Black Panther Will NOT Be the First Black Superhero Movie

I don’t know about you, but I was quite impressed with the Black Panther in Captain America: Civil War. The trailer for his solo movie looks good, too, so I’m looking forward to it. But, apparently, some are touting this as the first black superhero film, and that’s simply not true. (How quickly they forget!) Someone in a Facebook group I belong to (“Geeks Under Grace Community”) brought this up this past weekend, and a few of us had fun coming up with movies from the past three decades where the lead character was a black superhero. Here’s what we came up with (in chronological order):

ABAR: Black Superman (1977) — OK, no one in our group came up with this one. I’d never heard of it, either, until I did a little extra research for this post. As part of the blaxploitation trend of the times (see Honorable Mentions below), this flick was about “the brothers” fighting against injustice at the hands of racist Whites and crooked politicians. “Upon moving into a bigoted neighborhood, the scientist father of a persecuted black family gives a superpower elixir to a tough bodyguard [played by Tobar Mayo], who thus becomes a superpowered crimefighter.” According to one IMDB reviewer, “The movie is actually racist in that it makes every single white person racist against blacks.” Also, “[Abar’s] powers consist of making a constant ‘swoosh’ noise every time he does something seemingly supernatural, and these things are downright hilarious. [For example, he] sees teenagers getting high and wasting time, so he turns them into college graduates (complete with the outfit!).” Despite all this and some atrocious acting, it’s one of those so-bad-it’s-fun movies (watched in context of the times, of course).

The Meteor Man (1993) — Robert Townsend starred as ‘Jefferson Reed’, a “high school teacher from a troubled inner city Washington D.C. neighborhood [who] becomes a super-powered hero and takes on the gang that has been terrorizing his streets.” Sounds somewhat like “The Greatest American Hero” TV series from the early-’80s. Anyway, this action-comedy wasn’t exactly a big hit critically or otherwise, and it lost money, but I think it does have its fans. (I confess, I never saw it.) Lots of familiar faces in this one, including Eddie Griffin, Marla Gibbs, Robert Guillaume, James Earl Jones, Don Cheadle, Bill Cosby, and Sinbad.

Blankman (1994) — This one sounds even sillier, which is probably why I didn’t watch it, either. As per the synopsis on IMDB, “Darryl is a childlike man with a genius for inventing various gadgets out of junk. When he stumbles on a method to make his clothes bulletproof, he decides to use his skills to be the lowest budgeted superhero of all.” One reviewer said, “How could you not enjoy this movie? It was actually enjoyable to watch Damon Wayans’ character make all these far-out gadgets… some of which look totally outlandish, but actually make sense! Sure, the comedy may be a little too goofy for some, but in the end, it helps.” So, maybe I will check it out… when I’m in a goofy mood.

Spawn (1997) — I liked it! It wasn’t great, mind you. But, as I recall, at least it was fairly faithful to the Image Comics series by Todd McFarlane. (It has been a long time since I’ve seen it, though.) The cast was pretty good — Michael Jai White, John Leguizamo, Martin Sheen, D.B. Sweeney — and the F/X weren’t bad for that era. (Hopefully, they’ll be even better for the upcoming remake.) Its IMDB rating may not be much better than Meteor Man‘s, but it did OK at the box office. It was also the first serious superhero film with a black lead. (Yes, I know Abar was meant to be “serious”, but it was a low-budget, ’70s cheese-fest.)

Steel (1997) — Premiering two weeks after Spawn was this travesty. Starring Shaquille O’Neal, about the only thing this movie retained from the comics was that the main character is a large black man, an engineer, who builds himself a suit of armor to fight bad guys in. Otherwise, it had no connection to Superman and the rest of the DC Universe. As one reviewer put it, “This film is so bad it reaches a certain quality of lousiness only reserved for the very worst of bad ideas. I mean – Shaquille O’Niell (sic) in a steel suit with a super weapon made from the contents of a lost-and-found at the scrap yard? Please!” Not even the talents of Annabeth Gish, Judd Nelson, or Richard Roundtree (the original Shaft!) could save it.

Blade (1998) — NOW we’re talkin’… The tale of the half-vampire/half-mortal slicing and dicing evil vampires in defense of the human race, while fighting his own (un)natural urges, was the real deal. As one fan put it, “[F]inally my prayers have been answered with Blade. This movie pops right out of the pages onto the screen with sheer violence, blood, martial arts, weapons, fire, the good against evil, etc. Yeah sure a lot of action flicks contain all these goodies, and most of them have bombed. But not Blade, the movie was filmed just right, not going overboard, delivering a good length and never a dull moment.” Wesley Snipes’ bad@$$ery was exactly what was called for, and his co-stars were great, too! As usually happens, the sequels (Blade II (2002), Blade: Trinity (2004) weren’t quite as good, though Blade II performed even better than Blade at the box office. I really need to watch this trilogy again….

Catwoman (2004) — “A shy woman, endowed with the speed, reflexes, and senses of a cat, walks a thin line between criminal and hero, even as a detective doggedly pursues her, fascinated by both of her personas.” This film was another incredibly disappointing adaptation of a comic book character… sort of. I mean, yes, there’s the feline-themed criminal/heroine who attracts the particular interest of a detective. Beyond that, she was virtually unrecognizable as the DC Comics character she was supposed to be. Also, as one IMDB reviewer said, “It was poorly acted, predictable, unenthralling, clichéd nonsense. And that was just the first half hour, at which point, for the sake of my brain and stopping it melting with the sheer tedium, I walked out of the cinema…. Utterly abysmal”

Hancock (2008) — This is actually one of my favorite Will Smith films. If you’re unfamiliar, ‘Hancock’ is a powerful superhero “who has become a joke because of his alcoholism and clumsiness. He has also become the most hated man in Los Angeles. Though he has saved many lives, he also destroyed a lot of property, costing the city millions every time he goes into action. When he saves the life of PR expert Ray Embrey from an oncoming train, the executive is thankful and believes he can restore Hancock’s image as a true superhero….” I would modify that to say it was his being a super-jerk (which was connected to the alcoholism) and recklessness (not clumsiness) that made him so hated. This one was a lot of fun! In fact, I just re-watched two trailers for it, and now I’m in the mood to watch it again. (Adding it to my list…)

Honorable Mentions:

The Last Dragon (1985) — The ’70s & ’80s had several movies with black (anti-)hero protagonists. I think it was a subset of the “blaxploitation” (sub)genre. There were private detectives (e.g., Shaft), drug-dealers trying to leave “the life” (e.g., Super Fly), vengeance-seeking former Green Berets (e.g., Slaughter), martial artists (e.g., The Last Dragon, Black Samurai), even a vigilante nurse (e.g., Coffy). But, they weren’t exactly superheroes, so they don’t really qualify here.

Black Cougar (2002) — I never saw this one, which apparently went straight to video. It sounds a bit cheesy to me, but if you’re in the mood….

So, as you can see, 2018’s Black Panther will *not* be the first black superhero film, nor the first one by Marvel (since ‘Blade’ is a Marvel property). It won’t even be the first good superhero film with a black lead. I can’t help but notice, though, that the three best films above (i.e., Spawn, Blade, & Hancock) were about violent anti-heroes with bad attitudes. (Well, at least part of the time.) Is that a comment on the movie-going public, or about the studios? Or, was it that those are characters that writers enjoy writing and actors enjoy acting? Or, maybe it’s just coincidence? Maybe a little of all of that? I dunno…

I’m really glad that Black Panther will get the full Marvel treatment, headlining his own dramatic, big-budget, action-adventure (and non-comedic) movie. Even better is that it will take place in Wakanda, the mysterious African nation that Black Panther (aka King, formerly Prince, T’Challa) now rules. It will be a great opportunity to not only see a much different region of the Earth of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but it will allow audiences to experience the very different cultural environment (including warring tribal factions) from which this particular hero comes.

Hope you enjoyed this little historical review. Did we miss any? Let me know if you come up with another….

Upcoming, Live-Action Superhero Series Round-up, part 2

Continuing from last week, wherein we looked at various confirmed, possible, and merely rumored Netflix series that will/would join the four Marvel adaptations so far, this week we’ll review several more superhero shows being developed at other networks. Most of them also happen to be based on Marvel properties, but not all….

Disney/ABC

o I’ve already blogged about the “Inhumans” mini-series coming out this Fall (here and here). As previously mentioned, it will focus on the Inhumans’ Royal Family (as seen in the comics) and will not be connected to “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I have mixed feelings about the casting choices — e.g., Serinda Swan as ‘Medusa’ looks rather disappointing in the pic I saw — but I’m hopeful that the overall story and production will make it worth watching.

Fox

‘The Gifted’

o As we now know, the mysterious “X-men related” show that was being developed over at Fox is called “The Gifted”. The basic premise is that a suburban American couple discovers “their children possess mutant powers. Forced to go on the run from a hostile government, the family joins up with an underground network of mutants and must fight to survive.” This appears to be a new concept and not based on any particular Marvel mutant-themed comics, but there will be a few familiar characters (e.g., ‘Polaris’, ‘Blink’, ‘Thunderbird’). The creative team / producers include many familiar names, too — e.g., Bryan Singer, Jeph Loeb, Lauren Shuler Donner, Simon Kinberg, Jim Chory, and Matt Nix. My interest is piqued! (No premiere date but possibly late-2017.)

Hulu

o Based on another popular Marvel comic book series, “Runaways” is about a group of teenagers who discover that their parents are the members of a secret cabal of supervillains. As if there wasn’t enough to be angsty about…. These kids discover that they have unusual skills and abilities of their own and decide to foil their parents’ evil plans. As you might have guessed, the parents do not appreciate the interference, and the kids end up on the run, so to speak. Thus the title. I remember reading several issues of this series when it came out years ago and enjoyed it. I really hope they do a decent job with this adaptation. At least the cast looks good…. (Premieres sometime in 2018.)

Freeform (formerly ABC Family)

o “Cloak & Dagger”: “Two teenagers [Tandy Bowen and Tyrone Johnson] from very different backgrounds find themselves burdened and awakened to newly acquired superpowers while falling in love.” To be honest, I never really got into these characters much. I remember reading a few stories with them — maybe the initial, limited series and a few guest-starring appearances in other titles. But, they never really got me excited. Still, it’s an interesting concept, and I know their fans have been talking for some time about the possibility of these characters arriving either on the small- or big-screen. Well, it’s finally happening, so for their sakes, I hope this is a satisfying live-action adaptation. (Premieres early/winter 2018.)

o Not much is known about the “(Marvel’s) New Warriors” series being developed for Freeform, except that it will be a half-hour action-comedy and apparently features ‘Squirrel Girl’. Now, since debuting in the ’90s, this team has gone through a few different rosters. But, it has always been (mostly) serious, despite the silliness of Speedball, and the ridiculous Squirrel Girl has never before been part of any incarnation of the team. This series “is about six young people with powers living and working together. With powers and abilities on the opposite end of the spectrum of The Avengers, the New Warriors want to make a difference in the world… even if the world isn’t ready.” The team will be led by SG, whose “most important trait is that she has faith in people and teaches them to believe in themselves.” Not the way I’d have gone with this property, but I guess…. (No premiere date but probably 2018.)

You might be wondering if there will be any crossover between the two Freeform series. Well, probably not. As per Karey Burke, Freeform’s Vice President of Programming, “If you know these two properties, they’re not particularly connected. There are many degrees of separation with where they fall in the Marvel universe. But anything is possible with Marvel. Their tones are so wildly different. Cloak is this angst-filled, achingly beautiful, heartfelt romantic drama. And Squirrel Girl is a balls-out comedy.”

CW

‘Black Lightning’

o DC’s latest — fifth, or sixth if you count “iZombie” — entre on The CW will be “Black Lightning”, starring Cress Williams in the title role. The incredibly busy and talented Greg Berlanti is one of the executive producers, along with his producing partner Sarah Schechter. Husband-and-wife team Salim and Mara Brock Akil are writing, with Salim also directing at least the pilot. The show tells the story of Jefferson Pierce, a long-retired superhero who gets pulled back into the biz, when his daughters (who I think also have powers) get involved in some heavy stuff. The trailer I saw looked pretty good, so here’s hopin’…. (Premieres either this October or early 2018.)

???

o The one we know the least about is “Quantum & Woody”, based on a Valiant title by the same name. (I loved the original but haven’t read the new one.) It was a quirky, clever series with fun characters: adopted, adult brothers — one black, one white; one serious, one goofy — who gain superpowers and (naturally) become costumed adventurers. This past March it was announced that the Russo Brothers (“Community”, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil War) would develop the property as a TV series, once they wrap The Avengers: Infinity War. Other executive producers include Andrew Barrer and Gabriel Ferrari (Ant-Man), who are currently working on Ant-Man and The Wasp. Sounds like a great creative team! But, correctly casting the title characters — with the “odd couple” vibe and repartee from the comics — will be crucial to the show’s success. (No premiere date.)

o Just before going to press, I discovered that DC’s live-action “Titans” series has not only been revived but will begin shooting in September. Apparently, I missed the announcement back in April that it was moving forward, after all. Beside the shoot-date, we also now know that Berlanti (along with Geoff Johns and Akiva Goldsman) is co-developing this one, too, and it will be “part of a brand new digital service from DC Entertainment and Warner Bros.” Does this mean it won’t air on a regular TV or cable channel? I dunno. Regardless, I hope they do the team justice. Teen justice! <<ahem!>> (Likely premieres sometime in 2018.)

I don’t know about you, but I think there is a *lot* to look forward to over the next couple years, and that’s just from this particular subset of our beloved sci-fi/fantasy and action/adventure genres. Even if only half of these series catch on, I’ll be happy. (Assuming I have a chance to watch them, that is.)

Goodbye, Ol’ Chum!

He wasn’t the first on-screen Batman, nor the richest, nor the muscley-est, nor many other things. But, Adam West was perhaps the “funnest” and certainly the most inspirational for my generation. Of course, his show was well into syndication by the time I was old enough to watch. But, campy as it was, it was a favorite of this young superhero/comics fan. From all accounts, he was a really nice guy and fun to work with, too.

 

 

 

 

Thanks for the memories, Caped Crusader!

 

 

 

Upcoming, Live-Action Superhero Series Round-up, part 1

I’ve said it before, but superhero genre fans are truly blessed these days. In addition to the the many live-action adaptations on the big screen, we have more leather- and spandex-clad heroes with special powers and skills on TV now than ever before — from DC’s various series on regular TV (“Arrow”, “The Flash”, “Legends of Tomorrow”, & “Supergirl” on CW; “Gotham” on Fox (no costume-wearing heroes in this last one, though)); Marvel’s “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” on ABC and “Legion” on FX; and, Marvel’s Netflix-original shows (“Daredevil”, “Jessica Jones”, “Luke Cage”, “Iron Fist”). I suppose I should throw in DC’s “Preacher” (AMC), though I don’t care for the concept and would hardly call him a hero. (Same goes for “Lucifer”.)

There were also the late, lamented “Agent Carter” by Marvel and “Constantine” by DC, both of which had loyal fan followings but still got canceled. And, of course, there have been a few that were talked about a lot but fell through — e.g., DC’s “Teen Titans”/”Blackbirds” and Marvel’s “Mockingbird”/”Marvel’s Most Wanted”.

But, there are more on the way…. Over the past couple years or so, several other comic book adaptations have been rumored, discussed, planned, and in many cases gone into production. I thought we’d take a quick look at each of them — those I am aware of, at least. (Given that I’m a bit pressed for time, though, I’m splitting the “round-up” between this week and next. Hope you don’t mind.) Let’s begin with…

Netflix

o “The Defenders”: Anyone paying attention is aware that the heroes from the first four Netflix shows have always been intended to co-star in a mini-series as Marvel’s best ever non-team, “The Defenders”. I don’t think this particular line-up has ever seen print, but anything to get our heroes fighting together and likely among themselves in time-honored Marvel tradition. It debuts this August 18th.

o “The Punisher”: The popular, gun-toting anti-hero was so popular in his appearance in Season 2 of “Daredevil” that the powers-that-be decided a spin-off show was in order. I believe I’m on record as being in favor of this, as long as they do right by the character. Last I read, this one’s scheduled for release in Nov. 2017.

o More?: A little over a year ago, rumors began that Netflix was planning to add to their stable of Marvel-based series. Specifically, Moviecreedlive reported, “Our sources have revealed that Blade, Ghost Rider, and Moon Knight are lined-up to join Netflix.” These all make sense, given the darker, street-level tone of their other series. However, I haven’t heard/read anything more about this, other than the discussions of MK replacing Iron Fist, when the latter was having trouble getting some direction. (No comment.) Of course, “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” has since introduced a version of Ghost Rider, so I don’t know how that might affect Netflix’s plans. Since Marvel has been keeping its Netflix properties independent from other shows & films, it might not matter at all. Personally, I’d love to see the original Ghost Rider, with host Johnny Blaze, brought to Netflix.

On the other hand, a different report around the same time said that Marvel/Netflix were next developing series for She-Hulk, Cloak & Dagger, Bullseye, and Elektra. The odd one out here seems to be She-Hulk. Not only do they already have one show about lawyers — Shulkie is also an attorney named Jennifer Walters — and two characters with super-strength, but the character doesn’t really fit the dark-n-gritty tone of the other shows. Plus, they’d need a decent CGI budget. The other three make more sense, though I haven’t read/seen anything more about Bullseye or Elektra. Most likely, it was an April Fool’s joke, anyway, since the article was published 4/1/2016. However, I’ll talk more about Cloak & Dagger in a minute — or, rather, in Part 2.

Finally, the possible Netflix show that makes the most sense to me would be the one rumored to spin off the Misty Knight character from “Luke Cage”. Ideally (for me), she would get her bionic arm and team up with Colleen Wing (from “Iron Fist”) to form “Knightwing Restorations”. (They could use that as a title, or “Daughters of the Dragon”.) It has been confirmed that Knight & Wing will both show up in “The Defenders”, so maybe it will set up events that lead to a spin-off then. Unfortunately, there has been no further news on this front, either.

That’s it for now. Continued next week…

Kurt Russell’s Best Roles

“Someone in this camp ain’t what he appears to be.” — R.J. MacReady, The Thing

“Snake Plissken”

In the past few days, I’ve come across at least four articles about Kurt Russell‘s (5’11”,b.1951) best movies, performances, etc., either in celebration of his recent birthday or initiated by his current appearance in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. I haven’t seen that movie, yet, so I can’t tell you what I thought of it or Russell’s performance. But, I thought it might be fun to look back at his career for myself and highlight my personal favorites.

Now, I wouldn’t say I am a superfan of Russell nor an aficionado of his films. But, I have seen quite a few — mostly those within the sci-fi and action/adventure genres. On the other hand, since beginning his Hollywood career as a child (1962), he has made a *lot* of movies (TV and big screen) and appeared in several TV shows, so it’s no surprise there are many roles I haven’t seen, as well. Naturally, I’ll stick to those I’ve seen….

Many of the TV series he guest-starred in as a kid/teen were cop shows and westerns, which were quite popular at the time. These included “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”, “The Virginian”, “Laredo”, “The Fugitive”, “Daniel Boone”, “Gunsmoke”, et al. Of course, he also showed up on “Gilligan’s Island” and “Lost in Space”. But, the earliest role I remember him from (with possible exception of ‘Jungle Boy’ on “Gilligan’s Island”) was as the young “problem student” ‘Dexter Riley’ in a series of Disney movies: The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1969), Now You See Him, Now You Don’t (1972), and The Strongest Man in the World (1975). Those were a lot of fun! Campy, but fun. I think I saw the last one at the theaters, but I must’ve watched the others when they played on “Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color”. (He was in other Disney stuff, too.)

“Wyatt Earp”

As a big Elvis Presley fan (especially as a kid), I also enjoyed Russell in the title role of John Carpenter’s Elvis (1979). The 1980s, though, was when Russell’s career really took off, largely thanks to his working on several more projects with John Carpenter. His iconic portrayal of ‘Snake Plissken’ in Carpenter’s Escape from New York (1981) — and the somewhat disappointing sequel, Escape from L.A. (1996) — made him a cult hero for many of us growing up then. The eyepatch and the attitude, set in an anarchic prison-city of the near future, made a great combination.

Russell and Carpenter followed up the next year with another modern genre classic, i.e., the remake of The Thing. The mix of horror, mystery, and action made for a great vehicle for Russell’s (and co-star Keith David’s) talents. But, it was 1986’s Big Trouble in Little China (also directed by Carpenter) where he got to showcase his comedic skills along with the action/adventure moves. This is considered by some to be a cult classic. Tequila Sunrise (1988), co-starring Mel Gibson and Michelle Pfeiffer, was a decent crime drama. But, I preferred the action-comedy Tango & Cash (1989), where Russell teamed up with Sylvester Stallone (and the gorgeous Teri Hatcher).

Another action-oriented crime drama where Russell shined was Backdraft (1991), followed by crime thriller Unlawful Entry (1992). But, it was his portrayal of Wyatt Earp in Tombstone (1993) that I really liked (the whole cast, really), as well as genre-fave Stargate (1994). Executive Decision was a pretty good action thriller that paired Russell with Steven Seagal (1996). Breakdown (1997) and Soldier (1998) were entertaining films that rounded out the 90s. 3000 Miles to Graceland (2001) was another fun film, featuring Russell and Kevin Costner as thieves robbing a casino during an Elvis convention — in costume, of course. Sky High (2005) was a genre highlight with Russell as a superhero teaching teens & pre-teens with powers of their own. Not long afterward, Russell returned to the horror/thriller (sub)genres as ‘Stuntman Mike’ in the “Death Proof” segment of Grindhouse (2007).

“Col. Jack O’Neil”

I have not yet seen The Art of the Steal (2013), Bone Tomahawk (2015), The Hateful Eight (2015), or Deepwater Horizon (2016). Nor have I watched The Fate of the Furious (2017), but I did see Furious 7 (2015). I thought Russell did a good job with the cool-headed, somewhat mysterious government agent and task force leader, ‘Mr. Nobody’. It’s a supporting role and one that he likely enjoys playing, especially since he gets to hang out with a fun cast.

OK, after all that, can I pick a Top 5? Honestly, it has been quite awhile since I’ve watched most of these movies. But,… if I must:

1) ‘Snake Plissken’ in Escape from New York and Escape from L.A.;
2) ‘R.J. MacReady’ in The Thing;
3) ‘Wyatt Earp’ in Tombstone;
4) ‘Colonel Jonathan “Jack” O’Neil’ in Stargate; and
5) ‘Stephen & Dennis McCaffrey’ (father & son) in Backdraft.

For nostalgic reasons, I have to make ‘Dexter Riley’ from the aforementioned Disney trilogy my #6. Honorable Mentions go to ‘Lt. Gabriel Cash’ in Tango & Cash, ‘Stuntman Mike’ in Death Proof, and, I suppose, ‘Jack Burton’ in Big Trouble in Little China.

What about you? If you want to share your favorite Kurt Russell roles/movies, feel free to do so below!

Welcome to the Dark Universe

“Uuuuuhhhhhnnnnn….!!”  — the Mummy (before its morning coffee)

Are/were you a big fan of Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, the Wolf Man, etc.? In case you hadn’t heard, they’re making a comeback!

Universal Pictures had decades of success with its popular movies about these characters and others, beginning (I believe) with 1925’s The Phantom of the Opera and into the 1930s, 1940s, & 1950s. Of course, there were plenty of sequels, “foreign” versions, and the most popular characters got remakes in subsequent decades. I wouldn’t say I was a huge fan — I tended to prefer the giant and/or alien creature type of “monster” — but I think I did watch a few of the 1960s and 1970s remakes as a kid.

Classic Universal Monsters

I enjoyed the Mummy movies of recent years with Brendan Fraser, but I wasn’t sure if I was ready for the new Mummy reboot with Tom Cruise. (Fortunately, he isn’t playing the titular character.) Making the mummy female is an interesting twist, though, and now that I’ve seen the trailers, I’ll probably watch the movie at some point. What is more interesting to me, however, is that this movie (debuting in a couple weeks) is set to kick off a revival of the Universal Monsters, and they will all be part of a shared film universe — a “Dark Universe”. (Not to be confused with DC’s “Justice League Dark” nor with the space show at the Hayden Planetarium.) As Deadline‘s Mike Fleming noted,

“[T]his will be the first time that the studio has formalized an approach to these classic characters in a cohesive, connected way rather than as a series of stand-alone projects by disparate filmmaking teams.”

The concept for this shared universe appears to have taken form around 2012/2013. It wasn’t until July 2014, though, that Universal announced they had signed Alex Kurtzman and Chris Morgan to spearhead development of the classic movie monsters within a single, interconnected world. They will also, “work closely with production, marketing, promotions and consumer product to support the revival, [as well as] reevaluate projects which have preexisting attachments, and bring it under one cohesive strategy.”

In addition to Kurtzman and Morgan, they have been soliciting scripts and working with what has been called a “brain trust” of talented writers, including Noah Hawley, Aaron Guzikowski, Ed Solomon, Dan Mazeau, Jay Basu, David Koepp, and Christopher McQuarrie. There will also be a musical theme for the franchise composed by genre-favorite Danny Elfman, which will debut with The Mummy.

“When I got the opportunity to compose a theme for the Dark Universe logo,” said Elfman, “of course I jumped at it. What could be more fun than connecting to this world that has always been so deeply imbedded in my psyche? I tried to find something that was new but still had some connections with the past — the origins — at least in a subtle way.”

Many horror fans have been waiting a long time for something like this. The newly-dubbed “Dark Universe” will combine horror with other genres, though action-adventure seems to be predominant. For horror fans concerned about this decision, Kurtzman assures:

“I promise you there will be horror in these movies. It is our life goal to make a horror movie. The tricky part is actually how you combine horror with either adventure or suspense or action and be true to all the genres together.” (Screencrush)

The films will be modern-day reimaginings of the old stories & creatures, though I wouldn’t be surprised if there were prologue scenes of earlier eras. There will, however, be touches of the Victorian Era, because the link that connects the films will be a secret, multi-national organization called “Prodigium”, which is housed in a Victorian-looking HQ. According to this site, Prodigium “recognize, examine, contain, and destroy evil.”

“Prodigium protects the public from knowledge of the evil that exists just beyond the thin membrane of civilized society… and will go to any length to contain it.”

As I mentioned, Tom Cruise stars in The Mummy as adventurer Nick Morton. Rising star Sofia Boutella (Kingsman: The Secret Service, Star Trek Beyond) is Ahmanet / The Mummy, and Russell Crowe plays Dr. Henry Jekyll, the director of Prodigium, so he’ll probably show up in other DU movies, as well. Other big stars who have already signed on for upcoming films include Johnny Depp, who will play Dr. Jack Griffin / The Invisible Man, and Javier Bardem as Frankenstein’s monster. It is not yet known when Bardem will first show up, since a Frankenstein movie is not yet scheduled.

In a somewhat odd move, the next DU film on the docket is Bride of Frankenstein, directed by Academy Award® winner Bill Condon (Gods and Monsters) and currently scheduled for a Feb. 2019 release. Creature from the Black Lagoon (2019?), Invisible Man (2020?), Van Helsing, and Wolf Man are in development. I am assuming that a Frankenstein movie is also planned, and possibly Phantom of the Opera, Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, though the last one wasn’t originally a Universal property. The noticeable absence is that of Dracula. Apparently, there was talk of Dracula Untold (2014) being linked into the DU via reshoots and an ending scene that hinted at a shared universe. However, according to the new Wikipedia article,

“In December 2016, Kurtzman confirmed in an interview with Collider that Dracula Untold would not be part of the universe’s continuity canon. Featurette videos released by Universal Pictures for The Mummy have however confirmed the existence of vampires, alluding to Count Dracula.”

What about crossovers, you may ask? After all, there were a few such instances in the old films where two or three of the “monsters” fought and/or teamed up. Of course, those usually involved comedy duo Abbott & Costello…. Well, the focus for now is on standalone installments. But, as Kurtzman explained:

“[W]e have a *lot* of ideas…. We’re not necessarily going to do ‘The Avengers.’ There might be reasons for this character and that character to come together, because the story tells us that’s what the story wants. The story is what drives the choice. And if down the line, there’s a big reason to bring them together, then great. But I promise, we’re not starting there.”

That’s what we know, for now. There have been many takes on these characters over the past near-century, with Dracula and Frankenstein getting perhaps the most attention — one or more new productions for each every decade. So, maybe some people are tired of them. As for me, I don’t watch many of them, so I guess I’m ready for something new, and this shared universe may be what it takes to get me interested again. I was never big into the horror genre — one, I don’t scare easily, and two, I get impatient with the suspense aspect. (Hurry up, already! <<fast-forward>>) So, I suppose the action-adventure flavor will help keep the attention of people like me. I have mixed feelings about having such big stars involved, but I suppose that will help draw the crowds, which is where the big money comes from, which in turn leads to more movies. I can live with that. Besides, that’s a pretty talented bunch they’ve got, so far, which is very encouraging.

What do you think? Excited? Couldn’t care less? Let us know below if you have any thoughts on Universal’s “Dark Universe” news….

Fan-Cast: James Bond, part 3: Miss Moneypenny

“Flattery will get you nowhere… but don’t stop trying.”  — Miss Moneypenny, Dr. No

As promised, I continue fan-casting James Bond’s closest associates this week with the ever-loyal Miss Moneypenny.

Miss Moneypenny

Moneypenny is the private secretary and assistant to “M”, head of MI-6, and holds the rank of Lieutenant in the Royal Navy (actually, the Women’s Royal Naval Service until it was integrated into the Royal Navy in 1993). The latest version even did a bit of fieldwork before deciding she was better suited to administrative duties. As with “M”, the character’s creation appears to have been inspired by a mix of various real-life acquaintances/associates of creator Ian Fleming — from Kathleen Pettigrew (personal assistant to Stewart Menzies, the actual head of MI-6 from 1939-1952) to Joan Howe (Fleming’s own secretary at The Times in the 1950s, who typed the original Casino Royale manuscript).

The Four (Primary) Moneypennys

Moneypenny is incredibly attracted to — perhaps I should say infatuated/smitten with? — the dashing and roguish Agent 007, often daydreaming about marrying him or, at the very least, enjoying an illicit tryst. Knowing that this will likely never happen, she has (mostly) resigned herself to playful flirting with Bond. She is smart, efficient, and quite loyal.

Lois Maxwell played the role for all Connery and Moore films, as well as Lazenby’s one film. (The only exception was 1983’s non-official Never Say Never Again, in which Pamela Salem filled in.) Caroline Bliss was Dalton’s Moneypenny in 1987 and 1989, with the conveniently-named Samantha Bond taking over for Brosnan’s run. Craig’s first two films had no Moneypenny, but Naomie Harris has had the role since 2012’s Skyfall, which also gave her the first name “Eve”. I am not aware of any physical description given for the character, but the movie versions have obviously varied a bit. What does seem fairly consistent is that she is slim, attractive, and her age is roughly that of Bond, give or take. Over the years, the actresses ranged in age from mid-30s to late-50s, as did the Bond actors (though Moore was a bit older).

For the next reboot, I’d like to see Bond and Moneypenny continue to be about the same age: early- to mid-30s, though a slightly older Moneypenny would be OK. I would also like to keep a bit of sexual tension and Moneypenny’s unrequited feelings, which were barely there in Fleming’s original novels but have become identified with the character in the movies and later novels. To that end, attractive 30-something actresses are naturally my focus here.

Let me begin by saying that there are a couple Americans who I considered: Alison Brie (5’3″,b.1982) and Emma Stone (5’6″,b.1988). They would each bring different qualities to the role, and I thought they might do a good job. Assuming we want to stick with someone from the UK, though, I considered Emma Watson (5’5″,b.1990). However, she may be a bit too young (barely 30 by the time a reboot might shoot), and I’m not sure how well she’d fit the role. On the other hand, I thought Hayley Atwell (5’7″,b.1982) would be a fun choice. The reason I ultimately rejected her is that I’d rather see her as a “Bond girl”, in particular as an agent of some sort, so she can show off her “Agent Carter” moves.

Which brings me to my three preferred candidates for Miss Moneypenny…

Sienna Miller (Photo by Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images)

First choice: Sienna Miller (5’5″,b.1981). You might remember her from “Keen Eddie”, Layer Cake (w/ Daniel Craig), Stardust, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, American Sniper, or the recent The Lost City of Z. The British-American former model seems to have the right mix of prettiness and spunkiness (like Harris) that makes for a fun and interesting Moneypenny.

Keira Knightley

Next up: Miller’s close friend (and co-star in The Edge of Love), Keira Knightley (5’7″,b.1985). If you somehow don’t remember, Knightley has appeared in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, The Hole, several Pirates of the Caribbean films, King Arthur, The Jacket, Domino, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, Everest, etc. Like Miller, Knightley is a very attractive and talented actress who could have a lot of fun with this relatively small, supporting role.

Honeysuckle Weeks

My third choice is less known, a tad older, and more “cute” than “pretty”, IMO. Honeysuckle Weeks (5’7″,b.1979) came to my attention as the driver/aide to Detective Foyle in “Foyle’s War”, so this casting would be especially appropriate(?) if Michael Kitchen (who played Foyle) became the next M. She was also in various British mysteries, as well as Red Mercury, “The Bill”, The Wicker Tree, “Inspector Lewis”, and “The Five”. I can definitely see her as Moneypenny.

That about does it. Have ideas of your own for Moneypenny? Let us know in the comments! I think I’ll take a break for now, but I’ll take a stab at fan-casting ‘Q’ and Felix Leiter in the coming weeks/months.

* All ideas copyright Christopher Harris, 2013-2017.

Fan-Cast: James Bond, part 2: M

“Go to hell with ‘dignity’. I’ll leave when the job’s done.”  — M, Skyfall

A little over a month ago, I did some fan-casting for legendary British intelligence officer, James Bond, aka Agent 007. I promised to eventually follow up with casting suggestions for Bond’s closest associates. So, assuming another reboot when Daniel Craig leaves the franchise in a few years, this week I’d like to take a shot at finding a new “M”. (I was going to do “Miss Moneypenny”, too, but I decided they each needed a separate post.)

M

The Four Ms

Apparently inspired by various individuals that Ian Fleming knew or was familiar with, M is the Head of the Foreign Intelligence branch of Her Majesty’s Secret Service, i.e., Great Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) (aka MI-6). As a member of the 00 Section, Bond reports directly to M. The tradition of the head of MI-6 signing his/her name with a single letter came from the agency’s real-life first director, Captain Sir Mansfield George Smith Cumming, KCMG, CB (1 April 1859 – 14 June 1923), who used to sign “C”. Some, but not all, of those holding the office in the novels and movies have had the initial “M”, but the single-letter title seems to have stuck.

As per Wikipedia, “A naval theme runs throughout Fleming’s description of M and his surroundings, and his character was described by journalist and Bond scholar Ben Macintyre as “every inch the naval martinet”. Macintyre also notes that in his study of Fleming’s work, Kingsley Amis outlined the way Fleming had described M’s voice, being: angry (three times); brutal, cold (seven times); curt, dry (five times); gruff (seven times); stern, testy (five times).” The character often clashes with Bond, while simultaneously trusting the agent’s intel and respecting his end-results. I am not aware of any physical description given for M. Of course, there have been multiple people to hold the office (four in the movies, not sure about the novels), including a woman, so that would all vary, anyway. But, we do know that the sorts of people who are appointed are very smart, accomplished, usually with military experience, and not averse to doing a little field work.

If casting someone in their 70s (by the time a post-Craig film went before the cameras), I can think of three distinguished British actors that could do the role justice. First, there is Jeremy Irons (6’2″,b.1948), known to genre fans for everything from Dead Ringers and Die Hard with a Vengeance to The Man in the Iron Mask, The Time Machine (2002), Eragon, and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Michael Kitchen (5’7″,b.1948) hasn’t done much genre work, though he did appear in Dracula A.D. 1972, “Thriller”, “Tales of the Unexpected”, The Russia House, “The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles”, and he played the recurring ‘Bill Tanner’ character in Goldeneye and The World Is Not Enough. (He came to my attention when he starred in the “Foyle’s War” series of TV movies.) Then, of course, there is the amazing Helen Mirren (5’4″,b.1945). In addition to starring in the various “Prime Suspect” mini-series, Mirren can be seen in “Thriller”, Excalibur, 2010, White Knights, “The Twilight Zone”, National Treasure: Book of Secrets, State of Play, RED & RED 2, with some voice work thrown in.

If I had my druthers, though, I’d like to see someone a little younger in the role, if for no other reason than to increase the odds of their staying with the franchise for several years. So, here are a couple of candidates:

Colin Salmon

Once suggested by Pierce Brosnan to replace him as Bond, Colin Salmon (6’4.5″,b.1962) would be a terrific M! First appearing in “Prime Suspect 2”, Salmon went on to appear in such genre fare as “Tales from the Crypt”, Immortality, Resident Evil, “Dinotopia”, “Keen Eddie”, AVP: Alien vs. Predator, “Hex”, “Doctor Who”, Punisher: War Zone, “Merlin”, “Strike Back”, “MI-5”, “Arrow”, “24: Live Another Day”, etc. And, oh yes, he played M’s Chief of Staff, Charles Robinson, in Tomorrow Never Dies, The World Is Not Enough, and Die Another Day. Salmon is a wonderful actor with a commanding voice and presence. It might even make sense for the Robinson character to be promoted into the M position.

Stephen Dillane

“Game of Thrones” fans know him best as would-be king ‘Stannis Baratheon’. But, Stephen Dillane (6′,b.1957) has been around for awhile and appeared in plenty of other genre productions. These include “The One Game”, “Super Soldier”, Welcome to Sarajevo, Spy Game, King Arthur, Freakdog, 44 Inch Chest, “Eternal Law”, “Hunted” (in which he played the head of a small office of spies), “Secret State”, Zero Dark Thirty, and the current “The Tunnel” series. His characters are often cold, stern, by-the-book types, which fit perfectly with Fleming’s original characterization of M. I think Dillane would be a great choice.

If I was more familiar with British TV and movies, I could probably come up with a couple more. But, those will have to do for now. Comments?

* All ideas copyright Christopher Harris, 2013-2017.

Politically-Correct Avengers Casting

Maybe I should have titled this “Incredibly ‘Diverse’ Avengers Casting”?

A few weeks ago, I was doing some fan-casting brainstorming, and I started getting some weird ideas. There’s all this talk about comics and their big-screen adaptations needing more “diversity”. This usually means changing characters that have been historically white (or Anglo/Euro) to something non-white. For example, Heimdall, Electro, and The Shocker have, afaik, always been white guys in Marvel’s comics, but they are played by black actors in the movies. And, of course, there was the controversy about whether or not Iron Fist / Danny Rand should have been switched from white to Asian (or mixed) for the Netflix series. (I’m glad they didn’t go that way.)

On the other hand, there is a history of Hollywood “whitewashing” Asian characters — either making the characters white or just having them played by white actors (often with truly terrible stereotyping) –, with the most recent hubbub being over Scarlett Johansson playing the central character in the live-action version of the Japanese manga, Ghost in the Shell.

I was wondering, then, what if some Hollywood nut decided to make a “politically correct” Avengers movie with a cast that was not only “diverse” but, shall we say, represented some out-of-the-box, “avant garde” thinking? So, I decided to have some fun with it and came up with a few ideas. I wish I had Photoshop skills to make some suitable images, but you’ll have to use your imagination to picture them in the appropriate costumes (or armor, as the case may be).

Note: I realize I risk triggering a lot of people with this, but please do NOT get offended by it. It is not meant to insult or make fun of anyone but to show the incongruity of the casting, and, of course, to poke playfully at the PC push for increased (and often unnecessary, imho) “diversity”.

Jorge Garcia (5’11.5″,b.1973) — very overweight, baby-faced Latino — as Captain America

Jorge Garcia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rosie O’Donnell (5’6.5″,b.1962) — chubby, 50-something lesbian — as Iron Person

Rosie O’Donnell

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kevin Hart (5’4″,b.1979) — short & black (but, at least he works out!) as Thor

Kevin Hart

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jeffrey Tambor (6’1″,b.1944) — 70-something, transgender (well, the character he played in “Transparent” was, anyway) — as Dr. Bruce ‘Caitlin’ Banner / Hulk

Jeffrey Tambor in “Transparent”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peter Dinklage (4’5″,b.1969) — very short; not sure if he’d have the upper-body strength to be a formidable archer — as Hawkeye

Peter Dinklage

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Janet Jackson (5’3.5″,b.1966) — 50, black and Muslim — as the ‘Widow of Color’

Janet Jackson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RuPaul (6’4″,b.1960) — 50-something, gay, drag queen — as the FABulous Falcon

RuPaul

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Simon Helberg (5’7″,b.1980) — skinny, short(ish) Jew — as Winter Soldier

Simon Helberg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shohreh Aghdashloo (5’5″,b.1952) — 60-something, Iranian-born, deep/husky voice; she did play a gypsy on “Grimm” — as Scarlet Witch

Shohreh Aghdashloo in “The Expanse”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stephen Hawking (b.1942) — 70-something, wheelchair-bound — as Vision

Stephen Hawking

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stacey Dash (5’5″,b.1967) — 50, mixed-race (Mexican and Afro-Bajan) female; hey, Marvel already has a young black female Iron Man (aka Ironheart), so why not? — as War Machine

Stacey Dash (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sho Kosugi (6’0.5″,b.1948) — 60-something, East Asian, Shinto(?) — as Nick Fury

Sho Kosugi back in his heyday (and even sporting an eyepatch!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Variety of races/ethnicities? Check. Gay/lesbian and transgender individuals? Check. Different (non-Christian) religions represented? Check. A “differently-abled” person? Check. Women in normally-male roles? Check. Ageism and various other potential prejudices challenged? Check. The PC crowd should love it!

From the Mind of Mr. Zeus, part 10

Guess what time it is, boys ‘n girls! Time for a new issue of your favorite super-zine, the Official Mr. Zeus Fanclub Newsletter. Let’s see what our semi-retired hero has been up to….

“Joy of a Child”

I did something fun the other day! Okay, okay, big deal, right? But, this was special.

You remember me mentioning last year that I was friends with an ILEAD agent and his son, Jason? Well, Jason’s 10th birthday was last week, and, super kid that he is, Jason decided he wanted to do something different this year. Instead of having a regular party and getting presents, he went to a pediatric hospital to play with and hand out presents to the kids who are patients there. (His Dad, “Agent Mike”, helped him raise money for the gifts by having a fundraiser in their neighborhood, supplemented by donations from Mike’s co-workers — a great group of guys ‘n gals!) Jason a bunch of friends dressed up as their favorite heroes — real or fiction — before showing up at the hospital. (Jason went as me, of course.) What none of the kids knew was that, when “Agent Mike” told me a couple days before what they were going to do, I decided to make a surprise visit — in full costume, of course.

I didn’t want to take away from Jason and his friends surprising the patients, so I gave them an hour to make their entrance, pass out presents, and get a couple games going. Mike and his wife caught it all on camera, which I watched later, and it was really sweet to see Jason & friends handing out toys and befriending the kids with cancer and other conditions, some quite serious. They really brought a lot of smiles! Then Mike called to give me the go-ahead, and I flew up to the big, bay windows, smiling and waving to the kids eating cake & ice cream in the 3rd-floor cafeteria. Seeing those kids’ faces light up even more when they saw me, I’m honestly not sure who was more thrilled, the kids or me. Then I went inside, where I talked to the kids, making sure to visit every one, signed autographs, and flew several around (slowly) either in my arms or riding on my back.

Seeing so many kids suffering with terrible diseases and injuries was heart-breaking. But, seeing and hearing how brave they were, listening to them talk animatedly about “regular” stuff, and being able to give them a few minutes of added joy, was also heart-warming. Sweet kids, too, and I felt really blessed by the whole experience. I’ll definitely be going back on a (semi-)regular basis.

“Big Relief”

I suppose the visit to the pediatric hospital might have been particularly meaningful for another reason, too. I haven’t said anything publicly until now, but I was recently hospitalized myself. A couple years ago, I told you all about my migraine headaches that I’ve been dealing with since getting my powers. I only have a truly bad episode two, maybe three, times a year, but they are whoppers! Neurologists couldn’t make any specific diagnosis, so I’ve just had to live with them, like 37 million other migraine-sufferers in the U.S. Of course, my extra-large body size and modified metabolism (which is at least partly to blame) mean that I have to take extra-large doses of painkillers. Other than that, I ride it out like anyone else. Until now…

You might also remember that my super-headaches started being accompanied by nausea — not unusual for other migraine-sufferers, but it was for me. Long story short, after brainstorming with Doc Matrix and a couple other big-brains, my regular neurologist (Dr. Beni Vaniswaran) came up with a new device to perform some new tests — ask him, I don’t understand it. In fact, I was visiting Dr. V’s office in the hospital, where he was going to explain their plans for the device, when I had my latest migraine attack. He was able to get me admitted, called in Doc Matrix, and the two of them worked 24 hours straight to get the prototype built. They put me through a battery of tests over the next few days — even after the migraine subsided — and figured out what was happening to me.

As it turns out, my unusual migraines are caused by sudden surges of some mutated hormone causing the blood capillaries in my brain to spasm. The nausea is a side-effect of my body’s immune system trying to neutralize the hormone, which was causing tiny cysts to form here and there in my brain. Fortunately, the cysts degraded naturally and were flushed out of my system. So,… the good news is that they now know what is going on in my head to cause these symptoms. The bad news is that they don’t think they can stop the hormone surges, because it has to do with my weird metabolism, which they don’t understand very well, yet. So, I’ll be going back for more tests, giving samples of bodily fluids, etc., every few weeks. On the other hand, the (second piece of) good news is that Dr. Vaniswaran and Doc Matrix have developed a nanite-based drug that greatly improves the effectiveness of my body’s delivery of the natural hormone-neutralizer. This should mean that the migraine episodes will be shorter, hopefully less severe, and the nauseous side-effect should be a thing of the past. Yeah!

“Spielberg Would Be Proud”

Here’s something you all might find interesting…. I met that mysterious new “hero”, Star Seraph. Not his real name, of course, but that’s what the media are calling him. (I even saw one news headline that read: “There’s A New Seraph In Town!”) For those of you who haven’t followed the sightings, his first known public appearance was when he stopped that nuclear meltdown in the Ukraine 6 months ago. Two months after that, he showed up in Italy to rescue hundreds of people during the earthquake. And, of course, last month he quite suddenly appeared in The Hague, Netherlands, where he made short work of the terrorists who were plotting to blow up the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court. In each case, he just pops in, does his thing, and pops out without so much as a “Hello there. Happy to help. Bye, now!” And, since he teleports, no one has been able to track him. No one knows who he is, where he comes from, etc. We all appreciate his work so far, of course, but his deadly dispatching of the Hague terrorists has some a bit worried.

No one has gotten a clear, up close image of him on camera, either, partly due to his speed and partly due to the bright glow that always surrounds him. He did appear to be fairly humanoid in appearance, though. Since I have now met him, I can confirm that he does indeed look basically human, yet what some might call “exotic”. He is slightly shorter than I am (maybe a little over 6’6″), less bulky but still quite muscular, alabaster skin, angular face and almost non-existent ears. Not sure if he has any hair.

How did I meet him? He just showed up one evening, hovering over my backyard. For whatever reason, his glow was toned down, allowing me to see him, and I think he was wearing white, form-fitting “pants”, but no shirt or footwear. I cautiously walked up to within maybe 30 feet of him, tried talking to him, but he just watched me and listened. (Felt like I was being… assessed.) After about five minutes, he uttered one word, “Good”, before floating up and then teleporting away with a soft “Pop!” sound.

And that, my friends, was my “close encounter of the odd kind”. Probably won’t be the last….

Stay strong, amigos!

Finito.

* All ideas copyright Christopher Harris, 2013-2017.