Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Best films of 2015 and 1985

Composing a top ten films of the year list has been a tradition for me since 1985. So to commemorate the 30th anniversary of me making such lists, below are my top ten films of both this past year, and 1985, taken from a chicken-scratch entry in a musty old notebook/journal I still possess to this day.

Of course, as always, the new 2015 list is subject to change since many of the prestige Oscar bait pictures have not been released outside of NY or LA yet. This has always and still does piss me off. It is an exercise in elitism; a practice of institutionalized snobbery that assumes anyone living outside of NY or LA must be an ignorant, toothless, drooling, half-wit, derelict, moron who could not possibly comprehend artistic cinema or have the slightest interest in any films aimed at an audience above the age of five with an I.Q. above 70.

At any rate, my top ten films from 1985 and 2015 with the director in parenthesis.

Top ten films of 1985

The Color Purple (Steven Spielberg)

The Journey of Natty Gann (Jeremy Paul Kagan)

To Live and Die in LA (William Friedkin)

Back to the Future (Robert Zemeckis)

Pee Wee’s Big Adventure (Tim Burton)

Witness (Peter Wier)

The Legend of Billy Jean (Matthew Robbins)

Explorers (Joe Dante)

Pale Rider (Clint Eastwood)

Young Sherlock Holmes (Barry Levinson)

Top ten films of 2015 

The Age of Adaline (Lee Toland Krieger)

It Follows (David Robert Mitchell)

Ex Machina (Alex Garland)

Creed (Ryan Coogler)

Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller)

Inside Out (Pete Docter, Ronnie del Carmen)

Chappie (Neill Blomkamp)

The Force Awakens (J.J. Abrams)

The Hateful Eight (Quentin Tarantino)

Jurassic World (Colin Trevorrow)

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Sketchbook: 'Star Wars', Echosmith, 'Caitlin Star', and so much more

Sketch of Caitlin Star from the action pulp post-apocalyptic masterwork, "Caitlin Star and the Rise of the Barbarians".

Quick 10 minute sketch of Katie Cassidy as the Black Canary in "Arrow".

Steampunk-ish/S&M version of  the Huntress from the 2002 WB "Birds of Prey" series staring Ashley Scott as the character.

Daisy Ridley as Rey from "Star Wars": "The Force Awakens".

Super quickie sketch of Kylo Ren from "Star Wars": "The Force Awakens".

Color study sketch inspired by Sydney Sierotta, lead singer of Echosmith.

More Sydney Sierota of Echosmith.


Actress Helen Slater, the original 1984 Supergirl. 

Toby from "Caitlin Star and the Rise of the Barbarians". 

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Spoiler free “Star Wars” and other cool stuff

The final quarter of 2015 has been one of intense method writing as I hit the home stretch on several writing projects. I am savagely psyched about this stuff, and dying to unleash this riveting new material to the world. More on that after the 1st of the New Year.  

When I am focused—I am focused.

I don’t do the multi-task thing. Multi-tasking is for bartenders, or air-traffic controllers, or middle manager white collar executives. It is not for creative people, and certainly not for storytellers.

When I am in the midst of writing a story, I am living in that story, and that world becomes very real for me. It is an exhilarating experience to be in that creative sweet spot—when you know you are just nailing it.

Now the downside of being so intense is that when this process is underway, it can be ultra-consuming. So I don’t have any creative energy (or time) left over for reviews, columns, and other such ramblings you see posted here in this blog.

So, let me update you on a few things I have been reading, watching, listening too, etc, starting with…

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

I won’t play games with wordy intro paragraphs.

“The Force Awakens” is thrilling, beautifully acted, gorgeously shot and scored, funny, riveting, intense, and just plain fun.

This is the “Star Wars” movie you’ve been looking for.

Co-writer/Director J.J. Abrams and Producer Kathleen Kennedy use the same aesthetic approach here as they did with the underrated “Super 8” in 2011. Create a satisfying reverential experience for long-time loyal fans, while bringing a fresh, new creative voice to the table. While “Super 8” was a beautiful homage to vintage Spielberg, that was Abram’s own personal childhood in the film, and it really resonated. For “The Force Awakens” Abrams shows us new angles, both camera and character wise, allowing us to experience the George Lucas created universe in an exciting, new way.

Daisy Ridley is fantastic. I really love her Rey, and all of the new characters. But for me, Han and Chewie stole the show. Harrison Ford gives his second knockout supporting performance of the year. Which leads me to…

“The Age of Adeline”

Now that it is available on Blu Ray, I had a chance to catch my third viewing of this criminally neglected gem, (I saw it twice in the theater). The new viewing has only strengthened my opinion of this beautiful, heartfelt, emotionally affecting masterpiece.

“The Age of Adeline” is the best film of 2015 and Blake Lively is the Best Actress.

Harlan Ellison

One of my projects I have underway is a collection of short stories. I used to write short stories all the time, starting at the age of 12, up through college. But then I shifted into screenplays and novels, and as the short story itch returned, I found out it is a very different discipline than either of those. And in a lot of ways, much harder.

I needed to shake off the rust and revisit the format, so I began reading someone who is arguably the greatest American short story writer of the past 60 years, Harlan Ellison.

Man this guy can write. I mean he can write!

And not just short stories. I have been binging on his original (presented as he typed them on his typewriter before turning them in) television scripts. They have been published in book form spread out over six volumes. (so far), and they are wickedly addictive.

Carly Rae Jepsen

Hey, I like pop music. Yeah, that’s right. You heard me tough guy. And you wanna know why? Because it feels so damn good!

There was a ton of great pop music in 2015. For me, Carly Rae Jepsen’s slinky, seductive, catchy “Emotion” gets the top spot, barely edging out Ellie Goulding’s addictive “Delirium” and Lana Del Rey’s somber “Honeymoon”.


Of course, I have been listening to “The Force Awakens”.

It is absolutely astounding how at 83 years of age, John Williams is not only as great as ever, he is arguably composing some of the best music of his storied and legendary career.

My sweetly (and smartly) packaged CD just arrived yesterday so I am still absorbing this musical treasure trove. A full review will follow sometime in the near future but for now me just say two words—action music.

“The Force Awakens” contains some of the most aggressive, complex, propulsive action music I have ever heard from John Williams, or any other composer for that matter. There is also a wonderful new theme for the Rey character.

Best TV of the year

I make no secret in these pages of my intense crush for “Supergirl”.

I have been loving the living hell out of the new CBS series. Kudos to Ali Adler, Greg Berlanti and Andrew Kreisberg for getting this right and hitting the sweet spot between action, dramatic intensity, and humor. The effervescent and charming Melissa Benoist is fantastic as Kara Zor-El and her red-caped alter ego.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

New sketchbook stuff (a.k.a. Inside the author's sketchbook part 7)

Actress Elle Fanning.

Katie Cassidy as the Black Canary from "Arrow".

Lauren Mayberry, lead singer of the  alternative/techno band "Chvrches".

One of my many obsessions, CharliXCX.

Carly Rae Jepsen.

 A Supergirl sketch, of course :-)!

Willa Holland, a.k.a. Speedy from "Arrow".

Color sketch of Elle Fanning

And quick sketch of Caitlin Star from "Caitlin Star and the Rise of the Barbarians".

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

‘Supergirl’ soars into midseason form

Fans of the Man of Steel’s spirited Kryptonian cousin have had to wait thirty-one years to see Supergirl flying back into action. After five new impressive episodes, it is time to issue an updated report on the series. And that report is filled with nothing but rave reviews from this long-time Kara Zor-El fan.

Executive Producer Greg Berlanti, (currently, the superhero TV king mogul, if such a thing exists), and his talented team, have managed to strike the perfect sweet spot between humor, action, science fiction, and millennial soap opera angst with a light touch. If you are going to have a show with a love triangle, (“Supergirl” actually has two overlapping ones), this is how you handle it.

Every episode had been pitch perfect in tone, nicely paced, and impeccably acted by the talented cast. Never was this more on display than in the best episode so far, “Livewire”, a Thanksgiving show that aired on November 16th with a major storyline featuring Kara’s human stepmother Eliza Danvers, played by the 1984 “Supergirl” Helen Slater. The scenes featuring the two Supergirls is the legendary stuff of fevered fan imaginations. It was absolutely priceless and proof once again that Greg Berlanti gets it. This guy knows what the fuck he is doing.

Not enough Helen Slater was one of my minor beefs with the pilot. That has obviously been corrected, and hopefully there will more Eliza Danvers to come. 

My other fear about the pilot was the Otis/Jar Jar binks potential of the over-the-top Cat Grant. Well, I was wrong on that one too. Thank God! It turns out that Cat Grant is actually an interesting character and being played quite skillfully by Calista Flockhart.

On top of all this we have a formidable, emerging new super villain with a modern twist, (Maxwell Lord), and an intriguing conspiracy arc. What is Henshaw up too? And what did happen to Kara and Alex’s father?

This is stating the obvious, but is worth repeating again...

Of course, the greatest strength of the show, and what makes it all work, is Supergirl herself, Melissa Benoist. She is utterly charming, projecting an effortless earnestness—funny and touching as Kara Danvers—charismatic, strong, and fierce as Supergirl. Her approach reminds me so much of the Christopher Reeve “Superman” films. And I love it!

Bottom line: **** (out of four)

This show is absolutely irresistible. I have a crush on “Supergirl”. 

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Timeline for the 'Caitlin Star' trilogy

Here are the some of the key events taking place in the “Caitlin Star” universe.

7880 B.C. — Some of the events in “Caitlin Star and the Rise of the Barbarians”

1983 – A mysterious muscle-bound vigilante makes his first appearance defending a homeless man against a gang of bullies.  It is the first documented appearance of the man known as “Gunner Star”.

1985 – Gunner Star takes on his first protégé, a stock trader genius named Zahn. Gunner teaches him the “Bull Mongoni philosophy”, a credo of beliefs based on the teachings of a mythic race of hominids who vanished long ago.

1985 – 1990 – Gunner and Zahn become the Batman and Robin of Pittsburgh. They operate out of the shadows, dispensing social justice and defending those who have no voice or power to fight back. They are fearless, never hesitating to take on sadistic agents of evil, no matter how powerful and influential they are. Thus, they become heroes to those in need, but enemies many of those in power.

1990 – Zahn becomes increasingly aggressive and fanatical, wanting to go beyond the mission parameters of enacting vigilante justice. “All humans are evil. This mistake of history must be reversed. Only then can the Bull Mongoni rise again.” Gunner believes there are still worthy humans who will have a place in the new world. While Gunner wants to change the world, Zahn wants to blow it up and start over.

1991 - The disagreement between Gunner and Zahn leads to a falling out and a physical showdown. Zahn vanishes from Gunner Star’s Lair of Doom.

1992 – Gunner Star goes dark.

1999 – Gunner Star re-emerges as he takes on a new protégé named Joe Fenton.

2003 – Gunner Star rescues a thirteen year-old girl from a group of would-be rapists and begins to train her in the ways of the Bull Mongoni. That girl is Caitlin Star.

2004 – Joe Fenton publishes the book, “The Sacred Scrolls of Tarmok”. It is the first time knowledge of the Bull Mongoni has been made public. The book becomes an instant sensation and soon there is a world-wide movement of Bull Mongoni disciples.

2005 - Gunner Star begins recruiting and training an elite band of warriors to build an underground army for the dark days of revolution that lay ahead.

2012 – A new recruit arrives at Gunner’s Lair and is to be trained by Caitlin. His name is Tyrone Fulton.

2016 – The escalating culture wars result in the rigged election of a President Perkins and his new Moral Authority. Soon, any talk of an earth older than 6000 years is a felony and the bodies of all women of reproductive age are declared property of the state.

2018 – Perkins dissolves the Supreme Court and declares all of North America under the Moral Authority rule. Led by Caitlin Star, the Bull Mongoni, revolution begins!

2020Senator Ben Cross of Texas revives the Moral Authority, under the guise of a para-military gang known as the White Hand in Central Africa, and is intent on destroying the only remaining patch of pristine rain forest on Earth. Caitlin springs into action.

2020 -2021 —  A World War III apocalypse event takes place.

2025 — The events of “Caitlin Star and the Rise of theBarbarians”

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

‘Supergirl’ gets 'The Flash' treatment

After months of a beautifully crafted and executed promotional campaign, “Supergirl” made its long-awaited, furiously anticipated debut to record ratings on CBS Monday night, giving fans the first stand-alone incarnation of the character in any medium outside comics since the underrated 1984 film starring a young ,(18 years of age while filming), Helen Slater.

Eschewing the current New 52 storyline as well as all previous origin stories in comics as well at the 1984 film, the producers opted for a mini-Smallville style beginning (mostly off screen) where Kara arrives on Earth at age 14, is met by Kal-El, set up with foster parents (played by Dean Cain and the great Helen Slater), and raised as a normal girl with a big sister who chooses (or maybe is convinced by an insecure older sister?) to forget about her powers and just lead a mundane life of dating dorks and fetching coffee for her obnoxious boss, media mogul Cat Grant played way over the top by Calista Flockhart.

Such is the setup as the adventure begins for a now 24 year-old Kara Zor-El.

But then, fate intervenes. Kara’s big sister’s commercial flight is the victim of foul play, is in a plummeting free fall, and Kara decides to use her powers to save her sister and the plane, thus going public with her powers.

Far from showing gratitude, her sister Alex, (played by Chyler Leigh), warns her this was a mistake and that she is now in grave danger. Alex should know. She works for a super, secret CIA type agency that have been tracking a freighter full of alien hardcore convicts from Krypton and other places. In a plot line straight out of “Superman II”, many of these convicts were sent to their fate by Kara’s Kryptonian mother Alura, and would love nothing more than seek retribution by destroying the daughter of their jailer.

All of this is just as fun as it sounds, and like “The Flash” that it seems modeled after, surprisingly poignant and quite emotional at times.

In my last blog post I raved about Colleen Atwood’s suit design and after seeing it in action, I  am even more impressed.

As expected, Melissa Benoist as absolutely fantastic as Kara Zor-El / Kara Danvers / Supergirl. She brings a natural, effervescent charm to the role, but also shows she can kick ass when required.  Her performance as the nerdy, character within a character coffee fetching Kara Danvers is a spot on hilarious and another wonderful nod to the Christopher Reeve “Superman” films.

Also, I positively, absolutely dig the Jimmy Olsen character reboot (now “James”, unless you are Superman that is), into a hunky, cool bad ass played with electrifying charisma by Mehcad Brooks. Hank Henshaw, described as “a former CIA agent and current head of the Department of Extra-Normal Operations” is played by David Harewood, who actually did play the CIA director on “Homeland”, and carries the same intense gravitas here that he did on that acclaimed show.

The CGI flying effects are beautifully rendered, although I would like to see some slow non-action flying sequences such as when Helen Slater skimmed the lake or Christopher Reeve took Margot Kidder on a romantic flight among the clouds.

The standard composer of choice for Greg Berlanti, Blake Neely provides the music. While he is no Jerry Goldsmith or John Williams, (or Michael Giacchino), the music works fine within the show, especially the quieter emotional material.

I have only two minor quibbles. The Cat Grant character just does not work for me. It is the one part of the trailer that looked bad and it is just as bad here. Let us hope she is toned down and developed a bit and does not become the Otis or Jar Jar Binks of this show. And a few seconds of screen time for Helen Slater??? Really? At least Berlanti gave John Wesley Shipp a meaty role in “The Flash”.

Bottom line: ***1/2 (out of four)

“Supergirl” is an absolute joy featuring an irresistible Melissa Benoist as the girl in the red cape, a strong supporting cast, and a colorful, entertaining storyline with great potential. 

Monday, October 26, 2015

‘Supergirl’ the series preview

Okay, here we go.

Anyone who knows me or reads this blog is well aware of my affection for “Supergirl”.

I have read all the various incarnations of the comic book since the late 90s, including the current teen-age angst-ridden version in the New 52. I a huge fan of the underrated and misunderstood 1984 film starring Helen Slater, and its rousing, majestic soundtrack by Jerry Goldsmith.

And as you can tell from the novels I write, I tend to favor strong female leads in action/adventure roles. So the new “Supergirl” series is right in the middle of my entertainment sweet spot.

When the original extended six-minute plus trailer debuted on the internet a few months ago, it set off a storm of controversy in geek fandom everywhere. The presence of a prominently featured Calista Flockhart, (in a role similar to what Merry Streep played in “The Devil Meets Prada”), prompted a fanboy freakout. “It’s too girly”, they cried.

I stayed silent and thought it best to reserve judgement. Like I said, I have actually read the books and seen the 1984 film many times and read the terrific novelization and I understand the character. And guess what? “Supergirl” is not Black Widow, or Black Canary, or Huntress, or Catwoman, or even Batgirl. She is not dark. She really is a “girly girl”.

But still. I admit I did find the whole “Ally McBeal” meets “The Devil Wears Prada” vibe of the trailer a bit troublesome. Workplace humor and girl drama are all well and fine, but I want to see action and adventure—not a romantic comedy. And this is the story of an alien. So I want to see science fiction ideas about other aliens and alternate universes and time travel and all the other super cool stuff that is often in the comics.

Two things I will say already. I love Melissa Benoist. Helen Slater will always be the gold standard for me. Melissa’s take on the character is obviously going to be lot lighter, but I love what I have seen of her so far.

Colleen Atwoood is in my opinion the greatest Hollywood costume designer of all time and I absolutely love her “Supergirl” suit design.

I will have my full review of the “Supergirl” premiere episode posted right here in this blog later this week.