First of all a shout out to my beloved Webmistress, Chani. I write the stories but she makes the place look as awesome as it does. And today is her Birthday so wish her a good one.
So, since I am on the subject, let's talk Birthdays. Or more specifically, the "renowned" 1981 slasher flick, Happy Birthday to Me.
So, a little background here. Back in 1978, John Carpenter released the original Halloween (a movie that you can bet your ass we will be discussing in the next few weeks). It was a huge hit. As evidenced by the fact that it put out sequels well into the early 2000's, THEN it got a remake, the remake got a shitty sequel and now a retcon/reboot that will be out soon. A couple of years later the first Friday the 13th movie came out and was, if anything, an even bigger hit. The film industry, being what it is, decided from then on that what audiences REALLY wanted to see were cheap slasher films based around important days on the calendar. So we got My Bloody Valentine, a veritable crapload of Xmas themed slashers like Black Christmas, and Silent Night Deadly Night, April Fools Day, and so on. Somewhere in there, someone got the bright idea to base it on a character's Birthday and voila, like some kind of magic, "Happy Birthday To Me" was born
I won't go too deeply into it, because it wasn't a very good movie and frankly, I have watched so many 80's slasher movies over the years that they have all begun to blend together in my head. But the plot was kind of murky, involving a clique of popular kids at a preppy high school, a traumatic brain injury and a literal death via shish-kebab.
Really, as I recall it, it's like they took every 80s slasher cliche and turned it up to 11. Which could have been kind of a good movie, done properly, but instead made this one just sort of silly. Too bad.
What makes it all kind of sad is that it was originally an attempt at making a more...cerebral...kind of horror film. The director, J. Lee Thompson, had one classic film under his belt, Cape Fear (the 1962 version with Gregory Peck) and he had been a dialogue coach to Alfred Hitchcock. So, at least at first, they didn't intend for Happy Birthday to Me to be just another el cheapo slasher film. Somehow, for reasons I can only speculate, but I would bet involved trying to make it more commercial, the movie got dumbed down to what eventually became the end product. Just another forgotten piece of cinematic detritus spawned by the flood of slashers made in the era.
I really have to wonder where the Marvel Cinematic Universe is going to go after Avenger's 4. I mean, pretty much since they made it into a "Cinematic Universe" (as opposed to just one really cool Robert Downey Junior vehicle) they have been leading up to this whole confrontation with Thanos thing. And in a few months, that will be complete for good or ill.
Which means one of two things has to happen. Either they are going to have to find a new over-arching story. Or they will cease to have any metaplot at all and the MCU will then just consist of a bunch of different movies that may intersect a little bit but lack anything to bind them together. Either choice is fraught with the possiblity of things going very, very bad.
My hope is that they pick a new metaplot. Goodness knows that the comics are filled with ones to choose from. I think the Atlantis Attacks storyline might be kind of fun, and would give them a chance to bring in Namor, a character they have been talking about making a movie of since forever. If you are unfamiliar with him, he is essentially Marvel's version of Aquaman, only not as goofy. And he looks sorta like Spock. Of course, Atlantis Attacks is just my preference and I figure it isn't likely to happen. But a man can dream. The downside of them picking a new metaplot is that whatever one they choose, it just might not grab people in the same way that The Infinity Guantlet did. The public is a fickle beast and it is hard to say what will strike its fancy and what will not.
Then there is the possibility that they just go the "loosely connected movies route". This is probably the safer way to go, but it has its risks too. In my view, the problem here is that the whole deal with the infinity Stones woven through the different movies made people care about the story as a whole. And thus made people willing to take a chance on movies featuring heroes they were not familiar with or did not care for. And if you wonder why that's a bad thing, I give you Guardians of the Galaxy. A group of heroes that really only die hard comic book nerds cared about prior to the film. And yet, I think I would get little argument if I said it was the best Marvel movie of the lot, at least until Black Panther came along to dethrone it. And speaking of Black Panther...same thing. Not one of Marvel's most well known titles, but people's interest in the overall plot led them to give it a chance and here we are. So it would be a shame if some future movie in the franchise with the same potential as those two went unnoticed because there was no hook to draw people into a movie about a movie or character they were unfamiliar with or didn't care for.
I also wonder what will happen with some of the existing characters once this era of the MCU is over with. Ironman for instance. He kicked off the MCU with a bang and I doubt an Ironman 4 is in the works. This is a shame not only because the character is such a great character, but because Robert Downey Junior is such a great actor. So is the character just going to pack the suit into storage and we never see him again? I hope not. Thor and Captain America too. While I don't like either of them anywhere near as much as Ironman, I still would hate to see them relegated to bit players in the future of the Marvel Universe.
So, the MCU will soon be in flux and it has the potential to go very good...or very, very bad. It will be interesting to see which path it takes.
Avast Ye Hearties, today be "Talk Like a Pirate Day" so scupper the mizzenmast and swab the billhooks, because me topic today be "Pirates of the Carribbean". Arr, I be goin' a bit more mainstream today, than I usually do, but it seems an appropriate topic of conversation on this fine day.
Okay, I tried. I think that's as much pirate talks as I can do in one post.
Anyway, Pirates of the Carribbean is, arguably, the best film to be adapted from a ride at Disneyland. However, given that its competition in that category consists of "The Country Bears Jamboree" and "The Haunted Mansion" this is not saying much. Still, the ride is my favorite one at the park so it was only natural that I would be inclined to take a favorable view of the movie even before my butt ever plopped down in a theater seat to watch it.
And for the first one, that favorible inclination was entirely justified. It was a fun adventure story with pirates and ghosts and lost treasure. What more could you ask for? Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow (not to be confused with Captain Jack Harkness, but I digress) was, in this first outing, an interesting character. Amoral, but not mean, flamboyant but not annoying (that came later), Just what a pirate should be. Orlando Bloom as Will Turner was also a good choice, someone whose devotion to law and order made him a perfect counterbalance to the decidedly unlawful and disorderly character of Captain Jack. Keira Knightly rounds out Team Good Guy in the film as Elizabeth Swann, and even she did an excellent job of making her into a real character, rather than just some person for Will and Jack to have to rescue.
The movie was just plain fun. Wildly improbable fights in increasingly chaotic situations, a soundtrack that set the tone to perfection, witty banter galore, it was everything that you would want in a PG-13 pirate movie. It wasn't a deep serious thinky movie, but it was FUN. ANd for a movie like that, fun is all it needs to be.
Sadly, though, Hollywood is not noted for its ability to leave well enough alone. So sequels ensued. And these were a lot less fun. The first mistake was making it a "Two part trilogy". If you are not familiar with the term, its a phenomenon that happens when movie makers want to start a franchise but aren't 100% confident in the first film. So you end up with a trilogy of films where the first movie is a stand-aline story, but the next two are strongly connected. Think how the original Star Wars was one complete story but Empire ended on a cliffhanger that would be resolved in Jedi. That sort of thing. Anyway, I hate it when they do that. But worse is that by just repeating the same formula from the first film over and over again, they just ended up making all the enjoyable parts less enjoyable. The same traits that made Captain Jack a cool character in one film, just made you want to punch him repeatedly over the course of three. The banter and the set-piece fights just became predictable. Call me crazy but if you want to have three movies about the same characters, they characters should grow over the course of the series. Instea, the closest any of them came to a character arc was just Orlando Bloom finding a way out of having to do the fourth movie. Too bad.
Then in 2011. We got a fourth movie. If the second and third killed the franchise, "On Stranger Tides" peed on the corpse. It was bad. So the less said of it the better. I have to admit, I looked forward to it when it came out, because I am an optimist that way sometimes, and I hoped that now that they had their crappy two part trilogy out of the way, they could do better this time. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! No.
Which leads us to the most recent entry in the series, last year's "Dead Men Tell No Tales". Having been burned by the fourth film I have to admit that I was decidely less optimistic about the fifth. But I was pleasantly surprised. While still not as good as the first, it was a damned sight better than any of the movies in the series after than. We got to see different sides to some of the characters, it didn't feel like the same characters doing the same thing yet one more time. It also provided a perfect end to the series. If they leave it be, that will be fine with me. Of course, there was a post credit's scene (Every major film needs a post-credit's scene these days, I am 75% sure that it's the law now) hinting at a next movie with Davey Jones returning (the octopus guy from the 2nd and 3rd film, not the Monkee), but I really hope they don't.
To paraphrase a different Disney character: Let it go, Disney, let it go
I go out to the movies a lot. One of my favorite things to do. Occasionally, I talk to people who never do so. And I find this shocking. I can understand the one's who tell me "Oh, I can't afford it because I have three kids, so that's $50 for everyone just for tickets, much less snacks and so on". I have been there myself so yeah, sometimes practical concerns get in the way. But the people who say "I have a good entertainment system at home, so I just wait for movies to come out on Netflix and watch it there."
Those people, I don't get.
To me, there are lots of things that make a movie worth going to the theater for. For one thing, there is simply the fact of getting out of the house. I am a homebody and enjoy staying home. And I am not exactly a social butterfly. But sometimes it is nice to get out of the house but not really have to interact with people except maybe my wife. And movies are perfect for that. I can't explain it, exactly, but just having that...excuse...to leave my apartment is just a good reason to go.
Also, a movie theater (ideally) has far fewer distractions. When I watch a movie at home I have my phone, I have my cats, I have the sounds of my neighbors doing whatever the hell it is that they do. Occasionally someone comes to my door. And so one and so forth etcetera etcetera etcetera. But, barring the occasional misfortune of having rude people talking in the theater, I have almost no distractions in the theater. And even if I do get the occasional butthole who refuses to shut up during the movie, it's still less distaraction than my neighbors making their noise, one cat throwing up and the other cat insisting on walking in front of the TV.
Details. If a movie was originally shot to be seen on movie screen (as opposed to being straight to video), then there are often details that you just won't see on the TV unless you have have a pereption score of +28. "Ah, but I have a big screen TV" you say. And sure, your TV might be big but it isn't 20' x 50' big. I have seen several classic movies in theaters that I originally saw on TV and picked out lots of little details I never noticed before. Like in "It's a Wonderful Life" where George is talking to Mr. Potter. On TV, all I really noticed was that Mr. Potter had stuff on his desk. On the movie screen, I could pick out what that stuff was, like a skull shaped cigarette lighter. Kind of gave a little insight into him, in my opinion.
Even the downsides (and as with anything, there ARE downsides to going to the cinema) aren't what they used to be. I used to HATE going to movies I knew would be packed. I am a big, big guy. I don't like to be squished and i don't like to squish anyone else. And older style movie theaters, when packed, are like flying coach. Crammed into tiny, uncomfortable seats next to total strangers damned near sitting in your lap. Not fun. But newer theaters, or theaters that have recently remodeled, have bigger plusher seats. Big enough that my fat butt can plop downn in one and even if the theater is crowded and I have a stranger sitting next to me, neither of us is encroaching on the other's space. It's great. And trays. Some theaters have little trays on the seats now. And those are a godsend. I have gotten so spoiled since my usual movie house has them and yesterday I went to a show at a different theater without them and my first thought was "Where the hell am I putting my nachos and my drink?" which is weird since it's only in the last two years or so that there was any thing to do without them besides just hold them. So if you are one of those people reluctant to go to a cinema because they are crowded and uncomfortable, try it again. Might have changed.
Lastly, there is just something to be said to seeing a movie while it is still new, while people are still talking about it. Being able to see a meme someone made about it and being ble to say "Haha, I get that" instead of having to wait until months down the road when you finally see the film. Gives one something to talk about.
So all in all, while I do love watching movies on my big ol' TV, seeing them in cinemas (arguably the way they were MEANT to be seen) is still the better choice. And I will do that whenever I can.
In 1981, Canada and America got together to prove that animation was not just for kids and made the movie "Heavy Metal". I was in High School at the time but loved the magazine on which it was based. The magazine usually consisted of a series of science fiction and fantasy comics with some seriously graphic adult themes, language and scenes. Great stuff and a real antidote to the pablum that the Comics Code was forcing mainstream comics to print at the time.
The movie was pretty much the same thing, a series of short animated sci-fi and fantasy films, every one of which would have been perfectly at home as comic strips in the book. At least one of them ("Den") had actually originated as a series there. Each story was a little masterpiece IMO. And though I am not the most musically oriented person (I confess that to me most music is just background noise) it had a soundtrack that even I ejoyed.
The framing story is probably the least interesting bit, but still has some great animation. It has a green orb called the "Loc Nar" being brought home by an astronaut and it then comes to life and terrorizes the astronauts daughter by telling her stories of how it has caused terror in the past and of course each story is each of the segments of the movie. Meh, not a great start but it go soooooo much better.
The first segment is a kind of a futuristic film noir story about a cab driver in a dystopian future New York City who ends up stumbling upon a plot by gangsters to get some world shattering artifact which, natch, turns out to be Loc Nar. I have always wondered if The Fifth Element drew some inspiration from this segment but I don't know. It did an excellent job of portraying a hell hole NYC and mixing noir elements with sci-fi.
Next it moves on to "Den" was one I remembered reading in the magazine at the time and the art style of the comic was well captured in the animated version. It is basically about some huge nearly naked barbarian guy with the mind of a 20th century nerd. This serves as kind of an origin story (it may well have been in the comic, but as I was poor and only could read the magazine infrequently, I never got to see the early adventures of Den) wher the Loc Nar hurls said 20th Century nerd across space and time and turn him into the muscle bound freak of the stories. As a whole, the story gave off a very Conan vibe, so I think people who love one will love the other and ditto for those who hate either of them.
Then on to "Captain Stern", an egotistical spaceman in some future society is on trial for a variety of crimes. Imagine Zap Branigan from Futurama if they had a similar episode. A witness, one Hanover Fist, is on the stand prepared to exonerate Stern of his crims when the Loc Nar intervenes and mutates the witness into a muscle bound brute (kind of a theme going on here, now that I think of it) who not only spits out a litany of crimes stern has commited but proceeds to chase him around the space station where the trial is taking place. Probably the weakest entry other than the unnecessary framing story, in my opinion, because 90% of it is just Fist chasing Stern around yelling "STEEEERRRRNNNNN!", which gets kind of boring after a while.
Then the Loc Nar ends up in WW2, as a tiny meteorite that falls from the sky and into the hull of a B-17 Bomber in the middle of an air raid. This mutates the crew into zombies one by one until a single survivor from the craft parachutes out and lands on a deserted island (making the segment take place in the Pacific Theater of the war, I guess) filled with the wreckage of all kinds of ships and craft from various eras...and infested with the zombified remains of their crews. This is my favorite bit in the whole film and I can't pin down why, exactly. I am kind of "meh" on zombies, but the way these ones were drawn made them look genuinely scary. But this is the closest the film gets to a straight up horror story, so I think that's why I like it so.
The we are treated to kind of a comedic segment with some space slackers landing on the pentagon in their space ship and abducting a stenographer. The Loc Nar connection is weak in this one, it is now a piece of jewelry worn by the ill fated abductee. It's basically a short stoner comedy, but the stoners are aliens. It is most notable because one of them, a robot, is very clearly voced by John Candy.
Last but not least, we get to the one that provided the iconic art for most movie posters of the film (though some had "Den"), probably the image most people associate with the film of a half dressed woman wielding a sword and riding a pterodactyl like creature. In this story, the Loc Nar has become a huge meteor which crashes on some alien planet and mutates a bunch of the inhabitants into Totally-Not-Orcs (Because no one wants to be sued by the Tolkein Estate) and the aformentioned pterodactyl riding woman (a member of a warrior race called the Tarakians) is summoned to fight them and fight them she does. This one got a bit of an extra life in my mind because I played a lot of D&D at the time (still do) and upon seeing the movie, the Tarakians promptly became a home brew character class in my D&D games (basically Chaotic Good paladins)
All in all, the movie was the best movie ever to my teenage self, but is a bit hit and miss today. But when it hits, it REALLY hits still. And some things would be a bit cringy to modern audiences, but if any of you haven't seen it, I would recommend you do. And if you HAVE seen it, I'll bet it's been a few years, go take one more ride with Heavy Metal.
On Monday I talked about the different sorts of heroes, and what I thought made a good one. Today, I will go to the other side of the coin and discuss villains.
The most obvious thing about villains is the oft recounted piece of advice that no villain ever sees himself as the villain. This is true and almost a cliche unto itself, but it amazes me how often it is ignored. A good villain might see himself as a revolutionary, willing to break a few eggs for the cause. Or a hard nosed pragmatist who isn't going to let silly little things like morals get in his way. But still, they see themselves as...if not the good guy at least as not the villain either. People in real life are really, really good at finding justifications for their actions, fictional villains should be too. Lex Luthor for instance, at least in his more modern incarnations, thinks he is just taking extreme measures to protect the Earth from an unstoppable alien who everyone around him seems to blindly trust. In his own mind, he is the good guy, its just that no one realizes that.
The one possible exception to this I can see is a villain like The Joker. But even he, depending on which version of him we are talking about, thinks he is doing the world a favor in a way. Making them see how silly and artificial their morality is and how much better it would be to just go crazy.
Beyond that, I think a cood villain needs to be charismatic. He or she is doing awful things, they need something to make the audience like them. Though I enjoy most Marvel movies, far too many of them fall down on this point. Far too many of them fall into the trap of the villain just standing around looking menacing while occasionally snarling an order at an underling. Ronan from the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie, Malekith from the second Thor movie (a complete waste of a perfectly good Christopher Eccleston, BTW), The Red Skull in the first Captain America film, etc. They really didn't do much and as a result came across as Boring Evil (which I think should be an official D&D alignment, but I digress). On the other hand, look at the villains they made that DIDN'T do that. Loki is a favorite character from the movies and it's almost entirely because the writers (and the actor) gave him this little thing called a personality. Sure, he tried to conquer the world and unleashed a horde of aliens upon it, destroying most of NYC in the process. But you can't help but like the guy because he's so damned charming.
Another good trait for a villain is that they are a dark mirror of the hero. Look at Professor Moriarity in nearly any version of Sherlock Holmes you care to name. He is really Holmes' equal in intellect, just turned to a different purpose. When one watches or reads a story with the two of them you know (or at least, I like to think I know) that if their lives had gone just a little bit different, they could have swapped places.
In the end, a villain makes the story as much as a hero. In fact, I would almost call them more important than the hero. Look at James Bond for instance. Bond is kind of a Mary Sue if you think about it. No flaws, all the women love him and all the men envy him. Blah blah blah. But his villains tend to hit all the right notes. This is why when I was a kid, I never wanted to be James Bond. I wanted to be a Bond Villain.
It is good to have goals, after all.
Heroes make or break a movie. And there are all kinds of heroes out there. There are the traditional noble do-gooders, the reluctant heroes, the anti-heroes who are barely distinguishable from the villains and every assortment of heroic archetypes you can think of.
My personal favorite, believe it or not, is closest to the do-gooders. I like heroes who do the right thing simply BECAUSE it's the right thing. Like The Doctor in Doctor Who. He could easily just nope his way out of Dalektown if he wanted to, most of the time, but he does what he does because people will be hurt if he doesn't. And while it is easy to characterize this kind of hero as some bland knight in shining armor cliche, it doesn't have to be that way. The Maginificent Seven (both in its original incarnation and the terrible Chris Pratt vehicle from a few years ago) is a prime example of this. The characters are these badass gunfighters who end up helping protect a village from bandits in the original and an evil mining tycoon in the terrible Chris Pratt vehicle, for no real reward beyond a palce to stay and the grateful smiles of the people. And like the Doctor, it would be very easy for them to just say "we aren't being paid enough for this", saddle up and ride out of town. In fact, in the original, the bad guy gives them exactly that option. But they don't. They stick around and win the day, at great personal cost. I hope that if I were ever in a position to do such a thing, I would have that kind of courage. And to me, that is exactly the appeal of that kind hero.
On the other end of the spectrum, you have your anti-heroes. The kinds of people who are essentially doing the right things for the wrong reasons or possibly even doing good entirely by accident. In some cases, they aren't even necessarily doing good at all, just doing something bad to an even more obnoxious bad guy or some faceless entity. The latter is best epitomized by Oceans 11 (again, both the original and the remake. Though I prefer the original Sinatra version better, baby). They weren't really good people. They weren't protecting anyone. They weren't stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. They were ripping off a casino in order to make themselves rich. Full stop. I find this kind of character interesting because (in my humble opinion) the writer has a hard job. They have to make people who are doing things that are normally reserved for the antagonists of a story seem sympathetic. So they have to take the things that make a character cool and interesting and turn it up to 11. Red Reddington from The Blacklist is an excellent example of that. He is an amoral criminal. Yet James Spader makes him so damned charming that you don't care. Frankly his character is the only reason to watch the show, but its such a compelling reason that I watch it anyway.
So Those are just a few of my thoughts on what makes a good hero. Maybe next week I will discuss what BREAKS an otherwise good hero.