Sunday, December 15, 2013

"Baby on Board" is a Genuine Song

There's this joke from an old episode of The Simpsons, where someone (perhaps Kent Brockman, but I can't exactly remember) was giving a retrospective on "The Itchy & Scratchy Show," which is a cartoon within the cartoon.  He goes on to point out how beloved this fictional (sort of) cartoon is, and that even cynical members of Generation X love it.  The episode then cuts to a shot of a stereotypical Gen Xer scoffing at the notion saying, "Yeah, 'groovy'" while making air quotes.  The thing is, I think that attitude tended to describe shows like The Simpsons, at least back then, pretty well.  Before Fox TV, which aired The Simpsons, I'm pretty sure most TV parodies and satires were fairly soft, coming across with an attitude of "just kidding."  After Fox, I recall this changed with shows like Married with Children, In Living Color, and The Simpsons, where the satire and parody had a sharper, meaner edge to it.  Instead of "just kidding," it was often more like, "you're stupid if you like what we're making fun of."  For example, consider the sketch from In Living Color where they showed a music video satirizing Crystal Waters using lyrics like, "You'll keep buying my music because you're mindless" and "I should be homeless."



These shows pretty much laid the groundwork for even sharper, meaner shows, like Family Guy and South Park.  My point is that for its then too-cool-for-school irony, when it came time for The Simpsons to lampoon barber shop quartet music, they kind of went in the other direction.  Instead of outright slamming a musical style that many would have considered to be antiquated by the 1990s, they actually went and wrote and produced a genuine and genuinely nice song called "Baby on Board" (based on the popular sign).  This didn't really occur to me until recently, which I guess points out how clueless I am.  I was in my car, noticing someone else's "Baby on Board" sign, and I remembered that song.  It struck me: a song that I thought for years I enjoyed ironically turned out to simply be a pleasant song I actually enjoyed.  As Brockman once put it, "How about that, folks?"


Sunday, July 28, 2013

Gene Siskel Didn't Respect Movies (But Who Can Blame Him)


In 1994, Siskel and Ebert reviewed the movie version of Double Dragon.  It's in this review that Gene Siskel says, "...I can save everybody in Hollywood a lot of time and money with this advice: don't try to make a movie out of a videogame, the material simply won't stretch."  This attitude is, of course, not uncommon.  Let's face it, the movie and TV industry tend to make it easy to be a snarky shit.  Often, when I've held out hope that they finally won't completely fuck up something I'm apparently dumb enough to want to see done as a movie (a good movie, mind you, not the stupid shit that keeps getting made), my hopes are far more often than not dashed right to hell.

"Okay, the ads suck, but the ads always suck, I'm sure Ghost Rider won't be all that bad."  At the time, I would've been happy had that movie met Daredevil's standards, fucking Daredevil!

Uh, ahem, okay well back to my actual point.  That point being, when you say X can't be adapted into a good movie, whether X is a videogame, comic book, novel, TV show, song, internet meme, whatever, you're knocking movies, not their source material.  It would have been far more on target for Gene Siskel to have said, "...don't try to make a movie out of a videogame, movies are just too limited a medium."  Technically, I don't really believe that movies are too limited, though the industry frequently seems to bend over backwards to prove otherwise.  I mean, it's gotten so bad that movies like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat are now generally considered to be good!  To me, that's a bit like when comic fans placed 1978's Superman on a pedestal for decades, proclaiming it to be the comic book movie high watermark, when in reality it wasn't that good.  Better than fucking Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat, though.  And Ghost Rider.  Fuck those movies.  They, and too many other films, stifle the imagination far more than they nourish it.

And if you think I'm being too hard on movies, consider how many times you, your friends, whoever, rolled their eyes at the notion of a movie based on something, um, not immediately artistically respected.  For example, how often have you read or heard something in the area of: "They're making a movie based on Ninja Turtles!  Obviously quality isn't a concern."  On the other hand, it's strange and interesting what in our society becomes iconic.  Like Batman, for example.  There have been a fair number of people who've called 2008's The Dark Knight "awesome."  Books like The Dark Knight Returns, Year One, and The Killing Joke are generally hailed as classics, at least in the comic community (do they count?).  I've often imagined Frank Miller sitting down with whoever was in charge of DC Comics back in the mid-'80s, laying out his idea for what would have become The Dark Knight Returns, only to have been met with: "Hello!  Have you actually read this shit?  It's kiddy crap!  No one wants some 'dark, mature' version of this!"

For what it's worth, I hear that's more-or-less what Stan Lee was told, back when he was a young writer, and requested doing stories not necessarily aimed at small children.  So it's highly possible writers like Dennis O'Neil, Frank Miller, and Alan Moore were met with this kind of hostility when wanting to take the stories they worked on in darker and, arguably, more humanistic directions.

The thing is, the early Batman comics aren't what many would consider "good."  If one were to make a movie or TV show out of them, faithfully copying them word for word, I imagine the result would likely be at least as campy as the '60s TV show, sans the self-aware humour.  What's interesting is that Batman didn't have to stay that way.  For better or worse, other writers and artists came along and offered up their, for lack of a better term, more "grown-up" versions of Batman.  Not too long ago, Grant Morrison was able to write, with Frank Quitely as artist, All-Star Superman, which many comic critics praised.  Ditto, Darwyn Cooke and DC: The New Frontier.  The point is, all of these acclaimed comics were based on characters and ideas traditionally not considered, well, "good."  So, in my opinion, subject matter shouldn't matter.  If it doesn't hold up well by today's standards, it's up to the artist, writer, filmmaker, whoever, to change it as they see fit.  If those changes don't work, it's their fault, not the original material.  That's kind of like the old saying about the handyman who blames their tools.

So the consistently poor adaptations of videogames, comic books, old TV shows, what-have-you says a lot more about current filmmaking, and the apparent lack of vision within it, than it does about its source material, good or bad.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Regarding George Lucas, Episode II: How He Challenged Us

As I stated in my last post, George Lucas has lost a great deal of love.  At the same time, however, he's also challenged us in certain ways.  Many subscribe to the auteur theory - perhaps a bit too much.  There are critics who often specifically associate a movie to its director, for example, "Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver" instead of just "Taxi Driver."  There are some who believe that a director should get final say on "their" movie.  The term "Director's Cut" is a label often added to movies on home video and in re-release with the implication that this version is superior to what was originally released theatrically.  George Lucas is credited as having wrote and directed the first Star Wars movie from 1977, and is therefore credited with having created the franchise, a franchise he controlled for decades until he recently sold it to Disney.

With the Special Editions, Lucas has challenged us on whether or not it's okay for the "creator" to constantly alter what they created in order to bring it closer to what they claim they originally intended.  With the prequels, Lucas has challenged us on the notion of just how much control the director should be allowed to have on "their" movies.  After the prequels, there were those who claimed that Lucas worked better in the '70s specifically because he didn't have final say on everything.

In 1988, George Lucas had this to say about the colourization of black and white movies (quote taken from SaveStarWars.com):

"My name is George Lucas.  I am a writer, director, and producer of motion pictures and Chairman of the Board of Lucasfilm Ltd., a multifaceted entertainment corporation.

I am not here today as a writer-director, or as a producer, or as the chairman of a corporation.  I've come as a citizen of what I believe to be a great society that is in need of a moral anchor to help define and protect its intellectual and cultural heritage.  It is not being protected.

The destruction of our film heritage, which is the focus of concern today, is only the tip of the iceberg.  American law does not protect our painters, sculptors, recording artists, authors, or filmmakers from having their lifework distorted, and their reputation ruined.  If something is not done now to clearly state the moral rights of artists, current and future technologies will alter, mutilate, and destroy for future generations the subtle human truths and highest human feeling that talented individuals within our society have created.

A copyright is held in trust by its owner until it ultimately reverts to public domain.  American works of art belong to the American public; they are part of our cultural history.

People who alter or destroy works of art and our cultural heritage for profit or as an exercise of power are barbarians, and if the laws of the United States continue to condone this behavior, history will surely classify us as a barbaric society.  The preservation of our cultural heritage may not seem to be as politically sensitive an issue as 'when life begins' or 'when it should be appropriately terminated,' but it is important because it goes to the heart of what sets mankind apart.  Creative expression is at the core of our humanness.  Art is a distinctly human endeavor.  We must have respect for it if we are to have any respect for the human race.

These current defacements are just the beginning.  Today, engineers with their computers can add color to black-and-white movies, change the soundtrack, speed up the pace, and add or subtract material to the philosophical tastes of the copyright holder.  Tomorrow, more advanced technology will be able to replace actors with 'fresher faces,' or alter dialogue and change the movement of the actor's lips to match.  It will soon be possible to create a new 'original' negative with whatever changes or alterations the copyright holder of the moment desires.  The copyright holders, so far, have not been completely diligent in preserving the original negatives of films they control.  In order to reconstruct old negatives, many archivists have had to go to Eastern bloc countries where American films have been better preserved.

In the future it will become even easier for old negatives to become lost and be 'replaced' by new altered negatives.  This would be a great loss to our society.  Our cultural history must not be allowed to be rewritten.

There is nothing to stop American films, records, books, and paintings from being sold to a foreign entity or egotistical gangsters and having them change our cultural heritage to suit their personal taste.

I accuse the companies and groups, who say that American law is sufficient, of misleading the Congress and the People for their own economic self-interest.  I accuse the corporations, who oppose the moral rights of the artist, of being dishonest and insensitive to American cultural heritage and of being interested only in their quarterly bottom line, and not in the long-term interest of the Nation.

The public's interest is ultimately dominant over all other interests.  And the proof of that is that even a copyright law only permits the creators and their estate a limited amount of time to enjoy the economic fruits of that work.

There are those who say American law is sufficient.  That's an outrage!  It's not sufficient!  If it were sufficient, why would I be here?  Why would John Houston have been so studiously ignored when he protested the colorization of 'The Maltese Falcon?'  Why are films cut up and butchered?

Attention should be paid to this question of our soul, and not simply to accounting procedures.  Attention should be paid to the interest of those who are yet unborn, who should be able to see this generation as it saw itself, and the past generation as it saw itself.

I hope you have the courage to lead America in acknowledging the importance of American art to the human race, and accord the proper protection for the creators of that art--as it is accorded them in much of the rest of the world communities."

Considering what Lucas has done with Star Wars since then, the above statement is very ironic.  So is Lucas testing us?  Trying to see how many of us are true cinephiles?  When forcing the Special Editions on us, making them the only legal and commercial way to watch the Star Wars trilogy, would we collectively say "no" and refuse to buy these new "butchered" versions?  Or would we tell ourselves it's not that important, and vote with our wallets that what Lucas has done is okay?

Assuming the Special Editions are inferior to the original versions, have people who bought the Special Editions rationalized doing so by claiming that George Lucas isn't just a "copyright holder," but the "creator," and is therefore not only entitled, but right to alter "his" movies this way?  As a side note, Harry Knowles of Ain't it Cool News believed that Lucas was testing us, trying to find out how many of us really cared.  Of course, Knowles went ahead and bought the new Special Edition Blu-ray set anyway.  Also, of course, the Special Editions made a lot of money, both in theatres and on home video, indicating that if Lucas was indeed testing us, we have failed miserably.

Maybe Lucas really has stopped caring.  Or perhaps in his mind, Lucas is only preserving what he believes to be the "true" versions of Star Wars.

Can Lucas really be regarded as the one true "creator" of Star Wars?  Movies as big as Star Wars are actually created by many people.  How much input did performers like Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, or Alec Guinness have in making those movies?  What about Gary Kurtz?  How would Return of the Jedi, or the prequels, have turned out had Kurtz stayed on as producer?  What about the cinematographer, not to mention the people who worked on the special effects, whose work is being overwritten with CGI?  Do they not fit in the role of "creator?"

And is Star Wars even worth defending?  These movies are traditionally regarded as children's films, so does caring about their preservation count as regressive and immature?  Apparently, at one point a fan asked Lucas why he wasn't willing to commercially release the original editions.  In response, Lucas supposedly rolled his eyes and replied, "Grow up.  These are my movies."  Is it out of line for fans to be outraged by this?  In the previous paragraph, I brought up the question of who does Star Wars really belong to.  George can say, "These are my movies," but if that's his attitude, then why did he bother releasing them in any form to the public at all, and why did he continue to do so?  He obviously cares about the commercial appeal of his work.  He clearly wouldn't enjoy the success he's had for over three-and-a-half decades without the fans, so what's our stake in this?

Are movies in general even worth all this?  If what was done with Star Wars was done with High Holy Works of Art like Citizen Kane or Lawrence of Arabia, would it then be okay for us to collectively lose our shit?  Why are there people who claim to cherish this medium so much?  Yes, some are inspired to do great things by movies, but some are inspired to do terrible things too, and for most people, movies are just ephemeral entertainment.  If movies are so great, are most of us just too small-minded and/or dimwitted to see that greatness?  Or is that "greatness" just more overblown hype, like when some forgettable summer blockbuster is marketed as "the movie event of the year?"  Whether by accident or by design, these are some of the questions George Lucas has raised.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Regarding George Lucas, Episode I: The Bitching Session

Of my generation, I can't think of anyone who has lost more love than George Lucas.  At least, not without doing something drastic, like spouting a string of racial slurs in public, or at a police officer, or punching out their spouse, or - you get the idea.  Let me get my personal grievances with Lucas out of the way.  At this point I couldn't care less about the prequels.  Yes, they suck.  You know what?  So does damn near every summer blockbuster.  I swear to God, every summer it's like The Phantom Menace times three or four, but that's for another post.  No, I can easily live with the prequels because I can choose not to bother with them.  Also, their presence allowed the existence of Genndy Tartakovsky's terrific Clone Wars cartoons, all of which put together is about the length of one of the prequels, and at least ten times better than all three of them.  Yeah, I can easily choose not to watch the prequels.  But that leads into my specific problem with George Lucas: choice.

It's a really old story at this point, but if I want to watch the original Star Wars movies, I have to pull out old VHS tapes or find less legal ways to see them.  No, I didn't buy the 2006 DVDs, because, stupid me, I had actually thought that Lucas had learned his lesson, was ready to give fans what they wanted, and by the time either Blu-ray or HD-DVD had won the format war, the original Star Wars trilogy would be released on that format, Han shooting Greedo and all.  Of course, this never happened.

Lucas has taken that choice away from fans.  What's more, is that apparently DVDs of Tartakovsky's Clone Wars are now discontinued.  I think you can still buy the DVDs, but they're going up in price.  In Canada, where I live, Amazon.ca was selling the first volume for a whopping 77 dollars as I typed this.  I pulled out my old DVDs of Clone Wars to re-watch them for the first time in years, only to fall in love all over again with this microseries.  I would have easily been willing to buy one or more prequel on Blu-ray if it meant that they carried Clone Wars in HD as a bonus.  I looked it up and they don't.  Considering Lucas is all too willing to force consumers to only buy the Special Editions of the first trilogy, assuming they want to buy anything at all, I would think he could have easily included Clone Wars as an extra somewhere in the Blu-ray package.  Then, of course, not too long after Revenge of the Sith, Lucas commissioned a brand new CGI animated redo of the story, adding "The" to the title.  It seems to me that Lucas has decided to erase Tartakovsky's work in favour of the new computer animated version.  If Lucas doesn't like the work of Tartakovsky and company, fine, but like with the original trilogy, he seems to be going out of his way to deny us a choice in the matter.  And that's my problem with George Lucas.

Okay, that's the bitching session out of the way.  Up next: How He Challenged Us.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Fuck You, Sony and Microsoft

I'm sick of excuses.  The elimination of backward compatibility on the next PlayStation and Xbox is a deal breaker with me and it should be a deal breaker with anyone who spends money on videogames.  It's simple, what if book stores decided not to sell books that were more than a year old, or if the next home video format decided not to bother with older movies?  Who would tolerate this?  With videogames, it's apparently no big deal.  People say the same stupid shit, "Just keep your old console."  First off, when the old console breaks down (it will eventually, and in the case of Xbox, I'll count myself lucky if it makes it the year), and the company can't/won't replace it because they're not manufacturing it anymore, then what?  Also, I don't have a lot of space to work with.  I have four(!) consoles hooked up to my TV.  If I buy another console, it's replacing one of those four.  If I try to keep all my old consoles, I'd have to buy one or more extra television sets.  I might, and boy do I mean might, have been willing to tolerate not being able to play the physical disc-based games, but to not be able to transfer my online titles?  No excuse.  Obviously, I was naive enough to believe that when I bought a downloadable title, it would be an unbreakable copy.  In other words, no matter what happens, my console breaks, I upgrade to the next generation of said console, that title would be mine to download whenever I needed to, provided I log in and all that.  No, that was bullshit.

What kills me is that they're going to get away with this.  I'd be amazed if this actually hurt their sales.  Videogames are pretty much the dumped-on medium of this generation.  The fact that I'm even referring to videogames as a "medium" would be laughable to most people.  What this tells me is that even the people manufacturing and selling videogames don't really respect them.  They may as well be saying, "Come on, these aren't lasting experiences.  Videogames are ephemeral, played once or twice, maybe even three or four times if they're really good, but surely you'd have the common sense to discard them after that."  What's astounding is that they went out of their way to create the desire in the first place.  They wanted us to buy, and therefore give a shit about, their products.  And then a few years later, they expect us not to respect or care enough that we'd easily drop them for the Next Big Thing.  And more than enough people go with it.  But if we don't really give a shit, then why are we shelling out hundreds on the consoles (thousands, if you really want to keep up), not to mention God-knows-how-much on building a library of games to begin with?

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Camp or Crap

I tend to have a problem with camp.  I don't necessarily hate it, and can enjoy various versions of it.  There are movies I like, like 2008's Speed Racer, that would be considered campy.  I suppose it's about being "so bad, it's good," which is fine to a point - I suppose.  My problem with camp, however, tends to be how it has a seemingly built-in cynicism toward things that I like, or at least want to like.  Things like Star Wars, for example.  The original 1977 movie took traditionally campy material and played it relatively straight.  Despite the general silliness of its subject matter, it somehow got more than a few people to take its nonsense halfway seriously.  The sequel, The Empire Strikes Back, managed to do this even better.  For what it's worth, Frank Oz has arguably done more than anyone to sell me on the bullshit that is the Force.  These movies, even the less-than-spectacular Return of the Jedi, apparently worked so well that *sigh* "Jediism" is an actual religion now: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jediism.  Yes, even I think that's taking things too far.

1980, the same year Empire came out, also saw the release of Mike Hodges's Flash Gordon.  Written by '60s Batman scribe Lorenzo Semple, Jr., Flash Gordon was unapologetically campy, reveling in "so bad, it's good."  I can enjoy this movie, but my heart pretty much belongs to Empire Strikes Back.  In Rob Ager's documentary Hidden Cinema, Ager refers to Flash Gordon as being "snobbishly ridiculed," which to me is ironic.  When I watch an episode of the Adam West Batman show, or the 1980 Flash Gordon movie, there's an unmistakable sense of "well you can't possibly take this crap seriously, can you?" as if calling bullshit on Star Wars (which it could well have been doing).  It reminds me of the time I read about how after 1997's Batman & Robin enraged Batman fans with its overt campiness, director Joel Schumacher apparently said, "Well what were you expecting, 'A Long Day's Journey into Gotham?'"

I can understand this to a point.  I found that Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises takes itself, and cliched comic book dialogue, so seriously that the movie becomes unintentionally(?) campy.  But to me the very idea of camp often comes with a certain air of condescension, and to an extent possibly even a lack of imagination.  The idea of "you can't expect someone to take XYZ seriously" seems to indicate this to me.  I'm obviously not saying that Star Wars or Batman needs to be treated like Absolute Truth.  As I previously stated, an actual religion has been made out of Star Wars, and I find this concept more than a bit concerning.  My point is, whether it's Star Wars, Flash Gordon, Batman, Godzilla, or any other "bullshit" scenario, I usually honestly want to be manipulated into taking this crap seriously, however childishly regressive that may seem.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

It Begins (Will it Continue?)

I chose the title "Megalon Bomb" because I thought it sounded catchy, and I had watched Godzilla vs. Megalon (along with many other Godzilla movies) not too long ago.  Perhaps I'll talk about general bullshit here, and the blog will become something.  Perhaps I won't, and it'll become nothing....