Thursday, September 12, 2013

(Not) The TARDIS at Montmajour

Omigosh! Up in the left corner: it's... it's... a castle! Castles are cool."
This is another one of those posts where I'm going to come across as a bit of a geeky curmudgeon. . . or a curmudgeonly geek - whichever you please.
So, I'm really thrilled that a "new" Vincent Van Gogh painting has been discovered. Vincent was a fairly prolific painter, so it's not terribly rare to find a painting of his that no one knew about before, but most of those are from his early years as a painter. This one, Sunset at Montmajour, is from his "mature" period. You can read (and watch) more about this here. Now, not everyone is that impressed with it artistically, and, sure, it's not as striking as his sunflowers, but, I still like it.
Here's the thing: less than 24 hours after the unveiling, somebody noticed that there is an object in the upper left corner that kind of almost looks like the TARDIS, the time-traveling machine from Doctor Who - if you look at it just right and sort of ignore everything around it that makes it not look like a blue police box. Somebody posted this - probably on Reddit or Tumblr or Twitter - and when it reached my eyes, I went: "Ha! Yeah, it kind of does. Funny." The first time. And the second. And the third. After a little while, though, I was starting to get a bit annoyed.

"Hey, can we maybe try to just focus on how cool it is that there's another Van Gogh painting?" I thought. "It only sort of looks like the TARDIS, and probably only to some of us because of selective attention."
(Selective attention is what happens when your crush drives a red Tercel, and, suddenly: there are red Tercels everywhere. Only, there aren't actually more red Tercels than before you met this person, you're just noticing them now.)
And folks: I am a huge fan of Doctor Who. I've been watching it for as long as I was allowed to turn on the TV and watch by myself. My parents would turn off Star Trek re-runs because they were "too scary," but I got away with watching Doctor Who because it played on PBS, the same channel as Sesame Street and The Electric Company. The first couple of years, I watched it without always understanding what was going on or why the Doctor looked very different sometimes. It was particularly confusing when they would run a current Tom Baker episode in color followed by an old Patrick Troughton episode in black and white. In fact, I can remember being excited that I read the word "Police" on the TARDIS one time, and I started reading when I was four. That's how early I got into Doctor Who. But I loved it. I still do. I watched it whenever I could (my PBS affiliate moved it around quite a bit) until it went off the air in my freshman year of high school. I've watched every single episode of the new series, and, yes, I saw the 1996 TV movie - on TV, no less. I have more Doctor Who t-shirts than I could possibly need. I am a Doctor Who geek. A Whovian. No doubt about it.
E is for "Exterminate."

So, if I'm annoyed by the eclipsing of the new Van Gogh painting by this "phantom" TARDIS, imagine how annoyed the art lovers on Tumblr who aren't into Doctor Who must be. Yep, pretty darn annoyed. Even on sci-fi websites there are commenters saying, "Enough with these Whovians and the Van Gogh painting already!" Frankly, I'm a little embarrassed.
Yes, being a geek is loosely defined as being someone who is very much into a particular thing to the point of being mildly obsessed. There are movie geeks. (I'm one.) Theatre geeks. (Also one.) Art geeks. (I'm a novice one.) Sci-fi geeks. Zombie geeks. Vampire geeks. Video game geeks. The list goes on.
Here's the thing, though: it's gotten pretty intense. People are trying to "outgeek" one another to the point of being ridiculous. Some of this is the fact that the internet raises the bar so much. Everyone wants to go viral. There is also the rabid fame culture. Everybody wants to be a star, to be noticed. I'm not exempt. I write a blog that's read by a handful of people. Why? Is it therapeutic? A little, sure, but I really would like people to say, "Hey, I like the way you think. You're funny, smart, and deceptively handsome." I get it. I do.
However, the voracious nature of fandom does worry me sometimes, and, as my art-geek world and my Doctor Who-geek worlds collided yesterday, this became one of those times.
"Good news, Mrs. Patitis: little Hep Jr. has gone viral!"

Look, follow me on an analogy:
There are a whole lot of people who really love bacon. If bacon is an option on the burger: do it. Someone makes one of those old-timey cartoons with a joke about how awesome bacon is: share on Facebook, like, like, like. A bacon bumper sticker? Sold. A bacon t-shirt? Shut up and take my money!
Then you get the guy who finds a way to relate every conversation to bacon. His Facebook profile pic: him eating bacon. He shares every bacon article, joke, photo, speculation, and recipe that he comes across on Facebook and Twitter. Just clicking "follow" on his Pinterest board causes your cholesterol level to rise. He has a bacon tattoo. He named his dog "Bacon." His daughter is "Pancetta" and his son is named "Barry Acon." ("B. Acon." Get it? Classic.) He also will tell anyone who listens (and many who won't) that if you look long enough and hard enough, every Picasso painting has a slice of bacon in it somewhere. This guy makes people who haven't had bacon before never want to try it, and it makes bacon lovers feel like swearing off pork altogether. Why? Because he's ridiculous and annoying, and he is obsessed with demonstrating how obsessed he is.
"Well, no one's that into bacon." Probably not. Who knows? But take this analogy and carry it over into any other area of geekdom. See? Now, it's more plausible. You know that guy who's obsessed with zombies. You work with that woman who's Team Edward. If you're not into the thing they're into, it can be difficult to be around them. Even if it's a common interest for you, they can still be a bit much to take. Or, maybe you're that person, and you're reading this and thinking, "Whatever, dude."
So, I googled "bacon tattoo," and what I saw made me decide to post a photo of anything else.
This is my cat: Adelaide.

"That's what being a geek is." Okay, maybe it is. Hey, I get worked up about stuff that I like, too, and many's the time that I talked about old movies or Batman or Spaced at a party to the point that it was eventually just me and some very polite person who was trying to figure out how to excuse themselves. What I've learned is that, if I really want to share my interests with another person, less is more, and if your goal in sharing the object of obsession isn't to get someone else interested in it, then what are you doing?
Showing off?
I want more people to enjoy Doctor Who as I enjoy it. It has been a part of my life and my worldview for just about as long as I can remember, and - even with all of the movies and TV shows around us these days - there's really nothing quite like it.
A man in a funny suit steps out of a box and is confronted by a big, scowling, horrid monster. While his companion cowers in fear, he walks up to the behemoth, smiles, and extends his hand.
"Hello. I'm the Doctor. And you are?"
As it was (almost) described on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, they are stories about "the triumph of intellect and romance over brute force and cynicism." Couldn't we all use a little more of that in this world?
It troubles me when I've met people who flat will not watch Star Trek because "trekkies are weird," or who won't watch Doctor Who because they stumbled onto a thread by an obsessed David Tennant fan group. (David Tennant, the Tenth Doctor. When he got married, some extremely unkind things were posted about his lovely bride.)
I wonder how many art lovers on Tumblr who just haven't managed to get around to watching any Doctor Who yet have now sworn off of ever watching an episode because a bunch of Whovians went all TARDIS crazy and hijacked their discussion thread on the new Van Gogh painting.
Imagine if we had a time machine and could handle those "first encounters" the way the Doctor would:

Hey, I don't know much about Van Gogh, but there was an episode of my favorite TV show all about him. When was this painted? The episode takes place in 1890.

1888, according to the letter he wrote his brother. What TV show?

Doctor Who. I love it, and the Van Gogh episode is one of my favorites.

My cousin keeps bugging me about how I should watch that show. She's obsessed.

It's pretty addictive. It's funny and exciting and touching all at the same time. What's really funny is that the main character travels around in a time machine that looks like a blue police box, and - up in the left corner of the painting - that castle almost looks like a blue police box.

Oh, maybe it is Doctor Who! I'll have to check it out. Will I be able to follow what's going on if I just watch the Van Gogh episode?

Pretty much. Let me just give you a couple of things you need to know about the madman in the box...


Intellect and romance over brute force and cynicism...

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Wonderful, Wonderful

Confession time: I have seen NBC's unaired Wonder Woman pilot. I know, I know. It's someone else's property, and they did not wish for it to be seen. In my earlier blog post about what a Wonder Woman movie ought to be, I jokingly asked the Internet to send a copy my way, but I was joking.
A few months later, not by way of the Internet, a copy of said pilot found its way to me. I didn't even realize that I coveted it until it was there, right in front of me. A dozen questions whipped through my brain:
Why had NBC passed on it?
Was it that bad?
Why was it that bad?
Was Adrianne Palicki bad? (Surely not.)
Was it campy like the 1960s Batman?
Was it too serious?
Who was the villain?
Was there an origin story?
How did the costume play on-screen?
Was Adrianne Palicki bad? (Please, no.)
Was Steve Trevor in it?
Was Adrianne Palicki bad? (No, no, no...)

So, I caved. I watched it. I got my questions answered and I moved on.
Recently, with the casting of Ben Affleck as Batman in the next Superman movie, there has been some more talk on the internet calling for a Wonder Woman movie already, for crying out loud! (I'm paraphrasing.) It sounds like there's some trouble with CW's Amazon series, so I don't know when we're going to see Wonder Woman make it to either the large or small screens now. I was also inspired by this great piece from the Upworthy called 7 Moronic Things People Have Said About A Possible Wonder Woman Movie.
So, as an addendum to my Wonder Woman piece from January, I will give you my thoughts on the Wonder Woman pilot.
This was a pre-pilot version of the costume.
Shiny. Not in a good way.

Why had NBC passed on it?
Who knows? I can only say why I would have passed on it, and that was that it wanted to be a female Iron Man clone. As the story opens, Wonder Woman's not-at-all-secret-identity is that of Diana Themyscira, head of multi-million dollar corporation Themyscira Industries. (For the uninitiated, Themyscira is the island of the Amazons.) It doesn't really play, and it's a little too obvious that they're trying to ape the Tony Stark motif. the writing is a little self-assured and a little ironic. For example: Diana snaps at a production meeting about a Wonder Woman doll prototype that is a bit on the chesty side, but Palicki as Diana appears to be wearing a padded bra herself. (Possibly.)
I don't know. That dress looks a little unnecessarily enhanced to me.
 It's bad enough that comic book artists give Diana an unnaturally large bosom.
Do we need to do it in live-action as well? 

Was it that bad? Why was it that bad?
It really wasn't that bad. It also wasn't really good. You have to account for the fact that - even if the show had been picked up - this pilot was never intended for public consumption. It's meant to give an idea of what the show would be like. I disagree with some of the choices, but that's just my opinion.
Was Adrianne Palicki bad?
No, not at all. We're big fans of Miss Palicki here at the Superfluity, but I was fully prepared for her to be the reason that NBC passed on the pilot. I don't see how she can have been the reason. She looks the part, she's a fine actress, and she sold it - even some of the sillier lines. Adrianne was good. She should still be high on everyone's wish list for the next incarnation of Wonder Woman. She's top of my list.
The updated costume is a little less. . . Vegas?
Much better.

Was it campy like the 1960s Batman?
No, not in the least. If anything, it could have used a little more humor. As I have said before, I think that what makes Wonder Woman an interesting character, is that she is thrust into a world that is completely foreign to her: the world of men. More specifically: the world of men in which women are marginalized and objectified. How would Wonder Woman react to things like make-up, push-up bras, wage inequality. . . twerking? Wonder Woman becomes a way to poke a bit of fun at ourselves, and - at the same time - make us think. ::pulls out soapbox:: Women have had the vote for 93 years in this country, and statistics show that more women vote than men. Given the state of inequality that exists in America, one must conclude that a large percentage of women consistently vote against their own interests. Why? ::puts soapbox back under desk::
Was it too serious?
No, not really. It took itself a little seriously, but the action sequences were definitely fun. One caveat: Wonder Woman looked to have killed a few guys in the climactic fight sequence. This seemed unnecessary. Yes, she's an Amazon warrior, so she doesn't have the boundaries that Superman and even Batman have set for themselves, but it still felt gratuitous.
Who was the villain? 
The villain was Elizabeth Hurley as a health food mogul with dark ulterior motives. I don't think that just because the hero is a woman, the villain must necessarily also be a woman, but this didn't feel at all contrived. She was the brains of the criminal enterprise, and she had lots of beefy thugs to go toe-to-toe with Wonder Woman. It worked as a premise. It needed a little bit of fleshing out, but, again, this was a pilot story, and, as such, a little truncated.
Was there an origin story?
No, they skipped the origin story, and they got the ball rolling right away. Diana has a flashback memory - not among the Amazons on Themyscira, unfortunately - so I'm sure we would have learned more about how she went from being an Amazon princess to, well, Tony Stark.
Costume #1
Costume #2

How did the costume play on-screen?
Not bad. She actually wears two costumes: a less shiny version of the one that "leaked" to the internet and received such criticism and then later the more iconic costume. It was fun to see the more iconic costume, but, in my opinion, totally unnecessary. The first costume said "Wonder Woman" loud and clear. It would have been acceptable as the only costume used. Maybe the producers used the original costume as well, in case NBC didn't like the new design. I would lose the padded bra, though. Adrianne Palicki is sufficiently wonderful just as she is. (Was that creepy? It's hard to talk about someone's figure and not come across as creepy. Let's move on, shall we?)
My only criticism of this costume (and
I can't believe that I'm going to say this)
is it could be a little less cleavage-baring.
Was Steve Trevor in it?
Yes. Kind of. He was in Diana's flashback as a former love whom she left in order to pursue her crime-fighting/CEO career. He's a lawyer, and he shows up again at the end. Was he an Air Force pilot before? Who knows? That was something that we probably would have found out as the series progressed. If it had progressed.

A little better look at the classic-inspired
costume. Why does that guy look so unhappy?
Dude! Adrianne Palicki!

We love you, Adrianne. Sorry that I kept talking
about your boobs in order to illustrate
how your boobs weren't important.
Yeah, I get that a lot.
Overall, the Wonder Woman pilot was a miss with a great deal of potential. I think that NBC should have asked for a few changes rather than just throwing it out altogether. I would have abandoned the Tony Stark thing, gone ahead with an origin story, and played up the fish-out-of-water angle with our heroine. Palicki could strike a nice balance between the tough heroic warrior (she was one of the few saving graces of G.I. Joe: Retaliation, in my opinion) and the confused stranger in a strange land. (Check out her performance as the ditzy porn actress in both Women in Trouble and Electra Luxx.)

I'm glad that I saw the pilot, because the main take-away from it was this: Adrianne Palicki would make a great Wonder Woman.








Sunday, August 25, 2013

In His Satin Tights

This seems to be my M.O. on this blog: skip a month and then write three blog entries in three days - preferably on the weekend, when it can be assured that no one is on the internet. Ah, well. I write when I have time and when I have something I want to say. (I was going to say "something worthwhile to say," but that really isn't the point of this blog.)
With Joss Whedon's Avenger's success, a number of people on the internet have been calling for his former collaborator, the Canadian hunk (Canunk?) Nathan Fillion to find his way into a superhero movie, any superhero movie but preferably something with Joss.
Well, I have a proposal that will cover both of those criteria.
Meet Wonder Man, a lesser-known and complicated superhero in the Marvel Universe.
And a bit of a clothes horse, frankly.
             
Simon Williams was the young CEO of a tech company slowly being put out of business by Stark Industries. In order to save the company, he embezzles some funds to "invest" with the local mafia. This is discovered and Williams is put on trial. Baron Zemo, a regular masked baddie and frequent nemesis of Captain America, reads about Williams and - noticing his disdain for the Stark corporation - makes him an offer. He will give Simon superpowers through the use of his ionic ray, if Simon will help him in a plot to bring down the Avengers. There is one catch: upon receiving the ionic treatment, Williams will have to take regular injections from Zemo or the process will kill him.
The plan is this: Zemo's team of bad guys, The Masters of Evil, stage an attack on the Avengers headquarters and Simon, now called Wonder Man, pretends to intervene and chase them off. Then, having gained the trust of the Avengers, Wonder Man will lead them into an ambush later. The snag is that, while Simon Williams has made some bad decisions, he has done so for usually very good reasons. When the ambush occurs, Simon has a change of heart, and he winds up fighting Zemo and saving the Avengers after all. However, without Zemo's treatments, Wonder Man collapses, seemingly dead.
Seemingly ends up being the operative word here as the Wonder Man story gets much more complicated from here. They involve: Simon's consciousness being transplanted into an android (the Avenger known as the Vision), a Voodoo resurrection as a zombie, an older brother who is a super-villain (the Grim Reaper), an actual resurrection as we learn that Zemo was bluffing about the need for the injections, a career in Hollywood as a stuntman and actor, a few more "deaths," and that's only the beginning.
However, every comic book superhero who's been around more than a few decades has these complicated storylines. Thor was a woman for a while. Spiderman has clones running around everywhere. Superman was blue. Literally.
"Well, crap. The glasses aren't going to fool anybody now."

When bringing these characters to the big screen, many of these more complicated aspects are streamlined (Captain America's Bucky is a non-costumed adult soldier), lamp-shaded (Thor wears the clothes of Jane's ex: Dr. Donald Blake), or omitted altogether (Rick Jones has never appeared with any live-action version of the Hulk).
So, with Wonder Man, I think you can still get a good story using a few major points and filling in the blanks.
Simon Williams is a competitor of Stark's. However, instead of the mafia, maybe he aligns with Zemo (or any other evil Marvel scientist, really) on the ionic experimentation project, thinking it can save his company. Not comfortable with Zemo wanting to use a human test subject, Williams makes the sacrifice of allowing himself to be the subject.
The 80s look for Wonder Man is generally considered pretty cheesy,
But I've always kind of liked it.
And now it's "retro."

Then, as the super-powered Wonder Man, Williams makes a number of public appearances, and even Hollywood features, as a way of promoting both his company and the possibilities of ionic power. Meanwhile, Zemo is using the life-saving injections as leverage to get Wonder Man to do what he wants. Zemo's idea for a fake attack on the Avengers in order to get Wonder Man on their team makes Williams a little uncomfortable, but, seems to be a good way to promote his company. It isn't until later that Zemo springs the ambush plan on him. Williams is conflicted, but his company and his life are at stake, so he does the wrong thing for the right reasons. Then he does the noble thing in the end, and it turns out that Zemo was lying about the whole life-saving injections thing anyway.
Now, if it seems like a flimsy superhero movie to have the Avengers dealing with just one super-powered guy and a betrayal story, remember that we still have the Masters of Evil here.
This includes:
The Executioner: half Asgardian, half frost giant, and he likes guns.
How about giant badass, Rory McCann?

The Black Knight: basically a slightly lesser Iron Man, but with a medieval theme.
Dominic Purcell?

Radioactive Man: a walking atom bomb who can shoot beams of radioactive energy.
Donnie Yen?

The Enchantress, a magical Asgardian who doesn't like Thor very much.
I like Lucy Punch for this. Okay, I like Lucy Punch for just about anything.

And, of course, Baron Zemo himself.
Til Zweiger would be great whether you go with the modern Helmut Zemo
or some kind of age-preserved Heinrich Zemo.

And if the names seem a bit cheesy, well, remember, they're a fake team of villains staging a fake attack on the Avengers, ostensibly (from Simon's point-of-view) as a publicity stunt.
In this picture, he's playing the Firefly theme song by
making fart-noises with his hands. My blog. My rules.

Simon Williams is a gregarious but complicated superhero, and I think that Nathan Fillion has the look, the charisma, and the acting chops to bring this character to life. Since Fillion has said that both he and Joss are too busy with their own projects at the moment, this story might be a nice fit for their schedules sometime after Avengers: The Age of Ultron. So, for those of you who were disappointed that we didn't get a Fillion Green Lantern and that we won't get a Fillion Batman (It's Affleck. Deal with it.), Wonder Man's story can either be an Avengers movie or a movie that simply features the Avengers, depending upon everyone's availability, and it would be a great way to get Joss and Fillion back together. (I'm assuming that this will be a reunion subsequent to their reunion on the Doctor Horrible sequel. Right, guys?)

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Bat-Flack

So, the announcement has been made: Ben Affleck will be playing Batman in the as-yet-untitled Batman/Superman movie, and the internet has lost its mind . . . again.
Here are a few thoughts to perhaps help us maintain a little perspective.

1. Before Twitter, Facebook, or, really, before the internet was really any part of the public conscious at all, we all still managed to freak out about Michael Keaton being cast as Batman. I was a big Michael Keaton fan, but even I balked at the idea of Mr. Mom as the caped crusader. I - and the rest of the world - quickly changed tune on that one, and now Michael Keaton stands on the cinematic pedestal as the quintessential Batman.

"I am the Batman. This is my city.
At nap time it belongs to me."

2. Everybody freaked out about Heath Ledger being cast as the Joker. I was less concerned than most, but even I was reticent. Next Halloween count the number of Heath Ledger Jokers you see stumbling out of pubs.

"...cause I'm a picker, I'm a grinner, I'm a lover, and I'm a sinner...."


3. Daredevil (2003) was pretty bad, yes, but how much of that was a bad performance on Affleck's part? Not much. (Jennifer Garner is another story.) The major problem with most bad superhero movies is the inability of the screenwriter and director to effectively find a tone for bringing a comic book - particularly a long-running comic book - to a movie screen for 100 - 150 minutes. The temptation can be to try to shove everything interesting about the character into one movie, and that often means that the story suffers. I will similarly defend George Clooney as Batman and Ryan Reynolds as Green Lantern. These guys showed up, put on the masks, and did their best at bringing their characters to life in the worlds that were created for them. Batman and Robin was a disaster, but Clooney didn't make it so. (Schumacher did that. Bat-nipples.) Reynolds was a great Hal Jordan in a Green Lantern movie that couldn't decide what kind of movie it wanted to be.
Schumacher.


4. The real concern with the Batman/Superman movie shouldn't be Affleck. Affleck will be fine. I'm a little concerned about what his Batman voice will sound like as he is no Kevin Conroy, but that's nitpicky. The concerns - or at least my concerns - are as follows:

a. Man of Steel was not that great. (The worst of the Iron Man movies was still better.) The Krypton sequences were the best part of the film. The rest of it was proselytizing on . . . well, I'm not really sure. Was it that humanity was good or that humanity was bad? Also, spoiler alert: Superman saves the planet (Metropolis is basically FUBAR, though), but he loses. It's not the cape or the flying or the super-strength that makes Clark Kent Superman, it's the boundaries that he places on his powers that really make him the hero. And what does he do in this: his origin film? ::crunch:: Yup. I think we need to see a better Superman film (same cast and crew is fine) before we see a Superman team-up film.
"Oh yeah, look behind me. That's what this movie is all about:
corporate advertising."

b. The Christopher Nolan Batman universe was not designed to fit into the large DC universe. This was by design, and it worked. Also, it's all pretty well wrapped up in the Dark Knight Rises. This means that the Batman will need to be re-booted in order to fit into the Man of Steel universe. It doesn't have to be a major re-boot, and it can even happen in the same movie. We don't need another origin story. We just need to establish that this Batman is not the same one played by Christian Bale. Alfred is there (played by a different actor, naturally), Bruce Wayne is still moonlighting as Batman (or vice-versa), and there's probably a different look to the costume. (Hands off, Schumacher!) The problem is not with having to re-boot Batman, it's that I'm not crazy about Zack Snyder's Superman re-boot. (Paranoid Jonathan Kent? Really?)
Alan Rickman as Alfred.
And now you're wishing you'd thought of it.

I'm far less concerned about Ben Affleck playing Batman in a Batman/Superman team-up movie than I am about the fact that they're making a Batman/Superman team-up movie. It seems a little presumptive to me.


Friday, August 23, 2013

To Boldly Go

 River Phoenix would have been 43 today, and he remains one of those great tragedies of Hollywood. Impressing audiences and critics in role after role, he died of drug-induced heart failure at the devastatingly young age of 23, early in the morning on Halloween of 1993.
His many acclaimed roles on television and film had also earned him teen heartthrob status – something he utilized to spread awareness about environmental conservation and animal rights.
Remembered primarily for his James Dean-esque bad boy roles, Phoenix’s first feature film role was as the nerdy but brilliant Wolfgang Müller in the Joe Dante science fiction adventure Explorers (1985).
Supposedly, the script had bounced around Hollywood for many years before Paramount decided to make the film. Rumor has it that Spielberg had passed on it some years earlier, but liked one aspect of the original script in which kids flew through the air on bicycles – something that he would use in E.T. later. Of course, that’s just a rumor.
Wolfgang Petersen was approached by Paramount based upon the success of The Neverending Story, but they were unwilling to meet his request of filming the movie in his native Germany.
Ultimately, the script landed in the hands of Joe Dante, who loved the first two acts, but felt that the third needed a major re-write, something that he and writer Eric Luke would do on the fly. The movie rolled into production with Phoenix, Ethan Hawke (in his first on-screen role), and Jason Presson (fresh off his acclaimed role in The Stone Boy) as three outcasts who, with the help of mysterious alien messages, build their own spacecraft to discover the secrets of the universe.
I’m with Dante: the first two acts are very compelling as these three boys try to understand the source of one of their (and eventually all of their) strange and vivid dreams. Then, utilizing their individual talents, they construct a makeshift spacecraft. I like to imagine the three characters as younger versions of Kirk, Spock, and Scotty. Hawke’s Ben is the adventurous and romantic dreamer, Phoenix is fastidious and scientific as Wolfgang, and Presson’s Darren is the wisecracking mechanic.
How the third act would have resolved itself in the revised version of the script we may never know, because – before they could finish it – Paramount decided to push the release date forward, forcing Dante to release a film that basically falls to pieces in the third act.
Dante does manage to find some coherence in the film, even if that means that it feels like two different movies from beginning to end. The special effects are fun, the young actors are very good, and, of course, you are pretty much guaranteed of three things because it’s a Dante film: lots and lots of intentional nods to other sci-fi films, a quirky sense of humor, and an appearance by legendary character actor Dick Miller, a carry-over from Dante’s stint working on Roger Corman films. Another frequent collaborator of Dante’s is Robert Picardo - later of Star Trek: Voyager fame - who appears in no less than two roles in this movie.
I do so love the first part of this movie that I tend to be pretty forgiving of the disjointed ending (which is still pretty entertaining in its own right). Still, I would be very curious to see the movie that Dante would have made if he’d been allowed to finish it.
It might then have been my favorite River Phoenix movie. That honor instead goes to – no, not Stand By Me, and, no, not Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, either – a little high-tech caper film called Sneakers featuring Phoenix, Robert Redford, Dan Aykroyd, Sidney Poitier, Ben Kingsley, David Straitharn, Mary McDonnell, and Stephen Tobolowsky, released just over a year before Phoenix’s untimely death.
Check out the trailer below:

One piece of trivia: River’s family decided to change their name to Phoenix after moving back to the U.S. from South America for a new start. Before that, the family’s name was Bottom, as in River Bottom.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Voices In The Sky

"Hand me the f**king keys, you c******ker, what the f**k?"
I think I may have forgotten to mention that I have a Tumblr account associated with this blog. I was using it a year or so ago as a daily mini-blog, but then I kind of backed off of that. I have recently begun Tumblng anew, and I have made a couple of posts there in lieu of posting them here - specifically regarding Rocket Raccoon and the Guardians of the Galaxy movie.
However, if you didn't know about my Tumblr, you didn't see them.
In brief, I am very excited for the Guardians of the Galaxy movie, and I have a few thoughts regarding the voice casting of the gun-wielding varmint known as Rocket Raccoon.
Quick digression: you should totally read the four-part mini-series from the 80s that lays out Rocket's origin story. It's delightfully irreverent (in an innocent, 80s way), and it has some great artwork by Mike Mignola. It's available for digital download through Marvel.
A rabbit, a raccoon, and a walrus walk into a spaceship . . . and kick butt.

Okay, here are my thoughts on the voice casting for Rocket Raccoon:
Disney, please don't use a big-name celebrity. I know that GOTG may be kind of a hard sell for non-comic-geek audiences, and I know that one way to draw people in is with actors who have immediate name recognition. Chris Pratt - who I think is an excellent choice for Peter Quill, by the way - elicits a "who?" from most people I mention him, too. Dave Bautista doesn't draw recognition from many people outside of the professional wrestling world. (Thank you for not making Drax all CGI, too.) Your biggest name on the team so far is Zoe Saldana as Gamora (excellent!), and, while that's a pretty big name, I suspect that you are feeling the need to add another big name in there, and - so far - there is no indication that Adam Warlock or Quasar will be included in the movie team. That leaves Groot, who doesn't say much, and the beloved Rocket Raccoon.
I will admit that - when I read the Guardians of the Galaxy comics and the Rocket Raccoon mini-series - in my head he did sound just a little bit like Danny DeVito, but that doesn't mean I think that's who should be cast.
There are so many hard-working and skilled voice actors out there, and, over the last couple of decades, they have lost many of the big jobs to actors who are better known for showing their faces on camera.
Let's look at some of Disney's most-beloved animated characters on screen:
In The Little Mermaid you have Ariel (voiced by Jodi Benson) and Sebastian the crab (voiced by Samuel E. Wright.) Recognize those names? Probably not.
How about Paige O'Hara? (Belle in Beauty and the Beast.)
Phil Harris? (Baloo in The Jungle Book.)
Jonathan Freeman? (Jafar in Aladdin.)
Nowadays, those roles would probably be cast as Hayden Panettiere, Taye Diggs, Selena Gomez, Kevin James, and Benedict Cumberbatch. There's nothing wrong with those actors, they'd just have needed to be coached on the art of voice acting, and they'd also have been putting trained voice actors out of a job. (And, yes, I'm aware that many of those actors I just mentioned have recently done voice-over. That's kind of my point.)
"Just getting in shape. They say the microphone
adds ten pounds."

So, when it comes to casting the voice of Rocket Raccoon, I hope that we will see (hear) some of the hard-working voice pros (Phil Morris, John DiMaggio) get a shot instead of simply handing it over to a big name celeb - even Danny DeVito.


Friday, June 28, 2013

Clark Smash!

(The following contains spoilers for Man of Steel, Superman Unbound, and the grill at your local 7-11 store.)

I walked into the Man of Steel movie with no small amount of trepidation. Zack Snyder is hit-and-miss as a director, in my opinion, and producer Christopher Nolan's liberties taken with the Batman universe in The Dark Knight Rises - particularly in the last ten minutes or so - are still giving me heartburn. (It might also be the Cheeseburger Big Bites™ from 7-11, but I'm sure TDKR is a factor.)
However, there's another reason that I was not allowing my hopes to get too high for the latest live-action (that's a bit of a loose term these days, isn't it?) incarnation of the last son of Krypton:
Superman is a little boring.
I know, I know: American icon, most recognizable superhero logo, metaphor for indomitability, etc., etc.
Superderp.
But come on: Superman is stronger than pretty much anything on Earth. He can fly farther, run faster, and lift heavier things higher than any other superhero. He is impervious to harm. He was the first superhero of his kind in the comics, and that made him interesting. However, the novelty wore off eventually, so he had to be given new powers and new vulnerabilities: he shoots laser from his eyes, he can be killed by fragments of space rock from the remnants of his home planet.
The only way to keep Superman interesting was to pit him against brilliant foes like Lex Luthor and Brainiac or much stronger enemies like Darkseid and Doomsday. The problem with the former is that eventually Supes comes across, at best, as a well-meaning naïf and, at worst, a bit of a dullard. He eventually wises up and then overpowers the baddie, but it's really just a super-powered Archie and Jughead story at that point. In the case of the latter, the story devolves into one giant slugfest, and the only thing that allows Superman to save the day is his unfaltering will and maybe a little help from an intrepid reporter or someone.
Super-nyaaargh!

In the case of the animated movie Superman Unbound, Brainiac is altered to embody both of these types of foes. He is a world-devourer bent on consuming Earth. He absorbs both knowledge and power, making him all-knowing and all-powerful. Oh, what a seemingly insurmountable challenge for our hero! Please. Besides ripping off the character of Galactus from Marvel, this is an all-too common storyline for Superman lately: a powerful, malevolent force is destroying everything in its path, and the
"Hasta la vista, baby."
only thing standing in its way is Superman and all of his goodness. (Yawn.) In the end, it's a Yosemite-Sam-vs.-Bugs-Bunny ridiculous smackdown.
"You hit me with a car and smashed me into a supermarket, Brainiac? Well, now I'm going to hit you with this truck and crash you into a skyscraper! Take that!"
"Well-played, Superman, but, say, look at this ocean liner I just landed next to . . ."
On the animated Justice League and Justice League Unlimited series, Superman's primary role was muscle. This is why many of the story lines involved him being away from Earth on some mission, only to come in at the end and pull the big, bad monster off of Green Lantern and toss him into the sun. (These stories alternated with the ones in which Batman turned up at the end disguised as one of the villain's henchmen having secretly hacked the world-destroying anti-matter gun and reprogrammed it to make toast.)
Fortunately, in "live-action" movies, the enormity of Superman's powers makes for some real cinematic eye-candy. That's why the teaser tagline for the 1978 movie was "You will believe that a man can fly." The effects in that film were ground-breaking. Christopher Reeve looked like he was flying as opposed to simply levitating in front of a projection screen.
However, by the time we get to 2013, we've seen Iron Man, Thor, the kids from Chronicle, Will Freaking Smith, and dozens of other characters fly thanks to the handiwork of some very skilled CGI animators. So what is left for Superman to do in Man of Steel? Well, he's got that interesting backstory of being an alien raised by simple but forthright humans. Of course, Snyder glossed over this a bit by showing these elements only in snippets in flashback. There is something terribly poignant about the death of Jonathan Kent by heart attack, as it is something that none of Clark Kent's powers could stop. Of course, Snyder changed this to Jonathan being killed by a tornado, forbidding Clark from helping him out of a sense of midwestern paranoia. It was a way to go. I just didn't like it.
On to the villains: Zod and company are super-powered as well, coming from Superman's home planet of Krypton. Their aim is to restore the Kryptonian race first by obtaining a device that was supposedly hidden in Superman's baby rocket and second - as we find out - by converting Earth into a new Krypton, effectively killing every human on the planet. This is completely different from the Superman Unbound storyline. Completely.
"Do I smell Cheeseburger Big Bites™?"
I'm not accusing plagiarism here, I'm just pointing out that there are only a couple of ways to tell a Superman story, and Superman Returns had already used the other one.
So, this one gets to be the slugfest: the one where Supes gets a bit of help from the intrepid reporter - oh, and an apparently self-aware hologram of his birth father.
Here was my hope: Superman would show his moral superiority by finding a way to stop General Zod without having to kill him. ::crunch:: Well, so much for that.
In some ways, Zod got off easy. At least he doesn't have to figure out how to rebuild Smallville and Metropolis - both of which are basically leveled by Superman's battle with the bad guys. The bad guys have an excuse: they're trying to destroy everything. Superman just comes across as careless.
Maybe I'm just getting old, because during the two prolonged and ultimately boring slugfests in the film, I found myself thinking about the ridiculous amounts of property damage and absurdly obvious corporate product placements throughout. Or, it could just be that they were prolonged and ultimately
"I'm thinking we could have landed quite a few more
Property Insurance sponsors for this movie."
boring.
As an icon, Superman is pretty great. He is a symbol for truth, justice, and the American way. I have the Superman logo on a number of hats and shirts in my collection. However, as a character around whom to build a compelling storyline, he's a bit of a dud. Superman tends to be a favorite among people who aren't really into comic books: they dig the symbology. Among die-hard comic book fans, however, Superman typically rates somewhere off the top-ten list. Batman, Spider-Man, Green Arrow, Punisher, Wolverine, Iron Man - these characters and their adventures speak to readers on many more levels than Superman does anymore.
A caveat on Man of Steel: I loved the prelude scenes on Krypton and the allusions to Zod and Jor-El's back stories. Hey, Zack and Christopher: before you get too far on that already-planned sequel, how about a prequel? Just keep George Lucas away from it.