Monday, July 12, 2010


Just a couple of timely points to make before I get to the main event.


This guy is going to kill somebody one of these days. Seriously. Hard to understand why someone so successful and so talented is filled with so much hate.


I think it totally sucks that Marvel and Edward Norton couldn't come to terms on the upcoming Avengers movie. It would have been great to see Norton back as Bruce Banner and interacting onscreen with Robert Downey Jr. and Samuel L. Jackson. I was a big fan of Norton's Hulk movie and I felt that he filled the shoes of the late Bill Bixby quite nicely. Rumor has it that Marvel is hot to get Joaquin Phoenix to take over the role. Phoenix is a good actor. I DON'T see him as Bruce Banner. (And to all the folks out there who insist that Steve Buscemi is the only suitable choice for the role, I have this to say: You're idiots.)

My preference: Lee Pace, star of the recent series
Pushing Daisies. He's a good, solid actor, and he looks enough like Norton that the switchover would not be too jarring for the audience. (Plus, he probably comes a lot cheaper than Norton and Phoenix—and he doesn't have a reputation of being difficult or troubled, which certainly can't be said about Norton or Phoenix.)

Lee Pace

Okay, on with the show...


Taking advantage of some free time with which I found myself recently—including a weeklong vacation from work—I decided to watch a bunch of movies, something I haven’t had a chance to do in a while. Here are the flicks I checked out during that chunk of time, with accompanying capsule reviews.

Toy Story 3 (2010): Starring the voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Joan Cusack, Don Rickles, and Ned Beatty.

I saw this at my local movie theater with my wife and 7-year-old daughter. We skipped the 3D version—it cost more than I was willing to shell out and I didn’t want to have to wear special 3D glasses over my regular ones—and settled for the old-fashioned 2D format. But it was hardly “settling.” You don’t need 3D to appreciate the creative genius of the folks at Pixar. They never cease to amaze me. They are so damned talented and good at coming up with fun, charming, heartfelt movies that thoroughly entertain people of all ages.
Toy Story 3 is a great blending of the previous two movies. I’d say the first one is still the most fun, while Toy Story 2 is the most emotional. This new one feels very balanced. And the ending is just beautiful—both my wife and daughter were so moved in the closing minutes that they were weeping. They insist that I was too, but I maintain that someone must have been slicing onions near me in the theater.

The Wrestler (2008): Starring Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei, and Evan Rachel Wood.

I had this saved on the DVR since last November, from one of its airings on HBO. Director Darren Aronofsky and I were classmates in junior high, and we actually bumped into each other a few years ago, just as his filmmaking career was starting to take off. Since then, he’s impressed me a great deal with his work, and he is responsible for one of the most powerful, disturbing, and indelible movie-watching experiences I’ve ever had:
Requiem for a Dream, which I need never see again because it made such a deep impression on me. The Wrestler does not quite fall into that category, but it’s a very well made film nonetheless, with strong, thoroughly convincing performances by Mickey Rourke and Marisa Tomei. Of particular note is the sequence in which Rourke’s character is working at a supermarket deli counter—those are among Rourke’s strongest, most compelling moments, in my opinion. I did think the subplot about the relationship between Rourke’s character and his daughter (played by Evan Rachel Wood) got a bit overwrought at times, but it didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment of the film.

The Crazies (201o): Starring Timothy Olyphant and Radha Mitchell.

I saw this on Blu-ray courtesy of my friend, the infamous Weird Pete, and his Netflix membership. This is a remake of a 1973 film by George A. Romero, who gave us the 1968 classic
Night of the Living Dead and its terrific 1978 sequel Dawn of the Dead, among many other horror movies. I’ve never seen the Romero original, but remake director Breck Eisner delivers an effective, well-paced, suspenseful, and well-acted thriller about the death of a small Midwestern town by a mysterious plague that turns its inhabitants into, well, a bunch of crazies. Timothy Olyphant, who is so good as the star of the excellent new FX TV series Justified, turns in a strong performance as the sheriff of the town. The beautiful Radha Mitchell plays his wife, and they work very well together. Unlike the Friday the 13th movies and their brain-dead ilk, the characters in this film are well defined and written as real people instead of empty props, so that when deaths occur along the way, you actually feel something for the people who die.

Taken (2008): Starring Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, and Famke Janssen.

This is another one that I saved on the DVR, from one of its recent airings on HBO. When I think of movie action heroes, the name Liam Neeson normally wouldn’t come to mind. Which is probably one of the reasons why I was so pleasantly surprised by this film. Neeson is very effective as a former CIA paramilitary operative who goes back into action to rescue his teenaged daughter, who has been kidnapped in Paris to be sold into sexual slavery. In terms of tone and style, it’s not far removed from a James Bond film or the TV series
24, though it’s a lot more straightforward in its storytelling. Maggie Grace, playing Neeson’s daughter, is more likable here than she ever was on Lost, but poor Famke Janssen has to play the stereotypical “bitchy ex-wife from hell.” This film probably isn’t going to win the French any new fans, but I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing Neeson make a return visit to this genre in the near future.

Frost/Nixon (2008): Starring Frank Langella and Michael Sheen.

Another one that I had saved on the DVR for a number of months. Frank Langella turns in a triumphant performance as Richard M. Nixon, managing to avoid caricature and to portray the disgraced former U.S. President as a complex, intelligent, deeply troubled man with both flaws and virtues. Michael Sheen is strong as David Frost, but his character arc is not nearly as compelling as his co-star’s. What’s at stake for Nixon is the redemption of his presidency, the salvation of his reputation, and the restoration of his legacy. For Frost, it’s all about whether any TV network will air his interviews with Nixon—for which he’s paying out of his own pocket—and the professional setbacks he experiences when his talk shows in Australia and England get canceled. (Meanwhile, the wealthy Frost also has a gorgeous girlfriend standing beside him every step of the way, through thick and thin—hard to relate to or feel too sorry for the bloke.) Having finally watched this film, I am curious to watch the real Frost/Nixon interviews, to see whether director Ron Howard authentically captured the interplay between the two men. I’ve since read that the film takes many liberties with actual facts and events, which is to be expected, I guess, and now I’d be interested in knowing how things really went down.

Deadgirl (2008): Starring Shiloh Fernandez, Noah Segan, Eric Podnar, Candice Accola, and Jenny Spain.

I watched this on DVD. My friend Jack was actually one of the investors on this film and he loaned me a copy. It’s a disturbing independent horror movie with an extremely bleak outlook on the psyche of the teenaged human male. While the dialogue is a bit contrived, the cast of unknowns is mostly good—particularly Shiloh Fernandez, who plays the main protagonist, Rickie, and who kind of looks like a cross between a young Joaquin Phoenix and infamous serial killer Richard “The Night Stalker” Ramirez. The storyline is pretty original and unique, but I found that in order to make its point, it forced its male leads to act far beyond the point of believability and to do the absolute stupidest, vilest things that even the most desperately horny boys would never bring themselves to do in the name of getting laid. In that sense, the film works well enough as an allegory—but it doesn’t seem to know that it’s an allegory until its latter half. Until then, the film seems to be a fairly straightforward, earnest, somewhat realistic horror tale that only requires a little suspension of disbelief on the part of the viewer. But as plausibility goes out the window and things get more and more absurd—complete with some bits of odd humor—the only way for the movie to really work is for it to be viewed in allegorical terms. Still, it’s far above the utter brainlessness of most other teen horror flicks and certainly worth a look—but it’s definitely not a “date flick.”

White Oleander (2002): Starring Alison Lohman, Michelle Pfeiffer, Renee Zellweger, Robin Wright Penn, Noah Wyle, and Patrick Fugit.

I caught this on HBO. It’s the story of Astrid, a teenaged girl whose world falls apart and who is shuttled from one troubled foster home to another after her mother Ingrid—a free-spirited, manipulative, and truly warped individual (played by Michelle Pfeiffer)—murders her philandering lover and is sent to prison. As Astrid approaches adulthood, she struggles to gain emotional independence from her incarcerated mother, to forge her own identity, and to find her place in the world.

Not only do I not have an opinion on this film, I’m having a hard time accepting that I actually watched it.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009): Starring Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber, Danny Huston, and Lynn Collins.

I caught this on HBO. The best I can cay about this prequel to the X-Men trilogy of films it is that it’s better than
X-Men 3: The Last Stand—but that’s not saying much. Despite the fact that this fills in Wolverine’s mysterious backstory and shows how and why he got to where he was in the first X-Men movie, I found this to be suspense-free, only mildly entertaining, and utterly lightweight, with Wolverine being far less interesting here than he was in X-Men and X-Men 2: X-Men United. There’s one (and only one) significant plot twist that I didn’t see coming, so I’ve got to give the film credit for that. Also, I think the character of young Scott Summers (who will grow up to become Cyclops, the field leader of the X-Men), gets to accomplish more here than he did in the previous three X-Men films combined. Liev Schreiber is appropriately menacing as Victor Creed, Wolverine’s half-brother, and Danny Huston does a good job as the younger version of Brian Cox’s William Stryker (from X-Men 2). But Hugh Jackman is simply not given much to work with. This is a soulless, insubstantial, forgettable film that adds very little to the X-Men franchise as a whole and to Wolverine as a character.

One thing’s for sure—you can’t say there wasn’t a lot of
variety to this batch of flicks!

Monday, July 5, 2010


Screw Twilight. To hell with The Vampire Diaries. Lestat’s a total wuss. And True Blood blows—oh, wait, I actually like True Blood.

Anyway, I’m very pleased to see that one of my all-time favorite treatments of vampires—particularly the most famous vampire of all—is being reprinted as a series of affordable trade paperbacks, the first volume of which went on sale last week. Hopefully, a whole new audience will discover this bona fide classic.

I’m referring to The Tomb of Dracula, published by Marvel Comics from 1972 to 1979 and lasting 70 issues. It is, in my opinion, one of the greatest things ever published by that company. (As many of you know, I worked at Marvel throughout the 1990s.) In fact, I’d argue that The Tomb of Dracula is the best finite series in Marvel’s history—a series with a beginning, a middle, and definitive end. And in the case of The Tomb of Dracula, there was a clear beginning and an engrossing, disturbing, chilling, suspenseful, and ever-imaginative middle that led to a powerful and thoroughly satisfying conclusion. In that sense, the whole thing functions as a 70-chapter graphic novel, though it was produced long before the term “graphic novel” was ever coined as an alternative to the less prestigious sounding “comic book.”

The just-released first volume reprints issues 1-12, and I’ll acknowledge that it takes a few issues—in this format, they can be considered chapters—for the saga to find its footing. But it’s worth the wait, and new readers will be rewarded for their patience. The lack of a clear direction at the beginning of the series was unavoidable, really, given the fact that in its first seven issues, The Tomb of Dracula went through four different writers. Fortunately, they were among the very best comic-book writers of that era, so even though there was a lack of consistency in terms of characterizations and overall tone from issue to issue at the start, there was an undeniable craftsmanship and a quality to the writing that established a solid enough foundation for the series and a sense of momentum that kept things moving forward until a permanent writer took up residence.

But the look of the series was never anything but consistent, since one penciler—the amazing Gene Colan—was on board from start to finish. He was paired with a variety of inkers for the first 10 issues, but with #11, he began a partnership with the phenomenal Tom Palmer (also one of the nicest guys in the comic-book business) that would endure to the very end. Colan and Palmer meshed perfectly, complementing each other’s styles and producing some of the moodiest, most dramatic artwork ever produced for the comics medium.

Dracula as rendered by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer.

So… what’s the series about? Well, it’s not exactly a direct sequel to Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel—not at first. But as new characters and situations are introduced, the series does start to establish closer ties to the novel, which should please fans of Stoker’s work.

Writer Gerry Conway kicked things off in the first issue with the accidental resurrection of Count Dracula in the bowels of his Transylvanian castle, and the introduction of one of the saga’s key characters: Frank Drake, who is actually a descendant of the legendary vampire. The series as a whole depicts the efforts of Drake and his growing group of allies to stop Dracula from spreading his brand of evil around the world.

Dracula lives again: The Tomb of Dracula #1.

Conway only wrote the first two issues, just long enough to get things rolling. He was replaced by Archie Goodwin, one of the best writers and editors to ever grace the comic-book industry, and a personal hero of mine. Goodwin also wrote only two issues, but during his brief tenure, he added a major new character to the cast: Rachel Van Helsing, granddaughter of Abraham Van Helsing, who was of course one of the main characters of Stoker’s novel. (It’s important to note that the introduction of Rachel was done long before it became a tired cliché to have the descendants of Stoker’s original characters serve as Dracula’s opponents in the present day.) Goodwin was followed by Gardner Fox, who stayed on just long enough to produce a two-part supernatural adventure that maintained the overall status quo.

It wasn’t until issue #7 that the series really clicked and headed in the direction that would earn it all of its acclaim. It was with that issue that Marv Wolfman came on board as the regular writer. (Yes, it’s true: a guy named “Wolfman” was the integral writer of a series about Dracula.)

The importance of Marv’s arrival on The Tomb of Dracula cannot be emphasized enough. He was bursting with ideas from the very start. With his first issue, he brought in perhaps the most important character of all, with the exception of Dracula himself: the elderly vampire hunter Quincy Harker, who was actually introduced at the very end of Stoker’s novel as the young son of Jonathan and Mina Harker. As developed by Wolfman, Quincy was a complex, three-dimensional, and fully realized character, the likes of which had not really been seen before in mainstream comics.

Soon after, Wolfman introduced one of the most popular characters of the series: Blade the vampire slayer, who would of course get his own movie trilogy (and a short-lived cable television show) several decades later.

Blade makes his memorable debut in
The Tomb of Dracula #10.

Other key players, including Dracula’s hated daughter Lilith and fiction writer Harold H. Harold (a Woody Allen type who served as comic relief), would follow.

Dracula introduces readers to his daughter Lilith in a special issue.

As the series progressed, Marv went in different, unexpected directions: at one point, Dracula had to actually join forces with his pursuers in order to take on a mutual enemy; the Dracula family grew, in a most unusual fashion; and one extended storyline led to a chilling, pivotal confrontation between Dracula and his dark master. Along the way, there were even guest appearances by the sorcerer Doctor Strange and the cosmic-powered alien being known as the Silver Surfer—but rest assured, horror fans, “crossovers” into the Marvel Universe proper were kept to a bare minimum, and when they did happen, they were done in a manner that felt appropriate and organic to The Tomb of Dracula.

The encounter with Dr. Strange began here...

... and ended here. And just a few months later...

... the Silver Surfer showed up. (From The Tomb of Dracula #50).

Marv Wolfman must also be credited with fleshing out the character of Dracula like no other writer in history—including Stoker. In Marv’s hands, Dracula truly came alive (so to speak), with a real personality, clear motivations, and a rich backstory. Marv’s Dracula is loathsome, vile, cruel, arrogant, deceitful, noble, and at times, believe it or not, even the slightest bit sympathetic.

The other vampires we meet throughout the series are, with a few rare exceptions, purely evil, grotesque monsters who view humans as nothing more than prey and as a source of nourishment.

In other words, vampires done right.

After The Tomb of Dracula ended with #70, there were several revivals. A couple of them reunited the classic team of Wolfman and Colan. And one revival was actually written by none other than yours truly! It was a three-issue limited series published in 1998 called Dracula: Lord of the Undead, illustrated by Pat Olliffe and the aforementioned Tom Palmer, and it was a dream project for me. Working with Pat and Tom and editor Tim Tuohy was one of the absolute best experiences I ever had as a comic book professional, and I still have a great fondness for that project.

Greenberg writes Dracula! It took me years to get this project off the ground.

The splash page for #1, with my name in the credits. I now own the original art!

But I have to say that none of the revivals—including the one I wrote—have measured up to the original Tomb of Dracula series. That 70-issue body of work is in a class by itself and still towers over everything that has followed it.

Which is why I’m pleased that it’s being put out again, during a period in which vampires are all the rage, so that audiences can relive, or experience for the first time, the best handling of Dracula since Bram Stoker completed his novel about the sinister vampire count from Transylvania.

If you’re a fan of horror and/or a lover of vampire fiction (and I know some of you are): Don’t let the fact that it’s a “comic book” turn you off to it. This is a serious, respectful treatment of the subject matter.

Volume 2 of the trade paperback series apparently goes on sale September 29, so pick up Volume 1 now, start reading, and you’ll be ready for the next installment by the time it comes out. To quote my favorite TV detective, Adrian Monk: “You’ll thank me later.”

Thursday, July 1, 2010


So, Larry King is finally going off the air.

And people are now writing all these essays of praise about him, pieces about how great his show has been for the last 25 years and what a wonderful interviewer he is.

Well, this may come off as me dancing on someone's grave, but I've been saying for YEARS that it was time to put Larry King out to pasture already. (Just ask my wife!)

For decades, Larry King has consistently been one of the main faces of CNN. Night after night, he has hosted one of the tentpole shows of a network that purports to be a serious, professional, credible news organization.

And yet, on countless occasions over the years (including a 1987 radio interview with Howard Stern), Larry King has proclaimed proudly that he does absolutely NO advance preparation for his program.

And boy, does it show.

Granted, I have not been a regular viewer of "Larry King Live." But on the occasions where I've watched, I have more often than not found myself shaking my head and groaning at King's inane questions, his ignorance, his inaccuracies, and his apparent inattentiveness to what's going on right in front of him.

I remember how he had on Paul McCartney in 2001, for a full hour. Here was a golden opportunity to have an in-depth conversation with one of the true pop culture giants of the 20th century, something that could possibly show McCartney in a refreshing, new, interesting, and even revelatory light. Something along the lines of Bob Costas's rightfully legendary 3-part interview with McCartney on his thoroughly great interview show Later With Bob Costas back in 1991. (I still have the entire Costas interview with McCartney on VHS, and I transferred it to DVD recently for posterity. That's how good it was.)

So what did King ask McCartney? Stuff like "Why did the Beatles break up?" "Did you write the music and John wrote the lyrics?" "How does it feel being so successful?" "What's your favorite song that you've written?"

In other words, the same tired questions every hack interviewer has asked McCartney thousands of times over the years. For a full hour. No real thought or effort put into any of the questions. Nothing new. Nothing insightful. Nothing original.

Oh, except for this gem: "What are you doing now? Do you sing?" (That's an exact quote.)

I think it says a lot that McCartney eventually got so bored with the whole thing that he started playing with his brand new camera-watch, taking pictures, right in the middle of the interview.

Some other Larry lowlights over the years:

He asked Stan Lee, one of the chief architects of Marvel Comics, about how he created Batman. ("Wrong company," Stan corrected him politely.)

This one's a jaw-dropper: Larry accuses Roman Polanski of murdering his wife Sharon Tate. Luckily, Sharon's sister is on the show to set Larry straight. (Larry's "I meant to do that" attempt to backtrack and cover his rear end is actually impressive in its ballsiness.)

In 2007, Larry scored the first joint interview with McCartney and Ringo Starr since their days in the Beatles. And what did he do? Asked the same questions he asked Paul in 2001. Oh, and in a moment that has since become infamous, he called Ringo "George." Being called on his gaffe, Larry went with his apparently standard "Oh, I meant to do that" defense.

All of this might seem like petty nitpicking on my part, but my point is, if Larry and his staff don't have their shit together when it comes to stuff like this--stuff for which it is very EASY to get accurate information and to have all of the facts straight--then what about the bigger, more important topics? You know, the ones involving war, government corruption, the economy, climate change, and so on.

To top it all off, King is just a weak interviewer. He misses golden opportunities to ask follow-up questions and get to the bottom of a topic. He doesn't challenge guests when they make odd or downright ridiculous statements or when they fail to answer his questions--which isn't too surprising since he doesn't seem to even be paying attention when they're talking. (Comedienne Kathy Griffin said recently that this is indeed the case.)

And it doesn't look like things are going to get much better with King's departure. His rumored replacement is Piers Morgan, some British guy I've never seen or heard of, who I understand serves as a judge on America's Got Talent. Whatever. And apparently, Larry King's own favored successor is the ubiquitous (and, in my opinion, odious) Ryan Seacrest.


If those are the best choices, hell, they might as keep Larry around. (Where have you gone, Bob Costas?)

But to end on a more positive note towards ol' Larry (who, incidentally, was a classmate of my mother's at Lafayette High School in Brooklyn, New York, back when he was still known as Larry Zeiger), he does have the ability to make me laugh out loud. Check this out and be sure to watch the guy that Larry's interviewing chuckle briefly the moment after Larry pauses in mid-sentence to drop his "bombshell."

Bye, Larry. Stay out of trouble now, you hear?