DEADPOOL

Deadpool
Directed by An Overpaid Tool, Produced by Asshats, Written by The Real Heroes Here

Reviewed by Avril Brown

‘Deadpool’ is Marvel’s latest amazingly successful brainchild, blowing away box office records for opening weekend of an R rated film and delighting both comic fans of the Merc with the Mouth and newbies alike. This film is violent, crass, disgustingly hilarious and surprisingly touching, in a bloody, full-on crazy kind of way. In summation: ‘Deadpool’ is perfection.

That being said, this movie is not for everyone. It sure as hell is for me; I’ve already seen it once and have immediate plans to see if again, but it’s not exactly a film I’d take my mother to enjoy, ‘cause she wouldn’t. ‘Deadpool’ is perfection for people who love Deadpool, blood, guts and a whole range of filthy humor.

deadpool1-gallery-image

If you can’t stand jokes about masturbation, the dropping of frequent mother-f-bombs or a massive amount of grotesquely mangled corpses, then go buy tickets for the ‘Revenant’ or something and leave the ‘Deadpool’ loving to us perverts.

One of the many reasons ‘Deadpool’ is just so splendid is that it did everything right. In the comics Deadpool is known for breaking the fourth wall (he turns to the reader and speaks directly to them), a gimmick utilized well in the film; present but not overdone. He loves to fawn over himself but has a certain amount of self-deprecating humor as well (this seems to come from the writers as well as Ryan Reynolds himself); tons of material to work with there (just the right amount of shade thrown towards previous less successful ventures, and not just ‘Green Lantern’). He never shuts up (his moniker is Merc with the Mouth for a reason) yet every word out of his masked mouth is gold. Yes, he’s incredibly violent and there’s only the barest hint of a moral code rattling around in his scarred skull, but there’s enough of one to make the slightly squeamish feel better about rooting for his ugly ass.

Part of the elation this film has brought fans stems from the fact it is the anti-Christ of the last time we saw Ryan Reynolds don the red suit. Deadpool’s appearance in ‘Wolverine: Origins’ was disappointment in its bitterest form. The gross injustice done not only to the character, but to the actor who seems to have been born to play Deadpool, was offensive. When I originally heard Ryan Reynolds was slated to play Deadpool in the ‘Wolverine’ movie I was overjoyed. I only knew him from Van Wilder but it was enough; I could actually hear him in my head cracking jokes and gleefully stabbing his enemies. And then that hot mess of a movie not only fucked up several iconic Wolverine story lines, but they also went ahead and sewed Deadpool’s mouth shut. Morons.

Thankfully ‘Deadpool’ the movie not only steamrolled right over that pile of crap, it made fun of it as well. Like a lot.

The only complaint, if you can even call it that, I have against ‘Deadpool’ were the massive amount of jokes revealed in the previews. Part of this is my bad; I was so excited for this movie I broke my own rule and watched every single preview right up until the bitter end; multiple times, too. I adored the marketing; couldn’t get enough of the brilliant creativity (did you see Deadpool’s PSA on testicular cancer? I’ve never heard so many nicknames for balls in a three minute span), but there were so many amazing lines/scenes revealed in the trailers that I felt like I’d already seen one quarter of the movie.

Still, there was plenty more to go around, some of which I didn’t even catch during my first viewing (everyone was laughing so hard I didn’t always hear the follow up line).

Sometimes a movie wins so hard, you just can’t help but grin and appreciate the sheer transcendence of it all. ‘Deadpool’ nailed it in every way this film and character was begging to be nailed (and he really would beg for it; Deadpool is one horny bastard). Well done, Real Heroes. Well done indeed. Give yourself a lopsided round of applause (trust me, people who have seen the movie are chuckling right now) and get back to doing what you’re best at, ’cause I expect the sequel to blow me…away. Serves you Heroes right for setting the bar so damn high.

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY

Starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, and more

Released by Marvel Studios

By Avril Brown

Am I in love, or simply open to persuasion? ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ delivered everything the previews promised us salivating fans: great one-liners (and entire conversations) delivered by a rag-tag group of misfits turned heroes while lots of shit gets blown up. But did the complete film deliver more than a bevy of just-this-side-of-campy humor and CG special effects? Did it tell a story worth watching?

Honestly, I cannot say for sure. Ever since the first trailer blew up the internet I have been as antsy as a nymphomaniac slapped with a chastity belt. I have been waiting none too patiently for the ‘Guardians’ to get into my pants and take my money, and I want so badly to say the wait was worth sweating in my metal drawers. Thankfully in many ways it was, but I am unsure whether it lived up to all of my expectations.

‘Guardians’ is most certainly a fun, and funny, comic book movie, chock filled with cheeky anti-heroes, more eighties references than you can shake a Walkman at and one hell of a soundtrack. From the very beginning when Star Lord dances his way to his intended booty I was immediately seduced by Chris Pratt’s pelvic sorcery. He’s just so…cool, my geek lust reached a peak. Actually, he makes an ass out of himself more often than not, but the way Peter Quill just picks himself up and keeps on going, no matter how dire the situation, is insanely attractive. He always has a quip ready to fire at his naysayers, and he’s so desperate for recognition he’s almost pathetic. But the Star Lord is a scrappy survivor, and I have always had a soft spot for such a ruffian.

The rest of the team holds their own as well, but one major element lacking is sufficient background to really get the viewer invested in each character. We’re given just enough to get where they’re coming from but not much else to go on. On the one hand, I get it: it’s nigh impossible to give each character their due diligence plus the ‘beat the bad guy’ story arc while providing plenty of action within a two hour-ish screen time. The major advantage ‘Avengers’ had (the standard by which I now hold every comic book movie) was almost every star player came to the table with established histories, and those that didn’t got great introduction scenes. Such is not the case with ‘Guardians.’ The time it took to give each member a chance to explain themselves detracted from time needed to flesh out the central story, and the nemeses. They did a fair job showcasing the heroes, but the villains got shortchanged in a big way. Ronan was somewhat trite and Nebula, the role Whovian Karen Gillan shaved her head for, was just wasted.

Whenever there is a comic book movie with such an excellent premise and tantalizing previews, one cannot help but walk into the theater with high hopes. Without a doubt, ‘Guardians’ is one hell of a circus ride, but it could have been better. Do the one-sided villains and slightly stagnant plot detract from the fun I had from start to the Footloose finish? Absolutely not; in fact, I am chomping at the bit to get back to the theater and experience ‘Guardians’ for a second time, ideally with a smaller crowd so I can hear the entirety of the many jokes woven throughout the film.

So, to answer the question: Am I in love? Well, though ‘Guardians’ is no ‘Avengers,’ I have to say the compilation of a foul-mouthed Ranger Rick, a talking tree who is both sweet and scary, an adrenaline addicted muscled-out maniac, a green assassin and a Star Lord who believes awesome music and fancy moves are the solution to everything, yeah, I have to say I’ve fallen pretty hard. As long as the ‘Guardians’ continue to crack jokes and riff off one another like it’s going out of style, I’ll follow them across the galaxy, and so should anyone looking to have a raucous good time.

And never forget Boromir’s sage advice: “One does not simply leave a Marvel movie before the end of the credits.” You’ll want to stick around for these tidbits, trust me on that.

X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST

X-Men: Days of Future Past

Directed by Brian Singer

Reviewed by Avril Brown

Pardon me for a moment:

OHMYLORD X-Men Days of Future Past ILOVEYOU Brian Singer you fucking ROCK so many awesome mutants BLINK IS BADASS brilliant so well done great action geek girl squeal QUICKSILVER OWNS IT ‘My mom knew a guy who could do that’ hilarious love it Peter Dinklage! Mach I sentinels time travel Mystique being sneaky bone claws HUGH JACKMAN’S ASS thank you jeebus and EN FREAKING SABAH NUR!!!

Now please allow me to more coherently explain my feelings about ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past.’ To sum up: this is a wonderful X-Men comic book movie. It is fabulously fun, chock filled with mutant action and a joy to experience both for comic and movie fans. As the former, I was thrilled with the nuggets thrown in for those of us who are familiar with the printed version of the Marvel Universe. One of the people who was in my viewing party is X-Men ignorant, and while she confessed to being slightly confused as to how the events of this movie tie into the rest of the franchise, she was also thoroughly entertained.

The future is a bleak and barren hell. Mutant hunting robots called Sentinels have all but eliminated not only the mutant race, but all humans with any hint of the X gene in their DNA. The Sentinels have the ability to adapt to any mutant power, making them all but unbeatable. The only way the few ragtag survivors of the X-Men have been able to stay alive is because of Kitty Pryde, a mutant with the ability to phase through solid objects, and now through time. She has figured out how to phase one person’s consciousness back in time a few days, giving that individual plenty of time to scout out incoming Sentinels and warn the rest of the team to clear out before they arrive. Professor X and Magneto have realized the only way to end this war is to prevent it from ever starting, so utilizing Kitty’s power with the Wolverine’s, the only man with a brain capable of surviving a decades long trip through time, the X-Men set about saving the world.

Wolverine certainly has his work cut out for him back in the seventies. Xavier is an emotionally broken man who has given up not only teaching and leading, but also his impressive mutant ability to read and control minds. Erik Lehnsherr is still an angry, powerful, metal-wielding mutant focused solely on the survival and dominance of the mutant species…only his goals are harder to achieve when locked up in the most secure prison on the planet. Somehow Logan has to get the band back together in time to stop Mystique from murdering Bolivar Trask, the man behind the Sentinel program, and to keep her shape-shifting DNA from being utilized in helping create the invincible Sentinels of the future.

One of the most excellent aspects of catching a comic book movie as soon as it debuts in theaters is you are surrounded by hardcore comic book fans. There were X-Men t-shirts left and right, and I myself was sporting my Mystique bracelet, made from Age of Apocalypse X-Calibre comics. Seats filled up quickly as the hour drew nigh, and you could feel the buzz of excitement as the Twentieth Century Fox logo faded on the big screen, with the X on Fox being the last to go. The film hit the ground running in terms of action with amazing special effects, particularly Blink’s, who has localized teleporting abilities. When Wolverine wakes up back in the past, one of the first things we fans get to see is his glorious backside in all its natural glory. Thank you, jeebus.

Peter Maximoff aka Quicksilver received a round of applause from the viewers after his break out scene, which was completely deserved. Those of us in the know were tickled pink when he’s chatting with Magneto and says, “So you can control metal, huh? My mom knew a guy who could do that.” (Not-so-spoiler: Magneto is Quicksilver’s father) There is a deserved expectation of an extra nugget of film after the credits, so there were plenty of groans when those of us (essentially the entire theater) waited until the bitter end and saw nothing…at first. What initially appeared to be a fade to white turned out to be sand. Rolling hills of sand in ancient Egypt with thousands of people chanting ‘En Sabah Nur’ at a cloaked, pale figure standing on high with four mysterious figures on horses in the background. Translation: Apocalypse, the First Mutant, and one of the X-Men’s deadliest foes. I was unabashedly one of those people who punched her fists in the air and yelled, “YES!”

Though admittedly the movie felt a bit slow at times, there is not one moment I would consider expendable. There were plenty of fight scenes and displays of mutant powers, but it is also a slightly complicated plot which needs periodic explanations, particularly since it is essentially one story told in two different time periods with the same/different people. ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past’ delivered on every conceivable level, and my viewing experience was everything I hoped it would be: huge grin inducing, goosebump raising, pure geeky goodness kind of fun, shared with old friends and new. Thank you Brian Singer, Fox (though I never thought I’d say that) and Marvel, for getting this franchise back on track. To me, my X-Men!

CAPTAIN AMERICA THE WINTER SOLDIER

CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER
Starring Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Anthony Mackie, Robert Redford, and Samuel L. Jackson
Produced by Marvel Studios


Reviewed by Avril Brown

There are sequels which are a satisfying continuation of a story, there are sequels which are such a colossal let down you pretend they don’t even exist, and then there are sequels which stand alone. Movies that are so unbelievably epic you can’t stop talking about it while the credits are rolling and you’re already planning on seeing it again to catch all the little stuff you might have missed while your mind was busy being blown.

Unsurprisingly, ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’ falls into the later category.

I adore the first film; I thought it was an incredibly well-crafted, believable origin story which did the character and the time period justice. To compare the first and second ‘Captain America’ films, however, would be comparing apples to oranges. ‘The First Avenger’ is an introduction to Steve Rogers and how he went from scrawny kid from Brooklyn with the heart of a lion, to badass Captain America with the chiseled body of a sexy lion and a mission to save the world.

‘Winter Soldier’ is a story of Steve Rogers truly coming into himself as Captain America here in the present time. When he lived and fought in the Second World War, things were somewhat simpler: rescue soldiers, take down Hydra, and get the girl. He wakes up in the digital age where wars are fought over oil and boundary lines, nothing is private, and his girl had to live her life without him. Despite the confusion of the modern day, Captain Rogers has landed on his feet, and the confidence he exudes in everything he does is an overwhelming turn on.

This is not simply an action movie, though there is plenty of that, and it is AWESOME. ‘Winter Soldier’ is not just an espionage film either, though there are oodles of twists and turns, some you see coming, others you might not. One thing it is not is a romance story, thankfully, though naturally there are a few nibbles on the line (how could there not be? Dude’s like sex on a stick, and I don’t normally go for blondes).

‘Winter Soldier’ is largely about taking control, and having faith and trust not only in one’s self, but in the people around you. Steve Rogers is a man working for S.H.E.I.L.D, but he never once compromises his morals in the line of duty, and in fact is the type of man who brings out the best in people. Hardened spies with serious trust issues find themselves trusting a man in a spangley outfit (which he totally owns).

The action is jaw-dropping, no doubt, and the fight scenes are masterfully crafted. Watching a fight scene with men who know how to kick some ass can be problematic if the fighting is poorly done, but my expert brawlers were pleased and impressed with the choreography. With the Black Widow as a featured costar it was inevitable that at least one woman would have plenty of amazing action sequences, but I was thrilled to see two more women step up to the badass plate and not be found wanting. You got to hand it to Marvel, they have quite the variety of superheroes to choose from, whether they be men, women, any race and sexual identity. Every character was brilliantly cast and the new faces brought a lot to the table.

One of my favorite parts about ‘Winter Soldier’ was that it was a game changer for the film/television Marvel Universe, and there is every indication that the ripples are going to be felt, and best of all, acknowledged, throughout the rest of their projects. When Joss Whedon signed on to direct ‘The Avengers’ he did so with the caveat that Marvel follow his long-term plan for the subsequent films. If I have one long-suffering complaint about comics it is that there is very little consistency among the different books despite the frequent sharing of characters. At the moment Havok is both in the present day spying on his ex-girlfriend, and at least seven years in the future on Planet X ‘cause Earth was destroyed. Fantomex is working on Cable’s X-Force crew whilst speaking like Pepe le Pew, and he’s exiled himself in a prison in a micro-world on Logan’s desk at the Jean Grey School. Oh, he also attended his foster son’s graduation. Coordination, people; it’s not just for novels.

‘Marvel’s Agents of S.H.E.I.L.D.’, a television program on ABC, has been rocky from the start, but the episodes have perked up a bit as of late, and that world is going to be shattered come Tuesday. They have been planning for the changes incurred by ‘Winter Soldier’ for awhile, probably from the beginning, and the timing is perfect. Knowing a large portion of their audience will likely be flocking to the theaters this weekend for a date with Captain Rogers, the producers are blazing full steam ahead with the next episode reflecting the major shift made by ‘Winter Soldier.’ Fans are finally getting some follow-up, and I am thrilled.

Go see ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier.’ See it for the action, see it for the story, see it for a buffed out Chris Evans in a white tank top (he really should’ve taken it off, it was ever so dirty). See it again for the delightful nods to other films and hints at characters sure to pop up in the near future. Go see ‘Captain America’ because it is an excellent, fun film that is actually worth the ticket price. And for love of Pete, keep your butt in that seat until after ALL of the credits.

Wake up and smell the solid script DC, ‘cause Marvel is on fire. Fingers crossed future films will just keep fanning those flames all the way into 2028 because I’m going to be there front and center, the whole wild and crazy ride.

THE CAPTAINS

THE CAPTAINS
Written and Directed by William Shatner
Available from Entertainment One


Reviewed by Marc Mason

On a personal quest to understand his life in relation to his work in playing Captain James Tiberius Kirk in multiple incarnations of STAR TREK, William Shatner flies across the world and sits down with the members of one of the most exclusive clubs in human history: actors who have assumed command of the captain’s chair on a TREK TV show or film. Patrick Stewart, Avery Brooks, Kate Mulgrew, Scott Bakula, and Chris Pine all chat with the man who started it all, giving Shatner a look inside the minds of this small band of actors and granting him an insight about their choices and what they have in common.

THE CAPTAINS is an interesting film, if a slightly odd one. On the one hand, much of it is fascinating- Shatner picks interesting places to do his interviews, and it helps to relax his subjects. Mulgrew he meets up with on an empty stage on Broadway, while he beards Stewart in the den of his own home. Bakula catches up with Shatner at the beach. Amusingly, he initially meets Pine on a public street corner in front of Paramount Studios, challenging him to arm wrestle in front of passing crowds. Most of the time with Brooks is spent sitting at a piano, allowing DS9’s captain to free associate his interview in jazz fashion, tinkling away at the keyboard. It gives the film a look and feel that you don’t expect going into it, hooking the audience as well as the actors. Shatner also does a decent job of asking questions- the best part of the film, unquestionably, comes when he talks to each of them about the toll that acting in general and playing on TREK had on their families. Suffice it to say, none of them (save Pine, who didn’t face this line of inquiry) has joyous or happy things to share on this topic, reminding you of the personal toll that comes behind the scenes of producing entertainment.

The gist, as we get to the end of the film, is that Shatner still struggles with being known as Kirk and whether or not he should be embarrassed by it or embrace it. Through his talks with the others, you see his emotional landscape shifting, giving the movie a narrative through-line. It’s almost unnecessary- the pieces of the film and the interviews would hold up nicely without it. Nothing in this documentary is going to shake the world to its core- that’s what all of those TREK shows and movie have already done. But it does entertain and grant some insight, and that’s more than good enough.

SHUT UP LITTLE MAN!

SHUT UP LITTLE MAN! AN AUDIO MISADVENTURE
Directed by Matthew Bate

Produced by Tribeca Films


Reviewed by Avril Brown

The year was 1987 and two recent college graduates decided to band together in their mutual desire to leave Wisconsin behind and start over in San Francisco. With no money and no job, Eddie Lee Sausage and Mitchell D moved into an apartment Eddie described as a ‘shithole…the kind you’d be embarrassed to have people over.’ Due to the excessive pinkness of the exterior, the two young smart asses dubbed it the ‘Pepto Bismo Palace’ and signed the lease.

“By the way,” the landlady said as the ink was drying, “next door neighbors can be a little loud.” Very little time passed before Eddie was presented with audible evidence of the truth of her warning and after several consecutive nights of hearing two alcoholic elderly men verbally, and occasionally physically, abuse the shit out of each other, he woke his roommate to ensure he wasn’t dreaming. Both men were more than taken aback by the loud and colorful clashes between Raymond the redneck homophobe and Peter the flaming homosexual, and soon enough Eddie decided to try and confront the problem…though he quickly changed his mind when a rather large, drunk and angry man answered the door, repeatedly called him a skinny cocksucker and essentially threatened to kill him.

Self-preservation was the initial primary motivation behind Eddie Lee and Mitch’s decision to begin recording the verbal volleys between Peter Haskitt and Raymond Huffman; just in case Raymond did decide to follow up on his threat to end Eddie the skinny cocksucker’s life, they wanted evidence of who might’ve done it.

“Raymond, the next door neighbors are recording us,” said Peter the first night Eddie and Mitch began chronicling their deafening debates. Raymond proceeded to lean out the window and shout to them: “Peter is a worthless piece of shit thief, liar and a cheat, and the world would be better if he was never born.”

With that blessing of sorts, the recordings continued and the origin of the phenomenon “Shut Up, Little Man!” was born.

The documentary: “Shut Up, Little Man! An Audio Misadventure” covers the entire story of how Eddie and Mitchell became underground pop culture legends thanks to the nigh fourteen hours of arguments recorded during their stay at the Pepto Bismo Palace between Peter and Raymond. The only problem, or perk, depending on the point of view, of such a thorough documentary is it sheds light on nearly every aspect of the story, including the parts people may not want to know. Covering material that is often hysterical, occasionally tragic and frequently painfully pathetic, the “Shut Up, Little Man!” documentary raises several intriguing questions about the boundaries of privacy, the inherent nature of greed versus creative expression and the eternally altering definition of true friendship.

The first half hour is filled with nuggets of hilarity as the audience is treated to what is undoubtedly the best snippets of Peter and Raymond’s obscene and antagonistic arguments, which included plenty of inventive and clever insults in addition to Peter’s signature phrase, “Shut up, little man!” However the director Matthew Bate holds nothing back as he follows the trail the Peter and Raymond tapes left behind throughout the nineties. From a questionable retrospect copyright to friendships torn asunder by the possibilities of Hollywood movie deals, the films attempts to leave no stone unturned (there were several people involved in the later evolution of “Shut Up, Little Man!” that refused to be named). Tracking the progression of the tapes first being recorded to their gradual underground fame, development into comic books, puppet shows, songs, plays and of course the petty battle for film rights dominates a majority of the film time, but Bate concludes the film with the focus back on the unwitting stars, or victims, of this entire experience: Peter, Raymond and Tony, Raymond’s friend and frequent witness/referee to their squabbles.

“Shut Up, Little Man! An Audio Misadventure” is a documentary in the most honest sense, telling the story of Peter and Raymond and Eddie and Mitch in all its shades, both droll and dire. Offering insight and multiple viewpoints into the origin of one of the first ‘viral’ spectacles of the modern age, this film also raises questions of morality and paints a more complete picture of two lonely old drunks, an infamous odd couple who both hated and loved each other. Audiences ignorant of the paradox that is Peter and Raymond and the whirlwind of various mediums their disputes ended up in will find the story amusing, intriguing, trifling and somewhat sad. Though the narrative tends to drag in the middle and towards the end, knowing what happened to Peter and Raymond will satisfy the curiosity of those previously aware of their renowned rows, though perhaps not to an emotional level they were expecting. There is no happy ending to a story such as this, there is only the truth as people see it both from the in and outsider’s perspective, and “Shut Up, Little Man! An Audio Misadventure” provides ample amounts of both.

JAMES GUNN

Filmmaker James Gunn is one of those guys who just projects an aura of cool. He’s talented, as his work on SLITHER and PG PORN have shown, and he’s versatile, giving written material as diverse as SCOOBY DOO and DAWN OF THE DEAD. His twisted take on real-life superheroics, SUPER, just hit DVD, and if you haven’t seen it, you should- it’s everything that KICK ASS wasn’t, but should have been. I caught up with James at San Diego Comic-Con and we talked about Super and what he has on the horizon. (Hat tip to Brooke Unverferth for transcription assistance.)


MM: This is Marc Mason in the Comics Waiting Room and I am here with writer/director James Gunn this morning. James, thanks for joining us.

JG: Thank you, Marc.

MM: SUPER is hitting DVD…

JG: It is.

MM: …which is your kind of dark take on superheroes. Dark take on superheroes is something we haven’t seen a lot of. Why did you go that route?

JG: I, you know, listen, I don’t know why I do anything I do. I was inspired to tell a story about a real guy who wanted to become a superhero for perhaps the right reasons, perhaps the wrong reasons, and I just started writing it. It was originally going to be a short movie and it just, I fell in love with the characters. I fell in love with Frank D’Arbo, who is the Crimson Bolt, and I fell in love with Libby, who is Boltie, his kid sidekick, or not so kid sidekick, and I couldn’t stop writing. I fell in love with the script. It is a very strange script, a very dark tale, very brutal, very violent. It’s funny, but it’s also very dramatic, and you know, it’s just an extreme movie in a lot of ways, but I felt beholden to the script in some ways. I knew it wasn’t the most commercial movie I ever have written and will probably ever write, but it was something where I felt like I had a story that needed to be told.

MM: And I think that maybe that’s why your films work. As an independent filmmaker, you’re bullshit free…

JG: Yeah…

MM: You’re bullshit free.

JG: Oh, I have plenty of bullshit, but I think Super doesn’t have so much bullshit, I mean, you’re right. I think that, I just told the story I wanted to tell and I was fortunate enough to get this huge cast who wanted to do the movie, which I didn’t expect. But it’s because of them that we were able to make the movie. Nobody would have ever made this movie if it was just the script and unknowns because it’s, it’s just too esoteric. But once we had that cast on board, it was like people couldn’t say no. Especially for the budget we made it for. A couple million bucks.

MM: Do you feel like maybe the actors respond to the honesty?

JG: Yeah!

MM: In the scripts…?

JG: I think the actors get really excited at the prospect of making a movie that is different and I think that Rainn and I see the world in very similar way that I think is unique, and I think because of that he was attracted to it. You know, Liv Tyler and Ellen Page were attracted to it because it had female characters that weren’t just “the girl.” You know, I think that you see a lot of comedic films where there’s the guys who are all funny and interesting characters and then there’s the girl character, you know, Teri Polo in Meet the Parents, this great movie, but they aren’t exactly- I didn’t mean to put her down, I feel bad- but anyway, it’s like, you know, the females in Super have a lot of depth to their personalities and a lot of different facets and I think they were excited at the prospect at playing something different.

MM: As an indie filmmaker, with the freedom that you have, do you ever think to yourself, do you have moments when you write or do you have moments where you direct, when you’re like maybe, “oh, that’s too far” or do feel like you can just take the reins off and do what you want, like with the violence in Super?

JG: Yeah…wait, ask that question again.

MM: Do you feel like with the freedom that you have, do you ever feel like you’ve kinda gone too far in your writing or directing? Do you ever pull back?

JG: Yeah…

MM: You do?

JG: Yes, I do. Yeah, yeah, yeah, there was a scene in Super that was, that I felt went a little bit too far in my first draft, when somebody said to me, Alex Gardner actually, who was one of the original producers, who’s a great guy. There’s a scene in which Libby, well, the scene still exists in the movie, where Libby bashes a guy in the face with a vase and he goes down, and then she goes to pick up this like, bronze rodeo statue and goes to hit him in the skull with that and Rainn stops her, the Crimson Bolt stops her. In the original script, she squashed that guy’s head open with that rodeo statue and then the Crimson Bolt was like, “You just killed him for keying a car!” Like, “what the hell was that?” And Alex said, “You know, listen, I think that maybe you’re going to lose people when she kills him, I think that’s going a little bit too far.” And I thought about it and that’s the one place where I pulled back. I didn’t pull back any place else in the movie. None of the humor. There were jokes that people said to me, “Oh that’s too much” you know. Libby’s character says a lot of politically incorrect things, that, they’re not statements by me, they’re statement by her character and they seemed real to me so I kept them in the movie, despite some people possibly being offended by that. But I thought that her killing a character at that point in the movie would have been too much. Especially for really not having done anything. So I changed it.

MM: Now we’re here at Comic-Con and Comic-Con is the home of a James Gunn fan. Is that a fair statement?

JG: There are a lot of them here, yeah, I think probably twenty of my 40,000 Twitter followers are here.

MM: But the thing I’ve noticed about your films, unlike a lot of films that achieve cult status or something like that, is the critics really respond to you. The critics like your films…

JG: Sometimes.

MM: …does that surprise you, or…?

JG: It did on SLITHER. It definitely did on Slither. I mean, Slither was like, I think it was like, it’s still like in the top ten best reviewed horror movies of all time, or something, on Rotten Tomatoes. And Slither was a very, you know, unusual film. And I certainly did not expect the critics to have the good reaction that they did. In fact, Universal, at one point, didn’t want to screen it for critics because they thought, they said to me directly, they said, “Listen, we love the movie, but the thing is, it’s the kind of thing the critics aren’t going to get and they’re going to give it bad reviews, so we don’t want to send it out to critics to have them see it and give it bad reviews,” but instead, the movie got great reviews. It was surprising to me, you know, because it is so edgy, you know. I think Super is more of a mixed bag. I mean, Super is a thing where people either really respond positively to it and they love it. I can’t tell you, every single day I get Tweets and Facebook messages and Google+ messages and everything saying, “Super is my favorite movie ever!” And I didn’t quite get that with Slither. So that’s a new thing for me. I mean, occasionally. But Super, I get it all the time. But there are also people that say, “Fuck you for what you did in that movie!” I mean, especially if there’s one thing, there’s a spoiler that happens at the end that some people get very pissed off by. And so, Super is a different beast than Slither. Slither seemed to be something that people didn’t think they were going to enjoy and the ended up enjoying a lot. Super seems to be something that people sometimes go into it with certain expectations of it being a light comedy and it’s certainly, certainly not a light comedy. It’s a brutal film, and it’s a dramatic film in a lot of ways. And it’s edgy cinema. It’s not just because it’s about, you know, what it’s about, or being about a superhero, or being a cult movie, it’s just edgy cinema because of the way we deal with the tonal shifts and things like that. It’s not your usual thing. It’s an experimental film in some ways. So, the people that love it, love it, and the people that hate it, hate it. And that’s been pronounced in this film.

MM: So at this point, you’ve developed a relationship and you’ve developed a reputation with actors. Going forward and into your next project, does that make it easier for you? Are you going to have more people coming towards you or is it easier for you to approach people for your next project now?

JG: Yes. It is, it is. Because I am, in the end, I feel like I am an actor’s director. I started out as an actor. I’ve had a lot of acting training. And I’ve been on a lot of movie sets with other directors who, they’re great at certain aspects of filmmaking, but they really don’t know how to talk to actors, they don’t know the language of acting. And I think I do. I like dealing with that part. I love shooting action sequences, but I also love dealing with actors, and those are my two favorite things to do. The rest of it is what it is. But I love dealing with actors. I love getting in there and seeing where they’re coming from and helping them to get someplace where they haven’t been before, and especially, helping to show an aspect of an actor that an audience hasn’t seen before. That’s a great deal of fun for me. To be able to show, you know, the dramatic side of Rainn Wilson, to bring that out of him and to show it in long form. Actually, to not even bring it out of him, because he’s so natural, but to give him the opportunity to show that in a film was a great pleasure and then, with Ellen, she’s normally like this wise-cracking-under-her-breath kind of girl, to be able to show this sort of psychotic, you know, nymphomaniac who’s going at a thousand miles per hour every second of the day. To get that out of her and to help her express that was a lot of fun, you know, and I’m sharing with them that performance that we share with the audience. I enjoy that a great deal.

MM: Excellent. What does come next?

JG: Well next is…there’s a.. Movie 43, which is something I did with the Farrelly brothers, it’s a bunch of directors directing different comedy shorts, all connected by a common theme, it has everyone from Hugh Jackman to Kate Winslet to Halle Berry, and I did a short with Elizabeth Banks and Josh Duhamel, who are both very funny, and they interact with an animated creature, sort of like Pete’s Dragon. And that was a lot of fun to do. And so that’s my next thing- that comes out in April. And then, I’ve got a video game coming out too, which I don’t know when we’re announcing that, but I think soon, I think in August we’re announcing it. So, I’ve got that coming out. And then I’m trying to figure out what I’m going to do next. So…

MM: You’re a very busy man.

JG: You know, sometimes I’m busy. I’ve actually been kinda taking it easy lately. I’ve been a little busy. I’ve been working, you know, I wake up and I work on ideas. I’ve got a script I finished that I’m trying to put together, and I’ve got another script that I’d like to do. But, listen, I’m not one of these, I mean I have times when I’m doing nothing but working, but I also like to live life and hang out with my girlfriend, and hopefully I’ll get to walk the floor later a little bit. Maybe buy some art or something. So, I take my time.

MM: Great. Well, I want to thank you for your time this morning, and thanks for joining us in the Comics Waiting Room.

SUPERMAN/SHAZAM

SUPERMAN/SHAZAM: THE RETURN OF BLACK ADAM
Written, Directed, and Voiced by Various
Available from Warner Home Video

Reviewed by Marc Mason

The story of modern comics is almost always the battle between Marvel and DC, and that battle spilled over into other media in a huge way over the past decade. Unquestionably, Marvel has done better on the whole with live-action film (Chris Nolan’s Batman movies not withstanding). But on the animated side, DC has absolutely pummeled Marvel, and the series of direct-to-DVD films that DC/Warner has produced over the past five years has been almost staggering in its consistent excellence. This DVD is no exception.

Instead of one film this time, we get four short ones. The one new piece is the lead- SUPERMAN/SHAZAM, and oddly enough it’s the weakest part of the deal. That doesn’t mean it’s bad, mind you. The story finds Clark Kent interviewing a young homeless boy named Billy Batson prior to his meeting the wizard Shazam. But that meeting’s importance is elevated once Black Adam shows up and tries to kill the boy before he can ever gain the power of Captain Marvel. The story works as a solid punch ‘em up, but there isn’t a lot of excitement to it beyond that. However, for many viewers, that will be plenty.

The other three shorts, which have appeared elsewhere, held the real appeal for me, though. The SPECTRE one is written by comics scribe par excellence Steve Niles and finds the spirit of vengeance working the Hollywood beat and delivering death and terror to the bad guys in wonderfully awful ways. It’s clever, gruesome, and loads of fun. The GREEN ARROW short may be the best thing on the disc- the emerald archer heads to the airport to pick up Dinah (a/k/a Black Canary) and ask her to marry him. Unfortunately, trouble arises when the League of Assassins shows up to kidnap and kill a yen-year old girl who is also the princess of a small nation. Wounded and outgunned, our hero has only his skill and his wits to rely on, and the excitement is palpable. Great, great stuff. And closing it out is a terrific JONAH HEX short based on an issue of the comic and penned by the amazing Joe Lansdale. Voices, story, and animation all work together perfectly here, and it’s almost a shame. If the makers of the live-action film had stuck to this version of the character, they would have made something worth actually watching.

Even the bonus materials here are terrific. Producer Bruce Timm picks his top episodes from the earlier DC animated series (BATMAN, BATMAN: BRAVE AND THE BOLD, JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED) that focus on the characters presented in the shorts, doubling the amount of strong material on this disc.

Taken together, this package is a really, really good one, and I recommend it without qualifications.


SUPERMAN/BATMAN: APOCALYPSE

SUPERMAN/BATMAN: APOCALYPSE
Starring Tim Daly, Kevin Conroy, Susan Eisenberg and Summer Glau
Available from Warner Home Video

Reviewed by Marc Mason

In the wake of SUPERMAN/BATMAN: PUBLIC ENEMIES, life on Earth is returning to normal. Lex Luthor has been removed from office, the heroes are back in the public’s good graces… things should be going swimmingly. But as the remnants of the kryptonite asteroid that Batman destroyed at the end of that film hit the atmosphere, they bring a new challenge for the world’s finest in the form of a young girl claiming to be another survivor of Superman’s home planet. Her name is Kara, and according to her memories, she is the big blue boy scout’s younger cousin. Suddenly the man with the ‘S’ on his chest is no longer alone. But is it really that easy? Batman doesn’t seem to think so. Neither does Wonder Woman. And even if they believe that Kara means no harm, itmay be all for naught, as Darkseid rears his ugly head and decides to claim the young girl for his own nefarious purposes.

This is the first sequel that the animated DCU has produced, and APOCALYPSE is superior in every way when compared to PUBLIC ENEMIES. Let’s talk about what works here, starting with the voice talent involved. For this film, the production team went back to the classic voice actors that fans have loved for so many years now. Kevin Conroy is the definitive Batman; Tim Daly’s take on Superman has never been equaled, and it is a delightful bonus to have Susan Eisenberg back as Wonder Woman. Throw in Ed Asner reprising as Granny Goodness and this is a JLU cartoon smorgasbord of delight. The only misfire is the presence of Andre Braugher (an amazing actor) as Darkseid; with the rest of the classic cast onboard, it sort of stuck out like a sore thumb not to have Michael Ironside voicing DC’s greatest villain once again. Balancing that, though, is Summer Glau stepping in as Kara/Supergirl. This version isn’t really the same one that appeared in the Superman and JLU cartoons anyway, so the change in actor isn’t jarring.

What else works? Action. The plot kicks in quickly here, and once it does, the action sequences come fast and furious. One of the great thing about cartoons is how they allow the creative folks to not have to worry about budget- anything is possible, and the level of destruction and devastation rendered in multiple locales is impressive. The fact that this is meant to be epic never gets lost, and the writers and animators work hard to deliver (literally) a tremendous amount of bang for the buck.

I wasn’t fully keen on the slight change in animated style working here. The characters go slightly off the Bruce Timm model, attempting to adopt some of the late Michael Turner’s comic art tics, as he drew the original tale this flick is based on. It doesn’t really fully translate, though, and the only “Turnerism” that really works is his emphasis on Kara’s bright, wide eyes. They also keep intact Turner’s tendency for lots of bare flesh, which in the comics comes across as desperate fanboy pandering, but here manages to feel kind of right. This is a movie, after all, which has different standards.

There’s also a decent level of humor here, including a terrific scene where the DC trinity visits the suburbs to pop in on another hero that will play a huge role in the plot. It’s bits like that one that elevate APOCALYPSE above its predecessors and place it in the running for best DC animated movie to date. Recommended.





NINJAS VS ZOMBIES

NINJAS VS ZOMBIES
Written and Directed by Justin Timpane
Available via Endlight Entertainment and Seminal Pictures

Reviewed by Marc Mason

NINJAS VS ZOMBIES should have been the hands-down, no-brainer fun DVD of the the year. The concept at its core is nifty: after a séance gone bad, a young man’s brother returns from the grave with the power to suck out souls and create zombies. Stuck for ideas, the guy responsible for unleashing this plague of horror happens upon a spell that turns his three best friends into ninjas and joins them in the fight against a growing zombie army. When you’ve got a title and an idea like that, you’re halfway to glory.

But you have to finish the other half. And unfortunately, NINJAS VS ZOMBIES doesn’t.

Two things hamper the execution of the idea, and both are things you cannot easily maneuver around when shooting a low-budget film. The first is casting. Some of the players here are genuine naturals. Timpane is given a couple of players that have a real gift for capturing the screen and creating characters that you can invest in and get behind in their arc. The problem, though, is that a good chunk of the cast does not have that gift. And when those two “camps” interact on screen, the scenes between them come off wonky. It feels like people are acting in different films at the same time. This jarring juxtaposition hurts momentum and whatever chance of emotional depth that the film is trying to have.

This leads to the other primary problem, which is in the direction itself. Too often it feels like Timpane doesn’t really know how to stage what he wants to get across on the screen. Moments meant to evoke connections between the characters go flat not only from performance, but because they’re not framed in such a way as to suggest intimacy or intrigue. Also, a number of moments in the fight scenes are done so slowly that it takes you out of the picture and breaks suspension of disbelief. I kept hoping that Timpane would stop and shoot at 16 frames per second and then speed up the film to 24fps during the fights in order to give them locomotion, excitement, and immediacy, but it never happens.

I’m sure that many people will castigate me, saying that I should go easier on a movie that was put together by friends and made for a paltry $300K. After all, it’s meant to evoke the classic grade-B flicks of the 50s, and they didn’t exactly have a budget back then, either. I could let that thought stand and pat the filmmakers on the back, sure. But the real issue is that the potential to do something truly better existed here, making a movie that had legitimate impact not only as a B-level flick but as a way to show that you can do something truly amazing without spending millions. (see: Smith, Kevin) But it didn’t happen, and I can’t ignore that. We only improve when we get take legitimate criticism to heart and use it to grow. Good luck to the NVZ crew in their next endeavor.