Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

The All-Important Soundtrack

Wednesday, June 24th, 2015

An excellent soundtrack will work so well that you aren’t aware of how it’s manipulating you.  Oh, you’ll hear it and perhaps enjoy it, but you aren’t truly cognizant of how essential it is to the experience until you see raw footage and realize most of the emotional thrust of a moment was the music.  Without that, and a good sound effect engineer, you just have uncomfortably awkward moments with Chewbacca screeching like a cockatiel.

Good Lord!  How pivotal were John Williams and Ben Burtt?!!!  Yeesh!

In Star Trek III: The Search For Spock, there’s a…

Okay, I know it’s not a great movie.  It’s a good movie, and at the time we all appreciated that it gave everyone  in the cast a moment or two to shine, but the ending is a snoozer.  Still, it’s got some great moments.  One of the highlights is “Stealing the Enterprise,” mainly due to the soundtrack by James Horner.

Why the soundtrack?  It’s not just the thrill of the soaring horns once the doors open, it’s the entire piece…and how it plays you.  Because this scene shouldn’t work at all.

How much tension is there, really, in Scotty’s trouble getting the doors to open?  Is the Enterprise going to smash into the doors?  Are they going to fail in their attempt and all go to prison?  So how can there be tension in this scene?

But James Horner pulls it off.

James Horner composed the sountracks to 125 films, many of which played a big part of my life,  including many hours spent listening to them on CD.  He died Monday in a plane crash, only 61 years of age.  R.I.P.



world building and character significance in a nutshell

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014
DOC SIDHE (1995) written by Aaron Allston

DOC SIDHE (1995) written by Aaron Allston

“Great. I’m helping a guy that everybody in the world either works for or wants to kill.”
Doc nodded. “That about sums it up.”

Batman versus The Terminator

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

Terminator Batman by ChrisWeyer on deviantART

It is an animated fan film conceived by Tony Guerrero and animated by Mitchell Hammond. I like it.

Harold Ramis passed away at 69

Monday, February 24th, 2014

It’s pretty simple, his movies were funny and most today are not. RIP.

— Rob Macomber, February 24


Deeply saddened to hear of the passing of my brilliant, gifted, funny friend, co-writer/performer and teacher Harold Ramis. May he now get the answers he was always seeking.

— Dan Aykroyd, February 24

Actor and Director Harold Ramis, who brought us Ghostbusters, Caddyshack, Stripes, and directed wonderful films like Groundhog Day, passed away in front of his family, from complications of an autoimmune diseases.

Given the contributions he has made to our entertainment growing up, injecting fun into our lives, it’s not inappropriate to be saddened by his passing.  Our condolences to his family, friends, and loved ones

Disneyfy your life

Monday, December 23rd, 2013

John Hayward makes a very good point about “Saving Mr. Banks,” the new Disney-made film about a Disney production, and how it is very unfair to the creator of Mary Poppins by twisting the outcome of the disagreement that is central to the film.

Man of Steel Animated Series

Monday, December 23rd, 2013

What’s the one thing everyone is going to remember about Man of Steel in five years?*SNAP!*

Rifftrax Live – Starship Troopers

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

Melinda and I attended “Rifftrax Live – Starship Troopers” on Thursday.  This is the first RiffTrax Live I’ve managed to attend, and it was a hoot and a half.

Through a kickstarter fundraiser, Rifftrax finally managed to secure the rights to a relatively recent blockbuster, and the results were worth the effort.  Instead of making fun of a movie that excruciating to watch unriffed or is ineptly done (such as Plan 9 from Outer Space or Manos: The Hands of Fate), they tackled a movie that is bad on a completely different level.

Starship Troopers was an excellent choice.  We’re talking a film that has some poor casting choices (“Denise Richards as a starship pilot” being the big one, though you could probably add “the entire cast as people from South America”), improbable enemies that overcome futuristic weaponry using Flintstone technology, strategies that only work because the humans make poor decisions, such as flying their immense craft within an elbow’s reach of the next ship even though they have the entire stratosphere to spread out in…and ham-handed Nazi propaganda analogies that are about as subtle as a Lady Gaga dress.

Favorite riffs from the evening:

“I can fit an entire can of tuna in my mouth” – Spoken as Denise appears and won’t stop smiling.

As Jake Busey’s hand gets stabbed onscreen: “Ow!  That’s the hand I use to hold my giant toothbrush!”

“It’s Captain Sue Ellen Mischke!”  – Indeed it is.

“That breaks my bad!” – The military commanding officer is the DEA guy from Breaking Bad, who apparently hasn’t aged a day.

“Yeuchhhhh.” – Not really a joke, just an exasperated groan at the sight of yet another shot of Jake Busey’s mugging, horse-teethed face.  Probably got more laughs than anything.

The next Rifftrax Live is in October, when they’ll do “Night of the Living Dead”.  My understanding is that they would like to someday riff on “Twilight”, but we’d be talking serious dough to do it.  (Imagine all the young girls itching to see it on the big screen again, only to have three middle-aged guys making snide remarks throughout it.  Wouldn’t that be awesome?)

DC versus Marvel: Creator Compensation

Thursday, August 8th, 2013

Mark Waid states that he is not angry about the nature or function of comic book corporations or that rules are followed coldly by those same corporations when he details a history of work-for-hire and DC Comics compensation.

From the beginnings of American comics in the mid-1930s right up until the early 1980s, comics artists and writers were what we call today “work-for-hire”–they were paid a per-page rate by publishers, nothing else, and had no ownership stake in or claim to their creations. There were exceptions: though Siegel and Shuster were unquestionably undercompensated for Superman, they at least shared heavily in the royalties of his lucrative newspaper strip. Bob Kane cut a hell of a deal with DC on his co-creation Batman in the late 1940s by threatening to throw his weight behind Siegel and Shuster when they sued for Superman ownership unless DC renegotiated with him–consequently earning a hefty gross percentage on all things Batman until he relinquished most of his rights in the late 1960s for a reported million dollars. Simon and Kirby were guaranteed a percentage of Captain America and, when they suspected they’d been cheated, let DC hire them away for a sizeable sum. There were a few other creators in that time who were powerful enough or savvy enough or both to carve out unusual deals, but 95% or more of their peers were paid flat rates, and to some degree, that’s how it works today if you’re working for a comics publisher–you’re paid an agreed-upon rate for each page of material you produce.In the ‘80s, the powers that be at DC and Marvel (at the time, really the only games in town) overhauled their systems and added royalties to the mix. Unless you were working on top-tier characters like Spider-Man or Teen Titans, the thresholds weren’t easy to meet–initially, at DC, books available on the newsstand had to sell 100,000 copies before royalties were paid, 40,000 copies for books sold strictly to comics shops, and not many did, (but you could dream!); at Marvel, sales were higher but royalties were divided differently between writers and artists. Pluses and minuses to both sides, but an upgrade nonetheless. Both companies also revamped their work-for-hire contracts to guarantee payment for reprints, collections and reissues. Moreover, DC (under the guidance of publisher Jenette Kahn and exec Paul Levitz) drew up a creator-equity agreement for the talent, granting a small but significant percentage of all revenue on new characters created by writers and artists. Marvel later followed suit with something similar, and while sales (and royalty thresholds) have moved up and down over the years, that’s pretty much the way the system’s worked ever since.

By way of example, let’s take Impulse, a character I co-created with artist Mike Wieringo. Mike and I signed a contract that grants us a small percentage of all revenue DC might earn off Impulse action figures, merchandise, guest-starring roles on Young Justice or Smallville, what have you. It’s hardly buy-a-boat money; I get maybe a couple hundred bucks off of every action figure (because of the equity deal) and a few cents off every trade paperback collection or digital sale (because of the royalty agreement), but it adds up and I do see something, enough for a nice meal every few months. And that’s the deal I agreed to at the time, and that’s fine. But that’s the limit of DC’s legal, contractual obligation to us.

The confusion about extra-media compensation arises in that Levitz, while he was DC’s publisher, made it a policy to cut respectable bonus checks to writers and artists, regardless of legal obligation, if elements from any of their stories (even work-for-hire ones) made it into outside media adaptations movies or TV shows. Did you like the scene in Batman Begins where young Bruce Wayne climbs a Himalayan mountain holding a blue flower? Christopher Priest got paid for having come up with that. Or the scene where Bruce Wayne picks out a potential Batmobile from among his own holdings? That was lifted from a Chuck Dixon-written comic, and Paul sent Dixon a check to acknowledge that. Same with dozens of similar moments in cartoons, DVDs, and so forth and so on. It wasn’t legally necessary, it was totally at Paul’s discretion and only Paul knows what math he used to determine what he felt would be fair, but it was a goodwill gesture from an exec sympathetic to the creative community.

And most critically, it wasn’t a written policy or guarantee. It was a courtesy.

Once Paul left, that courtesy was deemed no longer necessary by the executives and the policy was rolled back, as was DC’s absolute prerogative. Currently, DC pays bonuses only on material that’s a straight and highly faithful adaptation of existing work; for instance, Frank Miller (rightfully) got a check for the recent DARK KNIGHT RETURNS animated movies, but if the next animated film takes its plot from (say) BATGIRL: YEAR ONE but calls it “BATMAN: BATGIRL BEGINS” and adds anything to the story, Chuck Dixon and Marcos Martin will receive nothing. DC has removed itself from the complicated business of having to evaluate how much certain adapted elements are “worth” and instead simplified the system to “pay” or “don’t pay,” with “don’t pay” the default. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed to learn, for example, that I’d be receiving no compensation for the JUSTICE LEAGUE: DOOM animated film even though WB was actively billing it as based on my and Howard Porter’s JLA: TOWER OF BABEL, but I couldn’t be angry or resentful and have a leg to stand on. DC or its owners, Warner Bros., were not legally entitled to compensate me for re-use of dialogue or plots or concepts because there was no contract that said they’d have to (and unless things have changed recently, such a contract would never have been an option). Moreover, they have no motive to issue compensation; paying courtesy bonuses don’t benefit the stockholders in any way, nor do they in any way uptick profits or sell more comics.

Would it be nice if the policy were different? Sure, but “nice” is a human behavior, and I say this without one hint of snark or cynicism, simply as fact: corporations are not designed to act based on society’s expectations of ethics or morality. They are designed to generate profit, and a responsible, publicly traded company will by design prioritize profit over all else. “Yeah, but…” No. Corporations aren’t people, my friends. It’s not unfair for us to expect people to base their behavior on a variety of factors–that’s kinda the definition of “society”–but a corporation isn’t built to be “fair” any more than is my coffee table. You may not like that, you may wish it were different, but that’s reality in the here and now. It is not a complaint any more than it is to say that the speed of light is constant. It just is.

A short summary that surprised me a bit is that DC Comics will pay you for when your character is used as merchandise or toys and your trade paperbacks will receive royalties but that when DC Comics paid you for your story concepts being used it was a courtesy and not part of the rules.

I cannot help but admire Mr Waid more than just a bit for not railing at an injustice for the pay structure, knowing that it is what it was when he signed his deals.  That said I’m disappointed that his work basically generated a movie for Warner Bros, Justice League: Doom, and he got nothing more than an acknowledgement on the packaging and in the promotions.

To be honest I suspect the biggest reason he does work-for-hire for DC Comics is simply that he enjoys working on these particular characters and would not have the chance if he created his own stuff and stuck to that exclusively.  I speak from ignorance on that front, of course, and could not say whether he gets paid more or less than for his own creations.

In an interview with The Wrap Len Wein directly compared these rules concerning Marvel Comics’ compensation to DC Comics’ compensation.  Mr Wein co-created Wolverine, whose  fifth movie (as I count the films) just came out last month, and Lucious Fox, who was a prominent character in the Dark Knight Triloy, as well as many other characters.

“When I work for DC, anything I create I get a piece of,” said Wein. “Lucius Fox, for example, who was in the last trilogy of Batman movies played by Morgan Freeman, bought my new house. At Marvel, I did see a check off ‘The Wolverine,’ the current film. But as a rule I don’t any of the ancillary money off of all of the toys and soaps and shampoos and skateboards and God knows what else that features the character.”

Though Wolverine has appeared in six films, Wein was only paid for the latest one because of esoteric rules requiring the film to be named after the character, he said. The rules are strict enough that he wasn’t paid for “X Men Origins: Wolverine.”

“They sent me a not-unreasonable check for the latest one,” he said.

When pressed on the amount, he only that it wouldn’t be enough to pay for another house.

These rules definitely seem twisted to me.  Despite that, Mr Wein, as well as Gerry Conway, did not seem angry.  I like how Mr Conway put it when describing his financial relationship with his co-creation the Punisher.

“To be fair, the companies are at this point trying to find ways to compensate people,” Conway said. “Because of the nature of the way the business was at the time … we knew what we were doing. We didn’t think any of this was going to have any legs. We thought the business was going to collapse, to be honest with you.”

If my opinion meant anything then certainly the respective companies should not act as if they owe the creators anything however the best thing to do would be to extend a very generous set of courtesies, if nothing else to create incentive for more original creations.  The most recently created Marvel Comics character is Deadpool, from the 1990s.  Before that the youngest Marvel characters to receive video games and movies are the Punsher, Ghost Rider, and Wolverine!  Those are Bronze Age 1970s characters!  That basically means that aside from four properties all of Marvel Comics’ multimedia franchises were created in the 1960s by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko!  I am not counting revamps like what happened to the X-Men in the seventies.



TMNT Entity, as a blog of note

Saturday, June 1st, 2013

In my ongoing pedantry I’ve been stuck on the idea (since I learned of it, probably from Elliot S. Maggin’s Superman novel Miracle Monday, I think) that the word “fan” meant “fanatic”, which meant there was a distinct difference between “I like this” and “I am a fan”.

So while I’ve certainly watched most of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle cartoon shows, and a high percentage of the episodes I can definitely tell you that I am not a fan, as I never watched all of them.  I really really like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  It’s a great concept and it sprung from a comic book back in the early 1980s and from there it because three live action films from New Line, a cartoon from Fred Wolf Films that was both UHF syndicated and aired on CBS in later seasons simultaneously, a FOX children’s cartoon show made with non-union voice actors whose primary jobs were dubbing Japanese anime released in this country, a FOX Kids live-action television series made by the producers of the Power Rangers, a syndicated daily newspaper comic strip, a comic book series from Archie Comics spinning off of the 1980s cartoon series, an anime, a comic book series from IDW, a CGI-animated film, a straight-to-television animated film, prose novels for children, a Nickelodeon-owned CGI-animated cartoon series, a ton of action figure sets, each released for a different children’s cartoon series,  and that does not include all of the licensed merchandise like lunch boxes, mugs, t-shirts, tooth brushes, underpants, etc. Knowing that sounds like obsession.  Sadly remembering that information off the top of my head is how my brain works.  It collects and retains knowledge of useless stuff I learned decades ago with amazing retention of detail.  I think it’s a learning disorder because I’ve been meeting people lately and I swear that despite the familiarity they show I don’t even remember their faces (it’s probably less rude to be honest and ask how we last met rather than lie to them even convincingly).

Now because I like TMNT, a lot, but am not an actual honest to goodness fan, I only read TMNT Entity on occasion.  Mark Pellegrini is a fan, as in fanatic, and I will not fault him for it.  (And why should I fault him for it?  I’m a fan of Spider-Man and Batman, and certain eras of Star Wars and Transformers).  The man seems to have taste and his knowledge of the subject seems immense.  He is also extremely well-read in terms of the given material, as well as enough other things that we don’t have to worry about him not knowing if something is based off of something else.

I’m holding back a little, in part because there’s something else of his I want to praise later and give that more time.

As it is while Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as a franchise is certainly well-known among cable-watching children today, and adults who were children in the eighties and nineties, with a viewing audience that sadly dwarfs the reading audiences of major comic book series, it is all still based on an series of comic books that were published by Mirage Comics. They were created by Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman, at first as a spoof of Frank Miller’s Daredevil and then as an action adventure series with a side of comedy.  The average intended output was six issues a year and whose average actual output was four issues a year.  I’m fairly certain that as it was an independent comic book with that distinct flavor it sold less than Superman and X-Men and perhaps the people that were readers of only the Big Two back in the early eighties did not know it existed.  Or maybe they did.  I was born in 1981, what do I remember?

From the Mirage Comic was licensed a cartoon series and spun from that cartoon series was a comic book series published by Archie Comics, licensed from Mirage, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures.  So an independent comic with an erratic output beget a daily cartoon show beget a monthly comic book.  I’m fairly certain that the audiences for the two comics were such that it was not an actual competitive product, any more than the Super Friends comic was a competitor of the Justice League of America.

The Mirage Universe version of the Turtles made many many canonical appearances not simply in their own regular comic book (of which there were three volumes, or four depending on who you ask), but in various anthologies and Micro-Series one-shots, as well as numerous back-up stories.  In fact whenever Mirage published a reprinting of one of their issues they made certain that new material was included, usually back-up stories which fit into the overall continuity.

This makes recognizing/establishing a continuity of these characters a formidable task at best.  But the writer of TMNT Entity did it, right here.  Now as fascinating as I find the whole story, both of how the comic was made, how the company worked, and the events of the characters themselves, I still am not a fan of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series, or any of the franchise as a whole.

But I liked it a lot.  I watched every episode I could as a kid. I thought the action figures were cool.  And so the TMNT burnt into my brain.

Kevin Feige has faith in a Justice League movie

Tuesday, May 7th, 2013

Kevin Feige is the madman/genius that made Marvel’s Cinematic Universe/Phase 1/Avengers franchise from the Marvel Comics to the theatrical screens.  He provided his advice to Warner Bros regarding their efforts for a similar/parallel Justice League film series.

“I’m sure they have smart people over there who have a plan and know what they’re doing. Man of Steel looks like it’s going to be awesome and obviously Dark Knight is awesome. I don’t know,” Feige told Collider when asked about Warner Bros.’ troubles with Justice League. “It’s what I say all the time and have said over the years, which is, have confidence in the characters, believe in the source material, don’t be afraid to stay true to all of the elements of the characters no matter how seemingly silly or crazy they are.”… Feige also acknowledged that the idea of bringing preexisting characters together to form a superhero team came from Justice League originally. As he said, “Justice League was first.”

“I think there have been a lot of great DC stories and there are a lot of great DC characters, and if they focus on those things the audience will be interested,” Feige said. “It was a very unique model that we were lucky enough to be able to do — introducing each individual hero before introducing The Avengers. That, to me, is what was always interesting about The Avengers. … The Avengers was cool because they were preexisting characters that teamed up for a big event. I think that’s why Justice League was cool, Justice League was first. That’s what they did first in comic form.”

That all sounds correct.

Happy Birthday Hutch

Friday, March 29th, 2013

Tom Selleck as Indiana Jones

Thursday, March 28th, 2013

We have known for years that Tom Selleck was nearly cast as Indiana Jones, the only obstacle being the television phenomena MAGNUM, P.I. but here is something I have not seen, at least to my memory.  Here is a screen test for Tom Selleck for RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK.

Now I refuse to make a direct comparison to Harrison Ford’s performance. Either way I reckon the quality of the films would be a constant. I have no doubt that Harrison Ford’s career was greatly benefited by this.

It is nearly impossible to say about Tom Selleck and whether he was better off with the many years of that great television show or this film. I will say definitively that for the period of time between MAGNUM, P.I. and now the actor has received less and worse than what he deserved.

Podcast 8: Chatting About Movies Again (Lost Podcast #2)

Sunday, March 17th, 2013

This is the second of our “Lost Podcasts.”  Erik Burnham and I both worked in video stores so as often happens, while gearing up to record a discussion about something else, we just get talking about movies…and it turns into a whole ‘nother podcast!

Fred Hembeck on Jenny Wren and a Phantom

Saturday, January 26th, 2013

from Fred Hembeck

Being the semi-literate Beatles fan that I am, upon learning that the central character (and murder victim) of 1932’s “The Phantom of Crestwood” was named Jenny Wren, I immediately assumed Paul McCartney must’ve been up late one night watching the tube when he was inspired to write a similarly named tune for his 2005 release, “Chaos And Creation In The Backyard”. Then I went to Wikipedia and learned that Jenny Wren was also a character in a Charles Dickens novel I’d never heard of, “Our Mutual Friend”. Oops. Well, at least I’m pretty sure I know where “Magneto and Titanium Man” came from… (By the way, what a crazily unique movie! Apparently NBC ran a radio serial of the same name, left off the final chapter, invited listeners to submit their own solutions to who killed Jenny (with 6000 1932 dollars divvied up amongst the winners), and then come see this RKO Radio motion picture to see WHO–NOT necessarily using the winning entry–did the dirty deed! All of this is explained by a radio announcer standing in front of a full orchestra before the title credits commence! A decent mystery with a fair amount of atmosphere (dig that death mask!) Ricardo Cortez and Karen Morely head the cast, ably abetted by the adorably named Richard “Skeets” Gallagher. And every time, early in the picture, Cortez gave out the fake name, “Mr. Fonbons”, I had to laugh, as it sounded an awful lot like Don Martin’s “Fonebone”! )

from Thursday January 24 2013

It’s Uncanny, This Valley: The Ups And Downs Of Cinematic CGI InHumanity | Pajiba: Reviews, News, Quotes & Cultural Commentary

Friday, September 30th, 2011

I love this quote:  “Caesar will always look computer generated in the same way Roger Rabbit will always be a cartoon, but his face expresses more genuine human emotion than James Franco ever will.”

via It’s Uncanny, This Valley: The Ups And Downs Of Cinematic CGI InHumanity

We all know why Green Lantern failed

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011


I think it’s pretty clear to everyone that Green Lantern tried to do too much and pack in too much exposition.  But just in case you haven’t heard it enough:  Why Iron Man Succeeded Where Green Lantern Failed.

Oh goody. Another British crime movie!

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

It’s funny.  As soon as I saw two criminals mule-kicking the door of a house in broad daylight, I knew it was a movie from England.  But if they’re speaking English, why aren’t they talking?  Usually, when a trailer is wordless, it’s because it’s foreign and they’re angling to lure in the unsuspecting without telling them there are subtitles.

Then I realized why they weren’t including dialogue in the trailer for Kill List:

B-Movie Posters for Classic Films

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011 had a photo contest urging people to make pulpy, b-movie posters for classic A-List movies.

You have to see the Fargo one.

7 Examples of Misguided Superhero Casting – Holytaco

Saturday, August 20th, 2011

7 Examples of Misguided Superhero Casting – Holytaco.

I don’t care what anyone says.  Winchester from M.A.S.H. was certainly the right voice for J’onn J’onzz, and while he may be out of shape, he was going to be a shadowy advisor to the League.  It’s not a terrible idea.

‘The Lone Ranger’ With Johnny Depp would cost too much?

Saturday, August 13th, 2011

SHOCKER! Disney Halts ‘The Lone Ranger’ With Johnny Depp And Gore Verbinski –

Disney allegedly halted production of “The Lone Ranger” because of the $200 million price tag.

*sputter* $200 million???  Two hundred million DOLLARS to make a western where two guys ride on horses firing guns at other guys on horses?

Guys, you don’t have to use actual silver for the bullets.

I’m truly baffled.  Westerns used to be the bread and butter of Hollywood because you got the most bang for your buck.  A standard western town lot, some horsies, some guns, a lot of money for the stunt men… and bang, you’ve got a movie.  There’s no reason on God’s green Earth that a western should be costing Lord of the Rings prices.

“The Lone Ranger”, if you focus on STORY, should be the kind of cheap film that a studio uses to balance out the gaudy tentpoles.  Something tells me I don’t want to see a Lone Ranger that costs $200 million-plus.

I certainly don’t want to see a 3D Three Musketeers movie that needed to add CGI war blimps.