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Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Comic Book Question. "To Live Action or To Not Live Action?"

Growing up in the late 70's and 80's I had my fair share of comic book films.  
Many of us now are living and growing up in what can be considered reboot heaven.  In some cases a Renaissance.  When you consider Amazing works of cinematic art like "The Dark Knight" and the placement of Film Operas when you actually combine the epic puzzle that is "The Avengers" with all the pieces that have gone into making it.  Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Captain America: The First Avenger and Thor.  Also leading toward a Nick Fury film.  

You almost wonder how it is possible for comic films to fail when being made in this time.  Whether the failure is financial or in artistry, it's a failure none the less. And it does happen, quite often.  I recently, during my night owl habits, while many of you were sound asleep, caught "DareDevil" on cable.  I had also recently caught "Ghost Rider".
It was mostly in the background, while I worked, I wasn't actually watching this one.  I think it's atrocious.  After watching DareDevil I decided to rewatch "Elektra".  Why?  Well, Jennifer Garner is easy on the eyes.  I was also curious, because it nagged at me.  She got her ass totally whooped by Bullseye in the DD film, but her own, she was an insane feral force of martial prowess.  I wanted to go back to understand the producers concept of the character, her development and her tie in to the DD story as well as her comic book roots.

I noticed they did follow the comic story, as closely as they could.  So why did that movie generally suck?  

I then started to think about other comic book movies.  The one offs, and the older films that were considered horror fests of fail.  Films like Nick Fury: Agent of Shield that starred David Hasselhoff.  A film force that I
can only imagine is acceptable if you are smoking crack or perhaps sucking on multiple joints to maintain a level of "Phuck it"...To be somewhat forgiving, it was a made for TV movie and the Hoff has a solid resemblance to the comic book version.

Some folks may even remember the original "Punisher" film from the 80's, it isn't that good.  but the problem with the Punisher is that Hollywood portrayed him all wrong.  Look at Batman.  Something, rebooted many times over 50 years, the bulk of which in the last 20. You have the Adam West Batman.  Or, as I call it, "Shatner Detective Knight". You have the Micheal Keaton Batman, which was relatively Dark and aloof, socially awkward but he wanted to reconnect.  Almost defeated in his attempt.  But he remained dark, hidden.  Contrived.  The Val Kilmer Batman.  The Gadget fiend.  This film was only saved by Jim Carrey's amazing performance of Riddler.  Tommy Lee Jones was
The George Clooney Batman.  Clooney is a great actor, he shows emotion well and even behind a mask his body language and facial expressions demonstrate a lot of his heart.  That is not Batman...Worst possible choice in casting. To make it worse Arnold, which conceivably could make a solid Mr. Freeze, was showcased as the lead in the film, and his one liners were so awful it made the movie unwatchable.  I completely set blame for that "tour de farce" of films on Schumacher.  Thankfully, Christian Bale and Chris Nolan understood the comic on many levels, including the character and the psychology behind the mask.  Brought it back to life brilliantly, only to blow us away with Heath Ledger's Joker in the sequel film...

I see this type of problem in a lot of the comic films we watch.  Let's go back to Punisher for this example.  Hollywood takes the concept of this character and focuses on the ultra violence.  The wow factor of someone like him with no powers and is able to survive horrendous odds and situations.  The Thomas Jane version of the film almost caught the emotion behind the man, his mental break.  Ray Stevenson was a robot.  A total killing machine.  Dolph Lundgren had a glimpse of Frank Castles Insanity.  The sewer scenario was almost perfect until the film almost made it feel like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles".  Each version had the right glimpses, but they were separate and in vacuums. We needed to see a man apart, who in his grief, lost his mind, fractured.  Struggling to regain a piece of his life but torn with the need to kill his enemies, to punish them for his pain.  The Thomas Jane version failed in this because it also made him to touchy-feely, humanized too much, more than likely a directorial or producers outlook on a happy ending. I enjoyed that film, but as a piece of entertainment not as a piece of canon.  Chances are why a reboot come so quickly.  

Let's look at Ghost Rider.  I felt throughout the film that the special effects were second rate, which didn't make sense.  Even with a mild amount of origin story, I felt no connection at all, and Ghost Rider is one of my personal favorite characters.  I loved Sam Elliot, and felt he was the strongest aspect, but the writing was simply too atrocious. It felt like the Ghost Rider version of Constantine.  The Son trying to take over from the Father.  It was a cliche story to use for this rich and deep comic character.  

How about Ang Lee's Hulk.  Personally, the story was stranger than fiction.  Nick Nolte was extremely forced and the ending of the film was awful.  But everything upto that was actually pretty amazing.  I think most people were not used to seeing the hulk using all of his abilities.  

Most people are not accustomed to seeing him running like the flash or leaping across states in one bound.  It was Ang Lee's vision, and it was stated as different from the beginning.  However it was necessary to reboot it for the Avengers...well, twice...  The Norton version is pretty good and entertaining, although it has some cheese to it.  I wish they would simply go crazy and epic.  If you want more monsters and creatures throw in the Leader and his weird hulk creations.  Hopefully after the Avengers, we can see a sequal to that affect.  Now that Mark Ruffalo is rebooting it.

How about DareDevil and Elektra?  Both films were mildly entertaining.  I actually liked Bed Affleck for Matt Murdock.  I thought he fit the role really well, and looked great in the suit.  Jennifer Garner was not too bad, but the contacts took away the focus.  You knew right away they were fake and that is an issue.  I'm sure someone else could have fit the role with natural eye color.  The scene with him first meeting Elektra, the awkward fight in a playground.  That was quite masterfully bad.  Really...  Collin Farrell, who could have been an interesting Bullseye, I am guessing he was told to be over the top,  was doing that all on his own.  I still blame the director and producers for not noticing he looked stupid and obnoxious.  I don't mind when the studios get creative and use a black guy for a white character or vice versa, point in fact, Sam Jackson is amazing as Nick Fury.  Idris Elba looks amazing as Heimdall, But The Kingpins character was killed by Michael Clark Duncan.  

There are so many others that could have fit the role properly.  Don't get me started on Halle Berry and her Catwoman! A movie that should have never been made.  If they really wanted such a thing, they should of looked at Vixen, she could have fit that character more fittingly.  Perhaps Feral from the X-Force, on the Marvel side.   

Going back to "Elektra" it was simply an ok movie.  It was more tit for tat than a solid comic book film.  Possibly why we havent seen sequels are any endeavor to reboot it.  It's more the," leave that in the past and never speak of it again" type of project.  But a reboot could be possible with the 2014 reboot in pre-production for DareDevil coming up.

Creative license aside, directors and producers want to put their signature on things.  We need to have some accuracy with how live action portrays the fidelity of characters.  Perhaps Watchmen was very specific and done in such a pulp style that it beautifully handled itself in a live action setting.  If I remember correctly it was called the best comic book adaptation ever made by many critics.  It was unfortunate it didn't do as great during its opening in the theaters.  I loved the film.  Perhaps it was it's R rating that held it back.  Which is the common fear in Hollywood for most projects now.  They want as much audience as possible. 

There are many comic films I can think of that were horrid and did not stand the test of time.  I can also think of some that were insanely cheesy yet resound as cult classics.  Like Flash Gordon.  That is a film I love to watch, still to this day.  Perhaps it was Max Von Sydows portrayal of Ming the Merciless (who is supposed to be an "Asian'ish" Character).  However, Ming is an alien, I guess they can get away with it???  Mr. Sydow was still awesome.   So I won't give him any beef.  When you consider films like Star Wars accomplishing what it did in 1977 to see a film like Flash Gordon, at that time.  You couldn't help but compare it and say "This looks like shit."  But we somehow loved it.  Maybe it was the catchy music...FLASH!!!! AH AAAAAH...

O.k. I'll spare us the singing.

So what makes a live action film stand out?  What makes us love it?  I think a genuine understanding of the characters is a huge help.  But most of these films are trying to reintroduce themselves to this generation.  Perhaps people that know the characters, just don't know their stories.  I like how Disney handles themselves in this respect.  They hide certain things for a period of time, then they re-release it again.  It is a system I would have thought not to be viable were I around in the 60's.  But it works, beautifully.  Only a few of their properties they allow to be remade.  Now they are at the Helm with Marvel and I think the direction being taken is amazing.   What is possible with other films under their control?

How about X-Men? The Fantastic Four?  I am a huge fan of X-Men.  I have been reading those comics since I was able to read.  I also love Fantastic Four.  Because they tend to overcome insane situations. Specifically, Galactus.  The "Rise of the Silver Surfer" could have been such an amazing film.  I say could of.  The casting in this and the first film were absolutely atrocious.  I love Jessica Alba, but she made no sense in this role.  Micheal Chiklis and Chris Evans are the only saving graces for the film. They matched the characters and played them well.  Chris Evans might as well have been the star.  The Surfer was a fantastic fit and he was done beautifully.  But there are too many fundamental problems that would have pulled the fans away from the film.  While there storyline followed, somewhat closely to the comic book.  The translation to live action was too rushed.  The basic changes to the story ignored the concepts of the character.  Understandably so, Silver Surfer could kill anyone on earth from light years away.  However the translation and use of knowledge and technology was on the same level as in GI JOE.  It just wasnt believable.  You find yourself questioning the film instead of allowing yourself to enjoy it.  That's bad.  

Now we also hear the rumors about X-Men sequels continuing where we left off on "Last Stand".  Fans have already up-roared over the horrible mish mash of comic stories, the misuse of the Phoenix/Dark Phoenix Saga.  The killing or, disintegration of Scott Summers.  The Death of Jean Grey and Professor X.  Granted, I'm sure the allusion to his return and the potential return of Jean is there.  But I think the damage has already been done.  Why is this director being given the opportunity to continue?  

More so, the Reboot of Ghost Rider, reboot, operative word.  Is bringing back Nick Cage for the role. Why?  He was part of the reason many of us hated the film.  I'm a purist in the sense that I will go and support the films and watch them all.  Whether I think they will suck or succeed.  I will point them out to those that will like them and those that will hate them.  In the end, much of Hollywood is stuck with the thought "we have to change it a bit, or you will know the outcome"

Hi Hollywood...Yes, we don't mind you changing the stories.  But, here's the thing.  You're not comic book writers.  Stick with the stories we know and love, focus in on nature of the characters and you'll be fine.  

I guess in the end it's the World of Warcraft business model. I have to throw a gaming reference in there...WoW caters to everyone, it stems from beloved characters and stories to attract the hardcore, but it makes it more general so anyone and everyone can understand and enjoy it, versus the Final Fantasy Online model that is more for a very specific and small clientele.

We will make this true to its nature and story, we won't fuck with it, because it has enough of an audience and enough background to draw in the numbers we want.  Like Watchmen or The Dark Knight.  Art over Bullshit politics.  They come or they don't...

I could get into Spider-man, which started the amazing jump into high quality Comic films, in my opinion. But I could also nerd rage on the fact that for all their awesome work they left open real stupid plot holes.  For example.  We can accept that Spider-man is amazingly strong and powerful, he can lift about 20-50 tons.  

We see it when he stops a speeding train with his webs and is ranked and stretched until he completely stops it.  His strength is not in question. So why then when someone of such strength punching a much older man, who has no real powers of healing ability, does his head not explode.  Or at the least cause hemorrhaging of such devastating nature he dies as a result.  

Perhaps the concept that is also not in question, the black suit, causes him to lose control.  Combined with the basic concept that his strength is not in question.  When he turned to slap Mary Jane, which is in itself a loss of control.  Why did her head not completely spin on it's access. Loop holes that just don't make sense.  

But the movie is enjoyable and fun.  Perhaps we can forgive the third installment for the superior first and second films.  

However you slice it.  Comic Book films are dominating Hollywood, whether it is the main stream characters we know like Wolverine and the X-Men or lesser known comics like "The Losers".  We will continue to see them, good and bad.  Some will derive their cult followings, other will fade away as horrible mistakes, like X-Men Origins: Wolverine (I can't start on this one, I love it and hate with equal levels of fail).

I hope you are watching all kinds of comic book films, don't just watch what is being put out there now. Look for older material, look at serials from the 40's and the 50's.  Go buy the Adam West Batman series.  Sit down with some friends, some popcorn and watch the cheesy films of our comic book past, essentially, some of them paved the way for the better versions we see today.  

I look forward to re-watching the Incredible Hulk with Lou Ferrigno and Bill Bixby, which I recently got.  I havent seen it since I was only a few years old.  Which comic film is your favorite? Which is your most hated? Which one do you constantly re-watch, or have in the background while you are doing other things?

I'll be looking forward to the Avengers, I expect it to be great.  Normally I would hold off on expectations, but it is almost impossible not to expect it to be epic.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

My First Book Is Written! Now It's Time For A Glass Of Wine.

I have been awake throughout the night, (more so) because of excited energy, versus my usual night owl behavior. I completed something I have had in the back burner for some time, something that started in 2006 and popped up a few times through the years. I finally grew up and realized it would begin the next chapter in my life. Finally doing so, I focused all my energy with immense seriousness toward its completion. To sit down and (virtually) not move away from my desk until this task was done. Finally, it has been.

I am extremely proud, to literally, have before me a manuscript that is ready to be polished by a couple of editors. I have put a lot of thought into this book, and I followed the advice of people far more skilled in this craft than I. I simply stopped fighting the concept, I sat down. I wrote. I didn't stop until it was finished. 

I wanted to thank (preliminary) the small group of people that were part of my intial focus groups; all of your input and feedback helped me tighten the stories and improve on my conversational style of writing. I wanted to thank Joe Peacock for inspiring me with his book, Mentally Incontinent, to finish mine. Joe also dropped various and invaluable tidbits, tips and a wealth of knowledge on me. I appreciate all the help.

I have the editorial process now to complete, a few good editors will be handling the rest of this dirty business. I am working now on the cover with some professional help, William Icquatu (photographer) and hopefully in the next few months "I Think? No, I'm Sure...God Hates Me!" will be available anywhere books are sold as well as iBooks and Amazon. I am simply just overjoyed. I am sure the moment I get my proof copy I will be just as giddy as I am right now. There will be something powerfully visceral to see my name on the cover of a book I published that isn't a student paper or an abstract --but a novel. The first major hurdle is over, I wait for the next one to scale. I'm sure there will be many.

I am still working on a number of other books and pieces of writing, hopefully I will have a few drafts completed by September. While I edit the current book.

Thank you all. 

Manny Camacho