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Category: Movies

Behold! ‘Cats: The Butthole Cut’

I can’t believe this actually exists. But somehow, its existence in this universe is essential.

Who remembers that Mandalorian boyo, Fenn Shysa?

I bought this copy of Star Wars #68 in 1985 on a bright sunny day at a comic shop whose name I forget but was located on Whyte Avenue in Edmonton, Alta.

With interest in Star Wars at one of its peaks thanks to the release of Rise of Skywalker and the success of the Disney Plus series The Mandalorian, it was only a matter of time before a humble blogger like myself dug up the long-forgotten tale of Fenn Shysa.

Who’s Fenn Shysa, you ask? Well, Mr. Shysa is one of 212 warriors whose mission of protecting the planet Mandalore got sidetracked when the Emperor commandeered those warriors to fight on his side in the Clone Wars. Only three survived, with the most senior officer, named Boba Fett, disenchanted with fighting for a cause, went into the bounty hunting business. That left the other two, Fenn Shysa and Tobbi Dala, heading back to Mandalore and fighting the slavers who had infested it.

They eventually ran into Princess Leia in Marvel Comics’ Star Wars #68-69 (Feb.-March 1983), who was searching for clues to whereabouts of Fett and Han Solo. The roguish Shysa was not an unappealing man, with his Irish brogue and handsome features, and he helped Leia find a clue to Solo’s location while defeating the slavers and setting back the Empire on Mandalore. It was not without its costs, however, as Tobbi Dala sacrificed himself for the cause.

Shysa later returned in the comic series post-Return of the Jedi as a member of the Alliance of Free Planets and Han Solo’s semi-serious romantic rival for Leia’s affections.

These comics are a bit pricey when it comes to originals, but interesting not just for the story, by comics veteran David Michelenie, but the art by Gene Day and Tom Palmer. Day’s breakdowns on 68 and pencils on 69 in particular were excellent and brought some real visual energy to the story.

Obviously, Shysa’s backstory for the origin of Boba Fett now clearly falls into the non-canonical Legends category, but he remains one of those memorable characters from that old Marvel run who wouldn’t be out of place getting a revamped or revival of some kind.

Adam Driver in The Report

‘The Report’ Solidly Struggles for Relevance

The Report is a good movie facing an uphill battle to find a wide audience and awards glory. The latter is pretty unlikely for anyone except for Adam Driver, who’ll be recognized far and wide for his role in Marriage Story before The Report. The former is a shame, because writer and director Scott Z. Burns does a solid job of turning pretty difficult material into a compelling narrative.

The Report dramatizes the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into the CIA’s use of what it called enhanced interrogation procedures and came to be more correctly labeled as torture. Driver is, as usual, terrific as lead investigator Daniel J. Jones, while Annette Bening pulls off a believable Sen. Dianne Feinstein. The cast also features a who’s who of top TV talent from the past five to ten years, including Jon Hamm, Matthew Rhys, Jennifer Morrison, Michael C. Hall, Corey Stoll and Maura Tierney. I really liked the casting of Ted Levine (best known as serial killer Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs) as CIA director John Brennan.

Technically, it’s a very well done movie of the story everyone says they wish there were more of. It’s well-written, well-cast, well acted and effectively evokes both the grit and grime of anonymous black sites with both slick and merely functional bureaucratic settings. It lacks the melodramatic sweep that made, for example, Oliver Stone’s awesome JFK a riveting tale of investigation and government corruption, but it also sticks to a much more conventional version of the truth.

The movie covers material that ranges from recreations of some of the most egregious and offensive acts committed by American government officials in the name of protecting the nation from the next 9/11 to committee meetings and detailed and excited discussions in a sealed subterranean investigation room. This is Driver’s movie and he makes Jones a surprisingly likable bureaucratic protagonist fighting to get the story both correct and out to the public.

The real problem the movie has is a dramatic one. Yes, the material uncovered by the report is dramatic and shocking. But the report also came and went in real life, without making the impact on policy that it warrants. Which raises another problem in terms of seeking a wider audience as it plays so neatly into the extremely polarized political divisions of American society that there’s no way it could change anyone’s mind. Its portrayal of Democrats as the good guys and the Republicans as willingly and completely complicit is only countered by a few jabs at former President Obama and his desire to avoid extreme and impractical political battles. It ends up portraying Jones’ dive into the truth as impotent — in the end, it doesn’t matter that he’s right, that he’s documented horrible things. He never had a chance to spark change.

And The Report meets the same fate. Driver makes it worth a watch, and it is smart and intelligent — it’s just a question of how many people really want that.

The Report is streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

Vader vs. Obi-Wan – Reimagined

This is an interesting little bit of filmmaking.

Clearly they went to great pains to recreate Vader and the Death Star, as well as putting Alec Guinness' likeness on a double of Obi-Wan. It's a lot of effort.

It lacks restraint, however. It's too over the top. It would never look right in the movie, as the few bits from the movie that are kept in this edit show. It's just waaayyyy too much.

Still, it's interesting to see old settings and actors recreated so convincingly.

The teaser trailer that made ‘Batman’

I have strong memories of seeing this teaser trailer playing many times in late 1988 and early 1989 at the Gallagher Theater in the Student Union at the University of Arizona. It was the first time I recall hearing of people paying full admission to a theater just to see the trailer.

(Side note: When I was a kid, we called these previews, not trailers. I know why they're called trailers, as they used to run after the movie back in the old, old days. But why we still call them trailers when previews makes more sense eludes me. I can't even remember when the term trailer came back into fashion.)

I was not yet much of a DC or Batman reader at that time, and therefore only tangentially aware of the controversy around casting Michael Keaton. So this trailer was really the first look anyone had at this movie and it sold it completely and totally.

The importance this movie had at the time for comics is easy to underestimate in this day and age of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But there was a time in the 1980s when comics fans knew the medium was full of storytelling gold while the general public still thought of comics as kid stuff and the Biff! Pow! Sock! of the Adam West series defined the idea of comic book adaptations. This was going to be the movie that got comics noticed! That proved to the world that they weren't just kid stuff! And then everyone would flock to comics shops to get in on the hobby, making all those collectible issues the die-hards had been hoarding for years worth a literal fortune!

Some of that came true, some of it didn't. But I still think this is one of the best uses of a teaser trailer in modern movie history.

‘Vice’ Explains Little About the Man Behind the Curtain

Vice purports to tell the tale of how a largely unremarkable man from Wyoming rose to the heights of power in Washington, D.C., eventually expanding executive powers to unprecedented levels to wage war, pad the pockets of loyal supporters and undermine any attempts to expose those deeds to the people. Starring such reliable comic talents as Steve Carell and Sam Rockwell, along with the always-excellent Christian Bale as Dick Cheney and Amy Adams as Lynne Cheney, and Tyler Perry as Colin Powell (never thought I’d write that sentence) it’s not unreasonable to expect a mix of comedy, drama and satire along the lines of director Adam McKay’s rather-good previous film, The Big Short.

But despite a few good laughs about Cheney’s weak heart and a really fun faux finale about halfway through, Vice overall falls short as a comedy and a drama. Some of that comes from the subject matter, with the filmmakers admitting at the very start of the film that Cheney is famously secretive and little is publicly known about why he’s done the things he’s done. Personally, I found it odd to be watching a portrayal of events that I paid close attention to as they happened (I worked at various newspapers through the 1990s and continue to follow the news) and seeing little added to events by the film that would shock or surprise or change the perception of someone with even the most cursory understanding of those events.

Bale is, as always, great. Yeah, there’s the great makeup that makes him look exactly like Cheney. But it’s the mannerisms, the body language and the voice (remember, Bale’s natural accent is Welsh) that really make the performance remarkable. It’s just too bad he didn’t have more to do with it.

I’m sure McKay and his collaborators debated heavily the correct balance of comedy and drama for this project. The comic moments leave the biggest impact, so it’s a shame they didn’t just play up those points more to expose the Cheney’s career for the comedy of errors history has revealed much of it to be.

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