Category Archives: action/adventure

Man of Bronze Coming (Back) to Silver Screen?

I made a brief stop at Comic Con in San Diego on Thursday–there is no word in the English language to explain how totally insane that place is…there may be a word in Mayan, Bantu, or Swedish, but not in English–and decided to sit in on a panel celebrating the 75th anniversary of pulp icon Doc Savage.

For those of you who are not familiar with Dr. Clark Savage, Jr. and his faithful companions, he’s pretty much the first superhero. Well, technically The Shadow is the first by about two years, but Doc is a close second. Both the Shadow and the Man of Bronze (as Savage was known) heavily influenced comic book superheroes like Superman, Batman, and the Fantastic Four.

Anyways, the panel–moderated by Anthony Tollin (one of the men behind the Nostalia Ventures Doc Savage and Shadow reprints) and Michael Uslan (producer of Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Spirit, and Billy Batson and the Legend of Shazam)–was pretty cool. Tollin and Uslan talked about how the old pulp heroes influenced comic books, and how the pulps were effectively killed off by the growing popularity of the cheaper-to-produce comics. Tollin announced the upcoming release of Avenger reprints. Both Tollin and Uslan led the crowd in giving Savage creator/writer Lester Dent a posthumous ovation (something he never received in life because, like all pulp authors, Dent wrote the Doc Savage stories using a house name).

Then, Uslan “accidentally” let slip that a Doc Savage movie is in the works. According to Uslan, like Batman Begins, the new Savage flick will be closer to the source material than the campy 1975 movie Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze. The new Savage movie is little more than a glimmer in Uslan’s eye, but with all of these comic book movies coming out, it’ll be nice to see their pulp forefathers getting a little recognition (Sam Raimi is currently working on a new Shadow movie).

For a rabid pulp fan like me, this is pretty cool news.

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"Throw Me the Script!"

Judging from the box office results, most people have probably seen Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. If not, don’t worry, I’ll try to keep this as spoiler-free as I can.

The question most people are asking themselves, their friends, their family, and their co-workers is this: Was anything wrong with Crystal Skull? The short answer is “No.” The slightly longer answer is “No…but…”

I liked it. I didn’t love it, but I enjoyed myself fully for the 2+ hours that I spent in the theater, and I found myself humming the theme song as I was walking home. Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was not a bad movie (if you enjoy silly adventure movies like The Mummy and National Treasure, which I do). But, as part of the Indiana Jones series, it was missing “something.”

What it was missing, in my opinion, was sincerity. It was no more ridiculous than any of the previous movies, it just didn’t pull it off as well. Let’s face it: Indy melting Nazis, drinking voodoo zombie blood, and hanging out with a 1000-year-old knight are all pretty ridiculous, but we bought it because everything else felt grounded in reality. The first three movies were played pretty straight, so when the weird shit started happening it meant something. Part of the problem stems from the lack of actual scenery. In the old days, when Indy went to Cairo or Venice or India, the cast and crew went to Cairo or Venice or India, or at least some place remotely similar. The majority of this movie was shot on a set in front of a green screen, so you never got that sense of realism that you did from the original movies. Most people are going to blame George Lucas. To be fair, he’s only part of the problem. Movies, in general, have become more interested in what they can do with computer effects rather than what they should do with computer effects. It’s easy to beat Lucas up about it because he just happens to own one of, if not the, largest effects companies in this or any other universe. The blame, if there is to be blame, should not rest entirely on Uncle George. He’s just trying to tell a fun story the best way he knows how.

The next head on the chopping-block is poor Shia LaBeouf. He was not bad. He was actually pretty good. It’s just easy to see him as the weak link and use him as a scapegoat for what went wrong. The same thing was done with Transformers. News flash, folks, he didn’t make these movies by himself. Which brings me to Indy, himself. In the previous films, Harrison Ford was Indiana Jones. In this one, he felt like he was playing Indiana Jones. Again, I am not laying blame at Ford’s feet. But, he clearly wasn’t feeling it. He wasn’t bad…he was just missing “something.”

As a friend of mine pointed out, what Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was really missing was the “Oh shit, it’s on” moment. Every action movie has one. If it doesn’t, then it ain’t no action movie. It’s the point in the film when the hero has been literally and figuratively tortured in body, mind, and spirit. He (or she) has been beaten down by the villain, but manages to get up, wipe the dirt and blood from him- or herself, and rain down bloody retribution upon their enemy. This movie didn’t really have that moment. It came close. There’s one scene where LaBeouf’s Mutt Williams gets this look on his face and you think, “Oh shit, it’s on”, but nothing really comes of it.

Bottom line: it was fine. It wasn’t awesome or excellent, but it was an enjoyable movie. It might lack the spectacle of the earlier movies, but it’s still a fun ride. George Lucas did not “destroy my childhood” or “ruin a beloved icon.” If I had seen this back in the day instead of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Temple of Doom, and Last Crusade, I still would have majored in archaeology. And, really, that’s probably the best compliment I could pay this movie.

Come Back, Mac!

It isn’t always easy to see which way the winds of change are blowing. For example, it was probably impossible to tell in 1985 that MacGyver was the transitional show between the glorious days of mindless shoot ’em ups like The A-Team and “thinking man’s” TV like…umm…oh, I dunno, L.A. Law?

Anyway, I loved MacGyver. I loved how Richard Dean Anderson and his bullet-proof mullet could stop an entire army of South American insurgents with a pocket knife, a roll of toilet paper (single-ply, at that!), old chewing gum and one of those little plastic things from the ends of a shoelace. He’s the man who inspired me to get a Swiss Army knife.

Now, rumors are circulating that there’s a possible “big-budget, blockbuster” MacGyver film in the works.

Okay, Hollywood. Listen up. I’m going to give it to you simple: This ain’t rocket science. Learn from Jon Favreau. Keep this shit simple. You call up Richard Dean Anderson and you get him on the set, pronto. If Harrison Ford can still be Indiana Jones, RDA can still be Mac. Need proof:

Got it? Good.

Four on the Floor #13: Fake Archaeologists I Dig

The Situation: You lucky duck!  You’ve learned of some long forgotten and buried treasure–maybe it was a story handed down through your family; or maybe you found an old map in a book you bought at a used book shop in Europe; or it could just be that you think there’s some truth in a crazy old myth or folktale.  Whatever the reason, you really shouldn’t go out looking for this thing on your own.  You will need an expert.  A professional.  Someone who’s been trained at excavating and retrieving artifacts.  Dammit, you need an archaeologist.

The Criteria: Personally, I’d go for a university-trained archaeologist, as opposed to a money-hungry treasure hunter.  You really can’t trust treasure hunters.  It would probably be a good idea to find someone who can handle themselves in foreign countries–whether it’s speaking the local dialect or being able to take on a bar full of drunk locals.

1. Indiana Jones

Yeah, let’s be honest, he’s the guy.  You need a detective, you go to Sherlock Holmes.  You need an archaeologist, you better find Dr. Henry Jones, Jr.  He’s smart, tough, and a snappy dresser.  It also doesn’t hurt that he speaks every language known to man and shows up ready to go with a pistol and a whip.

2. Dr. Daniel Jackson

Okay, I know what you’re saying: “He’s just an egyptologist.”  True, in the original Stargate film, it was established that Dr. Jackson is an egyptologist, but in the subsequent TV series, Daniel displayed enough knowledge about ancient civilizations to qualify in my book.

3. Flynn Carsen

Carsen has 22 academic degrees, which earned him the prestigious job as Librarian–the guardian of treasures as diverse as Excalibur, the Spear of Destiny, and the Holy Grail.  His role also requires him to go out into the world and recover numerous important relics.  Carsen might not be as rugged as Indy, but he’s just as smart and driven.

4. Annja Creed

Who says the boys get to have all of the fun?  A trained archaeologist, Annja uses her role as co-host of Chasing History’s Monsters to finance her travels as she works on her own research.  Although she’s an admitted skeptic, Annja frequently finds herself coming face-to-face with mystical artifacts across the globe.  She’s also the heir of Joan of Arc’s magical broadsword…which, y’know, can come in handy.

Goonies Never Say "Die"

Which Goonie are you?

You’re Mikey.

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“You tend to have other people finish your battles for you, yet you’re very determined.”

Chivalry…Cimmerian Style

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From Robert E. Howard’s Iron Shadows in the Moon:

While seeking shelter for himself and a female companion, Howard’s barbarian suggests they sleep within the ruins of a strange temple. When his companion tells him that she would rather sleep outside, Conan replies:

“There was nothing to show that any wild thing lairs in the ruins. Besides, you are soft-skinned, and used to shelter and dainties. I could sleep naked in the snow and feel no discomfort, but the dew would give you cramps, were we to sleep in the open.”

Almost brings a tear to the eye, doesn’t it?

One Man Can Make a Difference

Last night, NBC aired their 2008 revamp of Knight Rider.  The two-hour, made for TV movie was designed to serve as a pilot for a potential new show (as far as I know, nothing has been officially decided regarding a future series).  In a landscape that has seen reimagined versions of shows like Battlestar Galactica and The Bionic Woman, the new Knight Rider does things a little differently.  Unlike these other shows, Knight Rider is more of a sequel to the original series–think Star Trek: The Next Generation.  In this new series, everything that happened in the 80s Knight Rider actually happened: there was a Michael Knight, there was a Foundation For Law And Government, there was a K.I.T.T.

The movie wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t bad either.  The basic storyline–bad guys break into the mansion of the guy who’s rebuilding K.I.T.T. to steal his CPU, which can apparently control all sorts of hi-tech military satellites and the like–does little but serve as an excuse to get the new super-car out on the road.  Along the way, the new K.I.T.T. (voiced by Val Kilmer) rescues the scientist’s daughter (Deanna Russo) and recruits the son of Michael Knight (Justin Bruening).  By the end of the movie (after a cameo by the Hoff…the freakin’ Hoff!!), everyone decides to come together and reform the Foundation to help the helpless and protect American freedom and all of that other good stuff.

Okay…so, what works?  Kilmer.  Personally, I was a little pissed when I found out that Will Arnett had to be replaced, not because I thought Kilmer would be horrible, but because I thought Arnett would be amazing.  But, Kilmer kinda nailed it, I think.  This new K.I.T.T. (Knight Industries Three Thousand) is basically a newborn.  He hasn’t interacted with people, so he’s not as warm and fuzzy as his predecessor (although, if this becomes a series, I’m sure he’ll lighten up over time).  Kilmer’s voice has just the right amount of smugness without being a complete asshole that you would expect from the most sophisticated artificial intelligence on the planet.  Also, while some people were probably grumbling that this new K.I.T.T. is a Ford Mustang and not something closer to the original, all I have to say is this: the new Ford Shelby GT500KR Mustang is pretty bad-ass.

The two human leads are also pretty good.  Bruening’s Mike Traceur (who looks more than a little bit like a scruffier Barry Watson), a former Army Ranger, is equal parts brooding and cocksure.  He’s the stereotypical TV action hero: he’s only out for himself until he’s given something bigger to fight for.  Russo’s Sarah Graiman is the brain to Traceur’s brawn.  Graiman’s another in a long line of adorable TV scientists; she also happens to be the daughter of the guy who invented both K.I.T.T.s (the always awesome Bruce Davison).  There’s a bit of backstory involving Traceur and Graiman being childhood sweethearts and the final scenes of the movie show that the creators plan to get these two crazy kids back together if Knight Rider becomes a series.

Now, on to what doesn’t work.  First, we didn’t really get to see K.I.T.T. in action.  Sure, we got to see him driving really fast, but where’s the turbo-boost?  Or the smoke screen?  Or, y’know, anything even remotely offensive in nature?  The creators were all about showing off K.I.T.T.’s fancy new nanobot paint-job, which allows him to change color (and, it would seem, his license plate).  The nanobots also let him transform into some kind of battle mode, which doesn’t look much different from his non-battle mode, if you ask me.  I’m all for making this a combination of Knight Rider and Viper, but at least the car in Viper had weaponry.  Oh, and enough with the goddamn bullet time!  We get it, okay.  Just make the freakin’ car bulletproof and tell us he’s bulletproof.  You don’t have to slow down time and show the bullets bouncing off of the car as the nanobots do their nanobot thing.  Or, just do it once.  Not every frakkin’ time!

Overall, if it becomes a series, the new Knight Rider has potential–as long as they remember to keep it light and fun.