15 September, 2015

Witness For The Prosecution

            Rounding out our Tyrone Power Top 5 is, let's just say it, an enormous film.  There's the cast, sure;  led by Ty and Marlene Dietrich and Charles Laughton.  But look who Co-Adapted and Directed:  Mr. Billy Wilder.  From whose famous play?  Dame Agatha Christie (who, yes, also happens to round out our Birthday Bash).  Well, this is indeed one of those wonderful instances of that much talent in-front-of and behind the camera delivering a true A-Picture.  And let's get right into it.  Ladies and gentlemen of the jury ...

        'Witness For The Prosecution'
        d Billy Wilder
        w Billy Wilder & Harry Kurnitz                               and Lawrence B. Marcus

           You know the story, right?  An aging attorney (Laughton) takes the case of Leonard Vole (Power) who is on trial for the murder of a wealthy widow.  Vole's wife (Dietrich) is his only alibi ... and she decides to testify against him.  In beautiful Agatha Christie fashion, a series of events cascades into a deliciously melo-
dramatic mix of wit and thrills.  At the end of the movie, a narrator actually implores us not to
divulge the twist;  and who could ever argue that?

Dame Agatha Christie -- who would have been 125 today -- began writing ...

30 June, 2015


          There seems to be something of a Birthday Special in this round of our Top 5 Retrospectives.  We're celebrating Mr. Tyrone Power whose first entry -- Jesse James -- posted on what would have been his 100th Birthday, The Mark Of Zorro posted on what would have been that leading lady's -- Linda Darnell's -- birthday, and this entry posts on what would have been today's leading lady's birthday:  Miss Susan Hayward.
            But that’s not the only benchmark today.  As I mentioned in The Black Swan, how surprising it was that was Ben Hecht’s first we’d talked about, it’s as surprising today’s film is the first in these Top 5s to showcase that marvelous maze of boulders I so often mention.  Yes indeed, today you not only get Tyrone Power and Susan Hayward, Dean Jagger and Jack Elam, Henry Hathaway at the helm from a script by Dudley Nichols;  as if all that wasn’t enough … dear readers, today’s the day we go on location in Lone Pine. 

You fans remember how today’s movie begins, don’t you?  The stagecoach barreling through desert and mountains, sun and snow, as we hear, “Yes sir, that’s it.  The Overland Mail.  San Francisco to St. Louis in twenty-five days.  Twenty-seven-hundred miles in twenty-five days and twenty-five nights.  When the weather and injuns behave.  A lot farther and longer when they don’t.  People said it couldn’t be done.  They laughed.  Called it The Jackass Mail.  But when mail and passengers and gold began coming through from California day-in and day-out, the whole country sat up and took notice.  San Francisco to St. Louis.  The shortest, fastest, back-breakingest ride you could buy for two-hundred dollars gold.  Meals included.  Yes sir, that’s it.  The Jackass Mail.”  And where does the stagecoach pull up for the night … and our adventure?

Rawhide (1951)
d Henry Hathaway
w Dudley Nichols

First off, let’s not confuse this with the hit Clint Eastwood TV Show.  Maybe you hadn’t, nor were about to, but we’ve said it and can move on.  (Well as long as we’ve paused, a quick aside:  when our film today was shown on TV in the sixties, to differentiate the two, its title was changed to Desperate Siege.  Okay, now we can move on.)  This is Rawhide, the 20th Century Fox feature and – if you aren’t familiar with it – you’re in for a damn fine film.

Ty – a city boy sent West by his father to learn the trade – works at a stagecoach way-station when Susan Hayward and her baby niece arrive, waiting for their next coach.  It’s hot and dusty and the food is barely that and this is no place for a baby;  and that’s when an escaped murderer and his henchmen show up, planning to rob a coach the following morning.  Will our heroes make it through the night;  given a chance, dare they try to thwart the murderer’s plans?

                    [MORE MOVIE STUFF]

The Western is an interesting genre.  (And let’s not round up “Cowboy Pictures” in this discussion;  the hundreds of glorious B-Pictures with Roy Rogers, Hopalong Cassidy, Gene Autry, Charles Starrett, the list goes on and on.  No, let’s just talk The Western.  The, how do I say this, straight dramatic narratives.)  More than any other genre, there’s absolutely no consistency to its popularity.  (Wanna talk what stays popular?  Horror.)  Whenever a really good Western hits, we’re somehow simultaneously surprised by its appeal while finding comfort in it being a Hollywood linchpin.  I’ll pick five off the top of my head --

Stagecoach (1939)
Red River (1948)
The Gunfighter (1950)
The Good, The Bad And The Ugly (1966)
Unforgiven (1992)   

All of them great?  Sure.  But keep in mind those five don’t include --
Shane (1953)
The Searchers (1956)
Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid (1969)
Dances With Wolves (1990)
The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford (2007)

And those ten don’t include … you get the idea.  But all of them?  Somehow surprise hits and instant classics.  [To be fair, the only safe bet might have been John Ford behind the camera of a John Wayne Western but remember, as our dear friend William Goldman said so well, “Nobody knows anything.”  Incidentally, Goldman himself wrote in 1982 -- thirteen years after Butch (which brought home the Screenwriting Oscar and made the equivalent of $600 million dollars) -- that he doubts anyone would have even read it at that time.  Crazy?  Maybe, but so goes the state of The Western.]

Rawhide then -- and keep in mind this an A-Picture with the likes of Ty in-front-of and Henry Hathaway behind the camera -- was not expected to be “a home run” but “a good base hit” -- they really do talk like that -- meaning they’d make a good film and probably get their money back (and note the order 20th Century Fox cared for back then).  That we get a movie as good as this, and it did as well as it did, was indeed another surprise, especially in the genre.  I’ve talked about a few Westerns in these Top 5s – San Antonio and Ty’s own Jesse James – and it still surprises me they’re as random as they are.  Maybe ‘cause it takes a really good one to be talked about?  Nobody questions Saw 17 but they’re reluctant to give the same amount of money to spurs and six-shooters that might be -- gasp -- good.

But I digress.     

                    Rawhide Station for The Jackass Mail.  Remember that’s what it’s called in the film’s bracketed narration:  The Jackass Mail.  Well, that was real.  While the Overland Mail ran from San Francisco to St. Louis, there was the company’s southern route from San Antonio to San Diego, pulled by mules, hence its nickname.  There were two trips a month, one leaving San Antonio and the other San Diego, with 30 days allowed for each.  That’s 1,476 miles – just short of half the U.S. – at about 40 miles a day.  It cost $200, and most of the meals were included, but it was tough going.  I mean tough;  swear to God you were asked to bring your own guns and ammunition to fend off Indians.  Our stage station at “Rawhide,” then, was The Ritz compared to the stops along the way;  unmanned water holes setup at thirty-mile intervals, when they held water.  And only three stops – San Antonio, El Paso and San Diego (so only one during the trip) – had buildings.  Over the course of the entire run – this is roughly 1857 to 1861 – about 40 trips of the entire route were made.

So 20th Century Fox’s stage station out there in The Alabama Hills west of Lone Pine was gorgeous.  Aaaaand I guess this is as good a time as any to talk a little bit more about that.

You can read more on The Alabama Hills, that marvelous maze of boulders just west of the California town of Lone Pine – and its annual Film Festival (this year marking its 26th) – HERE but, briefly, it’s been a favorite shooting location since 1920 (the first film we know to have been shot there is Fatty Arbuckle’s The Roundup).  What makes the area particularly special is it’s still there.  I’ll explain.  While public land, The Alabama Hills are owned by The Bureau Of Land Management and The Department of Water and Power, so not only is it still there at all, it’s practically untouched since the classic movie days.  Which means you can still get out there and visit them.  Lone Pine’s hallmark film is the classic Gunga Din but get your hands on the list of over 450 movies shot there.  So you can visit.  And stand where Ty stood (a couple of times;  he did Rawhide and King Of The Khyber Rifles there).  And Errol Flynn.  And Gary Cooper and Kirk Douglas and Natalie Wood.  Did I mention Robert Downey Jr. and Jamie Foxx?  Sure, parts of Iron Man and Django Unchained were done there too.  For over ninety years, Hollywood has been going on location in Lone Pine. 

And so Rawhide Director Henry Hathaway and Company went there, built our stage station, and shot all the exteriors there.  (Hathaway loved those rocks.  He’d already been there for Lives Of A Benghal Lancer and would return for his segment of How The West Was Won.  But I digress.) 

                      [MORE MOVIE STUFF]


                      [CLOSE WITH PIC OF BURIAL SITE]

The Black Swan

The Swashbuckler.

The name alone evokes great high-adventure;  pure fun in entertainment.  The hero?  A diamond in the rough.  The villain?  Just dastardly.  The damsel?  If in distress – even in the classics – strong-willed.  And the weapon of choice?  The sword.  There are often pistols, sure, but in the final fight, when hero and villain go mono-a-mono, sparring dialogue as wonderfully staged, it’s gotta be the sword.  From Cyrano de Bergerac to Jack Sparrow, if adventure has a name …

The word swashbuckler emerged in the sixteenth century;  the likeliest derivation from using a side-sword in one hand – swashing through the air – and buckler (shield) in the other.  The Spanish Rodeleros were well known for mastering the sword-and-buckle and made up the majority of Hernán Cortés troops in his swash of The New World.

The Renaissance saw the introduction of the sword as a civilian weapon and the rise of “the duel.”  Victorian-era authors – Scott, Dumas – found dueling romantic, heroic, and propelled a significant and widespread role of swordsmanship – soon fencing – as far as the theatre stage.  By the time Movies were birthed, dueling was immediately a heralded genre;  because they started as Silents, flamboyant action spoke volumes.

Oft considered the poster boy of the genre is Rafael Sabatini (1875-1950).  Born in Italy but living mostly in England, he spoke six languages, choosing to write in the last he learned because, he said, “all the best stories are written in English.”  He wrote for twenty-five years before finding success with Scaramouche (1921), followed by Captain Blood (1922).  Riding this one-two-punch, his publisher reprinted earlier work, including The Sea Hawk (1915).  It should be no surprise that Hollywood embraced him – just look at those three titles – and it was in 1932 – his twenty-second novel – that he wrote our story today. 

The Daily Telegraph once captured Sabatini and his work the best:  One wonders if there is another storyteller so adroit at filling his pages with intrigue, with danger threaded with romance, a background of lavish colour, of silks and velvets, swords and jewels.”

The Black Swan (1942)
w Ben Hecht & Seton Miller from the novel by Rafael Sabatini
d Henry King

We’re passing the middle of our Ty Top 5 – following Jesse James and The Mark Of Zorro – as we come to his first Pirate Epic, a dash-and-bluster opera played for fun and romance as Cast & Crew are clearly having as much fun as we are.  If not as well known, this film stands strong next to Errol Flynn’s Captain Blood, Robin Hood and Sea Hawk as a great swashbuckler;  and, just as significantly, plays precursor to all modern fare.

Speaking of Flynn, I wrote in his Robin Hood post that it’s “the unequivocal swashbuckler.”  And while I don’t regret writing that – and doubt anyone would disagree – I’m just thinking now, “I wonder what we think of when we hear the word swashbuckler.”  Personally, I think Pirates.  There are a number of great non-Pirate swashbucklers – I’m just talking characters now (there are so many movies made about each) – like Robin Hood and Zorro and Prince Valiant and The Three Musketeers – but, gut reaction, I think Pirates.  And today’s movie is the first “Pirate film” in these Top 5s.  (The “Pirate film.”  That’s kind of its own genre, isn’t it?)  Well, rest assured lads and lasses, you’re in fine waters. 

The Black Swan – the titular ship and the movie – swaggers up and down the Caribbean under full sail, its pirates wearing enormous sashes and brandishing shining cutlasses;  sweeping merrily through the streets;  breaking heads, stealing maidens, and brawling over rich brocades.  And should one find himself on a dungeon’s rack?  Aye, perhaps the only code among them is to set the captive free! 

Amid this color is Sir Henry Morgan's return to grace as Governor of Jamaica and his attempt to sweep a former henchman, Billy Leech, from the seas.  Tasked is Morgan’s good friend Jamie Boy (Tyrone Power) who heartily dives in after making a midnight abduction of the beautiful Margaret (Maureen O’Hara), an aristocratic lady to, well, make the voyage more bearable.  How Jamie Boy brings the villainous Leech to bay while winning the lady’s heart culminates in the final – and doesn’t-disappoint – battle as ships rake each other with cannon fire, their pirates dueling across the decks!

(And you bet I ended both those paragraphs with exclamation marks!)

Look at the film’s open.  The sea.  A pirate ship that cannon-fires another.  And then credits -- a rare thing in those days to have a pre-title sequence -- as we blast into those names, red against the sky:  Tyrone Power and Maureen O’Hara, heralded by a traditional “pirate song” so visceral it doesn’t matter you’ve never heard it before.  Like crashing down that first wave in Disneyland’s Pirates Of The Caribbean ride, you feel what you're in for!  And then what?  A card to set the stage:  “This is a story of the Spanish Main – when Villainy wore a Sash, and the only political creed in the world was – Love, Gold, and Adventure.”  I don’t care how old you are, you’re six again, jumping up and down on your parents’ bed.  And all that’s in the first two minutes.   

Speaking of Pirates Of The Caribbean -- the Disneyland ride -- I say up front I have nothing to support our movie today being a direct inspiration … though I can’t imagine it wasn’t.  While the ride didn’t open until 1967, the idea for a pirate-themed attraction at The Magic Kingdom was around since the 1950s.  One of the earliest plans was a Wax Museum-like walk-through, but the success of It’s A Small World (at the 1964 World’s Fair, opening at Disneyland in 1966) wonderfully changed that.  Pirates was the last attraction Walt personally oversaw, and he’d sadly pass away before its opening.  (And get a load of this, ‘cause we haven’t had a Bob Hope tie-in in a while:  who presided over the grand opening of the ride?  Miss Dorothy Lamour.)  Look, we know Walt loved movies.  So take a look at ours today and then ride Pirates.  Look at the sets, lighting, colors – Leon Shamroy won The Oscar for his Cinematography here – the costumes, makeup, the overall feel of the film and ride.  Walt must have loved this movie.  So was it an inspiration?  Welllll, I still have nothing to support it … directly.

Let’s begin today’s Behind The Scenes with our leading lady;  one of the last leading ladies from Hollywood’s Golden Age still with us.  The incomparable – go on, compare her to someone, I dare you – Maureen O’Hara was born Maureen FitzSimons near Dublin, Ireland.  Her parents were clothiers which, while true, isn’t as much fun as saying Robert Evans started his career in women’s pants (also true).  Even as a young girl, Miss O’Hara always dreamt of being a stage actress.  She trained in drama, music and dance – did you know she sang, and well? – and, in the evenings after classes, worked in amateur theatre.  Her father was a practical man and insisted she learn a “proper” education so she enrolled in a business school and became a proficient bookkeeper;  a skill that, years later, proved useful when John Ford had her transcribe his notes for “a little love story he wanted to shoot in Ireland.”  Young Miss O’Hara shined enough in her stage classes that she landed a Screen Test in London.  It wasn’t noteworthy, per se, except for one man who saw it and thought it better than most:  Alfred Hitchcock.  He cast her in her first major motion picture, Jamaica Inn (1939), opposite another notable Englishman – Charles Laughton – who, so entranced with her, had her cast opposite him in The Hunchback Of Notre Dame (1939).  And it was Laughton who suggested she change her last name, reportedly quipping, “Bit shorter for the marquee, you know.”  Of course, it probably didn’t hurt that Gone With The Wind came out that year as well (and more on GWTW in a bit). 

Then World War II began and O’Hara’s contract was sold to RKO who cast her in low-budget films until she was rescued by John Ford – this is the first time they met – where she first shined in his 1941 Best Picture Winner, How Green Was My Valley.  They would go on to make many films together, including that “little Irish love story,” the classic The Quiet Man (1952).  O’Hara is often remembered for her undeniable chemistry with another Ford regular, John Wayne.  They made five films together, and if you haven’t seen Rio Grande (1950) please put it at the top of your list.  With over sixty films to her credit, it’s most likely a little holiday movie for which she’s most famous, starring as Natalie Wood’s mother in Miracle On 34th Street (1947).  Just last year [2014], The Academy of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences presented Miss O’Hara The Academy's Honorary Oscar at The Governor’s Awards, making her the second actress to receive the award without having previously been nominated in any category.  The first?  Miss Myrna Loy. 

Of The Black Swan, Miss O’Hara herself said – and keep in mind she’s twenty-two in our film today (Ty’s all of twenty-eight) – “It had everything you could want in a lavish pirate picture: a magnificent ship with thundering cannons; a dashing hero battling menacing villains; sword fights; fabulous costumes ... [and] working with Ty was exciting.  In those days, he was the biggest romantic swashbuckler in the world.  But what I loved most about working with him was his wicked sense of humor.”

Jamie Boy … Jamie Boy …

We already touched on our Director, Mr. Henry King, in the Jesse James write-up – and remember he and Ty made eleven films together – so let’s talk our Writers (adapters here of the Rafael Sabatini novel):  Ben Hecht and Seton Miller.  Mr. Miller you might remember from our Robin Hood write-up – and he did The Sea Hawk;  savvy swordplay well in his wheelhouse – so let’s talk about the other gentleman, Mr. Ben Hecht.  Of these Top 5s, this is my eighteenth, and I’m actually surprised he hasn’t come up before.  It was once said of Ernest Lehman – look him up if you need to – that “even his flops are hits.”  Well, the same can be said of our guy today.  Look up Ben Hecht’s titles.  Realize (and I hope appreciate) their diversity and the impact they’ve had not just on Hollywood but how we tell stories.  He was a Journalist, a Playwright, a Novelist and a Screenwriter.  But there’s really no better way to say it:  Ben Hecht told Stories. 

You may know his name for writing the play The Front Page which he turned into its second filmed outing, the instant classic His Girl Friday;  not just the best of the play’s many adaptations but the blueprint for romantic screwball comedies (and never since done so well).  Hecht was the Script Doctor (certainly for Hitchcock but perhaps most famously for Gone With The Wind) and wrote many of his Screenplays anonymously to avoid British boycott of his support of Judaism.  (Jews the world over were so appreciative of this gentleman that the Israeli Naval Flagship is the S.S. Ben Hecht.)  It was written of his Autobiography, A Child Of The Century, that “his manners are not always nice, but then nice manners do not always make interesting autobiographies, and this one has the merit of being intensely interesting.  If he is occasionally slick, he is also independent, forthright, and original. Among the pussycats who write of social issues today he roars like an old-fashioned lion."  Throughout his nearly one hundred films, six were nominated for The Oscar, and he took home two. 

Now, getting back into the movie, it’s worth mentioning how “real” it was.  (What the hell is he talking about?  “Real.”)  Well, “By land or by sea you can always rely on me for wrongdoing of any nature!” Tommy Blue (Thomas Mitchell) yells with giddy evil.  (And speaking of GWTW, yep, that’s Scarlett’s dad.)  Henry Morgan gets to throw his elaborate curled wig and drink out of a barrel, with none other than Anthony Quinn lurking in the background.  And Leech?  A proud rapist.  The pirates, even the ones we’re supposed to like, aren’t terribly cleaned up.  (Everyone laughs when Jamie dumps the unconscious Margaret on the stone floor at seeing his old friend.  PC?  Hardly.  Funny?  Sure.)  For pirates, it’s a brave nod to realism.  But for 1942 it’s remarkable. 

Granted, most of this doesn’t mean anything to a modern audience.  Especially how risqué Jamie and Margaret pretending to be a newlywed couple was;  Leech coming into their cabin, forcing them to sleep in the same bed.  Well, in 1942, our Hays Office – remember them? – would normally have found this unshowable (it’s a word).  Jamie and Margaret were clearly not married, and Tyrone Power even had his shirt off again (you’re welcome, fans).  The censors should never have let that scene show, but they did.  Why?  Because in this movie, we the audience know they’re only pretending to be married and – here’s the clincher – Jamie’s being respectful of her.  It’s a plot point of his falling in love with her.  And apparently Hays was so entranced by Ty’s gallantry that they let it show.

… Jamie Boy.

I sometimes browse the internet specifically for these write-ups – vintage reviews, like from our old friend Bosley Crowther;  or modern takes from TCM, things like that – and I came across a charming blog called They Don’t Make ‘Em Like They Used To where I found this fun bit:  As part of Maureen O'Hara's 93rd birthday bash last August [2014], The Black Swan was shown on the big screen of Boise, Idaho's historic Egyptian Theatre.  (Miss O'Hara currently lives in Boise.)  As a Boise resident, I attended the event and was able to catch The Black Swan in this incredible environment.  I'm tellin' you, until you've seen Tyrone Power ‘up close and personal’ on the big screen, you are missing out.  Truly, that is how he was meant to be seen!”  Adorable?  Sure.  But what always stands out when I come across things like this is how well classic movies still resonate today.  How passionate modern audiences still are.  See, it’s not just me!  There're a lot of us out there still carrying the torch.

In 1942, Crowther noted for The New York Times, “After seeing The Black Swan, a good many boys will be brandishing wooden swords in the parlor and slitting sofa pillows for some time to come.”  And if that isn’t how a swashbuckler should make us feel – still jumping up and down on our parents’ bed – well … that’s our fault.

Up next?  We go on location in Lone Pine in Ty’s Dramatic Western Rawhide.

08 May, 2015

Hey Marvel, It's DC Calling (Part 3)

So last Spring I wrote a couple articles on what boiled down to DC’s response to The Marvel Juggernaut, and a few thoughts thereof.  I called them … well, you can see for yourself right at the top of this article.  And I recently started to think a little bit more about that.  The Marvel Juggernaut;  DC knocking on that door.  Where are we in those Super Hero worlds?  So I thought it was time I write them up again.  ‘Cause opinions aside – both companies have leaps and missteps – it’s a good time to be a geek.

First, where are we?  A quick dart-throw at the map:  It’s Spring of 2015 now which means we’ve seen Avengers:  Age Of Ultron, a second season of Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., the first seasons of Agent Carter and Daredevil – those three TV Shows all coming back for more – and Ant Man is right around the corner.  On the other side of the river?  The first trailer for Batman v Superman:  Dawn Of Justice (God, they really couldn’t help that title), the first seasons of Gotham and The Flash (and their Arrow is still popular), and we’ve heard Supergirl and Legends Of Tomorrow are goes.  (“Goes,” yes, they really do say that.)  And both camps have more movies on the way, but more on those later (including touching on Sony Pictures and Twentieth Century Fox who have tabs on Spider-Man and X-Men). 

Second, what we talked about in those first two articles?  Let’s see where all that is now.  We touched on Captain America 3 (which we now know will be Civil War) being released the same day as Batman v Superman (6 May, 2016).  Would BvS flinch?  Turns out yes, but perhaps to their advantage, as BvS now releases nearly two months before on 25 March, 2016.

We touched on DC trying to adapt the “it’s all connected” ideal Marvel successfully built with their “phases.”  How’s that going?  Well, I still preface that DC is working from a different starting point than Marvel -- they don’t have to say who Batman and Superman and Wonder Woman are as much as Marvel does with, say, Ant Man – but are they connecting?  Let’s go back to David S. Goyer’s comment last year:  “I know that Warner Bros [who owns DC] would love to make their universe more cohesive [but] it’s just been vague conversations so far.”  Just vague conversations so far?  Well, a year later, and they’re announcing their Flash movie will be with a different actor than the TV Series.  Obviously a conscious decision, but how does that make their universe cohesive?

We touched on Ben Affleck’s return to comics, “switching sides” from Marvel (he was Daredevil in their 2003 feature) to DC (he’ll be playing some guy in a cape and cowl).  His next Directorial effort, the Prohibition Drama Live By Night, still lingers, and initial crowd reaction to his donning that cape and cowl seem favorable.  (This writer’s concern with Batman v Superman – God I really hate that title – has nothing to do with Mr. Affleck but rather that pesky little thing called Story.)  It still stands to reason that The Brothers Warner greenlit Live By Night because of Affleck’s agreeing to play with DC, and I still say it was a fair trade.

Then we touched on (the then upcoming) Marvel-Netflix series Daredevil.  And talk about a property switching hands but – they all do, of course, but – this was forefront and many.  Let’s just talk Showrunners.  What started with Joe Carnahan went to Drew Goddard.  But then he was pulled decided to work on Sony’s The Sinister Six (and, yep, more on Sony/Marvel to come).  So Steven S. DeKnight took the reins.  But before Season 1 of the Netflix Series finished, he left, relinquishing duties to Doug Petrie & Marco Ramirez (that duo officially taking over for Season 2;  and, interestingly, Goddard, DeKnight and Petrie are all Joss Whedon Buffy alums).  Thankfully the talented Jeph Loeb – who wrote the excellent Daredevil:  Yellow comic (among others, look him up if you need to) – is still on board;  the show and as Marvel’s Head Of Television.

And that kinda brings us current.  And Daredevil (the show) is as good a place as any to start anew.  I hope I don’t anger too many people with this but, in the interest of being fair to both companies’ leaps and missteps, I have to share my opinion.  Sadly – and I hate to say this given the character’s pedigree – the new show’s not much more than "what might have been."           

Sure – and we’ve touched on this already – it didn’t help it didn’t have a consistent Showrunner.  Goddard’s first two episodes are distinctly different from the rest of the first-season thirteen.  And by “the end” – let’s say the last two episodes – you can feel DeKnight running away, practically before The Martini (and I’ll let you figure out that reference).  The leads are fine enough – except for Vincent D’Onofrio who shines above the rest;  he was born to play Kingpin – but the shows themselves are like walking through drying cement.  There were great moments -- the apparent one-shot fight in the hallway -- but they're so far in-between that every episode feels as if they stretched a forty-minute show into a one-hour slot.  Then the whole season felt that way;  too-little story stretched to fill too many episodes.  (How many scenes were there where The Chinese Druglord asked Kingpin to get his house in order?  How many scenes were there where Karen asked Ben Urich to work on the story?  You count, I've embarrassed the show long enough.)  This article isn’t a Daredevil review.  In fact, I hope Jo Blo’s wonderful column “The Unpopular Opinion” gets a crack at it.  But I remember looking forward to it -- loving the character -- then finally seeing it and forcing myself to finish it.  Dry cement?  I wished it was Marvel good.

“Marvel good.”  That’s quite the bar they’ve set for themselves, isn’t it?  And their hard work is just beginning.  With Ant Man closing out Phase 2, let’s take a look at what’s on the horizon for Phase 3:  Captain America 3 (Civil War), Doctor Strange, Guardians Of The Galaxy 2, Thor 3 (Ragnarok), Black Panther, Captain Marvel – not to be confused with DC’s Shazam! – Inhumans and, if these weren’t enough, closing those out, Avengers:  Infinity War (a two-part film that takes us through May of 2019).  

As Velma would say, “Jinkies!” 

But what’s encouraging about such an undertaking is how thought-out their plan continues to be, on-screen and off.  In a decision that surprises no fans – especially with Joss Whedon closing his Marvel run from Captain America (he doctored that script) through UltronInfinity War will be scripted by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely, the same duo behind Captain America 2 (Winter Soldier) and 3 (Civil War);  these after they co-wrote Thor 2 (The Dark World) and created Agent Carter.  And with Civil War and Infinity War being directed by Joe & Anthony Russo – love or hate that team, corralled by the indisputably great Kevin Feige – it’s a consistency one can’t help but applaud.

Which takes us to Sony Pictures and Twentieth Century Fox.  You remember them, don’t you?  The little studios that could, often still do.  The former has control of Spider-Man and, the latter, X-Men.  And, yes, both of those properties are Marvel, but not owned by them (or Marvel’s now Parent, Disney).  And, yes, both properties have done just fine.  Many people consider Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man to be the birth of the modern-day super hero movie (and rightly so) and many people consider Bryan Singer’s X-Men 2 to be one of the best super hero movies of all time (and rightly so).  But how do those companies get in the way of even more consistency, something Marvel would looooove?  Case in point:  We meet twins Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olson) in Ultron but do you know who their father is?  None other than X-Men-rival Magneto (Ian McKellan).  (And, yes, to complicate matters even further, we already met Quicksilver -- Evan Peters' great take -- in Days Of Future Past.)  Case in even better point?  You know who’s at the center of our Civil War:  none other than Mr. Stan Lee’s most popular creation, Peter Parker / Spider-Man.  But due to companies being companies, our MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) -- the "Iron Man side" -- can't mention it.  However much they’d like to play with those toys, they just can’t.

Or couldn’t.

In a move that surprised more people than The Hack, Sony and Marvel came to an agreement that finally bridges the Spider-Man void as it was announced that Peter Parker / Spider-Man would appear in Civil War.   And what’s even more significant is Sony and Marvel are jointly casting the new actor because, when Sony relaunches that franchise in their world, they’ll keep him.  (See?  Cohesion.)  And I’m sorry to see Andrew Garfield go.  While his two movies weren’t amazing – see what I did there? – he was good in them, and I think he’d have been fun in The MCU.  Alas.

While at the moment Marvel rules the movies, DC – continuing to knock on their door – is expanding TV with a fifth series.  And this seems to be DC’s “cohesion focus.”  Joining Gotham, Arrow and The Flash are Supergirl and Legends Of Tomorrow.  Having a third show on The CW (Gotham is on Fox and Supergirl will be on CBS) increases the cross-over potential for those three shows and creates a DC Television Universe, something Marvel has been toying with but – interestingly, given their films plan – hasn’t had better luck.  Perhaps their deciding not to go forward with (on ABC) the S.H.I.E.L.D. spinoff gives them more time to focus on expanding (on Netflix) Daredevil to A.K.A. Jessica Jones, Iron Fist, Luke Cage and Defenders.

So DC’s Movies?  How one considers Zack Snyder’s work aside, I had the pleasure of working with him on 300 and can honestly say he’s a nice guy.  He cares.  But there is his work to consider and Man Of Steel was good but not great;  more troubling is how coddled he is by Warner to lead both Batman v Superman and Justice League.  And, yes, on their way are Wonder Woman, Suicide Squad and Shazam! (again, not to be confused with Captain Marvel;  who, PS, in Marvel, is a girl).  DC is clearly going for a – I know this word is thrown around too much, but – darker approach, capitalizing on Christopher Nolan’s Batman series (and, remember, Mr. Nolan Co-Storied Man Of Steel).  So we have to imagine Wonder Woman et al will be in the same vein.  (Which is fine.  I just beg them to focus on Story.)

I watched the Flash Pilot and, sorry, it’s another “eh.”  (And, given how bad the last five years of Smallville were, I haven’t been able to bring myself to try Arrow.)  Gotham has been both entertaining and a train wreck;  I continue wanting it to be good, but their lumbering writing and over-the-top character lore is frustrating.  And then the Batman v Superman trailer was released and, again, “eh.”  So as much as I love to rewatch Donner’s Superman and Nolan’s Batman Begins – both truly great films – I’m disheartened to see two of my favorite characters’ next incarnations just be “eh.”  (Let’s be fair, we all hate it when something we’re looking forward to turns out to be “eh.”  I’m looking at you, Star Wars Prequels.)

Still with the fair, we can judge all upcoming Marvel and DC work however we want but we know one thing for certain:  we’re going to see it.  And, really, that’s what’s important to them:  our money we’re fans.

I closed the first of these three articles with “What’s next?” because where we are is just where we are today, and there’s a lot of excitement from both sides of the river right around the corner.  To each his own?  Sure.

But it’s definitely a good time to be a geek.