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.”

READY PLAYER ONE Won’t Be Ready Until 2018

By Tom Holste

Feb. 10, 2016

Box Office Mojo has reported that Warner Bros. is moving the release date of the Steven Spielberg movie Ready Player One from December 1, 2017 to March 30, 2018. This move comes in the wake of Disney moving Star Wars Episode VIII from May 26, 2017 to the December date previously occupied by the Spielberg film.

ready_player_one

(Darth Vader voice) “Even your high-profile Spielberg movie is insignificant compared to the power of a STAR WARS sequel.”

The fact that Warner Bros. moved the date of their movie away from Star Wars is not surprising at all. The fact that they moved it to March does say a lot about the current trend in big-ticket movies away from traditional dates.

Previously, big movies were only released in the summer or around the holidays. Spring and fall used to be seasons for studios to release movies that might have a harder time finding an audience (sci-fi films without big-name actors, or quirky comedies from overseas). But Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (also by Warner Bros.) is being released in March, and now Ready Player One — based on a best-selling book that’s loaded with nostalgia and geek references, and directed by probably the most famous filmmaker living today — is also getting a spring release. Neither of these movies sound like they would have a hard time attracting an audience. 

What this move seems to reveal is that release dates are becoming less important overall to studios than they used to be. The prevailing thought used to be that people who might not care that much about something like Batman would still take a chance on his new movie if it was released during a vacation season when people head to the theater without much thought beforehand as to what they want to see. While the hardcore fans can almost always be counted on to show up for their favorite franchise, the people who don’t think that much about it can’t be expected to show up if it’s not convenient for them.

But now the rules are changing. While no one wants to open against Star Wars, the playing field is pretty much wide open otherwise. Batman is such a big property that Warner Bros. knows that they could release the movie on a cold Tuesday afternoon in February, and audiences will sell out the theaters in advance.

To put it another way, if you’re excited about Batman v. Superman, the fact that it’s not being released in June is not going to stop you from seeing it. And if you’re not interested, releasing the movie at a different time is not going to convince you otherwise.

Steven Moffat Exits the TARDIS

By Tom Holste

Jan. 28, 2016

Wow! A huge tremor in the Force … um … Whoniverse! Current head writer Steven Moffat announced he’s leaving Doctor Who; Chris Chibnall is taking over in that role; Moffat will still produce one more season before the transition; and there won’t be any new episodes until this year’s Christmas special.

http://comicbook.com/…/steven-moffat-leaving-doctor-who-aft…

I seem to like Moffat’s writing more than most people, but I’m OK with this. This show thrives on change, and it’s always interesting to see what a new showrunner will do with the mythology.

moffat-tardis-rt15-300x180

The soon-to-be-no-longer-current head writer Steven Moffat

In fact, ironically Moffat’s departure will probably make people like his writing more, since there’s always nostalgia for whatever version of the show goes away. There were a lot of fans harping on Russell T Davies’ run on the show from 2005-2009, who then promptly started ragging on Moffat as soon as he took over and asking why things couldn’t be more like they were in RTD’s day.

(Mind you, that’s not every fan. And certainly Moffat isn’t perfect. The 2011 season was pretty incoherent, and the non-50th anniversary episodes in 2013 were pretty dull. I’m not saying it’s never okay for one to say that they don’t like Moffat’s writing. I’m specifically thinking of people in forums I no longer visit, and on podcasts I no longer listen to, whose default position is that whatever is new is automatically bad.)

It was hard guessing who would ever take over if Moffat left. When RTD was in charge, Moffat was winning all the awards for writing on the show. Since Moffat took over, he’s still been the one winning all the awards. The exception was Neil Gaiman for “The Doctor’s Wife,” but no one liked his follow-up “Nightmare in Silver” nearly as much, and at any rate, Gaiman has no experience running a TV show.

Mark Gatiss has actually worked side by side with Moffat for years, co-producing Sherlock with him, but Gatiss’ DW episodes have not been among the best. His most recent, “Sleep No More,” is one of the lowest-rated episodes of the entire modern series.

I don’t see a whole lot of classics in the list of episodes that Chris Chibnall wrote, but there aren’t really a lot of clunkers either. I like most of them. Chibnall also was essentially the showrunner of the first two seasons of Torchwood; while I don’t like that show very much, he wrote some of my favorite stuff that was on it.

Also, he wrote the beautiful “P.S.,” which caps Rory and Amy’s time on the show, and is one of my favorite DW things ever.

And even though Chibnall hasn’t won any awards for DW writing, he has won awards for his police drama Broadchurch (which has featured many DW alumni). So that, plus his overall TV producing experience, plus the fact that he’s a lifelong Doctor Who fan — yeah, I’m on board with this.
I’m not so happy about having to wait another full stinkin’ year for new episodes, but hey, the BBC didn’t ask me. At least there’s the upcoming spinoff Class to look forward to, and I still have a lot of classic episodes that I can watch for the first time to help fill the void.