Sunday, June 11, 2017

Adam West, The Fun Batman, R.I.P.

When asked which incarnation of Batman is my favorite...I usually answer with a composite that exists in my imagination: a Jim Aparo design, wearing a bright blue and grey batsuit, with Kevin Conroy's voice...driving the Batmobile from the 1989 movie. If that's too cerebral, I'll say either the 1989 Michael Keaton Batman or the Batman: The Animated Series Batman.

And if that question is followed-up with, "What'd you think of that old Batman TV show? The one with the 'Pow!' 'Bam!' 'Zowie!'?"

"Oh, do you mean the one with Adam West? That was fun. He fought the Joker in a surfing contest..."

THAT episode - "Surf's Up! The Joker's Under! " is considered a low point of the series, where it just surrenders to becoming the comedic spoof that it's detractors were accusing it of being - rather than the light-hearted Adeventure-Comedy-Mystery series it appeared to aspire to be early in it's first season - a 60's counterpart to 50's adventure shows like Zorro, The Lone Ranger and The Adventures of Superman...and yet, seeing Batman and The Joker appear in a sendup of 60's Beach Party movies neatly encapsulates the tone of the series in general: this is meant to be a fun Batman show. Adam West will forever be known as The "Fun Batman".

As an actor, Adam West's range went from "Bruce Wayne" to "Batman" and "Adam West" in between. That...halting...way..of speaking..isn't exclusive to the Caped Crusader. You can try digging deep into his pre-Batman work and come to the conclusion that Batman was a role Adam West was destined to play. He always looked more at-ease in the part than any of the other live-action Batman actors. You could argue he had it easier, since a purple leotard and cardboard mask doesn't weigh as much as the molded rubber suits worn by the film Bat-actors...but Adam also wore a utility belt that looked like it was manufactured by Fisher Price or Playskool...and wore a bat-emblem on his chest that looked like an iron-on transfer of the kind that came bundled with a sheet of stickers. He also couldn't be shown beating up villains without the use of psychedelic onomatopeia super-imposed over every punch: "BIFF!" "BAM!" "POW!" "KA-POW!" "OUCH!" "ZOWIE!"...as if perhaps constant exposure to doses of multi-colored gases from the Penguin's umbrellas, the Joker's squirting flowers, the ink in the Riddler's riddles or Catwoman's kitty litter was having an effect on Batman, Robin and Batgirl's senses; they could see the sounds made during their brawling!

And yet, his Bruce Wayne is actually still the best Bruce Wayne I've seen in live-action...there are a lot of episodes of that show that I found terribly boring, usually the ones that introduced new villains created for the series, like Lord Fogg (even West admitted in his memoirs to being puzzled as to why the show didn't introduce more villains from the comics - like Catman or Two-Face), but when it was good, it was really good and I was entertained. I remember watching reruns of the show for the first time in the late-Summer/Fall of 1989 - when it was brought back into circulation to capitalize on the new wave of "Batmania" after Tim Burton's Batman became a monster hit. By the time you get to the low-key Green Hornet crossover with Bruce Lee as Kato, it felt like the show had gotten stale...then Yvonne Craig pops up as Batgirl and injects a shot in the arm that helped the last season wrap up without a whimper and making you wonder what a 4th season would look like...on a different network..with just Batman & Batgirl..with Chief O'Hara and Robin written out..as per alleged network suggestions....

I think Adam West always felt slighted that he never got to appear in any of the modern films, not even in the kind of cameos that Stan Lee does for Marvel Studios films. On the other hand, his career comeback came from appearing in two cartoon series during the 90's: in "Beware The Grey Ghost", an episode of Batman: The Animated Series...and as himself in "Mr. Plow", an episode of The Simpsons. Next thing you know, he's getting work that winks back at his past credits, yet allows him to show off some comedic timing..he became cool. Then you see him doing guest-star spots in live-action 90's TV shows like Goosebumps, The Adventures of Pete and Pete and Politically Incorrect, or lending his voice to more cartoons like Johnny Bravo and Family Guy, playing a stylized, exaggerated caricature of himself..and suddenly he's cool enough as Adam West that he's won over a new generation that may not have even seen a single episode of his Batman but know him for playing "Mayor West" or just a Hollywood legend that makes appearances at conventions without having to wear a Batman costume...which he had to do during the 70s and 80s to stay afloat, financially.

I think his last role might be the sequel to the direct-to-video cartoon movie Batman: Return of The Caped Crusaders. That was a pastiche of the TV show, featuring his surviving co-stars Burt Ward and Julie Newmar. The sequel had cast William Shatner as the voice of Two-Face. I'm sure it'll be fun to hear Adam West as Batman for one last time.

Adam West, R.I.P.

Monday, May 29, 2017

As The Fad Fidget Spins...

When I was a kid, there was a Saturday Morning TV series on CBS called The Dr. Fad Show. The show would spotlight inventions, usually toys aimed at kids. It's host was Ken Hakuta, aka "Dr. Fad", an entrepreneur/inventor who acquired the rights to introduce the "Wacky Wall Walker" octopus toys to the U.S.. I think the show had a much briefer lifespan than the article on Wikipedia indicates, but it sure didn't last long enough to highlight...the Fidget Spinner.

Or is it called The Handy Spinner? I've seen that name appear on some packaging, along with the basic, Hand Spinner. The product has flooded the marketplace and general populace of the planet like the McGuffin in a Doctor Who alien invasion storyline and comes in a variety of shapes and colors, the basic model is shaped like a 3-blade propeller that resembles a plastic holder for old subway/bus turnstile fare tokens from the late-80s/early-90s. It functions like a pinwheel without a handle. You can spin it like a roulette wheel on a flat surface...or hold it while it's spinning with your thumb & index fintertip secure on the center. The use of ball bearings in each of its blades implies a centrifugal force that keeps the spinner spinning for a long duration - SCIENCE!

They often appear cheaply made and are available for 5 bucks and up, with little distinction in quality control. If it you bought it cheap, you got it cheap; if you bought it for over 10 bucks...you must've been one of those people who spent the same amount of money back in the early-2000s for plastic candy dispensers shaped like old flip phones.

It's being marketed as a new stress toy, like those metal balls you might've seen Lawrence Fishburne fondle in Boyz In Da Hood, or foam balls or balls on pendulums or yo-yos or anything else created to either preoccupy you from biting your nails or delay that nervous breakdown you're on the verge of at the office...or if your phone's battery dies. I'm tempted to assume that the shift away from massaging spherical objects as a form of relaxtion was to put an end to "That's what he/she said!" wisecracks about juggling balls, but I want to take the high road and assume those were a passing fad. Who didn't get bored playing with those balls after a while?*

I gotta tell 'ya...I don't really find those spinners relaxing. I think watching the spinning motion makes me a bit nauseous and anxious for the end of it, but I had to have one. It reminds me of the Loituma Girl or "Windmills of Your Mind" or Technotronic's "Spin That Wheel" from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles soundtrack...It's cute, though. Honestly, it looks like the ultimate thneed, like some new product that the Once-Ler made from spare parts of old discarded thneed factories.

I predict the end of this trend will happen before the summer of 2017 reaches its dog days...or when some square morning news anchor decides to cover it as "The next big thing," which is precisely when it stops being next and becomes what it was.

You don't need Dr. Fad to offer that diagnosis..but I'm not sure if our heathcare can afford him anymore..hmm..I think I'm getting why those spinners caught on...

*That's what HE said.

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.