Friday, July 29, 2005

Late Comics: Postscript

It seems some comic book creators have finally grown consciences.

Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada, whose "Daredevil: Father" miniseries is officially running a year and several months behind, has finally lined up the final four issues for release this August.

And Kevin Smith, whose "Spider-Man/Black Cat" miniseries is running about three years behind by now, has finally turned in the final script.

I'd like to think we fans had something to do with this, but rather than harbor delusions I think I'll just be happy to finally buy the finished product. I do know that fan outrage has caused Marvel to slash prices on the Daredevil miniseries. Maybe they'll be similarly generous with the Spider-Man/Black Cat series too.

Eddie the Snake Charmer

The efforts to unseat President GMA have taken a turn for the absurd: in what looks suspiciously like yet another attempt to stir up public outrage, a report has surfaced that she had, allegedly purusant to her grand vision of "reconciliation" struck up some kind of deal with the Marcoses which would involve her burying FM in the Libingan ng mga Bayani. Anyone feeling a little deja vu? In my humble opinion, I think that's entirely the point.

I'm not a fan of GMA's, and in fact I'm all for her impeachment, whether or not its success is a realistic prospect. But assuming that this Marcos burial thing is yet another gambit by members of the opposition to get the public to force her out of office, this is just sad. They've run out of shit to sling at her, so basically they've resorted to recycling the shit that brought about Erap's ouster in hopes that it will stick. Isn't this just depraved?

Frankly, I miss the days of Ramos. I'm not saying that I would vote for him again if there was an election tomorrow; I mean I just miss having a President for a full six-year term. For all his faults, Ramos had something that neither Erap had nor GMA has: the ability to get people--opposition members, civil society groups, and so on--to forget whatever's wrong with him and just let him serve his term. The funny thing is, to this day a lot of people firmly believe that he stole his election from Miriam Santiago. And don't hear people proclaiming that he was a phony President, the way they talk about GMA. Granted, Ramos didn't have a "Hello Garci" recording nailed to his ass, but the fact that the efforts to get him on tape weren't as assiduous as they were with GMA really says something about the man, the force of his character...I don't know.

Conrado de Quiros, a columnist for the Philippine Daily Inquirer, seems to be of the opinion that once GMA is gone (and I use his words) the country will cease to be divided. Now, I understand and utterly sympathize with his rage against the woman, whom he regularly compares to Marcos in terms of lust for power (a comparison which is not entirely unjustified) but I think it's kind of addled his brain. He doesn't seem to realize, in his righteous indignation, the wide disparity of interests currently comprising the so-called "united opposition." Create the power vacuum by forcing her out of office extra-legally, and even though there's already a constitutional successor waiting in the wings, the power struggle among the throng of pretenders will tear this country limb from emaciated limb.

I wish we had a Ramos (though not the Ramos, who can take his visions of a parliamentary government and just shove them). We need a statesman (or woman) who can rise above the muck of Philippine politics and just...govern. I don't really see how or when that can happen, given that the incumbent President, and all those who seek to supplant her, are all cut from the same opportunistic, avaricious, and ultimately dishonest cloth, but I think that this should be something we should all hope and pray for.

Like most other people in this country, I honestly can't think of any solution to the political problems we are facing, but like I hope that, like me, most other people in this country continue to pray for one.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Good Comic Book Movies (Almost) Never Coincide with Good Comics...

Last week I browsed through a copy of All Star Batman and Robin, DC Comics' event book scheduled to benefit from the then-anticipated, now-realized popularity of Batman Begins, the franchise revival. I enjoyed Batman Begins quite a bit and was actually contemplating buying All-Star. I flipped through it...and found myself scratching my head.

Batman, for one thing, doesn't show up until the last of twenty-two pages. The book is about Dick Grayson, and about how he first came to meet Batman. The story is told mostly from his viewpoint. That was pretty much a deal-breaker.

Almost the entire marketing campaign of Batman Begins was designed to distance this film from the last installment, the horrendous Batman and Robin. Even Christian Bale, the new Batman, has denounced Robin in an interview, saying that he was what made the whole book campy. And yet, rather than launch a new series in the vein of the Dark Knight books that clearly inspired Christopher Nolan's movie, DC comes up with a comic called Batman and Robin, which is focused on how the two characters first met. Are DC and their corporate parent, Warner Brothers, on the same page here?

Let me illustrate how little people were interested in seeing Robin: the title was shipped with variant covers in a 50/50 ratio, half of which were Batman covers and half of which were Robin covers. As expected, retailers ordered them by the truckload. This Monday I walked into my usual comics haunt and saw about five dozen copies of the book...all with Robin covers.

And it really hit me that the big two comic publishers, DC and Marvel, have really had a nasty habit of dropping the ball when it comes to translating the success of movies based on their characters into quality comics. The only exception that really comes to mind is when Marvel put JMS on writing duties for Amazing Spider-Man a year before Sam Raimi's 2002 movie came out. That year saw some great Spidey comics (even though the movie adaptation, which had Alan Davis art, for Pete's sake, still managed to disappoint).

The biggest boost movies can give the comics industry is new readers, who generally want to see a comic book that's true to the character they just saw on the big screen. It's not necessary to make someone identical in all respects; it's enough that the spirit of the character is captured. At least, that's my take on it. Straczynski (and Bendis over at Ultimate Spider-Man) nailed this concept back when they were writing the books on the stands at the time Spider-Man broke box-office records. They did what the Marvel staff couldn't do when the first X-Men movie hit paydirt: turn box-office attention into new readers.

All Star will probably sell like hotcakes, but I'll tell you for nothing it'll probably be because of Jim Lee and/or Frank Miller, not because of anyone who enjoyed the movie. Why, oh why did they make a comic book with Robin in green briefs after all of Warner Brothers' efforts to lance the boytoy wonder from Batman like a boil on someone's butt? I WOULD HAVE BOUGHT THE BLOODY THING!

At least All Star Superman still looks good...

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

On Hakot Brigades

It's fairly common knowledge that tomorrow, Makati Major Jojo Binay, together with San Juan Mayor JV Ejercito intend to stage yet another wave of "mass protests" to raise the noise level of the clamor for GMA's ouster.

What not everyone might now is that there is supposedly a war chest of P5,000,000, a great sum of which is to be paid to the supposed "protesters." Now that is just sad.

UP Political Science professor and Philippine Star columnist Alex Magno described these assemblages as "rent-a-mobs." I know you can attach "rent-a" to almost anything these days, but that you can attach it to the word "mob" in this country (and, I think, only in this country so far) is such a painful indication of how far we've fallen from the glory days of EDSA.

Leave it to a Marcos crony like Ejercito to utterly pervert the concept of people power. They can't get the support of true rallyistas, so they basically fake it. Bravo.

What these fatheads don't seem to realize is that they all have conflicting agendas, and that the only thing holding them together is their desire to get rid of both GMA and Noli. Now, as much as I think Noli is a moron, my concern, really, is the rule of law, and by rights, he should be the next President, especially if the alternative is this bickering throng.

The immediate goal of these groups, even more than GMA's ouster, is to create mass hysteria, which is how they intend to bring this ouster about. The thing is, when asked what they have planned next, about half-a-dozen different groups have just as many answers. Oooh, I feel better about GMA being gone already...

One thing I'd like to know is, where are these bastards getting the money they're paying their "rent-a-mobs?" Pity the residents of San Juan and Makati...

Monday, July 11, 2005

Why Avi Arad is a Genius

Well, I couldn't stand waiting anymore. I went out and watched Fantastic Four. For anyone interested, Robinson's Supermarket has a great deal going on. For every three hundred pesos worth of groceries, you get a movie pass that entitles you to see a movie free, the only catch being that you have to purchase at least P50 worth of snacks at their snack bar and pay a P3 tax. OR, if you have a companion who buys a regular ticket, you get in free. Nice. My wife and I can now afford to see about five movies or so for roughly P50.

This is not so much a review as it is a commentary on the fact that the Four opened at number one this weekend despite almost uniformly terrible reviews.

First, though, I'd like to give my take on the film. Well, being a fan I cannot flat-out denounce the movie as bad. I just can't, even though so much of it...well, is. There's a lot to like about it so all I'll say is that it could have been sooooo much better.

Anyway, the real star of this piece is not so much the movie as it is Marvel movie chief Avi Arad. I dare say he is Hollywood's next uber-producer, much in the mold of Jerry Bruckheimer. I say this because he has sold a movie that seemed impossible to sell and has proved a theory that many have long held: that the only people whiny fanboys who bellow on the internet speak for are...themselves.

One appreciates the success of the movie, even in the face of nearly universal critical rejection and fanboy whining, after finding out just what kind of Calvary its makers went through to get it off the ground. After ten years of false starts at Fox, and even in spite of the runaway success of the Spider-Man and X-Men franchises, the producers could not even snag an a-list (or even b-list) director, decent stars, or even a decent effects house. And apparently Fox was keen on finding the next X-Men, whether or not they had assembled the talent to pull one off, so the movie was shoved into a summer 2005 playdate, where it would face heavyweights like War of the Worlds and a re-tooled, much ballyhooed Batman prequel (reboot?).

Four had absolutely nothing on these movies in terms of the pedigree of their cast and crew, or production value, or even hype, even after attaching trailers to Star Wars: Episode III. So Avi Arad was faced with the daunting task of selling snow cones in Siberia. How did he do it? Simple. He asked himself: what does our movie have that theirs don't? And the answer came to him: fun. It has a fun, upbeat vibe, which is nearly nowhere to be found in the exploration of Batman's rather violent, albeit well-told, origin, and the wanton destruction of the earth by giant tripods.

And hot damn, as ridiculous as the movie sometimes is, it is a lot of wacky fun, in the vein of Brendan Fraser's Mummy movies, which entertain even despite atrocious acting and effects. The dynamic between the Thing and the Human Torch (who seems to have taken the lion's share of the special effects budget) is right out of the comics, and it's a joy to watch.

And that translated to mucho bucks at the U.S. box-office, namely a $56,000,000 number 1 opening last weekend. Genius. Of course, the future drop-offs are anyone's guess, but given that Arad's expectations for the movie were pegged at $100 million in the U.S., that 's pretty much mission accomplished.

Yes, indeed, the next Bruckheimer, with both classy and less-than-classy hits under his belt...

Friday, July 08, 2005

What's It Gonna Take???

(This is not a piece on the current political crisis, just so anyone reading should know).

Last weekend, Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise's latest collaboration War of the Worlds enjoyed an auspicious debut at the box office, making something like $111 million over the six-day fourth of July frame and thereby making the second best debut within that period, behind only last year's Spider-Man 2, with a towering (and in my opinion, richly deserved) $180 million. When asked how he felt about their film coming in at a distant second (to the all time record), Rob Friedman, the head of distribution at paramount, could have said a lot of things. He could have said "well, Spielberg movies have long legs" or "well, this movie got good reviews and could go the distance" or something else extolling War's qualities vis-a-vis potential longevity.

Instead he said "this is not a sequel. This is not a comic-book film. This is a 100-year-old literary property...blah blah blah." He kind of lost me after that egregiously cheap shot. And it really hit me: comic book/graphic novel based properties are still treated like second-class citizens in Hollywood by a distressingly large number of people. There are still closed-minded assholes out there who won't see a movie because "it's a comic book film."

Comic book movies have long achieved box-office legitimacy. Every decade since the seventies has had at least one landmark comic book movie, such as Superman (1978), Batman (1989), Men in Black (1997), and Spider-Man (2002). This millenium seems to be a particularly good time for comic book-based films, with a total of ten such films opening at number one in box-offices all around the world since 2000. In 2002, a film based on an independent comic book called Ghost World, received an Academy Award nomination for best adapted screenplay. In 2003, the comic-book based film Road to Perdition received six such nominations, including a Supporting Actor nod for the legendary Paul Newman, and won an Oscar for its cinematography.

So why in God's name do so many people still look at films based on comic books with such scorn? It kind of seems silly to champion thse films, given their success, but I honestly believe somebody should. You don't see comic book movies being honored at the BAFTA awards or the Cannes Film Festival. Even in Hollywood, some studios that own rights to comic book properties seem to treat them like their least valuable commodities, i.e. they don't bother springing for reputable writers, actors or visual effects houses, but just let nobodies cobble the film together, throw together some kind of marketing campaign and set the movie afloat hoping audiences and critics will embrace it, often not even caring about the latter. At least in Japan, where manga is recognized as a legitimate cultural institution, there seems to be a measure of respect for such material.

Apparently, the early reviews for Fantastic Four, which opens this weekend, were bad. The lot of them said that this movie was no Spider-Man 2, or even a Batman Begins, which oddly enough, kind of gives me a sense of hope, given that people acknowledge that there are good comic-book movies out there. Bad press notwithstanding, I sincerely hope the Four kick War right off that top spot on the charts. It might just help slam the point home that comic book movies are here to stay, and therefore deserve some measure of respect.

Maybe if a comic-book derived movie swept the Oscars, a la Return of the King, things would be different...

Thursday, July 07, 2005

My One Peso and Twelve Centavos on the Current Crisis

For those of you not paying attention, one pesos and twelve centavos is more or less the value of two American cents in our currency, at our current exchange rate.

By now it's pretty much known the world over how messed up the Philippines is thanks in part due to rampant corruption at the top governmental office, and in part due to massive concerted efforts to unseat the incumbent perpetrator of corruption. Hell, it's all over the newspapers, the internet, and even people's cellular phones. As a result, Filipinos and media men the world over wait on bated breath for the answer to the question of the year: will GMA resign, or won't she?

The possible scenarios have been exhaustively discussed, the different implications of each one have been tossed about by politicians and newswriters alike, and so it really seems there's nothing new to be said, even though from day to day, there seems to be a new can of worms waiting to be opened.

My personal opinion on this is that she should step down, or at the very least should let the impeachment process take its course without leaning on all her flunkies to bail her out. Maybe then the process might have a little more than an outside chance of being respected and not raped like it was the last time. Her vice-President, Noli de Castro should step up, and should the Filipino people get screwed up the ass by his incompetence or whatever it is that's supposed to be wrong with him, then maybe they should take it as an object lesson not to vote for people based purely on their popularity. I know it's a terrible thing to wish a potentially disastrous presidency on our people, but the truth is that the Filipino people (myself excluded) voted for this man, and so they/we deserve who THEY elected. In my opinion, if this sick twisted cow subverts the law to stay in power, or just as bad, if those pieces of shit who are creaming their pants at the thought of having their own shot at sodomizing the country are able to install their own extra-constitutional government, then our fundamental law, which is about the only scrap of dignity we have left over from the triumph of the 1986 EDSA Revolution, will be lost in the flames currently consuming us. She should step down/be removed, and Noli should take her place. That's the legal solution; that's the one everyone should focus on. Forget about Noli's kilometric list of shortcomings. If the election process, already the country's worst joke, is to have any chance of redemption, then the one duty elected should sit. Let's brace ourselves for five bad, potentially terrible years, then move on.

The only problem is that GMA isn't likely to step down, given all the laws and promises and spirits she broke just to get to where she is. She is one tenacious bitch, and she is not going to give up without a fight.

So where does that leave us, anyway? God only knows, but as for me, I'm taking my stand. Get the fuck out, GMA.