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17adTP - xmas trooper

The Advent Panda

17th Dec 2015: The Festive Force Awakens!

There is no argument, no debate, no doubt….there is only one Christmas blockbuster movie this year….Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Pre-screenings are already underway and those questions WILL be answered….

Where is Luke Skywalker?
Who are the First Order?
Why is C3PO’s arm now red?

…and most importantly…
Has JJ Abrams managed to do a better job of fixing the light speed drive of these movies than George Lucas (or indeed Chewbacca!)?

My tickets are bought and all will be revealed in just a few hours.

All I can say, is that its going to take a huge mouthful of pick & mix to stop me shrieking like a girl when old man Solo utters those inevitable words once more: “I have a bad feeling about this…”

May the Paws be with you.



05adTP - wiz oz ruby

The Advent Panda

5th Dec 2015: Fly My Pretties…Fly!

The most famous Christmas film, that is not a Christmas film!

To understand how that happened, you have to be of a certain age and remember what television was like before the internet, before catch-up and especially before satellite and cable.

Back in the days when the UK enjoyed 3 channels and although ITV could afford to show a relatively recent Bond movie, the BBC (when not showing its home grown entertainment) was forced to raid the old film archives for its festive fayre.

Every year without fail as children, we were urged to celebrate as ‘Ding Dong’ the Witch was dead! It took years for it to be moved from prime time, but I bet even this year it will be hidden in the schedules somewhere….just click your ruby slippers and all will be revealed.


03adTP - elf

The Advent Panda

3rd Dec 2015: Elf’s a musical??!

When it comes to good-hearted silly Christmas films that have you in hysterics, then ‘Elf’ has to be up there doesn’t it?

Ever since watching it the first time, I’ve had the desire to fling myself at a christmas tree with no regard for my safety or those of the fragile baubles  (decorative or my own for that matter)!

Unfortunately, subtracting Will Ferrell and adding songs does not fill me with enormous optimism.

However, trying to avoid the word ‘humbug’ and in the spirit of Christmas, I am very much open to being convinced otherwise…..


TP27 Superman cryingWith a new Avengers film about to be released and both Marvel and DC comic franchises trying to wet our appetites by announcing movie release dates for new superhero installments for the next 10 years (!), this seems to be quite a relevant question.

I’m not joking. Even though I am generally a fan of current superhero TV and film, you do have to ask – what happened to our cartoon friends over the last 15 years or so?

I was asked recently by an 11 year old boy why – if superheroes originated from children’s comic books – are the movies sometimes rated 12 or 15 and just out of reach for him? As adults, we can think of a string of reasons, but with the clarity of a child’s mind, you have to admit that he has a point.

You have to wonder how a genre that was almost exclusively developed for children now ploughs big movie money into outlets that are no longer immediately accessible to them.

It seems that today’s superheroes must now have a comprehensive back story and complex origin tale (that can be re-written and subtlety re-booted regularly) and with that comes the baggage of adult themes, issues and perhaps gritty violence which pushes up the film ratings. It has been proposed that DC comics struggled with their movie offerings because the majority of their superheroes were ‘alien’ or born ‘superhuman’ and therefore difficult to relate to on the big screen (Batman being a notable exception). Marvel on the other hand was able to successfully play with characters like Iron Man (rich business techy in a flying suit), Spiderman (high school kid carelessly bitten by a spider), Hulk (kindly doc who only gets green and chunky when angry) or Captain America (vintage war weakling who naively signs up to be a super soldier).

DC after having failed spectacularly to bring back Superman in ‘Superman Returns’ tried to mimic this approach with Batman (tick) and Green Lantern (cross!). Maybe the inherently sci-fi nature of Green Lantern over-powered the successful ‘ordinary guy becomes special’ formula, or maybe it was just a bad script! Eventually Chris Nolan’s Batman stardust managed to bring some sheen back to the Man of Steel.

In my opinion, it’s this recent obsessive need to create a ‘believability factor’ for unbelievable characters that has caused this new generation of ‘child-unfriendly’ heroes. As adults, the believability factor is important to us, as children, we didn’t really care.

The camp camaraderie of 60’s Batman (trunks, tights and meows) was lost on me as a child. It had comedy appeal to adults, but as a kid, I really did want him to jail the Joker and pen the Penguin. I remember reading a DC Batman comic in the early seventies, which had been shipped over from Canada by my Grandma, as they were not easily available in the UK – As a child I was surprised and possibly a little disappointed by its bleak nature compared to the vibrant candy-coloured world of Adam West and Burt Ward.

To this day despite the more skillfully crafted versions of our heroes that come with each reboot, it remains difficult to shake the colourful and simple versions of our childhood heroes. Adam West and Burt Ward punching the bad guys with a comic book BASH! CRASH! WHAMM! – Christopher Reeve circling the world and waving to the camera – Linda Carter arms out and spinning – or one of the greatest cartoon opening tunes “Spiderman, Spiderman, does whatever a Spider can!

TP27 - Batman through the yearsOn the subject of cartoons, I suppose that like many genres in film, TV and music today, the explosion of entertainment media has led to compartmentalisation. The children who don’t get to see our adult indulgent 15 rated movies, are treated to an array of cartoon hero films and programmes which are made just for them. Yes! Yet another incarnation, another re-boot and another chance for more lunchboxes, toys and piñatas! Please, please don’t let me see another version of Bruce Wayne’s parents being shot! Those pearls around Mrs Wayne’s neck can only break and bounce in slow motion on the poorly lit alley floor so many times!

But perhaps there’s a chink of light? Has Spring sprung after a dark winter for the moody conflicted heroes of late? It may have been the case that DC has lagged behind Marvel’s movie prowess, but they’ve found their footing on television, easily relegating ‘Marvel’s Agents of Shield’ to a lower division behind Arrow, Gotham and The Flash.

Smallville began the trend, but despite being a colourful teen show it still couldn’t allow our growing ‘Superboy’ to actually fly lest it alienate the teenage viewers looking for more realistic teenage angst and romance. Arrow and Gotham started a little dark with much to owe to the Nolan Batman approach, but Arrow’s follow-ups – The Flash to be supported shortly by Supergirl and a new Superhero team-up show yet to be named, seem to fly a somewhat different flag.

The Flash positively revels in being comic book action. It is colourful, introduces super-powered humans by the dozen and is even unashamed to mess around with convoluted time travel plot lines.

Have the comic hero moguls and TV writers at last got the confidence to let our heroes be heroes once again and rejoice in the fact that they are NOT like us?

I hope so. I’ve kind of missed it.


ImageThe ‘reboot’ that comic-book lovers have awaited rocketed into cinemas this month as we all become reacquainted with the ‘Man of Steel’. I went to see the movie at the weekend with some trepidation I must say. Superman is a different animal from his DC Comics counterpart Batman and from many of the Marvel Comics heroes who have been so successful at the box office of late. Additionally and to their credit given the 30 year gap, the Christopher Reeve movies (especially I and II) remain iconic and have created a challenging benchmark.

As a child, my favourite superhero was Batman, followed closely in second place by Superman. I was far more at home in the DC Comics universe where the Justice League prevailed and I had little time for the Marvel equivalent of the Avengers. The DC universe at that time always seemed more outlandish than Marvel and I suspect that this has been to its detriment when it comes to the silver screen. In today’s cinematic world where film-makers seem to believe that audiences want more gritty realism, even from comic-book characters, it is easier to achieve with human heroes in earth based situations inheriting superpowers by genetic or technological means e.g. Iron Man, Spiderman, the Hulk etc. However, trying to accomplish the same for characters influenced by or originating from extra-terrestrials or the supernatural is exponentially more difficult. Heroes such as Superman, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern are much more difficult to place in an everyday scenario.

My contention however, is that even to try and do so is flawed. These heroes are mega-beings! Let them do what they do! I want to see superheroes be ‘super’. I am unconcerned by how realistic it seems. When I watch science fiction, I place myself inside that world where all things are possible provided a well thought out (however implausible) explanation is provided. Why can’t we do the same with superheroes?

This does not mean there is no room for characterisation, far from it. The way in which humans observe, relate to, love or hate these special beings makes for gripping screenplay.

My concern when walking into the cinema on Sunday was whether Superman would still be ‘himself’ after being given the Zack Snyder and Christopher Nolan make-over. Nolan had done a magnificent job with Batman, but then the Cape Crusader lends himself to grim, dark tales and shadowy, gritty scenes. I associate bright primary colours with Superman and a more uplifting flavour of justice. Is that what I was going to get?

I found myself leaving the theatre with mixed feelings. I very much enjoyed the movie, but have to admit to being a trifle unfulfilled. I have tried to capture my likes and dislikes below, but for those of you yet to watch the film and keen to avoid any clues to its content, I issue the now familiar SPOILER ALERT and take no offence if you bow out from the blog at this point!

ImageTop 5 Likes

  • Henry Cavill fits the bill as Superman, looking very much the part, adding the naivety and innocent quality for Clark Kent and certainly getting the ladies all stirred up with his shirt off!Image
  • Lois Lane is a major improvement in the form of Amy Adams when compared to Kate Bosworth in ‘Superman Returns’ (sorry Kate!). If only they’d dyed her hair brown it would have completed the picture. You wouldn’t portray Wonder Woman as a blond, so why mess around with another classic female comic character’s image?
  • The portrayal and emotion of Clark’s parents both real and ‘step’, led by Crowe and Costner worked well in positioning the story and establishing the moral substance of Superman.
  • The added nuance that Kryptonians were genetically bred for specific roles within society and that Kal-El was the first natural birth in living memory with the ability to determine his own purpose was an excellent new strand to the continuity in this Superman universe.
  • I loved the concept of Clark Kent wandering the world as a young adult under assumed names, working dead-end jobs, but secretly using his super-powers for good whenever the need arose. This conflicted strongly with the Smallville TV concept of a parochial, Kansas boy learning to use his powers and then heading to the big city to work for the Daily Planet newspaper. It felt more like David Banner (the Incredible Hulk) wandering the country trying to find a cure for his transformation, although Clark is instead looking for a purpose and a reason for being.

Top 5 Dislikes

  • I missed Richard Donner’s Krypton or at least a clean, white, minimalist, clinical world. Snyder’s Krypton was a little too ‘Game of Thrones’ for me.
  • The fight scenes are way too long. I felt like I was watching a Transformers movie! When Superman faces off against fellow Kryptonians you know you are in line for brutal, catastrophic, disaster movie scenes, but please, please (!) know when to return to the story. I always worry that the 3D release of such films prompts the desire to extend these action scenes to capitalise on what is in fact just the latest cinematic gimmick.
  • Characterisation was present, but insufficient. This is particularly true of Clark and Lois’s blossoming relationship. We see very little of this beyond the scene when Lois tracks her mystery hero down in Smallville cemetery. A couple of scenes later Clark refers to her as ‘a friend’ and I can’t help thinking we skipped a couple of chapters? I imagine this ‘fast-forwarding’ was courtesy of the extended fight scenes!
  • There was very little humour in the movie. Don’t me wrong, I wasn’t looking for slapstick! Previous incarnations of the Superman always had an element of humour particularly in the relationship between Lois and Clark. That subtle humorous chemistry between the two lead characters didn’t find its way into this movie and I think that this was simply because the was no room for it between the action.Image
  • Brighter primary colours please! Batman is the Dark Knight, Superman is a beacon of hope. Enough of the tempered shades of blue, red and yellow – lets celebrate the glorious return of Krypton’s remaining son with comic book colours.

All in all, ‘Man of Steel’ is streets ahead of the last attempt to reinvigorate our hero in ‘Superman Returns’ and it does a fine job in bringing Superman back to his patiently waiting fans and I suspect creating a whole generation of new ones. I am cautiously optimistic that the film has set us up for a more classic vision of Superman now that his alter ego Clark Kent has joined the Daily Planet newspaper. In the sequel that will surely come, I look forward to an expanded role for editor Perry White and hopefully the introduction of photographer Jimmy Olsen to the team. I am confident that this more traditional setting for our hero will give rise to more focus on the Lois/Clark relationship and maybe even some of the wit and banter that this first movie just had no time for.

We have heard much about the DC and Warner Bros. plans for a Justice League movie and although I think we are still some way from that, the producers have shown that they can competently handle the linchpins of that super team in the form of Batman and Superman. It remains to be seen whether they can rival Marvel’s grip on their cinematic characters and find a plausible way for them to join forces.

The path ahead for the franchise is clearer than it has been for a long time, but Kryptonite can appear at the most unexpected of times. That said, as a DC Comics fan of old, I am hoping that the Man of Steel is sufficiently lead-shielded to provide us with movie excitement for many years to come!


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