Friday, August 29, 2014

Ten %@!#ing Years!

Click to embiggen.

...and it wouldn't be a Threshold Birthday Extravaganza without also wishing a very happy birthday to the always lovely and always talented Carla Gugino!

The Unofficial Patron Saint of Threshold standing at the threshold.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Fourteen (NSFW) #ThrowupThursday

There's a tradition in the social media sphere known as "Throwback Thursday," in which some artifact of the past is posted with all of the requisite hashtaggery.
Given that this particular #tbt falls on a very particular day, I thought I'd share the - NSFW - picture that can be seen after the jump.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

I Know That Fear, Bro

In my previous post, I mentioned that Dwight McCarthy – who has been portrayed in film by both Clive Owen and now Josh Brolin – is my favorite character from Frank Miller’s Sin City.
I’m sure most people would rank Marv as their favorite, and I can’t say that I blame them; Marv is cool.
Dwight, like Marv, is a violent maniac, but there is a bit more to him than that, or at least, Dwight himself hopes that there’s more to him than that, and he tries – and pretty much always fails – to be something more than that.
Marv, on the other hand, knows exactly what he is, and doesn’t try to pretend to be anything else.  He’s made a certain amount of peace with himself, and that’s part of what makes him cool, in a Popeye “I am what I am” sort of way.  Plus he’s just a badass.
Of course, Dwight is also a badass, which is par for the course in Basin City, but he’s a different kind of badass than Marv.  He’d have to be; after all, he’s not a seven-foot tall mass of unstoppable muscle.
To put it in terms of a different genre, Marv is a barbarian marauder, while Dwight is something more akin to a White Knight or paladin.
At least, that’s how Dwight views himself.  To the extent that Dwight is just as crazy as Marv, he’s crazy in a very different way.  In one of Dwight’s stories he’s captured by a couple of thugs who confiscate his twin Magnums, and one the thugs says something along the lines of, “This guy thinks he’s Lamont Cranston.”    (For those who don’t know, “Lamont Cranston” was the secret identity of pulp and radio hero The Shadow.)
The thing is, he was right.  Dwight does think he’s Lamont Cranston.
Not quite literally, of course, but that’s a pretty apt description of how Dwight thinks of himself.
Much has been said – much of it negative – about the slavish devotion to the source material that was on display in the first Sin City movie.  However, there were a couple of minor tweaks that were made that helped put the character of Dwight into even more stark relief than the bold black and white artwork of the comics.
In the adaptation of “The Hard Goodbye,” which is a Marv story, we first meet Dwight when Marv walks into Kadie’s Club Pecos.  Marv’s actions are accompanied by his voiceover right from the start, but as soon as he enters Kadie’s, the camera shifts over to Dwight and Dwight actually steals Marv’s voiceover.
Granted, in voiceover mode, Dwight is talking about Marv, but the manner in which he steals focus tells you just as much about Dwight as it tells you about Marv, if not more.
That particular monologue about Marv is lifted from another story – in which it’s just part of Dwight’s overall narration.
The other change also involves a voiceover.  All of the Sin City stories rely heavily on the protagonist’s voiceover narration – which was  function of Miller using captions in the comics rather than thought balloons, which was part of the overall application of the crime noir approach to storytelling – but there’s a scene in Dwight’s story “The Big Fat Kill” – a scene directed by Quentin Tarantino – in which we find that rather than using a voiceover that clues us in on Dwight’s innermost thoughts, Dwight is actually narrating his actions, to no one, out loud.
Coupled with the fact that he’s having an imaginary conversation with a dead man, that little detail speaks volumes about his mental state.
So what is it about Dwight that makes him stand out for me?  I find that I can relate to him in a way that I can’t with most of the other Sin City characters.  Like Dwight, I’ll never be a seven-foot tall mass of unstoppable muscle, and like Dwight, I have a particular view of myself that, at times, is at odds with reality.  Even if I don’t necessarily think of myself as being Lamont Cranston, or a White Knight, there are times when I’d at least like to do so.
And certainly I’m at least as self-centered – I would be just as inclined to steal someone’s voiceover.  I’m not as violent or homicidal, of course, and I don’t go to anywhere near the extremes that Dwight does, but there are times when I would question my mental stability, and I am more than a little inclined towards obsessive behavior.
But there’s a bit more to it than that.  In “That Yellow Bastard,” Dwight appears in the background in at Kadie’s, sitting at a table, whining about a woman (Ava from “A Dame to Kill For”), and trying to drown himself in a bottle.
The Dwight we see in “Dame,” which takes place after the events in “Bastard,” despite the publication order, Dwight is a very different person from the one we see whining about the sorry state of affairs his life is in, a state of affairs which is largely the result of his own actions.
In any case, this Dwight lives something of a monkish existence, having given up the sauce, quit smoking, and mostly spending quiet evenings at home when he isn’t working.
Admittedly, Dwight, who does work as some sort of PI, has a job that is a bit more exciting than mine, but when I first read the comics, my life was very much like Dwight’s – it still is, with the exception being that I started smoking again – and it was like that for very similar reasons.
This self-imposed monastic existence as all about control, about never again becoming what he had once been, and at the heart of it was a fear of any loss of control, because the slightest amount of wavering, the tiniest loss of control, any microfracture in the fa├žade of self-control would let the monster out.
There’s a scene in which Dwight is driving home, refusing to give in to the demands his Mustang seems to be placing on him to let it cut loose and show him what it can do.

I think about all the ways I’ve screwed up and what I’d give for one clear chance to wipe the slate clean.  To dig my way out of the numb grey hell I’ve made of my life. 
Just to cut loose.  Just to feel the fire.  One more time. 
I’d give anything.
He hits the accelerator, then immediately slams on the brakes, and jumps out of the car.
No.  Damn it.  No.  Never.  Never. 
Never lose control.  Not for one second.  Never. 
Never let the monster out.
I know that desire to give up control, and I know that fear.  I lived with it for a long time, and it was probably at its strongest at the time I first met Dwight.
That fear has largely left me now, but it will never go away completely, and even though the “monster” I’ve kept contained is quite different – I’m not resisting violent, homicidal tendencies, after all – there is a need to keep it where it is.
So…yeah.  Dwight.  He’s a twisted, funhouse mirror kind of reflection, but I do see him as a reflection, and that’s why he stands out for me.
I should also point out, however, that while I like Dwight because I find him relatable, he is decidedly not a good person, and I wouldn’t want to emulate his behavior.  Beyond being a murderer and generally a homicidal maniac, he has a propensity for smacking women around.  Part of that, of course, is just Miller’s problematic misogyny, and there’s usually some narrative “justification” – sometimes it’s just a matter of being “justified” because Dwight said he’d do it and he meant it – but we don’t always get the exact details from Dwight as to what kind of "monster” he was keeping at bay.  However, I do think we get a glimpse from Ava.  While she’s a terrible person, and not in any way shape or form a reliable source of information, and she’s using her wiles to manipulate someone, when she’s laying it on thick and playing the damsel in distress, I don’t think she’s lying when she tells a cop that Dwight was abusive when they were together, particularly given that we see that Dwight has no qualms about hitting women.  That, of course, is metatextual analysis, and I don’t think Miller’s intent was for Dwight to have been abusive, but that’s where the signs point.  (I also suspect that Miller might argue that Dwight wasn’t abusive because Ava deserved it, which, ick.)
So, despite my fondness for the character, I do see problematic elements, but that’s hardly surprising given the author and the setting.
For my part, I don’t gloss over those elements, or ignore them, but, on balance, I still find reasons to like Dwight as a character, even though I don’t necessarily like him as a person.  After all, in the revival of Battlestar Galactica, my favorite character was Gaius Baltar, and he was pretty much the worst person ever.  He was, however, a fully-realized character with depth and understandable – if horribly twisted – motivations, hopes, dreams, and fears.  (Plus he had that whole “character you love to hate” thing going for him.)

Anyway, BSG, and the nerdiness of it, provides a good segue to this slightly less serious bit.
I mentioned that there were only three other people in the audience at the movie the other day.
To be more specific, they were three neckbeards.
As I said in a text exchange with the (former) Boss Lady, “Audience consisted of me and three neckbeards.  So in other words, four dorks.  Me and *sigh* my people.”
Because speaking of trying to maintain control to prevent yourself from being what you truly are, more than I struggle with my more Dwight-like tendencies, I also have to contend with keeping some of the worst aspects of being a geek from coming to the fore. 
Granted, a good 90% of that is just bathing regularly, but even so, I don’t always manage to achieve the level of control that Dwight did in containing his inner monster. 
During the movie version of the Dwight scene mentioned above, I found myself thinking, “Never let the neckbeard out.”
For fuck’s sake, one of them was even wearing a fedora.  *Shudders*

Friday, August 22, 2014

What A Difference 9 Years Make

In 2005, I eagerly anticipated* the release of the movie based on Frank Miller's Sin City.
If you were reading this blog back then, you no doubt saw my many posts on the subject.  When it was released in theaters, I actually took the day off just so that I could be there for the day's first showing.  I was by no means the only one - the theater ended up being pretty-well packed for a Friday morning in April.
When the movie ended, I was tempted to buy another ticket and taken in a second showing.
Somewhat later, when the bare-bones, no frills DVD hit the market, I picked it up.  Some months later, when the considerably more deluxe version was released, I bought that, too.
Years later I replaced that DVD with the Blu-ray edition.
Cut to nine years later and the release of the sequel.
We're in "summer hours" at work, which means being able to leave a bit earlier on Fridays.  I decided, almost reluctantly, that if I was going to see the sequel I might as well do it on the way home from work, which would be during something of a lull at the theater.
I was already preemptively disappointed in the movie due to the casting.  Of all of the Sin City "yarns" in the original comics, "A Dame to Kill For," which is the central story in the sequel as well as the movie's title, is my favorite.**
The protagonist of that story is Dwight McCarthy, who is also my favorite character in the Sin City "yarns."  In the first movie, the role of Dwight was ably portrayed by Clive Owen.  In the sequel, the role was filled by Josh Brolin.  I like Josh Brolin, and he was fine as Dwight, but - and I have no idea why Owen didn't return - he just didn't click for me the way Owen did.  I'll have more on Dwight - and Brolin/Owen - in a bit, but the real issue I had with casting in this particular story is that of the titular "Dame."
Though I'm puzzled by this fact, I know that I'm definitely in the minority when it comes to not being a fan - to put it as mildly and politely as possible - of actress Eva Green.  I find
Certainly, when I imagine Ava Lord (the "Dame" in question), the manipulative seductress, the woman of such impossible beauty that men would kill - and die - for her, Eva Green is not the person who springs to mind.
And yet, there she was, as Ava.
She was - as in accordance with the source material - naked for pretty much 80% of the time that she was on screen, and honestly, for most of that I was thinking, "Just put some damn clothes on."
That casting - along with the ridiculous gap in time between movies - had dampened my enthusiasm for the sequel considerably, and the fact that I just didn't want to be looking at her and hearing Ava's words coming out of her mouth soured the whole experience for me, and made it impossible for me to overlook the many other flaws in the movie that I might have otherwise been able to forgive.
Further, the movie wasn't merely an adaptation of the comics this time around, as Miller wrote some new material specifically for the movie.  Said new material wasn't good, and having Jessica Alba attempt to carry that material only made matters worse.
As with the first movie, Alba portrayed that character who doesn't exist anywhere other than in movies:  the stripper who doesn't strip and yet still manages to keep her job.
I can certainly understand an actress not wanting to do nude scenes.  Even if it's sometimes disappointing, it's a perfectly reasonable choice to make, and I respect that.
That said, if you don't want to do nude scenes, maybe consider not portraying a stripper.  (And if you're making a movie, maybe consider not casting someone who doesn't do nude scenes as a stripper.  It doesn't exactly seem like rocket science to me.)
That she remained fully-clothed the whole time she was on stage - which is decidedly not the case in the source material - caused a disconnect with what was being seen with what was being said.  At one point, Dwight (in a voiceover) makes a comment about how Nancy (Alba) is showing off everything she has.
Later, in her own voiceover, Nancy talks about "giving them what they want."  Except, no, she's not giving them that, because what they want is to see her naked.  Because she's a stripper.  As I've said many times, there's a word for strippers who don't strip, and that word is "fired."
In any case, as a continuity-minded nerd, the new story was especially disappointing because it featured a character who could not possibly be involved in the events taking place, as the timeline just would not work.
Speaking of nerds, to contrast to how things were in that relatively full theater back in 2005, the audience today consisted of myself and three other people.
So...yeah.  I don't foresee this movie making enough money to justify a sequel, particularly if we wouldn't see that sequel until 2023.
Which is something of a shame, given that one of the complaints many critics have about this movie is that the high-contrast black and white with splashes of color look of the movie that was so groundbreaking in 2005 is old hat now, and looks rather tired and dated.  The markedly different, more colorful style that Miller utilized in "To Hell and Back," the last Sin City comic he did, would be just as groundbreaking, if brought to life on film, as the original movie proved to be, and could very well kick off a new trend that soon gets overdone.
As for the Dwight/Brolin/Owen thing, to get a bit spoilery, there was an opportunity to really mess with the audience that Miller and Rodriguez completely squandered.
Chronologically, "Dame" takes place before "The Big Fat Kill," the yarn featuring Dwight that was adapted in the first movie.
As the result of the events of "Dame," Dwight undergoes major plastic surgery - something that was alluded to a couple of times in "Kill" - resulting in him looking like a completely different person.  Again, I don't know why Owen didn't reprise the role, but it would have been awesome if we went from seeing Brolin all bandaged up after his surgery, to seeing Owen return to the role once the bandages are removed.  Hell, if they could have done it and kept the fact that Owen had returned to play the post-op Dwight a secret, it might have been the movie's saving grace for me, at least.
But no; instead they merely added some weird prosthetic effects to Brolin's face and gave him a different hairdo, and then had - in another disconnect between what was said and what was seen - someone make a comment about the remarkable transformation.
So...yeah.  I was disappointed, as I was certain I would be.  I just didn't realize how disappointed I would be.
Which isn't to say it didn't have its moments - it's always fun to watch Miho (played by Jamie Chung this time around) beheading people, and Mickey Rourke was great as Marv once again.  It was also kind of fun to see Jaime King*** reprise her roles as twin sisters Goldie and Wendy, especially with her appearing on-screen in both roles at the same time.
And, of course, Rosario Dawson.****
Because Rosario Dawson.
But overall...well, nine years is a long time to wait, and even if it had been better than it was, I don't think it could have ever been worth it.
To paraphrase Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character, I went into Sin City:  A Dame to Kill For with my eyes open, but my enthusiasm for the franchise didn't come out at all.

In closing, here's CinemaSins taking a look at everything wrong with the first movie.

*I will admit that there was a great extent to which this was a choice I made.  At the time, I felt like I really needed something to look forward to in life.  Given that I enjoyed the comics, and the movie looked to be the most faithful comic book adaptation ever, it seemed like a good choice.

**I recognize the...flaws of Miller's work, and much of what he's done recently has eroded the good will he built up with his earlier groundbreaking work in comics.  You can tell me that Sin City is horribly sexist and misogynistic, and problematic in at least another dozen ways, and I will agree with you.  But though I recognize this, I still love the comics - and the first movie - unapologetically.

***After working with him in the first movie, and again when he directed The Spirit, Jaime King was a pretty vocal defender of Miller in response to complaints about his misogyny.  That doesn't prove anything, obviously  - I think it's clear that yes, Miller is positively drowning in misogyny, but I always found that interesting.

****While the sequel gained points for retaining Rosario Dawson (and once again dressing her up in dominatrix gear), to borrow from the CinemaSins guys, I called out some sins for the movie, as they might, because, "Rosario Dawson isn't my girlfriend in this scene."  Of course, to be fair, I call out Rosario Dawson not being my girlfriend as one of the sins of life itself.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Unrealized Potential

The other night Scott and I went to see the movie “Lucy.”
We did so, despite the fact that we object to the central premise of the movie, because it was from Luc Besson and featured Scarlett Johansson, and we thought that would make for an interesting combination.  Kind of like if you blended the action from “Taken” with the physics-bending visuals of “The Matrix,” but with Scarlett Johansson instead of Liam Neeson or Keanu Reeves.
Besides, the movies of the Marvel Cinematic Universe have firmly established that I greatly enjoy watching Scarlett Johansson kicking people’s asses.
Unfortunately, while there were some great scenes of batshit insane action, the movie proved disappointing.
As a friend on Facebook put it:

It's hard to think you could screw up "what if Scarlet Johansson became Dr. Manhattan?" but they managed it.

Yes.  Yes, they did.  And I don’t say that just because the movie didn’t feature Scarlett Johansson sharing Dr. Manhattan’s fashion sense, though that certainly would have helped.
(It couldn’t have hurt, anyway.)
But no, the issue was that central premise that Scott and I decided to grit our teeth and ignore.  The movie made that an impossible feat, however, as that premise was woven into virtually every scene.
That premise being that we humans only use 10% of our brain, that we all have lurking within us a vast, untapped potential.  After all, look at all we’ve accomplished with a mere 10%.  Just imagine what we could do, what sort of superhuman abilities we would have, if we could unleash even a few more percentage points of our potential?  What would happen if we used 100%?
That’s the question that the movie seeks to answer when Johansson, as the titular Lucy, is exposed to a drug that unlocks that potential.
The problem, however, is that the “10%” thing is just a myth, one that has been so thoroughly debunked that it’s almost inconceivable that anyone would still think that it’s a viable plot device.
Further, even if you don’t have much of an understanding of how the brain works, just stopping to think about it for a few minutes will lead you to conclude that it’s bullshit.
Let’s do that thinking right now, shall we?  All it takes is answering a simple question:  If you truly believe that humans only use 10% of their brain, would you mind if I shot you in the 90% you aren’t using?
Sure, a 10% chance of being permanently injured or even killed might not seem like great odds, but the fact remains that you probably aren’t willing to part with 90% of your brain.
In reality, we do use 100% of our brains, we just don’t use that much all the time.  We couldn’t; different areas of the brain perform different functions, some of which are in direct conflict with each other.
How could using your brain’s total capacity actually be a good thing anyway?  Think about how well your computer works when its CPU usage spikes up to 100%.  If you were using 100% of your brain, to continue with the computer metaphor, it would be even worse than that, because you would not only be using 100% of your processing power, you’d be using up 100% of your available storage and all of your RAM at the same time.  That doesn’t sound like a computer that’s performing better than a “normal” computer.
Of course, I don’t think that’s really the idea that the 10% believers are getting at anyway.  What they really seem to think is that there is either some greater efficiency that can be achieved within the brain, or that there is some as-yet unknown mechanism in the brain that can be accessed to unleash superhuman abilities.
However, there are still some underlying problems with that idea.  We may not have a complete understanding of the brain and how it works, but do know enough to know that there is no hidden mechanism.  And while there could be some improvements to efficiency, they’re not going to lead to being able to read minds or control gravity.  Mostly they’ll just improve your memory or your ability to maintain focus.  Which, you know, great.  I’m all for it.
But the idea that the brain is capable of so much more, that it has hidden godlike powers is just silly.
Let’s consider it from two perspectives.
If you’re a creationist of any stripe, this would indicate that whatever god or gods created humans completely overengineered the brain when making humans, then installed some sort of governor in it to throttle it back by 90%.  What for?  I mean, I could see building in some redundancy or whatever, but that approach just seems both bizarre and cruel.  And it’s also silly; the brain, as it’s used in its current state, is already capable of pretty amazing things.  Why not just build it as is, particularly if you’re not going to allow any of the other features to be turned on?  Of course, maybe I’d understand the designer’s thinking better if I used more of my brain’s potential.  Too bad the designer made sure that it’s impossible.
In evolutionary terms, this would indicate that at some point in its evolution, the brain overshot the mark, developed all of these amazing capabilities, and then turned off its access to them.  This does not align with any sort of evolutionary theory.
And sure, you can point to various people who have amazing mental abilities – though not quite so amazing as what Lucy displays – such as the guy who can draw a detailed picture of an entire city after flying over it in a helicopter once, or point to some of the experiments that have been done with stimulating different portions of the brain, or things like synesthesia.
But those abilities usually come at the cost of other abilities and functions of the brain.  They don’t really indicate that someone is using any more – or less – of his or her brain’s potential, just that the existing potential is being used differently.
Let’s get back to the movie itself for a moment.  At one point in her march towards 100% Lucy states that she no longer feels pain or fear.  That, to me, indicates that she’s actually using less of her brain’s potential.
Why, you may wonder, does this bother me so much?  After all, I’m perfectly capable of suspending my disbelief.  I regularly consume – and enjoy – stories about men, women, aliens, robots, and gods who can fly, control the weather, and perform all manner of impossible feats.  Why couldn’t I just let this particular trope slide, the way I do things like, “He was born on another planet and our yellow sun supercharges his cells,” or “He has a magic hammer,” or, to go back to the mention of Dr. Manhattan, “He was disintegrated in a nuclear reactor and then put himself back together, developing godlike abilities in the process,” or hell, even the “metagene” from the DCU or the “X gene” from Marvel?
I suppose it’s a combination of things.  For one, it’s just really overused.  It ranks up there with “all of humanity’s technological achievements are based on reverse-engineered alien technology.”  For another, it bleeds over into real-life in a way that some of those other things don’t.  I’m unlikely to meet someone who actually believes that someone being bitten by a radioactive spider will do anything other than lead to radiation poisoning, but there are plenty of people who honestly believe the 10% thing.
(The alien technology thing bothers me for similar reasons, though a real-world belief in that is somewhat less common, but the main reason it bothers me is because it’s insulting.  I’m not always humanity’s biggest fan, but I know better than to think that we’re incapable of coming up with brilliant ideas on our own.  People often suck, but they’re also pretty amazing.  Which is why I get so irritated when they suck.  But I digress.)
But that’s why it irritates me in general.  In the specific case of this movie, it was because of how thoroughly invested they were in this bogus idea.  If the 10% thing had just been a quick handwave explanation for her having these powers, I would have been able to just roll my eyes, and then go with it.  But they didn’t stop there.  At various points, we were informed of what percentage Lucy was at, and there were extended scenes featuring Morgan Freeman, as some sort of brain “expert,” giving a lecture about the 10% myth as though it were some sort of credible scientific theory.
While Freeman’s character does, when questioned, admit that it has no scientific basis – which, leads you to wonder why he’s being allowed to lecture on this in front of scientists and science students without being booed off the stage, and instead being greeted with rapt attention and fawning praise – he rattles off ideas about what powers a person might have upon achieving certain percentage points.  Which, of course, aligns exactly with the powers that Lucy develops.  Still, just using some weasel words about it being his hypothesis isn’t good enough, given that he has nothing on which to base this hypothesis.  As I said to Scott during one of the lecture scenes, “And if I reach 30% of the way up my ass, I can pull out this speculation about what kind of powers people would have if they used more of their brain's potential.”
Honestly, the lecture scenes – which would have been even more interminable if they weren’t intercut with action sequences in which Lucy displays the abilities Morgan Freeman pulls out of his ass – reminded me of something you might see in an anti-evolution Chick tract, minus the Bible-believing freshman who stands up and demolishes the misguided scientist’s theories.  Which is to say that it was a lecture that had only a superficial resemblance to reality and involved someone spotting off nonsense to a room full of credulous idiots.  It’s like setting up a strawman and then forgetting to knock him down.
With that said, there were elements of the movie that I enjoyed, with some really cool action sequences, and Johansson doing a great job of portraying the shift in Lucy’s personality as she continued developing her potential.
Honestly, unlike the human brain, the movie had a lot more potential that it could have tapped into.  Dropping the lecture scenes would have helped, though much of that was included for the purposes of including some sort of pseudo-intellectual ramblings about the meaning of life and the nature of humanity, which I’m sure seemed deep and meaningful to some people – particularly given that they were imbued with the gravitas that comes from being spoken by Morgan Freeman – but ultimately they had no substance.
And just coming up with a different explanation – anything* – for how Lucy developed her abilities would have made it the kind of movie that would let you say, “It was good for what it was.”  But you can’t really say that about it, because its attempt to be more than what it was proved to be an insurmountable obstacle.
Also, they really should have gone the Dr. Manhattan route when it came to Johansson’s wardrobe.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that Scott and I did a double feature that night, and “Lucy” ended up being the second movie of the night, following our viewing of “Guardians of the Galaxy.”
Pretty much any movie was going to suffer in comparison to that one, so my perception of the quality of “Lucy” was probably a bit skewed.
”Guardians,” unlike “Lucy,” is definitely a movie that is “good for what it is,” with “awesomely entertaining” being what it is.
It’s already making all of the money, and it deserves to, but if “all of the money” does not yet include yours, you need to make some changes in your life.  Use more than 10% of your brain and go see it.

*For example, they could have used a variant of the alien technology trope that I dislike and said that the drug was made from alien DNA, and it wouldn’t have bothered me if they had just stuck with that as the launching point to kick off a bunch of mind-bending action and didn’t dwell on it overmuch.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Late To The (Costume) Party

Almost two weeks ago - an eternity in Internet Time - DC unveiled the new design for Batgirl's costume (and a new creative team for the Batgirl series).
It broke the Internet in half, as fans declared their love for it and flooded the Intertubes with their own artwork featuring the new design.
Personally, I think it's fine.  I'm not as in love with it as others are.
In any case, while I'm a bit late to the party, I thought I'd throw in my own contribution, with an observation about how fandom reacted several years back when a certain Amazon Princess had her new look revealed.

Yes, the Internet went "batty" over the new look.  (I'm sorry.)

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Fantastic Fumble

In the summer of 1989 when everyone in the world was caught up in Batmania as a result of Tim Burton’s Batman and its accompanying marketing and merchandizing blitz, I read an interview in with someone working with/for the film production company Neue Constantin in an issue of Comics Scene magazine.
The person, whose name escapes me after all these years, was talking about the plans for a movie adaptation of the Fantastic Four.
Inspired by the success of Batman, the interviewee felt that the time was right to turn “The World’s Greatest Comic Magazine” into The World’s Greatest Comic Book Movie.  He went on to say that the movie would have a $40 million budget – comparable to the budget of Batman – and would be a 100% faithful translation of one of the most iconic storylines in the history of the FF, project the “Galactus Trilogy” directly from the pages of the comic and onto the movie screen.
It was a bold proclamation. 
It was also utter bullshit. 
As cool as I thought such a thing would be – and as much as I’d hoped that the success of Batman, despite my antipathy towards the movie, would kick off a wave of good comic book adaptations that showed at least some amount of respect for the source material -  I was already pretty cynical and bitter about the entertainment industry and its treatment of comic book adaptations.  I’d suffered through far too many Superman IIIs, Superman IVs, and the like to hold out much hope for a really good comic book movie.
How hopeful could I be?  This was a time when there was very serious consideration being given to the idea of shaving Arnold Schwarzenegger, painting him blue, and having him play Dr. Manhattan in a Watchmen movie adaptation.
Over the next few years this big-budget FF adaptation didn’t materialize, though I would occasionally see some reference to it being stuck in “Development Hell.”
Somewhere around 1993 I started seeing reports of there being some actual movement on the project, but it wasn’t exactly cause for excitement.
The movie had fallen into the hands of B-Movie legend Roger Corman, and the $40 million budget had been somewhat reduced.
By around $38.5 million.
I started seeing some grainy pictures taken on location in publications like Comic Buyer’s Guide, and, even allowing for the low-quality of the images, they didn’t look terribly promising.
In the meantime, Marvel had suffered some serious failures in its attempts to bring its characters to the silver screen, with abortive attempts at adapting the Punisher and Captain America being two recent (at that time) examples.
It’s difficult to believe, from this vantage point, that there was a time when movies based on Marvel characters not only failed to make all the money in the world, they actually failed to even be seen by anyone other than viewers of late-night cable TV fare.
In any case, the handful of photos seemed to be the only evidence of the movie’s existence, as, despite being completed, it never saw the light of day.
In point of fact, it was never intended for anyone to actually see the movie.  It was only produced for the sake of fulfilling a contractual obligation, with no plans whatsoever for distributing it.
Accounts by those who had seen the completed film confirmed what everyone already knew:  it was a cheap piece of shit.
Bootleg copies of the movie managed to circulate among fans of terrible cinema, and its reputation grew to such an extent that it has become the subject of a documentary.
Throughout the years, it became something of the Holy Grail of bad movies, as I was never able to get my hands on a copy.
All of that changed the other day, and Scott and I sat down to bask in its awfulness.
Here’s a taste:

…and just now, in searching for this trailer, I discovered that the whole damn thing is posted on YouTube.  It never even occurred to me to check.  I could have gotten this painful experience over a long time ago.  Ah well.
If you feel brave enough, you can seek it out yourself and watch it in all its…well, what’s the polar opposite of glory?
I’m not going to provide an in-depth review of the movie, but I will touch on some of the things that stood out for me.

Somewhere between the initial conception of the movie, which was to start in the midst of things with an already-established FF facing off against the world-devouring Galactus, with maybe a quick origin sequence tacked-on, and the final product, Galactus was removed, Dr. Doom became the primary villain, and the whole thing was essentially just an origin story.

It starts out…well, not completely horrible.  Cheap-looking and poorly-acted, sure, but the basics are pretty faithful to the comics, and the plot, such as it is, isn’t really all that awful.  They provide a decent introduction of the character dynamics, and we get an okay origin sequence for Dr. Doom (albeit one with dreadful special effects).  In this regard, it’s superior to the big-budget movie of the 2000s, though that’s not really saying much.  However, it’s all goes spectacularly wrong from there.

Young Sue Storm is played by actress Mercedes McNabb, who, at the time, was best known for her role as Wednesday’s nemesis in the Addams Family movies.  She would eventually go on to be known for her role as Harmony on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel.

The “video game” that Ben Grimm and young Johnny Storm are seen playing is very clearly a cartoon.  An obviously traditionally-animated sequence also plays a part in the movie’s denouement.

Reed’s hair is arguably the very worst special effect in the movie.

While they’re marred by shoddy craftsmanship, the costumes are all pretty accurate.  Doom’s design is dead-on, but he looks like someone who might win third or fourth place in a cosplay competition at a small, local comic book convention.

Apparently everyone assumed that Reed and company would die horribly on their mission to space, as the creation of a memorial statue is planned the very same day that they’re reported missing.

Doom’s reaction when “The Jeweler” threatens to kill Alicia is both perfect and hilarious.

The indelible stamp of the Burton Batman movies can be seen throughout – particularly in any scenes involving “The Jeweler” and his henchmen – and I maintain that, even with a big budget, there would have been no way to make a comic book movie in the 1990s that could come close to resembling the approach used in making contemporary comic book movies, because the only way to make a comic book movie at that time was in the Burton mold, at least until Joel Schumacher got his hands on the Dark Knight.  Even setting aside the horror of the casting of Nicolas Cage, I shudder to think what Superman Lives! would have been like had it actually been made.

To go back to that point, every time “The Jeweler” and his crew appeared, I imagined some “note” from a studio executive that said, “You know what people loved?  The Penguin and his carnival of crime in Batman Returns.  Do something like that!  But with 1000% more 3 Stooges-style humor!”

What do you call “Love at first sight” when the person who experiences it is blind?  In any case, having him cause her to break one of her sculptures, feeling up his face, learning that he’s presumed dead, and then learning that he isn’t dead are enough to get Alicia Masters to declare her love for Ben.

Guy playing Dr. Doom:  “No one can see my face behind this mask, so I’m going to have to use my hands to emote.  My hands should never not be moving, even if it means that sometimes I look like I’m dancing the Batusi, or if I’m constantly touching people’s faces in a way that’s inappropriate and creepy.  Acting!”

Despite being an off-the-charts genius and a creative thinker, the only use Reed can think of for his stretching abilities is to grab things that are a few steps away, punch someone without having to get too close, or trip people.  Even to the limited extent that his powers are used, watching the terrible effect is hilarious.

While the make up for the Thing looks cheap and does nothing to create the illusion that it’s anything other than a costume, I can’t really fault the overall design.  Yes, it looked terrible, but there was a clear attempt at accuracy.  They could have worked just a little harder on making him look rocky rather than scaly, but still, I’d give them a C- for the effort.  That said, they should have saved some money and not bothered building the animatronics into his constantly twitching upper lip.

The Human Torch can fly faster than the speed of light, and is invulnerable to a laser beam that has the power to turn New York City into the most ubiquitous stock footage of the effects of a nuclear explosion.

Even when she wasn’t turning invisible, most of the time it was like Sue wasn’t there.  Sadly, that much is an example of being pretty faithful to the comics.

So, yeah.  That’s the 1994 Fantastic Four movie.  Am I glad I finally watched it?  Yes; as a comic book geek and someone who appreciates cheap, terrible movies and the laughs that they bring, I found it well-worth the time.