Friday, October 30, 2009

Thoughts on Blackest Night and How Zombies Bring Out the Human in All of Us

Zombies are all the rage in the entertainment world. And it seems that there is nothing stopping the undead from becoming even more of a media phenomenon after the success of Zombieland, Left 4 Dead, The Walking Dead, and any and all other forms of media they have infected. People just love zombies, fact.

Now I have written plenty on how Blackest Night is not only a legitimate way for zombies to be in the DC Universe, but its also one hell of a story that encompasses decades upon decades, dating back to Alan Moore's early work on Green Lantern, of canon and prophecy that is paying off in a natural and fantastic way. Sadly I fear many will see this zombie tale much as they see other zombie stories as; corny, campy, gory, unjustified, and meaningless. But the lifeless truly have so much more to offer us.

In Romero's early work, Night of the Living Dead, the story wasn't about the dead rising, it was about how people became savages, capable of horrifying decisions that will ultimately lead to their own and other's demise. But like I said, most see it as a fun zombie movie to watch with your girlfriend so she can hold you tight.

Much like Battlestar Galactica used science fiction to highlight human will and resilience, zombies have a way of using the fantastical to bring out the factual. With Blackest Night, the heroes, villains, and civilians of the DC Universe are confronted with those who have died but still have emotional attachments to them. Dick Grayson sees the return of the Flying Graysons, Sinestro sees the rise of Abin Sur, Mera of Atlantis watches her husband Aquaman crawl form his grave, and the Flash and Green Lantern battle the resurrected Martian Manhunter.

On the outside, this sounds like a fanboy's wet dream. Zombies, heroes, villains, zombie heroes, and zombie villains. And more often then not the dead heroes are much more badass then they ever were living - thanks to Geoff Johns. Yet, beyond the flashy fight scenes and the sweeps splash pages lies a deeper theme, one that forever will ground all of the characters in a very human and real way. When each character is confronted with one of the risen dead whom they have an emotional attachment to, they are reminded of the hardships, the tragedies, and the mistakes in their lives. Each and every character has something to repent for, something that has and always will put a blemish on their record, and the Black Lanterns are unflinching in their convictions.

Each and every character's flaws are brought to the foreground, bringing a very human quality to them. All of us are flawed and that is what makes us human, and interesting. No one is perfect. Not Superman, not Wonder Woman, not The Flash, and certainly not Hal Jordan. I truly commend Geoff Johns on this. In one fell swoop he has modernized and humanized the entirety of the DC Universe, in an entertaining and horrifying way. Heroes are not always saving everyone, sometimes they cause more harm then good, and the Black Lanterns do not believe that the ends justify the means. They tap into the emotional spectrum and prey on the guilty and those who refuse to believe they are. Which is basically everybody.

Once this is collected, buy it. It is a game changer and a new beginning of sorts. Hopefully it stays this good. But don't start reading it now, because waiting the months in between issues is fucking awful.

Quirk Classic 3: Title Announcement

This morning, Philadelphia-based independent publisher "Quirk Books" has announced the title of their third book to be released under their subdivision "Quirk Classics," and if you're like most people, this all means nothing to you.

Quirk Classics is run by a man named Jason Rekulak who might have found the easiest, cheapest, and most commercial secret to novel writing I've ever heard of. Rekulak utilizes the expansive archives of public domain libraries to find royalty-free classics to edit and re-release with a silly twist; he adds popular fanboy characters into the narrative such as ninjas, pirates, zombies, and monkeys.

You might've heard of his first release this year, "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies," as it found itself a number 3 spot on the New York Times bestseller list as well as rave reviews in nearly every other medium of book review across the country. While the text is familiar, the concept is purely original. Seth Grahame-Smith's zombie plot weaves seamlessly into Austen's classic narrative and the end result is a mashup that quenches our entertainment bone while stimulating our intellect as well. This mashup might also represent the only hope for younger generations to ever read a classic title such as this.

While I couldn't be happier with the knowledge of this book existing and finding a myriad of well deserved profit, I was disheartened to see a second Quirk Classic in the makes 2 months later, "Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters." Stop it Quirk Books, just stop it. You just made something really good and made a shit load of money and now you can't stop. Sea Monsters aren't even that popular of a fictional character. There's no Sea Monster jokes. There's no Sea Monster television shows. There's no reason for this to exist.

Before I could even digest the Sea Monsters I found on their website, a bulletin popped up for book 3, "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls." This is going too far, at this rate we're sure to see a mashup of almost every public domain classic in existence before 2012. Why are they already making a sequel to the first book? Did they run out of ideas for fan favorite mashups or did the Sea Monster idea generate such insignificant sales that they didn't have a choice? Hell, why am I writing this blog? I could be making my own Quirk Classic! Are you still reading this? Stop! Write a Quirk Classic with me, it's easy...

Step 1: Find a public domain book on the internet you like. Oh goody, "Crime and Punishment," my favorite.

Step 2: Copy and paste the entire text into a text editing program. I'll be using Microsoft Word for this experiment.

Step 3: Pick a popular and overused character genre that you enjoy. Hmmm... of course, PIRATES! Everybody likes pirates because they are funny and cool.

Step 4: (You're almost done), fuse the title of the book you chose with your character genre. Here's mine, "Crime and Punishment and Pirates."

Step 5: Now it's time for the easy part; paste your genre name over at least 50% of the nouns in the original text and if you're a stickler- you could even change the plot a little to follow whatever character you chose.

Step 6: Make money. You did it! Look how funny your title is! See? Now reap the profits you greedy fuck and sunbathe in Malibu while Fyodor Dostoyevsky rots in his dirty Russian grave.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Battlestar Galactica: The Plan Review

With Battlestar Galactica over, there has been a large hole in my heart. It truly was one of the best shows, reinterpretation, and sci fi story EVER. I'm obsessed with Lost but Battlestar Galactica is the only show that threatened it for the majority of my heart. Only the slumps and bad episodes later in the series brought it to second place. Either way, it was amazing, and if you are a sci fi fan, you must see this show. Four seasons long, it bowed out when it was good, knowing not to milk it, which I love and hate at the same time.

At the beginning of the year when the show aired its final episode, it was released that The Plan would be coming out later in the year which was just the other day. I was happy to know that more Battlestar would be coming eventually even if it was only in the form of this straight to DVD release.

I just finished watching it and thought it really was fantastic. Directed by Edward James Olmos, The Plan is an exclusive look at what the Cylons were doing/planning throughout the series starting from the attack on the 12 colonies. It was impossible for this to be shown, let alone conceived since slowly throughout the series the 12 Cylon models were revealed to us. But now that we know who all 12 are, it was interesting to see how they all fit into the "plan".

The star of the show is Dean Stockwell of Quantum Leap fame, though his work on Battlestar was always fantastic. Most if not all of the Cylon models are featured in the dvd apart from the 3's played by Lucy Lawless, probably due to her stardom/cost. Anyway, it leaves room for others like Simon to be expanded upon so much more than ever in the series. Leoben's obsession with Starbuck is given an origin and Boomer's new additions to her story fit seamlessly into the canon of the show.

In only an hour and forty some odd minutes, The Plan wraps the entire series up in one cohesive, eye-opening, and entertaining addition to Battlestar Galactica's canon. And now with the last of Battlestar finally explained, I am heavy at heart. The ending credits featured an alternate version of the opening theme that was a lament for the colonies and our Galactica friends. It truly is a heartbreaking song that will evoke emotion in any diehard Galactica fan. I downloaded it right afterwards and sat while reminiscing about an amazing series.

Listen to me, if you like science fiction, real and human, Battlestar Galactica is one of the best ever. Like all shows it had its ups and downs but I never have been affected by a show like I was with Battlestar. I loved the characters, I loved the series, and I loved the ship. I know I will never look at science fiction again. Its that good. I will always miss it.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Green Lantern Casting Rumors and Thoughts

I didn’t really have much faith, and still struggle a bit, with the idea of a Green Lantern movie. Of course I want it to happen and I hope it will be as great as it could be, but something inside of me knows that it is a massive undertaking that is going to be a challenge.

Not only is it a superhero movie, but its also a sci fi movie. Its massive in its scope and touching in its humanity. It will require half the film to be CG and the other half to be prosthetics or animatronics. I think it treated with care and respect, a Green Lantern movie has the potential to be the great defining film of the DC Universe that the JLA movie was trying to be. Green Lanterns are cops that police the DCU and often feature many of DC’s hero stable. So this really opens up opportunities for DC to create the franchise mosaic that Marvel is doing for the Avengers.

Even with Ryan Renolds as Hal Jordan, I feel somewhat hesitant to believe that this film will be good. I like Ryan and I think he is a great pick but I just think that he could also bring a campy sort of humor that will sink such a serious and dark character and series.

Alas, some of my faith has been restored with the rumor of Jackie Earle Haley being cast as Sinestro. Jackie brings a level of credibility that I think could take the film to the right level. He can be dark, calculating, and smart all while keeping it inside. I think he would be perfect for Sinestro that will eventually turn into the main villain of the series. He even somewhat looks the part. The only thing is that he is really short and Sinestro is supposed to be tall. Whatever. I originally was thinking of someone like Danial Day-Lewis or Hugo Weaving but they are a stretch I think.

The other piece of news is that the film is looking to draw mostly from Secret Origin, Geoff Johns’ retelling of Hal Jordan’s earliest adventure which completely reshapes the GL mythos and sets the stage for Blackest Night. If they do this, Green Lantern has the potential to be my favorite comic book movie. The story is perfect by itself but it leaves the door open for a dark future.

Oh yeah, and one other thing. It is rumored that Superman makes a cameo which is fucking awesome. That is the thing that DC’s films lack. Unity. Hopefully Green Lantern can bring them together.

Where The Wild Things Are Review

Since the first trailer came out way back when, I have been psyched about Where The Wild Things Are. Something about it reminded me of those movies when you were younger that were magical and adventurous and fun. I really thought Where The Wild Things Are was going to be something like that, mixed with modern special effects and great direction. But when I saw it the other night, I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t.

Where The Wild Things Are is not a kid’s movie at all. I heard one little kid in the back of the theater that didn’t seem very happy and that was it. The rest of the audience was 20’s - 40’s. And we all loved it, all 24 of us.

I don’t really want to ruin anything for anyone who has yet to see this inspiring film, so I’ll skate around the details but Spike Jonze has created a touching and innocent film that is for the young kid in all of us. Honestly I don’t think kids will even get the movie let alone sit through it without being scared.

Max is a confused kid, looking for friends and fun. One night of poor judgment sends Max running off into the woods where he finds a boat that takes him across the sea to his metaphoric journey. Max finds in the wild things – played wonderfully by the likes of James Gandolfini, Forest Whitaker, Catherine O’Hara, and Chris Cooper to name a few – pieces of himself. The happy, the sad, the angry, and the lonely. They are looking for something just as much as he is but they are too confused to know what it is. Instead rough fun and building forts is exchanged for frustration and sadness.

The visuals, the costumes, the scenery, and the special effects are absolutely gorgeous. It blends so completely that everything feels authentic and right. Not once did I say that looks fake. I was always in the world of the film and I never wanted me or Max to leave.

The dialogue and the humor are all childish but not in the sense that you might think. It isn’t childish humor, it is childish meaning they sound like kids. They are gullible, naive, testy, and quick to forgive. This hits home for all adults who can look back in retrospect and see in the wild things parts of themselves. We can see how trivia the things were thought were so important or upsetting. We are the wild things and they are Max and watching them have fun brings back all the nostalgic feelings of innocent childhood anyone could ever hope for.

I loved this film, but not for the reasons I thought I would. I love it because it made me a kid again. It that 100 minutes I had fun, I cried, I laughed, and I made friends. For that it what childhood is all about, having fun with friends. You’ll laugh and have fun and when things go wrong you are quick to forgive.

If you liked being a kid, go see this movie. If not, you probably don’t have a heart.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Batman & Superman: The Dark Side In Both

Superman is a sissy some say.

Batman is a...well...honestly I don't know what Batman haters say about Batman. But they're out there...somewhere, quivering in the shadows with their Dare Devil comic and a cardboard cutout of Ben Affleck.

People watch the Richard Donner Superman film today and they think that version of Superman is nothing but a goofy goody-goody and that Bryan Singer's rejuvenation of that franchise nothing but a lame, boring same-old, same-old version with no real depth. People who think this couldn't be more mistaken, however. Richard Donner and Singer are both extremely subtle in the way they explore Superman's humanity, far too subtle for mainstream moviegoers to give them any credit. It's easy to see Superman as a giant, flawless boyscout with no depth or intrigue and it's for a very simple, unrealized reason; he looks like this:

He says things like "Truth, Justice, and The American Way!" He never lies. His alter ego is a buffoon in arrested development continually pining for a woman he doesn't have the balls to get. Metropolis is a gorgeous city, shining and bright and its champion represents what is the best in us. On a very basic level, the colorful nature of Superman, his films, and his tale permits people to not take it very seriously and see it as nothing more than wish fulfillment and thoughtless entertainment.

Then there's Batman. It's very easy to take someone seriously when they look like this:

People associate the color black with "cool". The Gothic nature of Batman hearkens back to writers like Poe who explore the torment of the human mind and heart. Gothic imagery isn't subtle in the least. It gets right to the point and you don't have to really dig too deeply into the dark knight to see that he's pretty messed up and interesting. This is one simple reason why people identify more with Batman. His imagery is directly related to the dark psychosis in all of us and the psychosis that the story is attempting to explore. In Superman there is a disconnect between the imagery and the psychosis (which is not a bad thing necessarily, if anything it's very interesting and unique, but it's difficult for everyone to realize this and appreciate it). Batman is constructed in such a way, from his cape and cowl to his city and his rogues gallery, to very easily and simply tap into the exploration of the soul. Batman's alter ego is also much more enjoyable to watch than Clark Kent. Bruce Wayne shows us that we can get the girl, in fact that we can get any girl if we set our mind to it (but he also shows us that this is a meaningless pursuit that simply distracts us from the pain in our minds). On a basic, entertainment value level it's 100% fun to live vicariously through the character of Bruce Wayne/Batman. No one wants to live vicariously through Clark Kent, however, and that's another reason for the character's recent public fallout.

Wayne is an example of how we put on a front in public, how we have two sides. What makes Wayne that much more interesting than other comic book protagonists is that he's actually three-sided, something Kent is not. But this is only the way things are because Kent has not been adequately explored or portrayed with the intelligence and intensity of Bruce Wayne on-screen. And again, the imagery and the very nature of the character doesn't really permit it.

With Superman it's much more of a challenge, which, oddly enough, makes him a potentially more interesting and powerful character. Now I'm partial to The Batman, he's my favorite, but I've often wondered what I'd do with Superman in a film or a comic, how I'd showcase everything I love about him but also explore areas of his psychosis that have yet to be overtly shown to a modern film going audience. People like their heroes flawed these days and they need those flaws to be apparent. Hence why Batman is and will forever be so popular. The main reason for The Dark Knight's success is Heath Ledger's Joker, whom the audience is actually more inclined to root for than the Batman precisely because of how flawed and interesting he is. Modern audiences can't watch Christopher Reeves screaming with Lois in his arms or Brandon Routh staring at Louis through a wall or talking to her on a rooftop or looking down on earth and immediately get that it's character development. They can't see Superman look into the camera and smile and think anything but: That's so gay. They don't get that in that smile is something truly beautiful, human, and what comics and movies and entertainment are all about.

Now I believe one can go even deeper than the obvious with Batman and explore realms of depth beneath the apparent depth. There are the simple questions revolving around the world's greatest detective such as "Is he doing it for justice or revenge?", "Is he the cause of what he's trying to destroy" and so on. I argue that there is even more than that, that Batman has yet to be fully explored on-screen as he deserves to be and that if done properly could trounce any modern anti-hero.

With Superman, if one is to take him seriously and do him justice, there are also obvious questions at hand that the Donner and Singer films deal with in subtle fashion such as "He is a living God, what does that mean for us?" "What does his one weakness signify thematically" and so on. There's so much more, however, that one can gleam from these films but it takes effort, effort today's world is too stupid to perform. Also, society bashing aside, I feel Superman's psyche deserves to be overtly explored. I want to see more than him pondering. I want to hear him speak. I want action.

Superman is a living God, yes, and asking what that means for "us" is interesting. But it's much more interesting to ask what that means for Superman. He is an alien living amongst us. He is an outsider. Explore in the film how this makes him feel, what it means, and whether or not he actually wants this status of divine savior. Show us, as Superman stares down on this world, able to "hear everything" that it drives him insane that these weak little humans can take care of nothing for themselves, that they need him to save them again and again and again, that they've actually given up altogether because they know, no matter what, Superman will always be there. Explore how his strength, his power is an absolute curse that makes it impossible for him to relate to others. Explore what Quentin Tarentino very cleverly observed in Kill Bill, how Clark Kent is a critique of humanity. Show us the consequences of Superman's strength and power, how smashing through city walls isn't actually practical or helpful, that some of the citizens of Metropolis don't like the idea of some omnipotent, omnipresent alien floating around in the night sky. Explore that Superman knows he could take over the world if he saw fit, that he exists in a state of perpetual unrest, that there is never a moment where he can relax, enjoy life for himself. Explore what it means that a small, seemingly insignificant rock can bring down a god, and what it means that a piece of Superman's home, a piece of his past is what can destroy him. Explore a human Christ figure who is tired of being crucified night after night and that wants something for himself. And then...finally, show us that he learns, that he grows, that he changes, and understands the value of sacrifice.

Give us a villain that tests these weaknesses, that pokes and prods his unshakable nature. In this dynamic one can have a philosophical discourse about more than just a God's psychology, how that God's strength is nothing but a weakness that alienates him from others, but also a discourse on society, the way people relate to heroes, venerate celebrities and government officials to a God-like, infallible status. Explore what happens when we place our faith completely in a god.

This, and much more, exists in Superman and hopefully, one day, we'll see it on-screen.

People who love this character either love him for the above stated reasons as well as his strength and powers and the wish fulfillment inherent in all comic adventures. Or people love him simply because of the powers.

People who hate him, hate him because of the unexplored version of the character that all know so well, a flawless do-gooder whom they could never be. If this is all Superman is to you then he's impossible to like. He represents what you cannot have under any circumstances. This is why we have to make Superman's flaws apparent. We have to make it so that people don't scoff when they hear a little green rock is his only weakness.

The reason I love Batman and why I feel most people, and modern society prefers him, apart from the cooler imagery and better set of villains, is that Batman represents the attainable. Batman represents the pain that we have. Batman represents the person that we are. He is, in many ways, the worst in us.

Superman represents what we should be. He represents the absolute best in us, what we should aspire to become, but ultimately never will. Because we can't fly. We can't punch through walls. Superman reminds us of inability and failure, where as Batman tells us that suffering is normal and that if we work hard enough, by the means of our own ability we can make things better.

This dynamic would be wonderful to explore in a film at the same time but I fear a Batman/Superman movie would resort to one too many fanboy gimmicks. However, this is a dynamic that needs to change somewhat if the man of steel is to be taken seriously in today's world.

Let's look at Superman like this, the way he really is, and see what happens: