Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Cathartic Appeal of Wolverine

I was never much of a Wolverine fan. I always connected more with Spider-Man's teenage angst or Batman's tortured soul. I even liked Iron Man's constant conflict with his inner demons better. Wolverine, to be fair, has his own share of inner demons, it seems that more often than not, they triumph as he slaughters people on pretty much a regular basis. I have an entire trade paperback (which my wife bought) consisting of stand-alone issues, every one of which features him killing someone or leaving him to his death. I also have the first half of the Mark-Millar-penned "Enemy of the State" in which Wolverine also kills a hell of a lot of people (to be fair, at first it's while he's under the influence of Hydra, but he also does plenty of killing on his own). I appreciate some stories told starring him, but he's never held that much appeal for me.

Till now.

The Maguindanao massacre has, by now courtesy of cable news and the internet, shocked pretty much the world. The fact that it happened at all is bad enough but that no one seems to be able to do anything about it feels ten times worse. Though the adult in me is appalled by what happened and hopes for the best but not expecting much, the eternal adolescent in me still fantasizes about what I could have done had I been a superhero on the scene.

I have no interest in being a Superman or a Spider-Man and basically stopping all the bad guys in their tracks and saving all the victims, or in being a Batman and basically roughing up the bad guys but only up to a certain point.

No, I conceived of a Wolverine fantasy, this time, which involved me being in the thick of things, taking all of the bullets those bastards have to offer while opening up their intestines, cutting off their limbs and severing their arteries. Killing them simply wouldn't do; if I had the power to take as much abuse as Wolverine does in his most tenacious incarnations I would not content myself with stopping those animals. No, I would inflict the maximum amount of pain imaginable.

I would let them shoot me, riddle me with their bullets and gain the impression of superiority in arms and force and when I'd lulled them into that sense of security I would attack and watch their bravado melt into horror as they'd realize they were completely helpless to stop me, even with all their guns. I'd destroy their weapons with my adamantium claws, in some cases with their limbs attached, to remind them of how useless they are against me. I would cut them in places where they would bleed out severely enough to die but slowly enough so that they could take in just how conclusively they've been routed.

Once the last of the gunmen had breathed his last I would then behead them, gather up their heads, drive over to the mansion or nightclub or office of the person who sent them and drop each and every one of them at that person's doorstep. And after taking another hail of bullets from the personal security and after maiming and killing the entire cadre of personal security I would stand right in front of the people responsible for masterminding the would-be murders, have them look around at the carnage, tell them I'd be watching them, and then walk away, leaving them in a sea of their goons' blood and entrails. I would leave them with fear of God in their hearts and a pair of soiled pants.

And then, when they'd thought I'd gone, I'd sneak up behind them and kill them anyway.

I'm not Wolverine, so I obviously would never get to do any of those things but after the brutality in Maguindanao it was the first time I had ever wanted to do them, even in my mind.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Back When Marvel Wooed Hollywood...

I don't know if anyone remembers this but many years before his death last July, Michael Jackson already met the Grim Reaper, albeit in the pages of Marvel Comics' Longshot miniseries, where he got blasted to smithereens while filming a television show on Mojoworld. I'm sure a lot of people do remember how preoccupied Marvel was with being fashionable back in the '80s (among other time periods), as perhaps best exemplified by the jeri-curled Beyonder who faced off against the Marvel Universe in Secret Wars II, and the perpetually mullet-haired Longshot himself.

But way before Blade, the first successful movie based on a Marvel Comics character came out in 1998, Hollywood was Marvel's wet dream. It was all over their comic books; whether it was fans or writers coming up with their own personal lists of who they'd like to see playing Spider-Man (with names like Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt getting mentioned more than a couple of times).

It's a different world now, one where Disney has bought Marvel (for a steal, in my opinion) precisely because of the power its properties wields at the box-office, where Hugh Jackman was made a star precisely because of his appearance in the X-Men movies, which remain his highest-grossing films to date, where people like Nicolas Cage, Ryan Reynolds and even Robert Downey Jr. campaign avidly to play Marvel characters, in some instances not even for very much money, and where studios holding the rights to Marvel films prior to the Disney acquisition scramble to make more because they don't want to lose them. Yep, it's a different world, one that more than makes up for the snubs of Marvel roles by the likes of Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio, for the several aborted attempts to realize Marvel projects, one of the most notable of which was Tom Cruise's failed Iron Man endeavor at the beginning of the millenium, and even some of the creative misfires that did make it to the screen like Daredevil and Ghost Rider.

The buzz for Iron Man 2 is at a fever pitch right now and it still makes me feel all warm and tingly inside that the first one is widely regarded as the film that re-launched the career of Downey Jr., an actor whose work I have always admired.

The best part of all this is that even for this tantrum thrower, the best is yet to come.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Hip to be Square.

I love the recent film 500 Days of Summer. With the exception of the cornball narrator I love just about everything about it from the writing to the acting to the music.

As strange as it may sound, one other thing I love about this film is that apart from an e-mail message which the main character, Tom Hanson (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) receives from Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel), there is no mention of any technology anywhere in the film that could possibly date it. Nobody texts, nobody tweets, nobody has a myspace or facebook page.

Tom dresses like a prep-school kid from some eighties movie, shops for Ringo Starr albums, is a huge fan of the 1980s TV series Knight Rider (not its tepid 21st century revival), and dances to one of my favorite Hall and Oates songs. He is, apart from being my kind of guy, the anti-hipster, a character who, to borrow a phrase used by renowned film critic Richard Corliss, is joyfully, defiantly anachronistic in his pop-culture preferences.

In Tom's delightful dance number to the 29-year-old Hall & Oates song "You Make My Dreams," he basically flips the bird at putrid, trying-hard movies like He's Just Not That Into You which love to scream out at the audience how up-to-date their script is with trends and technology. "Look, our characters have myspace pages! They text! They tweet! Aren't they the shizz?" Probably, but the minute these little technological quirks have gone the way of the dinosaur like the pager did, thereby ceasing to have any contemporary cultural relevance, so will those little references. It irks me that Iron Man makes reference to myspace, which has already been supplanted by facebook, as I understand it.

To my mind it's pure foolishness for filmmakers, unless they're working with a story that deals directly with technology like 1992's Sneakers or 1998's You've Got Mail, to make references in their films to extant tech, especially if the story can be told without it.

It's like the difference between Pixar movies and many Dreamworks films; with all of their pop-culture references, the Shrek films will one day be dated back to things like The Matrix or the first Spider-Man film, while most Pixar films, with the possible exception of Cars (which is dated by the models of the newer cars involved like a Porsche 996 Carrera S and a Ferrari F430) will truly achieve timelessness, especially films that feel neither here nor there like The Incredibles or Finding Nemo.

It's a given these days that audiences have woefully short attention spans, as products perhaps of the MTV generation. It's been over a decade since a movie has spent more than five weeks as the number one film in America (James Cameron's Titanic) and so the quest is on to find something that people watching movies will latch on to.

Well, I will say this; the answer to that remains to be compelling, relatable characters and a great story.

The trashy He's Just Not That Into You, with its "look at me" references to myspace and texting may have made more money than the infinitely superior 500 Days of Summer this year, but I wouldn't be surprised if, years from now, when people start making lists of truly great romantic comedies of the new millenium, that little movie with the guy who didn't text or tweet were to appear on all of them, with the other film basically being consigned to oblivion.

Monday, November 02, 2009

WHY Aren't Anime-Based Movies Selling?

The first movie I ever watched that was based on a Japanese anime or manga series was Christophe Gans 1995 film Crying Freeman, starring Mark Dacascos, which I genuinely enjoyed even though I had not watched the original series or read the original comic books. The last one I watched, just last Saturday, was an adaptation of the seminal anime/manga classic, Astro Boy, who was created by the so-called godfather of animation, Osamu Tezuka. In the case of Astro Boy I had watched one of the TV series starring him (there have been three, one in the 1960s, one in the 1980s, and one that ran about three or four years ago), and I still enjoyed the film, shortcomings notwithstanding.

I've noticed, though, that the reception of Joe Public all around the world (with the exception of Japan) has not quite been as warm as mine was of these two movies, or of anything based on anime or manga in general. Three of Hayao Miyazaki's films, Princess Mononoke, Howl's Moving Castle and now Ponyo, have all made very decent box-office, the vast bulk of it in Japan and Korea, but have otherwise made very little impression on the global box-office.

Films like Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within and Speed Racer were the kind of flops that could lose studio executives their jobs (and quite possibly did) and the aforementioned Crying Freeman never even made it to theatrical release in the United States. Considering how badly the current Astro Boy film is doing in theaters, it may as well have been sent straight to the DVD shelf. And the less said about 20th Century Fox's Dragonball, the better.

This is strange because judging from things like comic book conventions and amateur comic book drawings of fans all over the world, one would think anime is one of the most popular media out there, a global phenomenon. Heck, the word anime isn't even Japanese; it's French for "alive."

Why, therefore, do so many people outside of the Land of the Rising Sun ignore anime feature films, or feature films based on anime? Is it some residual resentment left from World War II? Is it a general global inability to digest Japanese pop-culture (a thesis which the success of movies like The Ring would debunk, I'm sure)? I'm curious.

It's really quite a shame as there are quite a number of good works of anime that, with the advances in today's technology, could be adapted pretty well with the right people behind them. We're talking about an industry that is capable of bringing books, plays, comic books, toy lines, video games, television shows and even blasted theme park rides to the big screen with resounding success. The successful and profitable translation of anime to the big screen shouldn't be as big a challenge as it has been for the last several years (though I'm really not crazy about the upcoming Akira adaptation, as I feel it is a classic that should be left alone).

Come on, Hollywood! Bring me my Robotech!