You’re not hip or cynical, you are just bored

So, a little while ago, I Hate Everything (real name Alex Bolton) posted a video about not caring about superheroes anymore. Be prepared, its a sixteen minute rant about what’s wrong with the genre.

And while there are some good points made in the video, what I got from it was this – its not that IHE hates or doesn’t care about superhero movies – its that he has a very narrow view of what makes a movie good or great. I would also chalk his rant up to a very real disease that all of us suffer from – boredom.

The criticism that the movies are two-hour long advertisements for the next movie is kind of crap, basically because the criteria that the movies should be self-contained and work on their own is a singular view point. And yes, I saw the big disclaimer at the start of the video that glaring displays the “this is my opinion” but that doesn’t automatically grant you a pass or free you from criticism of your criticism.

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There’s a definite air of intellectual arrogance with this type of video/vlog/rant that places IHE squarely in the supervillain category – and I use that term simply because of the subject matter 🙂 It’s the Loki speech: “Enough! You are, all of you are beneath me!”  Escpecially when he refers to those who may comment as

All of us has an opinion about everything – but that doesn’t make it valid. It may be shared by quite a few other people, but its still opinion. I like this, I don’t like that- and it sucks up a lot of energy and time – just take a look at any page on the internet – and you’ll find someone disagreeing with someone about something.

I’d point out to IHE that his problem with superhero movies isn’t the quality (though there have been some crappy ones) but that he is holding them to a standard they will never live up to. The word “great” is used, but what exactly is his criteria for a film deserving a “great” rating?

He says he’s looking at them for how they were written, directed and structured as movies. I can’t find any information about IHE’s education of film-making background and so I don’t know how much he’s studied filmmaking, or the business of movie-making or what it actually takes to create the content that he feels don’t measure up to his standard of what makes a movie ‘great’.

As far as I can tell – it’s just opinion. And his opinion is based on his boredom. He’s bored of superhero movies because a lot of them cover the same ground and tell basically the same story – bad guy(s) threatens city/world/loved ones – good guy(s) do what they need to to stop them… that’s the same story that’s been told since the dawn of time.

He wants things to be self-contained, easy to digest and then – gimmie the next one. It’s the whiny child asking for a piece of candy or a new toy because – they already have the other one. “Entertain Me!”

He points out that the Avengers was the pay off for five previous movies which he claims are forgettable and not worth sitting through a second time. I disagree – but hey, that’s just my opinion. 😛

He claims that of the five, only Iron Man meets his standard. Iron Man is a very good superhero movie. And yes, looking at it from one perspective, it’s self-contained. However, Iron Man was simply the first in Marvel’s attempt to translate their source material into a much larger presentation – and that it seems is lost on IHE.

His insistence that these superhero movies be stand alone, bite-sized nuggets he can devour and forget is entitled, childish and pretentious. His argument that it’s about the balance ignores the fact that these films are part of a tapestry of intertwined stories – but I’m sure I would be shouted down by the ‘they should be self-contained!’ argument…

Also, the assertion that these films are the only ‘blockbuster’ entertainment the studios is offering, just further points up the whiny bored attitude that pervades this video rant/opinion … how sad. Poor IHE. He has nothing to entertain him. Let’s trash someone else’s films because… I’m bored. There’s no real criticism in the vlog/rant, it’s just an excuse to tear something down without providing any real evidence or comparison to what is supposed to be a “great film”.

I do have to disagree with his assertion that the scores for the MCU are crap – they aren’t. Some are much better than others – but just expressing the opinion that they stink is equivalent to farting in a room and then walking out. What exactly is your criteria for good film music, IHE? That you can hum the theme? Seriously…

To refute IHE’s lambasting of the MCU as being bland and boring, I present the Phase Two Restrospective. I doubt it will change minds or even have any sort of impact on thise who dislike the films… but its a well edited bit that highlights the overarching picture of the MCU – and where it’s heading.

While there are some good points made about the BvS: Dawn of Justice film near the end, the rest of the video is simply an long winded diatribe about the films being products and not “art”.

I really don’t think they should be held to that standard. We’ll have to agree to disagree on what makes a film or movie “great” – if whoever you feel is qualified to write, direct and produce these films in order to make them art – ever did make them, they would not be superhero movies.

I’m sorry you feel that all of these superhero movies need to fit your mold of what is good and what isn’t. I’m sorry you are so jaded and cynical at the ripe old age of 22 that you cannot enjoy them and feel it necessary to have wasted our time with your oh so important view point.

I wish I could offer a suggestion about how to best alleviate your boredom.

Maybe taking a walk outsIde once in while?

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BvS – Why So Serious?

There’s a moment within the first five minutes or so of BvS: Dawn of Justice that threw me right out of the movie. I found myself trying to get back into it from that point on and succeeding on some level, but not all the way.

Character posters for BvS

Character posters for BvS

My opinion about the film is just my own – it’s just my two cents for what’s it worth. You can agree or disagree – I’m sure there will be lots of supporters and detractors on both sides, so my few words on it will no doubt get lost in the midst of all the others. And that’s fine – that’s why we go to these movies – to enjoy them and then to discuss them.

I think the movie is full of atmosphere and is visually stunning. I think each of the main characters was cast well and did a great job with their respective roles – do I disagree with the portrayal of Luthor? Yes. I’m not sure what they were trying do with the way he comes across… but it just didn’t feel right. He felt more like a Batman villain than a Superman villain.

Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman was great – I’m eagerly looking forward to her ‘origin’ tale in the WW 1-era film  set to hit the big screen next year. She’s not given much to do in the film other than to look stunning in everything she wears, to speak cryptically about Bruce not knowing everything and her ancient history and then conveniently showing up to help fight off the big bad in the last fifteen minutes. But hey – its about frickin’ time this character got her just dues.

wonderwoman

As far as the rest of BvS: DoJ – there are some images that are too cool for words and then there some that are just trademark Zack Snyder and which again take you out of the narrative rather keep you immersed in it. Mr. Snyder is the master of up close and slo-mo — so be prepared. There are some sequences which I wish had been explored more – and there are some choices I found to be jarring and left me scratching my head as to why they were made.

As the next entry into the expanded DC cinematic universe, the ending left me baffled. Truly baffled, as in … well, where do they go from here?

Back to that moment at the top of the film that I mentioned. I’m not going to say what it was because the film has just come out and I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. But I was really hoping I would get sucked into the movie, be caught up in and to really enjoy it… instead I found myself really examining it, making mental note of things and just generally sitting through the whole thing and thinking… “hmmmm.”

To be honest, I wish Snyder had just made a stand alone Batman movie. Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne is probably the best yet, and his Bat is a force of nature – frightening and unstoppable. The Bat sequences were the best thing about the film, he was appropriately strategic and tactical – willing to do whatever it takes to win. That warehouse beatdown is some of the best staged and brutal combat we’ve seen in a superhero movie.

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And apparently this Bruce Wayne has prophetic visions(?!) I’m guessing. I know from a writer’s stand point dreams and visions are easy ways to insert motivations and information for the audience… they help propel the story forward if handled in the right way.

But honestly, the Knightmare sequences in the film – again – knocked me out of the narrative. Don’t get me wrong, I thought they were a visual feast, stylish and very cool to watch… but they seemed put there to shoehorn in things that won’t show up for a couple of years – until the Justice League movie, or if at all. They seemed heavy handed and stuffed in. Crammed down our throats to make sure we know that there are other, greater threats out there… and to give us a fear-based reason for the formation of the Justice League.

Somewhere, the Joker is laughing, clapping his hands with glee.

Now, to the best of my knowledge, both the Justice Society and the Justice League were formed for differing reasons. The Justice Society was sort of a heroes club where they could share tales of their exploits and then also to have them work together to take down villains. The Justice League was formed to combat global threats. That’s probably an over simplification – there’s so much history and the fabric of the entire DC universe is wrapped up in these two groups — but my point is – I don’t think they that they were formed out of fear.

JSA

What I got from Snyder’s film – and what we are presented with on a daily basis in our news media – is that we need to be afraid. Always afraid. Because big nasties are coming and there’s nothing we can do to stop it.

Perhaps that’s due to the world we live in – bombings and shootings take place like clockwork nowadays. There are no red capes and shadowy bats to protect us. And even if there were – would we feel any safer?

The more attention you give something – the more power you give to it. Perhaps if we turned our back on those things designed to keep us afraid (Mr. Trump, ISIS, etc. etc. etc.) they would turn and devour themselves. That’s too simple an answer I know – and it’s an idea that many would reject. You have to fight. That’s what we are told… over and over and over again. That’s what life is all about… right?

And I think that’s the thing about the film that just makes it so heavy. Even the heroics we are shown – which aren’t many – are painted in dark and shadow, or fiery explosions and slo-mo. They are super serious and over dramatic. Had they been presented in different lighting or a different speed, maybe they wouldn’t seem so ponderous and bloated.

The movie is bogged down with its own sense of seriousness and importance – its bleak from the get go and never really lets up. The images we are shown are dropped on us with the weight of that giant Superman statue they erected in the center of Metropolis. Everything is dark and shadowy and full of foreboding. Even the most poignant moment – between Kal-El and his mother – takes place at night.

Its as if Snyder was doing everything not to remind people of the daytime destruction of Metropolis and loss of life from Man of Steel. Or maybe they just had to set it during dark hours because of all the CGI with Doomsday…

Bruce Wayne’s paranoia and fear comes across loud and clear in this film, more so in this incarnation than in any other version we’ve been shown.

This version of Bruce Wayne’s/Batman’s almost psychotic leanings aren’t just focused on the criminals and oddballs of Gotham but to the fate of the entire planet – to the point that he predicts the existence of a being (well known in the comics but as of yet not introduced in the cinematic versions of the DCU) with no foreknowledge of it – that symbol burned into the landscape was there just to pander to the fans of the comics, to get them all worked up and excited, but it had no bearing whatsoever on the narrative of the film – it was shown to us in all its apocalyptic glory and then – dismissed, forgotten. It was all for show.

To be fair, of course he would be thinking on a planetary scale because of what the Kryptonians almost did to the planet. But those dream sequences and “visions” really didn’t work for me – he already had enough motivation to go after Superman – “seeing” him as a murdering tyrant in some imagined futuristic apocalypse scenario just seemed gratuitous.

But, Batman is an American and it’s such an American concept to prepare for, gear up for and then rain fire down on anything we see as a threat. Even though we create more violence and danger than we prevent. There’s a sequence in the film that sort of addresses that – and I’m glad they put it in because it really is a nice character moment for Kal-el – its the question we all face – do I take action to prevent tragedy even though that action may in turn cause some tragic event somewhere else?

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There’s a lot to like about BvS: Dawn of Justice.

We finally get to see the Bat and the Son of Krypton on screen together – and Wonder Woman and Aquaman and the Flash. I’d like to talk more about that – but again I can’t go into detail because it would be spoilers for those that haven’t seen it.

There is supposedly an R-rated version being released with the Blu-ray when it arrives later this year, with an extra 20 minutes or so of footage… but I’m not sure it will make it a better film.

And there is lot to ponder about BvS: Dawn of Justice.

I’m not going to say dislike, because I didn’t really dislike it – I just have questions about the choices that were made.

Some people will be happy with all the mayhem and fighting and action – like I said there are some great visuals.

I was pleasantly surprised by how the showdown between Supes and Bats got started – again, not giving away details for those that haven’t seen it.

But the ending left me baffled.

We can discuss that after its been out for a while – when more people have seen it.

I give BvS: Dawn of Justice a 6 out of 10.

It’s loud and big and a lot to swallow – there’s almost too much to it. It’s heavy and oh so serious. The stakes are all the way at the top at the start of the movie and they never really go anywhere after that… it starts at the ceiling and stays there. And it ends on a huh? note.

Maybe that’s just me.

But like I said, there’s that one moment at the top of the film that threw me out and I never really got back into it… we can chat about that later.

I disagree with his characterization - but that's just me

I disagree with his characterization – but that’s just me

“X Vs. Y”

I really think that there’s something wrong with how I think about certain things – and that troubles me because I feel quite disconnected at times from my fellow friends and neighbors in the geek/nerd/fan community.

I was never an athlete in school. I played sports sure, but I was never really truly competitive about it. I was bullied at several points during my school days, but nothing I would call traumatic or that affected me in a bad way – I learned to stand up for myself and on at least two occasions have stood up to someone much bigger and more muscled or capable than myself in the physical department. So on one hand its not surprising to me that I don’t get the whole ‘get in the ring‘ mentality.

But that forces me to ask the questions: Why do I feel that way? Why am I not caught up in this fascination with the whole “X Vs. Y” thing?

Street Fighter 5

Street Fighter 5

I mean, on a basic level I get it. Everything can be broken down into a fight. You can’t get away from conflict in any creative medium – The basic plot of any story can be described as either man vs. man, man vs. society, man vs. nature or man vs.the self. It’s right there in plain black and white – everything can be broken down into a “vs.” situation. And we as a species thrive on it, it thrills us and excites us, compels us to keep moving forward, asking questions, striving to better ourselves…

I’m not questioning the nature of conflict, but, I really don’t get the whole ‘my dad is better than your dad’ aspect of some of the petitions and demands that fans of pop culture endlessly post and proliferate the interwebs with… Hulk vs. Superman! Godzilla vs. Gypsy Danger! Burger King vs. G.I. Joe!

Do I think they are silly? No, not really. Well…

I posted something to my facebook page, a really insightful and intelligent vlog from #DiggingDeeper about the Jurassic Park film franchise entitled Jurassic Park: Finding the Lost World. The gist of the video is that the first sequel to the enormously successful first film is really a  subversive argument against sequels in general – that some things are better when we just get one of them. There’s a lot more to it than that and also a pretty sound (and deserved) drubbing of 2015’s Jurassic World, and I highly recommend watching it. I posted a while back about the news that JW was going to get a sequel, and you can read that here if you like – it contains some of the same things that Digging Deeper brought up in their video, kinda-sorta.

The traffic I got on the post was minimum: a bare handful of likes and only one comment.

It was that comment that prompted me to write this post because it was basically a request for me to share a petition – an “x vs. y” petition. The petition is one that asks for a rematch between the T-Rex and the Spinosaurus as depicted in the 3rd film in the JP franchise – The Lost World.

T-Rex vs. Spinosaurus

T-Rex vs. Spinosaurus

To be honest if I was aware of this in the past I had forgotten about it, but when I saw the comment and followed the link and read the description in the ‘about’ section of the FB page which reads: Let’s show Universal Studios how many fans were devastated (emphasis mine) that Jurassic World ignored the rematch between T Rex and the Spino that we wanted since 2001 – I have to admit I scratched my head and wondered: Is this really a thing? And were people really devastated?

I then followed the link to the Change.org petition = Petition to have a T Rex Spinosaurus rematch in Jurassic World 2 which as of this writing has been active for (as near as I can tell) about two months and has 34 supporters/signers. The Facebook page for the petition has about 4300 likes, so much better than the actual petition itself… but really, why?

Now, I’m not highlighting this petition to poke fun at it … I’m actually genuinely intrigued that it exists. The language of the petition is pretty sophomoric and what it boils down to is a very loud  DEMAND that Universal (the studio I assume that holds the JP film license) address the issue – by creating, filming and presenting to the public – a re-match between two CGI creatures that “accurately” depicts what “should be” the real outcome of the contest – with the T-Rex emerging victorious.

Obviously the owner of the petition is a big fan of the T-Rex and feels slighted that their hero was defeated so shamelessly in JP3 and was cheated of the re-match in the Jurassic World film… but really, in the grand scheme of things, why would we need to see a re-match? Why has energy and passion been dedicated to this?

I see this kind of thing a lot actually, being a part of an entertainment franchise (albeit in a small way), as fans of that franchise are always posting about this ranger vs. that ranger, or asking me at conventions or online the dreaded question: “Who do you think would win in a fight…?”

The question itself bores me; its just a dick measuring contest, another ‘my dad is better than your dad’ throwdown that has… what purpose exactly? Bragging rights? The chance to stand up and shout ‘boo-yah! in yo face!’?

I’m sure this isn’t a new thing, speculation must have taken place in other time periods, right? I have to wonder if the ancient Greeks or Romans sat around at the forum or got into fistfights over whether or not Hercules could take Horus in a fight.

“Look, Herc’s got super-strength, and an impervious lion’s skin!” “Yeah, well, Horus can fly and survived getting hacked to pieces!” I’m fairly certain there’s a papyrus scroll out there with thousands of comments from trolls and haters sniping back and forth about it.

In the end… who cares? If you want Ironman to beat Captain America, he beats him. If you want the Red Zeo Ranger to beat the Aqua Dino Charge Ranger, he beats him. If you want the T-Rex to beat each and every other dinosaur, it does. Because that is what you want to happen. And yeah, I linked to that video in an earlier post, but I think its spot on.

In the end, its ridiculous to argue if this fictitious character is better than that fictitious character because they only exist in out minds.

Our entire history as a species is steeped in struggle, violence and one hero/force/idea triumphing over another. Fighting is everything, as I noted in a previous blog post.

It seems to be the only language that is universal between the peoples of the earth – it’s all either violence/struggle/fighting. You could say, yeah but what about love? Love is a fight of another kind, so it too is very much lumped in with the whole “x vs. y” thing.

Actually the concept of “x vs. y” doesn’t cause me to scratch my head so much as the alarm I feel about the crowd clamoring for such contests. We haven’t evolved too much from those mobs that flocked to gladiatorial fights and howled for blood… so it’s not the contest that I struggle with – its the voracious crowd that makes me take pause.

For me the fighting, the action has to have context… it has to have a why behind it.

Minions vs. Rabbids

Minions vs. Rabbids

It really does seem at times that what people want is just to see is just the action – to see these characters go at it, in long protracted scenes of violence and struggle… bloodied faces, broken bones, staggering and throwing punches until one or both finally collapse in exhaustion – a scene we’ve already seen over and over and over again in cinema and film.

But why? I guess because, while watching the films, we are, for a brief moment, those characters – we inhabit them and so it us up there on screen throwing punches or kicking them off a cliff or taking on six different attackers at once and emerging victorious.

Every time I’m asked who would win or each time I see a fan page holding a contest or pitting one Ranger vs. another Ranger I have to bow out – I honestly don’t think these characters would battle it out, and as a mentor – I can’t see how Zordon would encourage or condone it.

Yeah sure I guess you could manufacture reasons – it’s for training, it keeps them sharp or in a state of preparedness.

I guess the whole thing boils down to one persons opinion or reasoning as to why this one character or creature or idea is better than that one or that or that one.

And perhaps that is reason enough. If you find it enjoyable to list reasons, or debate powers, to howl to the moon that this one is better than that one, great.

But for me, it makes no sense to me to pit these characters against one another – which I talked about at length elsewhere a year ago.  I don’t think its worth the time and energy to think about… or to create a petition demanding you see the proper outcome of a fictitious ‘fight’ because, dammit, it’s just not fair!

I am not a fighter, never have been. I will stand up for myself, but that’s different. I’m just not one to engage in a physical altercation because its just not who I am – WWE or the UFC? Not my thing. Professional Boxing? Not my thing.

And so that’s something that bothers me, quite a bit.

Because it puts a barrier between me and my fellow humans… I’m not that way because I want to be separate from them or to affect the attitude that I’m better than them… in fact I think makes me lesser than them. I’m just not uber-aggressive.

My thinking is this: Hector fought Achilles thousands of years ago. And we keep re-telling that tale over and over – keep putting it up on screen over and over and over – only with new faces, new costumes and different settings.

We do that because… it’s entertaining. And yet it just seems to lose meaning after a while, at least to me. Is it any wonder that blockbuster films have to keep upping the ante when it comes to fights and spectacle just to keep our attention? Because, otherwise… people will boo or walk out or boycott.

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“Gimme my T-Rex fight or I’m going to give you such a pinch!”

I’m going to see Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice when it arrives in theaters in a couple of weeks. And in May I’ll sit through Captain America: Civil War. I’ll sit there and be thrilled or at least entertained by what Zack Snyder and the Russo brothers and their crews have put up on the screen for all of us to consume.

I’ll watch these films because there is a definite why behind the conflict going on in these “x vs. y” stories.  But in the end, I’ll walk out of the theater and ask myself the same question – what’s different? How exactly has this changed things?

And I have to wonder if after it comes out, some fan or other will throw up a petition or post a  demand that the studios and film-makers go back and make changes because “it just didn’t go the way it was supposed to” – well, at least according to them.

Original Ideas?

So, I watched “American Ultra” and at the end of it, found myself a bit confused.

Stoned Cold Killers

Stoned Cold Killers

Now, unbeknownst to me I guess there was some controversy about it when it came out last year, and that it’s writer Max Landis tweeted some complaints that took the audience to task for not ‘getting’ the original idea or ideas that American Ultra was all about.

And when you talk about the word ‘original’ in Hollywood terms – you have to realize, and what Max points out – is that ‘original’ in Hollywood doesn’t mean new or unheard of – it means ‘non-IP’. So the title of this post, Original Ideas? is a play on that – because really, are there any new ideas? All writing and all stories will have their roots in something else, or are derivative of something else…

I like Max, I think he’s bright and insightful and ‘gets‘ what drives our fascination with characters and stories that are larger than life – stories and characters that are super or heroic or action oriented. I’m sure he has a good understanding of other types of characters too (like Heathcliff or John Nash or James Hunt), but the film American Ultra and what Max’s oeuvre is, deals mainly with these heightened-reality type of characters and situations.

What got me started on this post was the very end scene of American Ultra. And as the film has been out for over six months, I don’t think I’m spoiling it for anyone. I think the ending undermines the entire premise of the film and almost all the characters undergo a 180 in their arcs – resetting them and in a sense, betraying them and the audience.

I wanted to see if anyone else had the same feelings and did some looking about and came across the review from Red Letter Media‘s Half in the Bag vlog episode #94 where they take the film to task. They talk at length about problems they had with the film and also about Max’s twitter response to it failing at the box office.

I also came across another episode (A Conversation with Max Landis) on their youtube channel – a couple of months after the review of the film, where they actually sit down with Max and talk about the film and their review of it. It’s awkward and uncomfortable in places – as you would expect, but it was great that Max took the time or surprised them with the challenge to have a discussion about it face to face. Now they talk a lot about how movies fail or succeed in this episode, so its a interesting insight into the process of what Max was complaining about in his tweets – how marketing can make or break a particular film.

They make a point to talk about how trailers for films are crafted and how the underlying score of the trailer needs to be something familiar that audiences have heard before in order to ‘capture’ their attention – otherwise, no one will go to see the movie. And its hard to argue against that. If a sci-fi movie makes bank at the box office – you can bet three, four, five or ten years later, the score/soundtrack of that movie will be played in trailers for other sci-fi movies – or action movies. How many trailers use the instantly recognizable Inceptionbwwwrrammm‘ they talk about in the clip? At least 10.

inception-promo-still

They also talk about how the process of film-making adds or detracts from the success or failure of a film – because, even though you may have an “original” idea – its never going to stay that way – as Max states: “on this film 15% of the script was changed, on others I’ve written up to 70%” (paraphrased). Which is of great interest to me as a writer and creator myself with things in the works.

But before I go any further, let me talk about the moment that made me scratch my head and which, ultimately, led me to be a bit let down by the film.

There’s a great through line in the film in which the lead character, the stoned cold killer/ultra agent played by Jesse Eisenberg is working on a comic book or story that involves a hyper-intelligent chimpanzee/gorilla called Apollo Ape. Obviously this is a Landis device (as he is a huge comic book fan) and there’s some nice dialogue about the comic and its obviously a metaphor for the character Esienberg plays, or at least possibly his repressed memories – its his shadow self, because the ape in the comic has adventures and wastes bad guys and has narrow escapes and so forth…

Anyway, what intrigued me about the film was how the head of the program that created Mike Howe (Esienberg) – going against everything we’ve come to accept in films about how the CIA deals with asset’s it no longer finds useful, i.e. exterminating them with extreme prejudice – has actually taken steps to see that he is protected or at least left alone. To me, that was kind of fresh and unique. What? The CIA actually cares about the people they subject to cruel and bizarre experiments in an effort to create the perfect super soldier/killing machines the world needs?

I punch your face

I punch your face

And so that was pretty neat – until the very final sequence of the film.

I’m surprised they didn’t mention it in the review or in the conversation with Max because it really made me shake my head and go “What the…what?”

So, in the beginning we have this fresh take – highly trained agent, off the reservation and hiding in plain sight, who through the course of events regains his memory, unlocks skills and abilities that allow him to thwart the ‘bad’ CIA after him, save the day and the girl and then  is taken back into custody – but then what happens?

We see that he’s re-recruited or re-activated and has been put right back to work doing black op wetwork for the CIA. And through the animated cartoon end titles we see that Mike has transformed into Apollo Ape and is having adventures and wasting bad guys.

Maybe it’s just me – but it really seemed to do a 180 on the set up. A CIA section chief who cared more about her asset – is transformed into a frightened subordinate who gives him up in order to save her own skin, and how accepting Mike is of the situation and who leaps into it with vim and verve – characteristics he was devoid of the entire rest of the film. It seemed tacked on and silly.

What it felt like was something that was added after the completion of the main film because test audiences or studio execs wanted something else – to have an upbeat ending. To show Mike in a ‘heroic’ light rather than just a directionless rogue element that laid waste to the rest of the failed ultras of the program he went through. It also smacks of a “just in case we get tapped to do a sequel” feel. Because, bottom line, all the studios are looking for the next big thing, the next big IP, the next thing they can milk for six sequels, a TV series and so forth.

Maybe that ending was one of the elements that got American Ultra panned at the box office – or at least panned by those who saw it in the theater. Maybe not – I mean the guys talk about how hard it is to capture lightning in a bottle when it comes to crafting a successful film. So many factors go into it.

As the ending wasn’t address by the RLM guys or Landis himself, I guess they were OK with how it played out – or they were so done with it by that point they didn’t feel the need to talk about how odd or off putting it was. Maybe I’m wrong about the ending.

As a writer I’m intrigued by that kind of thing – what was the decision making process that led to the ending being filmed? Was it always in there from the start? Was that part of the 15% that got changed, according to Max?

What’s great though is the discussion that was sparked by the act of someone sitting down, penning a script – that then got greenlit, made into a film, released and then panned – and then dissected and trashed in reviews – but ultimately led to a thoughtful and thought provoking segment about the creative process.

creative-process-smaller

The Frustratingly Awesome Issue of Cinematic Violence

So, as most people know, I’m a comic book geek, superhero nerd and that I was part of a show that is a pop culture phenomenon and that combines elements of both… mostly the superhero thing, comics are a by product of it (meaning that first there was the show and comics books about the show came after).

The World Laid to Waste

The World Laid to Waste

Recently, I’ve had a number of conversations with folks via the interwebs about elements of recent superhero films, including Batman vs. Superman and Captain America: The Winter Soldier  – to be more specific, elements of the polarizing film Man of Steel.

And like most discussions via the wonder of the internet, things get heated, harsh words are said and points of view are muddled and misunderstood. I’m guilty of that, just like anyone else. Most of that is due to poor wording when responding to a post or not making your point clear when responding or refuting another point. Seriously, there are times when all I can think of during moments like that is Dan Hedaya’s maddening “I’m not arguing that with you” opening scene from Joe vs. the Volcano.

And a lot of what I have to say about the subject of violence and comic book movies will fall on deaf ears or be passed off as something that is not of concern – they are just movies after all. The violence and destruction isn’t real… it’s just for entertainment.

I like to think it isn’t though. I’d like to think that it makes people think. What I fear, however, is that it feeds a darker need to bring it into being, to actualize it.

Its also true that some of what I will say about this subject will come across as hypocritical because, I enjoy these movies. I’ll go see each and everyone of them – and I’ll be thrilled and excited and enjoy the hell out of them while I’m watching them.

It’s what happens after the lights come up that is of most concern to me. Its the same sort of concern that takes place when you finish the last page of a comic book or a novel. You start to process and to think beyond the spectacle and the imagery and to really try and understand the impact and reason for the images you’ve just seen or watched or viewed.

I used three words there to describe a single action – and that’s also part of the issue when discussing these films or books – there’s going to be more than one viewpoint, more than one way to look at them.

I think that gets lost when people jump to defend a character or a movie they feel upholds their viewpoint and what troubles them when another’s take challenges theirs or forces them to look beyond their undying loyal reverence.

I say Man of Steel was polarizing because it really divided Superman fans. Essays and rants were posted about it – I loved it! I hated it!

ManofSteelpunch

I was taken to task for suggesting the violence/devastation level in the trailer for Batman vs. Superman was troubling – because, it was argued, it was a natural consequence of the story of the film and realistic. Of course buildings are going to be destroyed. How silly of you to think otherwise.

I had the same feeling watching the end of Man of Steel and came away from that film finally understanding why Lex Luthor would hate and fear the Big Blue Boy Scout. A number of answers I got were along the lines of: “what do you expect from a superhero movie?” or “its realistic and so its OK” or “its just a movie – relax and enjoy it”.

And that’s what’s frustratingly fascinating about trying to discuss violence and superheroes … because in the end, you can’t have one without the other.

Stories about superheroes – going all the way back to the ancient myths that inspire them – are about people who can do what we cannot. They are powerful. They can defeat entire armies all by themselves. They exude confidence, attractiveness, strength and fortitude.

But in the end – they are POWERFUL.

They affect the world around them, while most of mortals can simply react to it. We cannot control many of the forces in our lives – hence we make up stories about beings that can. Because we want to be them.

Because we are POWERLESS.

It was pointed out to me that Batman is a symbol of hope, that he inspires people that if they train hard, hone their abilities and train their minds they can do anything.

batsignal

I happen to agree with that sentiment.  I do think that humans can do amazing things when we apply ourselves. When we push ourselves we can work wonders. But here’s the tricky thing – you have to make sure that on the road to becoming Batman, that you don’t actually become Batman. Or Superman, or Captain America or your fictional hero of choice.

Why? Because they are dangerous beings.

And believe me, I know full well the gravity of what I’m writing/typing/saying here and how much of an old crotchety fart I sound… I’m one of the neighbors in the Macklemore & Ryan Lewis “Downtown” video:

chillsmall

Aspiring to Power is in of itself, not a bad thing. Becoming solely focused on gaining Power, is. That’s the line you cross – when you change from being a hero to becoming a supervillain.

When I posted on FB a link to the supercut of the Batman vs. Superman trailer (see link above) it sparked a number of threads in which the merit of violence was discussed, as well as the finer points of what motivates/drives the character of Batman.

The debate about Batman was off topic, but just barely… and at least one erroneous claim was made on the whole DC film universe being for ‘adults’ compared to the Marvel film universe ‘which is for kids’. We also went back on forth about the ‘accuracy’ of the films vs. the comics on which they are based.

The original reason for the post was to highlight what I thought was the excessive level of destruction that is wrought upon a city in BvsS… the same level as was shown in Man of Steel. To me, that was a point worthy of discussion – is that level of destruction necessary in order to tell superhero stories?

Of course I got a number of responses to the tune of : “a superhero movie without destruction? yeah, get real.”

And that to me is the very point of why I asked the question – its our reaction or acceptance of that level of violence as a given that speaks to who we are as people and a society. And it’s a frightening prospect to think that a lot of people are OK with it…

Another point that got bandied about was: “What do you expect them to do? Have a superhero movie without fighting? How will they beat Doomsday then?”

*mic drop*

*mic drop*

Boom! End of Argument Dave, in your face!

Which leads me to the conclusion that that is the penultimate reason fans go to see these movies. How boring it would be to see Superman not punching someone in the face. Maybe what they should release into the theaters are simply dialogue-less vignettes of four color heroes facing off against one another and just fighting and punching and tearing the world down around them.

Because, let’s face it, fighting is what superheroes do – in fact, its all they do. Each comic book you read, each poster you see, each film you watch is centered on the act of one being punching another being in the face. I’ve posted before about the nature of the world we live in and the constant state of war we are in with it – we cannot see it any other way, we cannot view life except as a series of fights and battles and struggles.

I realize I’m shouting into the wind. And it’s a hypocritical kind of shouting because I watch and enjoy and get thrilled and excited about these movies just like any other fan. I write stories about larger than life people that battle for one ideal or another – I understand the nature of conflict and the vicarious thrill of amazing feats of prowess or the edge-of-your-seat excitement when an athlete accomplishes an amazing feat of agility or speed.

And so, when I’m shown a scene of extreme violence and destruction on a screen 50ft x 70ft I’m awestruck. I cheer and clap along with everyone else…

Yet, it still doesn’t quiet that nagging voice in my head that says – wow, that was excessively violent – I mean, Kick-Ass? Kingsmen? Wanted? Jeez… it’s as though Alex from A Clockwork Orange is sitting in the studio boardroom and saying “Yeah, yeah. More of that guv’! Only we do it with Supes, right? And Bats too!”

And that’s the point I was attempting to discuss – that the more we watch these types of set pieces, the more we become numb to the level of violence and destruction – or worse we get addicted or stimulated by it.

I even pointed out in the thread that Batman was an overly brutal insane thug… and the response was: “…and?”

Which was heartbreaking. We’re already numb. We’re already addicted.

I’d like to think I’m immune, but I’m not. I’m subject to fits of anger and powerlessness just like everyone and I’ve found myself in a number of occasions where I felt like the only recourse I had was to lash out…

As I write this, someone somewhere is punching someone, or thinking about punching someone… or like me, writing a story where someone punches someone.

When does it stop? Will it ever? Or will it continue to get more and more excessive because, we in the real world, sit there in the dark, gazing up at the screen, munching snacks and thinking – ‘Meh, not really realistic enough. They should blow more stuff up‘.

I’m not advocating that superhero films should be about picking daisies or fluffy puff comedies or anything of the sort.

In truth I don’t have an answer. I’m just asking questions.

If you are not bothered by the fights and violence and destruction, then the questions mean next to nothing to you. And that’s fine, that’s your right and you are welcome to it. I wish I could be that blissful.

ignorant-man

 

Infinitely Harder to Create

In this day and age of instant access information and opinion, any creative endeavor will come under incredible scrutiny and has to weather a firestorm of criticism as never before.

When The Empire Strikes Back arrived in movie theaters in May of 1980, the only criticism and nitpicking that found its way to the fan-base was through newspapers and magazines or video review segments from the likes of Gene Siskel & Roger Ebert. Either that or you got the latest skinny from friends who had seen it before you, dropping hints and spoilers wherever you happened to be hanging out – at home, in class or in the lunch room.

The internet allows for any and all opinions to be expressed, for any work of fiction or creativity to be examined and dissected in minute excruciating detail.

I posted the other day some thoughts about the new chapter in the Star Wars saga (Episode VII: The Force Awakens), and because the fan-base is so huge for this franchise, the inter-webs and office cooler talk has been all Star Wars, all the time – so it’s at the forefront of everyone’s news or twitter feed… and it has generated quite a lot of online opinions both positive and negative about the film.

Just today for example – I came across this piece on Comicbook.com from Max Landis, who has some strong and passionate opinions about The Force Awakens and most specifically with the character of Rey.

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Max Landis is a talented writer, and also the son of well-known film director John Landis. He wrote Chronicle, American Ultra and also Superman: American Alien. It is his claim that Rey is a ‘Mary Sue‘ character – one who is young and incredibly good at all the things – that has drawn fire from fans.

Film-making is an incredibly complicated business and there are so many details involved in every aspect of it that any film really is a technical miracle, and even more so that they make it to the movie theater for us to enjoy. We in the audience didn’t suffer through the decisions and compromises that had to be made in order for the finish product to spool out on the screen in front of us while we sit in the dark and watch it.

And so, is Landis incorrect in his assertion that Rey is a badly drawn character? Is he sexist for saying so? Yes… no… maybe? The choice is yours.

How much can a writer and director cram into 2 hours and 16 minutes that’s going to satisfy anyone? Simple answer: you can’t. You make choices and decisions based on what you feel is right for your vision.

While I was watching The Force Awakens, I too was struck by how easily Rey manage to pick up on her Force sensitivity and to do amazing things without training… and looking back at how capable and competent she was at a number of things, I can see Max’s point about her being ‘too good’ at stuff… just because. But does that mean she is poorly written?

I get where he is coming from as a writer… we all want our heroes to be well-rounded and believable. I think there is a bit too much of Luke-love in Landis’s rant, and his assertion that Luke wins by failing is in itself an interesting topic for discussion. In that regard it could be taken that his complaints about Rey are sexist, but I don’t think they are – he’s complaining more about how easy things are for Rey… and how she isn’t really in any danger. She will win because, well, she’s the hero.

The thing I was trying to get at in my previous post about this film, is that these films are attempting, in a fashion, to tell these stories through a mythic lens. Luke had been touted as the epitome of the mythic hero, called as such by Joseph Campbell because he follows the monomyth/hero cycle path – humble beginnings, call to adventure, refusal, supernatural aid… the whole shebang.

I would argue that Rey is on this path as well, she too matches the criteria of the monomyth hero. But is her journey or ability any less than Luke’s? If the film or character has a fault in this regard, it could be argued that audiences today won’t stand for too slow of a character progression. We want our heroes and we want them now.

And so if Rey is a Mary Sue it may be as much our fault as it it is the filmmakers… we expect so much of these films, these characters. We demand that they live up to our expectations because we want them to be something we already know and are familiar with… we nitpick and tear to shreds anything that we feel doesn’t live up to what we know or feel or  want.

The maxim has always been: It is harder to create than destroy.

writing

How many discussions and re-writes did they go through to arrive at what we’ve seen on the screen? How many conversations happened on set? Discussions about motivations and reasons, how many ‘help me understand what’s happening’ moments we won’t ever be privy to simply because there isn’t enough disk space on the Bu-ray for the special features section…

Its easy to beef about things you don’t like about a book or a movie. Its in our nature to gripe and complain.

What is harder these days, is to watch a film with child-like wonder and grin like a fool when a moment happens that intersects perfectly with your expectations…

That happened at least once for me in The Force Awakens, and I thank the people involved with the film for giving that moment to me… that one moment will wash away any faults the film has, at least for me.

Because, while I don’t feel the need to rush out and see it again, I am content with what was created.

Is Landis wrong in his assertions about Rey? As he says in the video, its just his opinion.

It is no more or no less valid than yours or mine. In the end, you will enjoy something or you won’t.

Me, I’m going to choose to enjoy.

The Mythic Awakens

I’m going to talk  about Star Wars in this post – adding my small view point on a subject that has already been studied and dissected and scrutinized by so many others, in either the ‘academic‘ sense, the business sense, the ‘viewing it through the lens of recent history‘ sense or just fans gushing or slamming it in one fashion or another.

I saw Episode VII :The Force Awakens today, the first Star Wars film in a decade since Revenge of the Sith in 2005.

I’m not going to spoil the film for anyone, so I won’t be posting details about what happens in the film++ – what I will be talking about is something that you will either agree with – or disagree with.

What I’m talking about – is the similarity between Episode VII and Episode IV and how I think that has been done very much on purpose.

There is a tendency among those who devour entertainment (whether that entertainment is for films, TV shows, comic books or RPGs or cartoons – what have you) and that tendency revolves around the need or want to see new content involving beloved characters. This isn’t anything new – ancient storytellers brought characters back or had a string of tales with them as a central character – from the Labors of Hercules to The Tales of Arthur and his Knights and so forth. In our modern age of so much content competing for our attention and dollar, we have come to expect or even demand two three or even four sequels to properties… in part because a lot of money is made, but also because its part of our culture or collective storytelling experience to want to re-live the same stories over and over.

We are, in a sense, like that niece or nephew you might have — you know, the one that just has to watch their favorite DVD or song over and over and over, ad nauseam until they tire of it and (finally!!!) move on to something else.

We all like to watch and re-watch or re-read these stories because they speak to us on an emotional or unconscious level… they inspire us in some way.

Star Wars has inspired several generations of people – who will go on to create something – a painting, a story, a game, a comic book – that will inspire others. That inspiration is the real gift of Star Wars.

Just before entering the theater to see The Force Awakens, I had seen a post on Instagram where I read the following words: (I’m paraphrasing here because as soon as I understood them I stopped reading any further) “I was disappointed in the film because its basically a re-make of Episode IV…”

And after seeing the film, I’m of the opinion that that statement, while not necessarily accurate, also isn’t entirely untrue.

As I was watching the film, I was very aware of moments that echoed the images that have been burned into the brains of any Star Wars fan’s brain – The First Order mirrors the Empire, the sandy terrain of Jakku mirrors that of Tatooine, Rey is a mirror of young Luke, the projected image of Snoke mirrors that of the Emperor in The Empire Strikes Back (though when first presented he appears to be some sort of giant Sith Lord which is pretty creepy until we discover its not his true form), etc. And the biggest one – literally and figuratively – is the Starkiller, (the planet annihilating weapon that is itself a planet) the next generation of the Death Star. Heck the last third of the film is almost note for note the same sequence from Episode VI with a ground battle taking place at the same time as a space/aerial battle. And as a side note – the bad guys from the Star Wars universe really need to have better security or engineering when it comes to these gigantic planet destroying weapons… the way to destroy them is always too easily discovered and exploited. 🙂

Any Star Wars fan already knows that Luke’s last name was originally Starkiller, so it’s a nice nod to the source material to use the name… yet there is the sense that you are watching the same events play out you’ve already seen before . But I stick to my thesis that that’s by design.

Star Wars was conceived as a homage to the cliff-hanger serials (and other full length films as well) that George Lucas watched as a child – the weekly installments of Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers or Sky King or half a dozen others that graced movie screens across the country or were shown on Saturday afternoon TV… black and white tales of good guys and bad guys, with high stakes and outlandish plots or gimmicks. In fact, this video illustrates just how deeply Star Wars is stamped on our collective film going experience since its release: Star Wars Minus Star Wars and which points out how repetitive our stories (and images) are.

And so, here in 2015 with The Force Awakens we are once again being drawn into the traditional type of heroic story arc that people have been telling each other since we first formed languages to tell them.

The cinematography and camera work in VII is better than IV – not necessarily better, but more visceral. The  equipment and technical improvements of today’s filmmakers allow for some types of shots that were just impossible to do back in 1977 – though what we are used to today is a direct result of some of the equipment and techniques that were invented in order to get the first Star Wars made in the first place. What truly matters is the characters – because story is character after all – and Episode VII in that regard matches, and in some ways, surpasses the characters in Episode IV.

Daisy Ridley (Rey) and John Boyega (Finn) do a fine job as the young, next generation of persons who have been drawn into the conflict of the Light Side vs. The Dark Side. I found their characters to be engaging and real – I was rooting for them from the first moment I met them. Rey has the potential to surpass Luke as our favorite Jedi… that may sound like a bold statement, but I’ll stand by it. Finn is a mix of Luke and Han and it will be fun to see what direction they take him in Episode VIII. Throw into the mix the familiar faces of Han, Chewie, Leia, C-3PO, R2-D2 and yes, Luke… it was just the right amount of new and nostalgia all rolled into one package.

I’m not going to address the idiocy that arose after the first trailer was released and the stink that was made about Finn being a stormtrooper. What is more interesting to me is that the First Order stormtroopers are not the clones from Episodes II and III.

These stormtroopers are conscripted at a young age and conditioned to be shock troops – so, we not only get Finn as a First Order soldier – but we get female stormtroopers too. That’s awesome.

As for the rest of the characters in the film – we are shown only briefly the skilled pilot Poe Dameron, a high ranking resistance fighter in General Leia’s army – and the hodgepodge of aliens in Maz Kanata’s place are a blatant call-back to the Mos Eisley Cantina.

The villains were for the most part one-note – as villains can be. But try as the Stars Wars films might (in The Force Awakens and in Episodes I -III), it still has yet to match or surpass the pure evil thrill that is Darth Vader.

There are pages and pages that have no doubt been written about that particular character’s impact, so I’m not going to go over that here – suffice it to say that even though The Force Awakens tries to valiantly re-create the menace of Vader with the character of Kylo Ren, it just doesn’t quite do the trick – but again, Kylo’s background and motivations are somewhat different than Vader’s.

The ever-present threat of Vader in The Empire Strikes Back is so well presented, that when the reveal that happens in that movie occurs, it has such an impact that the ripples of it are still being felt in the Star Wars saga… as is evidenced by what is shown to us in The Force Awakens.

Why did JJ Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan write a script that hearkens back to Episodes IV and V? Why do we recognize similarities between scenes and settings and characters in these films? Why is the main through-line of these films that of the relationships between fathers and sons?

I’m sure there have been any number of term papers and film school theses about that last one — and I’m not going to get that deep into the underpinnings of what is or what isn’t going on in these films – but I will say that we feel such an attachment for them because they are really are us only on a grander scale.

We all have family issues; we all of us have been unhappy with our station in life, have gazed off into the distance and longed for something better…

lukesunset

We all long for adventure and for the sense that we are important – that we matter. And that I think, is why the Star Wars films have echos of similar scenes and settings and characters in them.

Because we are not only watching an epic story of events in long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away… we are watching our hopes, our need for good to triumph over evil.

We tell these stories over and over and in a similar fashion because new generations are seeing these tales with fresh eyes, and will tell them to those that come after… because they are necessary.

Do you think it just a title? No, A New Hope is much more than a title… its what we keep coming back for.

And so while there may be complaints about The Force Awakens, I just want to go on record and say that I thoroughly enjoyed it. My favorite moment (and it involves the character of Rey) made the hair stand up on the back of my neck, a huge grin to spread across my face and my inner hero to stand up and cheer.

And that’s the magic of Star Wars… for a brief moment, you are the hero. And that is something worth repeating.

Over and over.

++ I will say that several weeks ago I predicted a certain event would befall a character in the film, and while that event did come to pass, it did not happen to the character that I thought or said it would.

Lord of the Jungle

I’m going to reveal something here, that I have mentioned in private conversations but haven’t really revealed online – or if I have I don’t remember where.

I decided at a young age that I was going to write, and a little bit after that, that I wanted to be an actor too. The main reason I wanted to be an actor – was Tarzan.

I really wanted to be Tarzan. Even went as far as decorating my room with weeds and foliage from the back yard… leading to minor insect infestation my parents weren’t too happy about.

tzna01

I collected all the Ballantine Book’s paperback versions of each of the Tarzan novels that Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote – the ones with the amazing covers by #NealAdams and #BorisVallejo (Neal’s is above, Boris’s below)
boris_vallejo_21-tarzan_the_magnificent-cover

I read and re-read them, transported to a dark and forbidden continent, and also back in time – to the time when Burroughs was writing them — when most Americans had never set foot on The Dark Continent – to a time when the perception of Africa was more fantastical than real, a place where hidden kingdoms and fabulous riches lay in wait for intrepid explorers and greedy pale-skinned invaders.

Tarzan was one of the first ‘pulp heroes’ – a man of the new century, a demi-god that walked in ranks of others like him: Doc Savage, Conan the Barbarian, and Flash Gordon.

At some point in my early twenties I realized I would never achieve my ‘dream’ of playing Tarzan – I just hadn’t been blessed with the height or the genes to make me the 6’5″, 0% body fat, two-fisted, half-naked, tree-swinging macho man that Tarzan needs to be.

What captivated me about him? I can’t really put my finger on it – maybe it was the TV series with Ron Ely that was running in syndication, or Daktari – another show from the 60’s set in Africa – or maybe it was Henry Mancini’s score to Hatari! a John Wayne film that makes it seem as though the entire continent was in danger of being burned to the ground in a massive brush fire there are so many people smoking in it…

Whatever was the catalyst, at some point I picked up a copy of Tarzan of the Apes and read it. And I was hooked.

The original novel is a true masterpiece of pulp heroics – and its quite dark and bloody – a far cry from the tame versions of the character that have graced film screens and TV sets. A straight adaptation of this book has never been made – and probably never will be… for reasons that escape me.

Tarzan was a staple of Hollywood for a great number of years… and fell out of favor around the same time that Westerns began to decline. Why? There’s a great number of reasons – but a big one, especially for Tarzan – is that he is very much a man of a certain time or era. Tarzan outside of the early 1900’s just doesn’t ring true… a naked white man dispensing justice in Africa? Yeah, not too believable.

But set in that time, with the over-the-top trappings of pulp-adventure? You can’t do much better than John Clayton, Lord Greystoke – Tarzan of the Apes.

The latest incarnation of the character appears in  The Legend of Tarzan which arrives in theaters the summer of 2016 and which stars Alexander Skarsgård as Tarzan and also includes Margot Robbie, Samuel L. Jackson, Christoph Waltz and Djimon Hounsou.

Like almost every other adaptation, they’ll get some things right… and some things wrong. Everyone has their own mind’s-eye view of their favorite heroes – how they look, how they move, etc. This one (and grant you, this is only a teaser and we’ll get more images and longer trailers I’m sure) gets one thing right – at least for the first 20 seconds or so: Africa is front and center. A character. Which it should be.

Africa is a major part of who Tarzan is – its savage and untamed. A mirror of who he truly is. That they seem to get right… however —

There’s far too much CGI in the trailer — both the Mangani and Tarzan himself seem to be rendered in CG for a lot of the jungle scenes — in my mind’s eye, no one has ever really gotten how Tarzan moves right. How he traverses the jungle and landscape is either portrayed in tepid or timid ways (lame shots of him holding a vine and swinging slowly from one side of the screen to the next), or too elastic and too surf-board/rollerskating cartoon craziness. In my mind, its very parkour-like and quite unsustainable for a human being to pull off – apes and monkeys can move through the trees because they are built to – we just don’t have the arm and limb strength to do what they do.

Also, the film is awash in the blue and orange color palette – reasons for which you can read about here and here. Basically to suggest moral associations for characters and places… so darkest Africa is washed in blue to suggest maybe not evil but some place that’s dangerous and deadly.

I haven’t read much about the film, other than it is set in the time when the first novel was, i.e. 1880’s and so it’s a ‘period’ piece and not “modern” per se. This may be a turn off for some, but for me… that’s at least keeping true to the what makes the character work. And that we start off with Lord Greystoke (Tarzan) already “civilized” and living in England – no longer Lord of the Jungle.

If you’ve read the books, you know that Tarzan straddles both the civilized and the savage worlds – is able to transition between the two very easily – because not only is he a brute, but he’s also a brain. He is a meta-man – a more advanced version of us… and if you are familiar with the Wold-Newton Family (as posited by #PhilipJoseFarmer) you’ll be given an insight as to why that may be… but suffice it to say, that Burroughs character is the pinnacle of what each man should be – strong, sufficient and erudite – both beast and gentleman.

So, already we get a different through-line from the novel – not necessarily a bad thing, considering they are showing us Tarzan’s transition in reverse. So by film’s end we will no doubt get the Ape-Man and rather than the English Lord.

Much like a number of other hero movies – superhero or otherwise – Tarzan’s origin story is so well known that there really isn’t a reason to go over it – and yet we see glimpses of it in the trailer – again, not a bad thing, but also not necessarily something we need to see again.

It’s really too early to tell if the film will be better than the last few attempts at making the character interesting again. I’m excited to see the character back on the screen – and hope that its going to be better than others… but I’m also prepared to know that it won’t ever match my expectations.

I still hold out hope that someone somewhere will be brave enough to just take Burroughs novel and make that into a film. I doubt it will ever get made – but, you never know…

tarzan_vi

 

Audio Hopes and Aural Dreams

For those of you who happen to read my little musings here on this blog, you’ll have to forgive me — but I’m about to post something Power Rangers related. 🙂

Icon-mmpr

Well, not related so much as my hope for what one aspect of the reboot movie slated for early 2017 will include.

As some of you know who read this blog or who have been around me long enough to know I’m a cinematic music junkie. I love the orchestrated portion of a film more often than not the film itself. It’s the first thing I notice about a film and the one thing that sticks with me long after the film has left the theater and is relegated to the $5 dollar bin at your local store.

For me, the soundtrack and score can make or break a film – it either works or it doesn’t and what I find is truly interesting is that some times the music is the best part of a film or film franchise – Transformers and Battleship, I’m looking at you.

Steve Jablonsky did amazing work on these – don’t let the haters and critics of these films steer you away from his work.

My hope for the Power Rangers reboot is that they will take a page from the Marvel film making bible – and find a composer who gets what the film is about, understands that it needs to capture some of Ron Wasserman‘s energy and verve but also brings into the modern view of what superhero films can be these days. I hope that they find a composer that can fashion a score that lifts the film out of what could be a run-of-the-mill action-adventure-superhero film and elevates it to true block-buster status.

MMPR- The Movie 1995

MMPR- The Movie 1995

Maybe I’m partial to some aspects of what make a good soundtrack/score and what doesn’t – or maybe I’m just a geek who gets inspired by my perception of what I think a good score sounds like. I mean, I’m not so obsessed with them that I analyze every nuance and note of a score or am so obnoxious about it that I consider one composer better than any other… I’m just a guy who hears this type of music and finding inspiration and joy in it. Period.

That being said – if I’m sitting in a theater and the movie is playing and the music I’m hearing is too jarring or something that seems derivative – it lessens the experience for me.

Don’t get me started on John Barry – the man has crafted some excellent music – but I challenge you to put his score for Enigma on and then his score for High Road to China or Out of Africa and tell me they aren’t almost interchangeable. At the very least they are so stamped with his signature style that they blend easily one onto the other… and his score to The Black Hole is so distinctive and maddeningly repetitive as to make you go buggy listening to it.

Enigma

The Scores of John Barry

By the way, I own all of these scores by Mr. Barry and love them – even if they do sound amazingly similar in parts.

What I’m hoping from Lionsgate is that they pay as much attention to the scoring of the film as they do the casting and producing of it – if they can find the right composer, they will do the film justice – and make us cinematic score listeners very happy.

For my money I hope they can wrangle the talents of either Henry Jackman or Christophe Beck.

Henry Jackman has scored a number of big action-adventure/superhero films – Kick-Ass, Kingsmen: The Secret Service, X-Men: First Class, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Big Hero 6.

Christophe Beck has also score action-adventure/superhero themed projects: RED, Edge of Tomorrow, Elektra, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and most recently Marvel’s Ant-Man.

Both of these guys have the talent and the understanding of what a superhero movie needs in ordered to be scored so the action and story are highlighted and made thrilling for the audience.

Again – this is just my opinion – yours may vary and will be completely valid. And regardless of what you think of the films these gentlemen have worked on – I’m asking you to simply listen to the music and judge it by that context alone.

For example, most comic book fans feel Elektra was a sub-standard superhero movie. And it may very well be, but if you shut the images off and listen to the score… it captures the tone and feel (in my mind anyhow) of what a supernaturally trained superhero assassin needs. The driving percussion and Oriental influences give it a mystical and darkly urgent feel. It fits. It is one of those cases where the music surpasses the visuals in a very real sense.

You could take Beck’s score for Elektra and put it behind another film of the same type and it would work just as well.

On the other hand, Jackman’s score for Captain America: The Winter Soldier is so wonderfully matched to the visuals, its hard to think of the music fitting anywhere else.

Of course, there are other composers – other than Mr. Jackman and Mr. Beck – that are more than qualified to score the film: the aforementioned Steve Jablonsky has written some stunning action oriented scores. Ramin Djawadi‘s iconic Iron Man score is burned into every Marvel fan’s brain and he too could knock it out of the park. Nick Arundel‘s work on the Batman video game series also crafts some amazing soundscapes that would fit well with a modern Ranger movie.

And there are a number of others that could do excellent work

In the world of film scoring, it is kind of par for the course for the score to be one of the last things that gets done in the production process. It make sense for the composer to be able to see the semi-finished product so they can fit the music to what’s happening on screen. Unfortunately sometimes that can lead to it being rushed.

What I hope, is that Saban and Lionsgate secure the services of a composer that has the time to craft something worthy of bringing the Power Rangers to a new audience, while at the same time appealing to long-term fans of the franchise.

I also hope that the composer is able to work in Mr. Wasserman’s iconic theme – it just wouldn’t be Power Rangers with out it 🙂

Go Go Power Rangers!

Go Go Power Rangers!

 

 

I am not Deadpool – or am I?

So, I read Ryan Reynold’s GQ interview and my brain was piqued by the following quote:

“… I think one of the reasons that Deadpool has gained a lot of momentum isn’t just that it’s funny or isn’t just that it’s rated R. The meta aspect is very important. So I think Deadpool’s coming along at the right time, because it’s also speaking to that generation and that group of people that have seen them all, seen all these comic-book films and enjoyed them all to varying degrees of success. But I think it’s speaking to them as though the guy in that red suit is one of them, to some degree.”

NYCC-2014-DeadpoolGroup

NYCC 2014 Deadpool Group

I’m going to get a lot of push back on this – but, I am not Deadpool.

I wouldn’t want to be anything like him – or Frank Castle or Lobo or Spawn or any of six dozen other comic book ‘heroes’ or ‘anti-heroes’ that dominate the shelves these days.

That said, I do appreciate the stories that are told with these characters and the de-construction of the superhero archetype and the snark and “meta” aspects and all that’s become the accepted and desired defacto character type that comic fans and film fans want. I appreciate them through the lens of having grown up with comics, matured along with them – reading them when they were ‘kiddie’ books and later when they became mainstream and finally accepted as a legit art form or storytelling medium.

I appreciate the adult aspects of these characters — but I don’t accept them.

I think they have a negative impact, no matter how subtle. Just as I believe that slasher films, torture porn and splatter flicks have a negative impact. Regardless on whether or not you want to debate the merits of those types of entertainment, my own gut feeling is to turn away from them in disgust… not in denial of them, but simply because I feel they do more harm than good. And I’ve said this before, it’s hypocritical of me to take that stance, considering I hold in high esteem other characters in the medium who are just as violent as these anti-hero types: Captain America, Daredevil, Blade, etc. All of them are cut from the same cloth – that of the ‘justice must be served’ type. And that perhaps is crux of why I wrestle with the issue of violence in entertainment and in our society. Because I love these characters – part of me aspires to be them. And so if I am like my fellow geeks and nerds, and they aspire in some fashion to be like their heroes – what does it say about us?

Would I rather be Steve Rogers or Nelson Mandela? Matt Murdock or Henry David Thoreau?

What concerns me is the glut of this type of entertainment that floods the marketplace. The fascination with blood and violence is something no generation will escape – it’s been a part of our culture, society and entertainment stretching back through ancient history, to the time when we emerged from our caves and began living in gatherings of tribes.

We have a dark hunger for vengeance, retribution and power over the life and death of a rival, enemy or innocent.

And a few days ago in Oregon, yet again, we have another mass shooting at a school campus. Is Deadpool – or characters like him – responsible? No.

Or are they? I read David Niose’s post and agree with it wholeheartedly – and his statement that our nation’s gun culture isn’t a result of violent entertainment or video games or comic books, but rather a reflection of it.

Deadpool and other ultra-violent characters have always been part and parcel of our entertainment. Film and printed media have always had some element that glorifies blood and violence – it’s a money maker – and so it’s mass produced.

We as a species are enthralled with death and violence. We as a modern society like to think we are more civilized because we don’t have bloody arenas or “battles to the death” any more – kind of.  From MMA to Rugby, we still howl for real blood as opposed to accepting these activities as ‘just a game’.  Maybe Chess would be the number one draw if at some point the players would punch each other every time they captured a piece. I’m not a sports fan, and so can’t speak to the excitement or blood lust that fills an Eagles fan when his/her team performs or under-performs… though I do see a lot of their thoughts on my Facebook wall on game days.   Elegant Violence indeed.

Elegant Violence at Yancey Richardson Gallery

Elegant Violence at Yancey Richardson Gallery

We exist in a shared reality where every life form on our planet engages in a life-or-death struggle every single day.  One life consumes another is the norm… so naturally we reflect that in our entertainment.

In the grand tradition of Roman Gladiatorial combats and live execution of criminals and traitors, the Grand Guignol of  Paris created horrific and bloody theatrical experiences for the audience – showing them scenes of madness, torture, rape and murder. Some of the performances were so life-like that audience members passed out or had to be escorted from the theater.

I’m not a scholar who studies violence in society, or a psychologist who seeks to understand the effect of violent images on the human brain. All I have is my limited understanding and perception of these things as I understand them… and so my opinion on them only really applies to me. If I were living in a less civilized time, I’m sure I would already be dead – as I don’t have it in me to respond in a violent manner to a threat or attack.

I’m not afraid of death. I know and understand that it is inevitable. And that’s really what’s at the heart of violence in entertainment – the haunting understanding that our time upon this planet is limited and brief.

Each of us as human beings deals with death in a variety of ways – a lot of people ignore it or deny it – billions of dollars are spent to keep oneself young, or cosmetically appearing younger than we are, on drugs and pills to keep the body alive. We want to prevent death from ever coming at all – they would kill for immortality.

And then there are others are so fascinated by death, who are so drawn to it they think of it as a living entity. They don’t necessarily want to die, as much as they want to be Death or at least be one with death – a living undeath. Cultures across the globe have rituals and art and all manner of depictions of the Spectre that will come to claim us all in the end.

Why? Perhaps because were are so aware of our own mortality. We know we will one day, no longer be among the living – and so we try to face this inevitable consequence and the fear it generates through our myriad forms of entertainment. We revel in others who meet their ends at the hands of a psycho killer because, we are not them. We have escaped the killer, the mad man, the maniac.

As someone who has spent a great deal of his life in entertainment (in one aspect or another – from theater to film to video games and writing fiction), all the blood and gore and violence in our entertainment media can be parsed or filtered by my understanding that it is fiction. It’s not real. It’s meant to titillate or frighten. It’s created to alleviate the dull routines of work, sleep, paying bills and doing housework or homework and to excite and engage.

What we do with it beyond that is something each of us owns and is responsible for – to leave it as simply fiction or to act upon what we see and hear and read.

The statistics regarding the mass shootings in this country are horrifying – and when you read or hear that the latest perpetrator of this type of murder had fourteen guns in his ‘arsenal’ it should give you pause and it should make you take a long hard look at the argument that ‘more guns’ is the answer – or that the gun is a defensive weapon.

The gun IS NOT a defensive weapon. No weapon – by definition – is defensive. A shield is defensive. A wall is defensive.

A sword or a gun or cannon or a tank is designed to be offensive, to attack. Period. They are made to be used – to do unto others before they do to you.

And that I think is what really troubles me about Deadpool and his ilk in comics and film. He is a walking arsenal of violence and death. But then again, how is he different that any SWAT team member or Blackwater Security member?

Yes, fiction and entertainment is a reflection of what is real in society – we have gun violence and mass shootings because guns are sold as the answer.

They are the answer to fear. The answer to injustice. The answer to wrongs and the answer to the threat of a stranger. They permeate our culture and you cannot look at a movie poster or watch a TV show or read a comic book where a gun is not thrust into your face.

And that I think is the real harm – that we see this as normal. As acceptable. As no big deal. Observe a room full of people watching a movie or TV show where a gun battle is taking place. Note what you see.

I wonder how dies that affect them on a subconscious level, what affect does it have on their psyche? Are they desensitized? Or do they just understand its “play” or “fiction” or “not real”.

In the Deadpool trailer, the character – after causing mass destruction and mayhem on a freeway … holds up his hands and says “You’re wondering why the red suit? It’s so the bad guys can’t see me bleed.”

It’s meant to be a funny line. It’s part of that whole meta in-joke among comic book fans and movie fans – a comment on society’s thirst to see blood. As though we are meant to think “how cute!”

DEADPOOL Red-Band Trailer Proves Dreams Do Come True

DEADPOOL Red-Band Trailer Proves Dreams Do Come True

And then the very next scene is a ballet of guns, bullets, blood and gore. (and yes, the caption should frighten you)

I am not Deadpool. I refuse to accept guns as the answer.

We are better than that. We should be better than that.

And that is perhaps the necessity of Deadpool. To remind us, not to be him, or anything like him. At least that’s my hope.