Friday, August 23, 2013

Brickbats! #Batfleck !

Vital issues and stuff over the last few weeks:

So... Ben Affleck has been cast as Batman in Batman vs. Superman - or Superman vs. Batman, or World's Finest, or ... I'm sure they'll think up a proper title. Keep in mind that this is the improved, post-"Argo" Ben, which implies that we'll be seeing the work of a more seasoned that may surprise us the way Robert Downey Jr. did when he played Tony Stark & Sherlock Holmes. 

This will also be a new take on Batman...just for about it if Ben played Tlano, the Batman of Planet X, with Verne Troyer as Bat-Mite by his side? By gum, that will either fill seats..or leave me sitting alone in an air conditioned theatre during a heatwave..I welcome either outcome.

Another thing that's come up is the word "tricky", used by executives trying to get a Wonder Woman movie off the ground. I think it's wise of Warner Brothers to not want to crank out a film that might arrive with a thud, but I'm convinced this is simply because they haven't found someone to play that character. It's like solving a jigsaw puzzle with only half the pieces - they were almost ready to fast-track Megan Fox into the part before she let slip her indifferent & apathetic opinion ("Wonder Woman is a lame superhero...I just don't get it.") which can easily be reversed if someone wrote a screenplay that was such thing exists. In fact, the last time anyone paid attention to a Wonder Woman comic book was when Walt Simonson 
wrote a storyline in which ... she got a haircut.  Before that, there was the Stan Lee event "Just Imagine Stan Lee Creating The DC Universe" in which he collaborated with Jim Lee on a new take on Wonder Woman that had elements of Xena and She-Ra mixed in. I'm not so sure if what your average Hollywood screenwriter conceives will be more or less ridiculous.

One more thing - Grant Morrison got attention this week for dusting off an old debate about Alan Moore's "Batman: The Killing Joke": had Alan written the "last" Batman story? Did he have Batman kill the Joker in the final page by strangling him off-panel? Morrison believes that was EXACTLY what happened in that story and Moore got away with it by keeping it subtle. 

There are strong clues that support this: that Sheldon Moldoff-drawn "Batman Family" portrait in the Batcave; Barbara Gordon looking noticeably older than she was as Batgirl in her last few appearances,  along with the implication that she had retired a long time  ago; Batman's famous "Hello" monologue/soliloquy, implying that he WILL kill the Joker someday, but it would take a game-changing catalyst to do it; finally, the finite nature of the way things happen in the story, as if THIS is as far as anyone should go - this is the end, the Joker has made Batman's code against killing a joke, so the "killing joke" is...Batman surrenders to his darker impulses and kills theJoker. The last Batman story. Moore's storytelling skills remain without peer in comics -  there's no topping him, that's why superhero comics are the way they are -  we can only imitate what he did already. 

Of course we know DC chose to interpret that story as just one more story, so this remains moot, but the debate makes me want to read it again - mission accomplished. 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Elmore Leonard , RIP

The reports are coming in as I write this: novelist Elmore Leonard passed away early this morning. He was 87.

I'm sure journalists will write that he was a "crime writer" as opposed to "mystery writer" because his novels were stocked in the mystery aisle of most bookstores and libraries. He wrote seriocomic novels focusing on criminals, often in unlikely romances , which may have been the secret to his popularity. His characters start off gritty, then faintly funny before turning sweet.

The books were often adapted into movies, particularly in the 90's in an attempt to capitalize on the popularity of Quentin Tarentino's Pulp Fiction (the three best-known adaptations are Get Shorty, Out of Sight and Jackie Brown,  which adapted the novel Rum Punch) and inspired several TV Series (Maximum Bob, Karen Cisco and Justified, of which its lead character, Deputy Marshal Raylan Givens, appeared in three novels and one short story/"novella" - the most Leonard wrote about any particular character). He didn't focus on archtypical characters - his characters were posers, bluffers, film buffs, punks - his world was too decadent for anyone to be steadfast and true, though his Raylan comes very close, which probably explains why Justified is the most successful TV series based on his books...just don't assume I'm a fan - I found Raylan to be cardboard. He was a supporting character in his debut, Pronto, and the real star of that book (in my humble opinion) was aging gangster/Ezra Pond fan Harry Arno, who was played by Peter Falk when it was adapted into a film.

Leonard's writing style was a softer approach to classic, cliched hard-boiled detective fiction. The crooks are the sympathetic characters, while the federal agents, undercover cops, bounty hunters and other law enforcement officials Leonard's world, they're the wild cards, the double and triple-crossers. Raylan Givens appears comical in the novels because everyone around him is making deals on the side and have no clue how deal how to deal with a righteous cowboy with a trigger-finger. Most of Leonard's books were usually set around Florida and were meticulously researched to capture the local color. From an outsider's perspective, this was  the opposite of so-called "yuppie porn" - it was "lowlife porn": stories about people living it up while living low and thinking small. Reading between the lines, life was all about understanding game theory.

There are a lot of writers whose writing style was similar to Leonard: Carl Hiassen, Pete Hautman, Donald Westlake, Lawrence Block, Ed McBain. They all make up a generation of writers that deconstructed the hard-boiled/ film noir/police procedural and rebuilt them into sitcoms. They saw how funny it all was.

Elmore Leonard. RIP.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

WHO Are You? Who? Who? Who? Who?

The BBC is going to announce who will replace Matt Smith in the role of The Doctor in Doctor Who today. Officially, the new arrival will be the twelfth actor to play the Time Lord, making him, or her  "The 12th Doctor". Your friendly South London bookie will tell you that Peter Capaldi & Daniel Rigby are the odds-on favorites believed to get the role; both are virtually unknown in the U.S., but in Britain they are better-known than Smith when he got the part. Some people think Benedict Cumberbatch might get it, since Sherlock and Doctor Who don't appear to pose scheduling conflicts (they're both BBC programs;  he could do both) and Steven Moffat runs both shows.

The truth is NOBODY KNOWS. They did a really good job of keeping it a secret - so good, that the announcement is planned to be simulcast on BBCAmerica today at 2pm.

I'm certain about two things: the new doctor will probably stick around for three, four years, tops...there's never talk of pay raises or "points on the back end" for any of these actors when their likeness adorns merchandise that makes a lot of money for the BBC - the only reason why Tom Baker is the only actor to have played the part the longest (seven years) might be because he had co-written a script for a feature film titled Doctor Who Meets Scratchman that was almost fast-tracked into production but was grounded by a lack of financing...and...Tom was forced out by enemies he'd made with his ego. Anyway, the point is, only the Beeb makes the money. No contract negotiations or producer credits or other American showbiz dealspeak; I'm sure David Tennant didn't leave to do that remake of Fright Night; he had become THE most popular incarnation of the Doctor, rivaling Tom & his scarf with his own pinstripe blue suit & eyeglasses. It's no secret that the Matt Smith years are often regarded as "Tennant jr." or Doctor Who Babies.

There's always talk about whether an American version of the series will be made ... doubtful. Two reasons: the ratings would need to average 20 million every week (it averages around 10 million on a good day, 15 on a better day, 8 or 5 at bad times - good for the CW, you might say, but only if the budget was at rock-bottom - Supernatural / Vampire Diaries , dim-lighting, walking-around-shrubs-in-a-studio-lot-at-Burbank bottom). The one time Who saw 20 million was in 1979, when an idustrial strike shut down the only other network in Britain and people who would rather watch the soap opera Coronation Street on ITV were watching part 2 of "City of Death" instead. Low-wattage potboiler detective shows like New Tricks get the same ratings as Doctor Who, which means us yankees would be hoping the U.S. incarnation could do as well as Castle. Another reason? It's too British! Americanize it and you get something we've seen before here: Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, Back To The Future, Sliders, Angel, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Tru Calling, Dollhouse...even The Ghost Whisperer..with it's mushy, pious, sometimes condescending sentimentality.

The other certainty? Hard core fans are on pins and needles in anticipation...arranging live tweets and recording their reactions as it happens on YouTube, Vine, Skype, Instagram, Keek, etc...

Oh, and  another certainty...there will be plenty of merchandise with the 12th Doctor..and his/her costume - the real dealbreaker that will gauge his/her popularity and still a secret. other certainty.. Jenna Coleman is still in the show, whether "graduating" into The Doctor ( as many fans, including myself, are inclined to think could happen, because of the nature of the current, wonky storyline - that Clara co-exists within the Doctor's lifespan and is dependant on him to stay alive - I think), but also, she's the new Sci-Fi Babe/"It" girl - a title held by alumni such as Eliza Dushku, Jessica Alba, Charisma Carpenter, Jeri Ryan, etc...I suppose she might turn up on the cover of Maxim soon. For now, we're settling for photoshopped pictures of her in vinyl catsuits...

Update: Peter Capaldi IS the new Doctor...and people are already debating if his age and appearance will send female viewers running the opposite direction. Those in support of the decision call him a "silver fox", all opposed recall his track record of playing only  foulmouthed  bastards - Malcolm Tucker of "The Thick of It" in particular. The irony here is I recall Matt Smith fell under the same scrutiny and people already miss him. So that means all IS right with the world. We've got a new Doctor Who. Cheers. :)