Thursday, July 23, 2020

Masks, t-shirts, prints, posters, and so much more

Check out my new Redbubble shop featuring some of my artwork and book covers available in a wide variety of eye-catching formats and super cool products, including masks, t-shirts, prints, posters, phone and tablet cases, dresses, mini-skirts, and even a shower curtain for God's sake. Just about everything you can possibly imagine. Awesome stuff and great gift ideas!

Monday, July 20, 2020

Rethinking Superman III (1983)

Reviewed 07-18-2020

When I stepped into Cinema World on Route 51 on Friday June 23, 1983 for the 7:45 showing of Superman III, my expectations were insane. I was even wearing a Superman t-shirt, a sky blue clingy thing with a glorious 3D House of El logo stretched across my then fifty-inch chest. You must understand, back in 1983 being a geek was not cool. People got beat up for wearing t-shirts like that. But people left me alone. Like I said, I had a fifty-inch chest.

I really liked 1978’s Superman: The Movie. Not in a going crazy seeing it five times and buying every spec of merchandise kind of way. But I liked it just fine. But Superman II, now that was a different story. I went nuts over it. The spectacle. The action, The romance. The humor. And Zod. Mother freaking Zod. I absolutely loved it. All of it.

So yeah, my expectations for Superman III were insane. Sure, I was concerned when I first heard about the casting of Richard Pryor. I was a huge Richard Pryor fan at the time (and still am). He ranks alongside George Carlin as my favorite comedian of all time. But he is a comedian. And I did not want to see the franchise slip into parody. I love humor. But the story has to be real and consequential. So, yeah, I had concerns.

But after reading back to back issues of Starlog magazine, in which the screenwriters and producers assured me this was a serious, meaningful, and outstanding Superman story, my fears were quelled. I was ready to roll.

So I treated myself to a large box of M&Ms, did the “walk” (an 80s musclehead thing) in my tight Superman t-shirt, marched to the front of the theater, and took a seat on the left aisle at the third row.

Then, the movie started, and my heart sank.

The opening credits lazily rolled amid a slapstick urban sidewalk set piece thing that seemed like something out of another movie—one without the word Superman in the title.

Where was the bold majestic opening credit sequence I had come to expect from the franchise? And where the hell was John William’s goose bump-inducing march? His classic theme happens to be my favorite William’s march and here it is barely hinted at.

The movie had hardly begun and already I was aghast.

What followed only added fuel to the raging fire of crushing disappointment cascading within me.

A computer program? A hammy corporate CEO? Small town drama? It all seemed so pedestrian. So beneath the Man of Steel. This is supposed to be a substitute for Zod, epic flying battles above the city, and a fairytale romance at Niagara Falls and the Fortress of solitude. Really?

I left the theater pissed off, gave the film one star (for Christopher Reeve, or it would have been no stars), and declared it the worst film of that year, or any year for that matter.

Then the years passed. Lots of things happened, including Zack Snyder and Man of Steel (2013) and Justice League (2017). Superman III’s reputation ever so gradually began to improve. The movie was even paid homage to in the cult comedy Office Space (1999) and ripped off/paid homage to in an episode of TV’s Supergirl (“Falling” season 1x16)

Then, one day, in passing, I caught a viewing of Superman III on the SyFy Channel. And it intrigued me. Several weeks later, I picked it up on DVD and gave it a fresh look. And you know what? I kind of liked it. I even liked the opening slapstick sequence and found it to be quite inventive.

Sure, all the problems are still there. The story is pedestrian, and a huge come down from the glorious high adventure of Superman II. And the whole dissing of Lois Lane thing really is troublesome. But now, after being subjugated to Zack Snyder’s God awful and just plain wrong interpretation of the Superman myth, Superman III somehow feels refreshing and has a lot to offer.

To paraphrase a character from the above mentioned Office Space, Superman III is now an underrated movie.

Richard Pryor is just fine. His usual charming self. He really shines in the flying sequence and in all the scenes he shares with Superman. Annette O'Toole is beautiful and warm as always. The romance and small town stuff I hated so much in this film back in 1983 I now kind of like.

I have grown warm to Robert Vaughn’s Ross Webster. He’s certainly not Zod or even Lex Luhor, but I now find his arrogant, hammy William F. Buckley take on the villain amusing. He is an interesting adversary for the Man of Steel.

Then there is Christopher Reeve.

Christopher Reeve is a real stalwart to the franchise. He is a stud. Here, he is awesome as always, doing his best to carry the movie, and dammit, he pulls it off.

I mean, has there ever been an actor who just seemed born to play a character to this extent?

Only two others come close. Melissa Benoist as Supergirl, and Chris Evans as Captain America. Although in Melissa’s case I could make just as strong an argument for the incomparable Helen Slater as Supergirl in 1984.

But in the case of Superman, no other actor comes anywhere within the same universe as Christopher Reeve.

Not Tom Welling. Certainly not Dean Cain (blah). Not Brandon Ruth. Not Tyler Hoechlin (my God he is dwarfed by Melissa in those scenes on the TV show, both physically and charisma wise). Not even the overly muscled Henry Caville, whom I really like.

As to Henry—hey, as referenced above, I’m a bit of a musclehead and like my heroes jacked. But Superman should not look like he just stepped out of Gold’s Gym on his way to the Mr. Olympia pre-judging. While I’m on the subject of the physical, all the actors above are barely above six feet, except Brandon Ruth (listed at 6’2” but looks taller on screen), and he has the opposite problem of Henry Caville. He needs more muscle. Christopher Reeve on the other hand, at 6’4’’ and a lean, muscular 225 lbs., is just absolutely physically perfect to portray the Man of Steel.

Christopher Reeve IS Superman. Plain and simple. And every other version of the character has failed in part because the actor portraying Superman was not Christopher Reeve. Reeve is so good, he and he alone almost makes the wretched unwatchable Superman IV watchable. Almost.

Back to Superman III.

I have also come to love the music of Superman III. After listening to the new, remastered, special edition 2-CD soundtrack of the film and re-watching the movie, I now realize that Ken Thorne’s reworking of the original John William’s material is quite well done and far more omnipresent in the movie than I remembered. And the Giorgio Moroder tracks are amazing, especially the haunting love theme, very reminiscent of his love theme from Flashdance, another summer of ‘83 movie. Moroder’s synth’s give the movie a nice, fresh contemporary feel, ala 1983.

Bottom line: *** (out of four)

Hey, it’s a far cry from the first two, but Superman III is refreshing fun compared to the dour Man of Steel and Justice League.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Teen Spirit (2019) film review

Reviewed on 07-12-2020

(Note: You will see Teen Spirit listed as a 2018 film elsewhere because it played at the Toronto film festival on Sept. 7th of 2018. That matters not to me. I go by the commercial release. And that did not happen until April 12th 2019).

I told a story in my review of director Nicolas Winding Refn’s 2016 masterpiece The Neon Demon. A story about how, as I was sitting there in the theater being blown away by Elle Fanning’s tour de force performance, the only other people in the theater (an elderly couple), fled in terror mumbling about how it was the worst movie they ever saw. When I saw Teen Spirit in the theater on opening day on April 12, 2019, no such thing happened. That is because I was the only one in the theater.

Teen Spirit is the most mishandled, poorly marketed movie in the history of cinema. It, like The Neon Demon, is a mother freaking masterpiece, showcasing yet another transformative, epic piece of work by the great Elle Fanning, a young actress who seems to be without limits.

In Teen Spirit she does a localized, highly-specific, regional British accent with such natural effortlessness, you’ll swear it is just the way she speaks for real. Oh, and she speaks fluent Polish. And she sings. No, I mean she sings! She really sings. Sings and performs like an elite pop star. If Elle ever decided to pursue this other gift of hers and put out a pop album, you bet your ass I’d be pre-ordering it on Amazon the second the title had a listing.

A huge part of this film’s tragic fate is the horrible, misleading title. It confused people. Half of the potential movie patrons thought it was a movie about the legendary grunge band Nirvana. The other half thought it was a kiddie flick aimed at thirteen year-olds. Teen Spirit is just an awful title. They should have just called it The Singer. They should have called it anything else but Teen Spirit.

This is the story about the potential rise of a pop star, told without shallow clich├ęs and tired movie music story tropes. It is told without glitter and sap. Instead we get real characters, naturalistic performances, and genuine real and moving sentiment.

Elle’s character Violet is a hard-working seventeen year-old who busts her ass day in and out—working a small family farm for her struggling, tough mother, going to school, and waitressing at night to help her mother make ends meet. But she has a burning dream that will not die. She wants to sing. So she sneaks off to a seedy bar late at night and takes the microphone before a handful of zoned-out drunks.

Her journey begins when one of those drunks takes notice. An old, washed-up former opera star named Vladimir Brajkovic brilliantly portrayed by Zlatko Buric. He is a great character and his relationship with Violet is the heart of this movie.

Directing from his own script, Max Minghella gives Teen Spirit an edgy, realistic flair, trusting his cast and star with lots of long takes that gives the film a lived-in look. There is one scene in particular, as Violet leaves the dressing room and makes the long walk to the stage for her make or break performance. Minghella tracks her from the front with a low angle moving Steadicam shot. It is masterfully done and really brings us into the moment.

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

Teen Spirit is an unsung marvel. An absolute dramatic gem featuring a knockout performance from its triple threat star Elle Fanning.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Jason X (2002) film review

Reviewed on 07-11-2020

Jason X is the best Aliens ripoff movie ever made. It is also the most creative, exhilarating, and entertaining Friday the 13th movie of the entire series. Put simply, this movie is a blast.

Just so that you know where I stand on this franchise:

This original Friday the 13th (1980), written by Victor Miller and directed by Sean S. Cunningham, is a triumphant work of raw, low budget artistry, and a shrewdly effective scare show. Part II (1981), written by Ron Kurz and directed by Steve Miner, shamelessly steals from Mario Bava’s Bay of Blood (a.k.a. Twitch of the Death Nerve), and is wonderfully lurid and over the top. Part III (1982) (filmed in 3D) is okay. Movies four to nine in the series are pretty much unwatchable, with the exception of Tom McLoughlin’s Part VI: Jason Lives (1986), which is actually pretty good. But after the three wretched entries that followed, the franchise was deader than its main antagonist would ever be at the end of any film.

Several years later, enter screenwriter Jim Farmer, director Jim Isaac, and producer Noel Cunningham, who had a brand new bold and ballsy vision to re-invent the franchise and the good sense to bring the original auteur Sean S. Cunningham back into the mix (as an Executive Producer) and re-hire composer Harry Manfredini, who created the wickedly exciting and scary scores that were so integral to the success of the early films in the franchise.

The pitch? Jason in space. Think Riddly Scott’s Alien. Think James Cameron’s Aliens (1986). I know. It sounds ridiculous. It sounds inane. It sounds like the worst idea since Diet Coke or having Greedo shoot first. But trust me. It works. It all works in a big, wildly entertaining way, far beyond anything you could anticipate from such an absurd concept.

It all works because Farmer and Isacc know what the fuck they are doing. They not only understand what makes a Friday the 13th movies work—jarring suspense, sexuality, gratuitous nudity, creative kills, and most of all, humor. They also understand what makes any genre movie work in the science fiction/horror/suspense niche. The opening set piece is a perfect example. It is masterfully done.

And to top it off, they know how to put every dollar up on the screen. Jason X has a lot of visual effects and a decent budget (estimated 11-14 million) to be sure. But it looks even better than that budget.

They also know how to cast. Good God do they know how to cast.

David Cronenberg as an evil doctor/scientist who wants to keep Jason around to study/exploit him. Lisa Ryder (from the television space opera Andromeda) as a badass ship’s android, sort of a combo of Bishop from Aliens and Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation. And, in what should have been a breakout role for her, the beautiful Lexa Doig (likewise from Andromeda) as Rowan LaFontaine, the slasher “lead girl”, who desperately tries to warn every one and goes toe to toe with Jason until the very end.

I had a blast seeing this opening day back on April 26th 2002, and have watched it many times since on DVD.

Any movie with David Cronenberg and two women from Andromeda, gets my vote every time.

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

Suspenseful, funny, consistently inventive, and always entertaining, Jason X is a bold and wickedly fun great guilty pleasure.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Jennifer the Sketchbook Girl

I have a new story out, Jennifer the Sketchbook Girl. It's one of my best. If you like The Twilight Zone and/or Amazing Stories, you will enjoy it.

Feeling isolated and lonely during a pandemic quarantine, writer Jimmy Barton throws himself into a new project, a graphic novel called 1987. It is the story of Jennifer, a lost love from his past that never was. As he writes and draws, the focus of his work intensifies and becomes obsessive, until one day, he draws Jennifer into his life for real, straight out of the pages of 1987.

Jennifer the Sketchbook Girl is a delightful, addictive, funny, suspenseful, and romantic tale of imagination from James J. Caterino, the author of Super Hornet 1942, The Green Girl, The Mesomorph, and The Girl from the Stars.