Five bets I’d place on this election

In what amounts to the Super Bowl for political science majors today is an even numbered Election Day!

This is a glorious moment where polls don’t matter anymore and people can rest assured that candidates, surrogates and media personalities will soon have to shut their trap.

It’s also a day for people like myself who majored in this shit to make some forecasts.  Here are five friendly Election Day predictions I would bet a moderate amount of money on:

Three of the buttons I've added to my collection this election cycle.  These do not count as endorsements.

Three of the buttons I’ve added to my collection this election cycle. Do not count as endorsements.

1.) LETICIA VAN DE PUTTE WILL GET MORE VOTES THAN WENDY DAVIS

The fact that liberals were excited about this gubernatorial race meant they were going to lose.  Some attempts were made early on to remind voters that prior to filibustering abortion regulations Davis had protested cuts in education.  Still, in a heavily Republican state the only people who prioritize social issues are conservatives.  While Davis got plenty of recognition, the filibuster would have been a plus if she had pursued a congressional career in a safe DFW-area Democratic district.

In contrast, Leticia Van de Putte, nominee for Lt. Governor,  got some recognition for her part in that filibuster but wasn’t the star.  Combine that with her coming from a bellwether county (Bexar County), having fairly good relations with capital staffers, a long enough tenure in the legislature and you’ve got a real vote-getter.

It also helps that her Republican opponent, Dan Patrick, secretly drives people crazy.  Coming out of a competitive Republican primary against incumbent David Dewhurst, there must be some dissatisfied GOP voters willing to defect.

2.) REPUBLICANS WILL BE ELECTED TO 52 SENATE SEATS PLUS ONE AS A BONUS

The GOP will pick up seven Senate seats tonight and pick up one more for a total of 53 after Angus King (I-ME) chooses to caucus with Republicans to keep his committee assignments.

Or…

3.) SCOTT BROWN WILL HAVE AN UPSET VICTORY AND GAIN STATURE

Just like two years ago, I would once again rate the Senate race with Scott Brown as the most interesting campaign in the country.  Relocated to New Hampshire, it took a while for me to figure out what Brown hoped to achieve.  He had passed on what looked like an easy win for Massachusetts governor against his 2010 opponent Martha Coakley (currently behind in the polls against Republican Charlie Baker).

Instead he visited Iowa, drummed up rumors of running for president and moved to New Hampshire.  But by Jove, despite my early confusion I think he has a national headwind on his side and will prevail.  Even if he’s defeated, Brown has placed himself in a prime spot for the next big election.

If he wins, he’ll be a pragmatic vote that’ll come in handy for the Mitch McConnell/John McCain* faction of the Senate GOP leadership.  If he loses, he’ll have built a base in the first in the nation primary and could be a key player in the 2016 presidential contest.  Picture a reverse Sarah Palin who chastises Republicans for not getting shit done instead of rewarding blanket opposition.  Brown’s endorsement will now be valuable in 2016.

*Lord, after they slugged it out all the way to the Supreme Court over campaign finance reform, I never thought I’d group McConnell and McCain together…

4.) HERE IN AUSTIN, THE LIGHT RAIL EXPANSION WILL FAIL BY A SLIM MARGIN

Thinking back to 2000, Austin had a major light rail proposition on the ballot which failed in a nail-biter election.  This was a divisive race with strong proponents and an equally stronger opposition.

Accordingly, this expansion of the scaled-down light rail that passed in 2004 will narrowly fail.  The 2004 product, launched in 2010, did not get off to a great start and I don’t believe it will inspire any confidence for more.  Combine the anti-tax argument in Travis County and the partisanship in newly formed city council boundaries, and I expect anti-rail forces to have momentum.  Finally, I imagine people stalled at Airport and Lamar waiting on the train to pass won’t take kindly to MORE rail lines.

5.) DESPITE THE HOOPLA, NO ADDITIONAL INDEPENDENTS WILL BE ELECTED TO THE SENATE

While I’m more than willing to give independent/non-partisan candidates a chance I don’t expect the two most talked about Senate candidates to prevail.  In Kansas, Greg Orman could have played the Jesse Ventura-like social moderate/fiscal conservative alternative but  had to inherit the Democratic base when their candidate dropped out.

As a the de facto Democratic nominee, I feel Orman will lose a close race against stagnant incumbent Pat Roberts.  Likewise, independent candidate Larry Pressler will wage a valiant campaign for third place in South Dakota.

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Five things that should happen in the “3001” miniseries

SOME SPOILERS FROM THE ODYSSEY BOOKS/MOVIES INCLUDED (GO FIGURE)

The Odyssey series by Arthur C. Clarke has always been appreciated after the fact.  So it really shouldn’t come as a surprise that the fourth and final book is being given the live action treatment 17 years after being published.

My mind is already glowing with nostalgia just thinking about it.

Flashback to 1997, I was just wandering around a Blockbuster Music and found myself face to face with a hardback of “3001: The Final Odyssey.”  It was around that time I had first seen “2001: A Space Odyssey” when it appeared on “MonsterVision” with Joe Bob Briggs.  I was thrilled that there was more to explore, and with no internet at the house I didn’t have a heads up on new books in the series.

I just used “Blockbuster Music,” “no internet” and “Joe Bob Briggs” in one paragraph.  You better believe I’m damn proud to have grown up in the 90’s.

Later, at the Dawn of the AOL era, I read rumors that Tom Hanks, a huge Arthur C. Clarke fan, was looking to produce/star in a live action version of “3001.”  Obviously that never came to pass.

Now that the [Sci-fi] Channel is assembling a miniseries on “3001,” here are five things I hope they include to make the show feel at home with the preceding films:

1.) HAVE ANOTHER BRIEFING!  Peter Hyams’ “2010” was a very underrated sequel and if you ask me can even be viewed without having seen “2001” (although why one would do that on purpose I don’t know).  What made it a fine follow-up was that it didn’t imitate the slow pacing of Stanley Kubrick’s “2001.”  In fact, “2010” begins with a scene spelling out the events of the first film so that even if the audience missed out they could still pick up the pieces.  The new miniseries should provide newcomers with a historical newscast or mission report on who Frank Poole and Dave Bowman are as well as why Jupiter had to explode at the end of “2010.”

2.) MAKE IT A LITTLE RETRO!  One line Poole had in “3001” was that the spacecraft looked more like 1950’s movie rockets than those of his era.  The Odyssey series has always placed a high premium on scientific accuracy (strange Star Child aside), but take Clarke’s written word to the max.  Branch out more into the fantastic and give us designs that might not appear functional but do look like they could exist in the year 3001.  It’s time the not too distant future we once imagined on film appear again as a vision of the very distant future.

This space jet and strange circular ship, taken from Clarke's "The Exploration of Space" (1951), would fit in nicely.

This space jet and strange circular ship, taken from Clarke’s “The Exploration of Space” (1951), would fit in nicely.

3.) BRING BACK KEIR DULLEA!  Whether it be casting the “2001” actor for one last hurrah as Bowman or giving him a cameo between age-shifting, you gotta have Mr. Dullea involved.  The guy still keeps busy and at this point looks a bit like his stage two older self from the series.  Also alive is Douglas Rain (b. 1928), voice of the HAL-9000 who merged with Dave’s consciousness after the events of “2010.”  While I’d ballpark his return at less than likely, it would be fun to see what audio work could be done in combining Dullea and Rain’s voices into one entity.  Heck, you could even add a red coloration to one eye…

KeirDullea

One of Keir Dullea’s last motion picture appearances was as Angelina Jolie’s father in 2006’s “The Good Shepherd” (left). Not too far off from his aged self in “2001” (right).

I’ve heard that Dullea and Rain have never actually met in person despite making two films together.  Maybe open that door?  Open that door, please?

4.) KEEP IT STRAIGHTFORWARD!  The first film was odd in that Kubrick and Clarke were working on the motion picture and the novel at the same time.  In fact, the novel came out after the movie with earlier drafts of the story still intact (ex: the Discovery spacecraft voyaging to Saturn instead of Jupiter).  Again, what made “2010” work for me was that it stood on its own ground and told the story without even trying to mimic Kubrick.  Doing so would look ridiculous.

This miniseries is going to have a lot going on: braincaps, elevators from the Earth’s surface to a space station that spans the equator, mining the rings of Saturn and what is sure to be a controversial take on the end of organized religion.  So keep the lengthy expositions to a minimum and explain “3001” as clear cut as it was in the book.

The "2001" light show has dazzled for years and made Pink Floyd all the more enjoyable ... but even in a three part miniseries I doubt they'll have 18 minuets to spare.

The “2001” light show has dazzled for years and made Pink Floyd all the more enjoyable … but even in a three part miniseries I doubt they’ll have 23 minutes to spare.

Also, keep the part where mankind has bred velociraptors to be janitors and gardeners.  Besides swell comic relief it’ll appeal to audiences after “Jurassic World” comes out next year.

5.) BEEPS!   Both “2001” and “2010” had scenes where we just sat back and listened to computers and space probes make beeping noises and go about their work.  Some may call it as annoying as a splinter in your mind or a bird chirping after bedtime but I call it the Odyssey Endurance Test!  This might reek of hypocrisy after asking the miniseries to avoid Kubrick intimations.  However, these scenes work well in a series that at times touches on man behaving too machine-like.  The sound effects also build tension when needed, like when the crew of the Leonov investigate Europa in “2010.”

It’s the Odyssey Endurance Test and it builds character!

Finally, will “3001”  be good?  We literally just heard the project was a go today, have seen no footage and know nothing of who will join the cast.  But let’s recklessly speculate anyway.

As I said earlier, this series always seems to find an audience after the fact.  The story goes that “2001” had mixed reviews in 1968 and was about to be pulled before theater owners reported young people showing up … some with sugar cubes.  It doesn’t take much imagination to understand why a new poster was released calling the movie, “The ultimate trip.”  Those young people grew up and then started making movies of their own.

Even “2010” got a second wind after its release.  It debuted December 7, 1984 and took second place that weekend with $7,393,361 (“Beverly Hills Cop” was first with $15,214,805).  After grossing $4.1 million during the following two weekends “2010” suddenly shot up to $6.5 million in week four.  It actually managed to earn more at the box office that year than “The Terminator,” with $40,400,657 vs. $38,371,200.

So far there are more pluses than minuses.  One of the executive producers is none other than Ridley Scott (plus).  Both the Kubrick and Clarke estates have offered support (plus).  The executive producer and screenplay writer will be Stuart Beattie, whose credits include the “Pirates of the Caribbean” films, “I, Frankenstein” and “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” (points break even, he also wrote “Collateral” and that movie is badass in my book).

With a plethora of details about a world one thousand years away and plenty of screentime to tell the tale, count me as someone who can’t wait to see this.

BOTTOM LINE: Something is going to happen.  Something wonderful.

“Gotham” amounts to a State of the Union address for DC Comics

The much anticipated Batman sans Batman show Gotham premiered Monday night and did what a pilot episode should do: set the scene, have enough sub-plots to carry on to the next episode and give us some idea what the season will revolve around (that being the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne).

The show stars Ben McKenzie as rookie Det. James Gordon, Donal Logue as Det. Harvey Bullock and David Mazouz as a young Bruce Wayne.

Like the first episode of Firefly, which premiered on the Fox Network before being juggled and canceled, Gotham’s inaugural was a lovable, but not awe-inspiring 40 minute program. You know in your soul that your favorite episodes lie ahead of you after we stand on ceremony here for a bit.

(Btw, don’t Gordon and Bullock have sort of a Mal and Jane thing going on?)MV5BMjMzNTU3MDY3OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjY1Nzg3MTE@._V1__SX1556_SY913_

A NOT-SO-BRIEF ASIDE

Gotham arrived the same night Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. kicked-off a second season. News broke that Gotham was in the works immediately after Agents debuted this time last year, stealing a moderate amount of thunder from the Marvel property. My how time flies.

That in itself is a statement, since both DC Comics and Marvel will face-off on one time slot this season. Earlier, a monetary bullet was dodged when Warner Bros. moved 2016’s Batman v Superman to a release date away from Captain America III: The Search for Bucky, avoiding one showdown.

(That’s not the film’s real title but I hereby nominate it)

Take comfort in Monday’s having a nice clash of styles. All Marvel movies and TV shows share the same continuity while DC is keeping its TV shows separate from its films. DC is also keeping some TV apart from other TV and maybe will have a few movies separate from other movies. You follow?

Regardless, DC is making its presence known with The Flash, Constantine and season two of Arrow following Gotham this fall. It’ll be fun to see what flies, what falls and if one will fall and learn to pick itself up.

The lack of a single continuity also provides more freedom for viewers. To this day, I haven’t finished season one of Agents because 1.) I couldn’t relate to anybody on screen and 2.) I don’t always watch movies on opening weekend and wanted to avoid spoilers when they did crossover episodes.

Marvel is making Christmas lights, if you break one it all falls apart. DC is making stories.

THE EPISODE ITSELF

Coming back around, Gotham looks captivating. The city is dirty and full of litter, cops drive older cars and a couple of buildings even have gargoyles. Classic.

The pilot is a clear break from the Burton/Schumacher Batman movies and the Nolan trilogy. Gotham stands on its own and has a timeless feel with flip phones, fedoras and the aforementioned older police cars giving it a modern but not too modern appearance.

I can see the show taking cues from Batman: The Animated Series in that many characters get a chance to shine and the focus is on major crimes in Gotham City.

The pilot was not without faults. A couple of clichés were used with a suspect darting out of a large open window followed by a rooftop chase. Oh, and the scary killer who works in a slaughterhouse has to have a leather mask on. Has to.

The steady-cam fixed on Gordon during said chase scene felt out of place. Lastly, a montage of interrogation scenes needed to have more than three suspects if we’re really to believe our hero Gordon and anti-hero Bullock are scouring the streets for leads.

As with the Nolan movies, this series will live and die by the relationship between Gordon and Bruce. As the credits rolled, I felt that while McKenzie and Mazouz performed well separately the scenes where they share screen time needed work. Their first meeting especially needed some touch ups, namely Gordon not having to repeat every line of dialogue twice.

Back to the positive, Gotham demonstrates how to do cameos right. My favorite of the night being Edward Nygma (the future Riddler played by Cory Michael Smith) joyfully rattling off mind puzzles only to look down in shame when Gordon solved one.

Hopefully this cameo will serve as a model for the slew of other minor characters set to appear in Batman v Superman.

Renee Montoya (Victoria Cartagena) at long last gets a live action treatment and a swell plot placement as she is suspicious of Gordon. This means Gordon will have to play both sides, navigating his way through an uneasy alliance with Bullock and gaining the trust of Montoya.

I see I’m approaching 1,000 words so I need to wrap things up. In regard to the remaining characters: tip of the hat to Robin Taylor as Oswald Copplepot, Jada Pinkett Smith’s original villain Fish Mooney and Erin Richards as Barbara Kean (Gordon’s fiancée).

Finally, in contrast to the Nolan trilogy I’m glad they pronounce mob boss Carmine Falcone’s name right.

WRAPPING UP

As I said earlier, this was a State of the Union-type start for DC’s fall season. Gotham was procedural, preceded by fanfare and set the agenda for a year.

There’s a built in fail safe in the DC world because it’s allowed to be flexible, allowed have more than one version of a character and isn’t tied down to what happens on other shows or a larger cinematic universe.

If one doesn’t like a certain take on a character that’s okay (i.e.: STOP COMPLAINING) because nothing is being canonized here. Some characters are stuck in the Nolan trilogy, others in the Arrow/Flashverse, the Gothamverse, the big screen continuity and some stand-alone films like (supposedly) the upcoming Shazam.

Thank God, because if we’re to have famous characters get the live action treatment they deserve to have origins that are multiple choice. A DC villain taught us that.

BOTTOM LINE: Gotham is a decent pilot episode that makes you happy to be a DC fan.

 

CORRECTION (9/23): I was wondering why the overnight ratings didn’t list Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., turns out I was a bit of a dummy and got the date for season two wrong. It begins tonight and does not air on Monday’s opposite Gotham. My apologies, but that’s what I get for not watching/caring about Agents.

Review: “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For”

In an era of reboots it’s nice to know that some movies stay the same.WP_001222

Frank Miller’s Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is a mostly prequel, two shakes sequel to the 2005 film. Many of the original actors return while several recasts were made due to death, maternity and unavailability.

From the onset, I felt like I was watching a black-and-white-themed reunion. Hell, 40 minutes into the film I realized I was sitting in the same theater at the same movie house and probably two rows away from the same chair.

The plot remains the same. Imperfect people try to punish bad people. White blood flows everywhere. Don’t obey the speed limit. Watch out, there are plenty of women out there who will get the better of you.

You could call it a rerun of sorts. But it’s a long overdue rerun with familiar faces that I welcome gladly. I was genuinely happy just seeing Jamie King share the screen with herself as twin sisters Goldie and Wendy.

If any naysayers need an excuse to buy a ticket for this movie it’ll be to see Eva Green (Ava Lord). She’s got a name that harkens back to the glamour of the silver screen. Even when you want to hate her you’ll love her.

Also, much to the satisfaction of every male audience member (as well as female members with fine taste), Green spends at least half of her screen time nekked [sic].

I was pleasantly surprised by Jessica Alba (Nancy Callahan). Seeking to avenge the death of Bruce Willis’ character (John Hartigan), she relishes playing the edgier, angry part this time around. Her target is Powers Boothe (U.S. Sen. Roark), who is still a dependable villain sans evil mustache.

You’ll roll your eyes at how bad people aim firearms in Sin City, which is why seeing Nancy practicing at a gun range was so refreshing. While Boothe delivers the best line of the movie in Nancy and Roark’s final confrontation, they set up the final shot (yeah, pun) with a cheesy moment that kinda kills the mood.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Johnny) fits in well as a slick gambler and his chapter ends on a surprising note. Still, it does leave you wondering if the guy had a plan in the first place. He is, after all, the one who said, “Sin City’s where you go in with your eyes open, or you don’t come out at all.”

Josh Brolin (Dwight) takes over for Clive Owen before that character got a new face. I wanted to like Brolin in this part, and he certainly got the hidden rage part down, but he lacks the nobility that Owen brought to the role. Edge goes to Owen.

Dennis Haysbert (Manute) steps in for the sorely missed Michael Clarke Duncan, and is my pick for actor who deserved more screen time. From the onset, in fact just going off his vernacular, you know he’s itching for a fight. While seeing him and Mickey Rourke (Marv) engage in fisticuffs pays off, it will leave you wanting more.

Marv is still Marv only his head looks bigger. God bless him.

Filling out the cast with minor appearances are Lady Gaga, Ray Liotta, Juno Temple (who has gotten a lot taller since The Dark Knight Rises) and an unrecognizable Stacy Keach.

Tip of the hat to Julia Garner (Marcie), who plays a waitress in Kadie’s Saloon and is my nominee for best supporting newcomer.

There are two Frank Miller cameos, including one with fellow-director Robert Rodriguez. Both sport nice fedoras with the proper brim size. None of that unholy small brimmed, hipster headwear that permeates the streets of Austin.

Now, moving on to some complaints and grievances.

The nonlinear storytelling becomes a bit of a distraction if you’ve watched the ’05 film several times. There were two or three moments where I thought, “Wait, isn’t that guy supposed to be dead?” or “Wait, shouldn’t he live and be in the first movie?”

As I said earlier, the citizens of Sin City don’t know how to shoot. Seriously, even at point blank, often with machine guns, people can’t hit a target (although they have better luck with arrows). That crosses a ridiculous line even in comic book movie territory.

Finally, let me quickly rattle off some unimportant nitpicks:

-Disappointed that the opening credits didn’t list the cast in alphabetical order like the first movie.

-The chapter transitions should’ve been more memorable.

– Could use more funny, you’ll smirk a lot at the dialogue but the only genuine laugh comes from a brilliant, brief appearance by Christopher Lloyd.

– Does every woman in Sin City have to kiss a man when his face is profusely bleeding?

Bottom line: I love you Sin City, you still got it … but will I respect you enough to buy the DVD?

Several stories about Lauren Bacall you should know (but probably don’t)

There are two kinds of movie stars we love. There are those we look up to and want to be, the Hepburns and Bogarts of the world. Then you have those you think you could be, who are relatable and easier to make eye contact with.

It’s been a rough couple of years for the latter category. Both Ernest Borgnine and Jack Klugman, the kind of everymen you could admire and emulate, died in 2012.

Flash forward to last Tuesday, we lost another great one when a woman known to her friends as Betty left us.

Born Betty Perske in the Bronx, Lauren Bacall was first and foremost a fan. Her autobiography, titled “By Myself,” opens with her professing an endless love for both Bette Davis and Leslie Howard.

Calling Davis her “fifteen-year-old idea of perfection,” Bacall would cut school to watch Dark Victory and other Davis pictures, all the while smoking in the theater balcony. Bacall’s mother would eventually punish her … for the smoking.

Bacall’s feelings for Howard were shared by her future husband Humphrey Bogart, who got his first big break in The Petrified Forrest thanks to Howard’s support. The couple would later name their daughter after him.

While in high school, Bacall actually met Davis before seeking theater work and eventually moving to Hollywood. Trembling, ignoring her tea for fear of spilling it in front of the “Queen,” Bacall listened as Davis offered sympathy and advice.

“Well, be sure [acting is] really what you want to do with your life,” Davis said. “It’s hard work and it’s lonely.”

While her autobiography was called “By Myself,” I would hardly describe Bacall’s life as a lonely one. She kept constant company, either from family or from fame, and always had the support of fans and friends alike.

WP_001215

This will always be one of my favorite posters!

On that note, here are a few stories from Bacall’s autobiography I think you’ll enjoy:

-She helped keep Kirk Douglas clothed

While attending the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in 1940, Bacall would look forward to the weekly plays put on by the senior class. One handsome figure who caught her eye was Kirk Douglas, attending the school on a scholarship. Douglas didn’t have much money, even telling Bacall he once spent a night in jail because he had no place to sleep. After finding out that Douglas only had one coat in his wardrobe, Bacall convinced her uncle to give him a spare one so he wouldn’t freeze during the winter. She even sewed a loose button back on the coat.

-Got over a career setback with help from Abraham Lincoln

One of Bacall’s first adventures outside of New York City was performing in a production of Franklin Street in Washington, D.C. One night she got a call from Burgess “Buzz” Meredith (whom she had met previously in NYC) asking if she’d ever seen the Lincoln Memorial. She said no and immediately accepted his invitation to give her a tour.

“I hung up, jumped up and down like a child with a great new toy,” Bacall said. “Buzz was there! He must just like me a little bit.”

Meredith had a horse and buggy waiting for Bacall at her hotel and the two visited both the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. The following night, Bacall found out that Franklin Street would end its run in D.C. and not continue back to NYC. Devastated, Bacall went back to the Lincoln Memorial for comfort.

-Was Bogie’s designated driver before marrying him

Before her death, Bacall lamented that too often people think her life revolved around her marriage to Bogart. While I’d like to keep the focus on her, it’s hard not to include at least one Bogart story in this line-up.

After falling in love with Bogart while filming To Have and Have Not, Bacall received a drunk phone call from him at four in the morning. “I’m walking back to town,” Bogart said. “Come and get me – I’ll be on Highway 101.”

Bacall, who had only recently learned to drive, rushed through the rain in the dark and found Bogie just around sunrise, “unshaven, wearing espadrillas, and with a large sunflower in his lapel.”

He could have said please.

-Bacall wasn’t impressed by Clark Gable

Producer/director Howard Hawks tried to dissuade Bacall from seeing Bogart, so much so that he and his wife Slim set her up with Clark Gable.

“He was dazzling to look at, but he stirred me not a bit,” Bacall said. “I tried to flirt a little, tried to be attached to him – but it didn’t work. He was just a pleasant terrific-looking man without an overabundance of humor who had incredible dimples and was named Clark Gable.”

There was more life in Bacall’s relationship with Gable’s Gone with the Wind co-star Vivien Leigh. While Bacall was visiting Paris in the 60s, Leigh, with “manic energy and total inability to sleep” threw a party for her. Expecting only a gathering of friends, Bacall was surprised to hear that Leigh had invited a few hundred people and took over a nightclub to host the get-together.

-She had the best “Looney Tunes” cameos

 

Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is so basic that it works.TMNT

It’s a fast-paced flick that meets every necessary quota with only one or two moments where you feel like your time is being wasted.

Action: check. Pizza temptations: check. Recycling the word “cowabunga:” check. Works for me!

Plus, with a runtime of only 101 minutes, it’s a pleasant deviation from comic book-based films that feel compelled to strive for the three hour mark.

Now, down to the details.

April O’Neil (Megan Fox) is a lower-level reporter for Channel 6 News in New York City. Looking for a new angle on the rise of the evil Foot Clan, O’Neil stumbles onto a robbery foiled by vigilantes. She eventually meets the Turtles and they take on Shredder, our favorite armored bad guy.

Fox is fine as O’Neil. Some of her lines need work, but I’ll chalk that up as a script problem. My guess is I’m going easy on her since she pulls off the classic yellow coat look.

I can’t complain about how the Turtles are portrayed either.

Leonardo is still the struggling leader. Raphael is headstrong but means well. They finally made Donatello more of a geeky tech-guy and I say that’s an improvement. Michelangelo delivers the most laughs, will hit on April with no shame and toward the end will demonstrate good taste in music.

Ditto credit for the villains. They don’t complicate Shredder’s origin (unlike with the Turtles) and keep his scarred face hidden in the shadows when out of his armor. William Fichtner (Eric Sacks) makes such a good first impression that you forget he’s evil. I mean, at the end of the movie you still think he’ll let you crash at his place and play air hockey.

Honestly, going into this movie there was one character I wanted done right and it was Splinter. It’s like with 2009’s Star Trek, if Karl Urban pulled-off Dr. McCoy the rest of the movie could’ve sucked and I still would’ve liked it.

Splinter finally gets to kick some butt on the big screen and won me over based on how he interrogates the Turtles by exploiting their one true love. I won’t say more, just watch the movie.

That’s not to say it’s a home run. This Splinter (voiced by Tony Shalhoub) doesn’t top the Kevin Clash version from the first two 90’s movies. I still choke up hearing Splinter’s, “All fathers care for their sons line” from the 1990 film.

His reason for training the Turtles to be ninjas is also laughable (in a bad way) and gets the honor of being my biggest complaint about this movie.

Which brings us to the most talked-about problem: the revisions made to our heroes origin.

In summary, using an extra-terrestrial substance, the Turtles and Splinter are mutated in an attempt to cure an airborne toxin. April’s father worked on the project and as a kid she even looked after the Turtles … and fed them pizza.

This film was tarred and feathered when an early version of the script leaked and supposedly made the turtles aliens. They don’t quite go there and even give Fox a line calling that idea “stupid.”

Although for a film that has such a simple plotline you wonder why the origin was altered just for the sake of changing it. It’s like the bad parts of the script were fixed with duct tape instead of being polished (turtle waxed?).

But when the dust settles you’ll want a sequel. Wait for the final scene and you’ll know what I mean. With the origin done we can move on to a straight up, “Turtles eat pizza and fight crime” movie without any baloney to taint it.

Bottom line: It’s a decent Turtles movie and could’ve been worse.

Leftover thought: Let me emphasize that this isn’t a Michael Bay film. Just as people think Tim Burton directed The Nightmare Before Christmas (it was Henry Selick) or that Steven Spielberg did Poltergeist (that was Tobe Hooper of Texas Chainsaw Massacre fame) a lot of folks don’t know this is a Jonathan Liebesman picture.

It’s shocking (shell-shocking?) how many people haven’t bothered to look that detail up.

Having previously directed Battle: LA and Wrath of the Titians, I can assure you that Liebesman gives us a livable action flick. Turtles is void of the excessive slow-motion and long shots of expressionless actors that we get in Bay’s Transformers pictures.

Final thought (8/11/14): Could it be that all the extraterrestrial origin hoopla is a means for the writers to introduce Krang and/or Dimension X in the next film? If so … right on.

Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

Going into Guardians of the Galaxy I was looking for an excuse to brush it off.WP_001210

Sure, the trailers were promising but could I really get into a movie with a talking raccoon and a walking tree whose dialogue was on loop?

Well, I stand corrected. Getting down to brass tacks, you gotta love a film that praises Kevin Bacon, features a Soviet space dog and might be our last, best hope to remind kids what the hell a cassette tape was.

For the most lighthearted Marvel film, Guardians has a pretty serious opening. It begins with a young Peter Quill in the hospital the day his mother dies of cancer. The movie skips over the grieving part as Quill runs away and is immediately zapped into space.

We then fast forward over two decades later to find Quill (Chris Pratt) snagging an ancient orb and using space lizards as microphones. No word yet on whether that’s animal cruelty. The end credits only promise that no raccoons or tree creatures were harmed making this picture.

From there, all our characters meet up as each tries to steal the orb and sell it to the highest bidder. This is in the back-drop of a rogue alien NGO* trying to use the orb to destroy its former enemy despite a recent peace treaty.

It’s a real contest to see who steals the show the most. Pratt nails his part. Gamora (Zoe Saldana) can do anything Quill can do only backwards and with green skin. Other reviews have said Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) breaks out the most to carry the movie. Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) … is Groot (not that that’s a bad thing).

Me? I’d nominate Drax (Dave Bautista) for best character. He delivers some of the film’s best lines with a straight face, has a damn good vocabulary and you’ll never laugh so hard at a bazooka blast than in this movie.

The main villain, Ronan (Lee Pace), is sufficiently sinister and even has a spaceship that matches his costume! Oddly enough, he has a line similar to Ben Kingsley’s in Iron Man 3 (“Some people call me a terrorist…”).  Nevertheless, his character isn’t just a tool who’s a walking excuse for a Budweiser plug.

Guardians is the kind of fun sci-fi film I would’ve loved as a kid. The trailers sold us a space comedy with action elements and, by Jove, that’s what we got. That’s a much more accurate selling tactic than when trailers presented Iron Man 3 as a serious flick but gave us a slapdash action-comedy instead.

Geez, when did this review turn into an Iron Man 3 hatefest?

On the negative side, for a film that takes place in the vast frontier of space the two starship battles feel somewhat cramped. The close, zoomed-in shots feel just like the fight scenes in the Bourne Trilogy: tight and hard to follow. Guardians makes up for it with great hand-to-hand fight scenes, though, especially during the prison escape scene.

The final showdown between the Guardians and Ronan was also a little too melodramatic. But being a comic book/sci-fi movie I’ll give it a pass.

Finally, we could’ve used more Djimon Hounsou. Aside from the scene featured in the trailers he only makes one and a half more appearances in the movie. What a waste.

Bottom line: Marvel departs from its established superhero franchises and wins.

*Just in case you didn’t know, NGO stands for non-government organization. My political science major tendencies couldn’t resist.