Thursday, July 31, 2014

It Came From The Cineplex: The Purge: Anarchy

The Purge: Anarchy was written and directed by James DeMonaco. It's a sequel to 2013's The Purge (which was also written by DeMonaco).

I didn't think much of the original film (I gave it a D+!), as it seemed like a made for Siffy movie that was somehow released to theaters by mistake. It had an intriguing premise, but then absolutely wasted it on a bland and claustrophobic home invasion tale. I wanted to see what the Purge was like all across the country, not watch bunch of morons hide inside their house for ninety minutes.

Fortunately the filmmakers, stinging from my harsh review, took my suggestions to heart. This film is a vast improvement over the first (which I will admit is damning it with faint praise). No longer are we stuck in a single location with uninteresting characters. This time we actually get to see what's going on outside during the annual Purge.

That said, this film continues the original's sketchy take on economics by believing that unemployment can be wiped out simply by eliminating the poor. I honestly can't tell if this is director DeMonaco's attempt at satire and black humor, or if he truly believes it. If it's the latter, I'm pretty sure the economy doesn't work that way. We can't all be millionaires. Society needs someone to sweep up vomit and empty the trash.


The Plot:
The year is 2023, and it's time for the annual nationwide Purge: a twelve hour period in which all crime is legal. Eva Sanchez and her daughter Cali are holing up in their apartment, hoping to ride out the violent event. Elsewhere, a couple named Shane and Liz (poor kids can't even afford a last name), are trying to hurry home so they're not caught on the streets during the Purge. And lastly, tough guy police sergeant Leo Barnes is gearing up for the Purge, eager to exact revenge on the man who drunkenly killed his young son.

Once the Purge begins, the characters all meet-cute and the battle-hardened Leo does his best to protect the others, hoping they all survive the night.

The Purge: Anarchy is very reminiscent of early John Carpenter films (especially Escape From New York and Assault On Precinct 13). That's a good thing, by the way.

• In the first film, every single character acted like a complete and utter idiot. It was the only way for the plot to proceed. Here the character stupidity is toned way down, and no one does anything overtly moronic.

• Frank Grillo plays Leon Barnes, who's a very Punisher-like character. If Marvel Studios ever decides to make another Punisher film, they could do worse than to cast Grillo. Hey, why not? They've already made three Punisher films starring three different actors. Why not a fourth?

Grillo played Brock Rumlow in Captain America: The Winter Soldier and most fans believe he'll return for Captain America 3 as Crossbones.

• Leo is a tight-lipped, mysterious figure who's armed with a variety of heavy weaponry, wears bullet-proof armor and drives a tricked-out, armored car that wouldn't be out of place in a Mad Max movie. What is he? An ex-paramilitary soldier? A mercenary? Post-apocalyptic survivor?

Nope, it turns out he's a plain old police sergeant, out for revenge. But how'd he get that way? Where'd he get all the training, weapons and hardware? Isn't the central conceit of the movie that the Purge has virtually eliminated all violent crime? Why does L.A. need such a superhuman cop if there's no one to fight?

• One complaint I had about the first film was that its premise brought up a ton of questions that it had absolutely no interest in answering. 

That's all changed this time around though. DeMonaco has obviously thought about the concept of the Purge and fleshed it out quite a bit. For example, the film features gang members who aren't interested in Purging, but instead capture innocent people and sell them to the Rich, 
who can then participate in the Purge without placing themselves in danger on the streets. Terminally ill people also sell themselves to the Rich, to provide for their surviving family members. Even squabbling couples take advantage of the Purge to resolve their domestic disputes.

These are all scenarios that would actually happen (or at least seem like they'd happen) if the Purge was real.

• Once again the filmmakers have taken the least interesting crime– murder– and focused solely on it. Just once I'd like to see a character break a different law during the Purge. Steal a car, embezzle funds, park in the red zone, something, anything besides plain old boring murder.

• Eva's teen daughter Cali is fascinated by the internet ramblings of a man named Carmelo, who's the leader of an Anti-Purge Resistance. Unfortunately this Resistance isn't fleshed out very well. It's mentioned briefly at the beginning, then promptly forgotten until the end when it suddenly becomes very important as the Resistance bursts in and saves everyone. 

• At one point everyone is captured and sold off to provide entertainment for the wealthy elite. Up to this point the film seemed fairly realistic, but here it strayed firmly into satirical, almost farcical territory. The transition was a bit too jarring, and could have been handled more smoothly. It's almost like two films spliced crudely together. This was a problem in the first film as well.

• One of the Anti-Purge rebels is Dwayne, a character from the first film. I'm assuming he was brought back as a tenuous connection to the first film. It wasn't necessary, and only the most hardcore of Purge fans (if there are any) would recognize him.

• During the battle at the end, the captured Shane and Liz fight back against the wealthy. Shane is killed shortly before the Rebels break in. The Rebels are all racially Anti-Purge, and are determined to stop anyone who participates. Distraught by Shane's death, Liz tells the Rebels she wants to join in the Purge in order to have revenge on those who killed him. Dwayne nods in understanding and hands her a gun.

Realistically Dwayne should have then immediately pulled out a gun and shot Liz, right? I mean he hates Purgers, and she just became one in front of his eyes. It's only logical.

The Purge: Anarchy is a vast improvement over the first film, and explores and expands on the concept nicely. I give it a B-.

Damn You, Marvel Cinematic Universe!

If you're a regular reader of my blog (as millions are), you've no doubt heard me blathering on about the first time I saw Star Wars and the huge impact it had on my life. Well, it's true. It did. 

Star Wars became my gateway drug, so to speak, and I soon started reading as many science fiction and fantasy novels I could get my hands on. Dune, Foundation, The Lord Of The Rings– you name it, I read it. I particularly liked author Larry Niven and his Known Space series. 

Naturally it wasn't long before I started thinking, "Hey, I could write something like this," which soon turned to, "Hey, I could write something better than this!"

I started planning out this whole little universe, complete with extraterrestrial races, strange planets and even alien languages (!). Yes, I was quite the nerd.

It was all horribly derivative of course, as I took bits and pieces from Frank Herbert, Robert Heinlein, Frederik Pohl, Isaac Asimov and more and made my own Franken-series. Looking back, it was embarrassingly awful and had a less than zero chance of ever being published, but I had a lot of fun working on it.

I filled up a ton of sketchbooks with drawings and notes about my series. I'm hesitant to actually post anything from that period, as the art was really, reeeeeeally bad. But in the interest of full disclosure, here you go. I told you it was bad.

The two main characters in my series were both aliens (human characters are so mundane) called, sigh... Dag and Wallas. Where'd I get those names? Well, you'll have to ask Twenty Year Old Bob about that. Dag was this short, furry alien that looked like of like a weird dog walking on its hind legs. Personality-wise he was pretty much Han Solo. He even owned his own spaceship, and made a space living as a space smuggler. And he didn't wear pants! 

Wallas was his silent, Chewbacca-like sidekick who was an eight foot tall tree-like alien, and was no doubt inspired by the Ents from The Lord Of The Rings. I told you it was derivative.

I had a whole series of books planned out; each would be a separate adventure but with an overall story arc. What was this story arc, you ask? Various solar systems in the galaxy are exploding for no apparent reason, and Dag and Wallas want to know why. 

Eventually they find out the reason for the explosions: the Galaxy isn't just a collection of solar systems and cosmic dust bound together by gravity. It's alive. A living entity. And it's detonating solar systems on one of its sides in order to propel it toward... a neighboring galaxy. Wow, cosmic, man. What will happen when it reaches its neighbor? Will they fight? Mate? Or just say howdy? Who can say? Yeah, I told you it was terrible.

Could a galaxy really sail across the universe by detonating parts of itself? I'm betting the answer is a resounding no, but it sure sounded like a cool idea to Twenty Year Old Bob.

I don't have any really good images of Dag and Wallas, as over the years they've been lost to the mists of time. So I took the liberty of recreating them here. Hopefully my drawing skills are a bit better now than they were back in the 1980s. 

Hmm. These two characters of mine remind me of something, but I can't quite think of what it could be...

Oh yeah. Now I remember. They're pretty much dead ringers for Rocket Raccoon and Groot, from the upcoming Guardians Of The Galaxy film. Look at 'em! They're practically identical! One's short, furry and aggressive and the other's a tall, serene plant thing. They couldn't be more like my characters if they tried. Damn you, Marvel!!!

Ah well. I came up with these characters in 1980. I've had 'em for over three decades. If I haven't done anything with them by now, I'm probably never going to, so I'll let it go. You win this round, Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

This Week In Controversial Movie Posters

This week Paramount Pictures Australia, which is apparently a thing, released this new poster for the upcoming Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot.

Predictably the internet went ballistic, as it's wont to do, over the fact that said poster depicts the titular turtles leaping from an exploding skyscraper along with a "September 11" premiere date.

Jesus wept.

Really, internet? You must really be scraping the bottom of the outrage barrel if this is the best you can do. I could understand all the vitriol if the poster clearly depicted the Twin Towers and the Turtles leaping from a plane heading toward them, but this is a generic office building. And the September 11 date is when the movie starts in Australia, not New York.

Stop your bleating, people! If you're going to start fainting like a 1950s housewife who spotted a mouse every time you see an explosion, you're going to put Michael Bay out of business very quickly. 

Personally I'm far more offended by the Turtles' off-putting character designs and needlessly complicated outfits than I am the exploding building or the date.

If only people could work up this level of passionate outrage for things that actually matter, instead of frothing at the mouth over a goddamned movie poster about goddamned turtles. 

Whether the poster's in bad taste or not, the studio quickly pulled the offending ad and hurriedly replaced it with this altered, less controversial one. Well done, Paramount!

Monday, July 28, 2014

It's A Wonder

This past weekend at the San Diego Comic-Con (which spotlights every form of entertainment but comics), Warner Bros. gave us a sneak peak of actress Gal Gadot as  Wonder Woman from next year's Batman Against Superman: Giant Monsters All Out Attack or whatever the hell it's called. Say, do you suppose Gal Gadot's brother is named Guy? Hoo boy, I got a million of 'em.

Overall, she's not bad. Much better than I expected from the company that robbed Superman of his red undies. It's a bit too Xena, Warrior Princess, but I definitely recognize her as Wonder Woman.

On the negative side, because this is a DC movie, any hint of color in her outfit is verboten. It's a drab, joyless affair in muted bronze and brown.

At least she's not wearing slacks, like this bullet we dodged a couple years back.

DC also released the first photo of Ben Aflac, er, Affleck as Batman. If you squint hard, you can almost faintly discern a human face amidst all the blackness. Why in the name of Stan Lee's Toupee must all these DC movies be so dark and grim?

Meh. I've never really been a fan of Batman (outside of the 1966 Adam West version) anyway, so I honestly don't much care one way or the other what they do with him.

I do find it odd though that he actually has furrowed brow lines molded into his cowl. That's gonna be one moody-assed Batman!

On the other end of the spectrum, Marvel Studios was also at the Con, and released this pre-production image from next year's The Avengers: Age Of Ultron.

Just looking at this thing makes me squeal like a little schoolgirl. I absolutely cannot wait for this one, and I'll knock down anyone– kids, seniors or the be-crutched– who gets in my way. You've been warned.

Balancing Act

Brash, gravelly-voiced Broadway legend Elaine Stritch died earlier this month, saddening the entire entertainment community. Here's a shot of Stritch at a recent Emmy Awards show, wowing the audience with her beloved, show-stopping balancing act. She will be missed.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Why Do They Call Them Comics: Beetle Bailey

Congratulations, Beetle Bailey writers. You just introduced the concept of dry humping to the comics page. Senior citizen dry humping. Well done.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

It Came From The Cineplex: Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes

Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes was written my Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver and directed by Matt Reeves (who also directed Cloverfield). It's the sequel to 2011's Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, which was a reboot of the Planet Of The Apes franchise of the 1960s and 1970s.

Andy Serkis, motion-capture actor extraordinaire, once again stars as Caesar the chimp, and actually gets top billing this time. That's pretty darned impressive for a man pretending he's an ape!

Dawn (Sorry, I'm not calling it DOTPOTA) is the rare sequel that actually surpasses the original film, taking its rightful place alongside The Godfather Part 2, The Empire Strikes Back, ALIENS and Terminator 2. It actually builds on and expands the story, rather than rehashing the original like most sequels do.

The filmmakers did an amazing job of creating a storyline with an aura of doomed inevitability, that's almost like a Shakespearean tragedy. You want so much for the two species to get along, but you just know it's never going to happen, which is heartbreaking. 

Dawn is also surprisingly smart, especially for a big budget summer tentpole film. The characters– human as well as ape are all well written, and they all act believably. Amazingly no one does anything overtly stupid just for the sake of the plot. That's a rarity among summer movies.


The Plot:
Ten years after the previous film, the Simian Flu virus has nearly wiped out humanity while genetically augmenting apes. That's some virus!

A group of immune human survivors have gathered in the ruins of San Francisco, while a shrewdness of apes (believe it not, that's what you call a group of them), led by the chimpanzee Caesar has built a colony in nearby Muir Woods.

The humans, led by two men named Dreyfus (Gary Oldman) and Malcolm (Jason Clarke) are anxious to repair a nearby hydroelectric dam to provide power to the decimated city. Unfortunately the dam lies deep inside ape territory. Can the two groups work out a solution and coexist peacefully, or will the situation decay into all-out war?

• Andy Serkis reportedly received a seven figure paycheck to reprise his role as Caesar. More power to him I guess, but man, that's a lot of dough to act like an chimp!

• As the movie opens, Caesar and his tribe are hunting a herd of elk. Whoops! I was under the impression that apes are vegetarians. 

After a bit of admittedly spotty research, I found that chimps are usually vegetarians, but will occasionally consume small quantities of meat if there's nothing else around. Gorillas and orangutans though, are strict plant eaters.

These are mutated, intelligent talking apes we're talking about though, so maybe they didn't get the "don't eat meat" memo. 

• The film takes quite a chance by spending a big chunk of the film among the apes, most of whom can only speak a word or two and communicate primarily through sign language (with subtitles). This could have backfired big time, but surprisingly it works. No doubt due to the efforts of the motion-capture actors.

• It's extreme nitpicking time! Why is this movie called Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes? Doesn't "dawn" usually signify a beginning? They really should have switched the titles and called the first film Dawn and this one Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes.

• Things I learned from this movie: The Koba character is a bonobo. Chimpanzees are divided into two species: the common chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) and the bonobo (Pan paniscus). They look more or less like the common chimp, but have longer legs and a darker face. I did not know that.

This is the first time an Apes film has ever included more than the classic three ape species (chimps, gorillas and orangutans).

• Kody Smit-McPhee stars as Malcolm's son Alexander. What a difference a couple of years makes! I didn't even recognize him. On the left is how he appeared in 2009's.The Road, and on the right is how he appears now. He looks like a completely different person!

• Apparently the studio couldn't afford to hire Gary Oldman full time. He appears near the beginning of the film, then literally disappears for a good hour or more before finally showing up again near the end.

• Kirk Acevedo (of Fringe) plays Carver, an ape-hating human who causes a good deal of the trouble between the two species. Carver is the movie's Designated Asshole: a character who acts like a jerk for seemingly no reason other than because the script says so (think Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter films).

On the other side of the spectrum, Koba (mo-capped by Toby Kabbell) is the DA for the apes. Koba's got a legitimate reason for hating humans though, as he was kept in a cage and tortured by human scientists before being freed by Caesar. In fact, his motivations were so compelling I found myself almost siding with him, despite his despicable actions.

• When Koba wants to sneak into the human city, the guards are initially wary of the large intelligent chimp. He then starts hamming it up and acting like a trained circus chimp, which puts his foes at ease. And then he kills them.

Koba's "monkeyshines" scenes were very well done.

"Koba" was also the nickname of Joseph Stalin during his time as a revolutionary in Soviet Georgia. Coincidence, or intentional?

• One big plus about this film: there are no cutesy callbacks to the original series this time around. The previous movie was absolutely lousy with them. Every time you turned around someone was shouting, "It's a madhouse!" or some such line. I counted at least 21 callbacks or references in Rise. It was tiresome after a while. Fortunately the filmmakers seem to have got all that out of their system.

I'm aware that Caesar's son is named Blue Eyes (not "Bright Eyes"), and I suppose you could argue that's a shout out to Planet Of The Apes, but it's different enough that I'm willing to give 'em that one. Maybe they named him after Frank Sinatra.

• Let's take an obsessive look at that poster, shall we? First of all, it's a cool image, but nothing even remotely like that happens in the film. Boo!

Second: why is the Golden Gate Bridge on fire? Is that even possible? Isn't it made out of cement and steel? Even if they poured oil or gas on it, I doubt the temperature would get high enough to melt a suspension bridge.

Third: those are some awfully big apes we see swinging around on the bridge (and amidst the flames). They'd have to twenty feet tall for us to see them from that distance.

Fourth: This new poster is very similar to the first one, and for a minute I thought they might line up and form one image, but nope. Darn.

• One area in which the film drops the ball: ape strength. Several times in the movie a group of apes pounce on a fleeing human and rain blows on them with their fists. Nope!

Apes are strong. Very strong. Superhumanly strong. In reality you'd see limbs, spleens and faces flying through the air as the apes tore at their victims. Ape attacks are horrifying, and not at all pretty.

I'm guessing the filmmakers most likely know this, but toned down the ape-on-human action so as not to gross out the audience and get an R or NC-17 rating.

• The apes have but one rule: Ape Does Not Kill Ape. No exceptions!

So how then to deal with a psychopath like Koba, who most definitely did kill other apes? Why, by declaring that he's not an ape of course, and then killing him, that's how. I knew they were gonna come up with some kind of loophole for that law, and totally called the "You're not an ape" line.

• At the end of the film, Caesar battles Koba atop a large tower for the fate of the ape tribe. Caesar lets Koba fall, ending his threat for good.

Or did he? Even though Koba seemingly falls to his death, note that we never actually see his lifeless body. That pretty much guarantees he'll be back in the inevitable sequel. It's one of the Unwritten Laws Of Film.

• In the previous film, a news report in the background mentioned the spaceship Icarus, commanded by one George Taylor (!), had disappeared on its way to Mars.

I'm assuming the Icarus was caught in some kind of time warp and will reappear in some future remake of Planet Of The Apes.

•  The end of the film sets up the inevitable sequel, which will no doubt feature Caesar against what's left of the US Army.

This would round out the trilogy nicely. If they're planning on continuing the series though, I'm betting that further adventures will have to star Andy Serkis as a descendent of Caesar. Chimps generally live 40 to 50 years, so unless the Simian Flu dramatically extends his life expectancy, he's not going to live the thousands of years it would take for man and ape to switch places, ala the original Planet Of The Apes (and that's no doubt where the Icarus will come in).

• My, how far CGI has come! In the final shot, the camera slowly zooms right into Caesar's face and it looks absolutely real. No "dead eyed" Polar Express stares here! 

I was leery when they first announced they were using CGI apes in Rise instead of human actors in prosthetic makeup, but it worked out pretty well for them. Well done, Weta Digital!

Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes is a surprisingly smart sci-fi sequel that outdoes the original. I give it an A.

Lost Futureboy Drawing

Way back in 2009 I posted a couple of entries about Futureboy, a character I created in the late 1990s. You can read all about him here

Imagine my surprise when I was googling myself today, as one does, and ran across this: a vector drawing of Futureboy.

At least I think it's forgotten. I don't remember posting this one before, and it didn't show up when I searched for it.

I completely forgot all about this drawing. This is the first (and so far only) time I've ever drawn him in vector. It's definitely my work, but I have no memory of drawing it whatsoever, or even why I did it. It's kind of eerie seeing something I obviously did but don't recall. Like there's another version of me out there posting things and jet setting about the globe and generally having a better time than I am.

I suppose I'll have to chalk this one up to old age, as my once steel trap-like mind becomes more like a sieve. Next stop: adult diapers!

Late To The Party: Nitpicking Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade

Last weekend I re-watched Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade for the twentieth (at least) time. I've always considered it almost as good as the first film, and definitely better than the second. What's that? How's it compare to the fourth film, you ask? I'm afraid I don't know what you're talking about. There are only three Indiana Jones movies.

Anyhow, something occurred to me while it watching it this time, nearly a quarter century (!) after if premiered. At the end of the film, Indy's finally found the resting place of the Holy Grail, but in order to grab it he has to make it safely through three trials. 

Let's examine these trials in obsessively over-critical detail, shall we?

Presumably these trials are there to protect the Grail so no one breaks in and walks off with it. They require an above average knowledge of Christianity, archeology and religious lore in order to pass them. Otherwise they wouldn't be very good trials, right?

I'm calling the first trial Only The Penitent Man Shall Pass. This one seems pretty simple, as it consists of just a narrow, spider web-choked corridor. Indy's Nazi enemies force several grunts through the passage, without much success. They're all decapitated by an unseen force.

Indy, being a biblical scholar, correctly surmises that "Penitent Man" means he has to kneel before God. He does so, and a spinning blade just misses him as it sails over his bowed head. Only Indy, with his fancy book learnin' could have made it through. Got that?

The second trial's Only In The Footsteps Of God Shall He Proceed. This one consists of a small room with a floor covered in lettered tiles. Indy deduces he has to cross the chamber by stepping only on the tiles that spell out "Jehovah," the name of God. If he steps on any other tiles, they'll collapse and he'll plunge to his death thousands of feet below.

Because of Indy's superior religious smarts, he knows that in Latin, Jehovah is spelled "IEHOVAH" and successfully takes the right path, passing the second trial. Again, Indy's specialized knowledge saves him, as, let's face it, Latin ain't something the average person knows.

Then we get to the third trial, Only In The Leap From The Lion's Head Will He Prove His Worth. It consists of a ledge on one side of an impossible-to-jump bottomless abyss. Indy appears stumped here, as there's seemingly no way to cross.

Eventually he realizes that this trial is a leap of faith. He summons his courage and steps off the ledge...

...and lands on a stone bridge that's camouflaged to look invisible.

Visually it's a very cool scene, but... c'mon! ANYONE could have passed this trial! The first two required very specific knowledge about biblical lore and Christianity in order to pass them. Few people would have had the knowhow to make it through. I definitely wouldn't have made it, and neither would you. 

This one didn't require any special smarts. It's a stinking stone bridge! Any lummox could have blundered their way across it. It's not like it could disappear if it sensed your faith was lacking. 

I feel like the Grail Knights who made the three trials kind of dropped the ball with this last one. Maybe they figured the first two would take care of any intruders and they kind of coasted on this last one.

Also, since the bridge is painted to blend in with the background, it would only work from one specific angle. If Indy had moved his head even an inch either way, he'd have been able to see there was something there. As I said it definitely looks cool, but there's no way it could work in reality. Parallax shift and all that.

Once Indy makes it to the other side, he throws a handful of sand onto the bridge so that it'll become visible to the group following him. Um... that bridge has already been there since the Crusades. Wouldn't it already be covered in a foot of dust? Or does the Grail Knight come out of his cave and dust it now and then?

"You have blogged... most unwisely."

The Hobbit: Are We There Yet?

This week MGM and New Line Cinema unveiled the official poster for the upcoming The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies, the third and final chapter of The Hobbit trilogy.

Back when the series was first announced, the third film was going to be subtitled There And Back Again. Then in April 2014, New Line registered the title The Hobbit: Into The Fire, fueling speculation that they were changing the name of the film. They've apparently changed their minds again and settled on The Battle Of The Five Armies.

I have a better subtitle for them: The Hobbit: Are We There Yet? How about The Hobbit: Jesus, When Will It EndThe Hobbit: Christ, I Think My Ass Is Asleep? I know! The Hobbit: Butter Scraped Over Too Much Bread.

I noticed something odd about the poster right off the bat. See that figure at the bottom? That ain't a hobbit! That's Bard The Bowman of Lake Town. The human male who (77 year old spoiler alert!) ultimately kills Smaug the dragon.

That's right, unlike the previous two, this new poster for The Hobbit contains 100% fewer hobbits.

"The Defining Chapter" is a very odd tag line too. Wouldn't "The Final Chapter" have been more appropriate? Apparently the first two films were just placeholders and this is the only one worth your time.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Why Do They Call Them Comics: Snuffy Smith

Once again on the comics page we see Snuffy Smith displaying an advanced knowledge of the universe and man's place within, despite the fact that he's a backward hillbilly who can probably barely scratch out an X as a placeholder for a signature.

This happened back in April too, when Snuffy revealed his familiarity with the Many Worlds Theory Of Quantum Mechanics. Mind your words, Snuffy! Folks in Hootin' Holler don't take kindly to such book learnin' and them that gits above their raisin.' People have been lynched for less.

I'm starting to believe that Snuffy Smith artist/writer John Rose is really a pen name for pop astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson. How else to explain the sudden surge in cosmic-themed strips?

Bonus Round Nitpicking: why is the title of the strip Snuffy Smith, but all the characters pronounce his name as "Smif?" Shouldn't the names match?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Ancient Astronaut

Hey, those Easter Island heads had to be inspired by something, amirite?

Dang, this drawing took forever. I just couldn't quit fiddling with it. Originally I wanted him to have an orange spacesuit, but it drew attention away from his head. I tried pretty much every possible color before finally giving up and just making it white. I need some kind of agent or editor who'll take drawings away from me to prevent me from picking at them until they're ruined.

If you look closely you may notice that his helmet was stolen from inspired by the ones in 2001: A Space Odyssey. Who the hell decided that's the way you spell "odyssey?" No wonder Americans are such awful spellers.

The Ancient Astronaut was drawn in Photoshop on the graphic tablet.

Here's the original sketchbook doodle of him.

And the more refined digital sketch I used for the finished piece.

It Came From The Cineplex: A Hard Day's Night

Wha...? Is this a movie review from the past? Did I travel back in time to when I started my blog in the early 1960s? Am I having a stroke and randomly banging on the keys?

Nope, none of those things. 2014 marks the 50th Anniversary of The Beatles' first film A Hard Day's Night, and my local cinemaplex is showing a new print of the film. So since it's currently playing in theaters, I say it's far game for a review, no matter how old it is!

A Hard Day's Night was written by Alun Owen and directed by Richard Lester (director of Superman II and Superman III). Lester also directed the Beatles' second film outing, Help!

Needless to say I missed the film when it came out in 1964, so when I saw it was being rereleased I thought I'd better jump on the chance to see it. I probably won't be around to catch the 100th Anniversary.

I was sure I'd seen this movie before, but after watching it I realized that not one second of it was familiar to me. Either I didn't see it after all, or I did and somehow forgot 100% of it. Maybe I'm thinking of Help.

There'd been many "music exploitation" films before, but they generally consisted of setting a camera in front of a band and recording one of their concerts. The Beatles and director Richard Lester were determined to do something different in this film, seemingly giving the fans a behind the scenes look at the lads. 

It was great seeing the Fab Four at the height of their popularity on the big screen. This was the young, fun Beatles, before all the LSD and the maharishi and the Yoko and the "bigger than god" bushwah that came later.

In a way it was kind of like time travel, sitting in a theater watching a black and white movie from 1964. I almost felt like I should have worn a suit and hat to the theater. And the music! It's been a long time since I'd listened to The Beatles, and I forgot just how good their songs are. Far, far, FAR better than 99% of the dreck that passes for music today. I know, I know, get off my lawn.

The Plot:
The Beatles run from a mob of fans and jump onto a train. They arrive at their hotel, and feeling restless, go out on the town while dodging their manager who's trying to keep them inside before a TV appearance. And they sing a lot. That's pretty much it!


• The film was every bit as scripted as Citizen Kane, yet it has a freewheeling, meandering "day in the life" style that makes it seem like a documentary. This was no doubt helped by the fact that the lads were pretty much playing themselves, with only a touch of exaggeration. 

• When United Artist studio execs saw the finished film, they worried that American audiences wouldn't be able to understand the lads' Liverpudlian accents and wanted to dub their voices. Paul McCartney famously quipped, "Look, if we can understand a f*cking cowboy talking Texan, they can understand us talking Liverpool!"

Jesus, their accents were part of their charm. Why would you ever want to dub over them? They're not that hard to understand. Just more proof that studio executives have always been clueless.

• In the film, Paul McCartney's grandfather is played by Wilfrid Brambell, who starred as Albert Steptoe in the British sitcom Steptoe And Son. Steptoe was the inspiration for the 1970s U.S. sitcom Sanford And Son. And That's One To Grow On!

Throughout the film characters keep commenting about Grandpa McCartney and how "clean" he is. This is a riff on Brambell's Steptoe character, who's constantly described as a dirty old man.

• For the record, the songs included in the film are:

A Hard Day's Night (natch!) 
I Should Have Known Better
I Wanna Be Your Man
Don't Bother Me
All My Loving
If I Fell 
Can't Buy Me Love
And I Love Her
I'm Happy Just To Dance With You 
Ringo's Theme
Tell Me Why
She Loves You
• Some have complained that the film's original mono soundtrack has been replaced by one in stereo. It didn't bother me; I'm not an audiophile and didn't notice the change. If you're a purist and want to hear the original soundtrack, it's available on the Criterion Edition blu-ray.

What's that? The restored version of this film is freely available for home viewing? And I paid to see it in a theater? Why, yes. Yes I did. I know I can buy it on Amazon, but I wanted to see it on the big screen once in my life.

• At one point Paul's grandfather complains that he tagged along with the band for a change of scenery, but so far all he's seen is "a train and a room and a car and a room and a room and a room." 

This line was actually spoken by one of the Beatles to screenwriter Alun Owen, who spent several weeks with them in order to generate plot ideas. Apparently the band was struggling with the burden of their fame and were tired of having to hide in hotels from their hordes of screaming fans.

• During the press scene, a reporter asks Ringo if he's a mod or a rocker, and he replies, "Uh, no, I'm a mocker." This and most of the other questions and answers in this scene came from actual Beatles interviews.

• The working title of the film was just The Beatles, which was then changed to Beatlemania. Ringo Starr, who was famous for uttering malapropisms, is credited with coining the eventual title, when, after a lengthy concert said, "Phew, it's been a hard day's night."

• In the film, the director of The Beatles' TV show is played by actor Victor Spinetti, who wears a truly horrendous hairy-looking sweater. I'm wondering if that sweater was part of the film's humor; surely no one ever wore anything like that, even in the 1960s. 

Just look at it! It's making me itch just looking at the hideous thing!

• Most films are shot out of order, but A Hard Day's Night was filmed pretty much sequentially.

• The movie was made for just $500,000, which was pretty low even in 1964. That'd be a little less than $4 million today.

• Extreme nitpicking time: As a graphic designer, the "scoreboard" backdrop in the finale drove me nuts. It looks for all the world like it says "8EATLES." So I fixed it for them.

• I always knew that The Monkees and their eponymous TV series were "inspired" by The Beatles and A Hard Day's Night, but until I saw the film I had no idea just how closely they copied them. The freeform plots, the non-sequitor dialogue, the innovative camera work, the music video segments, the zany romps accompanied by the band's songs-- The Monkees copied it all. With precision!

The Monkees even copied the A Hard Day's Night end credits, which feature closeups of the boy with various expressions!

• Proof that merchandising cash-grabs are nothing new: there was actually a novelization of the movie, if you can imagine such a thing. The movie has such a thin, wandering, stream of consciousness plot that I can't imagine how anyone could turn it into a book. I wonder if the novel included all the song lyrics as well?

A Hard Day's Night is a fun romp through an imaginary day in the life of The Beatles, and a welcome reminder of just how good they were. I give it a B+.
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