Tuesday, November 13, 2018

STAN THE MAN Has Gone: STAN LEE of MARVEL, 95

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One of the joys of the universe of Marvel Comics being interpreted in live-action, from films to TV series, is that as much as possible they tried to include little cameo appearances by a remarkably vibrant guy of a very advanced age who was a riot whenever he said something in his scenes. He was born Stanley Martin Lieber, but the world of comic books and superheroes know him as Stan Lee, co-creator of many Marvel characters and one of the greatest visionaries in the industry for so many decades. Despite his advanced age he was always game to be a part of the Marvel audiovisual experience; but everything ends.
And so with a heavy heart it is reported through many media sources including Entertainment Weekly that Stan Lee of Marvel Comics has passed away at the age of 95. Representatives share that “Stan the Man” died in the early hours of Monday, November 12, at the Los Angeles Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where he was rushed following a health emergency at his home. This was also corroborated by Kirk Schenk who serves as personal attorney for Stan’s daughter and only surviving family, Joan Celia Lee.
The Marvel creative legend’s health has been declining in past years. Just this March, he mentioned in a video that he had come down with pneumonia, which effectively cancelled several of his planned public appearances in 2018. The departure of his wife of some 70 years, Joan Babcock Lee, only last year at the same age of 95 is also believed to have taken a toll on Stan. Also not helping were the recent business and personal problems that have arisen, from allegations of harassment by him and elderly abuse against him, to legal battles with his inner business circle and a media company that he co-founded back in 2001.

Born of Jewish Romanian immigrants in 1922, Stan Lee conceived his famous pen name when he started working on the staff of Timely Comics, which would later become Marvel Comics. In the 1960s he and collaborators such as Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko developed a new, grounded and humanly flawed characterization for comic-book superheroes that led to the creation of Spider-Man, X-Men, Iron Man, the Fantastic Four, and more. As he himself was a Marvel employee, Stan’s many marvelous creations remained owned by the company itself, and later by Disney which acquired Marvel in 2009.
Stan the Man’s death has been eulogized and tributes done in his memory, not only by the comic book industry but the general entertainment complex due of course to the MCU film franchise. Stars from Marvel Studios saluted him on social media, as did comic creators like Brian Michael Bendis, who posted a comic-form memoriam in the New York Times.
Image courtesy of Hollywood Reporter

“BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY”: ‘Mark My Words, No One Can Ignore QUEEN’

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One significant question in the creation of a biographical motion picture, or biopic, is how much actual history can be put in without turning it into a straight documentary, and how many fictional elements can be mixed into the narrative for dramatic license before it becomes too much. When the subject of the biopic happens to be one of the greatest rock bands in history, one with a years-spanning decade and a front-man with a very interesting private life, that question becomes especially important. I would not say “Bohemian Rhapsody” by 20th Century Fox answered that question, but it does somehow present what I think is a reasonable blend of historical facts and dramatic storytelling.
As the title implies, the film is a biopic on legendary British band Queen, as centered on its lead vocalist Freddie Mercury, portrayed to magnificent effect by American (of Coptic Egyptian extraction) actor Rami Malek, whose film and television career has seen him play an Egyptian Mummy (“Night at the Museum” films) to, more recently, a cyber-security hacker for three seasons of USA Network’s “Mr. Robot”. To get to play Freddie Mercury would easily be the pinnacle of all his roles thus far, and he nails it with near-accurate aplomb.
“Bohemian Rhapsody” means to show the history of Queen, from its beginnings as the pub-playing Smile until talented vocalist and songwriter Farrokh “Freddie” Bulsara, a Parsi airport luggage handler who puts up with being mistaken by Britons as a “Paki”, volunteers to replace their quitting lead singer. With Freddie’s voice and command of the stage complementing the instrumentation skills of Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy), John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello) and the guitar hero Bryan May (Gwilym Lee), the rebranded Queen make enough of a splash that the guys follow Freddie’s lead to start making albums and eventually going on tour too.
That is all well and good, but any fan of Queen that has researched their history would know that this is a simplified Cliff’s Notes version of what actually happened. No, Freddie did not acquire his legless mike stand on his first outing with the band. The events are all broad strokes, with general music biopic tropes seemingly used to tie the general waypoints together. The same applies to the coverage of Freddie’s personal life: his estrangement from family, his falling in love with Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton), and eventual examination of his actual sexuality.
But then some counter inquiries pop up. Does it really matter that events in Freddie Mercury and Queen’s lives are not delved into greater detail? Do glossing over the lives of Brian May and the others to keep the spotlight on Freddie ruin the perception of this being a Queen biopic? Does establishing Freddie’s homosexual relationships following the deterioration of his engagement to Mary, but not going graphic beyond guys kissing, a cop-out to the nitty-gritty of the dalliances that led to tragic consequences that were not depicted either? The production team went with “Bohemian Rhapsody” as a dramatic movie rather than a pseudo-documentary. I happen to accept that.
Story interpretation aside, there is one element of the film that only tone-deaf critics being harsh for its own sake would dare mark down: the music. While Malek was given his due with him vocalizing at some points, the heavy lifting was given over to actual Queen song inserts to the performance scenes, from studio recordings to the concerts, all done in meticulous attention to detail. From the wardrobe to the sets (a few instances of anachronism notwithstanding), it all looks appropriate to the period.
But the piece de resistance of “Bohemian Rhapsody” has got to be its final sequence, being Queen’s set during the 1985 Live Aid concert at Wembley. The scene was a near-exact copy of the actual set, with only two songs omitted; but anyone who has seen footage of Queen at Live Aid would be able to match Freddie’s body motions to Malek’s. He is just that good, and the scene is enhanced with cinematic techniques from drone shots of the Wembley Stadium set, which was indeed filled with real spectators. I would be hard-pressed to find anybody who was not affected by this one sequence.
When I watched the film in the cinema for my review, I saw a wide age range in the audience, from possible Queen-contemporary adults to high school students to children. Some of them even sang along when the songs were on. If that is no indication of Queen’s mark on music I would not know what is. This to me makes worth it all the behind-the-scenes production drama, and their ability to salvage a gem from disaster, particularly Dexter Fletcher who finished what the initial director Bryan Singer started. This Queen biopic may leave much to be desired in terms of historical focus, but its celebration of the band’s music and Freddie’s place in it cannot ever be simply ignored.
Image courtesy of Business Insider

CALIFORNIA WILDFIRES Kill 31, Destroy TOWN, Burn Some CELEBRITY HOMES

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In California the most likely natural disasters to visit would be an earthquake or wildfires. This time of the year in particular is often the prime period when they break out. When they do, devastation of homes and communities, not to mention injury and loss of life, would surely follow.
CNN reports that the two major California wildfires that broke out last week on Thursday, November 8, have between them claimed no less than 31 lives in their infernal rampage. The Camp wildfire in the northern part of the state has been the worst of these, and has already been labeled as perhaps the most devastating blaze to ever ravage California. It claims 29 of the confirmed dead, and is responsible for the near complete destruction of Paradise town with over 90 of its standing structures burned down, and 238 people still missing and unaccounted for according to local authorities.
Over in the south, the Woolsey wildfire killed the remaining 2 fatalities reported so far, while spreading about 85,500 acres. In conjunction with the smaller, and now mostly contained, Hill wildfire, Woolsey has destroyed 179 buildings and threaten to burn 57, 000 more. It is 15% contained; Camp is 25%.

Among the many homes that were razed by the wildfires are residences of major Hollywood stars such as Gerald Butler, Camille Crammer Meyer and Shannon Doherty, along with those of singer-songwriters Neil Young and Robin Thicke. Among those who have joined the evacuation but for now have their residences remaining intact are Alyssa Milano, Orlando Bloom, Lady Gaga, Rainn Wilson, Caitlyn Jenner and Donna Karan.

For Young, this makes it his second home lost to a California wildfire; and his official website blog post has him speaking about climate change enabling devastating blazes like these. Butler, for his part, was quite impressed with the grit and determination shown by Los Angeles Fire Department personnel in battling the wildfire that consumed his home, and asked for charitable support for the organization on Twitter.
High winds around Los Angeles County have not made things any easier for firefighters in preventing more flare-ups to increase the wildfires’ footprint in addition to the extended dry period that local officials forecast will continue on into the week. Again the prime suspect is climate change, as remarked on by California Governor Jerry Brown. “This is not the new normal, this is the new abnormal,” he said. “The chickens are coming home to roost, this is real here.” Los Angeles County has seen 170,000 residents being evacuated ahead of the wildfire advance, adding to the total 300,000 already fled.
We here at Morgan Magazine express our admiration and support to the brave fire fighters of the LAFD as they battle to contain the Camp and Woolsey wildfires before they damage anything further. We also send our prayers that those who have evacuated might still have homes to return to. Lastly, our deepest sympathies go to those who have already lost their homes, as well as the very casualties of these deadly blazes.
Image courtesy of ABC News