Thursday, June 19, 2008


The Incredible Hulk

Directed by: Louis Leterrier

I have to admit, Marvel definitely has a deep passion for its characters. If you look at the progression of their comics-to-film adaptations you will see some seriously ugly beginnings, stumbling over one roadblock hackjob to the next in order to get to a place that is truly suitable for all audiences.

What we are seeing today from Marvel is a creative conglomerate that has been tossed the reins to many of its most popular characters/franchises and stampeding over the stagnant entries into the fray thus far.

In essence, Marvel has remade the majority of their hot properties since the early 90’s, when the likes of Roger Corman and even George Lucas turned their strong-like-bull lineage into a cesspool of celluloid waste. Anyone remember the first “Fantastic Four” movie? No? That’s because it’s never been formally released and those that have suffered through the mess can attest…it is a sad state of affairs. Not that the recent versions were that much better, but still...

Then there was Captain America, from Albert Pyun, the director of Van Damme’s “Cyborg,” a laughable comic actioner that riled me as a kid, before taste buds developed in my brain. A recent viewing of this gem while deployed reminded me of what it’s like when you give a straight-to-video film crew a budget the size of a park renovation and let them write words on paper to call it a script.

Then, we have the Punisher, my personal favorite character in the Marvel arsenal. Dolph Lundgren stood in the boots of Frank Castle, the skull-wearing vigilante who wrought vengeance on organized crime, and brought all the charisma of Van Damme on a downward spiral cocaine buzz. Then, as Marvel began to pick up steam the last few years, they gave it another go, this time with the right actor (Thomas Jane) and the wrong everything else. Two strikes, he’s out.

Or not. This December we have yet ANOTHER Punisher venture, this time with Rome’s Ray Stevenson in skullhead’s duds. Director Lexi Alexander (Green Street Hooligans) looks to have made a somewhat compelling take on the character, although the sad, but true cringe inducer is the fact that it looks almost exactly like the failed game-to-film adaptation of last year’s “Hitman.”

Which brings us to Hulk, Marvel’s next-up-to-bat franchise. Director Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain…yes, it’s true folks) gave us an emotional, trippy, and oddball tale of the Hulk, with more existential moments than Hulk Smash moments, not to mention Nick Nolte straight out of his mugshot as the film’s main villain.

The first Hulk movie had some great CGI work, although the green goliath did look a bit baby-faced, and some great actors as well, but lacked what most people want out of a Hulk movie…namely mass Hulk carnage. Hulk has always been a torn character, a split personality in essence, but the brainy aspects were always supplemented with mega doses of superpowered WWF action.

Basically, Ang Lee gave us Hulk with daddy issues. Hulk in the Ice Storm. Create your own Hulk/Ang Lee combo and you’ll get the point.

I recently rewatched Hulk to see if I still hated it…and to my surprise I didn’t…but I didn’t love it either. I was still compelled to hit the skip button on my DVD and get to the parts where Hulk was smashing shit. The movie was too fat to begin with and probably with a healthy weight loss program it may well have been the success the studio was hoping for.

Alas, as I get to my point which you’ve been so eagerly awaiting…Marvel, now controlling its own fate with the formation of their own studio to finance their own properties and FINALLY able to cross pollinate the creativity from the comics and infuse it into film has put a huge batch of their chips in the green goliath’s corner.

With Iron Man, Marvel’s first studio film, we were given a taste of what happens when the people who actually give a shit about an adaptation and the impact on its fans. Marvel stepped up to the plate and knocked it out of the park. They even included Nick Fury at the end to let us know they weren’t fucking around. It was a clever nod to those of us that have way more comic books than we do notches on the bedpost. For once, let us get our way.

But, could they keep it up? Would they keep it up?

The Incredible Hulk, if nothing else, proves that Marvel is fully invested in bringing their comics to life with the utmost integrity, respect, and balance. They are buying their own stock and putting their money where their mouth is. Finally, a studio exists where the die-hard fans don’t have to sit around and toil over whether or not anyone cares about their favorite property and if they’re gonna do him right.

It’s still early in the game, but Marvel is in the lead. Is “The Incredible Hulk” better than Ang Lee’s “Hulk?” Yes. I don’t think there’s any need to do a line-by-line. It’s obvious. It’s lighter, it’s fluffier, it’s louder, it’s nerdier, and yes, way more fun. Ang Lee’s “Hulk” is not a bad movie, in my book, but it’s as if Lee didn’t respect the audience or fanbase enough to let them enjoy the kid at heart. We didn’t need a grown up Hulk with daddy issues…we wanted the Hulk we grew up watching on the famed TV show or in the funny books.

The biggest and best aspect of Marvel’s new movie line-up is the attachment of name brand talent. Yeah, Ang Lee’s Hulk had that, but it never felt passionate or interested in source material. It was all about doing their “own” interpretation. Here, Ed Norton throws himself into the role of Bruce Banner, making his onscreen presence just as compelling as his CGI counterpart. That’s a hard thing to accomplish, but Norton pulls it off, much like Bill Bixby in the original TV show.

Jennifer Connelly portrayed Banner’s love interest, Betty Ross, in Lee’s “Hulk” with about as much enthusiasm as a stripper at a spelling bee. Beautiful and talented as she is, she was a waste in that film. Here, we have Liv Tyler who, like Norton, throws herself into the material, never once treating the movie as a paycheck or some in-between project. Lovely and full of passion, Tyler shows Betty's soft and vulnerable side, while retaining the aggressive and tenacious nature of the source character.

William Hurt is spot on as Gen. Ross, who was portrayed by Sam Elliot in the previous outing. Hurt is just an amazing actor to begin with, but he plays along with everyone else in this, giving it his all and really seeming to get into the character. I know I keep saying that character bit over and over, but that’s the point. They were never treated as characters before, just cartoon cut-outs…an image, if you will. Finally, the depth that so many writers and artists have poured into these “characters” is able to shine through onscreen.

Lastly, is Tim Roth as Emil Blonsky/AKA the Abomination. Perfect. Creepy. Malicious. Roth, whose career has spawned a lot of Tarantino and Indie fare, doesn’t seem like someone that would do a Marvel film until now. I would picture him scoffing at the idea, as it were a step down or a sell out. But, that’s just the thing…it’s not. If anything, you’re selling up. All it takes is respect for the material and a creative team who puts the passion and storytelling first.

And it’s all there. My only complaint on the Abomination was that they took out his pointed ears, which was always his identifier. I don’t know the reason for this, but am curious as to why they would retain so much integrity while making that sacrifice.

Speaking of story…it’s light, it’s fun, it’s not gonna hurt your brain. It’s like reading a five issue story arc from the comics, leaving you ready to see where they take the characters next. I read Hulk in writer Peter David and artist Dale Keown’s hey day and let me tell ya…those were some great issues. I would love to see Marvel expand into that realm of the Hulk…but that’s insignificant here…

Director Louis Letierrer (Transporter, Unleashed) stages loud and boisterous action sequences, taking the audience into the Bim, Bam, Smash of the Hulk we want to see. While I wasn’t exactly thrilled by the choice to use him at first, I think he brought a different kind of passion to the project…namely the passion to make a good, entertaining, and fulfilling movie and he certainly succeeded.

Kudos to the design and effects group who brought the Hulk to life here. I was really struck by the effects when the Hulk sat with Betty in the rain, the lightning illuminating his green flesh with great detail. You could see the pigmentation, the texture of the skin. You could practically see the green blood pumping in his veins. Great work, all around. The trailers seemed to downplay the strengths of the CGI and I’m glad that they panned out better than expected.

The end brawl is fun and brutal and reminded me of a WWE fight on super crack/steroids. And that’s not a bad thing. It is pretty much what everyone wanted out of the first Hulk, to see that green bastard smash another like-sized monster in the jaw and knock him through a building (much like we wanted to see from another superhero in another comics universe…hint: he wears a red cape).

This is a great kick off for Marvel. The ball is sailing through the air and they need to get their momentum going before they get sacked. Marvel has an ambitious line up ahead of them and I want nothing more than for them to pull it off. Next up is Iron Man 2, then Captain America, then Thor, then culminates in the (some French expression for “real big shit”) Avengers, pooling all the characters together for a camping trip and barbecue with employee team building exercises.

Truly this is a landmark moment for comic book films and it is my hope that the use of creative integrity will become a mainstay for a successful film. What could be better than associating the success of a project not by how much you changed the original concept but by how much you kept it intact. Now, there’s an idea.


Sunday, June 08, 2008


Born in Alaska, a most unlikely place to think of pugs, Bo, Luke, and Daisy emerged into this world full of life, vigor, and spirit. Bo and Luke, litter brothers who were born to cocaine dealers in the valley, were purchased from doggy slavery in 2003 by Paul and Cherie, a happy couple who wanted to get an early start at child rearing.

Bo was the leader, the handsome and adventurous one. His father, Tucker, looked on him with supreme annoyance, his smudged face all but glaring, “Kid, if these people don’t buy you I will kill you myself.” Bo, unaffected and sprinting the yard like a rodent high on sour patch kids, was indifferent to ownership…he merely wanted to roam.

Luke, born with a defect in his front legs could barely walk as a puppy, having not yet adapted to movement with his handicap. He hobbled like a rabbit and oozed pathetic, which ultimately caused his future human owners to spill “Awww’s” from their mouths while blood dripped from their hearts.

Bo and Luke quickly adapted to life in their new home on Fort Richardson, Alaska. Living on a military base was simple, their yard small and contained. Their worries were few and meals aplenty as their bodies began to swell in the table scrap fashion, becoming more and more like the stereotype of their breed.

Luke began to harness his handicap and moved like a fledgling jackrabbit, his breathing erratic, much like that of a motocross bike engine being revved. Bo remained a wanderer, curious and determined. He was his own canine by and far.

In the summer of 2007, after their owners moved to the nearby Town of Eagle River, Bo and Luke’s world would be turned upside down with the addition of Daisy, a black pug runt with the tenacity and energy of a fully animated Velociraptor from Jurassic Park. Daisy, also from the valley, was prone to running circle eight’s in the yard for twenty minutes straight, biting the fatty hides of her newly adopted brothers as if pulling a blanket off the bed, and breaking all the rules that had been set in motion by the owners.

She was antagonistic and spriteful and the cutest damn thing you ever saw.

As all of the Duke Dogs were spayed and/or neutered, their chances of conceiving a litter were nil. However, this did not stop them from simulating the throes of doggy passion in their front yard in Eagle River. It didn’t matter that Bo and Luke humped each other, because even Daisy was humping, when clearly she never had the hardware to perform such acts to begin with. Strangely, her dry humping resembled the lewd gyrating of a robust black female in a rap video to a tee.

Over the years the Duke Dogs would come to know many experiences and create a legacy to all dogs, one which would not be easily copied. The Duke Dogs had a talent, one they shared only with their male owner and only when alone with him.

The Duke Dogs, much like Frank the Pug in “Men in Black” could speak. Of course, by speak, we mean English, not the Lassie version of speak. This was the real deal. Their owner was taken aback, shocked, and even considered that he may be losing his mind.

After a few months, however, the owner was able to come to terms with his dogs’ talents and began communicating with them regularly. Feeling that this talent should be shared with the world, the owner contacted this reporter, and under a signed agreement (with paws, mind you) and a healthy supply of snausages, I sat down with the owner and his dogs to bear witness to a spectacle I will never forget.

What follows is an interview with the owner and his dogs, which begins to answer some of the questions that are typical of dog owners, but always met with a silent stare or a barking maw.

PLAYBOY: So, should I address the questions to you or them? I mean…do you need to interpret or…?
OWNER: No, no…they’ll speak to you. We’ve agreed, so…I mean, I’m not some kook pretending to talk to my dogs…
BO: Keep telling yourself that.
PLAYBOY: (long pause) Was that…him?
OWNER: (laughing) Dude…I’m not a ventriloquist…I could leave the room if-
PLAYBOY: No, no…It’s just…wow…all right…shall we begin?
BO: Do we have water in here? I mean, if this is gonna go on a long time…
PLAYBOY: My God…He is truly speaking…
BO: (to Owner) Is he just gonna marvel at us the whole time with this shit, or-
PLAYBOY: No, no…I’m fine. You’re right…Bo, correct?
BO: Yes
PLAYBOY: Named after Bo from the hit TV show The Dukes of Hazzard
BO: Wow, are you a detective, too?
PLAYBOY: (to owner) Feisty, huh? I mean, you’d never expect…
LUKE: I like slippers.
BO: No, shit, moron.
PLAYBOY: Now, Luke, you are handicapped, born with a defect that doesn’t allow a full range of motion with your front legs. Explain how that affects your life, especially with two other regularly functioning dogs.
LUKE: Well, it fuckin’ sucks, I mean, whattayawant me to say here? It’s bullshit. God hates me, so here I am.
PLAYBOY: Do you ever feel left out when Bo and Daisy are out, running around the yard and you aren’t able to keep up?
LUKE: Jesus…what are you? Barbara Walters? I ain’t gonna cry dude. If those two assholes wanna run around the yard and look like mongoloids then that’s on them. I’m perfectly content to chillax on the deck and soak up some sun. But, don’t think for a second that I can’t defend myself if I need to.
DAISY: Hey, whattabout me? Are you gonna talk to me? Don’t you wanna know about me?
PLAYBOY: Daisy, you are the newest member to the family. What’s it like being the new one of the litter, so to speak?
DAISY: I love it! I love my new brothers and mom and dad and the yard and the yippy dog next door and people on the street and the fast moving metal boxes and the wind and grass and running! Running is the best. And biting Bo’s fat neck!

This one is straight up obnoxious, dude. This bitch bites and fights all the time and I’ve had to put her in her place many times. And if you call me fat again I’ll squash your bony little runt ass.
OWNER: Hey, let’s play nice here.
BO: Hey, this little black bitch is getting personal. Fuck that.
DAISY: What? Bo, you are fat! You’re a chubby bunny.
BO: I swear to God…
LUKE: Bo has always been a bit husky. But, that’s the breed, I think.
BO: Listen, gimp…shouldn’t you be, like, locked in a closet and dressed in leather and chained to a radiator or some shit? You have no room to talk.
LUKE: Here we go, pick on the handicapped.
DAISY: Will there be a bathroom break soon?
BO: For fuck’s sake-
OWNER: Hey! Language!
BO: What are you, a fuckin’ saint? You’re in the Army for God’s sake…Don’t they send you to schools to learn how to swear?
OWNER: Doesn’t matter. That’s work, not home.
PLAYBOY: You all seem a bit…well, volatile. Is this merely a representation of how dogs fight and play or is this something more?
BO: Look, dude, the bottom line is; we’re dogs. No two ways about it. Alpo chompin’, car chasin’, shit eating dogs. However, we have the ability, for whatever reason, to speak. So, yeah, sure, you’re gonna hear us speak in terms that we understand…that we live.
LUKE: What the fuck are you talking about?
DAISY: I like to talk about snacks and snuggles. Those are my favoritist things EVER!
(at this, BO snaps at DAISY and a furious, but seemingly short tussle ensues. The OWNER breaks up the spat and separates the two, who are quickly back to normal)
PLAYBOY: Perhaps this is an example of some of the greatest knowledge we, as humans, can acquire through you…the reasons behind your actions…
BO: Like what?
PLAYBOY: Well, like your little tussle there…What is it that spawns such an activity?
LUKE: Well, Daisy just says some ridiculous shit and acts a fool and, just like you hunkering primates, we get fed up with it and we lay down the smack…uh, so to speak.
PLAYBOY: Surely you can see the benefits that can be reaped from your insight…your translation of your own behavior…
BO: I mean…whattayawannaknow, dude? Why we eat shit? Why we sniff each other out? Why we bite? Why we chew slippers? Why we lick our own junk? I mean, c’mon the majority of what we do is pretty self explanatory given the circumstances of our lives…
PLAYBOY: Well, I think all the things you mentioned are a bit of a mystery to us…the greater the understanding-
BO: You want it explained? It’s not much different than you guys; We eat shit just like you eat McDonalds; We sniff each other out to see who’s been into what, just like you googling every motherfucker you meet; We chew slippers because we can’t get our paws in the fucking cookie jar; and we lick our own junk…man, you’re gonna make me say it aren’t you?
PLAYBOY: Because you can? I get it.
LUKE: Fuckin’ A.
DAISY: No one knows their own body like themselves. Did I say that right?
LUKE: Shut up, ‘giney licker.
BO: I mean, I’ve seen some of my ‘ahem’ owners, attempt some interesting stunts, so to speak. They’re just less successful. Unless they’re circus performers or some shit.
PLAYBOY: Now, I’ve noticed the crass language. Is this a result of your owners or is this common in the canine world?
LUKE: It’s common. Again, no different than you fucks. We see a strange dog runnin’ around the neighborhood and we call him out. “Hey, fuckstick, who gave you a hall pass to piss in my grass?” Y’know? That sorta thing.
BO: No doubt we are territorial. It’s in our blood, man. Some bloke comes traipsin’ by the house on his metal big wheel thingee like he owns the joint, we wanna know what’s up. Doesn’t mean we’re gonna bite his balls, but we wanna know if he’s friend or foe.
DAISY: Hey, that reminds me…why can’t I escape the yard anymore?
OWNER: Well, Daisy, that’s because I put rocks along the fence.
DAISY: But…I just want to be able to get out and explore a little…
OWNER: We could always go back to the shock collar…
DAISY: Y’know, I like the rocks. They look great out there. Really accentuate the yard.
BO: candy ass.
PLAYBOY: You guys also have a MySpace page with an impressive 724 friends. Can you tell me how that came about?
BO: I’ve seen mom and dad playing on that shit and some serious drama going on there so I thought, what the hell, let’s see what I can wrangle up. There are A LOT of bitches on MySpace, man. It’s a great way to make connections and share tricks, tactics, gossip, and the like. I found out about this new milk bone on there…so fuckin’ good…
DAISY: I’m on MySpace, too! I like the boys!

I really wish you guys would take me off that shit. Seriously.
PLAYBOY: So, how is that you are able to access and use the internet? Isn’t that difficult with paws?
BO: Dude, I type better than most of you finger punchers. My nails can hit the keys at a thousand words per minute.
PLAYBOY: Do you just use MySpace or are there other sites you visit?
LUKE: I like dog and animal myself.
DAISY: I like the one with smiley faces that go “helllloooooooo”
BO: That’s an ad, moron.
DAISY: Well, I LOVE it!
BO: I’ll hit the porn sites, like dad, and then check out tdameritrade to check on the market. I wish someone would make a hot or not for dogs, already…but, whatcha gonna do? People forget that dogs like to “bone” (makes quote sign with paws…amazing) just like everyone else.
PLAYBOY: So, perhaps you can elaborate on the whole…”humping” aspect?
DAISY: I love humping!
BO: I’ll take this one; again, it’s no different than you guys. I’ve seen it on the magic window in the living room. Humans dry gyrating on humans on the E! Channel. I mean, c’mon…the only difference with us is there’s no dance music playing and we aren’t wearing a mini-skirt or tube top. We’re animals. We hump. End of story.
PLAYBOY: Are you bi-sexual? It’s been explained to me that you have been caught, on video even, humping your litter brother, Luke.
LUKE: Yeah, explain that shit, homo.
BO: Fuck you. Literally. Hey, you ever seen those prison movies? Where otherwise straight guys become gay? Why do you think that is? Cause they ain’t got nothin’ else so why the fuck not, right? Same here. Mom leaves us in the yard for a few hours, I mean there’s only so many cars to chase, rocks to chew, and grass to stare at before you look over at Luke’s lame ass laying in the lawn and start to dream about a hot slice of Border Collie Bitch Ass. It happens.
PLAYBOY: And has Daisy’s presence, being that of a female, helped or hindered that situation?
LUKE: It’s pretty much a big orgy now. Except we’re all fixed, so…it’s a lot like the creepy dry humping you see on MTV’s Sweet Sixteen parties.
BO: Yeah. Except no mini-skirts.

DAISY: I’d like a mini-skirt.
BO: Yeah, I’ll bet you would. Maybe you’d like Mom to put you in a handbag and parade you down Hollywood Boulevard, too, but I don’t see that happenin’.
PLAYBOY: You mentioned the “magic window” in the living room, which we know as a TV. Do you enjoy it or are you completely baffled by it?
LUKE: It’s fucking magic, dude!
BO: I mean, I have to claim some doggie ignorance here…I don’t understand the fucking thing to save my life. One second I’ll see this dark colored man with a clock around his neck and then suddenly the window will change and I’ll see a bunch of humans running around an island with guns and floating black clouds of death. It’s a bit much to take.
PLAYBOY: Would you say it frightens you?
LUKE: I just want to know how the fuck I can get through that window so I can take on that little Chihuahua with Joel McHale. That little fuck is taunting me, I know it.
BO: Yeah, we see dogs in the magic window all the time. So, naturally we bolt after ‘em. I run out of the room and to the other side, but the window doesn’t open up to anywhere. The fucking thing disappears into the wall. And if horses show up…
PLAYBOY: What is the significance of horses?
OWNER: (pause) they’re scared to death of horses. Especially Bo.
BO: It ain’t fear, dick. I will bite a horse’s balls off if he’d ever have some big enough to show his long ugly snout through the magic window. Fuck those motherfuckers.
PLAYBOY: What is it like living with humans? Would you say you are well provided for or would you rather be left to your own devices in the wild?
DAISY: I love mommy and daddy. Well, daddy is mean sometimes. Like when I eat the greasy goodness out of the bottom of the grill when he’s not looking. But, they are pretty bad ass…and mommy lets me sleep with her. I love snuggles. And snacks. Did I say that already?
BO: Yeah, I mean, our breed is a snuggly breed. We aren’t gonna be fetchin’ fuckin’ quail or sniffing for bombs, y’know. We are good for snuggling. That’s our lot in this life.
LUKE: We’re well provided for. I can’t complain. Shit, as fucked up as I am, I wouldn’t last long in the wild…especially in this tundra laden land.
BO: I’d like to be able to roam the streets at night…dry-pound some bitches and maybe dig through some trash, but otherwise…life is all right with these ape lookin’ bastards.
PLAYBOY: One last question to wrap it up… As dogs that can talk, what would you like to share or have humans know about you more than anything? Is there something that you really want to say?
DAISY: We LOVE treats…I mean, duh! But, also, scratching bellies is heaven and if we could get some chocolate from time to time, that’d be great. But, belly rubs? Keep ‘em comin’!
LUKE: Spoken like a true spoiled princess, you stupid runt…I’d say…chill the fuck out with the Goddamned tricks. I mean, the ability to sit on command or fetch a bone is pretty fucking demeaning if you ask me. I mean, teach me to surf the internet or drive a car…but sitting? Come on…we’re better than that.
BO: Yeah, that’s pretty good. Me, I’d say…maybe share a little more of your chow. Humans are pretty wasteful and they throw some good shit away…Why not just scrape that plate into a bowl on the floor? I can’t speak for these other two yahoos but eating doggie cocoa puffs every morning for the rest of my life is pretty abysmal…there should be no mystery as to why I beg for a piece of your chicken. Wouldn’t you do the same thing if you had to eat the same shit every day? Share the love fuckers.
PLAYBOY: (to OWNER) well, thank you. This has been…amazing, to say the least.
OWNER: All right…Thank you…(to dogs) Okay, now…who needs to go outside?

(The dogs rush from the OWNER’S hands and flee to the door, scratching and pawing to get out as if the room were on fire. From foul-mouthed pups with a volatile, yet laid back nature one minute to average canines following learned commands the next, the Duke Dogs seem to have found the perfect balance of using their special abilities while still remaining “undercover” as normal Pugs. Truly an amazing batch of dogs.)

Visit the Duke dogs at their official MySpace page: