Monday, July 28, 2008

Thoughts on Movies and Comic News

Been spending time working on the Heroes side of my Golden-age Encyclopedia pages. Finally finished the M's which took quite a bit longer than anticipated. Between that and last week being a very small comic week, I delayed posting a bit. So a bunch of stuff just sorta creeped up on me.

On the days I've not been working on my sites, I've been actually taking a couple of online courses. One is intermediate web design. I'm self-taught on Dreamweaver and picked up a bit of HTML along the way there and here, fine-tuning the layouts and editing. Decided I needed a bit more formal training to take it to the next level. It means I have to unlearn a few bad habits as well as learning to do things manually with HTML. I'm also taking a class on starting a small business and am hoping to put my plans on opening a small bookstore into action. Even when I'm not doing coursework on the latter, I'm making calls and meeting with people to get a handle on all that I'll need to know and do to make this a reality. It's been fascinating work.

In between all of that, I also have been trying to drum up some freelance imaging work so that I don't burn through my severance pay quite so fast. That looks like it may finally start paying off with some jobs. Even though I am not going to work every day, I at least feel like I'm making progress each day, that I'm not standing still.


I thought the ads for the movie WANTED looked interesting. I leafed through the trade paperback, but was turned off by the character pages in the back as it seemed that all of the character quotes had them use the F*** word. Though I hardly ever cuss, I wouldn't consider myself a prude. Some of my favorite movies were brutal in their language. What struck me was how all the same it made the characters sound in these pages that were supposed to be highlighting them. The repetitiveness of it made it seem even more uncreative, as if the writer really doesn't know how to give characters their own voice and that he's swearing because he can and he thinks it makes the book sound more adult, much like teen-age boys are apt to do when talking with each other.

Went and saw the movie anyways, because from the previews and all, I was expecting it to be considerably different from the comic. Different doesn't mean better though. The storyline and basic premise is interesting, though we saw a bit of it in THE MATRIX: A nobody unhappy with his life learns that there's more to the world than he's aware, and he's unhappy because he is far more than those around him. In this case, he learns that there are people out there that are stronger, faster, and more agile than most, that they can mentally direct a bullet around objects. They work for a brotherhood of assassins. Only one has gone rogue and is killing them off, killing the nobody's absentee father who was one of the best. So, they need to train him in his abilities to go after the rogue, that his abilities will be to a degree that he can match the rogue.

The movie has a good cast who all turn in good performances. There are interesting side characters, some fun shoot-outs and fight scenes. The middle act of the lead undergoing his training is the highlight of the whole movie, as the end is fairly obvious early on.

Where it flounders is in the beginning. The movie goes through great lengths to paint the nobody as a complete loser and whiner. There are some reasons for that, later payoffs, yet it does the job too well. He's not a loser because the world makes him so, it's because of his own doing or lack of doing. Within 10 minutes, I really don't care if someone shoots him or not because I have zero sympathy for the character. His swearing even makes him seem more pathetic and a petulant child in an adult's body. Even when he does show backbone it's because he has these superior abilities, he's basically a bully unable to compete or deal with the real world on even footing. We are supposed to think he had some great character growth at the end, but that growth really isn't there, he's still acting as the person he's created as being and not his own man, the complete opposite of Malcolm Bourne of the BOURNE movies.

THE DARK KNIGHT really took me by surprise. I expected to enjoy it. However, there was far more meat and substance to the movie than I anticipated. Heath Ledger manages to take the role of the Joker and make the character his own.

The movie is dark and intense. In that, I think it's actually keeping in spirit with how Batman and the Joker were originally presented and intended. There is context as well to it as well. Batman struggles with the kind of hero he is, there's a lot of talk about heroism, serving as inspirations to others. This is a character that is aware of the line he's walking and trying to be a good man. It serves as a great counterpoint to the casual and mindless brutality all done in slick stylings of Tim Burton's movie where Batman blows up a factory full of crooks and where he's directly responsible for the Joker falling to his death. Burton's Batman was pop art and shallow, taking a backseat to the outlandish villains that were all painted with one cloth. Here, there's more noir to the story, yet remaining true to the hero of the character.

This movie has an advantage that Burton's does not. When Burton did his movie, the last time Batman was on the screen was the Adam West tv series and crude Filmation cartoons. Batman in the comics was still mainstream, THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS nonwithstanding. However, with the current movie, there have been a host of live-action comicbook movies and superhero movies. The comics themselves have been dark for years to boot. The movie's presentation is actually lighter, truer to the basic superhero spirit, and more intelligent than the comics.

There was a lot in the movie that reminded me of how the pulp hero the Spider should be presented. A man passionate about justice, protecting the innocent, and passionate for his friends and the woman he loves. While the Spider is admittedly more violent, a lot of the motivating psychology that supports that character is in this movie as well. Great stuff.

Some of my video picks the last couple of weeks:
Taking a cast consisting of Jason Statham, Leelee Sobieski, John Rhys-Davies, Ron Perlman, Ray Liotta, Claire Forlani, Matthew Lillard and Burt Reynolds, and one should almost by default have an interesting movie. However, IN THE NAME OF THE KING must be one of the biggest wastes of talent to ever stand in front of a camera. Admittedly, these aren't all great actors, but they are all good and should actually excel in the roles they are playing here. Instead, they are saddled with a script that only gives enough to any scene to take the plot from point A to point B, and a director that doesn't seem to know how to set a scene, tell a story, nor how to get the most from his actors. At best, the editing and story progression is disjointed. Expecting something to be kind of dumb fun, and instead, just got dumb.

Then take THE CONDEMNED a movie where the only name actor is a wrestler and end up with something that's actually an enjoyable escapist action movie. Even though there are some scenes and questionable logic extrapolation, the movie knows how to at least tell a story. It even has a little bit of subtext of the un-reality nature of reality television and what it says about humanity that we still are suckers for our bread and circuses as long as it's not us in the arena doing the fighting and the dying.

IN BRUGES sounded interesting on the box, talking about two hit-men hiding out in Bruges after a job, just laying low. But, laying low isn't something that really suits their style and they have problems with a crime boss, leading to a funny and action filled movie. Least that's more or less how the DVD box described it. And with Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, and Ralph Fiennes in the three principal roles, can't possibly go wrong...

Can't go wrong, but it's not the movie the box would lead you to believe. Farrell and Gleeson play hitmen cooling it in Bruges after a hit, that much is true. Farrell chafes at the slower pace and could care less about the culture while Gleeson takes it all in and enjoys it. Farrell is struggling with the fact he killed a kid and has suicidal thoughts while their boss, played by Fiennes, has ordered Gleeson to kill Farrell. The movie has that whole surreal and bizarre feel that BEING JOHN MALKOVICH aimed for and almost achieved as odd-ball characters and the works of Hieronymous Bosch weave through it. The language is harsh, but it fits in with the brutality of the lives these characters lead and allows the actual depth of the characters take you by surprise. It makes Gleeson's character all the more intriguing as he's full of contrasts and contradictions. A hardened hitman that is moved by culture and history and refinement. Can he kill his friend? Is he a realist or an idealist?


The Blue Marvel: Kevin Grevioux talked with CBR News about his upcoming book

It's the story of Marvel's first black superhero. He was the most powerful and the most popular superhero around for a period of three or four years back in the late 1950s early 1960s. Think of how pre-'Civil War' Captain America was lauded in the Marvel Universe or how Superman is hailed in Metropolis or throughout the DC Universe and that was the popular status that the Blue Marvel enjoyed during this time period.
When a mysterious super-powerful villain comes back from the Blue Marvel's past, one not even the Avengers can stop, there is a quest to find the Blue Marvel as he is the only one who has ever defeated him.

The art looks good and it sounds like an interesting idea for a character. My misgiving is inserting a Superman level character into the history of the Marvel U., especially after we already have the Sentry (and now Dynamic Man, Rockman and Fiery Mask of The Twelve and Namora of Agents of Atlas who at least were already part of the Universe anyway). It does not really make the character sound interesting, but more of like "he's my character and so he's going to be better than the Avengers and all other heroes around." Sounds a lot like the Sentry in fact.

And, the bit of him being secretly an African American, it makes sense as long as you're dealing with history, but it wouldn't make much sense for him to keep his race secret nowadays, at least not in the context of the Marvel Universe where there are already powerful African American superheroes and villains.

Meanwhile DC announces that both the Milestone characters and the MLJ/Archie heroes will be brought into their universe continuity. Similar announcements but I have different thoughts about it.

With Milestone, I had gotten a few of the comics when they had originally come out. I thought there were some good ideas, good coloring and a different feel than the other books. I think bringing them into the DCU would strengthen the DCU overall. It provides them with real minority characters instead of ones taking over the identities and M.O of non-minority ones.

However, with Dwayne McDuffie spearheading it early on in JLA, one has to wonder what this might mean for characters like Black Lightning and Steel when Milestone has conceptually similar characters. There is already a preview to an upcoming issue that suggests a dire fate for Black Lightning. Is Steel to join Technocrat in obscurity?

As far as the MLJ/Archie heroes, J. Michael Straczynski told Newsarama:
I enjoyed the characters a lot as a kid, and had a real fondness for them born of nostalgia and the sense that they were just really off-beat and interesting characters. I wasn't as keen on the later incarnations or reinterpretations of them, because I thought they went a bit afield of what made them compelling, but never lost my fondness for the originals. When it was decided I'd start with B&B at DC, Dan mentioned that they were working on getting some of these characters and that I could, if I wanted, fold them into the DC universe by way of this book...not as later incarnations, or revisions, but as themselves, rebooting their origins from the start. I thought it was a terrific and exciting idea, as I love the idea of rediscovering or redefining heroes, as evinced in The Twelve. So for me, this is a seriously fun thing to do.

I'm glad they seem to be hewing to the classic look of them instead of a total revisioning. HOWEVER...

1) Reading The Twelve, I don't really have much faith in him as a writer or being all that faithful really to them as he felt the need to darken all of the Timely characters he's using in that mini and re-writing the backstories or just ignoring the material and potential already there. And his ego prevents him from seeing the injustice he does to the characters.

2) They aren't the real deal. They are revamps of the original characters. You dump the WWII histories of the characters and frankly you're losing a lot of the context that made them special. ESPECIALLY the Shield who was the first patriotic themed hero. With Captain America MIA, here's a chance to upstage Marvel. Get rid of that, and you make the Shield a copy, a second-rater.

3) Lastly, they AREN'T NEEDED AT DC! Let's face it. DC has crapped on so much history and characters they already own. Their slash and burn approach to characters and the rich tapestry of history that makes up their universe: Ted Kord, the Question, Captain Atom, Judomaster, Sue and Ralph Dibny, the Freedom Fighters, the New Gods, the Marvel Family. They've killed off pretty much all of their Charlton, Quality and Fawcett properties in favor of the new. It's hard to believe they will do any better with these characters. Instead of importing another company's characters, why not actually restore (NOT revamp, revision, retcon, and any other re-term that makes one want to regurgitate) characters they already have to glory: Mr. America instead of the Wizard. Minute Man instead of the Shield. Captain Marvel instead of Red Rube. Bulletman instead of Steel Sterling. Firebrand instead of Black Hood. Ibis instead of Zambini. Mr. Scarlet instead of the Hangman. It's not that I don't like the MLJ characters. I do and they were greats. But, I'd rather see them in their own universe where they'd be allowed to shine instead of being treated as second bananas to DC's "flagship" titles. They don't really give DC something DC doesn't already have and squandered.

As an aside, I also thought MLJ/Archie didn't own the Fly outright anymore, that he went back to his co-creator Joe Simon.

1 comment:

Chuck Wells said...

You said it, Cash. I very much have to second your comments on DC's intention to blend the Milestone & MLJ characters into their already over-crowded fictional universe.

Lots of potential exists, but an equal amount of trepidation overwhelms my interest here, considering the creators involved in these endeavors.

Time will tell!