Sunday, May 14, 2017

No Bat-Auteur For "The Batman"

The behind-the-scenes gossip about the forthcoming live-action Batman movie The Batman was initially more interesting than the movie itself. It's star, Ben Affleck, was set to star in this one-shot Batman picture amidst hopscotch performances in a handful of DC Comics superhero movies, beginning with Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. What Batman fan wouldn't want an actual Batman movie whilst Warner Brothers is playing catchup to Marvel Studios? And it would be called The Batman...because they already used "The Dark Knight" for The Dark Knight and there are only 3 other monikers left: "The Caped Crusader", "The Masked Manhunter" and "The Dark Knight Detective".

The title is serviceable, but the big draw was that Affleck was going to produce, direct and co-write the script with Geoff Johns, whose Batman: Earth One graphic novels always seemed crafted like Batman movie plots. Rumors about the plot were tied to casting, with the most prominent that Joe Manganiello (a once-rumored casting choice for the part of Batman) would be cast as Slade Wilson, aka, Deathstroke, best known as the archfoe of Nightwing and the Teen Titans. Another rumor was that the film would feature all the Batman villains...how this could work is a mystery - it's usually the type of plot found in the Batman video games, like Arkham City. And while Affleck denied that the screenplay was going to be based on any pre-existing story, a film involving a breakout at Arkham Asylum that features all the villains at once would make sense...maybe the Joker and Harley Quinn were going to appear in it to play off events from Suicide Squad?

Then the rumors sounded less progressive. Affleck at first seemed pragmatic, observing that he may have to redesign the present Batman costume into something that would be comfortable for him to use when hoping behind and in front of the camera...then there were rumors about the script. Did a script exist at all? Was it badly-received by the studio? Then we heard that screenwriter Chris Terrio was brought in to give the script a rewrite. The studio still wasn't thrilled  (again, this is all rumors, rumors, rumors), but they desperately want a Batman movie ready before the audiences decide they'll just let Marvel Studios have their dollars or because they can't seem to get any other production running solid within the timetable they've set for themselves.

Then...a bombshell. Affleck bails. He's still willing (or obligated? Rumors, rumors, rumors) to play Batman, but it's hinted that his heart's not into wearing any additional hats for this film anymore. But at least, his script - what remains of it - will still get used, right?

Enter Cloverfield, Planet of The Apes franchise reboot and now new director of The Batman, Matt Reeves. He wants to use a new script that would incorporate his own ideas. Fair enough. But that's the end of the auteur Affleck Batman movie we thought we were going to get, which will live on in lists of unmade Batman films that include Batman Unchained/Batman Triumphant, Batman Beyond, Batman: DarKnight and alternate versions of Batman vs. Superman and Batman Begins.

The first picture headlining this post is a composite of what I pictured we might've seen in the Affleck Bat-flick...and might still see, since every idea gets used in Hollywood. The Catwoman film with Halle Berry and Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of The Crystal Skulls were based loosely on ideas from rejected scripts that were kicked around for years! It could happen!

I'm not sure the second image I'm offering might. I thought it would be fun to imagine a Batman movie featuring villains I hadn't seen before on film, plus The Penguin, because the latest rumor I had read was that actor Josh Gad might be up for the role. Rumors, rumors, rumors.

So who's the villain draft picks for my Batman movie project? Hush, Nocturna, The Gentleman Ghost and The Penguin. A gamesman, a femme fatale, a trickster and a gangster. It's risky to me because none of those four are as popular as the Joker and Harley, but I think they offer cooler visuals than Bane or Ra's Al Ghul did in the Nolan movies...maybe if the script is good. I need to collaborate with a good screenwriter...

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Lead On, McDuck.

Was Ducktor Who foreseen? Nah, but I want to play along and assume it was.

In 2008, BBC Books published a Doctor Who tie-in novel by Lance Parkin called The Eyeless. It's a grim story set during the waning years of The 10th Doctor's tenure as "The Doctor" as he wanders through an urban dystopian landscape, seeking out an unusual power source sought after by a race of eyeless, ethereal, transparent aliens. It's a gloomy affair, but he gets the job done. It's certainly readable - I recommend you check it out; I recall it's available to download in E-book format, or just hunt for a carbon copy to buy online.

What's this got to do with Ducktales? Well, the 10th Doctor was played by David Tennant, the actor who succeeded the late Alan Young as the voice of Scrooge McDuck in the new revival of the 80's cartoon. The announcement of his casting inspired a slew of Doctor Who + Ducktales ="Ducktor Who" fanart. His casting was a huge surprise to me and the rest of the world; he simply wasn't on anyone's betting pool for the part, but when he was revealed, nobody cried foul. In fact, if there's one thing that old fans seem amicable about in the steady buildup to the big premiere, it that's the new actors seem okay. It's the new character designs/personalities for the nephews and new look of the show that's got fans' feathers ruffled..

Ah, the irony. I can recall that, for decades, Ducktales was often judged harshly by so-called "purists" as a crass deformation of the Carl Barks material. Now the new revival is being looked down in terms of fidelity to that same cartoon! It's all humbug, to me. I'm still amazed we're getting new episodes at all. I want to see this new series - I'm looking forward to it.

In the final 1/3 of The Eyeless, The Doctor drops a reference to Scrooge McDuck as Ebenezer Scrooge in Mickey's Christmas Carol, with the line, "Lead on, McDuck." The character/companion whom he's dropping this line to doesn't really get the nod...and the Doctor's way of explaining why he said it - that the nature of the short trips to the past, present and future of his companion's timeline/lifespan is reminiscent of the Ghosts of Christmas Spirit accompanying Scrooge in Mickey's Christmas Carol and has repercussive effects felt on the traveler - is so offhand that it's really oddly put; I had to read those passages several times to understand it.

So...I thought that was a fun bon-bon to chew on among the other Ducktales bon-bons we've been fed. We were shown hints that the crew knows who these characters are, knows about the old comics, knows about the new comics, remembers the lyrics to the theme song, has a tie-in comic book coming to coincide with the premiere..there was even a life-size replica of the inside of Scrooge's bin as a photo-op booth at the Disney23 convention... They KNOW. We just have to watch. We've been assured we're not getting a journeyman effort from this team.

...confidentially...I DO wish they had kept Scrooge's coat blue with the red collar, cuffs and matching spats. Was that so much to keep?

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Powerless...In The Face of Cancellation

Tonight's episode of Powerless will not be seen tonight so that NBC can air encores of Trial and Error...

I liked Powerless. I thought it was cute. I suppose this means I was one of the quarter-million viewers it averaged when it aired on Thursday nights. That was a problem. I think network sitcoms MUST average between 5 and 12 million to get a full season commitment or even a renewal. It doesn't help that the show's lead-in, Superstore, offered the same kind of material and was a program owned by the network...why renew a sitcom they don't own when they can renew a sitcom they can profit from when the reruns are offered in syndication/cable TV?

Powerless had some ambition. If you're not one of the quarter-million viewers who watched it, I'll try to summarize: the show was a sitcom set at a security company that specialized in the research, marketing and development of consumer safety products. The big twist was that it took place in the world of DC Comics superheroes and the company name was Wayne Security, so this meant we had a second Batman TV series currently on the air that did not feature Batman, but featured a peripheral branch of the massive umbrella corporation Wayne Enterprises. Or Waynecorp. Or Wayne Industries. Or the Wayne Foundation..recalling offhand, I'm sure it's Wayne Enterprises, or "W.E" for short. The "Wayne" in charge of overseeing Wayne Security was Van Wayne, a cousin of Bruce, played by Alan Tudyk. Van Wayne could be a reasonable man, but is an immature, incompetent, egocentric buffoon at heart. Enter Emily Locke, the company's new R&D director and show's heroine, played by Vanessa Hudgens, who often had to play straight man to the quirks of Van and her officemates (played by Danny Pudi, Ron Funches, Christina Kirk and Jennie Pierson).

Most of what I just described sounds like the premise a standard sitcom formula with a new element to give it some originality. The weakest thing about the show is that it needed more time to figure out how to mingle it's mashup of genres...and the frustrating thing, here, is that the most-recent episodes hinted that the cast and crew were just starting to find their way...and the network pulled the plug.

There are 3 episodes left to air; I suspect NBC will probably burn them off in a mini-marathon on a Saturday or Sunday night after May, when they need to air some new material after the returning shows have aired their "Season Finale". Could it be revived on another network? Maybe, but I think it might find a happier home on a streaming service like Netflix...or, rather conveniently, the recently-announced streaming service set to debut in 2018 from DC FILMS and Warner Brothers that may or may not have been created to capitalize/compete with Marvel Studios' Netflix offerings..

I would say that it wasn't until the 6th episode that it felt like everyone had their feet planted, so there's a possible 6 (I could be generous and make it 8, but that's kind-of moot) out of 13 episodes in the debut season that are solid and show potential being realized. Not bad.

People who saw the first 2 episodes and bailed were willing to admit that the show does have an awesome title sequence: actual comic book covers featuring DC superheros in action would zoom in to reveal caricatures of the cast members incorporated into the background, with the exception of Jackie - Christina Kirk's character. It turns out that a background character on Norm Breyfogle's cover illustration bore enough of a resemblance to use as-is, so...does that mean you could get her autograph on that comic if she ever attends a comic book convention?

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Whedonesque Batgirl

Warner Brothers might just be keen on making DC Films make nothing but Batman movies...or Batman-related movies. A Batverse.

Maybe you saw that timetable/game plan a few years ago, which predicted we would have everyone but Blue Beetle and Ambush Bug getting their own movies, but they can't get anything off the ground except for Wonder Woman, which looks fine to me, if lacking an interesting villain in it's trailer. Wonder Woman does have a rogues gallery...just not a well-defined one. There's Aries, the Greek god of war...Circe the witch...Dr. Cyber - who looks like C-3PO in drag...Dr. Psycho, who's kinda like Yosemite Sam as a mad scientist..Giganta - a giant woman who was evolved from a gorllia (Silver Age comic book wackiness - gotta love it)...and of course..drumroll...The Cheetah, a screwloose socialite who either mutated into a leopard-like woman..or wears a leopard costume stitched up from leopard pelts. That's a sizable chunk of evil. Maybe that's for the sequel...which I'm sure will be greenlit...after the opening weekend figures debut..and if the rotten tomatoes are fresh enough. Otherwise, the only other films likely to get made with DC's 1st tier superheroes are a contractually obligated Justice League 2 and The Batman, which has a big "?" on it. It's going to get made...I think...

Meanwhile, two films featuring Harley Quinn are in the works - a sequel to Suicide Squad and Gotham City Sirens, based on a short-lived Paul Dini-written series that focused on Harley, Poison Ivy and Catwoman - the flip side of Birds of Prey, which features Batgirl, Black Canary and the Huntress. There was some inkling that Batgirl would be appearing in Sirens representing the side of angels amidst the bad girls, but that rumor faded away...

...and then we get the news that Joss Whedon is in talks to do (write, direct, produce) a Batgirl film - specifically based/inspired by Gail Simone's Batgirl stories from the New 52 era that recently ended. What's significant about that run is that it had Barbara Gordon make her comeback in costume after 20+ years wheelchair-bound due to a getting shot by the Joker in The Killing Joke. 4 other characters were depicted donning the Batgirl batsuit within a ten-year period in naughties before Flashpoint allowed for some adjustment in Barbara's health status*. Within the timeline of the comic book continuity, it means she hadn't been Batgirl for 3 years. I'm not sure if Whedon would adapt any particular stories...none of them were particularly memorable - it was really all about Barbara being Batgirl again, because everyone in the real world thought...rather cynically...that her return was unlikely, not because she had gained significant character development as Oracle, but because TKJ was written by Alan Moore..and copies of that comic still sell better than most new comics..that's like a golden goose, y'know. But that's all very cynical, calculated speculation. It was great seeing that everyone was wrong and a female superhero could have the comeback treatment like any other male comic book superhero.

Now for the fun bit...WHO is going to play Batgirl? Who might Joss have in mind? Will this movie get made? He directed two Avengers movies! How could DC Films not want him?

My top choice is Felicity Jones. Then Anna Kendrick. Then Alexandra Daddario. They're all A-list Hollywood actresses who I can picture playing Barbara Gordon well. What do you, the readers of this blog post think? Any other candidates for the domino-masked daredoll? Feel free to write in the comments.

*Ah...The Flash...messing with the timeline when he's out of bubblegum to chew on.

Monday, November 14, 2016

"The Caped Crusade: Batman and The Rise of Nerd Culture" by Glen Weldon

That is not the actual cover to Glen Weldon's Batman book. In my humble opinion, I fixed it. I made it into a cover image I wanted to see, just like when I fixed the cover to Michael Moorcock's rubbish Doctor Who novel into something I might keep on my shelf (but I didn't). Who are all those guys cosplaying as Batman? I don't know them. They're not Batman. The new cover - that depicts the Batman.

That's really the point of Weldon's book. The lean page-count is due to the lack of biographical material; the real focus is on the different incarnations of Batman thru the decades, from dark to light to dark to light to dark again snd so on. He's a resilient, nonchalant character - adept at mystery, sci-fi and fantasy stories with a simple turn of the screw. I don't think he really cracks the code as to why that is so, but he's more interested on how audience opinion can influence the lifespan of each incarnation anyway. It's this school of thought where Batman is an idea that exists within the public conciousness..as if he's bigger than comics or films or videogames...Weldon doesn't say it, but the character is recognized the same way globally as Mickey Mouse, James Bond, Sherlock Holmes, Superman, Elvis, Marilyn Monroe and Michael Jackson. He's joined that club. A lot of people don't read the comics, but they are cognizant of the existence of a character named Batman.

It's what Batman is that has the nerds debating about it, and Weldon doesn't quite ridicule those arguments, but it's hinted as very closed-minded thinking. The best depiction of a fully-realized Batman, at his most basic, is the Batman of Batman: The Animated Series. After that, you're probably just going for extremes for the sake telling new stories.

The downside to this book is that it's nothing you wouldn't learn from reading a Wikipedia article. Without biographical material to gain insight into why people who worked on Batman approached the character the way they did, it's very, "...during this run, this guy wrote Batman like this.." And another thing...I seriously doubt anyone enjoys being called a nerd. The bozos selling t-shirts and apparel in an attempt to brand "Geek" "Nerd" and "Spaz" wouldn't be caught dead feigning interest in this stuff if they couldn't make a buck. I don't buy it. It's a slam for knowing anything.

And yet, the fact that people know Batman is what's kept him from stagnating like Superman, Bond and the Mouse. Alan Moore put it best when he described Batman as a character created to appeal to children in 1939 who were reading Superman comics...Batman's longevity is astounding if you consider that he's past his "Sell-by.." date. I don't know if Weldon has seen that distinction between a  concept that can survive being branded and still have a place in contemporary fiction...maybe he'd have been hesitant to use the word "nerd" so much...or maybe he doesn't..between the lines, once you get to the end of the book, it feels like he's saying all the Batman stories that could be told have been told.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

"Woman With A Blue Pencil" by Gordon McAlpine

Takumi Sato wanted to write a mystery novel about a grieving husband seeking his wife's lover/killer. His editor at the publishing house, Maxine Wakefield, would prefer a genre spy adventure about a secret agent tailing an assassin. Sam Sumida is a Japanese-American professor who fears he is losing his grip on reality: there is no record of his existence anywhere. Police detective Henry Czernicek is Sam's only connection to the world he remembers...but this guy is the man who was having the affair with Kyoko, Sam's wife..and is the man who killed her..maybe..a woman resembling Kyoko is running loose on the streets in a killing spree. In hot pursuit is Korean-American secret agent Jimmy Park, who hates being confused with Japanese by ignorant Whites, though is not particularly interested in identifying anything about Korean culture that would make him as distinctly different from a Japanese man (or any American man, for that matter) as he claims he is.

Gordon McAlpine - he wrote Hammett Unwritten under the pen-name "Owen Fitzwilliam - juggles all these characters and stories using mixed-narration and multiple realities. I'm reminded of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead or "The Zeppo" episode of Buffy or The Lion King 1 & 1/2, where you have a separate story occurring in the background/periphery of a more commonly-known story brought up to the foreground. Takumi Sato, a 22 year-old Japanese-American man languishing in an internment camp during World War II, completes his manuscript for The Orchid and The Secret Agent per Maxine Wakefield's specifications, but only because he decides he will finish the story he really wanted to tell by having Sam and Henry find their footing in this forced, cardboard reality of a rubbish spy novel that Maxine manipulates Takumi into writing.

The book isn't perfect - the only characters that feel fleshed out are Sam and Henry..and perhaps the point of the book is that the characters with the most capacity for life get to finish their story. Jimmy Park is a secret agent/detective who accomplishes nothing beyond beating up a bunch of guys. Takumi Sato completes a book he didn't want to write, only because he found a way to complete the book he wanted to write, but felt doomed by circumstances surrounding him and saw no future in his current state. Maxine Wakfield got the novel she wanted to publish, but will never get to spin it into a series, because she twisted the arm of her writer too hard. Sam Sumida finally got revenge against his wife's killer, but his wife doesn't exist anymore and was revised into a twisted new character that is emphatically not the Kyoko he knew and loved. Only Henry Czernicek got what he deserved..even if what he deserved only mattered because it mattered to two different men living on two different panes of existence.

Even more impressive is how short the book is. There are a lot of high-concept novels out there that weigh a brick..and always read like something you've glanced at before on film or television. Not this. This was good.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Disney's "The Great Mouse Detective" At 30

I remember watching The Great Mouse Detective when it premiered when I was a kid. For those who haven't seen it, this Disney animated film from 1986 is about a mouse named Basil who lives in a mousehole at 221B Baker Street in London - the home address of Sherlock Holmes. Basil is an anthropomorphic cartoon mouse who solves mysteries like Sherlock Holmes. He even has a sidekick - Dr. Dawson - who is the anthropomorphic cartoon mouse counterpart to Dr. Watson. Basil's archfoe is Professor Ratigan (voiced by horror icon Vincent Price), who is the anthropomorphic cartoon rat counterpart to Professor Moriarty. The film is excellent. It's still available in stores as part of a Blu Ray-DVD combo pack, so I highly recommend that you see it.

And...you might want to check out the children's book series of novels that inspired the film. Eve Titus created Basil, Dawson and Ratigan. She wrote five books in all, beginning with Basil of Baker Street, which I remember was brought back in print to coincide with the release of the film. I remember thinking that I didn't enjoy Paul Galdone's illustrations because the characters looked too much like real mice, whereas the Disney version reimagines the cast as pure cartoon characters. Cut to 2016, the 5 books are back in print, with new cover illustrations by artist David Mottram - these I like! Basil and Dr. Dawson have a bit of a Chuck Jones style to them...a literary Hubie & Bertie, ready to meet the cricket in Times Square  (if you got that reference..thank you)..or a wizened Pixie & Dixie. Unfortunately, they didn't have Mottram contribute new interior illustrations, so you get to stare and compare with Galdone's stuff.

As for the stories..I got a confession to make: this month will mark my first time reading the books. I remember owning the reprint of Basil of Baker Street that had the Disney version of the mouse on the cover, but being put-off by the Galdone drawings and the fact that the story had little to nothing in common with the plot of the film. You won't find prose/illustrations of balloon races across the Thames, no escapes from Rube Goldberg-esque deathtraps or clock tower showdowns or bats with peg-legs. Ratigan isn't in it - he appears in the 2nd book! You will find a similar scene of Basil deducing a location by analyzing a piece of paper, along with the disguises Basil and Dawson wore in the film. The book's plot is about Angela and Agatha - two little girl mice twins who are kidnapped by a group of mice called "The Terrible Three". Angela and Agatha have little to do, but are the likely inspiration for the character of Olivia Flaversham from the movie.

I did enjoy the book now because I appreciated reading a new story with these characters and I've got four more to go. I'm curious as to why Disney never thought of cranking out some direct-to-DVD sequels during their "cranking-our-some-direct-to-DVD-sequels-of-our-movies" phase, but there was material there. Plus, in the wake of Geronimo Stilton and Sherlock, these books seem perfect for a chance at being rediscovered by new readers.

One notable difference in the books from the film that's never addressed is the idea of anthropomorphic animals co-existing with humans in secret communities/colonies that escape the humans notice. Basil gathers a group to live in the basement at 221B Baker Street and forms Holmestead, a literal mousetown with houses and shops..kind of like the Aardman movie Flushed Away..or the "city" scenes in A Bug's Life...this might've been the forerunner to that kind of thing.

I'm about to read about Basil and The Cave of Cats..pygmy cats, huh? This would make a cool idea for a CG sequel..

One last memory: does anyone besides my old 3rd grade teacher, Ms. Vogel, pronounce "Basil" like "Bay-zil"? Y'know - like the herb? Or "Bah-zil", as in "Basil Rathone" or "St. Basil"? I remember when I ordered Basil of Baker Street via Troll - the school book order catalog. The books for the students would be delivered to the respective classrooms, then the teacher would sort out who ordered which books. She insisted that Basil's name was pronounced Bay-zil. It was a losing argument: she wasn't going to see the film, but she had to be right, because it was her classroom, so this cartoon mouse was clearly named after an herb she owned in her spice rack...

In retrospect, her intelligence was...elementary.