Sunday, December 30, 2012

Book Review: Tarzan and the 'Foreign Legion'


As we close out 2012, I thought I would post my last book review of the year with the final adventure penned by Edgar Rice Burroughs, bringing full circle the centennial of the Lord of the Jungle.

With World War II raging, an American reconnaissance plane is shot down over the island of Sumatra, leaving most of the crew dead. Among the survivors are the pilot, Capt Jerry Lucas; Sgts. Joe Bubonovich and Tony "Shrimp" Rossetti; and British RAF Captain John Clayton. Eventually the group discovers the island is crawling with Japanese forces, rebels and villagers and Corrie Van Der Meer, a young Dutch woman whose parents were brutally killed by the invading forces. It will take all this small group has to escape from capture and find a way off Sumatra. Of course when your RAF Captain happens to be the famous Tarzan of the Apes the odds probably just got better.

Written in 1944 but not published until 1946, Tarzan and the 'Foreign Legion' was the last complete novel Burroughs would write. Having witnessed the bombing of Pearl Harbor while living in Hawaii, Burroughs had volunteered as a war correspondent-in fact the world's oldest war correspondent-and brought that experience to his tale. What is refreshing here is that clearly time away from churning out Tarzan adventures reinvigorated Burroughs as the tale is a fast-paced and often violent tale that grips the reader from start to finish. Burroughs gives his characters enough personality-most of I admit cliched-but like any war film you end up rooting for them. He also plays well with stereotype, portraying both Corrie and the female Eurasian Sarina as smart, resourceful women who don't just stand around and scream.

Burroughs also plays with the character of Tarzan and the formula that had set in. There is no lost civilization here, no clueless or ruthless safaris, just soldiers trying to survive and Tarzan doing his best to help them with his jungle skills and willingness to jump on tigers. He also tangles with orangutans and finds a substitute Nkima named Keta. Burroughs also plays with the character's fame to humorous effect. When Tarzan reveals who he is Shrimp immediately confuses him with Johnny Weissmuller, a reference is made to long time Tarzan film producer Sol Lesser and there is discussion about how Tarzan's stories go way back and are familiar to his fellow soldiers. There is also a brief section where Tarzan talks about how he has lived so long, thanks to saving a witch doctor and those immortality pills he and Jane found in Tarzan's Quest. He however admits that in the end death always wins, an indication that as he was nearing the end of his life Burroughs wasn't immune to thoughts of leaving this world.

On the flip side the book is a product of its time, which means the Japanese are portrayed as stereotyped killers with no remorse and I admit it will leave a sour taste to some readers. You'll just have to remember the time period it was written in and the audience Burroughs was writing for at the time. The book also dabbles in war story cliche more than once, with its ethnic heroes hurling insults at each other, the long marches and constant gun battles can wear one out after a while.

That said Tarzan and the 'Foreign Legion' is an entertaining tale and a nice close to the career of a great story teller. It may not reach the heights of Burroughs' greatest but as a curtain closer it's damn good. Rating: ***1/2 out of 4.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Book Review: John Carter 3D (A Golden Book)


I promised book reviews, so let's kick off with the book that will take you 3 minutes to finish.

The second of three children "Golden Books" released to promote the movie (you can read my review of another one at http://www.jcomreader.blogspot.com/2012/10/review-john-carter-adventures-on.html), John Carter 3D is the most pricey (7 bucks) and quite honestly the most empty. Unlike Adventures on Barsoom which had puzzles to work, this one is nothing more than a picture book with brief captions describing the characters with the added bonus of 3D glasses.

But like the movie, the 3D is pretty much pointless, plus its those green and red deals that mostly succeed in giving people migraine headaches so it doesn't add much. As for the pictures most of them you've seen before-Dejah holding her sword, etc. On the plus side there is some unintentional laughs with the captions. Sola for example "is given the duty of teaching John Carter the ways of the Tharks." In A Princess of Mars yes, in this movie all she does is give him some voice juice and gets kicked around for it. I also had a laugh-a sad laugh-on Matai Shang's page, describing how Carter begsin to "uncover the true role the Therns play in the conflict on the planet Barsoom." Given that Shang didn't even have a verbal reason for his role did the people who wrote these have access to a different script? Or some other piece of information?

Oh well. Considering the utter lack of merchandise Disney released this will have to do. But I would recommend trying to find it cheap since honestly bad 3D isn't worth 7 bucks.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

John Carter Up for Collider's Poll of Year's Best


I hope you guys and girls had a safe and Merry Christmas. Thanks to the holiday haul I'll have some upcoming and belated reviews soon but for now some FYI news. Collider is running a poll, asking movie fans to vote for "Your Top 10 Movies of 2012" and John Carter is among the nominees. So if you want to prove-at least to Collider-that Carter and company are among the year's best hit http://collider.com/top-10-movies-2012-poll/220021/ and cast your vote. And for those of us who thought less of the greatest moper of two worlds...well you can vote too.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Book Review: John Carter & the Gods of Hollywood



So, the world didn't end? Talk about disappointing your audience. How's that for a segue way for a review?

At this point every Edgar Rice Burroughs fan and fans of Andrew Stanton's John Carter can tell you the basics of what happened-massively expensive movie+bad buzz and press=box office bomb. Now the merits of the film itself has been debated (and will be before this review ends) but did John Carter deserve it's fate as the 21st Century's answer to Ishtar?

John Carter Files creator Michael Sellers' book makes the argument that it didn't, that like all things it was a combination of elements that resulted in the film's final box office fate. It's that point of view that fuels through Gods of Hollywood and gives for fans some idea of what went wrong.

The first few chapters give a brief history of Burroughs, A Princess of Mars and John Carter's tortured path to the motion picture screen before that fateful day in 2007 when former Disney Chairman Dick Cook called Stanton and set this whole thing in motion. From there the book doesn't detail much of the production which it seems went smoothly contrary to the later press stories of out of control spending and reshoots but really digs in when it comes to Disney's handling of the film. If the book has a narrative through line its here and it is that the powers that be were lax at their jobs. A film studio chief too busy buying things instead of creating them? Check. A chairman apparently too afraid or uninterested in the film to challenge the director? Check. A marketing chief who had no movie marketing experience and who made bad calls? Check. A director in over his head and who contradicted himself? Sort of a check (more on that below). All of these characters show up and Sellers does his best to catalog every misstep-from name changes, lack of Internet exposure, middling trailers and posters to the final declaration that the film was a massive bomb that cost Disney a huge write-off. In some cases its hard to tell whether to sigh sadly about all of the incompetence present or just laugh at how more badly they could screw it up...only to screw it up even more.

It's all told with a nice, direct style by Mr. Sellers. Probably the most interesting parts-at least from a fan's point of view-is where he takes breaks from the film's saga to relate his own personal interest John Carter of Mars and his own disappointment and bewilderment at what was happening. One of the most eye opening chapters is a meeting with some of the Disney PR people and the realization that they were set on their course and were not going to change it no matter what.

That said while I don't want to criticize his work all that much there are a few elements here that I don't agree with and some nitpicks. Part of this is a difference of opinion concerning one area-Andrew Stanton. Sellers gives him in the book not a total 100 percent support but clearly isn't as critical as some of us who were disappointed with Stanton's approach would probably like it to be. It doesn't help that-though I'm sure this was unintentional-with all of his comments here it comes across more that Stanton was oblivious to both his belief that his infallible "Pixar Method" would work despite never having been tried on a live action film, his disregard for actually helping promote the film early on (only when it seemed to be getting bad press did Stanton make any effort to go on Twitter to reach out) or the fact that he really was never a fan of the books and thought very little of Burroughs' gifts-most notably when it comes to his handling of the character of John Carter. In short while it may not present a version of Stanton as some dictator or mad perfectionist (no stories of waiting for perfect clouds a la Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate) I still came away not liking Stanton or wanting to see him continue with John Carter. A reboot yes I'm all for that but not another round of Shape Shifter Shang and Whiny Emo Carter.

The other flaws are as I said more nitpicks either over some notable absences (even though all of the previous attempts to film John Carter are mentioned there is no word on the Asylum version of Princess of Mars at all outside of one reprinted comment from a web site) and while he does a commendable job of avoiding falling into conspiracy theorizing as some have, Sellers comes close with-what was clearly shoved in late in the editing process-the idea that Disney chief Robert Iger allowed Carter to be sacrificed in order not to jeopardize his deal to buy Lucasfilm and Star Wars. Since there is no hard evidence of this-and George Lucas' on the record comments about how Burroughs influenced Star Wars-it comes too close to finger pointing and in some respects sour grapes. Sorry have to call it like I see it.

Outside of that John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood is a well-written take from a fan of a story that hopefully will have a better ending in the future. After all John Carter saved Barsoom so one man can make a difference. OK I'll give it a ***1/2 out of 4 rating and go from there.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Lynn Collins Makes Den of Geek's Top 10 List


While we wait the end of the year (or just The End) more best and worst of lists are still arriving. This one though caught my eye: Den of Geek writer Mark Harrison's list of the "10 Underrated Film Performances" of 2012 which he gave praise to Ms. Collins for her turn as Dejah Thoris, writing "In a year of strong, well-rounded female characters, Collins does a great job of portraying more than just a love interest, but a character with the smarts and resourcefulness to be the most watchable part of the film." Considering she gave the film's best performance I'll second that comment. You can check out the rest of his list at http://www.denofgeek.com/movies/23878/the-10-underrated-film-performances-of-2012.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Movie Review: The Hobbit-An Unexpected Journey


I admit I was debating whether or not to post this today due to the tragic events that occurred (and my prayers go out to those affected by this event). But as I began to think about this, the one thing that keeps us going is hope, love and friendship and at times the need to escape from our world. So here is my thoughts on a film that in many ways-sometimes brilliantly, sometimes awkwardly-reafirms all of that.

After a brief reintroduction to old Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) and his nephew Frodo (Elijah Wood) as they prepare for Bilbo's birthday, we are told of the downfall of the dwarves of the Lonely Mountain, whose gold and kingdom are taken over by the dragon Smaug. Several years later the heir to the Mountain, Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) had decided to reclaim his homeland and has turned to the wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellan) for help. Gathering 12 other dwarves, Gandalf picks a 13th member-Bilbo (played as a younger hobbit by Martin Freeman). At first Bilbo is reluctant to go but decides to join the quest despite his lack of experience of the oustide world and the doubts of Thorin. Along the way the group encounters hungry trolls, orcs, a white orc known from Thorin's past known as Azog and a creature named Gollum (Andy Serkis)...as well as a gold ring that holds more power than any of them realizes.

I will admit it's been a long time since I read J.R.R. Tolkien's original novel The Hobbit. I always remember loving it, even more in some cases that The Lord of the Rings for its simpler narrative. It's that narrative that Peter Jackson and his co-writers (including original director Guillermo del Toro) have stretched out as has been announced to three movies. That explains why An Unexpected Journey is more setup than anything else with subplots being introduced that won't be resolved until the next two films. Among them the discovery of a necromancer bringing back the dead by the wizard Radagast the Brown and the continuing pursuit by Azog seeking vengeance against Thorin for cutting off his arm. I can understand why some critics are complaing about all this setup, especially since this first movie runs only 10 minutes shy of 3 hours and some of this detracts from the main story. But I think some of them are forgetting how much The Fellowship of the Ring did the same thing. That film was filled with lots of setup, long meetings and discussions before the story began to move forward and the story took hold.

What keeps the film involving at least for me was the major characters. Taking over the role of Bilbo Martin Freeman does a good job balancing the fact that the character is a fish out of water, wanting to go home but coming through when necessary. The other newcomer that stood out was Armitage who had the tougher role of Thorin, since he spends quite a bit of the movie as an unlikable, somewhat pompous dwarf whose hatreds threaten to derail the quest. However the two shining performances though come from McKellan, bringing a twinkle, humor and charm to Gandalf and Serkis, who reinhabits Gollum's skin to visceral effect. He steals the show plain and simple with his brief screen time and the game of riddles is the high point. There is also the welcome appearances of Hugo Weaving's Elrond, Cate Blanchett's Galadriel and Christopher Lee's Saurman, along with Holm and Wood. Their presence gives the film a welcome comfort zone, something that I always felt was missing in the Star Wars prequels.

Also the film is a grand display of technical wizardry. You can tell how much technology has jumped since 2003 by looking at how fleshed out Gollum is. The rest of the effects-from Azog to the Jabba the Hutt-like Orc ruler beneath the mountains to the trolls-are all brought to life vividly. There is also breathtaking shots of Middle-Earth, with Jackson's camera flying all over. If nothing else An Unexpected Journey should be seen for that. (I also will note that I saw the movie in standard 2D, not 3D or the debated 48 frames per second version that is causing much discussion. Even in standard the movie looked vibrant so I would suggest just go with that).

I'm not going to say that The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey reaches the heights of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. It's a little flabby I'll admit but it's also a loving return to a land many fell in love with years ago. The film is comfort and as I said at the start a reminder of the things that matter most and that needs to be restated from time to time. Rating: *** 1/2 out of 4.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

John Carter: A Future Cult Classic?


It's Opinion Time! Without Jake the Dog and Finn the Human (or is the other way around?).

With 2012 coming to a close critics left and right have been releasing their best and worst lists of the year and John Carter is making a few. Our pal at The John Carter Files listed two lists that Carter made. It came in number 2 on Time Magazine's worst of movie list but also made Moviefone's list of the 10 Movies Audiences Missed this year, proclaiming it will become a "genuine cult classic." Apparently neither critic is alone. In a case of spilt personality Entertainment Weekly also has Carter on its picks of worst and cult lists, in this case critic Owen Gleiberman called it the worst film of the year while another sides with Moviefone, claiming it's not as bad as its current reputation suggests.

So is John Carter a prime candidate for cult classic status?

I admit that I made a snarky comment on JCF about this, saying that John Carter will become a cult classic the same way that Plan 9 From Outer Space is one, a cult film celebrated not for its brilliance but for everything it got wrong. I know that sounds mean spirited to compare Andrew Stanton's film to Ed Wood's epic but it has to do with the disappointment I feel with the film and the fact that I don't see what the film's defenders see in it.

But it raises a point about cult films. That it takes time for a film to become a cult film, even one like Plan 9. A prime example that many roll out is Ridley Scott's Blade Runner. Now it's seen as a classic, an brilliant study of humanity and Scott's masterpiece. Back in 1982? Mostly it was seen as a downer in the summer of ET, a case of style over substance and audiences had a hard time buying Harrison Ford playing such a conflicted character after Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Over time though its stature grew and the complaints about it at the time fell away. It is possible that in 10, 20 years time the complaints I have about John Carter could disappear, that the initial disappointment and anger I felt over it has vanished and I can look at it fresh.

The bigger question though is will the audience that didn't show up for it, that stayed away, will they join the cult of Woola? Will they be able to overlook the negative press about the budget, its poor box office and mixed critical reaction to see the film unbiased? Recently the restored director's cut of the infamous Heaven's Gate has been making the festival circuit and a Blu-Ray release from the high end Criterion Collection and in a few reviews of it I read the consensus is that while its not some masterpiece it is not the total disaster that its reputation-influenced by the stories of out of control spending and directorial excess similar to the stories that now surround Carter-suggests. Most of that opinion I suspect is that the reviewers are seeing it fresh, without the hoopla attached that was back when it came out. And that might be the way for John Carter to achieve that cult status, to be looked at without the negative stories, articles about box office or old fuddy duddies like me complaining about Stanton's mishandling of Edgar Rice Burroughs.

So we'll see in time. Who knows, maybe in 20 years time I'll like John Carter's dead wife and Shape Shifter Shang. If not, well it can make a great double bill with Plan 9.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Man of Steel Trailer 2


With The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey a mere three days away Warner Bros has unleashed the new trailer for Zack Snyder's Superman reboot and it looks really good. Watch it and let us know what you think.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Comic Review: Dejah Thoris #19


Again no snappy opening. So let's continue Dejah the Vampire Slayer!

When we last left off, Dejah had just been betrayed by the Palidor Svero to the Vatheks in exchange for his family. Sent to what seems to be her doom on the main planet of Strio (Saturn) Dejah instead finds herself in the castle of the  Vanthek Dagur Andlaust, who having tasted her blood has fallen for the princess (who hasn't at this point?) Offering her eternal life Dejah agrees if he will help her save Barsoom from the Vathek's plans. Working with the surviving Palidor rebels, Dejah and Dagur launch a final attack that could possibly save Barsoom and damn Dejah at the same time.

With this issue wrapping up the "Vampire Men of Saturn" storyline we see both the good and bad sides of the story. On the good side writer Robert Napton continues building up Dejah's character, her willingness to sacrifice herself for her people and her search for redemption. On the bad side, a vampire falling in love with his intended? While we're spared any sparkly vamps or True Blood bouncy bouncy this plot twist is a little tired, even though Dagur gets a heroic send off. I guess after the last two storylines of witches, demon possession and vampires I'm ready for the return of Swashbuckling Dejah and less resembling Dark Shadows (the TV classic, not the Johnny Depp fiasco).

Debora Carita continues to provide the artwork and it's still nice and colorful. The last few pages when Dejah and Dagur's plans begin have a nice burst of energy and vivid excitement that helps carry the reader to the end.

The next story arc promises Dejah returning to Barsoom and facing a growing underworld. While this story arc was fun, I'm ready for some action and a return to Burroughs style pulp. Until next time faithful readers.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Comic Review: Lord of the Jungle #10


Let's just jump in shall we?

When we last left off, Tarzan and D'Arnot had lost the elusive Rokoff at a party at the Count DeCoude's house. They find him, but during the stand off and struggle Rokoff manages to get away with the valuable pages that lead to Opar. After a heart to heart with Paul, Tarzan agrees to return to Africa and stop Rokoff from finding the fabled lost city. Rokoff however has taken on a new identity and some new traveling companions-Jane Porter and Cecil Clayton. Tarzan isn't too far behind though as he meets a tribe that can possibly lead him to Opar but will have to prove himself to gain their trust.

As you can tell from this overview, a lot of the second book has been eliminated, condensing Tarzan's time in Paris and his meeting the Waziri along with giving Rokoff an actual goal compared to just causing mischief as he does in the novel. While this might cause some grumbling, especially compared to how faithful he's been to the Barsoom books in the Warlord of Mars series, Arvid Nelson still delivers a good, fast paced read. If anything the plot of an outsider trying to find Opar and its vaults of gold was used by Burroughs himself in both Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar and Golden Lion so I don't have a problem with this change to the story.

I'll just give my usual glowing notice for Roberto Castro's artwork. Seriously how many times can I say how great it looks and how well he captures the look of Tarzan?

Fans of Tarzan and old fashioned pulp adventures will enjoy this issue, a great combination of art and writing that manages to capture the reader and pay homage to Burroughs' style and sense of excitement and fun. What more do you want?

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Star Trek Into Darkness Teaser Trailers


Or what they're calling "announcement" teasers. In either case here's the first glimpse of JJ Abrams' sequel, filled with explosions, running and villain seeking "vengenace." Take a peek at both the English version and then the longer Japanese cut and decide-is the threat Khan? Is that blonde woman exchanging smiles with Kirk Carol Marcus? And is the Enterprise rising or falling into the ocean?




Tuesday, December 4, 2012

John Carter Nominated for Annie Award


With the movie award season starting, it looks like John Carter might get some respect after all. Following being short listed for the Visual Effects Oscar comes another, in this case from the Annie Awards-which honors the best in animation-for best "Animated Effects in a Live Action Production." You can check out the rest of the nominees at http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/2013-annie-award-nominations-announced/.

Monday, December 3, 2012

New Man of Steel Poster


It's new poster time. Following the new one sheet for Star Trek Into Darkness (check the side of this blog if you haven't seen it yet) comes this new one showing Henry Cavill's Superman, in handcuffs. I guess we'll find out why when the movie comes out next year or maybe next week when the new trailer premieres-along with Trek-in front of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Comic Review: The Once And Future Tarzan


As usual I can't come up with an opening so let's just hit the basics and go from there.

After having faced numerous foes-both human and animal-John Clayton now faces the future. In this case a future England that has survived the apocalypse leaving scattered survivors. When Clayton is attacked by a group of female warriors, they learn he is the one they are looking for, someone who is "man and ape and more..." Agreeing to go with them to their leader, the wise Mu Kalan, Clayton and the warriors find a wounded but fierce Tantor, spider-like creatures with human heads called atterzarfs and the revelation that he is John Clayton, Lord Greystoke, better known as Tarzan of the Apes. He's also 300 years old. Eventually Tarzan has to lead the group into battle against a military outfit known as the Cabal and has to use his wits and his centuries of jungle knowledge to survive.

Originally published as a three part serial in Dark Horse Presents, this one shot is, well the word would be interesting. The idea of sending Tarzan into a post-apocalyptic world and having him become a savior it an unique concept, one that writer Alan Gordon exploits to his best efforts. I guess where I have some problems with it is the fact that the reader is dropped into the story without much setup on how the Earth reached this state or what the Cabal really is beyond looking and acting like escapees from a Rambo film. There is some nice touches here and there and welcome cameos from Jad-Bal-Ja and Jane Clayton herself riding an elephant into battle that helps the story along but I still felt it could have used more space to fill in the blanks.

The one reason to get this issue though is the artwork, done by long time Tarzan fan and artist Thomas Yeates. Yeates brings a nice subdued look to the characters and backgrounds, with the color work by Yeates and Lore Almeida having a nice water color look to them. I did like Tarzan resembling Johnny Weissmuller, helping the issue pay tribute to both the book and film Tarzan as well as the handling of Jane and the female warriors, Jad and the animals and the look of a destroyed London.

To wrap up I'm giving a thumbs up for The Once and Future Tarzan. While I had some qualms over the story its still an interesting approach to a Tarzan tale, one that I hope might be expanded upon in a future series. Throw in Yeates' great artwork and its a no-brainer. Pick this up if you love Tarzan or just great art period.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Comic Review: Warlord of Mars #22


After a two month absence, John Carter returns!

After surviving Matai Shang's trap for him, Carter takes off in pursuit of the Thern leader and his captives when a lucky shot from Thurid's gun damages his one man flier. Crash landing in a forest, Carter and Woola find themselves in the nation of Kaol, whose inhabitants still cling to the fallen religion of Issus and are playing host to Shang. Carter does find an ally in the Jeddak of Ptarth, Thuvan Dihn, when he rescues him from a group of green men that Carter suspects was setup by the Therns. Eventually both men find the ruler of Kaol beginning to question Shang's motives and when he disappears agrees to help Carter and Thuvan Dihn pursue him. Their trek eventually finds them heading to north in search of a "pure race" that still worships the Therns...

As the second part in their adaptation of The Warlord of Mars, this adapts the novel quite well but throws in some interesting changes. The most notable is in the character of Phaidor, who throws herself between her father and Dejah Thoris and remarks how it was Dejah who helped her survive in the Temple of the Sun. We also get more development of Carter's friendship with Thuvan Dihn, since the story does eliminate some of the novel's plotting like Carter going undercover in Kaol. Admittedly most of this issue is talk with little action outside the opening and Carter's fight with the green men but its still skillfully done by Arvid Nelson and crew.

The major plus here is the artwork by Leandro Oliveira. In fact this might be the best artwork I've seen since the series began as he captures the characters with vivid colors and design. Carter looks less like Tarzan as he has in the previous issues while Oliveira brings the supporting cast alive as well. In particular-as anyone knows me-his Dejah is a knockout. Just take a look at the first page. There is also nice design work on the Kaolian jungle and throne room, an area the series has had problems with in establishing backgrounds.

As John Carter himself would say, Warlord of Mars still lives and is worth getting for fans and newbies to the saga. It's a grand pulp story, masterfully adapted and brought to life. What more do you want?