TV Review: Space Pirate Captain Harlock (1978-1979)

Original Run: March 14th, 1978 – February 13th, 1979
Created by: Leiji Matsumoto
Directed by: Rintaro
Written by: Haruya Yamazaki, Shozo Uehara
Based on: Space Pirate Captain Harlock by Leiji Matsumoto
Music by: Seiji Yokoyama

Toei Animation, 42 Episodes, 22 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

This is probably where I should have started with Space Pirate Captain Harlock but I actually started with the prequel film Arcadia of My Youth. So I guess it’s okay that I watched them in chronological order instead of release order but I do often times find it is best to experience things in the order that they came out in like the Star Wars films or The Chronicles of Narnia books.

Regardless, I loved Arcadia of My Youth and it made me want to delve right into the Harlock show, which I was able to, as it is available to stream for free on Tubi.

Now the animation in the show isn’t as fantastic as the prequel film but it is still fantastic for the late ’70s and it reminds me a lot of another Leiji Matsumoto creation, Space Battleship Yamato a.k.a. Star Blazers.

However, unlike Yamato, this takes the space opera genre and adds in a little swashbuckling. In a lot of ways it is similar to Star Wars or at least the early films. It has space exploration, interesting worlds, an epic quest and the type of action you can only associate with proper sword fighting duels.

What I love most about the Harlock stuff I’ve now seen is the tone of it. It’s often times dark and bleak, giving the universe these characters live in the proper setting: the coldness and emptiness of space. Still, it is lighthearted and hopeful and it doesn’t dwell in darkness, in fact, it brings light to it.

In the end, this is just a damn cool anime television show with cool characters, a sweet spaceship and great character and vehicle design. I love Matsumoto’s ability to world build, especially in a visual and tonal sense.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other Captain Harlock films and shows, as well as Leiji Matsumoto’s other work: Galaxy Express 999 and Space Battleship Yamato a.k.a. Star Blazers.

Comic Review: Fantastic Four – Masterworks, Vol. 1

Published: February 25th, 2009
Written by: Stan Lee
Art by: Jack Kirby, various

Marvel Comics, 265 Pages

Review:

I’ve really wanted to go back and read the earliest collaborations between Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. So since I noticed that a lot of the Marvel Masterworks stuff is free for Comixology Unlimited subscribers, I decided to start with the oldest comic, the Fantastic Four.

Man, this was a really cool comic to read. In the past, I had read the first Namor issue and the first appearance of Doctor Doom but reading these early stories, complete and in sequence was a real treat.

Marvel was very different in the very beginning. While the company had existed under different names before this, this was their first attempt at doing superheroes. And Stan Lee took the bull by the horns and just wrote the comic he wanted, thinking he was soon to be fired.

Luckily, this was a hit. Reading the first issue now, I can see why. I mean, there were superhero comics before Stan Lee wrote this but this was very different than what people were familiar with in the forms of Batman, Superman, Captain America and Wonder Woman.

This comic was about a team and not just a team, a team that is pretty much family. It also gave us characters with bizarre and refreshing powers. Sure, the Human Torch existed in another form in the 1940s but this team, as a complete unit, had a lot of unique tools.

These earliest issues are also interesting as you can see Stan Lee and Jack Kirby trying out things and modifying them as they go, as they hadn’t quite figured what this was. But as the series rolls on and as they released other superhero titles, things just came together like they never had with superhero comics before this.

It is these ten issues here that are the real genesis of what Marvel would become.

I love that this was way over the top and often times hokey. It showed two of the greatest creators in the history of the medium trying to develop a solid formula for visual storytelling. Plus, this has so much heart in it that it’s hard to not grin from ear to ear while reading it.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other Marvel Masterworks collections.

Film Review: Arcadia of My Youth (1982)

Also known as: Space Pirate Captain Harlock: Arcadia of My Youth (English title), Vengeance of the Space Pirate (US dubbed version)
Release Date: 1982 (Japan)
Directed by: Tomoharu Katsumata
Written by: Leiji Matsumoto, Yoichi Onaka
Based on: Captain Harlock by Leiji Matsumoto
Music by: Toshiyuki Kimori

Toei Animation, 130 Minutes, 101 Minutes (cut version)

Review:

“At the end of their lives, all men look back and think that their youth was Arcadia.” – title card

I never really knew who Leiji Matsumoto was. As a kid, I loved Star Blazers though and I had heard of Captain Harlock but I never knew that they were associated. Had I known that, I probably would’ve watched this film when it came Stateside.

Now, I’m trying to rectify the injustice of not watching Matsumoto’s other work. So I started here, as this was free for Prime members and because I’ve always been intrigued by Captain Harlock, even though I’ve never seen any of his shows or films.

Maybe I should have watched the earlier anime series first but this does serve as a prequel to it, as well as a prequel to one of Matsumoto’s other creations, Galaxy Express 999.

This is a space opera at its core but that was Matsumoto’s modus operandi and he was able to craft fantastic tales within the genre. Arcadia is no different and ultimately, this made me want to watch the earlier Harlock series.

The thing that really works and makes this so compelling is the tone and the atmosphere. Visually, it’s both dark and fantastical.

The opening scene with Harlock in his biplane being confronted by the spirit of a witch that haunts the Owen Stanley Mountains of New Guinea is pretty breathtaking and lures you in like you’re being pulled by a powerful phantom’s grip. And maybe that’s the witch coming through and having an effect on the audience. Point being, the opening is so well crafted that it made me a fan of this picture from the get-go.

Everything that follows is also pretty fascinating. This is a story with a lot of drama but most importantly, high adventure.

The hero is cool, most of the other characters are great but most importantly, the design of the ships, vehicles and the universe they inhabit is imaginative and stunning.

The audio is presented in mono and I’m not sure if a remastered stereo version exists but the mono sound kind of adds to the atmosphere. Granted, that could also be nostalgia triggering in my brain, as it gave me the same experience I had watching old VHS tapes of Star Blazers and Voltron.

If anything, this feature film sold me on the franchise and further strengthened my appreciation for Matsumoto.

I’m not sure where my odyssey through Matsumoto’s oeuvre will take me next but watching the original Captain Harlock series, as well as the Galaxy Express 999 stuff is a must.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other Captain Harlock films and shows, as well as Leiji Matsumoto’s other work: Galaxy Express 999 and Space Battleship Yamato a.k.a. Star Blazers.

Film Review: John Carter (2012)

Also known as: John Carter of Mars, A Princess of Mars, Barsoom (working titles)
Release Date: February 22nd, 2012 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Andrew Stanton
Written by: Andrew Stanton, Mark Andrews, Michael Chabon
Based on: A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Music by: Michael Giacchino
Cast: Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Samantha Morton, Mark Strong, Ciarán Hinds, Dominic West, James Purefoy, Willem Dafoe, Don Stark, Bryan Cranston, Thomas Haden Church, David Schwimmer, Jon Favreau

Walt Disney Pictures, 132 Minutes

Review:

“Did I not tell you he could jump!” – Tars Tarkas

I got to be honest, I didn’t think I’d get much out of this film but I was pleasantly surprised.

I never planned to watch it but I recently started reading Dynamite Entertainment’s comic book adaptations of the Barsoom stuff (titled Warlord of Mars) and I wanted to see how similar the comic book version of A Princess of Mars was to this film, a live action version of the same story.

They were pretty close, for the most part. Having never read the novel though, I’m not sure which is closer to the source material. I’d assume the comic though, as Disney loves to put their own stamp on their adaptations.

This is an action packed, epic adventure story. It’s grand in scale, is a hell of a lot of fun and is basically a swashbuckling romp on Mars. It’s like if you merged Disney’s Prince of Persia and Pirates of the Caribbean movies together and then threw them into outer space.

This was also one of the most expensive movies ever made but completely flopped at the box office and has become one of Disney’s biggest failures. The sad thing is that it wasn’t shit and the film did a fantastic job of world building: setting up future sequels. Honestly, having seen this now, I wish it would have evolved into a franchise.

I thought that Taylor Kitsch was convincing as John Carter and his chemistry with Lynn Collins’ Dejah Thoris was pretty good. But I actually preferred his relationship with his badass Martian dog, Woola. I smiled every time this cosmic canine was on the screen.

Plus, the Michael Giacchino score is superb. I loved the themes in this picture.

My only real complaint about the movie is that I didn’t like some of the character design. I’m not sure how true to the books the look of the Martians was but I preferred the bulkier, heavyset versions in the comics, as opposed to these skinny ones in the film. Still, the actors that played the Martians (primarily Willem Dafoe) did a solid job.

Additionally, the CGI was questionable in the quality of the characters. The special effects work great for the ships, vehicles, landscapes and architecture but the living, breathing characters felt artificial. And that’s kind of baffling considering the immense budget of this top tier motion picture.

None of the flaws are enough to distract you though. The total package is good and I enjoyed it enough to not want to nitpick the shit out of certain things that don’t wreck the film.

I hope that this being a massive flop won’t deter future filmmakers from taking on the Barsoom material. John Carter is a worthy enough character to live on in various forms forever. I just hope that someone can eventually make something that the people want to see because the Barsoom mythos is rich and deserving of further adaptations.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Disney’s Prince of Persia and Pirates of the Caribbean movies, as well as the first two Brendan Fraser Mummy films and Aquaman.

Comic Review: Wolverton: Thief of Impossible Objects, Issues #1-2

Published: 2018-2019
Written by: Michael Stark, Terrell T. Garrett
Art by: Derek Rodenbeck (Issue 1), Jackie Lewis (Issue 2)

44 Pages

Review:

What a refreshing comic book to read! I’m really glad that I backed this on Kickstarter awhile back and finally got my copies of this wonderfully fun comic.

It reminded me of the first time I read the Hawaiian Dick comic. Not that they’re all that similar but they both tap into a few genres and styles that are underrepresented in modern times while bringing them all together in a nice, near perfect package.

Wolverton is part Indiana Jones, part swashbuckler and part heist story. It is also set back in the day when the world was much cooler, much more stylish and seemingly, a lot more fun.

This comic captures all of these things well and it is an entertaining read on top of it.

I like the character, I love his quips and frankly, I’d love to see this on the big screen someday. And while it started as a film script, as many comics do, it maintains its cinematic feel and scope and displays as much imagination as the films of Spielberg and Lucas in their heyday.

Plus, Wolverton, the character, looks like a cross between Errol Flynn and Vincent Price, which gets a lot of bonus points from me, as both of those men are two of my favorite actors of all-time.

This has that old school Hollywood feel to it and it just feels special.

Additionally, the art is done by different people in both issues but I like both styles. They’re not too dissimilar but they hit the right notes and achieve the right sort of tone and vibe.

Crowdfunding can be risky but this was money well spent and when and if there is a third issue, I’ll be first in line to throw down my cheddar.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: ’80s Indiana Jones comics, as well as swashbuckling comics.

Comic Review: Before Watchmen: Crimson Corsair

Published: July 4th, 2012 – March 13th, 2013
Written by: Len Wein
Art by: John Higgins
Based on: Watchmen by Alan Moore

DC Comics, 57 Pages

Review:

I actually wasn’t expecting a prequel to The Black Freighter part of the Watchmen story when I started reading the Before Watchmen series but low and behold, we were given one and it was written by the great Len Wein with art by the always solid John Higgins.

Out of all the Before Watchmen stories I have read, thus far, this one is my least favorite. That’s not to say that it isn’t good, I enjoyed it quite a bit but it resonated the least with me, even though I’m a big fan of swashbuckler stories.

I think the problem with it is that within the context of what Before Watchmen is, this doesn’t really fit. The Black Freighter was a comic book within the comic book. In the Wathcmen world, it is fiction and read within the comic’s own pages. It was also made into an animated film to be spliced into the motion picture but was cut from the final version and later released on DVD and then edited back into The Ultimate Cut of the film.

So with the other comics in this series fleshing out the backstories of the main characters, this one just seemed unnecessary. It’s still cool that it exists but the story here isn’t anywhere near as good as The Black Freighter. And this doesn’t really add anything to that tale either.

If you are a fan of dark, swashbuckling comics like The Black Freighter, then this will probably be interesting to you. But if you want to know more about the Watchmen world itself, this isn’t a necessary read.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other Before Watchmen stories, as well as Watchmen and Doomsday Clock.

Film Review: The Man Who Laughs (1928)

Release Date: April 27th, 1928 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Paul Leni
Written by: J. Grubb Alexander, Walter Anthony, Mary McLean, Charles E. Whittaker
Based on: The Man Who Laughs by Victor Hugo
Music by: Ernö Rapée, Walter Hirsch, Lew Pollack, William Axt, Sam Perry, Gustav Borch
Cast: Mary Philbin, Conrad Veidt, Brandon Hurst, Olga V. Baklanova, Cesare Gravina, Stuart Holmes, Samuel de Grasse, George Siegmann, Josephine Crowell

Universal Pictures, 110 Minutes

Review:

“[via subtitles, to the House of Lords] A king made me a clown! A queen made me a Peer! But first, God made me a man!” – Gwynplaine

This is sort of the swan song to the typical German Expressionist style, even though it was an American film. The director was German and Conrad Veidt, the title character, originally made his mark in the expressionist film style. Plus, even though this takes place in England, the sets look very German, especially for the time.

Now while it shares a strong resemblance to German Expressionism, it isn’t as surreal as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari or as brooding as Nosferatu. But it still has a darkness to it and even though IMDb and other places categorize this as horror, it is very light in that regard. In fact, the only thing one can argue that fits the horror genre is the grotesque disfigurement of the title character.

Veidt plays Gwynplaine, a man who, as a boy, had his mouth disfigured by a king to look like a creepy smile. As a child he meets Dea and over the years they fall in love, even though Gwynplaine feels he is unworthy of her due to his disfigurement. Gwynplaine constantly wears a scarf over his mouth unless he is performing in the freak show of his traveling carnival. Dea, however, is blind and she sees her blindness as a blessing as it lets her see the true Gwynplaine.

As the film rolls on, it is revealed that Gwynplaine has a right to the throne and he is then pushed into a marriage with a Duchess, who is pretty much a horny vixen that weirdly is turned on by his disfigurement. But all Gwynplaine cares about is spending his life with Dea in his arms.

The character of Gwynplaine is one of the most iconic in cinema history, even if he is mostly forgotten by modern audiences today. His look was the inspiration of the Joker in the Batman comics. He would also inspire the look of the title character in the iconic ’60s horror picture Mr. Sardonicus. Most recently, the origin of his smile was an inspiration for Christopher Nolan’s version of the Joker, as played by Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight.

This also came out during the time when film was transitioning from silent pictures to sound. Initially, this was released as a purely silent movie but due to its quick success it was re-released with a score, it’s own theme song and added sound effects.

The plot is based off of a Victor Hugo story, which the studio thought would help capture some of the magic they had with the adaptation of his more famous story The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Regardless of that, The Man Who Laughs stands quite strongly on its own.

This is a well crafted movie, the narrative flows nicely and the acting is exceptional, as you fall in love with a few of these characters and you want to see Gwynplaine achieve the happiness he yearns for.

A solid motion picture, through and through, The Man Who Laughs is one of the finest pictures of its era.

Rating: 9.25/10
Pairs well with: other German Expressionist films with a dark edge: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Nosferatu, The Golem, etc.