Batman Versus Batman

One of the most successful film and television franchises is the world of Batman.

I was a huge fan of reruns of the Batman television series when I was kid. The series starred Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward as Robin. They brought a tongue-in-cheek campiness to the legendary hero.

The series originally aired three seasons in the 1960s. In addition to West and Ward as the principal characters, Batman the series featured some very memorable reoccurring villains including Cesar Romero as The Joker, Burgess Meredith as The Penguin, Frank Gorshin and John Astin as The Riddler, the luscious Julie Newmar and sultry Eartha Kitt as Catwoman, and Vincent Price as Egghead.

In the late 1980’s and 1990’s Warner Brothers revived the Batman characters on film. Michael Keaton starred as the Dark Knight under the direction of visionary Tim Burton in Batman (1988) and Batman Returns (1992).

Joel Shumacher took over the reigns from Burton with Batman Forever (1995) featuring Val Kilmer in the title role and Batman & Robin (1997) starring George Clooney in the central role.

I have an interesting connection to Batman Forever. When Michael Keaton was still attached to reprise his Batman character, I was auditioned for the role Robin. Keaton is 5’9 -an above average height in the U.S., but by no means tall. I stand 5’11 and had a pretty muscular build. It was deemed that my height and build would overshadow Keaton. Later on, before production began, Keaton left the role and 6-foot Kilmer was brought in to replace him, but by that time the more diminutive Chris O’Donnell had signed to play Robin.

After Batman & Robin, Schumacher was to return in with the film Batman Unchained, but the poor box office performance of Batman & Robin brought a closure to the film franchise.

Fast forward to 2005 when a young, handsome, stellar actor by the name of Christian Bale was hired to breathe new life into the Batman legacy with a reboot – telling the story of the character from its origins. Bale appeared in Batman Begins (2005), The Dark Knight (2008), and The Dark Knight Rises (2012).

After Bale left the role, the decision was made was to age Batman into a more mature character with Ben Affleck playing the role under the direction of Zack Snyder. He starred in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) and Justice League (2017). Affleck also made cameos in Suicide Squad (2016) and Wonder Woman (2016).

So who is the best Batman?

As much as I loved the campy Batman television series, I loved the darkness around the character brought about in most of the films. (Schumacher’s Batman Forever and Batman & Robin were more campy and I don’t think that worked well)

So my favorite Batman has to be Keaton. He redefined the role.

Second on my list of favorites is Adam West. While his take comical, it worked for the television sitcom medium

Third on my list is Bale. While Bale may have detractors because of his reputation as difficult to get along with, the fact is he is an amazing actor and brought something new to the role.

After that it’s a bit of a tossup.

Kilmer and Clooney are both very good actors. They each brought positive and negatives to their Batman performances. To their defense, their scripts were not as strong as what Keaton and Bale had to work with.

I was personally very excited to hear about Affleck begin cast as Batman. However, the material he had to work with was dismally bad. Batman v Superman is almost unwatchable, and while Justice League was far better, it still wasn’t a great script. Overall, I was very disappointed with Affleck’s turn, but that has more to do with the script than his acting.

I would love to see Affleck give the role one more try with better material to work with. But who knows? Lately there have been rumors that Affleck may be replaced by Jake Gyllenhall.

Will the next Batman be the best yet? Only time will tell.

Peace. Love. Trust.

Pirates of the Caribbean – Learning from Past Success

Because of racing thoughts in my head, I can never sleep unless I have something playing on the television to distract me.

Netflix recently added the movie Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, so I’ve been watching it for the past few nights to fall asleep. It’s definitely not the crown jewel of the Pirates of the Caribbean film dynasty. Hence, why I’ve been easily falling asleep with it playing….night, after night, after night.

I loved the first Pirates of the Caribbean film – The Curse of the Black Pearle. But, I haven’t been too impressed with any of the follow-ups.

As someone in the film industry – both as an actor and as a screenwriter – I spend a lot of time analyzing films so I can learn from their successes and shortcomings alike. I’ve given a lot of thought to why the original Pirates of the Caribbean film was so good and why the sequels have, for the most part, misfired.

The original Pirates of the Caribbean was written as a drama. Johnny Depp earned an Oscar nomination for his winning decision to play his character (Captain Jack Sparrow) with comic undertones

The sequels have all been written to be comedies. Depp’s Jack Sparrow has become a parody of his original breakthrough performance. His once funny character is now an uninteresting series of drunk deliveries and hamming it up for the camera. It just doesn’t work.

Since I have no blockbusters to my credit, it is highly unlikely Disney is going to recruit me to write the next installment in the Pirates of the Caribbean film empire. But if I could offer a small piece of advice to whoever does undertake scribing the next film, I would say this: write a drama and then let Depp do his thing to make it unique and interesting again.

I think we’ll be seeing Pirates of the Caribbean films for a long time to come. Even if Johnny Depp decides to forgo appearing in these cash cow films at some juncture, I predict Disney will continue the franchise. It happens all the time: Speed 2 (no Keanu Reeves), George of the Jungle 2 (no Brendan Fraser), Scorpion King 2, 3, and 4 (no Dwayne Johnson), Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (no Paul Walker). The list goes on and on – because audiences will continue to show an interest in film sequels just because of the name.

Based on the brilliance of Depp’s performance in the original Pirates of the Caribbean movie, I think there is hope for more sequels…even without Depp. But, to actually be good, the writers, directors, and stars who put together the story and bring it to life need to take a lesson from the past. If they can do that, the films could continue for many, many more installments.

Until then, they make great resources for putting me to sleep at night.

Peace. Love. Trust.

Inventing Yourself

I’m watching this stellar television program on Amazon Prime called Mozart in the Jungle.

In a recent episode, they discussed how we each invent ourselves.

This really resonated with me.

In high school, I invented myself as a would-be rock star. I dressed in red zebra stripes (including spandex), torn jeans, leopard print, and other way out clothes courtesy of shops on L.A.’s famed Melrose Avenue.

In college I reinvented myself as a would-be music producer and manager. This persona lasted several post-college years as my good friend Jeff Schiewe and I tried to make a go of a talent management business while I also worked for Red Light Records, Razor Records, and A&M Records. During that time I produced the album Live in a Day for a brilliant up and coming country-rock band The Fingerprint File.

After the business failed, I reinvented myself again as a professional actor. This identity has continued on through today. In 1996 I became the first celebrity guest star in the environmental theater smash hit Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding – starting off in Chicago and then branching out to other companies in cities across the U.S.. In 1996 I was also a Best Actor nominee in the Pioneer Press annual theater awards for my performance in Noises Off under the direction of the late, great Sally Moomey. In 1999 my performance as Tony in West Side Story in Los Angeles earned me acknowledgement as a Best Bet by the respected L.A. Times.

In the early 2000’s I was splitting time between L.A. and Chicago. I studied Soap Opera Technique under Gwynn Hilliar, casting director for General Hospital, and Improv at Chicago’s famed Second City. I appeared across the country in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, West Side Story, and Bye Bye Birdie. And, in 2005 I was named alongside Donny Osmond and Patrick Cassidy as one of the Top Three Headliners in the World for the musical Joseph…Dreamcoat.

During that time I also established myself in the writing field. My screenplay Heroes landed a deal for Michael Dorn of Star Trek The Next Generation and Star Trek Deep Space Nine fame to star and direct. In 2002 I published my first novel, My Fractured Life. The book was named an Amazon.com Top Ten Recommendation and was optioned for feature film development.

Shortly after getting married in 2004 and having my first child in 2005, I needed to get off the road and turned my attentions to reinventing myself as the Golden Boy of Public Relations. As the head of public relations and marketing for Other World Computing I elevated documented editorial media coverage by 2,700% and earned company notoriety as one of Inc. Magazine’s fastest growing companies. As the head of public relations for Empire Today I increased documented TV, Radio, Print, & Internet media alert pick-up 771%, increased media interviews 3,394%, and grew product television placement by 1,700%.

In 2008 my whole world changed as I was hospitalized and diagnosed with a severe disability. It took years of trying different medications to find ones that would allow me to function with some semblance of my old self. My life was a dark place. I wasn’t trying to reinvent myself as disabled. It just happened.

In 2010 I returned to writing, publishing the sequel to My Fractured Life entitled Blood Lust. The book flopped miserably. But, I didn’t let that stop me and in 2013 my first non-fiction book Unbecoming Travolta was published shining a light on mental illness and exposing myself to the world with all my flaws. It had very respectable sales of over 5,000 copies.

Finally in 2016 I returned to the stage, again inventing myself as an actor. My performance as McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest landed me a Best Actor nomination in the Broadway World Chicago Theater Awards. In 2017 I filmed two movies (The Lurker and Old Advice from a Dead Friend) and six episodes of the series Upstaged.

I am eager to see what 2018 has in store for me. My hope is to continue to work in the acting field – keeping that identity active and healthy.

How we invent ourselves is a different story for each individual. Not everyone will reinvent themselves over and over as I have. Some people will invent themselves once or twice and be happy with that life. Others may reinvent themselves far more times than I have. It really doesn’t matter as long as you are happy.

My advice is to be true to you. If that means taking on new challenges, great. If that means being content in the life you’ve carved out for yourself, that’s cool too. Whatever the goals are that you set for yourself, go for it with all the gusto you can manage.

Peace. Love Trust.

Think Pink – The Right to Be You

I am partially colorblind. Dark colors like the meatier shades of blue, green, and brown all appear black or grey to me.

One color that I can see very vividly is pink. Thus, I have come to love the color – from the faint tones favored by ballerina dancers to the vibrant tones of hot fuchsia favored by glam bands in the 80’s. I love the color pink. In fact, it’s my favorite color.

Some people scoff at my appreciation of the color pink – suggesting I must be a bit “light in the loafers” to have a color typically associated with the female gender as my favorite color.

I, on the other hand, take the position that it takes a man who is confident in his masculinity to publicly take a stand of appreciation for the color pink.

And what if I was gay? Would that make me any less masculine?

There are many gay men who are far more masculine than many of the bigots I am acquainted with.

Michael Sam was an All-American football player drafted by the Saint Louis Rams and was the first publicly gay man to play in the Canadian Football League. Jason Collins was a successful NBA player who was the first active player in any major American sport to come out as gay. Chris Dickerson was an openly gay professional bodybuilder. Darren Young is an is a former WWE Tag Team Champion. Any one of these men is probably far more “masculine” than most haters that denounce gay rights.

Me? I don’t like haters.

I don’t like homophobes, racists, sexists, or any mindset that belittles another person’s rights and privileges.

Gay people now have the right to be legally married in the United States. This is an awesome sign of progress and I applaud the lawmakers who brought this freedom to choose to fruition and I pray and campaign against those in power who would seek to take away or otherwise limit the rights these men and women are entitled to.

You don’t have to be gay to be in favor of LGBTQ rights. I’m not gay and I certainly support their rights.

There are gay men and women who have fought for our country, who keep our streets safe as first responders, who serve in public office, and many other examples of greatness.

In politics, I would not vote for a candidate just because they are gay any more than I would not vote for a candidate because they are straight. It is the positions on important issues that dictates my voting preferences.

For years men and women in the LGBTQ community had to hide their sexual preference for fear of discrimination. And while progress has been made, these bigotries still exist.

So, I applaud the men and women in these categories of sexual preference for being brave enough to be open and honest about who they love.

Who we love shouldn’t be something to be ashamed of or to be ridiculed or discriminated against.

Love is a beautiful thing. Whether it’s between a man and a woman, a man and a man, or a woman and a woman, love is beautiful.

So, say what you wish about me having pink as my favorite color. Say what you wish about the brave men and women who are open and honest about their sexual preferences. To hate someone because they are different doesn’t make one right. It makes one small minded. And I think a small minded man is far less masculine then even the most effeminate man.

I said it before, and I’ll say it again: love is beautiful.

Peace. Love. Trust.

The Greatest of All Time

There is a debate raging in the media over who is the greatest NBA player of all time: His Airness Michael Jordan or LeBron James.

In terms of statistics, James advocates hold an advantage. However, Jordan’s 6-0 NBA finals record stands alone in legacy. Some might also argue that Wilt Chamberlain – the only player to ever record 100 points in a single game – and Bill Russell – the centerpiece in 11 championships with the Boston Celtics – might also deserve consideration.

As a member of the Chicago Bulls, Jordan was a five-time NBA Most Valuable Player, while James has secured the honor four times and is still an active player leaving the door open to possibly exceed Jordan. Russell also won the award five times, matching Jordan. Chamberlain secured the MVP title four times, like James. The record for most MVP honors is held by NBA Hall of Fame center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – another strong contender for the unofficial title of Greatest of All Time – with six awards.

I live in Chicago where Jordan played most of his career, and the walls of my home are adorned with Michael Jordan posters. So, as one might expect, I side with the Jordan being the best of all time. But that is not to take away from the superhuman basketball talents of King James.

What some may find interesting is that while I greatly respect the talents and accomplishments of both Jordan and James, neither one ranks as my favorite player of all time. That honor I bestow on Clyde Drexler who played most of his career for the Portland Trailblazers, leading them to multiple NBA Finals appearances. He finally won a championship with the Houston Rocket.

No, I don’t think that Clyde was a better player than Jordan or James, although he was an amazing player. The reason Clyde the Glide earns my respect as my favorite all time player is his off-court demeanor. Drexler was such a gentleman and giving man off the court, that it propels him past Jordan and James in my favoritism.

Once when I wrote Clyde a letter thanking him for being such an inspiration to me after my father disowned me, he actually called me and left a message on my voice mail thanking me for the letter and wishing me good tidings. And when I wrote to him years later to request an autographed photo for my son, he sent one without delay – not charging for it like so many players today do. That’s a role model…a man who gives back to the people who he inspired.

So, you see, Jordan may be the greatest basketball player of all time, but in my opinion Drexler was the greatest person to ever play the game. And, I think that matters.

Peace. Love. Trust.

 

 

The Legacy of The Toxic Avenger

I have always loved B-movies – low budget movies that rarely make it in the theaters but do gang busters at the video store. Typically, they feature former television stars like Richard Grieco (21 Jump Street), Mark Dacascos (The Crow: Stairway to Heaven), or Dean Cain (Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman).

But sometimes the B-movies feature no known actors, just a bizarre plot line that entices rental at the video store. One such movie that came out in the 1980’s is The Toxic Avenger from director/producer Lloyd Kaufman.

Kaufman’s Troma Entertainment is legendary for producing Roger Corman-like B-movies, and The Toxic Avenger is his crown jewel.

The story of the 1984 superhero/comedy/horror film follows nerd extraordinaire Melvin Ferd who gets dumped in a vat of toxic waste by the town bullies. Rather than kill poor Melvin, the toxic waste transforms him into a musclebound mutant of superhuman strength, dead set on taking on the corruption in the city of Tromaville. Similar to the comic book hero The Thing, the Toxic Avenger earns the love of a blind girl whose affections are inspired by Toxie’s  good heart rather than his hideous deformed face.

I loved the film for all it’s campy goodness and converted many other fans over the years. Over the years it has spawned a series of film sequel, an animated cartoon, and even a Marvel comic book series.

In 2008, the American public was treated to the premier of a stage musical based on Kaufman’s film. It was created by Tony-winners Joe Dipietro and David Bryan. David, of course, is also famous as the keyboardist in the hugely popular rock band Bon Jovi.

I have a special place in my heart for David Bryan. After the success of my first novel My Fractured Life, there were plans to adapt it into a feature film. David and I met several times to discuss having him score the film. He loved the book and was eager to do the music for the film. Unfortunately financing never materialized and the movie was shelved. But it’s a good “what if” memory for me. Hey, who knows? Lots of projects once abandoned come to fruition years later – for instance The Basketball Diaries and Avatar. You can never rule out that a feature film will happen in the future.

Anyway, I was eager to hear the David and Joe’s musical version of The Toxic Avenger and absolutely fell in love with it. Certain changes were made in the storyline to translate to stage better, but at heart it’s the same story. And, the music is a perfect match of comedy and innovation.

I host a radio show on WHRU-LP named It’s Showtime with Rikki Lee where I profile a different stage, film, or television musical each week. On November 13 2017 I had the great joy of offering The Toxic Avenger Musical to my listeners. It is one of my favorite episodes of the radio show.

If you have a few minutes to spare, you might want to check out my radio program’s episode about The Toxic Avenger Musical. You can hear the podcast at:

http://huntleyradio.com/hcr/its-showtime-with-rikki-lee/

The rock musical was first produced at the George Street Theater in New Jersey under the direction of Tony-winner John Rado. It has since grown in legend, with productions all over the world including Australia and in London’s West End. Given the success of Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein, I could certainly see a Broadway production of The Toxic Avenger Musical in the future. I certainly hope so.

Peace, Love, Trust

Tony n’ Tina All Grown Up

Check out this great article by Broadway World on Domenica Cameron-Scorsese and myself regarding our recent acting project The Lurker:

Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding Alumni Unit in New Film

https://www.broadwayworld.com/off-broadway/article/TONY-N-TINAS-WEDDING-Alum-Unite-In-New-Film-20171216

Domenica is a very talented actress, and a very humble and down-to-earth person.

Domenica played Tina in the New York company of Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding shortly after I played Tony in the Chicago production. She has had roles in such films as Cape Fear (1991), The Age of Innocence (1993), God’s Forgotten House (2005), and Less Than 30 (2016). Her stage credits include Franny’s Way, The Sweepers, Ladies of the Corridor, and Four Roses.

In The Lurker, Domenica plays the mother of female lead actress Scout Taylor-Compton while I played the lead of male lead actor Michael Emery.

The Lurker will be released in 2018.