- Posted by Johanna on November 30, 2013 at 10:54 am
- Category: Books and Prose
Agatha Christie fans will be pleased to know that HarperCollins has made available as an ebook this oddity, an early draft story that later became the novel Dead Man’s Folly.
According to the publisher, the genesis of this story was an attempt by Christie to raise money for stained glass windows in her local church. She was going to write a story called “The Greenshore Folly” and give the rights to a fund for that purpose. However, the story’s length prevented its sale, so Christie turned the story into the novel and wrote another story, “Greenshaw’s Folly” (this time with Miss Marple) for the church.
Hercule Poirot and the Greenshore Folly is the original, unsold story. It’s being called a “lost classic”, but it’s really more of an insight into the creative process, how Christie fleshed out a story into a novel. The first two chapters are pretty much the same, as are the murder, the ending, and the mystery solution. It’s the details in the middle that are missing here.
Poirot is summoned to Sir George Stubbs’ Greenshore House by mystery writer Ariadne Oliver. She’s been hired to create a fake murder for a local festival, but she has a premonition that something’s going to go wrong. She turns out to be right when the village girl playing the victim winds up murdered for real. The Folly is a small temple-like architectural element on the grounds that’s used as one of the settings for the mystery as well as a way to symbolize the futility of trying to get away with murder. (The publisher provided a digital review copy.)
- Posted by Johanna on November 29, 2013 at 3:53 pm
- Category: Movies/TV
The fourth and final season of The Adventures of Superboy is now available from the Warner Archive made-on-demand online DVD store.
As with the previous season, this one begins with a two-parter, “A Change of Heart”. While Clark Kent (Gerard Christopher) is upset over Lana Lang (Stacy Haiduk) dating rich bad guy Adam Verrell (Michael Des Barres, wonderful at monologuing ominously to himself), incidents of random violence are breaking out all over the city. Meanwhile, former supervillain Tommy Puck (Bill Mumy, not really up to the emotional swings of the character) has been released from jail after a change of heart caused by his diagnosis with a deadly disease.
Because The Adventures of Superboy is a show suitable for kids, the violent acts are cheesy things like a mind-controlled priest pushing a baby carriage into traffic. In the second part, we add “losing inhibitions”, as a woman starts a strip tease for her co-workers. It only consists of shaking her hair out of its ponytail and taking off her suit jacket, though. I was mildly tickled by how the whole thing was due to the giant new city TV screens sending out a subliminal signal. I’m always amused when TV shows blame TV for being bad.
This isn’t the place to start for a new viewer, if you care about continuity, since character interactions and history are referred to but not really explained. However, the motivations are broad enough that it all can be pieced together sufficiently, particularly if you’re familiar with typical comic-book-style plotting.
Selected Episode Notes
The next episode, “The Kryptonite Kid”, was written by former DC editors Andy Helfer and Michael Carlin. It’s about a scientist (Jay Underwood) who gets infected by the deadly mineral and gains superpowers after a lab accident. Plus, there’s a gum-chewing musclehead type who happens to look just like Superboy. “Paranoia” guest-stars Jack Larson and Noel Neill (wonderful to see them both again!) in a murder mystery involving aliens.
Lex Luthor (Sherman Howard) returns in the fifth episode, “Darla Goes Ballistic”, which Howard also wrote. Darla (Tracy Roberts) is his brassy gal pal, and she gets super-intelligence and other mental abilities after an experiment, which makes her a tyrant. (I’m noting an odd anti-science theme on the show, or maybe it was just an easy plot on the show’s budget.)
J.M DeMatteis wrote the two-parter “Know Thine Enemy”, also starring Lex, where he threatens to destroy the world by exploding a dirty bomb. Plus, we learn more about Lex’s past, including his love for his sister Lena, as Superboy explores Lex’s youth in a virtual reality recreation. DeMatteis also wrote “Into the Mystery”, with a ghost and Clark’s dying aunt, and the two-part “To Be Human”, with Bizarro wanting to be normal (after his happy home life with Bizarro Lana is disrupted when she suddenly explodes).
Bizarro and Lex appear again in “Who is Superboy?”, but only as part of a clip show. The bureau where Clark and Lana intern has a new supercomputer that can recreate events on video given news photos and history information. Using the computer, Lana reviews past adventures in an attempt to figure out Superboy’s secret identity. It’s followed by another clip show, this one written by Gerard Christopher. In “Cat and Mouse”, Clark has to avoid revealing his secret identity to a psychiatrist, played by Erin Gray.
The last few stories are a bit grim. “Obituary For a Superhero” uses a fake news show structure to talk about what Superboy meant to various people when he’s thought to be dead. “Metamorphosis” involves a gym owner (wrestler Roddy Piper) killing teenagers by stealing their youth, and Lana’s one of those affected. The series concludes with “Rites of Passage”, a two-parter by Andy Helfer and Michael Carlin in which Superboy’s powers go haywire. That’s interspersed with his parents’ memories of raising him, a mysterious crystal found in Smallville, and the risk of him losing his powers forever.
The Set Overall
There are 22 episodes, each about 21 minutes, on three discs in The Adventures of Superboy fourth season set. The material is good quality, given that these DVDs are made from videotapes of a TV show that first ran over twenty years ago. In fidelity to the original airings, the “In Stereo Where Available” opening screen and the “Superboy will return after this message” ad break announcements are included in the episodes. I also appreciated smart chapter markers, so you can skip the opening the ending credits when you’re watching a bunch at once.
The Adventures of Superboy is lightweight, often cheesy, but it’s a pleasure to see simple superhero stories that wrap up with the hero doing the right thing, beating bad guys without ever stooping to their level or angsting over his powers. For a limited time, orders will receive copies signed by Gerard Christopher. (The studio provided a review copy.)
- Posted by Johanna on November 28, 2013 at 6:24 pm
- Category: Movies/TV
In Drinking Buddies, out on DVD December 3, Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson) work together at a small Chicago brewery. They’re great friends, teasing each other during the work day and going out drinking with other employees after work. They wind up vacationing together at a lake cabin with their significant others; Luke’s been with Jill (Anna Kendrick) for several years, while Kate is dating Chris (Ron Livingston).
The question in the viewer’s mind is “why aren’t Kate and Luke together?” since they seem to have more in common than either does with their partner. In my mind, Jill and Chris are more interesting and desirable people, since I kept worrying about whether Kate and Luke are technically alcoholics. We rarely see them without a beer in hand or nearby.
A later sequence, during an apartment move, shows off how immature the two leads can be, particularly when faced with the need to make rapid decisions. I suppose the question of whom you date and whom you’re friends with, now that women and men hang out together socially with fewer boundaries, is a complex one for many people, and showing the complications on-screen reflects many people’s experiences.
I’m not sure how best to describe this film. It’s billed as a comedy, but there aren’t jokes or, in my case, much laughter. It’s more a slice-of-life picture, spending an hour and a half just hanging out with these folks as they wander through their existence. “Mumblecore” seems appropriate, since there’s lots of talking aimed at capturing realism, which means ums and pauses and dialogue that doesn’t go anywhere. The movie was improvised, with no set script (just plot points), which explains the looseness, lack of focus, and open ending.
Those who like it call it “honest”; those who don’t will think it’s a waste of time. While realism can be a virtue, I expect more structure and payoff to my films. I know people say “well, life doesn’t have pat endings”, but I’m watching a movie. If I wanted something just like life, I wouldn’t need to see a film. Then again, maybe it’s better if you drink. If you like beer, you’ll want one while watching this.
Drinking Buddies will likely appeal to those who can identify with and relate to the young adult cast, characters who haven’t been forced to grow up and don’t understand why they should when their aimless lives are just fine for now. I found it an excellent companion, something to have on with voices for company without requiring my full attention, since so little (in the traditional movie sense) actually happens. It may also be an interesting time capsule, something to watch in a decade or more to remember what people looked like and were thinking about in 2013.
Similar films to this would be Before Sunrise, (500) Days of Summer, Your Sister’s Sister, and Celeste & Jesse Forever. The DVD includes the following special features:
- Commentary With Writer/Director Joe Swanberg, Producer Andrea Roa, and Producer Alicia Van Couvering
- Deleted Scenes/Outtakes — Seven minutes with optional director commentary.
- Interviews — One each for the four main cast members (two to four minutes each), which can be played individually or all together. They talk about their characters, the setting, beer, improvisation, and whether the movie is a comedy.
- AXS TV: A Look at Drinking Buddies — A three-minute promotional piece explaining the film with clips and footage from the interviews.
- All Things Drinking With Director Joe Swanberg and “Drinking Made Easy” Host Zane Lamprey — A half-hour discussion that covers, among other things, the process Swanberg used to make the picture.
- Behind the Scenes at Revolution Brewing — At the real-life brewery where the movie was filmed, we’re shown four minutes of how they make beer.
- Theatrical Trailer, as shown below.
One oddity — although the poster and promo pictures show a clean-shaven Johnson, he wears a hipster full beard in the movie, and I found the discrepancy slightly jarring. (The studio provided a review copy.)
- Posted by Johanna on November 27, 2013 at 6:40 pm
- Category: Movies/TV
I’m not sure Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has really found its groove yet, but I’m willing to keep giving it a chance. I like Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson, Ming-Na Wen as
Wolverine Melinda May (mysterious bad ass with secret past) is terrific, and the British Fitz-Simmons scientists amuse me. (I could really do without more of Agent Beef and the hacker chick, although I suspect that they’re supposed to be the interesting characters to us.) When I think of several of the shows I’ve grown to enjoy lately, almost all of them took a half-season or so to get into their groove and grow into the entertainment they became. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has gotten close to that mark, so I won’t be willing to write it off until early next year.
Anyway, I’m glad to hear that J. August Richards (Gunn on Angel), the tortured “bad guy” of the premiere episode, will be returning to the show in “The Bridge”, airing Tuesday, December 10. I’m glad to see more of him. Here’s the official description:
In a shocking cliffhanger episode, Coulson takes the war back to Centipede, and this time he brings in Mike Peterson for some super-soldier support. As they get closer to the truth, startling secrets are revealed and an unexpected twist threatens the team.
(By the way, Centipede? The evil organization isn’t called Hydra, it’s called Centipede? That’s dumb.)
- Posted by Johanna on November 27, 2013 at 6:26 pm
- Category: Movies/TV
The new trailer, as seen here, for Muppets Most Wanted reveals a bit more of the plot, involving the evil Constantine looking just like Kermit (except for a mole).
Muppets Most Wanted will be in theaters March 21, 2014, and co-stars humans Ricky Gervais (as Constantine’s bad guy sidekick), Ty Burrell (as an Interpol agent), and Tina Fey (as a Russian prison guard). Cameos will also feature various big names. Locations include Berlin, Madrid, and London, aiming for international appeal. Director James Bobin and music supervisor Bret McKenzie return from the previous movie, but the script is by Bobin and Nicholas Stoller instead of Jason Segel and Stoller.
- Posted by Johanna on November 27, 2013 at 4:17 pm
- Category: Animation
Out on Tuesday, December 3, is a new original-to-home-video Marvel animated movie, Iron Man & Hulk: Heroes United. It runs an hour and 12 minutes and is recommended only for kids, who won’t have any expectations beyond seeing superheroes bash on each other.
The whole thing looks cheap. Some scenes are static, with little visible movement, and the character designs appear plastic and artificial. The highlighting on Hulk’s muscles is particularly exaggerated, making him look multi-colored. The characters appear layered, as though they’re not in the same space as the items or other beings around them. It’s kind of amazing, how computers have been used to cut corners so that this cartoon at times looks as bad as something from the 70s.
It’s all about the battles, as the Hulk takes on the Abomination and Iron Man battles his own Hulkbuster armor as a product test. Then Zzzax, an energy being, appears to suck down the world’s electricity, and the two heroes fight, then team up to bash on some robots. Zzzax takes over Iron Man’s inventions and spare suits, providing more non-human characters to beat up.
Plot points are visible from a mile away, another reason I suspect this is aimed solely at the youngsters. They don’t have the experience with storytelling to make the cliches and predictability so visible to them. The Hulk voice (Fred Tatasciore) is great, gravelly and powerful, but Tony Stark (Iron Man, voiced by Adrian Pasdar) sounds like a teenager, not a super-smart businessman.
There is a nice sequence late in the film where the two heroes have to help each other out because both are impeded in significant ways. That interaction allows for some character moments beyond punching or zapping things. For the most part, though, it was a chore to get through this animated movie.
As with the theatrical live-action movies, there’s a short scene after the credits promoing a Captain America/Iron Man mission. Iron Man & Hulk: Heroes United comes with a Blu-ray, a DVD, a digital copy code, a free digital comic offer, and an offer for a free Iron Man MiniMate (if you pay $2.59 shipping). Special features include “Inter-Missions”, redialogued old Marvel cartoons making fun of She-Hulk or Iron Man that appear when you pause the movie. More of the same are available from the special features, with three “Marvel Mash-Ups” that total of two minutes. There’s also “Marvel Team-Up With Ryan Penagos and Joe Q”, 11 1/2 minutes of the two promoting Marvel and talking about past character team-ups. (The studio provided a review copy.)
- Posted by Johanna on November 27, 2013 at 2:16 pm
- Category: Movies/TV
Out next Tuesday, December 3, is a new, extras-added release of Argo, last year’s best picture Oscar winner. I’ve already reviewed the film, recommending it as “terrific”, so here, I’ll just concentrate on the additions and differences between the two versions.
Argo: The Declassified Extended Edition contains two Blu-ray discs, a small hardcover book, an envelope of premiums, an UltraViolet code, and a Warner Archive coupon code in a solid slipcase box that’s about three-quarters-of-an-inch taller than the usual Blu-ray. The collectible items, contained in a “confidential” resealable envelope, are:
- A small one-sheet poster for the fake Argo movie
- A map of Tehran illustrated with movie photos
- A copy of Tony Mendez’s CIA ID card, with a photo of Ben Affleck in character
Although the movie disc label and menu screen say “Argo Extended Edition”, the contents of that Blu-ray are the same as the previous release, except for the film itself. When it comes to the movie, you can choose between the two-hour theatrical release or a new extended edition, with nine more minutes focusing on Tony Mendez’s relationships with his wife and son. All the new extras are on the second, “Special Features” Blu-ray. Unlike with the previous edition, there is no DVD disc included.
The new special features, in addition to the 2 1/2-minute theatrical trailer, are as follows:
“Argo Declassified” (11 1/2 minutes) — How the true story of this mission came out in 1997, when the CIA records were declassified, with comments by the writers and other behind-the-scenes participants, including the real Tony Mendez.
“Ben Affleck’s Balancing Act” (15 1/2 minutes) — Keeping the mood right for both the dramatic (hostages) and comedic (Hollywood) elements, attempting to capture a portrait of the 1970s with verisimilitude, and the importance of the music score in tying all these elements together.
“Argo F*ck Yourself” (1 1/2 minutes) is simply cuts of people saying the title phrase, in case you’re 12 years old and find repeated profanity funny.
“A Discussion With the Cast of Argo” (10 minutes) comes from a panel appearance at a screening and includes Ben Affleck, Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Bryan Cranston, Clea Duvall, and Rory Cochrane.
“Tony Mendez on Tony Mendez” (11 1/2 minutes) is self-explanatory; Mendez talks about his CIA career.
“The Istanbul Journey” (8 1/2 minutes) describes their shooting locations in Turkey. I found this the most enlightening of the new extras, since it captures the feeling that they’re in a different part of the world where decisions can have serious consequences. The other featurettes weren’t particularly new information, but this one was eye-opening.
The hardcover is handsome, resembling a scrapbook with lots of photos, both from the film and of the shooting. The 64 pages contain information on the production, cast bios for the actors, script pages, locations, and the film’s awards.
This is a very nice package, and it would make a good gift for someone who really liked the film or that period of history or spy capers or even just movie-making. I’m used to seeing this kind of fan-oriented (particularly when you take into account the card and posters) repacking done for more entertainment-oriented movies, and part of me wonders if the ephemera trivializes a real-world life-or-death situation, but in a way, that’s suitable for a movie about how Hollywood saved people’s lives. (The studio provided a review copy.)
- Posted by Johanna on November 27, 2013 at 10:55 am
- Category: Shopping Guide
Today, there are a number of great releases scheduled to appear at your local comic shop. Well, actually, since it’s a holiday week, there are only two, but they’re very good.
Pick of my week is Yotsuba&! Book 12 (Yen Press, $12), and I’ve already said why in the link. In short, it’s a glorious, Zen-like capture of the wonder of childhood, teaching us to appreciate the joy of the moment.
I enjoyed reading Lois Lane: A Celebration of 75 Years (DC Comics, $39.99). Lois has always been one of my favorite characters in superhero books, because I appreciated her determination and fearlessness in fighting for justice in her own way, as an investigative reporter. She’s had some bad periods over the years — particularly the era when her stories, in her own series, were all about humiliating her as she tried to catch Superman for a husband — but she’s also broken some boundaries, when she was shown to be a worthy partner for the world’s most super man.
This volume (unlike its companion, which sounded dire) does a good job briefly showing all the various sides of Lois. There are
- a few little-known “Girl Reporter” stories from the 1940s, where in spite of guys trying to get the little lady out of the way, she winds up catching crooks
- some cheesy 1950s “oh, if Superman would only marry me” tales
- the infamous “I Am Curious (Black)!”, where Lois gives herself dark skin for a day to learn what it’s like to experience racism
- the modern Lois, revamped as part of the Man of Steel relaunch in 1986
- Lois and Clark as engaged couple in 2001
- a section on imaginary tales, including two issues of Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s All-Star Superman in which Lois becomes Superwoman
My favorite discovery was a short tale by Kathryn Immonen and Tonci Zonjic from 2010, in which Superman has to take care of Lois when she’s sick, and he does a really bad job of it. It’s not often you see a superhero so bored and discouraged that he pushes a piano out the window just to give himself something to do at which he can succeed. It’s the dialogue between the two that’s most outstanding, though, and overall, it’s a great read. It’s a shame that, with the New 52 revamp, we’ve lost that strong, loving couple.
That likely explains why, with the exception of the story I mentioned and the Morrison story, all the content of this book is 10 years old or more. I miss Lois. I hope, when the trend wheel turns again, we get her back in glorious fashion. Overall, this is a nice little time capsule at a reasonable price for an almost-400-page hardcover, and I’m glad DC put it out.