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"I like this ship! It’s exciting!"


Star Trek

Yeah, it’s movie-review time again.

As you’ve already heard from every other reviewer in the universe, the new “Star Trek” movie is pretty spectacularly awesome. I’m not a big enough Trekkie to have made the first showing (I’ve got a severe allergy to people who show up for movies wearing costumes), but my brother and I took a break from installing insulation Sunday afternoon to hit the theater. I’d been taking the early reviews with a grain of salt — I remember how wildly enthusiastic the “Star Wars” fans were when “Phantom Menace” hit the big screen — but I got won over very fast.

No spoiler here — all the action here takes place in an alternate universe from the standard “Star Trek” continuity, which gives the filmmakers the opportunity to reboot classic “Star Trek” into something new for the 21st century. And even better, they gave the whole thing to a guy with no connection to previous “Star Trek” movies — J.J. Abrams, a dude who is best known for producing and directing action movies and wildly complicated TV shows. As a result, you get a movie that, while very respectful of classic Trek’s history and performances, doesn’t feel duty-bound to precisely replicate them, especially when audiences would rather enjoy some brawling, some stuntwork, some thrills, and some shocks.

I was expecting the least from Chris Pine, the guy who was picked to play the new version of James Kirk, but he ended up being the best surprise — he doesn’t try to channel William Shatner, but he does bring the essence of Kirk — the brash, cocky, womanizing bad boy — to the screen. Zachary Quinto as Spock, Karl Urban as Dr. McCoy, Anton Yelchin as Chekov, and especially Simon Pegg as the uncommonly funny Montgomery Scott are pretty much perfect, and everyone else is really close to perfect. Eric Bana’s genocidal Romulan Nero is an extraordinarily appealing character — party psycho, part charmer (I’m wildly in favor of his initial greeting to Captain Pike), and almost as good a villain as Ricardo Montalban’s Khan Noonien Singh or Christopher Plummer’s General Chang.

I’ve seen some complaints that it’s got too much action. I’d consider that a legitimate complaint if it was bad action or pointless action, but it’s not. It’s good action that serves the plot and doesn’t get in the way of character development. Yes, McCoy, Sulu, Scotty, and other characters don’t get as much screen time as Kirk, Spock, and Uhura — I certainly would’ve loved to see Pegg and Urban get some more time in front of the cameras. But this is an ensemble cast — there’s just no way to make sure all of them get equal time.

I think it’s a great movie, and a great way to reboot the series. I’m looking forward to the sequels.

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To Watch or Not to Watch


Just to show how out-of-the-loop I am, I had no idea theaters would be showing “Watchmen” tonight in a midnight showing. Makes sense now that I think of it, of course…

The question now is: Do I really want to go to the “Watchmen” midnight showing?

On one hand, this is a pretty terrifically big movie, just about every comic fan is gonna be there, and it might be fun to see it in a room full of enthusiastic comics geeks.

On the other hand, I rarely enjoy midnight showings, and I’m getting a bit nervous about whether this movie is going to be any good. Plus, there’s likely to be a LOT of talking back to the screen — lots of “OMG, they took out the fourth panel from page 14 of Issue #7! ALAN MOORE WAS RIGHT!” And if that happens, I’m gonna hafta kill somebody.

The biggest strike against it? There’s likely to be costumes. Quite possibly, there may be a chubby bearded geek whose Dr. Manhattan costume will consist of blue bodypaint and nothing else.


So whatcha think? Are you going to be at the midnight showing for “Watchmen” or are you going to put it off a bit?

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Epic Win


Well, the big comics-related news today is that Heath Ledger won a well-deserved Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor last night for his role in “The Dark Knight” as the Joker. What does this mean for the comics biz? Probably not a durned thing. It’s cool that comic-based performance won the award, but DC has already tried to piggyback on “The Dark Knight” and it’s gone nowhere. As it is, I’m glad Ledger received the Oscar, and it’s too bad we lost such an unbelievable actor so soon.

As for the other Oscars… I dunno. An unusually small number of surprises this year. No dark horse winners — the winners that everyone expected — “Slumdog Millionaire,” Heath Ledger, “Wall-E,” “Man on Wire” — all took home their awards. (Isn’t it weird that the actors from “Slumdog” didn’t get any acting nominations?)

I am relieved that “Benjamin Button” didn’t take Best Picture. I didn’t see that one, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen trailers that bad for a high-profile movie before, and I don’t know anyone who thought it was worth a bucket of warm spit.

Although I also gotta say — I really wish they’d quit giving the Makeup and Special Effects Oscars to movies like “Benjamin Button.” I enjoy those awards more when they go to horror and sci-fi movies, the way God intended.

Any other interesting things out there? Let’s review the linkdump file…

* The Archie McPhee catalog has the world’s freakiest, coolest stuff.

* A bunch of fascinating, beautiful photographs of deserted, abandoned, and ruined places.

* Neil Gaiman’s Hugo-winning Lovecraft/Sherlock Holmes story “A Study in Emerald” — collected in convenient and entertaining PDF format.

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Ledger gets Oscar nomination for "Dark Knight"


I completely forgot that Oscar nominations happened today. The big news for us comic geeks is that Heath Ledger received a nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his role as the Joker in “The Dark Knight.” He’s competing against Josh Brolin in “Milk,” Michael Shannon in “Revolutionary Road,” Philip Seymour Hoffman in “Doubt,” and Robert Downey Jr. in “Tropic Thunder.”

If we’re handicapping things, Ledger looks like he has a pretty good shot at the Oscar — pretty much everyone was talking about what an awesome job he did as the Joker, so he definitely starts out with the most buzz. On the other hand, it’s far from a sure thing — the Oscar voters really love Philip Seymour Hoffman, because I don’t think he’s ever turned in a bad performance. And Josh Brolin got really stellar reviews for “Milk.”

I’m a little boggled that Robert Downey Jr. got nominated for “Tropic Thunder” — Oscar voters generally seem to hate comedies, especially very silly comedies like “Tropic Thunder.” Hey, didn’t that guy also play a comic book character last year?

I generally enjoy the nominations more than the actual Academy Awards — primarily, there are fewer dance numbers. You get a much better overview of what the best movies and performances really were. As far as the other noms go, I’m stoked that Melissa Leo, who played one of my favorite characters on “Homicide: Life on the Street,” got a Best Actress nod for “Frozen River,” that Mickey Rourke got a Best Actor nomination for “The Wrestler,” and that “WALL-E” is a shoe-in for the Best Animated Feature. (But it shoulda got a Best Picture nomination. They coulda put it in place of “Benjamin Button.” I’ve been anti-“Benjamin Button” ever since the trailers, which made me want to projectile vomit directly in Brad Pitt’s face. Yes, I realize the movie is probably perfectly nice, but dangit, those trailers were entirely awful.)

So whatcha think? Is Ledger the likely winner? What are your other Oscar picks? And how much should David Fincher be apologizing to me personally for those barf-worthy trailers?

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Bad Spirits

Wondering why the recent film version of “The Spirit” did so bad? You might look into Neil Gaiman’s Law of Superhero Films:

Had a conversation with Paul Levitz the other day about Gaiman’s Law of Superhero Movies*, which is: the closer the film is to the look and feel of what people like about the comic, the more successful it is (which is something that Warners tends singularly to miss, and Marvel tends singularly to get right) and the conversation went over to Watchmen, which had Paul explaining to me that the film is obsessive about how close it is to the comic, and me going “But they’ve changed the costumes. What about Nite Owl?” It’ll be interesting to see whether it works or not…

As Neil points out, this very neatly explains why people didn’t like Frank Miller’s film of “The Spirit,” despite liking the films of Frank Miller’s “Sin City” and “300.” The “Sin City” and “300” films looked just like Miller’s comics, but the “Spirit” film looked nothing like Will Eisner’s original “Spirit” comics.

You can apply this to other comic-based movies, too. Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man” movie closely replicated the feel of Lee and Ditko’s classic Spidey comics. Jon Favreau’s “Iron Man” got the vital essence of Tony Stark on celluloid. Tim Burton’s “Batman” movies succeeded because they got the look and feel of the popular parts of the Batman mythos on the screen, while Joel Schumacher’s “Batman” movies failed because they just got the unpopular “Batman” TV show on the screen.

Christopher Nolan’s “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight” would seem to be exceptions to the rule — both films always felt like comics revisions more than comics tributes, but they work perfectly all the same.

Oh, and speaking of “The Spirit”: Rather than watching that movie, maybe you should get acquainted with some “Spirit” comics by Will Eisner and Darwyn Cooke instead…?

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Here’s to Uncle Forry

Forrest J. Ackerman is dying.

I tried to tell people that all day yesterday, and no one around here has heard of him. That’s just depressing.

Forry Ackerman is a longtime fan of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. He’s been a writer, an editor, a collector, and just an all-around great guy. He’s probably best known for creating and editing the legendary “Famous Monsters of Filmland” magazine, though he’s also the first person to abbreviate “science fiction” down to “sci-fi.” He’s been a literary agent for Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Hugo Gernsback, Andre Norton, Curt Siodmak, Jack Williamson, and many, many others. He even wrote the first issue of the original “Vampirella” comic book.

His home, which used to be known as the “Ackermansion,” was almost completely dedicated to his colossal collection of priceless sci-fi and horror memorabilia, which included books, film posters, costumes, makeup, masks, props, models, photographs, and much more. At 300,000 items, it was the largest collection of its kind in the world. The collection included models of the Martian spacecraft from “The War of the Worlds,” dinosaurs from “King Kong,” Bela Lugosi’s cape from “Dracula,” the Metalunan mutant from “This Island Earth,” the golden idol from “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and much more. And he’d give free tours of the place, just to give science fiction and film fans a thrill to see all that awesome stuff. Financial troubles in 2002 forced him to downgrade to a smaller house, the mini-Ackermansion.

Forry has been one of the greatest boosters of science fiction and of science fiction fandom ever. Without Forry Ackerman, modern science fiction/horror/fantasy fandom would not exist.

But like I said: Forry Ackerman is dying.

In speaking with Uncle Forry’s caretaker, an amazing gentleman named Joe Moe, I was told that Forry was lucid, peaceful and not even on pain medication, but that he was progressively getting worse – and was ready to move on. However, he was wanting to say his goodbyes to as many of his neice and nephews that he has created in his almost 92 years on this Earth. His 92nd Birthday is this November 22nd.

Many friends of Forry have visited his bedside, hearing one last story, one last pun and to say one last goodbye. Ray Bradbury even flew to his bedside.

And they’re even requesting letters. If you’d like to write Forry, tell him what his work has meant to you, wish him well, here’s the address:

Forrest J. Ackerman
4511 Russell Avenue
Los Angeles, CA  90027

Whether you knew him as Uncle Forry, Dr. Acula, Mr. Science Fiction, or something else, let’s get some cards and letters in the mail, guys. Just to show that not everyone has forgotten Forrest Ackerman.

(Link via Mike Lynch)

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Blue’s Anatomy


Well, most of y’all probably know that they’re making a movie of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ classic graphic novel “Watchmen.” And one of the things people have been wondering is how they’re going to deal with Dr. Manhattan’s… well, his costume, or lack there-of.

Of course, in the comic, Dr. Manhattan has transcended human feelings of modesty and propriety, and he spends the vast majority of the time completely unclothed. But would Hollywood actually release a movie that featured one of the lead characters running around for most of the movie with no britches on?

Previous photos and trailers from the movie have left the question up in the air – Dr. Manhattan has either been seen wearing one of his few costumes, or he’s been filmed above the waist or from the back. One scene from the first trailer appeared blurred, but you couldn’t tell if it was because the studio purposely blurred out his crotch, or because he was just glowing so brightly that it made it too hard to see his, um, area.

Well, there’s a new trailer out, and the new footage looks pretty good. You may be so blown away by the awesome cinematic eye-candy that you may miss one particular scene.

As it turns out, Kevin Melrose noticed something very interesting: the trailer includes a pretty clear (though long-distance) shot of Dr. Manhattan’s computer-generated winkityboo. (That link may not be safe for work, depending on how your boss reacts to demigods with glowing blue winkityboos.)

The next question is: Will comic geeks now refuse to see the movie for fear of seeing some dude’s winkityboo? Or will they just shriek and cover their eyes every time Manhattan shows up on camera?

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Who will be the villains in the next Batman movie?


Short answer? I have no idea.

But it is something I’ve been pondering. It’s absolutely certain we’ll see at least one more sequel in this franchise — after pulling down over $400 million in a little over three weeks, there’s no way Warner Brothers will let director Christopher Nolan or Christian Bale walk on this. But the big talk in movie circles is who the next Bat-villain will be.

Now let’s not talk actors — Nolan’s gotten great results by going with actors you’d never actually associate with the characters they played. Besides, anything you’re hearing now about Angelina Jolie or Johnny Depp is strictly scuttlebutt that almost certainly won’t come to pass.

So who are our possibilities?

I really doubt we’ll see the Joker or Two-Face make a return appearance. No one’s going to be dumb enough to try to fill Heath Ledger’s shoes for a sequel, and Harvey Dent’s dead. No, no weaseling out of this — no “Well, they didn’t take his pulse, we don’t know he’s in the coffin, he might be alive.” No, he’s dead. Bringing him back to life is a comic book trick, and Nolan isn’t playing these movies by comic book rules.

Nolan’s already said he dislikes the Penguin and doesn’t want him in a movie, so it’s a pretty sure bet we can rule him out.

Everyone keeps talking up the Riddler and Catwoman, but I don’t see it happening. They just don’t fit into the previous films’ mold. Ra’s al Ghul, Scarecrow, and the Joker all had big plans to change the face of Gotham City, and Riddler and Catwoman have never been that variety of crazy. Catwoman is a burglar, and Riddler is an obsessive-compulsive bank robber. They’re not “Destroy the City” types.

I also think we can rule out Batman’s more fantastical villains, like Mr. Freeze, Killer Croc, and Clayface. I think they’d make pretty interesting villains, but the movies have gone for a more realistic feel, and superscientific freeze guns, crocodilian mutants with superstrength, and amorphous shapeshifting blob-men just don’t fit into the movie’s universe, no matter how cool their stories may be.

I’m not sure that Harley Quinn would work without the Joker, but she might make a believable Joker substitute, with the right tweaks.

Poison Ivy and the Mad Hatter straddle the realistic/unrealistic barrier. With the right adjustments in their origins and powers, they might be workable.

Bane, Hush, and the Ventriloquist would have the right amount of realism on their side. Bane and Hush definitely have their hate on for Batman, and might be willing to hatch city-destroying schemes to get at him. The Ventriloquist has definitely got the craaaaazy workin’ for him, but I don’t know whether you could turn him into the type who wants to wreck large swaths of the city.

My picks, in order of preference? (1) The Ventriloquist — when three of your past four movie villains have been jam-packed with insanity sauce, I think Ventriloquist and his puppet Scarface are cracked enough to fit in just fine; (2) Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn — again, with the right tweaks, I could see them being great, and isn’t it time we saw some good Bat-villains who were female?; (3) Bane — not my favorite villain, but he’s got a good built-in storyline; (4) Hush — another who’s not my favorite, but he makes a pretty good anti-Batman; (5) Mad Hatter — his obsessions with Batman’s cowl and using mind control on Gothamites would be pretty good, but I worry that all the bizarre “Alice in Wonderland” stuff might make him too weird to be useable.

So there are my picks. What are yours?

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Laughing All the Way to the Box Office


“The Dark Knight” is making pretty darn good money so far this weekend. Was there ever any doubt that it would make scads of cash?

Quick review: I liked it. Heath Ledger’s Joker is a revelation. Aaron Eckhart’s Harvey Dent and Two-Face is also just grand. Two-Face was always my favorite Bat-villain, so as long as he was better than Tommy Lee Jones, I woulda been happy. The movie sure was long, though.

Pre-movie trailers: “The Spirit” looks like complete festering monkey-poop. I don’t care who’s in it — it just looks awful. And it could’ve been awesome, if only someone would’ve surgically downsized Frank Miller’s impossibly gargantuan ego first.

But the trailer for “Watchmen”? That one looked fiiiiine.

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I’m not gonna make you read my movie reviews of non-comic movies very often, but I really gotta say, WALL-E is just about the best movie I’ve seen in the last couple of years.

I didn’t go into this expecting a whole lot. I was kinda expecting that the very positive reviews I’d read before were a case of overhype. But man, was I wrong. This was just a plain awesome movie.

WALL-E and EVE are just impossibly charming and emotional and perfect, even though they have very, very little dialogue. Nearly all the robots — and there are an awful lot of them — are very, very cool. John and Mary, the future people who rediscover the beauty of the world outside of virtual reality, are also wonderful, fun characters. And the Captain makes for one of the least likely but most inspiring heroes I’ve ever seen. Even the fairly villainous AUTO is cool and decently badass, what with that wicked-kewl voice.

This is also the first Pixar movie to include any live-action footage, which is fairly cool — Fred Willard is a lot of fun here — but you end up forgetting this pretty quickly, because the live-action stuff is so well integrated into the rest of the story — and because Pixar’s animation looks so outstanding.

It’s bizarre to read that there are really people out there who are complaining that the movie has pro-environmental themes. I mean, hasn’t post-apocalyptism nearly always been a big part of science fiction? Heck, conservative Ultimate Hero Charlton Heston was in “Planet of the Apes,” where humans wiped themselves out in a war, and “Soylent Green,” where a shady megacorp is making food out of corpses — anyone here wanna say Charlie Heston was a liberal, tree-hugging, capitalism-hating pansy? Yeah, I thought not.

Really, I’m just amazed that anyone could come out of this movie thinking something other than, “Wow, that was a really cool movie.” If you come out of a movie as touching and inspiring and exciting and fun as this one, and all you can think about is how angry you are over what you imagine the movie’s politics to be, maybe you need to get yer head examined. You’ve officially lost track of everything that really matters.

In summation: If you ain’t seen “WALL-E” yet, go see it ASAP.

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