New Tales of a Galaxy Far, Far Away

“Star Wars is the greatest modern mythology and we feel very lucky to have contributed to it. We can’t wait to continue with this new series of films.” — Rian Johnson and Ram Bergman

Let’s review… We have Star Wars: The Last Jedi (aka Episode VIII) coming out in a few weeks, Solo: A Star Wars Story (anthology film) due next May, the untitled Episode IX scheduled for Dec. 2019, and a third Star Wars anthology film (probably about Obi-Wan Kenobi) expected in 2020. Very cool!

These films will conclude the saga of and surrounding the Skywalker family along with the originally semi-planned trio of standalones to fill in some details about friends and previously-mentioned events. But, then what? Well, fortunately, Disney (who bought LucasFilm and the SW franchise in 2012) is on record as wanting and planning more Star Wars goodness. Back in January 2016, CEO Bob Iger told the BBC,

“There are five Star Wars films — four more with Episode VII: The Force Awakens — that are in varying stages of development and production. There will be more after that, I don’t know how many, I don’t know how often.”

Then, in September 2016 The Wrap reported the following remarks from Iger at an investors’ conference:

“I had a meeting yesterday with Kathy Kennedy and we mapped out — well, we reviewed — the ‘Star Wars’ plans that we have ’til 2020. We have movies in development for ‘Star Wars’ ’til then, and we started talking about what we’re going to do in 2021 and beyond. So, she’s not just making a ‘Star Wars’ movie, she’s making a ‘Star Wars’ universe, of sorts.”

Beyond Rogue One, it wasn’t clear what the anthology films would be about, until the Han Solo prequel story was confirmed. Now, of course, it has filmed, is currently in post-production, and has an official release date. There have long been suggestions and rumors about the standalone(s) to follow — I wrote some possibilities in “Ideas for Star Wars Anthology Series Films” — with focuses on Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda, and Boba Fett being the most popular. Kenobi seems to have risen to the top, since The Hollywood Reporter reported this past August that Oscar-nominated director Stephen Daldry was being courted to take the helm of “a Star Wars standalone movie centering on Obi-Wan Kenobi.”

Fett and Yoda fans should not lose hope, though, as THR also said:

“The Obi-Wan Kenobi standalone is one of several projects being developed by Lucasfilm and Disney that fall outside the trilogies telling the saga of the Skywalker family. A Han Solo movie is now in the final stages of shooting under new director Ron Howard and Lucasfilm is also looking at movies featuring Yoda and bounty hunter Boba Fett, among others.”

The latest news, however, has nothing to do with the anthology series. Rather, it seems that Lucasfilm and Disney are so pleased with director Rian Johnson’s work on The Last Jedi that they have handed him the reins to create (in collaboration with producer Ram Bergman) a new Star Wars trilogy with all-new characters and locales “from a corner of the galaxy that Star Wars lore has never before explored.”

“We all loved working with Rian on The Last Jedi. He’s a creative force, and watching him craft The Last Jedi from start to finish was one of the great joys of my career. Rian will do amazing things with the blank canvas of this new trilogy.” — Kathleen Kennedy, president of Lucasfilm

Sounds quite intriguing to me. Vague, but intriguing. This may be just what the franchise needs to kick-start the post-Skywalker era. But, not everyone is so sure this is a smart move. In fact, Bobby Houston at CBM has a bad feeling about this….

Houston’s primary concern is of oversaturation:

“Star Wars is not an annual franchise. Star Wars is not the MCU. Star Wars is important. Star Wars has cultural heft and meaning. The last thing the series needs is a ‘cinematic universe’ style of approach because as we’ve seen it doesn’t always work out. Perhaps after episode 9 it would be best to let the franchise breathe and rest for a bit.”

Houston isn’t averse to new Star Wars films eventually coming out and recognizes the abundance of material and that a new trilogy “could go in almost any direction”. (He also said it would be “unhindered by the franchise’s canon and extensive lore”, which I disagreed with, since I thought he meant that Disney/Lucasfilm would not care if new films contradicted established canon/lore. But, upon re-reading it several times, I think he was restating that the huge amount of established canon/lore would allow for a plethora of possible plots and settings. This makes more sense in context.) But, he’s afraid that immediately launching into another trilogy so soon after this latest batch of trilogy + anthology films will diminish the franchise’s appeal. As a fan, though, he says,

“I hope I’m wrong, I hope Rian Johnson knocks it out of the park with this new trilogy and that years from now people continue to lose their minds and go crazy for Star Wars because that’s really special.”

He may have a point. So, maybe after the Kenobi anthology film wraps up, there should be a break of at least 5 years before launching the new trilogy, and then maybe go back to 3 years between films? As the old adage goes, “Always leave ’em wanting more.”

P.S. Oh yeah, there’s also that live-action Star Wars TV series to look forward to, which has reportedly been in the works since at least early 2015 (though George Lucas had ideas for one way before that)….

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Did Digimon Plagiarize Pokemon?

I knew I would be traveling this week, so I asked my friend Evan (of the “Cerebral Faith” blog) if he had any ideas for another guest post. As it turned out, he had indeed been mulling over something, and he dashed off a new anime-related piece for me — or, really, for you — lickety-split. Enjoy!


Did Digimon Plagiarize Pokemon?

by Evan Minton

“Digimon is just trying to cash in on Pokemon’s success”, “Digimon is just a poor man’s Pokemon”, “Digimon is just a Pokemon copy”. I’m sure you’ve heard these statements and others like them before. It is commonly thought that Digimon is just a copy of Pokemon. This is what many Pokemon fans say about the franchise. However, Digimon fans make the opposite charge; i.e., that Pokemon is a copy of Digimon. As a big fan of both franchises, I have an excellent vantage point from which to judge the validity of these charges of plagiarism, and I can tell you with certainty that neither franchise copied the other.

Why Do People Think One Copied The Other?

First of all, let’s get the question of why people think any copying is involved out of the way. There are, no doubt, similarities between the two franchises that do stick out.

1: They both have “Mon” at the end of their names.
2: The “Mon” in both cases stands for “Monsters”.
3: The Monsters fight each other and evolve to get stronger.

From looking at these similarities, it’s understandable why some would think one copied from the other one.

The Differences Outnumber The Similarities

However, the three things listed above comprise an exhaustive list of the things Pokemon and Digimon have in common. The differences far outnumber the things they have in common.

Pokemon – live alongside humans in the same world.
Digimon – live in a world by themselves and only interact with humans when humans go to the Digimon’s world or when Digimon come into the human world.

Pokemon – are the animals of the Pokemon world. There are no other animal species in the Pokemon world. The Pokemon themselves are the animals. This is why farmers get “Moo-Moo Milk” from Miltanks instead of cows, why Officer Jenny uses Growlithes and Herdiers instead of regular dogs, and why it is stated by Professor Oak at the beginning of the first two games that “Some people keep Pokemon as pets…” Now, in the first season of the animated television series, you do see some real-life animals making appearances (e.g., fish), but this is due to the fact that it was originally intended for Pokemon and Animals to exist side-by-side, but that was quickly rejected and retconned out of the series.
Digimon – They don’t act as the animals of the world. In the human world, real-life animals exist (e.g., Tai’s pet cat), and they have Digimon counterparts in the Digital World (e.g., Gatomon).

Pokemon – Either say their names (the anime) or make various noises/cries (the games). There are a few exceptions, such as Team Rocket’s Meowth in the Pokemon anime, but this is not the norm.
Digimon – Speak human languages.

Pokemon – Are generally amoral creatures, like real-life animals. If they commit crimes, it is only because their trainers commanded them to. This only applies to the games’ canon, though. In the anime, there have been some Pokemon (like Team Rocket’s Meowth) that have a moral compass and choose between good and evil.
Digimon – Can be good or evil, regardless of canon. In fact, some Digimon are inherently evil (like Devimon) and others are inherently good (like Angemon). Others can evolve into evil Digimon via “Dark Digivolution”. For example, a Greymon can become SkullGreymon, and an Angewomon can become Ophanimon Falldown Mode, which is basically a rogue Ophanimon with a Light Yagami mentality. Still others can choose between good and evil of their own free will.

Pokemon – When they die, they die. There are places in the games and anime where trainers buried their deceased Pokemon (e.g., Lavender Tower in Lavender Town in the Kanto region).
Digimon – With the exception of the Digimon Tamers’ universe, when a Digimon is killed, they revert back to Digi-Eggs and are essentially reincarnated.

Pokemon – Pokemon Trainers are given a “Starter Pokemon” and catch other Pokemon by battling them and detaining them in capsule spheres called Poke Balls. In fact, one of the goals of each installment of games is to “Catch Em All”, because catching Pokemon adds their data to the Pokedex (an encyclopedia-like apparatus), and the goal is to have data on each Pokemon currently in existence.
Digimon – People who have Digimon are either called Digidestined or Digimon Tamers. In the former case, because the sovereign ruler of the Digital World drafted them, because the Digital World was in danger. There is no goal for the human protagonists of either the Digimon games or the anime to obtain every Digimon in existence. In fact, in most cases, the human characters rarely have more than one Digimon. There are exceptions, such as Willis in Digimon: The Movie, and the player characters in some of the Digimon World games.

Pokemon – When they evolve, they cannot go back. The only exception is Mega Evolution, which was introduced in the X and Y games released in 2013.
Digimon – The Digimon belonging to the Digidestined can Digivolve on command with the use of a Digivice, and they can go back to their Rookie form after the battle is over. This applies only to the anime, though. With the original virtual pet series, Digivolution was permanent.

Pokemon – Their names are usually a combination of actual words. For example, Venusaur is a combination of Venus (probably referring to the Venus Fly Trap) and the second half of the word “Dinosaur”, because Venusaur looks like something from prehistoric times. Charizard is a combination of “Charcoal” or “Charred” and “Lizard”. This makes sense as Charizard is a fire breathing reptile.
Digimon – usually is a real word with “Mon” attached to end, like Terriermon or Agumon. “Agu” is the Japanese onomatopoeia for biting. Every Digimon has “Mon” at the end of its name, but no Pokemon does.

As you can see, there are many more differences between the two than similarities.

Let’s Hear It For The Boys!

Digimon was actually invented to be the “boy version” of Tamagotchi. Bandai made both Digimon and Tamagotchi, both started out as a virtual pet franchise, but Digimon evolved (pun intended) into a much bigger franchise than mere virtual pets. They noticed that most of the consumers of Tamagotchi pets were little girls, and they wanted to make a virtual pet series that appealed to little boys to make up the difference. Digimon was that virtual pet series. Digimon were primarily targeted at males, so they made one of the first Digimon a fire-breathing dinosaur (Agumon) because what little boy doesn’t think a fire-breathing dinosaur is cool. And they made it to where one boy’s Digimon could spar with another boy’s Digimon by linking the devices together, something Tamagotchi pets didn’t do. So, you could say that Digimon was trying to cash in on Tamagotchi’s success, but not Pokemon’s. And it wasn’t technically plagiarism, since Digimon and Tamagotchi have the same creators (i.e., Akihiro Yokoi, Aki Maita, and Takeichi Hongo).

Conclusion

Digimon wasn’t created to “cash in on Pokemon’s success”. It was actually created to make up for Tamagotchi’s lack of appeal to boys. There are obvious similarities between Pokemon and Digimon, which explain why charges of plagiarism exist, but the differences between the two make charges of plagiarism untenable. If the makers of Pokemon ever took the makers of Digimon to court — I don’t know if they ever did, but if they did –, they obviously lost, as Digimon still exists, and they probably lost because of the reasons I’ve given in this article.

Makes sense to me!

On a Nightwing and a Prayer

“[W]e need to find the perfect person. We need to get the script right. We need this movie to blow your mind.” — Chris McKay, director

I’ve mentioned the upcoming Nightwing movie before, and you may have heard or read other stuff. I’m excited about it, ‘cuz Nightwing/Dick Grayson has become one of my favorite DC heroes. Up until recently, all we knew was that:

1) Warner Brothers announced back in February that it was ramping up development on a live-action, Nightwing solo film based on the DC Comics character;
2) it was planned for release in the next few years (recently set for 2/1/2019, though that is likely tentative); and
3) The LEGO Batman Movie director Chris McKay has been given the helm, with a script from Bill Dubuque (The Accountant).

I just wanted to comment on a few of the latest newsbits….

Those newsbits come mostly from McKay himself, who has been sending out tweets and doing interviews over the past few months. Regarding what attracted him to the project,

“I’m a big comic book fan, and being able to do the story of Nightwing, to do a Dick Grayson story, which is a character that every single person in the world knows, but has never really had a lot of screentime…. I’m a big fan of underdog stories, and he is one of the biggest underdog stories in comics. And he’s a character that I grew up with. I like the arc.”

He continues…

“Robin was there as a window character for little kids like me to understand Batman’s world and see into Batman’s world. There’s no other character in comics that went through this real-time transition.”

Comic writer Tim Seeley thinks that a plot based on or “very similar to” the 6-issue story arc he recently wrote for the character is the way to go. I haven’t read it, but the synopsis I saw does sound interesting. On the other hand, it sounds like the impact of the events depend on Nightwing’s relationships with other heroes, and there really isn’t time to sufficiently establish those relationships on-screen, imo. In other words, there’s too much ‘history’ for it to really work. I’m not saying there can’t be references to known DC people and things, and I truly hope there are. We fans expect and deserve them. But this really needs to work as a standalone feature.

While no plot details have been revealed as yet, we do know that Grayson’s comic-based past will be acknowledged. As per McKay, “Yes. In some form. There will be lots of nods. Lots of nods.” This comment spurred plenty of speculation about what might be referenced in those nods. His youth working as a circus acrobat with his parents and their subsequent deaths? His years working as Batman’s original sidekick ‘Robin’? His time spent with the (Teen) Titans? Past (or current?) relationships with Starfire and/or Oracle? His day job as a cop in Bludhaven? There’s a ton of material to mine there, but we just don’t know what McKay and Dubuque have in mind.

From the beginning, McKay has stressed the intense physicality of the Grayson/Nightwing role and that the actor will need to be fully committed. “Every day. It is going to be gruelling from a martial arts, gymnastics and stunt perspective.” Isn’t there CGI for that stuff? According to McKay, not so much in this film.

“It’s gonna be a [frick]ing badass action movie with a lot of heart and emotion. It’s gonna be a crazy, fun ride. Whoever gets cast as Nightwing, and any of the other actors around, are gonna go through a [frick]ing boot camp experience because it’s gonna be a lot. I’m not gonna do a lot of CG. It’s gonna be all real $#!t. It’s gonna be real stuntwork, and they’re gonna need to do all of the stuff on camera and do it credibly. For the cast and the crew, it’s gonna be a visceral experience, and for the audience. It’s not gonna be like a lot of these movies where there’s a lot of CG and flying and things like that. Everything he does is gonna have to be real. His superpower is being really [frick]ing good, as a human being, at fighting and gymnastics and $#!t like that, so you’re gonna see that on screen. It’s gonna be fun!”

Sounds awesome!

Naturally, there have been a lot of actors’ names thrown around the fan-boards (e.g., Finn Wittrock). But, no one’s been cast, yet, and as per FlickeringMyth’s Jordan James, “according to Chris McKay himself, we shouldn’t necessarily count on Nightwing being played by a well-known actor.” (See also opening quote.) I think this is a great move, one that more superhero movies (and sci-fi/fantasy in general) should consider. In fact, a few years ago I came up with a few potential candidates….

McKay’s exuberance for the project is practically palpable, and he’s already predicting (sort of) an award win in at least one area:

“This movie is going to win a stunt Academy Award. They’re going to make a stunt Academy Award for this movie. I guarantee it. It’s going to be insane.”

I certainly appreciate his enthusiasm and drive to make a spectacular movie. As always, I just hope he does right by the character(s) and the source material, while balancing amazing action with well-developed characters and believable dialogue. It certainly has blockbuster potential, and I’d like to see it realized. “A [frick]ing badass action movie with a lot of heart and emotion,” indeed.

Should Marvel Make a Hulk Movie with Ruffalo?

“Hulk not think. HULK SMASH!” — Hulk

Several weeks ago, Michael Hollan at CBR.com wrote a piece titled “Hulked Out: 15 Reasons Marvel Should Not Make A Hulk Movie”. His analysis was interesting, but I took issue with some of his reasoning. I decided to jot down my thoughts on each point, which I share below. Just providing the “titles” for each of Hollan’s reasons, however, wouldn’t adequately explain them, and I didn’t want to reproduce his entire article. So, you should probably open up his article in another tab or window and toggle back and forth. You could even split-screen, sorta like having a split personality….

Ruffalo as Banner

15) Interesting point, but I don’t think it flies. For one, the character’s (characters’?) inspiration, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, did fine back in the day, both as a book and on-screen, as have other properties with a split-personality character. Second, while not all Hulk comics are equally well-done, many do manage this balance well. It’s just a matter of the having the right story.

14) Just because some of his best fights so far have arguably been those against other heroes (and Loki), that doesn’t mean it must be the case. (The one against Abomination wasn’t bad, btw.) For goodness sake, as soon as someone writes/films a great fight scene against an interesting villain (or villainous army, like the Chitauri in Avengers), this “reason” goes away.

13) This is somewhat valid. Hulk doesn’t have a Kryptonite equivalent. But, there are other ways to out-think or otherwise counter him. Also, it might be cool to have him somewhat reduced in strength for at least part of a solo film, then come back to “normal” (or, maybe, “Hulk-average”?) at the end.

12) The so-called “prequel-itis” is indeed the curse of having such a tightly-linked cinematic universe, especially with guest-stars and crossovers. But, the “lack of true tension” brought up by Hollan is not insurmountable, especially if there are other beloved characters in danger that are more likely than our hero to be injured or killed.

11) Let’s just say that I would not be averse to a Hulk film with either the Joe Fixit persona or the “intellectual scientist” persona. Eventually. But not for the first (or second?) solo film, and (at this rate) probably not with Ruffalo.

10) Fair point, but it seems like a cop-out as an excuse for not having a solo film. Other characters’ films should stand on their own without guest stars.

9) I think there is a concern re the amount of time already “lost” for getting a Ruffalo-Hulk solo film out, but this ain’t it. Sure, Marvel is introducing many other great, popular characters on-screen, but that’s no reason to think that it’s too late for the Hulk, one of Marvel’s most popular and foundational characters, to share in the fun.

8) The reasons the romance with Black Widow didn’t work were a) afaik, there was no basis for it in the source material; b) there was no build-up in Age of Ultron or preceding movies; and, c) there was an abrupt end to it after that awkward scene at Clint’s house. In other words, it came out of nowhere, seemed an odd pairing from the get-go, and suddenly fizzled. This poorly executed attempt should not be taken to indicate that the tragic elements of Hulk’s story won’t work on-screen. They are integral to the character and just need to be handled more… deftly. (And I don’t mean there should be another romance.) Also, I like the comedy, but that should not be an emphasis for a Hulk solo movie.

7) I acknowledge that there would be difficulties trying to circle back to plot threads from the Norton film. Sort of a damned-if-you-do-and-damned-if-you-don’t situation, assuming the fans care as much as Hollan seems to think. But, destined to fail? Really?

Ruffalo-based Hulk

6) Completely agree. Well,… mostly.

5) “Marvel has to balance the new characters with their popular, established franchises. Unfortunately, Hulk falls into the middle.” Agreed. This does present a problem.

4) The contract issue could indeed be a major hurdle — again, assuming we’re focused on having Ruffalo be the star, which seems to be the way most people are thinking, given his popularity.

3) Funny, but disconnectedness from the rest of the Avengers-verse wasn’t the main complaint I heard/read re Thor: Dark World. Still, it is something to take into consideration. But, I think a good writer should be able to handle it.

2) Both previous Hulk solo outings did indeed involve being on the run and fighting the military, and it’s a shame that neither one did very well at the box office, which apparently tarnishes the idea of having that in another Hulk solo adventure. But, then, that really is a core part of the character’s saga. The comic Hulk spends most of his time trying to get away from “puny men”, and Banner tries to fly under the radar whenever possible. So, even if the military isn’t a major part of the story, his being a bit of a drifter would still make sense for a solo film.

1) Aaaaaand “political correctness” rears its ugly head…. Personally, I think most of the diversity-based complaints are stupid. But, there they are, and Marvel has to deal with them — hopefully in a way that is both empathetic and doesn’t surrender source-material background needlessly. (I also think 8′ tall green goliaths are in a clear minority on Earth, so there ya go!)

Besides, what’s wrong with straight white guys named “Chris”? I am one, after all! 🙂

With as much pushback as I’ve given, you might think I’d be in favor of a Hulk solo movie starring Ruffalo. You would, however, be mistaken. If they can squeeze one in by 2020, then fine. But, I think Marvel’s best bet is to finish up Ruffalo’s stint as Banner after the Infinity War sequel (currently scheduled for a May 2019 release), when Ruffalo will be in his early 50s. After a few years, bring in a new, 30-something actor and do a string of Hulk solo films with few (if any) Avengers cameos. In fact, I have a few ideas for who the new Banner could be and what these films might be about, which I will share… sometime… later.

My Top 8 Favorite Arnold Schwarzenegger Movies

Arnold Schwarzenegger — aka “Ahnuld” — just turned 70 years old! Can you believe it?!

Ahnuld posing for *Sabotage*

For a man who is thick on accent and light on acting talent (though both have improved over time), Ahnuld has amassed an impressive number of movies over the past 40 years or so. He is one of the biggest action-movie icons of all time, not to mention a favorite of comedians and impressionists, and his success shows what big muscles, snappy one-liners, a handful of memorable roles, and a lot of hard work and ambition can earn you in Hollywood. Plus, he has that Ahnuld charisma. Despite his faults, he seems like a decent chap, too.

I wouldn’t say I’m his hugest fan, but I *do* like him and have seen (and mostly enjoyed) many of his films. So, I thought it might be fun to come up with a list of my favorites and share them with you. Sort of like what I did with Kurt Russell, but with a little less emphasis on the roles specifically and more on each movie as a whole. I limited myself to those that he (co-)stars in (as opposed to small supporting roles or bit parts).

You will notice that there aren’t any comedies on my list. This simply isn’t Ahnuld’s strong suit. I mean, he has some of the best one-liners in his action movies, but his “comedic stylings” just aren’t enough to carry a movie. If pressed to pick one comedy, I’d go with Twins, in which he co-starred with Danny DeVito. Certainly it was better than Junior (also paired with DeVito), Kindergarten Cop, or Jingle All the Way. (I never saw The Villain (1979), aka Cactus Jack, but I understand it wasn’t so great, either.) I hope the upcoming sequel, Triplets, which adds Eddie Murphy to the mix, will be reasonably entertaining and not rely on too much crude humor or stupidity.

You’ll also notice, I’m sure, that I don’t have either of the Conan movies (or Red Sonja) on my list, either. His first starring role was as Hercules in New York (1970), but the Conan role 12 years later was his first success as an action movie star. For some people, especially those who followed him as a bodybuilder, too, the Conan flicks are “classics”. Personally, I never got too much into the ’80s swords-n-sorcery subgenre (with a few exceptions), even those with a comic book tie-in. Another sequel, The Legend of Conan, has been announced, which will bring Ahnuld back into the title role. Do we really want to see a septuagenarian Conan fighting monsters and barbarian hordes? Hmmm, as long as he’s in decent shape, maybe…

OK, my Top 8 in chronological order…

The Terminator (1984): Any Ahnuld fan has to put this film in any Top X list. I mean, this is the one role that launched him to superstar status. Of course, visionary writer/director James Cameron and the rest of the cast — including Linda Hamilton, Michael Biehn, Lance Henriksen, Paul Winfield, et al. — were also instrumental in creating this amazing sci-fi/action film. But, it was Ahnuld’s portrayal of the time-traveling, cyborg juggernaut that helped to define this movie. I can’t imagine anyone else in the role that would have had nearly the impact. (I have, however, tried re-casting it with a more current crop of stars, much as I recently did for Predator.) There were so many great, memorable scenes! Ahnuld’s Austrian accent wasn’t much of an issue, either, since the Terminator didn’t say much. And, of course, “Ah’ll be back.” has become such an iconic quote that everyone one knows it’s Ahnuld, even if they aren’t sure which movie it’s from.

Commando (1985): I wrote many months ago that I’d like to see a sequel to this film. Ahnuld played Col. John Matrix, a “retired elite Black Ops Commando [who] launches a one man war against a group of South American criminals who have kidnapped his daughter.” Co-starring Rae Dawn Chong, Dan Hedaya, Alyssa Milano, et al., this was the kind of story that makes you root for the hero to “get the girl” and show the baddies that he’s one guy they definitely should *not* have messed with. He brutally punches, snaps, stabs, slices, shoots, and blows up the bad guys in order to find and rescue his young daughter. Violent? That’s an understatement. Plenty of clever (or silly) one-liners, too. (Fun Fact: One of the writers was Jeph Loeb, who went on to write tons of comics and write/produce things like “Smallville”, “Lost”, “Heroes”, and many Marvel productions.)

Predator (1987): In a lot of ways, I suppose Major “Dutch” Schaefer could have been called Col. John Matrix. They are both muscle-bound, highly-skilled commando leaders trying to survive extremely difficult situations against deadly foes. (Kinda like a certain “John J. Rambo”.) This was another iconic film in the sci-fi/action subgenre, and one in which Ahnuld got to fire big guns, smoke big stogies, and show off his big muscles. Some pretty good quotes, too. (For example, “If it bleeds, we can kill it.”, “Get to the chopper!”, and “You are one ugly m____rf____r.”) Great cast, cool concept, and Ahnuld gets to match wits, weapons, and muscles with a monstrous alien trophy hunter. What’s not to like?

The Running Man (1987): This one might surprise you, since it isn’t one of Ahnuld’s better known films. But, it sticks in my mind for at least two reasons. First, it’s one of those stories where the protagonist has to fight his way through a number of individual opponents to survive, but this time it’s a deadly game show. Second, the main villain of the piece is played by the original host of the “Family Feud” (1976-1985), Richard Dawson. (I don’t know who thought of that bit of casting, but Dawson actually did a decent job of it.) Maria Conchita Alonso and Yaphet Kotto are in it, too. The costumed and specially-armed foes Ahnuld’s character has to fight are Subzero (Professor Toru Tanaka), Buzzsaw (Gus Rethwisch), Dynamo (Erland van Lidth), Fireball (Jim Brown), and Captain Freedom (Jesse Ventura). Fun, fun, fun!

Total Recall (1990): I never read the original short story “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale” by Philip K. Dick, but I very much enjoyed the first big-screen adaptation, Total Recall. (The 2012 remake? Not so much, though it was OK.) Ahnuld’s ‘Douglas Quaid’ is just some working-class guy who suddenly gets his world turned upside-down, not knowing what’s real and what’s implanted memory. The answers seem to lie on Mars, so off he goes! The near-future looks a lot like today — a mix of shiny and grimy, pretty and nasty — but with some mutated humans and some cool tech thrown in. (You need to overlook a scientific impossibility or two, though.) Nice combination of sci-fi, action, and mystery/thriller, with a terrific supporting cast (i.e., Sharon Stone, Ronny Cox, Rachel Ticotin, Michael Ironside). You can just watch it for the action or ponder the deeper, moral & existential questions raised. A real rollercoaster ride and definitely worth the time, imo.

Ahnuld and Jamie Lee in *True Lies*

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991): Ahnuld returns as another T-800, but this time one who is programmed to keep the target of another Terminator alive. Very similar yet different from the first one, the film was one of those rare sequels that is arguably as good as its predecessor. (Some might even say better. Not me. But some.) Of course, Robert Patrick’s portrayal as the nigh-unstoppable, liquid-metal T-1000 was a breakout role for him. But, it was still Ahnuld’s (and Linda Hamilton’s) movie. Lots of great action and suspense, along with some humor. Overall, a great movie, sequel or not.

P.S. Can you believe that Edward Furlong, who played young John Connor, just turned 40?!

True Lies (1994): I’m not exactly a fan of Tom Arnold, but he did a fair job here. I like Jamie Lee Curtis OK, and she made a surprisingly good wife for Ahnuld’s secret agent, ‘Harry Tasker’. Throw in Bill Paxton, Tia Carrere, Eliza Dushku, and even Charlton Heston, and you have a pretty solid supporting cast. Harry has to track down stolen nuclear weapons that are in the hands of fanatic terrorists, while also trying to keep his wife out of danger and still maintain his civilian identity. Loads of action and hilarity ensue, of course, and Ahnuld does well as a globe-hopping secret agent. It feels like a cross between James Bond and a classic Disney caper. Fun for all! (Well, maybe not youngsters.)

Eraser (1996): “A Witness Protection specialist becomes suspicious of his co-workers when dealing with a case involving high-tech weapons.” That specialist is Ahnuld… or, rather, U.S. Marshal John ‘The Eraser’ Kruger, who starts out thinking his only worry is his latest assignment — i.e., the relocation of ‘Lee Cullen’, played by Vanessa Williams. Poor Kruger ends up going on the run with Lee, as they try to avoid being captured or killed by some misguided and/or corrupt Marshals and other law enforcement. In addition to Ahnuld and Williams, you have James Caan, James Coburn, James Cromwell, Robert Pastorelli, Danny Nucci, Mark Rolston, John Slattery, et al. It’s another terrific group supporting Ahnuld and making for a gripping, pulse-pounding action/drama/mystery movie. (Oh, and that alligator scene…!) Two thumbs up!

Of Ahnuld’s more recent films, as of this writing I have not yet seen Escape Plan (2013) (with Stallone), Sabotage (2014), Maggie (2015), or Aftermath (2017). I need to add them to my movie queue, I suppose. Who knows? Maybe after watching them, I’ll be able to round out my Top 10….

What are your favorite Ahnuld movies and why?

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 commentary on the movie-going public, or about the studios? Or, was it simply 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….

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!

Assessing the Casting of ABC’s Inhumans

Inhumans Royal Family

Don’t know about you, but I haven’t heard/read all that much about this upcoming series. I mentioned several facts that came out earlier in a post last November. Recently, though, there have been a few cast announcements and a couple of on-set pics from where they are shooting the show in Hawaii.

I’ve liked the Inhumans since I first read about them in “Fantastic Four” comics back in the 1970s. They had an interesting and isolated culture, cool powers & appearances, and an on-again/off-again, quasi-frenemy sort of relationship with our heroes (sort of like Namor has). I especially liked the core group of the Royal Family, which fortunately look to be central to the new show. So, of course, I want to see live-action versions that are faithful adaptations from the source material. With that in mind, I decided to take a look at the actors who will be portraying these beloved characters. Here are my 2 cents…

Anson Mount as Black Bolt: I am not familiar with Mount (6′,b.1973). He has appeared in episodes of series I watched (e.g., “Smallville”, “CSI: Miami”, “Lost”, “Dollhouse”), but nothing stands out in my memory about him. He has been a regular in other series, most recently starring in the drama/western “Hell on Wheels”, but I am unfamiliar with them, unfortunately. Physically, though, Mount appears to be a pretty solid choice, both in face and build. Having looked at some photos, he often appears to have an intense and/or weary look, which should work well for the silent, burdened King of the Inhumans.

Serinda Swan as Medusa: The lovely Miss Swan (5’7″,b.1984) is quite a bit shorter than the comics version of Queen Medusa (5’11”). But, I think she has both the beauty (and curves) and physicality to do right by the role. You may remember her as the sorcerous Zatanna on “Smallville”, which I thought was terrific casting! She has also been on “Supernatural”, “Breakout Kings”, “The Tomorrow People”, “Chicago Fire”, “Graceland”. I don’t know that she has ever had to stretch her acting skills much, so I hope she can get a handle on the Queen of the Inhumans. I assume they will need to do her mass of prehensile hair via CGI, so it shouldn’t be a problem coloring it red.

Ken Leung as Karnak: The first time I remember taking note of Leung (5’7″,b.1970) was with his role in “Lost”. Of course, he has also been in such genre fare as Rush Hour, Spy Game, Saw, X-Men: The Last Stand, “Person of Interest”, “Zero Hour”, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, et al. He is the exact height that Marvel’s wiki lists for Karnak, and I think the martial-artist character is supposed to look like an Asian human. (He’s also supposed to have an unusually large cranium. I wonder if they’ll use CGI, prosthetic, or ignore that particular characteristic. Same question re the body tattoos the character acquired in later years.) Leung will need to portray a much more physical, analytical, and self-assured character than he usually does, but he may be able to pull it off.

Eme Ikwuakor as Gorgon: I don’t believe I am familiar with Ikwuakor (6’3″,b.1984), though he has had small roles in “Castle”, “Hawaii Five-O”, “Extant”, “Colony”, “NCIS: Los Angeles” and appeared in a few movies (e.g. Ink). The comics version of Gorgon is Caucasian-looking but often with dusky complexion; so, if they’re going to make one of the characters black, Gorgon makes the most sense. (Note: “Black Bolt” is a shortening of “Blackagar Boltagon”, plus that character usually wears a black costume.) Ikwuakor isn’t as tall (6’7″) or bulky as Gorgon is usually made to be, but he is fairly tall and muscular. Maybe he’ll bulk up even more for the part? I hope he does a good job, since this could be a breakout role for him.

Mike Moh as Triton: As an Asian with martial arts expertise, Moh (5’9″,b.1983) would have been a good choice for Triton’s younger brother, Karnak. But, maybe his muscular-yet-lithe “swimmer’s body” was what they really wanted for the scaly, aquatic Triton. His genre credits include “Kamen Rider: Dragon Knight”, “Supah Ninjas”, “Castle”, “Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist”, “Street Fighter: Resurrection”, as well as the non-genre “Empire”. Who knows, maybe he’ll really “own” this part. I wonder how long he can hold his breath….

Isabelle Cornish as Crystal: This role calls for an attractive, young blonde woman about 5’6″ or so, and that’s what they found in Cornish (5’8.5″,b.1994). She doesn’t have near the resume of her sister, Abbie, nor has she been in any genre stuff. But, she was in several episodes of a couple of Australian dramas: “Home and Away” and “Puberty Blues”. I’m rooting for Cornish to make her mark with this role. It may seem like a small thing, but I just hope they make her hair the strawberry blonde color that Crystal is known for having. (That said, I realize that red-headed comic characters tend to end up as brunettes on TV. Grr! At least keep her blonde, OK?)

Iwan Rheon as Maximus: Rheon (5’8″,b.1985) is the guy who played the sadistic bastard Ramsay Bolton on “Game of Thrones”. Other than being shorter (5’8″) than the comics version (5’11”) and thus a little shorter than I’d prefer, he is perhaps the most perfect casting for Black Bolt’s scheming younger brother, Maximus the Mad, as I can think of. We already know Rheon can play a great, psychotic villain. Though also a ruthless prince trying to gain power, Maximus is a very different character in a very different situation. I just hope Rheon has the talent to keep them quite separate in both his and the audience’s minds. (Come to think of it, Maximus is quite Loki-like, and Tom Hiddleston might make a good candidate for him, as well.)

Lockjaw stand-in on Inhumans set

‘Lockjaw’ as Lockjaw: From the leaked tweet-pic (seen here, sort of), it looks like the most beloved Inhuman character, the huge, teleporting canine named ‘Lockjaw’, will be handled with CGI. Makes sense to me! I certainly wouldn’t want to be the casting director tasked with finding a real, live dog that size (let alone who can act), ‘cuz they don’t exist.

Well, that’s that. I wish I was more knowledgeable about some of these actors, so I could make better guesses about their suitability talent-wise. But, I guess we’ll see soon enough, come September. Here’s hopin’ that ABC/Disney puts out a quality mini-series that Inhumans fans can enjoy!

Oh, and here’s a CBR article you might like, too!: “Inhumans: 15 Things We Want From The TV Show”

Bat-News

There was a small flurry of Batman-related news over the past month or so, so I thought I’d make a few comments….

“Gotham”

We have a new Ra’s al Ghul to look forward to, this time in “Gotham”. As you’ll remember, in the Nolan/Bale film trilogy, the character was played by Ken Watanabe and then Liam Neeson. More recently, Matt Nable played the quasi-immortal master assassin in several episodes of “Arrow”. While I respect the talent of all three actors, I felt those versions were… unsatisfactory. Part of it is the writers’ fault, of course, but none of them quite captured the essence of the character for me.

Siddig in GoT

The latest interpretation of the Demon’s Head will be portrayed by Alexander Siddig (5’11.75″,b.1965), most well-known for his role as Dr. Julian Bashir on “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine”. (Siddig has, of course, been in many other genre productions, including Kingdom of Heaven, “24”, “Primeval”, “Game of Thrones”, etc.) This is an intriguing choice. He (a Sudanese native) is much closer in ethnicity to Ra’s al Ghul (an Egyptian) than any of the previous actors, and he has played villainous characters before. On the other hand, I’m not sure he has the proper bearing (if that’s the right term) to portray this character correctly. While projecting a certain nobility/regalness, Ra’s is also a very physical person — martial artist / swordsman and often seen bare-chested. So, if they are planning on him displaying much physicality, Siddig had better be physically fit and properly trained.

We shall see. I just hope that they get the other visual aspects right this time, too — from the sometimes Wolverine-like hair & whiskers to his distinctive style of clothes (i.e., sort of a mix of Dr. Jekyll, Doctor Strange, and Doctor Doom).

The Batman

Among the latest news about the solo The Batman movie is that Ben Affleck may be trying to bail (no pun intended) on the role, apparently due to frustrations with Batman vs. Superman‘s reviews, development hassles, and pain-in-the-butt fans. As per Johnny Brayson at Outer Places,

“[S]ources claim that Affleck and Warner Bros. are currently in talks that would see him exit the role, and though he reportedly would like to leave before The Batman, the studio is apparently trying to convince him to stay on for the standalone movie before he takes his leave.”

Assuming any of this is true, you have to wonder if it’s a play for more money.

I know that some people are still very anti-Batfleck and would love to see him leave the franchise. I was skeptical but actually appreciated his performance in BvS and would like him to stay awhile. He is already in Justice League this November, and I would prefer to see continuity with him in The Batman (2018?) and the Justice League sequel (2019). After that, though, I would like to see a reboot with a younger Bruce/Batman. (I’m putting some story ideas together, which I will post in a few weeks/months.)

The other news on this front is that Affleck abdicated the director’s chair and a replacement has been named: Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, Planet of the Apes franchise).

Nightwing

Among the better fan-made film shorts and web-series about superheroes is “Nightwing: The Series” (2014, 5 episodes). I only caught one or two episodes, but I thought they were pretty decent and had good fight choreography. There is also a new “The Nightwing” mini-series being filmed by another group this year. Fans of the Nightwing character who have been holding out hope for a feature film, though, may finally be getting their wish.

Just a couple weeks ago, Warner Brothers announced that they are now planning a live-action Nightwing film! It will be directed by Chris McKay (The Lego Batman Movie, “Robot Chicken”), with screenplay by Bill Dubuque (The Accountant, The Judge). Since this is just barely getting underway, little is known. An adult Dick Grayson / Nightwing would fit with Affleck’s 40-something Bruce Wayne / Batman, but we don’t yet know if there will be an effort to connect the two.

We do know, however, that McKay’s take on the character will probably be a bit lighter, less gritty than Batman, especially the Batfleck version. As he said in a recent podcast,

“Dick Grayson didn’t come from [privilege]. Dick Grayson came from a circus family. Essentially people who aren’t rich and they are self-made. They’re entertainers. They’re gymnasts. They’re people who live hand-to-mouth and that’s something that informs him and his attitude.

He’s a fascinating guy to me, because he had all the same things happen to him [as Bruce had]…. [Y]et he remains still a brutal fighter but he’s not a playboy, he loves people dearly. Those things are why I like Dick Grayson, why I like the idea of Nightwing as a movie.”

That sounds good to me and in line with the way Grayson is usually portrayed in the comics.

Ideally, I would like to see the evolution of Dick Grayson from young, newbie-hero Robin to independent Nightwing over several years. (This would be part of those ideas I’m developing.) But, if the powers-that-be are already planning a solo film, I have a feeling that I won’t get my wish. There just isn’t time to develop the character. I’m guessing it won’t be out until 2020 or later, but whether tied to Batfleck or independent, we may not know for a while. Wherever in the current DCEU timeline it takes place, I just hope (as usual) that the writers/producers respect and draw directly from the source material. Please, comic gods, let it be a faithful and fun ride!

Top 5 Cancelled TV Series That I Miss

hulk-sadNow, this is a tough one. There are so many great TV series — even just limiting to sci-fi/fantasy and action/adventure — that have been cancelled, whether after a pretty good run or axed before they could gain an audience or much momentum. I’m sure we’ve all experienced on multiple occasions when we started getting into a new show, only to have it get cancelled. Sometimes, you wonder if it’s even worth trying a new show for fear it’ll just get the axe after a season or less (e.g., “Almost Human”, “The Event”). On the other hand, there are series that air for several years, and even if they suffer a bit in quality towards the end, you’re still sorry to see them go (e.g., “Stargate SG-1”, “Fringe”).

As you can imagine, then, my list of potentials for this post is a long one. But, in my effort to keep it manageable (and not attempt a Top 20+), I decided to focus on those series that aired roughly between the years 2000 and 2010. So, imagine, if you will, that it is circa 2012, and I am daydreaming about some of my favorite shows of the past decade that are no longer on the air (unless you count reruns in syndication, of course). Can I narrow it down to 5 favorites? Well, in no particular order, …

1) Let’s begin with “24” (2001-2010). As Stephen King once said, it was “a genuine New Thing Under the Sun, not really a serial at all, but the world’s first überseries.” The ticking countdown clock, the “events happen in real time” pacing, the dire threats by all manner of terrorists and other “bad actors”, the controversial torture and other moral dilemmas that our heroes — Jack Bauer in particular — both inflicted and endured, etc. It all made for an engrossing drama with healthy helpings of heart-pounding action. While it is true that our hero was less heroic in the last few seasons, and certainly more weighed down by personal loss and a clouded moral compass, than he was during the first few seasons, I still missed the show. I was hoping for a fresh resumption of the story. We got it in 2014’s “24: Live Another Day”. But, it only lasted 12 episodes and left many unanswered questions re the futures of our beloved characters — especially Jack and Chloe.

Little did we know that the show would indeed get a new start, namely with the current “24: Legacy”. I have already written about this, expressing my disappointment that neither Jack nor (presumably) Chloe nor almost any of the other familiar faces will be in this incarnation. But, I have enjoyed the first 3 episodes — the 4th having aired earlier this week — and am hoping that it continues to build in intensity with the twists-n-turns, betrayals and manipulations, that its predecessor was known for.

prison-break-poster2) “Prison Break” (2005-2009) was another favorite I liked during the same period. I thought the characters, main plot, various subplots, etc., were all very enjoyable. And the characters were all cast perfectly — from the Scofield/Burrows brothers to the super-creepy “T-Bag”. Watching Michael’s plan to break out with his brother (and a few tagalongs) unfold, despite setback after setback, was a lot of fun to watch. After beatings, fires, riots, deals, and betrayals, they managed to do it, but being on the run came with its own set of problems, of course. The shortened 3rd season had Michael back in prison, this time without inside knowledge and a pre-planned escape. On the plus side, we saw him improvising and relying on his wits and intellect, which are when the character shined brightest. Season 4 saw Michael reunited with many of the others and on a very different mission, ending with the TV movie, “Prison Break: The Final Break”.

I confess, I am one of those who was disappointed with the way the series ended. Not that it wasn’t realistic. But, it was just… unsatisfying. And that’s why I was thrilled when I found out a couple years ago that “Prison Break: Sequel” was in production, with nearly all of the original cast returning — even at least one who was thought to be dead. Yessss! You better believe I am looking forward to its debut this April.

3) I could not do a post like this without including everyone’s favorite space-Western, the short-lived “Firefly” (2002-2003). For a show only given 14 episodes to leave its mark, it has an unexpectedly large and dedicated following — “Browncoats”, as many of them prefer to be called. And everyone has their favorites — from the brave and dashing Captain Mal to the enigmatic and unstable River Tam. Our renegade crew of “heroes” did their best to survive in an often hostile ‘verse, taking risky transport jobs and (mostly) evading criminals and authorities alike — always with liberal doses of humor and romantic adventure. It was so different from any other series (that I can think of, anyway) and executed so well, that I still don’t understand why it was given the axe only part way through its first season.

It was great to get the Serenity movie (2005), which picked up with the crew of the eponymous ship and a few plot threads left hanging from the series. The movie was fairly satisfying, yet sad on more than one level. (Fans know what I’m talking about.) So, it’s not surprising that fans have been talking for years and asking about the possibility of “Firefly” returning to TV or possibly another movie. Rumors abound. Would any of the cast be up for it, 12+ years after the movie? A couple of them have expressed interest, but most have moved on and/or feel that it would be a bad idea to try to recapture the magic. Fox has recently indicated that they might be interested in reviving it somehow, but only if creator Joss Whedon was “fully on board for the project.” However, Whedon is a very busy guy, plus he has stated repeatedly that he has no intention of returning to the world of “Firefly”/Serenity.

What about a reboot with new cast? Much of the show’s popularity with the fans was the terrific casting of, and chemistry between, the various characters. It would be nearly impossible to find that again. No, except for maybe a sequel movie with the original cast, I think it’s best to just leave it alone. We’ll have to be satisfied with repeated viewing of our “Firefly” DVDs. (Sniff!)

4) I loved “Alias”! I really did. How could you go wrong with a cute girl — excuse me, smart and attractive young woman — as a tough-yet-vulnerable student-cum-superspy? Jennifer Garner’s “Sydney Bristow” was a younger, prettier, less cynical, American version of James Bond. Sort of. The show may have involved globe-hopping superspies fighting evil organizations, but it wasn’t a Bond ripoff. Bristow was a different sort of character, and she was surrounded by a supporting cast of very interesting and talented individuals — both the actors and the characters they played. (Incidentally, in case you weren’t aware, Victor Garber (“Legends of Tomorrow”) played Sydney’s dad and Gina Torres (“Firefly”, “Suits”) had a recurring role as a rival operative. Many other stars and soon-to-be stars appeared on the show, and Bradley Cooper’s “Will Tippin” was arguably his first major (breakout?) role.)

alias_poster58The plots were quite entertaining, whether they involved internal “politics” or field missions, shoot-outs with rival agencies or chasing down mysterious, archaeological artifacts. Viewers got to watch Sydney dress up and play all sorts of different undercover roles, using superspy tech, doing superspy stuff, and generally kicking butt and taking names. She was a strong, independent woman, yet one who was equally at home (if not moreso) just chilling out alone or with friends as she was sneaking into a secure location and fighting off armed baddies. In retrospect, the show had elements of not just James Bond but Jack Bauer, Indiana Jones, and, umm… Kim Possible! And I still miss it!

I haven’t heard of any plans to revive the show/character, but I’d certainly be in favor of it. Even a mini-series or just a TV movie. Garner still looks great, and I’d bet most of her former co-stars do, too. Well, assuming that never happens, I’m gonna have to hunt down those “Alias” DVDs….

5) Finally, “Star Trek”. Not any particular ST series. I just miss having a new Star Trek to look forward to every week. Reruns are fine. (Though, I admit I haven’t watched any for a few years.) But, the end of the last Star Trek TV series (which, unlike some people, I mostly enjoyed), “Enterprise”, seemed kind of sudden and, again, unsatisfying. I was glad to see the Star Trek reboot in theaters, even though they turned out to be somewhat disappointing — a subject for another post. But, the franchise really needs to have a presence on the small-screen. After all, from 1987 to 2005, we fans had nearly 20 years of almost continuous Star Trek, spanning 4 live-action series, sometimes two at once. We were spoiled! Now, it has been almost 12 years with no new Star Trek on TV.

But, as you all know, that is about to change. Starting this May, “Star Trek: Discovery” will air on CBS All Access. All fandom holds its collective breath, hopeful yet wary, to see if the latest attempt to renew this incomparable franchise will live up to expectations and fill that hole in our entertainment schedules. (Not to mention, give us plenty of new characters to talk about and merchandise to buy.) Fingers crossed…

So, with three out of five wished-for series here or on their way, I count myself pretty lucky! Whodathunkit just 5 years ago? What about you? Any old shows you’ve been jonesing for, wishing there was a new season on the way? Let us know below…

P.S.  Just for the heck of it, here are five more (and more recent) cancelled shows that I would love to see resurrected from the TV graveyard: “Almost Human” (2013-2014), “Covert Affairs” (2010-2014), “Revolution” (2012-2014), “Fringe” (2008-2013), and Leverage (2008-2012).