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A classic example of too many ignorant cooks in the kitchen., 10 May 2010

Howard is a duck person from a far flung planet that has been accidentally sucked to earth due to an accident that occurs when the testing of an experimental laser telescope goes awry. Confused and despondent over what has happened to him he grumbles over his sad lot in life until a chance meeting causes him to leap to the defense of a young rocker by the name of Beverly Switzler. Intrigued by Howard she takes him into her life -- and her bed -- and attempts to both acclimate him to life on Earth whilst attempting to help figure out how he came to be here and if it's possible for him to return to his home planet. Through a close friend they do eventually find out how it happened, but before they can attempt to recreate the accident in reverse (yeah that always works) another accident occurs during testing...but this time something far worse and evil has arrived.

Considered a MASSIVE misstep by pretty much everyone involved in this project the film was not only a big financial and critical failure, but also the butt of many a joke for quite a while. A classic example of not only too many cooks who don't know what they're doing in the kitchen, but even those at the core of its creation had seemingly no idea of the true nature and spirit of the Howard the Duck comics and hoo brother does it show! Although I suppose to most people it was just a bad movie, but to a long standing comic book fan this was yet another painful representation of a beloved character on the silver screen. Which I suppose sort of makes me have to come clean about something....

I am indeed a big comic book nerd and at the time a very big Howard the Duck fan as were many of my friends. Quite routinely this film gets brought up as a very bad movie and although I haven't fully disputed this in the past, I have defended it somewhat as more of a poorly executed mediocre movie with some very nice scenes of Lea Thompson in her underwear as, like many a young man in the '80s, we had quite a crush on the wee lass. So for no particular reason at all I decided to revisit the film and see how much I could still enjoy it.

I didn't enjoy it.

Yes I do have to admit that the movie is pretty bad and it makes me rather sad looking back wondering what could have been. Obviously when the movie was initially announced my friends and I were pretty happy and pleasantly surprised. Initially we were skeptical but at the time Lucas was coming off of his Star Wars films and still had a good name creatively speaking. He was also revealed to be something of a fan of the Howard comics so we felt that this could be a solid comic book film albeit a slightly odd choice. On hindsight it all makes tons of sense as to why this whole thing was a disaster. I mean, if you told anyone NOW that Lucas was going to make an "A" picture involving Howard the Duck your reaction would be "Nooooooooo!" much like Vader did resulting in much unintentional humor.

It's funny but kind of sad to watch the writers of Howard the Duck these days talk about the movie looking back as they attempt to defend it by making statements about how people just needed to relax and accept the movie for the silly fun ride that it was supposed to be. "It's not an existential movie" they would proclaim! "It's just a fun movie that was probably a bit ahead of its time". Oy. Let me explain something to the non comic book nerds out there...Howard the Duck was an extremely existential comic book as well as mixing in some rather long bouts of surrealism -- THAT'S why it was funny. The creator Steve Gerber used that template to then poke farcical takes on the ridiculous nature of popular Marvel heroes and villains. But at the core Howard as always just Howard attempting to get by in life no matter what it threw at him and all the while we slowly got to know everything thing about this "average" duck both inside and out.

But obviously they didn't get it -- not the writers, not the studio, not Lucas...nobody. Again, on hindsight it all seems so obvious, but at the time it seemed like it all might work. To be fair there are some good moments. Lea Thompson, besides being quite fetching in little clothing, is quite fitting as Beverly even though she's obviously not exactly the curvaceous model that she was in the comic. But her attitude and quick acceptance of Howard as a person as well as her interaction with him are actually quite charming. Character actor Jeffrey Jones also delivers a quite amusing performance as an alien possessed scientists slowly devolving/involving into a horrific looking creature. It's kind of funny to note that Vincent D'Onofrio gave a very similar performance as Edgar the Bug in Men in Black.

There's also some nice stunt work, excellent puppet work, and some excellent physical performance by Ed Gale who had to do pretty much every scene completely blind as he couldn't see out of the suit. But in the end it's just another bad comic book movie put together by a bunch of people who completely misunderstood the source material. They just thought that it was a silly book about a talking duck and threw a bunch of duck and bird-related puns and jokes in there and that was about it.

Really just an awful movie although part of me will always remember it a little fondly due to my love for Howard in general.

Iron Man 2 (2010)
18 out of 33 people found the following review useful:
An enjoyable banter-filled character driven super-hero film., 10 May 2010

A delightful banter heavy super-hero film in which the emphasis of the film is clearly put on the character of the film and less so on the super-heroic exploits and trials that comic-based films generally focus upon. The diminished focus on action pieces might threaten to bog the picture down but the character interactions and their barbed-filled vocal exchanges keep the film moving along at a clean pace until the inevitable CG heavy battle scenes.

Not that there is a lack of money spent in terms of CG wizardry on the screen. But instead of merely focusing their efforts on the suit battles, the film is littered with highly detailed sets and the constant use of extremely high-tech holographic touch sensitive technology is all pervasive. Not to diminish the skirmishes involving the Iron Man suit though as they are fun to watch, very smoothly executed and very aesthetically pleasing especially Micky Rourke's frankensteined creation clashing with Tony Stark's ultra-slick technology.

The plot itself treads no particular new ground although it does attempt to through in a great many sub-plots and personal dilemmas for the ample cast of characters to deal with. The problem with most of these dilemmas is that they generate very little serious drama as they are mainly dealt with in either a succinct manner or are treated in a rather glib fashion and things just sort of seem to work themselves out almost accidentally due to the increased amount of events and characters involved basically just diluting the situation to the point that it almost seems an afterthought when it is reconciled. This casual dismissive tone carries over to the antagonists as the film spreads itself out a little too thin to the point that what should have been powerful character conflicts involving the major characters just seem like minor scuffles.

There is also the odd sort of underlying theme of a stereo-typical conservative American approach to the way in which the film idolizes weaponry and pushes the agenda that America possessing the most powerful weapon in the world would undoubtedly result in an increase in world peace. Then there's also the extra step the film takes that Americans apparently feel more comfortable in having a shallow, fun-loving, but seemingly trust worthy private individual in possession of the most powerful weapon in the world but not their own government.

Is the writer trying to make a statement about the current mental state of American with the increase in paranoia and private militias or is it just more poorly thought out Hollywood worship of the Dirty Harry one man army character doing things we are afraid to take responsibility for? The film makes an attempt to explore the folly of this approach by the sudden attack of Ivan Vanko utilizing similar technology that supposedly was beyond the reach of the rest of the world as promised by Stark. This is then further compounded by a frustrated military friend being able to utilize one of the suits which seems improbable considering the vast amount of hack proof machinery that Stark regularly employs. But like with most issues in Iron Man these are just brushed aside or ignored in the face of an impending threat and we are left wondering what became of all that anyways? But despite all these faults I found the film infectiously enjoyable. Despite the fact that many characters aren't utilized to their fullest, they are immediately compelling and a joy to watch when they are on the screen. Micky Roarke is incredibly fun to watch as he is both a brutal thug and a introverted technology wizard who is only truly friendly to his father and his bird. Tony's relationship with his ambiguously defined girlfriend Pepper Potts is very engaging and their constant over-lapping dialogue exchanges were genuinely funny and wholly natural. Of course most of this has to do with Robert Downey Jr.'s great acting abilities and he really elevates the quality of the movie with his level of skill.

Despite the intensely glib tone of the movie I found the whole thing very enjoyable. There's nothing new here to be sure, but the abilities of everyone involved elevate the movie as a whole into a very satisfying experience.

3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
An infectious fun-filled super hero romp filled with adventure!, 10 May 2010

Along with several comic-book hero films from the '90s (The Rocketeer, The Shadow) The Phantom was another attempt to make a period piece comic-book film by utilizing a sort of retro cool aesthetic combined with a non-traditional hero in an attempt to create something a bit different and hopefully more inclusive and attractive to an audience of non modern era comic-book fans. Much like those other films the hoped for crossover audience didn't surface as super-hero films still didn't have a large enough fan-base outside of the core built-in audience to stray too far from the more iconic heroes and and the film died a quick death at the box-office. Thankfully the movie has picked up an ever growing cult following on DVD and so it remains in circulation and is easily found.

Working off of a script by Jeffrey Boam the movie was originally scheduled to be directed by Joe Dante and lean a bit more heavily into being a parody of a high-adventure serial films. After the scheduled shooting dates were pushed forward Dante left and a long time fan of The Phantom character Simon Wincer took over the project. Simon decided to approach the material a bit more seriously and this results in the lines being delivered with more of a wry wink tone to them that serves the material rather well and works well to keep some of the stereo-typical characters from becoming a bit too heavy-handed.

The Phantom is a movie of very high adventure and there are plenty of harrowing escapes and large scale chases to be had. The film is uses the outdoor locations to their fullest and they are both grand and beautiful and a perfect backdrop for the adventure filled world of The Phantom and his adversaries to interact within. Unfortunately some of the indoor sets don't favor as well and the impact and wonderment that earlier scenes evoked are greatly reduced to some cheap-looking sets. The end scene pirate lair in particular looks a bit more like a Disney ride location than a pirate hideout of The Phantom's lifelong enemies.

But overall The Phantom is a very fun film and although full of clichéd characters, the actors pull it off with suitable skill and the pervasive positive tone helps to carry the film as it quickly moves from one location to the next. Character development is a bit thin, but the film propels forward at a fairly rapid pace so this doesn't really hinder it much. A sorely overlooked film that delivers a rollicking good adventure that's whose fun is infectious and charming.