Monday, October 20, 2014

Ultimate Spider-Man: "Blade & The Howling Commandos"

Premiered October 5, 2013.

"You ruined my Halloween, so smell my feet!"
-Spider-Man to Dracula

It's Halloween Night,Spider-Man (Drake Bell) and his fellow teenage superheroes are meeting a S.H.I.E.L.D. contact. They're clowning around in a cemetery, telling "scary" stories, jumping out of the shadows and startling each other.  
Nova(Logan Miller) scares Spidey & Iron Fist (Greg Cipes) with a "Doctor Doom" mask.
Their fun is broken up when the team is attacked by vampires!  The vamps have the upper hand, but the battle is joined by a sword-wielding man who calls himself Blade (Terry Crews), who helps the heroes.  
Blade slashes at some vampires.
Blade is the world's greatest vampire hunter.  Spider-Man objects to Blade "killing" the vampires, but Blade tells him they were "shadow vampires, undead drones, never alive".  

Blade & Nick Fury have a heated discussion.
They reconvene on the Helicarrier,where S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury (Chi McBride) and Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) fill them them in on their mission.  The heroes learn that Dracula (Corey Burton) is trying to take over the world.  The king of vampires is seeking an ancient Egyptian artifact called Tekament's Ankh.   Blade has the other half.  

If Dracula captures both halves, he will be invulnerable, able to walk in the sunlight, immune to any of the usual vampire weaknesses.  The other half is kept at the American Museum of Natural History.  Fury tells the teen heroes that Blade will go to the museum alone, his mission is out of their depth.  But they tail Blade until he reluctantly allows them to tag along.  

Dracula decks Blade!
The heroes gather at the museum to protect the other half of the ankh.  Dracula and his minions appear and attack.  He hypnotizes everyone but Blade and Spider-Man, the heroes teleports them away and takes them prisoner.

Spidey hits Drac with some artificial sunlight, just as effective as the real thing.
Blade and Spidey return to the Helicarrier where Fury tells them it's time to bring in the big guns:The Howling Commandos!  They consist of Werewolf By Night (Ross Lynch), Frankenstein's Monster (Kevin Michael Richardson), N'Kantu, the Living Mummy (Oded Fehr)...

...and last-but-not-least, the macabre Man-Thing!  The monsters will join Spider-Man and Blade in their battle against Dracula.

But they take a minor detour.  Dracula learns that Spidey has an aunt in Queens, NY and sends his drones to capture her.  Blade, Spider-Man and the commandos save Aunt May, defeating the drones.  

During the fight, the wallcrawler learns that Blade had been a member of the Howling Commandos, but they had a falling out. 

Spider-Man and the commandos then prepare to attack Dracula's castle in Transylvania.  Can they free the other heroes and defeat Dracula?  Even if they're able to stop the vampire, another enemy is waiting in the (bat?) wings!

J.A. Morris says:

It should be noted that "Blade & The Howling Commandos" premiered as an hour-long special on the Disney Channel.  Since then, on tv and home video, it's been broken up into two episodes, one titled "Blade", the other called "The Howling Commandos."

If you've read either of my comic book blogs, then you know I'm a huge fan of Marvel characters, especially Spider-Man.  But the Ultimate Spider-Man series has been somewhat disappointing.  This iteration of Spidey isn't very likable and it has too many cut-away gags, reminiscent of shows like Family Guy.  

Having said that, this is the strongest episode of the series.  The presence of the monsters gives it a fun "Universal Horror" atmosphere.  I appreciated the scene where Spider-Man made a point of telling Blade that he doesn't kill, which is consistent with the character's history.  The webhead's interaction with Aunt May, where he unmasks, was funny.  Dracula's plan to conquer the world is good megalomaniacal villainy, and Tekament's Ankh is a good MacGuffin.

One of the coolest things about Marvel comics and animation is that the stories take place in "real" cities (instead of Gotham City or Metropolis).  So it was nice to see a battle take place New York's American Museum of Natural History.

The voice actors are all well cast.  Blade is portrayed by guest star Terry Crews, best known for his rolls on Brooklyn 99 and Everybody Hates Chris

If I have a problem with it (besides the usual cut-aways), it's Dracula's appearance.  I realize that Dracula has been depicted in various ways since he was created.  But the long, white hair and red armor just doesn't "look like Dracula" to me.  But he acts like him and makes a good villain, especially in a Halloween episode.  

"Blade & The Howling Commandos" may never become a classic, but it's full of action and Halloween-themed fun.  Recommended to audiences of all ages, especially fans of Marvel Superheroes.

J.A. Morris' rating:

3 Jack o'lanterns.

RigbyMel says: 

This is an amusing Halloween-themed offering from an otherwise mediocre series.   
The monster spin on the Howling Commandos was inspired, as was their mode of transport -- a "Monster truck."  *rimshot* 

As J.A. Morris mentions above, there are some great moments in this installment of the series, my particular favorite involves the fact that Agent Coulson has a super-secret all access pass to the Natural History Museum (of COURSE!!!)  and that he even gets a moment to do some Indiana Jones-ish Halloween cosplay.   It's also great that Clark Gregg -- who plays Coulson on Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  tv show and various other Marvel movies -- voices the same character on this series, which does give it a little boost in terms of cachet.  (Clark Gregg seems to make most things he's involved in better by being in them!) 

"Indiana" Coulson gives our heroes some ankh exposition
Unlike J.A. Morris,  I don't really have a problem with Dracula's appearance in this episode,  sure he doesn't look like Bela Lugosi,  but his gear certainly has a sort of updated Eastern European warlord feel to it, which works ok even if it isn't "traditional."     

The main problem I have with the episode is an issue I have with the whole Ultimate Spider-Man series, most specifically the characterization of Spider-Man/Peter Parker.   Spidey comes off as a lazy, jerk. 

Spidey's smart alecky sense of humor was always something I enjoyed about the character, but he has to be SMART for it to work.  Unfortunately, Ultimate Spidey comes off as more willfully ignorant than smart.   Peter Parker may be a teenager and make mistakes, but he'd NEVER skip out on studying up on things scientific or otherwise.  Moreover, he would probably know that Transylvania was a real place before being told!  Spidey is supposed to be the hero, but I find it difficult to enjoy him in this iteration. 

Aunt May is unimpressed with Petey's "lame" Spider-suit costume
So this episode gets kudos for Halloween fun and the inclusion of Clark Gregg, but major deductions for bad hero characterization (and annoying jump cutting).  

RigbyMel's rating:  

2 and a half Jack o'lanterns

Monday, October 13, 2014

Halloween is near!

Yes, we realize it's two weeks into October and we haven't posted any Halloween reviews yet.

Our "offline" lives have been very busy the last couple months.  But we have some new reviews in progress of classic and recent Halloween viewing.

But in the meantime, here's a random selection of reviews from the past few years:

The Worst Witch

Broomstick Bunny


Fat Albert's Halloween Special

The Addams Family-"Halloween With The Addams Family"

My So Called Life

The Halloween Tree

We would also like to direct you the Countdown To Halloween blog, click on the links to read the blogs of our fellow 2014 Cryptkeepers,here.  Thanks to John Rozum for linking to us again and for including us in his Countdown.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Report from the Wizard World Richmond Comic Con!

Before we start reviewing programming that celebrates All Hallows Eve:  

We attended the Wizard World Richmond Comic Con a couple weekends ago. We helped out some friends who have built a motorcycle "inspired by" Daryl Dixon's bike from The Walking Dead. And we made sure we took a "ride" ourselves!  Check out their Facebook group for The Rolling Dead:Zombie Tech.

There were lots of celebrities from film, television and comic books on hand. We got our picture taken with James Marsters, best remembered for his portrayal of Spike on Buffy The Vampire Slayer

Marsters was very ill all weekend, so we didn't get to interact with him much, but he was quite a trouper for going through with his photo-ops and panel discussion. His presence at the comic con reminded us that we need to review more Buffy holiday episodes!

James Marsters answers fans' questions about Buffy and Smallville.
We had about 5 seconds with Bruce Campbell (of Evil Dead & Burn Notice fame), among many other roles), but he was so friendly that it seemed like a lot longer.

"Sam Axe" gets new partners(?).
2014 marks of the release of Ghostbusters. Ernie Hudson -- Winston Zeddemore himself -- was on hand at the Comic Con as well. We got to chat with him a bit and even got a hug from a real Ghostbuster! Awesomesauce!

We also got to chat with and get an autograph from Adam West (Batman from the 1966 series).

We're big fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  So we were excited that we got to see Michael Rooker (of Walking Dead and Guardians of the Galaxy fame) and fellow Guardians actor Dave Bautista (aka "Battista" of WWE wrestling fame) appear together on a panel discussion.  It was very cool to see two stars of the biggest movie of 2014 right here in downtown Richmond!  They were quite funny, but not quite as amusing as Bruce Campbell in his "Vs. the Audience" discussion.

Rooker & Bautista shared some entertaining stories about the making of Guardians Of The Galaxy.

 Comic cons are famous for great cosplay, and this one was no exception.  Here's some highlights:

Getting into character with "Spike"  (who was quite nice, for a vampire)
"Old School" newspaper comic characters Dick Tracy and Charlie Brown unite (Chuck looks vaguely familiar somehow ...)
A great Guardians of the Galaxy group!
The Walking Dead's "Rick" and "Herschel"

We had a great time and are very happy to have fun events like this making their way to Richmond, VA.  If Wizard World happens to be in your area, they throw a pretty darned good event that is well worth your time.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Christmas In Connecticut

Premiered August 11, 1945.

This out-of-season review is posted today because this movie was released on this date in 1945.

Elizabeth Lane (Barbara Stanwyck) writes food and homemaking articles for Smart Housekeeping magazine. Her recipes are famous and her tales of her husband and child are read all over the country.

One of Lane's biggest fans is Jefferson Jones (Dennis Morgan), a war hero recovering at a veterans' hospital. Jones is a food connoisseur and he reads Elizabeth's articles to help pass the time in the hospital.

His nurse Mary Lee (Joyce Compton) writes a letter to Smart Housekeeping describing Jones's love of Elizabeth Lane's articles.  Upon reading the letter,  the magazine's publisher, Alexander Yardley (Sidney Greenstreet), gets an idea for a publicity stunt.

He invites Jones to spend Christmas at Elizabeth Lane's farm in Connecticut, where she will use her kitchen expertise to cook a Christmas dinner for the war hero.  Of course,  Yardley will join the festivities as well.   He wants to observe Elizabeth in the kitchen and sample the simple, country hospitality showcased in her articles.  (All this without bothering to ask if it suits Ms. Lane's holiday plans!)

Unfortunately for Elizabeth -- and unbeknownst to Yardley (a stickler for honesty in journalism)-- she is a fake!  She actually lives in a New York apartment, has no husband or child and cannot cook!   Conveniently, her friend John Sloan (Reginald Gardiner), an architect, owns a farm in rural Connecticut.  He has wanted to marry Elizabeth for a while, but she isn't attracted to him.

However, she decides that marrying Sloan would be preferable to being discovered as a fraud and agrees to his proposal.   They decide to marry on Christmas Eve and with the aid of a local judge called to the farm to act as officiant.

As for the cooking, Elizabeth enlists the aid of to her friend Felix (S.Z. Sakall), who is a chef and owns a restaurant.  (He's also the source of  the recipes Elizabeth uses in her articles.)  "Uncle" Felix, as he is known to Elizabeth, thinks the whole thing is a "catastroph" waiting to happen, but agrees to help.

The plan starts to go awry right off the bat.  As John and Elizabeth are preparing to wed, Jefferson Jones arrives early, preempting the ceremony.

"Quartermaster Jones reporting for duty!"
Naturally,  Jefferson and Elizabeth are immediately attracted to each other.  Elizabeth spends Christmas Eve trying to keep the lie going.

She makes excuses to avoid cooking. She bumbles through bathing a (borrowed) baby and escorting wayward cows back to the barn.    But will her fraud be discovered?   Will she successfully flip flapjack for an interested audience?   Will she marry Sloan or find love with Jefferson Jones?

Elizabeth learning how to "flip-flop the flop flips" as per Uncle Felix

J.A. Morris says:
Christmas In Connecticut is a fun movie.  It feels a lot like a sitcom episode, with characters running from room to room trying to keep a lie going.

Jefferson & Elizabeth take a sleigh ride on Christmas night.
It's not as strong as some of the other holiday films of the "classic" era of Hollywood, but it's always entertaining.  Barbara Stanwyck was one of the best and this is a great vehicle for her talents.  The cast includes a virtual Character Actors Hall Of Fame, featuring Sidney Greenstreet, S.Z. Sakall and Una O'Connor, they're all very funny here.

Greenstreet is well remembered for his roles in The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca.    

Yardley meets "Macushla" the cow.
Sakall also appeared in Casablanca.  He appeared with Stanwyck in Ball Of Fire and also appeared in another holiday film, In The Good Old Summertime.

Una O'Connor plays Sloan's housekeeper Norah.  She can be seen in another classic Christmas film, The Bells Of St. Mary's, but I first noticed O'Connor in the Universal horror movies Bride Of Frankenstein and The Invisible Man.

Norah & Felix have some disagreements in the kitchen.
Rounding out the cast is Reginald Gardiner who also appeared in another Christmas film, The Man Who Came To Dinner.

Smart Housekeeping editor Dudley Beecham (Robert Shayne) & John worry that Elizabeth's secret will be revealed.
It's a great cast, but the leading man, Dennis Morgan,  is the perhaps the weakest element.  While he's okay as Jefferson Jones, I've always felt that he pales in comparison to Stanwyck and the supporting actors.  But he doesn't ruin the picture either.  Morgan has a nice singing voice, performing "O Little Town Of Bethlehem" and the "love theme" of the movie, "The Wish That I Wish Tonight."

Christmas In Connecticut is available on dvd and airs every Christmas on TCM.  It's an enjoyable ride, especially recommended for fans of Stanwyck and the character actors.  And as a native of Connecticut, it's the only movie I can think of that has my home state's name in the title!

Yardley takes a tumble in the snow!

J.A. Morris' rating:

3 Candy Canes.

RigbyMel says:

Christmas In Conncecticut was my introduction to Barbara Stanwyck.   I first saw the film in college at the recommendation of a good friend who also happened to be a theater major.

It's a thoroughly entertaining little holiday romp.    The plot does not hold together quite as well as classic screwball comedies like Bringing Up Baby, but it chugs along nicely.    The actors are what make Christmas in Connecticut so fun to watch each year.   Stanwyck's expressions of horror at having to contend with bathing a baby or cow care are hilarious but you also root for her to get her man and keep her job.

One has to applaud the chutzpah of passing oneself off as a Martha Stewart-type housewife without possessing any skills -- Elizabeth Lane must be a cracking good writer in any event and Stanwyck makes her utterly believable.  I found myself wanting more for her than a destiny as a housewife, but considering this was made in the 1940s, Elizabeth is very independent and spunky.

There is great work by the other character actors involved as well.   S.Z. Sakall's  portrayal is an adorable standout in my estimation.  I especially like the way they play on the character's sometimes knowing  (and sometimes unconscious) use of the fact that English is not his first language.   (He gets away with saying "Nuts!" to the rather controlling and slimy John Sloan early in the movie.)  In some ways,  Felix is the emotional center of the film.  He knows that marrying Sloan to perpetuate a fraud is wrong but also doesn't want his friend to lose her station and/or be hurt.

Christmas In Connecticut is well worth a look if you're looking for some fun, light holiday fare.

RigbyMel's rating:

3 1/2 candy canes