Joss Whedon Answers the Bat-Signal

By Tom Holste

Apr. 1, 2017

Hey, folks! Sorry it’s been such a long time between posts. I’ve been working, which is great, but it left me with little time or energy to write. Thanks to everyone who liked my posts or started following my blogs in the past year.

Anyway, something popped up yesterday that surprised me enough to inspire writing: Joss Whedon (of the two Avengers films, among other projects) plans to make a Batgirl movie.

Batgirl

Whedon’s goal: give us a better Batgirl than Alicia Silverstone in BATMAN AND ROBIN. Yeah, I think that’s doable.

The move is surprising, as during interviews for Age of Ultron, Whedon repeatedly expressed a desire to get back to making original projects. In five years, he had worked on two comic book movies and an adaptation of a Shakespeare play, and he was feeling the itch to try something new. Additionally, there was some heavy backlash for Age of Ultron that I thought would keep him away from high-profile projects for a while. (Even though I found Ultron unsatisfying, even I’ll admit that some of the criticism was too harsh.)

All recent mentions of Whedon indicated that he was working on a horror movie set during WWII. So this announcement really came out of left field.

(And for those concerned that I’m posting this on April Fool’s Day, keep in mind that the news actually broke on Thursday. Also, the announcement of Whedon making The Avengers happened to come out on Apr. 1, 2010, even though that news was real, too.)

I don’t blame DC for wanting Whedon in their camp, though. When Marvel brought Whedon on board for their Cinematic Universe, it was still just an experiment with a successful movie or two under its belt. But would audiences really accept seeing multiple different movies until the characters were brought together in one unprecedented team-up movie? Avengers was the film that proved that the idea had paid off.

And for those who think that what Whedon did was easy, I would point you to 2006’s direct-to-video animated release Ultimate Avengers: The Movie that has almost the exact same lineup of characters. If the live-action Avengers had been as “meh” as that movie, I doubt we’d still be talking about the Marvel Cinematic Universe today.

So DC definitely had good reason to court Whedon now that he was a free agent. While DC’s own attempts at making a combined cinematic universe have made lots of money, critics and fans have largely expressed their unhappiness with the results. It’s very telling that, last year, the long-awaited, first-ever meeting of Batman and Superman in an official live-action project made less at the box office than the relatively unknown Deadpool.

Meanwhile, what was the incentive for Whedon (other than the probably large paycheck) to put his more personal projects on hold? Word on the street around the time of Age of Ultron was that Whedon and Marvel had frequently clashed on the direction of that sequel. For better or for worse, DC is known for giving its directors more free rein. If DC offered Whedon the opportunity to tell the story however he wants to, that probably sealed the deal.

For fans of DC’s darker approach to their characters who worry that Whedon will make the movie too lighthearted, I would assure them that there are plenty of episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and Firefly that would convince them that Whedon can go dark when he wants to. Whedon fully admitted that the first Iron Man movie, directed by Jon Favreau, was his template when making The Avengers. I think he’ll be able to adapt well to the tone of DC’s movies, and in fact, do them one better.

So it’ll be interesting to see what happens. I don’t agree with Whedon politically most of the time, but I know he can deliver great entertainment. He’s written croud-pleasing projects as varied as Toy Story and Speed, and he did a fine job on an X-Men comic series in the early 2000s. If anyone can answer the call to get DC’s movie series on track, it’s him.

 

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Disney Seeks More Fortune and Glory with INDY V

By Tom Holste

Mar. 15, 2016

First of all, hello and welcome to all of my new readers! Thank you for the likes and the follows over the past few weeks.

So here’s the latest bit of interesting movie industry news: It looks like Disney is finally moving forward with a new Indiana Jones film. This would be the fifth in the series.

There’s been talk of speculation of another Indy film pretty much since the last one came out in 2008. Rumors intensified after Disney purchased Lucasfilm in 2012, but for the time being, the Mouse House only seemed interested in Star Wars.

But having gotten their first major victory under their belts — The Force Awakens wowed the critics and shattered box-office records — the magic makers at Disney seem keen on trying their hand at Lucasfilm’s other big franchise.

Bob Iger expressed his continuing interest in making another Indiana Jones movie back in December, but it was vague and noncommittal. What makes this latest announcement so newsworthy is that Disney has gone so far as to announce a date: Jul. 19, 2019. Both the series star Harrison Ford and director Steven Spielberg have also officially been confirmed. This time, it seems, Disney means business.

In the press release from Alan Horn, chairman of the Walt Disney Studios: “Indiana Jones is one of the greatest heroes in cinematic history, and we can’t wait to bring him back to the screen in 2019 … It’s rare to have such a perfect combination of director, producers, actor and role, and we couldn’t be more excited to embark on this adventure with Harrison and Steven.”

indiana-jones-kingdom-crystal-skull-spielberg-ford

Note two names that weren’t mentioned: George Lucas and Shia LeBouf.

Frankly, I was surprised that the franchise didn’t start over with a new actor. After Crystal Skull, I thought maybe a fresh start was best. Don’t get me wrong: I never want to live in a world where Raiders of the Lost Ark is no longer canon. But Casino Royale so wonderfully gave us a new take on James Bond, I wondered if a new actor and director could enliven this franchise the same way.

After all, both Ford and Spielberg seemed bored during the last installment. Perhaps, though, that was because they were unhappy with the flying saucer storyline they were forced to go with at Lucas’ insistence. Maybe this time, they can make the story they wanted to make last time.

Speaking of the story, it’s interesting that there’s no mention of a screenwriter yet. One would think that everyone wouldn’t be moving forward if there wasn’t an idea already in mind. Perhaps they have an idea but don’t want to spill any secrets yet, for fear of someone beating them to the punch (as in the ridiculous game of one-upmanship going on between the makers of Batman v. Superman and Civil War).

batman-v-superman-dawn-of-justice-vs-captain-america-civil-war

“Our movie has a BILLION superheroes in it.” “Oh, yeah? Well, OUR movie has a MILLION KAJILLION superheroes in it!”

Or perhaps there was simply a gap in Ford’s and Spielberg’s schedule, and they decided this was their chance to redeem their names, and the next step is to figure out what exactly it is that they want to do.

I’m using a bit of over-dramatic wording to make my point, but to be fair, Crystal Skull isn’t an outright bad film. There are funny moments and a lot of action scenes that work. It’s just not really a great film, especially not in comparison with the others. I don’t even blame George Lucas for wanting to try a little something different with the flying saucers angle. For me (and for a lot of others), the whole thing just didn’t fully gel.

I have to say that it’s strange that the story will now have to be set in the late 1960s . I feel like the 1930s setting of the earlier films made the movies seem more distant and exotic, and made the fantastical endings seem more plausible. But the late 1960s are just a few years before I was born! That doesn’t seem as distant or exotic. Then again, maybe that has more to say about my age than it does about the original time and setting.

So I’m trying to keep an open mind. After the last installment, I didn’t think we needed any more, at least not from the original team. But then Harrison Ford was arguably the best thing about The Force Awakens. So maybe there’s more cinematic treasure to be mined from Ford and Spielberg after all.

 

Remembering Davy Jones

It’s been four years exactly since Davy Jones passed away. It’s an easy date to remember, since it was Leap Day, Feb. 29, 2012.

Davy wasn’t my favorite Monkee, as his ballads could be somewhat schmaltzy. But he was always friendly and good to the fans. Even when someone tried to catch him off guard with a bit of playful teasing (referencing an old embarrassing photo or an obscure song of his that flopped), Davy remained unflappable, willing to go along with the gag, and even share historical insights into that photo or sing the words to the obscure song verbatim.

That’s the Davy I admire, and the Davy I’ll remember.

(BTW, how strange is it that David Bowie — whose real last name was Jones, but who had to adopt a stage name to avoid confusion — died in the very next leap year?)

Here’s Davy’s most famous song, “Daydream Believer.” It was written by John Stewart of the Kingston Trio, his only contribution to the group.

The music video for this is one of several recorded during the summer of 1967 at a studio in Chicago, on a brightly colored set informally dubbed “the Rainbow Room.” (“Pleasant Valley Sunday” was among the other music videos recorded here.)

I love watching the guys clown around in this one, acknowledging that they’re performing to a prerecorded track by goofing off so much that they frequently aren’t playing their instruments.

Thanks for the fun memories, Davy!

‪#‎Monkees50th‬

Yabba-Dabba-Doo or Don’t?

Part 3 of my series “Everything Old is Old Again”

By Tom Holste

Feb. 17,2016

When talking about reboots the other day, I mentioned that DC Comics is planning on rebooting several Hanna-Barbera properties in their comics later this year. (Warner Bros. owns both DC Comics and the entire old Hanna-Barbera catalog.)

The new Scooby-Doo is set during a zombie apocalypse. (The new comics will not affect the continuity of DC’s other Scooby-Doo books that it currently produces, or the current TV series Be Cool, Scooby-Doo.) The Flinstones is being turned into a series with more realistic artwork. Wacky Races is getting a post-Mad Max apocalyptic makeover. And Johnny Quest and many C-list superhero characters from the H-B universe are being brought together Marvel’s Avengers-style for a series called Future Quest.

Scooby-Apocalypse

This is not a drill, people! This is also, apparently, not a joke.

 

Personally, I’m torn about the updates. On the one hand, several  friends have aptly described some of the updates as being very “DeviantArt.” For those not in the know, DeviantArt is a site where fans post their artwork that usually has a strange or unusual take for a character or fandom. It’s all considered to be in good fun, but not something that should be done on a serious professional level by the rights holders.

scooby_DeviantArt

An actual contribution on DeviantArt — and again, as far as I know, not a joke.

An apocalyptic Scooby-Doo and Wacky Races both indeed come off as very DeviantArt, and not in a good way. The new Flinstones art is kind of creepy-looking. Future Quest looks the most promising to the fans of the classic material, but even at that, did the world really need the return of such characters as Frankenstein Jr. and the Impossibles?

Flintstones-new

It never USED to bother me that Barney didn’t have pupils…

Often attempts to update classic characters feel very forced and awkward, and look very dated within a decade. “Hey, let’s bring back some beloved cartoon characters, only this time they’re all babies / teenagers / skateboarders / ninjas!”

However, having said all of that…

When it comes to Hanna-Barbera, many of the productions weren’t artistic masterpieces to begin with. I have nostaglic fondness for them as much as anybody else, but are they really untouchable works of art? In fact, many of them were cheap, formulaic knockoffs of other, more popular things in the culture at the time.

For instance, it will come as a surprise to absolutely no one that The Flintstones (an excellent series) was a knockoff of The Honeymooners, and when other fads came along, the creators were more than happy to jump on the latest trend. And I’m not even talking about the bizarre spinoffs featuring the Thing from The Fantastic Four or the Shmoo from Li’l Abner. Within the classic original 6-year run, there was a Bewitched-centered episode, an Addams Family takeoff, and a recurring alien character called The Great Gazoo that might have been based on My Favorite Martian.

Yes, a show that already featured cavemen with modern appliances didn’t think it too strange to throw an extraterrestrial into the mix.Yes, a show that already featured cavemen with modern appliances didn’t think it too strange to throw an extraterrestrial into the mix.

Great-Gazoo

Yes, a show that already featured cavemen with modern appliances didn’t think it too strange to add an extraterrestrial to the mix.

Again, though, everybody already knows about The Flintstones. But did you know that Scooby-Doo was a combination of an old radio show called I Love Mystery and the sitcom The Dobie Gillis Show? That’s right, Freddie was based on Dobie, and Shaggy was a copy of Bob Denver’s beatnik character, Maynard G. Krebbs.

Dobie_and_Maynard

Now that you’ve seen it, you’ll never be able to unsee it.

Dobie Gillis itself has largely fallen out of the public eye; does the current version of its imitation still need to follow in those footsteps? If a supernatural series for youngsters were indeed being designed from scratch today, wouldn’t its more likely inspiration be The Walking Dead and other zombie movies and TV shows?

As for The Flintstones, drawing them in a more realistic style (however uncanny it is) at least made me recognize some of the wonderful absurdity of the show all over again (“So that’s what it would look like if somebody actually had a pet dinosaur”). This franchise has been languishing since the terrible live-action movies of 1994 and 2000; an ill-conceived direct-to-video animated movie inexplicably featuring WWE wrestlers failed to ignite any interest last year. This new project may not be what The Flintstones needs, but these characters clearly need some kind of a fresh approach.

I had a bigger problem with Loonatics Unleashed from a few years ago, which bafflingly reimagined the Looney Tunes characters as futuristic superheroes. In the first place, the original Looney Tunes are brilliant and still hold up as high-water marks in animation and comedy. So there was no need to change the premise so radically. In the second place, while I can see at least a tenous connection between Scooby-Doo and modern spooky shows like The Walking Dead, there is nothing at all about Looney Tunes that makes me say, “These characters need to be fighting aliens.”

So there’s at least potential for some of these projects to turn out really good. It’s not a definitive truth, of course, but I’m going to keep an open mind. After all, Frankenstein Jr.’s phone hasn’t rung for a while. I think he’s probably happy just to be working again.

 

Hollywood: The Department of Redundancy Department

Part 2 of my series “Everything Old is Old Again”

By Tom Holste

Feb. 16, 2016

In my previous column, I talked about how the word “reboot” gets misused by many in the media. However, even when the word is used right, it’s symptomatic of a larger problem: a lack of original ideas coming out of Hollywood.

The X-Files has come back to TV, and the similarly eerie show Twin Peaks is on the way. Last year saw three different film series hit their seventh installment (Rocky, Star Wars, and Fast & Furious). Jurassic Park and Mad Max got their first new movies in ages. Ghostbusters has a female-centric reboot heading our way later this year. New installments of the Predator and Alien franchises are in active development.

All of these shows and movies at least have dedicated fan bases. But when Netflix announced that it was producing a new Full House series, my reaction was: Who ever even asked for that?

fuller-house-1024

“This February: Joey will have to Cut. It. Out…one last time!”

 

In fact, I just saw a preview for Kindergarten Cop 2 with Dolph Lundgren, coming 26 years after the original. I had to double-check with a Google search to make sure this wasn’t just a FunnyOrDie.com parody.

Mind you, the concept of recycling ideas is nothing new. For instance, most of Shakespeare’s plays were stories that the audience already knew. And I distinctly remember Johnny Carson doing a routine about all the sequels coming out in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, a time in filmmaking history that’s now greatly revered. But even with all that being said, there seems to be even less fresh material than ever before.

However, there’s a new, somewhat ironic problem: Many of these rehashes are not only popular but quite well made. Star Wars, Jurassic World and Fast & Furious 7 broke many all-time box office records, and they were highly praised by critics as well. Mad Max: Fury Road was so well-received that it got a nomination for a Best Picture Oscar. Creed (the Rocky spin-off) was adored by critics and snagged an Oscar nomination for Sylvester Stallone for playing a character he’s played six other times already.

Compare this to the late ‘90s, when Hollywood gave us reboots of Lost in Space, Godzilla, Wild Wild West, and even the old British TV spy series The Avengers. Some of them were popular (while others were not), but all of them were despised by critics and fans. None of them got a sequel. At the time, this situation seemed like the worst thing that could happen to cinema.

But now we have the ironic problem I mentioned earlier: When the sequels are this popular and this acclaimed and loved by fans, what possible incentive could studios have to keep trying new things?

In fact, last year Warner Bros. released a new movie from the Wachowski brothers (whose biggest claim to fame is The Matrix) called Jupiter Ascending. The movie boasted an original script and had some eye-catching visuals in its trailer, but the critics savaged it and audiences stayed away. I haven’t seen the film myself either; maybe it genuinely is that bad. But isn’t it heartbreaking that the studio tried to give people what they say they wanted only to have it blow up in their face? Now, you can bet that Warner Bros. has learned its lesson, and you can fully expect another dozen Hobbit and Batman sequels.

Jupiter_Ascending

Audience: “We’re sick of all these retreads.” Hollywood: “OK, here’s a movie with an original script.” Audience: “Kill it! Kill it with fire!”

In my next column (coming soon), I look at one particular set of reboots on the horizon.

 

Everything Old is Old Again

Part 1: The Not-Really-Reboots

By Tom Holste

Feb. 15, 2016

The subject of reboots and rehashes has been coming up a lot lately. And unfortunately, the problem is that when it comes to reboots, to quote Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride, “I do not think that word means what you think it means.”

What a reboot actually means is ignoring the previous continuity and starting completely starting over from scratch. Think of it like rebooting your computer. It’s a chance to start fresh, so that the creators and audiences aren’t weighed down with trying to remember tons of minautue to enjoy the new story, or perhaps to undo some creative decisions that the fans disliked.

DC Comics rebooted their fictional universe in the 1980s with their Crisis on Infinite Earths mini-series, and they keep rebooting every 10 years or so. When it comes to movies, Batman Begins was a reboot that dismissed the movies with Michael Keaton and company. And while 2006’s Superman Returns was a sequel to the Christopher Reeve movies, 2013’s Man of Steel is a full reboot that ignores the earlier movies.

Transformers-the-Movie

TRANSFOMERS actually needed a reboot, since the cartoon concluded in the far-flung future of…the year 2006!

So, basic concept here: If a particular piece of entertainment continues or references the established continuity, it’s a sequel or prequel, but if the old continuity is thrown out and the filmmakers treat the new story as if it were the first-ever story, then it’s a reboot.

Simple, right? Apparently not to the thousands of journalists out there covering every entertainment news story on the planet.

For example, back in November, ABC fired Bob Kushnell, the producers of the new Muppets sitcom, and brought on Kristin Newman, citing declining ratings and fan dissatisfaction. Despite the fact that the characters and premise were staying the same, every news organization said that ABC was “rebooting” the series.

Then, after David Bowie’s passing in January, news surfaced that the Jim Henson Company was “rebooting” Labyrinth, which ignited a firestorm of protests from fans of the original movie. The screenwriter currently working on the project (Nicole Perlman) had to quickly take to Twitter to explain that the movie would be a sequel or some kind of follow-up story set in the same universe, not a reboot. Furthermore, Perlman explained that she’s been working quietly on the project since 2014, so this wasn’t just a cheap cash-in on Bowie’s death.

Silver-Chair

“THE SILVER CHAIR reboots Narnia!” uninformed bloggers say. “Who will play the new Goblin King? … Oh, wait. That’s LABYRINTH.”

But the trend continued. Mark Gordon, the producer of the Narnia movies, indicated that the next film The Silver Chair would not require audiences to have seen the other movies (or to have liked them), since the story had so many new characters in it. This is in accordance with the original book, which was written over 50 years ago. Nonetheless, every news article called it a reboot of the series. The only way to reboot this series would be to make The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe again, or possibly to go with the prequel story The Magician’s Nephew.

However, when DC Comics announced new comic-books based on Hanna-Barbera characters that reimagined them from modern eyes, and when Universal pictures announced the desire to do a new Battlestar Galactica series that likely has nothing to do with either of its previous incarnations, not one article that I read used the word “reboot” for either property, even though in this case that’s exactly what they are! Excuse me a minute while I pound my head on the desk.

Ow. Sorry about that. Now where was I?

Mind you, it doesn’t bother me as much when bloggers write something informally and refer to everything as reboots. But when professional websites with paid writers can’t tell the difference (or choose not to, since the word “reboot” is apparently great for clickbait), that’s when I get annoyed.

At any rate, even the sheer number of sequels and other follow-ups has gotten out of hand. But so has this article, so I’ll have to continue my thoughts on the subject in my next column.

For an excellent analysis of the Silver Chair confusion, here’s the Narniaweb podcast on the subject.

 

SUPERGIRL is Usually Pretty Super

By Tom Holste

Feb. 13, 2016

Anyone else in the blogosphere really enjoying this series?

I’m liking it quite a bit. In particular, I think Lisa Benoit is terrific in the title role, and Callista Flockhart’s character Cat Cora is an interesting mix of mentor and antagonist. I’m also liking the bits and pieces of DC Comics history that are interwoven into the show.

Supergirl

“I can handle any villain you throw at me…but please, don’t make me watch SUPERMAN IV: THE QUEST FOR PEACE!”

The problem with Supergirl as a character that’s plagued her since her inception is that she’s always in Superman’s shadow. It’s great to have female heroes, but she wasn’t an original character created from scratch; she’s “Superman, but this time it’s a girl.” Audiences have always been more interested in Superman stories overall. And previous TV and movie adaptations have not been able to overcome this problem.

So the producers wisely built this conflict directly into the show itself. The whole series is about Kara trying to prove to herself and to others that she has value, too, and that she contributes significantly to the universe she lives in. And the series is showing us that she indeed does.

The show isn’t perfect, certainly. The love triangle is kind of cliched, and considering that Winn is handsome, charismatic and available, Kara’s rejection of him makes little to no sense. He should have at least some flaw to explain her lack of interest.

Also… (Major SPOILERS follow.)

 

 

Still with me? Okay.

…I was very happy when Cat found out Kara’s secret identity. Considering how smart Cat is supposed to be, she needed to figure it out quickly, and considering how often Kara misses work, I thought it would be useful if her boss understood the reasons. But, no, this great plot development got hand-waved away in the very next episode, which was extremely disappointing. And it was very convenient that he just happened to meet a shape-shifter right before she needed one (although the reveal of Martian Manhunter itself was pretty great).

There have also been a number of plot holes. For instance, in “Bizarro”: If Kryptonite made Bizarro stronger, why did she suddenly fly away from the fight she was winning? And when Kara’s words didn’t convince Bizarro that she was wrong, why did she apologize in the end after she was subdued?

Furthermore, as of “For the Girl Who Has Everything,” the DEO has now captured Maxwell Lord, someone who’s as famous as Donald Trump or Bill Gates. Cat runs a major news organization in the city where Lord lives. How is it that no one is covering the news that Maxwell Lord is suddenly missing? Even though they wouldn’t know about the DEO, his sudden disappearance should be generating massive headlines.

Also, how did Lord not have security cameras on his office so that someone could prevent potential kidnappers? And why didn’t Alex wear something to cover her face when she broke into the office so that no one could identify her?
Didn’t I say I liked this show? Yes, I do. It’s got a breezy, light tone that I thoroughly enjoy, while it builds up to a more epic storyline. I enjoy all the actors, and both the heroes and villains on this show are interesting to watch. It may not always fire on all cylinders, but when I does, I enjoy it more than Agents of SHIELD or Agent Carter, which is saying something.

I’m glad that the show is being brought into the larger DC television universe. I didn’t catch Flash or Arrow when they started, and now I’ve got a good reason for going back and watching them!

Supergirl-Flash-Arrow

“We should call ourselves the ‘Justice Club’! … How about the ‘Superpals’? … OK, we’ll work on it.”