Monday, August 31, 2009

On Disney Buying Marvel and the Imminent Explosion of Many a Fanboy's Head

I was a little shellshocked to learn this morning that media/entertainment giant Walt Disney Co. intends to wholly acquire Marvel Entertainment to the tune of four billion dollars. Not being a shareholder of either I don't really have any personal stake except that of a fan.

From the financial standpoint the sale makes perfect sense in the current economic climate; Disney is a brand name that is probably the closest thing to recession-proof that an entertainment company can get these days, and as much as I've loved many of their comic books, and as much money as their movies have made over the last ten years, I don't think the same can be said for Marvel. They are basically doing this to secure their future, which has probably been thrown into doubt by all the madness of the last year or so. On that score, I'm quite happy Marvel has such deep pockets at their disposal.

From a creative standpoint, though, well, there's bit a lot of screaming on the internet in the last few hours about how bad that could be, some of it funny, some of it devoid of any intelligence, and all of it speculative, of course. The general consensus appears to be no consensus at all, with many people dreading Hannah Montana/Avengers crossovers and others cheering the prospect of Marvel/Pixar teamups.

For my part, I don't think Disney should mess with Marvel's publishing line, and I'd like to think that they won't; why change a formula that attracted them enough to buy an entire company in the first place? Basically, Disney knows next to nothing about the kind of comics that Marvel publishes, markets and sells, and Marvel has been doing a pretty good job of it over the last several years from a sales point of view, so I hardly think they'd mess with what works. Of course I could be wrong, but considering Joe Quesada, who is basically responsible for that very line has been among the first online to reassure the reading public of this, well I take some reassurance. Another potential plus from the impending relationship is that the prospect of Disney money might lure some creators over, though frankly I'm already quite happy with the stable that's already there. (Not like Jim Lee needs the money, but I'd still like to see him draw a full Spider-Man and/or Daredevil story-arc before I die).

So as far as comics are concerned, I'm reasonably confident that guys like Matt Fraction, Mark Millar, Dan Slott and Ed Brubaker will still be great writers and will continue to come up with great stories. Life as we comic book readers know it will continue, with a couple of possible perks as well in the form of new creators wanting in on the Disney money train.

On the animated front, I have to confess I have mixed feelings on the matter.

On the one hand the merger will mean that Pixar is to be Marvel's sister company. That prospect could blow up millions of fanboy heads as well, but in a good way. For one thing, Pixar could serve as a platform for Marvel's not-so-well-known-outside-comic-fandom properties that might not quite make the transition to the big screen, like the Runaways, who were recently announced to be slated for live-action adaptation but whose film could, development hell being the way it is, in reality take a looooong time to get off the ground, Doctor Strange, whose film has been in development hell since the 1980s, and the Guardians of the Galaxy as well as other cosmic characters like Mar-Vell and Noh Varr, to name but a few. And if they were by some miracle to get their hands on The Fantastic Four, well all of 20th Century Fox and Tim Story's sins will be forgotten if not forgiven. Of course, that's not likely to happen as all of the studios currently with deals to film or at least distribute Marvel properties, from Fox to Paramount to Sony to Universal, are now clinging to these contracts for dear life as they know how much money is on the table. In short, anyone hoping for a Pixar-made Avengers, Spider-Man or X-Men will be bitterly disappointed unless Disney is willing to make Paramount, Sony or Fox a whole lot richer. Fortunately, there are a lot of other toys for Pixar to play with; Marvel's library does consist of over 5,000 characters, after all. So the prospect of Pixar drawing on Marvel's library for future movies is something that is very, very good. As long as it's Pixar doing the animating and not the made-for-TV-mediocre in-house outfit Disney came up with that produced such execrable films as Chicken Little and Meet the Robinsons, back when Disney were afraid they'd lose Pixar, Marvel's properties should be in great hands.

As far as the TV/Home Video Animation front is concerned, though, I'm not particularly thrilled. Anyone who's seen Disney's truly dreadful direct-to-video sequels of their popular and acclaimed animated films like Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, Pocahontas, and more recently Cinderella, not to mention the rather abominable TV adaptations of fantastic films like Tarzan, will know what I'm talking about when I say that Disney is capable of taking some great properties and milking them for every dollar they're worth and then some. It could be good, but it could also be very, very bad.

On the live-action feature film front, well, I'm kind of filled with dread. Films based on Marvel properties are clearly action movies and on that front Jerry Bruckheimer has practically been Disney's go-to-guy since the mid-1990s. Now Bruckheimer is responsible for producing a lot of action movies I've enjoyed over the years, from Top Gun, the first Bad Boys, Crimson Tide and The Rock, all of which he co-produced with the late Don Simpson, to the thrill-ride Enemy of the State, which remains one of my favorite Will Smith movies ever, Black Hawk Down, and the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie. I also happened to enjoy the first National Treasure movie a lot, but I would not want any of my Marvel movies to be made with the same sense of flightiness. My rule about Bruckheimer of late, though seems to be that the bigger the movie, the worse it gets, as attested by films like Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, and the two Pirates of the Carribean sequels. Most movies based on Marvel properties by nature, would have to be big, so that doesn't bode well for having Bruckheimer produce any of them. If Disney leaves folks like Kevin Feige, Avi Arad and Jon Favreau to their own devices, everything should be fine. Of course, like I said, barring additional buyouts, film properties like Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and the Avengers (all part of Marvel's self-produced film slate) are still locked into Marvel's agreements with Paramount and Universal, the studios responsible for marketing and distributing the films, for better or worse.

I know this blog post is like a drop of water in an ocean of fanboy reaction but I'd like to conclude by saying that it's way, WAY too early to conclude that the merger means the end of Marvel as its fans know it. It's also too early to say if this is a good thing, though there are tangible positives already. Let's just sit tight and see what happens; the merger hasn't even happened yet, after all.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Cameron, Meet Messageboards and Comment Pages

The last time James Cameron made a straight-up action movie, True Lies, the internet (as we know it, anyway; it's been apparently been around for 40 years) was in a somewhat nascent form. By the time Titanic was released in 1997, the internet, and the messageboard, was already in a state of rather healthy activity as far as messageboards and online comments went, but sites like were still a year or so away from truly exploding onto the pop-culture scene. And in any event, Titanic made its megabucks through women and teenage girls who enjoyed a good cry and the boyfriends and husbands who wanted to appease them.

Avatar is James Cameron's first feature film in twelve years, and it is opening to a completely different pop culture milieu than any of his other movies. It's opening in the age of u-torrents, trailers on Apple, TMZ and most imporantly, of legions upon legions of self-important fanboys.

The whining was evident on at least two of the sites that showcased the Avatar trailer. Every other comment was how let down they felt, how the Na'vi (the fantastical aliens whose planet serves as the setting for the story) looked cartoony, or how James Cameron had turned into George Lucas. Bitch, bitch, bitch, bitch, bitch.

I'm pretty sure Cameron isn't exactly thin-skinned, but I wonder how he feels about thousands upon thousands of posts by strident, know-it-all fanboys proclaim that his film sucks four full months before its theatrical release?

Such feedback isn't what I'd call completely useless as reactions to things like Superbowl ads were cues for special effects vendors to tweak some shots but in general, like I've said a thousand times before, fanboys really are nothing more than a bunch of trolls at heart. There were legions of them who predicted that the new Terminator movie would rule the box-office just because their beloved Christian Bale is in it. There were bunches of them that predicted Star Wars: Episode II would kick Spider-Man's butt. And there are multitudes of them who, EVERY time there's a movie that makes heavy use of digital effects, have to harp on how fake the effects look, no matter how outlandish the character being depicted is. And so many of them are so woefully inarticulate that, apart from their inability to conjugate or spell properly, some of them can only manage to write one word: fail! Why Avi Arad strove to pander to these people when making Spider-Man 3 will forever be beyond me.

Avatar will probably make a killing at the box-office, and even though that isn't likely to shut the fanboys up any time soon even if it does, at least we'll know for sure that life goes on no matter how many trolls infest the internet.

Friday, August 14, 2009

And the World is Right-Side Up Again...

I don't know if anyone remembers the 1988 made-for-television film A Dangerous Life, but it was, I think, an Australian production employing Filipino, Australian, and some American actors made to dramatize the then-recent EDSA Revolution which saw the Philippines oust a dictator who had been in power for nearly two decades, Ferdinand Marcos, and install as their President the widow of one of Marcos' slain political rivals.

Time passed, and people gradually fell out of love with the Aquino administration, blaming it for the admittedly several problems that beset the country at the time, not the least of which were the widespread and frequent power outages that hit the entire countryside at varying times. They were a little happier to have her hand-picked successor (and former Marcos right hand, ironically enough) Fidel V. Ramos as president for six years, but by and large Cory remained a highly respected figure, especially for having been at the forefront of the restoration of the democratic process to our country.

Things started getting a little strange after Joseph "Erap" Estrada was elected President in 1998. One of the first things he seemed determined to do was to restore the Marcoses to their old glory, starting with the burial of former strongman Ferdie Marcos himself in the Libingan ng mga Bayani, which basically opened a lot of wounds that had only just healed, with some still in the process of healing. He was a marked man after that, and when he basically handed over the reins to his then-VP Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2001 one of the people presiding over "EDSA Dos" was Cory Aquino.

After the much-debated elections in 2004 in which GMA was proclaimed President at the expense of previous favorite, the late movie star Fernando Poe, Jr., things started to get a little crazy, particularly when the "Hello Garci" scandal broke out.

Cory Aquino knew or had a good idea of what it was like to have been cheated out of an election considering that was what is widely believed to have happened during the "Snap Elections" of 1986 and so she joined the growing clamor against GMA, the first time she ever stood against a sitting President she effectively helped install three years ago.

But that was just part of the craziness.

Suddenly, the Presidential Commission for Good Governance, the PCGG which had been formed under the aegis of the Aquino administration for the purpose of recovering the billions of pesos of allegedly ill-gotten wealth from the Marcos family and their cronies and for prosecuting the people responsible for gorging themselves on the national treasury for years, was attempting all kinds of kooky ex-deals designed to get the Marcoses off the hook in exchange for what was believed by some to be a token amount of the sequestered fortunes. Having worked there for over a year I wasn't too happy to read about these developments.

The next thing that appalled me was that in the bout between GMA and Cory Aquino, it was the latter who was, in several eyes anyway, apparently coming off worse. A lot of people were starting to say that Cory had become irrelevant and some insinuations as well as outright pronouncements were made that she was a hindrance to progress. That the palace would make these remarks was, of course, understandable, but that some writers picked up on it was downright confounding. Here we had an icon of democracy up against a person who had apparently engaged in massive fraud to attain the Presidency, and yet the general sentiment was the ignore the former and support the latter.

In truth, I could actually understand the general sentiment of weariness with "People Power," especially considering the opportunistic scumbags who were, from 2004 to sometime last year when they all started going their separate ways in preparation for their respective bids for the presidency, joining the bandwagon. Heck, it was widely whispered that Ramos used the "equity of the incumbent" to triumph over Miriam Defensor-Santiago back in 1992 but no one was nailing him to the cross for it (though admittedly FVR never had a "Hello Garci" recording to try to explain).

What I couldn't understand was how it happened that brickbats were suddenly being flung at Cory for trying to call for some accountability.

Now, though I was just a kid when EDSA happened, as I got older I had a better perspective of things, and I can honestly say I was never so high on the Cory Kool-Aid to be blinded to some of her poorer judgment calls while she was in power. A Mendiola massacre occurred on her watch, for one thing, and of course the controversy of family-owned Hacienda Luisita never quite left the public consciousness, not to mention the infamous Kamag-Anak, Inc. that made the proverbial hay while the sun was shining.

But for goodness' sake, the extent to which she was actually villified was really rather flabbergasting. I just didn't get it at all.

And then, somewhere in the middle of all this, people were talking about someone making a movie about the Marcoses starring Hollywood stars like Brad Pitt as Ferdinand Marcos and Julia Roberts or some other Hollywood it-girl as Imelda (granted, it could easily have been a rumor started by the member of the Marcos family itself or one of their sycophants)! Fortunately a not-quite-flattering portrayal of Imelda hit theaters a few years ago in a documentary about her, but I just couldn't contain the WTF impulses that possessed me then.

When Cory died, though, although it was sad to see her go, I was genuinely glad to see things suddenly turning right again.

Suddenly people remembered that the Marcoses had plundered the country and murdered people, crimes for which they have yet to be held fully accountable (at least Imelda anyway, considering that Ferdie could well be paying for it all already where he's gone). Suddenly GMA properly started looking like pond scum again, especially after she and some of her select lackeys, during this period of widespread mourning, were found to have gorged themselves on a million pesos worth of food in some restaurant in New York (where the food isn't even reportedly that good). Suddenly it's Cory whose life story will be made into a movie, albeit with local talent, though who would really want white boys and girls to play Filipinos anyway?

At least in some ways, the world is again as it should be.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Celebrating Original Films in 2009

Going into 2009 I was only aware of two original films that I'd be looking forward to watching: Disney/Pixar's Up and James Cameron's Avatar. As of August, I'm delighted to learn that instead of just two there are now (at least) five: the aforementioned two, Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, Kathryn Bigelow's The Hurt Locker and Neil Blomkamp's District 9. Not having seen any of them, I'm certainly not qualified to give a review, but the good news is that, apart from the predictable buzz generated by a Pixar project and Cameron's first movie project in a dozen years, as well as the rather vocal if slightly mixed reaction to Tarantino's new film at Cannes, surprisingly The Hurt Locker and District 9, two movies that don't have any particularly big names attached (with the exception of Peter Jackson who has producer or executive producer credit on the latter) have, in terms of critical reaction anyway, become quite conspicuous, with the former, a military-themed movie, being the first movie dealing with the U.S. military's occupation of Iraq to get a positive response from film critics and some audience segments (with its buzz increasing over time). Both movies look like they're about ready to pop, and this remake/adaptation/sequel/prequel-weary movie lover is sincerely and fervently hoping that they do.

The best part of them both is that these films aren't just some esoteric, arty movies, the kind that, as Robert Downey Jr. said when inviting Gwyneth Paltrow to star in Iron Man, nobody sees. The Hurt Locker is an action-thriller, directed by the highly capable but sadly underappreciated Kathryn Bigelow, while District 9 is an action science fiction film. I think the last original action-thriller to hit movie screens was the first Die Hard film. Even the fifteen-year old, enormously entertaining Speed was literally conceived as "Die Hard on a bus." The Hurt Locker, which, this early, is already getting Oscar buzz from reviewers, wasn't even conceived as that kind of movie. It's set in the Iraq occupation, but from what I'm read it's apparently devoid of any of the polemics that have turned past efforts on the subject matter into box-office poison. District 9, for its part, appears to be the first original work of science fiction to hit screens since James Cameron's The Abyss. Sure, there have been some pretty entertaining sci-fi movies since then like Jurassic Park, but the thought that a filmmaker could sit down and come up with something entirely on his own without standing on the shoulders of someone like Michael Crichton is pretty amazing, even though theoretically, it shouldn't be.

It's gratifying to see these two films muscling in on territory that for two long has been dominated by sequels, prequels, video games and (gag) toy adaptations. I love the thought that if these films become breakout hits with their low budgets and maverick filmmaking sensibilities, Hollywood suits will be scrambling to make "the next Hurt Locker" and "the next District 9" because just maybe, one of those suits will start looking around for "the next ORIGINAL idea."

I'm similarly enamored with Basterds, and particularly I love the story of how Tarantino spent over a decade (or more) writing the script. I know I'll be in line for it in a couple of weeks.

Although District 9 looks like it'll be coming out in a few weeks I honestly don't know if I'll be able to find the time to see it, let alone Hurt Locker which doesn't look like it'll be released here any time soon, if at all, but I am immensely glad that these movies are out there and I hope there are many, many more of their kind to come.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

This Comic Book Fan has Learned to Wait for the Trade

I think my days of collecting expensive toy cars may well be numbered; on top of the fact that I can count on one hand the remaining cars I want to buy, none of which are even on the market yet (and which won't be for awhile), it is simply too expensive a hobby to pursue on a regular basis and there simply isn't enough space anymore. I'll probably find myself revisiting it someday when a) I have a lot more money, which will eventually happen and b) I have a nice, dedicated cabinet in which to put all my cars.

But there's another reason why, after the last of the few remaining cars on my wish list trickles in, I may call it a day, and it's because I'm slowly rediscovering my first love: comics.

I once wrote that, even when my comic-book collecting had tapered off considerably, I wasn't going to renounce comic books altogether but that 1) I would stop collecting them in individual issues and more importantly, 2) I would only come back when I found stories that I wanted to read again.

Well, in terms of the former I haven't exactly been faithful to this promise as I've been buying a few single issues here and there such as one-shots, the landmark Amazing Spider Man #600, and the Captain America: Reborn limited series. They've all been fun, especially ASM #600 and Reborn, of which only two issues have come out so far, but nothing's persuaded me to go back to collecting monthlies.

On the recommendation of my favorite retailer, I picked up the first storyarc of The Invincible Iron Man in trade paperback format, and was quite simply blown away by both the story and the art. Here was a story that was in continuity and which took place after "events" like Civil War and World War Hulk and their somewhat unflattering portrayals of the character which showed respect for what had been established before but which managed to create an original story with real narrative heft. From my understanding of "events" and what they do, those that took place in this story not likely to be undone by any retconning event. I've long wanted to read a story that felt like it mattered somehow and I've finally found at least this one. After the somewhat lengthy "World's Most Wanted" storyline in the title concludes, I may well eventually look for that in collected form as well. I guess I really missed out by just sticking to the Marvel universe according to Bendis, Millar and Straczynski for the last several years. Matt Fraction is a gem of a writer and I hope Marvel keep him busy for a long time to income, particularly writing Iron Man stories. I also hope they keep Salvador Larroca locked into a contract to work for them for as long as is humanly possible.

Having a nice, handy volume to take anywhere whenever I want to read is not entirely a new thing for me but of all the trade paperbacks I've ever bought, I have to say this one has turned out to be the best read, even when measured against my all-time favorites like the collection of J. Michael Straczynski's inaugural story arc on The Amazing Spider-Man back in 2001. The thought that there are more compilations yet to come from this writer as well as old favorites like Millar, who will be returning to the Ultimates this month is positively tantalizing.

Gone are the days I had to rush to the store to get the next issue or get beaten to the punch by fans and/or speculators. Gone is the itch to complete long runs of a single book. Gone is the mental justification I had for buying single issues that I would one day be able to sell them on the internet. I've already sold a fair number of comics on eBay, getting easily more than I paid for them but the whole thing holds no more appeal for me, and taking care of comics against deterioration and acid damage is just something I can't really do on a regular basis, especially considering the climate here. But I still love a good comic-book story, and so I love me a good trade paperback. Single issues are indeed collectible, but I think I've sold more than enough of them on eBay to prove that to my wife (or anyone else who might doubt it), and I have no further interest in collecting things that are inherently fragile on the off-chance I decide to sell them again someday. Having them sit in my room with the smug knowledge (or supposition) that they will be worth a fortune someday doesn't do anything for me anymore either. So for me there's simply no point to single issues anymore.

I know that paperbacks can't survive without the original, single-issue runs, and so I understand and appreciate what impels single-issue collectors to keep collecting the way they do. After all, until only fairly recently I was one of them. But in reading the Iron Man trade paperback I've finally come to understand the made-for-trade mindset that has many Marvel Comics storylines take place over five to seven issues. Had I collected The Ultimates in this fashion, I would never have chafed at how late the individual issues arrived.

And, thanks to the fact that in collecting my cars I could never buy more than one every few months, I've gotten used to waiting for something, which I could never really do when I was regularly collecting single issues. Reading the issues all in succession is immensely gratifying, especially stuff written by Mark Millar or, most recently, this stuff by Fraction.

I may well buy my next trade paperback months from now, or maybe even a year. The point is it doesn't matter; the collected story will wait for me without skyrocketing in value on the back-issue market. Such is the beauty of the trade paperback!

So in a manner of speaking, my collecting days are back...but not quite in the same way.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Watching Harry Potter, Anakin Skywalker and My Girl Grow Up

I'm not entirely sure why I keep gravitating towards the topic of child stars. Maybe it's partly because I've been a parent long enough to watch my kids grow considerably, and within a considerably short period of time, that I've acquired this morbid fascination with the way Hollywood seems to "bring up" its young.

As far as I can tell, the handlers of the Harry Potter kids (apart, of course, from their parents) appear to have done the best job considering the enormous amount of pressure that has, for eight years running now, rested on the shoulders of these youngsters. For six movies now, they've played the same characters and have gone from tykes to teens. The good news is, we haven't been reading about any DUIs, wild parties or seen any snapshots of any of them without their underwear (though on the topic of snapshots I have seen ONE photoshopped pic featuring the actors playing the main trio with Rupert Grint's "hand" firmly on Emma Watson's breast"). In short, as far as outward appearances are concerned, they appear to be none the worse for wear. They're all still in school, and are apparently not on drugs, which can only be a good thing. Maybe, just maybe, they'll all go the way of Jodie Foster rather than Lindsay Lohan.

Speaking of kids who are in school, I was pleasantly surprised to read about (and actually watch a video of) Jake Lloyd, who back in 1999 played ten-year-old Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, a movie I actually hated. It seems that, after the role that would have made anyone else's career, he pretty much dropped out of sight (something fanboys will probably thank him for if they get the chance) and turned up, ten years later, in an online interview. The boy's in college and appears to be doing well. No drug-related stories, etc. To think it was only a few years ago that his contemporary, Haley Joel Osment, who also starred in a 1999 smash-hit, The Sixth Sense, figured in a DUI arrest.

Another child-star, from a little further back, is making her return to movies after a long absence. Anna Chlumsky, star of 1991's My Girl, was unable to parlay the success of that one film into a film career as three of her next movies, including the sequel to My Girl, tanked at the box office. She then walked away from movies and focused on, apparently, growing up and going back to school, among other things. And now she's back and apparently quite well adjusted with a college degree, a marriage, and a healthy stage career. Maybe she should thank her lucky stars that her career as a child actor didn't take off. After all, it didn't do the career of her My Girl co-star Macaulay Culkin any favors.

It's nice to read about these things after hearing things about Michael Jackson's troubled childhood as people look back on his life. I guess that a lot of child actors turn out okay, especially the ones who take a step back to live life outside Hollywood for a while; it's just that we don't read about them too much.