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The Phantom
Originally Reviewed on August 18th 2006

The Phantom is another period piece superhero flick, and its one folks either love or hate. While he might not be as well known as Spider-Man or Superman, The Phantom-Created in 1936 by Lee Falk-was the inspiration for the modern costumed hero.

The Phantom was a lot different than those who came later. For one, he's a part of a long line of Phantoms, for another he's one of the few superheroes to be decked out in purple. He also didn't fight crime in a major metropolitan area but rather was a globetrotting adventurer whose home base was Skull Cave in Bengali, Africa. The Phantom's sidekick was a wolf named Devil and he rode on a white steed (Hero). The film, which is loosely based on comic strips from 1936-37 ("The Singh Brotherhood", "The Sky Band") as well as one titled The Belt, has the 21st Phantom, Kit Walker -aided by plucky Diana Palmer- battle to keep madman Xander Drax from gathering the "Skulls of Touganda" (an element unique to the movie). Which when combined as one, will give Drax absolute power and the means to rule the world.

The film does a marvelous job of capturing the sweet innocence of a bygone age. Back when a guy in purple suddenly shows up at the same time, in the same place, as his alter ego, and no one figures out that they are one in the same. That the movie holds tight to this type of naiveté is what I loved about it, but might have been a contributing factor in its poor reviews. We are too savvy these days.

Personally I'm glad they didn't turn the Phantom into a dark brooding psychological mess. I'm glad that he uses his 45s only to shoot the weapons out of his enemy's hands, and I'm glad they kept it an adventure the whole family can watch.

The production hit a few snags and I'm not sure it was in theaters for very long, Cameron Diaz was suppose to co-star, but that part was taken instead by the original Buffy, Kristy Swanson. Who does an excellent job as Diana Palmer (the heroes future wife). Treat William's is the eccentric, Howard Hughes-like bad guy. Treat chews the scenery like a pulp fiction pro; he's matter of fact, but flamboyant and more than a little off. Catherine Zeta-Jones, a few years before her breakout role in Zorro, plays Sala (leader of the Sky Band, a group of female air pirates). Billy Zane (Kit Walker) might not be the greatest actor, but he is one gorgeous man (what? Well, he is) and he fits the look and panache of the golden age hero to a tee. I loved the scenes between him and his deceased father (yes, The Phantom talks to a ghost) played by the great Patrick McGoohan.

Lastly, the production is sumptuous. The lush greens of the forest set against the rich hues of the Phantom's garb are beautiful. A stunning waterfall, an effulgent sunlit beach-all of this composition creates a movie high in style.

The film is a light, fun, popcorn adventure that captures the spirit of Lee Falk's comic tales. If one can put the cynic in them aside for an hour and a half, one might find they enjoy their visit to a simpler time, when a hero was simply a man of inner strength and integrity who is compelled to do what is right because it's the right thing to do. Read my opinions on the blu-ray release Here

The Phantom TV Mini-Series
Reviewed on September 14th 2010

Once we get past a silly opening where we see a group Ooo-ing and Aw-ing over some idiots gadding about on rooftops, the first part of the Phantom mini-series shows some promise. It's an update on the legend, and an origin story of the current Kit Walker (Ryan Carnes). An adopted college student (he doesn't know his real father or what he did) who finds himself suddenly thrust into the family business. The new and future Phantom has a few allies to guide him on his path, including the stern Abel Vandermaark (Jean Marchand) and sidekick Guran, played by Sandrine Holt (the reporter in the first Resident Evil film). As well as a now -tech savvy- evil Singh Brotherhood to contend with.

The set-up is good and the acting, apart from the villains, is top-notch. Marchand's Vandermaark comes off both caring and a little sinister. Carnes and Holt have a nice chemistry together (better than the forced love interest Kit has with a gal named Renny). Ryan Carnes is a little too, well... little. As a crime fighter he's not a physically dominating presence. But his performance is solid and his Phantom comes off caring and assertive.

The villains are the weak spot in all of this. On paper, their mind control plan (shades of an X-Files plot) sounds like it could be a scary threat, but it unravels as it goes and offers no nail biting moments. Acting wise: I normally like Isabella Rosselini, but she looks ridiculous in this and she seems lost and uncomfortable, as if she knows she looks ridiculous. Cas Anvar is over the top as top baddie Rhatib Singh, and he only gets worse in the second half, likely due to the fact that the film falls apart at the end, which brings us to the production as a whole.

Part 1 was rock solid and interesting, as a young man learns to be a hero. Part two where hero springs into action against his foes is insipid and riddled with clichés. How the baddie could have ever thought his evil scheme was in any way viable is beyond me. Sure, he has a Singh mole in the Phantom's organization... who poses no threat what so ever because he's surrounded by people who can easily take him out. Aside from that, the fights themselves make little sense and come off like the director is trying to force tension, as when the Phantom –in his strength-enhancing suit - struggles to take out a skinny guy with a scalpel? I never feared the Singh, never worried that the Phantom couldn't easily take them out.

As for the look of that suit, in a word... yuk ! Though I prefer the old school Phantom and loved the 1996 flick with Billy Zane, the character lives through the ages, so it's okay with me if they visit the past, or explore the future and make upgrades to match that future. Never the less, the updated costume looks horrid. They make snide comments in the script about the old purple spandex, but in my humble opinion, the spandex in the Zane film looked sharp. I loved it, while this new garb simply doesn't cut it, and the headgear is laughable.

Powerpuff Girls: The Movie
Originally Reviewed on December 10th 2007

The Powerpuff Girls movie tells the origin story of Blossom, Bubbles and the grouchy Buttercup and their arch nemeses, Mojo JoJo.

I remember the first time I saw the Powerpuff Girls, it was a special shown in 1995 in which Space Ghost and his gang presented several cartoon shorts. Of all those shown, the Power Puff's "Meat Fuzzy Lumkins" impressed me the most. It was cute, clever, colorful and fast moving. But when the girls were given their own show, it didn't translate well for me. What was cute in a short lost its pizazz and charm when expanded.

And I find a full-length movie serves the characters even less. There are laughs, and witty ideas (as with the ape rebellion and various factions, including the barrel full of monkey's, and monkey with cymbal- arguing over who will be the leader). Creator Craig McKraken's art which combines 50s UPA with Japanese anime is as bright, simple and effective as ever. But the concepts slim and the movie overly padded to fill out its 77-minute length. The Tag sequence for example, starts off cool, but it goes on and on and on and on. And I got pretty tired of it pretty quickly.

In short, the Girls held my interest for about 10 minutes back in 1995. The movie is just too shrill and taxing for my adult mind. Ahh if I was only 9 again

Power Rangers: The Movie
Originally Reviewed on December 29th 2007

When the film opens my first thought was that I was watching a freakin Mentos commercial. There are all these young, healthy exuberant teens doing young fun things (as the SOL crew sang in an MST3K Mentos parody skit, "Youth is better, old is stupid"). They sky dive and roller blade with perky perkiness and vapid smiles that called to mind the residence of Clonus! -sigh- well at the least the music is better in these scenes.

As the film progressed though I discovered that it was an improvement over "Turbo" (The 2nd Power Ranger's film), though it maintains the same vibe. The humor is broad and corny, the villains are cackling hams and that damned robot Alpha is lame the hell!

It annoyed (The shrill regular villains hurt my soul and the 2 comic relief guys give me gas) but for some reason it didn't annoy me as much as Turbo. I felt the fight scenes were better staged and it didn't waste much time on pretending there was a real story as Turbo tried to. The premise here is basically that the Ranger's mentor and source of their abilities, Zorden, lies near death after being attacked by a new baddie named Ivan Ooze. Though the pacing slows down when the powerless Rangers seek the means to defeat their foe, for the most part the script is simple, to the point and cuts to the chase.

The Rangers are annoyingly shiny people but the scenes with them are tolerable (Unlike the bits with that horrid Witchypoo character in the villains lair). The one evil entity that was tolerable was Ivan Ooze. He's camp, but not ear piercingly so because Paul Freeman (Baloq in Raiders of the Lost Ark/Rev Shooter in Hot Fuzz) is a top-notch actor who delivers the one decent performance in the film. Despite some real silliness there was a source of fun energy that surrounds this production. I'm never going to watch this again, but I found it (here comes that word again) tolerable

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Turbo: A Power Ranger's Movie
Originally Reviewed on December 26th 2007

Turbo is the second big screen Power Rangers flick and it was available for instant download on Netflix. So I gave it a go and all I can say is "GAAAAAAA!". First off this is very riffable. From the very beginning where the narrator speaks about a sinister marriage (isn't every marriage sinister? Teasing, teasing (says the divorced one), to a troll like wizard whose physical appearance disturbed and amused me, and finally, in a scene straight out of Dirty Harry, some kids on a bus are forced to sing Row Your Boat... A comedy team like Cinematic Titanic or Rifftrax could have a field day with this material, despite the fact that's it's played broad and for laughs.

Unlike the first movie (to be reviewed soon) this takes place within the context of the TV series. Therefore I had no idea who was who and why they were and ultimately the film reads less like a theatrical release and more like a television show. The screenplay is silly, simplistic, and acted with such a wide-eyed enthusiasm, and where every word is spoken in an unnatural exaggerated manner, that It could have been a skit on SCTV.

Dumb and broad, Turbo is pure camp but not the kind of sharp witted camp of the Batman TV series, rather it was heavy handed (The 2 dumb guy comic relief characters were excruciating) and the music is laughable, as a songwriter I can't believe they paid someone to compose this crap! ("There's hope for the world, hope for the world, hope for the world!"!

This was as impossible to watch as the Guyver and for the first time in this marathon, I simply couldn't take it and shut it off half way through. If the Pink Ranger wasn't such a cutie I wouldn't even have bothered to watch that much of this inept toy commercial.

Prey of the Jaguar
Reviewed on April 12th, 2009

A Morrisey looking dude breaks out of prison and then murders the family of the man (Matthew Caulfield) who put him behind bars. In tracking down the killer Caulfield uncovers a conspiracy involving a shadowy Government agency he was once involved with - which was lead by the barely present Stacey Keach. So our hero seeks training from Master Yee (why is it always a Master Yee, why not a Master Goldblum or Master Phil?) adopts a laughable costume created by his late son and quicker than you can say -Bippity Boppity Boom- The vigilante Jaguar is born.

Prey comes off like a cheap pilot for what was going to be a cable TV series. The corny, paint by numbers story sets a weak foundation. The performances are textbook "Soap Opera 101". Laced with pregnant pauses followed by a melodramatic sweep of the head and an intense look in the eye. Dialog spills from the actor's lips like a lead weight. And besides that, Caulfield (Grease 2) sports a cheesy mustache that makes him look like he wandered off the set of Reno 911. Linda Blair as the detective who helps the Jaguar was about the only actor who didn't make me wanna fall over and roll my eyes, but that's faint praise.

I've seen other films survive poor production values or a derivative plot by offering some semblance of competency in regards to sparkling wit, style or performance. Something, anything at all that I can grab onto and become emotionally or intellectually invested with. Jaguar provides, well, absolutely nothing. And that's what catapults it into the pantheon of the worst of the worst.

The Pumaman
Originally Reviewed on June 14th 2008

The Puma Man is one hell of a cheesy flick and was such a silly delight that it was featured in the 9th season of MST3K. For those unfamiliar with the plot: An ancient race of Gods visited the Earth and gave to it a savior in the guise of a goofy looking dude dressed in cape and slacks. (Many men have worn the mantle of P.M. over the centuries). In the here and now the evil Kobras (Donald Pleasance, looking rather bald and shiny) has seized the Gods mask of power and is using it to control certain people in power (leaving with him a collection of plaster heads). The only thing to stop him from world domination is foretold in the prophecy of "The Puma Man" - Donald sets out to kill anyone who might remotely be this savior.

This brings us to Tony Farms, the protagonist. Tony works with bones and when a big mean looking guy steals one of his bones he naturally chases after him -even though the guy looks like he could snap one of Tony's spindly legs like a celery stick. Luckily for Tony the big guy is the high Priest of the Gods who's only there to toss Tony out a window... Er, anyway. His name is Vadinho (Not an onion, that would be "Vidalia" by the way) and he has come to mentor the new and reluctant hero and help him to fulfill his destiny by defeating Kobras and regain the mask of power. Along the way Tony falls for a gal named Jane, who is under Kobras control and could end up being the death of our young champion.

The highlights of this silly Italian feature are the Dockers our superhero wears and the odd angles at which he flies; both are a source of great amusement. Puma Man is not invulnerable but he is strong, has the cat like ability to hop around bad guys (shouldn't that be the Bunny Man's power?) and can travel through other dimensions.

Overall The Puma Man is right there with Supersonic Man for cheesy effects and a silly premise and it was worthy of a riffing. It's not the worst superhero film ever, but it's near the top and is best viewed with Mike and his robot pals.

The Punisher (89)
Originally Reviewed on October 4th 2007

Dolph Lundgren plays the title character as listless, pasty faced and marble mouthed. He lives in the sewers and eats pizza, which he shares with his 4 freakishly large pet turtles... I wish! Hell, that scenario actually might have made for an interesting Punisher movie. As an actor, Dolph is really, very extremely bad. I can't underestimate his badness; he's like the 'Anti-actor'. When he does his "Come on God, answer me" speech at the beginning, he not only exposes his considerable limits as a thespian but made me doubt the very existence of a benevolent and loving God.

I have to believe that this whole thing was a goof; the director didn't expect us to take this film seriously, did he? The script is so melodramatic and heavy-handed that it makes for a better comedy than grim actioner.

The story is basic and told artlessly. Frank Castle is a cop whose family is murdered. Seeking vengeance and vowing to wipe out the mob, he becomes a vigilante named the Punisher. Yawn. Neither this, nor the second version of this story with Thomas Jane is very good. But at least the later version allowed Castle to wear the skull. Dolph only wears black and for that, another yawn.

This doesn't feel like a superhero movie at all. And though a fan favorite when he first appeared, I always found the Punisher a trite and boring figure. His movies haven't helped change my opinion.

Anyway the story goes on to tell of a mob war, which heats up when the Yakuza kidnap some gangster's kids. This event inspires a wino to go find Frank and give him a lecture, "What about the children?" he slurs in Dr. Seussian rhyme. I'm not sure what the filmmakers intended with all of this. Was I supposed to be moved? Was this supposed to make me relate and care for the character? I can't tell but it did make me shake my head and forced a funny -what the bloody hell- look on my face.

There's another subplot concerning a couple cops hot on Castle's trail (one is played with bland crankiness by Louis Gossett Jr.) All of it is sleep inducing and in truth, the only character I had any interesting in at all was the Punishers beard (was that real stubble? Coffee grounds? Greasepaint? Some kind of smudge?)

There are too many preachy speeches, too many conventional and unimaginative gunfire sequences and poorly staged hand-to-hand battles and too much superficial character development. It's all so very bland, and for a flick based on a comic book adventure, that's the greatest sin of all.

Well not the greatest sin. That would be the Punishers tacked on naked butt scene at the end? Why! What in God's name possessed them to do this? It just sums up how wrong a movie this is.

The Punisher: Extended Version (2004)
Originally Reviewed on October 8th 2007

The Punisher's come a long way since the first time I saw him in the pages of Spiderman. Back then he didn't have a name, we now know him as Frank Castle. His comic series were fair, but it wasn't until Garth Ennis started writing him that someone was able to do justice to the character. I don't like Ennis, his stories are mean, nasty... but that's just what the Punisher needed. This is a guy who fights mean and nasty people and takes them down in mean and nasty ways.

Because I'm not an avid reader of Ennis' Punisher, my knowledge of how true to the character this film is, is limited. I know he had those neighbors and I know there was a story where a mobster's son is killed. But aside from that all I can judge this on is on whether I liked the movie in and of its self.

As with the first version, this isn't really a superhero film. It's a vigilante vs. the Mob tale. It's very violent, as it should be, but it's also very off kilter. The film doesn't flow naturally. The first half works well. The tone is sober, brutal and the drama is gut wrenching. I thought that this might turn out to be a pretty decent flick. But then a guy walks into a restaurant, pulls out a guitar and starts serenading Frank. And from there on the movie slips in these oddball elements.

The introduction of the apartment neighbors seems okay at first but then it goes out of synch and gets too quirky and then maudlin (Suddenly he's family? That didn't register). After the guy with the guitar, Frank goes toe to toe with a brutish Russian in a violent but too silly slapstick farce. I didn't like this strange shift to the mix between grim violence and the eccentric.

Punisher: The actors are fair, though they are at times sunk by witless dialog and situations. John Travolta as the baddie is vicious and dangerous. He lacks nuance and his performance becomes increasingly shrill and overdone as the film goes on (I know he's cracking under the pressure but a better actor can project that emotion without the ham). Thomas Jane as Castle is okay. I think someone a little rougher around the edges would have worked better but he does a solid job of showing his grief and transformation to a person who is emptied out and has nothing left to lose.

This version of the movie restores a subplot, which begins with a firefight in Kuwait. It doesn't add much to the story (And the scene when the Mobster is told Castle's real name seems odd now. Since Franks old friend spilled the beans earlier), but I did like the clever way they used animation to tell that story. It looked good for the most part. I like animated openings; the F4 extended cut had a cool one as well.

It looks like they are doing re-tool of the character a third time. The original title was "Welcome Back Frank" (since changed), which was the title of Enins's first comic story. And that it's going to feature a character I'm familiar with; The Punisher's arch nemeses, Jigsaw. Yes! That's enough to pique my interest.

But to tidy up this review: After a promising start, the Punisher loses focus in its final acts. It does however gain a bit of redemption with the exchange between Travolta and Jane at the end, John's character cries out, "You killed my son!" - there's an explosion and the Punisher replies, "I killed both of them". That's classic.

Punisher: War Zone
Reviewed on December 7th, 2008

I should have hated this. It's about a character I've never cared for, it captures the nasty blood soaked feel of the Garth Ennis stories that were too ugly for me to enjoy. The cinematography is washed out, stark, as if it were torn from the pages of those comic books. But I surprised myself and actually enjoyed this film.

The general consensus was that this was one of the worst movies you'd ever see. And yes, It was ultra violent as they said, the acting was over the top and some of the dialog was clunky. Yet, I like it, despite this, or maybe because of it. You see the piece stays true to director (and former Kickboxing champion) Lexi Alexander's vision. It succeeds in being just what it was suppose to be, a big bloody over the top action packed comic book.

I wasn't distracted by the acting either. The film boasts a solid cast. Dominic West as Jigsaw (whose origin is a twisted take on Burton's Joker) chews the scenery and carries a too broad accent but that works in this film, Jigs brother Loony Bin Jim is played by Doug Hutchison who always does great slimy screwball characters (he was one of the X-Files best villains, Eugene Tooms). Wayne Knight, who usually irritates the heck out of me, was reserved and very good as Castle's ally, Micro. Colin Salmon (from the Brosnan Bond films) and quirky Dash Mihok are the cops who are on Frank's trail

At the top is gritty Ray Stevenson as the Punisher. While he doesn't say a lot, he's great in the role, the best to play the part by far. He looks beaten and scared. There's something haunted in his eyes (which shines though in scenes where he nurses guilt over killing an FBI agent) but he's not so one dimensional that he can't manage a bit of smile while conversing with the slain FBI agent's daughter.

The first Punisher was strictly amateur hour, the second started off strong before falling apart. 3rd time was the charm. The camera work is good, the story moves at a brisk pace, there's humor and I thought the various characters in the film were interesting. I also like how Lexi gives us the Punisher's origin without a long rehashing. These are offered in small snippets of flashback and they pack a punch (as in a scene at the grave site). While the violence is disgusting, the action implausible and the acting cheesy, I dug this flick. And not in a guilty pleasure or "it's so bad it's good" vein, nah, I seriously liked this. But with it tanking at the box office it looks like this will be it for Stevenson and Alexander's take on Marvel's anti-hero.

Push
Reviewed on February 9th, 2009

Many early notices I'd read on Push drew compressions between it and "Heroes", and while there are elements of that, the movie "Jumper" and of course, the "X-Men", the thing that popped into my mind while watching it, were the similarities with Stephen King's Firestarter. In both you have people who have gained special powers due to Government experimentation. To me, while this has inspired a comic book series, it was less a superhero movie and more a Government conspiracy/sci-fi yarn.

Push's story is set in Hong Kong, where several groups are hunting for a woman (Camilla Belle), a Pusher, who has stolen a serum that can boost the powers of those with gifts. Caught in the center of this activity is Cassie (Dakota Fanning) a Watcher who can draw the future and Nick (Chris Evans), a Mover (those who have the power of telekinesis). Cassie is also trying to rescue her mother from a Government agency called "The Division" and a badass Pusher named Carver (Djimon Hounsou) who works for them .

The story is simple, but it is dense with enough characters, powers and plot twists that you need to pay attention. Pushers can inject memories and ideas into your head, and Wipers can empty them. This adds a degree of uncertainty, as you never know what is real and what was pushed into your mind.

The acting is excellent across the board. Fanning was terrific in her first young adult role; snarky but with fully human layers. When she and Carver meet up, she can't look him in the eyes and seems truly terrified of the man. That was an effective scene and well played by the talented actress. Hounosu as the main baddie is superb. I found his performance refreshing. He's nasty but in a cool way as there's none of that wild gesturing and scenery chewing we get from many a movie villain. He's doing his job, methodically and reasonably because it's a job he believes in. Evans is also very good, there are hints of that Johnny Storm (Fantastic Four) swagger but it is coupled with greater weight and dimension.

The film has an indie look to it, the cinematography is filtered and washed out (similar to what I saw a week ago while watching "Slumdog Millionaire"). It's stylish to look at but isn't just balls to the walls with mindless action. No, Push isn't profoundly deep, but it does appear that director Paul McGuigan (Lucky Number Sleven) put some time and effort into making this more than a mere action flick and infuse it with a measure of artistic flourish and atmosphere. Thumbs up to production designer Francois Seguin on that front as well.

There are week spots: While most of the powers manifested themselves nicely, the Bleeders (those who can scream you to death) made a few audience members (myself among them) laugh. They look darn funny with their eyes bugged out, running around screaming at the top of their lungs. It's a cool idea but the execution was lacking. A few titters were had over some dramatic lines of dialog, and I can't figure out why the stitch (a healer) was so angry at Cassie and Nick. It might have been explained and I missed it (I'll get back to that when it comes out on DVD).

Despite the solid acting I didn't get real emotionally invested with the characters, as it was a bit too cold around the heart. Still, there was more that I liked than didn't like. While I'm sure the story wouldn't hold up to close scrutiny, it is more cohesive than "Heroes" and features better acting and story than "Jumper". Push, while not a great film, was much better and sharper than I expected it to be.

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Q

Qing Feng Xia (The Green Hornet)
Originally Reviewed on July 21st 2008

This little known Hong Kong production was released in the 90s and stars Kar Lok Chin as the title character. Though he dresses like Kato everyone calls him the Green Hornet and he's part of a long line of Hornet's. In fact in one scene G.H's pals speak of the man who trained him as they point out the figure of Bruce Lee in Kato costume.

Kar Lok Chin is a noted stuntman in Chinese cinema and he knows his stuff. Though they do speed up the camera at times and either add wirework or reverse the film so that Hornet can do this unusual looking fast back-step move. Chin has a violent grace to him, he flows and spins like water and fights quite unlike any martial artists I've ever seen. It certainly added to my enjoyment.

Though we are shown shots of a big shiny city, the locals are 'small town' so that it seems this version of the Hornet battles crime not in a major metropolitan area, but in a remote village. He is aided by 2 farmer/artists and knocks head with a local Police investigator who is trying to crack a case involving a gang of German smugglers. The movie opens nicely with the Green Hornet breaking up a child slavery ring. It's pretty funny when the kids help him by pointing out the bad guys trying to escape and Hornet knocks each thug out with his boomerang.

It's a comedy and though I didn't laugh a whole lot, I enjoyed the light tone of the piece. There's a bit of romance too, as Green falls for a reporter who's been snooping around (and always manages to get herself into the kind of trouble that requires rescue). But mostly it's a lot of fast moving action.

I think they just should have called it Kato and built on his past and present, and not trampled on the Green Hornet's long established history. Aside from that this was pretty good... despite the 2 sets of sub titles that crowd the screen (Chinese and English) and the strange dual vocal tracks that can be heard throughout.

R

The Return of Captain Invincible
Originally Reviewed on May 18th 2008

Released in 1983: This is a very odd, pun filled, partly serious, partly camp comedy, sometimes funny, often embarrassing musical - yes, I said -musical- superhero flick. Captain Invincible (Alan Arkin) is the Nazi-fighting good guy who is called before the McCarthy hearings and labeled a communist. In shame, the Captain disappears becomes a drunk and fades into obscurity. That is until the diabolical Mr. Midnight (The great Christopher Lee) brings the country to its knees. With that (and a song titled "Bullsh*t") the President orders that Captain Invincible be found and enlisted to do battle against Midnight.

The cast is great, Arkin and Lee are inspired choices to play fallen hero and villainous sociopath and the music is provided by the same guy who wrote the songs for the "Rocky Horror Picture Show". So you get an idea right there where this movie is heading. Straight onto strangeville! I like the serious, nostalgic parts. The newsreel footage at the start, Arkin coming out of his drunk and lamenting how much America has changed. All of this I enjoyed. I was not so enamored when it got weird. I hate it when a flick tries to show you how wacky it is by speeding up the film, that's so bleedin' corny. I hated the bits where the Captain and his gal pal are attacked by vacuum cleaners, or later, during a supposedly wacky dinner scene with Lee. These bizzaro turns are embarrassingly camp and nearly ruin the movie.

The music was unnecessary and felt out of place. The only moment it works was at the end when Mr. Midnight tempts Invincible with drink. I'd have preferred it had they not tried so obviously hard to be eccentric and just stuck with the light comedy and whimsy and let the story play out. There was a really enjoyable tale to be told, when they elected to focus on it.

RoboCop
Originally Reviewed on September 14th 2007

What makes a Superhero? I define it as anyone with an extraordinary ability that wear distinct clothing, and uses those abilities to thwart evil. Paul Verhoeven's RoboCop works in several genres. As sci-fi and social satire but it also fits that super hero vibe as well (and Cyborgs have been used in the pages of comics often. From Deathlok in Marvel as well as a character in DCs Teen Titans). So that's why I'm including it in the marathon.

Anyway - This was my favorite movie when it was released and I wondered how it would hold up. Watching my old tape last night, it does get a little creaky at times. The ED209 FX is pretty cheesy.

But that's kind of Verhoevens style: cheesy and over the top satire. Over the course of years one could argue that the director has made slicker films (Total Recall), and ones that worked pure satire better (Starship Troopers). But the difference with Robo, and what elevates it above other Verhoeven films for me, is that touch of humanity. With Troopers I'm choking on the volume of satire, it's too much. There's nothing for me to hold onto or relate to. But there's no danger of this happening with Robo because there are moments where the screenwriters move away from the camp and offer a little human back-story, and doing that (aided by Peter Weller's acting) gives me an emotional investment in the character. It makes Robo-Cop more than just violent eye candy (The scene where Murphy tells his partner than he can "feel" his family, but can't remember them, is particularly touching).

There's so much I love about this film, the humor, the humanity and I love the clever ending. Like an old Star Trek episode, Robo-Cop's FX are dated and some of the dialog is shaky, but the story and characters keep it timeless.

RoboCop 2
Originally Reviewed on June 1st 2008

The original RoboCop was cruel and nasty and full of ugly over the top violence. But it also had intelligence, humanity and biting social satire. Robocop 2 is a pale, poorly made imitation (The direction on the original was tight as a drum, this one crawls in a limp, unfocused state). There is humor but it is devoid of wit and it only takes a superficial brush at exploring the human elements (Murphy meets his wife and they poke at the question of what makes a man a man, then quickly discard the plotline)

It's cruel just for the sake of cruelty and the inclusion of a child as a foul mouthed, gun toting drug dealer was tasteless and unnecessary (and made me feel dirty inside). Comic book God Frank Miller -who after watching Verhoven's classic, hailed it as the prefect comic book movie- was brought in the write the screenplay. Much has been made about how Orion's studio executives screwed up his original epic 2-part vision for the character. But his storyline has since been released in a graphic novel and actually it stinks and is just as convoluted and thin as what was filmed.

Miller's original script is unfocused. Pointless rambling subplots abound (OCP works hard to discredit RoboCop, when it would be more efficient to simply destroy him. And when they get this opportunity they REPAIR him instead - Hu?). It's also shallow as Frank makes little effort to explore the man inside the machine as Verhoven did. A lot of the same ideas made it on screen and a pure retelling would have been no improvement on this horrid, grotesque, unfocused monstrosity.

RoboCop 3
Originally Reviewed on June 1st 2008

AKA: "Leave the Bronx!" - It's not a good sign when your movie steals from "Escape From The Bronx" ("Escape 2000" to us MSTies). The 3rd Robo-film is an artless little trifle, embracing its comic book style roots to the fullest. In an attempt to get back to basics it draws from the first film with music and dialog but that's where the similarities end. RC3 is pure action candy - nothing too deep, packed with silly stuff such as a samurai robot and a big finish where Murphy swoops in to save the day on a jet pack. Cool but stupid at the same time.

Its clichéd, there's even a little girl whose a computer genius (and we know how fun genius kiddies can be). Still as simplistic as it is, I'd rather watch this fast moving superflik than sit through the bleak excrement they pooped out for part 2. Besides I love a flick where the arrogant villain gets his legs melted by Jet pack exhaust and then screams like a girl. The one huge misstep was offing Lewis (though it is the impetus to getting Robocop to side with the rebels). Its rated PG-13 so it's pretty bloodless as compared to its R rated brethren.

The Rocketeer
Originally Reviewed on August 18th 2006

Terminator II and Kevin Costner's horrid Robin Hood squashed The Rocketeer at the box office in 1991, which is too bad because this was a pretty good movie.

Gorgeously filmed with effective pre-digital flight FX, The Rocketeer was a faithful adaptation of Dave Steven's superb small company comic book series - which was set in the late 30s and served as homage to the rocket-men serials (like Commando Cody).

The story tells of a Nazi ring that is trying to get its hands on a rocket pack, which was developed by Howard Hughes. Stunt pilot Cliff Secord accidentally gets a hold of the device, and over the course of the movie, a reluctant hero is born.

The actors in the film are memorable. Timothy Dalton plays the Errol Flynn like villain and his henchman looks a lot like Rondo Hatton. Bill Campbell's Cliff Secord is the best casting I've seen on any comic book adapted movie, as he looks like he stepped right off the page. Jennifer Connelly always fits period pieces set in the 30s and 40s and though her characters name was changed she is perfect in the part. (The comic Betty was based on Bettie Page. Being a Disney film, they cut out the sensual aspects of the character and made her a struggling actress instead of a pinup model)

Add in Terry O'Quinn as Howard Hughes and Alan Arkin as Cliff's right hand man, Peevy. And this was a stellar cast.

The look of the sets, the feel of the era is spot on. The Rocketeer was a fun, slick looking adventure. I'd strongly recommend this often forgotten gem in the comic book film genre. (And if you find the Dave Stevens comic, pick it up. The art is beautiful)

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S

Sgt. Kabukiman, N.Y.P.D.
Reviewed on May 5th 2009

More idiocy from Lloyd Kaufman's Troma studio's. I get the joke, Troma’s all about making bad, cheesy movies on purpose. That I get it doesn't mean I like it. I'm not the target audience for this kind of thing and this will be my last Tromaville review, there's no point to writing another.

The story, such as it is, concerns a cop named Harry Griswold, who is reluctantly handed the mantle of Kabukiman in order to stop an ancient evil from coming into power. It's got the usual amount of tastelessness, low-grade humor, and nudity you'd come to expect from the studio. If that's your thing, that's cool, but for me it certainly wasn't worth my time. The film wanders unfocused for an excruciating hour and 44 minutes. I counted about 3 laughs total, and most of the humor is of the slapstick variety (complete with irritating wacky sound effects). God awful doesn't begin to describe this film and I can't work up much thought or consideration for the review.

The Shadow
Originally Reviewed on September 18th 2007

The Shadow's best moments came via a popular radio show. This character, a man of mystery and intrigue who could be heard but not seen, was made more compelling for having the drama play out on the airwaves, with any imagery coming through ones imagination. Would I find the crime fighter as effective in a big Hollywood blockbuster? The answer? Not really.

Director Russell Mulcahy made his mark as one of the fathers of the MTV music video movement. His claim to fame was the quick edits which defined the look of the network, and this style would bleed into TV and Film. Later Russell would gain some success directing the cult hit, "Highlander", and it was the Shadow that was going to put him among the big leaguers. But he dropped the ball, For some reason he abandoned the spastic edits -which at first blush would seem a good idea- but bereft of his signature style, Mulcahy proved to be pretty damned boring.

The Shadow is very static, the camera moves like cold molasses. The filmmakers are trying to develop character but they can't seem to make these characters very interesting . For example, Penelope Ann Miller is the quirky love interest that can read minds and is resistant to the Shadow, Lamont Cranston's power. On paper that sounds great, but it doesn't play out that way on screen. Perhaps it's because the script is so wordy, it defeats the characters, bogs down the story. The production is heavy on stilted dialog and light on mystery, awe and pulse pounding adventure.

I've heard a few directors (Brad Bird, Joss Whedon) talk about having to cut dialog, even dialog they loved, because it didn't translate well on screen. It's a balance, keeping the dialog that propels and develops character, and letting go of the words that might be pretty, but ultimately saps the momentum of the story. It seems that Mulcahy lacked the skill and inner ear to know how to strike this balance.

The man behind the mask, Alec Baldwin, is okay if a little hammy at times. And when he laughs, it's more crazed than eerie. The guy who voiced the Shadow on Radio was damned eerie and Baldwin doesn't approach those elevated levels. There are times when we are given a taste of how neat the Shadow can be, fleeting glimpses of him wielding his "power to cloud men's minds". But Baldwin needed a better director and a tighter script in order to wrap a cool movie around a cool character.

The film boasts a decent cast, but again the script lets them down. John Lone plays the last descendant of Genghis Kahn and he is Cranston's evil counterpart - but he's dull and despite a nasty streak, never struck fear into me. Ian Mckellen (X-Men's Magneto) as the father of Miller's character and a developer of an Atomic Bomb, Peter Boyle as Cranston's faithful driver, Tim Curry as self serving creep and one of my favorites, the great Jonathan Winters, playing the commissioner. All do their best but they simply don't have a lot of great material to work with. There are moments, McKellen's color blindness made for a cute bit. Winters earned a laugh and a smile, and I loved the end at the psych ward. That was a clever piece of true justice. But for the most part...

I've liked the period piece hero movie. Phantom and Rocketeer effectively captured a bygone age. There was something sweet -even if the bad guys weren't- in them. But the Shadow never quite taps into the same groove and there is an edge of cruelty that I didn't care for. Having an innocent blow his brains out, and another jump from a high-rise building was too much. I know they were trying to make me fear the villain, but it didn't add any fear, it only left a bad taste in my mouth.

The Shadow isn't the embarrassing disaster that "Batman and Robin" or "Superman III" was, there are things I enjoyed about it. But neither did it do full justice to the source material. And making a tepid, talky flick about an awesome dude like the Shadow was a criminal waste.

Sidekick
Originally Reviewed on June 29th 2008

The film "Jumper" asked the question of what would really happen if a person had super powers. Would they fight crime or would they use the power for their own personal gain? It's an intriguing idea that the film wasn't able to do complete justice to, but this little Indie project comes out of nowhere to show us how to do it right.

The story concerns a comic book geek named Norman who works as an I.T. guy at a brokerage firm. He's an outsider who doesn't fit in with the movers and shakers at the firm, nor with the secretary he's attracted to. He has one friend, the owner of a comic book shop, played by the movies one 'name' actor, Daniel Baldwin. Norm has a good heart but is obsessive and is desperate for something better.

He sees his chance at becoming something special when he accidentally discovers that a slick broker named Victor, has telekinetic powers. Norman tries to convince Victor to allow him to help him develop his abilities - find his destiny and be a hero. Vic resists, until tragedy occurs and he turns to Norman for help.

Things though, don't go according to plan. And this is what makes the movie such a delight; it takes the idea of the birth of a hero and spins it on its ear.

I've seen this sold as a comedy but there's more to it than that. There are comedic elements, some very funny moments and a couple of delightful nods to comic characters (Victor dons glasses ala Clark Kent and Kryptonite is mentioned), but this is drama and it's dark, violent. Downright frightening at times in the same way "Superman Doomsday" brought chills when it asks you to imagine a Supes without boundaries. It also asks questions I've also had - why wouldn't a super hero simply off a villain? After all the chaos Lex Luthor has caused over the years, why shouldn't Supes simply kill the baddie. It probably would save a lot of lives in the long run.

Sidekick was shot on digital video and while low budget, the direction is solid. The story is sound and the actors all do a good job. While there are "personality types" they are types with layers - For example, Norman is the nice guy hero, but he's also been witness early on to Victors self absorbed and childish behavior, so that he is culpable in what happens later.

There are a few creaky bits; I didn't care for the abrupt, unresolved ending (are they planing a sequel?) - and when Norman puts on the suit at the end it did seem a little silly (Not fatally so, and it does show how desperate Norman is to be a hero). The movie was filmed in Canada, was released in 2005 and played at film festivals and comic cons where it built a cult following. It finally has received a DVD release in the States - Netflix lists it and I'd highly recommend checking it out.

Silver Hawk
Originally reviewed on September 16th 2006

Looking beyond our borders I found a huge selection of Super based heroes. Heck, I could spend a year just on the Japanese flicks as they have everything from Infra-Man to Beetle, The Horn King (a wrestler). And speaking of which, Mexico has its wrestlers as hero's franchises (Samson and Neutron to name only two). And a quick overview of other countries finds a healthy bounty of super hero flicks.

The 2004 movie, Silver Hawk, is based on an old Hong Kong comic book. Produced and starring Michelle Yeoh, 'Hawk tells the story of a millionaire socialite named Lulu, who fights crime on the side and is pursued by the cops (lead by a childhood friend) who are tired of being up staged by the vigilante.

The movie is pure corn and is probably best suited for younger audiences. The general silliness got to be a bit much for me. There are a couple of nice flashback scenes with Lulu and the Cop as children training in the martial arts, but overall this one cracked the goofy meter -What with the bungi-jumping and rollerblading baddies as foes.

It's also a bad sign when the plot steals from "Batman Forever" (Bad guy using A.I. mind control methods). And while Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) still has the kung fu moves down, the quick edits soften the impact of the battles.

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Sky High
Originally Reviewed on September 16th 2006

While not all are financial successes, Disney's had a pretty nice run in the Super Hero market and Sky High, an amiable family film, is another good one. The plot takes a look at the mundane, through the eyes of those with great power. Sky High is where kids with super abilities go to school, and takes classes like "Hero Support". It's a fun concept and the teen actors all do well in creating likable (or unlikable, as the case may be) characters.

One review I read criticized the film by saying that real kids don't talk the way the kids do in the movie. Well I got news for ya son, the adults in the movie don't talk like adults in real life either. But then neither do they fly and battle 50 foot robots. This isn't real life, this is flick set in a comic book world. The actors do just fine bringing in enough reality to make it relatable to us regular Joes, while meshing in the geek super fantasy aspects as well.

The story about the school and the kids is a lot of fun. I liked the school tough guy, Warren Peace. The way they filmed his flame throwing abilities was way cool. I liked the quirky sidekicks, like the kid who melts into a puddle and another who glows green. And the two leads are engaging and interesting to boot. But what really makes this movie was the brilliant casting on the supporting roles. Kurt Russell is perfect as the muscle bound, though not so sharp witted, Commander. Lynda Carter is given at least one choice punch line as is Principal Powers; Bruce Campbell's a kick as the bullying Coach Boomer and "Kids in the Hall" alums, Kevin McDowell and Dave Foley (who steals every scene he's in, playing the hapless sidekick and teacher, Mr. Boy), are a winning duo. There's also a cute cameo by Cloris Leachman as the school nurse.

Sky High isn't a knock out classic like The Incredibles or even as superb as the Rocketeer, but it is fun and very entertaining and a great pick for family viewing.

Spawn
Originally Reviewed on October 8th 2007

This review covers the R rated version and not the PG13 theatrical cut. It has been re-edited with dialog and scenes added and for most viewers this cut is far superior to the original. It's still not great. Roger Ebert loved this film and when I read his review I thought, "Wow, that does sound like an awesome movie". But what Roger describes isn't what I saw presented on screen.

Created by Todd McFarlane (The guy who made Venom a star), Spawn was never much story-wise. The premise about the devil building an army led by a reluctant recruit isn't all that original. But Todd could draw some pretty pictures and Spawn looked cool as hell (pun intended). The visual aspects were Spawn's strength, like Ghost Rider it was all about the look.

The movie suffers from the same shortcomings as the comic. It has a weak, often contrived story, with situations that feel shoe horned. Some of the dialog is atrocious. Unlike the comic and despite the glut of visual effects, it doesn't look cool as hell.

Now many disagree with me and praise the FX. I'll agree there are good shots and they did the best on a short schedule. But mixed in between the nice effects are some truly wretched ones. The first battle between Spawn and Violator illustrates this well. The transformation to evil monster looks bad, real bad. But then Violator appears and he looks good, real good. During the fight he grabs Spawn and it looks like he's holding a doll. That's bad, real bad.

Either stay with cheesy, or stick with state of the art. But the back and forth mix of both was jarring. And the Devil, Malbo-whatever, is hysterical. He looks like he's wearing a bad toupee. I go from good FX with Spawn's chains or whatever, and then we descend into hell, ready to see fearsome evil at it's worst, and the damn demon's sporting Tiki doll hair! Even Hell itself was poorly rendered and Inconsistency like that would just take me out of the movie. You can't do that to an audience. Once you have them believing in this world you've created, you better be able to keep them there.

As to Spawn: I never liked the look of the cape. The costume looks dingy and rubbery, as if it was constructed of chewed up gum. It came nowhere near to capturing the stark black and eye-popping reds seen in print.

Aside from the hit and miss FX, the acting is hammy. John Leguizamo as the offensive clown/violator can get to be an irritant at times, but did manage to squeeze a laugh or three out of me, "How come God hogs all the good followers and we get all the retards!" Michael Jai White (Spawn) seethes with unrestrained anger, but he lacks real pizzazz and can't convey the heartbreaking sense of loss associate with the character. And evil Martin Sheen eats gravel and chews scenery. His annoyability factor knows no limits.

Spawn is better than Catwoman, it's better than My Super Ex-Girlfriend, Elektra and heck I liked it better than any of the live action Turtle flicks I've recently watched. But it's not as good as it could have been. Had it provided the gothic grandeur seen in the comic, and sweeping, fluidity of the title character. Had the horror been palpable and not undercut by the goofy looking Devil. Had the battles been mythic. This would have been the movie Roger Ebert described in his glowing review. Instead it's another in a long line of films that leave me thinking, "Mmm, That was okay".

Special
Reviewed on April 1st 2009

I've been waiting a long time to see this film. It was released in 2006 and played in film festivals here and there, but never made it to my town. Finally, after 3 years it found its way onto disc... and into my DVD player.

Special isn't your traditional superhero flick, the guy really isn't a superhero at all. He's just an ordinary person named Les (Michael Rapaport), with a dull ordinary life, who reads comic books to escape into the extra ordinary. When he takes part in a clinical study the pills he ingests have a strange side effect, it gives him super powers... or so he thinks. In truth it's all in his mind.

These early scenes where he discovers and reveals his abilities to his doctor and his only friends (2 brothers who own the comic shop he frequents) are hilarious. I laughed hard during the first act of the picture. But the film isn't a pure comedy, nor did it take a turn towards whimsy as I expected (though there are elements of this), it truth the movie stays relatively grounded and that adds some weight and sadness to the piece. Rapaport, who is absolutely brilliant in the role by the way, is losing his mind and it's not only scaring those who care about him, but is getting him seriously hurt, hurt to the point where it becomes difficult to watch.

Apart from running around the city in costume and seeing things that aren't really there, he faces another threat from the folks who financed the new drug - they don't want this ersatz hero ruining their dreams of success. They'll do anything to shut him up, even if it means murder,

The ending is very harsh but it relates to something Les said earlier in the film about what it means to be a superhero - how they never stop, no matter how hard the villain comes at them. Despite these painful edges, Special is funny, smartly directed and written. The performers add much to the movie, though the script doesn't delve deeply into the supporting characters (including a clerk that Les has a crush on) they act as memorable accents, playing off and helping to flesh out the protagonist. Special isn't always an easy watch, but it is a good one.

The Specials
Originally Reviewed on September 14th 2007

The Specials isn't an action movie, it's a day in the life of a super hero team. Think X-Men as if directed by Christopher Guest. Only this these guys aren't the A-team, The Specials are only the 6th or 7th greatest group of heroes in the world but they're about to get their due and receive their own toy-line,

Very low budget (You can count the FX on one hand), and lasting only 82 minutes; the film relies heavily on a superb ensemble cast and comic book geeks will rejoice in how they nail -and have fun with- super hero conventions. Thomas Hayden Church, so brilliant as Sandman in Spider-Man 3, is pitch perfect as the melodramatic leader, the great Strobe (His speech 10 minutes in, directed to the whole team, is hilarious). Rob Lowe plays the most popular member, The Weevil. Nightbird is the team's newbie, played with personality by Jordan Ladd (Cheryl's daughter). Paget Brewster is the straight (wo)man Ms. Indestructible who is married to the Strobe. My favorite Special, Judy Greer is suitably snarky as Deadly Girl.

One after the other the actors and characters are distinct, colorful and funny. The dumb innocent US Bill, Mr. Smart, The 8 (lead by Xs John Doe), Minute (as in small) Man, is always confused with Minute (as in time) Man. Power Chick and the Alien Orphan. Only the foul-mouthed Jamie Kennedy as Amok didn't delight me. I get the joke -his language is out of the comic book norm- but I don't find F-Bombs inherently funny in and of themselves.

There's also a lot of cameo's, Melissa Joan Hart, Chase Masterson and Jenna Fischer (before the Office) to name a few. As with "Mystery Men", the men behind the camera weren't geniuses. Writer James Gunn wrote Scobby Doo, not exactly a brilliant comedic screenplay and the Director, Craig Mazin wrote the crappy Rocketman as well as Scary Movie's 3 & 4. But they created a film that's funny, has some heart and is elevated by a great cast

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Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2
Originally Reviewed on August 8th 2006

Editors Note: Back in August of 2006, I picked up the first 2 Spider-man movies that were on sale (for a mere 3 bucks) and began my superhero odyssey. The first reviews were pretty short and I've filled them out a little for this site

Both of these are everything a Super Hero movie should be. It has heart, humor, great character development and wild action. Sam Raimi really gets Peter Parker; he understands that Peter is just a regular schlub with extraordinary abilities. And while some of the chronology doesn't match the comics exactly, literature of all types has always had to be adapted to fit the medium of film. So, while I can be nit-picky, I don't get that nit-picky with my movies.

As great as the first movie is, the second surpasses it, while using many of the same thematic elements. In both there is a fire, in both, the villain menaces Aunt May and Mary Jane, and each villain suffers a split in personality after an experiment goes bad.

Whatever kinks there were in part 1 is worked out for part 2, making the sequel -arguably- the greatest comic book film of all time. For example: As wonderful as Willem Dafoe was as the crazed Goblin - Alfred Molina is better, he brings more nuance to the role of Doctor Octopus. There's a real depth in his portrayal of a good man undone by his creation.

Also the first movie had a few moments where it loses momentum (just by a hair) but Spider-Man 2 it flows seamlessly, not a miss-step or hitch in the narrative flow (It probably helped having Michael Chabon work on the screenplay). It captures the essence of the early Spider-Man era to perfection (The sequence at the party was a hoot. I laughed even while I related to Parker's woes. Yeah Peter my man I've had days like that too!)

Part of the fun in both is found in little nods to the comic book. The scene where Peter discards his uniform came from a cover. The scene with the up-side-down kiss and the weak attempt to flirt with Betty Bryant at the Bugle; that made me chuckle as I remember Peter nursing a brief crush on her in the early Lee/Ditko days. But the film also maintains that distinct Raimi style...

In this viewing I really locked into the camera work. In researching both films I learned that in the few years that separated the movies, the technological advances allowed for more movement in the action and Spidey's city swinging scenes. One big reason they didn't use Otto in the 1st film is that they just didn't have the ability to do the character justice visually. A few years later they did and they do a magnificent job.

Sam's direction on 2 is among some of his finest work on any film. I watched with the rapt attention of a film student, examining the movement and it's -well hell- it's breath taking. I love the way he pulls you from one viewpoint or moment to the next, sometimes violently so. The scene in the operating room is nothing less than genius in composition and framing. And speaking of composition, there's the sequence where Otto converses with his mechanical arms. Watch that scene again but pay attention to the way the camera moves. It's like watching a master paint a picture. I know I'm getting all a twitterpated but it really is exciting to me when I see a guy excelling at his craft.

What Raimi got right with the first Spider-Man was having the hero and the villain lock horns several times. Goblin and Spidey are in each others faces in 4 key sequences. Many origin stories lead up to only one final battle. I like how Sam keeps up the fun action, while developing the human aspects. It's a nice balanced blend.

Most of the casting on these films was pitch perfect, from J.K. Simmon's J. Jonah Jameson to Rosemary Harris as May Parker, (Heck, James Franco as Harry looks like a John Romita Jr. drawing). The one major downer is Kirtsen Dunst as Mary Jane. MJ should be a vivacious knock out. But square headed Dunst can barely emote. Her whispery speech to Peter at the end of part 2 is some of the weakest acting I've ever seen from an A-List performer.

Spider-Man 3
Originally Reviewed on November 8th 2007

After watching them all I do believe this is the lesser of the 3 and I can fully understand why people would have a problem with this movie. Peter's woes do seem to go into extra overdrive. He's always had it tough but man; this is Murphy's Law to the Nth Degree. And yes Raimi does amp up the goofy meter and yes, there is way too much crammed into the film -- Still, I loved it to death!

Some complained that the film had too much drama. And it does have a lot of drama, but it never shirks on the action. 15 minutes into it we get the first confrontation between Peter and the new Goblin. It's a great fight simply because it's more than a simple slugfest. It's brutal, swift but smart. Peter's got brawn, but he also has loads of brain and he uses this effectively. I especially enjoy how he turns the Goblin's own weapons against him.

The movie has a lot of story and at first I did get a little whiplash and felt I was getting jerked from one scene to the other too quickly. But after establishing the tone and character, the pace settles down and the narrative moves more smoothly. The strength of the first hour is Thomas Haden Church as Sandman. His performance rings true as he portrays Sandman as not a bad man, but one who has had bad luck and made bad choices. I thought this storyline would be the weakest when I first heard of it; it wound up one of my favorite parts of the film. And the transformation from man to sand creature is one of the best works of CGI I've ever seen. There was true feeling displayed there as a man struggles to keep himself together. It's all underscored by some great music.

Choices: This is one of the main thrusts of the film. The choices the characters make and the consequences of each action. The other big theme is forgiveness. Can we forgive those who have hurt us? One person who can't is Eddie Brock. Topher Grace doesn't have much range as an actor but he plays the pushy jerk quite well. This is a guy who blames others when things go bad, even though ultimately it was his own fault. Brock is the kind of guy who creates a great love story in his own mind, over a small coffee date. Getting the Venom symbiot is the worst mix.

Another complaint I've read concerns the dance. Personally I thought the whole dark Parker stuff was hilarious. He thinks he's so damned cool and he isn't. It fit Parker's mindset at the time and dance/music as revenge has long been a Hollywood staple. From your classic musicals to the B level entries like Daddy-O. I love that Raimi had fun with this old convention. Plus, the Spider-Man comics always had elements of humor. Stan Lee's stories were a nice mix of the serious and the silly. Peter and Mary Jane sitting on a giant web watching the stars is pure Stan Lee. The goofy dancing, juxtaposed to the tragic moments like Gwen Stacies hurt look when she discovers she was used, is pure Stan Lee. So no, I don't have any problem with this aspect. Tears and action and humor went side by side in Spider-Man's comic book universe and this is reflected in this movie as well.

The film ends on a big epic comic book style battle. Multiple foes, an unlikely ally... It's huge, tense and kept my blood pumping. The ending ties things up nicely. Those who can't forgive destroy themselves (Brock) those who do find redemption. I found it very moving and real. In the final summation Spider-Man 3 is another outstanding entry in the series.

The Amazing Spider-Man
Reviewed on January 7th 2013

Spider-Man rebooted just a decade after making his debut? Eh, I didn’t need the origin story retold and retooled or to watch variations on past themes (Oh watch, Peter's hands are sticky, yeah - been there, done that). In fact there's a lot I didn’t care for in this film: From changes in Uncle Ben's death to that butt ugly updated costume. While there are stabs at humor, I wasn’t laughing much, and J. Jonah Jameson (a huge source of humor in previous films) was greatly missed.

Saying all that, the appropriately named director, Marc Webb excels with the drama and human, non-super moments. What made his "(500) Days of Summer" wonderful -the relationships and well-drawn characterizations- is in evidence here. The cast is strong: Emma Stone as love interest Gwen Stacy is a significant improvement over Kirtsen Dunst's MJ. She has a warm, fun personality and shares a nice rapport with co-star Andrew Garfield (who is okay as Peter Parker, though I didn't care for his stammering, mush mouthed delivery).

The film falters in its final act when it goes into super-mode. The Lizard action sequences aren't as interesting, and with his goomba-head, isn't the best looking CGI creation ever put on screen (though Spidey himself is well rendered, with a mix of practical FX thrown in to good effect). Overall, despite my complaints, it's a decent flick, though an unnecessary restart – and one that can't match Raimi's thrillogy. I'm simply more into Sam's 'Lee-like' big dramatic, comic booky, classic Spidey, rather than this less fantastical Ultimates version.

The Spirit (1987)
Reviewed on January 9th 2009

Spirit creator Will Eisner said that this 1987 TV pilot film was so bad it made his toes curl. I don't know... while it's not genius and there are weak spots in pacing and era setting, I thought it was amusing. Directed by Michael Shultz, the guy in the chair for "Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" (GAH!) and written by Die Hard's Steven De Souza, this version of the Spirit seems a little closer to the source material than Frank Miller's 2008 version.

Sam Jones (Flash Gordon) plays Denny Colt as a sturdy, straight arrow. Like his comic counterpart he wears the blue suit and gets his butt kicked often, with the end result being that he's seen in shredded clothing. Because of the low budget we don't get many set pieces, but we do see the Spirit's mausoleum hideout and as in the strip, Colt is rarely referred to by his real name and is known simply as "The Spirit".

Other notable and well-cast characters include Nana Visitor (Deep Space Nine) who plays Ellen and Gary Walberg as her father Commissioner Dolan. These 2 with Jones are among the films assets. In addition to them we also get the classic femme fatale P'Gell, and a young man named Eubie seems to have replaced the Spirit's controversial sidekick and helper Ebony.

There are negatives: The film is set in modern times, plus there are many daytime sequences and because of that it loses that 40s crime noir atmosphere. But it's not as crazed as Frank Miller's version nor are the supernatural aspects present. There are also several scenes that pay homage to the creator and his stories (the scene in the foundry, the use of eisinspritz -sloppy dripping water/rainfall). So while it might not have made Eisner very happy, I enjoyed myself. The movie is rife with whimsy and a kind of screwball humor that was fun

The Spirit
Reviewed on December 27th 2008

About a month ago Lions Gate films released the box office bomb and critically drubbed, Punisher: War Zone (a movie I enjoyed regardless). Their comic book batting average doesn't improve with the Spirit.

I have only a cursory knowledge of Will Einser's revolutionary comic strip character and therefore can only review the film itself. The flicks writer/director Frank Miller used to be like a comic book God to me for his work on Daredevil and later the Dark Knight. But since I've felt that his star has fallen hard and he doesn't get off the mat with this work either. What was Miller's intent with this film? Is this parody? When the Spirit bounds over building tops and spouts dialog about "his city", it got me to thinking about the Tick. But Frank never embraces the pure comedic parody as found in that book/tv show; instead The Spirit is an odd blend of neo-film noir and artistic psychosis.

The piece starts off okay. It's odd, but decent enough. We are introduced to Denny Colt, a dead cop and masked hero, who has ties to a mad man named the Octopus. Gabriel Macht is vanilla as the Spirit, the sturdy protector of his city. While Samuel L. Jackson is the complete opposite, he's all kinds of scenery chewing crazy (and that's putting it lightly, Samuel goes so over the top he's off the charts). Caught in the middle is Colt's old flame, Sand Saref, played by the uber sexy Eva Mendes (not brilliant but miles better than she was in Ghost Rider). Sand is a thief and she has something the Octopus wants, an urn filled with the blood of Hercules (or Herakles) , which will render him immortal when he drinks it.

Other characters include a whole bunch of lovely ladies, including a beckoning death (Jamie King), Colts true love Ellen (Sarah Paulson) and the Octopuses able assistant Silken Floss, played woodenly by Scarlett Johansson. At one time I thought Scarlett showed great promise (in films like Ghost World, Lost in Translation and Girl with a Pearl Earring) but she's broken that promise with several (IMHO) sub par performances, and this might be the nail in her creative coffin. Faring much better is Dan Lauria (The father in the Wonder Years) if there is anything truly wonderful in this movie it's his Commissioner Dolan. He captures the tone of a hard-boiled pulp figure to perfection. For laughs is the villain's dim witted clone stooges played by Louis Lombardi - This guy was a hoot.

The thing with the Spirit is that as it goes, it careens out of control. With each scene Miller's film becomes more off the wall chaotic. Jackson dons Samurai and Nazi outfits and grouses about eggs for no apparent reason (and it doesn't add flavor or character, it's just damned strange). While not the nadir of the film (that would be the idiotic, 'tiny head on a foot' scene) the sequence with the Nazi apparel exposes the weakness of the film. Here we get the out of the blue bizarre Plaster of Paris (Paz Vega) and a whole lot of drawn out exposition. It's such an erratic, illogical (and dull) hodgepodge of screwiness that I felt discombobulated and lost focus.

The dialog is clunky and is often riddled by cringe worthy one-liners (Deader than Star Trek, You wont believe a man can fly). Cinematographer Dick Pope delivers a look similar to that seen in Sin City, though it never comes close to being as interesting, and the novelty has long since worn off. Mix it all together and the end result is random and whacked. The Spirit is weird, I can handle weird but this, this jumps the tracks and spins out of control.

Earlier in this review I pondered Miller's intent with this film. I believe it was meant as pure delirium. If that's the case then he hit his target dead center, but that success doesn't translate into enjoyment. There are scenes I like, but more frequently, there are scenes that make me feel as if I've had my head repeatedly smashed against a wall.

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Spy Smasher
Reviewed on March 16th 2009

The rousing strains of Beethoven plays, while Morris code taps out - "V" for victory on the bottom of the screen. It's Spy Smasher, Fawcett's (later DC's) war era hero. Smasher (aka, Alan Armstrong) was seen in "Whiz Comics" and that sums this up to a T, as this is one whiz-bang adventure. While it follows the same tried and true formula of other American serials, there are moments that set it apart, such as the amazing stunt work and fight sequences designed by stunt pioneer Yakima Canutt, a friend of John Wayne's and best know for staging the chariot race in "Ben Hur". Having him on this production was quite a coup.

It's also better written, cleverer than what I've seen in other serials. The difficulty in these things is that is your hero has to fail 11 times, before he finally brings down the bad guys once and for all in the 12th chapter. That can get tedious and result in inane far-fetched sequences (as when Batman was decked by a skinny old man in one of his serials). Here though, the fights and escapes are thrilling and believable. In the first chapter the means by which the baddies get away during a boat chase felt plausible - and Smasher is a guy who does some detective work early on (albeit aided by helpful circumstances) and all of that attention to detail kept the yawns away.

Spy Smasher stars dashing Kane Richmond in duel roles (playing twin brothers). He's handsome, rugged and delivers a respectable performance. The action sequences are boosted with top-notch work by Richmond's stunt doubles, Carey Loftin (who did the motorcycle work) and David Sharpe (most of the fights). Though she wasn't very memorable here, this was the first major role for actress Marguerite Chapman (who was James Cameron's first choice to play Rose as an old woman in his film "Titanic". Health issues prevented her from taking that part).

Nazi's are the villain of the film. The lead baddie wears a mask (as he did in the comics), but we see him just as often without it. And though he employees the usual gang of henchmen, there are a few colorful moments with this lot (The bit with lighting a cigar on a combustible container). Serial vet Tristam Coffin, plays a reporter who has sided with the enemy.

Director William Witney pulls a few new tricks out of his bag, and keeps things as fresh and as surprising as he can by bending a few cliffhanger rules (there are times when you think he's leading you to the big finish, then pulls back and takes you in another, even more exciting direction, as seen in Chapter 3). Chapter 1 is the best segment I've ever seen in any serial, it was thrilling and set the tone throughout.

Not everything works: 12 chapters of fistfights gets tiring, even well done fistfights. There are several Nazi plots to sabotage the American war effort and they're not all of equal interest. Chapter 9 is particular dull, as it's mostly 13 minutes of car/motorcycle chase. The comic book character's famed gadgets and Gyrosub (his transforming plane,car,sub) don't show up, though there is a small bat plane used by the Nazi's. Despite these hiccups there are plenty of donkey kicks and heroes swinging from the rafters as well as a final shock cliffhanger, to make this an exciting slice of serialized entertainment. Of note: Spy Smasher hasn't been completely forgotten, he can be seen in a small flashback in the animated JLU episode "Patriot Act".

Starblack
Originally Reviewed on July 22nd 2008

Alan Moore explored the definition of what a superhero, or crime fighter is with his brilliant "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen". While our minds might automatically drift to men in spandex when we first hear the word "superhero", if you were to boil down the elements of a crime fighter to their basic components, a superhero would very much resemble figures as diverse as Xena: Warrior Princes or Zorro. And that's why I wanted to include the Italian western, "Starblack" in this marathon.

Starblack was directed by in 1966 by Giovanni Grimaldi and stars Robert Woods as the cowardly, guitar playing Johnny "Colt" Blythe. Blythe has come to town to investigate his fathers death and this leads him straight to Curry, a corrupt banker whose hands are in every dirty deal in town and has the sheriff in his back pocket. Neither Colt, nor his deaf mute friend, can do much and Curry's men later beat both to a pulp.

But one man who can do something is the costumed vigilante Starblack. Garbed head to toe in black; complete with a stark mask that hides his face and a black sheriffs star on his chest (which he leaves as a calling card). Starblack comes from out of nowhere, Batman style, and stops bad guys dead in their tracks.

While some of the dubbed dialog made me chuckle (and SBs ability to elude bullets is good for a laugh). I felt the actors were solid. Yes, Franco Lantieri is hammy as the villain Curry, but the good guy roles are well done. I enjoyed Robert Woods performance. He is lanky, often seen smiling and lazily strumming at his guitar (which doesn't have any strings that I could see - lol) and has a certain good-natured charm. Attractive Elga Andersen is Caroline Williams, the love interest. And I like the guy playing the sidekick (plus the way he's used is very clever).

Marked by crisp cinematography that gives a slick sheen to the dusty west. The premise, while familair, is well executed and entertaining. Right down to the satisfying finish where Starblack serves up just deserts by toying with the evil Curry, and driving the jerk to the brink of madness.

Like other western masked men, The Lone Ranger and the original Ghost Rider, Starblack has a mission to help those who are oppressed (as he tells Caroline who begs him to stay, "I gotta go where people need our help"). The way he kills without mercy puts him more in the Punisher-esque anti-hero category (and there's one interesting but dark scene where he lets a victim take their revenge). But he never the less fits the mold of the costumed crime fighter. Even if he rides a white steed through dusty towns, instead of swinging or soaring through the modern streets of New York, Gotham City or Metropolis.

Star Kid
Reviewed on March 16th 2009

Originally title "The Warrior of Waverly Street", Star Kid it is pure wish fulfillment. What withdrawn, picked on, comic book reading kid wouldn't get a kick out of climbing into a suit of techno amour and suddenly find the means to do whatever he wanted? The story treads well-worn territory and doesn't offer a fresh spin in any phase. Never the less, while predictable it manages to be enjoyable due in large part to the performance of young Joseph Mazzello. This movie was released a few years after Jurassic Park (where he was seen as one of the imperiled younsters) and while Star Kid didn't leave the impression Spielberg's dinosaur flick did, Mazzello shows he is a personable actor with enough screen presence to carry a film.

Joseph plays Spencer Griffith, who finds an alien Cybersuit that fell from the sky. After a short conversation with the suit he names Cy, Spencer puts it on and not only bonds with the mechanical being but during the course of their saga together also learns the pre-request lesson's about life and responsibility, while gaining confidence and reconnecting with his widowed father. In the midst of this he also manages to save the world from a conquering race of beings, aided by a schoolyard bully.

There is nothing distinctive in the premise or direction, it isn't a must see movie or even a quirky cult classic. The actors, relationships and humor make Star Kid an entertaining time waster. But that's about all it can offer. It's not bad; though it was rather vanilla all told and is geared towards a younger male audience.

Super
Reviewed on August 14th 2011

I don't know that this is the kind of film that can receive a blanket recommendation. It's the kind of subversive insanity that confounds critics, but has found a loyal following among those who like their movies to be a bit 'out there' (It's no surprise that it was quickly labeled a "cult" movie).

The story is nothing we haven't seen before. The 'regular Joe as hero' was explored in films such as Special, Defendor and Kick-Ass. In fact K-A and Super spout similar bits of dialog. Regardless -despite the lack of originally- I found James Gunn's flick a hilarious/sick, kick in the tail (or -wrench to the head – in this case).

Rainn Wilson is brilliant as the represed/vulnerable/screwy Frank Darbo. A gloomy faced schlub who has had few great moments in life, one of two includes meeting Sarah (Liv Tyler) who he later marries. But this sweetness doesn't last long, as Sarah leaves Frank for drug kingpin Jacques (Kevin Bacon). Completely at a loss as to what to do, Frank receives a vision and has his brain touched by the finger of God. He takes this as a sign to fight crime and save Sarah in the guise of the wrench wielding, Crimson Bolt.

Aiding Frank is his sidekick Boltie. A crazed sociopath who works in the local comic book shop Frank visits (looking for inspiration). Ellen Page plays Boltie, and you'll either love or loath her. She's over the top and completely mad – laughing like a shrill loon as she bashes bad guys. I thought Page was great, even when she was annoying she was a blast. Also of note in a small part is Nathan Fillion as the Holy Avenger, who Frank perceives as his direct line to God.

The story mixes the spiritual and some truly heartfelt moments, with biting comedy and graphic violence. There are ugly, blood-spattered consequences to fighting crime. So beware - this is definitely not for the squeamish. The dialog is solid. I loved the line about "life between the panels". And Frank's speech as he rages at Jacques about way things are supposed to be, was inspired, and made better for the performance.

Super wont appeal to everyone (nor was it was intended to). But I was completely drawn into it, every aspect of it (including the entertaining opening credits) - and feel no hesitation in saying it's one of the best crime fighter flicks of the year. Even above some of those bigger budget offerings.

Superargo vs Diabolicus
Originally Reviewed on July 15th 2008

Most Italian comic book films from 1966 to 1968 were about anti-heroes, thieves, criminals (or make that, Kriminals). Many of the comic -or fummetto- creators grew up under a tyrants thumb and later used their talents to bitch slap Mussolini and his ilk. In the comics the government and its officials are seen as bumbling idiots, humiliated at each turn by the thieves they were too incompetent to catch. But Superargo takes a different tact as he helps the government as a secret agent.

The film open with a wrestling match, yup, argo's a masked wrestler. During the fight he accidentally kills his opponent, who is also a friend. Tormented, Superargo quits his profession and is tortured by the memory of what he did (this is illustrated nicely in a cool opening sequence where we see argo in agony, screaming and surrounded by grotesque faces). His attractive girlfriend (award winning Spanish actress Monica Randall) asks argo's Secret Service pal if he can help, and he helps by asking Superargo to join the team and aid him in cracking a hijacking case. This eventually pits the former wrestler against a Goldfinger style baddie named Diabolicus (Gerard Tichy) who's looking to create a new world order.

The idea of a guy in red tights in the spy game is pretty absurd if you think about it too much, but a blast if you sit back and enjoy the ride. It's played straight, there's no hint of this being a farce, though it does look pretty funny when you see the guy being casual, drink in hand while talking about the case with this Government agent. The best way to describe the flick? It's James Bond meets El Santo meets Superman. There's a real cool John Barry-like score (that reminds me of Barry's work on Thunderball) and the overall production values aren't bad (Though the scene where the island blows up was pretty cheesy).

The print I found was offered in letterbox with a quality English dub. It looked very nice and while it is a bit silly and can't be compared to the best films in this marathon. It was very solid and very enjoyable. If you are into the Italian comic book flicks of the late 60s I'd highly recommend it.

Superargo and the Faceless Giants
Originally Reviewed on October 23rd 2007

In this story the government comes calling, asking Superargo to don his bulletproof tights in order to locate some young male athletes who've gone missing. This sequel is a little more out there than the original but that makes it even more fun. Superargo has ditched the girlfriend, but now has a cool Indian Mystic who his helping argo increase his psychic abilities while aiding him in his caper. It's a good team and while the endless fights with the Faceless Giants can get tedious I found it to be an enjoyable follow up to Diabolicus. (and BTW - I love the Faceless Giants- who actually do have faces and often appear as if they should be called the Sleepy Giants, what with those dark rings around their eyes),.

I like Giovanni Cianfriglia (Superargo) he comes off very cool and confident and the villain is similar to the first as he carries himself with a smug assured manner that nothing can stop him. There is a gal pal, a woman who argo is trying to protect, though he does a crappy job and he puts her in peril and she does get nabbed.

The only bummer with this one was that it was not presented in letterbox and there was no pan and scan. At one point 2 characters are talking and you don't see either of them, the camera stays right there in the middle of the room! Lol - It hurt the overall fun factor. One can only hope these little gems get an official U.S. release, in widescreen presentation.

Here's a clip of the... Superargo Trailer

Super Capers
Reviewed on March 16th 2009

Capers popped up in a few select theaters before finding its way on to DVD this Tuesday... where it belongs. It's certainly not a flick worthy of the big screen. As a parody of comic books, Star Wars, Matrix and whatever other geek fuel you can name, it not as clever or cute as it thinks it is. Writer/Director Ray Griggs (who also plays Puffer Boy) has spunk; I'll give him that. He just doesn’t have a lot of talent.

Super Capers stars Justin Whalin (a former Jimmy Olsen on TVs "Lois and Clark") as Ed Gruberman, a superhero wannabe who runs afoul of the law and is sentenced by a mysterious Judge (Michael Rooker) to train under the tutelage of the crime fighting team, the Super Capers.

The dysfunctional squad consists of Sarge (Tiny Lister), an egomaniacal strongman Will Powers (Ryan McPartlin) Felicia Freeze (Danielle Harris), the name describes her powers and personality; Herman Brainard (Samuel Lloyd), a guy with a large forehead who can move things with his mind. And lastly, the previously mentioned Puffer Boy- who blows up like a puffer fish when he’s scared. (Oh and there’s a guy named Q, with a robot, who designs all the teams weapons and costumes). Of all these folks, Brainard offers the most promise, he lives with his mom and isn't the sharpest knife in the drawer, despite his bulbous noggin. Still, his comedic potential is wasted.

Gruberman's tale of self-discovery is undermined by leaden humor that lacks timing, decent delivery and -the kiss of death- isn't in the least funny. Not even the promise of several fun cameos can overcome the banality of it all: Adam West, Clint Howard, Doug Jones (Hellboy) and June Lockhart aren't used to great effect.

In the end the film proves to not be very super at all. The heroes and villains aren’t engaging, the humor is simple and simply stupid and the story is as bland as bread and water, without the sustenance.

Super Fuzz
Originally Reviewed on January 3rd 2008

Super Fuzz is a dumb Italian film that played on HBO non stop (or so it seemed). Terence Hill (the Trinity flicks) plays Dave Speed, a cop who is doused in radiation and develops all kinds of amazing powers. He can predict the future, move objects with his mind and in one of the silliest things I've seen on film, blow giant bubble gum bubbles to rescue a friend! He and his partner, played by Ernest Borgnine, go after a counterfeiting ring and hilarity is suppose to ensue.

But aside from a scene where he talks with a fish, it's not very funny or camp or quirky. It isn't even so bad its good .I found it all kind of blah. In a clich'd performance, Borgnine mostly growls whenever he's bothered and he's always bothered and that bothered me a bit. There are some 3-Stooges-like bad guys, who bothered me as well. And there was this non-stop disco music. That really, really bothered me a lot. I guess it might appeal to nostalgia seekers who watched this in the 80s, but I didn't get a lot from this movie, neither hot nor cold. Kinda, blah.

Superguy: Behind the Cape
Originally Reviewed on April 17th 2008

This independent, low budget mockumentary chronicles the life and times of a real life super hero. I didn't expect much when I placed this on my Netflix Que, but was delightfully surprised at how good it turned out to be.

Yes its low budget, the FX are done blue screen and are not up to Hollywood blockbuster standards, but for what they had to work with they do a solid job. The movie's often hilarious, especially in the early sequences with his father. The actor playing his dad was a hoot and the bits where they show old home movies and pictures had me laughing out loud. Sadly, dad disappears midway through and he is sorely missed.

Oh and as an aside to MSTies, the woman playing Superguy's mother is none other than the Batwoman (as in "Wild, Wild World of Batwoman") herself, Katherine Victor! (She is very good and funny during the scenes where they discuss the father's claim that the kid came from the Planet Crisco? LMAO)

The acting all across the board is solid, the script is funny but it is also surprisingly real and at the end it gets painful. In this regard it is like Spinal Tap. Anyone who has seen the deleted scenes on that classic, know just how dark and sad the movie could have been (those out takes really got depressing as they progressed). But being rooted in reality was also the strength of Tap. The same can be said for Superguy, it does an outstanding job of showing how it tough it could get for a real life super powered being. Mark Teague (who also wrote and co-directs) gives many layers in his performance. He's a guy who tries to do good, but he's not perfect and gets frustrated. He can't be everywhere at all times and he takes his hits for that. Soon the kooks and frivolous lawsuits emerge and one mistake sends it all down hill.

Unlike Spinal Tap which at least offered up some happiness as we see the band reunite. Superguy gets darker and darker. It ultimately makes a sad but true statement on our society. I never expected a low budget comedy about a guy in tights to be both hilarious and thought provoking?

Not everything works. The depressing stuff gets laid on a bit too thickly. The terrorist and cult angles didn't add anything, nor did the music videos. All of this detracted from my enjoyment and I just wanted those scenes to pass quickly so I could get back to the good stuff.

But when they nail it (as during the scene where they interview an all too real super fan) it was amazing. So much so, that I ordered a copy of the DVD from Amazon. It's probably going to appeal more to the comic book geek, which means it was right up my alley. Like "The Specials", it's a super -documentary style- experience!

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The Superhero
Originally Reviewed on August 27th 2008

The Superhero is a low budget British film about a villain named the Needler who has been giving junkies heroin infected with the HIV virus. He seems to have a reason for doing this, a grand scheme but damned if I can tell what it was suppose to be. Standing in his way is a violent crime fighter who goes by the name of "The Boxer".

This flick has no budget, and during the action/fight scenes they insert artwork, not animation but panels of art (the eyes do move a wee bit) and not every good art at that. The overall direction is also structurally disjointed and uneven. It's like a jigsaw puzzle that hasn't been put together properly. I had a hard time following it at first (The art doesn't help) and thereafter as I got the gist of it. The dialog and acting -especially by a longhaired doctor- was so bad that I lost interest.

The lead actor is okay. I liked his Irish accent and how he's into Batman, but as a hero he stinks. He gets his ass kicked on almost every occasion and in the final battle between he and the baddies, he manages to get beaten down and captured (the art wasn't very clear on this so I couldn't tell you how that happened) and in the end he doesn't even save the day. The villain's henchwoman sees the errors of her ways and shoots the baddie, then rescues the hero. I mean he does literally NOTHING as the hero.

In the end he rides off on a bus, abandons his wife and unborn child because he's dying from too many blows to the head. Which is what this movie felt like, a blow to the head. I watched it instantly on Netflix and am glad I didn't waste a mailing on this.

Superhero Movie
Originally Reviewed on July 9th 2008

The writer and director of this Spider-Man based comedy, Craig Mazin, also worked on the vastly superior, amazingly funny superhero flick, "The Specials". What worked in that movie was that it zeroed in on traits specific to the genre. The best parody or spoofs do this and when Superhero Movie takes this approach it got laughs out of me.

For example: Having Tracy Morgan as Professor X wheel around on different modes of transportation was funny because it was germane to the character. Later, when Dragonfly (Drake Bell) dons his costume for the first time and discovers that he can't see or breathe, that works because it speaks to what we've seen in the comics (it might look cool, but is it practical) the same can be applied to the scene where he is "looking seriously over the city".

But for the most part Mazin fills his script with an over abundance of sex, poo, pee and fart jokes. I don't mind a fart joke here and there but when you hammer on that nail continually, I have to wonder if you simply lack the talent to do anything else. There's an assembly line feel to this tactic. You could take many of those same jokes and paste it on your next "Such and Such Movie". Subject and character wouldn't matter.

In the commentary track the filmmakers lamented studio interference. The film was originally going to be titled "Superhero!" and was going to be an attempt by Zucker to get back to his "Naked Gun" roots and create a fresh superhero story with original characters and not be a specific riff on any one film. That might have been the better direction but those in power wanted another cookie cutter spoof and since Spider-Man was hot, they wanted something that would play off on that flick.

There are some good performances. The leads Drake Bell and Sara Paxton are okay. Bell is good at reaction shots and Paxton has a sweetness to her that would have made her a great Gwen Stacy. Marion Ross and Leslie Nielsen are perfect in the Aunt May, Uncle Ben roles. It was nice to see "Airplane's" Robert Hayes and Brent Spiner is funny as a lab assistant. Chris McDonald as the villainous Hour Glass snarls just like Willem Dafoe and there's a hilarious bit on Tom Cruise that was pitch perfect.

Aside from the handful of good sequences there were also some wretched scenes. I've always enjoyed a good Stephen Hawking spoof, but the humor directed at the man within this film is downright mean spirited and unfunny. And a scene set at a funeral is too nasty and dark. In the end Superhero Movie is a disappointment with only a smattering of genuine laughs. The best involves the line "I'm not wearing any diamonds" and continues with some cool Spiderman acrobatics, which don't end as successfully for the Dragonfly.

Super Inframan
Originally Reviewed on October 2nd 2007

With the success of TV shows like Ultraman, the Shaw Brothers (makers of popcorn samurai, kung fu movies) got the idea that it might be profitable to ride the wave and produce a big screen super hero flick.

Now I have zero, absolutely zero tolerance for this stuff. The Power Rangers are silly, repetitive and bore me to tears. And all the same elements are present in here. Evil witch woman summons forth-cheesy rubber monsters to help her conquer the world. The only thing to stand in her way is a team of super heroes. With Inframan it's a single guy, who undergoes a painful operation that infuses him with robotic powers.

But Super Inframan (which was given a thumbs up by Roger Ebert when it was released in America) manages to work despite itself. Yes the monsters look so stupid and cheap (with ever present strings) that I often laughed my ass off. It also seems a tedious line of work, this villainy thing. As the baddies spend most of their time hanging out in a cave doing nothing, there was no TV or board games being played as far as I could tell? Though the monsters appear very happy and seem content to just stand single file in a line while they cackle, bounce and wave their arms about. lol

In light of all that was dumb, how the hell did I enjoy myself? Because the film has a real spirit of fun and adventure, and though the monsters look ridiculous, there was at least one scene where they brought some menace. Early on a plant creature bores through the earth and starts slapping shiny dressed action-scientists around with its tendrils, as the head doctor desperately works to get Inframan on line. (Hmm, kind of recalling Doc Ocs arms during the hospital scene in Spiderman 2)

It can get tedious, as with other films of this ilk. Fight scenes are so drawn out that after a while it taxed my patience (How many times do I need to see scientists tossed like salad by plant arms?) But for the most part it was action packed, colorful - a kick with tons of unintentional laughs (It's obvious that Infra's bulky headgear is impossible to see out of. And, can you spot the scientist with the hole in the seat of his pants?)

You can hear the movie dubbed or in the original Cantonese. I switched over to the Cantonese with subtitles, as I was annoyed with the poorly dubbed voices of the U.S. version. There are noticeable differences in the dialog and the names of the character (Dragon Mom? Witch Eye becomes She Demon for the US and in Cantonese Inframan has a power called "Thunder Fist", in America it is called the "Thunderball Fist", which for some reason sounded funny as hell). The dubbed seemed simpler, more melodramatic and cartoonish. While having to read during a flick like this would seem silly, I felt that the subtitles presented the story better.

Superman
The Superman family of film are reviewed on their own page and can be read by
clicking here - The page features Superman, Supergirl, Steel and the George Reeves bio-pic Hollywoodland

Super Noypi
Originally Reviewed on January 16th 2008

Upon searching for ways to continue on with this marathon, I discovered that super heroes were a hot commodity in the Philippines and one of the hottest prosperities to be released in that land in 2006 was a movie called "Super Noypi". I'm not sure what a noypi is but the movie is kind of a cross between the Terminator and Sky High.

The idea is this: A woman from the future comes to our present to help 6 teens discover their powers and joins with them to prevent an evil dictator from coming into power. The kids learn that their parents (who have disappeared) were once part of a team of super heroes and that the dictator used to be an ally.

Aside from India's "Krrish" I've not been overly impressed with these foreign flicks, and while S.N. is no Krrish, it made for a decent, if jagged viewing experience. It does drag at spots (there's a lot of set up) and the battle sequence doesn't flow seamlessly (guys with guns stand and "wait" for the hero to act). The actors aren't brilliant (and they are not helped by the clunky subtitled translations) but they have personality and are often funny. For example, the scene with one girl having her period was weird but provided some laughs.

The CGI is far bellow Hollywood standards, the flying/wing stuff is very weak, and they didn't build sets and props much but relied a lot on CGI. If you can cut them some slack for doing the best with their resources, they might not be too much of a distraction. There's also a lot of wirework used in the fights which are okay though not as fasted paced and tightly executed as we are used to seeing in the U.S.

This is an origin story and we don't see the kids in their costumes until the very last scene. We get no hero names but there is a gal who turns invisible, the leader has telekinesis. One boy turns blue and beastly, the youngest is tough to peg; he seems to be fast and can bounce around. And there's the stepbrother and sister. She dresses in pink, is a kook who wields a staff that shoots fire and ice (in the commentary the writers reveal that in the sequel we'll learn that the staff found its origins in the Bible), while he is a spell caster who carries around a book (which is kind of lame as he keeps having to thumb through pages to find the right spell. No good if you're in a fight and need action fast. But, when the book is destroyed he has to rely on memory, which makes for a cool effect)

The sequel has been written, but I've heard no news if it's going into production. Super Noypi, despite a lot of rough patches, did capture my attention enough that I'm warm to the idea of revisiting these characters. After a series of bad flicks, this was at the least, a change of pace in the positive.

Supersonic Man
Originally Reviewed on June 8th

"You will believe a man can.... lift a steam roller?" You certainly wont believe a man can fly, even with shots of people looking at the sky and pointing while a little doll scoots through the air. That's right, Supersonic Man employees the art of Doll technology in its special FX.

Ahh, where to begin? The cheese factor is all so... overwhelming. Lets see there are there aliens who are worried that us Earthlings will be a danger to ourselves and others by using a new technology we don't understand. This of course is an old sci-fi plot line (used most effectively in Ed Woods "Plan 9"). Anyway, these Aliens send a superhero to Earth to stop the evil Cameron Mitchell (Santa in "Space Mutiny"), who has kidnapped a scientist so that he can use his formula to build some kind of Danger! Death Ray!

In addition to that Cameron attempts to kidnap the scientists daughter, and he attempts this several times. In flies Supersonic Man to save the day, again and again and again. The bloody monotony never ends! Tedium is really this movies focal point. For example, Cameron and the Scientists conversations consist of the Dr. pointing out that Cam is very, very bad. With Cam responding by telling the Doc that he is, "a foolish old man".

What else, there is a drunk. He's there for comic relief. He's neither comic nor does he offer any relief. The movie does seem to be going for lighthearted fun but the jokes fail as badly as the SFX, which by far are the funniest thing in here. In addition to Supersonic's doll stand-in, there's this absolutely classic moment when kidnappers are chasing the daughter and suddenly the road she is speeding down is blocked... by a plywood steam roller!

Our hero lifts the 'roller so she can drive by, then he drops it to block the baddies (who then drive off a cliff and burst into flames). Oh man, that is one of the best scenes in the history of this marathon.

Anyway, Sonic, who in human guise looks like the old comic version of Tony Stark, falls in love with the daughter and after he defeats Mitchell he elects to stay on earth. The aliens order him to return but he instead drops his homing device out a window, which is found by the drunk who is then taken by the alien spacecraft. Ah, ha, ha, oh you gotta laugh (don't you?)

The same dude who made "Pod People" directs this and it is MST3K-worthy. There's the pseudo-Superman theme music (played on a Casio, and played often). Everyone's voice is dubbed in that same odd sounding manner, even Cameron Mitchell. Who can act well enough without voiceover aids (I guess they just wanted to give him a snotty English accent) and that's the same silver haired poacher from "Pod People" and the baddie from "3 Fantastic Superman" in the Jungle, playing the part of Cam's henchman.

Super Stooges vs. the Wonder Women
Reviewed on May 11th, 2009

Despite the title on my DVD, neither Curly, Moe or Lynda Carter made an appearance. What it does have are 3 powerful men, which led me to believe this was intended as a kind of 3 Fantastic Supermen parody -set in the olden days, when screechy Amazons terrorized the land. Aldo Canti (Nick Jordan in the title and one of the original "3 Supermen") is the star. He's Dharma, the (not truly) immortal protector of several villages. Dressed in the cape and cowl, he bounces around here and there; ever-present smile on his mug while his zingy wacky theme song plays on.

The Amazon's wish to overthrow Dharma and learn the secrets of his sacred fire, so Canti cons 2 men, who also seek immortality, into helping him defeat this band of warrior princesses (called the "meanest mama's of them all" in the trailer, The two are Chang (Hua Yueh), a martial artist and Moog (Marc Hannibal), a giant of a man who posses great strength.

The story circles the same routine: Back and forth exchanges between the 3 heroes, the shrill amazons and this group of bandits who pop up as comic relief. This is supposed to be a wild and crazy comedic caper, and while there are laughs (as when Dharma chides the villagers for not bringing him hot peppers, or when Chang is teased for riding a cow - "It’s not a cow!"), the broad humor is comprised mostly of lame slapstick.

The Amazons are easy on the eyes but hard on the ears. The bandit's shtick got old, but the 3 heroes have a certain charm to them, which allowed me to sit through this without being overcome by the urge to chug a carafe of strychnine. Canti's years as a circus acrobat serve him well, it's fun as always watching him hop around. Moogs strength and his metal ball provide some amusement and while the martial arts are a bit slow and stagy, Chang is a likeable addition to the trio.

Never the less, these antics aren't enough to make director Alfonso Brescia's film anything more than a mild, silly time waster. Roger Ebert called this the worse film he'd ever seen, while that might be true for him, I find that an exaggeration. This isn't brilliant, the pacing is wonky and repetitive, and those constantly repeated goofy sound effects were a pain. But seriously, is it worse than anything filmed by Coleman Francis or Jerry Warren? Those two made movies that are truly unmatchable. This? Uh well I watched it without throwing up... even managed to have some fun. That's saying something.

Swamp Thing
Originally Reviewed on October 10th 2007

I continue to push the envelope of what constitutes a super hero but after viewing one ok movie after another, I was in desperate need for something good. And Swamp Thing is indeed, good. Well good if you're an old guy like me and liked watching those old creature features as a kid.

In the DC universe, Swamp Thing has done battle with Batman and hobnobbed with the JLA. But at its heart the title, created by Len Wein and stellar artist Bernie Wrightson, is steeped in the horror genre. Later, Alan Moore brought in the supernatural angle, separated the creature from his human host and made him an elemental.

Wes Craven wrote and directed the movie version, which sticks close to the original concept - Scientist is killed for a formula he is working on. That same formula revives said scientist into a new superhuman form. Revenge is had, blah, blah. I hate doing story synopsis. So lets cut to the chase.

Craven has never had enough talent to play with the big boys as Sam Raimi did. He's a hack, but I don't mean that in a bad way. He's a hack the same way William Castle was a hack. They might not have been Hollywood giants, but few could make that B movie magic as well. Steeped in bygone Saturday matinee glory, Swamp Thing calls to mind such delights as the "Alligator People". What with that ill-fitting costume, boggy based chases and a stroke of tragedy and romance.

While the plot is thin and the film is padded out with numerous, -bad guys chase girl/creature saves girl- sequences that get tedious. There's some warmth, humanity, cheesy monster vs. man vs. monster action and lots of genuinely funny moments.

The acting is pretty solid (Though the actress playing Linda Holland, changed here from wife to sister, provides the required, awkward bad performance. Just to keep the B-movie Gods appeased). A young Ray Wise, years before his skull grew freakishly enormous, plays the future swamp creature, Alec Holland. Adrienne Barbeau, who usually comes off very short tempered and grumpy in her performances, still is very good as Abigail 'er, I mean Alice Cable. She plays her scenes with Swamp straight and without a hint of camp, which brings a tender Beauty and the Beast vibe to the film.

Louis Jourdan, who I never felt was a great actor (despite his long career) because there was always something off about most of his performances. Yet that "off-ness" serves him well as the evil, egotistical Arcane, There's a young man who goes by the name Jude who provides the biggest laughs and then there's the henchmen Bruno, played by Nicholas Worth. Nick keeps popping up in this marathon, first as a henchman in Darkman, and later as a sweaty customer in Barb Wire. Sadly, he passed away at the age of 69 from heart failure this past May.

This movie wont be for all tastes, it's not a work of art and after playing it pretty straight, the ending goes all goofy. I do long to one-day see a big budget version of the Alan Moore Swamp Thing. But in the mean time, for good old-fashioned, cheesy, cheap, Drive-In theater fun, Wes Craven cooked up a bad/winner.

Return of the Swamp Thing
Originally Reviewed on October 14th 2007

Return of the Swamp Thing lacks the heart and sincerity of Wes Cravens original. It's sadly, a pure goof. At first I thought I might be able to roll with that as Alec saves a man, gives wry smile and announces himself. After this, the Credence song "Born on the Bayou" plays while a montage of comic book art fills the screen. I liked that a lot, it really got me in the mood for the film.

But then it comes quickly apparent that a respectful adaptation will not be found here. I mean hell; at one point Swamp Thing rescues Abigail by racing off in a jeep for Gods sake! We do get some of Alan Moore's flourishes, as when Swampy is destroyed and rematerializes in a bathtub. But a re-enactment of the mind bending, psychedelic love scene with Abby is watered down and comes off rather corny.

The stabs at humor aren't as annoying,, but neither are they very good. Some of the reference stuff is cute (Jordan has a Parrot named Gigi, Locklear mentions TJ Hooker) but other times it's just loud and unfunny, as with the two kids who are trying to snap a photo of Alec. Those kids have a bundle of energy, but they aren't given anything hilarious to say (being loud isn't a substitute for humor with me)

The FX are low rent (Swamp revives Abby with a burst of what appears to be sparkling spearmint flavor crystals). The acting is weak. Heather Locklear does not fit Abigail at all, not just for the fact of the blond hair, but that there was warmth in the comic book version. Here, she's just a Barbie doll. Louis Jordan returns as Arcane but seem a little bored with it all. The one thing Return has in its favor; the costume is a huge improvement. Instead of looking like a guy in green pants, this suit is muscular and covered in moss, ropes of root and vegetable.

Swamp Thing is more like a Super Hero in this movie; showing up whenever trouble arrives, barrel chested and his voice deep and strong. He's also got a winsome smile and a winning way with the kids.

I got through the movie okay, it's not very good but I was able to watch it without getting too annoyed with it. I think the likable, strong Swamp Thing helped me wash down the irritants and tolerate it. Folks who enjoy camp humor will prefer this to the Craven version. But me, I like it when directors do take the source material seriously and pay it some respect. These might be silly comic book characters to some people, but they were based on something human, real and honest to me.

The best thing about the DVD through was the inclusion of 2 public service announcements against littering.

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