Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Superman, Mental Breakdowns, Lemon Meringue Pie and a Mule named 'Lily-Bell'

It shouldn't come as a shock to anyone that I'm something of a Superman fan. I'm tantalisingly close to having seen every single live-action interpretation of the character that there has ever been and I'm generally a walking encyclopedia on all things that relate to the Last Son of Krypton.

One of those things is the Adventures of Superman episode "Flight to the North".

Adventures of Superman has the honour of being the first Superman TV show ever (not counting the movie chapter-serials, which we will get to in due time) and had a very diverse six years of existence. When the show began, it was gritty and dark and full of misery and death. In the second season, it mellowed out a lot and by the time it reached the third season, it was pretty much didn't make any bones about being a campy kiddie show. Flight to North very much fits in that latter category. But is awesome. I don't know how how or why this most bizarre story ever came to be, and I don't care. The fact is, it exists and every time I think of it, it makes me smile.

The episode follows Louie Lyman, a gangster who has just been released from prison (where he was sent because of Clark Kent's exposé articles "years ago"). Louie apparently spent all of his time in prison waiting to have a slice of his childhood neighbour Margie's lemon meringue pie, which he claims is the greatest of all-time. His buddy disagrees and says that his aunt's is better. So they hold a bet, with their respective halves of their ill-gotten $20,000 at stake. That's right, folks. Superman has dealt with earthquakes, meteor showers, giant rampaging robots and despotic supervillains and the challenge that is being presented to him here is a bet about who makes a better lemon meringue pie.

That's not even the craziest part of the plot. So there's this hillbilly guy Sylvester, visiting Metropolis who just so happens to be nicknamed 'Superman' back home, because he's a strong fellow. He reads an ad in the paper about a woman who needs Superman's help and happily goes to help her out, with his mule Lily-Bell in tow. It turns out she needs him to bring a slice of her famous lemon meringue pie to her fiancee, Steve who is stationed alone, at an outpost in Alaska. Being that this misunderstood hillbilly is such a straight-up guy, he agrees to fly to Alaska for this woman (who thinks he's the real Superman, who can, as we all know, fly), to bring the pie to her fiancee.

So, needless to say, Louie shows up begging Margie to give him a pie. Here's where things get really crazy. Margie won't give Louie a pie, because she swore she wouldn't bake a pie for any other man than her fiancee. The episode has gotten crazy enough that they are tying in some kind of allegory for sexual fidelity. Louie finds out about the mistaken Superman going to Alaska with the pie, and sets out after him.

For some reason, Clark Kent goes to Louie's apartment, but the clerk informs that Louie's not there. Then this happens:

...which, if seen out-of-context, might be the most hilariously stupid scene of television ever filmed.

So we get to Alaska and we learn that Margie's boyfriend has gone bonkers and talks to himself in the mirror. Sylvester shows up with pie in hand and mule in tow and the two sit down to enjoy the coveted confectionary, which I'm guessing must be filled with some kind of gold-encrusted super-Heroin or something.

Throughout this exchange, Steve admits that he's sure he's gone completely crazy from isolation and is imagining the whole thing. At this point, it could be interpreted as the writers dropping hints that that's actually what's happening.

Louie shows up freezing his balls off and takes the pie at gunpoint. Superman arrives and saves the pie, delivering it back into the safe hands of Margie's fiancee. Here's where things get flat-out disturbing. Rather than flying the friendly Hillbilly guy home, Superman shoos him and the mule back out the door and...

What a dick-move on Superman's part. He basically tells Sylvester to go on home with an armed criminal in tow (through the freezing cold, until he gets to an airport and has to pay for a plane ticket for him and his mule), just so he can have more pie for himself. For a character who's supposed to be the focused totality of pure goodness, that's pretty damn selfish. He probably suspected that Steve wouldn't want any as well and that he could have the whole thing for himself.

So the story ends with Louie cancelling the bet with Buckets and Buckets coincidentally bowing out as well, because he also failed to get a pie (although he probably didn't stare an icy death in the eye while failing). Clark and Sylvester (presumably fresh off his flight) show up and kind of guffaw at the fallen mobster and Sylvester states that big city life is a bit too much for him and that he's going to return back to Skunk Hollow.

If Tim Burton had been successful in directing a Superman movie back in the 90s, I have trouble believing he wouldn't want to take that chance to adapt "Flight to the North" for the movie. The episode is one of the most surreal, bizarre and utterly brilliant things I have ever seen.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Billy Batson...Agent of Death (A review of "The Adventures of Captain Marvel")

Throughout the forties, it was quite popular for movie studios to show serialised chapters of an adventure story to entice the kiddies before the main movie began. They usually worked by showing one 15 or 20-minute chapter a week with a story that carried on from week to week (so you'd have to come back the following week to find out what happened).

Superhero serials became very popular throughout this decade and worked as a prototype for the superhero movie and television industry (which I occasionally like to write about, around these parts). The very first of these was made by serial powerhouse, Republic Pictures (who first immortalised Flash Gordon), based on The Adventures of Captain Marvel.

For those of you who don't know, Captain Marvel is probably the most successful direct rip-off of Superman and a lot of people credit this serial as being the reason why. Republic originally asked DC Comics (then called National Periodical Publications) if they could use The Man of Steel and when they refused, Republic instead went to smaller comics company Fawcett Publications and asked if they would license out "The Big Red Cheese" instead. The resulting success of the serial led to Captain Marvel frequently outselling Superman until eventually DC gradually started to buy out the character, securing absolutely all rights to the character by 1994 (which is a pretty good outcome, considering how much justice they've done the character in their stories and it means that Superman and Captain Marvel can have TEH AWESUM FIGHTZ with each other).

The best way to explain the story of Captain Marvel is "What if Jimmy Olsen could magically turn into Superman at will?". In the story, Billy Batson is an ambiguously aged, snappy young radio broadcaster (although given that in the serial version, he can drive a car and hold his own in a fight with professional killers, I'm guessing he's supposed to be at least 18-20). Various do-hickeys and plots lead to him discovering an ancient wizard who endows him with "all the powers" (pretty much just varying levels of super strength, super speed and flight) of the Greek Gods when he calls out the magic word "SHAZAM!" (which as we all know, stands for 'Solomon, Hercules, Atlas, Zeus, Achilles and Mercury').

In the serial, Billy Batson is part of an expedition of a fictitious faraway land. Out of a group of men, Billy is the only one who chooses not to invade the tomb of the Scorpion and thus is rewarded with the power of Shazam by Santa Claus himself.

(Okay, in case you didn't get it, he's not actually called 'Santa Claus', he's just called 'The Wizard of Shazam').

The rest of the group raid the tomb of its powerful weapon "The Golden Scorpion", which when fully powered, is capable of turning solid rock into "powerful explosives" (I'm guessing it's some kind of laser). The weapon works by harnessing the suns' rays through a series of lenses, which are distributed equally among the men

The only problem is, one of the men has taken up the masked identity of the appropriately named "Scorpion" and slowly begins picking off the men one by one and confiscating their plot-devices lenses so that he can (gasp!) take over the world!! It's up to Billy and his magical powers to stop them.

So is it any good?

I've been hearing for years about how this Captain Marvel serial is one of the best serials ever and that the special effects still stand up today. Honestly, that last part is pretty much true.

The flying effects in this were achieved by a combination of blue-screen (the actor lying flat in front of a projection so that it looks like he's flying through the sky; nothing new there, they do it in pretty much everything that involves someone flying) and an ingenious method of using a lightweight papier mache dummy and sending it down a fine wire, to simulate the appearance of a man flying through the air. In every single one of these "dummy-shots" you never DON'T believe that there's a man gracefully gliding through the air. It's pretty terrific and depressingly superior to anything they did with Superman up until 1978. I'm honestly going to have trouble enjoying the George Reeves' show from now on, knowing what could have been if they'd used some of the effects from this serial.

As for the overall serial itself, I don't know if I'd even consider it the best one I've seen. It's certainly got high production values in terms of set design and special effects, but the acting from most of the characters is pretty dead. In these kinds of things, I would prefer over-acting to under-acting and sadly every actor (save for the guy who plays Billy) under-acts into oblivion. Another fault I have is that there just doesn't really seem to be a whole lot of people in it. The plot basically revolves around the group of men (one of whom is the Scorpion, who has a gang of anonymous thugs) and then Billy and his two friends. Unlike other superhero serials, there's no blustering, incompetent police chief, or nosy reporters or shifty private detectives. To be fair, the serial is bookended with rather full-scale shootouts that take place in the middle-east, involving the Scorpion tribe, but not only do these feel out of sync with the atmosphere of the rest of the serial, they also just feel out of place in what is supposed to be a superhero story. The whole story feels quite enclosed, and even though we're told that the stakes are really high, it's quite hard to believe when the plot only really shows us such a small contingent of people (I have this same problem with Smallville, almost seventy years later).

Tom Tyler, who plays Captain Marvel himself, is fairly good at what he does. He's not given a whole lot of dialogue, but when he does speak, he's usually stern, authorative and a bit menacing. He's certainly not the friendly, goofy boy scout from the comics. It's pretty obvious that they cast the guy playing Captain Marvel not because of his acting skills, but because he was also a stuntman. Most of the scenes with Captain Marvel see him either flying, performing some kind of landing acrobatic, grabbing bad guys and throwing them at other bad guys or getting shot at (with what seems to be actual blanks; they leave a small stain on the costume everytime and the actor is visually stirred every time it happens). Nonetheless, even if he doesn't do much in the way of actual acting, he has a powerful presence whenever he does appear and for my money, he looks a lot more like what a Superman-ish character is supposed to look like than the guys who actually played Superman over the succeeding twenty years.

As for young Billy Batson, the guy's practically Chuck Norris. It's a wonder they didn't call the serial "The Adventures of Billy Batson" and just not bother giving him magical powers that turn him into a superhero. Throughout the serial, Billy (a character who is still in grade-school in the comics) is seen fighting mobsters with his bare hands, driving cars around and chasing after bad guys, saving people from sinking ships and flat-out murdering fools. The guy actually shoots and kills a bad guy in the first chapter and is regularly seen with a gun. To be fair, Billy only really becomes Captain Marvel when he's caught in some kind of inescapable trap (i.e. being gassed to death, trapped in a plane that's about to explode, etc). He never really chooses to become him to, you know, make life easier.

He really only does it in case of no-win-scenarios. At the beginning of one of the later chapters, to show how Billy rescued someone from a sinking cruise ship in the middle of a lightning storm, he doesn't even become Captain Marvel at all. The guy harnesses his-self out to the sinking ship, saves the girl just as the ship plummets, and then swims back with her in tow, never even bothering to use his magical powers to save the day. Throughout the story, none of the characters really react to Billy as being "just a boy" and in one chapter, The Scorpion actually orders his men not to kill Billy because he wants to "reserve that pleasure" for himself! I'd wager that The Scorpion probably hates Billy more than Captain Marvel in this story. I'm not really sure whether it's a good or a bad thing that the writers chose to make the "secret identity" character (who is for all intents and purposes, supposed to be a little boy the target audience can relate to) a courageous man-of-might as the actual superhero of the tale, but it's hilariously awesome nonetheless and I wouldn't change it for the world. Frank Coghlan Jr, who plays Billy is pretty much the best actor in the whole thing as well and injects some much-needed energy in every scene he's in.

The villain of the piece "The Scorpion" is your generic robed, masked, Golden Age Villain. That is to say, he isn't a physical threat at all and schemes from the background for the whole story, while everyone tries to find out who he really is. There's nothing really wrong with The Scorpion and he at least looks as cool as any of the dozen other villains I've seen who are just like him in other things, but I would have preferred it if he was hammy and over-the-top. The Wizard in the Batman and Robin serial is basically the exact same character, but is far more enjoyable because of how hilariously evil he is ("Splendid! With my newfound power not even BATMAN can stop me!!"). On that subject, I am reviewing that serial so very hard in the near future.

Probably my favourite thing about the whole serial is how unneccessarily violent it is. As I mentioned before, Billy blatantly kills a guy and frequently pulls out a gun throughout the story. But I can at least deal with this, because he's supposed to be just an ordinary guy (not to mention, a fucking child who shouldn't really have a chance against these trained hitmen). What's funny though, is how often Captain Marvel himself (a guy who, because of his sheer strength, could non-lethally dispose of any living creature by tapping them once on the head and knocking them out) is seen murdering bad guys. In the very first chapter, he picks up a machine gun and uses it against three crooks. In subsequent chapters, he purposefully takes the time to throw mobsters off rooftops to their doom. People complained when Superman left three criminals to fend for themselves in the arctic in the TV show (spoiler warning... they died trying to escape) but this is far more questionable. "Captain Marvel" should really be called "Kommander Killzone" or "Sergeant Slaughterhouse". It's important to note that Captain Marvel is nothing like this in the comics. If there's anyone who's even gushier and more opposed to violence and general angriness than Superman, it's Cap.  I don't know whether it detracted from my enjoyment or from the quality of the overall serial, but I will say that it was completely insane.

Altogether, I think I'll go ahead and give "The Adventures of Captain Marvel" a score of 8/10.

It's definitely worth a look, moreso if you're a fan of cheesy old-time serials or superheroes. You don't really need to know anything about the comics (I certainly don't, beyond what I've read in Kingdom Come and what I've seen in a few episodes of Justice League). The hilariously unneccessary violence and death makes for fun for the whole family, and I'm going to have trouble thinking of a more badass "little-boy"-character in any medium than Young Billy Batson; scourge of the underworld. The serial really took the formula of "What if you could turn into a grown-up superhero at will?" and expanded it to "What if you were a badass anyway and you could also turn into a grown-up, ruthless super-vigilante at will?". While the ruthlessness of the two lead characters detracts fairly heavily from the source material, it only serves to make the experience far more enjoyable in a kitschy way. It's certainly not as epic as I would have liked, but it's still immensely enjoyable cliffhanger fun. And the special effects are flat-out astounding.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Great Viral Experiment

Everybody needs to watch this right now. For reasons that will become clearer closer to the time, my friend needs 1,000 views before December 2nd.

Much Obliged!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Why my eyebrow is cautiously raised for Snyder's Superman

So it's been all but confirmed that Zach "300 Watchmen dancing at the Dawn of the Dead" Snyder has been chosen for Warner Bros' pretty-much-last-ditch attempt to reboot Superman and introduce him to a new audience. As I mentioned before, Christopher Nolan is playing a key part in the development of this film and apparently he and David Goyer have even been the brains behind the story of this new vision.

So how do I feel about all of this?

Well, truth be told, Zach Snyder was not up there with my top choices. Mr. Snyder has literally only helmed a handful of projects. Visit his IMDb profile, if you don't believe me. And while 300 and Watchmen were both epics fairly worthy of their source material, they really didn't invigorate their respective genres a great deal. Both films were infamous for their laughable over-use of slow-motion not just in action scenes, but in bizarre love scenes as well. More importantly though, they were wrapped, lathered and absolutely bathed in CGI to the point where the film might as well have not used real actors and opted for computerised characters, instead.

It really just seems like Warner Bros. have gone with yet another "safe" choice for the Superman franchise. Zach Snyder has made a couple of reasonably successful comic book movies before, so therefore boombaby, he's hired. It really doesn't seem like there's been much of a thought process beyond that. This is exactly what WB did with Superman Returns and Bryan Singer, which turned out to be disastrous and nearly destroyed any future prospects the character had.

Not to mention, Watchmen made some rather hairy casting missteps, most notably in Malin Ackerman, who was atrocious as Silk Spectre to the point where I was angry that she had a career (I thought this during my miserable viewing of 27 Dresses, as well). Matthew Goode as Ozymandias wasn't stellar, either (although this was more a case of bad casting rather than bad acting). As my wise friend Parker said recently, all it would take is one Matthew Goode to ruin this Superman movie.

The main thing I worry about though, is that Snyder is going to go in this direction:

Over the last couple of years, numerous directors have said that they'd like to go "darker" with the Superman franchise. There's literally no reason under the sun to do this. Superman is a happy, earnest, positive character. A role model for young children. Someone whose stories should be tales of morality and decency, rather than chaotic violence and brutish, hamfisted vigilantism. Based on his previous works, I'd be inclined to think that Snyder is a member of the "Badass Brigade" who wants to portray Superman as a warrior first and a hero second. This is something that just won't do.

On the other hand, I will say that I think if Snyder had anything to do with the direction of the other performances in Watchmen (Patrick Wilson as Nite-Owl, Billy Crudup as Doc Manhattan, Jackie Earle Hayley as Rorschach and Jeffrey Dean Morgan as the Comedian), then that's one element I'm pleasantly looking forward to. All of those actors did a wonderful job in that movie and brought nuances and insights to their various characters that I hadn't noticed before.

The big thing that's keeping me from getting excited about Snyder is CGI, though. I'm really worried that his Superman movie is going to just be another exercise in exaggerated, glossy computer fakery rather than down-to-Earth verisimilitude, which is what Superman movies should always be. It's just not exciting watching a man fly if he's doing it in a magical candy-floss maple-syrup universe. Superman's environment should always be grounded in reality rather than fantasy; that's what makes the concept "believable" and that's why that first Christopher Reeve movie still works so well.

Finally, there's this dreadful rumour that this is the villain they're using:

Now don't get me wrong, I love me a bit of Kneeling Before Zod, but COME ON. The Good General has been used extensively in every single version of Superman ever, both in and outside of the comics. This is not the direction to go if Warner Bros. want a "bold re-invigoration" of the character. First and foremost, from a purely aesthetic point of view, it'll just be boring watching Superman fight someone with the exact same powers as he has. It worked really well in Superman II, because no one had ever seen anything like it before, but in this day and age with dozens of superhero movies coming out every year, people want a visually exciting and original villain.

For me, Brainiac screams "bold new direction". Brainiac is every bit the "anti-Superman" that Lex Luthor is, except in a different way. Brainiac plays off Superman because of the sinister difference in their common alien nature. Brainiac is an alien who travels to other planets of his own free will seeks to seek out all information and rule or destroy it (depending on the incarnation) whereas Superman is an alien who was sent to another planet unwittingly and chose to save that planet. It's baffling that Christopher Nolan chose Zod when there was such a perfect villain already available to him that had never been used before.

The one thing I'm sure of is that this film will not be a repeat of Superman Returns. I'd say it's a safe bet that this will be an origin movie and that it will be loaded with balls-to-the-wall action and will finally unleash the full fury of Superman's abilities.  For better or worse, I think this film is going to make Superman cool again. I only hope that in doing that, the fundamental aspects of his character and his universe are not sacrificed for the sake of mainstream appeal (*cough* JJ Abrams' Star Trek *cough*) and that this truly is a bold new step in the history of Superman.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

How Japanese Spider-Man Defeated The Toothache Alligator Monster

Spider-Man is in many ways one of the best and most important superheroes ever created. The character popularised the notion of more rounded characterisations in comics with an origin steeped in even more tragedy than Batman's and a private life with far more complications and setbacks than Clark Kent's. Comic books and superheroes took a big step forward thanks to the Webbed Wonder and it's all thanks to those classic elements introduced by Stan "The Man" Lee all the way back in 1964.

...but in Japan, they didn't agree.

Skip forward to 1978. The Toei Corporation in Japan reaches an exclusive deal with Marvel whereby it is allowed to use several of Marvel's characters for a number of years in whatever way it chooses.

This is what they came up with.

Instead of envisioning Spider-Man as an awkward, socially inept teenager named Peter Parker who is lovingly cared for by his overprotective Aunt May and Uncle Ben; the hero of this incarnation of the story is instead a "motorcycle racer" by the name of Takuya Yamashiro who, after obtaining a bracelet from the last survivor of the planet "Spider" (no, I'm not joking) he obtains spider-like powers and abilities and is given powerful vehicles including a "Spider-Car"...

...and a giant robot named Leopardon. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, you heard me correctly. In this confused Japanese mess, the man in the spider costume is given a giant robot named after a completely different member of the animal kingdom.

With these helpful tools at his disposal, Spiderman (and no, the hyphen does not exist in this incarnation) does battle with the sinister and malevolent "Professor Monster" who wins the "Doctor Doom Award for Most Original Supervillain Name of All Time".

I'm pretty stumped as to how and why this ever saw fit to exist. If Brand Recognition was ever a factor in its creation, did it really matter so little that this show resemble its source material?

In any event, its ridiculousness is such that it's completely awesome in a batshit insane kind of a way. I'm a big fan of superhero shows, but I'm not sure any of them can boast episode titles like "The Animate Accessory is the Beetle Spy of Love", "Transformation to a Splendid Murder Machine" or (my personal favourite) "I Saw The Tears of the Snake Woman in the Fires of Hell".

Thanks to my friend Tom Maher, it was brought to my attention that the good people at Marvel.Com have uploaded the entire series onto their merry website. So, I sat myself down and watched "The First Tin Plate Evening Star and the Boys' Detective Club" also known in some circles as "The Twinkling Star of Twilight and the Youth Detective Club". Easy knowing I'm not really ever likely to become a Japanese translator.

The episode opens with the already-posted-opening with the singer's freakish cries of "YEAH YEAH YEAH WOOOOWW!!" (it was probably considered cool and gritty to put trendy Western words like that into things). You might notice that in the first couple of frames, Spiderman actually does some pretty Spider-Man-Like things including climbing up buildings, hopping around in the darkness and (everyone's favourite) posing at the camera with his arms pointed outward and his body perched down.

Everything soon changes however, when Spider-Man's giant leopard robot is given precedence in the opening ("Let's sell some toys!!!").

Our story begins with a sleazy Japanese man talking to what looks like an air hostess as he demands ten billion yen for the plot device "botulism bacteria" which he has created. The subtitles claim that the sleazy man informs the mysterious woman that his bacteria is "the best!". However, the actual Japanese dialogue has him saying that it is "NUMBAAAH WAN!"

This is just one of many strange examples of Japanese dialogue awkwardly incorporating Western phrases for no apparent reason. Maybe they actually do this in Japanese conversation. If so, that's pretty funny.

As it happens, the sleazy man's niece Miyumi is watching this sordid exchange take place (even spotting the sleazy man hiding the Bacteria capsule away, after air hostess leaves) and sees fit to contact her eccentric friend; the leader of the "Sunset Youth Detective Agency" (basically a gang of idiot children who run around with toy swords and capes causing trouble and annoying people). Said friend has clearly modelled himself on some sort of hybrid of Basil Rathbone's Sherlock Holmes, Humphrey Bogart's Philip Marlowe and a generic  sheriff.

The young leader, name of 'Sanpei', is haplessly trying to convince the other members of the "Detective Agency" to accompany him on more adventures, but they are too interested in trivial things like studying and academia. It's here that we get our first glimpse of Takuya (aka Spiderman) who intervenes in his civilian form, when a fight ensues amongst the youngsters after which he gives us this glorious establishing profile shot:

It's here that the episode shows us how warped its morals are. Sanpei wants his friends to accompany him on his imaginary adventures and yet they feel obliged to adhere to their academic responsibilities. The little weirdo thinks they have no sense of loyalty and should be helping him play around in his little fantasy world instead of doing productive work and Spiderman agrees with him. Go figure.

After Takuya and the other youngsters depart, the young niece gives Sanpei the bacteria capsule and tells him to hide it and not tell anyone where it is. Sanpei pinky-swears that the secret is safe with him.

We cut back to the sleazy uncle's house where the air hostess woman (apparently her name is Amazoness) threatens to kill him with Amazonian poison darts (guess that makes sense; except that she's blatantly Japanese and not Amazonian) unless he gives her the bacteria capsule. Meanwhile, the young niece is kidnapped by Grey Jumpsuit Henchmen (think of the Putty Patrollers from Power Rangers). Takuya happens to be conveniently passing by on his motorcycle when his SPIDER SENSE DETECTS SOMETHING OMG.

The Putty Patrollers bring Miyumi back into the house where Amazoness questions her as to where the bacteria is. Spiderman intervenes giving us our first look at the wallcrawler in the episode and setting off possibly the funniest and lamest superhero/supervillain battle in the history of the concept of superheroes.

In fact, it's bigger than just superheroes. This might just be the silliest battle in the history of good-versus-evil. For the first time in human existence, the hero triumphs over the villain because there might be cake over there


The idea that Spiderman could deduce that because some sort of anthropomorphic alligator-beast would have a sweet tooth based solely on the fact that he is known for having a toothache and then actually defeating the villain with a half-assed ruse based on this knowledge is just too brilliantly stupid an idea for me to not appreciate. It's so completely lazy, so exclusively senseless and utterly devoid of effort on the writers' parts that I love them for it. It's original and brilliant and I will hear nothing else.

So the sleazy uncle guy "goes unconscious" (they probably had to be careful with doling out deaths on a kids' TV show) having been shot by one of the poison darts, leaving our heroes stumped. We cut to Professor Monster's villainous lair, which is conveniently located on the corner of Neon Purple Avenue and Neon Green St.

Professor Monster is angry that his minions have not retrieved the Botilisum Bacteria and instructs them to search harder as he affixes golden teeth onto the fallen alligator beast. Yes, that's what happens.

So later, Takuya spies on Miyumi and Sanpei as Miyumi explains to the "detective" why she stole the bacteria. Sanpei is just about to reveal where he hid it, when Takuya's sisters (well...I guess he's got sisters in this, just like Peter Parker never did) grab Takuya and bring him fishing with them. Essentially, Spiderman is delayed from learning an important plot point because his sisters force him to go fishing with them over there.

Initially this seems like a rather out of the blue suggestion and then we realise that it was just even more sensationally lazy writing, so that the Toothache Alligator could return into the scene. Takuya reels him in and the plot device sisters flee the scene and indeed the episode. Miyumi and Sanpei (who are apparently still close by) take off as well, but are apprehended by more Putty Patrollers (who are disguised as ordinary soldiers, for no apparent reason). Spiderman manages to hand the Putties their asses and Miyumi and Sanpei escape.

The two fugitives then figure that they'll need the combined power of the Youth Detective Agency to aid them in their perilous plight of puerility. Unfortunately, they're inexplicably caught by the bad guys again and thrown into a car before they have a chance to convince their disillusioned detective deputies. Sanpei, quick on his feet, drops his Detective badge out the window, suspiciously bending one of its edges. Spiderman conveniently pull up in his stealthy spider car...

...and finds the clue left by Sanpei. The other members of the club tell Spiderman that the curvature of the badge was an SOS left by Sanpei. For some stupid, unexplained reason, Spiderman makes the kids feel guilty about not helping him defeat the bad guys.

That's right. The guy with the spider powers, the spider car and the GIANT SPIDER ROBOT tries to get a bunch of kids help him defeat a gang of murderers instead of doing their homework. This show is fucked three ways towards the long weekend.

We then see the other detectives musing for a moment as maudlin clips of the young idiots engaging in previous "adventures" is shown. We see them running around committing various acts of buffoonery, none of which have much to do with detective work. We even see them get told off by an actual policeman who tells them to stop annoying people. My favourite part is when we see them eating rice in a field, for no apparent reason.

Were the producers trying to get these kids a spinoff show or something?!

So yeah, they agree to help Spiderman in what's sure to be a suicide quest on their parts. They show Spiderman their "secret emergency drop box" where sure enough, Sanpei has left them a note. Sure enough, the deus-ex-messagina reveals where the bacteria is hidden and in the next scene when the baddies go to open the container of the critical capsule, the box is empty omg!

Spiderman appears out of nowhere and reveals that he has the capsule and this beautiful exchange takes place:

That's right, folks. In order for Japanese Spider-Man to use the most famous ability Spider-Man has, he has to cry out "SPYDAAAHSTRINGUSS!" like a shell-shocked Nazi general. I'm not going to lie. This might replace "Feel the Fury!" as my new catchphrase. It's just that awesome. I may never stop exclaiming it.

Spiderman does battle with the villains, the toothache alligator turns giant (as per all Japanese kids shows) and Spiderman has to call on the power of his giant robot leopardon who makes short work of the amphibious behemoth. Unfortunately it has nothing to do with cake this time. He just hits him with a sword. Contrived.

The kids wave goodbye to Spiderman (all of them surprisingly jubilant considering he tried to get them killed) and the insane hero tells us that one day the Youth Detective Agency will disband...

...which makes sense, given that they're probably not going to live long enough to hit puberty given that there's crazed monsters running through the streets and the only hero the world has is telling them to go and fight the monsters, even though he's quite capable of doing that himself.

This is probably the most entertaining piece of crap I've seen in a long, long while. The initial battle between Spiderman and the 'Toothache Alligator' would be funny enough even without the immortal resolution. And I may never stop screaming "SPYDAAAHSTRINGUSS!" when I do something cool.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A Canadian Overview: The Prodigal Gothamite Returns

So my Canadian exile has come to a close and I find myself back on Irish shores. The experience was thoroughly notable in that I laughed, I cried, I yelled, I sighed, I worked, I lazed, I drank, I ate, I drank some more and I even managed to fall in love a little bit.

But, as Captain Picard once said, all good things must come to an end and such was the nature of my excursion. For reasons monetary and academic, I found myself having to wave goodbye to the sleek city pastures (heh) of Toronto, its well laid out city streets, its curious architecture, its peoples, foods and customs and finally, the friends I made and lost in the time I spent there.

The trip was certainly the greatest experience I have had the pleasure of enjoying in my life thus far. I managed to learn quite a bit about myself where my various personality traits and disorders are concerned and I'm confident that I'm going to be able to make a few necessary changes in the way I look at and act in life.

But it wasn't all just about deep, internal reflection.

I'm going to miss the fuck out of Tim Horton's, Cora Pizza, The 88, street Hot Dogs and the various beers I became accustomed to during the many reckless, feckless, drunken nights I spent wandering the streets with my compadres and associates. As much as I love the fair city in which I grew up, we are a little bit culturally inept when it comes to quality food and drink at discount prices. It's either McDonalds or Luigi Malones. It's either Dutch Gold or €300 champagne. Perhaps I'm exaggerating, but there's very little in the way of affordably decent refreshments in our once-economically bloated burg. It also pisses me off that donuts just don't really exist here, except for those ones you get in the supermarket, which while nice, are not really the same thing.

You may be wondering about CanadaQuest (one of the big surprises of the Summer was finding out how many people actually watch it or have at least seen one or two episodes of it). The fact of the matter is I still have a mess of footage from Niagara Falls, Fan Expo (a comic book convention I found myself attending), and various days of hanging out in my cousins' house and Parker's humble abode. There is at least two episodes worth of footage still lurking around on my hard-drive and I can assure you that before the Summer is out, they will exist as episodes, in some form or another. I was delighted with how that whole thing worked out, even if it is a bit cheesy. Even now, watching some of the older ones brings me right back to when I filmed them and I'm hoping they'll serve as time capsules for years to come.

So to all of you who followed my adventures through YouTube, Facebook and even here (on the odd occasion when I decided to write anything) I thank you for making the journey even more memorable. Let's just hope I can find my way back there, someday.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Why this has been d gr8st Sumer ever LOLZ!

Right, well to all two of my loyal fans and devoted readers, I do apologise for the notable absence of overblown, pretentious text that usually replenishes itself every week or so. I've been rather a bit a busy for this whole 'blogging' lark, not to mention, I've been focusing most of my creative energies on more visual endeavours. So yeah, sorry about that, chaps.

In any event, my Torontonian Excursion is very much in full swing and while I would love to say that I will be staying here for another two months or years or decades (the word 'love' not only doesn't how I feel justice, but is criminally inaccurate), sadly this more than likely will not be the case thanks to some idiot deciding millennia ago that you have to have these little bits of paper with pictures on them, in order to live away from home. If anyone would be so kind as to deposit a heft sum of cash (preferably €18 million), I will madly, gladly, definitely stay. For realz.

Anyway, rather than being melancholy about all of this, I have decided to take a quick look back on all of the awesome that happened this Summer in Canada; most of which I didn't have the luxury of being able to record as part of CanadaQuest.

First of all, there was the riots and the earthquake, which were surreal and unforgettable. Most of what I managed to film of the riots was interesting, but unremarkable. Most of what I actually saw will probably stay with me for life. I've mentioned time and time again that most of the people that were shown in newspaper pictures the next day as being beaten or distressed by the G20 "Peace Officers" bloody well had it coming. For example, this guy:

...who was seen by my friends and I drunkenly stumbling through the streets, shouting incoherent nonsense and (at one point) hanging from a telephone cable while his loyal (similarly intoxicated followers) cheered in adulation. What's this got to do with protesting?

Anyway, another great thing that happened was when my friend Parker and I went to see Scott Pilgrim vs The World and we were able to spot him as an extra in one of the gig/battle scenes (Scott-vs-The Kayatanagi Bros.). Watch the movie with me and I can point him out to you. We saw Inception very soon after its opening and it blew all of our minds and is Master and Commander of the Universe.

Other fun stuff includes me finding basically every random worthless comic and similar literature I've ever, ever wanted for next to nothing in various locations throughout the city, most notably The Silver Snail. At this rate, I actually avoid the place because I know that if I go in, I'm just going to find some reason to spend loads of money. Then just last week, I was walking outside of it and I saw an ad for Fan Expo 2010 which I will be attending throughout this weekend. Guests include Stan Lee, Adam West...and William Shatner. You all know how badly I have to go to this.

Tomorrow Donal, Parker and I head to Niagara Falls where we will recreate movie scenes set there nerdishly, and hopefully get married on the Maid of the Mist.

(That last part probably won't happen)

At this point in time, there isn't really all that many complaints I can make about this place. I love my job, the weather is great, there's so many things to do and I don't miss home for a second. The only real complaint I have is that Canadian mobile phone providers are a bunch of thieving scoundrels. I've spent well over $100 on credit here, where at home I would barely have spent $15. That's the only thing I actually miss about home. Also I bought a bunch of cup noodle-type things the other day and they are atrocious and nigh inedible. I can't believe I'm saying this, but I miss Koka Noodles.

Other than that, though, it's been pretty damn good so far. Here's to smooth sailing from here on out.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

My Top 10 Favourite TV Themes

Ah, the TV theme! A blissful minute or so of "Pep Rally Programming" (a term I have just now coined) that lets you get psyched for the episode ahead, after a day, a week (or possibly even some months) without your favourite programme and its loveable characters.


Well...not always.

Anyway, the sad fact is that a lot of contemporary TV shows choose not to carry a theme tune because it takes time away from screentime you could use to be telling the story. Heroes, Supernatural, Lost and How I Met Your Mother are all privy to this. In a way, it makes perfect sense as the viewer is getting the most bang for their...TV licence fees. But it's sad to say goodbye to the era of pompous, fourth-wall breaking, grandiose music blaring TV openers.

So, without further ado, I present my favourite TV opening themes.

10. Police Squad

Everything I love about the three hours of sublime, impenetrable comedic ecstasy that is Police Squad! is found right here in its theme tune. The mock sincerity of everyone involved is hilarious and in a way it's even funnier that people in the early 80s just didn't get it and changed the channel before the machine-gun barrage of jokes could mow them down like cheap counterfeiters. I really wish the series had lasted a whole lot longer than it did, though.

 9. Spider-Man 1967

The ditty to the endearingly crap original Spider-Man cartoon from 1967 (just a few short years after the character's creation); it says an awful lot about the effectiveness of a cartoon's theme tune when kids are still humming its lyrics (which are deceptively clever, explaining exactly what the character does in a way that's cool and exciting) forty years later, even if most of them have never even seen the show.

8. Batman Beyond 

Easily my favourite of the DC animated series themes because it's just so visually engaging and different from the others, as well as having a theme tune that trades in the usual mix of choirs and timeless instruments for a contemporary heavy metal sound that grabs you by the balls and keeps on a-twistin'. I also love how this theme tune accompanied a show that was created to make Batman more accessible to kiddies. The bleak, tech noir feel of it is practically the animation team giving the middle finger to the WB execs who made that suggestion. Even my own mother exclaimed "Why are they dancing like that?!" when she first saw it, ten years ago.

7. Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman

Right so, you've definitely noticed that this is getting pretty superhero heavy at this point. Whatever, sue me. Superheroes are given the grandest entrances and this show is no exception (unfortunately the superior Season One intro isn't letting me embed...). I love how this show was so unapologetic in its approach and you get that straight away from the theme tune. It's funny, quirky, dramatic and dashing and it pumps you up for what's to come. Most importantly, it sounds nothing like any of the other Superman theme tunes (which tend to all just sound like rehashes of the movie's music). Hearing this theme always reminds me of Saturdays in my old house, in my pyjamas. The Big, Big Movie on RTE One, followed by this and the RoboCop show on Network Two. Juvenile Bliss.

6. South Park Season 6

It won't let me embed this unfortunately, but it simply can't not be on this list (click on Butters' cunning disguise to be brought to the video in all it's glory. I specifically love the intro for Season Six because it includes Timmy in the at-that-time "permanently dead" Kenny's place. Timmy was more effective than Kenny and every time one of these episodes comes on (which is probably my favourite season overall), I'm already laughing during the opening credits. Butters pathetically proclaiming the show to be "The Butters Show" at the end makes it even more endearing.

5. Father Ted 

If you could somehow transfer the feeling of a bewildered sigh into a piece of music, you'd probably come up with the Father Ted theme (later adapted into "Songs of Love" by Divine Comedy, who wrote all the music for the series). The theme perfectly evokes all of poor aul' Ted's feelings of grudging acceptance with the awful Parish he's been forced to reside in and the fake smiles he puts up for everyone, when really he'd love to leave the place in the dust. The visuals wonderfully capture the atmosphere of the lovably pathetic Craggy Island and every time you hear those opening bars, you know you're in for a divine 30 minutes of comedy no matter how often you've seen the episodes (has it really been 14 years since the show ended?!).

4. Smallville

Specifically the first season and a few after that, before the show got up its own ass and started breaking the fourth wall with the actors smiling sexily at us. Those early openings are indicative of the show's stronger seasons, when that song actually meant something, when it was a story (that was actually going somewhere) about a young man discovering his destiny while still learning about the world around him, in the hopes that he could maybe do something good with the god-like abilities he was given. It truly was a show about how Clark Kent became Superman. Unfortunately, when the show lost its way and went on and on and on and on for years, it just became a show about sexy young things with superpowers that's completely unlike any Superman origin I've ever seen or ever wanted to see. It's shown flickers of promise in the 9th season of being able to reclaim its former glory, but I don't think I can hold my breath any longer.

3. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

The opening theme for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was nothing short of a stroke of marketing genius. The producers clearly realised what a weird and potentially disastrous concept they had on their hands, so they just went for broke and pitched the whole premise of the show to the viewers, as quickly as possible. In just 59 short seconds, the song explains to the viewer who and what the characters are (as well as outlining their two dimensional personalities) why they're ninjas and that they aren't at all willing to cut the evil Shredder "no slack". Basically, the theme tune summed up why the Turtles are awesome. Upon seeing this, every child saw fit to go out and spend all of their hard earned allowance on Turtles merchandise and a billion dollar franchise was born.

2. Beverly Hills 90210 

Wonderfully, intoxicatingly, deliriously 90s. And characters breaking the fourth wall to smile and pose fashionably at the audience is totally fine when they're this awesome.

1. Friends

A no-brainer. Like Father Ted, there's something very comforting and relaxing from this opening, which I've seen hundreds and hundreds of times. It perfectly sets up the characters and each and every season is excellently timed to the beat of the catchy theme song with sight gags from the episodes. It's also great how well the footage of the Friends dancing around the fountain (which my good friend Parker believes to be the site of a modelling shoot Joey invited everyone else along for) works even in the later episodes where the actors have aged noticeably. I really doubt I'll ever get sick of hearing the Friends theme.

Special Mention!

Jay Gruska's Supernatural End Credits Theme

This one doesn't count because it only features in the closing credits (Supernatural is one of the many contemporary shows that has a two-second title-screen instead of an opening credits sequence) but the music captures everything I love about this show. Rock n' roll, hard-hitting badassery and epic twists. Unfortunately, this theme only appears in about 40% of the episodes because whenever the other composer Christopher Lennertz composes an episode, he uses his own theme tune which isn't as good.