Monday, April 30, 2007

Why There Will Never Be a Successful
Captain America Film

I often pondered this notion in my teens and twenties. Why no Captain America movie? Sure, there was an abominable TV movie made in the '70's, and the less said about the 1990 straight-to-video atrocity the better. But, why couldn't Hollywood pull off a kickass, big budget Captain America flick? Easy: No one outside of the U.S. of A. would give a shit.

As the cost of making, distributing, and marketing motion pictures has skyrocketed over the last fifteen years, Hollywood has focused more and more on video/DVD sales as well as international success. Let's take last year's Mission Impossible: III. The film cost an estimated $150 million. It was considered a domestic failure, bringing in just over $133 million in its theatrical run. However, when you include international receipts, MI: III comes home with over $395 million. (These figures available here.) And that's not even including DVD sales a couple months later. Much of the overseas success can be safely attributed to the genre - big budget action is popular worldwide - and to the juggernaut that is Tom Cruise.

So? Why doesn't Hollywood make a big-budget-action-Captain-America-starring-Tom-Cruise? Well, that might be a solution, financially speaking. (I'll just turn a blind eye to the notion of a fortysomething Cruise playing the part.) However, the problem is and has always been that Captain America is - by definition - a domestic icon. Kinda like the Western. Why would anyone in England, Germany, or China care about the exploits of gunslingers on the prairie? Don't believe me? Check out the worldwide receipts for 1999's Wild Wild West. At the time, Will Smith was still Mr. Fourth of July. His films were bulletproof. Or so Hollywood believed.

Superheroes like Batman, Spider-Man, and the X-Men succeed on the big screen because their appeal is universal. Captain America falls into the same category as former presidents and the Great Depression - things we as U.S. citizens can relate to and with which we feel a certain kinship, but the rest of the world shrugs in disinterest. Again, don't believe me? Then ask yourself, what was the last successful movie about an ex-president or the Depression?

Well, Cap, there's always TV. Perhaps Heroes will pave the way....

Friday, April 27, 2007

Machete Update

Okay, so I just posted my Grindhouse review and not five minutes later find out the following....

It appears that Robert Rodriguez will release a full length feature version of Machete, one of the phony trailers included in Grindhouse. This will be a straight-to-DVD release. Contradictory reports suggest either that the film will come out with the DVD release of Grindhouse, or - more likely, to my mind - that Rodriguez will shoot it concurrently with Sin City 2, his next project. Find more info here.

Now, what about Werewolf Women of the SS?

Planet Terror: Nice Place to Visit,
Death Proof: Wouldn't Want to Live There

Finally saw Grindhouse. Naturally, I had known about this film for quite a while and had heard about the surprise beating it took at the box office. Depending upon who you listened to, its failure was due to poor marketing and/or public confusion - "You mean, it wasn't over when it said 'The End'?" Supposedly plenty of folks left after the first half, honestly believing they'd seen the whole thing. You know, sometimes I believe the average movie-goer is just that stupid. But in this case...

Disclaimer: I am a longtime fan of both Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. Like many cinephiles, I was blown away by their respective initial offerings. But, while I've continued to enjoy Rodriguez's work - as well as his dedication to showcasing easier ways to be a filmmaker on the cheap - the appeal of Tarantino - dare I say it? - has grown stale. I didn't care for the Kill Bill films, and am still somewhat shocked that I'm in the minority. There's just no soul there. Compare them to Pulp Fiction and even Reservoir Dogs. Aside from the violent aesthetic and the eye on '70's cool, Kill Bill 1 & 2 are pale shadows. However, this entry is not here for me to bash Tarantino's decline - at least not directly.

I went to see Grindhouse with the similar mindset I took into Ghost Rider and even last year's Wicker Man. (Look for my entry on Nic Cage in a few days....) I brought low expectations, expected a genuine B-movie, and left any interests in subtext at home. Rodriguez's entry, Planet Terror, satisfied me in every way. Here he offered a retread of the classic zombie/end-of-the-world story. (Actually, I'd classify them more as "mutants" than "zombies", but that's for some possibly intoxicated geek debate somewhere down the road.) The pace was quick, the dialogue intentionally stilted, the ick-factor appropriately off the scale. Furthermore, the casting of former sci-fi/horror icons from the '80's - including Terminator's Michael Biehn and Lawnmower Man's Jeff Fahey (plus a cameo by gore effects guru Tom Savini) - added to an air of just plain fun. Again, I was prepared to just have a good time - I don't think I even once pondered, "Just how does Rose MacGowan fire that machinegun-leg of hers?" Okay, maybe once.

Quite frankly, the Tarantino piece - Death Proof - bored me. I had read that Tarantino fashioned the film as a slasher/car-chase movie, or even a slasher movie where the guy uses a car instead of a really big knife. So, imagine my surprise when an hour into the film he eliminates the whole "slasher" element and turns it into an inconsistent female revenge flick. Apparently he wanted to get his Faster Pussycat, Kill, Kill on. Truth is, a huge chunk of this segment consists of 3-4 women sitting around, talking. Now, dialogue is something Tarantino does really well - as evidenced in Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, and smatterings of his other films - and I've since read reviews that praise the conversations in Death Proof. However, to me it all just reeked of self-parody, lack of editing instinct, and/or plain laziness. There's no there there. Empty, meaningless patter. If that was his goal, then fine. But, my god, don't subject us to fifteen, twenty minutes of it at a time! You made your point ten minutes ago! In the plus column, let me state that Kurt Russell is fantastic in this picture. This is the type of role he was born to play - see also, The Thing, Escape From New York, etc. The movie only comes alive when he's on screen, and the exchanges between himself and Rose MacGowan actually seem like they're written by someone else. I suppose that's a talent in and of itself.

Finally, let me lump some praise on the faux trailers that are included with the Grindhouse experience. All were quite entertaining in their own way, but two of them - Rodriguez's own Machete and Rob Zombie's Werewolf Women of the SS - are worthy of their own feature-length releases. All I can say about the latter is, "... and Nicolas Cage as Fu Manchu!"

When asked, I'll recommend Grindhouse. I had a good time overall. However, if the Weinstein's do decide to release each segment individually - as they've done abroad and might do here to make up for the lackluster showing of the combined effort - then I'll point folks directly to Planet Terror. Heck, I'll probably go again!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

You Try Stuffing Spider-Man #252 Into Your Computer

I consider myself a recovering packrat. Used to be that I would save everything that meant something to me at one time or another - movie memorabilia, vhs tapes, old paperbacks that I read in the '80's. While I'm not completely reformed - I still have some representatives from each of those categories - I really can't be bothered to stockpile anymore. I attribute this partly to having moved three times in the last two years, partly to not wanting to live in a museum, no matter how personal.

If you share in both my level of struggling minimalism and geekiness, then the following might be of interest: Rolling Stone and Marvel Comics are each putting out portions of their back catalogue on DVD.

Marvel has eight different titles available - including Amazing Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk, and the Avengers - most of which include every issue published to the date of the DVD issue. As most of these comics got their start in the early '60's, we're talking over 40 years of issues. Prices average around $40. As any comic aficionado knows, that's a steal. Oh, and if you insist on having your comics in the paper form, every issue can be printed out in the comfort of your own home.

Not to be outdone, Rolling Stone has announced that - in celebration of the magazine's fortieth anniversary - it will release Rolling Stone Cover-to-Cover: The First 40 Years, a DVD set that will feature every interview, article, and picture ever printed in the magazine. Added coolness: the entire database will be searchable. This DVD is expected to drop in the Fall with a slightly higher pricetag than the Marvel collections - $119.99. Of course, that's the MSRP. Costco, Amazon, and Christmas shopping prices will likely shave that down a bit. Is it too early to talk about Christmas?

Halo 3: Return to Zanzibar

Well, if you've never played Halo 2 online with other folks, then you probably don't get that reference. But, if you have, then you should get some kind of chills when you watch this. Some clever someone recorded seven minutes of in-game play from the current beta testing of Halo 3. No surprise that it looks fantastic. For those of us out there who own the original Xbox but couldn't be bothered to fork out the big $$$ for the 360 since it came out in November '05, I suspect that this will be what sends us all over the edge.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Kudos to a Friend

Friend of the blog Jason Newhouse recently told me that his artwork will appear in the next edition of Spectrum, an annual publication of the best fantasy & science fiction art from around the world. This is doubly significant because Jason is now two-for-two - he was published in last year's Spectrum 13 as well. Well done, sir! You can check out his artwork here.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Joyful Tune of the Damned

Okay, this post really shows the breadth of what this blog might cover. For the first time in many a year I heard Dolly Parton's "9 to 5" on the radio. There's a certain modicum of childhood nostalgia there; the song was a big hit when it came out in 1980. However, in listening to the actual lyrics for perhaps the first time, I was mesmerized by how they're actually quite depressing:
Workin' nine to five
What a way to make a livin'
Barely gettin' by
It's all takin' and no givin'
They just use your mind
And they never
give you credit
It's enough to drive you
Crazy if you let it

Nine to five, for service and devotion
You would think that I
Would deserve a fair promotion
Want to move ahead
But the boss won't
seem to let me
I swear sometimes that man is out to get me

They let you dream
Just a' watch 'em shatter
You're just a step
On the boss man's ladder
But you got dreams he'll never take away

And then there's this little bit from the end:

Nine to five, yeah
They got you where they want you
There's a better life
And you think about it, don't you?
It's a rich man's game
No matter what they call it
And you spend your life
Puttin' money in his wallet

I just can't help imagining huge crowds singing blissfully along with this in concert, taking a certain amount of pride in knowing that "Hey! I work a 9-to-5 job. She's singing about me. Yay!"