Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Movies I Should Have Seen By Now, Vol. 1: It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World

I love things that attempt something new. This may sound silly, but let's consider for a second all the media that we get every day that attempts absolutely nothing:

Reality Television attempts to make money and attract viewers. Innovation is a tertiary, at best, motivation.

Pop Music - for all the praise that Lady Gaga gets, she is really making formulaic pop music. Her presentation might be edgy, but her music is boring as fuck.

Sequels are the most lucrative and most easily green-lit type of film. With the ultra-rare exception that pops up once a decade or so, sequels try and do the same thing as the originals.

I say all of this to say that It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (Mad from here on out) is a pretty bad movie, but a movie that tried something.

At the time of its invention, television was beating the cinema in the battle for people's time and attention. Veteran director Stanley Kramer attempted to buck this trend by making "the ultimate comedy film," one that's scope (literally and figuratively) could never be attempted on television. For that, he succeeded.

A huge amount of top comedy talent was assembled for the film, from contemporary stars to "classic" comedians, and a huge, sprawling story was constructed around finding $350,000 buried under a "giant W."

Now, maybe at the time the comedy was cutting edge or didn't seem cliched, but to my eyes, this movie was nearly 3 hours (yes, 3 hours) full of hackiest comedy ever assembled. I expected the film to be bloated, but it was morbidly obese - every scene was just a bit too long, a bit too on the nose, and a bit too predictable.

Half of the fun for viewers during its initial run was missing for me, and that is the endless cameo spotting. Sure, i recognized Jimmy Durante and Andy Devine (and who could miss the Three Stooges?), but most of the other cast members were either totally lost on me or a case of "who is that guy?" syndrome that left me wondering what was so important about a guy driving a car that the camera wouldn't pan away for a second?

But watching the movie mad me realize that it has been a long time since a movie that was even this successful was made at such a large scale. In 2001, Rat Race was supposed to be the next Mad, but much of the talent was not A-list, and the film wasn't eagerly anticipated by fans of, well, anything. It was pitched as a family friendly film, and therefore couldn't go too blue, too weird, or, ultimately, too funny. That being said, there is a scene involving Jon Lovitz inadvertently channeling Hitler that is very, very funny.

Skip to 5:00 for the part that is actually funny.

But then i got to thinking: what would a grand-scale comedy made up of the Sid Ceasars, Milton Berles and Buddy Hacketts of today look like?

Would it be a Judd Apatow production? (Yay) Or would Happy Madison tackle it? (Boo) Who would star? Could it be anything less than a hard-R? Would you want to see it?

Let me know in the comments.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Two Random Film Related Thoughts

I took today off, as i worked all weekend, and spent most of the day lying on the couch channel surfing. Two things made me pause today:

1) I watched 1/2 of It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World and was shocked to find out that it is two hours and forty five minutes long - that is longer than the theatrical release of 2001: A Space Odyssey, which had an intermission during its run in theaters. Look for a post about this movie later in the week.

2) Minnie Driver, then 27, played both a 28 year old and a 21 year old in 1997 (in Grosse Point Blank and Good Will Hunting, respectively). Obviously, 7 years isn't that big of a stretch, but it got me thinking: i wonder what the longest gap between two ages an actor/actress has played in the same year without the aid of makeup/wigs/prosthetics to seriously alter their appearance. I don't have an answer to this, but thought it was an interesting question.

Monday, August 1, 2011

12 Year Old Brian Vol. 1

12 Year Old Brian is a column where i write about things from my childhood that i still sincerely, non-ironically love. This isn't just limited to past experiences, but also current versions of things once loved.

Vol. 1: The DC Comics "New 52"

The new Justice League

Earlier this summer, DC Comics announced that come September, they would be canceling all current series and re-launching 52 series from #1, including Detective Comics (where the DC in DC comes from) and Action Comics, both of which have been running since the 1930s uninterrupted (and both closing in on 1000 issues). Speculation was rampant as to whether or not all current versions of the characters would no longer be in continuity (more on that "c" word in a minute), or whether or not this was simply a marketing tool to get people buying comics again.

Well, it's sort of both.

But first, let's look at that "c" word again, continuity. What makes comic books different from almost all other media is continuity. In theory, from Action Comics #1 all the way through to the last issue of the original volume, a story has been told that continues to grow, adapt and shape the lives of the characters, month in and month out. I say "in theory," because on numerous occasions, the Superman story has been re-shaped, edited, changed, and generally made to suit whatever goal the writer of that particular issue has in mind.

Unlike, say, James Bond films, which people don't expect to tell a linear, point A (Dr. No) to point Z (Quantum of Solace), story. The James Bond played currently by Daniel Craig is NOT supposed to be an older Sean Connery. There is no consistent continuity between these films (at least not in the macro sense. Sure, all the Connery movies are supposed to lead into one another, but once Bonds kept getting younger and younger, the idea that the same dude battled Goldfinger and Goldeneye became ridiculous).

But in comics, there is. Sure, time is slowed down (or else Superman would be pushing 100 and Dick Grayson, the original Robin, would be nearly 70 [as opposed to the mid-30s he is in comics]), but generally the story began with the character's creation and has continued on until present day.

This is a roll of the dice for your favorite characters, because over the course of time various writers will take your favorites down different paths. One of the beauties of comic fandom is that your favorite character might die (mine did), get resurrected (mine did), have multiple versions of different characters with the same name (mine did) and still not be even close to the most confusing character in comics.

I have been, since i was probably 5 years old, a Green Lantern fan. When i say that, i mean a fan of Hal Jordan, the 2nd character to be known as Green Lantern, introducing during the "Silver Age" of Comics (approximately 1955-1970). There was a Green Lantern before him, Alan Scott, who really has no reason to be associated with Hal Jordan other than a name (although some creative writing or, as its detractors call it, retroactive continuity [retconning] has connected them in a relatively pleasing way). With Hal Jordan came the Green Lantern Corps, an intergalactic organization of crime fighters who, like Jordan and Scott, wielded power rings that could create any image the wearer imagined.

Eventually, Hal Jordan became Parallax, an evil villain who wiped out the Green Lantern Corps, and was eventually defeated by his successor, Kyle Rayner. Who, when absorbing the avatar of willpower, Ion, became so powerful that he resurrected the Green Lantern Corps (including certain popular Lanterns). Eventually, Hal Jordan was resurrected and now there are 4 Green Lanterns that all are from Earth. This doesn't even begin to take into account the other Lantern Corps, the Guardians of the Universe, the Oath, the impurity, or various other things that only me and my nerd brethren care about.

Which is why this relaunch sort of makes sense.

The idea, according to DC Comics, is to simply tell stories again, not stories with so much baggage attached. As i said before, Green Lantern is a relatively simple tale compared to some (you could write a thesis and develop an ulcer trying to trace Hawkman's legacy), and yet to tell you even the simplest version of the story from point A to point B is so mired in muck that i'm surprised you're still reading this. So, if we start Green Lantern over at #1, and just tell stories about the future, theoretically people who don't read comics could have a convenient jumping on point to get into the discussion.

But where does that leave my nearly 25 years of reading comics? Are all the stories i loved gone? Did they never happen? Are they non-canonical, like the Gnostic Gospels ? Have i wasted all of my time reading stories that don't matter?

When i say that the stories may not matter, this leads to two responses in the comics world. Some will say "Of course they matter - they matter to you. No one is going to come in and steal your old comics - you read them, they matter, even if they don't affect what is happening today." Others will say "I've invested x number of years into reading the history of a certain character, only to have it all washed away because sales were down. What gives?"

Personally, part of what i love about comics is that this train started a long time ago, and i'm just along for a part of the ride. There will, most likely, be Superman stories long after i die, and there were Superman stories long before i was born. This is great - if i wanted to, i could go back and read the entirety of a character's creative lifetime, enjoying them through every major event, every crappy arc, every lazy bit of retconning and STILL only be as far in the story as future creators want to take it.

Have you ever read a book you wish wouldn't end? Then read comics, friend.

Or, read Marvel comics now. Because DC is changing. Big time.

The full details are still not out yet, but basically DC felt that a good chunk (all non-Batman/Green Lantern books) of their titles were limping along, either due to poor creative decisions, bad marketing, or just featuring non-worthy characters. So, a big shake up is taking place. All new #1s, lots of canceled books, lots of new books, new characters, old characters returning, and day-and-date digital comics, which means you can buy a comic for your iPad at the same time you could buy it in a store. This doesn't sound like a huge deal, but again, we'll come back to this in a minute.

You may have heard via the main stream media certain changes: Superman and Lois Lane are no longer married and, actually, have never been married. Many of the characters have been de-aged, so instead of someone looking 35, they now look 25. Superheroes have only existed for 5 years* in the new DC universe (henceforth, the DCnU). More ethnic, sexual and gender diversity in the heroes. Yadda yadda.

So what does your resident nerd, and comic book reader since 1987, think about this?

I don't know.

Reason i do like it: More people reading comics is good for everyone. Day-and-date digital sales means that people will be downloading comics on the way to work and won't have to track down their increasingly hard to find/far away "local" comic book store. Certain characters (again, Hawkman) will benefit from a more streamlined approach.

What i don't like: Even if the general public hates a certain story, it is someone's favorite story. Even though certain events still "happened," many won't have happened. I don't like the idea that new fans are always more important than old fans. I don't like a lot of the art i've been seeing, which is very '90s looking (big muscles, big guns, stupid collars). I wish that digital comics were priced according to the digital music model (99 cents instead of the same as the print version $2.99, which is DC's current price).

Ultimately, the question has to be asked, why do you read comics? If the answer is for good stories and art, then hopefully this will be a good thing. If you read comics for nostalgia, then you're shit out of luck. If you're like me and read comics for both reasons, you're very confused.

I could write 40,000 words on this, but i'll end it here (for now). What do you think?

Note: I purposely didn't cover prior reboots or go too deep into retconning because it would bore you to tears. Crisis on Infinite Earths alone could give you an aneurysm.

*Even if they fudge the facts on Batman and say he had even ten years extra hiding in the shadows of Gotham City, there have been 4 Robins with extended careers are Robin, plus time in between each, and years before the first - how can you do that in 15 years?