Monday, December 15, 2014

Five Stupid Complaints About Movies

There are too many remakes and sequels!

There are as many remakes and sequels as the market demands.

If people were really sick and tired of reboots, prequels, and rehashes, they would stop seeing them. The six biggest movies next year are Pan, Avengers 2, Jurassic World, Terminator: Genisys, Mad Max: Fury Road, and Star Wars VII. For every person who stays home because they're "sick of sequels," a hundred thousand more will happily flock to the theater.

The fact is, people don't really want new things; they want what they know they will like. That's why when I go to comic conventions the tables with unknown artists and new stories are always empty while every Marvel or Final Fantasy booth has a massive line. People only get into new stories after they have been vetted by friends or have reputable people attached to them. It's why Christopher Nolan gets to make movies like Inception or Interstellar every now and then; He's already made his bosses billions thanks to The Dark Knight and Man of Steel, so they as well as audiences will throw him a bone every now and then.

And the fact is that there are more movies today than ever before. If people really want originality, it isn't hard to seek it out. In spite of that, you don't see Birdman lighting up the box offices like the latest crappy X-Men reboot.

There is too much CGI!

The problem is bad CGI, not too much of it.

People complaining about CGI point to movies like the original Star Wars or Jurassic Park as examples of movies that had great practical effects. What they forget is that both movies also had tons of computer effects as well. Star Wars relied heavily on green screens, which are just the CGI of the 70's. The first Jurassic Park had TONS of CGI images in it. People just forget because of nostalgia.

I think it's easy for movies to go overboard. The Star Wars prequels are a good example. Nothing looked natural or real in those films. It clearly affected the actors too as you can see from the lifeless performances. The recent Hobbit movies have also suffered. Still, CGI can work really well with the right director. Pacific Rim for example had tons of CGI but still felt really visceral and intense during the action scenes.

The book is always better!

No it isn't.

Some stories are better told on screen. Some work better on paper. Some are pretty fun on both. American Psycho is a great example. Really weird, interesting book, and an awesome film. Lord of the Rings is also pretty good in both mediums, though I can't say the same for The Hobbit. Often I think the big screen is great for science fiction, as I would argue that just about every movie version of a Phillip K. Dick story is better than the book. I think the same is true of Ghost in the Shell. Watchmen however is a case where the movie is absolutely inferior.

It annoys me when people criticize movie adaptations for being different. Obviously they have to be different. There are things you can do in a 500 page book that you just can't get away with on film. Criticizing movie adaptations for cutting content is like criticizing ice cream for being cold; maybe it's just not for you.

Why are they using white actors for X character!?

Stop being racist.

Let me make a distinction here between two different things: There are cases where a character's race is changed from the original story, and there are cases of actors portraying a character whose race is not their own. Personally, the former annoys me. A character's race is a key part of their identity. I don't mind writers pondering what it would be like if Superman were a Chinese hermaphrodite in a an Elseworlds comic or some work that is understood to not be canonical. I don't agree with just randomly saying "Screw it, Perry White is black now because reasons!" It would bug me just as much if they remade Blade with a white dude instead of Wesley Snipes.

There's nothing wrong, however, with people portraying characters of a race different from their own. The essence of acting is pretending to be someone else. To suggest that people should only be allowed to portray characters that match their specific demographics is stupid. Should we be offended when Japanese people perform Greek tragedies? Idris Elba was great as Heimdal in Thor and Christian Bale was fine as Moses. A white actress can most certainly play Tiger Lilly, a "Native American" who doesn't even live in America.

The inconsistency of the complaint reveals people's motives - the desire to feel superior and tolerant. If you're mad about Rooney Mara playing Tiger Lilly but not mad about Moneypenny or little orphan Annie being portrayed by blacks, then you cannot claim to be standing up for 'authenticity.' All characters have a heritage and a history, and it shouldn't be OK to blot that out for younger generations just because those characters are white.

Movies are just a bunch of explosions with no story!

There are many kinds of movies and people have the right to see what they want.

There are actually two dumb things about this complaint. The first is the idea that Hollywood is somehow missing an opportunity with all of these big budget spectacle movies. The fact is, the studios are laughing all the way to the bank. Don't tell me people deserve more thoughtful writing from Hollywood when Transformers: Age of Extinction is one of the biggest box office smash of the year. It's the same point about the 'too many sequels' complaint; the market gets what it demands.

The other dumb thing is the assumption that all movies need to be deep and intellectual and tackle complex social issues. Please. I tackle enough 'complex social issues' trying to make small talk at work without getting fired. Sometimes when I go see a movie, I just want to turn my brain off and be entertained. People have a right to their guilty pleasures, be it brainless movies or fast food. The key is moderation.

Certainly it is a false dichotomy to suggest that movies can either be entertaining, or deep. Sometimes movies can have a lot of action and be thought-provoking. Look at The Matrix as an example. Still, for me, the only sort of movie I'm going to pay money to see in a theater is one that takes advantage of the massive IMAX / 4K screen and surround sound. Big, loud, crazy movies with lots of explosions - stuff like Star Wars and Avengers. I don't care that they aren't Shakespeare. They're fun, and that's enough. I'll catch Gone Girl and The Imitation Game on Netflix.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Review of All Star Batman

Originally published on Comic Vine

The term fan fiction has a negative connotation.

It brings to mind lonely nerds conjuring up Mary Sues and fawning over some spandex-wearing vigilante. However it is important to realize that the works of people like Frank Miller and Grant Morrison are not fundamentally any different from fan fiction. They are, in most cases, fans, and they are writing fiction using beloved and established characters. The only difference is that they make money for it and people actually read their stuff.

The fact that the work of professional comic artists and writers is essentially no different from fan fiction really became clear to me after I read "All Star Batman." The story reads like it was written by an antisocial fifteen year-old. This isn't the Frank Miller of The Dark Knight Returns, a work that, while also an obvious love letter to Batman, at least offered a more serious and complex take on the caped crusader. No, this is Frank Miller in full-on fangirl mode.

"All Star" Batman enjoys hospitalizing street thugs, and gets off on shaming other superheroes, relishing his own superiority. We see Green Lantern as a bumbling fool and Wonder Woman as a bloodthirsty misandrist. We see Black Canary brutalizing random bar patrons (for the sin of noticing her provocative outfit) and Batman lighting thugs on fire. Gone is the moral high ground, the measured, brooding precision of the more traditional Dark Knight. Frank Miller fearlessly reinvents Batman, though I can't say I like the result.

What there is of a plot is almost pointless. The only interesting point is the relationship between Batman and Dick Grayson, the boy he kidnaps and molds in his own image. They have some good exchanges, and seeing the boy develop into Robin was the only part of the story that had some real gravity.

The rest felt like satire. Whereas All Star Superman took the essence of Superman and had fun with the possibilities, All Star Batman feels like it is parodying its subject - a sort of tongue-in-cheek experiment. The problem is, this only works if you are already very familiar with Batman, which defeats the point of the "All Star" series. These comics are supposed to be for less familiar readers looking for a work that gets at the heart of the character. All Star Batman only gets at the heart of Frank Miller.

I give it two stars almost solely for Jim Lee's rich artwork which is alone almost worth the price (For a decent Batman book with art by Jim Lee, try Hush).