About Me

My photo
Montreal, Quebec, Canada
I am a Montreal-based actor, writer and comedian. When U.S. President John F. Kennedy was shot, I was three days old. I cried all day. My favourite books of all time are Moby Dick by Herman Melville, The Last Temptation by Nikos Kazantzakis and The Ewoks Fun Time Activity Book by Chirpa and Pamploo. I am a member of The Vestibules, On The Spot Improv and The Best Buy Battery Club. Except for the Battery Club, I've been at all this stuff for over 20 years. Enjoy my blog.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Reboots of Classic Old School Heroes

This week, somehow in midst of the killing of the world's most evil man and a ground breaking shift in  politics that this country has not seen in decades, the DVD and Blu-Ray release of The Green Hornet movie, starring Seth Rogan, was almost completely over-looked in the media.

It kinda fits, if you think about.

The fact that Seth Rogan's latest comedy action vehicle is based on a character that is now 75 years old has been down played to the max in the promotion and publicity surrounding the film. The Green Hornet's roots as a radio show, a TV show, two movie serials and an endless amount of comic books remains an arcane story known only by those in the elite Order of Fanboys.

I seriously doubt that the gang of 17 year old kids sitting behind me in the cinema on opening weekend last January had any notion of any such thing. They were all too busy laughing and cheering while texting and tweeting Rogan's best one-liners to their friends.

And that's all cool.

I'm just intrigued by the idea that, for some reason, this particular obscure old school hero found his way to be played by Seth Rogan  in a movie that clearly appeals to an audience that has no knowledge of or previous connection to the character.

Similarly, over the years, we have seen a number of reboots of many of the classic old time heroes of the 30's. Each of these reboots were made many decades after the heyday of their respective character's popularity. Sure, in most cases these heroes have endured and still exist, in one form or another, but only really for a niche audience of cult fans.

Yet some producer somewhere always seems to be interested in resurrecting and updating a Green Hornet or a Doc Savage or a Dick Tracy for a mass audience. Sometimes it may be a case of an old time fanboy who has gone on to become a successful writer, actor, director or producer and just plain has a passion for bringing a beloved childhood icon to the screen. Sometimes it may be investors or studios who believe that Flash Gordon or The Shadow, say, can recapture the "franchise"'s  multi media success and profits of the past. Sometimes it's just that freakish timing and coming together of random elements that actually gets a movie financed and made.

One thing is certain, attempting to capture decades old lightening in a bottle is a feat that sometimes even these almost 80 year old larger than life heroes can barely pull off...

Doc Savage: Man of Bronze (1975)

This 1975 film version of the classic pulp adventure hero is perhaps the most curious reboot of all.

The Doc Savage movie was made at time when superheroes and adventurers of Doc Savage's ilk were extremely rare in feature films, even in those aimed at children. Such characters were historically relegated to movie serials and, later on, Saturday morning TV. Before Richard Donner broke the comic hero box office barrier with Superman in 1978, you had only a handful of such feature  films. Two examples, Superman and The Mole Men (1951) and Batman (1966), for instance, were both based on hit TV show versions of the classic comic book characters.  That and Sindbad's occasional golden seventh voyages was just about the only game in town on that front.

The pulp publication known as Doc Savage Magazine first appeared in 1933. All of the Savage stories were credited to Kenneth Robeson, a name that actually served as a front for no less than nine different writers over the years. The basic premise of the character is actually a little scary when seen though today's  sensitivities.

Clark Savage was raised from birth by an elite team of scientists so as to maximize his strength and intellect to almost super human levels. Looking back at it now, the whole premise kind stings a little too much of master race eugenics. Add to that Savage's blond hair, blue eyes, massive muscles and bronze skin and, well, it's all a bit much for a character that was created in a decade that saw the rise of Nazism and similar fascist movements around the globe.

In the naivete of his time, though, Doc Savage was the all around perfect hero adventure guy. He was a physician, surgeon, scientist, adventurer, inventor, explorer, researcher and musician who, according to the copy on the back of one of his books, "...is dedicated to the destruction of all evil-doers". He also had  a team of "the five greatest brains ever assembled in one group" working for him, a headquarters on the 86th floor of the The Empire State Building, a special flying wing aircraft, a wide array of cool gadgets and an arctic retreat known as, get this, the Fortress of Solitude. You can easily see how Doc Savage went on to influence Superman, Jonny Quest, James Bond, Indiana Jones, Mission: Impossible! and Buckaroo Bonzai.

Interestingly, despite magazines, novels, a comic strip, numerous comic books and a radio series, the good Doc never saw an  on screen incarnation of any kind for the first 40 years or so of his existence. The one and only on-screen version of Doc Savage was brought to life in 1975 by the guy who "said to his bride, 'I'm gonna give you some terrible chills'", George Pal.

Pal, a legendary Hollywood producer, gave those terrible chills to his bride and the world in the 50's and the 60's in the form of films like War of the Worlds,When Worlds Collide, The Time Machine, and The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao (featuring Tony Randall at his most scary...seriously).

For some reason, Pal felt that a film treatment of Doc Savage should not take itself as seriously as most of his other SF/fantasy/horror movies or even, for that matter, as most of the Doc's hard knuckled pulp adventures. Perhaps Pal was persuaded by the massive success of the high camp 60's TV version of Batman. Or maybe he just felt that Clark Savage was just way too square a character to be taken seriously in the hip and groovy 70's. Whatever the reason, the movie did not work, artistically or financially.

The campy style of Doc Savage: Man of Bronze does not go far enough to be anywhere near as entertaining as the 60's Batman camp. The film is just plain not interesting either as camp, adventure, comedy or whatever else it is the movie's uneven tone is trying to achieve. The narrative structure is a very simple A to B story with no surprises along the way, if it can even command that much of your attention.  The former TV Tarzan, Ron Ely, plays Doc Savage. Smiling and posing seems to be his only approach to the role. The fact that we never really see the guy playing Doc Savage with his shirt off speaks to Ely's being a tad long in the tooth for the role at that stage in his career.

Doc Savage: Man of Bronze was directed by Michael Anderson. Among Anderson's other films are Around The World in 80 Days (which one the Oscar for Best Picture in 1956), The Dam Busters (the final sequence of which inspired George Lucas' attack on the Death Star sequence in Star Wars) and Logan's Run (a seminal fave film of my prepubescent years).  You'd think Anderson could have done better.

I remembering reading an interview with Anderson in the early 80's. He cited Doc Savage as attempt at a Raiders of the Lost Ark type film. It was just before its time,that's all. Um...yeah...one small tip on that: watch Raiders of the Lost Ark again and note the lack of fight scenes scored with music by John Phillip Sousa.

Flash Gordon (1980)

"Flash! Ah-ah! Savior of the universe!". When I think of this film, I can never get that Queen song out of my head. Funny that, it's like they scored the movie or something.

Flash Gordon first appeared as newspaper comic strip on January 7, 1934. It quickly became the first popular mainstream space opera.  Flash Gordon followed the adventures of a Yale polo player and generally good looking, confident guy. Oddly, the 30's was an era where the well-to-do elite were actually seen as heroic and desirable.

Anyway, long story short: through a series of seemingly random circumstances Flash ends up on a rocket ship bound for the stars (in the 1930's, no less). He is accompanied by the attractive all American girl Dale Arden and the brilliant yet still slightly foreign Dr. Zarkof.

Flash lands on the planet Mongo and instantly takes up the good fight against the Ming The Merciless, the evil leader of the planet. Ming is a guy who's got a definite Mongol horde thing going on in his personal grooming and fashion sense.

Flash Gordon has seen reincarnations in a varied amount of mediums: comic books, comic strips, books, radio shows, TV series', Saturday morning cartoons and, of course, "Flash Gordon was there in silver underwear" in three different movie serials (to the best of my knowledge, the only movie serial trilogy ever). The serials starred the man forever linked to the role of Flash (at least to my Dad, anyway), Buster Crabbe. 

In 1980, Flash Gordon saw a cinematic rebirth at the hands of latter-day movie mogul Dino De Laurentis. The timing of this reboot is fairly obvious, coming after massive late 70's SF box office hits like Alien, Star Trek:The Motion Picture, Close Encounters of the The Third Kind and a little movie-that-could written and directed by a guy named George Lucas.

Flash Gordon is also unique on the list in that it is the only reboot that ditched the original setting of its source material. The action is moved from the 30's to the early 80's (it looks more like the late 70's, really) setting. The movie has the look of an old 1930's Sunday comic strip synthesized with 1970's Disco Glam.

Much of the look, design and visual effects in Flash Gordon owe more to movies like Barbarella and Danger Diabolik (also produced by Dino De Laurentis) than they do any of the old Buster Crabbe serials or even the  popular sci-fi blockbusters of the day.  The characters and narrative are much more conventional than any of those aforementioned trippy European SF films, however.

The movie is one I caught up while working at one of the city's first video stores in the early 80's. I got to watch a lot of movies back then.Flash Gordon was among the first.

In the 1980 version, Yale polo playing Flash Gordon is replaced with the the more down to earth star quarterback of the NY Jets Flash Gordon. Watching it back in '81, the film lost me early on. There is one majorly silly scene that crosses over the line from camp to absurdity. It is a scene where Flash, newly arrived on the planet Mongo, suddenly encounters these guards in Ming The Merciless' palace.Coincidentally, the guards look kinda just like football players. Naturally, Flash immediately begins playing offense against the evil alien linebackers. Dale Arden suddenly joins in by taking to the sidelines and acting like a cheerleader, dancing and chanting "Go, Flash Go!" .

I turned it off right there.

That approach to the material seems to have lost a lot of other audiences too. The movie did not do so well at the box office. It was an era when SF box office meant blockbuster genre movies that took themselves just a tad more seriously. Campy self-parody written by the same guy that wrote the 60's Adam West Batman series was, like, so ten years ago. 

I gave Flash Gordon another chance about 30 years later. The Blu-ray format is the great redeemer.

If Logan's Run pioneered the Disco Sci-Fi look in 1976, Flash Gordon took that look to its ultimate logical glitter ball conclusion. Throw in a nice heaping helping of 70's glam rock and that Queen score starts to make a lot more sense.

Flash Gordon is fun on its own terms.

I've never understood producer Dino de Laurentis  obsession with good looking empty male model vessels in leading roles. That being said, Sam Jones as Flash does what he needs to do: look good while throwing not-too-violent punches. Timothy Dalton, as one of Mongo's resistance fighters, is great as always (the best James Bond until Daniel Craig...just had to throw that in there). And Max Von Sydow turns in a great performance as Ming The Merciless. The role continued the great Scandinavian actor's Hollywood streak of Weird Roles For Max Von Sydow To Play.

I must say, though, it would be nice if someone could do a Flash Gordon reboot that's updated  but still true in spirit to its comic strip, movie serials and space opera source material.

Oh...actually...yeah...wait a sec....somebody already did just that...I think it was called Star Wars.

Dick Tracy (1990)

Warren Beatty has, to me, always been intrinsically linked to that New Hollywood movement where movies started to be seen as art in the mainstream for the first time. He starred in the ground breaking anti-hero tone Bonnie and Clyde, the classically 70's political thriller The Parallax View, Robert Altman's master stroke western McCabe and Mrs. Miller and the sexual revolution satire Shampoo (which he also wrote).  Beatty also wrote, directed and starred in the box office smash Heaven Can Wait as well as being a triple threat in one of the most underrated films of all time, Reds. As a writer director and actor, Beatty is known both for his gorgeous mug and his commitment to emotionally real and socially relevant cinema.

So how exactly did this guy end up directing and starring in a movie about a larger-than-life Depression era comic strip super cop?

Dick Tracy was one of the most popular newspaper comic strips ever. Created by Chester Gould, the squared-jawed, hooked-nose tough yet honest comic cop first turned up in 1931.  Tracy was largely a product of the then just ended era of prohibition. Prohibition, of course, had given rise to a great deal of infamous bootlegging gangsters, like Al, the original "Scarface", Capone. Tracy became mainstream America's fictional Eliot Ness (the real life cop that famously brought down Capone). In the daily newspaper comic strip, Tracy routinely went up against any number literally nick-named hoods like Prunface, Flattop Jones, The Mole and Al "Big Boy" Caprice. Dick Tracy was part police procedural, part film noire and all black-and-white bad guys vs. good guys.

Dick Tracy and his trademark yellow trench coat and fedora saw many different incarnations between 1931 and 1990. There was a radio series, comic books, five movie serials (a record for one character, I'm pretty sure), four low budget B-list feature films, one short lived TV series, two animated series and one unsold TV pilot (produced by William Dozier, the guy who gave us the 60's camp version of Batman).

Among Dick Tracy's legions of young fans was a kid named Warren Beatty. Beatty had been wanting to make a Dick Track film as far back as 1975. However, he never owned the rights and back in the 70's Beatty in comic strip movie probably felt like too weird a fit for any studio to back.

In the meantime, a Dick Tracy feature film had been living in what the industry terms "development hell" for decades. The Dick Tracy movie was at one time of another going to be in the hands of directors like Stephen Spielberg, John Landis and, believe it or not, Martin Scorsese. Actors considered for the lead role included Clint Eastwood (a darker gritty take on the character was considered at one point), Harrison Ford (Disney expressed interest in an urban thriller version of Indiana Jones), Tom Selleck (there was screenplay out there that one writer referred to as "uncomfortably campy") and, yes, even Warren Beatty.

By the time Beatty was considered, Disney had their hands on the project. Beatty stipulated that he direct the film as well before accepting the role . The studio wanted nothing to with a guy whose last writer/director/actor project, Reds, went over budget, over schedule  and bombed horribly at the box office too boot. Not to mention that the films' celebration of communism would no doubt have Uncle Walt spinning in his cryogenic chamber. So, to keep the project alive, Beatty bought the rights to the character himself and agreed to absorb any and all financial losses against his directing and acting fees. The movie moved ahead but Disney refused to make any kind of a big financial commitment to the project. In fact, the entire film was shot in 60 days.

After the massive success of Tim Burton's Batman in 1989, Disney decided to commit to a humongous ad campaign for the release of Dick Tracy in the summer of 1990. The campaign paid off. Dick Tracy was a massive hit in its initial release and remains Warren Beatty's highest grossing movie ever.

The end result was worth it too.

Dick Tracy maintains the spirit of the comic strip without heading into that "uncomfortably campy" territory previously explored by the Doc Savage and Flash Gordon movies. The film's story arc is a wonderfully simplistic yet effective morality play. It stands as a valid take on many of Beatty's classic character-based and socially relevant themes.

The great cinematographer Vittorio Storaro (Last Tango in Paris, Apocalypse Now, 1900 and Beatty's Reds) does an incredible job of capturing the brightly coloured comic strip visuals. The film was shot using, in the true tradition of the coloured Sunday comics (keep up with me here, kids), just seven colours. Those colours seriously pop big time on the screen. There are bright red cars, lush green walls and Tracy's hat and trench coat have never looked quite so yellow.  Dick Tracy is a perfect movie for the Blu-ray format...hint...hint....

Dick Tracy also boasts great editing, great make-up (to pull off the likes of villains like Flatop Jones, say), a Danny Elfman score that predates the composer collapsing in upon himself and, thanks to Beatty's extensive Hollywood connections, a great cast including Dustin Hoffman, James Caan and Mandy Patinikin.

Beatty himself was 53 at the time he took on the title role. His age was not a problem for the role as Beatty was still in that "perpetually youthful" stage of his life and Tracy is one of those rare heroic comic characters who seemed to be always drawn to look perpetually middle-aged. I remember most of the comments amongst my friends at the time went something like this: "Warren Beatty as Dick Tracy? Well, at least that's a step up form Michael Keaton as Batman."

Al Pacino as the main villain, Al "Big Boy" Caprice, shows just how well his emotionally raw loudness can be adapted into the realm of comic caricature.

The only real downside of the casting is, well, Madonna as Breathless Mahoney. She really is not in the same league as the other actors in the cast. She was famously cast on account of her relationship to Beatty at the time (and paid only scale just so it all looked good). And, yes, yes, I know what this sounds like: here we go with the straight male fanboy irked by the presence of Madonna in a comic movie. Well, the cardboard stand-up of Madonna from Dick Tracy that I had in my office for years would beg to disagree with you on that point.

I suspect Madonna may have had perhaps a bit too much pull with Beatty during production (kinda like how Guy Ritchie suddenly started making bad movies when he was married to her then started making good ones again after the divorce).

For instance, there is one sequence that is a classic cop-battles-gangsters montage right out of any 1930's gangster film. Beatty nails the look and feel perfectly. It's got all those great shots of tommy guns firing, old style cars careening around corners and spinning newspaper headlines. However, instead of a classic Hollywood Alfed Newman or Max Steiner style score, the montage is set to Madonna singing a slow torch song. It does not fit in the least. The pace of the editing isn't even right for the music. I understand that if you've got Stephen Sondheim writing new songs for you movie (he wrote two for Dick Tracy), you're going to want to showcase them well. That montage was just not the place. The song should have been cross-faded out as a classic score took over. Instead the song plays for its entirety throughout the montage. Either that creative choice was a Madonna Yoko moment or it was one of Beatty's few misguided ideas on the project.

I remember attempting to convince a friend of mine to go see Dick Tracy when it first came out. Her main objections were to Madonna. "No, no.", she said, "I really don't want to have to see Madonna's naked breasts again". I assured her that Madonna (or anybody Else's) naked breast were never going to turn up in a Disney produced movie based on a 1930's comic strip. About a quarter of the way into the movie, as my friend glared at me in the darkened theatre, I was very much proven wrong.

Yep. Probably a a bit too much influence there.

The Shadow (1994)

I find that I have to keep reminding myself that the pudgy middle-aged funny Alec Baldwin I know and love on 30 Rock was once a much, younger thinner, more sparkly eyed, generally hotter and dramatically more intense Alec Baldwin that starred in major Hollywood motion pictures in the 80's and 90's.

The Shadow makes that reminder really nicely. Baldwin plays the title character of the 1994 film adaptation of the classic pulp and radio hero.

The Shadow debuted, in fact, as one of many characters on a popular anthology radio detective series in July of 1930. The character quickly became a favourite and The Shadow Magazine, (published by the same people that published Doc Savage Magazine)  followed soon after. Like Doc Savage, several different writers wrote for The Shadow but were credited under one pseudonym: Maxwell Grant, in this case.

The Shadow was to the 30's what Batman was to the 60's and Spider-Man was to the 00's: a hugely successful superhero franchise (though they did not exactly use that terminology in the 30's).

The Shadow even had his own catch phrase: "Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?" (catch phrases have gotten snappier over the years).

As far on-screen incarnations go, The Shadow had two short lived obscure TV series in the 50's and was treated to a very typical movie serial adaptation in 1940. The Shadow was also seen in series of lower budget b-pictures throughout the 30's and 40's. I've seen one of these, The Shadow Strikes from 1937. If your idea of a good time is sitting through a long dull murder mystery story in which the title character appears twice in the whole movie (for about a total screen time of about three minutes), then I highly recommend The Shadow Strikes.

In the mid-90's, Universal Pictures was banking on The Shadow franchise to live again. The 1994 Shadow movie was meant to be the first in a series of summer blockbusters. The Shadow, though, is a bit of an odd choice for a character to drive mass market event movies.

In his original pulp and radio incarnations, The Shadow can only very loosely be termed a superhero (a term that did not even exist until at least 1938 at that). In many of the early pulp stories, The Shadow only appeared briefly as a mysterious and often unseen deus ex machina whenever the protagonists of the story needed help. His psychic powers were vaguely defined. The Shadow's alter ego, Lamont Cranston, was sometimes even more mysterious a figure than The Shadow himself. Indeed, The Shadow often had more than just one "secret identity".  Even his origin story was never really fleshed out until years later.

The movie draws on many of the better defined characteristics of The Shadow (all of which were established later in the long running radio series). Now living in Big Budget Land, The Shadow is cast in a much more traditional superhero mold. He maintains the dual identities of Lamont Cranston and The Shadow in much the same way that Clark Kent or Bruce Wayne might. The Shadow has his own requisite superhero headquarters, The Inner Sanctum. The Shadow even has a consistent iconic costume. The plot too is your very traditional "bad guy trying to blow up the world before superhero can stop him" story.

That's the main problem with the film: the screenplay, written by David Koep. Koep has written many Hollywood blockbusters over the years including Jurassic Park and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Koep's main weakness as a screenwriter, I have found, is that all his screenplays tend to fall apart in the third act. No big, when you think about it, really. The third act is only the conclusion of the entire movie.

The Shadow sadly meets the same fate.

The film also suffer a little from director Russell Mulcahy's tendency for big dramatic action that has no real anchor in anything else in the film. The only film where Mulcahy really pulls off that kind of action is in his classic movie, Highlander.

Alec Baldwin is almost everything that is interesting to watch in The Shadow. Those eyes, that voice, that incredible delivery and that consistently grounded acting are quite the combo. Baldwin's timing is impeccable not just in comedy but also in drama (though he does get out a few bon mots in the dialogue of this film). Baldwin's earlier work with the Pulitzer Prize winning playwright David Mamet served him well on that front. I can tell you from experience that Mamet is all about timing (along with some of the most intricately constructed sentences to ever contain the word "motherfucker".).

When The Shadow allows himself to be seen by others, Baldwin's face is magically and digitally altered to the angular-nosed Shadow of the comic strips and pulp magazine covers. The character's mouth is covered by his iconic red scarf. In those moments Baldwin delivers every line as if were appearing in a classic old school radio play. Keeping that kinda stuff consistent with the character is a feat that would have seen many actors falling flat on their lovely faces. Baldwin pulls it off. He also always has this wonderful relationship with the text, giving every line a life and bounce of its own.

Alas, The Shadow did not do nearly well enough at the box office in '94 to create a big time box office franchise.

Even if it did, we all know that Alec Baldwin would have walked away after first film anyway.

The Phantom (1996)

The colour of The Phantom's costume was apparently altered to fit the Blu-ray format.
The Phantom, created by Lee Falk,  first appeared as a daily newspaper strip in February of 1936. The Phantom was a similarly themed hero to The Shadow. The mysteriously named hero with slight suggestions of the occult was a popular notion in the 30's, it seems. The Phantom, however, had no psychic or mystical powers. Nor did he have any super human powers of any kind.  The Phantom did have such an enigmatic presence, though, that his physic and mystical powers existed only in the minds of his enemies. The Phantom was thought to be immortal. In reality, the mantle of The Phantom was passed down from generation to generation creating the impression that there has always been just one Phantom (unless, of course, someone  hit upon the idea that more than one person can wear a costume). Also like The Shadow, The Phantom packed a two gun holster. Unlike The Shadow, it kinda made a bit more sense that a guy without special powers might need the aid of a gun or two every once in a while.

Also like The Shadow (I'll get off this Phantom/Shadow comparison thing soon, I promise) the film version The Phantom was made in the 90's. The movie was intended to launch a big blockbuster franchise but never quite got there. With The Phantom and The Shadow (last time, seriously), the success of the film versions of the characters are largely in the hands of the lead actor.

In the early 90's, Billy Zane made a mark for himself by playing the psychotic bad guy (is there any other kind?) in an early Nicole Kidman thriller titled Dead Calm. The part helped land him the title of role in the 1996 film version of The Phantom. Zane was able to make the transition from psychotic bad guy to comic strip hero with aplomb. He put quite a lot of effort into the role too.

The Phantom was one of the first heroes to have that traditional superhero look: tights, a mask and underwear worn on the outside. The entire outfit was purple and skit tight too boot. If you have ever been to any kind of a comic con anywhere, you are well aware of the fact that it is not every guy that can pull off a skin tight outfit. Pretty much any man who is not currently named Prince has a hard time with purple as well. Well aware of this fact of life, the producers of The Phantom pulled a Michael Keaton and had a foam rubber muscled suit made for Zane. Turns out, though, that Zane had a lot of discipline and a really good personal trainer. He slimmed down and bulked up to rise to the challenge of the all purple skin tight costume. The foam rubber muscles were ditched. Watch the movie: that's all Zane, baby.

However, there is more to Zane's Phantom than just the bod. The actor is able to make The Phantom just that right combination of charming, friendly and heroic yet also tough, brooding and mysterious when he needs to be. He carries the film through some of its weaker moments. While The Phantom never took off as a big movie phenomenon it did impress James Cameron enough to cast Zane in one of the highest grossing movies of all time, Titanic.

The Phantom is, on the whole, a fun and entertaining movie. The action walks that fine line between grit and fun. The film even limits the use of The Phanom's guns to only being used to shoot weapons out of his enemies hands. Such upstanding 1930's-style heroic role model behaviour was extremely rare in the post-Schwarzenegger/Rambo era, even in family friendly adventure movies.

The sequence where The Phantom jumps out of a plane to his land on his galloping horse Hero (while his trained Wolf,  Devil runs alongside) is the highlight of the film. It's great stunt: well shot and very nicely executed. It was still  the pre-CGI stunt era back in the mid 90's. The only real problem with the scene is that happens about half way through the movie. The climax of the film, sadly, offers nothing quite as spectacular or dramatic.

The Phantom has a similar problem to The Shadow (whoops, sorry, slipped back there): screenwriter David Koepp. Once again, Koepp's screenplay collapses in the third act. Kind of a problem for an comic strip action movie. Director Simon Wincer's engaging direction is not able to save the day.

The Phantom is primarily a jungle based costumed hero (he is the defender of the fictional African nation of Bengalla). Situated as the film was in the mid-90's, the whole thing kinda plays like Indiana Jones Meets Batman.

That's reason enough for a revival of the classic old school Depression era hero right there.

The Green Hornet (2011)

Despite the impression that one may get from this blog, my Facebook page and my most recent Halloween costume, I am not the single greatest Green Hornet fan that ever lived. If I were, I doubt I would be able to bring myself to write anything good about the Green Hornet's big screen incarnation in 2011.

All 1930's action heroes began as either radio shows, comic strips of pulp magazines. In The Green Hornet's case, it was a radio show. The Green Hornet debuted on radio in January of 1936.  It followed the story of Britt Reid, publisher and owner of The Daily Sentinel newspaper by day and the masked vigilante known as The Green Hornet by night. The Hornet's angle was kinda cool and different. He pretended to be a criminal while really being a good guy.

'Natch, The Green Hornet had a really cool car with lots of weapons and gadgets. The car, known as The Black Beauty, was always driven by the Hornet's sidekick, Kato. This being the 1930's, Kato was your classic subservient benevolent racial stereotype. Kato was a character that took some time to turn around.

The Green Hornet was also made into movie serials, comic books and, perhaps most famously as a prime time TV series in the 1960's.  The TV show cast up-and-coming martial arts star Bruce Lee in the role of Kato. Lee and his Kung Fu mastery went a long way towards turning around the role of Kato. Though, his lines in the series were still a bit on the scarce side.

Rumors of a Green Hornet movie have been flying around since the 90's.  At one time or another the Hornet was supposedly going to be played by George Clooney, Greg Kinnear and Mark Wahlberg. It was not until the sudden "make a movie about every superhero ever" craze kicked in to high gear that The Green Hornet movie kicked into high gear as well. The reception to the news of the casting of Judd Apatow's favorite goofy guy, Seth Rogan, in the title role was received with grace and poise by fans on the Internet.

Uh-huh. Yeah. Right.

Not since the rumours of Nicolas Cage playing Superman, have I seen such fanboy vehemence. The immediate question on the lips of the more reasonable commentators was "Will it be serious or funny?". Serious, we were told. Although when it was announced that the director of Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind and Be Kind Rewind, Michel Gondry, was involved, I knew that we might be in for something a little bit more off the beaten path.

Turns out, no.

Aside from one or two odd little scenes here and there, The Green Hornet is the most mainstream Hollywood movie that Gondry has ever made. And, oh, yeah. They went with the funny angle too.

While I would have loved to see a slimmed down and bulked up Seth Rogan take on a dramatic role, I did not have a big issue with turning The Green Hornet into a comedy. I also didn't have a big issue with the casting of Rogan. Nor do I really care about the way the movie significantly changed certain characters and situations. In the movie, for instance, D.A. Scanlon, the Hornet's traditional lone ally in law enforcement, is turned into a majorly dickish character. It doesn't even bug me (that much) they went with the oldest superhero satire gag in the book: make the hero into a dumb doofus and the sidekick into the real brains of the operation. If nothing else that did finally help turn around Kato's 75 years of tereotyping.

No, my biggest problem with the movie was the portrayal of The Green Hornet and Kato (as played by Asian pop star Jay Chou) as a couple of big time partying bros who loved taking their cool car out on the highway and blowing shit up. Fighting bad guys seemed to be more of an after thought.

The comedy, the one-liners and the uber-cool slacker nature of the characters isn't necessarily a bad thing. My problem is that I never got the sense that these guys had any sense of a higher purpose. Even Inspector Closeau had a sense of higher purpose. Neither of the two leads seemed to really care about stopping the bad guys or any of the injustices they were perpetrating.  It seemed like they were just having fun and that's it. In fact, The Hornet and Kato seemed more concerned with competing amongst themselves. There is one scene where Britt Reid and Kato get into a ludicrous brawl in their Green Hornet club house that, frankly, I did not buy for a second.

That didn't matter to most of the audience at the opening weekend screening that I attended. For them, It was just a  fun movie.

True dat.

The Green Hornet is well directed. Gondry proves that he can direct fast-paced over-the-top action with the best of them. Oscar winning actor Christophe Minz, of Glorious Basterds fame, is great playing a villain once again. It's amazing how well Minz understands the fine line between comedy satire,camp and serious action the movie is precariously walking most of the time.

The whole exercise perplexes me. Just like all the rest of the heroes in this blog,  what I don't get is: why that character? Why at that point in time?

Clearly, they are not banking on kids knowing and loving The Green Hornet. The advertising certainly does not play on the tradition of the character in the way other superhero movies have. Even the DVD and Blu-ray special features do not seem to be about the rich background of The Green Hornet.

The film itself makes little or no reference to the character's history save a couple of references to the movie serials that were so obscure they even had to be pointed out to me. And, yeah, there is one bit towards the end of the film where the screen fills with the Green Hornet logo from the 60's TV series while theme from the old show plays (Al Hirt playing Flight of the Bumble Bee -it's awesome). However, for the uninitiated, that's just one more piece of odd random humour that the movie seems to love.

Sure, they got me in theatre but how much money are they really gonna make off the likes of me?

The whole enterprise comes of as sorta nostalgia in vacuum...fun nostalgia, actually....and, as vacuums go, well, it is a pretty entertaining one..

No comments:

Post a Comment