I’m on a Podcast!

Hi all!

There’s a great YouTube channel, and Facebook page (!), called “Obnoxious and Anonymous” that populates great entertainment news and opinion. I’ve recently joined as a contributor and I’m fortunate enough to appear on some of the weekly podcasts. It’s exactly my taste (in that we talk about nonsense), so if you enjoy my blog, you’ll probably enjoy the podcasts too.

This week’s podcast includes two members of the YouTube group “The Sausage Factory,” Cole and Orc. They have some great film discussions and “live watches” on their channel. They’re also big 80’s slasher film fans and I’m also a mega fan. TSF has a new episode premiering tonight, so check it out.

But this latest “O&A” video is one of the best and Cole and Orc are a couple of smart, funny guys so we have a pretty good discussion. I hope you enjoy and, if it floats your boat, subscribe to the channel! And this one!

 

Sequels, Reboots, and Shared Universes – Oh My!

Jaws 19

This time it’s really personal.

I know I said I would stop apologizing about not writing enough, but I feel bad that I’m not more up to date. It’s this annoying fatherhood… I mean, like “Change your own diaper!”

Fortunately, I’m feeling the itch to write these days thanks to some contributions I’m making at Obnoxious and Anonymous on video podcasts about a variety of subjects.

I’ve been aching to take on the persistent, knee-jerk cynicism about sequels, reboots, and the relatively new phenomenon of shared movie universes.

On the surface, I get it.

As the writer of my own original independent work (works), I would like room to break in and show people something new as opposed to a 3rd Spider-Man reboot within 15 years of the original film – to say nothing of the fact that the character has been in production for about fifty years of comics and cartoons (let’s not speak of the live action 70s show…). New characters and new stories are necessary. We can’t keep rehashing the same things over and over.

And, more to the point, I think what I, as a fan, sometimes hate about sequels or reboots is how bad they can be, which can spoil the memories and connections I’ve made to the original work. Two examples that illustrate this perfectly for me are the original Sam Raimi Spider-Man films and The X-Men films. Both series started out with decent first films and then debuted stronger, more complex—more awesome—sequels. Then each series turned out bad second sequels that were not only pretty bad films, but they soured the stories and my memories of the first two films. I would point out, too, that it was largely studio interference or behind the scenes problems that tanked these movies. Not that it makes it better, but it’s not like the ideas were flawed from the start.

But the geek in me—the passionate fan—wants more content about the things I love. More good content. I want these films—or TV shows—to succeed. Sometimes I think I come off as a contrarian when it comes to these things because there seems to be so much vitriol online against sequels that I feel the need to balance the scales and defend them.

It’s not just that, though. The truth is: we don’t hate sequels. Some of our favorite films are sequels. There are the obvious ones: Godfather 2, Aliens, Terminator 2… these movies are not only good by their own rights, but they grew the worlds of the original films and gave us extra dimensions of the characters and situations that only improve the original movies in context.

I would add Beverly Hills Cop 2 and Lethal Weapon 2 to that list as well, by the way.

I have less patience for so-called reboots, but even there I think there is something interesting in taking an established property and playing with our expectation of it. It may seem like an odd example, but the Friday the 13th reboot is one of the best. The writers clearly had a love for the original material and the film is like a spiritual remix of the first four movies in the “original” series. They even took the opportunity to make sense of the original series disjointed mythology related to Jason’s original drowning and return. More than anything, they got the character of Jason right. He’s not necessarily a complex character, but Jason Goes To Hell is an example of how wrong you can portray Jason Voorhees (including misspelling his last name like JGTH does).

On the other hand, I have a seething hatred for Rob Zombie’s Halloween reboot. That’s an example of how not to reboot something. Zombie fundamentally does not understand the characters of the original Halloween least of all Michael Myers and Dr. Loomis, who are pretty important to get right. Zombie said once that Dr. Loomis must have been the worst psychiatrist in the world, which to me is one of the most brain dead things I have ever heard. The point in Carpenter’s Halloween was that Michael Myers was pure evil. No amount of psychiatric treatment would have helped him because he’s not a person. He’s a force. But I digress… I could devote a whole blog to my hatred of that film.

Meanwhile, Chris Nolan’s Batman Begins is another example of how to properly reboot a property. In that case, it almost seems easy in retrospect. After Batman and Robin, there was no way it could be worse. But Nolan didn’t settle for average—Nolan and screenwriter David Goyer crafted a story that explored the character of Bruce Wayne and Batman, which, oddly enough, wasn’t really done in the previous four Batman films; the previous directors put the focus on Batman’s rogues as opposed to the Dark Knight. Bruce Wayne, in costume as Batman, doesn’t even show up until around the 40 minute mark of Batman Begins. It’s a strong film and, by the way, followed by the amazing sequel The Dark Knight.

Finally, while sequels and reboots aren’t exactly new, the concept of a “shared movie universe” is less than 10 years old. Birthed by our good friends at Marvel, for those of you living under a rock since 2008, this is when more than one movie franchise exists in the same “universe.” Basically, Tony Stark (Iron Man) can go have coffee with Bruce Banner (The Hulk). What happens in one film happens for all the films in that shared universe.

It makes the most sense with comic book properties because that’s how comic books work. As Spider-Man web-slings around the city he might pass Iron Man or Johnny Storm (Human Torch) flying in the other direction. Crossovers are plentiful. But the standard of believability and reality in a feature film (or TV show) is different from a comic book. Marvel’s shared universe gambit was so bold because of the logistics involved with meshing, say, Thor with Iron Man. Iron Man wears a high-tech suit that flies. While it’s fantastical, it’s grounded in a kind of realism that makes it believable. Meanwhile, Thor is a musclebound god who flies and hits people with a magic hammer that only he* can lift. In retrospect, we shouldn’t have been worried, but you can see how there was cause for concern.

But criticisms of the shared universe concept go beyond movie logic. Marketing, particularly by Marvel, has been problematic. Last summer Marvel announced every movie slated for release through 2019. While it was interesting to see the new properties that would debut, like Dr. Strange, Black Panther, and Captain Marvel, new entries in existing character franchises were announced as well—not to mention the next two Avengers entries. It’s been argued that this robbed Avengers: Age of Ultron of some drama because if we know that Captain America is coming out next year, then we know he survives the film and is OK. Same with Thor, who also had a new entry announced.

This criticism is fair. But my response is simple. Who actually thinks Marvel would kill off a marquee character like Thor or Captain America when the actors still have films left on their contracts? Besides, death with comic book characters is about as permanent as the Hulk’s shirt.

I love the idea. But I have two gripes. One, studios are tried to do shared movie universes with everything whether it makes sense or not. Universal is working on a classic monster shared universe with Dracula, the Mummy, the Wolfman, etc. Paramount is working on a Transformers universe with spinoff films centered on different characters like Bumblebee. Meanwhile, one shared universe I’m excited about is a Stephen King universe and this is mostly because there is a shared King book universe connected by The Dark Tower series.

My second gripe is aimed at Marvel and DC. Marvel built up to 2012’s The Avengers where all of our established heroes, Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, Black Widow, and Hawkeye teamed up with S.H.I.E.L.D. to fight aliens. Awesome! Then Iron Man 3 threw it all out the window. After establishing all of these characters and the connectivity in the greater world, Iron Man effectively faces off against Al Qaeda by another name and he does so alone. One might wonder why S.H.I.E.L.D., the overarching intelligence apparatus that seems to know everything, didn’t appear. I did! The movie never addresses this issue. After S.H.I.E.L.D. was up Tony Stark’s butt for two independent films and then a team-up film why would it suddenly disappear when terrorists fly up to Iron Man’s house and blow it up? Why weren’t they involved in combatting the terrorists up to that point? The movie could have had one line that fixed this and I would have stayed mum: “Oh man, S.H.I.E.L.D. is so busy cleaning up New York they’re undermanned…” or whatever. Problem solved. But the movie doesn’t bother to address it.

Similarly, in Captain America: The Winter Soldier when Steve Rogers and Black Widow are on the run, they go to Falcon’s house and say everyone they know is trying to kill them. What about Tony Stark? They were even in New Jersey at one point, which brought them close to NYC where Tony and THE HULK were chilling in their Science Bros lab. Again, not really addressed. I would have been happy with a line that explained S.H.I.E.L.D. was monitoring Tony’s phones or Tony wouldn’t respond. Something. Anything! The movie clearly knew that Iron Man exists because “Anthony Stark” is targeted by “Project Insight” at the movie’s climax. I get that each character needs their own films and stories, but if you’re going to go to the trouble of building a shared universe you have to maintain it and acknowledge what you’ve built.

I’ve made my feelings about DC clear in other pieces so I won’t belabor them here. I will only note that the inner-connectivity between Arrow and The Flash is a perfect example of how to do it right. My complaints about DC are more about how they won’t unify all of their TV properties and have separated their films from TV.

Basically, my position is simple. Sequels, reboots, shared universes – make them! But make them well. And if you’re going to develop a shared universe, you need to respect the audience’s intelligence – don’t ignore the fact these characters exist in each other’s’ lives. Otherwise, why are you doing it?

Consistency

I have tried to remain non-political on the blog. And it will mostly remain a non-political place. I mean, c’mon, talking about Ghostbusters or Lost or The Avengers is way better than wading into that crap. In fact, let’s not even call this one “political.” Let’s call it “philosophy.”

It’s not that I don’t have opinions, I most certainly do. But I find—and studies have borne this out—the proliferation of media has given us the freedom to consume the content we want and ignore what we don’t; and most of us don’t want to discuss politics or philosophy that may challenge us. “Conservatives”* consume content that reflects that ideology and “liberals”* do the same. On the surface, I understand this perspective. We all work. We all commute. We’re living our lives and just making it through the day is hard enough sometimes without needing to get worked up in political conversations that shake us or make us uncomfortable.

But I can’t stay silent. The truth is we are not as different as MSNBC or Fox News tells us we are. I have many friends of various political stripes and 9 times out of 10, in our day-to-day lives, we agree or, at least, we can compromise on important subjects. If nothing else, we can have a discussion. But the reason things seem polarized, when viewed through the media’s filter, is because they only juxtapose issues between two points. Liberal or conservative. Democrat or republican. Wrong or right. But there is almost never a situation in our lives that comes down to just two choices. We’re faced with a spectrum of options at any given moment and so too are we representative of a spectrum of opinions, positions, and philosophies.

Just in case you think this is going to be an argument for “centrism,” let me stop you right there. I’m not a centrist. But my overall point is that I don’t think centrism is real because I don’t think there are only two positions between which there is a middle ground into which some people fall. But if you’re married to existing terminology if I’m arguing anything it’s that most people are “centrists” in the traditional sense. We simply get pulled into choosing one side over another when we would probably choose neither one if that was a legitimate option (and some do this, incidentally).

Since we’re forced to choose between two positions we often twist ourselves into argumentative knots to fit our complex views into the most compatible position. I won’t use an arbitrary example; I’ll use myself. I believe in a small government of specified and limited powers. I believe that’s the surest way to prevent the abuse of power by our elected leadership. What should the government’s specified powers be? Let that be a debate for another day. Let’s stay general here. I’ve said that I believed this for many years, going all the way back to high school. But I didn’t. I was like many people; I was partisan and really just parroting my parents’ values.

You see, when I was in high school, the US was attacked by Islamic fundamentalist terrorists who knocked down the Twin Towers in New York City and crashed a plane into the Pentagon. I, like everyone else it seemed, was shocked, horrified, scared, and angry. As the government grinded into action with a military response, I cheered them on. When Congress passed the Patriot Act, billed as a way to unify our intelligence efforts and make it easier to pursue terrorists, I cheered. Someone was doing something.

The problem, and it took me years to realize this, was that we compromised our principles to address this threat. What’s the saying? “We had to burn down the village to save it?” It’s melodramatic, but my point, and again I’m only talking about myself, is that I said I supported a small government of specified, limited powers except in certain circumstances. There it is. A lack of consistency.

If I had been consistent with my beliefs, I would not have supported many provisions in the Patriot Act. I believe in the philosophical basis that formed our country and supported documents like the Declaration of Independence. That declaration notes that all men are created equal and have certain fundamental, inalienable rights that come from our creator. Whether or not you believe in God is immaterial, if you’re alive, you have the right to live and all the others. Those rights belong to you simply by existing. I believe that with sincerity. Therefore, how could I support treating some people, in this case “enemy combatants,” as less than people? How could I support holding people indefinitely without trial and without representation? If I am being consistent, I cannot.

Now, please make no mistake: one of government’s express powers is national defense. And fighting a war takes commitment and certainty. If you’re going to do it, name your enemy and define victory. I supported, and still do, our response to attack Afghanistan which housed the Al Qaeda terrorist leadership. But I cannot support the invasion of Iraq if I am being consistent with my principles. Iraq was a dictatorship run by a madman. Is the world a better place without Saddam Hussein? Unequivocally so. But it’s also a more complicated place. And simply because Hussein was a bad person, does not mean that invading his country was the right policy decision for the United States. Despite what some may think, the question is still open on Iraq’s weapon caches, which was our justification for waging that war. The NY Times reported on the thousands of chemical weapons found over the course of our engagement there and some suspect that more of the active weaponry ultimately ended up in the hands of the Syrians. But you know what, this is immaterial to my larger point.

I supported something in which I didn’t believe because my philosophy mostly aligned with the stated policy objectives of those driving it forward. But over time, I realized that the political party pushing that agenda forward, for all its talk of small government and responsible foreign policy, merely wanted big government to advance its interests and reward its political allies. And sadly, the only other legitimate political alternative is doing the same thing with a different set of big government objectives.

I eventually came to a place where I couldn’t honestly defend my personal philosophy and support some of the public policy choices made by representatives in the party I traditionally supported. I’m suspicious of overreaching government power. I took to heart the chief lesson learned by the Founders of the United States of America – unchecked power can and will be abused. So, they designed a system where no one entity of government could act without the cooperation—and compromise—of the other entities. But that system is gone now. When the President of the United States takes unilateral action and half the country cheers him because he’s a member of their political party, and they would jeer if a President from the other party tried the same thing, it’s hard to believe in the process. The process has been replaced by parties.

And it’s frustrating because, like I noted near the beginning, I find tremendous agreement with friends and colleagues on important issues that affect our day-to-day lives. A government represented by people like us, not entrenched ideologues, would be something indeed. My wife and I just had a baby and as we prepare for the future, I’m drowning in the details of our finances. My wife and I (seem to) make a good living, but when I look at the costs ahead I’m worried. And no one is talking about that. No one is working to address the problem in our tax code that doesn’t take enough taxes out of a married couple’s income so that they owe money during tax season. That issue, and many others like it, isn’t sexy, so it’s rarely addressed.

So… I don’t know where to turn. The only thing I know how to do is be true to what I believe. I stand by my principles. To anyone reading this, I would simply ask that you be consistent. If you think it’s wrong for the government to stick its nose into the parenting style of people who let their kids walk, alone, to the park, then it should also be wrong for the government to stick its nose into the consensual relationship between two adults be they a man and a woman or two men or two women.

And if you think it’s wrong for the President to exercise too much unchecked power when he’s a democrat, then I hope you feel the same way when he’s a republican. And vice versa. I think we would get better representation if we were more consistent like that.

Ugh.

Now that we have that out of the way, how about that Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice trailer??

A Dearth of Strong Females in Game of Thrones? I think not.

Hermione on the Throne

How great would it be to get Hermione on Game of Thrones?

Time Magazine just reported that Game of Thrones fans are disappointed by the supposed* absence of a female character in the series upcoming 5th season.

The author, Nolan Feeney, is referring to Arianne Martell, heiress to the capital city of Dorne. She’s apparently a significant character in the books (I haven’t read that far yet — I am almost done with A Clash of Kings as of this writing.) Mr. Nolan noted: “…she was a strong, complex female character in a fictional universe that doesn’t have too many of those.”

If that’s supposed to be sarcasm, I didn’t get it. Setting aside, for the moment, the character’s supposed importance to the story in the books, I don’t see how Game of Thrones is lacking in strong female characters. Let’s count them out: Catelyn Stark**, Arya Stark, Cersei Lannister, Melissandre (The Red Woman), Daenerys Targaryen, Brienne of Tarth, Asha (Theon’s sister), Osha, Lady Olenna, and, my personal favorite, Ygritte** (of “You know nothing, Jon Snow” fame). All of these women fit the “strong female character” label to me.

And I’m being somewhat dogmatic, too. I think a case can be made that Margarey Tyrell belongs in that list. She’s not stabbing people with swords or directing governments, but she’s playing a pretty high-level political game with Cersei Lannister and it’s one she’s been pursuing since Renly Baratheon. I would also suggest that Sansa deserves credit (although she has annoyed me at times) for surviving as a hostile prisoner in very bad circumstances; however, our final glimpse of Sansa suggests she’s taking control of her fate like never before. Hell, she was bat-shit crazy, but Catelyn’s sister, Lysa Arryn**, is a candidate — she was a queen and clearly in charge of her realm (again, albeit unstable in the brain space).

Consider, too, about what the author (and some of the sampled Twitter postings) are complaining. One female character is (potentially) being omitted. But they’re still adding four new female characters, that (as I understand it) are all “strong females” — Oberyn Martell’s daughters, the so-called “Sand Snakes.” The show has apparently even added a conflict (read: fight) between one of them, Obara, and another major character, which does not happen in the books. And that’s on top of the list of characters I noted above.

My point is: what are we even talking about here? What’s the purpose of this Time article? It feels like the ongoing, forced media narrative about a “war on women” or underrepresented women… or something? You tell me. I can’t figure it out.

Is the argument that there are more male characters in Game of Thrones than women? Is it that of the number of men characters vs. women characters, more men are “strong?” I wouldn’t try to refute either of those points (if that’s even from where this is coming), but take a look at some other series on TV right now. Are there even more than one or two primary women characters in the cast? Are they “strong?” Did they, for example, like Brienne of Tarth, take on, in hand to hand combat, one of the most formidable male characters in their series (to say nothing of all the other men she’s killed in combat)? And that’s just Brienne — Daenarys has been burning and burying guys left and right. Arya — freakin’ Arya — a little girl, is more badass than 90% of the males on the show.

On NCIS, they have only two female characters. Of them, they’re both “strong,” I suppose (in a network TV sense), but really only one of them is out there kicking butt and dealing justice (I’m just considering Kate, Ziva, and whoever the new one is, the same role — it satisfies the same purpose in the cast). On Special Victims Unit, there are two females, both “strong” among a cast of numerically more men (at least in my last viewing). So, are we calling out these shows as well?

Not only is this Time article unnecessary and reaching in its point (whatever it is), but I think just the opposite: Game of Thrones is setting a new standard for “strong, female characters” in entertainment. Think about who we root for on the show (or, at least, for whom I root): Daenarys, Arya, Brienne, Catelyn, Ygritte… and while I hate her guts, Cersei Lannister is a force to be reckoned with, one who has the upper hand over just about every male character.

Do some critical thinking, Time Magazine.

 

*We don’t 100% know that this character has been omitted. It just looks like, from casting info, that the role does not exist in the TV series as of now.

 

–SPOILERS BELOW–

 

**I realize that Catelyn, Ygritte, and Lysa are no longer with us, but they were on the show and were definitely “strong, female characters.”

I Hate the Song “Rude” and You Should, Too

I despise this song.

Originally, I thought my reaction was visceral, based in the fact that the song is played 4,000 times an hour. I sometimes have a contrarian’s view that rejects certain popular concepts, simply because they’re popular, so this seemed likely at first.

Maybe it’s the singer, Nasri Atweh’s, whiny cadence and squeaky intonation. A quick Wikipedia perusal tells me the band Magic! is “canadian reggae fusion.” I don’t support a single descriptor between those quotes, so that’s definitely part of it.

When I first heard the song, I thought it was kind of catchy and listened to it without really listening. The more I began to hate it the more I paid attention to the lyrics. Backwards, I know. Once I honed in on exactly what the song is saying, that’s when I realized I hated the song. The “meaning” is actually my top reason for hating it.

If, by some miracle, you have escaped listening to “Rude” by Magic! the song has a pretty simple story. A guy is going to ask his girlfriend’s father for permission to marry her and the father says “no.” Pretty straightforward. It’s also not a new concept. Quite a bit of music is about people telling other people they can’t do something and then the people who have been told that express their strong opinions about having been told that (see: Pat Benatar). I get it.

Read these lyrics (or, if you dare, listen to the song) and I will tell you why it makes my blood boil. Hopefully, you’ll get it before I say anything:

Can I have your daughter for the rest of my life?
Say yes, say yes ’cause I need to know
You say I’ll never get your blessing ’til the day I die
Tough luck, my friend, but the answer is ‘No’

Why you gotta be so rude?
Don’t you know I’m human too?
Why you gotta be so rude?
I’m gonna marry her anyway

Marry that girl
Marry her anyway
Marry that girl
Yeah, no matter what you say
Marry that girl
And we’ll be a family
Why you gotta be so
Rude

I skipped over the very first lyrics because they don’t bear on my annoyance as much, although in them the guy explains how he “got out of bed” and put on a suit (his “best” one, apparently) to head over to this poor dad’s house. No shower? No deodorant? I’m probably being overly judgmental now.

No, my real problem is that the core concept of the song is endemic of 2014 culture. This guy acknowledges that his girlfriend’s father is “an old fashioned man” who would like to be asked for his daughter’s hand in marriage and, indeed, asks. But when the dad says “no,” his response isn’t “I’m going to prove to you that I’m the guy” or “we deserve to be together.” No, it’s “Why you gotta be so rude?” Essentially, I asked you for permission to do something, you said “no,” and so you’re being rude to me. What? Why did you even ask if the only answer you would accept is “yes?”

This is such a quintessentially 2014 kind of theme and I really hate how this is where our culture is heading. If people say things that we don’t like, it’s “rude” or “offensive” when, in fact, it may not be either of those things (Time Magazine actually has a funny piece about how the father’s reaction doesn’t, definitionally, qualify as “rude”)– but we don’t like it, so we mis-characterize it and label it like some attack upon us personally.

Then, later he says he’s “…gonna marry her anyway…no matter what [dad says]…” I actually don’t have a problem with that concept in of itself. It is 2014 and I generally think that once someone is 18 and living his or her own life, they’re responsible to make decisions regarding who to marry and not marry. But it goes back to the idea that this guy did seek out his girlfriend’s father because he recognized it was something the dad would want and when he gets an answer he doesn’t like, he declares it “rude” and, like a whiny bitch, says “I’m gonna marry her anyway.”

There are plenty of songs about people being told they can’t do something where the singer simply flouts the rules or ignores authority. I have no problem with them. I rather like quite a few of them, like this one. But everything about “Rude” grates on me from the whiny singer’s voice, to the insolent message, and, yes, the incessant overplaying on the radio.

Please join me in hating it because misery loves company. Thank you.

Return to your daily lives and hope you only hear “Rude” three times on the way home from work.

Editor’s Note: I intentionally did not link to the song because I don’t want to foist it upon anyone else or support the musicians that wrote/performed it. Petty? Yes, but I’ve made it quite clear that I hate the song, so don’t be surprised.