Valerian and Laureline

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If you’re a fan of Luc Besson’s films (The Fifth Element, Lucy) or you’re just a fan of science fiction films in general, and you’ve been on Facebook recently, then you likely have come across the first trailer for Besson’s upcoming film VALERIAN.

If you haven’t, let me show it to you:

So, most people agree that the trailer is pretty mind blowing but few people know just who Valerian is. I’ve been a fan of the graphic novels that this film is based on for years, since I was in my early twenties, and that is a long, long time ago.

valerian-ambassador-int-1Back then I was a huge fan of the American comic magazine HEAVY METAL. When I learned that the US magazine was based on a French magazine, METAL HURLANT (literally Screaming Metal), I managed to find some copies of the French version as well. Along the way I learned about other French magazines including one called Pilote in whose pages the adventures of Valerian et Laureline were originally presented.

Valérian et Laureline, also known as Valérian: Spatio-Temporal Agent or just Valérian, is a French science fiction comics series, created by writer Pierre Christin and artist Jean-Claude Mézières.

First published in 1967, the series focused on the adventures of the dark-haired Valérian, a spatio-temporal agent, and his redheaded female colleague, Laureline, as they travel the universe through space and time. Valérian is a classical hero, kind-hearted, strong and brave who follows the orders of his superiors even if he feels, deep down, that it is the wrong thing to do. On the other hand, his partner Laureline combines her superior intelligence, determination and independence with sex-appeal.

Influenced by classic literary science fiction, the series mixes space opera with time travel plots.

valerian_3Christin’s scripts are noted for their humour, complexity and strongly humanist ideals while Mézières’ art is characterised by its vivid depictions of the alien worlds and species Valérian and Laureline encounter on their adventures. The series is considered a landmark in European comics and pop culture and influenced other media as well: traces of its concepts, storylines and designs can be found in many science fiction films including Star Wars and Besson’s own The Fifth Element.

valerian-and-laureline-2-the-empire-of-a-thousand-planets-paperback-l9781849180870The final installment of Valerian et Laureline was published in 2010. All of the Valérian stories have been collected in graphic novel album format, comprising some twenty-one volumes plus a short story collection and an encyclopaedia. Valérian is one of the top five biggest selling Franco-Belgian comics titles of its publisher, Dargaud.

Many of the stories have been translated into several languages, including English. The series has received recognition through a number of prestigious awards, including the Grand Prix de la ville d’Angoulême. An animated television series, Time Jam: Valerian & Laureline, was released in 2007.

And now, Besson’s film is set to introduce the characters to the world at large. When I heard that Besson was set to tackle the subject I was skeptical, particularly with the casting of Dane DeHaaan (Chronicle, The Amazing Spider Man 2) .

However, the trailer looks absolutely amazing and I can see that DeHaan is not as miscast in the role as I had earlier feared (although Cara Delevingne (Suicide Squad) is perfectly cast as Laureline). I can only hope that the final film lives up to the graphic novels.

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Batman V Superman: Good. Bad. I’m the one with the Kryptonite.

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I know this isn’t the real Ben Affleck and Henry Cavill… they’re just plastic figures… but they look so much more life-like, don’t you think?

I recently saw Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice.

Hoo, boy.

So, I’m late to this party. So late, in fact that I’m probably standing in an empty space amongst sad, withered party decorations on a floor covered in confetti. The last peal of revelry and laughter long since echoed away.

And there’s not much left to say that hasn’t already been said.

It’s a movie about good guys and bad guys made by filmmakers who don’t know the difference between the two.

Most of the criticism was focused on Superman. As depicted here, he really wasn’t Superman. Not the real Superman.

My beef, though, is this: Clark Kent. He wasn’t Clark Kent.

You see, Clark Kent was Smalville born and raised. I’m sure that Smallville would have instilled in him a work ethic that would make a Protestent proud. To me, Clark Kent always struck me as a hard worker, a real nose-to-the-grindstone kind of guy. When Perry White aske him to cover sports, Kent would provide copy. When he was asked to cover the party at Lexcorp, he would have provided copy. Kent would have knuckled down and wrote copy.

I work at a newspaper. I’m not a reporter, but I work with reporters and the one thing that reporters have to do… have to do… is write copy. Otherwise they’re not reporters. A reporter who doen’t produce printable copy is a poseur.

So when Perry White complains to Kent that there is no copy for sports or the social pages, I call bullshit.

After all, Clark Kent is Superman. He would have produced the copy. He wouldn’t have gone off on his own, selfishly pursuing his own agenda on company time and the Daily Planet’s dime. That’s not Clark Kent.

Kent maybe isn’t a prize winning journalist. He lets Lois win all the prizes. And Lois gets away with selfish behavior because she’s Lois Lane.

Clark is the guy who turns up his sleeves and provides solid copy. He provides exactly what is required and maybe a little more. He wouldn’t let his duties as a surperhero get in the way of that.

And he would show up to work and not mope around because a lot of people got blown up because he didn’t see the bomb.

Even if he didn’t see the bomb hidden in the wheelchair, he should have done something instead of standing there and blubbering while the capitol building burned around him. He could have sucked up the explosion with his super breath, or spun a whilwind to drag the fiery explosion up and out of the building. Even if he didn’t see the bomb, he could have saved someone.

Anyone.

In fact… he’s Superman. He should have seen the bomb. Superman would have seen the bomb.

I expect Bruce Wayne to be morose and mopey. Even this Bruce Wayne, who, honestly is batshit crazy and suffering from really fucked up dreams and who needs to see a therapist real bad. His dreams are like little fantasy sequences that kind of remind me of another film that had nightmarish dream sequences – Sucker Punch. Weird, huh?

So, Superman who lets his temper get away from him, who sulks and broods like an angsty teen… no. I don’t buy that.

But I really don’t buy a Clark Kent who doesn’t put in a full day’s work for a full day’s pay and who doesn’t write the copy that he’s asked to. That ain’t Clark Kent.

It just ain’t.

Who is DOC SAVAGE?

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This post originally appeared at the AMAZING STORIES MAGAZINE website, written under my pen name MD Jackson (The name I use when I write about art and other namby-pamby subjects, unlike the real manly-man topics I write about as Jack Mackenzie).

And it doesn’t get more manly that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Doc Savage!

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You may have heard the news this week that actor Dwayne Johnson (formerly the professional wrestler known as “The Rock”) has been cast as Doc Savage in an upcoming film by Shane Black.

For some of you this will be meaningless. For me this is a big deal and I can’t tell if this news is good or bad but the whole thing fills me with a sense of dread and anxiety.

First off: Who is Doc Savage?

Doc-Savage-March-1933Doc Savage was created by by publisher Henry W. Ralston and editor John L. Nanovic at Street & Smith Publications. His creation was an attempt to capitalize on the success of Street & Smith’s The Shadow Magazine. Additional material was contributed by the series’ main writer, Lester Dent. In contrast to The Shadow‘s mysterious and mystic qualities, Doc Savage was conceived as a scientific super adventurer.

Clark Savage, Jr., first appeared in March 1933 in the first issue of Doc Savage Magazine. Clark Savage (or “Doc” to his friends), had no special powers, but was raised from birth by his father and other scientists to become one of the most perfect human beings in terms of strength, intelligence, and physical abilities.

804949Doc Savage set up base on the 86th floor of a world famous New York skyscraper (implied, but never outright stated, as the Empire State Building). Doc Savage fights against evil with the assistance of his five companions, Monk, Ham, Renny, Johnny and Long Tom.

The Doc Savage adventure magazine debuted on newsstands in March of 1983. Although most of the adventures were written by Lester Dent, each adventure was attributed to Kenneth Robson, a Street and Smith house name. Street and Smith would go on to publish 181 issues of the magazine before it was cancelled in 1949.

docsavage_01b_bamaDoc Savage became known to more contemporary readers when Bantam Books began reprinting the individual magazine novels in 1964, this time with covers by artist James Bama that featured a bronze-haired, bronze-skinned Doc Savage with an exaggerated widows’ peak, usually wearing a torn khaki shirt and under the by-line “Kenneth Robeson”. The stories were not reprinted in chronological order as originally published, though they did begin with the first adventure, The Man of Bronze. By 1967, Bantam was publishing once a month until 1990, when all 181 original stories (plus an unpublished novel, The Red Spider) had run their course. Author Will Murray produced seven more Doc Savage novels for Bantam Books from Lester Dent’s original outlines.

For me it all began at the start of a summer vacation in 1975. My family had embarked on a long drive, my mother and father in the front and us three kids, me and my two younger brothers, in the back seat. As is typical in these situations, bickering began before long and my parents stopped the car in a nearby town to try to rectify the situation. I was given money and pointed to a used bookstore and told to go buy some comic books to read along the way.

In the front of the store was a bin containing used paperbacks which I immediately began to paw through. As I perused covers looking, no doubt, for some Star Trek books a cover leaped up at me from inside the bin.

It was a thin paperback emblazoned with the strange, vaguely flag-shaped words: Doc Savage. Above the type was another title: The Other World.

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To a ten year old kid who loved monsters, dinosaurs, heroes and action, this cover was a perfect storm. The cover art was so fantastic and yet so real! Was it a photograph? I had to squint closely at it to determine that it was a painting, but the most realistically rendered one I had ever seen! I did not know it at the time, but the cover artist was the amazing and talented James Bama, the artist whose work adorned most of the paperback reissues of the Doc Savage adventures.

SavageI purchased the paperback and spent the rest of that summer engrossed in the breathless and thrilling world of Doc Savage and his amazing crew of larger than life heroes. I was hooked. That summer, if it wasn’t Doc Savage, I wasn’t interested.

And that summer there was a lot of Doc Savage going on. 1975 was the year that Warner Brothers released the first film version of Doc Savage produced by George Pal. In the wake of that release, Marvel Comics had begun producing a monthly Doc Savage magazine featuring all-new Doc Savage adventures rendered in amazing black-and-white art by John Buscema and Tony DeZuniga. Naturally I devoured each and every issue.

RogerKastelMovieThe 1975 film, although criticized for not taking itself seriously enough, was a faithful adaptation of the characters and situations, if not the actual plot of the first novel. In 1975 Warner Brothers was obviously uncertain how to market the film to audiences. Since the 1966 Batman movie and TV series, with its campy tone and self-depreciating humor was such a success, that seemed to be the way to go. In hindsight it is clear that the attempt only succeeded in needlessly ruining what could have been a decent film.

The movie is very dated. It is clearly of it`s time (I mean the 1970`s, rather than the 1930`s in which it was set) and it featured no really big stars. The actor playing Doc, Ron Ealy, had achieved his success by starring in a television series based on Tarzan in the decade prior to this.

Now, more than 40 years later, Hollywood is about to try again. Shane Black, the director and writer of movies such as Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and Iron Man 3, is determined to bring the character back with Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson as the iconic pulp superhero.

Will it succeed? Will it even happen? Who knows? But people will be talking about it, and if you knew nothing about Doc Savage, at least now you know a bit more than you did before.

A Matt Damon Double Bill? What Was I Thinking?

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I don’t know what possessed me to watch two Matt Damon films back to back, but that’s what I did.

I find Damon hard to take in large doses. Although I liked him fine in The Martian his appearance in Interstellar bordered on too much despite the fact that he had less screen time in that than in The Martian, so his level of “getting on my nerves” varies from film to film.

So I watched The Adjustment Bureau on Netflix. It was a film I’d never seen before and it was based on a story by Phillip K. Dick, who is one of my favorite writers and films based on his works usually appeal to me. This one did as well, despite it feeling like an episode of The Twilight Zone that went on for just too long. I liked Emily Blunt as well. I know she’s a big draw these days but I haven’t seen many of her films and in this one I found her to be engaging and watchable.

I had a very positive reaction to this film, despite finding the “magic hats” idea kind of silly. And maybe I’m not a romantic but it seems that a lot of Damon’s character’s actions were more than a little selfish. I guess I didn’t get the sense that the feelings Damon had for Blunt’s character were overwhelming. They said it, but I didn’t feel it. Nor did I get the sense that Damon’s character had a fantastic political destiny. He was liable enough, but he didn’t convey the commitment that he was supposed to have to public service. The characters say all the right catchphrases, but there is nothing backing them up.

Still, getting past that the film was likable enough and the story was interesting and it was fun watching them go through the doors and ending up someplace completely different then where they are expecting.

At it’s heart it is a chase movie. The philosophical and existential questions are secondary. It’s about lovers wanting to be together and running from those who would tear them apart. The questioning of reality and pondering the questions of destiny versus free will were thrown in but not really explored.

Is it worth a look? Sure. It’s on Netflix. Check it out.

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But then there is Elysium, also starring Matt Damon. This is an original story (and I use the word “original” very lightly) by Neil Blomkamp and starring Matt Damon and Jodie Foster.

This film is awful. There are some pretty special effects, sure, but the film is so monumentally stupid. So Elysium is a space station… a utopia in space… a giant ring space station where the rich and powerful hoard all the best air and medical technology while all the poor people live on the dirty, polluted and stinky surface of the Earth. You can tell they are poor because of the color of their skin and their Mexican accents.

Except for Matt Damon who seems to be the only poor white person. Naturally he is going to be the one to save everyone. Except it seems that wherever he goes, violence happens, which is not only bad for him but for anyone around him as well, which is inconvenient because he’s just re connected with his childhood girlfriend and her daughter who has leukemia. (Oh, I can see where this is going)

As for Elysium itself it is run by a council but the Minister of Security, played by Jodie Foster, is a hard assed bitch who will not hesitate to shoot down ships loaded with dirty poor people who are trying to get access to the medical beds. The president makes noises about going to far, but Foster doesn’t care. She’s Anne Coulter on steroids, baby, an Armani suited villain who can’t decide if her accent in English, French or American, but that hardly matters once she starts raving about how she’s preserving the natural order of things and dripping equal amounts of contempt for the poor people of earth and also for the spoiled, rich but soft denizens of Elysium.

Okay, I could go on, but this movie is terrible. There are some pretty effects and the actual Elysium space station is breathtaking, although the lack of a ceiling is problematic. The atmosphere is just open to space. How it doesn’t bleed off into the vacuum is beyond me and is never explained.

This movie. is mostly stupid. Actually, no, it’s all stupid.

It’s on Netlfix, yeah, but… don’t. Just… don’t.

Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn

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Hey, I’m back with another Netflix movie review!

I don’t play video games. I’m not a gamer. So what I know about HALO can be summed up as such:

It’s a video game. It features a character called Master Chief.

That’s it. That’s all I know.

So, here I am watching a movie called Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn and it begins with a bunch of cadets getting their hair sheared off (somewhat reminiscent of the opening scene of Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, one of my favorite films of all time) and then these cadets start talking to someone off camera like it’s  some sort of documentary,

Okay. I think I know what this is.

Then it switches to an older guy (whom I recognize as Canadian Actor Ty Olsson, who played Lt. Aaron Kelly on Battlestar Galactica) who is listening to a distress call from a ship. The ship has 1 survivor in cryo-suspension, some alien thing is trying to take over and this cgi fairy thing materializes and…

Okay, the film’s lost me. I don’t know what’s going on.

Then suddenly we’re back with the cadets and the story picks up with cadet Thomas Lasky who really doesn’t know if he wants to go to war or not. Seems his older brother was a good soldier but he died on a mission and he’s real bummed about it and he never sees his mother anymore because she’s too important.

So Lasky and his fellow cadets are in training and their squad has the lowest score because Lasky can’t stop being an arrogant prick long enough to follow orders. Plus he’s suffering from some blisters and burns and other health problems which his earnest doctor can’t seem to figure out. Lasky soldiers on, though, which is ironic considering he doesn’t seem to want to be a soldier.

If this hadn’t had HALO in the title I would have given up on this film. The young cadets were good actors and the film looked fairly impressive. I liked the cadet uniforms. I liked the way they used Simon Fraser University as a backdrop (If you saw the original Battlestar Galactica pilot you’d probably recognize it). But I didn’t like any of the characters.

So there’s this subplot about one of the characters trying to un-encrypt a top secret video of a combat mission that hints that there is “something else” out there that the soldiers are fighting. Just as soon as they discover that fact the training school is suddenly under attack.

Now the movie gets exciting with these giant aliens attacking the school and real soldiers dropping in to defend them. So now it’s a horror movie where the cadets squad is trapped in the school without any weapons trying to hide from the scary monsters who can become invisible. Okay. Now I know what kind of movie this is.

But wait! Just before an alien kills one of the cadets who shows up but Master Chief! Master Chief will save the day!

Now it’s a chase movie where Master Chief and five… oh, wait, make that four… scared cadets have to run the gauntlet of scary aliens to make it to the rendezvous point.

Whoops! Make that three cadets.

Okay. This movie is a mess. It’s boring and confusing in turns. Maybe if you play the game, or know more about the HALO universe this film would make sense. Apparently it was originally a web series. Maybe seeing it in episodes would have made more sense, but as a whole movie like this… well, it`s no Full Metal Jacket, let me tell you. It`s no Starship Troopers, either

If you are a fan of HALO this might be a good film. If you are a fan of military SF, this film is a bit of a mess.

I can`t recommend it, but if you are curious, it`s currently playing on Netflix.

DC Comics Movies: Why so Dark?

This blog post appeared originally on the AMAZING STORIES MAGAZINE website.

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You all know DC Comics, right?

Superman. Batman. Wonder Woman. The Flash. Green Lantern. Aquaman. You know those guys, right? They’re superheros. They’ve been having adventures in the pages of comic books for decades. They wear brightly colored costumes and they fight for truth, justice and the (insert name of your favorite awesome country here) way.

Silver-Age-Justice-League-of-AmericaThese heroes’ brightly colored adventures inspired kids to want to be heroic and do good. They were fun, light and breezy. At least that’s the way I remember them. But it’s been a long time since all my pocket money went into buying comics. Maybe I’m out of touch.

I’ve blogged before about the colorful nature of the early superheroes, but that whole aspect seems to be getting lost in its translation from page to screen. The movies that are being made from these flashy comic book characters are, it seems, being made universally grim and dark.

christopher-reeve-supermanIt wasn’t always this way. Early films were a lot brighter (indeed, some of the earliest adaptations of these heroes were as serials which were filmed in black and white and yet still seem more colorful than some of the latest offerings). True many of these adaptations chose to play up the “camp” aspect of the comic books and are today pretty universally reviled. Even 1979’s Superman starring the late Christopher Reeve as the Man of Steel cannot be watched by modern audiences with any degree of seriousness. Despite the impact it had on the moviegoing public at the time of its release, today’s audiences can’t help but be overwhelmed by the fact that it all seems to be played for laughs.

That’s not what today’s audiences want out of their superhero movies.

A recent special on the CW aired a day ahead of the premiere of one of their new superhero TV series, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow. DC Films: Dawn of the Justice League, besides having Kevin Smith fangirling all over Geoff Johns, the Chief Creative Officer at DC Comics, offered a glimpse at the projects that DC Films is working on and some of the ones that are just in the development stage. It also talked about the upcoming Superman v. Batman movie and framed its subtitle in no uncertain terms. Dawn of Justice will be the dawn of the Justice League movie (which will be DC’s answer, belated as it is, to Marvel’s Avengers).

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The special also featured clips from the upcoming Wonder Woman film, which looked intriguing (Gal Godot is seeming more and more like the right choice for the role) and managed to generate some actual excitement for the project, but the one thing that struck me about these clips more than anything else was how dark they all seemed. I don’t just mean in tone, but the very images themselves all look like they were filmed Day for Night, even the daytime scenes.

What’s up with that? These are the Four Color Heroes. They are meant to be bright primary colors, not skulking in the shadows.

It used to be that DC Comics weren’t so grim and so dark. Then in the early 1960’s Stan Lee and Jack Kirby introduced a new type of hero with Marvel Comics – a type of hero that was a little darker, a little more grounded in reality. Yet the film adaptations of Marvel’s characters seem much more brightly colored than the film adaptations of the DC comics.

Take Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel. The whole thing was filmed with such a muted color scheme. That seems appropriate for the darker, Dionysian Batman movies, but Superman is Apollonian… he even gets his power from the sun! Man of Steel and the Upcoming Dawn of Justice seem so dark I would expect Superman to be constantly running at half power.

391Oddly enough, the one upcoming film that should be dark and grim is the adaptation of the recent DC title Suicide Squad. It was tailor made for this dark approach, yet, if the recent trailers are anything to go by, this adaptation seems to have far more color than Man of Steel or any of the recent Batman movies, which is a wee bit ironic. Nevertheless, buzz is growing for this film which some have called DC’s “Guardians of the Galaxy“, ie: a sleeper hit that could put them ahead of their competition.

So, what do you think? Are you wondering where the colorful heroes of the past have gone, or are you just fine with DC’s new grimdark persona?

Dredd (2012)

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To be perfectly honest, I was never a huge fan of Judge Dredd.

I loved 2000 AD. The British anthology comic was one of my favorites growing up and I could never get enough of them particularly living in Canada and having to rely on relatives or importers with a high markup to obtain copies.

My favorite strips were Strontium Dog and Ro-Busters initially, and later of The Ballad of Halo Jones, but I never really warmed to Judge Dredd, the violent hero of the comic strip created by writer John Wagner and artist Carlos Ezquerra. I read it, of course, but it was never really a favorite.

So when Judge Dredd was made into a movie starring Sylvester Stallone, I thought; “Well, that’s it. Judge Dredd will never get another screen treatment after this!”

Turns out I was wrong.

Dredd adapts the comic series in a far more gritty and street level way then the previous film. One thing about the character from the comic books is that he never shows his face. He is always hidden behind his helmet. That wouldn’t do for Stallone, but Karl Urban gamely steps up and does the whole movie without showing the top half of his face. In that regard he captures the character far better.

This adaptation is raw and gritty and, in some ways, hardly looks like a science fiction picture at all. Sure, the film explains that this is Mega City One, the only sity to survive the irradiated wasteland of the Cursed Earth, but it feels just like today’s inner cities. That kind of disappointed me at first. In some ways I was missing the futuristic city scape from the previous film. It seemed to have more of a kinship with the original Robocop movie than the comic book that I remembered.

Once the action gets going, however, and the fight turns to the struggle between Judge Dredd and Judge Anderson against the gangs in a locked-down building, I was finally able to get into the picture.

I enjoyed it more or less. It had the requisite shoot-em-up scenes, explosions and slow motion visions of bullets tearing their way through human flesh, but it also had a small shred of humanity in the character of Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby), a telepath as in the comics, but here a rookie under the tutelage of the senior Dredd.

It was an interesting redemption for a character who has had an unfortunate cinematic history, and I could see how this could easily become a Netlix series (a possibility that many on the internet are talking up), It felt like a pilot episode. But then it also felt like a music video.

In the end I’m not sure what Dredd actually was, but it certainly wasn’t pretty, or over-glitzed with CGI. It felt small and a little claustrophobic and maybe that’s just one Judge Dredd storyline, but it certainly wasn’t the best.

It was a better treatment of the character to be sure but as a film, I can’t give it much more than that it was watchable… as long as one is not squeamish.

It’s on Netflix now.