The Way of the Word

24. October 2011

Is This World Protected?

“Is this world protected?”

Yes, Doctor, it is. But who protects it? Why, Rory Williams, of course, the Last Centurion.

Would you like him to repeat the question?

2. October 2011

Rory Williams Levels Up In Badass

Just when we thought that Rory Williams couldn’t get any more badass…
… he does.

23. August 2011

RIP Loriot

Born November 12, 1923, as Bernhard Victor Christoph-Carl von Bülow (short: Vicco) in Brandenburg an der Havel; died August 22, 2011 in Ammerland.

Vicco von Bülow was born in 1923 as the son of a Major of the police. Actually, the von Bülows were old German nobility who can trace their line back until 1154. After the divorce of his parents, he and his younger brother lived with their grandparents, until the father remarried in 1932. After graduating school, he followed his father’s advice and studied art in Hamburg. Upon graduation, he worked as a graphics designer, and became a cartoonist in 1950. At this time, he chose the pen name of Loriot. His success as a cartoonist took some time, it wasn’t until 1954 that his work was collected in book form.

His breakthrough was when he started to present the TV show Cartoon in 1967. While his presentation was originally completely serious and straight, it eventually developed into one of the show’s comedic highlights. He also started to produce his own animated shorts for this German TV program. After designing the mascot for a German charity (the dog Wum), he got his own TV show in the 1970s. The short films from this program are still being re-run on German TV. One of the various activities he pursued during his career was conducting opera.

He officially retired from TV in 2006, giving the reason that the medium had become so short-lived that it was no longer possible to produce quality comedy for it.

It’s possible but exhausting to list the awards he won during his career.

So, what can I add to everything that is being said about Vicco von Bülow now that he’s dead? Basically, as someone who grew up laughing at his jokes, I can confidently state that Germany is no longer funny. The funniest German ever has left us. At least we can always look back on his jokes.

30. July 2011

Review: The Mis-Adventures of Adam West #1

Publisher: Bluewater Comics. Cover Price: $ 3.99. Written by Reed Lackey. Art by Russell Dauterman.

Actor Adam West has problems: his values and ideas are out of fashion, and because he refuses to compromise them he doesn’t get any more work. But then something amazing happens: a strange amulet that he gets in the mail not only makes him young again, it also transports him into a spy adventure — which he eventually recognizes as one of the scripts he had recently rejected.

Like most of my generation, I have a soft spot for Adam West. Which is why I broke my rule of not spending more than $3.00 on any one comic, and impulse-bought this one. I was rewarded with a charming little story of a man who feels his time has passed, and who (apparently) is about to get the chance to prove everyone wrong.

The writing is competent and rather nostalgic. It manages to evoke sentiment in the reader — if you’re like me, you’ll feel with Adam West because you agree with him; if not, you’ll probably scoff at his old-fashioned notions. But you will react in some way.

The bad thing about this comic is the art. Invoking the Shooter Test, it’s servicable. You can tell what happens in each panel even if there were no words. But it is no more than that. The art is a bit too simple, too bland to excite. And frankly — if your comic is officially licensed by Adam West, then you should draw him in a way that the readers will recognize him even if you don’t say, “This is supposed to be Adam West.”

All in all, The Mis-Adventures of Adam West is a charming comic, and the only reason I won’t get the next issue is the price tag. I’ll keep an eye out for the TPB, though.

Verdict: mildly recommended.

26. July 2011

Rory Williams is Badass

Within a short time, Doctor Who companion Rory Williams (otherwise known as Mr. Amy Pond) has shown himself to be the most badass character of the 21st century. Or any other century. I’m sure even the Doctor is at least a little bit afraid of him.

25. June 2011

RIP Peter Falk

Peter Michael Falk, born September 16, 1927 in New York, died June 23, 2011 in Beverly Hills, at the age of 83.

The actor Peter Falk was famous for two things. One of them being his glass eye, which he got after losing his right eye at the age of three. Which didn’t stop him from participating in team sports as a youth. He was actually considered a star athlete in high school. While the glass eye kept him from enlisting in the US armed forces during WW2, he did serve as a cook and mess boy in the merchant marines for a year and a half. After that, he initially signed up for Israeli army’s war against Egypt, but that war was over before the proverbial ink had dried. So he went back to university. Upon graduating, he tried to join the CIA, who rejected him because he had been a union member while in the merchant marines.

While working as an efficiency analyst for the city of Hartfort, he joined the local community theater. At the same time, he studied with Eva Le Gallienne; a class he lied to get into: Miss Le Gallienne only taught professional actors. When he was found out, and she told him he should be a professional actor, he quit his day job. Moving to New York, he became a successful stage actor. From 1958 to 1960, he also played small roles in movies.

His cinema breakthrough was the role of Abe Reles in the movie Murder, Inc. in 1960, for which he got an Oscar nomination. He got another nomination the following year for his part in Frank Capra’s Pocketful of Miracles. During the same period, he also did some TV work, which also got him award nominations. He won the Emmy in 1962.

In 1968, he accepted a supporting role in the Gene Barry TV movie Prescription: Murder, a role that had been rejected by Bing Crosby. Prescription: Murder was something original at the time: a murder mystery from the murderer’s POV. Falk was cast as Barry’s foil, the police detective Lieutenant Columbo.

(Pause for effect.)

Now, if you haven’t heard of Columbo, you’re probably from another planet, and even then you’re likely to know of the character. Peter Falk played the unique, polite and much smarter than he appeared detective from 1968 until 1978. It wasn’t so much an ongoing TV series, but rather a series of TV movie specials.  The longest seasons were 2 and 3, with 8 episodes each.  It was revived in 1989, for more TV movies and specials until 2003. The people who worked on it were a real who-is-who of Hollywood. Steven Spielberg directed the first regular episode in 1971. Robert Culp, Patrick McGoohan, William Shatner, John Cassavetes, Mickey Spillane, Richard Kiley and George Hamilto are only a minor sampling of guest stars. Falk’s Columbo quickly became one of the most iconic sleuths in fiction, ranking with Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot and Sam Spade. In parallel, he continued to make movies (preferring smaller, independent movies) and act on the stage.

After a series of dental operations in 2007, Peter Falk rapidly declined into dementia and Alzheimer’s.

This is the point where I usually explain what the person whose obit I wrote here meant to me. In this particular case, I don’t feel up to it.

I mean, this is Columbo we’re talking about, you know. If you didn’t love Columbo, that’s proof that you don’t have a soul.

28. May 2011

Awesome Ideas That Will Never Be

Okay, if the right chain of unlikely coincidences should happen, this one has a very slim chance of not being completely impossible. If someone who knows Cassandra Peterson happens to see this and likes it and points it out to her and she likes it…

But, yeah: awesome idea that will never be.

I like Elvira (Cassandra Peterson). The character is funny, bizarre, over the top, sexy and, well, funny. I own her first movie, Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, on DVD. I’ve seen the second one, Elvira’s Haunted Hills, but I don’t like it nearly as much as the first. The reason is simple: Elvira is an over-the-top comedic character. But unlike the first movie, where Elvira began as the odd woman out and the situation became progressively more bizarre, the second movie had a scenario where everyone was so bizarre that Elvira fit right in.

A good Elvira movie needs to quote heavily from the horror genre, and it has to have Elvira as someone who stands out like the proverbial sore thumb. If everyone is as bizarre as she, then it’s overkill.

So what can we do to make a good and fun Elvira movie? It’s really quite simple:

Elvira Knows Why You Screamed on Friday the 13th.

Let’s quote heavily from the slasher genre, with some liberal sprinkling of Evil Dead and The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

A busload of teenagers, returning home from a sports event (or going to a sports event) finds themselves trapped on a small islet. They had only planned to pass through, but a flash flood tore down both bridges, effectively isolating them. There is only one house on the islet, a mansion actually, so the teenagers turn there for help.

The only person in there is Elvira, who, being her normal friendly and helpful self, offers the kids shelter. But something is weird about the entire set-up. Curious as teenagers are, they discover that Elvira is engaged in some strange magickal rituals that might involve the Necronomicon.

As soon as they discover that, they start dying. Since Elvira is the odd woman out, they of course immediately suspect her as the Slasher, and try to kill her in return. Which doesn’t work, but plays a part in establishing that Elvira is not the killer. As the outsider looking in, her help does turn out to be instrumental in uncovering the real killer. And about the magickal experiments she performs in her basement? Yes, it is the Necronomicon, but she’s not trying to call up demons. She’s trying to materialize Bruce Campbell.

At the end of the night, the bridges are being repaired, so the surivors can look forward to continuing on their trip. But what about Elvira? Will she get lucky? Will her summoning of Bruce Campbell succeed? Only his agent knows for sure…

23. February 2011

RIP Dwayne McDuffie

Born February 20, 1962; died February 21, 2011, from complications after emergency surgery at the age of 49.

Sometimes, these things come as a surprise and a shock. As in the case of Dwayne McDuffie, a prolific and extremely gifted writer. According to all sources, he seemed to be in fine health when he attended the All-Star Superman DVD premiere a few days earlier. According to reports, he died from complications from a surgical procedure performed on Monday night. So far, details are not known.

After a stint at radio and copyediting for a financial magazine, Dwayne had joined Marvel Comics as an assistant editor, and started to write for them in 1988. He went freelance in 1990, and founded Milestone Media in 1992. Milestone Media was a coalition of African-American comics creators, in order to express a multi-cultural sensibility that he felt was missing in comics. Several Milestone series were eventually published by DC Comics.

In the course of his career, Dwayne worked on high-profile series and characters such as Fantastic Four, Justice League of America, Batman, Iron Man and Spider-Man, to name just a very few. However, other than the Milestone comics (of which some characters, such as Static, became iconic in their own right), he definitely made his mark in animation.

Dwayne’s version of the Justice League in the animated Justice League Unlimited is lauded as perhaps the best version of these characters and concepts ever produced. In 2008, he revamped the Ben10 franchise. His most recent releases were the Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths and All-Star Superman animated movies.

I didn’t know Dwayne in person, but we did interact online a couple of times. He was a smart, witty and very personable man; if you didn’t like Dwayne, there was something wrong with you.

He was a fantastic writer, a gifted writer, with a vision. He influenced a great many people in comics and animation not only by being there for them, but also by example. His passing is triply sad; not only did it seem that he was on the verge of receiving the recognition he deserved, not only was it too sudden and too soon, but it also robs the rest of us of those stories he hadn’t gotten around to telling yet.

31. January 2011

RIP John Barry

Born John Barry Pendergast, November 3, 1933, died January 30, 2011, of a sudden heart attack, at the age of 77.

John Barry’s father was a classical pianist who also onwed a chain of movie theaters.. Originally a classical pianist himself, he continued to learn the trumpet and developed an interest in composing and arranging. During his time in the British Army, he learned the how-to with the help of a corresponence course. In 1957, he abandoned his original career path of arranging music for big bands and formed the John Barry Seven. The band remained in business until 1965, and had several hits. During this time, he arranged music for several performers of the BBC show Drumbeat. Including Adam Faith. When Faith made his first movie, Beat Girl, in 1960, he hired John Barry to write the music. It became the first movie soundtrack to be released as an LP in the UK.

His work first for EMI records and then for Ember Records caught the attention of a movie producer who was in the process of producing “a little spy movie,” and who was unhappy with a theme delivered by the original composer, Monty Norman. They hired John Barry to revise the theme.

John Barry went on to contribute to altogether 12 of the James Bond movies. One thing led to another, John Barry kept getting more and more calls from movie producers, and he went on to become (one of) the greatest movie composers in the history of cinema. (The “one of” is to appease the fans of other film composers — for me, Barry was the greatest.) Barry’s distinctive style concentrated on strings and brass, but he was also an innovator. He was one of the first to use synthesizers in a film score, and he made extensive use of contemporary rock and pop music. He usually didn’t just provide the theme music, but wrote the entire soundtrack score, thereby very much improving and enhancing frequently already impressive movies.

You couldn’t go wrong with a John Barry score.

Some other examples of his work are the music to the movies Zulu (1964), Born Free (1966, two Oscars for the music), The Lion in Winter (1968, Oscar and BAFTA awarded), Midnight Cowboy (1969, Grammy Award winner), Star Crash (1978), Somewhere in Time (1980), Out of Africa (1985, Oscar winner), Dances With Wolves (1990, Oscar winner), Enigma (2001). His other work includes five musicals, the best known among them probably being Passion Flower Hotel (1965) and Billy (1974).

An illness suffered in 1988 rendered him unable to work for two years, and left him vulnerable to pneumonia.

He won five Oscars out of seven nominations. He was the proud owner of four Grammy Awards, two BAFTA Awards and several Golden Globe nominations.

You know the saying that “they don’t make them like this anymore?” That might as well refer to John Barry. Forget all the rest (although, yes, there are good movie composers working in the business now), John Barry was the best there was at what he did. Hands down.

11. January 2011

Review: The Green Hornet

USA 2011. Directed by Michel Gondry. Starring Seth Rogen, Jay Chou, Christoph Waltz. Runtime: 110 minutes

When Britt Reid’s (Seth Rogen) father, newspaper mogul James Reid, dies from an allergic reaction to a bee sting, playboy and no-goodnick Britt has to take over. Britt befriends his father’s erstwhile mechanic Kato (Jay Chou), and talks him into joining him in becoming superheroes. Together (well, mostly Kato, with Britt in his new identity as Green Hornet taking credit) they mix up LA’s underworld.  Since they pretend to be criminals, that doesn’t sit well with the city’ actual crime-lord-in-charge, Chudnofsky (Christoph Waltz). The situation escalates into what looks, to outsiders, like a major gang war for the control of Los Angeles’s criminal underworld.

I admit that I went into this movie expecting to totally and completely loathe it. To my surprise, it was better than I had expected. Granted, that’s easy, considering just how bad I had expected it to be. But even by that standard.

That said, I still didn’t like it all that much. Shall we begin the diagnosis?

The good:

Green Hornet is esthetically interesting. Gondry has a distinctive visual style, and his almost-surrealism makes this movie interesting to look at.

The action sequences, mostly car chases and martial arts stuff, are energetic and engaging and work very very well.

Christoph Waltz is not memorable as the bland, boring and not at all scary villain Chudnofsky. Why is that a good thing? Because it’s intentional. It’s what makes the character unique. He’s a crime lord who does not seem scary at all, but he desperately wants to be scary. Chudnofsky is easily the best character in this movie.

And at the end of the film, I realized that the heroes resolved a major dilemma in a way that a hero who has to be heroic never could. I don’t know if Rogen actually thought that through (judging by the rest of the film, I don’t think so), but it’s a chilling reminder of why being disguised as a villain can be effective.

The bad:

Green Hornet would have been a terrific movie if they had played it straight. Unfortunately, they decided to make a comedy, and the jokes mostly don’t work.

At least not for me. Seth Rogen’s stlye of asshole-slacker-humor simply isn’t what I find funny, so most of the supposed jokes were facepalm-stuff for me. I mean, I don’t mind gay jokes and blonde jokes if they’re actually funny, but in this movie neither the gay jokes nor Cameron Diaz were.

Seth Rogen as the writer and the actor playing the role is also to blame for another reason why this movie didn’t work for me: his Britt Reid is an unlikable jerk and bully. His motivation for becoming a superhero? He is bored, and thanks to Kato he can feel like a hero without actually taking much risk. You could call Britt Reid “What if Kick-Ass were Batman?” This Britt Reid is irresponsible, stupid (yes, as in: not particularly intelligent), arrogant, offensive and generally juvenile. I couldn’t see a single redeeming quality in the character. Even at the movie’s end, he hasn’t learned anything from his adventure.

Kato’s motivation for joining Britt “in this adventure” is even more obscure. He’s an engineering savant (yes, I know what the word means, that’s why I use it) who doesn’t even like Britt. So why would he join him?

Regarding Jay Chou, I hope he uses the money he made for this movie to buy a second facial expression.

The ugly:

If you get to choose, see the movie in 3D. It’s a post-converted movie. If that doesn’t say it all already, let me explain some of the problems that this movie has with 3D.

Gondry uses quick music-video-style cuts. When you do that in 3D, the 3D can’t keep up. The eye can’t process the quick changes. I wasn’t affected, fortunately, but I heard several people complain of nausea and headaches after the movie. In addition to the physical problems, the visuals are frequently blurry and out of focus, which (I’m told) is also a problem of the post-conversion process. So if you want to see the movie with a sharp and in-focus picture, without headaches and the risk of spewing your popcorn on the guy in the seat before you (or being spewed on by the guy behind you), choose the 2D version. Luckily, 3D doesn’t really add anything to this movie, so you wouldn’t miss out.

Plus, the 3D glasses get in the way of the facepalm.

In general, what’s the verdict? Frankly, I’m not sure. As I said, the action scenes work, but as a comedy it fails. I suppose that if you like Seth Rogen’s style of comedy, the comedy will work for you, so you will probably enjoy it. Since I don’t like that type of humor, I didn’t. Therefore, since it was a comedy that I didn’t find funny, and since I found the main character irredeemably unlikable, I render the following

Verdict: mildly not recommended

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