The Arctic Marauder

I’ll have to forgive you if you hear the description of Jacques Tardi’s The Arctic Marauder and think that it’s a 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea rip-off. After all, it does have ships that mysteriously blow up as eerie lights shine below the ocean surface.

And the destruction does end up being caused by the anti-social crew of a submersible, who do occasionally like to go for walkabouts on the ocean floor.

But The Arctic Marauder doesn’t steal from 20,000 Leauges so much as improve on it. After all, Nemo’s crew never traveled like this:

The Arctic Marauder takes out all of Verne’s boring travelogue stuff and replaces it with awesome. The Marauder is also the name of the villains’ seacraft and it’s even more cool than the Nautilus. And rather than just being withdrawn from society like Nemo, the Marauder‘s captain is a full-blown whackadoo who wants to destroy the world.

There’s also this creepy, old bat to complicate things in the best possible way.

And of course there’s some good, old-fashioned cephalopod hating.

While not exactly a cliff-hanger, the ending does necessitate a sequel, so the lack of closure is the only negative comment I can make about this thing. Even then, though, there’s a way of reading it where the book says everything it needs to. Still, I hope Tardi’s working on the follow-up right this very minute, because I want a lot more of this.

LXB | March Madness of Badassery

This week’s League of Extraordinary Bloggers assignment is epic. Since March Madness is right around the corner, Brian at Cool and Collected created this bracket of the top sixteen movie studs. The instructions are:

Imagine that these tough guys are airdropped into an abandoned city full of convicts, and only one can escape. Fill it out, or just write the play-by-play and let the world know who you think would win this ultimate cage match.

This, my friends, is too huge for just one post. So, I’m going to beg forgiveness for breaking the rules and intentionally missing the deadline. Instead, I’ll hold off until next week when it’s March for real and post a match each day for three weeks until we arrive at a winner. I don’t know how in-depth I’ll get (detailing blow-by-blow accounts would take more time than I’ll likely have), but this is an awesome, cool idea and I want to at least be able to think through each match carefully and give you the chance to chime in with your own opinions about them. First up: Bruce Lee vs John McClane.

The LXB Speaks | Where Are They Now?

I wasn’t the only one who immediately thought of The Breakfast Club for the League of Extraordinary Bloggers’ “Where Are They Now?” week. Unlike me, a couple of other LXB members followed through on that idea and came up with some interesting scenarios. Flashlights Are Something to Eat suggests that Brian has a successful business and a large family, Andy had a short-lived wrestling career in college, and Bender… poor Bender.

Siftin’ had a fantastic idea: a fake documentary catching up on all of John Hughes’ Shermer, Illinois characters at the same time. I especially love his suggestion that Samantha Baker from Sixteen Candles ended up married to Duckie from Pretty in Pink. I just hope that Claire didn’t leave Bender for Steff. My only suggestion is that this idea is too awesome for a movie. It should be a TV series with Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall playing multiple characters.

Brian at Cool and Collected also has some great ideas about what happened to the Breakfast Club. Even though I said I wouldn’t want to see another version than my own, underdeveloped one, Brian’s is a take I can get behind. I especially love how he created elements for future dramatic potential in each character.

Check out the other responses to the assignment (Labyrinth and Monster Squad were also popular choices) at Cool and Collected.

Tarzan: Lord of the Louisiana Jungle

I heard about this on the Pulped podcast and it sounds fantastic. The short version is that Al Bohl and his daughter Allison have created a documentary about the making of the first Tarzan movie, 1918’s silent Tarzan of the Apes starring Elmo Lincoln. Check out the trailer above or – if you have an hour – the podcast.

The documentary premieres April 13 in Morgan City, Louisiana where Tarzan of the Apes was shot. There’s a cool bit in the podcast where Bohl talks about a promise that the silent film’s creators made to show the film in Morgan City when it was completed. They never kept that promise, so Bohl is keeping it for them. In addition to the documentary (or maybe as part of it, I’m not entirely clear), Bohl has re-edited the surviving footage of Tarzan of the Apes to restore the film to as close to its original version as is possible. Apparently, as the film was re-released in theaters over the decades, it got spliced up and scenes were switched around, so Bohl has fixed that.

I emailed Bohl and asked about the DVD release date, and his reply was that it’ll be available shortly after the premiere in April. He’s working on a new website and will sell copies through that. In the meantime, the documentary’s Facebook page is a great way to get updates. Or you can stay tuned here, of course.

Why I’m not going down The River

I’m so disappointed in this show. It has a great premise, some very cool actors, and a few characters I like a lot, but it doesn’t know what to do with any of those things.

The premise is that a Steve Irwin-esque explorer/TV star named Emmet Cole (Bruce Greenwood) has gone missing after one, last mission up the Amazon River. Though his wife and son were always a part of his long-running show, this was a mission that – for mysterious reasons – he didn’t want them to go on. So now Tess (Leslie Hope) and Lincoln (Joe Anderson) are heading back into the jungle with what’s left of Cole’s old production crew to look for him and document the experience. Lincoln’s already written his dad off for dead and isn’t keen on dredging up old memories, but Tess has new evidence that Cole may be alive, and guilt-fueled reasons for needing to find him.

Bruce Greenwood (National Treasure: Book of Secrets, the Star Trek remake) is always a welcome actor and he’s especially charismatic as Cole (I’d totally watch a nature show starring Dr. Cole; no problem), but there are other familiar faces too. Leslie Hope is one from her time as Jack Bauer’s wife on 24, but her character is as abrasive in The River as Teri Bauer was, so that’s not exactly a selling point. It’s really cool though to see Paul Blackthorne from the sadly short-lived Dresden Files as TV producer Clark Quietly. Even though he’s introduced as a cliché Hollywood jerk, my fondness for Harry Dresden made me immediately sympathetic to him and that didn’t go unrewarded. Quietly turns out to be a deeper character than his stereotype implies.

There are other great characters on the show as well, even though I’m not familiar with the actors who play them. Shaun Parkes (he’s been in a couple of episodes of Doctor Who, but I didn’t remember him) is likable as AJ the cameraman. Like Blackthorne’s character, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that AJ’s more than just a pushy guy who’ll do anything to get a shot. For one thing, he won’t do anything. He’s generally brave and resourceful, but he has limits that quickly get tested in the jungle.

Lena

I’m also fond of Lena Landry (played by Eloise Mumford), the daughter of Emmet Cole’s long-time cameraman. Her dad was part of Cole’s missing party and that contributes to Lena’s being one of the best balanced characters on the show. Where most of the characters are either gung ho to continue their quest or begrudging participants, Lena has a deep investment in succeeding, but is also very sensitive to the danger of their situation.

The rest of the crew isn’t as awesome. Thomas Kretschmann (King Kong, Wanted) plays a security expert named Kurt who’s in communication with someone outside the group and appears to have his own, deadly motives for wanting to find Cole. He’s so mysterious though that he’s all plot and no character. Four episodes in (if you count the two-hour premiere as the two episodes it was designed to be) and we know almost nothing about him other than that he may or may not be a threat to Cole when they find him.

Daniel Zacapa plays Emilio Valenzuela, the ship’s mechanic, who’s mostly there to fix things and be over-protective of his daughter, Jahel (Paulina Gaitan). Jahel is the most disappointing character because she starts off seeming so wise to the area’s dangers, but soon becomes annoying as the group’s Cassandra; relentlessly predicting their doom. If she had something else to do – or even just got to have fun every once in a while – her dire prophecies would be powerful. Unfortunately, she’s tiresome by the fourth episode. I suspect that given enough time, Jahel will be developed into a real character, but I’m not willing to wait that long. Especially with all the other problems this show has.

I’ve never really liked the found-footage style of storytelling anyway and The River is especially bad at it. That’s kind of surprising since it’s created by the guys behind the Paranormal Activity series, but there’s a blatant Blair Witch rip-off in the first episode and a couple of Paranormal Activity call-backs in the second. There are also a lot of instances of cameras being in places where they have no business being. Or turned on and filming footage when their operators have much more important things to worry about than keeping the camera rolling.

The hugest issue I have with the show though is the writing. The River’s week-to-week format has the team following the same formula every episode. They search for Cole, run into something dangerous (usually a ghost or spirit of some kind), then give up and escape back to the boat. There’s no continuity. What the team learns one episode has no bearing on what they do in the following episode. In the first one they find a huge cache of Cole’s tapes from before he went missing, so each week they pull one out and search it for clues. And they always give up before they even exhaust whatever clue they find.

The most frustrating example of the show’s miserable writing is in the first episode where they encounter the malevolent ghost of a member of the missing party. As they fight it, Tess screams at the ghost, trying to communicate with it and learn if Cole is dead or alive. As everyone chaotically battles the ghost, she yells at it to give her a sign: “one” for dead; “two” for alive. When the monster attacks her and leaves two scars on her abdomen, she takes it as her answer. That’s silly enough, but Tess is looking for hope, so she can be excused. The stupid part is that Lincoln – who up to this point has steadfastly proclaimed his belief that his dad is dead – accepts the “sign” too and completely changes his mind, even having to re-convince Tess during a moment of doubt.

It’s a pity, because I was totally up for a show about a group of cool, interesting people exploring uncharted areas of the Amazon. And I found a lot to like here; enough that I want to give it a chance and will miss some of these characters when I check out. I can get over the sloppy found-footage; the directors barely care about it enough to keep up the pretense, so why should I try to make myself believe it? With so many writing problems this early on though, I’m just not confident that I’ll be rewarded by sticking with it. Unlike the crew in The River, I’m giving up on Cole and finding something else to do instead.

LXB | Jack and Lili from Legend: Where Are They Now?

Assignment: The ’80s and ’90s were filled with kids and teens in the movies. Which movie would you like to see a sequel made in 2012 with the original cast members, who have aged the same as you and me?

My first thought was of The Breakfast Club. As soon as I finished watching that movie back in 1985, I was ready for the sequel. I really wanted to know: would all these kids still be friends come Monday? On the other hand, I also knew that no one – not even John Hughes – could make a satisfying Breakfast Club sequel. I already had a very specific vision of what Monday would be like; I just wanted to see it confirmed. And there’s no way it could have been.

A 25-years-later sequel would be a bad idea for similar reasons. Part of me would love to catch up with Bender, Claire, Allison, Andy, and Brian in middle-age; maybe at a high school reunion. But most of me realizes that I still don’t want to see that. I have my own ideas about where these characters ended up that are uniquely mine. Seeing anything else on the screen is doomed to disappoint.

So I’m going with Tom Cruise and Mia Sara’s characters from Legend. Unlike the very real characters in The Breakfast Club, Jack and Lili are ciphers (“archetypes,” if we’re being generous); blank characters with no real personality. I love Legend and saw it enough times that I once could quote the entire thing from memory (there’s not a lot of dialogue, so it’s not that hard), but its two leads aren’t examples of great writing or acting. I used to give Mia Sara a pass for being Ferris Bueller’s girlfriend, but I don’t anymore and – honestly – she wasn’t that great in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off either. Darkness (Tim Curry), on the other hand…an entirely different story.

But it’s Jack and Lili’s blandness that makes them perfect for catching up to. Contrasting them again with the kids from The Breakfast Club, a filmmaker could write Older Jack and Lili anyway she wanted to without competing with my personal preferences. The world Ridley Scott created in Legend is gorgeous and fantastic, but it has some of the same problems that Jack and Lili do. Scott never tries to ground it or make it feel like a real place. That helps with the fairy tale feel, but it’s also a reason that I haven’t gone back and watched the movie much as an adult. So, like Jack and Lili, I’d love to revisit the world of Legend and learn more about it.  There are a lot of possibilities there.

Tom Cruise is still a charismatic, active screen presence and though Mia Sara hasn’t done a lot of acting lately (concentrating more on making grandkids for Sean Connery and Jim Henson), it would be fun to catch up with her too. And Tim Curry, of course. If you remember the final shot of Legend, with Darkness laughing menacingly as he’s superimposed over the heroes who believe he’s been destroyed; well, most of the plot of Legend 2  pretty much writes itself.