Thursday, April 12, 2018

The Batgirl Movie Returns

A little over a month after learning that a Batgirl movie "..won't be a high priority..," it was revealed that screenwriter Christine Hodson was hired to write a script for a film, presumably titled The Batgirl...I think that's the first time Batgirl has ever been referred to with "The" preceding her name, but it puts her on equal footing with Batman, perhaps.
What this means is that Warner Brothers has observed that the initial reaction to the possibility of a Batgirl movie in production was positive enough to give it another try...even when the initial go-ahead was part of a sweetheart deal to court Joss Whedon. When Justice League did lukewarm box office, Whedon suddenly backed away from Batgirl, claiming he didn't have a story to tell...which I recall claiming was b.s...I was expecting his take on Barbara Gordon to fall along the lines of his other work, so it probably wouldn't have looked innovative...just competently done. As with Wonder Woman, the comic books are really weak - I remember writing that I liked the Batgirl comics with Stephanie Brown, but more for the character than the plotlines or new supporting characters created for that run. Batgirl usually captured our imaginations when she appeared on television moreso than in the comic books...just like Wonder Woman! And in live-action, though I liked how she was portrayed in cartoons like Batman: The Animated Series and The Batman. The only neat tricks the comic book Batgirl had that haven't been adapted for the TV and film screens were a photographic memory, plus aplomb with advanced computer tech and - this one is obscure - a knack for hypnosis.
Hodson's past credits include genre thrillers Shut-In and Unforgettable. She also wrote the script for Bumblebee: The Movie, a Transformers spin-off prequel not directed by Michael Bay...which implies it won't have the misanthropic cynicism that shaded the last five Transformers movies. Here is the whole point of this post: Hailee Steinfeld stars in Bumblebee. I had mentioned in my previous Batgirl-related post that she had gone on record as saying she wanted to play Batgirl, albeit this remark was when Joss Whedon was attached to the project, but his absence doesn't mean she wouldn't be interested in playing Barbara Gordon with new people involved, particularly if it's anticipated that Warner Brothers is keen on getting a female director. If Steinfeld wants it - anyone still remember those purple Batgirl-esque she wore to the Grammy Awards this year? - she can get it.
I'm still curious about what the plot of The Batgirl could be. There are some good ideas in Chuck Dixon's Batgirl: Year One. Batgirl wanting to join the Justice Society. Pairing Killer Moth with Firefly. I always thought the scenes depicting her interaction with Batman and Robin in this story had more to do with editorial inference regarding those characters at the time, rather than how they would've acted, so while I like the idea that Batman is supporting Barbara with supplies and equipment, I thought it was portrayed better elsewhere. I like how Jason Bard was introduced, even though a little of him goes a long way in the old comics (I believe Frank Robbins pulled a fast one by introducing Bard so that he didn't have to write about Batgirl and slowly write her out of her own series to write more about the terribly-dull Jason Bard, Private Eye). In fact, without Marcos Martin's art, we might not even be talking about Batgirl: Year One.
Not sure which of Batgirl's different costumes will inspire the movie version, but it's gotta show off the motorcycle...I actually believe Barbara Gordon would have to be adept at motorcycle maintenance & repair if she's going to keep that bike in good shape. It would be cool to show her handy with tools...I don't think that's been depicted in the comics at all, but it makes sense.
It's also possible that Warner Brothers hired Hodson because she wrote the script for the Birds of Prey movie, which would've featured Harley Quinn, Batgirl, Poison Ivy and Catwoman. It's alleged that this film faded away when Suicide Squad also did lukewarm business. DC Films has Aquaman, Shazzam and Wonder Woman 2 on the schedule. For sure. There's a Flashpoint that's supposed to star Ezra Miller and Ben Affleck as The Flash and Batman, respectively, but that might not be happening...it's just fading out. Affleck still has one more film in his contract, so he could appear in The Batgirl to fulfill that obligation and that would be cool. It's a real pity that he never got a solo Batman film going, yet he's played the character in more films under the shortest amount of time than any other actor to date, and his performance has been good work.
So there we are. For now. The Batgirl is on. Female screenwriter. Female director  (we think so). Hailee Steinfeld (maybe). The Penguin, Killer Moth, Firefly, Roxy Rocket, Calculator, Cluemaster, Poison Ivy (villains?). Harley Quinn, The Batman (guest-stars?). Jason Bard, Stephanie Brown, Luke Fox, Dinah Lance  (supporting characters). Cool motorcycle  (absolutely). Purple costume (why not?). Contractually obligated Ben Affleck  (possible). Release date: _____ (I have no idea).

Saturday, March 24, 2018

"Totally Awesome: The Greatest Cartoons of The Eighties" by Andrew Farago

Let's get to that list, shall we?

In the order by which they appear in the book:

1. The Smurfs

Each respective series on the list has a chapter devoted to a condensed history of its production, with quotes offering insights on the development of the show. Interestingly, the spotlight shines on one person in particular, who is strongly suggested to be the reason for the series success...and in some cases, it's someone I didn't know much about before. Regarding Smurfs, it's Gerald Baldwin, who shepherded the first four seasons of the show. This was Hanna-Barbera's first major hit in over a decade; much of the 70's was wasted capitalising/cannibalizing the initial success of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You? (even Superfriends had it's genesis as a Scooby-Doo knockoff) or dull, gimmick-riddled new cartoons featuring faithful standbys Fred Flintstone or Yogi Bear. I liked learning that The Snorks was a dumping ground for rejected Smurfs story ideas, and that Baldwin thought The Smurfs and The Magic Flute was "crappy". To be fair, I thought the animation in Magic Flute was about as good as the TV series animation ever was, but the pacing of the story and the voices were poor.

2. Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends

..in which Don Glut bemoans his lot, forever associated with the late Dennis Marks' apocryphal, yet charming take on Spider-Man that was inspired by the Bob Hope-Bing Crosby-Dorothy Lamour "Road to..." movies, in which Spidey had adventures and told/traded jokes while hanging out with Iceman & Firestar. Glut HATED Ms. Lion, Aunt May's pet dog, created by Marks as a mascot/pet for the series, and would insist on inserting scenes with her in scripts that Glut intentionally wrote her out of. Meanwhile, the rest of us fans of the series in the U.S.  wonder if Disney will ever wake up and release the series on Region 1 DVD.

3. He-Man and The Masters of The Universe/She-Ra: Princess of Power

Lou Scheimer hit the jackpot, here. It just so happens a generation of incredibly talented artists and writers cut their teeth working for Filmation during this time - even taking advantage of a brief strike at the Disney studio, which resulted in some top talent in need of work. Both of these shows were better than they were likely conceived to be, with the push to be toyetic.

4. Inspector Gadget

Less than a handful of Bruno Bianchi's concept/development sketches of Inspector Gadget are reprinted in the book...Bianchi's style reminds me of Sergio Aragones - that got me imagining a great Inspector Gadget comic book that seems obvious, but we have yet to see, drawn by Sergio Aragones. That would be cool.

I recall the idea of Gadget's extendable arms and legs was based on Dynomutt, because Andy Heyward had worked on both shows.

5. The Transformers

As with He-Man, She-Ra and perhaps G.I. Joe, The Transformers  has been the subject of coffee table books of its own, so the ground covered here has been well-tread, but inserted for posterity. The weakness of the book becomes more obvious in these sections, but I have a nice anecdote of my own to share: years ago, on the Comic Book Resources forums, series writer Buzz Dixon had responded to my question about the trailer that Optimus Prime is always shown towing when he's in the form of a truck..Where does that trailer come from? It's clearly a separate component/accessory, not part of Optimus Prime in his robot form. And yet, whenever/wherever he transformed into a truck, the trailer slides into place! Dixon confessed that none of the people could figure out an explanation for what that trailer's deal was(!)...and just let it go as something they weren't going to put much emphasis on.

6. G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero

You do get a sense that the people who enjoyed working on these shows the most wanted the audience to believe that they believed in the series' concept. I'm tempted to look up the earliest, "improvised" episodes of G.I. Joe, then stare-and-compare with later "researched" episodes, since the animation for all the Sunbow-produced shows was rarely particularly good..and at the end of the day, this show was always about a bunch of guys dressed as The Village People vs. a bunch of guys dressed like the bad guys from Spaceballs.

7. Jem and The Holograms

This is a concept that probably would've been more popular than it was if the animation and stories matched the energy and pace of the title sequence. I don't know...the theme song/sequence was catchy enough to draw you in (though I wouldn't say that out loud) but the "Afterschool Special"/soap opera-feel to the stories was too earnest, imo. It should've been more like Josie and The Pussycats in story-style...that's probably the way it would go if there was ever a reboot.

Btw, Rich Morris did a truly truly outrageous unauthorized Jem/Doctor Who crossover webcomic years ago that's archived on his Shipsinker website, which established that Stormer and Eric Raymond were errant Time Lords from Gallifrey...believe that, true believer..believe that.

8. Thundercats

I think YouTube still has this audacious fan-made trailer for a live-action Thundercats film, culling footage from Troy, The Chronicles of Riddick, Stargate, and I don't recall offhand what else, then digitally coloring Brad Pitt and Vin Diesel to resemble Lion-O and Panthro. Vin Diesel is a movie producer, YouTuber; dare Vin Diesel to make a live-action Thundercats movie and he'll do it!

9. Muppet Babies

This is one of those shows where you'll have to trust me was actually good; it has Jim Henson's fingerprints on it - the Henson heirs are trying to "Walt Disney's"-brand name recognition on new stuff that didn't even exist as incoherent scribbles in any of Jim's notebooks, but Muppet Babies has his stamp proper...this, Fraggle Rock and the first live-action film with the Ninja Turtles were the last truly commercially successful projects completed during his lifetime.

..and I wish they revived Kermit the Frog P.I. - I have vague memories of seeing that cartoon and that was the only part of Little Muppet Monsters that worked for me. They should try it again...I think the Dog City TV series came from that, somewhat...but no...let's do this again with Kermit and Fozzie proper this time.

10. The Real Ghostbusters

The irony for artists and writers working on animated cartoons airing in "Seasons" is that production on these series made the work itself seasonal; they hopscotched from one animation studio to another. Any show made during this decade will likely have the same five or ten guys on average with their names on the credits. To read Tom Sito gently slam Filmation's Ghostbusters while praising DIC's The Real Ghostbusters is pretty funny, since he appears in interviews and commentary on the DVD box set of the Filmation show. The franchise is such a fallow state since the Paul Feig reboot blew that I've half-jokingly suggested adapting the 1980's animated incarnation with Jake, Eddie and Tracy the Ape into live-action. The stories may just be recycling He-Man tropes with a lighter tone, but the animation and character designs and more attractive than the Real version, which is pretty creaky-looking.

11. The Disney Afternoon (this is a cheat, as the author is actually talking about Disney's Adventures of The Gummi Bears, Ducktales and Chip 'n' Dale Rescue Rangers )

..and "The Disney Afternoon" didn't officially premiere until September of 1990, unless people want to count it as part of the 80's, but 1990 felt like a new start at the time to me...aside from fashion designers attaching neon colors on clothing...

The Disney shows from this decade get short-changed, imo, as there's "Before Disney Television Animation" and "After Disney Television Animation". This was a game-changer that deserves a book of it's own. The chapter was an interesting introduction to Tom Ruzicka, whom I hadn't read much about before, or his and Fred Wolf's critical contribution to the early days, when Gummi Bears was actually going to tie-in with a line of candy (how come Haribo makes "Gummy Smurfs" but no "Gummy Gummi Bears"?) and that The Wuzzles and Fluppy Dogs were specifically designed to sell toys, whereas Ducktales was actually created to capitalize on the success of Gummi Bears moving away from its toyetic origins and becoming more story-based (the Gummis themselves were going to be named after candy flavors...is that why Gruffi Gummi is sometimes depicted in red on licensing instead of brown? What would've been his name: "Redd Gummi"?).

12. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

The 1980's cartoon incarnation is still the best. All the credit really goes to three people: Fred Wolf (for selling the show), Dave Wise (for giving us an entertaining show) and Chuck Lorre (for giving us that iconic theme song - I liked learning that it was actually Chuck's voice that's shouting "We're really hip!"/"Hey! Get a Grip!"/"He's a radical rat!"/"Gimmee a break!" - I remember thinking that was Rob Paulsen, the voice of Raphael, because that's who it sounded like).

13. Garfield and Friends

On his website, Mark Evanier opts for writing about celebrities/writers/artists he knows and politicians he dislikes rather than stuff he's actually worked on. Oh, and dispensing career advice for would-be freelance writers, I guess, though it comes off more interesting than useful. And obits for people he knew...and people who he never knew (to which he writes, "I don't have any stories about Austin Tasseltyne because I never met him or worked with him, but people liked him and his movies/TV shows/apple pies were quite popular, so he had that goimg for him."). Rarely does he divuge actual stories about his work...or at least without filing the names off beforehand. So it was nice to get him to talk of his time writing Garfield and Friends episodes, because he doesn't talk shop much on his blog about his work, which is unfortunate, because I think it's better-produced than the more-acclaimed TV specials that preceded it. Garfield reached the zenith of his popularity around this point. Ironically, the comic strip is more popular without him, assuming you haven't checked out Garfield Minus Garfield.

14. Mighty Mouse (actually, this was billed as Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures, but that was the author's choice on how to identify it in the chapter heading).

With anything from Ralph Bakshi and John Kricfalusi...the superb character design and background stylings will always be marred by the inability to realize that neither can write anything worth a damn. I was most disappointed in this section, because it was fuzzy on details as to how Doug Moench contributed to the writing of the show...I have to hazard a guess that it was his job to transcribe a presentable script from the final layouts that would be passed along to other production/post-production staff - voiceover/music/editing/sound/overseas animators. Most of the people who worked on that show have had long careers since then, but Bakshi and Kricfalusi are infamous for downplaying the craft of writing as an art form that has it's own technique and discipline. As a result, everything they've done has always come off amateurish and slapdash, storywise, because they focus everything on the drawings.

So...I enjoyed this book, it's good, but not great. Something's missing. The presentation is attractive - I like how there's samples of production notes and artwork from several series reproduced and attached ontop of pages, like they've been paper-clipped, giving the book a feel like you're reading a dossier with supplementary information thst could literally spill out. However, with a book like this, you'd think the author would present a stronger defense/commentary in his text for why these shows deserve to be the greatest cartoons of that decade. The title doesn't even specify that it's necessarily just cartoons on television, but could imply animated feature films, of which I could think of six that could bulk up that list to 20:

15) The Secret of Nimh
16) The Castle of Cagliostro
17) The Great Mouse Detective
18) Transformers: The Movie (although this could be lumped in with the TV series, ad it is discussed in the chapter devoted to that show, but it's strong enough to be a separate contender)
19) Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
20) The Little Mermaid

Yeah! And I didn't even get to include animated short films, of which I would suggest Night of The Living Duck and A Grand Day Out as worthy of inclusion. That would make 22.

And then there's a curious happening with (13) and (14) on the book's list: he switches the order by which the series debuted. Up until then, the list follows a timeline; Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures was old news when Garfield and Friends debuted the following year. Maybe that's a reflection on how the cartoons debutingthe following take their aesthetic cues from Mighty, particularly the Nickelodeon cartoons. That's left for us to infer. In fact, the author leaves it to the people who worked on each show to offer their conclusion as to why the respective series is considered great; it's like, "Hey! Here's my list. That's it. 'Nuff said." At a price of 50 bucks, I wouldn't mind more insight on what made these 14 cartoon shows better than other programs offered. There's no sidebars devoted to "Memorable Episodes" or "Honorable Mentions: Good Cartoons That Didn't Make The List". Those would've been cool things to add. There's unanswered questions..why isn't Fraggle Rock in there? Voltron? A Pup Named Scooby-Doo (the template for every new Scooby-Doo cartoon made since the 1990's). How about the 80's revival of The Jetsons? Or Heathcliff and The Catillac Cats? Or Thundarr (I don't care much for that one; the talent behind that series was more interesting than what they produced, but it has a loyal following). I might've been incorrect about the last two, but if I had seriously disagreed with any of the choices in that book - and I didn't, for the record; I agree with all the choices in there - then I would've thought this was just cobbled together by someone who had taken a light survey on social media and his content is grounded on the results of that. The text is just perfunctory and the only fun in reading it is the quotes from the people who worked on each show.

Curious thing I found while preparing this post: I found an alternate cover photo of the book - most likely a mockup for early solicitation purposes; there's a disclaimer on it saying it's not the final image...this cover has images of Voltron and the guys from muh-muh-muh M.A.S.K. on it. Perhaps they were just thrown in there to create suspense and surprise when the final cover was revealed, but I can't help feel we might have some alternate chapters that didn't make final cut...or it was just a ruse to prevent spoilers from leaking.

I'm trying to imagine how a follow-up book devoted to the 1990's would look..

Darkwing Duck
Ren and Stimpy
Beavis and Butthead
Gargoyles
Batman: The Animated Series
Animaniacs
Pinky and The Brain
Freakazoid!
Rocko's Modern Life
Rugrats
Daria
Dexter's Laboratory
The Powerpuff Girls
Johnny Bravo
The Simpsons

See that? That's pretty close..some of those choices I don't even care for, but I don't doubt the authenticity of their being on that list. He should totally do it...and hopefully add some flavor to his rhetoric along with it this time.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

No "Batgirl" Movie? No "Batgirl" Movie.

Writer's block? Seriously?

Well, if that's the song Joss Whedon wants to sing - actually, it was "I just don't have a story" to be precise - then that's the tune we're going to hear.

And yet...

Didn't he get the ball rolling by pitching a Batgirl film to Warner Brothers/DC Films? What's really going on here? Could it be fallout from Justice League underperforming in spite of the hype surrounding Whedon filming reshoots over Zack Snyder's original cut of the film? Could it be his public image taking a beating from his ex-wife's statements about his philandering lecherous ways with co-workers at his production company? Could it be that he was given Batgirl on the condition that Justice League would be successful?

Maybe we'll learn more dirt as the days go on. I knew that with his name attached, a Batgirl film wouldn't be a pipe dream, but he was never clear about what he thought of the character beyond being influenced by Gail Simone's work...which kinda raises alarm bells, because due to editorial interference, a lot of what was happening in Gail's run wasn't particularly good. For my money, the best Batgirl comics ever were the issues Bryan Q. Miller wrote, with Stephanie Brown as Batgirl, ironically. Regarding Barbara Gordon, her best appearances as Batgirl were in Season 3 of the 1966 Batman TV series (as played by Yvonne Craig), plus in cartoons like Batman: The Animated Series , The Batman and in the respective tie-in comic books featuring those incarnations of Barbara. Plus, loathe as I am to admit, Barbara received significant character development in the 80's and 90's, when she was wheelchair-bound due to getting shot by the Joker in The Killing Joke and assumed the identity of Oracle. What's unfortunate about that bit is that it usually feeds a polarizing argument for keeping her in the wheelchair, in light of her current Batgirl characterization coming off superficial and lacking empathy. This is more a reflection of the quality of the scripts we've been getting to me...judging from the current comic books, it's still an ongoing problem that hasn't been reconciled. I don't know why DC Comics has been slow to change Batgirl writers - I wouldn't mind seeing K. Perkins take over the book now that Superwoman has been cancelled; I think she's good at writing natural dialogue and keeping a good pace with the suspense. If they could reconcile the positive elements of the character's evolution with their attempts at a soft reboot of the character's history, then her current comic book adventures would really start cooking. In other words, let Babs act her age.

Back to Hollywood. The Batgirl film is now "...no longer a priority." It looks like the next film in production is Shazzam, with Zachary Levi as Captain Marvel. After that, the only sure thing is the Wonder Woman sequel - everything else is..in the air. It's not clear if Flashpoint will happen, no clue if Matt Reeves' Batman movie will see the light of day (the underwhelming and tepid response to the possibility of seeing Jake Gyllenhaal as Batman does no favors). It always looked like DC was baiting TV executives with concepts for a Batgirl TV series, anyway, especially with the "Batgirl of Burnside" angle of the current comics. The floor is clear for that to happen.

Meanwhile, I'm still mulling over what might have been. I seriously doubted anyone took Lindsay Lohan's attempt to campaign for the part seriously...though in a parallel universe...to get an idea of how I imagine a different Lindsay Lohan's acting performance as Barbara Gordon, check out actress Caity Lotz's Sara Lance in Legends of Tomorrow. Hailee Steinfeld, of Pitch Perfect and True Grit fame, suggested as of last month that she would've loved to have played Batgirl in Joss's film..I actually see this as something that could have happened if things hadn't derailed the way they just did, even when it looked like Warner Brothers was going to push ahead and find a replacement for Whedon. At this year's Grammy Awards, Steinfeld showed up on stage in a stunning form-fitting white dress that showed off a pair of high-heeled, knee-high purple boots! If that wasn't a not-so-subtle hint about her campaign to play Batgirl...then she still looked great in those boots, regardless. She kinda looks like Yvonne Craig in some photos..that would be kinda cool if they casted her. I wouldn't object if they had.

Meanwhile, I had been narrowing down potential casting choices by selecting  Lily Collins. She just seems like a capable  actress who gets name-dropped here and there, but hasn't really had a breakthrough role - she's accumulated a number false-starts (The Mortal Instruments, Rules Don't Apply, Mirror Mirror) but nothing that stuck with an audience.

So no Whedonesque Batgirl, then. That's okay. Barbara Gordon won't sound like Buffy Summers or Winifred Burkle or Willow Rosenberg...or Veronica Mars. Barbara Gordon should sound like a woman who's as smart as Batman but has the poise of Wonder Woman and has Supergirl's enthusiasm mixed with Superman's humility. That's how she operates.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

"Getting" Ready For Ready Player One

The film adaptation of Ready Player One looks good because The Iron Giant guest-stars in it as a replacement for Ultraman. What this means is that certain sequences won't happen exactly as they did in the book, yet we'll get an improvement on what was in the text. There's a logical explanation for why the Iron Giant would appear as a replacement - he was name-dropped in the book - but I think that character's presence has a greater resonance among audiences than Ultraman, so it's a trade-up. That doesn't mean a contemporary appearance in a mainstream American film by a Japanese kaiju character directed by Steven Spielberg wouldn't have been awesome...it's just...one step closer to Warner Brothers green-lighting The Iron Giant Returns/Iron Giant Comes Back/Iron Giant Vs. Mecha-Godzilla or whatever title a sequel to The Iron Giant would have. And yes, it looks like Mecha-Godzilla won't be appearing in the film, either, for similar copyright reasons. To my mind, it sounds similar to when Pixar was barred from including Barbie from the first Toy Story, but then she appears in the sequels when that film became a phenomenon.

I had read the Ready Player One novel last Fall, just after seeing the first trailer for the film. I didn't write a review because I didn't think it was a big deal..it was okay and fun to read in a lot of places. I was impressed with Ernest Cline's prose being readable...a fault I find with a lot of trendy novels is that the prose is very clumsy...but I'm a picky reader; I could never get through any Stephen King, Stuart Woods, Robert Ludlum, Tom Clancy, Clive Cussler, Michael Critchton, etc.. - books by authors that appear on shelves at supermarkets, airports, bus stations, train stations, drug stores, discount stores. I've read books 3-7 of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter And... and I guess ..And The Cursed Child counts as the 8th installment, but I never thought she wrote action scenes well..and have no desire to check out those faux-pseudononymous mystery novels "by Robert Galbraith" she's written. Incidentally, "Robert Galbraith" is a much-easier to spell name than Commonran...Comeonman...Comoreram...CalmacalmacalmacalmacalmaChameleon Strike when you're just trying to recall it casually...my interest is too...casually vacant to look it up proper.

Back to the book. The paperback edition I had read was the precursor to the new edition released, which uses one of the movie posters as the cover. It's the same as the one I had, with the narrow shape and easier-to-read-but-still-not-large-print format. I figured Spielberg wasn't planning on reanacting the plot to Wargames or scenes where we would just watch characters play old arcade/PC games. The movie suggests we're getting a mix of The Maze Runner with It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, with a Who Framed Roger Rabbit dose of spectacle...

If I could just go on a tangent for a moment..the thing with Roger Rabbit is that, as good as it was, whenever it's shown on TV reruns lately, I find that without the late Bob Hoskins as Eddie Valiant, the whole movie could've just fallen apart. One key casting decision. With him there, you believe everything that's happening. Eddie's the most-challenging character any actor could play in a movie like that. People like to act nostalgic about Space Jam, but the only reason that worked (and it was no Roger Rabbit) was
because everyone involved was awake, alert and working together. Nobody was sleepwalking, nobody was bored; Ivan Reitman didn't just stamp his name on it, Bill Murray wasn't bored & had fun, Michael Jordan was Michael Jordan, Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck were Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck.

I had just seen The Maze Runner: The Death Cure. Having never read the books, I was surprised that it ended with Thomas losing both his best friend and his girl. Theresa's death was spectacularly done, but I wouldn't have minded seeing her survive - if this were an episode of Talespin, Baloo would've flown that plane in a loop-de-loop into the collapsing building to follow her descent...so Theresa would be shown falling..into the cargo hold of the plane - which kinda looked like a military-grade version of the Sea Duck, in point of fact - so instead of Giancarlo Esposito going "Guys! I can't keep this plane hovering longer!" or whatever he said, Baloo would've been like "Hang on, li'l britches!! Ol' Papa Bear's got a trick up his sleave! Pelican Dive - don't fail me now!!" Baloo was pretty badass on that show. And I think I saw Matt Smith do a similar trick to rescue Alex Kingston in a Doctor Who episode..it's not a new trick. Jerry Bruckheimer or Michael Bay would've had it happen, though it probably would've been with Thomas inexplicably finding the strength and skill to take control of the plane and rescue Theresa..who would've been wearing a tank top & micro-miniskirt with high heels...played by Alexandra Daddario (yeah, I saw her in San Andreas). As it is, we're left with a hero who has lost his damsel and his squire, so he just gets to..be around and..chill out on an island...maybe he'll take up fishing...or look for pirate gold.

It's with this mindset that I'm more charitable towards Ready Player One's Art3mis hooking up with Wade/Parzival in the end, as if she were the real prize...though all that money is nice...there's been criticism about the casting of Art3mis. Cline made a point of describing Art3mis as looking Reubenesque...in other words...curvaceous, full-figured...hips that don't lie...with junk in the trunk. The only actress that came to mind as I read the book was Demi Lovato, who's embraced having a curvaceous, fit-and-thick figure and makes wardrobe choices that match Art3mis fan art on the web. Casting-wise, that's the only one I had..and cash-strapped Johnny Depp as Halliday, seeimg as how the movie trailer makes the Willy Wonka connection between the two characters obvious..and Depp has bills to pay...Tim Burton isn't going to make Charlie and The Great Glass Elavator (though I wish that was the Wonka movie he had made with Depp instead of the unnecessary remake)..in fact, they could just make Great Glass Elevator without Burton and Depp would still be up for it..a job is a job is a job..he's available...I wouldn't mind a 6th Jack Sparrow movie, but I might be in the minority with that opinion...stopwaitcomeback.

#WomanCrushWednesday: Demi Lovato

Friday, February 9, 2018

Wind-Up Wolf in "Sonic Forces"...maybe.

I remember owning a Sega Genesis because I wanted to play Quackshot. That's the first and only time I remember choosing a videogame console because I wanted to play a game that was exclusive to it. Now, when a videogame is available on multiple platforms...and you're not pre-disposed to either (though having a Blu-Ray player included is a sweet extra), but still don't have the bucks to make that purchase...you let it go.

And yet...

Let me explain. I would LOVE to play Sonic Forces - that's the most-recent Sonic the Hedgehog videogame. It's received the same mixed reviews that most Sonic videogames have earned over the last two decades: interesting concepts, attractive designs, poor control & camera issues, threadbare storyline, etc...however, the reviews are unanimously positive in regard to the create-a-character/custom build feature, in which you get to design a new sidekick to accompany Sonic, Tails, Knuckles and the other critters in the latest bruhaha with Dr. Eggman.

This new character - referred to among the cast as "Rookie" and by Sega's promotional material as "The Avatar" can be created as one of seven distinct species of animals - Cat, Bear, Bird, Hedgehog, Wolf, Rabbit and Dog. From there, you have a multitude of combinations of colors, shapes and clothing/accessories to chose from. By default, Sega's Sonic Team needed to create a default avatar to appear in their promotional material, so they designed an orange male wolf wearing heavy eyeglasses and sporting a number of gadgets..fans on the internet refer to him as Gadget the Wolf/Gadget the Rookie. I think it's a great design and I hope he makes it in the Sonic comic books..

Dig deeper and fan videos on YouTube demonstrate/hint that you could use the custom feature to design other famous animal characters. I saw one gamer create Usagi Yojimbo (or Miyamoto Usagi if you want to get technical), and I think there is a potential to create reasonable facsimiles of Felix the Cat, Mr. Jinx, Jose Carioca, Oswald the lucky rabbit, Loopy D'Loop, Mildew Wolf...and Wind-Up Wolf.

Who?

Well, gosh, I'm assuming you know who the preceding characters were so that I can cut to the chase, aren't I? Wind-Up Wolf was a one-shot cartoon character who appeared in Cartoon Network's What A Cartoon! The title? Wind-Up Wolf. It was written and directed by William Hanna. The plot involved The Big Bad Wolf building a robot doppelganger to go after the 3 Little Pigs. Wind-Up does not succeed, but because he's a robot, he can endure the kind of rough-handling/cartoon violence that Network Censors would normally frown upon, so it was okay for little kids to watch a robot get rocked & socked without finding the gags particularly cruel. William Hanna co-created Tom and Jerry, so he had considerable experience.

Nowadays, you can find this cartoon available to watch on YouTube like nothing, but back in the 90's, I remember being obsessed with trying to catch it and record it, because I knew ahead of time some of the backstory behind it's creation. In the early-90s, Dark Horse Comics had the license to make comic books based on MGM cartoons directed by Tex Avery, so they produced mini-series starring Droopy, Wolf & Red, Screwy Squirrel..the inaugural issue of Droopy featured an essay by artist/animator Scott Shaw that was a reminiscence of his brief time working with Tex Avery at Hanna-Barbera Studios in 1980 - "Generation Tex". Tex had suggested an idea of a "Wind-Up Wolf" built by the Big Bad Wolf to put up with all the bruises and beatings he could no longer endure. He didn't live long to develop this concept, but Shaw worked on storyboards with William Hanna at some point, because Wind-Up wound up as a Cartoon Network short film. Perhaps as a nod to Tex, the design of the character (and the Big Bad Wolf) is a nod to Wilford Wolf, the antagonist of The Kwicky Koala Show, the last cartoon Avery worked on before he died. Wind-Up Wolf was a nice, good-looking cartoon...I imagine if it had been picked up to become a TV series, they would've broadened the horizons a bit and included other characters, like Red Riding Hood, and fleshed out the personalities of the 3 pigs and Big Bad Wolf a little, with Wind-Up as the wild card in the middle of that relationship; Hanna would've probably included new episodes of Hard Luck Duck, another cartoon he had directed at the time - a reimagined Yakky Doodle. There definitely would've been cameos from older Hanna-Barbara characters, because the brief Jetsons cameo (albeit shown only in shadow, but with a familiar music cue to help anyone who was clueless) was well-received.

So...while I mull over whether or not to buy the videogame (I haven't even thought about which console I would pick up, if I do), I found a way to calm this impulse by finding fan art of Gadget the Wolf  ( remember him? That was about 2 or 3 paragraphs ago ), printing it out and using it as a coloring page to visualize my idea in lieu of actualization.

I've seen demos of the schematics on YouTube that show I could get closer to the mark than my coloring page would have you believe - bowties are available, not sure about vests - but I tried sticking with the color scheme of the cartoon character so that Gadget's apparel was color-consistent. I would definitely try incorporating both if possible to alternate.

Pretty cute...one short obscure cartoon, about 21/22 years old, causing me to write this post.

Batman: Gotham By Gaslight

In terms of style and execution, this direct-to-DVD/Blu-Ray Batman isn't really different from the other direct-to-DVD/Blu-Ray Batman movies Warner Brothers Animation has been cranking out, lately. The same murky color palette, the same pacing issues...the faux-anime look to the designs and animation. I don't think it's particularly ground-breaking, kinda slow along the middle, but I wouldn't mind re-watching it.

Why adapt Gotham By Gaslight? I remember fans would say that graphic novel is the greatest Batman story told, better than The Dark Knight Returns, The Killing Joke and Batman: Year One! I'm not sure if there's much analysis on the internet devoted to explaining that opinion, but here's my guess: to a generation or two who read Batman comics, Batman is Sherlock Holmes. There are many Sherlock Holmes pastiches depicting his efforts to identify Jack the Ripper, so having Batman solve that mystery is a treat. Ignore the fact that Gotham By Gaslight in an alternate reality and you have an archetypal Batman story  in which he solves the biggest unsolved true crime mystery ever recorded and you could understand the magnitude of the tale. No mutants, no killer clowns, no sideshow dwarves, no gangsters. We're just following Batman/Bruce use his brain.

The team behind these movies have been getting a lot of flack over their adaptations being too faithful & leaden; conversely, when they've tried to tell an original story ( Batman and Harley Quinn, a film I liked, but try finding positive reviews ), it's declared a piece of excrement. To date, the most-popular of these films is Batman: Under The Red Hood, which explains why they brought back Bruce Greenwood to voice Batman in Gaslight, rather than, say, Jason O'Mara, who's become their go-to for voicing Batman in these movies, moreso than fan-favorite Kevin Conroy. My opinion of Greenwood's Batman is that he doesn't sound different from O'Mara, but comes off less bland; I'm surprised they don't try casting Diedrich Bader more often if they're not casting Conroy.

Another thing they did was loosen the plot and change the characters in order to include more of the Batman mythos. Selina Kyle, Hugo Strange, Harvey Dent, "Dick", "Tim" and "Jason". They incorporated elements of Master of The Future, the sequel set at The World's Fair exhibition  ( just imagine a gentrified Epcot Center if you're not familiar with that and you'll picture it better ) to include more action scenes. Plus, they clearly wanted steampunk stuff sprinkled in, so we get a bat-motorcycle and bat-grapple thrown in. Those were neat. I also liked how the fight scenes didn't use martial arts much, so that makes the fight choreography less...recycled/generic. Without listening to the commentary, I am aware of plot points recycled from past Batman films - the scene where Bruce evades the Gotham police and hitches a ride with Selina Kyle in her hansom cab is a recreation of a scene in Mask of The Phantasm..up until the part where they're pretending to be making out in the cab to hide his injuries when the cops inspect it, that is.

That's a good key to understanding what I what I'm watching..this was, essentially, an R-rated "Batman: The Animated Series" movie set in a different time period, with a final twist that I'd rather let Wikipedia reveal, but I will say was pretty cool..better than having a counterpart to the Joker show up..ironic, because there is a character in the original graphic novel set up as such, but as a red herring. I wouldn't mind a sequel..probably with a little more detective work and humor next time.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return

I finally got to see Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return, which I was curious about, because I remember reading the book it was based on - Dorothy of Oz, by L. Frank Baum's great-grandson, Roger S. Baum...I guess that initial confirms that he's bonafide kinfolk...

It was what you would now think of as an attempt at a soft-reboot, ignoring all the sequels written by L. Frank Baum and only continuing from where the first book left off. Maybe there was a copyright issue ( up until the books entered the public domain, the rights to adapt the sequels were often accuired by production companies; Walt Disney himself had bought the rights and held onto them for a time ), but even so, Roger's book - and his sequels - seemed to take their cues from the MGM film with Judy Garland..because that's what most people who never encountered the books remember. It's the same approach used whenever an Oz movie is made: all thinly-veiled retellings of the same plot as the first book, with new characters sprinkled in. Ironically, L. Frank Baum's initial sequel novels in the canon were similar, abeit with a naturally more-convincing texture and abundant in imagination & originality.

So with the movies, prequels & sequels, regardless of the budget, a few familiar themes remain constant which resulted in a lot of formulaic fare. First, they boost up the iconography of the Wicked Witch of The West, whose appearance in the 1st book consisted of a single chapter, but has been made to count for something much more, largely because of Margaret Hamilton's iconic performance in the MGM film. New villains are introduced in ways that are always a callback/nod to MGM's witch, but feel like also-rans and their appearances are half-baked & perfunctory. I'm thinking of all the witches in Oz, The Great and Powerful, whose rules of engagement and power plays/motivations make no sense..or when they remember the Gnome King, like the Tom and Jerry In Oz movies did, they introduce him in a similar manner as an adjunct counterpart to the witch. In Legends, we have The Jester, an associate of the witch who was actually a bit creepier in the book, but it was never clear what his motivation to gain the witch's powers derived from, aside from just being a one-dimensional megalomaniac. The film makes this more obvious by having Martin Short voice the character...and in a falling-down-drunk-in-front-of-nightclub-parking-lot moment of desperation, they make him up to look like the Joker to try and give him an edge. I tolerated him in the book, but didn't like him in the film..and I don't believe for one second that he could outwit Glinda...although she often serves as the female counterpart to a Merlin/Gandalf/mentor/advisor/trickster figure in folklore/mythology that has the power to take decisive action but stays neutral/aloof, I doubt she could've been defeated as easily as she was here, except maybe with a wink - it wasn't her, it was her avatar or someone else - but we're supposed to accept that it is. Darn.

Second, they make much ado about the Emerald City. Every new Oz adventure is now a quest to go there, but to be fair, the elder Baum's early sequels did the same, until the sixth installment, when he had Dorothy, Toto, Aunt Em & Uncle Henry move from Kanas to live in the Emerald City as permanent residents of Oz. Dorothy became a princess and ruled Oz alongside Princess Ozma ( an interesting heroine with potential who has been caat aside, unfortunately ). Aunt Em & Uncle Henry settle down on a new farm adjacent to the town. From book 7 onwards, Baum introduces new characters who have to journey to the city or have established characters begin quests that would take them out of it. In Legends, Dorothy has to get to Emerald City via the yellow-brick-road again because the rainbow teleportation bridge ( arguably the most stunning sequence, though it looks more like 'Rainbow Brite' than Oz-appropriate ) got scrambled...fortunately, she's not alone on her journey...

And that leads to the third theme of these things: new sidekicks. Regardless of the protagonist on the quest, new sidekicks in the vein of the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion are introduced. In Legends, we get The China Princess, Tugg the tree/sailboat, Wiser the owl and, arguably the best, Marshall Mallow, a man made of candy marshmallows..at least in terms of design. Neither character really adds much to generate suspense and pace that would move the story forward; each sequence featuring them is an excuse to add more songs, which is the fourth, if sometimes optional theme that's a callback to the MGM film. The characters and story aren't deep enough to require songs to explain what they're thinking or what's at stake; each sequence slows the movie down further and I'm hitting the fast-forward button. MGM had the best songwriters in the golden age of movie musicals; why are they daring comparison?

So I've hinted the Dorothy of Oz story was servicable in book form, but watered-down in the film's adaptation. I remember a magnificent sequence in the book where the Jester's magic creates a construct of the Wicked Witch of The West as a ghost to torment Dorothy during a storm in the forest..why didn't they use that? I don't know if the animation budget/technology they had available to them would've pulled that off; most of the time, Legends of Oz has a made-for-TV look, with flat landscapes, "floating puppet" CG animation and plastic humans, but I do like the designs for the new companions and the classic Oz trio of the Scarecrow, Tin-Man and Cowardly Lion. Glinda's design reminded me of Princess Peach from the Super Mario Brothers games, but she was cute. The fleeting appearance of the Wicked Witch of The West in the Jester's musical number was striking enough to feel like I was watching a different movie for a moment. It's only the character designs for the Jester, the Kansas locals and Dorothy herself that seem uninspired. For a sequel, you would assume Dorothy's appearance would've been influenced by time spent in a strange new world, though I'll admit that's my idea and most depictions of Dorothy in sequel adventures depict her in similar ways that don't break from tradition. Maybe it's too imply that her initial trip to Oz was equivalent to a child's first trip to Disney World and there's no trauma..there's not much in the way of scholarly research out there devoted to the Oz books as there is with Alice In Wonderland, so any serious deep discussions of Dorothy's adventures in the canon are likely limited to discussion groups online and venerable Oz fan clubs.

I actually thought the film was okay. It falls in with every other Oz-inspired production out there. The only one time it seemed like there was a show of real ambition to adapt a story by L. Frank Baum that didn't lean on the MGM film too much or tried too hard to stray away..was Return To Oz. Nobody likes the opening scenes of Dorothy in the children's ward of a mental hospital..and the scene with the characters trying to escape the destruction of the Gmome King's lair looks a bit dodgy, but otherwise, there's well over an hour of filmmaking perfection sandwiched in there and it's the closest any film got to bringing those old sequel novels to life.

One last bit..the "If I had the chance.." moment. I would want to adapt either The Lost Princess of Oz or The Magic of Oz as live-action films, with a mixture of CG and practical effects when needed. Obviously, I would want to adapt the stories that showed L. Frank Baum at his most creative and dispell any notion that I wanted to do an homage to the MGM film...though I'm sure there are some people who would find a way to do so anyway.