chat. Others came up to get him to sign books, which he did, as he kept talking to us. Those who wanted to stay were welcome to. And when we departed, Chaykin said to us something like "Come back and see me when you get bored. And you will get bored."

In fact, the highlight of the weekend may have been the dressings down we witnessed Chaykin give to a few folks who had him sign Star Wars issues. He was happy to sign them, but was also freely giving his opinion. We heard his opinion of Neal Adams, and we heard him describe how he has no hope for Hollywood and his works.We even got TV recommendations out of him. No topic was off the table, and he didn't circle back for you if you couldn't keep up. But this one kid (maybe 15 years old) came up with Star Wars issues. Chaykin signed them, and quickly told the kid that they were complete crap and that he should seek out other works of his. The flustered kid was brave enough to try and engage Chaykin in reply, but was in WAY over his head.

Of course, all this happened, perfectly timed, with Chaykin stating that a big problem in comics is that they are being written by 50 year old men, and read by 50 year old men. Then he proceeded to terrorize a teenager who was eagerly approaching him.

Donald and I got a photo with Chaykin to end the day, and once I saw it, I stated that it was pure poetry. (See it below)




I picked up some great deals and I had Chaykin do a couple of sketches for me. One of Indiana Jones:



And one of Black Canary:


                                    (No one tell my wife: this is a gift for her for Christmas)

When I asked him about it, he said he was happy to, often telling folks, "I'm here for you. Whatever you like, I'll sign it or draw it." But funnily enough, He had no paper, so I had to go find some for him to draw on.

Klaus Janson was nice as well, and gave a great panel with Cully Hamner about drawing Batman.



I'm also happy that Darrin and Ruth Sutherland dropped by on Saturday and we got to visit for a while, catching up and snapping a few photos. Two nicer people you could not find, in podcasting (listen the their RaD Network of shows on Mike Grell, Ron Randall and Mark Schultz) or in the world. Such a  great couple, and true fans and friends. I saw that they too had a great time with Chaykin at his table.



All in all, it was a great weekend, at a great Con. And it reminds me again of how great the geek culture is. So much positive energy in the building, so much love and celebration.