Thursday, August 29, 2013


The #2 movie and best comic book adaptation ever made – creates a stronger loving world while asking



 #2  – WATCHMEN 

Watchmen is the seminal work of comic book superheroes, one that clearly crosses boundaries into the literary realm and that has achieved world wide critical fame.  The premise holds such an important place for me as a fan that I have put off writing this entry because I knew I could never do it justice nor fully showcase what makes this such a monumental movie for the superhero genre.  This is not just masks and capes but an intense character study surrounded by a complex realistic world that dares to ask, what if superheroes were real?
My first exposure to Watchmen came in 1987 as issue #10 was on the new rack.  Something about the cover called to me and without even looking inside I purchased the book and spent months tracking down issues 1-9 and buying 11 and 12.  Mind you I had not read nor even glanced on the inside of any issue.  Somehow I knew this series was something special.  When I finally immersed myself into the world that Alan Moore (he of the great mind but reclusive smoky pub nature) and Dave Gibbons (artist extraordinaire and hell of a nice guy) created I was blown away.

The classic Rorschach entrance...comic to film comparison.

Ozymandius Antarctic HQ...comic to film comparison.
I have been a fan of superhero comics since 1975 when my mother purchased me my first issue of Marvel Team-Up while we were on vacation in Ohio (yeah Sea World!).  Masked champions battling the forces of super powered evil is a genre I hold near and dear and by 1987 I was confident nothing could jolt the proud and heroic world of comic books and my imagination.  Then Watchmen destroyed every comfortable corner of the genre.  There was rape, betrayal, failure, impotence, insanity, violence, Nietzsche, global destruction, black humor, time travel, and Richard Nixon all swirling through a complex story and world unlike anything that has ever been created.

Watchmen is the only comic book storyline I have read yearly (if not several times a year) since my initial purchase.  I own three trade paperback versions as well as the limited edition hardcover.  I have two framed original lithographs of the characters (one adorning my living room in the prime real estate over my TV and the other in my office).  Back in the 1990’s I proudly wore a Comedian button before the masses had any clue what it even meant.  I cherished Watchmen and was confident that it would never be translated into a movie.  And if it was, I was doubly confident the movie would fail (much like the early Sam Hamm screenplay which I read).

In 2009 Zack Snyder proved me wrong by delivering an incredible movie that paid such faithful homage to the comics that inspired it that scenes were taken directly from the book and placed onto the screen.  I saw Watchmen three times at the movies, and the IMAX version took me to an entirely new level of appreciation.  Obviously new items were added to my household collection including all of the deluxe books documenting the journey from page to screen and the coup de grace an autographed poster from Zack Snyder himself (Mrs. Jumper has connections via Snyder’s producing friend Wesley Collier).

The iconic photo of the Minutemen. 
When you see this photo and the attention to the costumes,
you know this movie takes pride in the source material to an unheard of level.
All this writing and you can see I’ve barely commented on the movie.  How can I possibly do justice to a book and movie that excel so high in the genre?  Fans are too brutal with the movie and it is vastly underappreciated.  Some comment that it is merely the story lifted from the comic.  Others complain that the 3rd act veers to far from the source material.  I agree with both views…but as a positive.  Watchmen is essentially the comic book on the screen, but why is this a bad thing?  That’s what people want to see!  They want the characters and situations that made Moore’s original work so breathtaking.  As for the ending, it is different but that is because it’s a noticeable improvement.  For all of my love of the comic books, the ending has many problems (including the Magoffin alien monster which never felt right).  The movie wisely transfers the threat to Dr. Manhattan in a logical way that feels right in every aspect.

Does Watchmen have problems?  A few.  The only real issue I have deal with Silk Spectre’s initial scene where you can see actress Malin Ackermann must have been on her first day of shooting because her delivery is stiff and unbelievable (but she improves over the course of the film).  The only other issue I have is with the casting of Ozymandius.  Matthew Goode is a solid actor but completely wrong for the role and never delivers the sense of single-minded intense intelligence that is necessary for the role to be accepted.
Nite Owl and Silk Spectre got to be
bad ass heroes a few times in the movie!

Luckily the movie makes up for these areas by delivering three outstanding performances from Patrick Wilson (Nite Owl), Jeffrey Dean Morgan (The Comedian), and especially Jackie Earle Haley (Rorschach, who is a make or break the movie character).  The CGI and time-travel essence of Dr. Manhattan is also a great asset (and they went full nude, props for the bravery when the film makers knew a blue penis would cause the juvenile members of the audience to laugh).  The three hour run time flies by and hits every area of the comics that you would expect.  The flashbacks to the Minutemen are superb, the action moments are solid, and the effects and costumes do justice to the property.  Although some people mock the “wire fu” combat at the conclusion when Nite Owl and Rorschach battle Ozymandius, I enjoyed the fact that they were at least allowed to be heroes who battle for the human lives at stake (a step up from the pathetic one page pummeling they took under Moore’s script).

I would be remiss if I didn't also acknowledge the best five minute opening segment in history that encapsulates the entire world over three decades and allows the viewer to fully understand what is taking place on this "Earth".  The soundtrack choice of Bob Dylan's "The times they are a changing" is perfect as we are treated to an amazing visual display where words are not necessary.

As great as the movie Watchmen is, the director’s cut DVD with commentary is even better.  Both comic and movie are important to me on many levels.  I would have thought they would both be #1 on my list for all time, but then in 2012 Joss Whedon delivered Avengers which captured a different aspect of the superhero genre that is more welcoming to a general audience and thus we arrive at movie #1…

Sunday, June 23, 2013


The #3 movie and best superhero sequel ever made – IS AMAZING!


I love the original Spider-Man trilogy helmed by Sam Raimi…and in case you are wondering I hated the new Amazing Spider-Man movie (but that is a different blog entry). With three attempts, Raimi delivered a superior product by taking not just Spider-Man but the world he inhabited in the comic books and heroically displayed them on the big screen! And unlike the inferior newer version, audiences turned out in massive amounts making billions of dollars over the course of the trilogy.

The superior (haha) moment of Raimi’s efforts has to be Spider-Man 2 which accomplishes every job that the original (and every other superhero sequel) missed the mark on. The original Spider-Man movie told an excellent origin, had a great cast, delivered memorable action scenes, but still displayed some flaws. So when it was time for a follow-up Raimi could have stayed the course but instead he decided to fix those problems and improve upon the other areas.

What were those improvements?

Start off by looking no farther than the villain of Dr. Octopus and the action that ensues. Unlike the original Power Ranger Green Goblin that looked nothing like the comic book character, this version of Doc Ock is a dead ringer, and through the magic of movies and CGI his tentacles become a great character unto themselves. The scene where the tentacles “awaken” in the hospital room is pure Raimi channeling his best Evil Dead-era camera work. Ock starts off as a good character who then becomes a great villain with several memorable battles with Spider-Man. Doc Ock moves like he does in the comics and even with powers the battles between he and Spider-Man show just how difficult fighting a man with four armored tentacles can become. The movie wisely builds to a perfectly sequenced battle atop a NYC elevated train. The action is flawless here with Spider-Man acting exactly like he does in the comic book; webs shooting, sense tingling, saving people, dodging and flipping at unbelievable angles, and looking at every moment like the true superhero the audience expects. Spider-Man’s saving of the runaway train and subsequent being saved by the citizens of New York is a great topper to the single best action moment in superhero cinema. It’s a heartfelt moment that feels genuine (unlike the ham-handed crane sequence of the newer Amazing Spider-Man movie).

Another area of improvement is with the recurring characters and the overall world that Spider-Man inhabits. One of the best parts of Marvel’s comic book series is the soap opera elements that unfold issue-by-issue; this is a world with people’s lives and the trials that each one encounters. Spider-Man 2 wisely spends a good amount of time showing how Peter Parker’s life is not perfect. He is still dealing with his feelings of Mary Jane (and she likewise is allowed her own dilemma) and at the same time he faces Aunt May’s financial worries, his dreams of being a scientist, his shortcomings as a college student, his daily struggles with money and paying the rent, and a lingering doubt that creates a self-induced loss of powers. Read an issue of Amazing Spider-Man and then watch Spider-Man 2 and you’ll see how expertly the world of one merges with the world portrayed on the big screen.

On that note, Peter Parker’s life is never one that invites a happy ending. Spider-Man 2 delivers on this time honored tradition with excellent cliffhanger plot threads involving his former friend Harry learning both Peter’s identity and the lair of his own father’s Green Goblin devices. Just like an issue of Spider-Man is meant to deliver excitement for the consumer to purchase the continuation of the story, the movie builds and leaves the audience waiting for more adventures.

I love Spider-Man 2.

I know many people who have commented that at points it is slow paced and feels overly long but, for me, that is the type of movie I enjoy the most. A movie that takes it’s time to tell a story while building a sense of excitement and awe in me (the fan) so much so that I do not want my time with these characters to end. No other superhero sequel has managed to pull off what Spider-Man 2 does. It improved on every area of the original while delivering a drama-action storyline that made the fanboy in me cheer for more!
At the time of release, I thought that I had seen the pinnacle of what a superhero movie could successfully offer. Spider-Man 2 was my #1 favorite superhero movie of all time…until…

…movies #2 and #1 did everything that Spider-Man 2 succeeded with and took things to a higher level…but they came years later…and required groups of superheroes to supplant Spidey from the top of my list!

Thursday, January 3, 2013



Faster than a speeding bullet we’re back to the countdown with the best theatrical offerings that DC Comics have ever produced!


In today’s era of multiple superhero movies each year, it’s hard to remember back to 1978 which gave us SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE…then the eleven years before Tim Burton’s first Batman offering.  Two superhero movies in spanning all that time.  Yes, I know there were three Superman sequels…but they all suck.  

People who have fond memories of Superman II should rewatch it to realize that it doesn’t hold up.  Richard Lester’s ham-handed comedic directing (with fired director Richard Donner’s material) doesn’t work for anyone over 10 years old.  The special effects are weak…seriously who can’t tell that those are flying dolls traveling through a miniaturized set?  And the climactic fight(s)?  Well, one of them involves Superman introducing a bunch of new hokey powers: cartoon throwaway shield, zero-gravity hand ray, and the power of illusion!  Then of course the earlier fight in the city of Metropolis which involves the most over extended sequence wear the citizens of Metropolis, all of whom are so annoying that I was routing for their subjugation to Zod, are being blown around town and laughing and having a meery good time.  What a horrendous movie.  And for all its hype, the Richard Donner cut…suffers as well for other reasons.  Of course, both versions of Superman II don’t have Richard Pryor or Nuclear Man…so in that regard they are successes.

However, two years before all the horrible Superman sequels, 1978 brought us an incredible superhero movie that truly made audiences believe that a man could fly.  And wow did flying look fun!  The casting of every character in Superman: The Movie is perfect!  I’ll argue that no other superhero movie has succeeded so solidly in both casting, costumes, and general sets appearance.  Metropolis is New York City!  Luthor is a fiendish villain with a great plan!  And Superman is…SUPER!

Considering how much material Richard Donner needs to cover, the pacing of this movie is fantastic.  The first hour gives us the destruction of Krypton, Jor-El’s reasoning for sending his only son to Earth, the villains of the Phantom Zone, young Kal-El’s landing on Earth, life in Smallville, the death of Pa Kent and his message (thank you Glenn Ford for 10 minutes of a movie that still resonate with such power decades later), the construction of the Fortress of Solitude, and the introduction of Metropolis!  Wow!  Amazing!  I know people are holding out hope for Zac Snyder’s Man of Steel…but man, that’s a lot of work to live up to. 

Superman: The Movie also delivers a 10-minute sequence that still rocks today.  Superman’s first night in Metropolis: saving Lois Lane, catching a helicopter, thwarting a jewel thief, stopping a bank robbery, saving a cat, and rescuing a crashing Air Force One.  Great cinematic stuff!  If I’m ever channel surfing and this segment is even close to airing, I always stop to watch and am never disappointed.


Watch the movie HEAT with Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro, and then watch The Dark Knight!  Both are the top films of the cop-criminal and hero-villain genres…and I’d argue that the one with the masks and capes is a better effort and I love HEAT.

Christopher Nolan knocks an utter grand slam with his second dive into the world of Batman.  The studios were so confident with Nolan that the movie didn’t even need to have Batman’s name in the title!  There are so many levels taking place in The Dark Knight that it’s easy to lose sight of the social and political commentary and just focus on Batman chasing the Joker and Two-Face.  But go back and rewatch the movie and you’ll see it’s filled to the brim with topics for discussion.

Anyone who hopes to write or a direct a superhero movie needs to watch and learn how Nolan manages to succeed in handling two supervillains (and never loses site of his hero).  So many other films have tried and failed when it comes to the use of multiple enemies for the hero, The Dark Knight is the primer for great implementation.  First, the Joker is shown simply as a force of nature.  He’s the shark from Jaws.  You don’t know why he arrived and why he does the things he does.  You don’t need that information.  All you need to know is when he is on screen really bad things are going to happen – and you’ll be captivated the entire time.  His persona is summed up perfectly as Alfred explains to Bruce Wayne, Some men aren't looking for anything logical, like money. They can't be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn." Then there’s Harvey Dent’s fall from grace and emergence as Two-Face.   Powerful stuff with incredibly gross CGI that is too realistic for its own good.  With these two villains, you fear for Batman and every single person in Gotham City.

The success of The Dark Knight is that it stays down to Earth on such a grim and gritty level that while watching a movie where people wear costumes, you can actually find yourself thinking, “If superheroes exist, this is what it would be like.”  At times it’s almost too dark.  Often people I talk to say the reason they don’t like The Dark Knight is because they want their Batman more family friendly and cartoony.  This is why I love The Dark Knight.  Because we’ve already had umpteen versions of Batman as a comic book character from comics, to cartoons, to the 1960’s TV show, to the Burton movies.  It’s easy to lose site that Chris Nolan is the first one to give us a truly grim visage of what life behind a mask can do to both a person and the city is strives to protect.  It’s not pretty but it’s damn original and entertaining!

There’s far too much for me to cover as to why I love The Dark Knight.  For my tastes, it’s the single best example of Batman in any genre ever!  Batman sums it up nicely with, “Sometimes the truth isn't good enough, sometimes people deserve more. Sometimes people deserve to have their faith rewarded...”

The Dark Knight is one helluva reward!

Had my Top 10 list been written three years ago, Superman: The Movie and The Dark Knight would have been ranked #3 and #2 respectively.  Just shows that in the last few years a couple of movies have come out that really shined a powerful light on the superhero genre from comics to movies.

The NEW Movies #3 and #2…are just around the corner…

Wednesday, January 2, 2013


CRASH!                 WHAM!

Let’s keep things rolling along with my personal selections of the best superhero from comic book to big screen Hollywood offerings.

I’m not a huge fan of origin stories.  For me, the origin comic book is the most boring read ever.  There’s too much set-up…Who is this person?  How did they get their powers?  How did they develop their costume and identity?  What will their initial adventure (and pitfalls) be like?  Blah Blah Blah!  As a comic book reader you normally have to wait until issues 3-5 to truly get a firm grasp on how successful a concept and characters are going to be.
Superhero origin movies are much the same (and once you see my full list you’ll chuckle that picks #5-#10 are all origins) but they have the benefit of being able to cram more into a two hour movie than a mere 25-page comic book.  For me, I’m never nervous that a movie can successfully pull off an origin story because there have been so many good ones.  The real shock is when the superhero franchise can pull off a thrilling second or even third adventure (there should be a lot more Spider-Man 2's than Iron-Man 2's).

It really shouldn’t be this hard.  I mean James Bond didn’t have an origin story (until 2006’s Casino Royale in a sense) and look at how many adventures he went on that were perfectly delivered in movies.  So, why then did I have to sit through Batman & Robin, Spider-Man 3, Superman IV:The Quest for Peace…etc.  If you can tell a good origin...then the rest of the stories should be the more exciting adventures!

Here are two origin stories/movies that get a whole lot right (and then follow it up with better offerings)!


Batman and Robin may be the worst superhero movie ever!  This movie worked so tirelessly to destroy the Batman franchise from the casting of George Clooney, to the horrendous dialogue (every line from Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy is riddled with cringe worthy moments), to the nipple costumes and neon-lit Gotham City, and of course to the fact that Batman was once again reduced to having such a ridiculous amount of gadgets and costumes (and thank God he had those bat-hook lines which seemed to be the only thing that could save his life…over and over…).  Watch the movie and you’ll see two hours of director Joel Schumacher exclaiming, “THIS IS HOW YOU KILL A BATMAN FRANCHISE!”

Then amazingly director Christopher Nolan came around years later and said, “This is how you save the Batman franchise.  You tell an adult story with good characters, solid plotting, and you take the audience on an adventure.”

I saw BATMAN BEGINS on opening weekend (an opening weekend that financially paled in comparison to the first four Batman movies) and I remember leaving the movie with a smile on my face but fearfully thinking, “Wow, I pray people forget Batman & Robin and go and see this movie because this is how Batman is meant to be showcased on the big screen.”

The movie solidly delivers Bruce Wayne’s origin and motivation, his training, the explanation behind his use of the bat-motif and his gadgets, and sends viewers along on a roller coaster as Batman learns the ropes while forging a partnership with Lt. Gordon and battling the Scarecrow and Ra’s Al Ghul.  I think that’s worth repeating, director Christopher Nolan gave people a great Batman movie and his choice of villains were Ra’s Al Ghul and the Scarecrow!  You know the majority of people were thinking, “Where’s Joker, Riddler, Robin, and Catwoman…?”

I love the look of Gotham City in this movie.  I love the casting of Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, the under-appreciated Rutger Hauer, and Gary Oldman (so much that I’ll overlook Katie Holmes and that annoying Joffrey from Game of Thrones too).  I love that Batman uses detective skills as well as darkness, gadgets, and fighting ninja-like abilities to battle the forces of evil.

Batman Begins is the second best Batman movie ever produced.  If you haven’t seen it recently, go check it out…it holds up spectacularly.


A Word War II superhero movie that has to bridge the path between blockbuster movies Iron-Man and the upcoming team-up The Avengers.  Captain America had every reason to fail and yet, it’s a grand slam!  Marvel Studios were spot-on in their choice of director Joe Johnston (or Rocketeer fame) to recreate the origins of the “first” Avenger and then manage to weave a tale that helps delivers him from the 1940’s to present day.

Next to Spider-Man, Captain America may be my favorite superhero.  What’s not to love?  He’s patriotic, a natural leader, a fighter, a strategist, and he throws a shield!  AWESOME!  As a child in the 70's I remember watching two horrendous made-for-TV Captain America movies - seriously am I the only one who remembers CAPTAIN AMERICA: DEATH TOO SOON...?  A disastorous movie where Cap (played by Reb Brown - whose acting chops were so bad he might as well have been performing Othello at a senior citizens home) had a motorcycle that he burst out of his "rockin'" 70's van (YES a VAN) to battle Christopher Lee and generic thug villains who looked like they stumbled right out of a Six Million Dollar Man episode.  Captain America's plastic shield was so poor and wobbly it looked like a strong breeze would veer it off course.  I watched these movies...over and over and smiled thinking, "Captain America is so cool!"  That's how cool his superhero factor is!  Captain America can strive beyond Reb Brown's "acting".

If you’ve ever read any of Captain America’s comic books (especially the early WWII stories) then what you see on the screen are those very same stories.  I loved the look of the shield(s), the Nazi-esque HYDRA agents, and the villainous Red Skull.  The montages tell enough of the story while cleverly leaving gaps for future sequels to plug in additional back storylines.  Bonus points for the use of Bucky and his “disappearance” to set up 2014’s Winter Soldier.

For a movie that came out in 2011, Captain America feels like a solid 70’s era-blockbuster.  It had me smiling the entire time I saw it.  The use of CGI to make Steve Rogers a weak human with a heart of gold is exactly how special effects should always be add to a movie, not to serve solely as the movie.  The best scene in the movie is when Dr. Erskin sits with skinny little Steve and he tells him what is important on the inside...and how it will never change no matter what happens to the outside.  This is a great parallel when viewed with the film's villain the Red Skull.  Cap’s finale battle aboard (and in the sky around) the Red Skull’s plane had me on the edge of my seat.  His ditching of the plane into the frozen waters…and subsequent “death” almost had me in tears.  This is a strong movie, and if you watch it back-to-back with The Avengers (which is really a Captain America movie) then you can see a solid story arc of a truly great American superhero.

Movies #5 and #4…sooner than you’d expect…