Friday, February 26, 2016

I saw the Gods of Egypt...

Contrary to what the historic scrolls convey, ancient Egypt was once a place of perpetual, golden splendor, characterized by attractive entities (both mortal and immortal): a majestic, joyous realm in which one might forever remain, regardless of one's social status. However, invasion, conquest and enslavement seized that splendor, leaving only an intrepid few to regain what was taken

Such is the premise of Alex ("The Crow"/"Dark City"/"I, Robot") Proyas' "Gods of Egypt", a sprawling fantasy adventure, which takes the "paradise lost" concept to a maddening max, with the villainous Set, God of Darkness (Gerard Butler), seizing the land of lush sand and the brave mortal, Bek (Brenton "Maleficent" Thwaites) pursuing his lovely maiden, Zaya (Courtney "Fury Road" Eaton), whom the selfish deity has dispatched to the callous architect, Urshur (Rufus "Man in the High Castle" Sewell). One can only hope that poor Bek will get her back. 

Per Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless' kinetic script, Bek's mission is accompanied by the forlorn Horus (Nikolaj "Game of Thrones" Coster-Waldau), who meets defeat by his Uncle Set's hands, leaving the falcon-armored entity blind (his luminous orbs actually plucked from his head). Such a pity, since king-to-be Horus only wished to avenge his father, Osiris (Bryan "F/X" Brown), who was murdered before the masses by Set. Yeah, Set is one mean, power-hungry son of a gun, so much so that one wonders how anyone (god or human) could hope to impact his merciless might, but then one should never underestimate the power of resilience.  

Bek, for one, isn't afraid to mingle among the warring, twelve-foot, gold-blooded, shape-shifting gods, with or without Horus' help, though the disheveled god's alliance certainly offers leverage, once Bek journeys forth and miraculously returns to him at least partial sight. 

As the matter stands, other gods continue to haunt the desert realm, with Elodi "Elektra" Yung as Hathor (Horus' beloved companion); Chadwick Boseman as the analytical Thoth; and the always amazing and versatile Geoffrey Rush as the paternal, chaos-controlling Ra. They position themselves alongside one another (sometimes as friends, sometimes as foes), creating a sense of hierarchical upheaval, but the outward complexity of their stances is pretentious; for the story's backbone is one of basic good-vs-evil, or rather those-who-have-stolen against those-who-want-it-back . Shucks, now that I think of it, perhaps "Gods" isn't that thematically removed from George A. Romero's "Dawn of the Dead".

From another vantage, Bek's quest to squash Set's rule might be seen as a form of class warfare, but in truth, it's no more than the underdog theme rehashed, for against the odds, Bek eagerly confronts a force he can't possibly defeat. It doesn't take long for a David-and-Goliath theme to enter the story's enchanting thread (though one could argue a love motif equally presides, if only due to fair Zaya's lingering presence; she is, after all, the primary reason Bek puts his life on the line, even when she loses hers).

Costner-Waldau's Horus is as important as Bek in the heartbreak department, since he's lost as much as the mortal, if not more so, and that the god can yet conjure his strength to settle the score and reinstate "normalcy" to Egypt becomes the film's inspirational point. 

For the sake of nurturing excitement, Bek and Horus' task isn't confined solely to the terrestrial dimension. As they strive for victory, they enter Ra's celestial space: a visual transition which for a time, grants the movie a memorable "Raiders of the Lost Ark"-meets-"What Dreams May Come" feel. Otherwise, it's staggering, computerized monsters they face, which come and go among the sequences, much as would any number of strange creatures in any given "Flash Gordon", "Star Wars" or "Dune" installment. 

Some might argue that such contrivances twist "Gods" into an ancient-mythology knock-off of "Clash of the Titans" (either version); "The Immortals"; or "Stargate '94". On yet a larger scope, "Gods" is probably closest in tone to the recent DC/Marvel movies, in the way its characters majestically swoop into scenes and melees: a quality that will please some, though strike others as derivative. 

The same could be said of the casting, which for the most part does, indeed, work, even though the controversial and conspicuous component of Caucasians dominating the scene can't be denied. The familiar faces nonetheless recall Hollywood's golden age when the presence of certain performers guaranteed certain types of entertainment: a general courtesy, above all, to those willing to plop down their hard-earned cash to experience a guaranteed formula.

On this basis, Butler stands as the film's headlining presence, just as it was in such historical and/or imaginative entries as "Attila"; "300"; "Dracula 2000"; and Joel Schumacher's adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Weber's "Phantom of the Opera". As Set, Butler is perfect: rough, shimmering and dashingly arrogant. (Coster-Waldau; Boseman; Rush; and Yung also do a swell job of complementing Butler's imposing persona.) And let's face it, a fantasy film is only ever as good as its villain, and in this instance, Butler more than delivers and therefore raises the film's essential conflict. 

"Gods" isn't poised to break box-office records or redefine the fantasy genre. At the end of the day, it stays true to its popcorn-movie format and for those who relish Egyptology (whether culled from fact or fiction), this one will act as a veritable, if not inconsequential feast for the senses. Take it for what you will and if at all possible, enjoy it for what it is. 

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Collectible Time #54: JAKKS 31" Batman v Superman Big-Figs; Mattel 12" Wonder Woman Figure

Whoa!!! These 31" JAKKS Big-Figs sure are swell, and I purchased a couple new ones to supplement my growing "Batman v Superman" collection (see "Collectible Time #51" - Jan '16 for the initial spree). 

The Ben Affleck Batman is a most formidable looking piece and not only due its sturdy black/gray frame, but because of the cynical glint in the Dark Knight's eyes.

The same can be said of the 31" Henry Calvill Superman, which exudes not only the actor's colorful sculpt, but a strong, determined countenance. Indeed, this has to be one of the most regal pieces yet done on Cavill's Man of Steel. 

In addition to the Big-Figs, I also landed a DC Multiverse "Dawn of Justice" Mattel 12" Wonder Woman.

She'll make a fine addition to her Batman and Superman 12" counterparts; and like those representations, this Gal Gadot Amazon sports 10 points of articulation. Above all, she's quite the looker.

Having these swell pieces certainly gives me greater incentive to see the much anticipated Zach Snyder epic this March!!! Whoopee!!!

Sunday, February 21, 2016


Ron Fortier has done it again, with a stirring Redbud Studio release of a spectacular new adventurer...BLACK LION!!!

The story presents an ex-Navy Seal named Lieutenant Jamal Lyon, who returns home after time spent in Kuwait. He's taken in by Commander Peter Trent and becomes part of the gracious man's family.

During his stay, we learn that Lyons is a man of African American and Navajo descent, whose father's promising football career was derailed by an auto accident. This woeful turn of events led his father to grow bitter, making him push the lad onto an unsavory track.

Fortunately, Lyons found solace and redemption through a medicine man named Charlie Waters, who taught the youngster bow-and-arrow skills; to gain his self-respect; and even find what would ultimately become his code name. Nonetheless, despite such encouragement, Lyons eventually faced a dire confrontation with his dad, but also the opportunity to join the Navy and from there, forge a heroic path. 

Black Lion's early phases are ripe with honor and pathos, thanks to Ron Fortier's splendid story, which rose from out the ashes of an aborted Rambo concept, but now stands as its own dynamic drama. In truth, Black Lion #1 isn't really an action yarn, but rather a character-driven exploration, rich in pensive atmosphere and realistic detail: a springboard for exploits to come. 

Kevin Johnson (penciler); Mark Stegbauer (inker); and Warren Montgomery (letterer/colorist) help Fortier bring the set-up to life; and the collective effort will surely make one desire a second installment (and the sooner the better, I dare say).

As many know, Fortier has a long, illustrious history in the comic field, having fashioned stories for such pop-cultural icons as the Green Hornet; the Hulk; Peter Pan; Popeye; and the Terminator. His work is always textured and diverse, and Black Lion meets and exceeds his stellar reputation. 

Get in on the ground floor of Lieutenant Lyons' heroic ascent with Issue #1, now available at You'd be wise to splurge. Truly, stories of this painstaking quality are few and far between; you, like me, will salute the men who made this come to be. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

I saw Plan 9 Remade...

Edward D. Wood's "Plan 9 From Outer Space" means a lot to a lot of people. To the snide, it's an uproarious exercise in ineptitude. To appreciators of B-movie horror, it's something more-or-less quaint: for all intents and purposes, a Halloween play caught on film, performed by the neighborhood kids, with a few of their most popular headlining the endeavor. The B-film crowd understands why the 1959 release prevails; for it rekindles a child-like wonder that few pictures can capture.

Some well meaning filmmakers have tried, with varying success, to emulate "Plan 9'"s charm, but most have stumbled. One simply can't force that kind of magic. It must come naturally. 

Despite the high bar, writer/director/producer John Johnson has decided to tackle the task, and lo and behold, he's actually hit the mark, and not through sheer Gus Van Sant emulation. Instead, Johnson takes a page from Hammer Studios' playbook and gives the Wood classic a crafty spin.  

With this said, Johnson's version sometimes has more in common with the Romero/Russo flesh-eating zombie legacy than Wood's movie, which used a "Revolt of the Zombies" type formula, abetted by an alien-invasion angle. 

The aliens are still influential in this modern version. However, they're stationed in the background and when they do make their presence known, it's not through flying saucers, but rather blazing meteors and lots of blood and unsettling goo. (Incidentally, we learn that the grave-robbing takeover is set for various phases or plans, if you will, which is elaborated by Jarod Kearney's Eros, who's quite a stretch from Dudley Manlove's version.) Also, unlike the original invaders, the new crop implements a fast, widespread resurrection of the dead via a pulsation, heart-reviving wave (and on Halloween, no less, in a town called Nilbog--spell that one backwards for fun). The zombies charge the living relentlessly to rip at their flesh and grow so great in number that one group must seek shelter in a general store, where the "Night of the Living Dead" tensions soon run high. 

The film's overall participants make a fine mix, consisting of television "psychic" Criswell, played by Cinema Insomnia's beloved Mister Lobo; Sara Eshleman as Lucy Grimm (the film's woeful, scientific heroine); Brian Krause as Jeff Trent (Larry Walcott's character in the original); Amy Hart as Paula Trent (Mona McKinnon in the original); Mathew "Galidor" Ewald as Jimmy; Aaron Yonda as Toby; Matt Sloan as Sammy; Monique Dupree as Becky; and Addy Miller as Sarah. James "Angry Video Game Nerd" Rolfe and filmmaker Johnson play policemen (the latter named after Paul Marco’s Kelton the Cop). Also, Conrad Brooks, a favorite among Wood aficionados (and costar of the original epic) cameos as an intuitive, old gent.  

Johnson's pacing is impressively smooth and his script scary, funny and engaging. He makes one feel for the characters through his snappy dialogue, which is enhanced by the varying nuances that each performer brings to his/her role. 

Whenever given the chance, Mister Lobo steals the scene, and by the film's very Woodian nature, he should. Yes, he's playing Criswell (i.e., Jeron Criswell Konig's famous alter ego), but he's also making the utmost use of his horror-host image, which in its own right, pushes the remake into its own cult status. In fact, Mister Lobo's opening "Criswell Predicts" monologue is a hoot, especially in the way it angrily skids into the eerie opening credits. Wood would certainly appreciate this tactic, for it immediately establishes Mister Lobo as this version's equivalent to not only the original Criswell, but to Bela Lugosi, Tor Johnson, Maila Nurmi/Vampira and Lyle Talbot.

The remake's living dead (supplied by Bio Duck FX) would also please Wood, even if they're more over-the-top than what he could ever hope to feature. We're even granted effective imprints of Vampira (Camille "I Spit On Your Grave" Keaton); Tor Johnson's Inspector Clay (John R. Price II); and a unique take on Lugosi/Tom Mason's heartbroken widower (Hal Handerson). The trio (though not seen as frequently as some might prefer) does adequately fill the bill for sentiment's sake, and the gusty, undead assaults put the the lumbering choreography of many recent zombie films to shame.

Like the old, the new "Plan 9" does, in fact, include a symbolic, good-over-evil motif. After all, we're talking about a U.S. invasion here. That the characters ultimately want to fight back (and regain a sense of normality) is inspiring in the good, old fashioned vein. In this regard, Johnson's revised version smacks of what many westerns and war movies contain: the devising of a strategic plan to fight an opposing one, all in the name of liberation. Yep, "Plan 9'"s protagonists are freedom fighters all the way. 

Though Wood obviously didn't possess the resources to achieve what Johnson has, the remake's sleekness never ignores its roots. The basic, traditional fun remains throughout, defying the cynicism that plagues so many current horror films. This "Plan 9", as with its blueprint, invokes a sense of hope in spite of an apocalyptic setting. (The use of '50s/'60s rendered music also benefits this tread.) The results create an air of naivety and innocence: precisely the ingredients that make any Wood film endearing. 

By the time the end credits hit, I was astounded by how deftly Johnson made Wood's recipe his own, offering us something that's simultaneously old and new; so, put your doubts aside and plunge in. I'm confident that once you view Johnson's lurid homage, you'll become a "Plan 9" remake believer, too. 

Sunday, February 14, 2016


So Long, Johnny Duncan...

You gained fame as the second film Robin: a role that many only wished they could have attained. Your spunk and pizzazz will never fade, as long as Batman and Robin fans remember--and by golly, they will!!!

Saturday, February 13, 2016

11.22.63: King and Abrams Create a Parallel Past

Hulu blazes onto the Amazon and Netflix trail with an original eight-part series, based on Stephen King's novel, "11/22/63"; produced with the author by "Star Trek"/"Star Wars" revisionist, J.J. Abrams. 

The date, in the event one doesn't know, is that of President John F. Kennedy's assassination. The premise of King's tale is what would happen if one were to return in time to prevent such. The concept was previously played upon in Rod Serling's "Back There", a "Twilight Zone" favorite focusing on the potential prevention of President Lincoln's untimely death. It also smacks of Harlan Ellison's classic "Star Trek" offering, "City on the Edge of Forever."

James Franco plays Jake Epping, a current-day, high-school teacher who finds his way through a diner portal to 1960, with some encouraging guidance from Chris Cooper's Al Templeton, a cook with a dark past. Lucy Frye, Daniel Webber and Josh Duhamel also figure into the primary cast.

The consequences of Epping's journey may not be as certain and/or beneficial as one might anticipate, with tricks and turns along the treacherous way, as he stalks (and prepares to slay) Lee Harvey Oswald (Webber). Remember "Dark Room'"s "Stay Tuned, We'll be Right Back"? Well, this treatment treads upon such shaky ground.

"11.22.63" begins on February 15 (Presidents' Day) and has the potential to match Netflix's thought-provoking "Man in the High Castle" (see Nov '15). I'm keeping my fingers crossed, for this adventure has a good cast and premise, and if done right, it could initiate other imaginative programs via the ambitious Hulu.